Beyond intelligence: from darkness to light and to laugh at the soul

IQ, Seasonality, Heredity and Environment

Flowers for Algernon

Any one who has common sense will remember that the bewilderments of the eyes are of two kinds, and arise from two causes, either from coming out of the light or from going into the light, which is true of the mind’s eye, quite as much as of the bodily eye; and he who remembers this when he sees any one whose vision is perplexed and weak, will not be too ready to laugh; he will first ask whether that soul of man has come out of the brighter life, and is unable to see because unaccustomed to the dark, or having turned from darkness to the day is dazzled by excess of light. And he will count the one happy in his condition and state of being, and he will pity the other; or, if he have a mind to laugh at the soul which comes from below into the light, there will be more reason in this than in the laugh which greets him who returns from above out of the light into the den.

-Plato, The Republic

The light of intelligence and accomplishment draws and mesmerizes like a moth to a candle flame.
But lest we forget, at the very edge of our light’s bounds, lies the unseen world of our original begotten darkness.

When we do return “from above out of the light” back into the dark dens, the truest accomplishment may be that silvery laughter at our own foolish souls…and in offering a flower to our own algernons.


000.100-Filing Systems_Indexes_Databases for the Creative-Logical-Efficient



GM Davies is right: be it between creative or logically efficient, art or science, the divide is undeserved.

The post above also got me thinking about personal filing systems, indexes, databases; and how some obsessive-compulsive types can reach for extremes, in their urge to ‘properly’ and completely record+organize their every single reading, thought, (cross) reference, musing/insight. Before revisiting my own dark compulsion in this quest during younger days, here’s a look at how some Creative-Logical (the pairing of this seemingly-opposing dyad is intentional) overachievers carried out their own cartographical mapping of their mind-worlds towards efficient and illuminating productivity.

Fischer Black

“He always carried with him a package of note cards, and would pull them out to make a note the very moment the thought occurred…
What happened to all the notes? They all got taken back to his office where he would review them and decide what to save and what to throw out. Everything that got saved then got placed into an elaborate filing system where Fischer could put his hand on it within seconds should he ever need it again. Each note had its own sturdy manila file folder, with straight-cut tabs across the top to provide room for a detailed label, usually indicating the problem that the note addressed. As computer technology improved, Fischer augmented this paper filing system with an equally elaborate electronic filing system.”

“He did almost all of his work in an outlining program called ThinkTank, which he used as a kind of external associative emmory to supplement his own. Everything he read, every conversation he had, every thought that occurred, everything got summarized and added to the data base that swelled eventually to 20 million bytes organized in 2000 alphabetical files…Reading, discussion and thinking that Fischer did outside the office was recorded on slips of paper to be entered into the database later. Reading, discussion, and thinking that took place inside the office was recorded directly. While he was on the phone, he was typing. While he was talking to you in person, he was typing.”

-from the biography, “Fischer Black and the Revolutionary Idea of Finance”*

A character which inspired way back as a youth was the protaganist from Robert Pirsig’s “Lila: An Inquiry into Morals” where the Phaedrus-character** as thinker/writer organizes thousands of his thoughts/ideas as notes on coloured cards in card-catalogue drawers, the colourful cross-referencing juxtaposition of which can lead to exciting insights in new directions.
[My own younger self co-opted this into an even more elaborate framework, which predictably in light of its greater degrees of freedom, also meant a greater number of points of and propensity for failure.]

My compulsion with systematically organizing my readings, thinking, ideas probably began when as kids, we learnt about the Dewey Decimal Classification; I love the DDC (the amazing card-catalogues!) and thus took my first fallen adamic step towards the ultimately-futile act of organizing my world, ‘knowledge’ and mind.

Early gifts of beautiful journals, filofaxes, planners soon gave way to self-made binders incorporating only the best features, augmented by an ever-growing system of different-type/format/media files. And even more important, was the filing methodology and indexing system designed to capture+organize loose-sheaf and different-sized notes, diagrams, clippings, scraps of paper, (anything!) into a database to encourage, grow and especially to cross-pollinate, different ideas.
With the computer age, the task grew ever larger (predictably with the obstacles of reconciliation and synchronization) with early efforts into optimizing an object-oriented use of Microsoft Binder tools as the primary interface for my own Babel project. This failed irreparably, and in despair even thought of turning to relational databases for the solution.

Eventually, as with all Sisyphean labours and cycles, the tides turn.
Events, from something as minor as losing physical files representing years of beaver-like work and terminally crashed harddrives, to other more life and time-altering happenings, can take place which may cause one to release his fixation on establishing his own epistemology, and return to an original and unadulterated state of mind.

And in truth, the pure and simple (but not simplistic) mind, unfettered by the constraints and limits of mere ‘systems’, can make the most amazing connections and maybe even bring forth revealing insights.

It is bemusing how some of the ‘futuristic’ technologies and systems I so strongly desired as a youth to aid towards the building of my babel database (large-capacity handhelds, personal-area-network, remote access/platform/storage virtualization, ubiquitous thin-client applications, cloud computing, true O-O/rich multimedia content management…) have now largely come to pass. And yet, I have allowed it all to pass me by and instead returned to beginnings, relying simply on only journals and sketchpads; and to let that now dusty and rusty database/system die its natural death.

The return:

“The purpose of fish traps is to catch fish. When the fish are caught, the traps are forgotten. The purpose of rabbit snares is to catch rabbits. When the rabbits are caught, the snares are forgotten. The purpose of words is to convey ideas. When the ideas are grasped, the words are forgotten.

Where is the man who has forgotten all words? He is the one I would like to speak with.”
-Chuang Tzu

“Every burned book enlightens the world.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

To paraphrase Emerson hopefully then: every burned system/database of the mind may just enlighten the being.

[*Fischer Black, noted economist and egg-head genius, co-developer of the Black-Scholes option pricing model.

**Robert Pirsig (and the character Phaedrus) is of course more well-known for his first book, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”.

legacydaily’s post on Complex And Inefficient Systems warrants referencing here:

{The clips from Bruce Almighty and Brazil (first link at top and within the legacydaily post above) may provide other perspectives on the complex systems around within and without us, of dubious or sometimes divine efficacy}

Robust and Coherent: Expected Shortfall vs VaR (and a view of peruvian murphic risk management)



Just came across this short paper giving a concise overview of the robust and coherent risk measure Expected Shortfall (ES) against the more fragile VaR.

Expected shortfall, while still relatively at the fringes of risk management practice at financial institutions and regulators, has long been commonly used as a loss estimation model by actuaries under conditions of incomplete information, aggregate claims etc in the more stodgy insurance world.

Though as the author rightly informs, the spirit/principle of expected shortfall as a risk measure/management tool has been integral at some of the largest derivative exchanges in the world (all based in large part on CME-SPAN).
Indeed, expected shortfall or a more robust conditional-VaR may be a worthwhile reference for the trader looking towards appropriate risk-sizing.

But beyond risk or loss estimations, perhaps what is even more pertinent, is to determine which volatility regime (and therefore the appropriate trading strategy) we are in now. And here the use of a non-normal risk/volatility measure like expected shortfall will be most useful.
What volatility regime are we in now ?

[Here is Bo Keely of dailyspeculations speaking of “Peru’s queer bureaucracy and built-in Murphy’s Law”, almost as an endogenic risk factor or expected shortfall which one must constantly be aware of and account for, as he weighs the odds of surviving –nay, prospering– as an expat and expert tramp in the steamy Amazon.

Walking (in the haze)


I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks–who had a genius, so to speak, for SAUNTERING, which word is beautifully derived “from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense of going a la Sainte Terre,” to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, “There goes a Sainte-Terrer,” a Saunterer, a Holy-Lander. They who never go to the Holy Land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds; but they who do go there are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean. Some, however, would derive the word from sans terre without land or a home, which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere. For this is the secret of successful sauntering. He who sits still in a house all the time may be the greatest vagrant of all; but the saunterer, in the good sense, is no more vagrant than the meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest course to the sea. But I prefer the first, which, indeed, is the most probable derivation. For every walk is a sort of crusade, preached by some Peter the Hermit in us, to go forth and reconquer this Holy Land from the hands of the Infidels.

It is true, we are but faint-hearted crusaders, even the walkers, nowadays, who undertake no persevering, never-ending enterprises. Our expeditions are but tours, and come round again at evening to the old hearth-side from which we set out. Half the walk is but retracing our steps. We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return–prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only as relics to our desolate kingdoms. If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again–if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man–then you are ready for a walk.


Surely T jests…what a price to pay for a walk !
Then again, who is to say a walk is not as serious and holy a business as walking with and following the One; after all, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service”.
[Luke 9:62]

T continues:

To come down to my own experience, my companion and I, for I sometimes have a companion, take pleasure in fancying ourselves knights of a new, or rather an old, order–not Equestrians or Chevaliers, not Ritters or Riders, but Walkers, a still more ancient and honorable class, I trust. The Chivalric and heroic spirit which once belonged to the Rider seems now to reside in, or perchance to have subsided into, the Walker–not the Knight, but Walker, Errant. He is a sort of fourth estate, outside of Church and State and People.

I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least–and it is commonly more than that–sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements. You may safely say, A penny for your thoughts, or a thousand pounds. When sometimes I am reminded that the mechanics and shopkeepers stay in their shops not only all the forenoon, but all the afternoon too, sitting with crossed legs, so many of them–as if the legs were made to sit upon, and not to stand or walk upon–I think that they deserve some credit for not having all committed suicide long ago.

I, who cannot stay in my chamber for a single day without acquiring some rust, and when sometimes I have stolen forth for a walk at the eleventh hour, or four o’clock in the afternoon, too late to redeem the day, when the shades of night were already beginning to be mingled with the daylight, have felt as if I had committed some sin to be atoned for,–I confess that I am astonished at the power of endurance, to say nothing of the moral insensibility, of my neighbors who confine themselves to shops and offices the whole day for weeks and months, aye, and years almost together. I know not what manner of stuff they are of–sitting there now at three o’clock in the afternoon, as if it were three o’clock in the morning. Bonaparte may talk of the three-o’clock-in-the-morning courage, but it is nothing to the courage which can sit down cheerfully at this hour in the afternoon over against one’s self whom you have known all the morning, to starve out a garrison to whom you are bound by such strong ties of sympathy. I wonder that about this time, or say between four and five o’clock in the afternoon, too late for the morning papers and too early for the evening ones, there is not a general explosion heard up and down the street, scattering a legion of antiquated and house-bred notions and whims to the four winds for an airing-and so the evil cure itself.

So, be it chivalrously cavalierly or errantly, we walk…
Though four hours everyday seems such a luxury in this present age, like T, rusty is how I feel if denied my regular walk and airing from my chambered cell.

But sometimes, the outdoors air may prove to be less of a cordial elixir towards “preserving health and spirits”.



Haze back in S’pore:

We are caught in the tail-end of the Southwest monsoon winds of the summer months. Hoping and praying for the cleansing rain and favourable winds of the torrential Northeast monsoon is futile — that is at least two months away. Only chance we have is for the Inter-monsoon to arrive promptly and have its swirling whippy winds give us at least a 50/50 chance of escaping the haze.

I’ll hate to have to go a-sauntering and choking in a foggy daze.

Gold, a new home

At risk of sounding like a gold bug:

Hong Kong is pulling all its physical gold holdings from depositories in London, transferring them to a high-security depository newly built at the city’s airport, in a move that won praise from local traders Thursday.

The facility, industry professionals said, would support Hong Kong’s emergence as a Swiss-style trading hub for bullion and would lessen London’s status as a key settlement-and-storage center.

“Having a central government-sponsored vault would create a situation where you could conceivably look at Hong Kong as being a hub, where metal could be traded for the region,” said Sunil Kashyap, managing director at Scotia Capital in Hong Kong, adding that the facility was the first with official government backing in the region.

The Hong Kong Monetary Authority, which functions as the territory’s unofficial central bank, will transfer its gold reserves stored in other vaults to the depository later this year, the Hong Kong government said in an earlier statement.

The monetary authority reported $63 million in physical gold reserves as of July 31, according to its International Reserves and Foreign Currency Liquidity statement. The authority wouldn’t disclose where the reserves are held, but local media reports cited gold traders as saying that London’s the most likely location.

Traders said the new depository facility could also foster new financial products, such as exchange-traded funds based on precious metals.

The 3,660-square-foot depository, located at the city’s main Chek Lap Kok Airport, will serve as a “storage facility for local and overseas government institutions,” according to the government statement.


And the actual Xinhua article:

The 340-square-meter depository would be used to provide secure storage and physical settlement services to central banks, commodity exchanges, bullion banks, precious metal refineries and issuers of exchange traded funds.

In addition to safety and security, it will help reduce transportation costs and settlement risks for precious metals including gold, silver, platinum and palladium.

The Monetary Authority is planning to transfer its physical gold reserves stored at other vaults to the depository later this year, the HKSAR government said. The Airport Authority and the Mercantile Exchange also signed an agreement Wednesday requiring all clearing members of the exchange to keep gold-bar stock at the depository.


Hong Kong central bank’s (the HKMA) actual gold reserves are insignificant (though her motherland’s gold holdings -official reserves + SOE holdings- are massive). But the true implications of the action above are far greater.

Singapore has some gold reserves (a respectable schooner in a sea of VLCC behemoths and ‘Malaccamax’ leviathans); where does Spore keep its little pot of gold?

[1], [2], [3]

The lone sailor

A brave girl.

“Jessica’s Mission: 22,000 nautical miles, 7-8 months, one young woman alone, facing all that the sea and the weather can throw at her. This is the challenge that Jessica will overcome.”

Records and competition aside, she is continuing in the grand tradition of solo globe circumnavigation in the wake of the greats: Joshua Slocum, Francis Chichester, and that tramp of the sea, Bernard Moitessier.

Here’s wishing Jessica all the best and a fruitful personal journey as she sails forth in her trim YoungestRound; as had Slocum in his oyster sloop the Spray which “steers itself”, Chichester in his fleet-footed Gipsy Moth, and Moitessier in his mind-boggling heavy steel-hulled Joshua, which takes all weather come hell or high water.

Moitessier is of course famous for his “crazed” decision in the 1968/69 Race Around The World [route map], where after rounding Cape Horn and comfortably leading in the final stretch back to England, he abandoned the race and sailed on in his own (long) Way and stopped only after circling the globe one and a half times.



“You do not ask a tame seagull why it needs to disappear from time to time toward the open sea. It goes, that’s all.”

“I am a citizen of the most beautiful nation on earth. A nation whose laws are harsh yet simple, a nation that never cheats, which is immense and without borders, where life is lived in the present. In this limitless nation, this nation of wind, light, and peace, there is no other ruler besides the sea.”

-Bernard Moitessier, from his “The Long Way”

What did Moitessier see… ?

What price, excellence ?

My most admired local trader has hung up his guns.

“In past years, I have been doing 18-hour workdays with very active positions’ management to keep downside volatility of funds very low. I cannot do that with my current health conditions.”
-C, 50

C, who wore his faith openly in an industry where attributing your trading/fund management success and acumen to anything less (or more) than human/quantitative skill is a sure path to killing any fund-raising effort, had previously credited his religious faith for climbing out of severe drawdowns and referenced biblical verses for trading wisdom (openly on his company site).

His fund’s Sharpe and Sortino ratios are…simply exemplary.


“The race is not to the swift, or the battle to the
nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the
brilliant or favor to the learned;
but time and chance happen to them all.”

“A traveller! I love his title. A traveller is to be
reverenced as such. His profession is the best symbol
of our life. Going from _____ toward _____; it
is the history of every one of us.”