The Digest #85

Published on June 16, 2021

“For the robust, an error is information; for the fragile, an error is an error.”

— Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Bed of Procrustes


34 Mistakes on the Way to 34 Years Old by Ryan Holiday, June 15, 2021. “When I look back on my own writing, the stuff that makes me cringe isn’t necessarily even stuff I was wrong about. What disturbs me is the certainty. I thought I knew, but I didn’t really know. I wasn’t even close to knowing. Ego never ages well, even if it was correct in a narrow instance. As I get older, I’d like to think I am more open to nuance, less prone to black and white statements, and humbler in how I come off.” (

Don’t Win the Game Too Early by Nick Maggiulli, June 15, 2021. If you are not wealthy, it is very hard to imagine that a sudden windfall could bring about negative developments. But it is true: sudden wealth can have significant downsides, especially for younger people. As the author suggests, it can have profoundly negative effects on relationships with friends and family and the context in which new relationships form. None of this is to suggest that wealth is not something to strive for, only that the impact of wealth can be negative if you’re not careful. (Of Dollars and Data)

What happened to GE? by Bill Gates, June 14, 2021. Bill Gates has been in the news lately, and not in a positive way. But it’s important to recall that his business acumen was strong enough for Warren Buffett to invite him to join the Berkshire Hathaway board in 2005. Gates resigned from the Berkshire board in 2020. In this book review of Lights Out: Pride, Delusion, and the Fall of General Electric, Gates gives some thought to what could cause a large and diverse conglomerate to fail. His thoughts on General Electric might provide a window into what Berkshire Hathaway’s directors are thinking in terms of avoiding a similar decline in the coming decades. (Gates Notes)

You Can’t Invest Without Trading. You Can Trade Without Investing. by Jason Zweig, June 11, 2021. There is a huge difference between speculators and investors, but the financial media, including the Wall Street Journal, insists on using the word “investor” to describe anyone who transacts in securities. Jason Zweig has a problem with that: “I think calling traders and speculators “investors” shoves many newcomers farther down the slippery slope toward risks they shouldn’t take and losses they can’t afford. I fervently hope the Journal and its editors will finally stop using “investor” as the default term for anyone who makes a trade.” 👏👏👏 (WSJ)

When Americans Took to the Streets Over Inflation by Jon Hilsenrath, June 11, 2021. Imagine coming of age in the early 1970s into a world where prices were rising rapidly along with interest rates. Few people under the age of 55 recall a time of double digit consumer price inflation: “President Nixon tried to manage the problem by fiat. When meat prices soared in 1973, some likened the ensuing consumer boycott to the Boston Tea Party. The administration imposed price caps on meat for a second time, and the Treasury Secretary, George Shultz, urged housewives to try “shopping wisely.” It didn’t work. Meat prices increased by 37% in 1973, 22% in 1975, 24% in 1978 and 27% in 1979.” (WSJ)

Seizing The Middle: Chess Strategy in Business, June 14, 2021. “Chess can serve as an apt metaphor for other areas of our lives, especially business. That’s because the game is a microcosm of the ways we use strategic thinking. There are not many areas where we can quickly assess the quality of our decisions and whether they are likely to have the desired effects. Chess helps us develop strategic thinking because we get immediate feedback on our strategic decisions. It also shows the benefits of thinking ahead.” (Farnam Street)

How processed foods became so unhealthy by William Park, June 9, 2021. One of the reasons sugar is so prevalent in packaged foods is that ultra-processing tends to eliminate flavors found in nature. Something needs to fill the void: “Sugars are used in large quantities by the food industry to give flavour to foods that have had their intrinsic flavours processed out of them and to mask any unpleasant flavours in the final product. These sugars are not only used as sweeteners but have important technological functions in foods, providing texture, bulk, colour and acting as preservative agents.” (BBC Future)

Humans Could Live up to 150 Years, New Research Suggests by Emily Willingham, May 25, 2021. I am skeptical of this premise: “They are asking the question of ‘What’s the longest life that could be lived by a human complex system if everything else went really well, and it’s in a stressor-free environment?” Is the path to long life truly a “stress free” environment? Perhaps in terms of avoiding toxins, but the principle of hormesis could point to benefits of stressors, up to a limit. Besides, what kind of life is a “stressor-free environment”? In any case, if the first person who lives to 150 understands compounding at age 20, the results will be spectacular. (Scientific American)

Ben Franklin’s Gift that Keeps on Giving by Stephan A. Schwartz, February 2009. I recently read about The Thiel Fellowship which provides $100,000 grants to young people “who want to build things instead of sitting in a classroom.” This reminded me of how Ben Franklin structured the distribution of his estate: “In one of the grandest expressions of benevolence in American history, Franklin combined his goal of promoting civic virtue and his fascination with the power of compounding interest to make even small sums of money grow by creating two carefully structured philanthropic trusts designed to last exactly 200 years. He made separate bequests of 1,000 pounds—the equivalent of roughly $100,000 in 2008 dollars—to the cities of Boston and Philadelphia and instructed that the money be used to make small loans, at 5 percent interest per annum, to married men under 25 who had completed apprenticeships and wanted to start their own businesses.” (HistoryNet)

Make Classics, Not Content by Lawrence Yeo, June 2021. I understand the author’s desire to create material that will be relevant for a long period of time rather than having the shelf life of gallon of milk. He makes a distinction between content and art: “In my view, art and content are not synonymous. The purpose of art is to express oneself deeply, while the purpose of content is to garner attention quickly. Art follows a pace that is set internally, while content adheres to expectations that are set externally.” (More to That)

Podcasts and Videos

How to Write an Intro like Paul Graham by David Perell, June 16, 2021. I often link to Paul Graham’s essays, most recently to A Project of One’s OwnGraham’s writing has a type of clear consistency that is uncommon and his essays almost always create interest from the beginning. In this video, David Perell analyzes how Paul Graham writes his introductions. This will obviously be of interest to writers but also to those who admire Graham’s style and just want to understand how he writes. (YouTube)

Moderna: The Software of Life, June 16, 2021. This is an outstanding discussion of Moderna, the creator of one of the COVID-19 vaccines that is finally bringing an end to the pandemic. “Jason Kelly is the CEO of Gingko Bioworks and Matthew Harrison is a biotech analyst at Morgan Stanley. We cover the history of programming cells, what differentiates Moderna from other biotech companies, and lessons for entrepreneurs and investors can takeaway from Moderna’s story.” (Business Breakdowns)

On Being an Emerging Manager: Experiences, Lessons Learned, Success Factors, June 12, 2021. This is an excellent two hour discussion regarding what it takes to succeed as an investment manager. It is a must-listen episode for anyone aspiring to raise and run a fund in the future. “In this episode, co-hosts Elliot Turner, Phil Ordway, and John Mihaljevic discuss what it’s like to be an emerging manager. Elliot and Phil share their experiences, lessons learned, and success factors.” (This Week in Intelligent Investing)

John Harris – Resilience and Imagination, June 10, 2021. “John Harris is the Managing Partner of Ruane, Cunniff & Goldfarb, the flagship Sequoia Fund. We cover John’s approach to finding businesses that can be owned for the long-term, what goes into their diligence process, and the importance of resilience for investors.” (Invest Like the Best)

A Trip Through Paris, 1896-1900

These old colorized movies from the earliest days of film are fascinating to watch. There are many others like it. This clip is from the very earliest days of film.

“A collection of high quality remastered prints from the dawn of film taken in Belle Époque-era Paris, France from 1896-1900. Slowed down footage to a natural rate, added in ambiance sound, and colorized. These films were taken by the Lumière company.”

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The Digest #85
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