Traveling Light

Over the past few years I’ve managed to pare down my luggage requirements to a single carry-on bag and a briefcase.  (Rick Steves offers some useful advice in this area.)  My present trip has seen a similar reduction in the amount of stuff I carry with me on a daily basis.  To select a particularly appalling example, I climbed the Great Wall carrying both a bag (containing lunch items, water, and other “essentials”), Nikon D40, and a generously-sized umbrella from the Beijing Intercontinental.  To be fair, the umbrella doubled as a walking-stick and there was a decent chance of rain, but the combined weight in the face of oppressive humidity suggested I seek alternatives.

I have since traded my passport for a photocopy, the Nikon for an ultra-compact Canon IXUS 100IS, and left the bag at home.  The IXUS 100IS (the SD780in the U.S.) is the smallest of Canon’s current line, can hide behind a credit card, and easily disappears into a pocket thanks to its rounded corners.  While I still bring the Nikon when the situation demands, the Canon has become my daily carry.

Please locate the nearest exit

I’m having far too much fun in Beijing to put together a decent post, but the temptation to send out another “find an exit” email grows ever stronger.  Looking at my archives, the last time I sent such an email was September 20, 2008.  This rally still has space in which to run, but it appears to be nothing more than a standard bear market rally.  I will instead throw out some recent quotations for your amusement.

In the past, I have gone so far as to imply the Realtors group are spinmeisters. This month, I will be more blunt: Their actual data has become untrustworthy, their spokesmen lie for a living, and their “news releases” is little more than misleading junk.

– Barry Ritholtz, The Big Picture, 2009-08-24

“No, no. That’s not the one you want. You want FAS!”

– An airline stewardess commenting on Tom Sosnoff’s chart of FAZ, the financials ultra-short ETF.  (This is a Joe Kennedy Shoeshine Boy moment.)

In what can only be attributed to a rogue computer blowing a vacuum tube, virtually all the names in the credit universe were wider over the past week, despite an equity market ripping, or, more specifically, AIG, FNM and FRE ripping and everyone piggybacking for the ride in a few bankrupt companies.

– Tyler Durden, zero hedge, 2009-08-24

Dragon Kings and Black Swans

I have been somewhat a fan of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s black swan idea, although not without reservations.  A black swan is by definition unpredictable, and yet the current financial meltdown was hardly a surprise to anyone who cared to look.  I am therefore pleased to mention a new entry into our statistical bestiary, that of the dragon king.  In his paper Dragon-Kings, Black Swans and the Prediction of Crises, Didier Sornette identifies statistical outliers to data sets that otherwise follow power law distributions.  Such outliers appear to be the result of positive feedback mechanisms, and two interesting hypotheses may be drawn: that they are both more common than expected, and also predictable.

“Million-to-one chances crop up nine times out of ten.”

– Granny Weatherwax, Equal Rites, by Terry Pratchett


Empty hallwayYesterday one of the teachers called to ask us to keep contact to a minimum.  The day passed most quietly.  That night I could hear music streaming in from a party across the street.  Today is day 4, and my temperature this morning was 36.2.

The hallways feel empty, but those small panels between the rooms aren’t just decorative.  You could conceal a small army in them, and some appear to connect between floors.

I’ve attached pictures of some of the quarantine measures below. The windows open to a limited extent, but the interior vents have been sealed.  Emergency exits have been sealed with strips of paper to discourage casual use.  The front of the hotel has two layers of barricades and high levels of visibility.  The periphery of the site has guards at fixed points and on patrol, but dense shrubbery and outbuildings serve to significantly reduce visibility.

Sealed bathroom ventWindow block
Guard at fixed positionGuard on patrol