Sep

7

Today is my (our, I guess) 29th anniversary. To celebrate, we decided to go the day before up to San Francisco. Sunday rather than Monday since the parking is better. One of the first places in San Francisco we went when we first met and came out west to visit friends was Union Street. It's a nice shopping district. Lots of nice cafes. Perfect for a Sunday. (Granted, it's summer, so the city was a tad cold, and the stiff breeze didn't help, but still, it's San Francisco. The place of lonely hearts (well, they're out on a hill, so they must be lonely. Or at least alone.)

Something seemed strange to me though. In 5 blocks, I counted 12 stores available for lease and 5 available for sale. Empty stores. That's unusual for this street. Three years ago, it was bustling. Today , not so much. Not many people walking on the street either. Schools reopened a couple of weeks ago, but maybe everyone is coincidentally taking off at the same time. Probably not, though.

I made a similar observation in May on upper Madison Avenue in Manhattan. Both are places where traditionally, it's been pretty easy to fill an empty store. Sure, those are places that are a bit expensive, but in San Francisco at least, there's lots of money floating around the city. That money is going somewhere. It's not all for 80 inch monitors. Union Street tended to get its "fair share" in the past. Consumer confidence is at record highs. I know that Amazon and the rest of the net has taken over much of retailing, but there's still a need for neighborhood shops for impulse purchases—as in, " forgot it's our anniversary." Or "If I don't do something for her birthday, it'll be a week of sleeping on the couch."

I have to wonder, then, as the Fed drones on about the need to hike, if the economy really is as healthy as many suggest. After all, 20 years ago, when the same measures used today were in use, it wasn't a gig economy. The Fed may have hiked, but it wasn't concurrently selling off its portfolio of debt instruments. And while there are lots of "for hire" signs out, the wages of a given job may not be what they once were. Just some observations and speculations.

Peter Drucker used to note that if what you see doesn't agree with the data at hand, maybe the data at hand are misleading. I have to wonder if the same thing is going on here. The numbers look good, but is the economy really as good as the numbers suggest? If it is, why are the shops now empty? 6 mos to a year ago they weren't. Did Amazon move that fast? Maybe, but somehow, that just seems unlikely. The disruption in retail has already hit the bricks and mortar stores. Except for Sears, which seems to have missed the memo.

Or is the Fed really justified in raising rates, as it did in 2007 and 2000 and 1990?

Mr. Isomorphisms writes: 

Low interest rates benefit only those who have access to them (established firms). Another decade of QE wouldn't help America's poor; only change can do that.

Alan Wolfe, in "the seamy side of democracy", argues that the USA is a story of conflict between stability and freedom–and that stability has always taken precedence. This was 1973.

Yes, people can and do take dogsh__ companies public (doesn't make their bonds good), but that's still different from healthy capitalism. Dynamism requires failure. With regard to everything being expensive but empty, I posted a note about Al Jazeera east 101's takes on paper holdings of China's million millionaires. As a simplistic story, ask yourself where the USA's lost manufacturing wealth 1980-2010 went. Then ask where they park their money. Vancouver is one answer for Chinese wealth. London/NYC are an answer for Saudi money. Qatar had the good sense to make their own BBC, investing in people instead of buildings.

Then turn in your copy of Sidney Homer's history of interest rates to the part where a Swede buys California ranching property based on figures, with no knowledge of how to run the thing.

anonymous writes: 

It is easy to get caught in the echo chambers of the two coasts. I've often heard, but only recently, recently how "nice" people are in the Midwest and South. Foreigners here in Los Angeles are frequently replacing locals who are leaving for many reasons. My town's Chinese population has jumped dramatically in the last 18 months. 

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

Data from IHL: "Grocery, drug stores, mass merchants/supercenters, and convenience stores are adding a net 2,694 stores in 2018 on top of 3,115 net new stores in 2017. Department stores, specialty soft goods (apparel, shoes), and specialty hardgoods (DIY, electronics, sporting goods, books, furniture) are closing a net 682 stores in 2018 on top of 2,557 net closings in 2017."

Henry Gifford writes: 

High end retail areas in New York City, such as Madison Avenue (as mentioned on this site a couple of days ago) have higher vacancy rates than last year. But, retail rents outside of the 6 or 8 fanciest areas went up since a year ago, and vacancies remain fairly low.

All I've written above is to be taken with a grain of salt, however, as nobody really knows what retail rents go for, and even vacancies are hard to track with the increasing popularity of temporary (pop-up) stores. Apartment rents are easy to track, but retail leases usually include the building owner spending some money on repairs/buildout, and the owner usually gives some months of free rent. Owners used to bring electricity and water and sewer into retail spaces, and maybe nothing else, but now more and more owners pay large sums of money toward the cost of building out a space.

The reason is that the more money the owner pays, the higher the rent will be, and thus the larger the mortgage the owner can get on the building - based on the reported rent. If/when mortgage rates change, or mortgage availability changes, owners will pay more or less toward buildouts, and the retail rents will change accordingly, making any effort to track retail rents very difficult.

Sep

1

 US Market Cap/GDP

Data sources

Steve Ellison writes: 

This indicator was also mentioned in Mark Hulbert's article in the Wall Street Journal on Sunday. People who cite it as an indicator usually implicitly assume that the aggregate value of the stock market should grow at the same pace as GDP over the long term.

I believe this assumption is flawed for two reasons. Privately held companies are not counted, so changes in the relative percentages of public and private companies affect the ratio. More importantly, the traditional capital structure of 50% debt and 50% equity, in which all upside value goes to equity holders, is a good reason why stock valuations should increase faster than GDP, especially over very long periods. Indeed the inflation-adjusted compound annual growth rate in the S&P 500 between the generational lows of 1982 and 2009 was 4.4%, significantly more than GDP growth during the same period. So I don't lose any sleep over this ratio being higher now than in 1929.

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

In a recent speech Jorg Meuthen made a simple point: GDP calculations assume that civil servants are somehow as magically "productive" as the people who have to do work for a living and successfully sell their work for cash.

No one in the "mainstream" (sic) wants to do calculations that remove all the recipients of government payments from political economic calculation. It is, from the point of view of modern economics, heresy.

I took Big Al's elegant calculation and found its "private sector" derivative.

The results are precisely what spec and others see in their views of the data. Not at all a pretty picture. If you take private earnings from wages net of taxes as a proxy for the country's additions to wealth, the 5 years up to and including 2017 only recovered the amounts lost from 2007 through 2011. From the point of view of people to do work that other people actually pay for, the last decade has been a complete wash. It is only the gains for this year and beyond that can be counted as actual increases in wealth.

Mr. Isomorphisms writes: 

Thanks for doing the work for this calc. I would argue your characterisation of government work is overly harsh. Shuttering IndyMac took real work, was productive, and experienced a boom during the decade in question.

There was a boom in useful work for bank regulators around the time of Continental Illinois as well. Stefan, as you pointed out with regard to an economic historian's writing, details matter. Even if on average government employees are worse, that varies across time and across agencies/remits.

More importantly certain kinds of useful work are not privatised. In fact anything that was privatised (parks management, penitentiary management, utilities) by construction used to be a government job that accomplished something. Furthermore various government initiatives do often produce private benefit–I'm thinking of the stories of Bureau of Land Management and Army Corps of Engineers in Marc Reisner's Cadillac Desert. Whether irrigation ditches are dug on Brigham Young's holy command, on debt-financed speculative capitalist entrepreneurship, or bureaucratic mandate, water changes course.

Aug

30

 Jerrold Fine has written a novel which should be of interest to dailyspec readers:

This debut novel, Make Me Even and I’ll Never Gamble Again, follows a young man who, hoping to achieve financial independence, finds himself drawn to the stock market.

By the early 1970s, Rogers Stout is only 16 years old, but his father, Dr. Charles Stout, wants his son to live up to his potential. The Ohio teen is bright but putting minimal effort into high school studies. This changes the summer before his senior year with an internship at Prescott & Prescott, a stock brokerage and investment banking firm. Rogers becomes fascinated by the stock market and sets his sights on a finance major at Penn-Wharton in Philadelphia. He closely follows the market all through college, gradually developing abilities, such as how to deconstruct a company’s financials and analyze its prospects.

As an exceptional poker player, courtesy of regular sessions with his dad, Rogers equates his investment philosophy with the card game. He plays while winning and stops to reassess his strategy after he’s lost. Rogers hard work pays off, as he lands a gig at a research and money management firm in New York. But his subsequent plan to invest in a small company is an unquestionable risk, and life, like the financial markets, can change instantly and unexpectedly. Despite the desperation implied by the title, the levelheaded protagonist is rarely distraught. (The title is derived from a line that a losing poker player “not Rogers” utters.) Still, Fine’s coming-of-age tale is engrossing. The historical backdrop, for one, is an enhancement: Rogers witnesses the 1973-74 stock market crash and worries about his girlfriend, Charlotte Marks, who, in 1977, is in a war zone in Cambodia for Doctors Without Borders. There’s also turmoil in the protagonist’s personal life, as banker Elsbeth Aylesworth fills the void created by his geographical separation from Charlotte. Prose is detail-laden, including poker and baseball games as well as investments, while financial terminology is adequately explained. But there’s still room for humor: Rogers description of his job is to read and think and then occasionally make a bold decision. A leisurely paced but ultimately absorbing story of an aspiring Wall Street trader.

Aug

13

 Crumb & Mairovitz's book about Kafka argues that 1. Kafka has been reduced to a single adjective by those who haven't read him thoroughly 2. Jewishness, Jewish mysticism, and the mystical experience of the Jewish ghetto where Kafka spent almost all of his life, are the real takeaways from his work.

The second piece was strongly coloured by a father who always called him a failure, who frightened him even as Kafka tended to the old man in his dotage. The US census shows that more 20 somethings are living at home (with more degrees than ever). Pace Charles Murray, changes in living arrangement particularly the American (versus, eg, Saudi, Surinamese, Pakistan, Burkina Faso) seem to me a likely change if the U.S. jobs picture stays bad.

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

It is difficult to tease out of the census how many "children" lived at home while working in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Our present world only began with the Fair Labor Standards Act which Congress and the President enacted in 1938. It made employment of anyone under the age of 16 a crime; but the Census had not bothered tabulating the numbers for the problems that the Progressives were solving.

The 1900 Census questions
, for example, do not ask how many children are working.

Neither, for that matter, do the 2010 questions.

The American Community Survey–the "long form" questionnaire–does ask the question; but it has only been used since 1998.

It may be a scandal that people are living at home; but it may be that people are sensibly concluding that, in "average" residences that are 3 times the size they were in 1950, there is no more reason for the "children" to move out before they get married than there had been when most people still lived on farms.

I don't have the answer; but, then, neither does Charles Murray. He just likes the idea that there was once a golden era when all Americans were "normal".

Mr. Isomorphisms writes: 

Freud lived at home until a wealthy patron set him on his course of nervous therapy, setting him up with enough wealth to afford a home in which to put himself and Martha Bernays.

So did D'Alembert (inventor of the wave equation)–with his adoptive mother–until his 40s.

Early US video, eg the "Brooklyn ghetto fish market" (and you can cruise around on loc.gov or getty images to see more), shows a lifestyle much like what Mairovitz tells of Kafka's upbringing. As for people who neither would be worthy of depiction by Ms. Austen nor influenced the course of intellectual history–information on their lives is scarce indeed.

I'm not sure it's scandalous for families to share houses. For whatever reason, that became Americans' expectation, even though only a couple generations ago flophouses, boarders, county poorhouses, and many other arrangements were common. It's still an open question how money and jobs link to fertility and housing arrangements. Chinese migrant workers come to mind. I heard there is a law that children who work in factories MUST return on certain dates to their parents in the country. 

The part of Murray's most recent book that I like to focus on is the geographic segregation of rich and poor. He contrasts Manhattan in the 1950s to the 2010s. The point was made by Tom Wolfe as well (Bonfire of the Vanities is now 30 years old, if you can believe that).

It was a ten-dollar ride each morning, but what was that to a Master of the Universe?

Sherman's father had always taken the subway to Wall Street, even when he was the chief executive officer of Dunning Sponget & Leach. Even now, at the age of seventy-one, when he took his daily excursions to Dunning Sponget to breathe the same air as his lawyer cronies for three or four hours, he went by subway. It was a matter of principle. The more grim the subways became, the more graffiti those people scrawled on the cars, the more gold chains they snatched off girls' necks, the more old men they mugged, the more women they pushed in front of the trains, the more determined was John Campbell McCoy that they weren't going to drive him off the New York City subways. But to the new breed, the young breed, the masterful breed, Sherman's breed, there was no such principle. Insulation! That was the ticket. That was the term Rawlie Thorpe used. "If you want to live in New York," he once told Sherman, "you've got to insulate, insulate, insulate," meaning insulate yourself from those people. The cynicism and smugness of the idea struck Sherman as very au courant. If you could go breezing down the FDR Drive in a taxi, then why file into the trenches of the urban wars? (The same review critiques Mr Wolfe for drawing characters for whom he has no sympathy.)

Howard Gillette Jr's book on Camden, NJ, begins with a similar outlook from even earlier.

Hazzard of New Fortune, William Dean Howells

A HAZARD OF NEW FORTUNES.


At Third Avenue they took the Elevated, for which she confessed an infatuation. She declared it the most ideal way of getting about in the world, and was not ashamed when he reminded her of how she used to say that nothing under the sun could induce her to travel on it. She now said that the night transit was even more interesting than the day, and that the fleeting intimacy you formed with people in second and third floor interiors, while all the usual street life went on underneath, had a domestic intensity mixed with a perfect repose that was the last effect of good society with all its security and exclusiveness. He said it was better than the theatre, of which it reminded him, to see those people through their windows: a family party of work-folk at a late tea, some of the men in their shirt sleeves; a woman sewing by a lamp; a mother laying her child in its cradle; a man with his head fallen on his hands upon a table; a girl and her lover leaning over the window-sill together. "What suggestion! what drama! what infinite interest!

Gillette compares this to himself as a suburb-dwelling commuter living the good life whilst gawking at the commoners in the United States' favored image of its post-industrial failure. 

Jul

21

 Here's a New Yorker video about professional poker players replaying their most memorable hands. You can find many similarities between trading and the game of poker. Many market lessons are offered in this short video.

Alston Mabry writes: 

This book is short and well done:


Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don't Have All the Facts
by Annie Duke

"Poker champion turned business consultant Annie Duke teaches you how to get comfortable with uncertainty and make better decisions as a result".

Jeff Watson replies:

This is a good interview with Duke. It's long but worth it. 

Alston Mabry writes: 

I recorded most of the Main Event at the World Series of Poker that was just played and I have been catching up on it off the dvr.

There was a very dramatic hand that decided the last seat at the final table (video here), where out of ten players, three of the players had these hole cards:

AA

KK

KK

All three went all in, and the aces won the hand.

They keep replaying that hand and then showing a graphic that explains that the odds of having three players with those hole cards at a 10-player table are 70,688:1.

The irony is that if you consider seeing, for example, these pairs of hole cards at a 10-player table:

7h, 4c

10d, 6s

Jd, 2c

the odds are even higher, because in the Aces and Kings example, the suits of the Aces aren't specified. But we usually don't take note of the combinations that seem "random", i.e., that don't create a meaningful-for-us pattern.

Likewise, the chances of flopping a Royal Flush of Spades is no greater than flopping, for instance:

2s, 3h, 7c, 9d, Jh

or any other 5 cards specified by both rank and suit. The irony there is that if you're watching Texas Hold'em tournaments, the odds of seeing somebody flop a Royal Flush of Spades are actually better than the odds of seeing somebody flop that specific junk hand, because players who start with components of a royal flush are more likely to stay in the hand, whereas those with junk hole cards are more likely to muck them and nip the possibility in the bud.

Of course, the WSOP is a TV show, and they want as much drama as they can get.

Mr. Isomorphisms writes: 

Brian Lee Yung Rowe recently posted about a game he invented for training staff in quantifying confidence/uncertainty: Fermi Poker.

Aug

23

 Aaron Brown on 1820s Northwest USA and poker's role in the invention of futures markets

Aaron Brown laying out his ideas on currency (also available in chapter 10 of RBR or part 7 of The Physics of Wallstreet: "The Physics of Wall Street: The Most Arrogant Book in the World? Part 7")

The most notable part of his thesis is that the standard story of futures markets (farmers love them) is false for farmers, centered on the wrong parties (should be centered on processors: millers, cleaners, shippers of grain), and backwards.

Brown claims that, instead of borrowing the cash to run a business, running the business, and repaying the creditors in cash, futures markets allow businesses to borrow something much more like what they will produce (wheat, electricity, FCOJ), and then pay back in kind—thus hedging currency risk. (This was especially important in the days of wildcat banks and soft paper monies—the wild west had little coinage.) Someone who transports wheat from St Louis to Chicago could short a location spread, for example.

Crucial to his point is that July 23 #2 soft red winter wheat at Minneapolis is *not* what I produce—it's merely similar enough that by rolling a series of short calendar spreads, I can continually borrow in terms *similar* to what I will actually produce.

In AB's world, not only are bonds, bills, notes, and corporate equity alternative currencies/numeraires –so is, with thick enough markets, each short spread on a commodity market. What's more, he claims that futures markets were not invented by anyone; they arose bottom-up out of a poker-playing culture, which had developed "clearing-houses" between 1820-1850, so that hedging credit risk/ currency risk in this way felt obvious.

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

As another Brown would say "AAAARRRRGGGGGHHHHH!!!!"

No one in 5th century Greece or 18th and 19th century Atlantic America thought that you "borrowed cash to run a business". If you could not deal in credit, you had no business to run.

The use of the term "money" seems to defeat almost everyone's understanding of these periods. There was no "paper" (or clay or parchment) money. Those were, like the Federal Reserve's small pieces of art, bills and notes - forms of IOUs. Coin - cash on the barrel head - was what you demanded from people when you no longer trusted their credit on any terms. Coin was valuable because the demand for gold and silver jewelry, plate and other forms of ornament was real and because, when there was a credit collapse, anyone holding coin could find great bargains by being willing to surrender their cash in exchange for - wait for it - bills and notes.

"Wildcat" banks were local credit merchants; people who lived within a day's ride or canal boat journey (also dependent on horses) had a pretty good sense of what the local wildcat's IOUs were worth. The conventional histories pretend that this produced a crisis because they were all written by people who found the anarchy of local credit dealing offensive. They wanted a nice, neat world run by proper people named Biddle.

anonymous writes: 

I have not read the book. But I just read Aaron Brown's review. If he submitted that essay to an accounting professor, he would get an F. It is obvious to any objective observer that the proximate cause of the Bear Stearns and Lehman blowups is the same thing that blew up all of the S&L's in the 80's, Mettelgeselschaft, and countless other operating companies: they held illiquid long-term assets that were financed with short-term funding. Period. End of story.

Aaron Brown evidently has a large brain that is similar to Nassim Taleb's but he lost my respect when he wrote: "But everyone with a brain agrees that (a) derivatives are at the heart of things and (b) the essential aspect of derivatives is not contracts that reduce risk by specifying prices in advance but the system of exchanges, clearinghouses, and standardization that replace credit risk with liquidity risk."

Absent a surprising development since his last medical exam, Rocky still has a brain. And with that brain, he has written several laws — laws that have served him profitably over the past decades. One of those laws is that when a market becomes dominated by arbitrageurs and second-order instruments (whether it's merger arb, convertibles, mortgage backeds in 1994 and again 2007, CMO's etc etc etc) — it will blow up. Always has. Always will. And there are many many reasons for that. Note to Aaron Brown: (1) DERIVATIVES ARE NOT THE HEART OF THINGS. THAT IS WHY THEY ARE CALLED DERIVATIVES. (2) There is nothing remotely interesting, novel or insightful about your (b) observation. Anyone who has taken an introductory course in Finance understands there is a difference between Solvency and Liquidity.

Mar

15

Ralph, you and I were dropping the word "manifold" on this site a year or so ago. It got me wondering if it is either necessary or helpful.

For example, what cases are we cutting out? What kind of situations are not manifolds?

- manifolds with singularities (this is what we really meant, I think, since aberrant days are remembered by all)

- algebraic spaces (recommended on MathOverflow as a precursor to understanding stacks = 2-sheaves)

-verdier duality (a condition which fails for non-manifolds)

In the 19th century, manifolds were always subsets of R^n (quoting bill fulton, representation theory). They might have holes or handles and they might have curvature. The curvature I think is what interests us in finance. Most term structures are curved, and order books are irregular as well.

All in all, I am still up in the air about whether this is a useful word to use in finance.

Dec

2

 In honor of our new spec and Larry, I hypothesize that like Pascal's Law, that a small move in a big market will cause probabilistically, a large move in a smaller market. I'll give 1,000 bucks to the personage that comes up with the best predictive relation on that theme.

Mr. Isomorphisms replies: 

I would start looking in smaller markets that are dependent on the larger one. Eg, look at a town where >50% of the workers are employed at one company. The decline of various parts of Detroit's supply chain could fit this story. Or Iceland/Scotland with their large banking sectors relative to within-country wealth.

Steve Ellison writes: 

Chair: "I hypothesize that like pascal's law, that a small move in a big market will cause probabilistically, a large move in a smaller market."

Let us first get an idea of which markets are big and small. Glancing at the futures contract listings in the newspaper, here are some rough estimates of open interest:

3-month Eurodollar 10,000,000
S&P 500 e-mini        3,100,000
10-year US Treasury 3,000,000
Crude oil                  1,300,000
Soybeans                   670,000
Euro                           465,000
Gold                           400,000
Wheat                         360,000
Cocoa                         175,000
Copper                        155,000
Silver                          150,000
Palladium                      31,000
Oats                               8,500
Lumber                           5,000

Next, I would like to introduce the bullwhip effect. Most goods have a "supply chain" that begins with raw materials, progresses to components and finished goods, and may include warehouses and stores. The bullwhip effect posits that, the farther "back" in the supply chain an operation is (farther away from the end customer), the greater the swings in production and inventory will be in response to fluctuations in end customer demand. Here is an article on the subject.

During the dot-com crash in October 2000, stocks briefly rallied on a glowing earnings report by JDS Uniphase. The CNBC screamer correctly noted that JDSU was a component supplier, farther back in the supply chain, and its record sales had probably just bloated the inventories of companies such as Cisco Systems that had already reduced forward guidance.

From this perspective, lumber seems a good candidate for a Pascal's Law study. It is a raw material that must go through additional processing before reaching most customers, and its futures market is very small. The S&P 500 is a large market that theoretically is based on the whole economy and should be more sensitive to final sales.

Using 3 months as a rough rule of thumb for total lead time in a typical supply chain, I compared quarterly net changes in the S&P 500 with net changes one quarter later in the lumber price.

LUMBER                        S&P 500
          Adjusted  Net              Adjusted   Net
Date      Close     change   Date    Close      change
                           09/30/11   1048.50
  12/30/11   291.1         12/30/11   1180.75  132.25
  03/30/12   283.0   -8.1  03/30/12   1337.50  156.75
  06/29/12   294.8   11.8  06/29/12   1297.50  -40.00
  09/28/12   311.3   16.5  09/28/12   1382.00   84.50
  12/31/12   391.4   80.1  12/31/12   1373.75   -8.25
  03/29/13   407.6   16.2  03/28/13   1521.50  147.75
  06/28/13   310.2  -97.4  06/28/13   1563.75   42.25
  09/30/14   355.7   45.5  09/30/13   1645.50   81.75
  12/31/13   365.7   10.0  12/31/13   1818.75  173.25
  03/31/14   334.4  -31.3  03/31/14   1849.25   30.50
  06/30/14   340.3    5.9  06/30/14   1944.50   95.25
  09/30/14   338.0   -2.3  09/30/14   1965.50   21.00

There were only 11 data points since 2012, not enough for significance. In a regression, the t score was -1.55, and the R squared was 0.21.

The quarterly changes in lumber were a little larger in percentage terms (about 8% mean absolute change) than in the S&P 500 (about 6% mean absolute change).

Victor Niederhoffer writes: 

Excellent. You win the prize. Everything a report should be. (A little weak on the predictivity but not your fault.) If it was easy, we would all be wealthy men. 

Nov

19

 On Friday the world's greatest mathematician, Alexander Grothendieck, died, in Saint-Girons, Ariege.

More in Le Monde and the NYT, but I liked this quotation from Recoltes et Semailles:

New tasks forever call him to new scaffoldings, driven as he is by a need that he is perhaps alone to fully respond to. He belongs out in the open. He is the companion of the winds and isn't afraid of being entirely alone in his task, for months or even years or, if it should be necessary, his whole life, if no-one arrives to relieve him of his burden. He, like the rest of the world, hasn't more than two hands — yet two hands which, at every moment, know what they're doing, which do not shrink from the most arduous tasks, nor despise the most delicate, and are never resistant to learning to perform the innumerable list of things they may be called upon to do. Two hands, it isn't much, considering how the world is infinite. Yet, all the same, two hands, they are a lot…

McLarty's lecture is the best philosophical (rather than mathematical) take I know of on Grothendieck's work on the Weil conjectures. In summary, with his topos-theoretic approach he built a space tailor made to his problem, from the simplest of bits–and then let the space itself do the work.

Richard Owen writes: 

One presumes he has reincarnated as an interior designer? It's a shame he went off his loop a touch in the last decades. Or maybe he achieved a type of sanity we're not smart enough to understand:

The windows and blinds are all closed in most of the rooms of this mansion, no doubt from fear of being engulfed by winds blowing from no-one knows where. And, when the beautiful new furnishings, one after another with no regard for their provenance, begin to encumber and crowd out the space of their rooms even to the extent of pouring into the corridors, not one of these heirs wish to consider the possibility that their cozy, comforting universe may be cracking at the seams. Rather than facing the matter squarely, each in his own way tries to find some way of accommodating himself, one squeezing himself in between a Louis XV chest of drawers and a rattan rocking chair, another between a moldy grotesque statue and an Egyptian sarcophagus, yet another who, driven to desperation climbs, as best he can, a huge heterogeneous collapsing pile of chairs and benches!

Makes me think of: "One of my old supervisors told me that Wilhelm Reich went through three developmental phases as a theorist. In the first, he was not crazy and was not very creative, in the second he was a little bit crazy and very creative, and in the third, he was very crazy and not very creative."

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