Author Archives: SMS

Influential Reads – September 2021

Reading Time: 2 minutes

“A man got to have a code.”  – Omar Little

Seriously?  Look at the chart on the right.  Talk about recency bias.  

Folks are in for a rude surprise at some point in the future if they thought September was a rough stretch.  That’s not a prediction of a near term melt down.  It is simply an observation about investor behavior and memory.

Finally finished Principles by Ray Dalio.  More to come here, but in short, I tried to read this book about 24 months ago and was just not in the right headspace apparently.  This time around, I really enjoyed it.  But it took some time and effort, in a good way.

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

  1. Boxes, trucks and bikes – “However, there’s also another way to split this, that I think is becoming increasingly important – instead of looking at the product category and the buying journey, look at the logistics model. “
  2. Business History with Gary Hoover – “The whole history of business and the economy is a story of one technological disruption after the other.”
  3. When Over-Ordering is More Than Hoarding – “So that customer who is ordering a lot more right now than they historically have is not doing it to “hoard.” They’re probably doing it just to manage inventory properly.”  See this as well.
  4. Put These Charts on Your Wall – “The market doesn’t have to do anything, least of all what you think it should do.”
  5. How To Escape Your Financial Cocoon – “Transient events constitute our experiences. Viewing them as permanent compounds our problems.”
  6. Worry About Yourself – “Somewhere along the way I think people forgot that we’re only in the market to make money…If others want to blow themselves up trading recklessly, let them.”
  7. 5 Ways to Build Resilience and Conquer Adversity – “Resilience is the ability to create positive adaptations to negative events.  It’s the ability to take things like anger and sadness and make them useful and productive.”
  8. The fraught future of recycling – “Despite the heavy machinery and increased automation involved, the process is still extremely dependent on humans.”
  9. Distribution and Demand – “Whereas AT&T competes for customers in a zero sum game, content is best leveraged by reaching as many customers across as many distributors as possible”
  10. The Intel Opportunity – “Massive demand, limited suppliers, huge barriers to entry. It’s a good time to be a manufacturing company. It is, potentially, a good time to be Intel.”
  11. A Tunguska sized airburst destroyed Tall el-Hammam – “We present evidence that in ~ 1650 BCE (~ 3600 years ago), a cosmic airburst destroyed Tall el-Hammam, a Middle-Bronze-Age city in the southern Jordan Valley northeast of the Dead Sea.”  SMS here: Talk about wrong place, wrong time…

One more than normal because I could not decide.  My blog, my rules…

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.

Top clicks across the site last month:

  1. Financial Model vs. Operating Model
  2. EBITDA Is Not A Good Proxy For Cash Flow
  3. Family Adventure: Grand Teton #3
  4. Operating Model Tips
  5. Excel Template: Football Field Chart

Updated stats through September:

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Family Adventure: Camping In Grand Teton National Park #3

Reading Time: 4 minutes

We always go camping for my daughter’s birthday in early September.

And we were back in Grand Teton National Park for our third camping trip in the park, and fifth trip to the vicinity this year (one ski trip and one camping on the Driggs side).

See our prior camping trips to GTNP here: Grand Teton National Park #1 and #2

We had a little more time this trip.  We were there from Thursday evening through Tuesday. So, that gave us a bit more time to explore.  We also, I think, were just generally in a more laid back mood.  We had no major hikes or destinations in mind.  The crowd was decidedly older and maybe more mellow given that school was back in session for families with kids.

Day #1

We drove in kind of late.  But gorgeous drive in.  Saw a bison herd pretty close to the road near Elk Ranch Flats.

We reserved a site at the Lizard Creek campground, which is the northernmost campground in Grand Teton National Park. We liked Signal Mountain Campground a bit better, although this was a good spot. I’d recommend a site closer to the middle of the campground – we were very exposed to the wind.

Not much water in Jackson Lake was kind of a let down:

Day #2

In the vein of a more relaxed trip, Day #2 turned into a spontaneous trip up to Yellowstone N.P.  I had loosely planned to venture into the south end of the park.  But we actually ended up driving up to West Thumb.  We had seen this area during our winter trip (incredible) back in 2017 and it was cool to see it in the summer.

On the drive back to our campground, in the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway stretch, we had this siting:

#bearsiting #poopedmypants

Day #3

Happy Birthday kiddo!

We celebrated our daughter’s birthday.  Then, we drove north again into the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway area.  We did a short hike to a natural hot spring – there are two – and we went to Polecat Hot Springs.  Totally worth it.

Then another short hike over to the river.

It’s that time of year, and the elk are bugling.  Amazing.

Day #4

We hiked this day.  About nine miles.  A really nice, pretty flat hike, to BearPaw Lake.  

Very nice hike.  I’d rate it easy.  Left from the northern end of Jenny Lake, which is a pretty popular trailhead, but the hike itself was not heavily trafficked.  Hiked right up to the base of Mt. Moran.  If you rate your hikes partly on how few other hikers you see, this is a good one to check out.

Watch out for this guy:

Day #5

Packed up camp and on the way to our new site, sited a black wolf.  First wolf siting.  Lots of #poopedmypants moments on this trip.

Found a great little campground in the Bridger-Teton National Forest at Atherton Creek.  Great location.  Well maintained campground with a host.  I’d consider camping here instead of in the park.

And then we did some touristy things.

And learned some stuff about geology.

And skipped rocks.

Day #6

And then home, until the next time.

All members of the party accounted for…

Check out a few prior adventures:

The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck

Reading Time: 3 minutes

“In my life, I have given a fuck about many things. I have also not given a fuck about many things. And like the road not taken, it was the fucks not given that made all the difference.” – The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck

This is meant to be more of a book report, than a review.  In particular, I want to highlight three key take-aways from the book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck: The Counterintuitive Approach to Living A Good Life by Mark Manson, that I found impactful.  This also serves as a way for me to recall influential points in the book.

The title is certainly catchy.  Maybe a bit gimmicky.  The content of the book turned out to be a little different than I was anticipating.  Not in a bad way.  It just was.  And a lot of the themes are ones that I have encountered elsewhere – not to say they are not relevant or important or presented with a unique perspective here.

Three take-aways from the book:

  1. Not Giving A F*ck

This is the theme of deciding what is important and not important in your life. You should care about things that advance your goals and priorities, and care significantly less about those things that do not.  As I have written previously, the harder part and the part I still need to work on is what are those goals.

Again, a bit gimmicky. But the heuristic of saying to yourself “I have no more f*cks to give here” is certainly memorable and helpful.  It has helped me in more than one meeting.

“Most of us struggle throughout our lives by giving too many fucks in situations where fucks do not deserve to be given. We give too many fucks about the rude gas station attendant who gave us our change in nickels. We give too many fucks when a show we liked was canceled on TV. We give too many fucks when our coworkers don’t bother asking us about our awesome weekend.”

“The idea of not giving a fuck is a simple way of reorienting our expectations for life and choosing what is important and what is not. Developing this ability leads to something I like to think of as a kind of ‘practical enlightenment.’ “

  1. Most Things Are Unimportant

Most of our lives are pretty small and unimportant in the grand scheme of things.  We would prefer not to think about this too much.  I would also add that our view of the world tends to be pretty limited and incomplete.

“All day, every day, we are flooded with the truly extraordinary. The best of the best. The worst of the worst. The greatest physical feats. The funniest jokes. The most upsetting news. The scariest threats. Nonstop. Our lives today are filled with information from the extremes of the bell curve of human experience, because in the media business that’s what gets eyeballs, and eyeballs bring dollars. That’s the bottom line. Yet the vast majority of life resides in the humdrum middle. The vast majority of life is unextraordinary, indeed quite average.”

“It’s these dynamics that plague us now. We are so materially well off, yet so psychologically tormented in so many low-level and shallow ways.”

  1. Problems & Negative Experiences = Meaning

This is a theme that I have encountered more and more in my recent reading.  And I wholeheartedly agree with the idea.  Problems are a feature, not a bug.  I stole that from somewhere.  

I really enjoy solving problems.  Even better.  I really enjoy solving problems on teams with people I respect.  This has been a good self-learning for me as I try to set some goals.

“The desire for more positive experience is itself a negative experience. And, paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience.”

“Being open with your insecurities paradoxically makes you more confident and charismatic around others. The pain of honest confrontation is what generates the greatest trust and respect in your relationships. Suffering through your fears and anxieties is what allows you to build courage and perseverance. Seriously, I could keep going, but you get the point. Everything worthwhile in life is won through surmounting the associated negative experience.”

“Problems never stop; they merely get exchanged and/or upgraded. Happiness comes from solving problems.”

“True happiness occurs only when you find the problems you enjoy having and enjoy solving.”

A few other recent book reviews:

  1. Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction
  2. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
  3. Fortune’s Formula
  4. The Hard Thing About Hard Things
  5. The Conscious Parent


Reading Time: < 1 minute

A quick thought here.

Recently, there have been a number of articles comparing the performance of those investors who left a portion of their portfolio in “safer” assets coming out of the Great Financial Crisis (GFC) versus those who took a more aggressive posture and were mostly or all in equities.  I will pick on this one:

Go To Extremes

I get it.  If you look at asset performance over the last ten years or so, the returns of U.S. equities look fantastic.  Holding anything but U.S. equities has been dilutive to portfolio performance.

Be careful though just focusing on the results of the last decade and making the leap that holding mostly U.S. equities was a good decision. Or that should be your strategy going forward.  That would be called “resulting”.

Resulting” is a poker term that refers to our habit of judging a decision based solely on the outcome it produced. – Thinking In Bets by Annie Duke

A good outcome is not necessarily the result of a good decision.  And vice versa.

Influential Reads – August 2021

Reading Time: 3 minutes

“No one values inflation protection because inflation has declined for 42 years.”  – Barrons

There are a lot of things going on right now that seem normal, because they have been going on for so long, no one remembers otherwise.  I’m not saying the market is going to crash imminently.  I am saying that it seems like most people cannot remember the last time that happened, that didn’t turn into a BTFD moment three days later.  And if the market does correct for more than three days, you will see fewer articles advising investors to be 100% in stocks.  Somebody smart once said, “But as long as the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance. We’re still dancing.” (  Oh wait, no one thinks that was a smart thing to say anymore.  At some point in the future, the risk will be an important part of risk adjusted returns again.

I added two more books to the list this month, but GoodReads is informing me that I am four books behind schedule of reaching my goal of 30 for the year.  However, GoodReads has never seen me binge read Carl Hiaasen.

Lots of articles again this month.  Maybe not a good thing.  The news is not so positive these days, so probably should spend a bit less time there.

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

  1. Get Ready for a Shift Away From U.S. Stocks – “We’ve already had 12% dollar depreciation since last April. And investors are way too exposed to the U.S. Our valuations versus every other asset class on Earth, with the exception of North Asia, are incredibly extreme, and the dollar’s overvalued.”
  2. How To Be Successful – “In a world where almost no one takes a truly long-term view, the market richly rewards those who do.”
  3. Advice to Grads: Be Warriors, Not Wokesters – “Be a highly skilled, devastatingly strong warrior who exerts their power by example and leaves their weapon in its sheath. Forgiveness is strength. Demonstrate it, every day. Be a warrior, not a wokester.”
  4. Give Your Brain Some Breathing Room – “I suggest the following compromise: check in on the news for 45 minutes, once a day, preferably in the morning.”
  5. The Most Important Number in Personal Finance – “The reason I prefer the LWR to something like income or net worth is that it controls for both the stock and the flows in your personal finances.  Your net worth is a stock (i.e. a snapshot of your accumulated wealth) while your income is a flow (i.e. a measure of how your wealth is changing through time).  They are both great, but limited.  ” Stephen here: This was an informative exercise.
  6. Howard Marks on economic growth in a ‘low return world’ – “We’re in an asset bubble. It’s everything. It’s not particular to high-yield bonds, or to bonds, or stocks. It’s real estate, it’s private equity, it’s everything. “
  7. Is valuing SaaS stocks a special form of the Petersburg Paradox? – “But the point is for individual stocks, there can be handful of stocks that can be valued at multiples so high that defies any logic, and still be able to beat the benchmark. The Petersburg Paradox is perhaps indeed the perfect description for such companies.”  Stephen here: But my guess is that most of the companies are not the companies that defy the logic.  Amazon twenty years ago. Yes. Every SaaS business out there today. No.
  8. Companies and Families Are Loading Up on Debt. It Could Be a Dangerous Trend – “What’s also surprising is that the BNPL model goes against perceptions that consumers are flush with savings, fostered by uninterrupted income for those who continued working during the pandemic and government stimulus payments to those not so fortunate, combined with the spending constraints during lockdowns.” Stephen here: There. Is. So. Much. Money. Every. Where.
  9. An Oral History of Adam Sandler, Pickup Basketball Legend – “Literally, it looked like he had them clothes since the 1990s, like literally the 1990s. “
  10. Wildfires prompt air quality alerts across the West – “If people have whole-home air-conditioning, installing high-efficiency filters and running the system can filter smoke that’s gotten inside.”

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.

Top clicks across the site:

  1. Financial Model vs. Operating Model
  2. EBITDA Is Not A Good Proxy For Cash Flow
  3. Family Mission: Solamere Loop Trail
  4. Excel Template: Football Field Chart
  5. Operating Model Tips

Updated stats through August:


Three Take-Aways: Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction

Reading Time: 2 minutes

“Superforecasters are perpetual beta.” – Superforecasting

This is meant to be more of a book report, than a review.  In particular, I want to highlight three lessons from the book, Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction by  by Philip E. Tetlock and Dan Gardner that I found impactful.  This also serves as a way for me to recall influential points in the book.

Forecasting is near and dear to my heart. Although I have evolved my view a bit over the years.  One thing is for certain in my financial forecasts.  I am wrong.  It’s just a matter of how “wrong”.  But in many cases, the most important part of forecasting is not the absolute accuracy of the forecast, it is the discipline and planning the forecasting process instills.

Three take-aways from the book:

  1. Forecasting Is Not Mystical

“Foresight isn’t a mysterious gift bestowed at birth. It is the product of particular ways of thinking, of gathering information, of updating beliefs. These habits of thought can be learned and cultivated by any intelligent, thoughtful, determined person.”

This kind of reminds me of how strategy is sometimes viewed.  Forecasting and strategy have a bit of mystical aura.  In practice though, both are bit less sexy than most folks think.  They are hard work. They are an incremental process.

If you think someone is going to hike up to the mountain top and come down with the answer, prepare to be disappointed. If someone tells you they can go to the mountain top and come down with the answer, be highly skeptical.   

  1. Forecasting As A Skill

Similarly to the first point, forecasting is a skill.  And skills require consistent practice to build and maintain.

“Superforecasting demands thinking that is open-minded, careful, curious, and—above all—self-critical. It also demands focus. The kind of thinking that produces superior judgment does not come effortlessly. Only the determined can deliver it reasonably consistently, which is why our analyses have consistently found commitment to self-improvement to be the strongest predictor of performance.”

One of the tools I use to assist in my forecasting practice is the Stagger chart – that I learned about in Andy Grove’s book, High Output Management.

  1. An Ensemble Approach

Good forecasters assimilate lots of external information.  Constantly.  And update their views accordingly.  See my incremental comment earlier.

“Now look at how foxes approach forecasting. They deploy not one analytical idea but many and seek out information not from one source but many. Then they synthesize it all into a single conclusion. In a word, they aggregate. They may be individuals working alone, but what they do is, in principle, no different from what Galton’s crowd did. They integrate perspectives and the information contained within them. The only real difference is that the process occurs within one skull.”

And asking questions is an important part of getting additional information.

“Practice “constructive confrontation,” to use the phrase of Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel. Precision questioning is one way to do that.”

And do not expect a consensus view (a major pet peeve of mine).

“A smart executive will not expect universal agreement, and will treat its appearance as a warning flag that groupthink has taken hold.”

A few other recent book reviews:

  1. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
  2. Fortune’s Formula
  3. The Hard Thing About Hard Things
  4. The Conscious Parent

The Mountain West: Not All Sunshine & Lollipops

Reading Time: 2 minutes

We have really enjoyed being out here in Park City, Utah for an extended period of time.

I have written about the path that got us here.  In short, we were here when the pandemic started and decided to shelter here for a little while. A little while turned into a while longer.  

Last year, we missed most of fire season.  There were a few days where you could tell there was something going on with particulates in the air.  Mostly eerie sunsets.

This year has been a different story.  We have seen a lot of these kinds of forecasts.

We have learned about PurpleAir.  There have been consecutive days where it has been legitimately smokey – with smoke coming over from California (i.e., the Dixie Fire).  

And we had our own fire recently.  There were evacuations and disruptions. And a lot of smoke.

VLAT Operating Over Parley’s Canyon Fire near Park City, Utah

Recent events have made us appreciate the clear days even more.  Even the locals are distressed with the situation this year.  

Fire season is something to understand if you are considering the Mountain West.

Family Mission: Teton Canyon

Reading Time: 2 minutes

We had something to take care of up in Driggs, Idaho  and decided to combine that trip with a little camping.

One of the features we like about the greater Salt Lake City metro area is its proximity to a lot of great outdoor destinations.  We joke that you are four hours from anything, but four hours from a lot of stuff.

We found a campsite at the Teton Canyon campground.  Must have been a cancellation.

The campground turned out to be ideally located for a couple things.  It is located close to Driggs and Alta, Wyoming, but far enough away to feel like camping.  It is a “primitive” campground, there are bathroom facilities and water.  But not much else.

But the main attraction appears to be that the campground is located close to a few popular trailheads that are essentially the backdoor into the Teton Crest trail system and Grand Teton National Park.

We did two hikes.

On the first day, we drove in and had a bit of a later start than hoped, but did part of the Table Mountain Loop trail.  

We did not go all the way to the summit.  Instead, we just did the loop part.  I would like to tell you that it was a time constraint.  However, that trail is no joke.  We did about 3,000 vertical feet, and there was another 1,000 to the summit.  And our elevation gain was essentially over 3 miles.

Those are the Tetons in the background.

On the second day, we did a shorter hike down the South Teton trail to just past the turn off to go up to Hurricane Pass.

We will definitely be back. We are eyeing either the hike up to Hurricane Pass and the Schoolroom Glacier or continuing on the South Teton trail into the Alaska Basin.

Check out a few prior missions:

Questions To Ask About Your Stock Options

Reading Time: 4 minutes

This is not financial advice.  Talk to a financial advisor if you need financial advice.

Congratulations!  That job offer you just received included a stock options award.  Welcome to the big time!  Or something…

The question everyone wants to know is what could those stock options be worth.  But it seems like a lot of employees are afraid to ask.   Don’t be afraid.  

I am going to assume that you understand the basics of options.  If not, there are plenty of articles covering option mechanics.  Here is one from Morningstar. There are plenty of others.

If the options are for stock in a publicly traded company, then this is probably a relatively easy question to answer.  They are probably worth $0 when issued – as the strike price will correspond to the current stock price and most of the other relevant information will be publicly available.  

However, if we are talking about a privately held company, then you need to collect some data to ascertain if those options are your path to a life of luxury or just a little extra kicker.  I am a firm believer in finding ways to accumulate wealth that has leverage, and owning part of business is certainly a good way to do this.  But, if we’re talking private companies, then generally it will take some sort of liquidation event (i.e. a sale of the company) to trigger any payout, so all that is baked into my comments below.

Fully Diluted Share Count

First, to evaluate how much those options might be worth someday, you need to understand how many shares are outstanding.  In other words, how much of the company do your options represent?  So, I personally would phrase this question as:  What is the fully diluted share count?

This matters because if a company is worth $150 million and there are 50 million shares, then every share is worth $3 dollars.  Your options would be worth:  Option Count x ($3 – Your Strike Price).

You need the total share count to help you estimate how much a share could be worth at different valuation numbers, for example.

Who Gets Their Money Before Shareholders

Second, you also need to know if anyone is going to get paid out before the shareholders.  There can be a number of mouths to feed before shareholders see any proceeds including the following:

  1. Bankers, Lawyers & Any Transaction Fees
  2. Working Capital Adjustments
  3. Debt
  4. Preferred Shares

For simple math, you can probably ignore the expenses related to bankers, lawyers, and other transaction fees.  This is not to say they are going to be small.  But we are doing horseshoes and hand grenades math here.

Same with the working capital adjustment.  This is a purchase price adjustment due to estimating how much money is going to be left in the business by the sellers vs. how much actually gets left behind.  Since the negotiations typically take place several months before the close, an estimate is used and then trued up based on actuals.  But for our purposes let’s ignore it.

Debt.  This is not to be ignored.  If you sell the aforementioned business for $150 million but there is $50 million of debt, then only $100 million is left over for shareholders.  This, as a shareholder, you care deeply about.

Preferred Shares.  This could be a topic of an entire post, but for simplicity, you should understand that there can be different “classes” of shares and each class may have different provisions.  The provisions you care most about is the preference in the proceeds waterfall.  Let’s say in the aforemention business with 50 million shares, that 25 million are Participating Preferreds that get paid out at $2 a share.  And then participate ratably with the other 25 million Common Shares.  So, take your $150 million purchase price and subtract off $50 million of debt.  Then take the remaining $100 million and pay the Participating Preferred their $2 per share ($50 million), leaving $50 million.   Then all shares, both Participating Preferreds and Common Shares, get the rest, so each share is worth $1.

So, as a Common Shareholder, you also care deeply about Preferreds.


This one is a bit subjective, but you should have some decent data points.  The strike price on your options should be a reasonable approximation of how much the company thinks the shares are worth today.  Under IRS guidelines, you should not be issuing shares under fair market value.  Now for private companies, that can be highly subjective, but at least you have a starting point. And the fair market value should take into consideration any of the considerations above.  You can take the strike and the total share count and work backwards to get a total equity value and if necessary, add back any debt, to get a total company value.   

Some companies, depending on their culture, may consider some of those data points to be confidential or at least highly sensitive.  If that is the case, then I think it would be an extremely fair request to ask if they could put together a schedule that showed the potential share price at various valuation levels.  They could bake in all the items above, without having to disclose them specifically.  

I am always a little surprised by how many employees do not ask these questions.  But , hopefully that helps you evaluate any stock option awards that you have been offered.  

I Am A Closet Active Investor

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I am a closet active investor.

This statement is partly predicated on the fact that most investing decisions, including purchasing index ETFs, contain an element of active decision making.  Unless you are 100% invested in the entire market, even the index ETF selection process involves the selection of asset classes, which is by definition, an active choice.  

As Rick Ferri, perhaps the most notable expert in the world when it comes to indexing says, “there’s no such thing as passive investing. It’s true. Passive investing in its purest form doesn’t exist. Only lesser degrees of active management exist.”  – The Myth of Passive Investing

In fact, some research suggests asset class selection is potentially the most significant driver of returns.

“More than 90% of the variability in returns for institutional portfolios had to do with the asset allocation decision.” – Four Investing Lessons From David Swensen

Also, I believe that a lot of the research on “passive investing” vs. “active investing” is based on periods of history where the aggregate level of “passive investing” was much lower than it is today.  So it will be interesting to see how those relationships hold up as the amount of “passive investing” increases to a much higher percentage in the research dataset or if that relationship changes and additional opportunities for more active selection decisions present themselves.  Further, we have had a fairly long stretch of broad gains across almost all asset classes, which seems like the perfect environment for less active decisions.  It is possible the environment will change in the future.  I may write more on all that later.

Based on my investing philosophy, I have a portion of my portfolio that is invested mostly in the equity of individual names.  The starting point is based on some of the tenets laid out in Joel Greenblatt’s book, The Little Book That Beats the Market

I have been doing this for over a decade.  And I have created a little bit longer checklist as I have attempted to enhance my investing decision making process.

So, for your enjoyment, here is my investing checklist:

This is not investment advice.  Use at your own risk.  If you do use this checklist, you will likely be publicly shamed based on your under-performance, generating excessive fees and taxes, lack of non-income producing assets in your portfolio, and knowing what EBITDA means. Other legal disclaimers.  Blah, blah, blah.