Silicon Valley Bank collapse

Last week, two major banks collapsed: Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) and Signature. These were the second and third largest bank collapses in US history—the largest being Washington Mutual in 2008. Since I seem to be writing about finance this month, I wanted to try my hand at explaining why, for the reader who doesn’t know anything about finance.

Short answer: SVB placed a big bet long-term US treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities. However, the prices of these assets went down. Companies with money in SVB were worried about it, so they started withdrawing a lot of money, requiring SVB to sell its assets at a loss until it was wiped out. Bank collapses tend to spread via a process called “contagion”, and Signature appears to be the first victim.

Really long answer: Okay, let’s walk through these concepts one by one.

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What do you think of finance?

Dear readers, what do you think of the finance industry?

Ideally, I would keep this short and give up the floor to commenters. But I’ll start by saying I work in the finance industry. I am not a finance expert, I’m just a data scientist. I am ambivalent about the moral value of the industry.

I know from hanging out in leftist spaces that a lot of people feel much more strongly about the finance industry. Strongly negative. I’m curious to hear more.

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Link roundup: March 2023

Although I don’t always plug it here, I run a monthly ace journal club on my other blog.  This month’s article was about asexual experiences coming out.  It might be worth a read if you want an overview of asexual coming out experiences and how they sometimes differ from gay coming out experiences.

Chat GPT is a blurry jpeg of the web | New Yorker – A relatively pessimistic article about Chat GPT that describes it as a copy of the internet, saved with lossy compression.  The author asks, “how much use is a blurry jpeg, when you still have the original?”  I think this a great starting point to understanding the state of the art chatbots.  The chatbots have strictly less knowledge than what you can find on the internet–albeit in more a form that may be easier to process.  Perhaps the megacorps are right, and the best application is search engines.

The Problem With Masterworks | The Plain Bagel (video, 19 min) – If you’ve ever seen sponsored ads on youtube for Masterworks, an art-based investment scheme, you might have thought it sounded scummy.  Sounds scummy, is scummy, this video gives the scoop on that.  Apparently they skirt through regulation loopholes, which gives them a lot of leeway to report returns in a misleading way.  I actually unsubbed to a channel because they accepted a sponsorship from Masterworks.

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Why doesn’t EA divest from crypto?

After Sam Bankman-Fried (SBF) was arrested for massive fraud in November, there has been a reckoning in the EA movement to which SBF belonged. I’ve linked to several critics discussing how SBF’s actions could have been attributed to EA philosophy and practices, and even offered my own humble commentary.

Of course, it’s very easy to get distracted by philosophical arguments, and miss what’s staring in our face. The much more obvious takeaway from the whole affair is: EA was overinvested in cryptocurrency. Cryptocurrency is evil, why were they invested in it at all?

Yes, fraud can come from any sector, and no, not every person involved in crypto is fraudulent to the same degree as SBF. No, SBF is not “proof” of the depravity of crypto. What SBF proves, is that EA has been supportive of, and dependent on crypto. EA insiders must have already known, and maybe some readers already knew, but I didn’t know! I didn’t know EA had so much crypto in it! Why is that? And why don’t they stop?

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A few things in defense of EA

I’m fairly well off these days. Between having a frugal upbringing, and being a tech worker married to another tech worker with no kids or debt, I think life has obviously been unfair in my favor. I want to give some of it away. For these reasons, I think a lot about the effective altruism (EA) movement, albeit as an outsider.

Most of the stuff I say about EA is fairly critical (and there’s more to come!), but I try to be measured in my criticism, because I don’t think it’s all bad. Compared to a lot of stuff PZ Myers says, I’m practically a supporter. In this article, I offer a begrudging and measured defense.

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Origami: Purple Graphite

Purple graphite

Purple Graphite, Based on the “growing polyhedra” schemata in Tomoko Fuse’s Unit Origami

Today’s model is an example of what Tomoko Fuse called “growing polyhedra”.  Fuse basically provides a construction kit–designs for triangular double-pyramids and connectors.  These components can be put together in any number of ways.  I decided to create three layers of hexagons following the crystal structure of graphite–specifically the “ABC” allotrope.  This model is quite large, about 8 inches across–and very sturdy too.

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