Check the latest trailer for the next of installment of the brilliant hit FX series Sons of Anarchy.
Friday, September 12, 2014
What made you want to be a writer?
Who wouldn’t want to be a writer? I’d always loved books and respected the people who created them, it was just a matter of opportunity. But when I had the time to write, I was too busy enjoying myself, and then work got in the way, and I ended up becoming a lawyer, and then a banker, and the idea of being anything I really wanted to be (other than a husband and father, of course) just faded away.
But then I gave up banking, and relocated to a spot about as far away as you can get from a major financial centre in England, with no viable Plan B, and my wife reminded me how I’d told her so many times, in years gone by, that I wanted to be a writer. And that was it.
Did you have any literary influences growing up?
Not really. I just loved books, pretty much any book, they were all good. Even an Oxford English degree didn’t really influence the way I went on to write. I might admire the craft or the beauty or the sense of the astonishing works I was reading, but it stayed outside, at a distance, something brilliant but ultimately alien.
But once I decided to write, I couldn't keep it out. Every great book, every glorious passage, I find myself dissecting them all, trying to work out the how and why, like Frankenstein with a few bundles of literary flesh. And there’s no reason in it, no decision to focus on books that relate, stylistically or thematically, to whatever it is I’m working on. So now everything I write has echoes of what I happen to be reading at the time, and it’s only in the never-ending redrafts that the inconsistencies between Chapter One’s A la Recherche du Temps Perdu and Chapter Twenty’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows get ironed out.
How much of Bankers Town, your latest release, is based on your background as a former banker?
The nature of the work, putting together complex debt capital markets deals, that’s all pretty much true. The people – well, a number of them are drawn on my ex-colleagues, generally exaggerated because (much as no one wants to believe it) bankers tend to be as normal as anyone else, and thus not the greatest material for a novel. The fraud is absolutely and completely made up – all the fraud (apart from LIBOR, which I knew nothing about at the time your honour and so help me that’s the truth).
Some of the deals are based (very loosely) on real, actual deals. Most of the steps within the deals did actually happen, at one point or another. The delicately-poised relationships between different groups and individuals within and outside the bank, the day-to-day business of putting these deals together, the idea that they’re basically a gigantic Jenga puzzle made out of compromises and half-truths, and that at any moment a rating agency or tax advisor or lawyer or investor or another bank or lender or swap counterparty or your client could whip a piece out, just like that, and a year’s worth of work could collapse round your ears, that’s real enough, that happened more times than I care to remember.
The notion that it was all a game, that what we were doing existed in its own abstract world and had no impact on the “real economy” – and accordingly, the ease with which a banker could abdicate responsibility for that economy and ultimately for everything he did – there’s an element of truth in that. I’d like to think that’s all changed, now, although I’m not sure the Treasury Select Committee would agree.
The camaraderie of the early years at the bank is real enough, unless it’s just time and distance putting a pretty gloss on it. And the post-financial-crisis feeling of a slow, inevitable descent into a place where things weren’t going to be at all nice, I’ve tried to capture that, to the extent I could, in the book.
Being a former banker, what was the best and worst thing about being a banker?
The best thing, undoubtedly, was the buzz of walking into a pitch wondering how the hell you’re going to sell your deal without boring the brains out of the people on the other side of the table, and getting questions you never imagined thrown at you, and then finding (to your delighted astonishment) that not only can you throw the answers right back at them, but that they’re the right answers, and even better, they’re the answers everyone wants to hear, and walking back out thinking the only way you’re not going to win this deal is if someone else is actually paying for the privilege of doing it.
The worst thing is working like hell on a deal for months of long days and nights and weekends and then finding at the last minute that it’s not your deal after all because someone else has actually paid for the privilege of doing it.
In your blog “The Economics of Banking”, you mentioned the lack of knowledge about economics among your former colleagues; do you think a greater knowledge of the field would have helped avert during the crisis?
I can only really speak for myself here, although I suspect many senior bankers in London are in a similar state of ignorance about the role they’re really playing in the world.
But it’s interesting that while I was putting deals together I’d have a view on the effect my deal would have on the bank, the investors, the client, and the client’s employees and customers and other lenders, and that was about as far as it went. It wasn’t until after I sat down to think about what had gone wrong in 2007 onward, and write Bankers Town, that I started to look outside this circle to the lenders of the lenders of the lenders, and their other borrowers, and their other lenders, and realise that (if I can use an example from the book), a surf-board boom and bust in Sydney can kill a spark-plugs factory in the Midlands as easily as a footballer can crash a Ferrari.
If everyone had studied economics, would that have occurred to them? And would it have occurred to enough of them to have made a difference? It’s just one thing, really, correlation, interconnectedness, call it what you will, the butterfly-wing effect. In reality, I’m not sure it would have made a difference. And I’m not sure it even would now, because for all the increased capital cushions and Basle III and clampdowns on bonuses, the next crash is only a matter of time. When it comes to money, humans are (as I’ve pointed out repeatedly in my blog), dumber than dogs. Once bitten, twice bitten, three times bitten, it doesn’t matter. It won’t stop us getting bitten again.
Everybody can name their favourite book to read, can you name your worst?
I’ll stick to the dead, and go with Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, a book that prioritises the quality of the prose over character and plot to such an extent that it ends up looking like a long, tremendously dull poem in badly-formatted blank verse. If you’ve never read it, don’t bother.
Much has been said about the self-publishing phenomenon, what’s your take?
As someone who benefits from it simply by virtue of being available to readers, I’m an unqualified fan. There were never enough agents or publishers to read everything out there anyway – I remember a brief job I had at a publishing house, straight out of university, flicking through hundreds of unsolicited manuscripts sent over the last couple of years to the ignominious fate of being judged by someone who had not the faintest idea of what a commercially-successful modern novel should look like. So much effort, so much talent, all consigned to the reject pile by someone who wouldn’t have known Donna Tartt from a Bakewell Tart/ Julian Barnes from Julian Clary.
Now, finally, there’s an outlet for it. Sure, there’s a lot of dross out there too, but it’s not that hard to spot. The difficulty (as a reader) is distinguishing the excellent from the merely very good. And the satisfaction of taking a plunge, risking a few quid and a little of your time, and discovering something really good, a pleasure formerly reserved for agents and publishers, is now available to all.
What the best and worst thing about being a self-published writer?
The best: being able to publish at all, and see your sales mounting up and your reviews suddenly appearing, and being, to all intents and purposes, a real writer.
The worst is having to do all your own marketing and not having the faintest idea how to do it without doing what everyone else is doing anyway.
How much of your time is dedicated to marketing as opposed to writing?
About half, now, which I was warned about online before I published, and didn’t believe, and look at me now. Some of it’s quite fun, I kind of enjoy coming up with “witty”, topical tweets, and for the last couple of months I’ve been working with a local film production company on a trailer for Bankers Town that’s going to be, if I say so myself, absolute YouTube dynamite.
Do you have projects in the work or new releases share with our readers?
Yes. There are always ideas boiling over, and a couple of books I’ve already written that I fully intend to hammer into shape for publication one of these days, but the book I’m working on at the moment is more of a straight conspiracy thriller. It opens with a riot at a prison, an armed convict who doesn’t exist, and a wheeler-dealer lawyer who’s telling the truth for once in his life, but can’t get anyone to believe him. I’m about two-thirds of the way through the first draft, so with luck I’ll have the whole thing ready for publication by the end of the year.
Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts with your readers.
Monday, September 8, 2014
(The Big Disrupt) Driverless Cars: Why Driverless Cars Will Hit London Streets Sooner Than You Think
Three months ago, a sea of black cabs clogged the heart of London for an afternoon and stage was set, Black cabs drivers were showing their teeth against Uber and media outlets both sides of the pond were already framing London Cabbies show of force as another instance of cabbies, in the words of its statement in response to Germany banning the service nationwide “put(ting) the brakes on change”. However the truth is darn more complex than Uber and proponents will have you believe. The real reason behind cabbies showing up in number in the heart of London had nothing to do with the threat Uber offers to their business but Transport for London (TFL) apparently preferential treatment towards the San Francisco cab hailing firm.
Just two months before the protest, the Licensed Private Hire Car Association (LPHCA) publicly urged TFL to force Uber to follow the same laws and regulations it’s members have to comply with and the TFL is tasked with enforcing in the first place. However, Leon Daniels, TFL’s Managing director for surface transport, pretty much sent a clear message that black cab drivers in the capital should adapt to the new innovations in a bid to “offer passengers the potential of better and more convenient services” However, as Daniels knows, offering passengers a better service wasn’t the issue a hand as a growing number of cabbies are already using app friendly bookings to get fares.
In May, the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA) expressed their dismay against Uber as from their viewpoint the the taxi hailing app company was circumventing a law that’s allows only taxis to have meters by through the use of their app that according to LTDA, basically mimicked the function of a taximeter and was therefore illegal. However, just like the LPHCA, the LTDA real aminus was reserved for the TFL who in their eyes has so far demurred to the Google and Goldman Sachs backed company. Steve Mcnamara, predicted a month in advance that the protest was going to happen as he made that his problem wasn’t with Uber but TFL and their treatment of the company as he stressed “"I'd be happy if Uber complied with the same rules as everybody else. All we are asking for is a level playing field." To complain about these issues, there's going to be a mass demonstration in central London of between 8,000 and 12,000 black cabs, who will cause "chaos, congestion and confusion"”.
After a month of pressure by the LTDA and LPHCA, instead of ruling outright whether Uber’s use of their app to calculate costs in their driver’s vehicle was permitted, TFL sought a High Court was whether Uber’s app was legal or not. This not only confirmed what the LTDA and LPHCA already suspected, TFL was less than willing to take firm hand against Uber but as the BBC reported “ TFL does not believe the app breaks the rules”. TFL were of the view that Uber weren’t breaking the law by virtue of their apps not being part of their vehicle as meters are in taxis despite the app in practice performing the same function as a taximeter.
This central contention along with others is why Uber has become so controversial across of number of states to the point that the app service has met a litany of legal and political pushback wherever it went. Regulators in other countries have been more deliberate in dealing with Uber with some outright banning the service but TFL has been notably weak leaving the question left worth asking: why?
TFL, like all big organizations, are less than forthcoming about their reasoning behind their behaviour towards certain actors and groups but more than in a mood to share its grand plans and in this respect we can speculate upon TFL’s and indeed the Mayor of London’s office careful and borderline preferential treatment of Uber.
In 2012, the Mayor of London office setup the Roads Task Force (RTF) tasked with coming up with a vision of the roads of London that’s fit for the 21 century. after a three month consultation period with various stakeholders, the RTF published a forward looking report in 2013 suggesting a number of changes to prepare the roads of London for 21 century that could usher the use of alternative services among them ridesharing companies like Uber, deliver drones, and the driverless car.
While the report was mostly about making London easier and safer to get around and improving the city’s road infrastructure to handle the obvious pressures of a growing population, one of the main aims was to clearly to encourage less road usage which could usher in a number alternatives, including, rideshare services (like Uber), delivery drones and even driverless cars which all would help lower the use of cars on London roads. The report was also done in conjunction with TFL who had three high ranking members on the RTF and not too longer after published its own report that was largely in agreement with the view and suggestions made by the RTF.
With the Mayor of London office, the RTF and TFL all on the same page for the need to tackle congestion in the city, it’s clear that all three parties are interested in reduction of car use. All this helps explain why London mayor Boris Johnson has been eager to bring driverless cars to London streets as well as the government announced that it will driverless cars will allowed on British roads as early as next year. Last year IBM, who had a representative on the RTF and until recently was running London’s congestion charge systems after winning a contract with TFL back in 2007, has partnered up with Google, Cisco Systems and German car parts supplier Continental AG to work on “autonomous driving systems for cars” which could see the advent of the driverless car come sooner than expected as many thought Google weren’t willing or able to get the driverless car on roads across the globe on its own.
Johnson got himself into some hot water while caught talking up the benefits of Google’s technology in bringing about driverless vehicles such as buses which he quick shot down after his published report, which no longer available online, caught wind. While the Mayor’s report revealed his support for driverless cars and greater automation, his support for driverless cars is nowhere near as bullish as the TFL .The Guardian reported that Peter Hendy, TFL’s commissioner, wrote a foreword for a ClearChannel commissioned study talking up the potential of driverless vehicles in the capital. Professor David Begg, a former TFL board member and author of the report entitled “A 2050 Vision for London”, even forecasted the death of the taxi driver as he wrote “ "Taxi fares are expensive in London. One of the main costs is the wage/return to taxi drivers. Passengers in an AV (Autonomous Vehicle) world will be able to remotely call a driverless taxi to take them to and from their destination …”.
While there’s nothing wrong with Professor Begg throwing out predictions about the death of the taxi drivers, there is clearly something wrong with a high ranking TFL official writing a foreword for a report that predicts the death of a profession and industry it regulates. However LTDA’s Steve Mcnamara doesn’t seem too concerned about the Mayor and the TFL being in favour of driverless vehicles but should be given Uber’s long term plan to replace its human drivers with driverless cars as last year the San Francisco company “committed to invest up to $375 million for a fleet of Google’s GX3200 vehicles”.
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has publicly stated the company’s intention to increase the use of driverless cars in the company growing fleet of cars and trumpeted this development as a boon for customers as he said “ "When there's no other dude in the car, the cost of taking an Uber anywhere becomes cheaper than owning a vehicle. So the magic there is, you basically bring the cost below the cost of ownership for everybody, and then car ownership goes away””.
In sum, to the chagrin of its own drivers, never mind Taxi and private hire cabs everywhere, Uber seems on track to bring about Professor Begg’s grand vision and awful lot earlier than 2050 and with the Mayor or London, TFL and a gaggle of powerful corporations and business groups in their favour, whose to bet against them.
Thursday, September 4, 2014
Check out this cool video below as the Google x project wing team test out their drone in Australia.
Monday, September 1, 2014
There many things that are bizarre about professional combat sports from people getting paid to damage each other in the most brutal manner possible but the ludicrous, unregulated and downright dangerous weight cutting in the world of combat sport, particularly in MMA, is just crazy.
The real problem behind the weight cutting process is not really the process itself but why fighters cut weight in the first place. There are a number of reasons why a move up and down in weight happens including the fighter’s natural growth that demands a move up, better prospects for success, or a fighter gets tired of gaming the weight class system and fights at a weight he can meet without feeling like killing himself afterwards. But the most prominent of them all is to gain an advantage over opponents in a new weight class.
Lyoto Machida, one of the great technicians of the sport, made a move from light heavyweight to middleweight and quickly fought his way to a title shot against current middleweight title holder Chris Weidman which he narrowly lost. Current Welterweight king Jonny Hendriks reportedly walks around 50 pounds outside his chosen weight class at 220 which means Hendricks could easily fight at heavyweight, light-heavyweight and most likely in the near future, Middleweight if he wanted to but at welterweight, the power and strength disparity he has over his competitors at 170 is obvious.
However gaming the weight class system doesn’t always work out. B.J Penn, a former two weight UFC champion and future hall of famer, returned to the octagon after a prolonged break and got crushed by rival and former UFC champion Frankie Edgar fighting a weight class 15 pounds shy of his natural weight leaving Penn (who retired shortly after) doubting the wisdom behind his decision to cut the weight when he said “I keep going back about a lot of things ... was it even smart to go down to 145 pounds in the first place? Were you going to have the energy all sucked out, you know? I haven't been to 145 in about 18 years”.
Besides vanity, no one of sane mind and body would want to return to a weight they were at 18 years on a dare never mind fight against someone just as dangerous as you are. But in MMA and boxing, constant weight shifts to game the weight class system is commonplace and indeed part of the sport.
However, gaming the weight class system is a very dangerous game to play that can cost you your life as Leandro Souza tragically found out.
In a bid to cut an incredible 33 pounds in week after being drafted at short notice into a Shooto Brazil 43 flyweight bout, Leandro “feijao” Souza died of a stroke at the ripe old age of 26. Bloody elbow reported that Souza, in a desperate attempt to make weight, was taking Lasix, a diuretic and passed out in a sauna still trying to sweat away the two pounds in his way of making the weight limit.
While Souza tragic story can serve as a study into why fighters are often their own worst enemy, it can also serve as a study of promoters trying to fill their growing schedule and not acknowledging the human cost involved as Andre Pederneiras, head of Shooto Brazil and Nova Uniao, was quick to deny the connection between weight cutting and Souza death as he said "That could have happened to anyone," Pederneiras said. "It unfortunately happened on a day that all the fighters were losing weight. But that has nothing to do with (him cutting weight). We will wait for more exams, but (the doctors) already said that he suffered a stroke".
Renan Barao, former UFC bantamweight champion, like Souza, is also a member of Nova Uniao and eerily, just like Souza, collapsed two pounds out of his target weight which prompted his team to call a doctor from the UFC and then an ambulance. Anybody with sense would want to move Barao, who is clearly a featherweight, to move up to 145 after collapsing trying to make weight but according Pederneiras, who is Barao’s coach and manager, doesn’t think so. Knowing full well Barao is big for his current weight class and present when he collapsed; Pederneiras argues “People say he should fight at featherweight. I know he’s big for 135, but we have the support of doctors and nutritionists, so I don’t see why changing divisions”.
Everybody, except Pederneiras, knows that the move up to featherweight is inevitable and with his recent collapse, he just might have to. Barao admitted as much in an interview with MMA Junkie last year when he said “Actually, I’m naturally the same weight as Aldo, but I cut more to make weight,” Barao said. “I think I would suffer a lot less. I sacrifice a lot by cutting. I’d be able to eat a little better and relax a little more” The only thing that seems to be in the way of Barao making the move up has been his desire not square up with Jose Aldo, the current champion at featherweight and teammate of Barao at Nova Uniao who himself is considering a move up to lightweight.
In the interview, Barao also revealed why he risks his health and well-being in the first place was a decision made by his trainer Pederneira who wanted two champions in the UFC and now with Barao, without a title and down the pecking order, the move makes sense.
While Barao and his camp’s choices from his weight cutting drama onwards will be of much interest, the UFC response to the former Champion’s weight cut issues was just as interesting. Dana White, UFC president, was quick to publicly lambast Barao and his camp for missing weight and made public his intentions to deny Barao his purse for the fight as well as make him fight someone else before getting his hands on TJ Dilliashaw.
It’s good to see UFC take some tough action on Barao for missing weight but it doesn’t help dispel the nagging thought that the UFC should have something in place to make sure cards aren't spoiled by poorly handled weight cuts. However the real solution is quite simple, have fighters fight at their natural weight rather than kill themselves every time fight night around the corner.
In sum, weight cutting in combat sports, particularly is crazy and only get crazier unless organizations, camps and more importantly, fighters take steps to actually fight at a weight that makes that’s healthy rather than advantageous.