Beauty in the noise


"When I pulled up that first chart, we saw 'the knife,' we said, that's certainly algorithmic and that is weird. We continued to refine our software, honing the algorithms we use to find this stuff," Donovan told me. Now that he knows where and how to look, he could spend all day for weeks just picking out these patterns in the market data. The examples that he posts online are just the ones that look the most interesting, but at any given moment, some kind of bot is making moves like this in the stock exchange.

Algorithmic trading is a pretty wild and wooly area. Who would've thought to look at millisecond-level data?

Adobe's Omniture license agreements getting ridiculous

Some time ago I was invited to Adobe Omniture's Client Advisory Board to have some input into the next iteration of the Adobe's Omniture products. They sent me through an agreement to sign before I could attend and, on reading it I found I couldn't agree to it.  Along with standard terms about confidentiality and the like, it had clauses preventing me from working for any company competing against Adobe or writing "negative or misleading comments about Adobe or our product" in "any other communication method".

It appears the Adobe lawyers really have got their hooks into the company.  Check this clause out in the new Omniture agreement I must agree to before using the tool I require for my job.  In particular check out that last sentence. Ridiculous.  The other clauses are pretty crazy too -- given the breadth of products made by Adobe, who isn't a competitor?

The Adobe Products and Services are not available to competitors of Adobe, and competitors of Adobe are hereby expressly prohibited from using or accessing the Adobe Products and Services, whether or not authorized by License Company. Furthermore, by entering the Site, you are certifying that you are not a competitor of Adobe and that you will not share or otherwise disclose the Adobe Products and Services or Content with a competitor of Adobe. You further agree that you will not in the future engage in competitive business with Adobe.

Dear Australian Retailers

Your recent campaign to get GST levied on all Internet transactions has some rather major logical flaws.

1. Your prices are much more than 10% higher than overseas prices.

It's interesting that Angus & Robertson and Borders are part of your campaign. The book business is probably the easiest area where the massive price differences can be shown, thanks to the awesome Booko service which allows consumers to find the cheapest source for books, taking into account delivery charges and exchange rate fluctuations.

Cheapest foreign sale, AUD$10.61 delivered.
Cheapest Australian sale, AUD$18 delivered.
Price difference: 41%.
Price difference without delivery: 8% (though to be fair, the cheapest price without freight was 44% cheaper).

Cheapest foreign sale, AUD$38.15 delivered.
Cheapest Australian sale, AUD$56.39 delivered.
Price difference: 32%.
Price difference without delivery: 58% (clearly The Nile loads their "free" freight into the book price).

Cheapest foreign sale, AUD$18.33 delivered.
Cheapest Australian sale, AUD$25.57 delivered.
Price difference: 28%.
(both sources load freight into the price)

Cheapest foreign sale, AUD$4.02 delivered.
Cheapest Australian sale, AUD$18.04 (for the Australian edition).
Price difference: 78%.
(both sources load freight into the price)

Here we see two examples of books that are only really of interest to an Australian audience cheaper overseas, a science fiction novel with international release also cheaper and a mass market bestseller. All dramatically cheaper bought from overseas. My experience having ordered from Australian online retailers is that they also take much longer to deliver than the overseas vendors. 6-10 weeks for delivery from Australia versus 2-6 weeks from Book Depository US or UK.

So book retailers, come back when the difference between your prices and those overseas is less than 10%, and your service is at least on par.

Now I know that the book industry is difficult. The local publishers are absolute idiots, and the sooner they die the better for everyone involved. But what about consumer electronics?

Example 1: D-Link Boxee
Price difference: 34%.

Example 2: LG BD570 Blu Ray Player
Price difference: 38%.

So even if they charged GST on these sales, they'd still be cheaper overseas. Why's that Gerry?  Should it be a legal requirement that Australian consumers subsidize your horseracing hobby?

2. Your online sites are woeful

Have a look at the sites of the retailers sponsoring this advertisement and see how many will actually sell you a product online, or have most of their product range online. Now before I did this little audit, I figured none of the retailers listed would sell anything substantial online. Surprisingly, there's more than I expected selling their full range online. Interestingly the fashion sector seems to have gone into this in a big way, and fashion is the sector many have regarded as very difficult to sell to people outside of stores.

But the big, noisy players in retail, the ones complaining the loudest about competition from overseas online stores, have conspicuously crap online presences. David Jones, Harvey Norman, Myer and Target hang your heads in shame!

Retailer Online sales? Full range online?
Angus & Robertson yes yes
Borders yes yes
David Jones no no
Dotti no no (but an impressive effort)
French Connection yes yes
Harvey Norman no no
House no no
Jacqui E no maybe?
Jay Jays yes yes
Just Jeans yes yes
Mimco yes yes
Myer yes no
Nine West no maybe
Peter Alexander yes no
Portmans no no
Seed yes no
Smiggle yes yes
Steve Madden yes yes
Superchef Warehouse no no
Target no no
Witchery yes yes

3. Collection would cost more than it would raise

The final nail in the coffin here is that the cost to collect GST on incoming mail, by opening packages, working out the cost, then having a mechanism to collect the money, would likely cost more than the tax that would actually be collected. Making it useless as a tax revenue. Let's remember that raising tax revenue for government and its services is, after all, the point of taxation. It's not designed as a way to protect the revenue of local businesses!

Of course, the retailers would suggest that in addition to the tax being levied, there also be a "collection fee" added to cover these costs. This would handily bring the price you pay online somewhere closer to their ridiculously overpriced goods. How convenient. And they wouldn't even have to compete on price!

Peats Ridge Festival 2010

Holly and I took Louis to his first outdoor music festival, and his first time camping over New Year. Peats Ridge Festival is held to the North of Sydney in a valley near the Hawkesbury River and bills itself as something of a sustainable music festival. It's got mostly Australian artists, though this year they had the Shout Out Louds who I'd previously seen at Roskilde in 2006 (yes, follow that link - the photo is awesome).

We didn't know quite how it'd turn out, whether Louis would cope with dust, camping, noise and heat.  Turns out we did fine.

Bands I really enjoyed, but expected to enjoy, were Shout Out Louds, Decoder Ring and PVT. Always awesome bands.

New discoveries:
  • The Seabellies: very talented multi-instrumentalist band. Curious to hear their recorded output, if I can find somewhere to buy it that isn't iTunes.
  • Fishing: very difficult to categorize, probably closest example is some of Hudson Mohawke's output (Polyfolk Blues in particular). Amazing live mashing up of their tracks.
  • Jinja Safari: Holly saw these guys so I don't really know anything about them.
  • Trentemøller: not terribly impressed with his recordings, but his set leading up to New Year's midnight was great.

But music was only part of the fun. We spent a lot of time trying to stay cool, with temperatures heading towards 30 and over in the day. We spent a fair amount of time cooling down in the little creek running through the site.  We lazed around.  Ate some yummy food.  Drank some beers.

The really fun part was last night with a dress up night.  Louis and I have these absolutely amazing costumes made by my awesome friend Linn Linn.  Loads of fun.

All in all, a nice little festival.  Good relaxed atmosphere, very kid-friendly. The "eco" label can be a little grating, especially when they stiff you an extra $1 "container deposit" on drinks and then make it difficult to actually get your dollar back.  But I think I'd definitely go again.  We had lots of fun.

Loads more photos are on my SmugMug.

In case you haven't had cute overload yet, here's a video of Louis dancing to Lolo Lovina:

Peats Ridge update before New Year

Festival is great, if insanely hot. Tomorrow is forecast to hit 37 so we're likely to be packed and on our way pretty early.

Disaster struck this morning: broken thong. Being a bloody hippy festival, there's magical rocks for sale, but you think I can buy a pair if regular, petrochemical, industrial thongs? Fortunately Holly's feet are near my size and she's wearing her trustifarian sandals.

Last night I saw Decoder Ring and PVT. Good as usual. Awesome band discoveries were The Seabellies (very slick) and Fishing (kinda Hudson Mohawke wonkiness done mostly live).

Tonight Louis and I ate dressing up with amazing costumes Linn Linn made. Should be very cute.