Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game

Madoff, the SEC, hedge funds & the IC

After reading the testimony of Harry Markopolos, the whistleblower in the Madoff Ponzi scheme who crafted such a compelling reconstruction of events he deserves a Nobel Prize in Literature simply for the writing itself, I thought, “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.” Markopolos’ 58-page confessional and call to arms illustrates a process so painstakingly onerous, it invoked an image straight out of Kafka’s A Message from the Emperor:

The messenger started off at once, a powerful, tireless man. Sticking one arm out and then another, he makes his way through the crowd. If he runs into resistance, he points to his breast where there is a sign of the sun. So he moves forwards easily, unlike anyone else. But the crowd is so huge; its dwelling places are infinite. If there were an open field, how he would fly along, and soon you would hear the marvelous pounding of his fist on your door. But instead of that, how futile are all his efforts. He is still forcing his way through the private rooms of the innermost palace. Never will he win his way through. And if he did manage that, nothing would have been achieved. He would have to fight his way down the steps, and, if he managed to do that, nothing would have been achieved.

Markopolos began investigating Bernie Madoff in 1999, but due to consistent inadequacies and roadblocks, he was unable to elicit any action that could stop Madoff from his carrying out his odyssey of deceit. As easy as it would be to burn Madoff at the stakes and line up all the individuals guilty of inaction and ignorance for the firing squad, I’m more interested in the future of hedge funds.

For over a decade I have been fascinated by hedge funds – mainly due to the lack of transparency and oversight they have enjoyed since their inception in 1949. In reading Mr. Markopolos’ testimony, I couldn’t help but draw parallels to the Intelligence Community, who after 9/11, has been accused of “failing to connect the dots” (even though the dots in many ways were connected). Like the Intelligence Community, hedge funds are a dark market in that:

“…they do not trade on exchanges, they are not registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission, they are subject to few regulations, and their investors are not extended the same consumer-protection benefits that are given to investors in mutual funds and other entities that fall under the 1940 Investment Company Act.” (Knowledge@Wharton)

My greatest curiosity concerning hedge funds revolves around who benefits from them (and how greatly) and how have they continued to operate in such opaque circumstances after bombastic failures such as Long-Term Capital Management which required bailout supervision by the Federal Reserve. Whenever staggering amounts of money are involved, as is the case with hedge funds and the intelligence community and national security/defense, I sometimes wonder if the breadth and reach of the implications of who benefits and how becomes such a quagmire that any effort to address them with transparency seems disastrous and humiliating at the level of The Emperor’s New Clothes.

In his 30-page course of action to address securities fraud, Mr. Markapolos offers insightful, well-defined, and reasonable solutions; however, he omits two important components: 1) hedge fund transparency/regulation (which is currently being tackled by the Grassley/Levin Hedge Fund Transparency Act and 2) information technology.

If the SEC can learn one thing from the IC, it is the benefit of an integrated information technology system. The SEC, with its twelve offices across the country, along with agencies such as the IRS and DoJ, needs a better way to “talk to each other” (akin to an Intelink) – so the organizations can fluidly share information and utilize communal services to detect fraud. Markopolus’ idea of providing all employees access to a Bloomberg machine (a top-of-the-line financial, regulatory, and market database) is a plainly obvious one, noting that “most SEC offices are lucky to have even one Bloomberg machine for the entire region’s use.” The IC, via the DNI‘s Intelligence Community Enterprise Services (ICES), is provided a set of solutions that include enterprise search, a commnunity-wide wiki, blogs, instant messaging, social bookmarking, document sharing, video sharing, image sharing, and more. Our regulatory agencies need a common suite of tools, the same ones used by private/commericial financial institutions, that allow for greater analytic and data access capabilities.

If the IC can learn one thing from Markopolos and the SEC, it’s that if speaking truth to power is tough, bringing action against power is damn near impossible. Markopolos notes factors such as fear, lack of competence and vested interests as contributors to the abject failure of the regulatory system. His recommendation of creating an Office of the Whistleblower to “centralize the handling and investigation of whistleblower tips” is something the IC could implement to solicit and centralize anti-collaboration activities that would allow all IC members to contribute encountered instances of hoarding and/or resistance to knowledge-sharing in a systemic, protected manner. This would be in line with ICD 501 that strengthens the “sharing, integration, and management of information within the Intelligence Community (IC), and establishes policies for: (1) discovery; and (2) dissemination or retrieval of intelligence and intelligence-related information collected or analysis produced by the IC.”

If the IC and SEC can learn one thing from each other, it’s that while black markets will exist, there needs to be mechanisms to shed light on them.

Don't Hate the Player, Hate the Game

Madoff, the SEC, hedge funds & the IC

After reading the testimony of Harry Markopolos, the whistleblower in the Madoff Ponzi scheme who crafted such a compelling reconstruction of events he deserves a Nobel Prize in Literature simply for the writing itself, I thought, “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.” Markopolos’ 58-page confessional and call to arms illustrates a process so painstakingly onerous, it invoked an image straight out of Kafka’s A Message from the Emperor:

The messenger started off at once, a powerful, tireless man. Sticking one arm out and then another, he makes his way through the crowd. If he runs into resistance, he points to his breast where there is a sign of the sun. So he moves forwards easily, unlike anyone else. But the crowd is so huge; its dwelling places are infinite. If there were an open field, how he would fly along, and soon you would hear the marvelous pounding of his fist on your door. But instead of that, how futile are all his efforts. He is still forcing his way through the private rooms of the innermost palace. Never will he win his way through. And if he did manage that, nothing would have been achieved. He would have to fight his way down the steps, and, if he managed to do that, nothing would have been achieved.

Markopolos began investigating Bernie Madoff in 1999, but due to consistent inadequacies and roadblocks, he was unable to elicit any action that could stop Madoff from his carrying out his odyssey of deceit. As easy as it would be to burn Madoff at the stakes and line up all the individuals guilty of inaction and ignorance for the firing squad, I’m more interested in the future of hedge funds.

For over a decade I have been fascinated by hedge funds – mainly due to the lack of transparency and oversight they have enjoyed since their inception in 1949. In reading Mr. Markopolos’ testimony, I couldn’t help but draw parallels to the Intelligence Community, who after 9/11, has been accused of “failing to connect the dots” (even though the dots in many ways were connected). Like the Intelligence Community, hedge funds are a dark market in that:

“…they do not trade on exchanges, they are not registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission, they are subject to few regulations, and their investors are not extended the same consumer-protection benefits that are given to investors in mutual funds and other entities that fall under the 1940 Investment Company Act.” (Knowledge@Wharton)

My greatest curiosity concerning hedge funds revolves around who benefits from them (and how greatly) and how have they continued to operate in such opaque circumstances after bombastic failures such as Long-Term Capital Management which required bailout supervision by the Federal Reserve. Whenever staggering amounts of money are involved, as is the case with hedge funds and the intelligence community and national security/defense, I sometimes wonder if the breadth and reach of the implications of who benefits and how becomes such a quagmire that any effort to address them with transparency seems disastrous and humiliating at the level of The Emperor’s New Clothes.

In his 30-page course of action to address securities fraud, Mr. Markapolos offers insightful, well-defined, and reasonable solutions; however, he omits two important components: 1) hedge fund transparency/regulation (which is currently being tackled by the Grassley/Levin Hedge Fund Transparency Act and 2) information technology.

If the SEC can learn one thing from the IC, it is the benefit of an integrated information technology system. The SEC, with its twelve offices across the country, along with agencies such as the IRS and DoJ, needs a better way to “talk to each other” (akin to an Intelink) – so the organizations can fluidly share information and utilize communal services to detect fraud. Markopolus’ idea of providing all employees access to a Bloomberg machine (a top-of-the-line financial, regulatory, and market database) is a plainly obvious one, noting that “most SEC offices are lucky to have even one Bloomberg machine for the entire region’s use.” The IC, via the DNI‘s Intelligence Community Enterprise Services (ICES), is provided a set of solutions that include enterprise search, a commnunity-wide wiki, blogs, instant messaging, social bookmarking, document sharing, video sharing, image sharing, and more. Our regulatory agencies need a common suite of tools, the same ones used by private/commericial financial institutions, that allow for greater analytic and data access capabilities.

If the IC can learn one thing from Markopolos and the SEC, it’s that if speaking truth to power is tough, bringing action against power is damn near impossible. Markopolos notes factors such as fear, lack of competence and vested interests as contributors to the abject failure of the regulatory system. His recommendation of creating an Office of the Whistleblower to “centralize the handling and investigation of whistleblower tips” is something the IC could implement to solicit and centralize anti-collaboration activities that would allow all IC members to contribute encountered instances of hoarding and/or resistance to knowledge-sharing in a systemic, protected manner. This would be in line with ICD 501 that strengthens the “sharing, integration, and management of information within the Intelligence Community (IC), and establishes policies for: (1) discovery; and (2) dissemination or retrieval of intelligence and intelligence-related information collected or analysis produced by the IC.”

If the IC and SEC can learn one thing from each other, it’s that while black markets will exist, there needs to be mechanisms to shed light on them.

25 things…

You may or may not know about Steve aka the @robotchampion:

  1. He wears black socks to gym. Somehow he manages to make this look good.
  2. He wears a pink sweatshirt with a lion on it and doesn’t understand why guys hit on him.
  3. He’s completely monogamous.
  4. He is an office lady-charmer.
  5. He does get jealous but tries to never let it show.
  6. When he’s really excited, he says “omigod!” with a Brooklyn accent.
  7. When it comes to our relationship, he has repose. I’ve been with him after his car’s been towed, while I’m freaking out about how closely he is driving behind another car on the beltway on route to the WIRE/ICES conference, and after I’ve yelled at him for failing to communicate with me – and he did not respond with the typical human knee jerk response of anger or aggravation.
  8. When he’s stressed or completely engrossed in figuring out something, he gnaws on his fingers.
  9. He likes to touch – almost like a blind person communicating through his fingers (I think this is why he loves Apple products so much).
  10. He denied my advances not once but twice and is the only man (that I recall) who has done this.
  11. He’s able to organize virtually anything in a wiki (and is known as “Wiki Steve” by colleagues).
  12. He is insecure about his body.
  13. He’s intimidated by pretty girls.
  14. He cried upon receiving churros at the Mexico/California border and during Obama’s acceptance speech.
  15. In California, he was a boogie board surfer, not a long board surfer.
  16. He will be an amazing father.
  17. He loves that he gets the pretty girls and guys have no idea why.
  18. He intentionally asked me to hold his passport at the airport b/c he knew my ex always handled everything, including the holding of the passports and was psychologically challenging my historical construct of relationships.
  19. He’s an incredible teacher – one of the best I’ve seen.
  20. He has an amazing family (and his brother Spence is quite possibly one of the coolest, most “truest” people I’ve ever met).
  21. Sometimes he’s afraid of me.
  22. He feels so deeply that he’s trained himself not to.
  23. He’s the only man besides my dad who I never get bored talking to and is able to throw humor at me from left field.
  24. He thinks I will somehow help him become President of the United States.
  25. I met Steve the day after I had given back my engagement ring to my then fiancée. It was a point in my life when everything was in flux and I knew what needed to change and where I wanted to go but I wasn’t sure how. I had spent too much time trying to please other people, to be something I wasn’t or didn’t want to be, and without trying, by just being himself, Steve showed me how to be me. I am who I am today because of him.

The 8 questions

Below is a list of 8 questions that was given to me by Bill Jordan, an 80-year old man I met while waiting at the Ritz Camera in DC. He was wearing an Obama cap and holding an iPhone.  We started talking about iPhones, Apple, and travel. His blind 12-year old granddaughter convinced him to buy stock in Apple  when it was selling at $42/share. He has visited over 100 countries and handed me a slip of paper that read: The doom of a profligate nation is certain – having been foretold by all of recorded history.”~Bill Jordan

  1. If you had unlimited time and unlimited money, what three cities in the world would you like to visit?
  2. If you could be present on any one day in the history of the world and participate in the events of the day or simply observe what happened what day would you choose?
  3. If I would reserve a table for four tomorrow night at 7pm at the very best restaurant in town (I would agree to pay the bill) and you could invite three people (now living or you could bring them back from the dead), what three people would you choose to visit and converse with for several hours?
  4. Please give me your three most negative impression about America or Americans.
  5. Out of 1000 people selected at random, how many do you believe are capable of original thought?
  6. Do you believe in life after death?
  7. If you believe in life after death, is there anything that you can do to improve your status in the afterlife? If so what?

Feel free to leave your answers as a comment:)

One Human's Minutiae is Another's Munificence

For thirty years, Albert Einstein struggled to produce a unified theory that would provide an explanation for everything in the physical universe. This quest for a single blueprint for life would accompany him to his grave and in his last years he admitted, “It is so difficult to employ mathematically that I have not been able to verify it somehow, in spite of all my efforts.” He finally conceded, “Someone else is going to have to it.”

For several decades in the 1500s Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe diligently recorded the positions of the planet Mars. Every day at the same time  he observed its position and noted it, and while this might have seemed like a trivial acquisition, qualifying it as minutia even, he eventually observed that Mars drifted from west to east, “but every two years roughly the planet would take a brief diversion, slowing down, going backward and doing a loop, before regaining its senses and continuing its normal motion.” (The Social Atom)

After Brahe’s death, Johannes Kepler studied Brahe’s notebooks, and eight years later he concluded that Mars and Earth were rotating on elliptical tracks around the sun, with Earth on the inside track. This served as the foundation for Issac Newton’s laws of gravity and motion.

The scientific method for gathering data, identifying patterns and finding a mechanism to explain them is the same one that social scientists today are using to find solutions to problems such as global warming and the spread of infectious diseases.  People, like the physical world, fall into very explainable patterns and these patterns reveal regularities that the seemingly complicated just isn’t so.

There are some patterns that are not so common, not so regular, not so obvious in their occurrence and therefore are more difficult to understand. Acts like the “random” campus shooting that took place at Virginia Tech could be considered one of these anomalies, not easy to predict given the paucity of data about the shooter and lack of similar events to which to compare it. I’m curious what a stream of this shooter’s life would have looked like in Twitter, what it would have revealed and what we could have learned from it. Given a large dynamic system like Twitter, where small variations of a initial condition can be captured, would a butterfly effect emerged? Clive Thompson compared Twitter to “proprioception, your body’s ability to know where your limbs are.” I consider Twitter a tool for social omniscience, in which the identification of natural laws of patterns can lead to the possibility of prediction.

What’s so intriguing and exciting about social patterns is the ability to change them – social behaviors are often dictated by mutable and constructed norms. However, because social patterns are influenced by norms, social etiquette “black holes” can present great barriers to revealing true patterns and ultimately presenting solutions. When I hear how I should conduct myself, what I should and should not say, by entities as imposing as the United States government and as intrusive as the “family order” – I immediately object. These formal and informal gag rules are exactly what will prevent us from solving the most complicated of issues – the ones that keep me from saying I smoked an entire pack of cigarettes this weekend, or I think the industry I work in is inherently doomed for failure and virtually no one understands this, or I do look at porn on occasion, or I like illegal aliens because they work jobs that “Americans” don’t want but I get annoyed when they don’t learn/speak English.

I laugh at the notion that technology alone will ever solve a problem; even if we lived in a world in which every person could contribute to one global database, these invisible barriers would still exist. The fact is I am regularly surprised by what I say has meaning to whom and while I myself don’t want to read every single thing a person does or thinks, I’d be willing to bet the farm that the compilation of this minutiae, coupled with other sources of data, would reveal patterns never obvious to us before and present answers to questions that have eluded humankind for ages. To do this however would require a lot of data, a lot of minutiae, all the minutiae you don’t want to hear. And yet the more information we make available, the greater our ability to understand our world and change it.

I believe with enough data, we can discover the truth in everything – and we will unveil an artisan’s masterfully ordered structure and achieve what Einstein simply did not have enough minutiae to achieve.

One Human’s Minutiae is Another’s Munificence

For thirty years, Albert Einstein struggled to produce a unified theory that would provide an explanation for everything in the physical universe. This quest for a single blueprint for life would accompany him to his grave and in his last years he admitted, “It is so difficult to employ mathematically that I have not been able to verify it somehow, in spite of all my efforts.” He finally conceded, “Someone else is going to have to it.”

For several decades in the 1500s Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe diligently recorded the positions of the planet Mars. Every day at the same time  he observed its position and noted it, and while this might have seemed like a trivial acquisition, qualifying it as minutia even, he eventually observed that Mars drifted from west to east, “but every two years roughly the planet would take a brief diversion, slowing down, going backward and doing a loop, before regaining its senses and continuing its normal motion.” (The Social Atom)

After Brahe’s death, Johannes Kepler studied Brahe’s notebooks, and eight years later he concluded that Mars and Earth were rotating on elliptical tracks around the sun, with Earth on the inside track. This served as the foundation for Issac Newton’s laws of gravity and motion.

The scientific method for gathering data, identifying patterns and finding a mechanism to explain them is the same one that social scientists today are using to find solutions to problems such as global warming and the spread of infectious diseases.  People, like the physical world, fall into very explainable patterns and these patterns reveal regularities that the seemingly complicated just isn’t so.

There are some patterns that are not so common, not so regular, not so obvious in their occurrence and therefore are more difficult to understand. Acts like the “random” campus shooting that took place at Virginia Tech could be considered one of these anomalies, not easy to predict given the paucity of data about the shooter and lack of similar events to which to compare it. I’m curious what a stream of this shooter’s life would have looked like in Twitter, what it would have revealed and what we could have learned from it. Given a large dynamic system like Twitter, where small variations of a initial condition can be captured, would a butterfly effect emerged? Clive Thompson compared Twitter to “proprioception, your body’s ability to know where your limbs are.” I consider Twitter a tool for social omniscience, in which the identification of natural laws of patterns can lead to the possibility of prediction.

What’s so intriguing and exciting about social patterns is the ability to change them – social behaviors are often dictated by mutable and constructed norms. However, because social patterns are influenced by norms, social etiquette “black holes” can present great barriers to revealing true patterns and ultimately presenting solutions. When I hear how I should conduct myself, what I should and should not say, by entities as imposing as the United States government and as intrusive as the “family order” – I immediately object. These formal and informal gag rules are exactly what will prevent us from solving the most complicated of issues – the ones that keep me from saying I smoked an entire pack of cigarettes this weekend, or I think the industry I work in is inherently doomed for failure and virtually no one understands this, or I do look at porn on occasion, or I like illegal aliens because they work jobs that “Americans” don’t want but I get annoyed when they don’t learn/speak English.

I laugh at the notion that technology alone will ever solve a problem; even if we lived in a world in which every person could contribute to one global database, these invisible barriers would still exist. The fact is I am regularly surprised by what I say has meaning to whom and while I myself don’t want to read every single thing a person does or thinks, I’d be willing to bet the farm that the compilation of this minutiae, coupled with other sources of data, would reveal patterns never obvious to us before and present answers to questions that have eluded humankind for ages. To do this however would require a lot of data, a lot of minutiae, all the minutiae you don’t want to hear. And yet the more information we make available, the greater our ability to understand our world and change it.

I believe with enough data, we can discover the truth in everything – and we will unveil an artisan’s masterfully ordered structure and achieve what Einstein simply did not have enough minutiae to achieve.

The Value (and Price) of Twitter: Part II

Lots has been written about the value of Twitter, why people should use it, how people should use it and I don’t really feel like regurgitating the arguments (Chris Brogan wrote a good piece on “Twitter as Presence“, Marcia Conner highlighted the micro-learning aspect of it, and even the pedantic Andrew McAfee mentioned the social benefits of the application). Last month I made a bet that I could go an entire week without using Twitter, Facebook and my favorite social music-sharing site, Blip.FM.  And I was successful.

This is what I learned:

  1. I have a relationship with Twitter: it provides me with the social interaction that I as a social being need. On the flip side, I wonder if my Twitter habit precludes me from picking up the phone or meeting in person to have a robust conversation that is more substantive and fulfilling.
  2. Facebook and Twitter are my social network relationship managers: I keep up-to-date and make social plans using these two tools. I have a horrible memory and am a fairly social person so seeing what other folks are doing in Facebook and Twitter reminds me of what events I want to attend. And I regularly use Twitter or Facebook to find folks to attend these events.
  3. The “noise” of Twitter is addictive. Information addiction is becoming more prevalent as we have access to more sources. Our brains are pattern recognizers and it loves new information because it’s trained to seek it out. Twitter offers many things, including fictive learning (the exploration of could-have-been-experienced) and could be just as powerful as experiential learning.
  4. Twitter lets me see everything that’s going on. Since birth, I have displayed an active curiosity in everything. A few months ago, I asked my mom to describe me as a young child and what I was interested in and she replied, “You were constantly moving. You could never sit still, you could never stay put. You were interested in EVERYTHING. And got into EVERYTHING.” Since i don’t have a cable/internet connection at home, I rely on twitter via my iPhone as my main source of news and communication (for world, family, friend and work updates).
  5. Anyone can listen and jump into the conversation (but since I couldn’t participant, I had little interest in what was going on). This is a critical aspect of social change. Groups or individuals who are neglected, overlooked or dismissed will not exhibit a need or desire to participate or contribute and will therefore be apathetic.
  6. The bar is very LOW to participate. Anyone can throw in 140 characters worth of information. This is great for actions like making mental notes, expressing a feeling, asking a question and sharing links or event headlines. However, many things in life cannot be captured in 140 characters and other formats and forums must be used or suffer the consequences of gross misunderstandings and inefficiencies.
  7. I was very productive during this period. It was refreshing not to share, to focus on me and be primarily self-focused. When I wasn’t consuming information, I was able to process and create it. Since Twitter and social applications are noisy and addictive, I must train myself to limit my usage and exposure to them and I now make a conscious effort to “turn off the noise” and schedule planned periods of time to use them, either as a break to checkout what’s going on or share thoughts.
  8. I don’t know who I don’t know and I can share with these people. A great learning experience was when I needed to disseminate information for an event to which I didn’t have an attendee list. Not having Twitter at my disposal hurt potential recipients.
  9. Twitter is not the value..I am. There’s been much discussion over the value of Twitter and the most obvious aspect is the user and customer data. Twitter owns a very lucrative repository of its customers (aka Tweeters) buying, thinking, and behavioral cues and patterns . Companies, government agencies, even potential dating partners are interested in learning about “me” and social applications like Twitter provide a very convenient platform to execute against the resume and influence others.

One of the keys to my 1-week social software sabbatical was creating an incentive to break my habit since I didn’t know all the opportunity costs of my participation. So I, the competitive being that I am, contrived a wager with Andrew McAfee that is available for public viewing here:

http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=ddz85z7r_13gpj74bd4

Since I was ruled successful in completing the terms of my part of the agreement, it’s Andy’s turn to complete his end of the bargain.

Twitter Silence: A Diary

Day 1 (Monday)

After being in New York over the weekend for the She’s Geeky unconference and my good friend’s birthday, I ended up taking a sick day to recoup. Since I wasn’t at work, where I am unable to stay continuously engaged in the online world, I didn’t feel my usual craving to be connected and tuned in. This made it very easy not to tweet, because I did have web and mobile access and was able to use SMS and chat. My twitter prohibition allowed me to be totally self-focused and this impunity from the need to share enabled me to be noticeably productive. I knocked off several tasks from my M-F, 9-5 “to-do” list.

Day 2 (Tuesday)

In the morning I attended the Energy Forum and it was relief not to tweet (although @cheeky_geeky outed me); I could just listen and consume without feeling the need to share what I was hearing and experiencing. But being at the Forum reinforced the reality that energy issues will only be addressed through global participation and it will require cooperation with countries like China and this was distressing because I know our country and government is not at a place to cooperate. Then I was off to a meeting at work which was draining in the sense that didn’t feel like it accomplished much. I left work to put a contract on a condo and this was perhaps the most difficult aspect of my week. I have never assumed such a large financial responsibility on my own and this level of stress created an overwhelming need for social support, interaction and perspective. Even though I was leveraging SMS and chat, I truly missed Twitter:

Twitter is my relationship
I wake up with Twitter
I go to bed with Twitter
I’m lonely without it

I feel neglected
unloved
untouched
ignored
I’m pouting, sticking out my bottom lip:(

Day 3 (Wednesday)

I saw Cal at the office. I hadn’t seen him for a while and whenever I do seem him, I just light up. He interviewed me for the training role and he’s the reason I got involved with social software. My first IC consulting role at a another agency was uninspiring to say the least, and I psychologically withered from the political, cultural and physical barriers that anchored the agency to an un-evolved way of doing business. Cal shared with me his vision for intelligence and exposed me to the innovative, forward-looking thinking many of my colleagues possess. He happens to be one the people I respect the most in my professional life: he has an extremely creative and agile mind, capable of examining thoughts and ideas to evolve his own beliefs but lacks the braggadocio and self-centeredness that so many idea champions possess. This is the moment I wanted to tweet the most – to share the energy I experienced from interacting with him.

By the afternoon, I was entirely focused on checking out activity in the analyst workspaces, and felt a shift to not caring what was going on outside this environment. I had little interest in what was happening in Twitter, Facebook, and Blip because I not could participate.

I also read a fantastic article in Portfolio magazine on Paul Krugman’s bailout dissent that I wanted to share.

Day 4 (Thursday)

I woke up feeling socially isolated and I had this feeling of wanting to leave my current role. I attended mandatory Ethics training in the morning and was reminded of the all the rules public servants must abide by.  I learned that the Hatch Act doesn’t apply to contractors, I can only have one bumper sticker on my car and I can accept gifts up to $335 from foreign nationals.

I also thought is was funny the briefing starting off with this quote by Plato: Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws. It seems like all the innovation and positive change I’ve seen has come from people who have found ways to get things done in spite of the rules and regulations that encumber them.

Day 5 (Friday)

It was a productive daty at work; I holed up in the lab, sat in my old desk in the corner and was extremely focused and in my own world. I eliminated my online and physical distractions and was able to pull my thoughts together for a blog post I had been wanting to write.  I also had a heart-to-heart with colleague who I had been needing to share my thoughts with and we both walked away feeling better about some issues that had surfaced at work.

That night I attended the Atlas Corps holiday party and met Harris Wolford (former PA Senator and Co-Founder of the Peace Corps) and enjoyed talking to a bunch of folks I hadn’t seen for a while or hadn’t met before, including Senator Wolford’s super cute aid. I texted my friend because I had to share this with someone!  I had an aha moment when I realized the Twitterverse was missing out.

I also found out the seller accepted and ratified my contract on the condo.

Day 6 (Saturday)

I woke up and didn’t really care what was going on. I felt at ease, not distracted and was productive. I read and wrote a lot. I ended up not going to several events I was supposed to attend. I just hung low.

Day 7 (Sunday)

This was the most difficult day I’ve experienced – in a long time. The reality of becoming a homeowner and assuming a great financial responsibility during a volatile market really hit me. I spent most of the day in the apartment, reading, reviewing the condo docs and talking to two of my close friends and my mom about the new purchase. I didn’t feel comfortable with the price I was buying at. My real estate friend said if I didn’t feel good about the offer, I had (3) days to counter, even though it was a ratified contract, since contract law provides for a 3-day live window. I didn’t know I could do this.

I talked to Steve for an hour on the phone. I’m so thankful to have someone who makes me laugh and keeps things in perspective like he does.  I made the decision to counter on the contract.

The Value of Twitter: Part I

Among Twitter users, the term  “Twitter addict” freely circulates and is unabashedly self-proclaimed by many members of the community. I am one of these people, who finds the allure so irresistible, I am often teased about my usage.

I started using Twitter in mid-2007. I don’t know the exact date because I have over 8,000 updates and unless someone can prove otherwise, Twitter and Twitter-tangent apps don’t allow me to dig back into the archives this far.

I have often debated the value of Twitter, most notably with Andrew McAfee, associate professor at Harvard Business School and Enterprise 2.0, Boston Red Sox and New York Times crossword puzzle aficionado. Since his first tweet on June 4, 2008, he and I have exchanged jabs, on the verge of SNL Point-Counterpoint diatribes, over each other’s usage, with him calling me an “emotion-junkie” and me calling him a “repressed hoarder.”  I can’t deny his accusation since I believe emotions are self-illuminating cues to what both drives us as well as areas for attention and self-betterment.

*NOTE: I saw Andy on June 1, 2008 at the Government Leadership Summit and took the opportunity to ‘lightly’ antagonize him for not using Twitter.  Three days later, @amcafee arrives. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not.

My ongoing debate over the use and value of Twitter with my Twitter antagonist led me to examine my own usage and re-evaluate the value of Twitter.  What were the costs versus the benefits to both me and my followers for my participation in Twitter?  I decided the best way for me to answer this was to step off of the Twitter playing field for a week and take a “carrot and stick” approach to break my addictive behavior. I, the competitive being that I am, conceived a wager in which the reward would provide me something I infinitely desire – insight into people, and in this case, a person.

For one week I would refrain from using Twitter, Facebook, and Blip (my three most favorite online community applications ) in exchange for one day of Andrew McAfee departing from his usual perfuctory, minimum participation  in Twitter.  The product was a wager built collaboratively and transparently in a Google Doc:

http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=ddz85z7r_13gpj74bd4

Today is my final day of silence.  I have kept a journal throughout the week which I will be publishing, including insights I have gained.  I can say regardless of whether or not Andy ends up executing the terms of his side of the wager, the value has been in the journey, not the destination.

[photo – eldh (black/white twitter)]

The Virtual Handshake

Years before the electronic, virtual realm, people relied upon face-to-face interactions for real-time communication. During these times, meetings, greetings, partings, the offering of congratulations, and the completion an agreement were often accompanied by the handshake, with its purpose is to convey trust and parity.  It is believed that the handshake has origins as peace demonstration; that, in fact, no weapons are held by either party.  In today’s global, ever-expanding online environment, however, this demonstration of peace becomes increasingly more difficult and the notion of “First, do no harm” is more and more relevant as information and access to information grows exponentially. As people share and interact more in virtual forums, exposing various aspects of life – from careers to family, thoughts to actions – the opportunity to do harm, to wrong another person, is greater.

This year, The Economist Intelligence Unit wrote about The role of trust in business collaboration. Interestingly enough, the article concedes that “the role of trust is not easily defined” in terms of collaboration. I believe trust is having confidence that the participating parties will do no harm, will do no wrong to the other.  How we, as individuals, convey this precept in collaboration is nebulously difficult in the absence of multisensory queues such as hearing tone of voice, seeing another’s eye movements, or even feeling for the presence of a weapon.

Despite the challenges of creating trust virtually, it still remains the vortex and vertex for collaboration, with the absence or loss of it instigating the dissipation of collaboration and the creation of it elevating participants and activities to new heights and dimensions. As a former date coach and someone who has personally been through the very methodical and comprehensively intricate act of creating a prenuptial agreement, I believe the fundamentals of creating trust in any relationship are universal, and we can leverage much of what is espoused by the extremely profitable business of marriage, things like “State who you are – loudly” and “Make sure your words match the message.”  When I think about my best, most successful collaborative efforts – and evaluate them against a marriage counselor’s 10 Crucial and Surprising Steps to Build Trust in a Relationship – I find all ten elements present.

To begin to build trust, we need not look any further than ourselves.  Our thoughts, our actions, our emotions – are all pieces of the puzzle to “us” and the only way to create the full picture is to take them out of the box and spread them out for exploration. This is our virtual handshake.

And now let me apologize for not doing this sooner: Hi, I’m Amy.

You can get a glimpse into my life at: www.twitter.com/sengseng