Season’s Meetings

It would be difficult to cram in any more events between the parties.  Not only have we had the Z/Yen Christmas Party, my 27th annual boozy breakfast on Lady Daphne (beer courtesy of Fuller’s!), the annual Broad Street Ward Club luncheon, carol services at St Margaret Lothbury, and numerous other events, but work has been frenzied too.  Try some of these fascinating links for some variety, not even the half of it:

Then some amazing Financial Times coverage of a project we cooked up with Michael Parsons and Bob McDowall of Alderney over the summer:

but perhaps most noteworthy for me was the honour of presenting at this University of Sussex workshop for Onora O’Neill – – terrifying to be a business person presenting to philosophers, but Onora made it rewarding.  And that’s just bits of December, though a nice, closing for the year before heading away to Germany for Wolpertinger habitat preservation work –  So I’ll leave a stressful 2013 behind with the following picture of peace and The Shard in fog after a few beers on a cold morning at St Katharine’s Dock.  Prost Neujahr 2014.


Battle of the Quants

Working with Bartt Kellermann and Selvie Shaqiri to help bring their very successful US format here to the UK.  Very interesting session today discussing this brief title – “ From the Ephemeral Quant to the Eternal Coin: Short Term vs. Long Term Considerations when Allocating to Quantitative Based Strategies”.  Thankfully, some of our thoughts on Long Finance really rang a bell, and folks seemed to be interested in Asymmettric Gain-Loss Recognition, Performance Policy Bonds, Confidence Accounting, Irreversible Time, Unburnable Carbon, Internal Growth Rate as a key regulatory pension metric, and Volatility = Sustainability.  Wow.  Great crowd.

Eternal Coin Treadmill

Battle of the Quants

Working hard to get elected and already finding that the number of speaking engagements is climbing sharply.  I’m speaking next week at Battle of the Quants.  This is a very popular New York event format which is coming to London a second time.  I’ve been given a succinct title – ” From the Ephemeral Quant to the Eternal Coin: Short Term vs. Long Term Considerations when Allocating to Quantitative Based Strategies”.  We’ll see how well this audience takes to Long Finance‘s thoughts on the long term.


Ribbon Cutting Practice

Goodacre - Systems in the City Awards v1.1

An aspiring politician also needs to practice ribbon cutting and award ceremonies.  Never one to shirk a dinner and aspiring to be a good Alderman, this event looms next week:

Systems in the City Awards 2013

Prof. Michael Mainelli and Dr Iain Saville to Announce Winners

The 2013 Systems in the City Award Winners will be announced on 19th June 2013 by Professor Michael Mainelli and Dr Iain Saville OBE

 The presentation dinner will be held at The Grand Connaught Rooms and includes a champagne reception sponsored by Cofunds, a 4 course dinner and evening entertainment

With only one week to go there are only a few places left.

To make sure you do not miss out email or call +44 (0)20 7422 0063.

Dr Aleks Krotoski Asks: Do Social Media Make The World More Boring?

Real Time Club, 23 November 2010

This event garnered a significantly higher than average attendance, just squeezing into the National Liberal Club room we had. Higher attendance meant more demanding acoustics and our guest of honour did her very best to speak without a proper sound system for such a number.  That said, she rose above the obstacles to set out some excellent arguments and lead a vibrant debate with the audience.


Three Princes Of Serendip

Aleks opened with some points about the original intentions behind the internet community and the culture of the web being broken.  Perhaps foremost amongst the original intentions was serendipity, meeting and exchanging virtually with strangers.  Recognising that one can view the web as an agnostic series of tubes – just communications technology – Dr Krotoski noted that that was not the founding ethos.  The founders of the web had ideals, principles and emotion. Without quite claiming the web is broken, she pointed out that simply “finding” things undermines the ethos of the web.  The webs was supposed to establish relationships. These relationships were meant to be about sharing and co-creating information.  As people developed information together there would emerge positive feedback and credibility.  These are people “like us”. From this credibility emerges Dr Krotoski’s area of research, “social influence” as exhibited on the internet.

Dr Krotoski noted the similarities between online and offline influence.  She discussed intra-community influence (influence “us”) and extra-community influence (“leaders”).  She noted, with a tinge of regret, that technology is reinforcing patterns perhaps more than creating new ones.  “We are all our demographic”.  She elaborated about the effect on self-actualisation of “living in public”. The more people realise they are living in public the more it affects their decisions about what they choose to do and who they become.  She concluded with the thought for discussion that it might be a good thing if we stop getting what we want on the internet and instead seek to inject more serendipity, more randomness into our encounters.

For a mixed group of internet, let alone web, oldies and more recent technology converts, the idea that effective functionality had a negative trade-off with serendipity aroused some intriguing thought and remarks.  Among them:

  • Do we need more Luddites in the internet communities? Does advertising reinforce our views?
  • Where do ideas come from? Is serendipity an ideas generator or just wasted time?
  • An interesting question, which Dr Krotoski sparked, about how many people press “I’m feeling lucky” button to seek serendipity.  In actuality the button is ridiculously simple: it takes you to the number one site for the given search term or keyword. No randomization, just the top match.
  • Some discussion about privacy, fictitious online identities and a number of members getting close to revealing some gender jarring mismatches.
  • A ponder about whether the loss of serendipity was actually harking back to a non-age as the law of large numbers comes into effect with the success of the internet. Perhaps it’s just a numbers game and we should expect people to match their demographic in large numbers.
  • Was Aleks really discussing the reason that “walled gardens” of content, e.g. Apple or the long-defunct AOL, might work, or was that model ultimately broken?
  • Have we stepped one step away from reality and the increased disassociation is affecting our reactions?
  • A discussion on whether games are socialisation and whether there is quite a bit of serendipity within them.
  • A question about how one might measure degrees of serendipity between online and offline, but a further remark that perhaps the interaction of online and offline had decreased free will slightly. Story too about a godson who deliberately seeks more diverse views online – “chatting with fascists”.
  • A most intriguing suggestion from Aleks – “follow three people you hate on Facebook for a week”.

For those interested in the next next big idea, it would seem that ways of injecting serendipity and randomness into online communities, without undue frustration, could be a great business area.  Aleks at one point noted that one “should never meet your heroes, meet strangers”, but the many who came that Tuesday evening wouldn’t have agreed with her about herself.

The Eternal Coin: Physical Endurance or Digital Failure

On 15 June 2010, the Real Time Club evening’s proposition for discussion was that new technology will move beyond a facsimile of current exchange to new means of exchange that are better for society as a whole.  Future e-money synthetic currencies for speculative fiction writers shouldn’t be, “that will be ten galactic credits, thank you”, but rather, “you owe me a return trip to Uranus and a kilogram of platinum for delivery in 12 months”.  Well, that’s what our payments autodroid bots (i.e., mobile phones) will agree amongst themselves.  Dave sets out his stall: “When you digitise something, you have the opportunity to re-engineer it.  So it is with money.  As money has changed from barter to bullion, from paper to PayPal, it has changed the markets and societies that depend on it.  Where next?

The Eternal Coin

The Eternal Coin

Dave Birch opened in front of about 40 members with a reminder that Hayek always believed that money was too important to be left to governments.   Dave argued that we ideally needed many units of account for many things but that multiple currencies increased the cost of transactions markedly – how could the cash register be large enough.  He pointed out though that in border areas people seemed able to handle concepts of multiple currencies easily.  This led to a quick reminder of the many new currencies emerging online, e.g. QQ in China, but Dave emphasised the crucial role of the mobile phone, e.g. M-Pesa in Africa.  Finally, Dave touched on new currencies related more closely to real value, e.g. based on commodities, such as people in Norway using future kwHs of electricity as currency.

The core of the argument was that:

1 – we have reached a time of great change in the nature or money

2 – the mobile phone is the most important technological part of the change

3 – some of the nascent currencies will transform our view of money

Dave concluded by musing on what these changes might mean for definitions of communities and community values across space rather than being confined by geography.

Malcolm Cooper opened his reply by asserting that the mobile phone is a transient technology, witness the iPad.  He believed that Dave confused the communications device with the technology.  Malcolm, drawing from some of the themes in his book, “In Search of the Eternal Coin: A Long Finance View of History”, felt the aberration over history was currency.  The norm is trading and storing value in a multiplicity of ways.  As an example Malcolm pointed to the extent of the Carthaginian trading empire and its relatively low use of coinage.

The discussion was, as ever with the Real Time Club, quite vibrant and funny.  Some comments and ripostes included:

  • shouldn’t we conclude from Dave’s arguments that Nokia ought to be a bank? This led to a further reminder of the 1994 paper by Edward de Bono  published by the Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation, “The IBM Dollar”;
  • would Carthage have been better off or stronger with currency?
  • Michael King of WDX (commercial interest) spoke of his firm’s Wocu (World Currency Unit), a basket of top 20 nations by GDP, weighted by GDP;
  • Michael Mainelli raised a point about trading currencies versus stores of value (reserve currencies) and pointed out other initiatives directed at that, e.g. the UTU;
  • wasn’t the deeper problem removing swings in markets, or was it perhaps that swings in markets were exacerbated by our reliance on currency?
  • the use of the quote from Dostoevsky, “money is coined liberty” (House of the Dead, part 1, chapter 2) led to a ponder as to whether we are at our most vulnerable when everything is cash;
  • people were reminded that fiat currency is fiat because the government only accepts the currency for tax purposes, giving government other opportunities to tax through debasement and devaluation and inflation;
  • was the importance of the mobile phone the global connective power and little else, followed by a comment that these days a mobile phone was hardly that, rather a computer with a phone attached;
  • a discussion kicked off on the importance of anonymity to money, including the withdrawal of cheques in the UK, and of course the Real Time Club’s interest in many things cryptographic.

The evening closed with a poem, “Liquidity”, composed on the night and read by long-standing member Andy Low:

The lake of commerce gives life its pace,

For on its smooth and shiny face,

Ripples form, surge forth and race.

(What do I want, what can I get)

They cross, connect and intersect.

The lives of people who’ve never met.

About the speakers

Dave Birch is a Director of Consult Hyperion, the IT management consultancy that specialises in electronic transactions.  Here he provides specialist consultancy support to clients around the world, including all of the leading payment brands, major telecommunications providers, governments bodies and international organisations including the OECD.  Before helping to found Consult Hyperion in 1986, he spent several years working as a consultant in Europe, the Far East and North America.  He graduated from the University of Southampton with a BSc (Hons) in Physics.

Described by The Telegraph as “one of the world’s leading experts on digital money”, by The Independent as a “grade-A geek”, by the Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation as “one of the most user-friendly of the UK’s uber-techies” and by Financial World as “mad”, Dave is a member of the editorial board of the E-Finance & Payments Law and Policy Journal, a columnist for SPEED and well-known for his blogs on Digital Money and Digital Identity.  He has lectured to MBA level on the impact of new information and communications technologies, contributed to publications ranging from the Parliamentary IT Review to Prospect and wrote a Guardian column for many years.  He is a media commentator on electronic business issues and has appeared on BBC television and radio, Sky and other channels around the world.  For much more, see
Dr Malcolm Cooper holds a First Class Bachelor of Arts in History from Dalhousie University, a Master of Arts in History from the University of Western Ontario, and a Doctorate of Philosophy in Modern History from Oxford University.  His thesis on the formation of the Royal Air Force was subsequently developed into a book, The Birth of Independent Air Power, and published in 1986.  His career has included a Research Fellowship at Downing College, Cambridge, management of the research programme of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, equity research management with three different investment banks (none of which, alas, exist today under their original name), and a five year spell as Head of Research for the City of London Corporation.  His most recent post was as Head of research for the independent public policy think tank Centre for Cities.

Malcolm was the first foreigner to take up coverage of the Istanbul and Athens stock markets and spent most of his investment banking career in European emerging markets, his last post being as Head of EMEA Equity Research for ABN-AMRO (a job he gave up in 2000 – not because he could see the crash coming, but because he decided he really didn’t want to be on the Central Line at 6.30 in the morning any more).  Most of his recent work has been in the UK public policy field but be retains an active interest in the more challenging parts of the world, and is still inordinately proud of having a letter published in The Times pointing out some of the more obvious problems with the UK’s current military commitments in Afghanistan.  He has also published several pieces on Turkey, including an article in International Affairs, a written submission to the Commons Select Committee and a contribution to a Chatham House forecast of likely regional scenarios following the second Iraq war.

Thinking About Thinking: Introducing The Real Time Club Brain, Mind & Computing Forum

Real TIme Club at the National Liberal Club, Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Some 60 guests assembled to hear Professor John Stein of Oxford, the eminent physiologist, help members of the Real Time Club better understand the weaknesses of the brain/mind to hardware/software analogy.


The afternoon event began with Chairman Professor Michael Mainelli welcoming the guests, followed by Vice-Chairman Maury Shenk outlining the Real Time Club’s continuing development and the role of the Brain, Mind & Computing Forum.  Maury handed over to past Chairman Charles Ross who then provided a background to the Forum and the idea of creating the key 21 questions that matter about the brain and mind in order to structure research.  Charles drew parallels with David Hilbert’s metamathematics programme of the 1900’s.  Interestingly, Michael Mainelli began a metacommerce programme under the Long Finance initiative for economics and business.  Maury then introduced Professor John Stein.

Professor Stein began by positing the question, “Is the brain a digital computer?”.  Giving the end game away quickly, “No”.  First, the brain doesn’t look like a digital computer, more like a blancmange.  Second, the process is completely different. Axonal process outputs may seem digital, but even just describing the ionic flows shows one how different things are.  The chemical transmitters are barely analogous to computer circuitry with their inherent inhibitors and their plasticity.  Third, the brain modifies its own structure.  Fourth, the brain is complex. There are probably some 10^20! combinations of axons and states.

Yet, things are more subtle. Professor Stein explored John Searle’s “Chinese Room” thought experiment on symbology and understanding – Professor Stein warned the Forum to avoid the homunculus fallacy  He then proceeded to wonder where we go from here.  Elucidating some thoughts from his own research and experience he explored representation, location mapping and the role of prediction in both the function of the brain and body, as well as consciousness.  He gave the example of the feedback interactions between the eye and the hand.  These feedback interactions are intimately connected with the brains ability to predict.  For example, as we reach for something we count on prediction of future location to time stopping the hand.  If we waited for our hand to give us feedback about the time to stop moving we would proceed through the desired location.

Professor Stein concluded by sharing some of his thoughts on how timing problems relate to dementia, depression or Parkinson’s disease.  He pointed out that, in his opinion, dyslexic problems and advantages are inter-related with concepts of time, specifically that dyslexics appear to have a weaker sense of time (provoking this writer to muse on whether Britain had become more dyslexic over the years, while the Italians have always been dyslexic).  Professor Stein held out hope that better understanding of these areas was leading to potential avenues for treatment or cure, e.g. experiments he has been involved with on tremors and oscillation signals.  Professor Stein concluded with support for the Forum exploring these issues in an inter-disciplinary manner.  The audience reaction was enthusiastic and there were numerous questions touching on subjects such as humour, the soul and various treatments.

“21 questions cognitive neuroscience needs to address in the 21st century”

The BrainMindForum, in conjunction with the Mind, Brain and Computing Caucus of the Real Time Club, launched its latest initiative, “21 key questions cognitive neuroscience needs to address in the 21st century” with a luncheon meeting at the National Liberal Club on Wednesday, 12th May. The project has been modelled on David Hilbert’s list of 23 unsolved problems in mathematics, posed in 1900, which provided a focus for mathematical endeavour for the early decades of the last century, and led to the invention of computers.

By introducing the new ‘21 questions’, project leader Charles Ross, co-author of Biological Systems of the Brain and chairman of the Brain Mind Forum, hopes to make use of the Real Time Club Member’s long experience of understanding complex systems to stimulate widespread thinking and debate to solve many of the outstanding puzzles about how the brain works and how we can use that knowledge to improve our quality of life.

Attendees at the project launch heard Mr John Stein, Professor of Physiology at Oxford University, talk about his work on neurophysiology and cognition, following which there was a lively debate about movement control, dyslexia, antisocial behaviour and computing-related issues.

The BrainMindForum was set up to provide a cross disciplinary platform for ideas, information, research and publications about the brain, in order to stimulate the creation of new ideas and promote further research into unlocking the secrets of the most important organ in our bodies

The Real Time Club ( is believed to be the oldest IT dining club in the world, and has had considerable influence over the years on the development of the computing industry and the use of computing in Britain. Recognising that modern digital computing techniques will be crucial to research on the linkages of neurophysiology and cognition, the Real Time Club has established the Brain, Mind and Computing Forum to focus on driving awareness and research in this important area.