The Reaper

Like any lengthy writing process, even for short works, the path can be daunting with twists and turns. Sometimes, the sales process is too. When I did consulting work at an up-and-coming technology start-up, my team received an intriguing email from a prospect in Eastern Europe searching for a data feed unrelated to our business. Ultimately, the idea and lead, like many often do, went down the road of sales nowhere.

But the prospect drove a certain curiosity, despite our team thinking that the impracticality left more risk than reward. More than intrigued, we all wanted to know what these people were doing. And were they real? Yes, the rabbit hole might be worth going down.

So, I picked up the phone, and they told me. Adjusting the concept slightly and oversimplifying, the lead had built custom analytic software on keywords looking for trends that might push a stock in one direction or another. Basically, they were scraping webpages and using their creation to predict market shifts. A scandal within the executive ranks breaks on page 6 of the Times? Short! To make this work, one had to scrape the page, run analytics, and then make a trade before a stock moved. Yes, this would be hard using yesteryear technology.

The ask.

If you’re a tech wonk and understand edge servers, kind reader, skip ahead. If you’re familiar with technology such as Cloudflare, they protect the internet and many sites from malicious actors, ensure updates are made in the tech stack, and that content is delivered quickly to all parts of the world. Without this humble organization, most start-ups would struggle. For further simplicity, let’s say my humble blog is managed at a data server in Washington, DC. But because my wildly impressive posts on Mizzou football and Cardinal baseball can be viewed in the United States to Europe and beyond, what I write is cached on servers globally. All services, such as Azure, Google, and AWS, have data centers a stone throw from each other. Yes, if you put a map of the industry’s data centers on top of one another, they’d follow the jetstream so to speak. Or power lines, in this case.

Why does this matter?

Back to my Mizzou football post, if I decided to think like someone across the pond and change the spelling of specialize to specialise said change takes time to propagate globally. Web servers cache differently.

And that takes us to this actor who basically wanted access to access this data feed before those propagations occurred. Then, after obtaining said feed, wanted to run the news through a series of data analytics. Based on those results, they’d make trades.

Available on Kindle March 2nd

Considering the minute amount of time this group of actors would have to make a trade, again, I was still suspect of said practicality. Also, there were morale challenges here. Let’s say they made a trade based on receiving public information before others and subsequently made big bank. I’d be more than a little torqued.

Too many tech companies go into business without judging the downsides. Yes, it’s fantastic that anyone can share their high school kid’s graduation live on social media for loved ones to see. And it’s bad that anyone can also live stream robberies, fires, and other unspeakable horrors. Could you imagine a world where a social media company analyzed the occupations of the world’s CEOs and Hedge Fund traders, cross-referenced their posts, and then made trades against that data? Whoa, social networks can have power.

Frankly, I’m proud this company passed. There are days I’d go back and work for free there. We all have those thoughts.

Still, the nowhere lead made me go back in time and ponder, “What if we had said yes?” So, I decided to write a book.

The Set-up.

In my humble story, I devised Empire Builder. Wall Street’s ghost in the machine. As I still think scraping the news is impractical, I had the company devise a method to siphon the trades coming into the stock exchange. Using technical wizardry, the Lord of the place, Augustin Saints, sees the future and trades before the inbound orders are completed.

Before I get fifty-plus emails that this isn’t a new idea, I admit I wrote the first draft and then learned about HFTs. High-Frequency Traders. Through the use of powerful computers, these companies transact orders on the stock exchange at high speeds. Think hyper-scale.

I think it’s cheating. Others see this as a means to have a healthy market. People argue this frequently.

The Means are Everything.

Ultimately, technology is technology. Bitcoin. High-Frequency Trading. AI. How we use said technology is what matters. Kind and gentle reader, I ask you to pick a company. Imagine one. What if one knows it isn’t a noble place but chooses to work there anyway to find Fortune and Glory? Perhaps, the organization skims money. Or behaves unethically?

Would one continue to sell, market, or code for their benefit? What choice would you make? Using the framework of a Grimm Fairy Tale, behold the Reaper. A short morality tale. Despite the length, it took years to finish.

Tell Your Friends.

I hope Emma’s tale makes you think. Available on March 2nd, Digital Release only for now. A print version is planned as part of a longer compilation in the future. Pre-order today.