Being certain about uncertainty 

I enjoyed this insightful miniature essay by Brett Hall, the Australian physicist/philosopher/amateur quantum theorist who hosts regular conversations with Naval Ravikant, the technology entrepreneur/VC and former CEO of AngelList. I’m a believer in the concept of keeping “strong opinions, loosely held” and this mini-essay offers a few valuable observations on the importance of recognizing how knowledge—all knowledge—is conjectural.

“But consider something like Euclid’s Elements. Anyone might want to try this experiment for themselves: Take a piece of paper, take a pen, draw two dots on the piece of paper. Now, how many unique straight lines can you draw through those two dots? It should be fairly obvious to you that only one line can be drawn. However, we know that’s false. Reflect on the fact that as you’re staring at the piece of paper, through which only one straight line is being drawn, you have the feeling of certainty. You are absolutely sure that you’re not wrong. This feeling is something we should always be skeptical of. When people have been absolutely certain, even in a domain as apparently full of certainty as mathematics, they’ve been shown to be wrong. So how can we show it’s wrong? You might think that I’m cheating, but, then again, you have to reflect on whether you understood what I was saying when I first told you to draw a unique straight line through two points. Bend the piece of paper. Think in three dimensions.”


Jeff Bezos on the value of originality

In his farewell letter published this week, Jeff Bezos offers a thoughtful meditation on what it took to grow Amazon from a middling online bookseller to a company that now employs 1.3 million people—roughly the population of Dallas, Texas. The entire letter is well-worth a read, but I particularly enjoyed his closing section on the concept that “differentiation is survival… and the universe wants you to be typical.”

“We all know that distinctiveness – originality – is valuable. We are all taught to “be yourself.” What I’m really asking you to do is to embrace and be realistic about how much energy it takes to maintain that distinctiveness. The world wants you to be typical – in a thousand ways, it pulls at you. Don’t let it happen. You have to pay a price for your distinctiveness, and it’s worth it. The fairy tale version of “be yourself” is that all the pain stops as soon as you allow your distinctiveness to shine. That version is misleading. Being yourself is worth it, but don’t expect it to be easy or free. You’ll have to put energy into it continuously. The world will always try to make Amazon more typical – to bring us into equilibrium with our environment. It will take continuous effort, but we can and must be better than that.”


Poker and Investing

Since I was old enough to count five cards to a straight, I’ve been infatuated with poker—watching it, playing it, studying the theories behind it—which is probably why I so thoroughly enjoyed this Forbes profile of Jeff Yass, the CEO and founder of Susquehanna International Group, the global trading powerhouse. As the story recounts, Yass started his career not on Wall Street but at the Las Vegas poker tables—before meeting a trader who taught him how to buy a seat on the commodities exchange. Yass may have left the poker tables but the poker tables have never left Yass.

“The art and skill of the Texas hold-em is given an equal shift to trading models and options math in Susquehanna’s training of new hires. Its famous three month trader training program mixes simulated trading with poker playing; Yass and Dantchik study the hands that new hires play, looking for troubling traits like anchoring bias—the pegging of decisions to a past and irrelevant reference point—or availability bias, otherwise known as the “gambler’s fallacy.” In this fatal flaw, a trader struggles to equally weight all new information appropriately.”


Electric charges made against a big battery SPAC

Mark Twain once joked “If you want me to give you a two-hour presentation, I am ready today… If you want only a five-minute speech, it will take me two weeks to prepare.” I thought of that quote reading this week’s 188-page dissertation short seller report by Scorpion Capital, which alleges—among many things—that QuantumScape, the solid state battery manufacturer, is, well, Theranos—i.e., a fraud. I’ll keep my own opinions/research to myself on this particular subject, but there is no doubt that the EV/SPAC space generally has attracted some significant froth. Steve LeVine—one of the sharpest journalists working the battery beat these days (who has previously reported on QuantumScape)—addresses the report and his own conclusions this week in his balanced piece for The Mobilist.

“The report is a relentless, repetitive, often reckless assault that detracts from numerous valid doubts about QuantumScape: As of now, the startup hasn’t produced an actual battery, but only a cell half the size, in ampere-hours, of an Apple Watch. QuantumScape makes much of its supposedly liberal release of data, but many of its battery peers think it’s actually been pretty miserly, and that the data it has released has led to just more questions.”


A few more links I enjoyed: 

“The market for meditation products and services in the United States is valued at $1.2 billion. In 2017, by one conservative estimate, some 15 percent of American adults engaged in “mental exercise to reach a heightened level of spiritual awareness or mindfulness.” Arianna Huffington captured the pop-psych view of meditation and mindfulness in an interview during the promotional tour for Thrive, her 2014 self-help book: “The list of all the conditions that these practices impact for the better—depression, anxiety, heart disease, memory, aging, creativity—sounds like a label on snake oil from the nineteenth century,” she said. “Except this cure-all is real, and there are no toxic side effects.” Unfortunately, Huffington was wrong.”
“Last summer I moved to an area with only one serious internet option: a wireless ISP that suffers regular downtime and slow speeds, and quite expensive for what you get. Internet is critical for my remote work, so I jumped quickly when the Starlink beta was announced. I am frequently asked about what it’s like to use Starlink for home internet. There is information out there on the internet, but it’s not well organized. I thought I would write about my experience.”
“People in venture/growth like to deride Tiger, but as is the case with many things that are mocked, I think this attitude stems from misunderstanding more than anything else. What investors should be doing instead is trying to better understand Tiger’s actions/motives and the downstream effects they will have on the market.”
“If you want to change how a system works, and move the system into a new steady state that’s closer to your goal, sequential effort won’t do much. What you need is parallel effort: you need several different things to happen, all at the same time, for the system to actually move in the direction that you want and stay there. So that means you need to find all of the different people who you’ll need on your team, and somehow get them all listening to you at once, all probing and pushing on the system to change, for an extended period of time. This is harder than it sounds, for two reasons: complexity and time.”

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