Newsletter 14

I'll be moving to biweekly for the next couple months until exam season wraps up.

As the critics and social media shape the narrative on the mess that took place at the Iowa caucuses, it's important to remember Hanlon's Razor:

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Have a great week.



When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi - Not something I'd usually read, but it was worthwhile. Paul's memoir is a sad but meaningful story on life. Our own mortality is inevitable, and we should all reflect on what is important to us and cherish every day.

Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell - I was hesitant this would turn into the usual Gladwell story that's wrapped with a bow, but I was pleasantly surprised. Stories and people are nuanced and complicated. Gladwell gives that nuance the justice it deserves. I wish his other books were more like Talking to Strangers. If you enjoy Gladwell's writing, this should become your new favorite. If you've discounted Gladwell like I have, I'd still give this book a read. The social commentary is worth it.

Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood, and the World by Tom Wright and Bradley Hope - I'd read the WSJ article related to Jho Low, but this book is ride worth taking. Bill Gates said it best:

“As Bad Blood is to biotech, Billion Dollar Whale is to international finance… a wonderful read… Thrilling.”


Some extraordinary episodes from this week:

Leading a Technology Giant During the Techlash - Exponential View

Reid Hoffman on Systems, Levers, and Quixotic Quests - Conversations With Tyler

Emotional Currency: How Money Shapes Human Relationships - Hidden Brain

Keith Rabois: Key lessons from Peter Thiel, Reid Hoffman, and Jack Dorsey

Lessons of Greatness: Why Finding Undiscovered Talent is the Winning Mindset

Devotion - The Digital Human

The ELIZA Effect - 99% Invisible

WhatsApp - Acquired

Fear of Technology - Throughline

Mr. Harris Goes to Washington - Your Undivided Attention

It's Been a Week - Exponent

Revisiting “Jobs To Be Done” with Clayton Christensen - HBR Ideacast

Chetan Puttagunta – Go Slow to Go Fast: Software Building and Investing – Invest Like the Best


Meetings, Bloody Meetings


The XY Problem - I come across this problem almost daily. It's important to take a step back and think about what the real problem is. In a similar vein, How To Ask Questions The Smart Way provides some good advice on how to frame questions.

How to Give a Great Presentation: Timeless Advice from a Legendary Adman, 1981 - Some decent advice on presentations. Actuaries especially fall in to a trap of presenting data and charts without telling a worthwhile story. Numbers without a narrative aren't worthwhile.

How to reduce ‘attention residue’ in your life - This reminds me of Cal Newport's deep work concept.

Statistical Consequences of Fat Tails - Taleb is a polarizing figure, but his critique on fat tails is worthwhile. Sifting through his controversial side can be tiresome, but there's value in some of his thoughts. I haven't read through all of this, but briefly skimming through things, it looks to be valuable.

Harvard Data Science Review - Another new issue was recently released. A couple notable articles I found interesting:

The long road to fairer algorithms - These are important conversations to be had, and I fear that we will rush in to something more devastating than our own human biases.

The Paper Clip Problem - I had never heard of this phrase until now.

The Wall of Technical Debt - Technical debt is often used in the context of IT, but it's just as prevalent in finance. This quote from the article struck a cord with me:

“We’ll do it during Summer” or “after the big project is finished” or whatever the local euphemism for “never” is.

Calculated technical debt is valuable, but the lack of clear vision and priorities leads to not addressing what needs to be addressed.

Famed Medallion Fund “Stretches . . . Explanation to the Limit,” Professor Claims - I haven't read Zuckerman's book yet, but the Medallion Fund is mythical, and I'm always interested in reading about it.

Sixteen Leading Quants Imagine the Next Decade in Global Finance - Not a lot of insight to be gained from such short briefs, but there's some common trends with ESG, fixed income, and data.

Clayton Christensen taught me patience, showed me love, then gave me confidence and hope - One follow up piece on Professor Christensen. He had an impact on many.

Apple Reports Record First Quarter Results - The numbers that Apple reports are staggering. $20 billion of share buybacks in a quarter. $22 billion of net income. As much as I'm not fond of the direction they've been going over the last couple years, the numbers speak for themselves.

Alphabet Announces Fourth Quarter and Fiscal Year 2019 Results - Search is still the google cash cow, but it's interesting to note the almost $5 billion in YouTube revenue. Insane to think that Apple had double the net income of Alphabet during the quarter.

Being a Noob - I don't particularly like Paul's phrasing, but there is value in new experiences. You could think of this as the value of a generalist over a specialist. There are pros and cons to both though.

Pioneers vs. Process People - Every company needs its mix of pioneers and process people. I always use the analogy of a restaurant needing both chefs and cooks. The same is true of any organization.

Using Mixed Integer Programming to Assign Air Cargo to Flights - A practical example of mixed integer programming. There are many potential applications in the asset management and insurance space that remain untapped. The problem is finding talent that knows the technical details and domain knowledge to appropriately use it.

Beware the mean - A short reminder on power laws and making assumptions on distributions.

The Wuhan Virus - The coronavirus unfortunately rages on, but the realtime science that is going on is something incredible to witness.

Mastering Spark with R - Spark is a powerful tool and Rstudio's package to interface with it is the quality you'd expect. Given all of that, I'd wager an actuary never has the amount of data where Spark becomes necessary.

Monty Hall Problem - Vectorised Simulations in R - A great example of being able to solve a problem in multiple ways.

rstudio::conf 2020 - Workshop resources from rstudio::conf.

How McKinsey Destroyed the Middle Class - Another critical piece on McKinsey.

Educated Fools: Why Democratic Leaders Still Misunderstand the Politics of Social Class - A longer, political read, but something I think is important for people to reflect on. As the knowledge economy deepens its roots in society, social classes are bound to become more and more polarized. Follow this article up with another from American Affairs: Rethinking the Knowledge Economy

That's it for this week.

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