Author Archives: SMS

Influential Reads – October 2020

Reading Time: 2 minutes

For some reason, structure and willpower seemed to vanish in September.  No books this month; I have been stuck in Arguing with Zombies by Paul Krugman – mostly because the topics depress me.  

However, I am looking forward to boring, reasonable thoughts, and complete sentences. 

Updated stats through October:

ArticlesBooks
January794
February781
March962
April964
May1273
June493
July780
August933
September593
October620
November
December
Total81723

Here are my most influential reads – in no particular order:

  1. It’s a Slow-Moving Car Wreck and We’re All In It – “The United States, Fukuyama argues, is in many ways, no longer spiraling up, but beginning to spiral down.”
  2. How to Live Like You’re Already Retired – “As Oliver encourages: give yourself permission to put forth your best effort toward the things that provide happiness and meaning while half-assing the less important stuff in life.”
  3. Useful Hacks – “Career hack: Work harder than is expected of you and be nice to people.”
  4. I called everyone in Jeffrey Epstein’s little black book – This one is full of some great lines.  “This wasn’t some masterful hack into the global aristocracy. It’s what everyone does. It’s what the whole thing is. There is no scam here. It’s grifters grifting grifters all the way down.”
  5. Dear Dad, Please Don’t Vote For Donald Trump This Time – “You demanded better of me in the papers I turned in when I was in middle school.”
  6. Trump Kills Fiscal Stimulus Negotiations – “McConnell has had plenty of opportunity to make a deal, but hasn’t. I suspect that he just isn’t falling in line with Trump. It’s Trump that has to fall in line with McConnell, and McConnell really only wants one more thing from Trump, and that’s the Supreme Court seat.”
  7. The first rule of the game – “All players must agree to not cheat.”
  8. When the Republican Party Was Sane – “That same year, Eisenhower moved against the ultra-right-wing Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, who was convinced that the federal government was riddled with actual communists—a precursor to today’s Republican obsession with the “deep state.””
  9. Why I Ride, and Putting Things in Perspective – “I’ll tell you why. It’s simple. Because I love the feeling of asking my body to perform, and having it respond.”
  10. How to Negotiate — Virtually – “For Americans and others from more individualized cultures, evidence suggests that seeing yourself during a video call tends to increase self-consciousness and self-criticism. Particularly if you already have these tendencies, you might want to turn off the self-view when video conferencing.”

Note: This is based on when I read the article, not necessarily when it was first published.  Unfortunately, my backlog of things I would like to read always seems to dwarf the amount of time I can devote to reading.

Why I Run

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I used to be a reasonably competitive distance runner.  Team titles, individual titles, all conference, academic all American, blah blah…  Like decent.  Not world class.  Not national champion.  But generally not somebody you wanted on your shoulder 1,000 meters out.  And running was a really big part of me and my identity.

Some days, those accomplishments seem like they were achieved by a different human. Despite only being ~15 pounds over my racing weight back in college.

Working out regularly and even structured training is still part of the mix.  Even after some time away post college.  I eventually came back to the training and competing.  Because I need it.  That is just who I am.  It is part of me.  Chicken or egg problem.

The bike (or bike trainer) has been a big part of that regime.  But still nothing beats running for me.  Despite the nagging and chronic pain and injuries that began plaguing me late in my college career. And continue still.

As I was recently attempting another come back from my injury (I will call it my injury because it’s been with me for decades), I began reflecting on why I run.  What am I trying to get out of it?

In my days competing, the goal was to be as fast as possible in the races that mattered.  Period.  Everything was focused on enhancing performance.  At the risk of actually not competing in those races, because you broke.  But the risk was worth it.  And necessary.  Everyone else was pretty much doing the same thing.

The motto I trained under was:  Take one day off; you know it.  Take two days off; your coach knows it.  Take three days off; everyone knows.  Each year, I could generally count days without a run on my fingers.  And, I found it easier to track weekly mileage on a plus, minus ten basis.  Just the deltas to ten.  Eight was minus 2; ten was zero; 12 was plus 2, etc.

Now it is different.  I run and train with different goal in mind.  I run today, so I can run tomorrow.  

And that impacts each run and the decision making around each run.  It may lead me to run slower (ok, maybe a lot slower) or shorter or stop at the first twinge of pain or even take days off (gasp).  

Maybe I am just getting old.  But thinking about running and training through this lens has helped.

Book Report: Good To Great

Reading Time: 2 minutes

“Level 5 leaders display a workmanlike diligence – more plow horse than show horse.” – Jim Collins

This is meant to be more of a book report, than a review.  In particular, I want to highlight three lessons from the book, Good to Great by Jim Collins, that I found impactful.  This also serves as a way for me to recall influential points in the book.

I went into this book with few expectations.  I picked up my copy at a second hand shop years ago just because it was a title and author I recognized.  Hardcover books are a weakness of mine. The book was written circa 2001, so some of the material is a tad dated.  Maybe one of the biggest criticisms is one of the “good to great” examples went out of business since then: Circuit City.  However, I still found the main messages mostly timeless.

However, three topics that did alter my perspective were:

  1. First Who…Then What.  

“We expected that good-to-great leaders would begin by setting a new vision and strategy.  We found instead that they first got the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats – and then they figured out where to drive it.”

I have generally hired for horsepower.  A students are generally A students in any setting.  I have worked in a couple businesses that are obsessively focused on only hiring A+ players.  While this message can be a touch self-serving, I will say having the right people on the team makes a huge difference, and having the wrong people is such a drag.  So, spending the time on hiring is extremely important.

  1. A Culture of Discipline. 

“When you have disciplined people, you don’t need hierarchy.  When you have disciplined thought, you don’t need bureaucracy.  When you have disciplined action, you don’t need excessive controls.  When you combine a culture of discipline with an ethic of entrepreneurship, you get the magical alchemy of great performance.”

This is something I wrestle with frequently but thought this was a helpful way of thinking about it.  I generally have found that good people armed with the right goals and information end up generating outsized accomplishments.  My motto has been – hire good people and mostly try not stay out of their way.  And, this seems to be a similar thought process.  Also, I have never seen dictatorial leadership styles as very scalable or robust.  Instead, they tend to generate fear, resentment, and an outsized focus on politics.

  1. Hedgehogs vs. Foxes. 

“The key is to understand what your organization can be the best in the world at, and equally important what it cannot be the best at – no what it “wants” to be the best at.  The Hedgehog Concept is not a goal, strategy, or intention; it is an understanding.”

“Strategy per se did not separate the good-to-great companies from the comparison companies.  Both sets had strategies, and there is no evidence that the good-to-great companies spend more time on strategic planning than the comparison companies.

“No matter how dramatic the end result, the good-to-great transformations never happened in one fell swoop.  There was no single defining action, no grand program, no one killer innovation, no solitary lucky break, no wrenching revolution.”

I thought this was illuminating as well and sort of dovetailed with the first point.  Do not go looking for some silver bullet strategy.  Figure out why you win, and just grind on it.  There are no short cuts.  

That’s A Bunch of…

Reading Time: < 1 minute

I was watching a little late night television on Youtube the other week and was surprised by something.  The show I was watching, Late Night with Seth Myers, had some clips of a Fox News segment with Rudy Giuliani, President Trump’s personal lawyer.

The segment was basically Giuliani making some claims that he had interviewed some (unidentified) doctors who said Former Vice President Joe Biden had several hallmarks of having dementia.

Well, if Biden has dementia, that is newsworthy.

What isn’t newsworthy is Giuliani’s statement. It’s a bunch of baseless bullshit. 

What’s even more out there on the bullshit continuum, is a media outlet presenting that as news.  

You know I have some news too.  I firmly believe that in a former life, Mrs. SFTE starved to death.  This is based on how much food we take on camping trips and interviews with several doctors1 who “told” me that she has all the hallmarks of someone who has starved to death in a former life.  

  1. By doctors, I mean two of my daughters stuffies – J.J. the bison and Pollie the polar bear.  And now this article is sourced 1000% better than the Fox News segment.

That’s A Bunch Of…

Reading Time: < 1 minute

In a popularized line of bullshit that hits close to home, it’s not the politics impacting the coal and oil industries.

Democrats struggling to face fact that their plans would all but end fossil fuels

It’s economics.  

Solar energy reaches historically low costs

Covid-19 is accelerating all the trends Big Oil was dreading

So, yeah.  Put that in your pipe…and don’t do anything to release carbon into the atmosphere.

Influential Reads – September 2020

Reading Time: 2 minutes

As an antidote to current events, I was forced to go on a Carl Hiaasen binge.  

Updated stats through September:

ArticlesBooks
January794
February781
March962
April964
May1273
June493
July780
August933
September593
October620
November
December
Total81723

Here are my most influential reads – in no particular order:

  1. Pandemic trends – “Really, if we are going to get through this without psychological damage, we need to maintain some semblance of social contact. In other words, would it kill you to say, “It’s a beautiful day, eh? Have a good one.”
  2. It’s Time to Narrow the Income Gap. Future Prosperity Depends On It. – “The answer is debt. The only way that workers can sustain consumption growth when their incomes are stagnant is by borrowing, either directly or through the government’s budget deficit—which is exactly what the data show.”
  3. Credit Is Tightening. Why That Matters for the Economic Recovery – “But away from the capital markets, there are signs of tightening credit, according to a report from Macro Intelligence2 Partners. Banks have been imposing more stringent standards for borrowers, especially for consumers, a change borne out by the Fed’s Senior Loan Officer survey.” – How does this end you ask?  The answer lies somewhere with credit.
  4. Small-Business Failures Loom as Federal Aid Dries Up – ““Why didn’t we use the time that P.P.P. bought us to design the kind of program that would be commensurate with the national challenge that we’re facing?” Mr. Lettieri, of the Economic Innovation Group, asked. “That’s all P.P.P. was. It was a mechanism to buy time. It was never the long-term solution.”
  5. The Next Frontier – “We argue that before World War II dramatic reductions in transport costs expanded the supply of land and suppressed land prices.”
  6. What comes after Zoom? – “I think this is where we’ll go with video – there will continue to be hard engineering, but video itself will be a commodity and the question will be how you wrap it.”
  7. This Meditation Exercise Builds Mental Muscle and Cures Procrastination () – “The reason this meditation exercise will work for many of you is because it trains a really specific mental skill, the Awareness-Focus Loop.”
  8. Foreign Stocks’ Lost Decade – “As it turns out (and as should be no surprise) differences in earnings growth explain most of this gap.” – Wait, earnings matter?  Tell that to Pets.com.  Oh wait…checks notes…uh oh, I think I’ve been doing this wrong.
  9. Simple trick can deliver outperformance in emerging markets ETFs – “Active emerging market equity managers are potentially able to systematically beat the flagship indices by using one simple trick — avoiding state-owned enterprises.”
  10. A Lesson From TR & Taft on Pursuing a Life You Like – “Throw off your Taftian insecurities and fully own and embrace what you personally enjoy.”

Note: This is based on when I read the article, not necessarily when it was first published.  Unfortunately, my backlog of things I would like to read always seems to dwarf the amount of time I can devote to reading.

Influential Reads – August 2020

Reading Time: 2 minutes

August 2020

Good month all the way around.  I have re-made my commitment to stop scanning the major news sites.  They give me anxiety for a variety of reasons.

Updated stats through August:

ArticlesBooks
January794
February781
March962
April964
May1273
June493
July780
August933
September593
October620
November
December
Total81723

Here are my most influential reads – in no particular order:

  1. An expert on human blind spots gives advice on how to think – “And so consequential decisions tend to be the ones we don’t have experience with. They’re exactly where there’s stuff we don’t know, and that’s exactly those types of situations where we should be seeking outside counsel.”
  2. The End of the Beginning – “Economic policy will hamper mean reversion.”
  3. Where to find the hours to make it happen – “The hours don’t suddenly appear. You have to steal them from comfort.”
  4. Why Would Anyone Own Bonds Right Now? – “There are no easy answers in the current low rate world we’re living in.”
  5. Why Markets Don’t Seem to Care If the Economy Stinks – “The most visible and economically vulnerable industries are also among the smallest, based on their market-capitalization weight in major indexes such as the S&P 500.”
  6. The Times that Try Stock-Pickers’ Souls – “There is no new era.  Stocks are still worth the present value of their future cash flows.”
  7. What, Us Worry? Lack of New Stimulus Hasn’t Roiled the Markets – “As pointed out here a few weeks ago, the unprecedented $5 trillion in fiscal and monetary aid pumped into the economy during the second quarter exceeded total gross domestic product for the period.”
  8. Staying Focused with a Simple Method – “When you notice yourself avoiding something hard or uncertain … the method is to turn towards it.”
  9. Focus Week: Rediscover Depth – “For the sake of concreteness, here is one specific strategy among many that I’ve found to be effective: read two chapters from a book every day; with at least one of the chapters read in a scenic or otherwise interesting setting.”
  10. 51 Years Later, the Cuyahoga River Burns Again – “Late last year, the Trump administration made changes to the Clean Water Act that strip its protections from 60 percent of streams in this country, along with 110 million acres of wetlands.”

Note: This is based on when I read the article, not necessarily when it was first published.  Unfortunately, my backlog of things I would like to read always seems to dwarf the amount of time I can devote to reading.

Influential Reads – July 2020

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I got shut out on books.  Did I mention moving sucks.

Updated stats through July:

ArticlesBooks
January794
February781
March962
April964
May1273
June493
July780
August933
September593
October620
November
December
Total81723

Here are my most influential reads – in no particular order:

  1. Creating Impeccable Structure for Your Life – “We deeply feel the messiness of our lives.”
  2. Best Route to Wealth: Savings or Earnings, a Debate – “The things we own, and more broadly the lifestyle we lead, often end up owning us.”
  3. The 100 hour asset – “We’re all so busy doing our work that sometimes we fail to build a skill worth owning.”
  4. How a $30 digital product cleaned up at the Grammys – “YoungKio’s story shows that creating small digital projects is a fun, accessible, and “non” gatekept path for creative expression with a ton of optionality.”
  5. 4 Surprising Steps to Achieve Your Long-Term Financial Goals – “A much better approach is to look directly at your wants and desires. Don’t ignore them. Instead, understand them.”
  6. The Things We Take With Us When We Move – “Sparks Joy.”
  7. Chris Wallace masterfully turned in what might have been the best TV interview ever with President Donald Trump – “Watch for yourself. Ultimately, how the president did is your call. But there’s not much debate about how Wallace did. He was excellent.”
  8. Intel ‘Stunning Failure’ Heralds End of Era for U.S. Chip Sector – “Intel Corp.’s decision to consider outsourcing manufacturing heralds the end of an era in which the company, and the U.S., dominated the semiconductor industry.”
  9. Low Real Yields – You Can’t Avoid Them – “Indeed, if you can figure out a way to buy an asset without locking in the fundamental reality that the real risk-free rate is -1%, please let me know.”
  10. The Grifters, chapter 1 – Kodak – “I mean … I knew things were bad in Rochester, but I didn’t know they were that bad.”

Note: This is based on when I read the article, not necessarily when it was first published.  Unfortunately, my backlog of things I would like to read always seems to dwarf the amount of time I can devote to reading.