Monthly Archives: April 2016

Self-driving vehicles

follow the leaderSelf-driving vehicles are already here. Now they’re expensive but the technology will be in cheaper cars soon and then in all cars not long after.

But what about motorcycles? Generally, in affluent societies, motorcyclists seem to be an independent lot. Why would someone buy a self-driving motorcycle? The thrill would be gone but you’d be wet when it rained and have bugs in your teeth when you smiled.

Motorcycles can be dangerous. That’s part of their appeal. Why do you think bikers hate helmet laws?

So what happens when motorcycle riding gets so safe you won’t even need to wear a helmet?

Don’t worry

anxietySometimes, you have to be willing to play the long game, and to possibly be misunderstood for long periods of time. A  prerequisite to inventing or creating art is having the willingness to fail and hang in there.

In any sort of a mental or physical quest it’s an enormous advantage to have opponents who quit easily or who’ve found it useless to even try. So don’t give up your day job and don’t worry too much. It’s never too late to achieve your dream – consider the path of these people you know:

At 23, Tina Fey was working at a YMCA.

At 23, Oprah was fired from her first reporting job.

At 24, Stephen King was working as a janitor and living in a trailer.

At 27, Vincent Van Gogh failed as a missionary and decided to go to art school.

At 28, J.K. Rowling was a suicidal single parent living on welfare.

At 28, Wayne Coyne ( from The Flaming Lips) was a fry cook.

At 30, Harrison Ford was a carpenter.

At  30, Martha Stewart was a stockbroker.

At 37, Ang Lee was a stay-at-home-dad working odd jobs.

At 39, Julia Child released her first cookbook, and got her own cooking show at age 51.

At 40, Vera Wang designed her first dress.

At 40, Stan Lee released his first big comic book.

At 43, Alan Rickman gave up his graphic design career to pursue acting.

At 46, Samuel L. Jackson got his first movie role.

At 52, Morgan Freeman landed his first movie.

At 57, Kathryn Bigelow reached international success with The Hurt Locker.

At 76, Grandma Moses started painting.

Louis CK said, “I definitely have huge benefits to how well I’m doing, but you do find yourself missing the climb. It’s a little like Mount Everest. When you summit, you spend about 20 minutes up there, and you do a little dance. But if the 20-minute dance was really it, would you really risk your life for the amount of work it takes to get up and down? So every time I feel like I’ve found a clearing, I try to find something else that I don’t know how to do yet. That’s just much more interesting to me.”

The next leap forward?

don't believe everything you thinkIs this how disruption on a vast scale starts? I’ve condensed a long article by Kevin Kelly in Wired magazine that’s about a small tech company in Florida that has people talking. And lots of those talking about it are putting their money where their mouths are. It might be the next leap forward since the internet. If the internet is how we access information, then the new forms of virtual reality will be how we experience information.
Amid low gray cubicles in a generic office in a suburb near Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a drone from an alien planet hovers in front of me. It’s steampunk-cute and minutely detailed. I can walk around it and examine it from any angle, and bring my face to within inches of it to inspect its tiny details, like the swirls where the metal was “milled.” Reaching out, I can move it around. When I step back to view it from afar, it looks as real as the lamps and computer monitors around it. 
But the little drone isn’t real. I’m seeing all this through a synthetic-reality headset. Intellectually, I know the drone is an elaborate simulation, but as far as my eyes are concerned it’s really there in that ordinary office. It’s a virtual object, but there’s no evidence of pixels or digital artifacts in its three-dimensional fullness. If I reposition my head, I can get line up the virtual drone in front of an office lamp and perceive that it’s faintly transparent, but that hint does not impede the strong sense that it’s present.
With this prototype headset, created by the  ultrasecretive company called Magic Leap, this alien drone and its reality is stronger than I thought possible. Virtual reality overlaid on the real world in this manner is called mixed reality, or MR. The goggles are semitransparent, allowing you to see your actual surroundings. MR is more difficult to achieve than the classic fully immersive virtual reality, or VR, where all you see are synthetic images. In many ways MR is the more powerful of the two technologies.
Magic Leap is not the only company creating mixed-reality technology, but right now the quality of its virtual visions exceeds all others. So, the money is pouring into this Florida office park. Google was one of the first to invest. To date, investors have funneled $1.4 billion into it.
Aside from potential investors and advisers, few people have been allowed to see the gear in action, and the combination of funding and mystery has fueled rampant curiosity. But to really understand what’s happening at Magic Leap, you need to also understand the tidal wave surging through the entire tech industry. All the major players—Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Sony, Samsung—have whole groups dedicated to artificial reality. 
Our lives and work now run on the “internet of information.” But artificial reality is an “internet of experiences.” What you share in VR or MR gear is an experience. The recurring discovery I made in each virtual world I entered was that although every one of these environments was fake, the experiences I had in them were genuine. Even if you’ve never tried virtual reality, you probably possess a vivid expectation of what it will be like. It’s the Matrix, a reality of so convincing that you can’t tell if it’s fake.
VR does two important things: One, it generates an intense and convincing sense of what is generally called “presence.” Virtual landscapes, virtual objects, and virtual characters seem to be there—a perception that is not so much a visual illusion as a gut feeling. That’s magical. But the second thing it does is more important. The technology forces you to be present in a way flatscreens don’t so that you gain authentic experiences, as authentic feeling as in real life. People remember VR experiences not as a memory of something they saw but as something that happened to them.
Experience is the new currency in VR and MR. Technologies like Magic Leap’s will enable us to generate, transmit, quantify, refine, personalize, magnify, discover, share, reshare, and overshare experiences. This shift from the creation, transmission, and consumption of information to the creation, transmission, and consumption of experience defines this new platform. 
With a VR platform we’ll create a Wikipedia of experiences, potentially available to anyone, anywhere, anytime. Travel experiences like feeling terror at the edge of an erupting volcano, or wonder at a walking tour of the pyramids that were once the luxury of the rich (like books in the old days), will be accessible to anyone with a VR rig. There’ll be experiences to be shared: marching with protesters in Iran; dancing with revelers in Malawi; how about switching genders? Or experiences no humans have had: exploring Mars; living as a lobster; experiencing a close-up of your own beating heart, live. VR talks to our subconscious mind like no other media
The Magic Leap advantage is that pixels disappear. Other VR displays have a faint “screen door” effect from a visible grid of pixels. Magic Leap’s virtual images are smooth and incredibly realistic. Month by month, resolution increases, the frame rate jumps, the dynamic range deepens, and the color is more real. 
Soon, Magic Leap will abandon desktop screens altogether in favor of mixed-reality glasses, replacing monitors within a year.
It’s no great leap to imagine such glasses also replacing the small screens we all keep in our pockets. In other words, this is a technology that can simultaneously upend desktop PCs, laptops, and phones.
No wonder everyone is paying attention. 

What do you need?

content.phpIf you were to win the lottery, you’d have enough money to quit doing what you don’t like doing.

It seems like most people don’t really like their jobs. Most people won’t win the lottery, so they begin guessing how much money would give them, financial independence, financial freedom, or f-you money as some folks refer to it.

How much does financial freedom cost? 10 million, one million, or  half a million? Maybe it’s less than that? Asking the question implies there’re fundamental ideas about your life that are pretty vague.

When you have a grip on your finances, you don’t have to ask someone else what the boundaries are. In other words, by the time you’ve finished asking if you’re past the boundary – you’ve likely answered the question already.

Asking someone if you can quit your job when you have “x” amount means the answer is “no,” at least for the moment. It’s “no” because you haven’t thought about what your living expenses actually are or how much passive income you can generate.

If you drill down into your living expenses, they’ll probably drop because you’re shedding light on spending that you you could skip. As in most things, the more you know the less you need.

If you’re going camping and you ask if you need a piece of gear you probably do.


The man who thinks about thinking

walk on the beachCharlie Munger is Warren Buffett’s  business partner. Charlie has been successfully investing for decades. And he’s been thinking about thinking for just as long. His thoughts are fairly simple and sometimes counterintuitive, or at least counter to the way most people invest.

Here’re a handful of short, pithy insights and some explanation of his investment philosophy. They’re mostly direct quotes and few that I condensed.

You don’t have to have perfect wisdom to get very rich – just a bit better than average over a long period of time.

I don’t have any wonderful insights that other people don’t have. I just avoided idiocy slightly more consistently than others.

We have a passion for keeping things simple.

We simply try to buy things for less than they’re worth.

A great business at a fair price is superior to a fair business at a great price.

It’s remarkable how much long-term advantage we’ve gotten by trying to be consistently not stupid, instead of trying to be very intelligent. 

You’ll do better if you have passion for something that you have an aptitude for. If Warren Buffett had gone into ballet, no one would have heard of him.

I don’t think you can become a great investor rapidly, no more than you can become a bone-tumor pathologist quickly.

You should be able to learn not to pee on an electrified fence without actually trying it.

It takes character to sit there with cash and do nothing. I didn’t get to where I am by going after mediocre opportunities.

This habit of committing far more time to learning and thinking than to doing is no accident.

It’s not constructive to spend your time worrying about things you can’t fix.

Be prepared for it getting worse. Favorable surprises are easy to handle, it’s the unfavorable surprises that cause the trouble.

Projections should be handled with great care – particularly when provided by someone who has an interest in misleading you.

There’s always been a market for people who pretend to know the future. Listening to today’s forecasters is just as crazy as when the king hired the guy to look at the sheep guts. It happens over and over and over.

If you always tell people why, they’ll understand it better, consider it more important, and  be more likely to comply.

 On his financial freedom: I’d hate to be in a place where I had to pretend to believe all the things I don’t believe in order to handle my daily work and discussions. I just described the working lives of practically everybody. 

The right way to make decisions is basing them on your opportunity costs.

It’s hard to think of great success by committees in the investment world or in physics.

The only thing that’ll change corporate directors’ behavior is looking ridiculous in the press.

Be satisfied with what you have.

It’s so much easier to reduce your wants.

If you want good behavior, don’t pay on a commission basis.

I find a lot of the current financial practices revolting. Just because it’s a free market doesn’t mean it’s honorable.

It’s very, very important to create human systems that are hard to cheat.  These big incentives create incentive-caused bias and people will rationalize that bad behavior is okay.

The iron rule of nature is: you get what you reward for.

Caring that someone is making money faster than you is one of the deadly sins. Envy is the only sin you can’t ever have fun with. Why would you want to get on that train?

A lot of success in life and business comes from knowing what you want to avoid: early death, a bad marriage etc.

I don’t know anyone who’s wise who doesn’t read a lot. But that’s not enough: You have a to have the temperament to grab ideas and do sensible things. Most people don’t grab the right ideas or don’t know what to do with them.

No wise pilot, no matter how great his talent and experience, fails to use a checklist.

All intelligent investing is value investing – acquiring more than you are paying for.

If you have competence, you know it’s boundaries already. To ask the question of whether you are past the boundary is to answer it.

The big money is not in the buying and selling, it’s in the waiting.

When a better tool (idea or approach) comes along, swap it for your old, less useful tool.

I have known no wise people (over a broad subject area) who didn’t read all the time – none, zero.

Necessity never made a good bargain.

Tell me where I’m going to die, so I don’t go there.

Our education was far too uni-disciplinary. Many problems by nature, cross many academic disciplines.

You don’t have to know everything. A few really big ideas carry most of the freight. People underrate the importance of a few simple big ideas – the chief lesson is that a few big ideas really work.

There are huge advantages for an individual to get into a position where you make a few great investments and just sit back, you’re paying less to brokers and listening to less nonsense.

Why shouldn’t we do more of what works well for us and what’s less complicated?

I am a biography nut. If you go through life making friends with the eminent dead who had the right ideas, I think it’ll work better in life and work better in education. It’s way better than just giving the basic concepts.

You can be a dominant partner, subordinate partner, or an always collaborative equal partner. I’ve done all three. I made myself a subordinate partner to Warren. There’re people that it’s okay to be subordinate partner to. I didn’t have the kind of ego that prevented it. There’re always people who’ll be better at something than you are.

Lush landscaping, that’s what sells houses. You spend money on trees, and you get it back triple.

Do the best you can do. Never tell a lie. If you say you’re going to do it, get it done. Nobody cares about an excuse.

What you have to learn is to fold early when the odds are against you. If you have a big edge, back it heavily because you don’t get a big edge often. Opportunity comes, but it doesn’t come often, so seize it when it does come.

The fishing tackle manufacturer had all these flashy green and purple lures. I asked, ‘Do fish take these?’ ‘Charlie’, he said, ‘I don’t sell these lures to fish.’

The campfire

path at nightJust outside our town is the jungle. Because our dog has a thing for the cats in town I walk her in the jungle so she can be off the leash.

Sometimes I’ll walk her there at night if I didn’t get to walk her during the day.

Do you know what I noticed? There’s never anyone else out at night in the jungle.

It’s very dark. The only remotely threatening creature might be a jaguar, but they’re rare and our dog would scare it off long before we’d get near it. I take a flashlight but I don’t use it as long as I can make out the dog’s faint silhouette trotting ahead of me.

I started wondering about our ancestors and the night, and how much acquiring mastery over fire must’ve changed their lives. They probably didn’t leave camp at night unnecessarily even with fire, but I bet they stayed up later. And what would they have done? They probably sat around and told stories. Every night. For millions of nights.

Those stories passed on information to the other tribe members. Everyone hearing the stories would be entertained and learn something.  And maybe more importantly, the listeners might get inspired by stories about the successes and failures of hunts, foraging, storms, and childbirth. And there’d be new ideas too, using firelight to tell stories in a longer lasting form with cave paintings.

For a good story, there’re just three elements setting up an emotional connection with  listeners. There’s the set up, the conflict, and the conflict’s resolution. Adversities become the hero’s advantage.

Today, a lot of the financial elite, like Steve Jobs and Richard Branson, are good story tellers.

Consider this. Today you could say that we generally measure success by someone’s bank account. People looking into the world’s financial elite claim about a quarter of the world’s wealthiest entrepreneurs are college or high school dropouts. That’s more than those who have masters degrees, and only around 5% of the billionaires have doctorate degrees.

We’re so attuned to absorbing stories that having the facts on your side and knowing the science isn’t as important as your ability to tell a good story – if you want to inform and win over the world.

Here’s how I’ll begin my story the next time I tell one, “I was born in a remote village of farmers in Cambodia, the only son of a single mother …”