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The value of a millisecond

I’m reading a book right now called Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt

One of my graduate school buddies recommended it to me on one of our annual ski/snowboard trips and I’m finally getting around to reading it. I’m only about half way through it, but I’m enjoying it so much that I have decided to write about it today.

One of the protagonists in the book is a Toronto-native by the name of Brad Katsuyama. That’s probably one of the reasons I like it – although Michael Lewis makes all Canadians out to be overly polite and well-behaved. Is that what we’re like?

The other reason I like the book is that a lot of it actually has to do with geography. Technology and the internet were supposed to make cities and location irrelevant. But as Flash Boys argues, location and physical connectivity matter a great deal in the world of high-frequency trading. Each millisecond matters.

To illustrate this point, the book starts by describing the construction of a $300 million, 827-mile cable running as straight as humanly possible from Chicago to New Jersey in order to reduce data travel times from 17 to 13 milliseconds. That’s how much the milliseconds matter.

This is also not a topic that I know a lot about and so it’s eye opening (and a bit disappointing) to learn about the sorts of things that happen in our financial markets. If any of you would like to borrow the book after I’m done (and are located in Toronto), leave me a comment below.

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