28 November 2008

He Sings the Songs that Remind Him Of The Good Times

picture by MatthewBradley
From: YouTube [mailto:no_reply@youtube.com]

Sent: 21 November 2008 03:18
To: botogol
Subject: A copyright owner has claimed content in one of your videos

Dear botogol,
Video Disabled A copyright owner has claimed it owns some or all of the audio content in your video TRFC U9 Rugby.
The audio content identified in your video is Tubthumping by Chumbawamba. We regret to inform you that your video has been blocked from playback due to a music rights issue.

Now, I'm all in favour of copyright and I understand why record companies have a hard time with Limewire, and I'd be really miffed if people copied out Greenideas and pasted it all over the internet 1 but I find it hard to believe that Chumbawumba's inalienable rights and long-term financial security are being seriously violated by the TRFC U9s.

In fact the reverse: you would think that in the world of the long tail, and a sea of content flooding the internet, that sound-track might serve to keep their ditty alive and remembered a little longer.

So how does it work anyway? Have record companies built bots that download all the video on youtube, and listen to it, searching for their unique chord sequences?  That must be a rewarding job: "I'm in the Music Business" "Oh, yes, what do you do?"  "Umm - music silencing department"

And all that effort to prolong a business model that must, surely be dead. I think we'll look back at the music business as a distinctly 20th century coda, a wierd period where large companies were, astonishingly,  able to control the distribution of . . . music. Kind of like GM seeds.

Sigh - so there must be a service that allows me to disguise the soundtrack so that it is unrecognisable to robots and but sounds exactly the same to the mums and dads of the U9s?
1Transparent lie warning : of course I'd love it :-)

25 November 2008

Diverse Attractions

The financial world as we know it may be ending, the bear may be prowling the corridors, the greedy getting their comeuppance, and lights going out in Canary Wharf, but Investment Bankers still know how to party and last week I scraped a ticket to a client-focused, flagship philanthropy event in a major London gallery: drinks, canapes, and a private tour of the collection. What's not to like? 

The word was: 300 had been invited -  bankers, dealers, rainmakers, sales staff and clients both corporate and hedge fund.

43 turned up - product controllers, IT, risk management, paralegals and admin as well four others with jobs indescribable.

It seems like no one actually wants to party any more. And who can blame us?

On the tour we admired this painting, and how much the artist had packed into it, cryptic references piled onto obscure allusions all competing for attention in a crowded space (imagine!), for instance the major elements of the nativity story are all there: the stable, the three kings, the annunciation to the shepherds, the holy spirit descending from the star.

One of the themes of the painting (our guide explained) is that the old give way to the new: there's Joseph (that's him in the doorway, dressed in orange) portrayed as an old man, while Mary looks no more than sixteen. Look at the bottom where there is an old dog and a young dog. Look at the buildings: the old, classical and ruined giving way in the distance to a church, modern, fine and young.

The older employees looked ruefully at one another and shifted their feet.

The three kings themselves are represented in the conventional way: one black, one white and one Eastern. Their races are unspecified in the bible, it's a convention - explained our artist - that developed in the Renaissance. Three kings, one each of the major racial groups of the time. It was a device, said our guide, to stress diversity and universality.

I looked over my shoulder at our own corporate display board - a group of serious, but smiling employees gathered around a boardroom table, and then back at the painting.

plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

19 November 2008

On the treadmill

picture by dead_squid
I used to absolutely hate running. Always.

But then suddenly, in one of those inexplicable, but seemingly permanent, changes that one goes through at around the age of forty, I started to to enjoy it, and now I run as often as I can in the Bushy Park  5km1 each Saturday morning.

My PB is a shade over 22 mins, and I am exceeding proud of it, being of a certain age and not, to be honest, entirely of a runner's build2 and if I work hard, and run as often as I can, I have calculated I'll reach my 100th race, and receive the coveted T-shirt, and a round-of-applause-in-front-of-the-impatient-crowd before I am fifty. Just :-(

On the other hand, before I get too big-headed, 22 mins works out to be an average speed of 13.6 km/h, while the world record for the marathon was set last month in Berlin at an average speed of 20.4 km/h.  That's fast.  Running at that speed Haile Gebrselassie would win the Bushy Park 5km every single week. Often by more than a minute.

How far, I wondered, could I run at 20.4 km/h?

Well, another splendid thing about working for an Investment Bank is that we have a gym in the basement (and even more splendid - there are fewer people in it every month) so yesterday I put on my fastest trainers, set the treadmill to 20.4, pressed the big green button and sped off.

Afterwards in changing rooms, making idle small talk3 with strangers, I was sure I could have run  further, yes much further. What stopped me, you see, thundering along on the treadmill, heart pounding, arms flailing, feet stomping on the belt, sweat dripping from my temples, headphones dangling from one waxy ear, wasn't exhaustion or lactic acid build-up in the calves. Neither was it the increasing realisation that just one tiny misstep or stumble and I was likely to lose my balance and be ejected smartly from the back of the roaring machine on my stomach.

No - what stopped me was the consternation and - if I am honest - look of absolute fear on my neighbours faces on the treadmills either side, and so that's how it was, that after just 250m I was forced to press the big red emergency stop button and call it a day.

1 for all my American readers (cough):  5 kilometres = 3.11 miles
2 the race is dominated by skinny, unhealthy-looking 20 somethings with 30" waists and long legs. Meh.
3 will our top management be sacrificing their bonuses; if they did would it be a trick; and - most importantly - would it mean a smaller or larger bonus pool for the rest of us?

13 November 2008

Socially Challenged

picture by massdistraction
There are some very splendid things about working in an Investment Bank and one of them is the personal training that we receive in the good years.

I've worked in the City a long time and there have been very many good years; and I have received a lot of personal training. Some of it I even remember.

So this morning there I was in the hustle and bustle of the breakfast-time canteen, only slightly knackered after my 8.5km pre-work run and entirely focussed on toasting my reward bagel (pumpkin seed, to be lightly done with butter and marmite), but the toaster was running too fast - or too cool - so that the conveyor belt was delivering a flow of hot-but-still-raw bread products, each retrieved with increasing impatience by their owners and returned for a second, or even third, passage through the deeply disappointing inferno.

And so I was tut-tutting with rest of them and huff-puffing with the best of them, and then for some reason I remembered my old coach and the well-meaning, if uncomfortable, challenges she used to set me: like smiling at strangers, just for the hell of it; and a little bit of nostalgia, or recklessness, or madness must have crept over me for suddenly, and quickly before I could change my mind, I turned to bloke behind me (two slices of unappetising, limp white sliced bread, third time through) and I smiled brightly and said: 'Huh, well it may be annoying for us, but anyone with a hitherto unfulfilled craving for very warm, but yet completely uncooked bakery goods must be having a great morning"

And he smiled back warmly and said "They sure must be" and then turned away from me to claim as it tumbled from the conveyor his steaming but still totally white bread and as he did so he muttered quietly, but perfectly distinctly under his breath, 'wierdo'

I should realised that he was the dangerous, humourless type, from the bread.

12 November 2008

Brodies Notes 2075/76 English Literature GCSE Module 4: "Blogs"

picture by Ole Begemann
Sub-Module # 6523 "Green Ideas" http://blog.greenideas.com

(a guide for dummies)

In 2008 Alibert Botogol took Green Ideas in a fresh direction: rebranding the site for a short while as 'Green Ideas is Credit Crunched' with over half of its content concerning life in an 'Investment Bank' 1

Contemporary critics suggested this was no more than a transparent and cynical attempt to attract more hits by including popular search terms2 in the title of the page, but kinder readers suggested it was a genuine attempt to open a window into a job  which was genuinely indescribable but fleetingly topical

Whatever the reason, Alibert's relaunch wasn't a complete success for, despite the radical new logo and colour-scheme and minor adjustment to the, seldom-read, right-hand side-bar, the style of writing still remained that of a cryptic smart-arse and by Nov 2008 he had still only four 'followers'. One which was himself.

His November 2008 post 'Cowslip's Warren' was typical of the style of the period being particularly cryptic and yielding no fewer than three comments of complaint and is worth looking at in more detail to unravel its meaning. Especially for Americans

In this post Botogol is preoccupied with people leaving his Bank and the different ways in which departures are handled. For any Investment Banker beyond the age of 40 this was entirely normal.  The first style of announcement that he discusses is fulsome and warm, but, he says,  reserved for the 'time'servers' - senior bankers who didn't set the world alight. The most successful bankers ('rainmakers') on the other hand, he claims, generally leave on bad terms and receive only grudging notices

Botogol allows a hint of bitterness to show through in his desriptions of the first two styles, but his tone changes as he discusses the departure of the hapless 'RIFFED' (victims of a Reduction In Force, or redundancy programme).

The post's title, Cowslip's Warren, is a reference to the popular novel Watership Down, in which the travelling rabbits encounter a strange warren whose inhabitants live a life of unimaginable riches, provided with generous bounty of  luxurious food and protected from pests by a local farmer. However it turns out they pay a terrible price for not only are they humiliated by other rabbits at Dinner Parties, the farmer also sets snares for the unwary, and any rabbits caught are dead meat.

The rabbits of Cowslip's warren develop a complex culture that detracts attention from their doomed and shallow lives, a culture with one strong taboo: those who disappear are never mentioned again.  Botogol likens this to the fate of the riffed - who in Investment Banks at the time were normally removed suddenly, and without farewell from the working environment; or 'Cubicle'


1. Investment Bank - in the 20th Century the economies, and employment markets of US and UK were dominated by Investment Banks, controlled by greedy, bonus driven executives, the banks failed to survive to the great Crunch of 2008-2017, brought down largely by the greed of the employees, as every fule kno. (see Golden Goose)

2. Popular search terms in 2008, mention of which any in a blog-post being sure to attract readers included 'credit crunch', 'greedy', 'investment bank', 'jonathan ross' and 'russell brand'

Needlessly Cryptic References Used by Botogol in Cowslip's Warren
Bigwig - a hardworking and loyal character in Watership Down
Owsla - Middle Management team in a warren.
Outer Party -  Middle Management team in the novel 1984 by George Orwell
Parsons, Tom - Unperson (someone who is disappeared by the state) in the novel 1984

10 November 2008

Cowslip's Warren

picture by letneo
You can tell a lot about an Investment Banker's career by the manner of her leaving it.

The hierarchy of styles-of-exit is subtle and complex; but also well-studied and instinctively understood so even the greenest, youngest, Assistant Vice President will be able to describe the three basic manners:

The grandest (but not, curiously, the most prestigious) is by way of the Obituary in  CorporateNews
Fred T. Bigwig has left the bank to pursue other opportunities. He joined in 2002 as Director in charge of Complex Transactions EMEA (exc. South Africa) and in 2004 was promoted to Co-Head of Financial Engineering, APAC where he oversaw three-fold growth in revenues. In 2006 he was honoured by Risk Magazine for his contribution to Diversity in the City. He is leaving to pursue opportunities elsewhere.
Translation: Outer Party, Owsla time-server: eased out with nothing but several million Euros in shares to salve his pride. No genuine rainmaker ever gets a send off like that - for then no genuine rainmaker ever leaves on good terms. Fired, retired, competitively hired, whatever: they all get Exit Style #2.
Please congratulate  AnneT Bigwig on her promotion to Global Co-Head of Deal-Making. She replaces A Rainmaker who after 6 years with the bank has left for personal reason.

But in the time of the Credit Crunch the most common style of exit we see is neither of the above. It's the hushed but steady, unmistakable departure of the RIFfed, and it's a quiet sort of event, an embarassed type of event, a please-step-up-to-the-27th-floor-to-see-HR type of event and there are no individual announcements of the names of the At Risk, just suddenly empty cubicles, hushed water-cooler conversations and in the email directory a give-away #.  
#Parsons, Tom is out-of-the-office and is not responding to emails. Thank you for not mentioning his name.

06 November 2008


Well every other blogger in the known universe seems to have written about Obama, so I might as well add my twopennyworth, and say:

One the one hand, I am very relieved that Obama & Biden won, seeing off the - frankly scary -McCain/Palin duo.

On the other hand it does seem to me that the reason for all the fuss yesterday is that the world is judging Obama not on the content of his character, but on the colour of his skin.

That's OK, though. There'll be plenty of chances to display the former over the next few years.

01 November 2008

What it's all about

words in the last few posts - created on wordle.net how cool is that?

Meanwhile, back in the real world I set a new PB for 5km run today. Not so old after all.