Friday, September 19, 2008

Monkey and The Engineer

You might think your life hard, but I can say without knowing the details it was nothing compared to Country-bluesman Jesse Fuller's. As I've watched events unfold satirizing them along the way with increasing causticity, Mr Fuller's playful tune The Monkey & The Engineer has come recurrently to my mind for it's aptness, culminating in the events this week.

Once upon a time there was an engineer.
Drove a locomotive both far and near.
Accompanied by a monkey that would sit on a stool
Watching everything the engineer would move

One day the engineer wanted a bite to eat,
He left the monkey sitting on the driver's seat,
The monkey pulled the throttle, the locomotive jumped the gun
And did 90 miles an hour down the mainline run.

Big locomotive right on time, big locomotive coming down the line.
Big locomotive No. 99, left the engineer with a worried mind.

The engineer called up the dispatcher on the phone,
To tell him all about his locomotive was gone.
Get on the wire, switch operator to write,
Cause the monkey's got the main line sewed up tight.

The switch operator got the message on time,
Said there's a Northbound limited on the same main line,
Open up the switch I'm gonna let him through the hole,
Cause the monkey's got the locomotive under control.

Big locomotive right on time, big locomotive coming down the line.
Big locomotive No. 99, left the engineer with a worried mind.

(Credit to David Opie for lovely illustrations at
Please buy the book for the sake of posterity)


jam said...

The Greatful Dead did a nice take on that tune years ago.

Anonymous said...

I read your comment on info proc blog. So where do I sign up for network theory, chaos theory, complexity theory, nonlinear stochastic process, nonlinear programming, nonlinear dynamics, ...etc. Maybe I need several lifetimes to digest all this.


Anonymous said...

Jam - the lyrics were heisted from the v.GD, which are probably a variant of Fuller originals

Pi - Are you certain it was this Cassandra on info proc blog? I don't frequent it as far as I am consciously aware.


Anonymous said...

Pardon me but damn, how many Cassies are there in the intertubes. Even if it wasn't posted by "real" Cassie, the rant on the info proc blog was interesting.

It's possible to use alternate distributions that are better suited to this co-dependent reality. But most academic financial research has been "in the street under the street light because the light is better" rather than back in the "dark alley" where everyone knows the real answer is. In other words: "We used Gaussian distributions because there were easiest to use". Which is OK - most engineering is done with linear models where chosen because they are simple. The difference is that much of an engineer's training is related to 1) knowing when you aren't linear and can't assume your model is valid, and 2) learning ways of keeping systems linear as long as possible. No such self-discipline is apparently taught as Harvard or Yale business schools.

On top of that, the math that would be required is not what most folks learn about or can handle, making it frighteningly exotic even for quants.

All I can say is this stuff is and should be obvious to anyone playing with this stuff "for real" and the people involved in these businesses are either greedy and delusional, or educated but unknowledgeable