Zuihitsu: 2022-04

Technically, zuihitsu are longer reflections than what I tend to collect. But, the general idea is right. Here’s this month’s installment. If you want the complete set, please download the fortune file.

1. I tell you: one must have chaos in oneself to give birth to a dancing star.—Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche
2. Build, test, and improve.
3. Apes vs. Gorillas, aka users vs. providers.
4. Find your own way of doing things, make your own rules.
5. If you’re thinking, but not writing, you only think that you are thinking.
6. Things are going to be alright, whatever happens.
7. r, the interest rate, is the rental rate for capital, and w is the rental rate (wage rate) for labor.
8. Parking lots are major revenue generators for airports. Storage is big business everywhere.
9. You can swim all day in the sea of knowledge and not get wet.–Norton Juster
10. Look at the world without euphemism.
11. Most arguments fail due to lack of imagination.
12. The Internet amplifies variance.
13. The puppet does not pull the strings of the puppet master.
14. You can print money but not oil to heat or wheat to eat.
15. All ESG roads eventually lead to international confrontation, nationalisation or protectionism.
16. You could not have wished to be born at a better time than this, when everything is lost.—Simone Weil
17. Don’t privilege privilege.
18. Love triangles are never equilateral.
19. It is better to take what does not belong to you than to let it lie around neglected.—Mark Twain
20. Many and small beats large and heavy.
21. Finding always beats flanking.
22. Swarming always beats surging.
23. I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.—Rabindranath Tagore
24. What makes you dance in the streets?
25. Some things are not meant to be.
26. You can’t unshit your pants.
27. Who brings more value, the producer or the reducer?
28. You can have all the ingredients and still not know the recipe.
29. Don’t be afraid of changing your mind.
30. Equality that penalizes productivity isn’t equality.
31. Don’t shitpost with your wallet.
32. Solve the mystery no one was wondering about.
33. You cannot get water from a book. But, a book might help you find it.
34. A boat should be in the water. But, the water shouldn’t be in the boat. Same with people and the world.
35. Time in a growth market > timing the market
36. Twitter is Uber for ideas.
37. If you are going to manage it, you first have to acknowledge it.
38. Progress, not perfection.
39. Doubt kills.
40. Change your world.
41. When you pray for rain, you have got to deal with the mud too.
42. Takes talent to make money, but brains to keep it.
43. Same mud, same blood.
44. Nothing is more expensive than free. Nothing harder than looking for the easy way.
45. Curating is an act of generosity—you’re sharing what you love and what has inspired you.
46. Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.—Gustave Flaubert
47. Our past is never where we left it.
48. Nobody’s as deaf as those that don’t want to listen.
49. You cannot change where you come from, but you can change where you are going.
50. Imagination leads to emancipation.
51. Humans are more important than hardware.
52. Actions over credentials.
53. Every decline is surfable.
54. When nothing is happening, change what you are doing.
55. Vision, a positive attitude, and hard work can make a new reality.
56. Less furious, more curious.
57. Don’t be afraid to offend.
58. Social media are the fidget spinners of the soul.
59. Some tools can only be used to destroy.
60. Most of the disorder and dysfunction in the world is caused by lack of impulse control.—Dr. Andrew Huberman
61. Resistance or difficulty is necessary in order to understand the nature and depth of our own desires.
62. Few devices have done more to obscure the efforts of human labor than the smartphone.
63. Get it down there where the dogs can eat it.
64. Things that cannot go on forever, stop.

Theater, Circus & Being

“In Acts: Theater, Philosophy, and the Performing Self, Tzachi Zamir proposes a theory of persons that allows participants in the theater to amplify and improve their own sense of self. According to Zamir, “a person is a cluster of possibilities, and actualizes a small portion of these.” The personal benefit of acting is that it broadens the scope of a person’s usual set of possibilities, potentially leading to a wider range of opportunities or ‘live options’ in real life for the person acting. Zamir calls this “existential amplification.” Acting (not merely observing acting) can help someone better understand themselves as they actually are, against a broadened backdrop of what’s possible for them…

…In Duncan Wall’s The Ordinary Acrobat, Jonathan Conant, one of the founders of Trapeze School New York describes the flying trapeze as “a machine for helping people re-evaluate what they are capable of.” He continues: “Before a flight, people are invariably uncomfortable. They’re pissed off, they’re scared, they’re sad. There’s a real fear of getting hurt.” They think that the trapeze is “…magical. It’s unattainable. It’s hugely difficult. It’s completely out of the realm of possibility for most people’s minds.” Yet after flying, “[t]here’s an evolution, an acceptance of what’s possible. The trapeze is so built up in people’s heads. And then someone says, ‘You can actually do this, too.’ That totally shifts the realm of what’s possible.” Conant continues, “People like to say that the trapeze is a metaphor for overcoming your fears. But this is wrong. A metaphor is just a symbol. The trapeze actually works.” Circus literature is rich with such accounts, especially in connection to the flying trapeze. Very often, there is talk of a great shift in perspective, of seeing the world differently, experiencing life anew, and even: becoming a whole new being.”

-Meg Wallace, “Circus and Philosophy: Teaching Aristotle Through Juggling.” aesthticsforbirds.com. December 2, 2021

Interesting throughout. I like the idea that trying new things, whether they be new ideas or ways of being in the world, can help us reconstruct ourselves into “a whole new being.”

Metaphorical Apes & Gorillas

Apes & Gorillas is another little gem from Joe Armeanio. It closely mirrors the idea two computing revolutions talked about in this post that talks about:

  1. Apps with easy to use interfaces designed for casual users
  2. Application layers, that provide tools that allow new ways of using a computer that were previously impossible

There’s a huge difference in needs between traders doing swaps and solo miners using a node wallet. The general principle is applicable to most areas of life where technology touches.

Zuihitsu: 2022-03

Technically, zuihitsu are longer reflections than what I tend to collect. But, the general idea is right. Here’s this month’s installment. If you want the complete set, please download the fortune file.

1. Distrust turns quickly to dislike.
2. The difference between saying something to or about someone is the latter is always gossip.
3. Children don’t worry about the future.
4. Showmen need to know how the audience leans.
5. Strategies for dealing with pain: 1) sleep, 2) forgetting, 3) madness, and 4) death.
6. Wounds that can’t be healed must be forgotten.
7. Find water first. Everything else can wait.
8. May all your stories be glad ones, and your roads be smooth and short.
9. Bones mend. Regret is forever.
10. Entropy eases familiar ruts.
11. Every good story touches the truth.
12. You have to be a bit of a liar to tell a story true.
13. Small deeds for small men.
14. Just because something makes sense doesn’t mean it is true.
15. Fear tends to come from ignorance.
16. A man who travels with his wife can usually be trusted.
17. I’ll see you where the roads meet.
18. Stories give us a clarity and simplicity our lives lack.
19. To fear something, you have to dwell on it.
20. Stealth is a lie and a trap.
21. Borrow or lend, lose a friend.
22. Practice makes the master.
23.  Excellence is excellence’s only companion.
24. A laurel needs rain to grow.
25. A moment in the mind is worth nine in the fire.
26. Beer dulls a memory, brandy sets it burning, but wine is best for a sore heart’s yearning.
27. It’s easier to appear harmless.
28. Sweep up the glass of your broken plans and simply start again.
29. Learn to ignore what’s current.
30. Make something people want.
31. Wisdom precludes boldness.
32. You become what you pretend to be. You tell yourself a story, and you build your identity from it.
33. You don’t know the first note of the music that moves me.
34. Less trust, more rules.
35. Few are as gullible as the well-educated.
36. Never trust a weapon you haven’t personally test fired.
37. Roots are more vital than grafts.
38. The best time to think about it was decades ago, the second best time is now.
39. It’s rare, if not impossible, to produce clean answers to messy questions.
40. The consequence of secrecy in a community is lack of preparedness for facts on the ground.
41. Bad leadership cannot be overcome by spending.
42. De quoi s’agit-il?, or “What is it all about?”
43. Explicit knowledge is translated, and all translations are imperfect.
44. When you find good fortune, convert some to seed grain.
45. Know a lady by her manner and a man by his cloth.
46. Our experience shapes our senses. We see, hear and feel what we have before.
47. Everything has a price.
48. A secret is truth concealed.
49. Nothing is harder than convincing someone of an unfamiliar truth.
50. How badly are you willing to be burned to get it?
51. The unanswerable questions have the most to teach us.
52. Give a fact, the story ends. Give a question, the story begins.
53. Fools worry over what they can’t control.
54. Everyone eats a different part of the pig. Join them.
55. A story is like a nut. One fool will swallow it whole and choke. Another fool will throw it away thinking it has little value. But, the wise will find a way to crack the shell and eat the meat inside.
56. Strength creates enemies.
57. Travel is the great leveler, the great teacher, bitter as medicine, crueler than mirror-glass.
58. Leave mystery for poets, priests and fools.
59. True gifts are given without an expectation of getting something in return. Something given to bind another isn’t a gift.
60. If you need to run, run to where the hiding places are.
61. Among totalitarians, you either conform or have secrets.
62. Intelligence is everywhere, often unrecognized.
63. Freedom is deciding which chances you are willing to take.
64. Better than the person next to you or a better community?
65. Excellence is being open to people with different points of view.
66. Compassion without sentimentality.
67. The dysfunctions and idiosyncrasies of childhood become the self-evident norms of adulthood.
68. Replace the thing before it needs replacement.
69. If enough things get fucked up, you stop needing an origin story for them.
70. Humans are sex and murder machines.
71. It’s interesting, but it doesn’t get the tools stowed.
72. Life is risk.
73. Glossing over data and going straight to interpretation is hiding from whatever direction the data is pointing.
74. Anti-zuihitsu: “One person’s cliché is another person’s truth.”
75. Better to embrace that which cannot be avoided.
76. There’s often no right choice, just a plate of progressively off hors d’oeuvres.
77. The people talking don’t know, and the people that know are not talking.
78. Imagine you wake up one day and no one knows who you are.
79. One should not underestimate the probability of failure even when lots of money is spent.
80. When people don’t know anything, there’ll be a meeting to talk about it.
81. It takes an age to test if beauty will last.
82. Until death, all is life.
83. It’s a big toolbox, and everyone has to find their own way.
84. Nothing humans can touch goes unmodified.
85. Ribbing is fine when someone is happy, but comfort people when they are sad.
86. Beware money roach motels, where it is easy to get money in, hard to get it out.
87. It is so much simpler to bury Reality than it is to dispose of dreams.—Matrix: Resurrections
88. Science is a hard scramble out of ignorance.
89. Don’t huff your own farts.

Optionality & Alpha

“When you hold an option and the world moves with you, you enjoy the benefits; when the world moves against you, you are shielded from the bad outcome since you are not obligated to do anything. Optionality is the state of enjoying possibilities without being on the hook to do anything…

…In contrast, the closing of doors and possibilities signals the loss of optionality. This language doesn’t only apply to career planning: Don’t be surprised to hear someone in finance talk about marriage as the death of optionality.

This emphasis on creating optionality can backfire in surprising ways. Instead of enabling young people to take on risks and make choices, acquiring options becomes habitual. You can never create enough option value—and the longer you spend acquiring options, the harder it is to stop…

…The shortest distance between two points is reliably a straight line. If your dreams are apparent to you, pursue them. Creating optionality and buying lottery tickets are not way stations on the road to pursuing your dreamy outcomes. They are dangerous diversions that will change you.

By emphasizing optionality, these students ignore the most important life lesson from finance: the pursuit of alpha. Alpha is the macho finance shorthand for an exemplary life. It is the excess return earned beyond the return required given risks assumed.

-Mihir A. Desai, “The Trouble with Optionality.” The Harvard Crimson. May 25, 2017

Alpha just means your returns over a benchmark. I found this editorial interesting and a little weird. If you are going to pursue outsized returns, then you also need to find a way to manage your downside risk. It’s great if you leave an Ivy League school and start a business like Microsoft or Google. But, this kind of alpha is exception, which is why people talk about it. Its no different than the lottery ticket. It is much easier to start a company and take risks when you know you can get your basic needs met from some kind of unrelated income. But, there is this tension. If you are getting your basic needs met, why are you starting a company for? Somewhere in that answer is the meaning of life.

W.A.I.T.: Why Am I Talking?

“In the comments of my newsletter on interviewing and wanting to be a better listener, a reader told me about an acronym people in the coaching world use frequently: WAIT, which stands for “Why Am I Talking?”

There’s something about this acronym that is more helpful and hits much harder than my usual “Shut up and listen” mantra.

-Austin Kleon, “Why Am I Talking?austinkleon.com. March 17, 2022

Scarface Index

The Scarface Index is the idea that if some activity has a higher return than highly profitable, illicit businesses, then it is probably an unsustainable business. This has obvious implications for cryptocurrencies and for other emerging technologies.

Five Traps to Avoid When Working at Big Companies

https://mobile.twitter.com/arvanaghi/status/1504523654801022987

  1. Being someone’s lieutenant
  2. Developing expertise that only applies to that company
  3. Falling for perks
  4. Get raises, not readjustments (top end, 7% increase a year)
  5. Lack of recognition

h/t to Brandon Arvanaghi

I’d probably shorten this list to two items:

  1. Be good at doing something many companies and/or people need.
  2. Get recognized for being good by being paid for it, or do what you do for someone else.

You could reduce it further to the most important ability, at any job, is being able to walk out the door and easily find another. Any other situation is one based on exploitation, in one form or another.

Uncertainty & Future Planning Are Inversely Proportional

“There’s a paradox that strikes me whenever I visit Ely Cathedral, an amazing building just a few miles away from where we are sitting. It was built by masons as a structure that wasn’t to be finished in their lifetime, but which still inspires us 800 years later. We can’t think long term like they did. I think the reason is that those masons thought their grandchildren would live similar lives to them. Now, however, the pace of technological change means we don’t know enough about the preferences of people half a century in the future to be able to make confident plans. Although our horizons in space and time have hugely expanded, our capacity to do reliable long-term planning is less than it was in medieval times…

…One reason why I wish them luck is that human enhancement is going to be strongly regulated on Earth. But if there are these guys in a hostile environment on Mars, they would have every incentive to adapt themselves to that environment and they’d be away from the regulators. So if there is to be a post-human species, then it could evolve fastest from the progeny of these bold pioneers.

-Richard Webb interviews Martin Rees, “Martin Rees interview: Elon Musk could spawn the first post-humans.” New Scientist. March 9, 2022.

I found these two paragraphs interesting as a piece. We are so unsure about technical change that we cannot even sure that our progeny will be anything like us, much less living similar lives. This uncertainty makes it a challenge to think long term. This should be some kind of law: as uncertainty increases, our view of our time horizon decreases.