lördag 30 augusti 2014

Advice - can't live without, can't live with

Please note I'm writing this on a phone in the Austrian alps.

ADVICE

I always emphasize you never should take anybody's advice on stocks. I also say you should question famous or popular quotes etc.

I mean, how can you ever trust advice, in particular regarding Stocks?:

1. How can you tell they know what they are talking about?
2. If they actually DO know, it could be based on insider info and illegal
3. Will they be around to tell you when to close the deal (whether at a profit or a loss)?
4. If you don't know enough to make the decision yourself you can't judge the quality of the advice

On the other hand, if you never listen to advice in any situation you'll do less, experience less, learn less.

My way (not necessarily advice) is to listen to advice, pay attention to the facts, reasoning and logic behind the advice. I try to see which parts I actually can verify and understand fully and then I draw my own conclusions.

Some role models, mentors or "idols" have their strengths in fact finding and fact checking, others are strong in logic and drawing unusual conclusions, others can be contrarian indicators (e.g., if they are almost always wrong). Some just have a way of reasoning that triggers new thoughts in you, no matter if the reasoning, logic or facts are stringent or  correct.

Find your own guiding lights, assess their particular strengths and weaknesses. Use what you can use and ignore the rest.

PS: this post was triggered by a comment about the "stopped clocks", perma bears, among my favourite financial thinkers. Basically, the reader wondered why I listened to such con men (as if I wasn't one of them :).

fredag 29 augusti 2014

The (buyback) party is over

One of my stock market gurus, Albert Edwards, has recently released his updated view on the markets, what's driving them (stock buybacks), and why it's about to end. Take a look here at Zerohedge for more.

Quote: The equity bubble has disguised the mountain of net debt piling up on US corporate balance sheets (see charts below). This is hitting home now QE has ended. The end of the buyback bonanza may well prove to be decisive for this bubble. Indeed - is that a hissing I can hear?



Some other (financial) inspirational characters, that I plan to write about later are:

Kyle Bass
Jeremy Grantham
Marc Faber
Vitaliy Katsenelson
David Alan Tepper, Appaloosa
Nikolai Kondratiev
Jacob van Gelderen and Samuel de Wolff
John Hussman
Edward Chancellor
Robert Shiller
Bob Janjuah
Jim Rogers
Ray Dalio
John Mauldin
David Rosenberg
Russell Napier, CLSA
Bill Gross
Howard Marks
Harry Dent
Fred Hickey
Paul Singer
David Einhorn
Steve Keen
Gerard Minack
Lacy Hunt
Jeffrey Gundlach
Sam Zell
Peter Schiff
Chris Bailey
Dylan Grice, Edelweiss
Nicholas Nassim Taleb
Kahneman
JK Galbraith
Marvin Minsky


Some of them I would characterize like this:




Hedge fund managers with life hacking philosophies:
Howard marks, Oaktree (the most important thing)

Ray Dalio, Bridgewater (All Weather Portfolio)

Marc Faber, Gloom, Boom, Doom (historical perspective, Tomorrow’s Gold)

Jeremy Grantham, GMO (mean reversion, financial bubble research)

Russell Napier, CLSA (analyst, writer: Anatomy of a bear, lessons from 4 historical stock market bottoms)

Bill Gross, PIMCO



More financially focused, but still with some insights about long term/short term, pain/gain etc:
Fred Hickey (High Tech Strategist)

John Hussman (Biotech, debt, other)

John Mauldin (Thoughts from the frontline)

Steve Keen (debt watch)

David Rosenberg, Gluskin Sheff (Breakfast with Dave)

Vitaliy Katsenelson (inefficient markets, sideways markets)


Pure finance but might get more philosophical with time:

Kyle Bass, Hayman Capital

David Einhorn, Greenlight

David Tepper, Appaloosa

Soros

Carl Icahn

Bill Ackman




How much does it cost to own a Ferrari?

Since the post about the cost of my Lamborghini was so popular, here is a similar calculation for my Ferrari 360 Spider. I bought it when I got tired of thinking my Porsche wasn't cool enough (I wasn't as mature back then). In 2005, I had just barely heard of this guy who sold me the car:


People around me who knew more about soccer than I did, however, said that Zlatan was famous and I should get his autograph on some soccer gear. I asked, got a yes, got told the signed jersey was in the mail... but never got it. Either he didn't bother or it got lost/stolen in the mail.

Anyway, my focus was on the car, this car (note how you can see the engine through the glass pane in the back, that's a big reason for choosing that model):

as seen from my (then) apartment


On a race track (me in the helmet)


First spring day in 2006, or was it fall of 2005?


I had a lot of fun with it, e.g., here at the race track Gotland Ring in the summer of 2005, shortly after buying the car. I got coached and pushed by the track's architect, a Ferrari driving instructor, who sat in the passenger seat. This was on my best lap so far. However, I lost my nerve when I was just about to straighten out after the three-part curve after the hairpin turn... and simply took my foot off the gas pedal. Big mistake. Huge.:



Actually, it was a lot more fun owning and driving the Ferrari than the Lambo... Since I don't want to buy a less competent car, and buying better ones doesn't make me happy, I will probably never own a sports car again.


The Ferrari math:

Actual sales price, first sale around July 2003: 1 795 000 SEK (260k USD)
Price drop the first 22 months: 470 000 SEK (-26%, -68k)

Price: my second-hand price, May 17, 2005: 1 325 000 SEK (192k)
Maintenance due to track racing: 54 315 SEK (brake discs, clutch, tires etc; 7 872 USD)
Annual services, 2006, 2007, 2008: 54 350 SEK (30 500+10 500+8850; 7 877 USD)
Parking, garage 36 months: 71 000 SEK (10k)
Insurance: 75 261 SEK (11k)
Gas, petrol: 47 939 SEK (6 948 USD)

Price drop (May 17, 2008): 285 000 SEK (21,5% of what I paid for the car; -41k)
Sales price, gross: 1 095 000 SEK (based on estimated sales commission)
Sales provision: 55 000 SEK (No info, but let's say 5% of sales price)
Sales price net: 1 040 000 SEK (I sold it on a net price basis; 150 725 USD)
Sales costs: 0 SEK (immediate sale, no extra costs)
Net, net sales price: 1 040 000 SEK (78.5% of what I paid, i.e., a 21.5% loss)

Total cash cost 2005-2008, exactly 36 months: 587 865 SEK (85 198 USD; 44,4% of what I paid for the car, or half the percentage loss compared to my Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder)

Since I drove 16 760 km (10 416 miles) my cost per 10 km was 351 SEK, or 8.2 USD per mile. About a third of what my Lamborghini cost.

torsdag 28 augusti 2014

Pros and Cons

PROS

A professional life-hacker like Ludvig Sunström utilizes a structured method for writing and thinking. This, e.g., is what he just off the top of his head scribbled down in my comments:


Alright. My favorite strategy for using the subconscious is when I am writing or thinking, and I follow a stream of thought up to a point where I can't make it any further. Then I sit down and quickly write my reasoning down up to that point. Then I write down that question. 

If it's seems important I'll put it in my "daily lessons" section (in OneNote), which I review from time to time, and always once monthly. If it's a very important question, or if it pertains to business, I will put it in a section I call "The Questions". And in there I have an excel table with 4 categories/segments. 

1 = date 2 = description 3 = pros 4 = cons
Then I write things down there and review from time to time.

Then I'll go for a run, go lift weights, read a book, or do something else for a while. And often the answer will magically pop up for me. But the key is to first get it out of my head, follow the reasoning as far as possible (indicate to the lazy brain that it was something important worth the energy & effort) and write it down.

It could also be that I am one of those people who learn things better from writing. We all have different learning styles. No system is infallible. Mozart, for example, wrote several pages (by hand) per day and left behind a pile of journals when he died. But he never looked in those journals, he just wrote to learn. Once he had written something ONCE he forever remembered it. He was a special guy.

Of course, then there are audible learners like Churchill. He could memorize large segments of lectures verbatim, just from listening. . .

. . . And people who learn by speaking, like Hitler, who had the habit of giving monologues. Because he had this habit wired into him strongly, and because he early in life prioritized his learning, he mostly hung around people who liked to listen. So that he could talk for himself all the time.

That is just amazingly disciplined, efficient and inspiring. Anybody wanting to improve his problem-solving or enhance his writing should heed Ludvig's advice. Check out his blog here.


CONS
Contrast Ludvig's intelligent and conscious approach to a con-man, a has-been, a camouflaged charlatan (previously successful in another area) like me. My style of thinking or preparing blog posts or analyzing can be summed up in the following bullet points:


  • ad hoc
  • lacking ambition
  • no method
  • no structure
  • intuition
  • go with the flow


However, I do like to make lists, just not for decision making. But I still don't take notes or have a schedule for reviewing them. And definitely not several different note categories and different reviewing schedules. I am such a loser compared to Ludvig, when it comes to structured thinking and problem solving.

I used to make elaborate pros and cons lists, but eventually realized that if the choice was that hard then it really didn't matter. For a while I often just flipped a coin (when I bought my first car, e.g.; a BMW) or threw a die. And the times the decision wasn't hard, it wasn't due to 10-5 wins or so, it was always just one item that decided the whole thing, no matter if there were 10 good reasons to go for the other choice. Gradually I learned to quickly identify that one item without making a list. I think it is partly because I know myself so much better now.

But please pay attention to this sentence in Ludvig's comment, which explains why making serious pros and cons lists works, even if you rely on your subconscious for the actual decision: (indicate to the lazy brain that it was something important worth the energy & effort

What I do make lists for is to remember and to de-stress. Anything written down is a problem managed&forgotten or a future solution remembered. Actually, that may be the most important reason why I am blogging, i.e., to remember; to create a repository of solutions and of to-do:s., if there ever would come a time I'm bored (never happens).

onsdag 27 augusti 2014

I enjoy getting wasted, giving chaos a chance

Unfortunately I think I need to repeat a couple of facts about me, to get my point across, so bare with me, or just note that I am self-made and I am "successful", and skip down to the big fat headline a few paragraphs further down.


I come from nothing, from a small town in Sweden, above the polar circle. I am only the second ever in my entire family tree that has ever graduated (my father was the first, with a degree in engineering)

Two years after graduating, I still had a negative net worth and a salary exactly equal to the national average (of less than 3000 USD per month, actually closer to just 30 000 USD/year, before taxes). I was content with that. Hell, just landing any job at the end of Sweden's worst financial crisis since the 1970's made me think I had it made :)

Make no mistake, I had already by then as an 18-year old been awarded Best student in Mathematics and Physics over three years and received the award and prize money from the hands of His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, in front of 10 000 (about 10% of the city's population at the time) cheering spectators in Västerås (Sweden's oldest* city, established 990, and sixth largest in Sweden) on Sweden's national day.

I had also been accepted at Sweden's only (semi) private university (Stockholm School of Economics) and graduated at the top of my class. (There's no official nr 1, but I did have the highest grade in every single subject, except the final thesis, and the school officials spontaneously were very eager to tell me that hadn't seen anything like my grades before). By the way, I was called "the school hippie" by some, due to my obviously cheap clothes and undisciplined hair.

Starting with being headhunted in 1996, right after conquering Aconcagua, the highest mountain outside Himalaya, things took off for me. What I lacked in drive, I seemed to more than make up for with raw intelligence, stamina and sense of duty.

Without ever trying to accomplish anything, by 1996 I was appointed head of IT equities research at Sweden's largest bank (24 years old) just as the Y2K and IT bubble had taken off after Netscape's IPO. A few years later Sweden's largest financials news publication, Dagens Industri, named me and a couple of others "The Dream Team of IT analysts".

And in February 2000, my real claim to fame, I decided to leave the stock market buy side to take up a position at a newly incepted (October 1999) hedge fund. Little over ten years later I found myself on the stage at a hedge fund awards gala in London, accepting the prize for Europe's Hedge Fund of The Decade, all categories. Four years later, in january 2014, I simply quit the industry to retire with a double digit million dollar sack of cash.

Career-wise, I have heard the above counts as self-made and successful. But, enough bravado and on to the story at hand.



I may be succesful and fit but still...
I enjoy getting wasted

I really enjoy getting hammered, just drenching myself in alcohol. Sure, I've tried a lot of the (hard-core) drugs on this list as well, but they just don't do it for me. Alcohol is my way of triggering fun-time. I like the first buzz, I like the crazy stuff I suddenly feel comfortable doing, I like dancing and clowning around, I like having to fill in the blanks the day after with the help of photos and friends. Not least, I like the photos that remain after the party has ended and the hangover is gone.

However, I can only enjoy it about ten times a year, because my Annual Alcohol Enjoyment Quota simply runs out by then. So, for me alcohol (ab)use is self-regulatory; I don't drink more with age, I don't drink more per occasion, I don't drink hard more times per year and I don't enjoy getting drunk more than a couple of days in a row.

Best of all, I always get productive after binge drinking. Not right after, but about a week later I am often stoked to train, to learn, to write. I just love coming back from hangover hell and do stuff, tangibly feel getting better, improving.

However, I also enjoy working out
and learning new skills
and reading
and writing
and walking

I simply enjoy several aspects of life and some of them include getting better, being productive and consciously exploring, but other, like binge drinking, are about letting go, giving chaos a chance.

I think it is a shame so few publicly demonstrate:
  • that it is okay not to be perfect all the time,
  • that you can be both successful and lazy at the same time,
  • that a lot is down to luck and circumstances,
  • that you can be a binge-drinker and a weight lifter at the same time,
  • a hedge fund manager and a ninja (even if I quit right before getting my black belt),
  • or retired and rich at 42 without needing a job, a fancy car or some other manifest of your former accomplishments.
  • You don't have to be organized or imitate the 7 habits of successful people or do a morning warm-up or brain warm-up like Danger & Play to be good enough or happy (but, please do, if you want to become more effective). I don't do any of those things, and I usually actively avoid being organized. I did however like this list at Barking... because it actually advocates making others being organized while you are roaming free in ad hoc land
Bla, bla, bla, as always, without any plan whatsoever - story of my life. However, if you want to take just one thing with you from this post, it is this: Know Yourself

As William B Irvine (a tip from a reader) says in this video, philosophers of all schools try to answer two questions: What is valuable? and How do you get it? The first question is down to knowing yourself and the second is about knowing, identifying your obstacles.

And this is how Ray Dalio views it; set goals and identify problems:


So, get to know yourself, explore your wants and needs, try to discern between long term and short term fulfilment, try as many things as possible, follow your flow, and pay attention to when you actually enjoy life or enjoyed life and not when you just tried to impress others (that's just second-handing and confidence-jerking off, and of course more or less useless). Be mindful of true first-person experiences, of living for yourself.



*There actually is one small city (Skara) that was established two years earlier, in 988, but it's close enough. I'll leave out other contentious details on city-forming in Sweden for discussions elsewhere.

Camouflaged charlatans and empty quotes

Many words from Ludvig Sunström at Start Gaining Momentum about how to enjoy the benefits of being perceived as being an expert, without investing the time to actually become one. Not least, I like the tangible advice of writing a book with minimum effort and using it as your 'expert platform' to achieve the superstar effect.

25 almost completely (in my opinion) empty quotes from Self Habit. What I took away from this post and put on my Wall of Wisdom was "Question all quotes", i.e. always think hard about what a quote really means and implies, what its consequences would be. It is all too easy to be enchanted by the elegant wording or by the disguised or camouflaged charlatan* being quoted.

Here is, however, a thought provoking interview with Ludvig Sunström, posted at the same Self Habit (which also is a blog worth reading, especially if your particular aim is to become productive). Ludvig Sunström himself also runs an excellent self improvement/development blog called Start Gaining Momentum.

Unlike me, Mr Sunström is actually good at writing, so write he does... Most of his blog posts are very long, albeit still easy to read if you have the time. I don't agree with everything he says but any young person, striving to get ahead in this world, could do worse than heed Ludvig's advice.

Compared to me (lazy, ad-hoc, chaotic), Ludvig comes through as a perfectly efficient automáta. Here are a few examples where we are almost exact opposites:
  • He describes himself as "focused" (I'm everything but; lazy and ad-hoc)
  • His favourite quote is something about how much effort people are prepared to exercise to avoid having to think (I don't have a favourite quote**)
  • He starts his days going through the most urgent stuff on his to-do list (I just do important stuff when I feel like it)
  • He describes his "scientific" and elaborate decision process, including one with listing pros and cons. (I make decisions intuitively, trusting my subconscious knows way more than I do, both about the problem at hand and my deepest preferences)
  • He thinks Napoleon Bonaparte would give good advice (I know of no historic person whose advice I would take***)

On the other hand, we share these similarities:
  • He goes to the gym (However, he does it to de-stress. I don't really know why I go)
  • Non-conformity
  • Single-tasking
  • Flow

In addition, I'm inspired by his upcoming project of compiling rules of thumb from a number of experts. That goes hand in hand with my 20 skills in a year project, or 1/50 rule of efficiency (1% effort for 50% of the results)



*camouflaged charlatan - anybody successful in one area, behaving as if an expert in another area. E.g., a football coach giving stock market advice, or a hedge fund manager winning an Hedge Fund of The Decade award (yes, me), professing to be an expert on pumping iron or philosophy ;)

**quotes: Sometimes even I stumble upon quotes that inspire me. I wouldn't call them favourites, and I'm not sure they will stand the test of time, but here are a few I like right now.

When you come to a fork in the road, take it - Yogi berra
May you live in interesting times - ancient curse (however, not Chinese, it seems)
If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading - Lao-Tzu
Know yourself - Delphic maxim (possibly by Chilon, Thales, Phemonoe or Socrates or 10 others)
Don't be a hater

Stop hating


***advice: I had never thought about whose advice I would take, but the interview made me think about a couple of candidates:

Bertrand Russell
Thomas Jefferson
Ray Kurzweil
Howard Marks
Ayn Rand

tisdag 26 augusti 2014

Mobility exercises

You should do mobility exercises if you want to postpone the point in your life when you start walking like an old man. The old-man walk and posture comes from immobile hips, short psoas and an inflexible spine and upper torso. And all of those comes from sitting in chairs.

The positive thing is that it mobilizing at the office can constitute a nice break from just sitting inefficiently at your desk - and it is easy and quick.

My recommendation is that you spend (at least) 5 minutes a month, focusing on your hips and shoulders. Remember to start slowly and aim low, just try to be a little better than yesterday or last month:




1. Squat. Sit as low as you can in a normal squat position for 1-2 minutes, straight back with no "butt dipping", feet about shoulder width, slightly pointed outward. For extra credit, vary the feet position from very narrow to very wide.

2. Shoulders. Lie on your back, put your feet to tha floor and push the hip and back up in the air. Position your forearms under your back. Make sure your shoulders are firmly in contact with the floor, then lower your hip, thus pressing your forearms toward the floor. Move your hip up and down in very slow movements straining your shoulders more respectively less. Constantly strive to keep your shoulders in contact with the floor throughout the exercise.
3. Hips. Do the "couch stretch" at least one minute on each side. Se picture of me (hungover in Visby this summer) to the right, as well as at the office:

Couch stretch in Visby
Saed is showing what a butt dip looks like. Avoid that.


Couch stretch at the office

And if you have a foam roller you should think about mobilizing your torso by lying on it and trying to bend your back over it (without letting your lower part of the back do the bending)

That's it.



However...,

When you think you are ready for more, gradually add the following exercises for a couple of minutes each. Sooner or later you'll be mobilizing 5 minutes per week (!) if you feel like it:

Calves, achilles tendon. Either with the foot blade up against a wall, or by sitting in a narrow squat, balance as far forward as possible and shift your weight to one foot at a time


Hamstrings. Lie on your back, grab one foot at a time with the leg bent. Straighten the leg and pull it closer to your head. Try straining against your pull for five seconds and then relax and take the opportunity to go deeper inte the stretch (straighter leg and closer to the head) during the relaxation



Also try these:

Pigeon pose

Bully grip (with head turn, and lowering of body for increased tension and leverage). TBG needs a minimum of equipment; something to grab a hold on with your arm behind your back

Glutes (do them in your office chair or in the TV sofa)

Shoulders. Just hang out for a while like this. Grab something overhead, turn your palm facing from you. It improves your overhead press position.



If you are still looking for more, try some self massage techniques:

1. Shoulders. Place a tennis ball, lacrosse ball or similar object under your scapula while lying on your back. Move around and explore the edge of the entire scapula with the ball, including your traps (trapezius). Try doing air bench presses in that position, or air overhead presses, and back strokes
2. Shoulders. Lie face down with a ball under your shoulder or pecs (pectorals). Explore.
3. Glutes/Hamstrings. Sit on a ball. Do leg extensions while sitting on the ball
4. Psoas. Lie face down with the ball a few inches to the side of the navel (umbilicus). Attack your psoas from the side, with the ball, utilizing your body weight. Do the same with the ball right below your hip bone instead
5. Legs and forearms. Press and roll the ball on your calves, your forearems and thighs. Put extra pressure on the tear drop part of the quads by using your body weight (face down, bent leg)
6. Feet. Place the ball under your foot arch, put weight on it and roll back and forward with focus on the inside of the foot; the arch
7. Lats. Don't forget your lats (latissimus). Lie on your side on a ball or a foam/tube roller and more or less aim for wherever it hurts the most.

If you are really serious about extreme stretching and mobilizing you should check out Kelly Starret's MWODs etc., starting here.

But remember, the first 3-4 exercises at the top of this post are what makes the biggest change to anybody who sits a lot and haven't thought about doing mobility exercises. Aim for 5 minutes a month to begin with. That should make a world of difference for you.


This stuff is only for competetive athletes or show-offs and is hardly beneficial to your health:

This spring


A "few" years back


When I still practiced martial arts


This one is border-line. It's probably good but this might just be over the top:
I always end up in that position when relaxing between other stretches




måndag 25 augusti 2014

Growth - what is it good for?

A friend, that probably will serve in the Swedish parliament (at least) the following 4 years, bribed me with grilled cheese at the "Russian" party this Saturday and ambushed me with the question "Why is growth good? How do you explain growth to a voter, in just a few sentences?"

Being not just slightly intoxicated from Czech beer and pure vodka, I came up with nothing coherent at the time, but I kept thinking about it during my time in hangover hell on Sunday.


GROWTH = CHOICE and FREEDOM

The shortest possible answer I have now is that growth equals choice. To get there, I went through the following steps:

What is (economic) growth? It is producing more or better (products and services). If the gauge is to carry any meaning whatsoever, it has to be measured per person; per capita. In addition, producing more by working longer hours isn't really sustainable (unless you like doing it), so let's define growth as producing more/better per hour, which at the same time happens to be the definition of productivity.

Pollution deducts from growth. Further, the production must account for the big picture and so called externalities like pollution. It's not true growth if more and faster products (cars) means increasing pollution of the environment, in the end casing illnesses and potentially reduced living standards in the future. On the other hand, all pollution risks aren't known beforehand and some may even be accetable in the short run as investments for the future.

So, growth=productivity, i.e., accomplishing more with the same effort, by being smarter and using more streamlined processes and better tools (without impacting the environment irreparably).

Collective growth, societal growth, GDP growth is relatively easy to measure and thus gets the most attention. GDP growth typically also means more resources for public servants and more profits for the largest companies and remuneration for their management. That kind of growth is more or less meaningless for the individual and may also leads to suboptimization, externalities etc since the focus is on total production for a society, rather than sustainable and meaningful hourly production per person.

High productivity (productivity growth should now be established as equal to meaningful economic growth) means any one person or a society can fulfil his needs and desires, utilizing less resources (time and material) than otherwise, while keeping the environment clean and healthy. High productivity means anybody productive (knowledgeable, connected, using modern tools) is free to choose how to spend more of his time and resources after providing for food and shelter.


Growth = human nature

It is human nature to want more, both absolutely and relatively; most want more than yesterday and more than his neighbour. We developed in a world of scarce resources, of fat days and lean days, so the gene lines that survived from 100 000 BC to today are dominated by competitiveness, hoarding, growth. Most won't be happy or fulfilled unless they get more (of something). Very few are like me, content with consuming and providing information for free. Most want a bigger house, a faster car, more expensive hotel rooms on vacation etc.

In any case, we can't fight nature on a big scale, if humans want growth, politicians should let them strive for it. Just make sure the possible negative side-effects are contained, e.g., enforce environment-friendly transportation and production by charging for the pollution.

To me, growth means freedom and the possibility to choose. When billions of people strive for personal growth on a free market, they compete to offer the best service, best products at the lowest prices and least environmental impact. That means I will have billions of various efficiently produced products to choose from, to consume or invest in as tools for further productivity enhancement, in my turn enabling further improved productivity and growth. This frees up time and resources for further growth or leisuretime for relaxation, exploration and mental growth. Different preferences will decide any individual's optimal mix of work and leisure, but in any case higher productivity and growth means higher degrees of freedom and choice.

Old-economy jobs may be difficult to perform in a piecemeal fashion. Hence, reduced work weeks or work days are rarely relevant or efficient solutions, in particular not centrally planned by a union or a government. However, it can be difficult for an individual to work part-time by choice, in anything but the most menial of professions (and these may be the least positively affected by productivity; in many cases soon even eliminated altogether by technology). The more pervasive the information economy becomes the easier it will be to work exactly your preferred number of hours per day or week or year. Others will have to wait decades more.

In the meantime the fruits of increased productivity for most will be earlier retirement, better healthcare, better/more variety of products and healthier lives.

growth=productivity=choice=freedom (and human nature)

Growth means being more productive, using tools to make more with less, including making better tools to further productivity growth in the next generation. Better and better products and tools, means fulfilling basic needs using (or destroying) less resources, thus releasing time and resources for freedom of choice between material growth and mental growth. Growth also means collecting more information, understanding the universe and global processes, enabling production with less pollution and sooner or later even reversing pollution.

More choice and more freedom is always better. If you don't like it, you can always choose to be less productive or in other ways limit your own freedom or potential choices

Flow and party! Pussy Riot and KGB

I had flow this Friday, the whole day more or less!

I received a message over 23andme (the gene database) which made me renew my membership at Ancestry for a month. With a lot of help from Kicki, I traced my ancestors back to Jens Schelderup, born 1450 in Denmark and his wife Anna Larsen, b. 1460. It was so fun just working backwards, following leads, checking old scanned registers and seeing the family tree growing in front of me that I lost track of time. I started around 9 am and only took short breaks for food, before finishing for the day at about 9.30 pm.

I just put everything else on hold that day, enjoying the experience of being able to freely follow my flow with no other distractions. Despite the futility of the exercise I nevertheless feel very satisified now that I have my ancestors mapped out. My take from this is simply to pay attention when flow finds you. Dare follow its lead and just be.

On Saturday, I woke up rested, happy and satisfied. I watched a couple of episodes of the TV-series Hemlock Grove and then had breakfast before going to the gym (deadlift, bench press, power clean, planking, hand stands, mobility). Then I barely had time to prepare for the night's birthday/costume party (Russian theme).

KGB and Pussy Riot
My friend and I
BTW, that's a 1.5 L bottle of beer I'm holding (51 oz)

I stayed the night, but we all got up early the next day (before 8 am), due to a merciless sun, shining in through curtainless windows. I felt fine at first, had a cup of coffee and a mug of red wine (always take a morning after drink after binge drinking, to prevent hangovers) and then went home.

I managed to accompany my girlfriend on a short shopping tour and then a Hemlock Grove marathon, before the excesses of the night before caught up with me. I thought I didn't drink that much, but it turned out the punch bowl wasn't just "strong", it was pure "mindfulness" and lime slices, i.e., pure vodka.

Between 2pm and 8pm I had one of my slowest and heaviest hangovers in a long time, or since Ibiza a couple of weeks ago, that is :). Not really having a headache, not really nauseous, not really sleepy, not really hungry, not really thirsty, just feeling wrong and apathetic. I drank a couple of liters of water without anything passing through. That is usually a really bad sign the day after; extreme dehydration.

Around 8 pm I started feeling a little better, went to the bathroom a couple of times, signaling that my water balance was improving. And right then it was time to head for the cinema to watch Guardians Of The Galaxy, a movie I was a quite skeptical about beforehand.

Luckily GOTG turned out to be a work of genius. I laughed loud and hard several times and smiled and giggled more or less throughout the full 2 hours. It just took ten minutes to completely forget my hangover and then it was all a laugh riot.

But, today I am back again and ready to share my "wisdom". Hooray! ; )

I have started by replying to a couple of questions in the comments and a message on 23andme but now I need to rush off to a CEO meeting and then it's time for a free lunch (Nomura Bank).

onsdag 20 augusti 2014

Some things, I just don't understand

PewDiePie is a 24 year old game commentator with a channel on YouTube. His real name is Felix Kjellberg. He has about 30 million subscribers* and often clocks 5 million views per 5-10 minute clip. On July 19, 2014 his channel became the most seen channel on YouTube with a total of 5.2 billion historic views, of which 3bn in just the last 11 months.

According to an article by Business Insider, when he had 20% fewer subs than today, Felix made between 1-10 million dollars per year after YouTube's fees. Suffice to say he is getting rich, doing something he really likes, and probably would do in his spare time even if he didn't get a dime for it. Wonderful. Perfect. Amazing.


This is what he does for a living:

This clip has 56m views as per today, and probably represents some of his best work. It's basically a montage of footage of various games and clips and his reactions and voice overs.

This meta-clip of old people reacting to PewDiePie has 13 million views (as per today Aug 20, 2014). They are like me. I just don't get it either.


I am not hating. I am trying to understand. I get it that he has some kind of first mover advantage, that he built a fan base early and now reaps profits from that, as well as from hype and network effects of being nr 1.

I also applaud him, he is the epitome of what I advocate; Try to have fun no matter what you do (2:23-2:30), no matter the prospects. If you have fun, you have won.

What I don't understand is how come he is still number one? After watching five of his clips, I can't see anything remotely talented or difficult in there, that millions of his subscribers shouldn't be perfectly able to do themselves. Anybody with interest in video games and some acting talent and/or drive to write some sort of a script beforehand should be able to wipe the floor with PewDiePie. There should be thousands, if not millions, both willing and able to compete with him on an at least even basis. As one woman says in the video above : "I would guess he has zero subscribers", which is close to what I would have guessed just seeing his work. Another way of putting it is that PewDiePie is sprezzatura.

Do you watch his videos? Are you enticed by the business and interested in competing with PewDiePie? Here is one of his largest competitors, Smosh, so you know what you are up against... To me, the order seems reversed since Smosh at least put a lot of work, talent and script into their videos.

*PewDiePie reached 28m subs on June 23, 2014 and then 29m on July 29, 2014. As a reference point, he became the most subscribed YouTube channel exactly a year ago on August 15, 2013, when he reached about 12m subscribers - less than half of today's base.


Regarding incomprehensible stuff. Today I got an invitation to an arts exhibition. I don't understand this picture that accompanied the invite, either. Try not to laugh. Then look at it again. Imagine you are sitting at an important meeting, and you have this picture hidden under a paper and you try to look at it without laughing.

How much does it cost to own a Lamborghini

I only know how much it did cost me to own a yellow Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder (convertible), but I think it is still informative for any prospective super car buyer.

Luckily I have a penchant for saving data on a lot of things, so instead of juxtaposing a lot of guestimates, I sit on the exakt numbers. See below, but first a couple of pictures of my car:


During winter, the battery used to die




Actual sales price, first sale in July 2006: 2 120 000 SEK (308k USD)
Price drop the first 18 months: 680 000 SEK (-32%)

Price: my second-hand price, April 1, 2008: 1 440 000 SEK (208 700 USD)
Maintenance due to track racing: 184 851 SEK (27k USD; clutch, brakes, tires, re-cond etc)
Service, 30 000km = 20 000 miles: 35 895 SEK (5200 USD)
Parking, garage: 66 055 SEK (9600 USD)
Insurance: 135 263 SEK (19600 USD)
Gas, petrol: 37 676 SEK (5500 USD)

Price drop (May 21, 2014): 690 000 SEK (48% of what I paid for the car)
Sales price, gross: 750 000 SEK (109 000 USD)
Sales provision: 75 000 SEK (10% of sales price)
Sales price net: 675 000 SEK
Sales costs: 45 000 SEK (garage, insurance)
Net, net sales price: 630 000 SEK (91 437 USD, 44% of what I paid, i.e., a 56% drop)

Total cash cost 2008-2014: 1 269 740 SEK (184 287 USD; 88% of what I paid for the car)

Since I drove 13 172 km (8 186 miles) my cost per 10 km was 964 SEK, or 22.5 USD per mile. Think about that the next time you se a sports car cruise by...

However, if you would have bought the car from me directly, without middle men, you would only have paid 91 437 USD in May 2014, and your price drop over a handful of years would almost certainly be less than half of that - perhaps 10k USD per year. If you have your own garage, cheap or no insurance and don't drive on race tracks, you would only pay for gas (1/2 gallon per 10 kilometers, or 12 miles per gallon) and the occasional service and maintenance.

tisdag 19 augusti 2014

More start-ups mean more competition

Last summer Paul Graham wrote this post about trends regarding start-up companies

Among other things he stated that it is becoming easier and cheaper to start a company and more people are also inclined to take that route. There are more start-up role models and the rest of the job market is hardly inspiring. In addition there is more money around, in more experienced hands, looking for investments. This means there are more and more start-ups.

Paul Graham:
One thing we can say for sure is that there will be a lot more startups. The monolithic, hierarchical companies of the mid 20th century are being replaced by networks of smaller companies. This process is not just something happening now in Silicon Valley. It started decades ago, and it's happening as far afield as the car industry. It has a long way to run. [5]


Combine more start-ups with the fact that the pace of technological development keeps accelerating (see Kurzweil, e.g) and you get an environment where all incumbents should fear for their lives.

The half-life of S&P 500 and Fortune 500 companies is falling faster and faster, and that process is only just now really picking up speed:

Apple's second life that began with the iPhone in 2007 seems already on the verge of running out of time. So, within less than 10 years a complete new-comer came to dominate the smart phone market, only to turn into a me-too company again.

Google was listed in 2004 and its stock price has increased 15-fold since then, while, e.g., Microsoft's share price stayed flat between 2004-2013. Sure, MSFT's share price has had somewhat of a revival in 2014, but the company still just looks old and almost obsolete.

I'm not a fan of the Tesla share, but it is telling that a a new car company that listed only 4 years ago has increased 20-fold in market cap, and already has more than half of General Motors' market cap.

New disruptors appear more and more frequently, and quite recent disruptors end up as victims of even younger companies. This process is accelerating thanks to the law of accelereating returns, where one generation of technology make up the tools for the next generation and so on, and a more entrepreneurial climate.

The reason I am less than impressed by most of the new high flyers on the stock market is that I have seen it all before: Sketchy business models with funky company names that live off of hype and ads and each other, but don't make any profits. Most of all, they face scores of competitors and substitutes, and scores more in the near future, if you believe Graham and Kurzweil.

Take UBER taxi service as an exemple. They are priced for world domination and high margins, whereas the taxi business is perfectly suited for lots of local players, high competition and low margins. Introducing smart booking and routing systems only emphasizes those characteristics. I foresee hundreds of competing booking models and drivers being associated with several each, going with the one with the highest referral fees that particular day. UBER will never earn back its current VC valuation, unless they manage to sell it to somebody rich and desperate, such as Alibaba or TenCent, before they smash into the brick wall of reality.

Give up! Restart

"You can fail doing something you don't like, so why don't fail while trying to do something you like"

-PewDiePie (the world's greatest computer game commentator, b. 1989)



You have to try a lot of things to increase the likelihood of finding what you really like. That means you have to fail and restart a lot of times. Since you will fall anyway, when deciding whether to do something lucrative but boring or something uncertain but fulfilling, always choose the latter.

Why do we fall, Bruce?


Consider the fat CEO who used to enjoy surfing, climbing, fishing and eating shellfish, but spent his best years on law school and economics before wasting away and getting weak and fat in endless client and board meetings. When old and rich enough, he finally purchases a ridiculously expensive beach house to enjoy lonely lobster dinners. Sometimes he travels to luxurious wildlife resorts where servants more or less carry him around.

A lot of people sacrifice most of their lives doing meaningless and tedious work they hate, to be able to, as retirees, buy a house with a sea view and afford tuna, sirloin steak and lobster. Even the first homo sapiens living around South Africa's shore line 100 000 years ago had a better life than that, feasting on seafood and sea views all day long.



So, do what you like, instead of what you think you should do to impress others or maybe "succeed" or become "somebody". Some fail, some succeed, but that shouldn't really concern you.

That is being trapped in the prison of self-confidence rather than roaming the open plains of self-esteem.



Take cues from both game commenter PewDiePie and the famous Danish child psychologist Jesper Juul (Your Competent Child) and focus on enjoyment and self-esteem rather than tangible feats and self-confidence.

Remember that you have an intrinsic value as a human being which is not dependent on what you accomplish or do. Hence, just do stuff you like and remember that you can fail or succeed just as much, no matter if you like something or not. So, try many things and follow your heart. Dare to fail and give up, but do it wholeheartedly and then restart. And don't be a hater. Don't lecture or judge others' successes or failures. If a tennis player becomes a musician and you don't like his music, just leave it and him alone. He's the one doing what he likes, the one living life.

Just be a witness and a role model, rather than a lecturer and judge. And have fun. Enjoy life for you, not for others.



As a side effect of doing things you really like, you'll probably end up better off, both materially and spiritually.

I guess a lot of people in the manosphere probably have self-esteem issues and thus build upon self-confidence instead, always looking for ways to "score". My mission is to reduce that urge, going more for internal integrity and happiness; mindfulness instead of a rush to produce, accomplish, demonstrate and fish for praise.

Unfortunately, according to Juul, after the age of about 5 it is very diffficult if not almost impossible, to build true self-esteem. The secure knowledge of your intrinsic worth comes from early and unconditional love, without reference to actions and accomplishments. Once your parents strike out on that, by judging everything you do by "good", "bad", "pretty", "smart" etc., you are more hooked on confidence and praise than a meth-head is on crystal.

Summary: Dare to find out what you like, through trial and error. Try, fail and give up. Then restart, pick yourself up. And don't judge others when they are trying the same. Don't be a hater. Inquire and learn instead.

Final comment: I am very happy I lived my life they way I did. I would probably even have been happy if my career were a failure. However, looking back, I would never have chosen the same path again. It was indirect, boring and not at all "me". I am not a "suit", and I never were.

Now, I finally get to live life the way I was supposed to: reading, writing, learning, exploring, explaining instead of playing office, faking interest, calculating the incalculable and presenting it as fact...

Weak is weak

A is A

It can hardly get any simpler than that. What is is and not something else.

So, e.g., weak is weak

Sometimes you hear people say that individuals who are obese or anorexic or depressed or suffer from other psychological or physical shortcomings actually "are not weak, they are too strong".

The reasoning goes something like this: "Person A is so strong that he/she has tried to shoulder all the troubles in the world... and failed. The depression is thus not a symptom of weakness, it is a symptom of being too strong"


When somebody claims "A" is at the same time "not A"


I don't think it is helpful to confuse notions that way. For any given area, either you are weak or you are strong. Full stop. If you are weak and want to get stronger, you need help or at least some kind of action, not some fuzzy, wishy washy, mumbo jumbo explaining how you are actually too strong and need to be less strong.

What you need is to face reality (that won't change) and adapt your actions to it (that you actually can change). Don't take on more than you can handle. That just means you are 1. Mentally too weak to correctly assess the situation and the requirements 2. Too weak to handle the situation once in it

If you can't cope by yourself, realize you are weak and get help, instead of lying to yourself or believing other people's delusional ideas about you actually being too strong.



P.S. If you can't deadlift a certain weight it's definitely not because you are too strong

måndag 18 augusti 2014

Do you catch a cold every second year? FAIL.

If you catch a cold or get a sore throat as often as every second year, you are obviously doing something wrong. Some people even accept missing school, workdays or workouts every single year due to falling ill.

If you are one of those, listen up. You have failed, you are doing it wrong. Change! (well, unless you want to keep going as before, of course).

Before 2006 I used to catch a cold about twice (!) a year. I thought that was they way life was supposed to be. "no cure for the common cold", as they say, new viruses every season etc...



I have only had a cold once in 8 years (and counting), since I started paying attention to anti-inflammatory food

About 2006 I decided to eat "better", which to me meant more fish, fatty fish, and less red meat. After that, i.e., the last 8 years, I have only had a sore throat at two occasions, of which only one time counted as a cold, missing a total of two workdays and two workouts in 8 years.

  • In October 2006 I had my last real cold, with a sore throat and six days without going to the gym.
  • My next "episode" was in early spring 2009. My notes from February 2009 say "a sore throat after partying hard, but no missed workouts or workdays".
  • In January 2013 I stayed home from work for two days (24th and 25th) with fever ("feeling cold") and a sore throat (maybe, just maybe, my two weeks in Costa Rica in early January had something to do with that; poor hygiene at times, no Omega3 oil for two weeks)
So, what changed apart from increasing my intake of salmon and reducing the number of medium-rare steaks?

I started focusing on minimizing inflammation. It began with pills with Lactobacillus Reuteri from BioGaia and soon after Omega3 oil from Oil4Life and later from ArcticMed.

The Omega3 oil made the biggest difference. It not only eliminated more or less all my seasonal colds and other ailments, it also made me recover more quickly from heavy workouts. In 2010, I was just about to cut the number of weekly gym sessions from 3 to 2 when I started drinking Omega3 my supplement every day. Within 3-4 months I recovered from a workout so much more quickly that I increased my number of workouts to 4/week instead of cutting back to 2/week.

Earlier, I often fell ill after a period of tough workouts or period of partying, or both. With Omega3 oil, even though I often feared falling ill or catching a cold I just never did.

Later on, I have understood more about the process of inflammation, of the importance of supple cell walls with the right Omega6/Omega3 balance, what foods work best toward minimizing inflammation. That means I nowadays eat just as much read meat as before 2006 but compensate by doing the following:

  1. Drink one table spoon of ArcticMed's Omega3 oil every day with my post workout meal
  2. Eat one pill of Lactobacillus Reuteri from BioGaia every day with my food
  3. Eat 2000-6000 IE Vitamin D every day, except if I got a full day of summer sun within the last 7 days

In addition, I simply like adding a variety of "power foods" in my diet, that seem to help the body naturally instead of taking artificial vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants etc that go in and out of style among researchers and dietists:

  • Salmon, often raw or just lightly cooked
  • Honey
  • Garlic
  • Chili
  • Cinnamon
  • Curcumin
  • Whole flaxseeds
  • Raw carrots, tomatoes, apples
  • Ginger
  • Rocket
  • Broccoli
  • Lemon
  • Berries (blackberries, blueberries)
  • Avocado
  • Olives
  • Olive oil
  • Nuts
  • Red wine
Also, check out this blog post about 10 recommended supplements for health and strength. I like to keep it simple so I only recommend one; Omega 3 oil.


However, if I only get to recommend one change, to anybody catching colds as often as every second year, that would be to eat as much fatty fish you can lay your hands on or start drinking high quality Omega3 oil.

I takes about three to six months for your cell membranes to replace your stuffy, inflexible Omega6 molecules with supple Omega3 instead, depending on how big a change to your diet you do.

This is the first article about Omega 6/3-ratio I found when I made a quick search on the internet right now. It states that ratios above 10 are clearly bad, the typical western ratio is above 15 and that there are a lot of beneficial effects of going below 5, including breast cancer, rectal cancer, cardiovascular diseases etc. My ratio is 2.

And here is a lot more about Omega 3 from Rogue Health and Fitness.

Nota bene: There is no cure for the common cold, and nothing of the above helps once you are already ill. Further, it is not certain you will get the same dramatically positive effects I did.

Some stock charts to ponder

The peaks look distinct seen from afar
 
1929


2000 and 2007


But seen in real time they feel endless
 
2007
and day charts don't capture the intraday agony


1929


2000
 
 
And now take a look at 2014:
 
in perspective



and up close; 2014 looks eerily similar to 1929, right?

1929
 
2014
the beginning of a comeback, or a head fake before the crash?
 
 
...and this is how 1929 continued of course:
 
 
 
And just as a reminder on where valuation is compared to earlier super peaks:


Today's valuation level almost reaches all the way up to the peak of peaks in 2000
 
 
WAY above the level of 1929:
And, for perspective, valuation including the peak of 1929,
but only including up to January 2014


 

 
 

Enjoy life


I am all about hedonism, i.e., I want to have fun, feel good and be happy. I see absolutely no reason not to.

I guess that is what everybody wants. We just take different paths to get there. Some people seem to want to maximize their tangible “success” in terms of career, money and women to hopefully become happy. I take a more direct route; just going with the flow on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis. I aim straight for what entices me, rather than taking the roundabout way of, e.g., impressing others or maximizing my wealth.

David Cain at Raptitude markets his ambition to get better at being human. He explores the world of life hacks to become more mindful and more efficient. His focus is on happiness, living in the present and being mindful, but sometimes he wanders into the land of curing writer’s block, writing or not writing to-do lists and lately on cutting out ordinary food to free up time and become healthier.

I think his experiment and experience with DIY Soylent (liquid food replacement) deserves a shout-out.

I like ordinary food, and I am rather looking for ways to eat the highest number of fulfilling meals I can during a week than to cut them out of my life. Still, if you currently have a very busy schedule or have trouble with over or under-eating you should check out this blog post by David at Raptitude about his experiences with home-made soylent.
 
I, however, will continue eating at least two hot meals a day, savouring my raw, grilled or steam-boiled salmon, medium-rare grilled sirloin or rib-eye, bacon-wrapped oven-cooked chicken, home-cooked beef burgers with brie cheese, BBG-sauce and jalapeños, pork and pesto penne pasta, home-made pizza with salami, beef, rocket and mozzarella, lasagna, grilled chorizo sausages etc. I don’t want to drink ground up almonds with vanilla Whey to free up 2 hours a day. I’d rather want to spend an extra two hours a day savouring the tastes in a perfect Vietnamese spring roll with raw salmon and fresh chili and cilantro.
 
yes, that's me this weekend

 
 
 

lördag 16 augusti 2014

Fusion future

Let me start by saying I don't have high hopes for controlled fusion in the near term.

However...

A couple of weeks ago I listened to a podcast about the ITER fusion project in France. Right now, the postponed schedule is for finishing the construction phase in 1919, begin experiments in 2020 and do full fusion in 2027. However the project has been delayed by almost one year for every year it has run. Apart from the project leader, no one seems to believe the reactor will be finished before 2022-202,3 and in that case I guess you have to be an incurable optimist to think they will do full fusion before 2035.

On the other hand, I listened to a handful of podcasts from Nature (article) today and in the episode from July 24th, 2014 (archive) the editors mentioned two fusion start-up companies that are planning much smaller scale, less expensive and completely different approaches to fusion. Tri-alpha (backed by Paul Allen and Russia) and General Fusion are planning to deliver fusion power in as little as a decade.

Promising

On the other hand, given what I think is the likely path for AI, solar energy, robotics, and biology it's only a matter of time anyway:

If a digital entity passes the Turing test in 2029 and a GAI surpasses the entire human population's combined intelligence by 2045, I think the fusion problem will be solved by then or shortly after. In the meantime, more efficient collection of solar energy (through vaporising water, better solar cells, fuel-producing bacteria etc) will be more than enough to power our increasingly efficient, albeit more and more ubiquitous, equipment.

fredag 15 augusti 2014

Brain Science

Today's most interesting podcast on my list was this episode (#110: Neurobiology for dummies) of Brain Science. Dr Ginger Campbell and her guests on the show have a way of making the unfathomably complex world of the human brain completely understandable.

Recently I listed ten skills I'd like to acquire in the coming year. An eleventh could be a basic but up-to-date and quite detailed understanding of the brain regions and functions. Just by listening to dr Campbell's shows I've learned a lot about the human connectome, about the neocortex, the cerebellum, the subcortical brain, the hippocampus, hypothalamus, amygdala etc. By devoting a couple of focused hours on the matter I am sure I would be able to form a much clearer picture of the brain architecture and function. And that might be fun.

Ginger Campbell's latest show featured Frank Amthor, author of "Neurobiology for dummies". I can definitely recommend spending an hour, letting them both guide you through a couple of the peculiarities of the mammal brain, including stuff like:


  • Why the lateral division of the brain ("left is for language, right is for space") is misunderstood and partly wrong
  • Why a stroke patient can get his senses back, thanks to the general structure of the neocortex
  • What differs sensory neurons from other neurons (they lack dendrites and their axons work as both receivers and transmitters)
  • That some neurotransmitters also work as hormones and why that fucks up some pharmaceuticals
  • That the spine is like a brain in itself
  • That neither the spine or the brain would be able to play tennis without the cerebellum (an old but recently hypergrown part of the brain that models and theorizes about movement)
  • Artificial intelligence and the difference between computers and the brain and why Amthor thinks we will develop brain-implants with internet search capabilities


and more...

PS: I took my evening walk using my Vibram Five Fingers: good for balance, for touching reality and probably for increasing learning as well (even more than just walking would)

20 skills in a year

If you put in little more than 1 hour a day to improve a skill you would have 400 hours to play with in a year. That is enough to spend 20 hours on 20 different skills. In a single year. This guy learned to play and sing basically all radio top hits and then perform it on a stage in exactly 20 hours.

Imagine that: A year from now you could be make yourself understood in a new language, be fairly proficient ina a physical skill like juggling, walking a tightrope or doing handstands, perhaps play an instrument or two. Acoustic guitar? Piano? Harmonica? You could do some basic origami or be able to analyse the economy from a text-book macroeconomic perspective. I guess that within the 20 hour limit you would learn most there is to know about building a house, including how to plan for electricity, water, ventilation, roofing, insulation etc.

Actually you would easily be able to do all of the above better than most people you know already by next summer. You would still have room for ten more skills within that time period. And we are still only talking about cutting out one hour each day of watching the news for a second time or re-runs of Friends or Seinfeld. How about eating comfortably with Japanese sticks or identifying the 100 most common sushi pieces, or making sushi?

A friend encoureged me to list which 20 skills I would want to learn. Unfortunately I can't even think of 20 things I want to learn. Actually that is one reason I have quit my job; to release my curiosity. Anyway, here are ten skills I am interested in:

Languages (NB that even if you can "get around" after 20 hours of focused learning, I would still want to put in more hours in each language)

Spanish
Italian
Japanese
Dutch
Finnish
Russian


Physical

Handstands
Wave surfing (requires waves)


Other
Coding (robot control, face recognition, understanding beauty, computer trading)
Piano

Added later, after the original post

Oil painting
Understanding the brain architecture
Photography
Composing music