CuriosiTips #1

Welcome readers,

I decided to spin-off the “Curiosity & Learning” section of monthly update posts into an irregular series that I decided to call CuriosiTips. This is the first edition, I hope you enjoy it 🙂

The series is not Personal Finance / FIRE oriented (a little bit though), and it’s not something completely new on this blog. I used to publish posts named “Eleven Gems on the Net“, but then discontinued the series for no specific reason except lack of time. Didn’t quit sharing what I found: for a while I embedded most of my discoveries into the monthly updates. From the feedback I received I see many of my readers like it so let’s spin it off: the new series is here now (but I still lack time)!

There are some editorial attempts to make it structured, at least there are sections. Not all of them will be in every edition of this series, and new ones can spawn and die at any point in time. No structure guaranteed, don’t get in love with anything in particular.

The goals are:

  • I want to feed your curiosity beast. I want to contribute to the ambitious project of building your knowledge both in the personal finance sphere and in other subjects that interest me (and that might interest you). I want to inspire you. I want to click some button somewhere in the back of your brain in the hope that you would follow up and find gold mines. Please, share your findings in that case.
  • I want to drive you away from your comfort zone. I like contrarian thinking, I like to challenge my ideas and never take anything for granted. More questions than answers. More doubts than certainties. I know not. You too.
  • I want to make you laugh in sophisticated ways. Let me try: “I won $3 million on the lottery this weekend so I decided to donate a quarter of it to charity. Now I have $2,999,999.75!” Did it work?

Ok, enough talking. Let’s jump into categories 🙂

FIRE News

The European FIRE community is growing up and getting stronger. Maybe more offline than online though, and that’s a nice thing. Many meetups, conferences, retreats… and I missed all of them so far this year 🙁

Missed FIWE Budapest in May (hey, I’m still waiting to read a review of the event!), I missed the FI Retreat in Portugal in May, and I will miss the FIWE Family in Lake Balaton (HUN) in late July / early Aug.

But… but… but… I might come to the FIRE Meetup in Madrid in October, organized by Willyfog and my dear friend Morten 🙂 I can’t promise my attendance (and historical data tell us that I’m going to decline last minute) but I’ll try.

So, if you’re interested: FIWE Family in Hungary later this month and FIRE Meetup in Madrid in October. Enjoy!

Inve$ting

The market is high, isn’t it? Do you fear the crash? Do you FEEL the crash coming?

Relax, breathe. The market is efficient! Or… is it?

The philosophical war between those who firmly believe in the Efficient Market Hypothesis (EMH for friends) and the financial behaviorists is still going on, exciting as always.

The guys at RWM, who I mentioned many times (Ben Carlson, Michael Batnick, Nick Maggiulli – who joined recently, Josh Brown, Barry Ritholtz…) hosted a discussion titled Fama vs Shiller on their YouTube channel The Compound. Fama (who introduced EMH) and Shiller (who introduced CAPE) shared the Nobel prize in 2013. One is efficientist, the other is behaviorists. How’s the market better modeled? What’s your opinion? The discussion was really interesting, I can’t recommend it enough!

Another CuriosiTip, again regarding Eugene Fama somehow: mid June, Big ERN published this amazing article about Small Cap and Value Stocks. Why did I mention Fama? Because professors Ken French and Eugene Fama came up with the famous Fama-French three-factor model, which stated that historically small cap and value stocks have outperformed the market. And guess what? Since the study got published they’re no more outperforming the market (according to the ERN article)! Damn efficient market!

As I said, I like to question my knowledge all the time. I ask myself “is this thing that I believe to be true really true?” Sadly, most of the time the answer is “it depends” or worse “nope, it’s not! Live with it!“.

The problem is what to do with new evidence? How to rebuild a mental model of the world after few bricks in the wall? Isn’t it easier to keep believing in Santa and avoid listening to those infidels who claim he doesn’t exist?

No, you can’t unsee what you saw.

Keep your critical thinking active. Challenge yourself and your belief. Don’t be afraid of being embarrassed by your old self and his/her belief. Reach a Socratic peace of mind: “I know nothing”.

And take a look at this amazing Alan Watts video:

Should I take Big ERN conclusions into account and change investing strategy? No more value / small cap ETFs?

I know not.

But wait, Robin Powell at HumbleDollar showed 3 good arguments in favor of value stocks, the most convincing one is:

The valuation spread between value and growth stocks has widened. Indeed, as a result of the relatively poor performance of value stocks over the past decade, the book-to-market spread between value and growth stocks is at about the same level it was in 1992, when Fama and French published their research. The potential for outsized returns from value stocks is greater now than it has been for some time.

I know not.

Vintage FIRE

I don’t remember when and why, but few weeks ago I ended up on an old LivingAFI post. I guess it was this one about blogging but I’m not 100% sure.

Livingafi… holy crap how much I miss him!

His blog motivated me to start my own. My Story post series is inspired by his amazing one!

I devoured his blog 3-4 years ago. I loved his writing style, I felt so close to him, I literally read all his posts. I actually downloaded all his blog just in case it disappeared from the internet. I have a Google Drive Folder with all his posts and all the comments. I don’t care if I’m violating any copyright law, this is human heritage: I’m serving the greater good!

Do you know what else I did? Since some of his posts are split into pages, I took his BEST articles, formatted them into a single Google doc (resizing images, consistent formatting, adding page breaks where it makes sense…), and converted it to PDF ready to be printed. Here‘s the one for his Midlife FI-sis (originally split in 9 pages). Enjoy! it’s a must read for whoever works in IT.

Wait, did I say “his best article”? Actually his best one, the one that made me almost cry twice, both in the laughing direction and in the empathy one is this one named Definitely Not Purpose. Please, if you are like me and you think you’re a creative person confined in a tech body make yourself a favor and go read it NOW!

Sadly he quit his job in 2015, wrote few posts after that (like these amazing ones: Detoxing, Three months ER review, Done Detoxing and… Return To Work), and then quit blogging. Nobody knows who he is and what he’s doing.

I’d kill for a beer with him 🙁

Have You Reddit?

Have you read it? Have you reddit? What??

Ok, I meant to introduce this section after publishing a lightweight post about Reddit that I have half ready but not finished yet. More on this will come soon-ish.

Anyway, I just said I miss livingafi, but apparently I’m not the only one!

Disappointments

This section is about people/products/websites/whatever that I once trusted and recently disappointed me.

Today we’re going to talk about a guy named James Altucher.

I consider(ed?) James one of my best virtual mentors of the last 5 years. I never read his most successful book Choose Yourself, but I think that even without reading it I know ~90% of its content. I follow James’ blog since forever, and devoured his articles on how to become an Idea machine (and how to monetize it), why you should write (and self publish), learn public speaking, why you should quit your daily job, revolutionize your life, don’t go to college, don’t own a house, and never invest in stocks.

A lot of interesting and contrarian thinking here. As I said in the intro I like contrarian/controversial thinking, and James is a first principle thinker. I love(d?) him!

Ok, then why am I saying he’s a disappointment? Well, signals that something wrong was going on were everywhere… Even though he gives away 95% of his content for free, the remaining 5% of his material has always been aggressively marketed via popups, ads, and copywriting intensive sales pages. Flows of self referencing words. I didn’t mind though, I knew he’s in the “helping other for free” business because he’s something very expensive to sell. Even though he claims to be a minimalistic, he’s not a frugal person. He actually wrote posts against frugality. You can be contrarian on anything and still be my friend, but don’t touch my frugality…

Anyway, what happened to good ol’ James?

James wrote few posts about Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies during the last 2-3 years, always being extremely supportive, saying that cryptos are the future and there’s nothing to stop them!

Ok, so far nothing really redflaggy. I also wrote an article about Bitcoin back when it was cool (which was supposed to be part 1 of many that never came…). Ok, so far it’s just standard J.A.: exaggerating to get attention and to have his message delivered. For the greater good?

Nope. One of his recent posts made me want to dig more: why people hated me so much for my Bitcoin ads.

Mmh…

Every single day I still get hate mail of some sort or other from both friends and strangers about how disgusted they are with me because of “cryptocurrencies.”

Really? What did James do to people? Yes, he was riding the 2017 wave, I’m sure someone jumped on the train and got disappointed by the December crash… but “disgusted”? Did James speculate on that?

Let’s keep reading…

People say, “Weren’t you pump-and-dumping shitcoins?” The answer: NO. Never. Absolutely not. In fact, the opposite. […] the cryptocurrency portfolio I recommend has about 12 currencies. ZERO of them have been scams. All solve huge huge problems in the currency space.

It seems fair. I trust him. I’m sure he recommended BTC, Ethereum, Litecoin, Ripple on some free newsletter or on his paid one.

Wait.

Isn’t the article titled “Bitcoin Ads”? Why ads? What is he selling?

So I googled “Altucher Bitcoin Ads” and I saw the hell.

First of all, the literal Hell: look at what a shitty image and clickbait text on his ads!

Then I found few articles about Altucher Bitcoin Scam. Even a quora thread.

But the one that made me cringy and angry was this one: Don’t trust James Altucher’s Crypto Advice. This guy spent days (and I spent a couple of hours) unrolling J.A. sales page for his “Crypto Course”, concluding: “James Altucher is a lying fraud“.

Have you ever wandered what it feels like for a kid to know that Santa doesn’t exist? Well, that’s nothing compared to how I felt. Because my Santa didn’t simply NOT exist, that old fart existed, and came to my house stealing my toys! I don’t know if I was angrier toward him or toward myself for having been so ingenuous.

I read the article, while simultaneously watching his sales video. A fucking hour long non skippable, non jumpable, non acceleratable shitty video. I won’t post the full link, I won’t put my blog at risk of being classified as SCAM by search engines. Reconstruct it yourself:

https://proREMOVE.chooseyourselffinancialTHIS.comSHIT/p/ACT_cryptocode_1217/EACTU221/

TL;DR: James talks talks talks a lot about how you can make 23894823528728% on your investments in a month if you buy his 2k USD Crypto trading software, because he’s a software engineer and he can read crypto code and see which cryptos are going to grow 23894823528728% in a month because they have a special line of code… but he shows screenshots of config files and… anyway, if you believe a line of code, or even the entire code base of a crypto can influence its price – and by that amount – you’re either dumb or desperate.

(btw, if you add “Full?h=true” to the url you can read the transcript)

He recommended BITCONNECT… holy shit!

Lol James…

GG James.

I still like your old posts, but here you monetized at the expense of the weakest: desperate and illiterate people. I’ll clean my bookmarks, my notes, my memory of whatever I liked of yours.

Sorry.

RIP (and that’s not a signature)

Ok, let’s move on…

Learning

These days I’m going very meta on learning. I’m not focusing on a specific topic but on “how to learn”, “how to read”, “how to retain what I read”, “how to build my Personal Knowledge Management system”. I strongly believe that we, humans, have built tools that our Paleolithic biology can’t handle. Our brain is too limited and to make better use of it one has to build a parallel system to discover, acquire, filter, store, retrieve, analyze and make use of pieces of relevant information. I strongly believe this is the way to stay relevant in a world doomed by individual irrelevance.

I believe that the “action” part (analyze and make use of) has been amazingly covered by Cal Newport’s books. Deliberate Practice (so good they can’t ignore you), focus (deep work), and attention awareness (digital minimalism) are your tools.

This video of him at Adobe 99u conference summarized all these aspects. Enjoy:

The “acquisition” aspect of learning is very interesting too. How to learn?

I found The Art of Reading course on Farnam Street simply awesome! Sadly it’s expired, closed forever.

But aren’t we contrarians here?

I’ve found an old article by Andy Matuschak, a smart software engineer who also wrote an excellent online book on Quantum Computing, named Why books don’t work. The article challenges the given for granted assumption that humans transmit knowledge by reading/hearing sentences. So a similar argument is implied for lectures too. I don’t have a strong opinion about it, I like to challenge hypothesis given for granted 🙂

For the sake of completeness, here’s a rebuttal article on withoutbullshit.com, a site that deserves attention even just for its domain name 🙂

Last but not least, let’s talk about the “organizational” part of the information flow: filter, store and retrieve. This is my Achille’s Heel. I try to keep everything. I have 4k bookmarks saved, tons of pdfs stored, I guess a thousand videos saved, hundreds of docs with my notes on things/books/videos/articles… I’m a serial “knowledge accumulator”, but I’m not sure it’s being as effective as I’d like.

I didn’t try anything fancy yet, but I just started to look around.

I liked the notecard system by Ryan Holiday (not his invention, he copied from Robert Greene and Niklas Luhmann) but recently a more in-depth method attracted my attention. Tiago Forte’s Building a Second Brain course. Of course it’s a paid thing, of course I don’t want to pay for it, of course I still want to learn as much as I can. Here’s the course Curriculum and here’s a 45 minutes video introduction to the course, with actual useful information and not just sales bullshit. On Praxis blog (Tiago main blog) you can find free articles that cover ~50% of the course curriculum, like the awesome progressive summarization and P.A.R.A. method.

Is it meta enough? 🙂

What? It isn’t??

Ok, then…

Meta

Haha! More meta stuff!

This category contains source of news aggregation that I find useful, to which I subscribe. No bullshit!

This edition I want to recommend Nat Eliason Monday Medley. I like Nat, I think I mentioned many of his articles in the past. I don’t usually subscribe to mailing lists. I made this exception and I’m happy I did! It’s a weekly mail with a lot of interesting articles from the world of Technology, Health, Science, Learning, Future, Business and so on. Nat is a good guy. Of course he has something to sell, but he doesn’t push for it.

Rabbit Hole

The rabbit hole, i.e. something that transports someone into a wonderfully (or troublingly) surreal state or situation, according to dictionary.com.

Today’s rabbit hole started on the awesome blog putanumonit, I think I already mentioned Jacob’s blog many times on my blog.

I love putanumonit, I like Jacob’s funny way of writing, and the topics he addresses. He’s a rationalist (lesswrong, Yudkowsky…), and that’s how I discovered his blog.

He also writes about personal finance every once in a while: take a look at his getting rich slowly post (no, J.D.Roth, not about you!) and get rich real slowly one.

Anyway, one of his latest posts was about his appearance on “The Switch” podcast. So I started listening to the podcast in background.

Topics of the podcast were super-interesting, and his calm and somehow funny voice was pleasant to hear. I’ve read many of his articles (loved his goal factoring one), seen some of his pictures, now I’m listening to his voice but I’ve never seen him on a video. So let’s google him!

Here we go: his appearance at the BAHFest 2016:

What a funny/nerdy video! I laughed a lot 😀

By the way, what the hell is BAHFest?

BAHFfest is “The Festival of Bad Ad Hoc Hypotheses”… holy crap, that’s awesome! Logical fallacies, here I come! “a celebration of well-argued and thoroughly researched but completely incorrect scientific theories” love it love it love it I NEED MOAAAAR!

5 BAHFest videos later

Holy crap, this is a gold mine! Who the hell put this thing together? What a question! Of course he’s Zach Weinersmith! The brilliant mind behind the SMBC webcomic!

I love SMBC! On SMBC my rabbit hole ended. I spent half an hour on it and was a click too close to buying Soonish, Zach’s book, which has been sitting in my wishlist since its announcement date!

But I didn’t (30 bucks saved!)

Of course Zach has many appearances at the BAHFest, including this amazing one!

And BAHFest is a big thing, there are conferences at MIT, in Seattle, in the West Coast, in London, in Sydney holy crap I want a Swiss one now!

And as host and Judge of the London BAHFest there’s Matt Parker from standupmaths, OhMyGod!

Ok, ok, enough for this rabbit hole!

Sad Story 🙁

A blog that I fell in love with years ago is datagenetics. It’s a blog about recreational math and puzzles. Entertaining, challenging, and curiosity-stimulating. A good edutainment resource. Few amazing posts here, here and here (and here too). It’s written by Nick Berry, a data scientist who worked for Microsoft and Facebook. He also made a TEDx.

Why sad news?

Because Nick announced he has a Stage IV cancer.

When I read that post I immediately thought: why the hell am I not working on the top item in my life-wide TODO list? what am I waiting for? What are YOU waiting for? Having not defined the top item is not a valid excuse, your top item is by definition “find the top item in my life-wide TODO list” then!

Italians do it better!

Let’s end the episode with lightheartedness 🙂

Wanna drink a beer? I got this one for you:


Mind that it’s very strong! They claim it to be the world’s strongest beer with an ABV of 32%! Take a look at their funny brewing video!

Now that you’re utterly drunk (thanks to both the beer and my words) you might not realize that we’re in the Italians do it better section and the penguin guys don’t seem Italians by their accent.

ScAAm rIP You aRe A SCAAAAM holy craP thiS bEEr is AWesOME!

This beer is so awesome that a group of six Italian friends decided to name their indy band after the beer (but they didn’t try the beer because it was too expensive for their pockets)!

Say welcome to Pinguini Tattici Nucleari!


I discovered the PTN few weeks ago, and they’re my daily soundtrack now. Every day ever since!

They only published 4 albums and few singles (~30 songs) but holy crap it’s hard to find one that I don’t love! Antartide, La Banalità del Mare, Nonono, Freddie, Tetris… but the one I want to share here is Scatole (boxes, in English):

This very song clicks the deepest buttons of my soul.

Yes, at age 42 I get hit by a song written by a 25 years old guy who also writes songs about vegetables (that mentions Princess Mononoke though)!

The song talks about a virtual dialogue between a son and his father. The son wants to become an artist while his father wants him to be an engineer or an architect. So far so good, a rebel song where the son doesn’t give a crap about survivorship bias and brags about his success as a proof that he was right.

Sì, ma io non sono come te.
Di quello che sarò tu che ne sai?

Good. But – spoiler alert – in the end there’s a twist: the kid was looking for freedom, fighting against a life plot written by someone else, just to find that the freedom itself is another chimera and the desire for it a form of escapism.

Gli dicevo io non sono come te.
Sono diverso, io sono migliore.
Ma le canzoni in fondo sono solo scatole.
Dove la gente si rifugia quando fuori piove.

A cold ending of a warm shower. And I’m in this very same situation, under so many angles that I need to stop and think. How many discussions with my father revolved around this topic? “Play the game” vs “define your game”. Do what’s best vs do what you want. What did I do? Well, in the end I played it safe, followed a path of safety and wealth, but also what I (think I) wanted.

So far.

But what about tomorrow? I’m having this discussion again with my father, and this time I’m playing the kid in the song. This time for real. Not the late 90s kid who wanted to become an actor but decided to study software engineering. This time it’s for real… but what if I’m following a chimera? What if Arrival Fallacy hits again? And I’m also a father, and I imagine myself having the same talk with my daughter in 20 years. And I know there’s no way I can prepare today for that moment. No way I can tell myself “I’d be open and accept whatever she’d want to do“. Probably the path she will want to take doesn’t exist yet. There’s no way to get ready. And I’m also playing both roles inside my head, since half of me wants to play it safe, and the other half wants to follow the chimera. What an amazing (and timely) song!

That’s all folks! 🙂

4 comments

  1. Now I have a ton of tabs open 🤦‍♂️. Complete brain buffer overflow. No work possible anymore today 😉 I recently started using notion.so to keep track of my shit. I gave up on pinboard for bookmarks. Every month people come up with new methods, tools and types of beers. So the real skill to acquire is to know where to follow up, what silicon valley wave to ride and where to wait. 99% of stuff will fade away in a few months. Listen to the last minutes of the upcoming episode of Fi Europe Podcast with Stanley for a little feedback about FI Europe Retreat from one of our participants. Still have some hope for a written review 😉

    1. Haha welcome to my life! Billions of tabs opened in my personal browser, my work browser and my blogger browser 😀
      I’m looking forward to listening to next FI Europe Podcast then 🙂

  2. Damn you.
    I’ve read this post right after you published it, and just now finished devouring livingafi’s blog.
    Now, I feel a void in me, because I want, nay I need more of his content.
    At least I have a few more posts to read on blogs I’ve neglected, while bingeing on livingafi.

    So, damn you, and thank you! 🙂

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