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Ask HN: Have you ever regretted working on a product?
371 points by mavsman 88 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 472 comments
Sometimes it's hard to see in the moment that a product will be used for evil or will have a negative effect on people. Can you look back on any of your work now and wish you didn't do it?



I had a freelance gig, a very long time ago, to create a full-screen ad takeover for one of the UK's better known "lads' mags" (now defunct, I think). I hate ads and I hate those sorts of magazines, and I hate ruining people's browsing experiences. Yuck.

When I was working as a permanent employee for an agency, I created two games for the UK's lottery operator. They both had quite intricate rules to snare and addict the people playing them (let's just say that these games are anything but a game of chance). I felt a constant sense of disgust as I was doing it, though it was a moderately interesting technical challenge.

However, I have had the opportunity as a consultant several times to do work for gambling companies (and also for Camelot again!), and I have turned all of these down and made it extremely clear I was doing so for ethical reasons.

I was once asked by a client if we could capture people's email addresses in a sign-up form even if they didn't hit submit, so we could email them later. I am still quite proud of my response, which was, "Yes, we absolutely can! No, we absolutely won't help you do that!"


> I was once asked by a client if we could capture people's email addresses in a sign-up form even if they didn't hit submit, so we could email them later. I am still quite proud of my response, which was, "Yes, we absolutely can! No, we absolutely won't help you do that!"

1) letting Javascript initiate network connections without explicit user interaction with a narrow set of elements (say, a submit button) was a mistake.

2) not having a browser-provided summary of the data a form is about to submit before it's transmitted was a mistake.

Basically letting Javascript escape from a little box of tightly-scoped input validation handling and maybe defining sort functions for tables was a mistake.


It's hard to even wrap my mind about the consequences of those limitations though. The web as we know today would not exist, hell the world would be a different place without facebook and all the other social networks.

And something would replace them, and the same problems would happen because the fundamental problem is not caused by some technological decisions, but stems from human nature.


HTML stagnated badly and this was exacerbated by the "we can just let Javascript and/or CSS handle it" effect. With a less-free Javascript it'd have been necessary to add things like sortable tables and better form elements to HTML itself. Frames might have been improved to fix the various known problems with them, rather than abandoned. Social networks could still exist just fine and, judging from how things like Basic HTML Gmail or Craigslist or HN compare to more "advanced" websites, would have performed a whole lot better.

That a cross-platform application distribution platform might have arisen anyway is beside the point. It'd have been nice to keep that separate from the locked-down hypertext platform that keeps the user in control. We've lost the latter in gaining the former, rather than having both.

[EDIT] I'm with you on humans being the problem over technology in general, but in this particular case I think there were technical reasons that Web 1.0 was destroyed in the creation of Web 2.0 and we were left with one crappy platform that constantly betrays and tricks its users rather than two, at least one of which isn't capable of betraying its users the way this one does. We're where we are because no-one treated Javascript (or anything else with its capabilities and liberties in the browser) as the fundamentally terrible idea and permanent trust-ruiner that it was. It's inherently and unavoidably a security disaster for the Web, not in terms of secure communication between client and server or whatever, but in terms of practical personal security for the users and their data.


> That a cross-platform application distribution platform might have arisen anyway is beside the point. It'd have been nice to keep that separate from the locked-down hypertext platform that keeps the user in control. We've lost the latter in gaining the former, rather than having both.

You assume that HTML would have survived in the same world as this hypothetical cross-platform app ecosystem. I think you are mistaken and you can ask Gopher fans how well it works out when your platform's capabilities are completely subsumed by a more powerful platform.

If the W3C and the major browser vendors had announced an intention to stagnate and never move beyond basic hypertext documents, either another set of people would have forked and moved on without them or a full replacement would have sprung up.


HTML did stagnate, in part because JS was available. How many sites expose the built-in file upload element these days? It's clearly terrible, yet hasn't improved in many, many years. Tables should have (optional) built-in sorting, obviously, but it's not there because you can just use Javascript. And so on. All they've done for, what, going on 20 years now, is prettify the tag names a bit. HTML is de-facto dead anyway, or at least on life support, just a supporting technology for a spying platform that's only there because no-one can be bothered to replace it with something better suited to that purpose. Meanwhile there's no safe-by-default way to browse hypertext. That's dead. Mixing it with app distribution already killed it. There's nothing there to lose.


HTML is the most popular language in the world. The core of HTML may have "stagnated" because of JS, but the alternative would probably have been extinction and replacement with something that didn't decline to include programmability.

I also don't think HTML has actually stagnated, though. HTML+CSS+JS is a solution, and it's changed a lot over the years. The HTML piece has experienced the smallest set of core changes, but that's because it already does what it needs to. Adding a modern file upload element might be nice, but it's not necessary. (Also the behavior of upload on the client side is really a browser choice. Browsers could make this a lot prettier without changing HTML at all.)


> HTML is the most popular language in the world.

Like x86 assembly is, sure. Though way less well-suited to its modern purpose than that is. It's alive by accident and momentum, purely.

If it did what we needed it to do we wouldn't have burned who knows how many (tens of?) thousands of person-hours creating half-complete solutions to its various plain-as-day shortcomings. Input wrappers, table sorters, sequential image viewers, and so on. We did finally get video but it's still usually wrapped in custom UI driven by JS. It's not complete and featureful enough to exist as a good rich document format without JS (due to its long stagnation) but is also really far from being a good choice for laying out and describing applications (because it was never meant to be).

Agree that browser vendors are the ones who'd have to fix all this. The time for that passed a long time ago, of course. I just think it'd be nice to have a hypertext document network that doesn't have on-client spying as a first-class, built-in feature that you have to go way out of your way to even partially avoid. Creating Javascript and giving it such wide access was what killed any hope of that. I consider that the original sin of the modern web, that the platform itself is fundamentally and irreparably insecure (from the end user's perspective).


Exactly this. Network connections won't fire without a visible link? Fine. Save up user data for when they navigate around the site and send it as a batched query.

Heck, even if browsers always showed you the data they were about to send, split out by field, just base64 encode what you don't want them to know you know and give it an innocuous field name like, "session_id". Even better, piggyback off of legitimate fields with zero-width-character encoded data. Where there is any signal at all, there is a way to hide extra information.


Yeah, you'd have to prevent JS from catching a broad set of user events at all, and disallow modification of most of the DOM by it. Again, basically restrict it to tightly-context-constrained functions to do stuff like custom sorting. There'd still be security issues with it from time to time, but they'd be bugs rather than baked-in insecurity that's part of its feature set.


Not sure I get your point about Facebook. I quite liked the internet before Facebook (been working on web since 95). What exactly did Facebook contribute that was positive that helped the world as a whole?


Facebook imo has contributed more positive than negative. It's easy to quickly judge FB as an evil company because of the media recently, but, just for starters, here are a few things FB has done well:

  - Connected people from all around the world
  - Empowered small businesses
  - Is very pro-charity (e.g. "birthday" charity donations)
  - Allowed people to organize themselves online (groups)


Sorry about the late reply. I did not intend to imply that Facebook was an overall positive for the world, or a negative one for that matter, it's just not something I've thought about too deeply.

I just think the world would be very different without Facebook and the other social networks.


“If I didn’t do it, someone else would”, “I was just following orders”.


This is unfair and unreasonable. You pivoted a discussion about JS capabilities into a Nuremberg defense metaphor. We're talking about JS-triggered network activity, not murdering civilians. And inevitability, not a lack of responsibility.

Moreover, he's right. JS would have to be fundamentally crippled (no network activity at all) to enforce this. And if you did that, someone would have built equivalent functionality because people wanted it. In fact someone did build an equivalent, actually multiple: ActiveX, Flash, Java Applets.


We can design to constrain the worst parts of human nature and thereby make us better humans.


For example, excise taxes on cigarettes?


If JavaScript or actually the DOM didn’t allow for that we would now be running Flash.


Eh, I think that's a bit much. If anything I think consumers/users would expect that when you visit a website, you are only doing business with that website/entity. Unfortunately, most adtech precludes this.


I think a hypertext browser that, by default, lets any document you load also spy on your session as clearly as if there were a camera over your shoulder is nuts, but inevitable without harshly crippling any document-accessible scripting language available. Which is what should have happened. Most of the best things that JS provides from a user perspective could have been added to HTML and browsers themselves, e.g. better file/image upload, better tables, frames that don't suck, field validation. Mixing "apps" indiscriminately with hypertext browsing has left both in a pretty bad state.


So you have to click to load you emails ?


Near the beginning of my career (~15 years ago) I was working at an agency for a lottery operator that was allowed to start online gaming and buying tickets for the physical lottery online.

They had a really great public mission about “responsible gaming” but during one meeting with some execs they let slip that it was all just a joke for them and they didn’t care as long as they got the ticket sales.

It made me feel sick, and I started being a bit uncoorporative on the project until my manager switched me into another project.

So I regret the time I worked in that, and also for being a bit of an asshole on the project instead of just telling my manager I had a problem with that client.


There may be moral reasons in favor of accepting a job that requires unethical behavior so that you can perform it poorly, so as to sabotage the progress.

An actual example is of Oskar Schindler (if I recall correctly) whose munition factories in Germany produced faulty munitions during World War II.


there’s very strong circumstantial evidence that heisenberg pulled a similar trick and slow-rolled the nazis into not developing a nuclear program. https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2016/12/22/private-heisenbe...


Alas - "This is exclusive content for subscribers only – subscribe at this low introductory rate for immediate access!"


whoops. Try https://web.archive.org/web/20170212064533/https://www.nyboo...

These letters potentially cast the standard history of the German bomb in a very different light, suggesting that Heisenberg and his colleagues found a silent way to make a moral decision, not that they were spared one.5

In the thirty years that remained to him, whenever Heisenberg was asked to explain the German “failure” to build a bomb, his answer was what he had written to Elisabeth in letters before, during, and just after the war—that he had stayed in Germany because it needed him, and he had been spared the difficult moral decision of whether to build a bomb by the impossible immensity of the task—exactly what you might expect to hear from a man who didn’t want to do it, and found a way to say no.


Parent comment is likely referring to some findings from Operation Epsilon in the Farm Hall transcripts. Googling those terms will get you the underlying details.

I for one tend to agree with the conclusion that Heisenberg could have initiated a German Manhattan project had he desired.


What are you upset about? Journalists shouldn't be expected to work for free.


Oskar Schindler was a Nazi party member who owned an ammunitions factory and saved 1200 Jewish people in Nazi Germany (the movie Schindler's List was based on his life story), but I couldn't find any mention of him sabotaging his own wares. I would imagine this would've led to more suspicion on his factory, where he secretly employed many Jewish workers illegally.


>> sabotaging his own wares

The movie implies that he did so:

"Stern, if this factory ever produces a shell that can actually be fired... I'll be very unhappy."

https://www.imsdb.com/scripts/Schindler's-List.html


It's a great movie, but I wouldn't depend on it alone for a fact like that.

The Lives of Others, another serious and moving film, shows the protagonist solo-monitoring a dissident in order to not report the latter's dissidence. The Stasi required its spies to work in pairs to plug that specific vulnerability. This was crucial to the plot and gave people a false idea of what resistance to a then-modern tyranny is like. (Disclaimer: actual East German dissidents have approved of the movie, while I'm just a guy with an opinion.)


Oskar Schindler, from the movie The List of Schindler? He’s my idol, the guy rescues 1200 jews from the Holocaust, and still cries at the end (of the movie) because he could have sold his shoes and bribed one more assistant.


Reminds me of ads I see when I watch Formula1 on UK Sky television, where a company uses the oxymoronic slogan "We bet responsibly, at Bet365!".

It's amazing to see the length these companies will go through to present their product as just an innocent entertainment community where responsibility and morals are held in high esteem, and at the same time using every possible psychological trick in the book to hook their users.


Bet365 owner Denise Coates was in the news just today[1] (although technically it's old news), for earning £265m only last year. That's a lot of "responsibility".

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/nov/21/bet365-deni...


Good on you for putting your foot down! You not only learned from your past experience, but you also are setting a good example for other software engineers who may not be thinking about their ethical duties.

People entering the industry need to be thinking about the consequences of the products we make, and I feel like that's something that can be led in part by the visible example of experienced engineers like yourself - ones who have experienced being used for a harmful end and now are willing to both speak up and stand against it happening to them again. I know I needed this very same wake up call when I was a much younger engineer. I feel shame every time I speak about my involvement in harmful products and my cowardice in the moment, but that shame also reminds me of how important it is to talk about it, to try and make sure other engineers think about these duties that are so easily overlooked. And to remind myself that I don't ever want to be in that situation again.


>They both had quite intricate rules to snare and addict the people playing them (let's just say that these games are anything but a game of chance).

I'm from Quebec and here it's Loto-Québec that operate the lottery. They have games on their online platform too, I had some fun on there a few time, but once I read the actual rule and learned that the dice doesn't follow the real probability... that's just freaking wrong. It's a thing to hide probabilities, it's a whole other ballgame to fake them.


I worked for financial traders for a few years before I wised up. It was at least refreshingly honest; during the hiring process, my boss explained that the company had a pile of money and our goal was to turn it into a bigger pile. But what I didn't understand was that mostly we made money when other people lost it. We turned a profit by being smarter or faster or luckier than the people we traded with.

I ended up leaving mainly because it was an unhealthy, high-pressure environment where a lot of the most celebrated people were giant dicks. But I stayed away because I realized that we weren't making anything better. We just situated ourselves near a river of (other people's) money and tried to siphon off a bit of the flow. It was depressing.

I'm glad I never went back. I honestly think the finance industry could be half the size it is with no real harm to the rest of the economy. And given what a mess the 2008 crisis was, trimming the industry way back might be overall beneficial.


> I honestly think the finance industry could be half the size

It is strange that an industry whose only purpose is to service the productive economy should be 20% of GDP.

Here's an interesting take of the downsides to having such a large financial sector within an economy: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/oct/05/the-finance-cur...


As my father — a development economist — says, “We used to call it the ‘financial services industry.’ You can pinpoint when the US economy changed irrevocably when they dropped the pretence of serving and just became ‘finance.’”


Perfect. Yes, that's exactly my beef with it. Sort of like the difference between the views of running for office as public service vs seeking authority.


To be fair that's not all on the back of the UK, finance is an international business in the UK.


It's been pointed out that this is the first time in history that the financial industry has become the most powerful.


The finance industry has _always_ been powerful.

Thats why the city of london is older than England it's self. because it provided finance for various powerful people to do "powerful people" things

Venice for example was ruled by a mercantile banking dynasty.


Not many non-UK (and even UK) people realize that the City of London is actually a separate entity from London. It has it's own administration, police force etc.


This seems like it should be an interesting curiosity to foreigners but is actually completely mundane to anyone from the US, where everything larger than a village is its own "city" with its own municipal government and - of course - at least one police force.


I don't know I think it'd be pretty interesting to find out that Wall Street is not actually part of NYC but has it's own police, government etc... purely for benefit of the banks.


You might then be interested to know that the Federal Reserve bank has its own dedicated police force/

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_Reserve_Police


You’re not getting it. “The City of London” is not what you think of as London. It’s a tiny square mile that is essentially sovereign and outside national law. Corporations are allowed to vote there and there are more corporations than people. It’s sort of like if you had Switzerland embedded in Manhattan.


I've been to the City of London many times (though I worked outside it, in Mayfair).

It's really not "essentially sovereign" or "outside national law" as you might argue of an embassy or a military base or even, say, the Channel Islands. People and businesses there are subject to all the laws of the land. Financial firms there are regulated by the FCA, which is based outside the City and appointed by the Treasury, definitely not by the City of London Corporation.

Prestigious financial firms have offices in the City because everyone else does, not because there's some legal or regulatory benefit from being incorporated there - again, very different from those who choose other Crown jurisdictions like Jersey or IOM or the Caymans.


You're right, that was more of a knee-jerk reaction to a statement that it's like regular city governments in the US. The truth is more subtle: the UK benefits from The City's position as a world financial centre, and so parliament is incentivized to give The City a large degree of independence when it comes to setting financial regulation. By keeping them at arm's length they can have their cake and eat it too by setting strict tax rules for the entire country, but leaving loopholes to allow all the international money to flow in.


You can replace "The City" by "the financial sector" here. Once again, the historical curiosity that the City of London has its own local government has nothing to do with the UK's approach to financial regulation. Barclays, Citigroup, and HSBC - all headquartered 3 miles to the east in Canary Wharf, like the FCA itself, instead of in the City - get just the same regulatory benefits and disadvantages as Lloyds or NatWest.


> essentially sovereign and outside national law

This is definitely not true. Maybe you confused it with Isle of Man or Channel Islands, which are crown dependencies with certain autonomy, often accused to be British tax havens.


Not literally true, you are right; but The City is also accused of being a tax haven.


If I had stayed working for a company that was in the city I was interested in standing for election :-)

yes I am a wonk


I was an elector for a company in the City once. But i quit before i had a chance to vote in an election!


Most cities don't have their own unelected delegate in Parliament to represent their interests.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_Remembrancer


That's why there's the Met police vs the City of London police, no? (I blame a wikipedia dive into policing in the UK for knowing that piece of trivia)


"powerful" isn't "most powerful".


How do we know that? Consider that if there's a pattern of 'financial industry becomes the most powerful | financial industry arranges society to serve its interests | society collapses | end of history, not even records remain of the catastrophe (hey, keeping records detracted from profit-taking)' then we'd observe similar results.

Not sure how seriously I'm arguing that, but it does seem that if the situation was sustainable/survivable there would be records of previous instances of that situation.


Really? I personally believe that the Roman Republic would never have collapsed into Empire if not for the incredible destabilizing risk-rewarding weight of the Roman finance industry in the Republic’s final years.



The human brain consumes 20% of our total energy budget in exchange for allocating our resources, so maybe it's not too out-of-whack?


Only the "brain" on your analogy is extremely inefficient at locating resources, and the people that compose it are utterly unsuited for that responsibility, driven by amoral greed (with no thought to other considerations), and in that place mostly by a mixture of birth and luck rather than competence.


It turns out that resource allocation tuned to maximize value outperforms resource allocation tuned for fairness in terms of material standard of living.


It turns out that 'value' as defined by central banks treats the enslavement of the species as more valuable than the survival of the species.


Central planners don’t get to define value... that’s the point.


Not really a good analogy.

The brain does far, far more than marshal resources and distribute the where they are needed, which in essence is what the financial sector does for the economy.


I think it's a perfect analogy. From the point of view of a species as a whole, the majority of what we see as the brain's functions are only relevant because humans are amazingly inefficient compared to smaller organisms. We need our brains because our reproductive cycle produces "too big to fail" output.


Yes this analogy would work if every brain became a cancerous growth that realigned laws and basic pathways to serve the survival and growth of the brain, but this is not the case, the brain in the body has a maximum size (proportionality) and also serves the rest of the body. Not only the brain's satisfaction, but the skin, the gut, the sense organs all rely on the brain however the brain serves them primarily before serving "itself"


An organism's reproductive gain factor isn't that sensible a metric of its success. A better one is how adaptable it is.

Because of our brains, humans are extremely adaptable. Even with primitive technology we spread throughout the globe, and unlike wild cats or bears we haven't needed to speciate into each climate, develop camouflage fur, etc. The biological investment in an advanced brain gave us the opportunity to thrive everywhere.


As a counterpoint I work in finance and work with a group of smart people that all check their egos in at the door. It's a great place to work. We also try to turn money into more money, it's pretty much the game of life whether you play it or not. It pays really well so I can't complain.

Is the job fulfilling? Depends on your goals - for me I've gained a huge knowledge of low level programming, and front line experience on how far one can go with both software and hardware to 'win' against other competitors in the space. That's invaluable stuff for me.

Is the job moral? Anyone who puts their money on the line knows the risks, this isn't stealing from the poor. People who invest must understand risk, and risk is really the only way things move forward in the first place. But it also implies there can and will be people who lose out.


> this isn't stealing from the poor.

It depends on how you look at things I guess.

For instance, when trading in commodities like grain, and deploying a strategy to push the price up over a long time period (whether or not it's a single entity doing so or all traders in unison), people somewhere in the world aren't able to buy that grain and go hungry.

Same with all the foodstuffs. But what about other stuff, metals? What happens if you drive those prices up? Well, again, somewhere in the world some poor chap now cannot afford the metal roof sheet that goes on top of his shed, and he'll sleep under the stars.

I think most if not all finance trading negatively impacts the people that are too poor to even dream about finance trading. When there's a buck to be made in finance, there's always a sucker paying for it. Somewhere along the line that sucker becomes someone who isn't even in the whole financial trading circus, and he'll in the end foot the bill. It must be this way, because the financial industry itself doesn't produce or increase the value of things, it just manipulates the price tags.


The big players used to corner small markets which then led to extreme blowouts. It doesn't happen as much now as there are tighter regulations on max position sizes and the volumes are higher.

Significantly influencing the price of a commodity with liquid markets, such as corn or soybeans is pretty much impossible unless you're acting on behalf of a country or are able to control weather. The existence of liquid markets is beneficial for the producers and consumers as the price volatility is reduced and hedging becomes easier. I like to showcase the effect of information on price with the example of fish price in Kerala before and after the introduction of mobile phones to fishermen[1].

The financial world is evolving very quickly with various participants driven by different goals pulling the rug in opposite directions which theoretically should reduce volatility and spreads. However, when people get greedy - and there's a lot of that in finance - bad things happen, e.g. see the natural gas last week[2].

[1]: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Changes-in-fish-price-vo...

[2]: https://www.ft.com/content/b7c525f6-ec44-11e8-89c8-d36339d83...


> The existence of liquid markets is beneficial for the producers and consumers as the price volatility is reduced and hedging becomes easier.

Yeah, that's a nice fairy tale. It isn't true though. It's criminally untrue.

I can't eat volatile grain, nor hedged grain. I just eat grain. At a price I can afford, today and tomorrow, not bankrupting me in the process. When you're hungry you really don't care about all the financial jargon. You care about price.

Traders cannot make a profit if they don't manipulate the price. Simple, if a trader always sold for the same price he bought for he wouldn't make any money. So price goes up, trader has profited from the grain I eat, and has taken a few cents out of my pocket. And I don't even trade. I just live on a dollar day in a shithole somewhere.

If everybody bought just the grain they needed to eat, and every grain producer simply put their product on the market for people to buy, without a "liquid global market" and price index, without traders in the middle wanting to profit from it, my food would be affordable. But because the market bets on a price rise in the future, even though the bad weather hasn't materialized yet, my food is unaffordable.

In financial, when someone profits, someone hurts. And the one that hurts is almost always not even in the game.

> Significantly influencing the price of a commodity [...] is pretty much impossible unless you're acting on behalf of a country or are able to control weather.

No. A market can do that by itself. It's what all those terms bullish and bearish and stuff are for. Markets can drive up commodity prices like a rocket. Bad weather coming? "Let's buy all the grain everybody! Guaranteed profit! Just ignore the starving people over there, they'll go away fast enough." And buy the way, all those think tanks and the pentagon predicting a shortage of every natural resource in the near future, that's not going to influence the price at all, right? Great example of how a country manipulates commodity prices btw.

Financial trade is just people profiting from people who are worse off to begin with. And don't start about how nowadays regulations are much tighter and all that, it's just not true. Everybody always says that in times when stuff is stable, but as soon as something big happens everybody starts the "nobody could have forseen this" dance followed by the too-big-to-fail entities being saved by the govt and the bill footed to the people.


> Yeah, that's a nice fairy tale. It isn't true though. It's criminally untrue. I can't eat volatile grain, nor hedged grain. I just eat grain. At a price I can afford, today and tomorrow, not bankrupting me in the process.

I think you two are talking about different things. The comment you're responding to is talking about the price discovery and liquidity facilitated through trading. You're (correct me if I'm wrong) talking about how physical commodities are treated as abstractions, which doesn't help e.g. a farmer.

But it does help producers of commodities - they can hedge against (for example) crop failures. And it helps consumers by driving down the price and making the price more predictable. Futures in particular are very helpful for producers.

This is obviously not a perfect process. But I think it's really unfair to call it a fairy tale, or to say that traders are manipulating the price. In an abstract or purely literal sense they are; but in the malicious, legal sense of markets they are not (at least not in the aggregate).

With respect, your last paragraph sounds like an oft-repeated narrative about the financial industry which - though it has kernels of truth - does not charitably reflect the full picture. Finance is not an unmitigated good, but comments like yours which present it as an unmitigated bad are also off the mark.


This is the whole problem in a nutshell. People spinning a fairy tale about "price discovery" or "liquidity" or "abstractions" like it represents something real, and not something specifically so because of how we implemented our financial system, or terminology specifically invented to create that system.

Posing those things as separate, saying "price discovery" and "liquidity" are different from "how physical commodities are treated as abstractions" is just muddying the waters. They're part of the same slang of the system.

The farmer doesn't care if somebody plays Farmville and treats in game abstractions as though they were his real physical produce. Who cares.

But the farmer does care when a lot of people trade in what he produces, and all those traders act like they're playing f-ing Farmville with virtual goods. In reality that trading influences the price the farmer gets paid and the price the consumer has to pay. Big time. Tell me again how it's just an abstraction. The supermarket doesn't accept my abstract money unfortunately.

That farmer worked hard for that grain you know, why do you think it's suddenly morally okay if you tell yourself nice stories about "liquidity" and "abstractions" and "price discovery" while you just want to make a buck on the farmers grain without putting in the labour yourself.

I don't give a hoot that you tell yourself that you're trading in an abstraction of grain to make yourself feel good about your actions. I just see the price of grain go up and my family going hungry, despite the fact that traders keep telling themselves it's all "funny goods that don't really exist"

> But it does help producers of commodities - they can hedge against (for example) crop failures.

I can see how it does, but honestly, that's one of the worst solutions to that problem. I think crop failure is a problem for everyone not just the farmer (we all have to eat, right?), so a solution that involves everyone instead of letting the farmer fend for himself would be preferable, because when the guy needs to fend for himself he'll fall prey to someone offering him a very volatile, hedged, and abstract "solution" to his problems.

A simple granary (sized to community) and enough cash to resow next year is usually enough. No virtual, hedged, liquid or funny stuff needed. It's as old as the hills as well, failing crops have been dealt with by humanity successfully in many civilizations through out history. Without a financial system that requires the farmer to bet on the price of grain next year, I might add.

With respect, your last paragraph sounds like you get tired of the argument, but, respectfully, you don't give me any reason not to believe "finance" in it's current form is one of the most evil thing humanity has ever come up with.


The futures market comes from the fact that some people are trading actual beans by growing, selling, shipping, buying, or cooking them.

They are typically willing to pay for price insurance to reduce their financial risk. (that could close your factory because of the weather, etc) (If they trade with other countries they are typically also willing to pay for currency insurance)

At that point a secondary market emerges with arbitrages between different market and points in time.

So far this is to the benefit of everyone. Farmers and Buyers get more stable prices.

This secondary market pins into tertiary markets where you can try to outsmart other players, and to the extent that manipulation is possible it will push back into the primary price or more probable the "insurance" cost. This cost is paid by Joe Random.

This is probably not beneficial but unavoidable and acceptable for having access to price insurance.


Note: I am not a finance person, so please correct me if I'm misunderstanding something.

My understanding is that in futures markets, you make money by predicting what the price of something will be at a time in the future.

Let's say you know of a new battery technology that is much more efficient than anything we have today. Let's further say that this type of battery uses a lot of copper. You think that this will massively increase the amount of copper needed.

In this case, you buy a future (enter a contract) saying you will buy 250,000 tons of copper in January 2020 for $3.20 / lb (which is considerably higher than the price of copper today). Someone with a copper mine can take the other side of that contract and expand their operation (buy equipment, hire workers), knowing that in January of 2020 they will be able to sell that copper at a higher price, and expand their operations.

If the price of copper goes up, in 2020 you buy all of that copper from the mine, resell it, and make a ton of money. The owner of the mine makes a modest profit.

If the price of copper goes down, in 2020 _you still have to buy all of that copper from the mine_, and you lose a ton of money. The owner of the mine makes a modest profit.

You will only enter into such a contract if you have (or think you have) information that the person you are making a contract with does not have, thus allowing them to act on that information sooner and without risk. If your information is wrong, you are the person who loses out, not the person you contracted with, so you're taking on all of the risk for some of the possible benefits.

> A simple granary (sized to community) and enough cash to resow next year is usually enough. No virtual, hedged, liquid or funny stuff needed. It's as old as the hills as well, failing crops have been dealt with by humanity successfully in many civilizations through out history. Without a financial system that requires the farmer to bet on the price of grain next year, I might add.

If you know that the crops are likely to fail, you can buy futures in grain. It's the ultimate "put your money where your mouth is". If you buy grain futures, you are saying "There will be a crop failure. Plant more grain. I will cover the downside if I'm wrong." Thus you make the crop failure less impactful by prompting action earlier.

I agree that a simple granary is _usually_ enough. But a simple granary plus a futures market will be enough even more often.


Are you saying the financial system is why we've moved away from subsistence farming, and that this is a bad thing? I'm having a hard time figuring out what, exactly, the world you'd prefer would look like.


This position is further supported by the reality of real estate speculation: in London, in Silicon Valley, you can count the housing units that are owned by extremely wealthy capital holders, and kept empty because the increase in value will exceed any profits taken from filling them (minus the costs of maintaining them).

That's the market actively destroying the fundamental purpose of a good because the dynamics of its value are able to bring more profit than using the good for its existential purpose. If that can happen to housing, it can happen to anything. BurnGpuBurn is absolutely correct here.


Real estate is rather different from the commodities markets, though: It's most definitely not a commodity (if you don't count things like mortgage-backed securities, anyway), and the markets are frighteningly illiquid. There are things like futures and options on real estate, but they operate very differently from your average put on hard white winter wheat.

There's an argument, not entirely (as far as I can tell) unreasonable, that at least some trading firms - the market makers - are benefitting the small folks in these markets. The argument goes that they do siphon profits out of the market, but it's mostly the profits of other financial firms. What they're ultimately nabbing is profits that come from information asymmetry, and that asymmetry usually benefits hedge funds more than farmers. So hedge funds make less money, yeah, but the impact on farmers is greater price stability, which is a benefit to them.

By extension, the implication is that, when hedge fund managers complain loudly about high frequency trading, it's crocodile tears.


And the irony is these bubble markets invariably collapse, because speculation is not a good foundation for sustainable profit.

The opportunity costs of prioritising the financial industry over other activities are almost incalculably huge. Bubbles aren't the only problem. The industry has cannibalised top talent and kept it from working on useful problems, which has created a huge deficit in future potential.


> If everybody bought just the grain they needed to eat, and every grain producer simply put their product on the market for people to buy, without a "liquid global market" and price index, without traders in the middle wanting to profit from it, my food would be affordable

This is false.

Commodities futures markets exist precisely so the price of bread stays stable and relatively risk-free for a year at a time. The big players are not traders - they are companies that work in grain, use grain, produce grain, etc.

As for markets creating money by driving up prices - this doesn't really happen. You can make money when prices go up or down, and nobody really has the size or the stomach to try and corner a market (which is also illegal). Typically these efforts fail miserably and lose the trader a lot of money.

Countries manipulating prices is a totally different matter, than "markets".

I'd think hard about it before you attack commodities markets as the enemy of food prices, and do a bit of digging as to the actual purpose of those markets.

Go ahead - sell a couple hundred thousand pounds of grain. "Simply" put it on the market... how do you do that reliably? How can you plan as a farmer ? Budget for seed, etc?


I think commodities futures markets exist so that the normal commodities markets don't screw everybody over too much.

You're totally right about there being a few big players in production and so on. That's part of the problem. Because every farmer has had to operate and compete in this insane globally connected commodities market, what we're left with now after decades is a few big players. That's what you get when a German farmer has to compete with the US farmer, the Chinese farmer, and the Russian farmer, all the others and vice versa. Everybody loses and gets bought up by the bigger fish. That's a symptom of this market though, not a cause. And in my eyes, it's not a very good symptom either.

> Go ahead - sell a couple hundred thousand pounds of grain. "Simply" put it on the market... how do you do that reliably? How can you plan as a farmer ? Budget for seed, etc?

Well, I wouldn't know how of course, but that's not the point. Humanity has done the grain thing successfully, on large scales and over long time periods, multiple times in the past. Without a commodities futures market to keep prices stable.

I'm just saying this isn't the only way to do trade, and in a lot of ways, it's a very bad way to do trade.


> Because every farmer has had to operate and compete in this insane globally connected commodities market, what we're left with now after decades is a few big players. That's what you get when a German farmer has to compete with the US farmer, the Chinese farmer, and the Russian farmer, all the others and vice versa.

I must confess to some confusion. I thought you wanted affordable food. Do you think that you'd get affordable food if you were only ever able to purchase from the providers in your immediate vicinity, who won't face price competition from farmers elsewhere who might be more efficient?


“Done the grain thing successfully” seems like an odd statement. I don’t know how successful we were at a secure supply chain for grain before national markets were established, but then again we also didn’t have the technology to enable anything but more local markets until the railroad crossed America.

As for competition internationally and “big fish” - I’d say that some of this is due to economies of scale in agriculture especially as automation reduces labor required per acre - but this is also other asymmetries and market factors. State subsidies is one huge factor that incentivizes owning land that doesn’t even produce. Further, as farmers retire their kids want less and less to do with ag and sell the land to bigger companies (or maybe to a housing developer).

I’m not saying “the market” is perfect but it didn’t necessarily get this way by accident either. It serves an important function across the board for all parties involved - including consumers.


While there is considerable truth to what you say, it's not the whole truth. Food is a bad example, anyway: it's cheaper now than it has ever been.

"If everybody bought just the grain they needed to eat, and every grain producer simply put their product on the market for people to buy, without a "liquid global market" and price index, without traders in the middle wanting to profit from it, my food would be affordable."

Well, yes, but the grain would be in Saskatchewan rotting and you'd be wherever you are starving.


Worldwide trade existed and worked quite well long before our current financial system. I don't get why on would believe that without Wall Street the world would stop to function. Part of the fairy tale I guess.


Traders typically provide two prices - the price they will buy at and the price they will sell at. Their profit comes from the spread between. A good trader does not care if the market moves up or down, they make their money on the spread, a trader typically wants as little inventory as possible.

The people who cause markets to move are not the traders, they are the people who buy from and sell to the traders.


> Traders cannot make a profit if they don't manipulate the price.

Traders aren't the only reason prices move. Clearly a wide spread crop failure would also increase grain prices. You can still make money as a trader if you do a better job at predicting such events than others.


And everybody that dies of hunger be damned, right? As long as you make a buck... (I don't mean you specifically, I don't know much about you)


A frictionless market with a lot of liquidity should (in theory) result in rapid, accurate and transparent price discovery, which in turn should result in more optimal asset allocation, which in turn should result in people being able to get what they want at a lower price.

In practice, many markets are far from frictionless, and far from liquid, and pricing far from transparent, which is where most (all?) of our problems come from.

The best (and most ironic) example comes from the financial services industry itself: Although markets are the daily bread of the industry, it is ironic that the market for financial services is opaque and noncompetitive. How else could such profits be sustained? How else could the two and twenty compensation convention survive, if it weren't for the fact that the industry acts as an unofficial cartel?

When we complain about financial services, we often forget that the rhetoric of many free-market neoliberals is pure hypocrisy: what they practice is 180 degrees apart from what they preach.


> Traders cannot make a profit if they don't manipulate the price.

Is that supposed to be obvious? It seems very not-obvious to me: e.g., if a trader has no ability at all to manipulate the price, but is able to predict future prices better than anyone else can, then they can make a shedload of money by doing it. (The market will respond to their trades, which I suppose is a kind of manipulation, but that reduces their ability to profit.)

Maybe it's true in practice that no one can actually make money by predicting future price movements better than other people do, and that the only way to succeed is market manipulation. If so, it would be nice to see some evidence.

(There are other options besides "win by manipulating markets" and "win by being good at predicting on account of being extra-smart": for instance, "win by being good at predicting by means of illegal insider trading". That has ethical problems of its own, but they're very different problems from those of market manipulation.)

If the market bets on future grain price increases and makes grain more expensive before the bad weather materializes then sure, that's bad for people trying to buy grain. (Though presumably it's good for farmers.) But that same process of prediction, at least if it works -- which presumably it does, somewhat, else no one would be trying to do it -- also means that once the bad weather does materialize the prices will be lower than they otherwise would have been, because the market can predict that the weather won't always be bad just as well as it can predict that the weather will be bad one day. So, at least when the market is doing what it's meant to, the highest grain prices get reduced and the lowest ones get increased. It's not obvious that that's bad for those not-even-in-the-game people.

(The market will make mistakes, sometimes big ones. In that case, grain may get super-expensive and people will suffer or even die. That's very bad. But it's not specifically a finance problem. Grain can get super-expensive because of mistakes made by farmers or meteorologists, too.)

> Financial trade is just people profiting from people who are worse off to begin with.

There's truth in that. But -- ignoring actual market manipulation, which I appreciate you regard as a major activity of the finance industry -- when someone makes a profit out of your being worse off, they make you better off in the process. Suppose some guy on Wall Street figures out that X is going to get more expensive. You own X but haven't figured it out because you don't have Wall Street's insider knowledge or supercomputers or whatever. So you sell X to Wall Street Guy, and X gets more expensive, and Wall Street Guy makes a profit that you missed out on. Sad. But Wall Street Guy didn't force you to make that trade! Presumably you sold X because you didn't want it any more, or you needed the money. Without Wall Street Guy in the picture, you'd have sold it anyway, and got (very slightly) less for it. So, sure, Wall Street Guy is better off, and you're sad that you missed out -- but you were always going to miss out, and you are a tiny bit better off because Wall Street Guy was there bidding against other people to buy X from you.

I dunno; maybe in practice Wall Street Guy has to do a load of much shadier stuff than merely predicting how the price of X is going to change, and maybe that ends up hurting you. Maybe in practice Wall Street Guy's attempts to react quickly to new information destabilizes things more than his ability to react quickly stabilizes them. But these seem like complicated questions whose answers need a deep examination of the world's financial systems, rather than pointing to a few specific cases where bad things happened and claiming that "traders can't make a profit if they don't manipulate the price".


By this logic, every commodity should only ever be sold at cost. Or, better, for free! Any price higher obviously means some poor person somewhere can't get as much as they need.

Now, this is obviously a silly hypothetical. Very few people are going to produce sheet metal for that poor chap if they can't cover their costs plus at least some profit, leading to nobody having any sheet metal. Now the whole world is worse off and lacking sheet metal, and for what?

Some things in the finance industry are valuable. Insurance and its ability to spread risks springs to mind readily. The joint stock company, and its ability to pool resources to grand ends, has unleashed incredible forces.


Investors also don't produce any value. They get to decide where value should be created. But take all the benefits from it. Other investors however are waiting to eat these investors.


I worked for the biggest market maker in Europe for three years, from 2008 through to 2011.

My experience disagrees with every statement you made, except the job fulfilling part.

Making markets does not add any value to anyone other than the marketmakers and the stock exchanges.

The only decent thing about those places is that they usually do not beat around the bush. "Does your idea help us be faster? Got proof? Go implement. Money is no objection."

Morals did not exist in that world when I was there.

What I was doing, was helping the 0.01% consolidate their power and wealth at the cost of all other living beings on this one habitable planet.

Then I stopped kidding myself and got out of my golden cage.


> Making markets does not add any value to anyone other than the marketmakers and the stock exchanges.

Could you elaborate on this statement? It is my understanding that the value market markers provide is liquidity and tighter spreads. Worst case, they pull orders when informed volume is detected, but then the book is no worse off than what it would be if the market makers weren't there.


Not OP, but I think of jobs like theirs as being about marginal utility - how much better off is the world if trades are executed .001 seconds faster? It seems that for a lot of jobs the answer is not at all.


The traders are better off than those whose trades are executed 0,001 seconds slower. That’s why they make it faster.


I agree.


Yes they provide liquidity. But that is not the reason traders become market makers.

The liquidity is something that the exchanges want so they can provide better services to their other users / customers.

What the market makers get in return is some privileges on the exchange, such as favorable credit exempts or short sale treatments. This depends on the exchange.

But being a marketmaker, basically obliging to be able to quote a price on anything and everything, is regarded as much as a nuisance as it is a benefit.


Liquidity reduces the cost of trading for everyone, which is something you can just empirically verify. What do we care what someone's motivation for doing it is? Presumably everyone's motivation in finance is to make money.


> Liquidity reduces the cost of trading for everyone,

Yes. And I do not see this as a boon. It reduces the cost of trading for traders at the expense of _everything_else_.

Eg: search for 'whack bully oil prices'.


I don't want to just come out and say you're wrong bluntly but...well this debate has happened on HN many times. I'm a little shocked you worked in the industry and can seriously assert all marketing does is consolidate the power of the top n%. More than just about any other service in finance (except maybe credit/lending and consumer banking), market making drives prices down for everyone. It's a prime vehicle for delivering efficiency.

I can understand arguments that the work wasn't fulfilling, or you didn't enjoy your colleagues...but what you're saying seems to be incorrect, strictly speaking. Were you working in marketing making where most/all trades were OTC?


Well - ok - I may have overstated in that: Yes, market making provides more liquidity. Yes, it makes it more efficient. Yes, for everyone, not just the marketmakers and exchanges.

But no, this is not the reason marketmakers make markets.

They do this in order to make more profit.

The rest is a side effect that they happily spindoctor into their "raison d'etre".

The company I worked for is known for being the primary source of rich people in the Netherlands. And they keep getting richer. Very much the so-called 1%.

And a disclaimer: I'm an engineer. Not a trader.


Optiver, I presume? I was almost lured into working for them too, being blinded by the high tech playground that it seemed to be. Regarding the adding value, they defend their right to exist as "because of us, instruments are priced properly everywhere and that's good for everyone", isn't it?


One of my ex was a commodity trader in another big player, Cargill. She was not the most moral being to start with (you simply can't be a successful moral trader, period), but even for her trading with edible commodities was the worst moral shithole - your success would easily help cause hundreds/thousands of deaths in some famine/disaster stricken place, usually in Africa.

She was in energy and oil instead - her success would mean that down the line, we all would pay up a bit for her success (selling expensively when demand was high). And also with oil, she would be trying to create as cheap gas/diesel from oil as possible (meaning passing regulations in some 3rd world country), it took her easily 10 fails to get just slightly above the (very low) bar. The result - engines destroyed over time with crappy fuel, environment polluted with less-than-ideal material burned. But nobody gave a nano-fraction of a fck, it was Africa.

Yeah, traders, they think super high about themselves, most are properly broken human beings, a pure net loss for humanity


I'm sure they do, and that's an axiomatic statement that can be horribly, catastrophically wrong but makes them feel better about their lives.

Never underestimate the very human emotional motivation of coming up with a pleasing rationalization. Just because someone earnestly says 'we are helping, so much!' doesn't mean they're correct.


I experienced it exactly as you describe.

To me this argument always came across as fabricated and empty.

I have seen too many examples internally at that place, where the (to me) obvious moral choice was neglected or even laughed at.

The "because of us, instruments are priced properly everywhere and that's good for everyone" is interesting.

Does that result solely exist because of us making a market? What is 'properly priced' exactly and why would it be a Bad Thing if it were less 'properly priced'? And why is this even a goal that should be pursued? And should that goal be pursued at all (and I do mean ALL) cost?

Those questions were never answered to my satisfaction.


Exactly, that was my experience too. People who were very capable of analytical rigor around cost/benefit tradeoffs suddenly became very handwavey when it came time to analyze whether the company generated enough social benefit to justify level of profit.


> Anyone who puts their money on the line knows the risks, this isn't stealing from the poor.

The problem here is that, for example, at least in the US, not everyone with a pension or who "contibutes" to a retirement plan is comfortable or even aware of the risks. That ignorance is not a defense, per-se, but if you've got blinders on that you're fleecing pennies off the already rich you are sorely mistaken.

I'd go so far as to argue that turning money into more money without providing a good or service in exchange is squarely immoral.


C. S. Lewis on interest (from Mere Christianity):

>There is one bit of advice given to us by the ancient heathen Greeks, and by the Jews in the Old Testament, and by the great Christian teachers of the Middle Ages, which the modern economic system has completely disobeyed. All these people told us not to lend money at interest: and lending money at interest — what we call investment — is the basis of our whole system. Now it may not absolutely follow that we are wrong. Some people say that when Moses and Aristotle and the Christians agreed in forbidding interest (or “usury” as they called it), they could not foresee the joint stock company, and were only dunking of the private moneylender, and that, therefore, we need not bother about what they said.

>That is a question I cannot decide on. I am not an economist and I simply do not know whether the investment system is responsible for the state we are in or not. This is where we want the Christian economist. But I should not have been honest if I had not told you that three great civilizations had agreed (or so it seems at first sight) in condemning the very thing on which we have based our whole life.


Investment returns are not usury - see sharia banking


>Originally, usury meant interest of any kind.[0]

For example, here's Aristotle on usury[1]:

>There are two sorts of wealth-getting, as I have said; one is a part of household management, the other is retail trade: the former necessary and honorable, while that which consists in exchange is justly censured; for it is unnatural, and a mode by which men gain from one another. The most hated sort, and with the greatest reason, is usury, which makes a gain out of money itself, and not from the natural object of it. For money was intended to be used in exchange, but not to increase at interest. And this term interest, which means the birth of money from money, is applied to the breeding of money because the offspring resembles the parent. Wherefore of an modes of getting wealth this is the most unnatural.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Usury

[1] http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/politics.1.one.html


How does "not to increase at interest" rule out investing in trade ?


You can find plenty of stuff that those three groups agree on that would horrify modern people. It's a really poor argument.


Alternatively, it's exactly because modern people would be horrified at what those three groups agree on that it is an excellent argument.


Cool! Now we have two equally credible arguments from antiquity.

Perhaps it's time to consider forming some fundamental principles and reasoning from them instead?


That would be good, except that if you told anyone about it, they'd probably be horrified.


I mean, I already believe in a lot of basic principles that would horrify a lot of people - free speech, freedom of religion, I don't care at all what someone's sexual orientation is, and so on.

So I don't see where this should stop us from trying to form principles as an alternative to arguing that something must be or must not be true because of what someone wrote down millennia ago.


The quotation is factual and avoids making an argument. I'm not sure what you're trying to refute.


The service in this case is facilitating a trade. Liquidity is important, but I think it was oversold to pull some of the PR heat off of HFT. Especially since a lot of retail investing advice has turned to index funds, liquidity for individual stocks matters less for them -- it also means they don't have to understand as much financial info before investing (just read the index's prospectus every year vs. reading a whole bunch of company financial filings every quarter).


Win against whom?

People with less knowledge. Less technology.

There should not be an additional layer of risk involved only because people bet on other people.

If I buy a share from company x, the success of that company should represent the share price. But that is partially true.

And NO enough people have no idea what they are doing. In Germany we increased the requirements for trading. You have to read stuff and sign off otherwise the bank will not allow you to buy certain products.

Is the job moral? No.


> People with less knowledge. Less technology.

One of my observations, to make a living you need an angle. This isn't necessarily 'bad'. A mechanic has years of experience and tools, and a lift. In return for parting with cash he'll do something for you (hopefully). Trading houses use their angle to do something to you, namely siphon off some of your money without providing you anything.


    In Germany we increased the requirements for trading. You have to read stuff
    and sign off otherwise the bank will not allow you to buy certain products.
We have that in the US too. While ordinary "retail" investors can buy stocks and bonds (which they can do in Germany too, I presume), most of the "exotic" products that people complain about are restricted to "accredited" investors. In order to be an accredited investor in the US, you have to be one of the following:

    - a bank, insurance company, registered investment company, business
      development company, or small business investment company
    
    - an employee benefit plan, within the meaning of the Employee Retirement
      Income Security Act, if a bank, insurance company or registered investment
      adviser makes the investment decisions, or if the plan has total assets in
      excess of 5,000,000 dollars

    - a charitable organization, corporation, or partnership with assets
      exceeding 5,000,000 dollars

    - a director, general officer, or partner of the company selling the
      securities

    - a business in which all the equity owners are accredited investors

    - a natural person who has individual net worth or joint net worth with the
      person's spouse that exceeds 1,000,000 dollars at the time of purchase or
      has assets under management of 1,000,000 dollars or above, excluding the
      value of the individual's primary residence

    - a natural person with income exceeding 200,000 dollars per year in each of
      the two most recent years or joint income with a spouse exceeding 300,000
      dollars per year in those years and a reasonable expectation of the same
      income level for the current year

    - a trust with assets in excess of 5,000,000 dollars not formed to acquire
      the securities offered whose purchases a sophisticated person makes
So as you can see, there are already quite stringent requirements for trading most "exotic" derivatives in the US. You either have to be a millionaire, have the backing of an institution, have government certification or all of the above in order to trade things like mortgage-backed securities and government bonds.

I have zero ethical qualms about winning when I know that the other people I'm competing against are millionaires, have institutional backing, have government approval or all of the above.


Cool, so my measly pension is invested in a pension fund (as it has to be, legally). The pension fund managers then buy some exotics, which gives me exposure to the same exotics. then something bad happens, such as 2008, and I lose my future. Thanks guys, the stringent requirements really worked in my favour there!


I think the point was that having smart people participate is wasting their time when they could be doing something more productive, not who is losing. Like for instance work on robotic arms so we can all have a household robot to do the house chores.


I could argue the same about physicists not working on FTL. Or medical research on non-life threatening diseases. It's a bit unfair.


Medical research on non-life-threatening things is still creating value for people with less-than-fatal problems.

Physicists working on physics research might be a problem if those physicists could just divert money elsewhere in the economy into their own research programs. As it is, there's a complex system of controls so that public research money is generally used for some reasonably good purpose.


> this isn't stealing from the poor

Except when the finance industry creates (directly or indirectly) a financial crisis like in 2008. Its the poor, that never stood to gain from the financial system in the first place, that end up hit the worst.


Isn't that because if you gain from the financial system, you are no longer poor?


Perhaps. My point is that the poor or less well off get impacted by the bad effects without any of the good effects. For example, here, there was an income levy introduced to bail the banks out. For the less well off, that money has much more impact on their lives than on the rich, even though those people never stood to gain at all.


I think not bailing out the banks would have affected the poor eventually.


That’s besides the point, which is that these people never stood to gain anything, while the finance industry stood to gain and then when it messed up, the less well off still lost even if they didn’t take part in the game themselves.


The 'game' is the economy, which the poor still benefit from. If you have no stake in the economy, you wouldn't be affected.


You are still affected, if you pay taxes.


Many of them got to live in really big mcmansions they should not have been allowed to 'afford' for about 10 years. The labor spent building those houses could have been spent building twice as many small houses.


Those people got foreclosed. The banks got bailed out, took property off the market, and prevented the market to properly settle. Tons of people are still locked out of the market in order to protect everyone else’s “investment” by artificially propping up the value.


Wasn't the risk shared between those who got to live in mcmansions and those who gave them the money for that? Why does one party get to reap all the benefits but pay none of the consequences?


Many people didn’t have this at all and we’re still very negatively impacted by the recession due to loss of employment or raised taxes (eg I personally did not benefit from the pre-recession as I was too young and my family wasn’t particularly well off nor had a mortgage and I entered the job market right in the midst of the recession and I was hit with an income levy introduced to bail the banks out — I was personally lucky as tech wasn’t particularly heavily affected but many people were not so lucky).


It's not the poor who got the mcmansions.... it's the not-rich. Big difference.


I've tried to grapple with this notion over the last 10+ years. When I entered finance (I work for a derivatives trading desk), it was just as Facebook etc were just starting and were becoming the 'cool' places to work.

However, nowadays the banking tech sector here in the UK seems to be more mature. Our traders are quite often from a STEM background which gives them an understanding of technology, and they don't adhere to the dicky stereotype you often hear about. But most of all, I've always found my tech colleagues to be extremely smart but also down to earth, pragmatic and meritocratic which is the reason why I've ended up remaining in banking.


> I've gained a huge knowledge of low level programming

This is really interesting. I'm at least passingly aware about high speed/frequency trading, but don't know much about the topic in depth.

How low is low in this field? I'm picturing RTOSes running AVX512-heavy hand-optimized code, FPGA farms, custom network ASICs... how overly optimistic am I being here? Heh

Of course, such a vision is very lop-sided, since HFT depends heavily on high-level intelligence. So perhaps it's realtime(ish) Linux and lots of GPUs.


Not realtime, because that only enforces 'precision', not low latency per se.

When I was working in this field, 2008-2011, there were guys doing fpgas, custom tcp/ip stacks, custom network drivers, dedicated networks and network cards for exchange data coming in and for going out. Mostly linux.

Hardware and lowlevel fun.

Allthough the fastest trades were always done by this one catalonian guy using Windows and .NET. I kid you not.

Good times. Soulless. But good.


How does realtime enforce precision and not latency? I was referring to hard realtime.

And wow, so I wasn't too far off the mark. FPGAs and exotic networking. Huh.

I remember reading a story about a trading floor running on SQL Server, which was doing continuous throughput of 6000 queries/second. I didn't know enough at the time to discern what percentage of that was writes, but I think the point may have been that it was all of it. This was quite a few years ago. So perhaps Windows isn't actually the slowe{st,r} system out there for certain tasks.


As I've always understood (but I'm no RTOS expert) is that RTOS does not guarantee LOWER latency. It guarantees A latency.

But again: not an RTOS expert. We had a lab that would constantly test configurations of hardware and software. And I remember them finding RTOS not being helpful.


That's right, real-time does not mean real-fast. In a hard real-time system, there is a deterministic worst-case bound for response times. "Real fast" CPUs, like the latest and greatest Intel CPUs, are actually pretty difficult to get deterministic bounds on. There are factors like unpreventable SMI events, possibility of L1/L2/L3 cache misses, etc. Often systems that need to be really deterministic, like say an engine controller in a car, run on simple CPUs like the Cortex-R series from ARM.


> "Real fast" CPUs, like the latest and greatest Intel CPUs, are actually pretty difficult to get deterministic bounds on. There are factors like unpreventable SMI events, possibility of L1/L2/L3 cache misses, etc.

Oh yeah. I remember reading something along the same lines about x86 a while back. I guess it didn't really go in properly, heh. Thanks

I'm reminded of the "x86 is high level" thing: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9264195

Also, I think the iPhone 6's NVMe apparently uses a Cortex-R: https://ramtin-amin.fr/#nvmepcie


I'd say AVX512 is maybe not so great, because it can cook your CPU to the point where it slows down the clock. AVX2 probably required. But above all test. Have a bunch of compilers, read about all the options, see what is fastest.

FPGA feed handlers are common, but now that can also be rented.

Whether you're using GPUs depends on what you're up to. A lot of the strategy testing requires a bunch of computing power but not speed. You then take your conclusions and implement something fast that doesn't necessarily use the GPU.

Realtime, but soft real time. It's not like a vehicle ABS system where you have to brake within x milliseconds or someone gets killed. I've seen places where they see the degradation over time and eventually decide it's time for the newest hardware, again.


Ah, I see. That reminds me of https://stackoverflow.com/questions/8389648/ (7 years ago, just normal AVX).

I also just found http://redd.it/8dhp7q asking about AVX512 slowdowns too.

TIL about FPGA feed handlers. (http://redd.it/56tw4n, one of the first hits for the term, was mildly interesting)

Hmm, good point about not needing speed. Yeah, 24 execution units each capable of 3 billion ops/sec is probably more performance than is needed :)

Interestingly, I would have imagine HFT as needing ABS-style hard realtime. But no, it neither needs that nor is simple enough to be encapsulated by that sort of embedded-style approach.


> We also try to turn money into more money, it's pretty much the game of life whether you play it or not.

That is definitely not the "game of life". Most business works by creating value for others. It's generally positive sum. Indeed, the only way people in zero-sum industries (e.g., betting, a lot of advertising, many kinds of finance) or negative-sum ones (e.g., scams) have anything to siphon off is because of people doing productive work.

One of reasons I'm most glad to get out of finance is that I could stop trying to justify it to myself. As Upton Sinclair wrote, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!"


> Is the job fulfilling? ...

> Is the job moral? ...

But in what way do you consider your job meaningful?


Do you have any suggestions for someone who wants to get into the fintech space with no financial experience but 10-12 years of Enterprise software development/architecture and some management?


I respect your opinion about the industry, but I'd encourage you to consider that you may be wrong about the financial sector not making anything better. That may be true about specific firms or pockets of the industry, but valuation, price discovery, liquidity, de-risking and credit are all legitimate benefits facilitated through financial activity.

I'm not arguing investment banks and hedge funds are an unmitigated good! But at minimum, finance (much like tech) is far too complex and mixed to be able to correctly say you're not making anything better if you work in it.

That being said, I can absolutely understand why you'd regret working at a specific firm in the industry.


I can definitely say I wasn't personally making anything better. Any liquidity our little prop trading firm was adding was at best epsilon.

I agree that the industry does produce some value. But ask yourself honestly: what percentage of any given person's time and energy is devoted to value creation? To what extent are they sure their day's work is value-creating rather than value-subtracting for the economy as a whole? Maybe things have changed, but at the time very few people even cared about those answers. Those that did thought about the question very little, and with none of their customary rigor.

The reason I said the industry could be half its size (rather than eliminating it entirely) is that I know it produces some value to the rest of the economy. But if it could be half its size (or smaller) then it's perfectly plausible the average person in finance is a net drain on society.


It's interesting to try to compare finance and tech on whether or not they are beneficial to society. epsilon improvements can be quite useful to society. Clearly some amount of both is useful, but I'd argue that finance has run its course in the sense that pretty much all incremental "improvements" made by finance are basically hurting society.[1]

This is because while things like market making are obviously necessary, you've got to ask yourself: does making trades on a timescale of microseconds or even less as opposed to making trades on a timescale of minutes lead to better outcomes in the real economy?

The answer is almost certainly "no", but at the same time, trading firms that are engaged in zero-sum games are still able to siphon a lot of money from the rest of the economy that goes into just that. So the net outcome for society of that is clearly negative.

We shouldn't be kidding ourselves, though. A lot of the incremental improvements in tech these days are also net negatives to society. Mostly this is because so much of tech is driven by advertisement.

However, there are large parts of tech, including some very traditional parts, in which improvements are clearly beneficial to society, e.g. when it comes to building more powerful and efficient hardware.

[1] An exception might be entirely new sub-sectors of finance that explicitly target beneficial outcomes. Climate finance comes to mind.


Same reason(s) i stopped pursuing a career in finance. The percentage of the financial sector (mbe not including direct investors like vc’s) that is actually beneficial to markets and society can be counted on one hand.


It's fairly obvious that speculation doesn't produce social value; and, if you take money to be a proxy for social value, which I think is a good idea, speculation is equivalent to printing money. It's a very pure the-rich-get-richer type of scheme. I dabble in retail trading fairly often, because I sometimes feel like if I have to produce capital, I might as well just "print it", so this is as much a criticisim of myself as of anyone else.


As the OP, I should say that speculation can be harnessed to produce some social value. A publicly traded stock market is economically useful. Commodities markets, well run, smooth out price variation. Derivatives let people get rid of risk in their business. E.g., if you're a wheat farmer it's handy to be able to lock in a price for your wheat even before it's harvested. And if you're a bread maker, it's valuable to insulate yourself from market price swings.

That said, I believe the industry's total value to others could be produced at far, far less total cost than now. And a lot of those very smart, very motivated people could be out there actually creating value for others.


I can think of a few arguments, albeit with gaping holes, as to how money is a good proxy for social value, but would you mind expanding on that a little?

Also, I am curious as to what you mean when you refer to retail trading as printing money. Don't know anything about it (why I'm curious), but from what I have heard about trading in general, it seems to have some reasonable level of risk.


The classic example of the divide between social value and monetary value is volunteering. Volunteers create social value, often to the detriment of their financial standing. I know some people who would dedicate all their time to volunteering (they already dedicate at least half) if they didn't have to do gigs from time to time to make ends meet.

By retail trading, I meant that I'm not what you'd call a big-time trader. I use a broker that is available to retail clients (i.e. everyone). I didn't mean to imply that trading and speculation aren't risky. Trading is like printing money, because while you make money without producing any value, the guy next door makes money by actually producing something. Socially, it's freeloading, like stealing is freeloading. You get value, without providing value. A double-spend attack.


Of course it does. Financing a revolutionary company by buying it's stock allows it to raise money and change our lives for the better.


There seems to be a fundamental lack of understanding of finance in this thread, even from those that have worked in financial companies.

"First, Finance" is an extremely nebulous term, encompassing many subfields.

At its core, a financial firm like a proprietary trading company that invests money creates value by attempting to optimize the allocation of capital.

Do we give money to Google and trust that they will turn it into something more or do we give it to Elon Musk?

It turns out that this is really hard to do. If this were easy, pro sports players wouldn't go broke funding terrible projects.

While they don't have a direct hand in product design, creation, or sales, they have an indirect one.

Of course, there are firms that really abstract themselves from this process and basically just play the market as a game, with 100% technical analysis and short term positions and no fundamental analysis.


>We just situated ourselves near a river of (other people's) money and tried to siphon off a bit of the flow

Are you quoting God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater there?


Not consciously! I haven't read that since long before my time in finance. Clearly I need to read it again.


Many trades are non-zero sum actually.

It doesn't matter that you made money because someone lost SOME. Both market participants receive what they wanted to out of it.

For example, you take linear bets - going short a stock - and you bought to cover at a profit to someone that was maybe long and selling at a loss. You say wow so zero sum.

But little did you know, the person that was long was actually collecting premium from their covered call options trade, and is still getting what they wanted out of it. They may not have begun losing more money for their tolerance for another 2% or 10% drop in the stock. They would come out net positive until then, even though their MAXIMUM potential profit was still more.

Both participants still got what they want, and you wouldn't be the wiser - unless of course you were trading products that had no derivatives market. But even then you wouldn't know, because they could be written OTC.


> But what I didn't understand was that mostly we made money when other people lost it.

Where did / do you think money comes from?


From the creation of value for other people.

Most businesses are positive sum. E.g., the sandwich shop down the street buys ingredients at X, puts in labor valued at Y, and sells me a sandwich for Z > X+Y. They have created value. (As have the the people doing the labor, because they took time valued at zero and turned it into marketable labor.)

Money is a representation of the value created by humans. That's why the government must continually increase the money supply [1]: if money's value is to stay stable relative to goods, the supply has to increase as society creates more value.

Finance is sometimes value creating. E.g., the sandwich shop owner is willing to pay the bank for transferring money from my account to theirs. But it can also extract rents (e.g., arbitrary or hidden fees) and be parasitic (as when banks speculate with money insured by society, like during the S&L crisis).

[1] E.g., https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/M2


I should possibly have qualified your original 'lost' phrasing, but my point stands.

Yes, value is created, but money isn't, by the actions you describe.

If I 'value add' the ingredients of a sandwich, and then sell it to you, you still have to surrender (or lose) money.

Any sale of goods or services ideally involves both parties determining that the transaction is favourable to their interests -- but it's impossible to avoid the fact that the buyer will have less money as a result.

This isn't a bad thing. Arguably a strong indicator of the health of an economy is the agility of money / wealth within it. But your original observation was:

> But what I didn't understand was that mostly we made money when other people lost it.

... and that's an ineluctable outcome of any financial transaction.


If I give somebody $10 for a sandwich, I didn't lose the money. I traded it for something more valuable. If I spend 8 hours at work and get paid a day's wage, I didn't lose the time; I traded it for something more valuable. Value was created.

When two parties make a bet, though, one of them loses and one of them wins. The losing side doesn't say, "That's great because I now have this cup of coffee I value more." They just write it off as a loss.

When I worked for prop trading firms, in every trade we did one side of a trade won and the other lost. In working for real businesses, both sides of a trade mostly walk away winners. Hopefully this difference is clear to you; it's that distinction I was pointing at.

If you're trying to make some sort of narrow point about my use of the colloquial phrases "made money" and "lost money", I grant that I was indeed being colloquial. Strictly speaking, we also didn't actually make money; I am told only the Federal Reserve gets to make new dollars.


I'm not trying to make 'some sort of narrow point' around any colloquial vernacular.

Merely pointing out that any transaction involves a transfer, and your claim that some transactions are worse because someone has less money at the end of it, is perhaps missing the point.

Unless the people you were dealing with both went into the deal knowing which one would lose money - then it's comparable to your 'placing a bet' analogy.

Sure, I'm not doubting that it was (probably) ethically dubious - and kudos for not participating in that industry any longer.

As to:

> If I give somebody $10 for a sandwich, I didn't lose the money. I traded it for something more valuable.

- that's clearly not true.

You have ten fewer dollars than you did before the transaction.

Whether it's more valuable to you is very much subjective, though if you asked someone if they'd prefer $10 or a sandwich, most people would say the $10.

Between $100 and ten sandwiches, I'd suggest all would choose the money.

Conflating 'winners' with who came out ahead in terms of self-assessed value proposition of a particular transaction is to also miss the point.

> We turned a profit by being smarter or faster or luckier than the people we traded with.

This is the essence of trade.


As far as I can tell, this is at best semantic nonsense, and at worst wilful misunderstanding. I never claimed that "some transactions are worse because someone has less money at the end of it". If you read it that way, that's your error. You seem to be hung up on a very particular reading of "lose". It is not the reading I intend, and it's clearly not the reading most people take from it.


"Whether it's more valuable to you is very much subjective, though if you asked someone if they'd prefer $10 or a sandwich, most people would say the $10."

I would say it depends on whether I'm hungry or not.


Pretty much my point - and hence 'very much subjective'.

Parent was asserting a perishable item is inherently more valuable than the means to purchase same.


I was not at all asserting that, and I've had enough of your aggressive misinterpretations. I'm done talking to you.


> I was not at all asserting that..

What? You literally did say that:

> I traded it [$10] for something more valuable [a sandwich].


I was not at all asserting that, and I've had enough of your aggressive misinterpretations. I'm done talking to you.


> I'm done talking to you.

You clearly aren't.


I was not at all asserting that, and I've had enough of your aggressive misinterpretations. I'm done talking to you.


For someone like Warren Buffet, the money comes from enabling corporations that serve consumer interests — that’s going to be the case for anyone doing value investing or similar.

Other kinds of “finance” are more like playing poker where everyone is betting the public’s money.

I can believe someone new to finance didn’t think very hard about which kind of firm they were at.


It should come from adding value and thereby growing the economy, which is then reflected in an increase in the money supply.


In my most recent job search, I told exactly one company to (politely) fuck off and never contact me again. It was Goldman Sachs. I think what I actually told them was something to the effect of “GS represents everything that’s wrong with the economy today and should have gone out of business in 2008.” I don’t regret it.


> I honestly think the finance industry could be half the size

Me too; but then I think of all those unsavoury traders who would have to get other jobs, eventually inflicting hell on the innocent, and the prospect of keeping them where they are, flies to flypaper, becomes more appealing. (disclaimer: I work in the sector at large)


The sad part for me is that I don't think they (all) start out unsavory. Our company had a lot of fresh-faced college grads flowing into it. They turned up just because they were bright and ambitious and finance looked like a promising career.

I know some of them have gone on to do good things elsewhere. What if more of them did?


While not every business is a zero-sum game, a lot of them are. If I open a coffee shop near another coffee shop and run them out of business by serving better coffee, that's not unethical, it's just capitalism working as intended. What you're probably referring to is what's called rent-seeking. Rents can be described as unproductive profits. Money made through obscure technical means, market position, abuse of trust, etc and not providing a valuable service. Big financial services firms are always a mix of productive services and rent-seeking. It's not really unethical, but it's ethically dubious and it's also considered mandatory in order to stay in business and please the shareholders.


I appreciate the comment, but that coffee shop is not zero sum in two important ways.

One, if you're selling coffee every day to people, then you are creating value for all the people who say, "Hey, this was a good purchase. I'll come back tomorrow." So it's definitely not zero sum in the main economic sense. Value is created with every cup.

Two, if you open up next near another coffee shop, that's still not zero sum. More people will get coffee. Your better coffee means that people will get more for their money. Maybe your competition will force neighboring businesses to up their game. And even if another business ends up closing and exactly no new customers get served, that's still not zero sum, in that you're providing a better product.

I agree big financial firms are a mix of productive and rent-seeking behavior, although a lot of their nominally productive behavior is just helping other rent-seekers, so I think the truly positive-sum service is pretty small. I also disagree that rent-seeking is ethical. That some in the industry consider it "mandatory" is pure self-justification, a way of passing the moral buck.


> I honestly think the finance industry could be half the size it is with no real harm to the rest of the economy.

With technology it should have shrunk by a couple of orders of magnitude. You don't need a room full of old men in green visors cranking away at adding machines to get anything done anymore. Instead technology has only made it bigger.


I worked full time for a military contractor. When I arrived some of the products didn’t work very well. After I worked on some of these products, some of them became more efficient and effective. It was an opportunity for me to apply math and physics and engineering to solve very interesting problems (variously related to shortening human lifespan or rendering remaining lifespan more expensive).

Then one Tuesday 9/11 happened. That morning all my colleagues turned into homocidal maniacs (they were already that way, the event merely triggered the expression of that personality trait— only much later did I realize that this meant they were and are good decent people) bent on revenge and eager to kill. The stock of the company skyrocketed and we got huge raises. I finally had an opportunity to see some of my work in action and strangely became sick to my stomach when the products functioned well and was oddly relieved when the products functioned less well.

I eventually left the company and felt happy for the first time in years while I was unemployed.

The irony is now that I have more perspective in life, I realize that society truly values killing and maiming (and threatening to kill and maim) other people. People feel safer when they can credibly threaten others with physical harm. I realize I squandered a wonderful opportunity to serve society more by helping kill and maim even more efficiently. Perhaps in a sense I have gone full circle.


Assuming you're being honest (not sarcastic or trolling), your original intuition made a lot of sense. There's nothing wrong with having a moral compass that runs contrary to the popular mindset. Occasions often arise when that is the actually "right" thing.

Not to go too much into politics, but perhaps time is better spent by helping humanity heal and become more mutually caring rather than more authoritarian and flex on each other. It doesn't sound like you missed an opportunity at all, but rather dodged a bullet.


This same thing happened to me, except I was in the USAF and I performed conventional munitions (non-nuclear weapons) maintenance.

As part of this work, detailed manuals were provided with maintenance routines, service intervals and all kinds of top secret detailed information, and they were maintained (by me) with updates regularly. These were absolutely fascinating reading, and on a slow week I found myself reading several of the "Theory of Operation" sections for various weapons.

A great deal of thought goes into killing people. Far more than your imagination would lead you to believe. Now you're imagining a lot more. It's WAY more than that.

I couldn't really stomach the work after that and I started getting heavily depressed.


> bent on revenge and eager to kill.

Could you clarify? Upon whom? My understanding is that neither the Afghans nor the Iraqi civillians that ended up being the majority of the victims of our subsequent actions were the perpetrators of the acts on 9/11 or even from the societies that nurtured them. If I recall correctly, 15 of the 19 were from Saudi Arabia and the remaining 4 were from the UAE, Egypt and Lebanon. Even Osama bin Laden was Saudi, and nurtured in Switzerland, funded by the US Army and subsequently protected by the Pakistani Army which was itself directly funded by the US taxpayer.


Speaking as someone from the NYC area at the time of the event, the anger was directed at Osama Bin Laden, al-Qaeda and the Taliban. There was a lot of anger, fear and the need to do _something_. That need was directed at Afghanistan very quickly, even though none of the perpetrators were Afghanistani. If I remember correctly, the link was that Bin Laden was hiding in Afghanistan and the government there tried to protect him instead of handing him over.


>Bin Laden was hiding in Afghanistan and the government there tried to protect him instead of handing him over.

They asked for evidence and when the US said no they said they wouldn't hand him over.

Unlike his previous attacks, Bin Laden initially denied being behind 9/11.


> the link was that Bin Laden was hiding in Afghanistan and the government there tried to protect him instead of handing him over.

Describing the faction of the Taliban that for a brief period gave Bin Laden sanctuary as a "government" seems like an unusual way to interpret the term government. It is the equivalent for us of having some bandit hiding within some cult in Maine or Kentucky and us describing that cult as the government of Maine. Also, as others in this thread have pointed out, those Taliban offered to handover Bin Laden if evidence was provided convicting him of the crime. It is interesting to compare our level of "conviction" of blame for some sets of people and willingness to accept collateral damage to civilians who happen to be around them, but when it comes to our own, even despite blowback and high levels of culpability, we deny the equivalence and block judgements even from UN courts.


Wait ... what? You now believe that (more efficient) self destruction is a good thing?


Almost all people do, deep down. The Vikings, the Mongols, the Romans, the Aztecs, cannibals, headhunters, human sacrificers, they are us, and are not that far removed in time. To be human, really, is to be breathtakingly kind, selfless, and noble, but it's also to be cruel, bloody, and vicious. Christians call that bloody side of us the "natural man," a creature in direct opposition to the "spiritual man," who values life and goodness. Gandhi called this dichotomy the "animal" and "human" lives. Hobbes called the lust for physical power over others a, "perpetual and restless desire". If you want to create a safe and good society, you can't ignore either half of human nature.


If people are going to go to fight until one side is wiped out, minimizing attrition and ending the war more quickly and convincingly may be seen as a measure to minimize casualty.

This is not necessarily my personal view, but one way logic could be applied to this statement.


The problem is that if both sides are really good at wiping out the other quickly, they might wipe each other out before they realize the other side has the same capability.


If you believe in hegemony, it's reasonable to want one entity to have a better (more efficient) weapon.


There are evil people in the world. People willing to commit genocide and enslave other peoples. People who will operate extermination camps, walk into a concert strapped with a suicide west to deliberately kill children, etc.

Yes, I want a more efficient way to kill these people, and I want the US to have that. Not because the US is perfect, not because I am a fan of the Iraq war, but despite all the real difference, the US tries pretty hard not to hit civilians, and the others deliberately targets them.

Maybe some day we won't have to kill each other anymore. That would be awesome, but tit-for-tat is the best strategy.


I am wondering what efficient way you can think of to kill suicide bombers?

They’re pretty much 100% effective at killing themselves.

It would be much more relevant if we could find a way to keep them alive.


Maybe it's the argument that we can't avoid wars, so it's best to make them as quick as possible? One way to do that is to make sure you can eradicate the other side's military might with overwhelming force.

I think this is the kind of question where it is good to ask what the alternative to the terrible reality we're creating would realistically be.


That is what he said.


I always wondered what people think who produce weapons and such and how they go about their lives knowing what things they are making are doing. Now I have some idea.


Weapons are just tools. The CDC did a study that showed guns are used 360% more often to protect than they are used by criminals. I would be proud of making a military weapon used to actually defend our country. The problem is our military isn't used defensively.


This is actually what the study you are referencing said:

"Almost all national survey estimates indicate that defensive gun uses by victims are at least as common as offensive uses by criminals, with estimates of annual uses ranging from about 500,000 to more than 3 million (Kleck, 2001a), in the context of about 300,000 violent crimes involving firearms in 2008 (BJS, 2010). On the other hand, some scholars point to a radically lower estimate of only 108,000 annual defensive uses based on the National Crime Victimization Survey (Cook et al., 1997). The variation in these numbers remains a controversy in the field"

Page 15 of https://www.monticellocollege.org/sites/default/files/blog/G...


So a woman in a car with a gun in her glovebox sees a group of young boisterous men approaching her. She gets the gun out of the glove box and brandishes it at them. They go away. Was this a "defensive gun use"? She will certainly report it as a defensive gun use. But we don't really know what those guys were doing.


I'm really trying to find where I saw 360%, it has been a while, I might have to update if I find it. The 2001 Kleck study was 4 years newer and gave the range 166% to 1000%. And it says in the context of 300k firearm crimes in 2008 so I'm not sure how that works and whether an adjustment gets made for a reduced 200k firearm crimes in 2017.


The CDC doesn’t study gun violence anymore as that has been prevented by the Dickey Amendment, championed by the NRA. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dickey_Amendment


And yet the defensive gun use survey was conducted during the Obama administration.


Obama commissioned it. The report is linked below and cites CDC.


I’m assuming you’re American then. I don’t think it’s the offensive vs defensive nature of your army. I think it’s the arming smaller groups and letting them descend into chaos that is the problem. Arming a group to fight another group that they also armed while occasionally intervening. It’s like modern day cockfighting at a higher level. Except when one group loses the guns and weapons remain for next batch of fighters.

Their intentions are to help end the conflict but they fail to remove the weapons from the society afterwards. I realize this is implying the next batch carry the same views as the previous but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say your parents influence your outcome.


Well said. Those efficient killing tools patriotic people like GP want to invent end up in the hands of Taliban or Colombian drug lords or on both sides of a civil war between African warlords making the lives of ordinary civilians in such places incomparably worse. A few will also end up on the streets in America or in the hands of mass shooters, though this is more tightly controlled and less of a problem.


So, you’re saying that about 1 out of every 5 times a gun is used, it is used for a criminal act? And... you think that’s a good statistic?


I’d also question how the determined how often criminals use guns.


Out of every time one is used against a person. That is a huge distinction. Guns are used tremendously beyond that.


That's fair. Still, I suspect the use cases are very different. People who use guns for hunting and defense against large animals don't need concealed carry permits, nor do they need to carry their guns in the city. People who use guns for sport don't need their guns anywhere except at the firing range.


They're often the same guns, though.

I hunt with the AR-15 that I have set up for home defense, and I shoot competitively with the pistols I carry for personal defense on a daily basis.


Be careful with that depending how you do it. It is highly recommended to not modify your carry gun in any way. A trigger job will be spun by a prosecutor as blood lust.


Mas Ayoob is of that opinion, but I’m not. I’m aware of exactly one example of that happening.


To use to protect you need an agression.

Or is the stat consider mere display a use case ? In that cas it should include display for intimidation. The stat feels off.


The CDC is non exactly an unbiased organization. They ultimately report to the president, and there has not been a president in recent history who did not push for a fat 'defense budget'. Got a link to this study you are referring to?



homocidal maniac = good decent people that are "serving society"

This is absurd and deeply disturbing. The only ones that such bloodthirsty individuals are serving are the ruling classes. I definitely do not feel well served by any of you and would much prefer it if you did not sell yourselves for such a cause.

I think you ought to question how you were led to this worldview by your greater "perspective in life" or how that perspective really reflects what society as a whole values. There are a lot more people in places like say Yemen right now that I think would be more inclined to disagree with you and would wish that the US war machine were not so effective.


I work as a game programmer. I'm one of those kids who grew up playing now "classic" games wanting to become a game developer themselves.

Every time I'm in a corporate game development gig I have regrets, because instead of working on a game I could personally appreciate I end up working on copycat mobile games; poorly designed games; games with no creativity behind them. Working on a game I would never consider playing myself, a game I would never recommend to a friend.

The best gamedev experience I had was working on an indie title with a very small and tight team. But that enterprise went bankrupt and the team disbanded.

Hope to bring that back someday, but lack the discipline at the moment.


It's really depressing that game development has become mainly a dark pit for developers. Most of the stories end up in 3 categories: work for a shitty mobile company that reskins every game with awful monetisation, work for big studios while being exploited or work indie without certainty of making a buck or stability. There is a reason why most developer advise to make games as a side project passion while having a job in other sector of software development.


Is there no way back, where upstart companies can make hit games and become mega stars, like iD in the 90s?

Is the resources required to make a hit PC game too high today for an upstart to succeed, or is it just big gaming houses controlling the distribution channels?


This echoes many of my experiences in gamedev as well. It's really soul-crushing to be working on games that are poorly designed by people who has no business making games, or are designed to exploit some addictive impulse. It can really sap your enthusiasm for the medium as a whole.


It’s honest answers like this that make HN great. Maybe start working on a game you would like to play as side project; if your personal situation allows for that kind of freedom.


You might want to look into board games a bit. That industry still tends to thrive on making a quality product they can sell (unless it's on Kickstarter, then sometimes it's just about having really cool looking minis, with gameplay an afterthought) and not so much about how they can microtransaction the game to death.

It pays much worse than game programming though, unless you make a major hit, so you'll need to keep a day job, especially now that there's way too many games released every year that it has the same visibility problem as like, Steam does.

But you get to work with all sorts of people, and do so in person (like I'm going to an event in a couple weeks where I will be playtesting other designers' board games, and even a couple games by publishers themselves, and get to talk to and be friendly with the people who work for the publisher), and I've found it generally more fulfilling than my time in video games, personally.

Although that being said, I do miss video games and I've started working on one in my spare time again recently.


I think it is better you utilise your game programming experience to the more saner versions, mainly 3D graphics/3D scientific visualisation kind of roles.

They are almost on par with giving you the same satisfaction that your best gamed experience gave you with better pay and should I say most likely better working conditions as well!


If anyone has a strong background in 3D graphics and is interested in Counterstrike please do send me a message -- I'm building 3D analysis utilities for games[1] rather than games themselves which cuts out much of the complexity while maintaining many of the same technical problems. Email in profile.

[1] https://rewind.site


> I'm one of those kids who grew up playing now "classic" games wanting to become a game developer themselves.

This is why I got into development. I am so far away from that in the dev world nowadays. It is sad because it sounds like the video game industry does not promote healthy work environments.


Ditto. I started out on a Spectrum 48K+ as a 10 year old kid in the mid-80s trying to write games in Sinclair BASIC. My dream was to write my own version of Defender/Defender II/Stargate[1].

Professionally, I have never worked in game development and doubt I ever will, but I have a couple of web versions of Star Castle (https://arcade.ly/games/starcastle/) and Asteroids (https://arcade.ly/games/asteroids/) that I've built that I feel 10-year-old me would probably have enjoyed.

[1] Actually it still is, but now using WebGL. Watch this space.


Starcastle is still one of my favorite games. Simple enough but frustrating to master. I swear I spent more quarters on that damn game in my early teen years than I've spent on Steam games as an adult (when factoring in inflation). LOL

I also spent my childhood programming Trek games on the sinclair (kit).


I missed out on the kit computers of the early 80s, although it seems like that scene is undergoing something of a revival with lots of new machines - and not just Pi based - popping up. Confession: I spend way too much time watching content on channels like The 8-Bit Guy on YouTube.


I was an OS developer for the 3DO, and the first PlayStation, an then went on as a lead game developer for various publishers. The games industry is a cesspool, with the worse aspects ambition and creativity pressured together into the perfect storm for youthful slavery. Fuck that industry.


Do ever do any game jams? Those might be exactly what you are looking for.


I can second that, game jams got me back into enjoying gamedev. Try joining https://globalgamejam.org happening at end of January.


Haven't gotten around to that yet, but the idea has been brooding for a while...


Go and do some! I find it scratches exactly that itch. Best part is: When the game jam is over, the project is finished!


What is your opinion on larger companies that produce beloved games like Blizzard? Have you applied? Is there some reason you wouldn't?


At the present I mostly dislike large companies, as their games nowadays tend to "monetize" more and choose "safe" options in game design thus making them less appealing. It's kind of like Marvel movies. Great production, but after you've seen a few of them you lose interest, unless you have some kind of special attachment to the universe or the characters.

I respect Blizzard's history and games, however I feel it is going downhill, especially after their Diablo Immortal fiasco: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MmkHAlhCvWg To those who are unaware: Blizzard has historically been a company making awesome games mainly for PC. Blizzcon is an annual conference where hardcore Blizzard fans (mostly PC gamers) come to learn what's next for them. Diablo 3 was released 6 years ago, so naturally people have been expecting the next installment. And then Blizzard says to those people that the next Diablo is a mobile-only game (co-)developed by a Chinese company. Naturally, this isn't what most of the series' fans were expecting and are excited about.


The Diablo immortal fiasco is certainly a dramatic misstep in terms of who they're presenting to, I'd agree. It was also quite painful to watch. However, I was pretty excited to see the announcement of a future remaster of Warcraft 3 from the same event.

You certainly have a point, but I think it's also really easy to develop a characterization of a company based on relatively shallow information. I had a conversation with a friend recently who's not quite in the same situation, but is worth recounting anyway. We live in Vancouver, BC, home of one of EA's campuses. He went to school for game design, then proceeded to not do anything relevant for about 6 years. He has no professional game design experience to speak of, yet has a tendency to speak as though he does. It seemed to be a surprise when I broke this down for him. When I asked "We know multiple people at EA right now, who, despite EA's reputation, speak highly of the company. You have a certification of some sort, why haven't you applied?". He proceeded to describe what he thought of EA, based on some of the decisions they've made, some of the games he's disliked, and the internet's opinion of them. The conversation went well, but I had to feed him some harsh realities, I hope he does well.

My point is not so much that it's not valuable information, but it's not a lot of information to bet potentially very valuable experience on. If you can say "I worked for Blizzard and it really wasn't for me. But I gave it a shot." then that might give you a lot more information in terms of what you do want to do.

This relates to me a little as well. I'm at a crossroads as a developer. Having been a web developer for a few years, with no degree at the moment, I'm trying to figure out where I want to be. A few years ago the prospect of working for a large online auction corp. I had a very strong suspicion that I would not do well—culturally and otherwise—at this company, but it was double the money and I was at that time not doing anything constructive. So I set my ego aside for a while and proceeded to take the job and subsequently confirm my suspicion. It wasn't all bad, but near the end it got pretty bad. It was a mistake I don't regret. It cost me a lot emotionally, but now I know which kind of companies I won't work for. I have a lot more information to go on, and sometimes those risks are worth taking.


>The best gamedev experience I had was working on an indie title with a very small and tight team. But that enterprise went bankrupt and the team disbanded.

That's the hallmark of having gamers as your audience. They reward the copycat garbage and publishers that mistreat them and exploit them, but they would never think of buying an indie game. They get what they pay for, and unfortunately so do the rest of us.


Disclaimer: Throw-away account.

I worked for a company that mediates between Employers and Insurance companies.

In my country we have a system where disabled employees are partially paid for by either the insurance (from employer) or the goverment. 0-35% disabled -> No money is paid by insurance or government 36-80% disabled -> The insurance company pays part of the wage of the employee 81-100% disabled -> The government pays part of the wage, or completely pays the person not having to work

With "part of the wage" I mean that the employee would work part-time but would receive extra money to fill in the gap, so they could use the remaining time to recover, or just try and live life.

The way it worked is that the company would receive bonuses from both the insurance companies and employers if we could get people in either the 0-35 or 81-100 range.

This means we (they) would use any trick in the book to get people, clearly disabled, to no longer be marked as "Disabled enough".

This resulted in sending people that were disabled or recovering from disabilities to insurance-company-hired examiners, and sometimes even use court to enforce new medical checks over and over until they were marked as sub-35%. They would hire investigators to try get "proof" these people are not "that disabled at all"

In short, these were people, 36-50% disabled such as people in wheelchairs, hurt spines, burn-outs, and whatever else you can think of, to be forced into working full-time because they wouldn't be able to make enough money to support their own lives.

The moment where it really hit me, is when in a presentation, the CEO proudly stated "This year, we were able to get X (thousands) of people into the 0-35% range, this means we made our goals, so as a suprise we're all (200+ employees) going skiing together for a week!" (fully paid international vacation)

I did join the vacation at first, but on those mountains I realized that the people that would never be able to ski, paid for this. I swore I would never work for a company like this again, and I made a huge turn-around and went into the Healthcare sector.


Sounds a lot like what the UK government try to do these days.


No just “these days”, the ATOS contract was awarded in 2008. The need for UBI is greater than ever.


fascinating what happens when you deal with people at scale and they dematerialize into just numbers...


It really is a different game.

In a small tribe, hurting your fellow man affects you. If you screw over your only hunter and he becomes homeless, it's both a problem for you and him. He's spending time repairing his place instead of getting food for everyone.

At scale, you'll never even know he exists and are free to leech everything you can out of him.

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