Hong Kong’s Metro Trains took over Melbourne’s rail network from French operator Connex on 30th November 2009.
It’s been a troubled transition: cancelled trains, union lobbying, procurement delays, failures in overhead electrical systems . . . and the project budget blowout and rollout delays of the Myki smartcard system.
This morning, the failure of overhead electrical systems at Melbourne’s Southern Cross Station threw the network into the congestion, delays and emergent dynamics that occur in the Beer Game simulation taught at MIT to supply chain management and management systems students. Beer Game players usually encounter the Bullwhip Effect: oscillations and variations in the supply chain that affect player decisions, inventory forecasts, and can lead to subgames.
Melbourne commuters today experienced MIT’s Beer Game and the Bullwhip Effect (PDF) thanks to Metro’s problems. Delays at a single point changed the system. The electrical systems fault created a cascade for early morning commuters who were stranded by no connecting services or stuck in the London-style loop tunnel around the city grid. It was like being stuck in a scene from Godfrey Reggio‘s hypnotic film Koyaanisqatsi (1982) without the Philip Glass score.
Attempts to reduce the congestion and overload — extra buses and trams, and individual commuter decisions to take cars — created secondary cascades and effects. The Bullwhip Effect also created subgame opportunities for some players: the sudden rise in demand for taxis, and the long waiting lines at taxi ranks, enabled drivers to be selective about their best fares . . . which meant a forty minute wait for a driver who had just finished the Tullamarine Airport run.
Critics have given Christopher Nolan‘s Inception (2010) widely divergent reviews. The New Yorker‘s David Denby believes Nolan’s vision has “no spiritual meaning or resonance” whilst Slate‘s Jonah Weiner opts for a neo-Marxist interpretation of the film’s multi-layered dreamworld. Confusing this further, Nolan’s art direction team has sampled his earlier films, and alludes to genre films: 1930s hard-boiled crime and 1950s noir; Hong Kong and Japanese gangster films; and science fiction thrillers like Dreamscape (1984) and Cypher (2002). You’d be forgiven for thinking Inception was a transitional film between The Dark Knight (2008) and the third film in Nolan’s Batman trilogy, due in 2012. Rather, its caper and heist structure allows Nolan to explore the Platonic doctrines of alethic knowledge: unconcealment of the truth . . . hidden in a safe . . . inception as planting an idea in another person’s mind . . . that they are self-convinced is their own motivation and personal genius.
Perhaps Denby may have benefited from some background research before he wrote his review. Dzogchen, Tibetan Bon and Central Asian shamanistic traditions all feature dreamwork practices. Chogyal Namkhai Norbul’s Dream Yoga and the Practice of Natural Light (Snowbird Publications, Ithaca NY, 2002) is a good place to start on dreamwork for conscientisation, healing and training the subconscious mind to achieve lucid awareness. Dzogchen in particular has an authentic practice with a long spiritual lineage of secret biographies and cultural transmission.
Throughout Inception, Nolan also hints at other 1970s emerging and borderlands/fringe research programs without explicitly naming them. Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) discusses ‘inception’ as the implanting of an idea that can spread like a virus: this recalls ethologist Richard Dawkins‘ meme as a cultural unit of information, Jacques Vallee‘s study of early information networks and UFO cults, and anthropologist Gregory Bateson. Cobb’s training of Ariadne (Ellen Page) echoes Frances Yates‘ The Art of Memory (1966) on the architectonics of constructing a memory palace. Cobb mentions a self-recursive Penrose stair: a nod to mathematical physicist Roger Penrose‘s interest in M.C. Escher and topology as a model of human consciousness. Cobb’s colleague Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) claims the team’s technology came from military research to train the next generation of soldiers (probably Ericksonian trance induction and the United States Army’s experiments in the early-to-mid 1970s with neurofeedback and so-called remote viewing) before proliferation to the private sector (Robert Monroe‘s Hemi-Sync as a forerunner to 1990s mind machines; and Aum Shinrikyo‘s experiments with a Persinger helmet to create temporal lobe hallucinations as religious experiences). Viewers familiar with this fringe research will appreciate Inception‘s layers just as Nolan’s thriller The Prestige (2006) explored the 19th century world of feuding stage magicians and mentalists.
One of Nolan’s central threads in Inception is that the proliferation of quasi-experimental technology from the military into the civilian world may have devastating consequences. Inception envisions a world where autonomous, small teams fight over its secrets in art design that ranges from Chinese Triads to Art Deco. In the private sector, the norms and practices of academic research or proto-Jungian therapeutic interventions do not necessarily apply: poor research designs, quasi-experimental protocols, the ‘rush to publish’, and little evaluation or meta-analysis may be second to mind-share and tactical gambits. For instance, The Century of the Self (2002) by Adam Curtis illustrates how Freudian psychoanalysis informed the genesis of advertising and public relations campaigns – that Nolan’s creative team now uses to frame Inception as a blockbuster film event.
Nolan suggests – and it has been my personal experience – that despite the rich insights these methods can pose dangerous risks to researchers (and to their significant others). Curtis also explored this problematic view of self-growth and change in The Trap (2007). Inception‘s core lies with Cobb’s battles to forget his doomed wife Mal (Marion Cotillard). As Denby notes, Cobb and Mal’s relationship echoes the Orpheus and Eurydice myth in the Grecian Orphic Mysteries and Douglas Hofstadter‘s strange loops: both get ‘enmeshed’ in a powerful, evocative subjectivity that generates a dyadic, self-referential universe. This is a potentially deadly risk of any imaginal work with the psychecentric subconscious: reality-testing can fail.
To break these bounds, Cobb attempts an inception on his wife to wake her up: this reality is non-real. He discovers Mal’s imaginal totem – the symbol of her deep, core self that she has voluntarily chosen to ‘forget’: a spinning, gyroscopic top that Mal has locked in a safe. He induces an Ericksonian trance: “You’re waiting for a train . . .” Yet instead of the heights of Platonic noesis, ‘recovered’ memory and freedom Cobb ensnares Mal in eikasia: Is this ‘layered’ reality also non-real? What happens when our subjective, dream-like images bleed-through to objective reality, even though we may be consciously aware that they are false?
Mal develops suicidality and she succeeds, almost luring Cobb with the promise of an eternal communion of souls. To survive and maintain his self-coherence, Cobb draws on his memories of Mal – and the techniques of Hofstadter, Norbul and Yates – to construct a simulation of his dead wife. Mal becomes a Shade who lives on as an imaginal symbol in Cobb’s subconscious. The price is that Mal now becomes a random force in Cobb’s dreams – forcing him to assemble a new team to lead him out of his personal labyrinth.
This is why when Cobb hires Ariadne (Ellen Page) her first task is to conceive a one-minute labyrinth as a game designer. Cobb is partly testing Ariadne’s receptiveness to cosmological structures and symbols that are part of humanity’s evolutionary and cultural legacy. Nolan thus connects Interception to the body of cultural anthropological research of Anthony Stevens, Terence Deacon, and Steven Mithen over the past decade, and to the earlier Eranos conferences on the power of deep myths to regenerate civilisations and societies.
Cobb sadly tells Mal who exists only as a Shade in his subconscious: “How could I capture all your beauty, your complexity, your perfection, your imperfection, in a dream? Yes, you’re the best that I can do. But, I’m sorry, you’re just not good enough.”
Cobb chooses reality over a Shade’s promise . . . takes a flight like the Lost team from Sydney to Los Angeles . . . arrives safely and passes through LAX security . . . Nolan’s final shot suggests Cobb has entered a new dream under the custodianship of his mentor and father-in-law Miles (Michael Caine) . . . as the camera and soundtrack close in on Cobb’s totem – a spinning, gyroscopic top . . . fadeout.
Today original geekgirl Rosie X and I saw the Bates Motel Orchestra – probably the entrepreneurial string section of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra on a non-contractual side-gig – perform Bernard Hermann‘s influential score to Alfred Hitchcock‘s psychological thriller Psycho (1960). We were seated in a position to be able to watch both the Orchestra and the film. At its conclusion the theatre lights came on and the Orchestra reprised Hermann’s opening theme to several minutes of sustained applause from the theatre’s audience.
Psycho has far more than just the infamous shower murder stabbing of Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) by Bates Motel owner Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). The Orchestra’s most memorable playing occurred during two early scenes. In the ‘Prelude’ title sequence Marion laments her relationship with paramour Sam Loomis (John Gavin) in a Phoenix motel and then steals $40,000 from rancher Tom Cassidy (Frank Albertson) and her boss, real estate manager George Lowery (Vaughn Taylor). During the ‘Flight’ sequence Marion escapes and state police (Mort Mills) pursue her in a rainstorm. These scenes – and the Orchestra’s performance – underscore how Hitchcock spends almost a third of Psycho establishing Marion’s character, guilt, and psychological dilemmas.
Marion’s murder abruptly switches Psycho from a bank heist or unconventional romantic melodrama into a film noir with dark psychological undertones. As film critic Robin Wood noted, Marion’s death stunned audiences who had expected her to be the film’s main character and to be redeemed for her early transgression. The subsequent investigation by Sam, Marion’s sister Lila Crane (Vera Miles) and private investigator Milton Arbogast (Martin Balsam) dominates Psycho’s last third and the Orchestra counterpointed the series of revelations about the Bates Motel, Norman’s psychological past and his mother Norma’s true identity.
In contrast, Sheriff Al Chambers (John McIntire) and Mrs Chambers (Lurene Tuttle) appear to almost collude with Norman Bates in not wanting to confront his dark id. Arbogast senses that something is not right but does not protect himself and is killed on the Bates House stairwell. Sam’s diversion tactic fails as the inquisitive Lila is drawn towards the Bates House cellar. In Psycho‘s epilogue Dr. Fred Richmond (Simon Oakland) provides a clinical, forensic explanation about Norman’s behaviour: he developed a dissociative, split personality with amnesia.
Cinema Studies scholar Geoff Mayer shaped how I first viewed Psycho in an undergraduate class about twelve years ago. Mayer observed that Leigh and Gavin have their feet on the ground during the opening scene’s bedroom talk because of Production Code restrictions about unmarried couples. Despite the confrontational nature of Marion’s shower murder the scene passed the Production Code because of George Tomasini‘s editing and due to Hitchcock’s Catholic morality over Marion’s transgressions. Hitchcock filmed Psycho using his television crew and experimented with rapid takes and other handheld-like techniques.
Psychoanalyst-influenced scholars would intensely study Psycho through Freudian, Lacanian and other frameworks in the mid-to-late 1960s and 1970s. Richmond’s testimony however also be the public’s first introduction to forensic psychiatry and psychological profiling. It is perhaps the forerunner of television dramas dominated by medical examiners and diagnosticians such as Quincy ME and House. Norman Bates’ interest in taxidermy – and Marion’s revealing interview with him about this hobby – also foreshadowed Fabian Bielinsky‘s masterful neo-noir film The Aura (2005) in which a taxidermist survives a bank heist gone wrong because of his epilepsy.
The Bates Motel Orchestra brought an emotional intensity and immediacy to Psycho. Ross is into a powerful trend here: the fusion of mixed media and live elements to reawaken historical media for new, appreciative audiences. I agree with Rosie X‘s suggestion: how about a live performance of Giacchino’s epic score for J.J. Abrams‘ Star Trek ‘reboot’ (2009)?
So it’s intriguing to compare their divergent responses to The Washington Post‘s Top Secret America series which argues the United States national intelligence system has grown into a vast institutional bureaucracy. Has “too big to manage” or “too big to lead” become the intelligence community’s problem comparable to “too big to fail” banks and financial institutions after the 2007-09 global financial crisis?
Drezner suggests intelligence analysts in different agencies may benefit from “redundancies” that enable them collectively to piece together a puzzle. Kaplan counters that the rapid proliferation of government agencies, companies and private contractors means that few people have the expertise or ‘span of control’ to integrate data from compartmentalised systems into “actionable intelligence.” This is despite collaborative data-sharing initiatives like Intellipedia; the Open Source Intelligence community — named for publicly accessible data and not for the software movement; and the use of other vehicles like the venture capital firm In-Q-Tel, which makes ‘last stage’ investments in promising technologies.
Several things are going on in the Drezner-Kaplan debate that academic researchers in the Intelligence Studies subfield of Political Science have discussed for over 15 years. Enterprise Resource Planning vendors such as SAP AG and Tibco have mapped the defence and intelligence supply chain in multi-level ways beyond Sherman Kent‘s original intelligence cycle for policymakers. However, this emphasis on vendor systems also reflects an institutional bias towards signals intelligence (SIGINT), imagery intelligence (IMINT), and measurement and signals intelligence (MASINT) over human intelligence (HUMINT). Many of Kaplan’s integration problems might be solvable through procurement, supply chain integration and service-oriented architecture policies between government intelligence agencies and firms. The HUMINT problems however are not: which intelligence problems or key questions are prioritised, who interprets the data, by what methods, and how ‘responsible’ decision-makers use the conclusions. Finally, RAND’s Gregory Treverton notes these intelligence problems may be solvable problems, Bayesian mysteries or complex-plus dilemmas that pose a variety of challenges to ERP vendors and the national intelligence system.
The Washington Post‘s Top Secret America series contends the public faces a new intelligence bureaucracy. Yet the ‘responsible’ decision-makers, especially those charged with budget and resource allocation, will continue to face further problems: ‘spin’ for defence R&D dollars and vapourware projects that fail to deliver on their hype cycle promises.
Dana Priest and William Arkin’s three part Washington Post series Top Secret America has attracted flak from intelligence and security analysts.
Foreign Policy‘s Thomas G. Mahnken replies with a model counter-argument: weak thesis, little context, accurate and misleading data, misses important dimensions, and unawareness of the relevant literature. Mahnken’s final observation is that secrecy is needed in some contexts, and that this view is the very opposite of the current interest in Government 2.0 platforms and data sets, and openly transparent leadership.
Former equities broker Philip Augar wrote a trilogy of books that charted the demise, rebirth, and then rise-and-fall of investment banks in London’s financial district. In his middle book The Greed Merchants (Portfolio, New York, 2005), Augar foresaw that three forces — securitisation, inter-firm competition in the global market for Initial Public Offerings (IPOs), and fee-based incentives — were likely to trigger further industry change. He predicted that ‘bulge bracket’ firms like Goldman Sachs were still likely to survive the turbulence of global capital markets.
For Augar, the global financial crisis (GFC) was a catalyst for changes that analysts with a conceptual background in history could already perceive. Undoubtedly, his deal-making experience in London and network of C-level interviewees also helped. In his prescience Augar rivals the more prominent and well-known American journalist and raconteur Michael Lewis.
Slate‘s Daniel Gross provides a post-GFC update on Augar’s survey of the IPO market and investment banking ‘deal flow’. Gross notes several trends: the fall of volume in equity underwriting deals; fewer IPO mega-deals with lucrative commission fees; tighter margins in Europe and Asia notably China; and the United States Federal Government also dropping fees from an average 6.5% of the deal to 2.7% in equity and warrant deals in the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). Gross asks: Does this mean investment bankers are no longer Masters of the Universe and are now the financial sector’s new blue collar workers?
Not necessarily. Augar noted in 2005 that equity underwriting was the ‘meat and potatoes’ of investment banking: high-volume yet low-margin business. Michael Fleuriet echoes this view in his industry primer Investment Banking Explained (McGraw Hill, New York, 2008). For ‘bulge bracket’ firms, equity underwriting — like research — has been a ‘loss leader’ to more profitable services like securitisation, valuation, and mergers and acquisitions. IPO markets have fluctuated since the dotcom crash in April 2000 in a similar way to the Roaring ’60s boom in conglomerate buyouts, and the early 1980s investment bubbles in biotechnology, first generation videogames, and the lure of expert systems developed from artificial intelligence research. Globally, investors in the first decade of the 21st century tapped the equity growth in emerging markets to add ‘alpha’ or excess returns above the benchmark to their portfolios. A decade later markets like China have matured despite Burton Malkiel‘s concerns about IPO volatility, real estate bubbles, regulatory arbitrage and country risk. Wall Street’s concerns about TARP may also prove to be unfounded – or just a negotiation gambit to mitigate the potential class action lawsuits. The decline from 6.5% to 2.7% has a simple explanation: it’s what happens when municipal bond specialists make the decisions on fee structures rather than equity underwriters.
You’ll still get an end-of-year bonus – just a lower one and a slightly bruised ego.
1. Have mid-term and long-term goals for your personal ‘program of research’. This may involve multiple streams of research, collaborative projects, forming national and international teams, and building the reputation and status of your field and discipline. A mid-term goal may be three to five years away whilst a long-term goal can be five to ten or fifteen years away. Cultivating this breadth and depth can be useful to keep your options open beyond the current project or departmental and institutional politics. Define the roadblocks to your mid-term and long-term goals, navigate a way around them, and find the people, resources and organisations to help you achieve them.
2. ‘Own’ your research project as the named Chief Investigator. You are responsible to your institution and the grant-making agency for the timely, accurate completion of project deliverables. This is why scoping the project, ensuring the rigour of the methodology and research design, and identifying budget, resources and critical paths is crucial. Yet to achieve this clarity you need to be self-empowered and assertive with stakeholders to make the necessary judgment calls. This requires skill in dealing with government, industry, and non-profit partners to ensure that the project reflects their input and that as co-journeyers and collaborators they are fully committed to its success. At times you may need to say a firm ‘no’ on stakeholder ideas that would create ‘scope creep’ for this specific project. You may have a project governance committee to help inform your decisions and to find the interdependencies that are ‘triple win’ outcomes for you, the stakeholders, and the broader research community. Or you might start with a good project management guide like Scott Berkun‘s Making Things Happen (O’Reilly, Sebastopol CA, 2007) and David Allen‘s Getting Things Done (Viking, New York, 2001) for workflow. Whatever tools and frameworks you choose to use, you — and not your stakeholders — are responsible for the project’s timely completion on-budget.
3. Know the top five or ten international academic researchers in your field. You should know who they are and the basis of their expertise, what conceptual contributions they have made to a field and discipline, their broad ‘program of research, their institutional affiliations, their publicly available grants, and if possible who their PhD students and research colleagues are. Spend some time doing ‘due diligence’ on these people: they have a career pathway that you can model for short-cuts, they have networks, and they have often established the research teams, interdisciplinary groups, centres and institutes which are pivotal to your field and discipline. They may also be approachable if you have a specific and ‘targeted’ request in mind for a project: their goal in the last four or five years of their career is to leave a legacy and help to train the ‘next generation’ of researchers.
4. Join the relevant scholarly networks and organisations, and know their academic peer-reviewed journals. You need to have ‘external awareness’ beyond your institution about what is going on in your field and discipline, including international trends and networks. For your specific research problem or question there are probably at least four to five other teams and researchers globally who are working on the same issue yet perhaps using different assumptions, frames, methods and research designs. Being across the top journals in your field is necessary to know what is going on, what material editors will accept, what a really good research design and methodology looks like, and as one of several external reference points that you can use to evaluate the quality of your own research and that of peers (and you may need to keep your own counsel on this if there are significant gaps).
5. Develop skills as a rainmaker to ‘source’ external funding. The first step as an Early Career Researcher (ECR), or the first five years after your PhD conferral date, is to develop an academic ‘body of work’ in order to establish your expertise, reputation and credibility. Along with a demonstrable ‘track record’ — internal funding from institutional sources, publishing in academic peer reviewed journals and forming collaborative research teams and networks — it is these qualities that will get you past gatekeepers and will open doors to ‘responsible’ decisionmakers. Familiarise yourself with the Australian Research Council and similar grant-making bodies, from federal and state government agencies to private foundations and philanthropic institutions. Talk with your Head of School, Department, your Associate Dean (Research) and your institution’s Research Office about what may be available. Researchers who are ‘rainmakers’ will be indispensable to their institution and highly sought after by others.
I almost missed James Surowiecki’s recent New Yorkerpiece on how auto dealers and brokers affect Main Street loans and consumer credit ratings.
Overheard at a Saturday coffee shop: a 25-year auto veteran explained how wholesale intermediaries ‘source’ cars from gullible customers and sell them to auto dealers and car yards for mark-up. The veteran noted the existence of a little-known — to the general public — shadow market that kept the dealers’ variable costs down, secured a steady supply and created enough stock to ensure profitable margins on loans and consumer credit despite the default risks. “I get up to 60 calls a day,” the veteran observed. “I’ve been in the business so long, I don’t know what to do.”
The conversation then turned to the veteran’s Nokia phone and the antenna flaw in Apple’s iPhone 4. “I’ll be waiting a few months until the problem is fixed,” the veteran said. “Apple probably fixed it 12 weeks ago and is waiting for new stock: the phones may be slightly different in 5 to 6 months when the initial stock is sold,” a friend replied. “I don’t want a phone with a free case,” the veteran countered. “My wife made me get this phone so she could keep tabs on me.” Everyone was on ‘the grift’.
As Mike Patton, Charles Bukowski and a legion of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs have observed: some of the best anecdotes — especially for technology researchers — happen in coffee shops.
Publishers benefit from ‘hot topics’, speculative bubbles and wild cards.
The pattern I observed with the Bush Administration’s Global War on Terror (GWOT) frame after September 11, and also the 2007-09 Global Financial Crisis (GFC): (1) anthologies and initial assessments; (2) critiques of the status quo and hastily written ‘first drafts of history’; (3) tell-all memoirs from insiders, perceptive outsiders, and investigative journalists who have extensive networks or who are in the right place at the right time; (4) more rigorous and systematic analyses; and (5) historical, multi-archival research.
GWOT books now fluctuate between (3) and (4) whilst in the past 6-8 months GFC books have shifted from (2) to (3). Three observable dynamics on this shift are: (a) the well-known issues-attention cycle; (b) publishing lead-times; and (c) origination markets such as bloggers, magazines, internet sites and primary research.
Dwight Garner’s New York Times review of an anonymous hedge fund manager’s diary (excerpt) illustrates these dynamics and trends. He and his editors choose a (3) tell-all memoir that appeals to a broader audience than financial quants: the review emphasises a range of topics, personalities, and humorous observations. Garner name-drops publisher Dave Eggers and the diary’s source: the online magazine N + 1. “His opinions are rarely blazingly counterintuitive,” Garner notes. “The pleasures of his talk are low-key and cumulative.” In other words: accessible for a quick read and a quick sale before the title gets ‘remaindered’.
Are we really dealing with a new publishing genre? Garner suggests a shift is underway and that more (3) tell-all memoirs can be expected in the future. Investment fund managers may be low-key and operate ‘under the radar’ for clients, deal-flow and trading strategies. They do not however have to deal with national security restrictions that affect GWOT-related memoirs.
It’s also possible that the diary Garner reviews is more like an unreliable narrator than a quasi-experimental clinical record of what actually happened. George Soros and his book The Alchemy of Finance (1994) is one famous example of a quasi-experimental study has sparked wider debates amongst the capital markets, investment and trading communities. For investment managers, analysts and researchers the best lessons from books like the diary are probably what attitudes, values and worldviews they depict. These can be one of many possible inputs into a behavioural finance strategy for backtesting an investment strategy’s possible outcomes on a variety of groups and rational herds.