[VIC 82] Don’t be a dummy. Owning vs renting. Coming together and falling apart. OfferUp

Business & Money: don’t be a dummy

I came across an incredible quote this week from Howard Lindzon that went as follows:
“I am always willing to let an investment become a trade and try not to let a trade become an investment.”
Before I touch on why I love this, here’s some background. The price of Ethereum has recently been falling. In response, Howard bought the dip with the idea that the price would likely bounce and trend higher over the long run. When it did, jumping from $140 to $240 in one week, he sold off some of the position to capture some of the profits.
With that context, Howard’s activity looked like that of a trader. When the price dips on an asset, and the trader can’t figure out why, they might buy the dip to capture a short term gain. This idea, however, flies in the face of how Howard previously has spoken about crypto investing. He’s been quoted as saying that he views this asset class as a long term play, similar to a venture capital investment. So why sell to make a quick buck if you’re taking a long term approach?
The idea is actually quite simple if you really think about it. If an investment gives your a return in 1 week, that you would otherwise be happy with over two years, it’s ok to take some money off the table.
I bought into Ethereum at $30. When it hit $300, I took some money off the table.
I bought into Bitcoin at $330. When it hit $2,000, I took some money off the table.
I bought Nvidia at $60. When it tripled in a year, I sold off most of the position.
When things are going well, it’s tempting to get greedy and keep pushing for more. But we live in an unpredictable world and we’re in the midst of one of the longest bull cycles on record. Don’t be a dummy!

Human Progress: owning vs renting

When I was 13 or so, I was obsessed with amassing a massive DVD collection. Anytime I went to Blockbuster to rent a movie, I would stop by the $5 box to see what I could add to my shelf. Then Netflix came along.
Remember that massive binder you used to drive around with that held all of your CDs? Add a 6-disc changer and now you can really stunt! Enter iTunes, and now Spotify.
One of the happiest days I can remember was buying my first car. I took the morning off of school on my 16th birthday to be sure I got my license at the earliest possible time and hit the road. I ditched my car in 2013 for Uber + public transportation.
Perhaps the single most tectonic shift in the economy that I’ve seen during my lifetime has been the shift away from owning towards renting and subscriptions. We ride in other people’s cars, sleep in their beds, and stream what ever type of media we’d like to consume. And all without buying anything.
The question I have is, where does this stop? As technology reduces friction and makes renting/subscribing, instead of owning, more practical, I wonder what personal and cultural preferences will prove too strong a counterbalance.
You probably thought the idea of sleeping in a stranger’s bed was gross 10 years ago, but Airbnb has made that normal and culturally acceptable. Right now, I’d say it’s pretty gross to think about sharing clothing. What if, instead of packing clothes, I could show up at a destination with fresh fits waiting for me in my hotel/AirBnB. Probably viable, but not sure about underwear and socks. Perhaps that too will change over time.

Philosophy: coming together and falling apart

Everyone knows about the Big Bang. It’s that theory of the universe’s birth that states that some 14 billion years ago the universe was this infinitely small, dense, hot place. Then a massive “explosion” tore things apart with unfathomable energy, creating all matter and hurling it in all directions at once.
Despite the evidence of cosmic background radiation, constant expansion, and the like, I don’t like this theory. Now I’m no cosmologist or astrophysicist and don’t purport to understand this topic at a deep level. Rather, I don’t like the theory because it begs the question, what happened before the Big Bang?
In talking about the birth of the universe, I can only apply the conventional meaning of the word “birth.” Babies are born, but you can explain what happened before. Sex, fertilization, gestation, and all that jazz. So the “birth” isn’t really a beginning in any real sense. Companies and ideas can also be born, but after a period of critical thought, amassing knowledge, etc.
So, coming back to the universe, my simple mind has difficulty conceptualizing what is meant by the “birth” of the universe as suggested by the Big Bang.
As such, the theory of the universe known as the Big Bounce makes much more sense to me. This is a hypothetical model of the universe that describes a cyclical process wherein the universe goes through constant expansion and contraction. So that big “explosion” referenced in the Big Bang, that was actually the result of the collapsing of a previous universe (the “bounce”).
And this second theory seems to follow the model that all other processes, both biological and not, follow.
Tides come in, and they go out.
Organisms are “born” and they die.
The planet freezes, and it thaws.
Empires rise, and subsequently fall.
All things seem to come together, then fall apart. They come together again, and then they fall apart again.

My Latest Discovery: OfferUp

The lady and I have increasingly been using OfferUp to buy used goods from local people. It’s basically Craigslist, but better. Since you have people tied to a profile and email address, you get real identity, and thus, more safety in the marketplace. It’s also mobile friendly allowing you to easily transact from your phone.

[VIC – 81] She loves a sale. The evolution of regulation. Playing not to lose. The Big Sick.

Business & Money: she loves a sale

My fiance loves a good sale. Whenever she happens upon one, she gets really excited. “How could I not buy this?? I’m actually saving money.”
This mindset isn’t rare. In fact, it follows basic economic theory. Keeping all else equal, demand rises if price suddenly fall. In reverse, prices go up, demand falls. Pretty straight forward.
The funny thing is, the opposite is true in the markets. Prices go up, investors buy more. Prices go down, investors rush for the exits.
The interesting question, for me at least, is what is the cause and what is the effect? Do falling prices incite fear in the markets, or do fearful investors cause recessions? Conversely, do rising prices lead to optimism and confidence, or do those mindsets push markets higher?
Or is it just a self-perpetuating cycle?
Hmm…

Human Progress: the evolution of regulation

Regulation and innovation go hand and hand. We all want new cool things that increase productivity and make life easier, but not at the expense of our safety and well being.
And if you think about regulation, in and of itself, it too goes through constant iteration, albeit much slower.
To start out, it was all about command and control. We created rules and laws that defined what a person/entity could or could not do. And that’s all well and good with lots of simple things. You have to pay your taxes. You can’t kill people. Seems logical.
But that doesn’t quite cut it when you want to encourage a certain activity without forcing someone’s hand. For example, you might want to encourage investment or economic activity in a particular region. You can’t simply make it illegal to do business elsewhere. But what you can do is create incentives or rebates that incite the same effect. You might, for example, provide tax rebates for particular types of investments or reduce start-up costs for new businesses.
In other words, when the sticks and stones of laws and legal bureaucracy don’t suffice, these market-based regulatory schemes often work nicely.
But now, in the information age, we have an altogether different regulatory framework taking shape. As software infiltrates every area of life, this new framework is often referenced by the simple phrase, “code is law.” That is, regulation can simply be written into the code base for any product or service. A few examples:
Late last year, a car sharing service built on top of Facebook acquired a smaller competitor. In doing so, it was now required to have a Facebook account in order to use the service. While many services offer a “sign up with Facebook” option, in addition to a regular (email/password) signup option, now only the first was available. So, if you want to use the service, I hope you’re prepared to hand over all of your personal information. What does that say about privacy regulation and digital identity?
iOS 11 will come with a safe driving feature this fall. So, instead of a fine or penalty if you’re caught texting while driving, it will now become increasingly difficult to even do it in the first place. Does that infringe on individual freedoms/rights? I don’t know, but it’s definitely something to think about.
Looking into the future, is it even possible to flee the police in a self-driving car? Not likely.
But, at what point will code-based limitations on behavior and free will become unethical? Should people have the choice to make the “wrong” decision?

Philosophy: playing not to lose

I play on a basketball team with a group of friends from college. It’s really great to see these guys on a more regular basis. It reminds me of why we were so close in the first place.
In a game a few weeks back, we were winning by about 20 points at half time to a clearly inferior team. In the second half, we decided to slow the game down to protect the lead. The thought process was basically to play not to lose, instead of playing to win.
Let’s step away from the game for a second. In business, if you’re crushing the competition and making boat loads of money, do you take your foot off the gas and play to “protect the lead.” OF COURSE NOT! You keep innovating and killing it to pour gas on the fire.
When you finally win over the girl of your dreams, do you sit back and stop trying so hard in the relationship? I CERTAINLY HOPE NOT! THAT WOULD BE 🍌🍌🍌🍌🍌!! You wine and dine the hell out of her and remind her every day that she’s the most beautiful creature on the planet!
So back to the game. Long story short, we went on a 10-minute scoring drought, blew the lead, and lost the game. Why did we lose? Well, the reason is pretty damn obvious in hindsight. Why the hell would you do in basketball what makes absolutely no sense in every other arena in life?
Lesson learned!

My Latest Discovery: The Big Sick

The Big Sick is one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in a long time! No seriously, go check it out! In case you haven’t caught the trailer, here it is:

[VIC – 80] Two horses 🐎 🐎 . Advanced trading for all. Not so fast 🏃. Shitty push notifications.

Business & Money: two horses

Here’s a thought experiment:
You own two horses.
One is winning every race and seems to get stronger by the day. You were super lucky to acquire him via a deal with an old friend.
The second horse you have raised from a baby, but he’s very slow and always finishes near the back of the pack.
It’s important to note that horses are expensive and time-consuming to train and maintain.
Given limited time and financial resources, what do you do? Continue trying to train both, or let the slow one chill in a field with some yummy grass while pouring all of your time and energy into the fast one?
Ok, stupid question with an obvious answer. But in life, when emotions and egos are involved, sometimes things are less clear.
I say this because I’ve decided to spend a little less time thinking about what personal project I will work on next. Not because the entrepreneurial voice inside of me is any quieter of late, but because I’m already on a winning team. In the last 2 years at work, we’ve brought in an additional $32 million of capital, grown in size by 500%, closed a ton of deals, and established ourselves as a serious player in our market.
I hope that doesn’t sound pompous because that is the opposite of the point I’m trying to make. Rather, the point is that I believe my thinking has been a little off. The chances of success for a startup at our stage is 100,000,000% higher than trying to build something from scratch. So given my goals and limited time/resources, it makes far more sense right now to double down on the winner and save other opportunities for some time down the road.

Human Progress: advanced trading for all

Historically, advanced trading techniques have been reserved for sophisticated investors, money managers, and the like. But technology is changing that. Specifically, the team at Robinhood is doing great work to democratize investing for the average person.
They’ve recently launched Robinhood Gold which adds a number of advanced features. While trades will always be free, for a flat $10 per month you can get:
1) Trading on margin (margin works just like a credit card where you are buying something with borrowed money). Robinhood will lend you money to buy stocks. If you see an opportunity unfolding, but you don’t have extra cash in our account, you can trade on margin. And the great part is, anyone can sign up for Robinhood Gold for the same $10 per month regardless of the size of your account or your investing experience. With most traditional brokerages, applying for a margin account sucks. There’s usually a long application process which asks about your annual income, net worth, investing experience, and a bunch of other things. Like I said, it sucks. Of course, the amount you can borrow is proportional to your account balance.
2) Instant settlement – when you sell stocks or deposit cash into your account, you no longer have to wait for the funds to settle (~3 business days). You can trade immediately.
3) Extended hours – instead of only trading between the normal market hours of 9:30am – 4:00pm EST, you can now trade 9:00am – 6pm EST. This is great if you like to trade on special announcements and events like quarterly earnings. With earnings releases, which usually happen after market close, prices often move much more during after-hours than they do during the day. Now you can take advantage.
It’s really exciting when technology makes things accessible where they otherwise wouldn’t be.

Philosophy: not so fast

For every yin, there is a yang.

Just a moment ago I was celebrating the benefits of having a brokerage account in your pocket. And that is surely a good thing. But not ALL good.
If you think about the relentless progression of technology, the goal is always to make things easier. There was a time when you had to take a check to a bank to deposit it. Now you simply pull out your phone, snap a picture, and voila. Check deposited. Just get back from a trip? No longer do you have to drop the film off at the store, wait a few days, pick up the pictures, and mail them to loved ones. Just upload the photos to Facebook along the way and your friends and loved ones can experience everything with you as it happens.
In the aforementioned examples, easier is a good thing. I can’t think of a reason I would want to waste time and energy driving to a retail bank location or developing film.
But going back to a mobile brokerage, I’m not so sure. If you are just getting started with investing, the last thing you should be doing is trading in and out of positions on a regular basis. First off, it doesn’t make sense for tax purposes. You pay far higher taxes for short-term positions. Secondly, when access too easy, emotions will lead you to do stupid things. You’ll be inclined to sell stocks that are underperforming and buy more when you’re in the green. I’ve been guilty of both. Thirdly, you can’t do any real research in the app. Key statistics, ratios, earnings, research, financial statements, none of it is accessible. In other words, the app makes in incredibly easy to do all of the things you shouldn’t do while making it impossible to do the things you should do.
And you can’t even blame people for making bad decisions. We have all of these psychological bugs as human beings that so often lead us astray. A mobile brokerage provides an excellent opportunity for our fundamental limitations as humans to run amuck.
And you can see these examples all around us. Social media is probably the most obvious. You have all of these incredible benefits that the technology has bestowed upon us like constant connectivity to loved ones, excellent content discovery, etc. But there’s also this dark underbelly that facilities the spread of misinformation, harassment, privacy infringement, and a boat load of mindless time wasting.
We really need to figure out a better way to ensure that our technologies are being leveraged in ways that add optimal value while also protecting us against our own weaknesses as human beings.

My Latest Discovery: shitty push notifications

In my declining use of Facebook over the years, I’ve discovered just how psychologically nefarious that company is.
When I was a regular user, the push notifications were pretty relevant. So and so tagged me in a photo. So and so commented on my post. I had all of these ongoing conversations and threads related to how I was engaging on the platform.
Now that I rarely post (outside of giving you guys a heads up about new issues of VIC – I know, that’s pretty meta), the notifications are utterly ridiculous. Here’s a sampling from this week:
“Do you know so and so?” Why am I being notified with a question asking if I know a random person, with whom I happen to have 2 mutual connections?
“So and so is interested in an event near you.” Ugh, ok…
“So and so just posted for the first time in a long time.” IDGAF! I didn’t even engage with that person when I was a regular user.
“So and so commented on so and so’s photo.” Are you kidding me? I commented on a photo from an old friend last year, so now you will notify me when anyone else (regardless of if I know that person) comments on that photo?
The funny thing is, I think I have more notifications now then I did when I was opening the app all the time. They’re trying so hard to get me to waste time scrolling through my feed so they can sell my attention to advertisers. And once you log in, they’ve mastered the game of attention. You get mini hits of dopamine as you scroll through the endless vacation photos, baby pictures, and cat videos.
Lucky for me, given I own a chunk of FB stock, most don’t have the discipline to look away.

[VIC – 79] WIFI. Crisis Text Line. 📖 vs 💻. StashInvest.

Business & Money: WIFI

A friend and I were recently talking stocks and he asked me what pick I was most excited about right now. I answered with Boingo Wireless (ticker WIFI). Here are my reasons:

While smartphone growth in terms of total subscribers has slowed substantially in recent years, mobile data is exploding. People are spending more time than ever on smartphones and the growth shows no signs of abating.

And much of that time is now spent consuming mobile video. Video is far more intensive on the network then text, images, or audio.

Mobile networks were not built with this deluge in mind. As a result, most of the growth will be handled by WiFi and DAS (distributed antenna systems). Roughly 80% of mobile data consumption happens on WiFi.
The big wireless carriers are engaged in a race to the bottom. All are launching unlimited data plans due to consumer demand, which is putting serious strains on margins. Simultaneously, in order to acquire customers, they are rapidly reducing pricing and offering ridiculous promotions like a free year of service if you switch providers.

Given all of the above, Boingo seems positioned perfectly. They are partnering with the cell providers which allows the providers to automatically offload capacity to DAS (Boingo is one of the leading providers). They’re also building out DAS at strategic locations like airports, stadiums, military bases, and the like. And these contracts are all 10+ years in duration. That’s predictable revenue if ever seen it! Take a look at their latest investor deck if you’re curious.

The primary risk I see comes from carrier competition. Theoretically, carriers could choose not to partner with Boingo in favor of building DAS infrastructure themselves. But this seems unlikely because 1) building DAS is altogether different than building wireless networks. 2) Margins are already under a ton of pressure making this level of capital investment hard to swallow. 3) Cell companies are too busy trying to become content/media companies.

Human Progress: Crisis Text Line

All of the AI applications that you read about in the media reside in the for-profit realm. You have silicon valley and Detroit battling it out in self-driving cars. The big tech companies fighting for supremacy in voice assistants. Everyone trying to figure out how to use AI & ML to add real value to the bottom line.

Less publicized are applications in the nonprofit world. One such example involves Nancy Lublin and one of her nonprofits called Crisis Text Line. The organization provides relief to those in crisis via text messaging. How is AI relevant here you ask?
It turns out that people in crisis use certain trigger words in their messages that might reveal how likely they are to harm themselves. What are the first words that come to mind that might signify a suicide risk? Perhaps, death, die, suicide. That’s exactly what I thought too. After feeding all of the text messages into a database with the associated outcomes, then running a machine learning algorithm over all the data, it turns out we were wrong. Words like Tylenol, ibuprofen, and a crying face emoji were far more likely to lead to a suicide attempt than words like die or suicide.

Check out Nancy’s story in a recent episode of the Masters of Scale podcast from Reid Hoffman.

Philosophy: Books vs blogs

There’s an epic battle playing out in my psyche and I thought I would let you in on the mayhem.

In the right corner wearing the blue gloves we have books. I love books. They allow you to dive deep on a subject or story and require a certain level of sustained attention. It’s a kind of commitment to inquiry, analysis, and learning that I truly believe is vital so self-development. The great ones take on a life of their own and withstand the test of time, passing on their wisdom for posterity. Since we’re riding with the boxing analogy, let’s call books the intellectual heavyweight.

In the left corner wearing the red gloves we have blogs. I love great blogs. Not the shallow pop culture stuff, but blogs from interesting and insightful people that produce quality long-form brain food. Given their relative brevity, you get a far more diverse set of authors and ideas than is possible in the realm of books. You also avoid the trap that many book authors fall into wherein they pontificate about a subject for pages on end when an idea could have been just as easily presented in a paragraph. In other words, the value per word is far greater on a blog. You also have a level of interactivity with blogs offered by the comments section and their inherent shareability.

These two fighters seem to always go the full distance and end in a draw. And that’s ok because I don’t believe there has to be a clear winner. Both are wonderful in their own right.

I WILL add one thing though. At the end of the “blog” section, I mentioned interactivity as a point in the win column for blogs. However, books force another type of interactivity. While you don’t get to discuss things with the author or other readers, a great book forces you to interact with yourself in a way that sometimes carries much greater weight than interacting with others. They challenge your ideas and perspectives and often force you to reconsider things. And for more than 10 or 15 minutes. This might be why, for me at least, books get the nod.

And in boxing for that matter, things were clearly better back in days of heavyweight slugfests!

My Latest Discovery: StashInvest

A friend of mine reached out a few months ago asking about investing in stocks. I spoke to him for a while about my approach to picking companies. After the discussion, the friend said that they wanted to start investing, but many of the stock they wanted to buy were really expensive. One was Priceline which currently trades at $1,874. Given he wanted to start with a small portfolio, it’s pretty tough to diversify if you’re spending almost $1,900 for one share of one company.
Lucky for my friend, Stash (the company is actually called Collective Returns) is breaking down barriers for entry-level investors. They allow you to buy fractional shares and you can open an account with as little as $5. Gotta love how technology democratizes things!

[VIC – 78] A master plan. The evolution of free speech. Pause and begin again. The most enjoyable book.

Business & Money: a master plan

Do you remember back in 2006 when Elon Musk posted his master plan for Tesla? In short, the steps were as follows:
1) Build a high-end electric sports car
2) Plow all of the $ from sales back into the company in order to move down market with a more affordable model
3) Make consumers “energy positive” (produce more than you consume) via electric cars + other sustainable products like solar panels.
While Elon is killing it and following his plan to a T, he’s not the only one with a master plan. Brian Armstrong, founder & CEO of Coinbase (the largest cryptocurrency exchange), published his own version this week. Brian is on a mission to “create an open financial system for the world” (aka bring digital currency to the masses). I’d recommend taking 4 minutes to read the entire post, but just in case you’re feeling lazy, I’ll summarize it for you.
1) Make it really easy for normal people to invest in digital currency via a retail exchange (Coinbase’s product in its current form).
2) Make it easy for professional traders and institutions to participate in the exchange. Professional traders = higher trading volumes = more liquidity = lower volatility.
3) Create a mass market application to allow regular people to start getting real value from the payment network. In other words, build the killer app for digital currency. (just like the web browser did in facilitating the explosion of the consumer internet)
4) Pour gasoline on the fire by building/investing in/partnering with new applications for digital currency.
I can’t wait to look back on this moment in 10 years and see where things stand. Exciting times we live in!

Human Progress: the evolution of free speech

One of my primary news sources is the Economist. In reading a European publication, and also in speaking with European friends, it seems there are still remnants of social democracy across the pond. By that I mean that there is some memory of shared public space and the public good.
By contrast, individualism reigns supreme in the American context. It’s a core tenant of liberal democracy. Free speech is an excellent example of this. Any person should be able to say anything at any time via any medium (with rare exceptions like saying “bomb” on a plane). This is all good and well. Except for when it’s not.
We now live in a time of so-called “fake news” or “alternate facts.” So, regardless of truthfulness or verifiability, anyone can post a story on social media that has the potential to reach millions in an instant.
It seems we may have arrived at a point where we need a progression or evolution of the concept of free speech. It seems we are in need of shared standards around the quality of information. And these standards should not illicit feelings of an encroachment on the first amendment. I don’t believe a commitment to high quality information and truth equates to censorship.

Philosophy: pause and begin again

I wanted to share a snippet from a guided meditation session a few days ago. (you’ll have to imagine that dreamy guided meditation type of voice)

Just to help you maintain that focus on the breath,
just silently starting to count the breaths as they pass.
One with the rising sensation.
Two with the falling sensation.
Then three, then four.
Just up to a count of 10.
When you get to 10, you can stop,
then start again at 1.
Just try that a couple of times through.
Remember to allow thoughts to come and go,
but the moment you get distracted,
just gently bring the attention back again,
to that physical sensation of the breath

It’s perfectly normal for the mind to wander off.
Remember as soon as you get distracted,
as soon as you realize that the mind has wandered off,
just gently bringing the attention back again
and just picking it up on the number you left off on.

This is such a powerful idea. Many people say that the hardest part about meditation is calming the mind. You have so many thoughts running around at any given moment. How can you possibly just sit and think about nothing?
But that’s exactly the point. It’s perfectly normal to get distracted. It’s not about being perfect, but instead just allowing the distraction to come and go. As soon as the mind wanders off, just refocus the attention and begin again.
There are so many of these moments in life. For me personally, I lose deals at work, get upset with my fiance, have disagreements with family and friends… the list is never ending.
Whenever these things happen, meditation has made it easier to simply pause, refocus, and begin again.

My Latest Discovery – the most enjoyable book

Surely You Must Be Joking Mr. Feynman is one of the most fun and enjoyable books in existence. It’s not often that I’m constantly chuckling and smiling to myself as I flip through the pages of a book.
The book is about the life of the world renowned and Nobel winning physicist Richard Feynman. It’s really just Feynman telling short stories throughout his life in very simple and informal terms. He has an unbelievable way using seemingly frivolous events to convey profound ideas. It’s truly amazing!
BUT WAIT!! If you decide to check it out, watch this video first.

It’s Feynman talking about light. Seeing his quirky mannerisms and hearing how excited he is allows you to really see and hear the stories while you read.
If you don’t laugh while reading this, leave me a comment and I will reimburse you for the cost of the book. Scouts honor!

[VIC – 77] Greedy when others are fearful. Signal v Noise. Maps. Google Authenticator.

Business & Money

Warren Buffet is famously quoted as saying that it’s important to be “fearful when others are greedy and greedy when other’s are fearful.” When people are greedy, demand is high and prices go up. Thus it’s easy to overpay for things. Inversely, when people are fearful, demand is low and prices fall. This can lead to good value buying opportunities.
Safe to say that people are greedy right now. The markets are frothy.
If you look at Berkshire’s financials, their market cap is north of $410 billion. Almost a quarter of that is held in cash and other short-term investments. This ratio of cash to value is really high. When the inevitable correction comes, they’ll willing and able to acquire good business on the cheap.

Human Progress

One of the side effects of technological improvement has been an ever increasing access to information. You can whip out your smartphone and get the answer to any question you might have.
While this is great for many reasons, it’s also terrible at the same time. Specifically, it makes is much harder to differentiate signal vs noise. I constantly have to remind myself of this when it comes to investing. The tendency is to want to check my portfolio on a daily basis hoping for a quick shot of dopamine whenever I see a green arrow pointing up. But, daily stock performance is guaranteed to be more noise and less signal.
No one puts the signal v noise discussion in better context than Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his great book Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder. Here’s an excerpt:

Philosophy

A few weeks ago I needed to visit a jewelry store. I pulled out my phone, typed in “jewelry store” in Google Maps and viola, there were 5 stores within a ten block radius. I chose one and was on my way. As I neared my destination, the streets become increasingly packed with people. I probably should have picked a store that was NOT in the middle of a high traffic area of Manhattan during rush hour.
This got me thinking about maps in general, and how deficient they are. The map I looked at on my phone showed me a grid of NYC streets. It didn’t show may how many people might be in my target area during a specific time of day. Had I been a tourist, I may have jumped in a cab, only to find out that the subway would have been a more efficient means of transportation.
If you’re a city planner, maps of sewage systems and electrical lines would be equally, if not more important than ones showing street names. Or perhaps you want to consider a map of real estate values.
On an even larger scale, think about the map of the entire world. The first problem is that trying to represent a spherical object like a planet on a flat piece of paper will immediately cause problems. Shapes and sizes will inevitably be distorted. Africa, for example, would have to be 13-14x the size it usually appears on world maps.
Zoom out even further, a map of the solar system is actually a pretty ridiculous representation. It’s as if distance and size are of menial importance. It’s only real value is in gleaning the order of the planets from the sun.
All this is not to say that maps are useless tools in understanding the world, but any one map will always have serious limitations. You have to consider the subjective perspective of the creator, the mediums it’s presented on, when it was made, and many many other facets.

My Latest Discovery

I’ve recently switched to using Google Authenticator for all two-factor authentication (2FA). It’s much safer than receiving 2FA codes via SMS because Google Authenticator is not tied to your phone number. If a bad actor hacks a phone system, then can intercept 2FA codes coming in via SMS. One could even port your cell number without you knowing which would allow them to do the same. There has been a spate of recent attacks that have followed this formula so do yourself a favor and get Google Authenticator or something similar that doesn’t rely on your phone number.

[VIC – 76] Running 🏃🏃 for the exits. Early = wrong. Toasters as teachers 📝. Filter by unread. Do dreams 😴 mean anything?

Business & Money

Take a look at Best Buy and Home Depot over the last year:

At a time when most retailers seem to be hemorrhaging, these guys are both trading at all times highs. This fact reminds me of 2 key points in investing:
It’s not an abstract philosophical game. Regardless of what people are saying, you simply have to think deeply about the business and analyze the numbers. It’s purely rational.
Second, and more importantly, when everyone is running for the exits, it’s a great time to look for cheap opportunities to buy. When the housing market crashed, it was a great time to buy real estate. After the internet bubble burst, great engineers and companies could be acquired for next to nothing.
If investing was about consensus, everyone would be rich.

Human Progress

I want to talk about cryptocurrencies and the underlying technology today. But before we dive in, I realize I’ve written on this subject before without providing adequate context and background to why it’s really important.
First, let’s consider banks. Banks have essentially unfettered control over money. They can print it (causing the value to fall). They cash restrict your access to it (e.g. in the case of a run on the bank = close banks when too many people are attempting to withdraw cash). They prey on the poor with myriad fees and predatory loans. The list goes on and on. And the best part, when they screw up, there are basically no repercussions (hence the term “too big to fail”).
Long story short, the incentive structures are all messed up. And given that these centralized institutions control our financial system, we’re basically forced to simply sit on our hands and pray they do the right thing (don’t hold your breath).
It is here that we arrive at the central tenant of the blockchain (the technology behind cryptocurrencies): it’s decentralized nature. There is no central entity (person, company, government, etc) that controls the entire system. Instead you have a distributed system (think ledger or database) where each entry is verified by lots of independent and self-interested parties (“miners”). As a result, you have inherent trust baked into the system. All participants rely on all other participants for the safety and integrity of the system. Incentives are beautifully aligned. (The implications go far beyond money, but this core tenant provides enough context for now)
So why are we revisiting the subject this week? Because of the price action of course.

This past week, 9 different people hit me up asking where/how to buy cryptocurrency. And many were people completely outside of the crypto.. actually the technology industry altogether. This is a telltale sign that we’re in bubble territory. Speculators and uninformed consumers are artificially inflating the value of cryptocurrency right now. And moreover, we don’t have any mainstream consumer application that would equate to higher demand (and higher prices as a result). It reminds of the dot-com bubble of the early 2000s when regular people were sinking their life savings into internet stocks, only to have it all evaporate overnight.
But the dot-com bubble is a prudent analogy for another reason. While companies were going bust left and right, many were actually incredible ideas that would later become valuable in their own right. Remember WebVan? It was FreshDirect before FreshDirect. Or what about the spectacular failure of Pets.com? Just a few months ago PetSmart acquired Chewy.com for $3.35 billion. It’s too bad that being early is synonymous with being wrong.
Similarly, I am a blockchain bull all day every day. It seems obvious that this technology will be absolutely revolutionary. But how many real consumer applications are viable today? Maybe a few. But there are a ton of things that need to be figured out first. What’s happening right now is speculation, plain and simple. Don’t be a sucker! If you want to get involved, park 1-2% of your portfolio in a secure crypto wallet and let it sit there for the next 10 years. In the meantime, it’s a good time to start educating yourselves about what’s coming.

Philosophy

So I wanted to show you my toaster:

You’ll notice that the power is set to level 5. This is a recent change. Up until last week, it was set to level 3. I think it came that way when I bought it. And level 3 was a great setting. It cooks waffles perfectly. The only downside is that you to run it twice to achieve said perfection. So when the waffles pop up, I would simply push the button down again for one more cycle and viola. Perfect waffles.
One day last week my fiance noticed this pattern and asked, “why don’t you just increase the power setting so that you only have to run it once? Wouldn’t that be faster?”
“Blasphemy,” I thought to myself. I already had a fool proof system of cooking waffles.
For some reason, I kept thinking about the toaster at random moments throughout the day. Of course it would be better to find the optimal power setting, but that would force me to venture into uncharted territory (a.k.a. untested power settings).
The next morning I decided I was in a risk-taking mood. I switched the power setting to 6 and pushed the button down. It was a grueling 90 seconds of weighting. Then pop! They were too done! Not burnt per say, but more done than I preferred. I knew I should have stayed with my system!
The next morning I was at it again, but with level 5 this time. To my surprise, the waffles were perfect. That wasn’t so bad after all. One false start the day before, but now back on solid ground.
While this is a pretty trivial example, fear of change is a real thing. I spent almost 4 years avoiding the power setting on a toaster due to fear of change. If an obstacle this small can cause such cognitive dissonance, one can only imagine what happens when larger ones present themselves.
I appreciate my toaster for this much-needed reminder.

My Latest Discovery

I’m either an oblivious idiot, or you will thank me effusively. Did you know that this little icon filters your inbox by “unread.”

I’ve wondered so many times why there was no easy way to do this. All the while, it’s been right here in front of me.

Question Of The Week

Whenever I have a dream, I tend to journal about it the next day to parse it for meaning. I’ve always felt that dreams were a great way to listen in on your unconscious mind. What do you think? Do you place any value or meaning in your dreams?

[VIC – 75] Uber is dead 💀 . WannaCry 😭 ransomware. Seeking out the other perspecive. Mute videos 🔉 .

Busines & Money

Uber is dead in the water. The news of the Google + Lyft Partnership has to be the most devastating blow imaginable. Let’s lay out the reasons.
First off, let’s quickly define a couple terms. When it comes to innovation (as per Clayton Christiansen), you have two types: disruptive and sustaining. Disruptive innovation comes with not only a massive technological improvement, but more importantly a brand new business model. The innovator has thought up an entirely new way to go to market. On the other hand, while sustaining innovation also comes with technological improvement, it fits into the existing business model. It simply makes the existing advantages more powerful.
Up until now, I believe Uber has been in the lead due to their disruptive innovation in transportation. That innovation hasn’t been the technology itself (as shown by all the copy cats in ride sharing), but instead the business model. They have applied network effects to transportation and completely flipped the idea of car ownership on its head. 🍌🍌🍌🍌!!! It’s now more economical to use a ride-sharing service in many instances than it is to own a car. With more drivers on the road, wait times for passengers decrease. With more riders, more drivers are incentivized to come on line. It’s the perfect fly wheel! To boot, the company gathers more and more data as they handle more trips, thus allowing them to better optimize the entire system.
Now when considering the technology itself, that is the autonomous vehicle (AV) technology that takes ride sharing to the next level, Uber has not been in the lead. It is no secret that Google has been working on AV tech for a decade and a half. As a result, Google has an insane lead with regards to improving and iterating on the technology. For Uber, trying to compete with Google head to head on technology seems like a losing proposition. What they should have done is partnered with Google. Uber’s network + Google’s technology would have been an unbeatable combination. And it almost happened. Google Ventures invested $258,000,000 in Uber back in 2013 which seemingly put the two in bed together.
But now Google is suing Uber over the alleged theft of Google IP. On other words, the relationship has soured. In response, Uber has partnered with Lyft and delivered what could be the fatal blow to Uber. Google’s tech now has a clear go-to-market strategy via Lyft’s network. The only way Uber can win now is to get to market first with a viable AV. I wouldn’t hold your breath.

Human Progress

A couple months back I wrote about digital security and how you can protect yourself. I left out one key recommendation: BACK EVERYTHING UP! (I actually don’t store much of anything on my hard drive these days. I have both Dropbox and Google Drive downloaded so that whenever I save a file, it is automatically stored in one of these services)
Now we find ourselves here in the midst of one of the worst ransomware attacks in history.
So what happened/is happening? Over the weekend a few hundred thousand computers were infected with “WannaCry” ransomeware.
What is ransomware? Basically, someone will accidentally run malicious code on their computer, perhaps from downloading a sketchy attachment. Once the code (called “ransomware”) runs, some or all of the files on the hard drive are encrypted. The program then demands a ransom in exchange for decrypting the files. if the user doesn’t pay by a certain date, the files are lost forever.
In the case of WannaCry, the 7-day deadline hasn’t yet passed, so it is yet to be determined if the attackers will actually follow through on the threat.
There are a couple other points here that make this attack especially 🍌🍌🍌🍌.
First, WannaCry is particularly malicious in that it doesn’t need to downloaded by multiple users within a network. If, for example, one person at your company downloads it, the attack can spread on its own to other users in the network.
Secondly, WannaCry takes advantage of an exploit called EternalBlue which seems to have originated from the NSA. Apparently the NSA is stockpiling exploits (I’d imagine so that they could use them for spying purposes if/when necessary) rather than notifying software providers so that vulnerabilities can be fixed. Looks like that one back fired!
So what can you do?
Again, back up your files! Also, don’t download sketchy attachments. If it makes you double take for even a second, don’t bother. Third, install regular software updates. I know these can be annoying and seemingly always popup at inconvenient times, but software publishers are constantly pushing updates to fix problems so things like the WannaCry attack can’t happen. (I’m updating both iPhones as we speak).

Philosophy

I was recently talking to a friend about how to keep oneself intellectually honest. Here’s the suggestion that they gave. “When you come across a view point that you disagree with, seek out 2-3 other sources that confirm that viewpoint.” It might not be practical to do this for every single thing you disagree with in life, but I think it’s a fantastic suggestion when it comes to big important things.
One example I can think of is North Korea. Pretty much everything that comes from the media about North Korea paints the country in a pretty bad light. And perhaps for good reason. But after seeing so much negative publicity about the country, I thought it couldn’t hurt to look for information that confirms the opposite perspective. One example I found was this article on Medium. And to be quite honest, the article makes a lot of sense.
And none of this is to say that your mind should necessarily be changed about any specific subject. I still sit clearly on the side of liberal democracy over soviet-style communism. But understanding a bit more information about the historical backdrop and understanding the perspective of others allows for more informed and constructive conversations.

My Latest Discovery

I recently discovered a great way to improve my interpersonal skills. It happened at the gym a couple weeks ago doing a cardio session on the bike. I couldn’t get the volume on the TV to work so I was forced to watch on mute. Instead of giving up on the TV and just listening to music, I decided to focus on the silent interview in front of me to try and pick up on the nonverbal cues of conversation. It was fascinating! The way people sit, how often they shift their weight, what they do with their hands while speaking… There was so much information to be gleaned.
So much of life involves interacting with other people. And so much of communicating with other people happens outside of what’s being said. I think I’ll adopt this practice of watching mute videos more often as practice for being more attentive to nonverbal signals.

[VIC – 74] Small mammals prevail. AI for X. Ode to mothers. Voice dictation on Mac.

Business & Money

I spend a lot of time thinking about what personal project to embark on next. But rather than writing today about any particular idea, I wanted to write about the process of idea generation instead. There’s a lot of conventional wisdom out there regarding how to come up with ideas, some of which seems insightful while some seem utterly useless.
One trope you often see involves working on something that you’re passionate about. And it makes sense. If most ideas will ultimately fail, and those that are successful will take a long time to materialize, you might as well spend time on something you enjoy doing. While it’s hard to argue with this logic, it seems it can also lead you astray. After all, when thinking about the things you’re passionate about, many other people are often passionate about those same things. If you want to work on something related to music, healthy food, taking/sharing photos, entertainment… get in line. Countless other people also love these things and would love to turn it into a lucrative career.
Then you have the “scratch your own itch” idea. May as well work on solving a problem that you experience in your own life. I like this one better than the first. Even if you can’t scale the idea or figure out how to make money, at least you’ve solved a problem for yourself. But again, I think you run into the problem of competition. “I wish there was an app for [insert problem here].” We all have this thought a thousand times a day (at least many of the people I hang out with do). I’d encourage you to set aside twenty minutes one day, Google each of your last 10 “I wish there was an app for….” ideas. There’s probably at least 20 apps that do something very similar, all of which are relegated to oblivion in the app store. So while this one has some value, I’d say you have to go a bit deeper.
Where things really get interesting is with seismic changes in the larger (economic, social, cultural) environment. When a giant asteroid struck the earth 65 million years ago, which happened to coincide with a cataclysmic volcanic eruption, things were poised for change. If you were a giant reptile relying on sunlight to regulate your body temperature (the asteroid collision and eruption blocked out the sun for years), things were not looking so good for you. The environment had quickly changed to favor small mammals. Friendster and myspace were pretty cool, but supercomputers in every pocket allowed Facebook a much better opportunity to succeed. Voice as input has been an attractive proposition for decades, but improvements in natural language processing have finally allowed Apple, Amazon, and Google to bring viable voice assistants to market.
Recognizing these environmental shifts, and being first to market in an area that was previously not possible, seems to me where the most viable businesses can be built.

Human Progress

I often write on VIC about the impact of artificial intelligence. While I’m excited about the possibilities, there are also signs that the “AI for X” trend is getting a bit out of hand. Like this one for example. Do you like Roti (Indian flatbread)? What if you had a robot in your kitchen that could make fresh Roti on demand whenever you wanted? Even better, what if that Roti robot was smart? “Equipped with patented AI technology and intelligent sensors, Rotimatic does all the thinking for you! It makes real-time computations and adapts to every doughball’s characteristics.” AI powered Roti robot, I’d say that definitely solves a first world problem.

Philosophy

There’s one woman on this planet that’s unlike the rest. My mom. She delivered me into the world. Quite literally, my mother gave me life.
Then circumstances changed and I was forced to go live with my Dad’s family at his sister’s house. She was responsible for feeding and housing 7 children (not including me). Without question, my aunt took me in, despite her own plight.
Safe to say that situation was less than ideal. Lucky for me, I had an angel watching over me in my grandmother from my mom’s side. She swooped in at the perfect time to give me a better chance in life. Quite literally, my grandmother saved my life.
While much better, times were still hard. Extremely hard at times. Out of nowhere, one of my best friend’s mom came to the rescue. She often took me to stay at their house when things were challenging at home. Delicious food, a warm bed, the love of an entire family… all were offered in spades. Quite literally, my best friend’s mom changed my life.
I know a lot of incredible mothers out there and I wish you all a Happy Mother’s Day! But for me, it was important to take a second to give thanks to these three in particular. Thanks to you, I am the man I am today.
I may say it far too infrequently, but I owe these women my life!

My Latest Discovery

I’ve written here on VIC before about input/output methods in computing. That is, the methods by which information processing systems communicate with the outside world. The Amazon Echo, and to a lesser extent Google Home and Siri, are showing that voice will be a major input method of the future.
I was thinking about this one night this week and started to reflect on all of the time I spend on computers and how I could speed up my input. By far, the application that consumes the most time on my laptop is email. And most of that time is spent typing new emails.
After a few minutes of Google searching, I discovered that you can hit the function key twice (on a Mac that is), and you can immediately begin using voice dictation as an input method within most applications. The words you speak will begin appearing in the text field. This has been a God send!

[VIC – 73] Pausing To Take A Breath

Taking a break from the normal format this week…

I lost my sister last week to an untimely death. She was far too young. Circumstances of her life have always been far less than ideal and the circumstances of her death were about the same.
I did not know my sister well so the sense of loss is not the same as it would be if we had been siblings growing up together under the same roof. That said, there still seems to be a vacancy where something previously had been.
It was always so difficult to stay in touch with her. Her phone number and living situation were always in constant flux. To be honest, after a while, I didn’t try so hard to reach out.
One could say that she touted a poor history of decision making. But what could you possibly expect of a child caught in a shitty situation?
She called me a few months back asking for help. While not directly, it was pretty clear to me that she was asking for money and a place to stay. Given the limited information I do know about her, I did not feel it was possible to offer either. Instead, I offered to help search for suitable living conditions, a women’s shelter perhaps. I offered to pay for online courses if there was something she wanted to learn about. I felt that offering things along these lines would be more helpful than a quick cash infusion or place to rest. But that’s not all. If I’m being honest with myself, offering these things also served to protect the life that I am building and the circumstances I’ve created for myself. I couldn’t risk throwing everything into disarray for a person I barely know. Is that selfish? I’m not sure I have an answer at this point.
Now I find myself here in the present situation. Was her cry for help more dire than it seemed? Should I, or could I, have done more? What could I have even done?
When I woke up last Friday, I wanted to do what I normally do when these type of events present themselves. I wanted to take it in stride, go the gym, and head to work, like any other day. For much of my life, I’ve found this to be the best solution. The world won’t stop spinning for me due to a random unfortunate event. So why should my wheels stop spinning?
Luckily I have a life partner in my fiancé that’s a bit more in touch with the softer side of life than I am. She suggested that I take the day off from work, skip the gym and spend time with her reflecting on how I felt. She took off work as well to take a long walk with Dutch and me along the waterfront. She knew that I didn’t want to spend the whole day talking about my feelings or moping around, but she also recognized the importance of pausing to take a breath and reflect. She didn’t force me to talk about it, but was clear in communicating that it was ok to feel something and that it was ok to take a break. While the world would not stop spinning on my account, all of the trials and tribulations of everyday life would still be there the next day, even if we stepped away for a second.
She’s such an incredible human being and I’m so thankful for the unspoken wisdom she imparts to me on a daily basis.
Anyways, here we are.
Right here.
Right now.
And only one direction to go.
Forward!