Good Plans Gone Wrong

March 22, 2013

There are ideas that seem good when first considered, but which reveal a variety of unintended consequences when we put them into practice. That's what this page is about; when plans go wrong. Who would have guessed that too much seemingly healthy exercise could cause heart damage, that programs designed to take some risk out of stock trading could create even bigger risks, and that the convenience of having your home address in your GPS might lead to being robbed. Those are some of the topics covered here.

Stock Market Risk

Stocks go up and stocks go down, but not always for rational reasons. This has always been true. But a recent article in Mother Jones magazine (January/February 2013) tells a few scary--and true--stories about the Flash Crash of 2010 and other events you may not have heard of. The subject of the piece is high-speed trading in which of computer programs make all the decisions and do all the buying and selling. Consider this short excerpt about an interesting morning at a company called Knight Capital:

A program that was supposed to have been deactivated had instead gone rogue, blasting out trade orders that were costing Knight nearly $10 million per minute. And no one knew how to shut it down. At this rate, the firm would be insolvent within an hour.

It took them 45 minutes to figure it out and stop the trades. This time it did not cause huge problems in the broader market, but it reminds us that some of the technology involved in Wall Street trading is more often failing us, and with larger effects now.

Antibiotics May Not Work

We all have heard about new drug-resistant bacteria, and most of us know that the overuse of antibiotics has contributed to the development of these threats. But you may not know how serious the problem has become. The chief medical officer for England recently said, "Antimicrobial resistance poses a catastrophic threat." Already one of these "superbugs" called MRSA kills more people in the United States every year than the HIV virus. In fact, it is estimated to kill about 19,000 people annually here, and most of those victims get the infection in a hospital.

Treating everyone with antibiotics over the years seemed like a good idea at the time. Even when doctors became aware of the role of over-treatment in encouraging antibiotic resistant bacteria, they continued. Patients, after all, often insist that the doctor "do something" for whatever ails them. Antibiotics have been given to people suffering from colds and flues, even when they do not help combat viruses. This has resulted in more and more bacteria evolving to live in the presence of these drugs.

Cell Phone Names and Numbers

It seems like a wise idea to have the names of your friends and family along with their numbers in your cell phone. It is very convenient compared with memorizing them or carrying a list. But cell phones are commonly lost or stolen, and that information goes with them. One recent news story related how, after a woman had her purse stolen her husband received a text asking for their bank account PIN number. Thinking it was from her he quickly replied. They were probably standing at the bank ATM at the time, because they had taken out the maximum allowed before she had even talked to the police. The lesson here is not just to be careful with the information you have on your phone (avoid labels like "hubby" or "kids"), but also to call back to confirm the identity of the other person when text messages are about private information.

Careful With That GPS

Having your home address loaded into your GPS can be very convenient. Whenever you are headed back to the house you just have the unit guide you. But there is a problem with this common practice, which was revealed in a recent news story about a robbery involving a GPS. The criminals found the device in a car at a football game, and stole it along with other items. They knew that the game would be going on for a while, and so the owner's home was likely to be empty. They also knew exactly how to get to the home, thanks to the GPS. A truck pulled up and emptied the house of valuables.

There is a way to still have the convenience of quick guidance without giving away so much information. Just put a nearby location in the GPS instead of your home address. Make it someplace along the usual route to your house, like a store that is close. That way you can always find your way home easily, but any thieves will be left guessing.

Exercise Can Be Bad for You?

You might think that long-distance runners would be really healthy. They might be in some ways, but exercise can be overdone, as recent research has shown. In fact, as reported in the Daily Mail, regular running of marathons and participation in other endurance competitions can damage the heart. One study showed that the likelihood of a heart attack was significantly higher for those who regularly ran marathons. It seems that the safe upper limit for strenuous exercise is about an hour.

If you read between the lines a bit, the research shows that the damage caused by too much exercise is temporary if you do not overdo it too often. It is regular strenuous exercise that doesn't allow the damage to heal and so allows scarring of heart and arteries. So you can have a long hike on a vacation without much concern, and you can have less strenuous exercise for longer than an hour every day if you wish.

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