Book Review – The Psychology of Money. Likely the best book I read this year

I waited for this book to come out for a while, and it surely doesn’t disappoint. The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel is an excellent book on personal finance, our thinking towards money and how that drives a lot of our decisions in life. Not only does the book contain a lot of wisdoms and high quality content, but it is also well and crisply written that you can finish it in a weekend, unlike a lot of other books that are unnecessarily lengthy.

If you care about growing your net worth, investing and making important decisions in your life (who doesn’t?), I really recommend this book. It will transform what you think about money and life. Below are a few nuggets from the book. Have a nice weekend!

The premise of this book is that doing well with money has a little to do with how smart you are and a lot to do with how you behave. And behavior is hard to teach, even to really smart people.

Few people make financial decisions purely with a spreadsheet. They make them at the dinner table, or in a company meeting. Places where personal history, your own unique view of the world, ego, pride, marketing, and odd incentives are scrambled together into a narrative that works for you.

Excerpt From: Morgan Housel. “The Psychology of Money: Timeless Lessons on Wealth, Greed, and Happiness.”

“At a party given by a billionaire on Shelter Island, Kurt Vonnegut informs his pal, Joseph Heller, that their host, a hedge fund manager, had made more money in a single day than Heller had earned from his wildly popular novel Catch-22 over its whole history. Heller responds, “Yes, but I have something he will never have … enough.”

The idea of having “enough” might look like conservatism, leaving opportunity and potential on the table. I don’t think that’s right. “Enough” is realizing that the opposite—an insatiable appetite for more—will push you to the point of regret.

Excerpt From: Morgan Housel. “The Psychology of Money: Timeless Lessons on Wealth, Greed, and Happiness.”

Think of it like this, and one of the most powerful ways to increase your savings isn’t to raise your income. It’s to raise your humility.

Be nicer and less flashy. No one is impressed with your possessions as much as you are. You might think you want a fancy car or a nice watch. But what you probably want is respect and admiration. And you’re more likely to gain those things through kindness and humility than horsepower and chrome.

Go out of your way to find humility when things are going right and forgiveness/compassion when they go wrong. Because it’s never as good or as bad as it looks. The world is big and complex. Luck and risk are both real and hard to identify. Do so when judging both yourself and others

Less ego, more wealth. Saving money is the gap between your ego and your income, and wealth is what you don’t see. So wealth is created by suppressing what you could buy today in order to have more stuff or more options in the future. No matter how much you earn, you will never build wealth unless you can put a lid on how much fun you can have with your money right now, today

Excerpt From: Morgan Housel. “The Psychology of Money: Timeless Lessons on Wealth, Greed, and Happiness.”

Jim Simons, head of the hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, has compounded money at 66% annually since 1988. No one comes close to this record. As we just saw, Buffett has compounded at roughly 22% annually, a third as much. Simons’ net worth, as I write, is $21 billion. He is—and I know how ridiculous this sounds given the numbers we’re dealing with—75% less rich than Buffett.

Why the difference, if Simons is such a better investor? Because Simons did not find his investment stride until he was 50 years old

Excerpt From: Morgan Housel. “The Psychology of Money: Timeless Lessons on Wealth, Greed, and Happiness.”

Savings in the bank that earn 0% interest might actually generate an extraordinary return if they give you the flexibility to take a job with a lower salary but more purpose, or wait for investment opportunities that come when those without flexibility turn desperate.

If you have flexibility you can wait for good opportunities, both in your career and for your investments. You’ll have a better chance of being able to learn a new skill when it’s necessary. You’ll feel less urgency to chase competitors who can do things you can’t, and have more leeway to find your passion and your niche at your own pace. You can find a new routine, a slower pace, and think about life with a different set of assumptions. The ability to do those things when most others can’t is one of the few things that will set you apart in a world where intelligence is no longer a sustainable advantage

Excerpt From: Morgan Housel. “The Psychology of Money: Timeless Lessons on Wealth, Greed, and Happiness.”

The idea is that you have to take risk to get ahead, but no risk that can wipe you out is ever worth taking. The odds are in your favor when playing Russian roulette. But the downside is not worth the potential upside. There is no margin of safety that can compensate for the risk.

Room for error does more than just widen the target around what you think might happen. It also helps protect you from things you’d never imagine, which can be the most troublesome events we face.

Excerpt From: Morgan Housel. “The Psychology of Money: Timeless Lessons on Wealth, Greed, and Happiness.”

Look for books to read? Check out those I have read lately

The Anatomy of The Swipe: Making Money Move

We are so accustomed to having quick card-based transactions that if a transaction takes more than a couple of seconds, it will be a terrible customer experience. What many folks don’t know is that there are a lot of things that happen behind every transaction. It involves several parties, including but not limited to a cardholder, an issuing bank, an issuer processor, a network, a merchant processor, a merchant bank and a merchant. During the brief couple of seconds when a cardholder waits at a cashier, information goes from a card reader all the way back to at least an issuer processor through a card network (Visa, Mastercard) and a merchant processor, and back to the card reader. But it’s not finished yet. The process continues at least a couple of days after the transaction when the involved parties go through the clearing and settlement steps.

The payment world is so complex that there are startups that decouple individual steps of the whole process and carve out a niche market for themselves by specializing in such steps and improved efficiency. Take neobanks for example. They offer checking accounts with virtually no fees because they aren’t regulated and can operate without fixed costs such as branches.

I tried in the past to learn about payment systems, but not until this book did I find a reliable source that can break down abstract concepts in a digestible manner. If you are interested in payments or fintech, do yourself a favor and read this book

The reason why you can take money out of just about any ATM is because of the Durbin Amendment and its requirement that every debit card must have a secondary unaffiliated network. This law was put in to give consumers more choice in finding an ATM network. For example, if you have a debit card from Visa and the ATM doesn’t support Visa’s ATM networks, then it can run on Mastercard’s ATM network, Cirrus.

The term “Clearing” is used primarily by Issuers, but can also be referred to as “Capture” by Merchant Acquirers. Clearing happens toward the end of the day for most Merchants and will factor in tips, transaction reversals, and returns. This is basically the Merchant confirming these transactions are valid and that these funds are ready to be moved or “settled.”

Settlement is the actual movement of money from the cardholder’s bank account, the Issuing Bank, to the Merchant’s bank account, the Acquiring Bank. This movement of money typically happens via Fedwire as instructed by the payment networks.

Key term: 3D Secure

This is a standard for offering cardholders one more layer of security for online transactions. When card numbers are entered into a website to pay for something, 3D Secure will require the cardholder to enter one more form of authentication, such as a one-time-use PIN or passcode, similar to how two-factor authentication works for websites. More recently, the card networks are requiring Merchants and card Issuers to roll out a service called 3D Secure. The technology is standard in Europe but not yet in the US.

More recently, the card networks are requiring Merchants and card Issuers to roll out a service called 3D Secure. The technology is standard in Europe but not yet in the US.

The main reason is that these new “neo-banks” aren’t actually banks but rather tech companies that partner with regional banks such as Sutton Bank, Bancorp, or Meta Bank. These regional banks have less than $10 billion in assets and are able to charge a higher Interchange rate because they are considered exempt from the Interchange rules set forth in the Durbin Amendment and are considered “unregulated.”

TAPE SUCKS: Inside Data Domain, A Silicon Valley Growth Story

This book was written by Frank Slootman, former CEO of Data Domain. Frank took the company public and was the CEO when it was sold to EMC. He then went on to take the rein at ServiceNow and is currently assuming the top job at Snowflake. This book is his account of his time as CEO at Data Domain. It is a pretty short book, but it includes an honest and crisp account of how he scaled the company and dealt with startup issues. I like this book because it isn’t lengthy. I think it’s because of his direct nature as a Dutchman. Frank wrote about the lessons he learned along the way with little “fat” or lengthy unrelated anecdotes. He was straight to the point. His lessons outlined in the book should be helpful to aspirational entrepreneurs and CEOs.

Snowflake is expected to go public next week. If you are interested in that company and its CEO, you should give it a read.

My morning routine

The author interviewed a plethora of celebrities and successful folks to learn about their productivity hacks in the morning. Humans are creatures of habits. We all have our habits and routines and these successful men and women aren’t any exception. I don’t think what this book offers is unique in a sense that you can find these hacks on Google at any time. What it does is perhaps to catalogue all these hacks in one place so that you can choose to look at the routines of the folks you like. Plus, if you already studied about productivity tips before, it’s very likely you’d know what to do in general. What is missing is just our determination and discipline.

With that being said, if you are new to the productivity improvement game, this book may be of value. However, it’s pretty pricey compared to the two books I listed above, given the value and satisfaction in return. I’d try to Google the topic before I book this book

7 Powers: The Foundations of Business Strategy

This is a classic book about business strategy. It covers 7 aspects of a successful strategy framework developed by Hamilton Helmer. The aspects include Economies of Scale, Network Effect, Counter Positioning, Switching Costs, Branding, Cornered Resource and Process Power. I think it’s a valuable read to anyone who is interested in analyzing businesses and companies. Of course, the book would be more valuable to newcomers than those who already studied strategy before. For instance, if you are familiar with the concept of Network Effect, Porter’s Five Forces and Switching Costs, this book will serve more as a reminder than a revelation. Nonetheless, it costs only $9 for a Kindle version from which you can take great notes on business strategy.

The Motley Fool Investment Guide

Even though this book costs $15 for a Kindle version, I actually think if you are new to investing and you want to grow your net worth, you should start reading this book. This book covers very important topics of investing. It talks about why you should invest in or avoid mutual funds. It also discusses the appeal of blue chips and small-cap stocks. If you haven’t learned much about the main financial statements (income statement, cash flow or balance sheet), the book provides an overview of these statements and what they mean in general. In my personal experience, although news outlets have coverage of companies’ financials, as an investor, you should do your own homework and practice reading reports as well as financial statements. Additionally, this book touches upon options such as shorting and longing a stock. They aren’t my preferences, but it doesn’t hurt to know what they are and what they do. Of course, the book has to talk about the power of compound interest, which is why we need to invest early and be patient.

I really recommend this book if you want to venture into investment.

Book review: The Innovation Stack

Similar to the most recent books, this one came to me by chance when somebody I follow retweeted someone else who read it. I gave it a chance and I am glad I did. The book is penned by Jim McKelvey, the cofounder of Square. The book should be recommended by business schools and read by anyone who wishes to improve their competitiveness as a business or a company. It is a straightforward, easy-to-read, genuine and informative book. What I like the most about the book is the author’s genuineness. He doesn’t seem to try to immortalize entrepreneurs or make wild exaggerations. For instance, one of his main points is to copy what worked in the past. In my personal experience at business schools, I often listened to professors talk about “blue ocean” or “doing something unique”. I always find it hard to come across something that has never been done before. Perhaps, I am not smart enough. That’s why it’s refreshing to listen to a billionaire who admitted that he copied everything he could at Square.

Jim’s Innovation Stack simply refers to the process of companies trying to solve a problem which leads to two more problems and so on. By tackling each problem, successful entities come up with a unique mix of elements that only they can possess, elements that make them competitive. Any competitor that wants to copy an Innovation Stack has to somehow copy every single element of the Stack, not just one or a few. That makes a solid Innovation Stack defensible and difficult to emulate.

The same concept can also apply to individuals. For instance, speaking English may not give anyone a competitive advantage. However, combining English with other skills such as fluency in Latin and professional training in archaeology makes a person “more unique” and harder to compete.

There are other gems in the book that I believe will be useful to readers. If you are looking for a short quality read over this weekend, give it a try. It’s worth it.

“BEFORE stalking got such a bad reputation, I was pretty good at it. My target was always the same: some famous businessperson. Entrepreneurship was not taught in school at the time,* so I had to invent a way to get instruction. My technique was simple: I would wait until some famous entrepreneur came to St. Louis to give a speech. After the speech I would catch the speaker as he or she left the stage and offer a ride to the airport.”

Excerpt From: Jim McKelvey. “The Innovation Stack.” Apple Books.

“A couple of ratios help illuminate the crime scene. Credit card vendors were making 0.04¢ on every dollar ($0.3 billion / $788 billion) they processed from their large merchants. Now compare this to 1.8¢ on the dollar, the profit they were making on small merchants ($2.4 billion / $130 billion). Their profit margin from small businesses was forty-five times higher than from billion-dollar corporations. I rechecked my math three times before that number sunk in. Small businesses pay forty-five times more than the giants do. We had identified a big problem and a good reason to start a company.”

Excerpt From: Jim McKelvey. “The Innovation Stack.” Apple Books.

The problem with solving one problem is that it usually creates a new problem that requires a new solution with its own new problems. This problem-solution-problem chain continues until eventually one of two things happens: either you fail to solve a problem and die, or you succeed in solving all the problems with a collection of both interlocking and independent innovation. This successful collection is what I call an Innovation Stack

Excerpt From: Jim McKelvey. “The Innovation Stack.” Apple Books.

“But this book’s subject is the exploration of the unknown; so, as a consolation prize for readers expecting between five and seven bulleted steps to success, I will now tell you the universal formula for success in any existing industry. This formula works from building bridges to selling soap. This formula has worked for millennia and it will give you the ability to succeed in any known field of endeavor. Even better, you have been practicing the fundamental skill it requires since before you were born, and are almost certainly a master.

Ready?

Copy what everyone else does.”

Excerpt From: Jim McKelvey. “The Innovation Stack.” Apple Books.

“In 1973, Braniff cut its fare between Dallas and Houston to $13, half of what Southwest charged. The Dallas–Houston run was Southwest’s primary source of profit—competing at that rate, even with its Innovation Stack and greater cost efficiency, would be disastrous. Braniff’s pricing attack violated US antitrust law, but the executives hoped to drive Southwest out of business before Herb could take them to court. Winning in court wouldn’t matter if Southwest was dead, so Herb needed a fast solution. He and his team devised a plan by looking at their customers.

Southwest knew that most of the passengers on the Dallas–Houston route were businesspeople. These businesspeople flew Southwest primarily for the convenience of multiple flights, easy changes, open seating, and on-time performance. Braniff could set any price it wanted, but it could not replicate the other effects of Southwest’s Innovation Stack. These business fliers were not choosing Southwest simply because of the low price, a price their employers reimbursed them for anyway. So Southwest offered fliers the option of paying only $13, or they could pay the full fare of $26 and get a complimentary bottle of Chivas Regal scotch, Crown Royal whiskey, or Smirnoff vodka. Most of the passengers stayed with Southwest and chose to pay the full fare and get the booze. Southwest managed to outsell Braniff at twice the price, and for the length of that promotion became the largest liquor distributor in Texas.”

Excerpt From: Jim McKelvey. “The Innovation Stack.” Apple Books.

“Disruption has become nearly as threadbare a concept as entrepreneurship. The two words could be roommates at rehab. When Clayton Christensen first popularized the disruption concept back in 1997, the idea was novel and interesting. But what Christensen originally called disruptive innovation has now been shortened to just disruption and the oversimplification is profound. Two decades later, disruption has become the high-fructose corn syrup of business, an overused ingredient sprayed on pitches and injected into keynotes in the hope of disguising the familiar taste of conformity.”

Excerpt From: Jim McKelvey. “The Innovation Stack.” Apple Books.

“IS DISRUPTION BAD? Not by itself. But disruption has also never been the focus of good entrepreneurs. The entrepreneurs profiled in this book set out to build and not to destroy. To focus on disruption is to look over one’s shoulder into the past. But if you are trying to solve a perfect problem or expand a market, shouldn’t you study that industry? No, you look at your customers, or I should say your potential customers, for they do not even know your product or service is possible.”

Excerpt From: Jim McKelvey. “The Innovation Stack.” Apple Books.

But now that you have read this book you have lost something as well. You can no longer look at a problem and say, “Nothing can be done.” You can’t even say, “I can’t do it because I am lacking (fill in your excuse du jour).” You can only say either, “I’m not going to do anything” or “I am going to solve this problem.” Because we have seen how world-changing entrepreneurs had few if any qualifications when they began their journeys. 

Excerpt From: Jim McKelvey. “The Innovation Stack.” Apple Books.

Book review: The Kill Chain: How Emerging Technologies Threaten America’s Military Dominance

I picked up this book after reading about it briefly on one of the news outlets. At first, I had a suspicion that it was a partisan book as everything was politicized nowadays in the US, but I still decided to give it a try. I am sure glad I did. The book was written by a senior advisor to John McCain, the former GOP chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee. The author’s tone and viewpoint throughout the book, in my opinion, were fair and made sense. He talked briefly about what he considered mistakes by both President Obama and Trump, in their failure to modernize the military and foreign relations policies. He tackled several aspects of the changing landscape that makes the US’s once insurmountable dominance on the verge of being completely eliminated, especially by China. He painstakingly explained why Russia and particularly China would present a peer and a threat that the US has never had before.

He used his insider knowledge and experience working under McCain to explain why even though the US spends billions of dollars a year on military and defense, it’s more about “how you spend money” than “how much money you spend”. A great deal of money is wasted every year by the bureaucracy, the corruption and the self-serving parties involved in the national defense business. While new technologies are already here, the US still plows an incredible amount of money into equipment, technologies and processes that belong to the past. Overall, this book is a wake-up call on how the US’s military is being left behind by arch rivals. It’s an informative read by someone who knew what he was talking about.

Threat from Russia and China with their technological advances

“As it stood, the Chinese Communist Party knew far more about the US military and its vulnerabilities than the American people and their elected representatives did.”

Excerpt From: Christian Brose. “The Kill Chain.” Apple Books.

“That assessment was echoed by a bipartisan commission of military experts that McCain had established through legislation that year to provide an independent examination of US defense strategy. They rendered their judgment to Congress shortly after McCain’s death in 2018. “America’s military superiority… has eroded to a dangerous degree,” they wrote. “The U.S. military could suffer unacceptably high casualties and loss of major capital assets in its next conflict. It might struggle to win, or perhaps lose, a war against China or Russia.”

Excerpt From: Christian Brose. “The Kill Chain.” Apple Books.

“One story from a Ukrainian officer stuck with me. His fellow commander was known to the Little Green Men as a highly effective fighter. One day during the conflict, the man’s mother received a call from someone claiming to be the Ukrainian authorities, who informed her that her son had been badly wounded in action in eastern Ukraine. She immediately did what any mother would do: she called her son’s mobile phone. Little did she know that the call she had received was from Russian operatives who had gotten a hold of her son’s cell phone number but knew that he rarely used the phone for operational security reasons. This Ukrainian commander, being a good son, quickly called his mother back, which enabled the Little Green Men to geolocate his position. Seconds later, while still on the phone, he was killed in a barrage of precision rocket artillery.”

Excerpt From: Christian Brose. “The Kill Chain.” Apple Books.

“Cyberattacks would grind down the logistical movement of US forces into combat. The defenseless cargo ships and aircraft that would ferry much of that force across the Pacific would be attacked every step of the way. Satellites on which US forces depend for intelligence, communications, and global positioning would be blinded by lasers, shut down by high-energy jammers, or shot out of orbit altogether by antisatellite missiles. The command and control networks that manage the flow of critical information to US forces in combat would be broken apart and shattered by electronic attacks, cyberattacks, and missiles. Many US forces would be rendered deaf, dumb, and blind.”

Excerpt From: Christian Brose. “The Kill Chain.” Apple Books.

How outdated US’s military is

“And yet, when members of our military put on their uniforms and report for duty, hardly any of this technology is available to them. Instead, they consistently have to do dangerous and important jobs with technology that might be many years behind what they use in their daily lives. This was reinforced again for me at a major Air Force conference last year, where I spoke on a panel about how new technology could help build better networks of military systems. An airman in the audience asked the panel how this would be possible when most servicemembers currently deal regularly with long network outages that leave them disconnected from email and the internet. Nearly everyone in the audience, more than one thousand people, erupted in applause.

Excerpt From: Christian Brose. “The Kill Chain.” Apple Books.

“It is a story of how the worlds of national defense and high technology in America increasingly grew apart. At a deeper level, it is also a story of how the United States was spoiled by its own dominance—a cautionary tale of how a prolonged period without real geopolitical competition bred a false sense of invincibility. In short, it is a story of how the United States got ambushed by the future.”

Excerpt From: Christian Brose. “The Kill Chain.” Apple Books.

“The bigger issue is that most of these allegedly information age military systems struggle to share information and communicate directly with one another to a degree that would shock most Americans. For example, the F-22 and F-35A fighter jets cannot directly share basic airborne positioning and targeting data despite the fact that they are both Air Force programs and built by the same company. They were architected with different means of processing and transmitting information that are not compatible. It is as if one speaks Greek, and the other speaks Latin.”

Excerpt From: Christian Brose. “The Kill Chain.” Apple Books.

“Unlike some leading American technology companies, Nvidia is open to doing business with the Department of Defense. I asked how many of its graphics processing units were operating on fielded US military systems. I was not surprised by the answer: none.

As the answer suggests, most US military systems are many years behind the state-of-the-art technology that commercial companies such as Nvidia are developing. The most capable computer onboard a US military system is the core processor in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which has earned it the nickname “the flying supercomputer.” The processor can perform 400 billion operations per second.1 By comparison, the Nvidia DRIVE AGX Pegasus can conduct 320 trillion operations per second right onboard a commercial car or truck.2 That is eight hundred times more processing power.”

Excerpt From: Christian Brose. “The Kill Chain.” Apple Books.

“The information that most US military machines collect is not actually processed onboard the machine itself. It is either stored on the system and then processed hours or even days later when the machine returns from its mission. Or it is streamed back to an operations center in real time, terabyte by terabyte, which places a huge burden on military communications networks. Either way, it is the job of humans, not machines, to comb through most of that data and find the relevant bits of information. In 2020, that is the full-time job of literally tens of thousands of members of the US military. When they are off-duty, they may use Nvidia’s technology to play video games or even assist them on their drive home. But in uniform, they are essentially doing the same jobs that their grandparents did in World War II.”

Excerpt From: Christian Brose. “The Kill Chain.” Apple Books.

“A friend of mine who recently did targeting in the US military told me that the best way his unit could get on one page in identifying a target was with Google Maps. They had to gather up all of their different streams of information about the target from their assorted sensor platforms, come to a time-consuming decision on where the target actually was located, and literally drop a pin in Google Maps to direct their shooters where on earth to fire their weapons. This was around the time that the Google employees wrote their open letter to their leadership demanding that the company cut ties with the Department of Defense lest their technology contribute to lethal military operations. “If those folks only knew how many bombs the US military has dropped using Google Maps,” my friend told me, “their heads would explode.”

Excerpt From: Christian Brose. “The Kill Chain.” Apple Books.

How a great deal of money is wasted every year on military spending and how much bureaucracy there is in Washington

“Over the past two decades, during the peaks of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, multiple new weapons programs were started and ultimately canceled with nothing to show for them. The Center for Strategic and International Studies stopped counting the different programs at eighteen, acknowledging that the real number is far higher. All told, the Pentagon and Congress spent more than $59 billion on these programs during the 2000s and got no usable capability by the time the programs were canceled.”

Excerpt From: Christian Brose. “The Kill Chain.” Apple Books.

Many companies resented making these changes, which they felt forced into. But change they did, and they often used their influence in Washington’s byzantine acquisition system to their own advantage: They underbid on contracts to develop technology and then overran on the actual costs and time to produce it. They promised things they could not deliver. And they used their political clout in the Pentagon and Congress to make it harder for new companies and new technologies to displace their programs of record. Put simply, the US government created incentives for defense companies to do the wrong things, and that is often what happened.”

Excerpt From: Christian Brose. “The Kill Chain.” Apple Books.

“That simply does not happen with US military systems, where hardware has always been king and software largely an afterthought. For most military systems, the schedule for hardware updates determines the schedule for software updates. After all, most of the companies building these systems are hardware companies, not software companies. This has created multiyear software development cycles that are doomed to failure. Think of how well your mobile device would work if its software and apps were updated only every several years. That’s how it is for military systems. I cannot tell you the number of defense programs I came across during my time in the Senate—on which the US government had spent billions of dollars over many years—that were failing for the simple reason that their builders were not proficient in how to develop suitable, scalable, adaptable, and constantly improving software. And the result, time and time again, is that members of the US military are handed equipment whose functionality is inferior to what they use in their everyday lives.”

Excerpt From: Christian Brose. “The Kill Chain.” Apple Books.

“A good example of how defense acquisition can go wrong is the Army’s attempt to buy a new pistol a few years ago. It issued a request for proposals that ran over 350 pages of cumbersome details and envisioned years of costly development and testing before soldiers would ever get a new sidearm. Even Army leaders were surprised. They learned about it when McCain and I told them, and then they were as outraged as we were. “We’re not figuring out the next lunar landing,” said an outraged General Mark Milley at the time, when he was chief of staff of the Army. “This is a pistol. Two years to test? At $17 million?” he vented. “You give me $17 million on a credit card, and I’ll call Cabela’s tonight, and I’ll outfit every soldier, sailor, airman, and Marine with a pistol for $17 million. And I’ll get a discount on a bulk buy.”

Excerpt From: Christian Brose. “The Kill Chain.” Apple Books.

“Even basic tasks that used to be routine bodily functions in Congress, such as passing a federal budget, have become nearly impossible. Indeed, over the past ten years, Congress has managed only once to pass spending legislation for the Department of Defense by the start of the fiscal year. When Congress fails to do its job in this way, it passes a “continuing resolution,” which requires the military to spend money on only the things it spent money on the prior year. Not only does this waste billions of dollars in misallocated resources, it literally locks the military into the past and prevents it from implementing its plans for the future. This is how the Department of Defense has spent nearly one thousand days of the past decade. The US military now plans to start each fiscal year without an appropriation of funding. Pentagon planners painstakingly negotiate contracts and structure programs to avoid critical payments in the first quarter of each fiscal year so they do not end up in breach of contract when they inevitably get stuck on a continuing resolution. Even then, problems arise. When Congress failed to pass a budget for six months at the start of the fiscal year, for example, the Navy had to renegotiate roughly ten thousand contracts, which senior Navy leaders estimated cost them roughly $5.8 billion in wasted buying power. That could have bought three destroyers.”

Excerpt From: Christian Brose. “The Kill Chain.” Apple Books.

Book: When breath becomes air

I came across this book thanks to suggestions on this Twitter thread. So a shoutout to those who recommended it.

The book is a memoir penned by a dying young neurosurgeon named Paul Kalanithi. Paul was diagnosed with a lung cancer when he was on his way to earn a doctorship. He staged an inspiring battle against cancer while continuing to do what gave his life meaning. In the end, he passed away roughly two years after the first diagnosis and shortly after his daughter was born.

His life, his focus on his calling and the bond between him and his wife were inspiring to read. Though it left me in a downbeat mood for the obvious reason, I was glad that I picked up the book and through the words of the Kalanithi, went on a journey with them and learned from them.

I recalled listening to Steve Jobs saying that death reminded us how we were all going to die and it put everything we do into perspective. We only have one shot at life and need to make it count, no matter what it means to each of us. Reading the book plummeted me into realization and somewhat fear that life was too short. One moment, Paul was a marathon runner, a hotshot neurosugeon in California with a great family and a splendid career awaiting. The next moment, he found himself in a losing battle with death and powerless in his final days to the point that even eating was a torture.

Similar to all other book-related posts, below is the list of some of my favorite passages. I highly recommend you give this book a chance.

Only later would I realize that our trip had added a new dimension to my understanding of the fact that brains give rise to our ability to form relationships and make life meaningful. Sometimes, they break

Source: when breath becomes air

I had come to see language as an almost supernatural force, existing between people, bringing our brains, shielded in centimeter-thick skulls, into communion. A word meant something only between people, and life’s meaning, its virtue, had something to do with the depth of the relationships we form. It was the relational aspect of humans—i.e., “human relationality”—that undergirded meaning.

Source: when breath becomes air

Our patients’ lives and identities may be in our hands, yet death always wins. Even if you are perfect, the world isn’t. The secret is to know that the deck is stacked, that you will lose, that your hands or judgment will slip, and yet still struggle to win for your patients. You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.

Source: when breath becomes air

If the weight of mortality does not grow lighter, does it at least get more familiar?

Source: when breath becomes air

Everyone succumbs to finitude. I suspect I am not the only one who reaches this pluperfect state. Most ambitions are either achieved or abandoned; either way, they belong to the past. The future, instead of the ladder toward the goals of life, flattens out into a perpetual present. Money, status, all the vanities the preacher of Ecclesiastes described hold so little interest: a chasing after wind, indeed

Source: when breath becomes air

When you come to one of the many moments in life where you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.

Source: when breath becomes air

I expected to feel only empty and heartbroken after Paul died. It never occurred to me that you could love someone the same way after he was gone, that I would continue to feel such love and gratitude alongside the terrible sorrow, the grief so heavy that at times I shiver and moan under the weight of it. Paul is gone, and I miss him acutely nearly every moment, but I somehow feel I’m still taking part in the life we created together.

Source: when breath becomes air

No philosopher can explain the sublime better than this, standing between day and night. It was as if this were the moment God said, “Let there be light!” You could not help but feel your specklike existence against the immensity of the mountain, the earth, the universe, and yet still feel your own two feet on the talus, reaffirming your presence amid the grandeur

Source: when breath becomes air

Book: What you do is who you are

I have heard about What You Do Is Who You Are: How to Create Your Business Culture by Ben Horowitz for some time, but hadn’t had time to read it until this week. Here are my thoughts on the book after finishing it.

Ben laid out a few key points in building a culture and supported those points with several major historical examples including Genghis Khan, and with his own personal experience in a long illustrious career. Overall, the main thesis of the book is that to be a leader and build a culture, one must walk the talk and follow words with concrete actions, even though sometimes the choices are hard to make. Personally, there are several following minor points that I really like

The Japanese culture of craftsmanship and attention to detail begins with death.

If you realize that the life that is here today is not certain on the morrow, then when you take your orders from your employer, and when you look in on your parents, you will have the sense that this may be the last time – so you cannot fail to become truly attentive to your employers and your parents

Shocking rules help drive folks to become more disciplined.

One of the examples used in the book is about Coach Tom Coughlin of the New York Giants from 2004 to 2015. He set the rule that said, “If you are on time, you are late”.

Culture and strategy do not compete

I have heard numerous times in business schools and the press that “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. I actually never thought so. Both are important and influential to a company’s existence. They don’t compete with each other. I am glad to read that Ben agreed and articulated the point really well with examples.

Issues with the “don’t bring me a problem without bringing me a solution” mentality

We all have heard it before. One or more managers that we worked with instructed us to be proactive and solution-oriented by telling us to accompany a problem with a suggestion. There is a sound rationale behind that mentality. It forces the carrier of bad news to think of solutions and be engaged in finding a solution, instead of being a whiner or complainer. On the other side, there are problems in an organization that barely show up on the leadership’s radar and that are too complicated for one low-level staff to design a solution. The mentality in question implicitly and unexpectedly discourages folks from even discussing complicated issues since they are not confident in their solutions or they don’t have any.

Overall, the book provides great points in building culture, accompanied by examples from history, recent businesses and Ben’s own career. The core principles discussed in the book are nothing new, but the examples and the subtle minor points can be very interesting.

Book: She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement

I came across this book on actress Hayley Atwell’s Instagram account and decided to pick it up. Boy, I couldn’t put it down. The book is about the three year journey of two reporters: Jodi and Megan, who spent hours and hours investigating, cross-checking and writing about the sexual harassments by powerful men towards women.

Reading the book, I came to know the challenges and difficulties the victims of sexual harassments had to encounter whether they came forward. If they don’t, they have to live with their nightmares for the rest of their lives and watch the culprits go unpunished. If they do, they have to face death threats, disruption into their job, life and their family’s.

Over a long dinner, she made clear why she was so scared to travel to Washington. Her family had been forced to hire twenty-four-hour private security. It was uncertain when it would be safe for them to return home. Ford had already experienced enough disruption and danger.

She pressed Play on her phone at the dinner table. “You lying fucking cunt!” came a voice from her phone. The lawyer told Ford she was right to be frightened by the messages and encouraged her to share them with the FBI. “You’ve got three months” another voice said. Others repeated similar phrases and sounded like they might have come from the same voice-altering machine, making her think they were somehow coordinated. “Don’t be messing with my boy, Brett”. “Don’t be messing with my boy, Trump”

I have been so baffled and stunned by the length by which people are willing to go for something that is not related to them personally at all. How can you threaten a stranger’s life for something that is not related to you?

It’s also inconceivable to read what powerful men like Harvey Weinstein could get away. Non-disclosure agreements were signed, inflicting acute restrictions on the victims who, in some cases, didn’t even have the copies of the NDAs. Here is an excerpt on Harvey Weinstein’s behavior

Each morning, Perkins, or whichever assistant from the London office was on the early shift, had to rouse the partially or fully nude Weinstein out of bed in his hotel room, and turn on his shower, as if he could not rotate the handle himself. Sometimes Weinstein tried to pull Perkins into bed with him, she recalled

Last but not least, I appreciate and admire the tenacity of the authors, their colleagues and editors for pursuing the stories despite the intimidation, intricacies and difficulties. At one point, the story was going to collapse since evidence was exceedingly hard to secure while there was no victim going on the record. Massive massive appreciation towards Ashley Judd and Laura Madden for taking the leap of faith to be the first women to go on record, paving the way for many others.

It’s sad and disappointing to see that despite advances in so many areas, we, as a race, still have sexual harassments all around the world. I am sure what is covered in the book is just the tip of the iceberg.

Book: Super Pumped: The Battle For Uber

Having a lot of time on my hands during bus and train rides to Chicago and back, I decided to read this book. It turned out to be a really interesting and good book about Uber’s history and the list of events that led to where it is now. The growth at all cost mentality and the toxic culture both catapulted Uber into the stratosphere of startup valuation and cost the ride sharing company millions of dollars and a litany of problems. Uber was drowned in so many scandals that it was mind-blowing to see how the governance allowed that to happen. The part in which Benchmark and its allies did everything they could to oust Kalanick was fascinating. If you are interested in one of the most interesting startups of recent times, then I highly recommend it

At the end of the week, Uber’s finance team added it all up. The entire “X to the x” celebration cost Uber more than $25 million in cash – more than twice the amount of Uber’s Series A round of venture capital funding.

The reality was much less noble. As Uber’s insurance costs grew exponentially, the “Safe Rides Fee” was devised to add $1 of pure margin to each trip, according to employees who worked on the addition. That meant for each trip taken in the United States, Uber took in an extra dollar in case. The drivers, of course, got no share of the extra buck. That number added up to hundreds of millions of dollars over years of operation, a sizeable new line of income. After the money was collected, it was never earmarked specifically for improving safety.

When Uber cut rates in 2015, rather than worry about the effects lower income would have on drivers, Kalanick was giddy. To Travis, lowering prices meant raising demand. Growth would explode again, and growth – not the concerns of his drivers – was Travis’ top priority.

It didn’t matter to Kalanick that drivers were logging more trips and picking up more people – basically doing twice the work – to make the same amount of money. It didn’t matter that drivers were commuting absurd distances to busy cities like San Francisco – often from places two hours away, but occasionally as many as six hours away – sleeping in their cars overnight on side streets and empty parking lots for the chance at more rides per hour. It didn’t matter than San Francisco lacked sufficient public bathrooms for drivers, forcing them to find coffee shop bathrooms, or, more often make do elsewhere. And it certainly didn’t matter that drivers pulling dayslong shifts were overworked and under-slept.

Most importantly for Son, SoftBank would purchase those shares at a steep discount from Uber’s valuation earlier in the year. Son and Khosrowshahi settled on a purchase price of $33 per share, pegging Uber’s valuation at about $48 billion – a steal for SoftBank. That meant that the scandals of the previous twelve months had knocked about $20 billion off Uber’s private market value.

To keep the price propped up on paper, the investors did some sleight-of-hand maneuvering. SoftBank would purchase $1.25 billion in additional, newly issued shares at Uber’s previous existing valuation of $68.5 billion. The premise was absurd; the secondary market clearly valued Uber’s shares at far lower than they were before Uber’s 2017 from hell. Yet in the eyes of the market, the maneuver worked; Uber’s valuation would remain at $68.5 billion.

One particularly raucous evening, a bunch of Uber Thailand employees, were up late drinking and snorting coke, a semiregular occurrence at that office. One female Uber employee with the group had decided she didn’t want to do drugs with her colleagues, and tried to abstain. Before she could leave, her manager grabbed the woman and shook her, bruising her. Then he grabbed the back of her head and shoved her face-first into the pile of cocaine on the table, forcing her to snort the drugs in front of them.

The New York office was largely defined by its machismo, sexism and aggression. Sao Paolo saw angry managers throwing coffee cups across the room or screaming at employees when they weren’t happy with results.

Books – All five of The Song of Ice and Fire series and favorite quotes

Disappointed with how the final season concluded, I launched myself into reading the series of The Song of Ice and Fire again, for the 3rd time. I love GRRM’s writing. Below are my favorite quotes for different reasons. It can be just good writing in my opinion, or some interesting details about some characters, be it their sass or their stories, or just some good life lessons.

Game of Thrones

The blood of the First Men still flows in the veins of the Starks, and we hold to the belief that the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword. If you would take a man’s life, you owe it to him to look into his eyes and hear his final words. And if you cannot bear to do that, then perhaps the man does not deserve to die

Death is so terribly final, while life is full of possibilities

“Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?” he heard his own voice saying, small and far away.

And his father’s voice replied to him. “That is the only time a man can be brave.”

A Clash of Kings

“They will garb your brother Robb in silks, satins, and velvets of a hundred different colors, while you live and die in black ringmail. He will wed some beautiful princess and father sons on her. You’ll have no wife, nor will you ever hold a child of your own blood in your arms. Robb will rule, you will serve. Men will call you a crow. Him they’ll call Your Grace. Singers will praise every little things he does, while your greatest deeds all go unsung. Tell me that none of this troubles you, Jon…and I’ll name you a liar, and know I have the truth of it.”

Jon drew himself up, taut as a bowstring. “And if it did trouble me, what might I do, bastard as I am?”

“What will you do?” Mormont asked. “Bastard as you are?”

“Be troubled,” said Jon, “and keep my vows”

He who hurries through life hurries to his grave

Bear Island is beautiful, but remote. Imagine old gnarled oaks and tall pines, flowering thornbushes, grey stones bearded with moss, little reeks running icy down steep hillsides. The hall of the Mormonts is built of huge logs and surounded by an earthen palisade. Aside from a few crofters, my people live along the coasts and fish the seas…

At sixteen, he was cursed with all certainty of youth, unleavened by any trace of humor or self-doubt, and wed to the arrogance that came so naturally to those born blond and strong and handsome

The wind cut like a knife up here, and shrilled in the night like a mother mourning her slain children

A Storm of Swords

Old stories are like old friends, she used to say. You have to visit them from time to time.

Bronn gave out with a chuckle, but Oberyn only smiled. “We might never have seen you at all but for your sweet sister. You were never seen at table or hall, though sometimes at night we could hear a baby howling down in the depths of the Rock. You did have a monstrous great voice, I must grant you that. You would wail for hours, and nothing would quiet you but a woman’s teat.”

“Still true, as it happens”

This time Prince Oberyn did laugh. “A taste we share. Lord Gargalen once told me he hoped to die with a sword in his hand, to which I replied that I would sooner go with a breast in mine”

He rode till dawn, while the stars stared down like eyes

“…The north will go to your son by Sansa Stark…if you ever find enough manhood in you to breed one. Lest you forget, it is not only Joffrey who must needs take a maidenhead”

I had not forgotten, though I’d hoped you had. “And when do you imagine Sansa will be at her most fertile?” Tyrion asked his father in tones that dripped acid. “Before or after I tell her how we murdered her mother and her brother?”

Dawn stole into her garden like a thief

A Feast for Crows

“I am not Cersei. I have a beard, and she has breasts. If you are still confused, nuncle, count our hands. Cersei has two.”

“Lancel, Coz. I wanted to congratulate you upon your marriage. I only regret that my duties do not permit me to attend.”

“His Grace must be protected”

“And will be. Still, I hate to miss your bedding. It is your first marriage and her second, I understand. I’m sure my lady will be pleased to show you what goes where”

Together, they shoved the dirt on top of Nimble Dick as the moon rose higher in the sky, and down below the ground the heads of forgotten kings whispered secrets

Needle was Robb and Bran and Rickon, her mother and her father, even Sansa. Needle was Winterfell’s grey walls, and the laughter of its people. Needle was the summer snows, Old Nan’s stories, the heart tree with its red leaves and scary face, the warm earthy smell of the glass gardens, the sound of the north wind rattling the shutters of her room. Needle was Jon Snow’s smile. He used to mess my hair and call me “little sister”, she remembered, and suddenly there were tears in her eyes

“Lady? I’m no lady. I’m the queen.”

“My sister will be surprised to hear that.”

“Lord Ryman crowned me his very self.” She gave a shake of her ample hips. “I’m the queen o’ whores.”

No, Jaime thought, my sweet sister holds that title too.

A Dance With Dragons

On starless nights the great cliff was as black as stone, a darkness towering high above the wide world, but when the moon came out it shimmered pale and icy as a frozen stream.

The dwarf rolled over, pressing half a nose deep into the silken pillows. Sleep opened beneath him like a well, and he threw himself into it with a will and let the darkness eat him up

“You should thank the Father Above. He gives gifts to all his children.”

“He does,” he agreed pleasantly. And when I die, please let them bury with me a crossbow, so I can thank the Father Above for his gifts the same way I thanked the father below.

On moonless nights the water was as black as maester’s ink, from horizon to horizon. Dark and deep and forbidding, beautiful in a chilly sort of way, but when he looked at it too long Tyrion found himself musing on how easy it would be to slip over the gunwale and drop down into that darkness. One very small splash, and the pathetic little tale that was his life would soon be done.

The moon was a crescent, thin and sharp as the blade of a knife. Snowflakes drifted down soundlessly to cloak soldier pines and sentinels in white. The drifts grew so deep that they covered the entrance to the caves, leaving a white wall that Summer had to dig through whenever he went outside to join his pack and hunt

The moon was a crescent, thin and sharp as the blade of a knife. The days marched past, one after the other, each shorter than the one before. The nights grew longer. No sunlight ever reached the caves beneath the hill. No moonlight ever touched those stony halls. Even the stars were strangers there. Those things belonged to the world above, where time ran in its iron circles, day to night to day to night to day.

Once outside the godswood the cold descended on him like a ravening wolf and caught him in its teeth. He lowered his head into the wind and made for the Great Hall, hastening after the long line of candles and torches. Ice crunched beneath his boots, and a sudden gust pushed back his hood, as if a ghost had plucked at him with frozen fingers, hungry to gaze upon his face

Let them laugh. His pride had perished here in Winterfell; there was no place for such in the dungeons of the Dreadfort. When you have known the kiss of a flaying knife, a laugh loses all its power to hurt you

In the godswood the snow was still dissolving as it touched the earth. Steam rose off the hot pools, fragrant with the smell of moss and mud and decay. A warm fog hung in the air, turning the trees into sentinels, tall soldiers shrouded in cloaks of gloom.

Alys Karstark leaned close to Jon. “Snow during a wedding means a cold marriage. My lady mother always said so.”

He glanced at Queen Selyse. There must have been a blizzard the day she and Stannis wed

Summer friends will melt away like summer snows, but winter friends are friends forever.”

“For the Watch”. He punched Jon in the belly. When he pulled his hand away, the dagger stayed where he had buried it.

Jon fell to his knees. He found the dagger’s hilt and wrenched it free. In the cold night air the would was smoking. “Ghost”, he whispered. Pain washed over him. Stick them with the pointy end. When the third dagger took him between the shoulder blades, he gave a grunt and fell face-first into the snow. He never felt the fourth knife. Only the cold…

Book: Wandering by Hermann Hesse

Wandering by Hermann Hesse is a short yet fantastic read. When life’s uncertainties keep piling up and your mind is exhausted by all the distractions, it is a surreal feeling to read this book and imagine being open up to the nature the way that the author was. His lyrical writing is magnificent.

But I smile, and not only with my mouth. I smile with my soul, with my eyes, with my whole skin, and I offer these countrysides, whose fragrances drift up to me, different senses than those I had before, more delicate, more silent, more finely honed, better practiced, and more grateful. Everything belongs to me more than ever before, it speaks to me more richly and with hundreds of nuances. My yearning no longer paints dreamy colors across the veiled distances, my eyes are satisfied with what exists, because they have learned to see. The world has become lovelier than before.

The world has become lovelier. I am alone, and I don’t suffer from my loneliness. I don’t want life to be anything other than what it is. I am ready to let myself be baked in the sun till I am done. I am eager to ripen. I am ready to die, ready to be born again. The world has become lovelier.

Wandering – Hermann Hesse

Soft rain, summer rain

Whispers from bushes, whispers from trees.

Oh, how lovely and full of blessing

To dream and be satisfied.

———————————

I was so long in the outer brightness,

I am not used to this upheaval:

Being at home in my own soul,

Never to be led elsewhere.

———————————

I want nothing, I long for nothing,

I hum gently the sounds of childhood,

And I reach home astounded

In the warm beauty of dreams.

———————————

Heart, how torn you are,

How blessed to plow down blindly,

To think nothing, to know nothing,

Only to breathe, only to feel.”

For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.