The Digest #48

Published on October 30, 2020

Here is a list of the best articles I have read over the past week. Thanks for reading and have a great weekend!

A Letter to My Newborn Daughter by Lawrence Yeo, October 22, 2020. “You’ll one day learn that money is one of these rewards people get for their work. While it’s important to understand that making money requires various tradeoffs of time and energy, just remember this: Making a lot of money doing something you hate will be far less rewarding than making enough money doing something you love. Freedom is achieved by clearly defining what “enough” means, and by keeping it there even after you’ve reached it. This allows curiosity – and not money – to be the guiding principle behind why you do the things you do.”

What’s the Future of NYC Real Estate? by Andrew Rice, October 13, 2020. “The urban rot of the 1970s was at the margins; this time, it is the core that is hollowing. Even in the depths of 1977, the year of the blackout and the Son of Sam, Manhattan was vibrant — “a luxury fantasyland,” in the words of one contemporary journalistic account. Manhattan boasted the headquarters of a fifth of the Fortune 500 companies, a third of the largest law firms, and almost all of the big ad agencies and investment banks. Residential real-estate values rose by 30 percent. Celebrities were crowding Studio 54. The Yankees won the World Series, drawing more than 2 million fans.” (New York Magazine)

What is Amazon? by Zach Kanter, March 13, 2019. “So, what is Amazon? It started as an unbound Walmart, an algorithm for running an unbound search for global optima in the world of physical products. It became a platform for adapting that algorithm to any opportunity for customer-centric value creation that it encountered. If it devises a way to keep its incentive structures intact as it exposes itself through its ever-expanding external interfaces, it – or its various split-off subsidiaries – will dominate the economy for a generation. And if not, it’ll be just another company that seemed unstoppable until it wasn’t.” (Zach’s Notes)

Why Social Media Is So Good at Polarizing Us by Christopher Mims, October 19, 2020. I have now voted in eight presidential elections. Needless to say, 2020 has been the most polarizing political environment of any in my personal memory. Christopher Mims takes a look at how social media has accelerated trends toward polarization. One of the many causes of polarization involves the disintegration of shared narratives in society. Freedom to curate your own information flow, while no doubt essential in a free society, has notable side effects: “As long as Americans have the freedom to choose outlets that support their own views while exposing them to alternative viewpoints in ways that primarily lead to repulsion…” (WSJ)

On Tesla Filings: Accident Or Not? by Michelle Leder, October 23, 2020. Tesla’s recent filings appear to be scans of a PDF document which can be difficult for algorithms to read and analyze. Is this significant or just an innocent practice? “One of the cardinal rules of footnoted is that there are no accidents in SEC filings. So it’s hard to imagine that a company as sophisticated as Tesla simply made a mistake for the past three quarters. It seems more likely that this was a deliberate attempt to make it much harder to compare the language in filings from one quarter to the next.” (Footnoted)

How Satya Nadella turned Microsoft around, October 22, 2020. Satya Nadella will soon mark the completion of his seventh year as CEO of Microsoft. The transformation of Microsoft during his tenure has been dramatic, and the share price has reflected this. Can Nadella sustain Microsoft’s growth over the next decade? “Mr Nadella is confident about future growth, his early awkwardness long since replaced by a justified and resolute assuredness. “We’re lucky enough to be in the tech business, and IT spending is going from 5% of GDP to 10% over the next ten years,” he says. But competition for those IT dollars is white-hot. Microsoft’s response—leaning heavily on customers not to defect—may work in the short run.”  (The Economist)

What Sharks Can Teach Us About Survivorship Bias, October 21, 2020. “Survivorship bias crops up all over our lives and impedes us from accurately assessing danger. Replace “dangerous sharks” with “dangerous cities” or “dangerous vacation spots” and you can easily see how your picture of a certain location might be skewed based on the experiences of survivors. We can’t be afraid of a tale if no one lives to tell it. More survivors can make something seem more dangerous rather than less dangerous because the volume of stories makes them more memorable.” (Farnam Street)

Lots of Overnight Tragedies, No Overnight Miracles by Morgan Housel, October 22, 2020. There is an asymmetry in our perception of good news and bad news: Positive developments take time to fully form but bad news can occur overnight. “New technologies take years or decades for people to even notice, then years or decades more for people to accept and put to use. Show me a new technology that was immediately recognized for its full potential and instantly adopted by the masses. It doesn’t exist. A lot of pessimism is fueled by the fact that it often looks like we haven’t innovated in a decade because it takes a decade to notice innovations.” (Collaborative Fund)

The Best Investing Books for Every Kind of Investor by Nick Maggiulli, October 13, 2020. This is a good list of books for investors at different stages of their development and for those who practice different styles or simply have varying intellectual interests. “No matter what kind of investor you are, if you want to learn more about finance, books are your best bet. Since 2012 I’ve read over 100 different books on investing (about one a month), all of which I considered when writing this article.” (Of Dollars and Data)

A Master List of 1,500 Free Courses From Top Universities, October 18, 2020. This is an incredible list of free online courses from top schools including Stanford, Yale, MIT, Oxford, and Harvard. The COVID-19 pandemic has made online education more common and contributed to a growing realization that much of what expensive universities provide in person can be communicated over the internet. You will not get a degree by taking advantage of free courses but if you are interested in a particular subject just for the sake of learning, this is a great list to look at. (Open Culture)

Hurricane Zeta

As new experiences go, witnessing a hurricane up-close was interesting, to say the least. Hurricane Zeta strengthened into a strong Category 2 storm before slamming into the Gulf Coast. After waiting in anticipation all day, the rain and wind picked up. Then an hour later … surreal quiet in the eye of the storm … and then it was over as this quick moving system proceeded through the southeast on its way to the Atlantic.

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The Digest #48