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My job is to watch dreams die (reddit.com)
399 points by SandB0x on Sept 4, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 59 comments

I've been following the housing bust.

In 2009, I remember reading a resignation later by a guy who made his "F* you money" betting for a housing collapse. He blasted the big banks, ivy leaguers, and old boys network.

I bought complex derivatives (SRS, SKF) but lost betting against the market.

I read http://calculatedriskblog.com for a while and educated myself about the macro factors in the markets.

Through "calculated risk", I learned of Jim the Realtor http://www.bubbleinfo.com/ who videos (vacant) casualties of the housing collapse. Seeing it made it real for me.

Over time, I've realized that the further from reality that decisions are being made, the more likely we are to make destructive decisions.

When soldiers kill people with drone aircraft in video game-like conditions, it removes the reality from something that would be extremely traumatizing when done with bare hands.

In our wonderfully complex world, we sow complexity, and reap disaster. Im not sure what the answer is, but there is something terribly wrong when destruction is more profitable than creation.

... from something that would be extremely traumatizing when done with bare hands.

The military acknowledges how traumatizing this could be.

From section 7.4 in this doc (http://library.enlisted.info/field-manuals/series-2/FM21_150...):

Killing a sentry is completely different than killing an enemy soldier while engaged in a firefight. It is a cold and calculated attack on a specific target. After observing a sentry for hours, watching him eat or look at his wife’s photo, an attachment is made between the stalker and the sentry. Nonetheless, the stalker must accomplish his task efficiently and brutally. At such close quarters, the soldier literally feels the sentry fight for his life. The sights, sounds, and smells of this act are imprinted in the soldier’s mind; it is an intensely personal experience. A soldier who has removed a sentry should be observed for signs of unusual behavior for four to seven days after the act.

I hope that's not a genuine field manual. It's poorly written and quite superstitious:

  > However, it is important not to stare at the enemy
  > because he may sense the stalker's presence
  > through a sixth sense.

fm21-150 is the rather notorious 'Hand to hand combatives' handbook that was in use from around WWII until, IIRC, the late 1950's. Much of the research is not very sound, as evidenced by the low amount of detail and general amateurishness in the description of the techniques (for example, the suggestion to knock a sentry KO by taking his helmet and hitting him over the head with it) It was replaced by research from Applegate and the likes (based on experiences in WWII and subsequent wars like Korea) in the 1960's and 1970's, which in turn was replaced with the MACP (Modern Army Combatives Program) in the 1990's.

So yes, it's poorly written and superstitious (although the 'sixth sense' thing isn't completely bogus - although there's nothing mystical about it, it's more about the state of mind of the attacker and the avoidance of tunnel vision than a true sixth sense in the mark). But also remember that field manuals have to be written in a way to be easy to teach, to the lowest common denominator (soldiers, aka cannon fodder) who usually, and especially at that time, came from lower socio-economic backgrounds and had little critical thinking or analytical skills.

Really? You've never felt somebody looking at you?

You can try an experiment, look at somebody intently for a while -- see if they don't look back at you.

This does happen, but I think it's more likely with our mind scanning our vision feed 24/7 for eye contact, the whole of it, unfocused areas. Determining if "someone is looking at me" was rather important for survival.

I'd love more information on that myself.

Although I agree with your sentiment, it has been reported that drone pilots flying remote missions from the US exhibit similar problems with post-traumatic stress as those flying in-theater:


The comparison isn't necessarily between remote operation of a drone and flying a plane. As I recall from On Killing [1], air crews have lower rates of PTSD than infantry. I would expect killing someone through a drone's video feed and from a plane's cockpit would have similar psychological costs.

[1] http://www.amazon.com/Killing-Psychological-Cost-Learning-So...

> I remember reading a resignation later by a guy [...]


A very good read. Andrew Lahde bet against the "too big to fail" financial institutions. He was an outsider. And he only closed his operations because he considered those institutions wouldn't be able to pay back [further] bets.

Thanks! I tried to find it without much success.

More context:


  > Andrew Lahde (born 1971) was a California-based hedge fund manager
  > who in 2007 earned some fame for achieving return rates in the vicinity
  > of 1000% with his Lahde Capital, based in Santa Monica,
  > California. The fund speculated on increases of U.S. subprime
  > mortgage defaults.

Not to quibble, but I would say that using SRS and SKF doesn't really qualify as using "complex derivatives" to bet against the market.

For most investors there really wasn't an optimal way to do this, using ultra-short ETFs carried a lot of drawbacks. The best way (which I found and put 50% of my PA into) was to go long a Canadian insurer which had a ton of credit default swaps on most of the levered investment banks.

The other thing I would say is that, unless you are somehow exacerbating a problem (e.g.: somehow creating rumors to cause bank runs) then picking up cheap insurance isn't the same as being the guy controlling the predator drone in a strike. You'd instead be simply offsetting someone else's risk.

"When soldiers kill people with drone aircraft in video game-like conditions, it removes the reality from something that would be extremely traumatizing when done with bare hands."

This type of physical disconnect is discussed in a radiolab episode on morality (http://www.radiolab.org/2007/aug/13/). They discuss two scenarios: (these versions are a bit different, copypasta'd from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolley_problem)

Scenario 1: A trolley (i.e. in British English a train) is running out of control down a track. In its path are five people who have been tied to the track by a mad philosopher. Fortunately, you could flip a switch, which will lead the trolley down a different track to safety. Unfortunately, there is a single person tied to that track. Should you flip the switch or do nothing?

Scenario 2: As before, a trolley is hurtling down a track towards five people. You are on a bridge under which it will pass, and you can stop it by dropping a heavy weight in front of it. As it happens, there is a very fat man next to you - your only way to stop the trolley is to push him over the bridge and onto the track, killing him to save five. Should you proceed?

In short, more people will flip the switch in scenario 1, but will not push the man off the bridge in the second scenario. From this result, they (researchers) hypothesize that an entirely different part of the brain handles more abstract (i.e. non-physical) decisions; while the more basic, physical decisions may be made elsewhere.

Really cool thought experiment, and a good listen overall. Then again, that's par for the course when it comes to radiolab.

destruction is never more profitable than creation. It just means the profits are being internalized and the losses externalized.

There's a Hollywood blockbuster waiting to be made out of a story like this (as noted in some of the Reddit comments). Something along the lines of Fight Club (grimy house scenes, top-notch monologue) or Lord of War/Up in the Air (someone doing a toxic job but good at it).

If you want a fictional account, rather than a documentary like the excellent Inside Job, I think a black comedy in the style of Dr. Strangelove might be more appropriate.

Thank you for Smoking might be a little closer?

Or at least a very decent reality TV show.

Both interesting and depressing. No matter who you think should ultimately take the blame for the housing crash, it's easy to forget how many people other than just the homeowners are affected by this crap.

The irony, of course, is that people's economic hardships are creating jobs. Which means there's enough money in foreclosures alone to warrant having an employee to evaluate the extent of foreclosures. It's sickening.

Broken window fallacy. Jobs aren't really being created. The people in question are doing the economy a service by facilitating the correct valuations of these assets, so their jobs are bringing value to the economy, but it's value they shouldn't have had to bring in the first place. The net impact on the amount of wealth in society is still hugely negative, as is the "jobs" impact.

(These people are the cleanup crew, in the "broken window fallacy" story they are the ones making the new windows and installing them. They aren't the ones who broke the window.)

I don't quite understand the fallacy. If there is a spike in broken windows -- more than the cleanup crew can handle -- new people need to be hired. How is this not creating new jobs?

Looking at a beautiful albeit narrow slice of something can hurt you (even though it feels good) because you fail to see the larger picture (which may not be so pretty). It introduces a bias that may lead you to incorrect conclusions and bad decisions. Enjoy the craft, but be wary.

Nearly read "My dream is to watch Jobs die". I am far too tired to read HN right now.

this was very emotional article. very sad indeed. isnt it weird that all front page articles on reddit are overtly emotional? it seems that plain groundbreaking research papers will never make it to the frontpage...

You realize that reddit is one of the most visited sites on the Internet now, right? It's not the little lisp-hackers, YC-funded, nerd-centric community that it started as, and it will never be that again. 19M uniques tends to alter things.

Your reddit experience is as good as the sub-reddits you follow.

Subscribe to sub-reddits of your interest and you will only see stories from those sub-reddits on your front page. Stick with the default options and you only see the top stories from default selected sub-reddits.

In a way its like twitter and facebook, the quality of tweets and wall posts you will see are only as good as the people you decide to follow.

To be honest, most people subscribe and wants to be subscribed to /r/reddit.com, where this was posted.

I concur completely. I still stand by my point that it's not the same as it was 5 years ago.

It thought it will be a post by a VC.

Since i m not going to read it, can somebody please post a tl;dr here: http://tldrplz.com ?


Bury it all you want, i have sympathy for the evicted, not this sleazy redditor. Posts like these are the reason i removed 'reddit.com' from my reddits.

Your sympathy extends to plugging your website and you're calling him sleazy?

i expected this thread would be dead soon

First world problems....

Tom Waits should put a melody on that.

And the influx of redditors on HN is complete.

Interesting, but hacker news? Come on... if I wanted general news, then I'd go to Reddit.

"On-Topic: Anything that good hackers would find interesting. That includes more than hacking and startups. If you had to reduce it to a sentence, the answer might be: anything that gratifies one's intellectual curiosity." http://ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

This is way more of a 'tugs at the heartstrings' type of thing than gratifying intellectual curiosity.

Did anyone not really understand that it's rough for people to lose their houses?

There are thousands of things that are rough in life or that can be improved, yet one constant complaint I hear about startups nowadays is that they're solving web2.0 problems that move text or images from one screen to another.

To fix things, you first need to hear about the process, to learn intricate details about it, how people end up in these situations and what's at stake. Only then you can become passionate about solving issues that don't involve screens, keyboards and mouses. Do we know it's rough? Yes. Do we understand their issues and have ideas how to fix this? I doubt many of us do.

In my country, if you're late for 90 days with your mortgage payment, one specific bank transfers your debt to another entity which sends you a letter requiring you to pay the entire debt within 1 year or they'll foreclosure on you. I wouldn't have found this today if it weren't for this article. And maybe in the future, the dots will connect and this information will help me improve the lives of such people in distress.

That sounds suspiciously like you have 1 year to either get a new loan or live with zero rent which is not that bad of a deal IMO. Because, your underwater on your mortgage it's free rent, otherwise you should be able to either get a new loan or sell within a year.

In my country you're responsible with your full wealth for your debt (and there's no personal bankruptcy law - it applies only to businesses). They'll retain 1/3 of your salary until they fully recover the difference, if there's any left after the foreclosure.

Ok, that's far more harsh than I was expecting. Thanks, for the clarification the added background completely alters things.

Is it all right with you if you share what country this is?

What happens if you become unemployed during this time?

The country is Romania. A draft existed at one point last year ( http://iasiinvest.ro/information-in-english-/31036-personal-... ) but has been cancelled since then.

If you become unemployed and no longer have any assets, I suspect the debt still exists awaiting you to become employed again, but I'm not a lawyer.

No, its that, to a lot of us, this is a new part of the story that we've never heard before.

May I suggest picking up a newspaper from time to time? The Economist (which is actually a magazine that calls itself a newspaper) is pretty good too, although they don't tend to do the human interest type of things as much as real newspapers do.

If you haven't noticed foreclosure rates and done some thinking about what that meant in human terms, you were simply not paying attention, to put it very directly. (And maybe you have good reasons; you live in Singapore or something and don't care much about the US housing market)

I'll pass on reading paper news and wasting time flipping through things that don't interest me just to get a good story every once in a while.

Id rather consume news via sites like HN where I get interesting stories all the time and get to chat about it with the community.

> Id rather consume news via sites like HN

Off-Topic: Most stories about politics, or crime, or sports, unless they're evidence of some interesting new phenomenon. ... If they'd cover it on TV news, it's probably off-topic.

You can say that about every Reddit IAmA.

So be it then. That's when the upvote system takes over to filter in the good this community sees.

No, this is a community that has guidelines in addition to a voting system. It isn't Reddit.

HN is mainly aimed towards insightful stories about "hacking" any system that is not tuned properly and still has room for improvement in order to be more close to our desires.

Entrepreneurship is the main way to hack society and its systems (I put most politicians in the "those that cannot do, teach" department). But the first step in fixing a system is to find out about its issues. From this perspective, this is very much an on-topic story on HN.

See also the meaning of "hacker" written by pg: http://www.paulgraham.com/gba.html .

Repeating from above:

"On-Topic: Anything that good hackers would find interesting. That includes more than hacking and startups. If you had to reduce it to a sentence, the answer might be: anything that gratifies one's intellectual curiosity." http://ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

Stories don't have to be about hacking. In fact, the Hacker News guidelines used to explicitly mention that good hackers were interested in things other than hacking.

I am upset at the trend in HN to increasingly post only technology-related posts. A news submission with no intellectual undertones can be voted up dozens of times as long as it's related to Apple, Android, or something similar. Posting shallow content just because it's tech is the quickest route to becoming Reddit. And that's not a bash on Reddit, I enjoy reddit--but it's not where I normally go for "deeply interesting" content.

This comment of yours is even less interesting than the aforementioned link, while occupying more screen real estate. Explain that.

Yours is even less so. Like the parent, i found the story uninteresting. If anyone with a sad job got to the frontpage, goodbye IT news. In the end, if the guy thinks his job is sad, quit it, or campaign against evictions. Pretending to be sad and effectively asking for sympathy is ... i can't find the word.

You are right, but since the readers of this comment thread are self-selected, you lose the karma battle. Kind of like how on Youtube, every song is the best song in the world.

I find complex systems with a lot of variables interesting and "hack worthy." Economics is one such. The human aspect and outcomes of the "hack" appeal as well.

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