Saturday, September 27, 2008

Last night we saw The Dave Holland Sextet at Yoshis Oakland.

I've seen Holland's various bands a few times, and they always put on a great, high end, modern jazz show. The pieces they play are almost avant-garde in their complexity, but is such a great musician, and has such great musicians playing for him, that it comes across very accessible.

One other thing that is very noticeable is the way Holland helps develop new musicians, and lets them really stretch out rather than just featuring himself. All the musicians in this band got a lot of room to show what they could do and gave wonderful solos.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Last night I finished The (Mis)behavior of Markets by Benoit Mandelbrot and Richard L. Hudson.

Though it was published in 2006, this book provides an interesting background to the current financial mess. The main thrust of the book is that the assumptions underlying much of modern finance are invalid, and have been known to be invalid for many years.

In particular, Mandelbrot argues that the distribution of prices in the market follows more closely a fractal/power law rather than the standard assumed Gaussian/Normal distribution, and that there is a dependence between current prices and past prices, though not in a way that is useful for so-called "chartists" who try to predict today's price based on previous data.

The first point doesn't seem to be very controversial anymore. Many studies have shown that markets do not match the Gaussian/Normal distribution very well, particularly in the "fatness" of the tails - the markets show much higher proportion of large price shifts than would be expected under Gaussian conditions - even though most finance courses still teach the CAPM/Black-Sholes types models that are based on this assumption. The second point is more controversial, and the book does not fully present that argument in enough detail for me to judge it, nor does there seem to be sufficient agreement in other studies.

I was hoping this book was more of a middle ground between detailed (and usually near incomprehensible to non-specialist) academic papers and pop-science type descriptions, but the authors chose to go the pop-science route and drop almost all mathematical detail from the book.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Last night I finished The Philosopher's Apprentice by James Morrow.

Part action adventure, part science fiction, part philosophical exploration, this is not an easy book to categorize.

The protagonist is a failed philosophy Ph.d who gets dragged into tutoring a girl with amnesia about ethics, or at least that is how things appear. The twists come fast and furious in this book which mixes elements from, and satirizes at the same time, Pygmalion, the Island of Dr. Moreau and Atlas Shrugged.

Good enough that I will be looking for other books by the same author, it does peter out a little half way through - the setup/buildup is more fun then the payoff and denouement.