“Taking temporarily high rates of annual exponential growth as indicators of future long-term developments is a fundamental mistake.”

Vaclav Smil, writing in Growth: From Microorganisms to Megacities:

Taking temporarily high rates of annual exponential growth as indicators of future long-term developments is a fundamental mistake — but also an enduring habit that is especially favored by uncritical promoters of new devices, designs, or practices: they take early-stage growth rates, often impressively exponential, and use them to forecast an imminent dominance of emerging phenomena.

Many recent examples can illustrate this error, and I have chosen the capacity growth of Vestas wind turbines, machines leading the shift toward the de-carbonization of global electricity generation. This Danish maker began its sales with a 55 kW machine in 1981; by 1989 it had a turbine capable of 225 kW; a 600 kW machine was introduced in 1995; and a 2 MW unit followed in 1999. The best-fit curve for this rapid growth trajectory of the last two decades of the 20th century (five-parameter logistic fit with R2 of 0.978) would have predicted designs with capacity of nearly 10 MW in 2005 and in excess of 100 MW by 2015. But in 2018 the largest Vestas unit available for onshore installations was 4.2 MW and the largest unit suitable for offshore wind farms was 8 MW that could be upgraded to 9 MW (Vestas 2017a), and it is most unlikely that a 100 MW machine will be ever built.

This example of a sobering contrast between early rapid advances of a technical innovation followed by inevitable formation of sigmoid curves should be recalled whenever you see news reports about all cars becoming electric by 2025 or new batteries having impressively higher energy densities by 2030.

But the final, inescapable power of this reality may seem inapplicable in those cases where exponential growth has been underway for an extended period of time and when it keeps setting new record levels. More than a few normally rational people have been able to convince themselves — by repeating the mantra “this time it is different” — that performances will keep on multiplying for a long time to come.


October 28, 2020
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“Uncertainty must be endured if we wish to live without the support of comforting fairy tales.”

Bertrand Russell, writing in History of Western Philosophy:

Science tells us what we can know, but what we can know is little, and if we forget how much we cannot know we become insensitive to many things of very great importance. Theology, on the other hand, induces a dogmatic belief that we have knowledge where in fact we have ignorance, and by doing so generates a kind of impertinent insolence towards the universe. Uncertainty, in the presence of vivid hopes and fears, is painful, but must be endured if we wish to live without the support of comforting fairy tales. It is not good either to forget the questions that philosophy asks, or to persuade ourselves that we have found indubitable answers to them.


October 18, 2020
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“Happiness isn’t very good for the economy.”

Matt Haig, writing in Reasons to Stay Alive:

The world is increasingly designed to depress us. Happiness isn’t very good for the economy. If we were happy with what we had, why would we need more?

How do you sell an anti-aging moisturizer? You make someone worry about aging. How do you get people to vote for a political party? You make them worry about immigration. How do you get them to buy insurance? By making them worry about everything. How do you get them to have plastic surgery? By highlighting their physical flaws. How do you get them to watch a TV show? By making them worry about missing out. How do you get them to buy a new smartphone? By making them feel like they are being left behind. To be calm becomes a kind of revolutionary act. To be happy with your own non-upgraded existence. To be comfortable with our messy, human selves, would not be good for business.

Yet we have no other world to live in. And actually, when we really look closely, the world of stuff and advertising is not really life. Life is the other stuff. Life is what is left when you take all that crap away, or at least ignore it for a while.


October 12, 2020
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“It helps sometimes to be a little deaf.”

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, via NYT:

Another often-asked question when I speak in public: “Do you have some good advice you might share with us?” Yes, I do. It comes from my savvy mother-in-law, advice she gave me on my wedding day. “In every good marriage,” she counseled, “it helps sometimes to be a little deaf.” I have followed that advice assiduously, and not only at home through 56 years of a marital partnership nonpareil. I have employed it as well in every workplace, including the Supreme Court. When a thoughtless or unkind word is spoken, best tune out. Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.


September 25, 2020
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“It costs time and money to access a lot of true and important information, while a lot of bullshit is completely free.”

Nathan J. Robinson, via Current Affairs:

Paywalls are justified, even though they are annoying. It costs money to produce good writing, to run a website, to license photographs. A lot of money, if you want quality. Asking people for a fee to access content is therefore very reasonable. You don’t expect to get a print subscription to the newspaper gratis, why would a website be different? I try not to grumble about having to pay for online content, because I run a magazine and I know how difficult it is to pay writers what they deserve.

But let us also notice something: the New York Times, the New Yorker, the Washington Post, the New Republic, New York, Harper’s, the New York Review of Books, the Financial Times, and the London Times all have paywalls. Breitbart, Fox News, the Daily Wire, the Federalist, the Washington Examiner, InfoWars: free! You want “Portland Protesters Burn Bibles, American Flags In The Streets,” “The Moral Case Against Mask Mandates And Other COVID Restrictions,” or an article suggesting the National Institutes of Health has admitted 5G phones cause coronavirus — they’re yours. You want the detailed Times reports on neo-Nazis infiltrating German institutions, the reasons contact tracing is failing in U.S. states, or the Trump administration’s undercutting of the USPS’s effectiveness — well, if you’ve clicked around the website a bit you’ll run straight into the paywall. This doesn’t mean the paywall shouldn’t be there. But it does mean that it costs time and money to access a lot of true and important information, while a lot of bullshit is completely free.


August 5, 2020
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“If the shoe shine boys are buying stocks, who else is left?”

Jason Alan Jankovsky, writing in Time Compression Trading:

J. P. Morgan tells the story of how he would get his shoes shined every Wednesday at the same shop around the corner from his office. One day the shoe shine attendant asked him if he and his friends could buy some stock through Morgan’s brokerage. The three friends had about $40—a lot of money in 1929. Morgan politely refused, hurried back to his office, and ordered that his company was not to have a single share of stock on its books by the end of the day. Morgan simply asked, “If the shoe shine boys are buying stocks, who else is left?” Of course, the 1929 stock market crash was only a few days away, and Morgan looked like a genius. He was not a genius; he noted that the order flow was likely running out on the buy side. It wasn’t his army of analysts that showed him that. It was a public investor.

Robinhood day traders are the new shoe shine boys.


June 17, 2020
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100,000

Pictured above is the front page of the New York Times today, listing some hundreds of names of Americans who have died from COVID-19.

Toward the end of May in the year 2020, the number of people in the United States who have died from the coronavirus neared 100,000 — almost all of them within a three-month span. An average of more than 1,100 deaths a day. A number is an imperfect measure when applied to the human condition. A number provides an answer to how many, but it can never convey the individual arcs of life, the 100,000 ways of greeting the morning and saying good night.

Meanwhile, via CNN:

President Donald Trump was seen golfing at his Virginia club on Saturday and Sunday, marking his first visits to one of his golf properties since March amid the coronavirus pandemic.


May 24, 2020
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“The shopping cart is what determines whether a person is a good or bad member of society.”

Random Reddit find (author unknown):

The shopping cart is the ultimate litmus test for whether a person is capable of self-governing.

To return the shopping cart is an easy, convenient task and one which we all recognize as the correct, appropriate thing to do. To return the shopping cart is objectively right. There are no situations other than dire emergencies in which a person is not able to return their cart. Simultaneously, it is not illegal to abandon your shopping cart. Therefore the shopping cart presents itself as the apex example of whether a person will do what is right without being forced to do it. No one will punish you for not returning the shopping cart, no one will fine you or kill you for not returning the shopping cart, you gain nothing by returning the shopping cart. You must return the shopping cart out of the goodness of your own heart. You must return the shopping cart because it is the right thing to do. Because it is correct.

A person who is unable to do this is no better than an animal, an absolute savage who can only be made to do what is right by threatening them with a law and the force that stands behind it.

The shopping cart is what determines whether a person is a good or bad member of society.


May 16, 2020
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“When you listen deeply, you can start to comprehend a world of sound beyond typical reality.”

Rod Modell, via Textura:

I learned quite a bit from making the earlier electroacoustic stuff. I learned to listen well. This is very important. There is a lot about this in my favorite book, The Mysticism of Sound by Hazrat Inayat Khan. So much music seems rushed. I like music that unfolds in slow motion, so the listener doesn’t miss anything. I like to show my listeners a frame-by-frame scan. Time-stretched to see the details. Pull apart the fabric of sound so you can see what’s in between the grains, and zoom into (normally) unheard realms. Musicians like to play it safe and stay in familiar waters. I’ve spent many nights sitting outside with my eyes closed, DAT machine running, dummy head mic off in the distance. Sitting and listening to the air moving. Feeling the pressure zones shift. When you listen deeply, you can start to comprehend a world of sound beyond typical reality.


May 2, 2020
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“Forecasts are the real fluff and history is where the meat is.”

Morgan Housel:

Studying history can feel like intellectual candy that offers no practical use to investors who are paid to foresee the future. But once you accept how fragile our assumptions of the future are, you realize that forecasts are the real fluff and history is where the meat is.

Accepting that forecasts have little use doesn’t mean you become a blind fatalist. When you pay more attention to history than forecasts you pick up on the patterns that guide how people respond to unforeseen events, which – given how stable behavior is over time – is the next best thing to knowing what will happen next.

Forecasts rely on knowing when something will occur. Expectations are an acknowledgment of what’s likely to occur without professing insight into when it will happen.

Expectations are healthier than forecasts because they provide a vision of the future stripped of all false precision. If you know a recession will occur at some point, you won’t be that surprised whenever it arrives – which is a huge benefit. But if you assume you know exactly when it will occur you’ll be tempted into all kinds of dangerous behavior, leveraged with overconfidence. And you’ll be shocked when time passes and what you thought would occur hasn’t happened (yet).

When You Have No Idea What Happens Next [CF]


April 30, 2020
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“It’s time to build.”

Marc Andreessen, via a16z:

Every Western institution was unprepared for the coronavirus pandemic, despite many prior warnings. This monumental failure of institutional effectiveness will reverberate for the rest of the decade, but it’s not too early to ask why, and what we need to do about it.

Many of us would like to pin the cause on one political party or another, on one government or another. But the harsh reality is that it all failed — no Western country, or state, or city was prepared — and despite hard work and often extraordinary sacrifice by many people within these institutions. So the problem runs deeper than your favorite political opponent or your home nation.

Part of the problem is clearly foresight, a failure of imagination. But the other part of the problem is what we didn’t *do* in advance, and what we’re failing to do now. And that is a failure of action, and specifically our widespread inability to *build*.

We see this today with the things we urgently need but don’t have. We don’t have enough coronavirus tests, or test materials — including, amazingly, cotton swabs and common reagents. We don’t have enough ventilators, negative pressure rooms, and ICU beds. And we don’t have enough surgical masks, eye shields, and medical gowns — as I write this, New York City has put out a desperate call for rain ponchos to be used as medical gowns. Rain ponchos! In 2020! In America!


April 18, 2020
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“What is about to be unleashed on American society will be the greatest campaign ever created to get you to feel normal again.”

Vincent Gambuto, via Medium:

What is about to be unleashed on American society will be the greatest campaign ever created to get you to feel normal again. It will come from brands, it will come from government, it will even come from each other, and it will come from the left and from the right. We will do anything, spend anything, believe anything, just so we can take away how horribly uncomfortable all of this feels. And on top of that, just to turn the screw that much more, will be the one effort that’s even greater: the all-out blitz to make you believe you never saw what you saw. The air wasn’t really cleaner; those images were fake. The hospitals weren’t really a war zone; those stories were hyperbole. The numbers were not that high; the press is lying. You didn’t see people in masks standing in the rain risking their lives to vote. Not in America. You didn’t see the leader of the free world push an unproven miracle drug like a late-night infomercial salesman. That was a crisis update. You didn’t see homeless people dead on the street. You didn’t see inequality. You didn’t see indifference. You didn’t see utter failure of leadership and systems.

But you did. You are not crazy, my friends. And so we are about to be gaslit in a truly unprecedented way. It starts with a check for $1,200 (Don’t say I never gave you anything) and then it will be so big that it will be bigly. And it will be a one-two punch from both big business and the big White House — inextricably intertwined now more than ever and being led by, as our luck would have it, a Marketer in Chief. Business and government are about to band together to knock us unconscious again. It will be funded like no other operation in our lifetimes. It will be fast. It will be furious. And it will be overwhelming. The Great American Return to Normal is coming.


April 17, 2020
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“There are times in all of our lives when a reliance on gut or intuition just seems more appropriate–when a particular course of action just feels right.”

Tim Cook, in his Auburn University class of 2010 commencement speech:

In making the decision to come to Apple, I had to think beyond my training as an engineer. Engineers are taught to make decisions analytically and largely without emotion. When it comes to a decision between alternatives we enumerate the cost and benefits and decide which one is better. But there are times in our lives when the careful consideration of cost and benefits just doesn’t seem like the right way to make a decision. There are times in all of our lives when a reliance on gut or intuition just seems more appropriate–when a particular course of action just feels right. And interestingly I’ve discovered it’s in facing life’s most important decisions that intuition seems the most indispensable to getting it right.

In turning important decisions over to intuition one has to give up on the idea of developing a life plan that will bear any resemblance to what ultimately unfolds. Intuition is something that occurs in the moment, and if you are open to it. If you listen to it it has the potential to direct or redirect you in a way that is best for you. On that day in early 1998 I listened to my intuition, not the left side of my brain or for that matter even the people who knew me best. It’s hard to know why I listened, I’m not even sure I know today, but no more than five minutes into my initial interview with Steve, I wanted to throw caution and logic to the wind and join Apple. My intuition already knew that joining Apple was a once in a lifetime opportunity to work for the creative genius, and to be on the executive team that could resurrect a great American company. If my intuition had lost the struggle with my left brain, I’m not sure where I would be today, but I’m certain I would not be standing in front of you.


April 5, 2020
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“The world is not going to begin to look normal until three things have happened…”

Larry Brilliant:

The world is not going to begin to look normal until three things have happened. One, we figure out whether the distribution of this virus looks like an iceberg, which is one-seventh above the water, or a pyramid, where we see everything. If we’re only seeing right now one-seventh of the actual disease because we’re not testing enough, and we’re just blind to it, then we’re in a world of hurt. Two, we have a treatment that works, a vaccine or antiviral. And three, maybe most important, we begin to see large numbers of people—in particular nurses, home health care providers, doctors, policemen, firemen, and teachers who have had the disease—are immune, and we have tested them to know that they are not infectious any longer. And we have a system that identifies them, either a concert wristband or a card with their photograph and some kind of a stamp on it. Then we can be comfortable sending our children back to school, because we know the teacher is not infectious.

And instead of saying “No, you can’t visit anybody in nursing home,” we have a group of people who are certified that they work with elderly and vulnerable people, and nurses who can go back into the hospitals and dentists who can open your mouth and look in your mouth and not be giving you the virus. When those three things happen, that’s when normalcy will return.

Read the whole piece here. Excellent insight into what the COVID-19 novel coronavirus is and how to stop it.


March 20, 2020
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“Since 1929, the S&P 500 has suffered 14 bear markets.”

Jason Zweig, via WSJ:

Since 1929, the S&P 500 has suffered 14 bear markets, defined by S&P Dow Jones Indices as losses of at least 20%. The shortest and shallowest was the 20% drop that lasted less than three months in late 1990. The deepest was the 86.2% collapse from September 1929 to June 1932; the longest, the 60% plunge from March 1937 to April 1942. On average, bear markets lasted 19 months and dealt a 39% loss.

Whatever you do in the next few months—either buy or sell—will almost certainly have an enormous impact on your investment returns in the next 5-10 years.



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