The Black Swan’s Thanksgiving Turkey

(originally written Nov 24, 2011.  Part of Great Upload of 2013.)

It came to my attention that Naseem Nicholas Taleb, who authored The Black Swan (surprisingly, not about a ballet dancer, but about financial crises) discussed other avians in his book, among them the Thanksgiving turkey.  Per the Wikipedia page, he seems to’ve co-opted the idea from a turkey anecdote by philosopher Bertrand Russell, whose atheism doubtless led antagonists to brand him cuckoo.  ;)

The abrupt change in the turkey’s situation is part of an argument that it’s ridiculous to project present trends very far into the future, because, well, things change.  Hockey-wise, the Gretzky-led Edmonton Oilers of the 1980’s inspired a high-scoring decade for the NHL.  This was followed by a low-scoring decade inflicted on fans by the New Jersey Devils’ success with the neutral-zone trap in 1994-1995.  (As per the viral video most of you’ve doubtless seen, the Tampa Bay Lightning are going retro with their 1-3-1 system.  Lightning GM Steve Yzerman was part of the Red Wings team the Devils upset in the 1995 Stanley Cup Finals.)

Taleb was mocking the fact that long-term projections are the way stock analysts arrive at “price targets” for the companies they follow: someone with Excel skills will assume Gigacorp earnings will steadily rise by 5% per year for the next fifteen years, and offset that with a time-value-of-money calculation, to determine what the present value of future profits will be.  (The way the math works, the present value of far-in-the-future profits converges to nearly zero.)

It’s more likely that some Big Change(s) will upend those assumptions, in unexpected ways.

As a personal example, back in high school, I volunteered at an old folks’ home in Vancouver’s Yaletown district — this was a time when Yaletown was a labyrinth of decaying warehouses.  Now, it’s a posh-spot for yuppies with puppies. Oh, if I had money back then… well, realistically, I’d’ve probably blown it on hockey cards, instead of savvily buying real estate…  ;)

One of the folks I visited regularly was an old, baritone radio announcer.  One day he explained that when he was starting out in the industry, it was desirable to have a deep, Brian Mulroney-esque voice.  Perhaps this is because we tend to associate deep voices with authority.  The chanting of Gregorian monks or Tibetan throat-singers probably wouldn’t have the same effect if they were all singing falsetto, eh?  ;)

At some point, things suddenly changed, because manufacturers put radios in cars.  Suddenly you couldn’t hear the baritone radio announcers; they got lost in the engine noise!  This led to the dominance of high-pitched radio personalities such as Casey Casum, whose voices occupied a different part of the audio spectrum.  (Casum is best known in my generation as the voice of “Shaggy” on Scooby-Doo.)  It was like an evolutionary response — a Darwinian selection — to the new automotive environment!

As a guy approaching $500 in iTunes music purchases, I wonder if in twenty years, deep baritones will be back in vogue because our collective hearing in the popular music audio spectrum, will be shot.  ;)

As a further aside, someone projecting future trends might investigate the music preferred by elderly musicians.  Being a violinist in my youth means my left ear has below-average hearing in the treble range (which the violin plays): it spent many an hour, mere millimeters from the locus of the noise generation!

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