Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Losing your competitive position...

From Warren Buffett, at the 2003 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting
Generally speaking, if you lose your competitive position — the Packard Motor Company had the premier car in the mid-’30s. The Cadillac was not the premier — it was the Packard. 
And then they went downscale one year and they never came back. They jumped their sales that one year because everybody wanted to own a Packard, and now you could own one a little cheaper. But they never regained that upscale image again. 
And certain department stores have done that, too. They’ve had a upscale image. And you can always juice up your sales, particularly if you’ve got a great upscale image, by having, you know, this sale or that sale, and going downmarket.  
It’s very hard to back upmarket again, and you’ve seen some great department stores that have had that — or specialty stores — that had that problem. 

Monday, February 18, 2019


"Most people are going to get a very small real return from investment after considering inflation and taxes. I think that’s an iron law of the world and if, for a brief period, some of us do better than that, we ought to be very thankful. One of the great defenses to being worried about inflation is not having a lot of silly needs in your life. In other words, if you haven’t created a lot of artificial demand to drown in consumer goods, why, you have a considerable defense against the vicissitudes of life." --Charlie Munger (2004)

Martin Capital Management 2018 Annual Report (LINK)

Investors Get Burned After Betting on Electric-Car Metals (LINK)
Markets like stocks and oil have rebounded this year, but cobalt and lithium continue to fall
What Happens When Techno-Utopians Actually Run a Country [H/T @patrickc] (LINK)

The Tim Ferriss Show: Jim Collins — A Rare Interview with a Reclusive Polymath (LINK)

Grant’s Current Yield Podcast: Take 5 (LINK)

Barry Diller on the Recode Decode Podcast (LINK)

a16z Podcast: Who’s Down with CPG, DTC? (And Micro-Brands Too?) (LINK)

Healthy Eating and Intermittent Fasting - by Jana Vembunarayanan (LINK)

Opportunity lost... but more will arise - by Phil Plait (LINK)
On June 10, 2018, the people of Earth received their last transmission from the Opportunity rover of Mars. 
Now, 248 days later, scientists and engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab have had to make a hard decision: They have declared the rover dead. The mission is over.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

On the decline of civilizations...

A longer excerpt from the The Lessons of History on the decline of civilizations: 
When the group or a civilization declines, it is through no mystic limitation of a corporate life, but through the failure of its political or intellectual leaders to meet the challenges of change. 
The challenges may come from a dozen sources, and may by repetition or combination rise to a destructive intensity. Rainfall or oases may fail and leave the earth parched to sterility. The soil may be exhausted by incompetent husbandry or improvident usage. The replacement of free with slave labor may reduce the incentives to production, leaving lands untilled and cities unfed. A change in the instruments or routes of trade—as by the conquest of the ocean or the air—may leave old centers of civilization becalmed and decadent, like Pisa or Venice after 1492. Taxes may mount to the point of discouraging capital investment and productive stimulus. Foreign markets and materials may be lost to more enterprising competition; excess of imports over exports may drain precious metal from domestic reserves. The concentration of wealth may disrupt the nation in class or race war. The concentration of population and poverty in great cities may compel a government to choose between enfeebling the economy with a dole and running the risk of riot and revolution. 
Since inequality grows in an expanding economy, a society may find itself divided between a cultured minority and a majority of men and women too unfortunate by nature or circumstance to inherit or develop standards of excellence and taste. As this majority grows it acts as a cultural drag upon the minority; its ways of speech, dress, recreation, feeling, judgment, and thought spread upward, and internal barbarization by the majority is part of the price that the minority pays for its control of educational and economic opportunity. 
As education spreads, theologies lose credence, and receive an external conformity without influence upon conduct or hope. Life and ideas become increasingly secular, ignoring supernatural explanations and fears. The moral code loses aura and force as its human origin is revealed, and as divine surveillance and sanctions are removed. In ancient Greece the philosophers destroyed the old faith among the educated classes; in many nations of modern Europe the philosophers achieved similar results. Protagoras became Voltaire, Diogenes Rousseau, Democritus Hobbes, Plato Kant, Thrasymachus Nietzsche, Aristotle Spencer, Epicurus Diderot. In antiquity and modernity alike, analytical thought dissolved the religion that had buttressed the moral code. New religions came, but they were divorced from the ruling classes, and gave no service to the state. An age of weary skepticism and epicureanism followed the triumph of rationalism over mythology in the last century before Christianity, and follows a similar victory today in the first century after Christianity.
Caught in the relaxing interval between one moral code and the next, an unmoored generation surrenders itself to luxury, corruption, and a restless disorder of family and morals, in all but a remnant clinging desperately to old restraints and ways. Few souls feel any longer that "it is beautiful and honorable to die for one's country." A failure of leadership may allow a state to weaken itself with internal strife. At the end of the process a decisive defeat in war may bring a final blow, or barbarian invasion from without may combine with barbarism welling up from within to bring the civilization to a close. 
Is this a depressing picture? Not quite. Life has no inherent claim to eternity, whether in individuals or in states. Death is natural, and if it comes in due time it is forgivable and useful, and the mature mind will take no offense from its coming. But do civilizations die? Again, not quite. Greek civilization is not really dead; only its frame is gone and its habitat has changed and spread; it survives in the memory of the race, and in such abundance that no one life, however full and long, could absorb it all. Homer has more readers now than in his own day and land. The Greek poets and philosophers are in every library and college; at this moment Plato is being studied by a hundred thousand discoverers of the "dear delight" of philosophy overspreading life with understanding thought. This selective survival of creative minds is the most real and beneficent of immortalities. 
Nations die. Old regions grow arid, or suffer other change. Resilient man picks up his tools and his arts, and moves on, taking his memories with him. If education has deepened and broadened those memories, civilization migrates with him, and builds somewhere another home. In the new land he need not begin entirely anew, nor make his way without friendly aid; communication and transport bind him, as in a nourishing placenta, with his mother country. Rome imported Greek civilization and transmitted it to Western Europe; America profited from European civilization and prepares to pass it on, with a technique of transmission never equaled before. 
Civilizations are the generations of the racial soul. As life overrides death with reproduction, so an aging culture hands its patrimony down to its heirs across the years and the seas. Even as these lines are being written, commerce and print, wires and waves and invisible Mercuries of the air are binding nations and civilizations together, preserving for all what each has given to the heritage of mankind. 

Friday, February 15, 2019


"If we put the problem further back, and ask what determines whether a challenge will or will not be met, the answer is that this depends upon the presence or absence of initiative and of creative individuals with clarity of mind and energy of will (which is almost a definition of genius), capable of effective responses to new situations (which is almost a definition of intelligence). If we ask what makes a creative individual, we are thrown back from history to psychology and biology—to the influence of environment and the gamble and secret of the chromosomes." --Will and Ariel Durant (The Lessons of History)

A lesson for the Democratic left from Adam Smith - by Roger Lowenstein (LINK)

Amazon’s Pullout From Queens, N.Y., Stuns Real-Estate Industry (LINK)

When Investing on Auto-Pilot Isn’t Enough - by Jason Zweig ($) (LINK)

Rocket Ships - by Ian Cassel (LINK)

The final installment (Part 4) of the Money Control interview with Sanjay Bakshi (LINK) [PDF of Parts 1-4]

Managing Technological Innovation: Industry Analysis (LINK)

Exponent Podcast: Publishers vs Apple News (LINK)

Brex Founder Henrique Dubugras on The Twenty Minute VC Podcast [H/T @anuhariharan] (LINK)

American Innovations Podcast: Making Decisions with Malcolm Gladwell (LINK)

Edge #529: Alzheimer's Prevention - A Conversation with Lisa Mosconi (LINK)

TED Talk: The age of genetic wonder | Juan Enriquez (LINK)

Strategies for Seizing the Day - by Ryan Holiday (LINK)

A Kindle Daily Deal today ($1.99) is a book I've heard several people recommend: Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II 

Full Charlie Munger CNBC interview

CNBC’s Becky Quick sits down with legendary Berkshire Hathaway Vice Chairman Charlie Munger for a one-on-one conversation after the Daily Journal Annual Meeting in Los Angeles. 

Link to video

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Charlie Munger at the Daily Journal Annual Meeting

Charlie Munger, the 95-Year Old Berkshire Hathaway Vice Chairman & Chairman of the Daily Journal, speaks to shareholders at the newspaper’s annual meeting. Munger, in his usual, no holds barred manner, speaks for two hours. 

Link to video

Wednesday, February 13, 2019


"I will bet you that a lot of years in the future we, or you, will be able to find equities that you understand, or we understand, and that have the probability of returns at 10 percent or greater. Now, once you find a group of equities in that range, and leaving aside the problem of huge sums of money, which we have, then we just buy the most attractive. That usually means the ones we feel the surest about, I mean, as a practical matter. There’s just some businesses that possess economic characteristics that make their future prospects, far out, far more predictable than others. There’s all kinds of businesses that you just can’t remotely predict what they’ll earn, and you just have to forget about them. So, we have, over time, gotten very partial to the businesses where we think the predictability is high. But we still want a threshold return of 10 percent, which is not that great after-tax, anyway." --Warren Buffett (2003)

"Everything we do comes back to opportunity cost. But it, to some extent — in fact, to some considerable extent — we are guessing at our future opportunity cost. Warren is basically saying that he’s guessing that he’ll have opportunities in due course to put out money at pretty attractive rates of return, and therefore, he’s not going to waste a lot of firepower now at lower returns. But that’s an opportunity cost calculation. And if interest rates were to more or less permanently settle at 1 percent or something like that, and Warren were to reappraise his notions of future opportunity cost, he would change the numbers. It’s like [economist John Maynard] Keynes said, 'What do you do when you change your view of the facts? Well, you change your conduct.' But so far at least, we have hurdles in our mind which...involve, implicitly, future opportunity cost." --Charlie Munger (2003)

Who Is On the Other Side? - by Michael Mauboussin (LINK)

Safal Niveshak's Wall of Ideas (LINK)

Part 2 and Part 3 of the Money Control interview with Sanjay Bakshi [H/T Linc]

Skin in the Game: the Tradition of the Captain and His Ship - by Frank Martin (LINK)

The Cost of Apple News  - by Ben Thompson (LINK)

AR Will Spark the Next Big Tech Platform—Call It Mirrorworld - by Kevin Kelly (LINK)

Susan Crawford on the Community Broadband Bits Podcast (LINK)
Related book: Fiber: The Coming Tech Revolution―and Why America Might Miss It
Scott Adams and Naval Ravikant have another chat (video) (LINK)

Conversations with Tyler (podcast): Jordan Peterson on Mythology, Fame, and Reading People (LINK)

Trailblazers with Walter Isaacson Podcast -- Home Cooking: Technology Worth Savoring (LINK)

A review of A Zen Way of Baseball by Sadaharu Oh and David Falkner (LINK)

Small Teams of Scientists Have Fresher Ideas - by Ed Yong (LINK)

Tuesday, February 12, 2019


Bill and Melinda Gates' Annual Letter: We didn’t see this coming (LINK)

Bill Gates interview on The Vergecast (LINK)

Paul Tudor Jones: We have a mania going on in buybacks (video) (LINK)

How Bad Is the China Slowdown? U.S. Companies Offer Some Answers ($) (LINK)

Invest Like the Best Podcast: Alex Danco – Scarcity, Abundance and Bubbles (LINK)

The trap of early feedback - by Seth Godin (LINK)

"And what is this newfound love for the ice giants?" - by Phil Plait (LINK)

Today's Audible Daily Deal has been recommended to me by a couple of people: Prediction Machines: The Simple Economics of Artificial Intelligence

Paul Volcker & Ray Dalio | State of the US Economy & Government

Link to video


Related book: Keeping At It: The Quest for Sound Money and Good Government

Monday, February 11, 2019


"We like to go in heavy. I mean, if we want to invest in a business through the stock market, we want to put a lot of money in. We do not believe in a little of this and a little of that.... Good ideas are too scarce to be parsimonious with once you find them." --Warren Buffett (2003)

Big News for Small Business from Berkshire Hathaway [H/T Linc] (LINK)

How Jeff Bezos Sees the Press: An Interview with the Journalist Brad Stone (LINK)

Forget the 401(k). Let’s Invent a New Retirement Plan. - by Jason Zweig (LINK)

FDR Weighs In on the Buyback Debate - by Jason Zweig ($) (LINK)
Amid the Great Depression, the president warned about the ‘evil’ of companies that weren’t returning enough cash to investors
Star Stockpicker Exits the Hedge Fund Stage ($) (LINK)
The golden age of the star stock picker has come and gone. 
Big names like Peter Lynch, David Einhorn, and Bruce Berkowitz are today either fuzzy memories or else they’ve gone through enough rocky patches to tarnish their once-stellar track records. 
Yet in a little noticed move, the most successful fundamental stock picker of them all quietly stepped down as portfolio manager last month—Steve Mandel of Lone Pine Capital.
Sanjay Bakshi on discovering Buffett, and how investors can profit from inefficient markets (Part 1) [H/T Linc] (LINK)

January 2019 Data Update 8: Dividends and Buybacks - Fact and Fiction - by Aswath Damodaran (LINK)

The Five Families of Feces [H/T @BrentBeshore] (LINK)
The porta-potty business is as dirty as you’d think. But one man keeps coming up smelling like roses.
Lessons from Keith Rabois [H/T @benthompson] (Essay 1, Essay 2)

Zucked author Roger McNamee on the Recode Decode Podcast (LINK)
Related book: Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe
Breathe easy: You have an extra 600 million years before Andromeda crashes into us - by Phil Plait (LINK)

The Women Who Contributed to Science but Were Buried in Footnotes - by Ed Yong (LINK)