Back to Work

I’m sitting in a tech-focused office in Stockholm, finally at the point of being unproductive in my apartment.  When I first arrived a few weeks ago everything was new, and I could easily labor for hours at home.  I still put in decent hours last week between the apartment and coffee shops, but I got a little surprise from Rescue Time, which gives me a weekly summary of my hours spent on different websites.


My favorite childhood/early teenage years game was a fantasy strategy card game called Magic The Gathering.  I put a lot of hours going to the card shops playing against the local competition, regional tournaments, and eventually the highest level of tournaments they had, the “Pro Tour”.  Even more than the hours I spent playing other people, I honed my skills in my parent’s basement playing against myself.  I learned how to do a good job of playing one hand and acting as if I didn’t know what the other hand contained, and tried my hardest to win with both.  By the time I was in my second or third year of high school though I became deeply self-conscious of how nerdy the game was, and dropped it completely.  I went from playing/studying 7 days a week and being well-ranked in the world, to 0.  Sold my cards, and never talked about Magic again.  I haven’t played in the 20 years since, outside of a one-off when a friend gave me some cards to play him a few times many years ago.  In my new office guys were talking about playing Magic a few weeks ago, as well as one of my other friends, which lead me out of curiosity to do a few Google searches.  I checked out what the most powerful cards are now, and then stumbled upon a website where you could “playtest” a deck against yourself.  When I got my Resuce Time report I found that I had spent over 10 hours last week playing Magic against myself as if I never left my parents basement.  Clearly it was time for me to get out of the apartment.


The crazy thing is that the 10 hours I put in were a fraction of what I wanted to do.  What made me end my sessions were things like the closing of the coffee shop, imminent dinner plans, etc.  It wasn’t like I played a bunch and got bored.  My brain is pretty sharp right now with probability and game theory, and I worked on designing decks that could win on the first turn with over 90% probability.  I saw some examples of what people thought were the best decks online, and I was immediately able to make major improvements, even though I haven’t played the game in 20 years.  I became gleeful when I played against an imaginary opponent and won over and over.  I’d just restart the games after winning, and go again.  When I lost (my definition of losing was when I couldn’t win on the first turn) I’d analyze if there were any patterns to why I was losing, and make modifications to the deck.  Believe it or not, when my real “work” last week consisted of what is called data cleaning, which is basically spending hours/days on end of making sure days/hours/prices/categories are formatted correctly, it was hard to not end my Magic card breaks when it meant returning to data cleaning.  


Outside of spending too many hours nerding out on Magic Cards, I was able to grind through my data preparation, setup a heavy-duty computer in the cloud via Google, and run some machine learning on my financial data to hopefully find new ways to make money.  The good news is that everything “worked” without errors, and it learned a tiny bit, but unfortunately the results were pretty weak.  When I looked at the graph of how it was learning it was pretty clear something was off.  It makes sense now, but the biggest issue was that I fed in too little data into too powerful of an algorithm.  It was like going deer hunting, and instead of using a shotgun, I dropped an atomic bomb on the deer.  I can either try coming back with a shotgun level algorithm, or getting 50X the data, and I’m going to do both.  Now that my work is shifting towards trying and tuning different algorithms it’s becoming a lot more enjoyable again.  There is no machine learning without data, and properly formatted data at that, so I remind myself to be appreciative of getting better at processing data every time I’m forced to.


I also spent a bit of time collecting new machine learning and algorithmic trading resources.  It can easily be overwhelming trying to learn about either field, even for me when I’ve been doing both somewhat successfully for a while now!  When I read forums online about algo trading I feel like I have no chance to make money compared to how sophisticated and advanced people are, until I remember that I have made money doing this, and most people online sharing their results probably haven’t.  I had the same experience in poker.  People would break down a hand for me explaining exactly what range of hands the other guy should/would have, how he should/would play next, and how to clearly beat that strategy.  I’d be intimidated by the analysis, but then find out that person plays in $200 games, and isn’t even winning in the long-run.  I think a lot of people in statistical strategy games focus on too many skills that are too advanced, when a lot of times a basic strategy works better.  I’m regularly oscillating between trying to get a mega-computer running heavy machine learning 24/7, and just finding small patterns on my own that hint that it might be cheap or expensive enough to trade profitably.  


One thing I’m embarrassed to learn is that I’ve been too judgemental on people’s abilities to succeed in certain occupations in life.  So many people want to do trading/poker, and the odds are that most people will quit before they learn how to make money, just like any other competitive profession, but that doesn’t mean that they have no chance.  I put myself on a pedestal sometimes even when I’m losing, confident that I can “figure things out” eventually, but I discourage people from even trying when they tell me they want to do what I do.  The reality is that getting good at these competitive games requires years of continuous work, and you really can’t completely let up.  Not many people are willing to do that, even myself at times, but I think if people are willing to keep at it they can succeed.  It’s the message I occasionally remind myself with when I’m bogged down by the prospect of continuously having to climb the computer science mountain.  It’s scary to look down and see how much work it took to get here, knowing that it’s going to take that same effort to get better, but if I put in the time it will be rewarding.


With those egotistical musings out of the way, I’ll fill you in on things that you might actually care about. 


Partly because it’s free on Amazon Prime, but also because it’s one of the highest-rated TV series of all time on Metacritic User Scores, I started watching the show “Rome”.  On a side note using Metacritic User Scores is my best heuristic for finding good shows and movies.  As with most of the top-rated shows I’ve been enjoying it.  It’s kind of like what I remember “Game of Thrones” (only seen the first two seasons) to be like, but with real historical characters.  I’m sure many of the historical events are changed/fabricated, but being based somewhat on real history it makes me stop in wonder thinking how crazy some of the past societal norms were, as well as how crazy that some of them still haven’t changed.  


For fitness I’ve been following training from

I mentioned a month ago I would say if I stuck with it and liked it, and I definitely have.  I’ve been a terrible student though, and haven’t’ been checking in/sending my videos like I’m supposed to, but the basic training program they gave me was great.  They have an Instagram where you can see what exercises they recommend and how to do them for free, so I would check that out first.  It’s been a huge ego-check as warming up with 135 pounds for back squats was previously never a big deal, but I never squatted far below parallel, and I barely had the strength to lift the empty bar for 10 reps with tempo when truly going to the end range of a good squat.  The same thing with my handstand pushups and the other exercises.  I’ve had to regress several steps behind what I used to sloppily do, but now I’m starting to progress again, and I feel/see a big difference.  Now if I could just stop abusing the delicious Swedish ice cream… 


With that, I’ll leave you with a picture of the generous office setup that has been loaned to me by a gentleman named Hans.  Sorry for the fact that I never think to take my phone out and take pictures of the amazing scenery that I stroll through in Stockholm every day.  Now that I write this hopefully it will stick in my brain for the future.



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