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The Complete Guide to Becoming a Cyborg

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“What are those?”

I was writing in a coffeeshop, in the flow of what I was working on—getting words on the page, in the zone.

The man was pointing to my AirPods—they had come out a couple of days ago and I managed to snag some.

I explained to him how they work—I can tap on them to summon Siri or play or pause a podcast. I also told him how I wear them religiously—I don’t leave the house without them.

I’m an evangelist for few things, but AirPods—well—I will brag about these forever.

When I finished my technological sermon, he looked at me and said, “It’s a bit much, isn’t? What about just enjoying the moment?”

He walked off and I thought—

He completely missed the point.

I’m all about getting off your phone and watching the sunset. I’m all about putting down your camera at your kids play and watching the actual play (or concert, or what have you.)

But when it comes to productivity—when it comes to simplicity and offloading all the minutiae and noise in my head—I’m all about that.

I recently read an article about how we are becoming Cyborgs—getting so attached to our technology that it becomes this symbiotic relationship.

And here’s the thing—I’m all for it.

I’m Pro-Cyborg—I automate everything that is boring and that doesn’t give me life.

Save automatically.

Acorns is a great way to automate your savings. You can simply invest in what you’d like—have your purchases rounded up to the nearest dollar and that change goes right into your account. You can also set up automatic payments from any checking or savings account. If you are looking to start simply putting a little money aside or start investing slowly—this is the way to go.

Stop cleaning your house.

One of my best moves was to get a housekeeper. She comes once a month, does a deep cleaning of my little apartment and it takes the pressure off of me. I’m not a complete slob, but I work a 40 hour job and I write about 15 hours a week for this blog so something had to give.

Sometimes we have this shame of having someone else clean our house, but we don’t have shame of other people cooking our food. Give me a break. Spend a little less time out and get someone to clean. Done.

Use your smartphone in a smarter way.

My phone pings and pings. PINGS. Why? Because I put reminders for nearly everything in there. My calendar is full of “brah—don’t forget this. Now these are things that happen every year, month or week like clockwork; I just want to be ahead of it.

Here are some examples:

  • Renewing your drivers license and stickers.
  • Insurance payments.
  • Rent.
  • Other bills (phone, renters insurance, etc.)

You don’t have to speak them; you can simply type them into your phone. My trick is when I have to pay rent or some annual payment comes up, it reminds me to put in a reminder to be reminder. Welcome to reminder inception.

I also look for stuff that’s bugging me. Maybe I’m waiting to hear back from an interview, but I won’t hear back until Thursday. You think my brain is going to put me at peace until Thursday? NOPE.

So I put in a reminder: “Worry about the interview on Thursday.” The minute my brain knows I have a reminder, the anxiety stops. Instantly.

Now if you are looking for next level stuff. . .

Autopay your life.

First, direct deposit your check, but I shouldn’t have to tell you that. C’mon. Check the calendar. Second, have your bills on autopay. I get it; some of us are not financially savvy, but having all of my bills go to autopay has been a dream come true. I know two payments I have to make: car and rent. Every month.

So I have half of my car payment and rent come out of my pay check each month. I get paid twice a month so at the end of the month, boom, my bank sends a check to another bank for my car payment and my landlord. Everything else come to me. (I plan on having my insurance and all of that paid automatically as well.) Now I know I won’t get my car repo-ed or be homeless. Success!

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Regulate your emotions.

I thought this mindfulness craze was a bunch of malarky to be honest. Mindfulness? Come on. It wasn’t until I started using 10% Happier, a great app to practice mediation. I’ve done it for 30 days in a row and found myself to be calmer and have more clarity. It times your meditations and I’ve found it to be great for 10-15 minutes of serenity.

Offload the mental clutter.

If you’ve been on this blog for ten minutes, you know how much I love Evernote. Use it. Get to it. Put all the things in there that you have to keep track of. Here’s an article for more information; love me some Evernote.

End the life of shopping.

I’m not going to go into a rant about how we buy too much stuff. I’m not that guy (today), but I loathe and hear me sisters and brothers, loathe, going into Target or Walmart. The crowds—the lines—you gotta be kidding me. It’s such a time sink that I can’t handle it. So what do I do, I order online all of the time—then I pick that stuff up. I pop in—show some ID—and I’m out of there. I’m not sucked into sales or the dollar section. I’m not going to impulse buy.

Have an everyday carry.

I have certain objects I carry with me regardless of where I go: wallet, AirPods, phone, Field Notes notebook, pencil. End of list. This way I can capture thoughts and listen to podcasts or music wherever I go. I’m not putting in my brain to hold on to—I have to write it down. When I get home, I offload all of it right inside my place. I throw everything on a charger if need be.

If you repeat any action, write it down.

If you have a system, but you keep it in your head, that’s an issue and a cause for failure. You’re inviting chaos into the system. A misstep. Create a checklist. Something you refer to. Travel often? Make a list of bleeping everything you have to bring. Whether it’s shopping, posting a blog or practicing guitar—make a checklist.

Being a cyborg is about moving the mundane into the world of the automatic. You don’t have to spend time worrying about if that bill got paid or if you have enough money in your account for rent. You can offload the boring tasks to spend more time on the exciting and worthwhile tasks and even your loved ones.

Know someone who needs to become a cyborg as well, so we can have a cyborg army? Slap the share buttons on the left hand side!

The post The Complete Guide to Becoming a Cyborg appeared first on The ADHD NERD.

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97 days ago
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This thing makes a really good cup of coffee fast. It’s well made, compact, and clean up is easy.

The AeroPress is 2.5 inch diameter syringe with a paper micro filter mounted across the bottom. It sits on top of a common coffee mug for brewing. You put in fine ground coffee measured with the included scoop. The scoop is about 1.5 times bigger than the ones you might get with regular a drip coffee maker. You put in hot water at the recommended 175 degrees which is cooler than other methods. You stir for 10 seconds and push the plunger in. Compressed air pushes the coffee out in 10 – 20 seconds. What you have in the cup is concentrated coffee. If you dilute it about 50/50 with hot water you get the strength of a regular cup of good coffee. It tastes great!

I have a French press, a vacuum brewer, various kinds of drip brewers, a good espresso machine, and I roast my own coffee. Since I got my AeroPress two months ago I favor it for all my coffee except espresso. It’s not fair to call the AeroPress concentrate espresso as the manufacture does but that’s a minor point.

[This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2006]

Available from Sweet Maria's

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100 days ago
Best coffee brewing method, hands down.

Exercise Blog Series, Part 1: Exercising Your Way to a Good Night’s Sleep

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Series By: Zachary Zenko & Jamie Foehl

Exercise has been called a “polypill” (3) because of its plethora of benefits. This will be the first in a series of blog posts designed to review some of the many benefits of exercise in an accessible manner. This first post is about exercise and sleep. Upcoming posts will be about exercise and depression, anxiety, addiction, pain, and fatigue. Some academic research will be reviewed, synthesized, and summarized so that people without a background in research methods and statistics can appreciate the findings. The evidence in these posts is by no means comprehensive. Instead, only a glimpse at the available evidence is shared.

Exercising Your Way to a Good Night’s Sleep

Sleep is a wonderful activity that we all enjoy, yet few of us seem to get enough sleep each night. Even when we’re tucked in and turn off the lights, things like daily stresses, life’s concerns, and our phones are competing for our limited sleep time. And then there’s snoring. Almost half of us do it! On average, it takes about twenty minutes to fall asleep. More than one out of four adults in the USA feel unrested and do not get enough sleep(6). Thankfully there is something we can all do that is expected to result in better sleep: Get more physical activity.

What follows is a review of some of the academic research around exercise and sleep. The evidence in this post is by no means comprehensive. Rather, it’s a glimpse into the available evidence, most of which points in the direction of showing that you just might be able to exercise your way to a good night’s sleep.

So, how much sleep is enough sleep, anyway?

Buxton and Marcelli (2) analyzed national data and found that sleeping too little (less than seven hours per night) and sleeping too much (more than eight hours a night) is associated with a variety of health issues, such as diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease (this was after controlling for variables such as age, ethnicity, education and family environment).

We cannot be sure if insufficient or excess sleep came before or after health issues. In other words, we do not know if those sleep issues were caused by insufficient or excessive sleep, or if they caused insufficient or excessive sleep. Still, this research had several strengths worth noticing, including the very large, nationally representative sample.

OK, so what about exercise and sleep?

Several researchers have investigated the link between exercise and sleep. In one survey, researchers found that morning exercise is associated with better sleep quality (1). Again, however, these data do not allow us to conclude that exercise causes better sleep. It may be possible that people with better sleep quality are able to exercise more, for example. A true-experimental design or randomized controlled trial would allow researchers to conclude that exercise caused better sleep.

Fortunately, there are randomized controlled trials (RCTs) involving adults with sleep problems (the fortunate part is the RCT, not the sleep problem!). A systematic review of six RCTs from 2012 (7) concluded that exercise leads to moderate improvements in sleep quality and sleep latency. In other words, its takes less time for exercisers to fall asleep and they report better sleep.

King and colleagues (5) performed one of the studies in the review. The authors studied older adults (in this case, older is 55+) who were not meeting the minimum recommended amounts of physical activity and had sleep complaints. Participants in the exercise group were asked to attend two exercise classes per week and exercise on their own on three additional days per week. Participants were asked to exercise for at least 30 minutes on their own, and the exercise classes included 35-45 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise. Participants in the health education control group were asked to attend weekly educational sessions that were 90 minutes each. After 12 months, people in the exercise group spent more time in stage two sleep (deeper sleep) and less time in stage one sleep. Exercisers had fewer sleep disturbances, felt more rested, and reported falling asleep faster.

Because sleep is something we all do, it might be tempting for people to think we understand a lot about sleep. We have theories about sleep based on our own experience. For example, some people contend that exercising too close to bedtime can interfere with sleep. However, research suggests that this is not the case (1) and that exercising before bedtime might actually improve sleep in people who already sleep well (4).

Taken together, the evidence suggests that physical activity can help us get to sleep faster and feel more rested, particularly if we’re having sleep problems in the first place (which many of us are). We’re not talking about a marathon before bedtime but rather thirty minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity – like a brisk walk around the neighborhood, or housework. Choose an activity that you enjoy. Before you count sheep, give it a try. If nothing else, you’ll wake up in a tidier house and you’ll be heathier in other ways.


  1. Buman MP, Phillips BA, Youngstedt SD, Kline CE, Hirshkowitz M. Does nighttime exercise really disturb sleep? Results from the 2013 National Sleep Foundation Sleep in America Poll. Sleep Med 2014;15(7):755–61.
  2. Buxton OM, Marcelli E. Short and long sleep are positively associated with obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease among adults in the United States. Soc Sci Med 2010;71(5):1027–36.
  3. Fiuza-Luces C, Garatachea N, Berger NA, Lucia A. Exercise is the real polypill. Physiology 2013;28(5):330–58.
  4. Flausino NH, Da Silva Prado JM, de Queiroz SS, Tufik S, de Mello MT. Physical exercise performed before bedtime improves the sleep pattern of healthy young good sleepers. Psychophysiology 2012;49(2):186–92.
  5. King AC, Pruitt LA, Woo S, et al. Effects of moderate-intensity exercise on polysomnographic and subjective sleep quality in older adults with mild to moderate sleep complaints. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 2008;63(9):997–1004.
  6. Ram S, Seirawan H, Kumar SKS, Clark GT. Prevalence and impact of sleep disorders and sleep habits in the United States. Sleep Breath 2010;14(1):63–70.
  7. Yang P-Y, Ho K-H, Chen H-C, Chien M-Y. Exercise training improves sleep quality in middle-aged and older adults with sleep problems: A systematic review. J Physiother 2012;58(3):157–63.

Zachary Zenko is a postdoctoral associate at the Center for Advanced Hindsight. He has a PhD in Kinesiology from Iowa State University and a background in exercise science with research focuses in exercise psychology. Broadly, his research is aimed at promoting physical activity and exercise behavior by creating positive associations with exercise, making exercise experiences more pleasant, and using behavioral economics. He is also interested in the psychological predictors and consequences of exercise. Zachary can be reached at zachary.zenko@duke.edu and @zackzenko on Twitter.

Jamie Foehl is a Senior Applied Researcher at the Center for Advanced Hindsight. Jamie can be reached at Jamie.foehl@duke.edu and @jamiefoehl on Twitter.


The post Exercise Blog Series, Part 1: Exercising Your Way to a Good Night’s Sleep appeared first on Center for Advanced Hindsight.

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500 days ago
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There Are No Guarantees

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mydoorYou know what I have come to realize is almost always ridiculous? Contracts.

Contracts, paperwork, and bureaucracy. Guarantees, warranties, and excessive caution in an attempt to ensure a trouble-free future. Not all of it is bullshit, but the older I get, the more I realize that a surprising portion of it is.

I mean sure, if I’m Tesla and you are Panasonic, and we’re partnering to build the world’s largest structure and produce the majority of the world’s energy storage products, and we each have thousands of employees involved in the process, we can write up a contract and sign it.

But if I invite you over to my house for one of our customary Sunset Beers in the Park events tonight, how appropriate would it be for me to send along a little PDF contract with five places for you to sign?

I, Jane Mustachian, agree to arrive at the Mustache residence between 5 and 6PM, and consume between 1 and 5 servings of beer and/or wine, over a period not to exceed six (6) hours, to convey myself to and from the event using only muscle-powered transportation… blah blah any food served may or may not contain nuts or gluten… agree to not to hold Mustache family liable for any injuries..  and so on.

You’d think I was crazy, and find another place to have your beer tonight.

We understand this at the social level, and even at the small business level, if we feel a high level of trust. But as soon as we lose our trust and get overly fearful, we start breaking out the lawyers and the contracts and the stifling formality.

It is at this point, I argue, that life starts to suck.

It’s also the point at which a company starts to suck – that moment when it loses its soul and its freewheeling joy, and starts pushing for profits above ethics, and the lower level employees are not empowered to do what they know is right because their boss would have to ask the next level boss and the request would die before it reached someone with enough authority.

This is also the point at which I try to avoid doing business with a company if at all practical, and find a smaller one who could use a new customer.

And therefore I think we can make our lives better if we raise that threshold of fear a little bit, and start running our businesses and our lives as if we were big boys and girls.

Here’s another story which illustrates this point:

On the “contact” section of this website, I have a little note that says people should not email me with requests for marketing partnerships, TV shows, book publishing, etc. Through experience I learned that those activities not nearly as fun as they sound.

But one guy snuck through the gates – “Hey man, I work for a big company but don’t worry, I’m cool – I just have some ideas for a TV show about Mustachian lifestyles and wondered if you want to talk about them.”

So we talked on the phone, and he was indeed cool. It was a nice concept and a respectable company and they had done other successful stuff. So I said I might help out with the project occasionally, as time permitted.

Suddenly, a completely unrelated person from their legal department started emailing me contracts and agreements and such – pages of them! The contracts contained obligations, promises, and bullshit galore.

And here I was just naively thinking I’d have a beer with this creative writer and laugh about some ideas for a TV show. We had already agreed on the phone, that if the project ever ceased to be completely fun – for either of us – then we’d just drop it. Retirement is is too short to engage in non-fun projects, because there is already an enormous queue of extremely fun projects that I haven’t even had time to start yet!

So I told the lawyers thanks, but I wasn’t interested in contracts. But I’d still be happy to help out just as I had originally offered.

And I never heard from anyone at the company, or the creative guy, ever again.

I felt like I had been stood up – the whole thing had been a small waste of time. But I was grateful that I hadn’t actually dug in on a big project with an organization that works this way – for that would have been a much bigger waste of time.

Let’s contrast this with a a few other business arrangements.

Figure 1 - Camp Mustache

Figure 1 – Camp Mustache

I have fixed up plenty of houses with local friends, with many thousands of dollars at stake. Sometimes even lives or limbs, as we scrambled around like monkeys to cut down tall dead trees.  No contracts, just plenty of dirt, scrapes, laughs and good times – and profits, too.

I’ve done several interviews and trips with Jesse Mecham, founder of You Need a Budget. Significant value accrued to both of our businesses from these collaborations as thousands of YNAB customers became Mustachians and vice versa, and yet somehow it never occurred to us to make up a contract.

Next month I’m traveling to Portland – first to visit Treehouse founder Ryan Carson and do some social stuff that might also have promotional value for his business. Maybe record a video and a podcast, and even host a gathering of Mustachians right in the courtyard of their central Portland building. With beer!

No contracts, of course.

Then on to Seattle to attend Camp Mustache – something that is now a popular recurring event. Although there are tens of thousands of dollars involved in putting it on, it’s an informal not-for-profit arrangement and the organizers and I have never signed a contract.

But What if the Other Person Breaks their Promise and I Get Screwed?

You may think I’m painting an unrealistically rosy picture here. Not everything always turns out for the better, right? Business partners sometimes turn evil, tenants stop paying rent, girlfriends or boyfriends dump you, products break,  stock markets crash, bones break, and fatal diseases strike your loved ones.

I agree – life has been known to serve up the odd Platter of Shit from time to time. Every one of those things above has happened to me. And yet in zero of the cases could I have protected myself with a contract or warranty and come out ahead.

I’ve been to court a few times. In some cases, I was the landlord and the tenant wasn’t paying rent even though we had a contract. The judge ordered the tenant to pay. The tenant, who had long since left town, didn’t even know there had been a court case. And yet life went on, and the inconvenience was soon forgotten.

I retired early, invested too much in a house building business, then lost a bunch of money in the ensuing great financial and housing crisis. No contract could have protected me from these market realities, and yet somehow I survived again and life continued to get even better.

I’ve had products malfunction while under warranty, and in most cases the warranty department was so clumsy and incompetent (ahem, Samsung, Nissan) that I just gave up and fixed the product myself.

The point is that in almost all life decisions, the stakes are actually very low. Here in the rich world, the majority of our catastrophes have the following consequences:

  • You might feel “inconvenienced” and experience a frowning face for a short period of time.
  • Some numbers stored in a computer, which represent your wealth, might temporarily decrease.
  • You might have to move your body around – and possibly even experience mild heat, cold, or muscular exertion.
  • You might have to speak some words into a telephone or press some buttons on a computer keyboard resolve it.
  • In more extreme situations, you might even have to speak to one or more humans in person.

Are these consequences really worth worrying about – or potentially even missing out on the chance to do something great?

What does This Have to do with Early Retirement?

Every week, I get at least a few emails from people who have more than put in their time. People in their late 30s and beyond who have worked multi-decade careers, paid off the house, given their kids a good start in life, stashed seven figures into retirement accounts, and long since grown bored of the big-company life.

But they are still working one more year, to add that last bit of safety margin padding, fill up that last college fund for the last kid, max out that health savings account just in case. Some of them have more savings than my family has even now, even though we’ve been retired (and continuing to accumulate wealth) for more than ten years.

And they’re still afraid to retire.

You Become Free Only when you Acknowledge That You Cannot Control Life

You can’t control the random bits of misfortune which may strike you. You can only control your responses.

If you are following the Principles of Mustachianism, you’ve already taken all the preventative work that you need to take: optimizing your habits to maintain a healthy body, mind, and bank account.

These are not a formal insurance policy, because formal insurance is nonsense.

They are a statistical prevention policy, a way of tilting the odds in our favor. And even more important, a response policy – a recipe that ensures that even when shit does hit the fan, you can clean it up, resume your prosperous life, and learn something in the process.

The lesson? Instead of working endlessly to build a glass shield around yourself, start enjoying life right now and just keep a mop handy.


Further Reading: In his joyful short book “Anything you Want” on founding a really successful business, Derek Sivers argues the same thing about contracts – just skip them if you can possibly do so, because people will either keep their word, or they won’t. If you bring it to court, everybody loses, and all a contract does is give you something to show in court.

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500 days ago
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Are all "Graham" stocks junk?

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Have you ever walked down the street and inadvertently stepped on a piece of gum?  It's annoying.  A piece of previously enjoyed food carelessly discarded on the ground and is now stuck to your shoe.  In many ways investing in the mold of Benjamin Graham is like a sticky piece of gum on the street for most investors.  It's an idea that had merit seventy or eighty years ago, but is old fashioned and is now stuck to everyone's shoes.  Most value investors have spent a considerable amounts of time metaphorically scraping Graham's ideas from their shoes.  But amazingly there are still a few still chewing on that old gum and enjoying it, why?

The common sentiment is that Graham-esque stocks, that is stocks that trade at low valuation multiples such as a stock trading at10x earnings and 75% of book are junk and a waste of time to research.  The implicit assumption in all of this is that the market is somewhat efficient and if a business trades for a poor multiple it must have some problem that makes it deserving of the low multiple.

A company might be deserving of a low multiple because there is fraud, or they retain a management team that has decided to loot the coffers.  Although ironically fraudulent companies often earn praise and high multiples from the market until the day they fail, a la Valeant.

The stereotype of a value stock is a company producing shag carpeting run by managers wearing polyester suits with elbow pads who are wondering why sales are declining.  This can be the case sometimes, but it's more of an outlier than the norm.

I think the greater problem with Graham type stocks is they are in unattractive industries, and investors don't like to be out of step with the market.  I ran a screen for stocks trading below 75% of book value and for less than 10x earnings.  The resulting small list contained some sketchy biotech companies, a number of even sketchier Russian mining companies, as well as a few other resource and industrial companies.

These companies with depressed valuations don't appear in anyone's quarterly shareholder letter, and they aren't on WhaleWisdom.  In a perverse sense the increased socialization and ability to network with other investors via the Internet has made this problem worse.  I've heard of investors who search Twitter, Seeking Alpha and hedge fund letters for ideas.  If an idea isn't "approved" by someone well known in one of these circles it must not be worth researching.  The idea is that these high profile managers or prolific Internet posters spend all of their time reading and scouring nooks and crannies for stocks.  So they must have looked at everything already, and if they didn't buy it then it isn't worth buying.

Just because a name doesn't appear on Twitter, or in hedge fund letters, or on Seeking Alpha doesn't mean it's a bad idea, or it's not worth researching.  There are still plenty of areas that are inefficient, and stocks that are out of favor is the biggest area.

People like to be liked.  It's easy to be liked when you're doing the same thing as everyone else.  This is true for all aspects of life.  In sports-crazed cities it's difficult to cheer for an out of town team.  Groups of friends all have similar interests and views.  Political parties change direction often, but party followers keep toting the line.  The market is just a group of people too, and the market collectively likes things like any other group.  These likes and interests are echoed on TV, in letters, and in public speeches about investing.

Currently the market likes artificial intelligence, self-driving cars, automation, mail-order catalogs presented as websites (what is old is new again..Amazon the new Sears?), companies with high ROE's regardless of how they're generated, compounders and moats.  This wasn't always the case, at periods in the past the market's interests were different, and they'll change again in the future.  Yesterday's Nifty Fifty is today's IBM with investors running for the exists.

In large the market points in the correct general direction.  In the 1990s it pointed towards the Internet becoming a thing, it did become a thing.  In the 2000s it pointed towards financialization, which is still a thing.  The finer details aren't always correct, but the general direction usually is.

If a company isn't part of the cool kids club they might be able to float alongside for a while.  Maybe they'll toss a few keywords in their proxy about automation and technology innovation.  Or maybe their high ROE is good enough for a while.  But eventually those wannabes fall by the wayside.  Sentiment shifts and somehow a wannabe becomes a left behinder.  For years resource companies were the cool kids, now suddenly no one will touch them.  Airlines spent a long time in the ditch, but now they're suddenly cool again.  This is the popularity cycle at work.

One of the foundational concepts that Benjamin Graham taught was that there can be value where others don't believe it exists.  What he didn't say was "buy everything no one else likes."  He said to go poke where others aren't poking, because sometimes the baby is thrown out with the bathwater.

It's in these pools of dirty bathwater that deep value investors go searching for babies.  While the pool might be dirty the discovered baby isn't.  To beat an analogy to death.. the babies we're finding are cute and innocent, unsure of why they're laying on the street out the window in a puddle of bad water.

This is the essence of value investing.  Looking where others aren't looking, but sifting the bad from the good.  The idea is to find companies that have been marked by the market as bad that aren't.  Since these companies aren't bad like the market suggests, their goodness will eventually shine through for investors to notice.  When this happens their price will appreciate to be in line with other similar companies, not the mis-matched peers they were previously trading with.

Like everything in life investing is a popularity contest, and Graham style investing is not popular at the moment, just like the types of stocks it uncovers.  This doesn't mean the strategy isn't profitable.  It's actually the opposite, excess returns are found outside of the main stream of popularity.  I'd wager that a set of randomly selected set of companies trading at low P/B and low P/E ratios will outperform the FANG stocks, or Tesla over the next three to five years.  But this isn't a popular notion, and no one wants to be caught writing about a no-name value stock in their quarterly letter.  And that's why this opportunity exists.
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500 days ago
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Living At Pokemon Go Speeds

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This sounds like it’s about it’s a game, but it’s not.  It’s about the way the game exposes a phenomena.  So even if you don’t give a crap about Pikachu, please do me a favor and listen.

Anyway: Pokemon Go was released last Wednesday.

I heard about it on Thursday, when pictures of Pikachu sitting in people’s back yards flooded into Twitter.

By Saturday I’d downloaded it and captured Pokemon around downtown Cleveland.  We gave a few folks knowing nods, already recognizing the “Pokemon Go hand position” that you hold your cell phone to play.

By Sunday Pokemon Go was making headlines.

By Monday, we went out and found at least eight other people playing Pokemon in our sleepy little burg, and we talked brightly to each other.  Wasn’t this weird?  It was weird.  But cool!  We had so much in common!

By Tuesday morning, I heard about clever business people who’d attached lures to the Pokestops in front of their stores, which drew customers.  By Tuesday evening, my friend Eric told me he was researching whether he could place Lures at his conventions.

By Wednesday, we went down to the mall and Pokemon Go was no longer an unusual activity.  Everyone was there to play Pokemon Go – the people who didn’t have their phones out and the by-now-mandatory recharge cord sticking out of their pocket were the exception.  And the friendly nods of Monday had been replaced by shrugs, because this was no longer cool or interesting, it was just what we did.  

Now check that out: Seven days, and we’d gone from “Never heard of it” to “Everyone is doing it.”  But it got worse.

By Thursday, we expected all the business Pokestops to have lures.  That was just standard practice.  Hillary Clinton was already making Pokemon Go jokes in that hesitating way the elderly discuss “the Facebook.”

By Friday morning, my feed was clogged with Pokemon Go thinkpieces asking, “Haven’t we had enough Pokemon Go?”

Nine days, and we had crested a complete wave from “This thing has never existed” to “This thing is so big that Presidential candidates feel the urge to reference it” to significant chunks of the population saying “God, this is played.”

I have a friend who’s in the hospital right now; she had a brain bleed last Thursday night, went into the hospital on Friday.  She’s okay, thankfully, but I can’t stop thinking that this is some parody version of Rick Grimes waking up in his hospital on The Walking Dead – arising from her coma to go, “Wait, when did Pokemon Go become just something that people did?”

And ya know, if you’re in the hospital for brain problems, waking to find everyone casually doing something you didn’t remember last week has to be a little worrisome.

When I grew up – which was, admittedly, in the dinosaur days before the Internet – nationwide crazes took months to catch on.  Star Wars was as big as it gets, but it had a premiere in May of 1977 – a well-attended premiere – but then word of mouth moved slowly in those days, as did theaters.  Star Wars, like every nation-changing phenomenon, was a glacial juggernaut, because movies often stayed in theaters for three to six months at a time with filled houses, drawing in people who’d never see it via Bittorrent or DVD or HBO.

I try to imagine the new Ghostbusters still drawing crowds to theaters in November, and it’s never going to happen. Even if it’s the best movie ever, people rush out to see them quickly and then they fade.  There’s a speed that gets us out there.

We’ve sped up.  Which is fine for entertainment.  Hey, Pokemon Go speeds are fine for videogames and movies and phone-booth-stuffing and whatever other trivial things we feel like whipping out.

But then we expect everyone to live at Pokemon Go speeds, and that’s pretty much inhuman.

I’ve seen major chains get yelled at because some store of theirs out in Futtbuck, Montana did something  intensely sexist/racist/otherwise stupid, and it’s gotten 50,000 Tumblr reshares, and why hasn’t this business done anything about this by now, don’t they care?

And I’m like, “That Tumblr post was posted nine hours ago.  At eleven o’clock at night.  When people were fucking sleeping.  And the people of this company got to their offices, logged into email, started to see something they were just aware of, and now they have to verify this awful thing isn’t some Photoshopped hoax, and get the regional manager out there to interview to see who did what and when, verify who’s responsible, and discuss a legally-correct punitive measure that’s not going to get them sued.”

Not everything acts on Pokemon Go time, and expecting that speed leads to you buying into lies.  Because a news that operates at Pokemon Go speed is a news that’s cribbing from whatever source it can get, and that leads to manipulation and horrendous smears that everyone knows, and believes.

Like, you know, the former Prime Minister of Britain, David Cameron.  If Americans know him, it’s because he’s the guy who fucked a pig.  The story broke a few months ago: he was in a frat initiation, and he put his cock in a dead pig’s mouth, and ever since then there’s been a rampant stream of jokes about “This little piggy went to market” and “YOU FUCKED A PIG THE WAY YOU FUCKED BRITAIN WITH BREXIT” and so forth.

Except that never happened.  To quote this story:

Then, after a full day of online merriment, something shocking happened. Isabel Oakeshott, the Daily Mail journalist who had co-written the biographywith Lord Ashcroft, a billionaire businessman, went on TV and admitted that she did not know whether her huge, scandalous scoop was even true. Pressed to provide evidence for the sensational claim, Oakeshott admitted she had none.

“We couldn’t get to the bottom of that source’s allegations,” she saidon Channel 4 News. “So we merely reported the account that the source gave us … We don’t say whether we believe it to be true.” In other words, there was no evidence that the prime minister of the United Kingdom had once “inserted a private part of his anatomy” into the mouth of a dead pig – a story reported in dozens of newspapers and repeated in millions of tweets and Facebook updates, which many people presumably still believe to be true today.

Oakeshott went even further to absolve herself of any journalistic responsibility: “It’s up to other people to decide whether they give it any credibility or not,” she concluded. This was not, of course, the first time that outlandish claims were published on the basis of flimsy evidence, but this was an unusually brazen defence. It seemed that journalists were no longer required to believe their own stories to be true, nor, apparently, did they need to provide evidence. Instead it was up to the reader – who does not even know the identity of the source – to make up their own mind. But based on what? Gut instinct, intuition, mood?

In other words, she took an unsourced allegation, gave it to the Internet, and the Internet moved at Pokemon Go speed.  Was it true?  We didn’t have time to investigate, or fact-check; someone said it was true, and so we went with it.

Hell, I said it was true.  Why?  Because newspapers were reporting it.  I assumed, foolishly, that newspapers wouldn’t report something that was false – but I forgot how Pokemon Go speed is warping business models.

Because if everyone else on the Internet is saying something and you, the news source, are not confirming or denying it until you’ve determined whether it’s true, then you’re missing out on the precious clicks that fuel your coffers.  So you compromise.  You post a piece saying that “Everyone’s saying” this, the lie that Donald Trump slithers by on, and don’t bother to say in big letters that THIS IS UNCONFIRMED because the story is not whether he actually fucked a pig, the story is the allegations of him fucking a pig, but for some strange and ephemeral reason the words fucking a pig are the ones that stick in people’s minds.

If the truth comes out later, well, the fact that someone didn’t fuck a pig is way less interesting, so that never grabs people.

And we have rushed, with great speed, to a false conclusion, and never looked back.

The problem is that speed – or, rather, the assumption that this speed is necessary.  When Nice was bombed last night, we had thousands of folks on Twitter demanding to know what was happening by the minute, making crazy predictions about who did this before the last dying heart had stopped beating, everyone grabbing their hoary old stories of why these terrorists had attacked and tacking on their preferred narrative before a single fact could enter.

And I repeat: Pokemon Go speeds are fun.  It was super-fun to go down to the mall and find a group of people doing something unique in human history.  It’s fun to watch this story spread, and mutate, and see all the weird things Augmented Reality encourages humans to do when it’s mashed with actual, you know, reality.

But actual news cannot, and should not, move at Pokemon Go speed.  Sometimes good investigations take months of careful digging to get out the facts, cultivating news sources, discarding false leads, determining the story is bigger than this immediate scoop – the movie Spotlight has an excellent analysis of why a big story may not break at Pokemon Go speeds.

And I understand that news agencies can’t not report, because ultimately their primary goal is report what people want to hear, not what people need to hear – otherwise, they go broke, for all their lofty aspirations to responsibility – but I wish that news sources would draw a distinction.  To say “This is Pokemon Go-sped news, you should probably take it with about 80% skepticism, we’re going to deliver the real news in a week when we’ve had the chance to interview people, so chomp down on these news Cheetos until we can deliver you the rich, nutritious meal you deserve.”  And they’d repeat that every fifteen minutes, and put it at a big block at the top of every Pokemon Go-sped news page.

But they won’t.  Why?  Because you want your news at Pokemon Go speeds, just like you want your justice delivered at Pokemon Go speeds, just like you want your outrage delivered at Pokemon Go speeds.

And what I am suggesting – no, actually, I’m telling you – is that as long as you’re demanding people act at Pokemon Go speeds, you’re also demanding they rush to unwise conclusions based on sketchy facts perpetrated by unknown sources.

Slow down.

Wait a little.

Stop thinking you should get everything at convenience speed.

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771 days ago
This is not actually about Pokemon Go.
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