Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Quotes of the day

I have learned from prior experience that sometimes the better part of valor in an investment situation is to move on. Onward.--Bill Ackman

... who in the Valley doesn’t know it was Sun Microsystems cofounder Andy Bechtolsheim who handed Larry Page and Sergey Brin a check for $100,000 in August 1998, before they’d even incorporated? Or that Peter Thiel was the first outside investor in a Harvard startup called Facebook? ... in the last 10 years the price of starting a technology company has fallen dramatically. No longer do startups have to pay $60,000 for an Oracle database or shell out tens of thousands of dollars for a content-management system: free open-source software has taken care of that. Bandwidth and hardware are also substantially cheaper. Plus, a company that might have needed dozens of programmers in the past can now get away with one or two. Add to that the fact that most people working for startups eschew large salaries in exchange for equity stakes, and the cost of getting a new tech company off the ground goes from several million dollars to a few hundred thousand.--Doree Shafrir

... Stuxnet is an incredibly advanced, undetectable computer worm that took years to construct and was designed to jump from computer to computer until it found the specific, protected control system that it aimed to destroy: Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. The target was seemingly impenetrable; for security reasons, it lay several stories underground and was not connected to the World Wide Web. And that meant Stuxnet had to act as sort of a computer cruise missile: As it made its passage through a set of unconnected computers, it had to grow and adapt to security measures and other changes until it reached one that could bring it into the nuclear facility. When it ultimately found its target, it would have to secretly manipulate it until it was so compromised it ceased normal functions. And finally, after the job was done, the worm would have to destroy itself without leaving a trace. That is what we are learning happened at Iran's nuclear facilities -- both at Natanz, which houses the centrifuge arrays used for processing uranium into nuclear fuel, and, to a lesser extent, at Bushehr, Iran's nuclear power plant. ... There is one clue that was left in the code that may tell us all we need to know. Embedded in different section of the code is another common computer language reference, but this one is misspelled. Instead of saying “DEADFOOT,” a term stolen from pilots meaning a failed engine, this one reads “DEADFOO7.” Yes, OO7 has returned -- as a computer worm. Stuxnet. Shaken, not stirred.--Ed Barnes

... [Jamie] Dimon has plenty not to be embarrassed about. He fulfilled a banker’s first obligation: he made sure his bank survived. This was thanks to his strategy of maintaining a healthy cushion of capital for a rainy day. When markets melted down and the economy plunged into recession, J. P. Morgan remained not only solvent but profitable every quarter. When other banks were refusing to lend, Dimon’s continued to offer credit to customers ranging from homeowners to Pfizer to the State of California. And when the United States needed a strong institution to bail out a failing bank, it turned — twice — to JPMorgan Chase.--Roger Lowenstein

President Lincoln could have denigrated all Southerners. He didn’t.--Jamie Dimon, to President Obama

Politics, like religion, is a topic where there's no threshold of expertise for expressing an opinion. All you need is strong convictions. Do religion and politics have something in common that explains this similarity? One possible explanation is that they deal with questions that have no definite answers, so there's no back pressure on people's opinions. Since no one can be proven wrong, every opinion is equally valid, and sensing this, everyone lets fly with theirs. ... I think what religion and politics have in common is that they become part of people's identity, and people can never have a fruitful argument about something that's part of their identity. By definition they're partisan. ... there is a step beyond thinking of yourself as x but tolerating y: not even to consider yourself an x. The more labels you have for yourself, the dumber they make you.--Paul Graham

We think its fairly obvious that the Department of Justice won't go after the Times or any of the other papers involved in the [Wikileaks] story. But if it doesn't, that's just evidence that its attempt to use the Espionage Act to go after Assange isn't about enforcing laws: It's about retribution, harassment, and rattling sabers.--John Cook

Liquidity crises do not happen to governments with low debt levels. Liquidity crises are solvency crises during the panic phase, before they are revealed to be solvency crises alone. It is difficult to change government behavior, because the politics of reducing spending, or raising taxes is tough. Once a crisis hits, there are protests. People point at shadowy interests that are denying them the illusionary prosperity of the boom; conspiracy theories thrive.--David Merkel

Abandoning the euro, in other words, is not about taking on costs. It is about distributing existing adjustment costs. What Keynes and Kindleberger (and the other K: Krugman) remind us is that the distribution of these costs is not determined by economic theory but rather by political interests. That is why I said last week that political radicalism in Europe will almost certainly rise and the process of governing will become increasingly unstable. It is through the political process that the costs of adjustment will be assigned to the different groups, and when the costs are likely to be so high, the squabbling over the assignment of those costs is likely to be quite brutal.--Michael Pettis

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