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August 03, 2012

Maybe relying on millions of nanosecond trades is a bad way to run the stock market?

Knight Capital had a new system that would allow it to process trades faster and to use state of the art algorithms to game the market. But the software was glitchy and cost Knight ten million dollars a minute for as long as it was running. To the tune of $440 million in one day. And then the next day, everyone pulled their money from Knight Capital. Until there is actual regulation of the stock market, there is no reason for the average investor to trust it or to give them money. Trying to Be Nimble, Knight Capital Stumbles - NYTimes.com
But in the rollout of the system that morning, Knight created a blizzard of erroneous orders to buy shares of major stocks. The orders caused wild swings that affected the shares of more than 100 companies, including Ford Motor, RadioShack and American Airlines. While the companies quickly recovered, the 17-year-old Jersey City firm was left reeling. Knight will lose $440 million in selling all the stocks that it accidentally bought on Wednesday — more than its entire revenue in the second quarter of this year, when it brought in $289 million.

Qantas Airlines keeps man on hold for fifteen hours

The Consumerist -- Businessman On Hold With Qantas Airlines Finds Out “As Soon As Possible” Is More Than 15 Hours
The Telegraph says the Australian man simply wanted to confirm his flight to New York, and claims he was on the phone longer than it would've taken him to just fly to New York. He was on the line for 15 hours, 40 minutes and one second, he says, before he finally threw in the towel. You're a more determined man than I, sir. He was placed in a queue and told he'd be attended to "as soon as possible." "I wanted to find out what exactly they meant would be as soon as possible," he said. "When it got to over two or three hours that was the point where it was like: 'OK let's ride this out'". So what did he do all that time? Surfed the web, took a nap and caught up on some reading. "I also managed to read Bazerman & Moore's seventh edition of Judgment in Managerial Decision Making — more than 200 pages of advanced master's level reading," he said. Eventually he burned out, saying, "I hung up in the end simply because I had had enough." And the decidedly undelicious icing on this cake of CSR woe? When he called back, successfully, he was told he hadn't, in fact, been booked on his flight because of a code error in reservations. . . .

August 02, 2012

Why Microsoft Fell

This is a long read, full of interesting bits about the incredibly poisonous and hubris-choked work environment that was Microsoft. How Microsoft Lost Its Mojo: Steve Ballmer and Corporate America’s Most Spectacular Decline | Business | Vanity Fair
Microsoft’s managers, intentionally or not, pumped up the volume on the viciousness. What emerged—when combined with the bitterness about financial disparities among employees, the slow pace of development, and the power of the Windows and Office divisions to kill innovation—was a toxic stew of internal antagonism and warfare. “If you don’t play the politics, it’s management by character assassination,” said Turkel. At the center of the cultural problems was a management system called “stack ranking.” Every current and former Microsoft employee I interviewed—every one—cited stack ranking as the most destructive process inside of Microsoft, something that drove out untold numbers of employees. The system—also referred to as “the performance model,” “the bell curve,” or just “the employee review”—has, with certain variations over the years, worked like this: every unit was forced to declare a certain percentage of employees as top performers, then good performers, then average, then below average, then poor. “If you were on a team of 10 people, you walked in the first day knowing that, no matter how good everyone was, two people were going to get a great review, seven were going to get mediocre reviews, and one was going to get a terrible review,” said a former software developer. “It leads to employees focusing on competing with each other rather than competing with other companies.” Supposing Microsoft had managed to hire technology’s top players into a single unit before they made their names elsewhere—Steve Jobs of Apple, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Larry Page of Google, Larry Ellison of Oracle, and Jeff Bezos of Amazon—regardless of performance, under one of the iterations of stack ranking, two of them would have to be rated as below average, with one deemed disastrous.