Friday 19 September 2008

How Wall Street Lied to Its Computers

New York TimesI really like Saul Hansell's post in the NYT's Bits blog. He eloquently explains how it is that so many financial institutions managed to fail so spectacularly -- given that they are regulated as to how much risk they can expose themselves to.

In summary: the institutions had sophisticated computer models to warn management if things were getting too risky, but the people running the models didn't give the models the right data.

Saul summarizes the summary thus: "Lying to your risk-management computer is like lying to your doctor. You just aren’t going to get the help you really need."

To summarize the summary of the summary: garbage in, garbage out.

Hat tip: Techmeme.

Sunday 14 September 2008

Bye Bye eBay

Eric Savitz at Barrons writes that eBay's (EBAY) business is "deteriorating" and is preparing big layoffs (like: 1500-employees big).

Ina Steiner seems to agree, pointing out that "Meg Whitman and her inner circle of top executives are gone" --to which I say: good. And not a moment too soon.

eBay is now a complete, unmitigated disaster zone:
  1. It's managed to alienate both its sellers and buyers with a sequence of ill-thought-out and badly-executed actions, such as mandating PayPal.
  2. It's PayPal division seems to be staffed exclusively by cut'n'paste junkies who couldn't spot a fraudulent seller if you painted him flourescent orange and dangled it from a cherry picker.
  3. It even seems to have strangled the life out of its exciting Skype acquisition.
Lest we forget, this is the company who in 2005 soothingly reassured concerned recipients that a blatant phishing scam was actually sent by eBay themselves. I still pinch myself.

Hat tip: Techmeme