tisdag 30 september 2014

No country for young men

Are you younger than 25? Then, be sure to check out Raptitude today, for some straightforward tips on how to become an adult in this brave new world of ours. In short, be a man, not a pig. Try to behave, reason and build value, even if biology, history and your clueless peers have taught you otherwise.


Among some of the wisdom David shares, the following stand out I think:

Forget the word “virgin,” as a descriptor for both yourself and others. It’s an archaic, irrelevant word, meant to stigmatize and shame people. It oversells a person’s first sex act as some grand, transformational experience, which supposedly vindicates a young man and spoils a young woman. It’s an obsolete, religious, judgmental word. Let’s leave it behind.

Failing to “fit in” in school is a good thing. It means there’s some element of individuality in you that will not be squashed.
...
Get good grades and make some friends, but don’t worry about being cool. 

If there’s a real secret to “seduction,” here it is: Always be building a life that turns you on, represent yourself as honestly and straightforwardly as you can, and have conversations with a lot of people. That’s it. Connections will happen.


And, the root of evil is men's capacity for violence:


At the root of it all is our [men's] lingering capacity for violence — the unfortunate biological reality that even a physically unremarkable man can knock out the average woman
...
Unlike the woman, the man could expect to get his way without having an intelligent argument, without considering the needs of others, without being right at all, without any sensible reason for things to go his way.

måndag 29 september 2014

Exit rule for bubbles: ...panic before everyone else does

Dr Hussman is becoming increasingly urgent in his words of caution. Today's weekly comment (titled The ingredients of a market crash) has the following to say (and I agree completely; now is the time to go neutral or even short):

The most hostile subset of market conditions we identify couples overvalued, overbought, overbullish extremes with a breakdown in market action: deterioration of breadth, leadership and other market internals, along with a shift toward greater dispersion and weakening price cointegration across individual stocks, sectors and security types (what we sometimes call “trend uniformity”). The outcomes are particularly negative, on average, when that shift is joined by a widening of credit spreads. That’s a shift we observed in October 2000. It’s a shift we observed in July 2007. It’s a shift that we observe today.

My sense is that a great many speculators are simultaneously imagining some clear exit signal, or the ability to act on some “tight stop” now that the primary psychological driver of speculation – Federal Reserve expansion of quantitative easing – is coming to a close. Recall 1929, 1937, 1973, 1987, 2001, and 2008. History teaches that the market doesn’t offer executable opportunities for an entire speculative crowd to exit with paper profits intact. Hence what we call the Exit Rule for Bubbles: you only get out if you panic before everyone else does.


Exercise stimulates learning and postpones old age

Often I feel bad for staying inside, in particular if the weather is nice. Now I have the science to back me up.

According to science, I really should be outside in the chaotic, and thus stimulating, real world with all its intricate fractal patterns and surprising movement and uneven surfaces. Complexity and variation stimulate the brain and the body - and the harder the body is pushed, the more the brain will develop - reducing stress, increasing learning and postponing old age.

Summary from today's Brain Science Show:
  • exercise stimulates brain growth as well as cures depression
  • that is probably because the brain evolved for processing motion
  • exercise postpones old age in both the body and the brain
  • HIIT produces HGH, the fountain of youth, after the age of 30

******************
During my morning walk today I listened to an episode (nr 111) of MD Ginger Campbell's Brain Science. The episode was an updated and edited version of Dr Campbell's interview with John Ratey that she did after he published his book "Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain" in 2008

Among the more interesting findings I noticed the following (but do listen to the entire show, if you have the time):

Stress in the form of exercise (intermediate to intense, including jogging, weight lifting and stretching), caloric restriction (fasting) and learning increases the production and release of BDNF which promotes plasticity in the brain. Exercise also helps in creating a balance in the brain chemistry between various neurotransmitters and thus preventing disorders like anxiety or depression.

Increased plasticity means that the brain cells are prone to form new connections, to adapt, to learn. BDNF and plasticity really is the holy grail for people interested in self development - and almost all you need to do is get out there and exercise.

Our brains evolved to process movement, to control our limbs, eye-hand coordination, understand and forecast the environment during movement and hunting, to process motion both externally (IRL) and internally, virtually to test scenarios. This processing and forecasting evolved into more elaborate models of other creatures, including oneself and gave rise to self awareness and higher level thinking.

Thus the connections between input areas (back) and output areas (front) in the brain, or between the brain and the body, are more intimate than previously thought.

Movement activates the brain, and changes its chemistry to enable learning. Muscle stress, heart stress and blood vessel stress all ignite increased cell division through the release of mitogens. These actually stimulate stem cells to divide and swim up to the brain and travel into the Hippocampus to form more brain cells. And that is something you want!

When the heart rate is increased,cells in the heart atrium progressively produce more and more ANP that targets the Hypothalamus in the brain to turn offthe stress.

Exercise tricks the brain and the body into thinking that you are still young, still foraging for food and prey. High intensity workouts, even for as little as 20-30 seconds (albeit needs to be flat out) cause production of HGH (human growth hormone) and IGF1. The HGH literally melts off excess belly fat and turns it into muscle. IGF1 helsp insuline work better, which means a constant and better flow of fuels into the cells. That keeps blood glucose levels balanced, while promoting cells to survive better, bind to each other and thus keep them both alive and connected.

Yesterday I listened to a podcast about how to treat and train your dog (more about that in another post), including lessons on how to treat and train your kids. The dog trainer used the concept of a silly zone, where he would stop the car and let his kids be as silly as they liked outside, rather than him becoming angry or the car ride intolerable.

Brain scientists and teacher are now starting to use a similar "time in" instead of "time out" for kids that can't sit still during class. That means they get to sit on a stationary bike or run or perhaps play some sports for a while to alter their brain chemistry before getting back to class.

John Ratey recommends everybody to go for 4-5 at least 40 minute brisk walks a week, more if you are older, with a heart rate of at least 65% of max. NB: It's even better if you do it with a partner.

If you want something a little extra you could throw in 1-2 high intensity intervals, consisting of 3-4 intervals of 30 seconds flat out to exhaustion. That is enough to start production of HGH, which really is the fountain of youth (and that otherwise is stopped being produced around the age of 30).

So, yes you should feel bad for being indoors and reading this. Go out and play in the green. Vigorously!


PS: I'm writing this outside on my roof terrace (and yes, its almost October and in Sweden and I'm only wearing a t-shirt). It's not cold yet, and the sun is out, but remember that freezing is also a good stress factor for the body and brain.

If you understand Swedish you should check out this post on Hjärnfysik. Johan Renström explains in more detail, yet with clear and succinct language, what modern research is saying about depression and exercise.

söndag 28 september 2014

The human condition distilled

Wait But Why has just now concluded its epic journey to crazy and remote places like Iraq and Greenland, with a video where people state what they desire the most. Here is the video at WBW.

The answers were:

  • money
  • travel
  • knowledge (language, wisdom, study)
  • cars (Lamborghini)
  • help their country
  • happiness
  • big house
  • health
  • end poverty
  • world peace
  • family
  • love

If the order isn't random, it's interesting to see how the wishes start out with the most immediate personal material needs, and then proceed to global issues and intangible "Miss World" topics.

Money doesn't make you happy. You can't live in money. You can't eat it. You can't love it. However, you can exchange it for almost any good or service at a moment's notice. Money in itself might not make you outright happy, but it can end misery for you and your friends and family. Money means saved time and an opportunity to travel, to study, to eat and sleep well, to exercise to become or stay healthy.

Money might not end world hunger or create peace or love, but it can help putting an individual on the right track. And enough individuals on the right track could actually do all those things.

And as Ayn Rand let Francisco d'Anconia convincingly state in Atlas Shrugged; money is the opposite of the root of all evil:

"...a country of money–and I have no higher, more reverent tribute to pay to America, for this means: a country of reason, justice, freedom, production, achievement"

lördag 27 september 2014

Start Gaining Momentum

Ludvig at Start Gaining Momentum today posted this article on how to make sure you are both successful and happy. I commented on the article and repost my comments in this post:

I think the most important conclusion I made from Ludvig's article was this:

So, I used say (until yesterday) “follow your passion, at least you’ll be happy even if not successful”, but Ludvig has convinced me that what I really meant was: “Choose a useful area, make it a habit, learn to like it, master it, allow it to become your passion and then let it lead you to success and happiness at the same time.”


Choose a direction that is compatible with your strengths, your ambition and your targets, and (you will) learn to like it.

and from Barking (who says happiness brings success not the other way round)



Alright, so on to my comments then:

Your post is very interesting and thought provoking. Despite the difficult and complex topic you also manage to give some concrete and actionable advice at the end, on how to be both accomplished and happy.


The blog name “Start Gaining Momentum” really is genius and says it all in one sentence. Decide where you want to be in the future and start the journey now. Choose a direction that is compatible with your strengths, your ambition and your targets, and learn to like it.


****************************


Paradoxically enough, here I am (Always Be Bruce Wayne, man on the roof) always talking about following your ‘flow’, even your every ‘whim’ in pursuit of happiness :). Where Ludvig says “strategy and long term targets, success, and backs it up with tonnes of research”, I say “flow, lust, whim, happiness” and backs it up by being the European Hedge Fund Manager Of The Decade.


On the one hand, I am the perfect disguised charlatan and bullshitter extraordinaire. I have the titles to back me up, and I often claim it was down to coincidences or just dumb luck. From the outside it may have looked as if I was working hard and deliberately, maybe even following my life’s passion, but from the inside I usually say I was just a bullied nerd, happening to hide first behind my computer, then behind excellent study records and desk face-time.


On the other hand, I am calling my own bullshit, by acknowledging that my passion for computer games, and indirectly programming, provided me with useful skills, that I actually had to work hard for (I became systematic, thorough, learned math, English, patience etc). All of these skills could and would be applied to school and later to work.


I didn’t even start out passionate about math, English, or programming and was not naturally systematic or patient either, but those became my strengths with immersion and time. Then I learned to embrace those strengths as well as (admittedly, happened to, by chance) to put myself in a context where my skills were valuable and “layered” in an unusual and productive way. Knowledge of programming, networks, math, statistics and finance was a very good combination to have in the stock market, when the IT craze took off after Netscape’s IPO in 1995.


Thank you Ludvig for making me see the light and solving the seeming paradox with my success, laziness, happiness and obsession with flow and path of least resistance. I simply wasn’t following my passion, I created it. And that is where Ludvig’s greatness shines like a beacon in the night - he analyzes, scrutinizes and cuts down complicated issues to manageable size, and then tells you how to deal efficiently with the core issue.


********************************
I think some are more or less born with a passion. They know what they want to do, as soon as they can think, and they just keep at it. Most fail, but those who succeed can thank their passion for guiding them. Some of them became good because their passion never allowed them to relax or give up. They worked so consistently that either their talent was discovered or they actually developed a skill/talent. Others just happened to be at the right place at the right time and made it big, despite a lack of talent. The Olsen twins?
*****************************
PewDiePie is extremely successful at commenting video games. His advice is to follow your passion, not because it works but because when it doesn’t work at least you could enjoy the journey. That is also exactly why I wouldn’t have chosen a career in finance if I could go back and redo my life. The likelihood of success is so small that I really should have chosen something I liked instead. I didn’t know that then and there definitely was no guarantee of success.


But remember that which is not seen (Bastiat), all the passionate singer song writers and actors that failed and ended up poor, miserable, maybe as abused semi-prostitutes. Passion did them nothing good. On the other hand, they may have misread their own passion; what they wanted was fame and fortune, their time in the limelight. It wasn’t acting or singing that drove them.


Others that are not born with a passion, have to find it, or rather to manufacture a passion by choosing something good enough and work at it.


************************

Ludvig cut the Gordian knot of Love-Hate / Probability / Happiness-Success by postulating that you can learn to like almost anything, if you immerse yourself and make it a habit



I agree with Ludvig that you can’t count on your passion to make you successful. At the same time I agree with PewDiePie that your passion will make you happy even if you are not successful. I also want to stress that there is nothing inherently wrong with mediocrity as long as you are happy.


An important question is what you want. Do you want to be happy or do you want success? And what is the likelihood of attaining your goal? Is there a middle road that maximizes the expected value of doing something useful that, if not love, you at least don’t hate, and the probability of becoming happy or successful?


Ludvig cut the Gordian knot of Love-Hate/Probability/Happiness-Success by postulating that you can learn to like almost anything if you immerse yourself and make it a habit (given that you don’t hate it deeply to begin with). If you apply your strengths to the most useful endeavor that you don’t hate, you will learn both to master and like (or at least tolerate) that area. Layer on an unusual and valuable second skill, and your likelihood for success increases considerably. If success was very important to you, you’ll be happy too. If you grew to like what you did you will be happy as well, not least from the feeling of being good at it.


*********************


If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading”



So, I used say (until yesterday) “follow your passion, at least you’ll be happy even if not successful”, but Ludvig has convinced me that what I really meant was: “Choose a useful area, make it a habit, learn to like it, master it, allow it to become your passion and then let it lead you to success and happiness at the same time.”


I particularly like the quote by Cuban, but I like the Lao Tzu (no, not Yogi Berra) version even more: “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading”. Hence, make sure to adjust your direction early, the destination will be so much better and the journey will be more or less about the same.

However, DO NOT attempt to create a habit, force momentum, or set out a direction doing something you despise and hate, just to become successful. Success isn’t worth anything if you are not proud and happy.

torsdag 25 september 2014

Are you a fool or a statistician?

Why you need to know statistics

The world is a dangerous place, not least financial markets. One reason is humans' disposition to look for patterns and our less developed sense for sound statistical analysis. If you don't know the basics in statistics, you are constantly at risk of being fooled or lose money.

You have probably heard about plants trading currencies or rats trading oil futures and bonds. If not, maybe you have at least heard about the up-or-out trainee model at trading firms? All of these work... for a while.

The reason they work is because they are automatically trend following, or a sort of spontaneous correlation systems.

Assume the plant gets sunlight and water or added nutrition when its trades are profitable. Since, its trades are derived from the way it grows, a trend of growth and good trades will emerge. As long as the underlying market moves in long enough trends at a time and the model is calibrated in tune with the length and strength of the market trends, things will work out well for mr Green.

The same thing works with rats. And it does too with humans. Hire a bunch of uneducated kids and keep anyone who is profitable, no matter what his "models" or MO are. When somebody is on a roll, gradually give them a larger mandate, while losers are fired. Up or out. Simple.

There is always someone who happens to take his cues from the variables that are working right now. It might be macro, micro, earnings, cash flow, eye balls, weather, super bowl, presidential cycle, seasons, weekdays or just about anything. It works while it does, and then suddenly it doesn't

Students, traders and professional investors and their bosses all make the same old mistake of not understanding statistics, in particular the difference between correlation and causation. As human beings we are wired to see patterns in random data, to postulate causation from correlation; in addition we are blind to contradictory information and extra susceptible to supporting information (confirmation bias of our own preconceptions, beliefs and hopes).

Taleb does his best to educate his readers about the impact of outliers and non-trend events, in his books The Black Swan, Fooled by Randomness and Antifragile

Kahneman (Thinking, Fast and Slow) guides the reader through a maze of human psychological shortfalls when it comes to ordinary decisions about money, vacations and painful procedures. It all comes down to understanding statistics and inoculating oneself against the most common day to day mistakes.

Everyday you are bombarded with claims based on statistics from surveys and other research. "cancer from Z", "weight loss from X", "muscle gains from Y", "Republican candidate gets x %" and so on. The packaging is often convincing, the message delivered by an authority (not seldom a disguised charlatan), using convincing and confusing jargon, the setting scientific, the charts smartly cropped, the conclusions and advice strong, easy to understand and presented in the form of bullet points... and spiced with a bit of moral: "do the right thing". Add in a couple of (irrelevant) anecdotes delivered by ordinary Joes and the deception is complete...

...Unless you actually know statistics and see through the charade, the too small sample sizes, the lack of established theoretical causation, too short testing periods, circular reasoning, graphical correlation in nominal values but low statistical correlation in changes, scaling errors etc.

This is a funny comic strip about what you can learn from a course in statistics (or reading the right books):
xkcd


Poor statisticians and short memories

In addition to all of the above, our memories are too short. That is especially true in financial markets. Only the winners are left in the market and they soon leave too or lose (apart from a couple of 7 sigma guys who are smart and lucky and probably not as good as it looks superficially [Buffett e.g.]).

After 5 years of trending markets most investors forget why the market crashed the last time, assume it's not relevant anymore and begin to repress how bad it was - or even that the market ever crashed at all.

In 1929 the perhaps most famous economist of his time, Irving Fisher, stated that the stock market had reached a permanently high plateau... and then the market crashed. He said that despite being theoretically well versed in the devastating crashes of 1901, 1906 and 1919. If his memory was that short, what do you think your neighbour's is?

Once a generation have lived through a boom and bust cycle, or two, they lose interest in stock market speculation and never come back. That leaves only the new fools and the old foxes, just as in online poker rooms, in particular the new ones that keep popping up. They lure in newbies that soon get fleeced by the veterans that move from room to toom, playing 10s of hands simultaneously, basically robbing the unknowing masses penny by penny.

The losers leave, new soon-to-be losers keep arriving, perhaps making money for a while, enough to believe enough in themselves to make a big bet (correlation vs causation; they happened to make money, to catch a trend by luck, not beacuse they were smart), increase the bet further on drawbacks ("cheaper! always buy on dips!"), add leverage (loans), feel rich for a while, only to come crashing down when the pro:s have cashed out and there are no more newbies and other ignorant buyers left to support the market for the time being.

onsdag 24 september 2014

Should you be stubborn?

Without further comment, Tynan's reflections regarding when to be stubborn


I think there's a place for stubbornness. When there's no consensus, maybe it's better to err on the side of your own belief. Maybe you really have some unique perspective that makes you correct. And when you're against the masses who don't think much at all, maybe it's best to be stubborn.
 
But when the people you've chosen to surround yourself with, the people you most respect, tell you that you're wrong, maybe that's not the time to be stubborn.

tisdag 23 september 2014

How tactical framing makes you happier

Are you bored or unhappy? Reframe the situation and make yourself happy:

1. Think that "This is good"
2. Consider how things could be worse

Today: The grund was wet from rain but the dark clouds were evaporating under the rays of the sun. It was 4 pm and I was just arriving at my apartment with some groceries. As soon as I got indoors I felt a loss or a regret of some kind, for not being outside in the nice weather. I knew the park, 50 meters away, had to be bathing in sun for at least another hour and I was missing it!

Right there and then I was subconsciously framing the event as "missing out on sun in the park". Seconds ago, however, I was smiling at the thought of "being home so early on a work day", that the rain had stopped, that the weather was nice, that I had already both gone for a podwalk (between 7 and 8 am, listening to the NPR/TED radio hour) and finished Tuesday's workout (around 11:30-12:30).

When I thought about it consciously, I knew being in the park wasn't all that nice. Sure, the sun would feel good on my face, but I got plenty of that during the weekend. Further, it was only 7 degrees Celsius (45 degrees F) outside. In addition the grass in the park would be wet.

What I did was reframing the situation to something that felt better. I chose to see it as being home early. I chose to see the park for what it was (cold and wet) rather than some paradise. And, finally, I just stood by the kitchen window for a couple of minutes in full sunlight, with my eyes closed and enjoyed the moment for as long as I wanted (which wasn't that long).

I have used the reframing technique often to make situations more tolerable. If I feel the least bit bored, waiting for a bus or standing in line, I think "at least I'm not at the office" or "I'm not ill. I'm strong and healthy". If things are tense at home, I think "at least I'm not single/alone/bored".


Reframing has the potential to make you much happier but also risks making you less successful.

Did you win the silver medal or loose the gold? Reframing too much may make you complacent; if you really want to succeed and don't care that much about happiness you might be better off just being miserable until your next chance at gold. However, if you reframe the event to winning silver, you can live proud and happy, maybe even win other events or simply go on with your life to new endeavors, without obsessing over the loss in one area.

Do you think you wasted an hour for missing the connection? Reframe it; you were still alive that hour, you had time to think, time for chance encounters, time to read a book or a self development blog. If you actually missed a very important meeting you may have missed out for real. Too bad, it was positively bad for you, but since you can't change the actual situation you might just as well try to reframe the event to something more agreeable.


Two simple reframing techniques:

1. Think that "This is good. I feel good. I am healthy. I have a job. I am free. I have a partner. I am single" or something else that is positive for you
2. Consider how things could be worse "It could be colder, raining, I could have lost my job. I could be ill. I could be cold and wet in the park"

måndag 22 september 2014

Which path to choose?

Alexander (one of surprisingly many Alexanders in my life) asked me here which path I would have chosen, if I could go back in time. The short answer is programmer, teacher or personal trainer. I still think all three are valid career choices for a young man in 2014, provided you like them.


The path I did choose was that of money. I studied finance, endured my dog years and then happened to make it as an analyst and portfolio manager (here are links to 11 awards and short list nominations from my time):


Things I liked before choosing money, i.e., before going to SSE to study finance at the age of 18, were martial arts, weight lifting, tennis, wind surfing, chemistry, computer games, programming and media.

I think I could have become proficient in any of the mentioned disciplines and easily made a decent, living, probably even become wealthy. Becoming wealthy is however not the point. The real question is whether I could have become at least as happy as now with at least the same likelihood.

On paper, I had almost zero chance of success in Finance. Sweden was entering a deep crisis around the time I applied for SSE (spring 1990). The crisis lasted my entire four years at SSE and the stock market had taken a long pause from the upturn that started in 1982. It could just as well have been over by then. Finance was not a good place to be, on paper. In addition, I was an outsider. I had no contacts, had an accent, no money, no fixed place to live and not even any concept that those things mattered. If I had known, I guess I would never have bothered trying at all.

As it were, I finished SSE with top grades and after several weird interviews at places like Goldman Sachs, Andersen Consulting, BCG, McKinsey etc, I was hired by a small 3rd tier broker firm - as broker assistant. I accepted before finishing my thesis (which thus got postponed by 2 years) since getting any job was a success, given the state of Sweden in spring 1994. I could easily not have gotten that job and simply moved back home. There was no guarantee for success for an outsider without the right pedigree, name or friends and contacts.

I was simply lucky that hard work and some intelligence made me noticed, and thus propelled me to my next position - as head of IT research at a big bank just as the IT bubble took off (Netscape's IPO).

I liked computers, I understood internet architecture, I bought into all the industry jargon and three-letter abbreviations and made them mine (which made me appear in the know and trustworthy). If the IT bubble hadn't started right there and then, I wouldn't have gotten such a flying start. The next phase in my career was even less likely. Just as I was about to quit the industry, leave the equity research sell side and move back home to Västerås from Stockholm, one friend was talking about starting a tech VC company with me. Then another acquaintance heard about that and wanted to retain me as an analyst, soon to be portfolio manager, at a recently incepted hedge fund.

Out of the blue, completely unexpected for me, for my boss and probably for my friends as well, I accepted. The rest is history. 15 years of history to be exact. 15 years of success, awards, bonuses and dividends, fortune and glory. And just recently I had had enough and quit. For me, from that point, more money could never be the answer.

Also, in retrospect, I never should have been there to start with. Sure, I had my good times, and when money is pouring in a lot of things are tolerable. Also, my video gaming habits were still there to help me, providing patience, endurance and an attitude of "any hardship or problem will be solved, no questions asked".

"What if I had spent 25 years on school and work, toiling away with topics and tasks I weren't interested in, and didn't even get paid?!"

However, my entire career from going to SSE, to choosing Finance, to getting my string of job positions, was so unlikely that anybody would be a fool to go for it unless it was something they had to do, or dreamed about or simply loved and would do anyway for minimum pay. I weren't any of those things. I was there for the money. Period. And if I had had an inkling of how difficult or unprobable it was that I would make it I would never have tried. What if I had spent 25 years on school and work, toiling away with topics and tasks I weren't interested in, and didn't even get paid?! That would have been a disaster life-wise. Now at least I can leave this parenthesis called Finance with a bag of cash.


So, what path should I have chosen? What path would I choose if I could go back?

In order of most reasonable and likely life choices:
  • programmer (I liked programming, relished in optimizing and finding new clever solutions. There were and still are a lot of interesting IT companies in my home town. Considering what happened with the IT and internet bonanzas I'm sure I would have been in on it in some way. In any way I think I would have liked myself and my life at least as much as now and a lot more than if I had failed at Finance)
  • chemistry teacher (I was always fascinated by chemistry and physics. I would possibly have started my own company as a side project. Breaking Bad?)
  • martial artist (ninjutsu, taekwondo, personal trainer. I like using my body as well as seeing it become more competent. I also like teaching to people interested in learning)

I can't say what an 18-year old should do today, but rather than going into something as useless as finance, not to mention low likelihood of making it in a relevant way, I would still suggest programming, teaching and various kinds of technology (biotech, nanotech, materials) for a combination of fun, learning and chance at prosperity. And if fun is the main priority, take any job with as little responsibility as possible, and have fun in your spare time. With time your hobby might pay off.

Summary (from "Give up! Restart"): 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. Try several different things and follow your excitement and happiness rather than the money (you might not even get it and then your time was truly wasted).

As long as you don't buy a lot of unnecessary stuff, working at a burger bar is good enough to make it day by day, while you learn to know yourself and develop your skills. You don't need an expensive watch or a car or buying an apartment or fancy furniture. What you need is to know yourself and live for you instead of for others. If you have enough talent you might even end up making good money off of your hobby - like PewDiePie.
 
By the way, check out Mark Cubans advice on progress here.

And here is Jack Ma's interesting take on life: If you are poor at 35, you deserve it. Retard.

Health or Power?

Today I was asked a general question about exercising here, "going to the gym". Should you do it? What should you do once there? Do you need tangible goals or is "just" unwinding enough? Does it matter whether you do only cardio or only weight lifting?


If you are pressed on time, just read this: unwinding is enough, goals are just for those who want to reach them (know yourself) and not necessarily better. To be healthy, various forms av light cardio and mobility are enough. If you do only weight lifting you are probably doing too little cardio, but just adding a few minutes of high intensity intervals a week would be enough. If you want more out of training, it's just that - you wanting more - but not necessary or much healthier, albeit probably a little better, at least for old people.


Now on to the long answer:
To me exercise comes down to choice, just as it does with success and happiness. Well, I put it as an either-or choice; you could almost just as well establish a tolerable or with time unavoidable or even enjoyable habit that effortlessly leads to success - like my pre-teen round-the-clock video gaming habit (see the same post about success and happiness).

Regarding exercise you might want to choose betweeen the following goals or proceed with one after the other in this order:

1. Health
2. Power
3. Aesthetics
4. All of the above


I think you should focus on nr 1 first; aim for a long and healthy life. Embed your training as much as possible in your daily life, for the most impact with the least effort: The MILE approach could look like this, in this order:


If you do nothing, walk. If you walk, add mobility. Then stand at the office and take the stairs when you can



THE MILE APPROACH to get the most mileage out of your body
  • walk (easy, doesn't get you sweaty, breaks your sitting periods, makes you smarter, trigger insights. Walk for 5 minutes or 5 hours; the longer the better as lonmg as you have time to eat and sleep, but anything is better than nothing)
  • simple mobility exercises (couch stretch, squat, shoulders, glutes/ass and spine/torso, all of these postpones the age when you walk like an old man and undoes the damage from sitting all day. They are easy enough to do in front of the TV, the office chair or by sneaking away to the conference room for 5 minutes. Start with once a month and then aim for 5 minutes a week and finally 5 minutes every second day or even every day.)
  • stand (at the office, if you can, at least an hour a day. Make sure you never sit more than 60 minutes at a time without a couple of minutes' break for copying, getting coffee, lunch or whatever)
  • take the stairs (aim for a pulse of >120 bpm a couple of minutes every day)
  • cardio (doctors recommend 30 minutes of sweaty exercise every second day so why not go for an easy jog 4-6 kilometres, 2-4 miles)
  • HIIT (the fastest way of getting in good enough shape; short bouts of maximum effort. A couple of minute a week are enough but I think you should aim for more. Aim for 16 one-minute intervals three times a week. It can be running, cycling, stairmaster, treadmill, swimming, cross-fit exercises...)


Then, if you are done and happy with nr 1 and actually want strength, power and functional muscles that help you fight off bad guys, do sports or support you in everyday tasks like moving furniture around, proceed with step 2.

Nota bene that there is nothing inherently better or more desireable in moving on to step 2 from step 1. It is just a matter of taste. You don't need extra strong muscles to be happy or successful or live a long and healthy life, but it might be fun, might boost your self-confidence, might even help in reaching other goals. And some strength is good for you and your bone density as you grow older. The regime to get there also means acquiring a new skill set and discipline than the MILE approach.

To build a strong and functional body you should do heavy compound exercises with a free bar. You could also join a free climbing group or start with gymnastics, but most people find it easier to just go to the local gym. I have described how I do it here. In order of importance:

  • squat - squat deep for full benefits, hits almost the entire body, including legs, calves, grip, abs, back, arms
  • deadlift - watch your back, but if you keep good form this mother of all exercises builds legs, upper and lower back, grip strength and abs, as well as good habits when lifting stuff off the floor...and better proprioception
  • pullups - biceps, grip, lats, upper back
  • overhead press - shoulders, triceps, abs
  • bench press - the least important of the big lifts; it builds pecs, shoulders and triceps
  • various - complement the big five with cleans and box jumps, e.g. You could also add some cross-fit exercises like burpees but with strict technique rather than as many with poor form as possible.
Just do a few of these a few times a week, around five sets each with five repetitions per set as heavy as possible with acceptable form, and you should be fine. If you want more than just fine, you need more specialized advice than this post is about.

And for the final exam, if you are strong and agile but want to look bigger and better, more like a bodybuilder than just the average handy man: Aesthetics & Beauty:
  • alternate between trying to build as much strength as possible and building as much muscle volume as possible.
    • Go as heavy as possible for 1-3 months, starting with e.g. 10 reps per set and gradually going down to heavy 3's, 2's and even 1RM's.
    • Then do 1-3 months with focus on high reps (10-15 per set), metabolic stress, short set rests, long Time under Tension. Include some negative reps too, i.e., slow eccentric phase.
  • alternate bulking periods with muscle definition periods
    • focus more on gaining weight and strength some periods
    • focus on cutting down the fat and making your muscles visible in other periods
      • Be reasonable; a handful of kilograms or 10-15 pounds is enough variation
      • Extremes are bad for you in the long run
      • And if you are a competitive bodybuilder, what are you doing here?!

lördag 20 september 2014

Always go to the gym

I met Ludvig from SGM yesterday.

The plan was to talk about an hour about blogs, structured thinking etc, but we both got inspired by the topics at hand, the weather, the champagne and each other's company. Just walking through the apartment took more than an hour, since we got stuck in the library, going over my books and exchanging recommendations.

Between 12 noon and around 12 midnight we had champagne on the roof (3 bottles) and then various drinks. Some friends of his stopped by around 6 pm, and we shot a video of us four talking about all kinds of things (i.e., I don't remember)

on my roof yesterday


For obvious reasons, I wasn't exactly feeling like going to the gym today, but some habits are hard to break. I simply always train on Saturdays, no matter what, and thus today too.

I thought about quitting early (the exercise, the entire workout) - several times - due to weakness, nausea and just general laziness. However, everytime I thought "no more", I took it as "more" and added exercises and sets, and shortened my rest periods etc. It turned out to be an excellent workout., even if I got seriously hungover afterward.

Lessons:

1. Always go to the gym, when you are supposed to; just go there, change and start walking on the treadmill, then increase the speed by small increments, then start lifting an empty bar, then add some weights and just keep going from exercise to exercise. Don't think about the entire workout or about being tired, just make the next step/rep. Don't give up before you actually have to
2. For me, the brain's trouble thinking no" or "not" works in my favour in the gym. When I think "I will not continue" or "I will not lift anymore", I end up continuing and lifting more.
3. Make time for chance encounters - yesterday was so much more valuable and memorable than just another Friday would have been, even if it meant missing a day of fasting as well as a suboptimal workout.
4. Remember that there are benefits to working out when tired, hungover, dehydrated etc. It builds character, it trains the brain's adenosine tolerance. If you can lift when suboptimal, you can lift a least as much when optimal.

From today's workout, 12 hours after finishing my last drink, after drinking for 12 hours:

torsdag 18 september 2014

Achieving results or happiness?

Do you want results or do you want happiness?
 
No matter how I did it or what in my character enabled me to get there, I have achieved results; The facts are that I am rich, fit, have a serious relationship since almost 10 years, and I am happy.
 
I have put in at least my fair share of work at the gym, at school and at work. Regardless of whether I am lazy, a flow addict, follow the path of least resistance or just want to avoid being in people's way, what actually happened is that I made sure I knew everything beforehand at school and then rehearsed and re-rehearsed from that point.
 
When I got my first job (broker assistant), I gave it my all; I gave up martial arts (albeit partly due to an injury), all but quit going to the gym, worked around the clock on everything I could lay my hands on (mapping investors, programming back office applications, summarizing annual reports, getting lunch for the senior brokers etc). I never thought consciously about if it was plausible or not to work 80-100 hours a week. I just did it because the work lay before me, and I just didn't, couldn't, quit until I really, really needed sleep. I wasn't even looking for rewards, wasn't doing my dog years to lay the foundation for a career. I simply got a task, however lowly it might have been, and I finished it. That was how I was wired; more like a beast of burden than anything else. Where did it come from?
 
When I turned 10, I was about to get something extra for my birthday, perhaps a bicycle. My dad, however, noticed my interest in electronics, motorized construction toys, digital watches and such. So, as a complete surprise to everyone in the family, he bought a Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48K in London on a business trip. Yes, a computer with a total memory space of 48 000 bytes, which only cost the same as a bicycle but changed my life forever.
 
Nobody around me even knew what a computer was in late 1981, early 1982, but I was completely hooked from day one. In the beginning I just played Space Invaders days on end, shunning food, sleep, play, just chasing that next high score.
 
Space Invaders
The key to my success
 
I just wouldn't give up until I had finished that next level, no matter what it took. Back then, you never got to save your progress either; when your lives were up, you had to start from the very beginning. Imagine that, kids! I think that built character, stamina and emotion control.
 
Since new games were usually too expensive for me (typically around 15 USD, which I could afford just a couple of times a year or get at birthdays or for Christmas), I got into programming. First I just copied the code off a magazine (many computer magazines had print-outs of simple games in addition to game and hardware reviews). Copying meant literally reading the code and typing it character by character by hand with zero error tolerance and then de-bugging for typos (both your own and the magazine's).
 
Soon, I began programming and inventing my own games. That's how I laid the groundwork for skills like English, algebra, programming, symbolic and hierarchical thinking, reasoning, not to mention focus and patience. Between the ages of 10 to 15 my brain must have been on fire from new efforts, new information and new challenges.
 
I didn't choose to be that way, but my fascination for controlling the outcome in a game, for controlling what went up on the screen, for understanding and controlling variables and graphics, my curiosity for whatever might show up around the next corner or at the next level in a game made me push myself toward my genetic maximum intellectually, one increment at a time, every day, for years.
 
What I had from the start was curiosity and early and strong reading abilities as well as an inclination for math and somewhat less developed social skills (probably light Aspbergers/Autistic Spectrum Disorder). Combined with a computer at the exact right time I developed an invaluable skill set (without even consciously trying, just by following the unhindered path to being me) for my future education and career.
 
My early years, the Spectrum era, formed me and made me succesful at school (once we got grades, I almost stopped fighting and made sure I performed  in more than just math and English) and later on at work (due to my patience with any kind of task and systematic approach to complex problems in the stock market).
 
However, once I had reached high enough, to not have to work anymore, I started contemplating the meaning of life, of working in the stock market versus growing as an individual. And work lost out, so I quit.
 
You may need different sets of habits to, respectively, become successful or happy. I think that is what this blog is about (apart from educating the masses about the Singularity, the stock market, weight lifting, new findings in psychology etc.)
 
I was lucky to stumble upon a habit that made me exactly what was needed to ace school and get noticed as a valuable team player in the stock market. The likes of Start Gaining Momentum, Tim Ferriss, Danger & Play, Bold and Determined, Tynan, Barking and others are applying an adult's structured thinking to the "problem". They are perfecting formulas on how to become manly, productive, momentum machines that get incrementally better than everybody else. They certainly produce a lot of good ideas on efficiency and productivity that should be enough to propel anybody's career to unexpected heights. Most of them also have ideas about happiness that are similar to mine. I just sometimes have a hard time reconciling the various advice.
 
I am ambivalent. On the one hand, you shouldn't chase happiness. On the other hand, happiness still demands a conscious effort from most people, an effort to stop rushing about, stop chasing. Just STOP and experience, be mindful. However to become a whole person,you should probably strive to go in the direction of difficulty, to evolve, develop and grow. At the same time, flow is the highest state of happiness I can think of, and flow is inherently effortless (even if it means working at the limits of your physical or mental abilities). This seemingly paradoxical relationship between conscious effort and flow/happiness is difficult to resolve, or to give soundbyte-type advice about.
 
However, just contemplating the issue should bring you closer to a full and happy life experience. My way right now, since I already have achieved material success and a strong skill platform, is an ad-hoc approach. I go with the flow, trying a lot of different things, somewhat chaotically, to see what sticks. I do strain myself a bit, but not more than that I actually like the effort and can see the reward clearly.
 
For some, results and happiness are intimately intertwined, but don't just presume you are one of them. Think hard about what is most important to you; happiness or results. Also consider that it might just be your self-confidence addiction speaking (as opposed to self esteem serenity), whence results won't make you happy, just needing more.
 
NPR/TED Simply Happy
And, if you are thinking a lot about this topic, do listen to the NPR/TED podcast about happiness. I wrote a summary of it in Swedish here. In short, the main points were:
 
1: Life edit, declutter - Edit out unnecessary living space, stuff and storage. People have tripled their living areas in the US but still there is a booming self storage industry. And nobody is happy. Try going the other way with less stuff instead.
 
2: Three months after a major life event there are no lasting effects on the level of happiness. The brain exaggerates its fears about the impact of a coming event but smooths over any past event. The brain hides your true you from yourself because if you knew how easy it would be (afterward) to quit your job or get a divorce you might make decisions like that  too often

3: The brain can make us happy no matter the actual circumstances. E.g., the guy who quit Beatles righ before their stardom claims to be happy, or even happier than if he had stayed.
 
4: The key to happiness is to pause and experience, feel, contemplate and appreciate life, instead of rush through it (chasing happiness). There is no big secret to happiness, but you need to put in a little effort every day; play with your children for five minutes with 100% attention, take a walk and actively appreciate and be grateful to be alive, to be able to walk, to get one more second and one more breath of air. "Be mindful and grateful"
 
5: Opportunity does not knock only once; quite the opposite; "Opportunity keeps on knocking, constantly". There is always one more second, one more chance.

onsdag 17 september 2014

Losing a million dollars

Jim Paul and Brendan Moynihan sell truckloads of books, when detailing what can be learned from losing a million dollars, receiving praise from the likes of Nassim Nicholas Taleb in the process.

One of the rare noncharlatanic books in finance.”
– Nassim Nicholas Taleb

From Tim Ferriss' website:

The book [What I Learned Losing a Million Dollars] — winner of a 2014 Axiom Business Book award gold medal — begins with the unbroken string of successes that helped Jim Paul achieve a jet-setting lifestyle and land a key spot with the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. It then describes the circumstances leading up to 7-figure losses, and the essential lessons he learned from it. The theme that emerges: there are 1,000,000+ ways to make money in the markets (and many of the “experts” contradict one another), but all losses appear to stem from the same few causes.  So why not study these causes to help improve your odds of making and keeping money?



I too lost a million dollars over the last year (actually one and a half million dollars but who's counting?) on one single trade and learned nothing, wrote nothing about it, got no praise and no readers for it...

Just saying

Here is how I did it:
  • I grew more and more tired of the ever rising market and increasing monetary madness
  • I decided to wait for a large downturn and then start accumulating single stocks
  • After an additional year or two of never ending market advances into historically insane valuation levels, I started trying the downside "why not make money both ways (famous last words)".
  • I bought 120 000 shares of negative exposure at 207,13 SEK (I actually bought higher but reduced the average price by one profitable trade in between) for a total of little less than 25 million SEK (approximately 3.82 million USD)
  • On average a year and a half later, my loss stands at 90 SEK per share or -43.5% for a total loss of 10.8m SEK (in today's dollars a loss of 1.51m USD)

I learned nothing. Except maybe that I didn't get the least bit unhappier... Sometimes I wonder how I'm wired.

tisdag 16 september 2014

How to write a good post

Why can't I write posts like this one on Tynan's blog?
 
-It is short, succinct, clear, positive and practical. It basically tells you to do what others don't have the willpower or stamina to go through with, in order to get ahead in life.
 
I particularly like the advice to become a T person, i.e., to become very good at a few things and 'not bad' at a hundred skills (check out my 1/50 rule), whereas most people are content being mediocre at a handful of things and (admittedly, very few) suboptimize by being masters, or, even worse, fail at being masters, at just one.
 
The other stuff is also good; be nice, work hard (or smart), connect and don't quit. Sure, some of the advice is the opposite of what I usually say, but it can still be good, if success is more important than happiness.
 
Perhaps I should put some more effort into my posts rather than just write straight from the heart... But, then again, no, my blog is good enough for me and that is what counts.

Happiness and TED


“I only drink champagne when I'm happy and when I'm sad.
Sometimes I drink it when I'm alone.
When I have company I consider it obligatory.
I trifle with it if I'm not in a hurry and drink it when I am, otherwise I never touch the stuff unless I am thirsty.”

-Lily Bollinger


I write a lot about happiness and flow. And when I don't, I write about quality of life, of food, stretching and working out.

This morning, I took a 20-minute break from realaxing in the sun and looking out the window at the view of central Stockholm ; ). Well, you could say I took a break from my computer screens, but the decision was made after five to ten minutes of sun therapy by the window.

What I took a break for was 20 minutes of listening to a TED podcast about happiness (Simply Happy, August 15, 2014) while I did a couple of mobility exercises (couch, squat, Morpheus shoulders, glutes, hamstrings).

BTW, just like walking, stretching is a perfect backdrop to absorbing new information; it is low intensity and uncomplicated while still priming the brain for learning and curiosity and stifling boredom. When moderately physically active, in particular when moving/walking outside in nature, the brain activates its learning. A lot of people have written about this so I won't at this point. Suffice to say, if you want to increase your focus and learning efficiency when taking in auditory inmformation, walk in nature at a moderate pace.

"There is no secret to happiness, just like there is no secret to dieting" (says a researcher early in the show)

However, as with dieting, there are several small not-so-secret tips and tricks (fasting for example). Here is a site (from the TED show) that does research on happiness, by prompting smart phone users a couple of times a day, to record their state of mind, current activity, if they have to do what they are doing, if they'd rather do something else etc. Try it!

One of the happiness findings is that "mind wandering" is detrimental to happiness and the antithesis to flow. The reason for this is that when the mind wanders, it tends to wander to trouble and problems, and that makes you unhappy. The solution is to pay attention to what you are doing, really, actively listen to what you are listening to, or try to pick apart and enjoy the tastes in your mouth from what you are chewing on etc.

You know the sunscreen song? Among a hundred quite good pieces of advice, the lyricist emphasizes just one: Wear Sunscreen. When it comes to happiness, Nobel Prize winners, researchers, bloggers and I alike recommend just one thing: walk. Whenever you are bogged down by life, or just your daily tasks, or you have come to a standstill in your project, or face a difficult choice, or you simply are bored. Really, almost no matter what is ailing you (or even if you already are content and happy), just go for a walk. Lily Bollinger, above, probably advocates something more liquid and bubbly.

Anyway, I chose not to finish the whole TED show right now, keeping the rest for later, but I heard enough to be able to recommend Simply Happy to anybody interested in what science is saying right now about how to become or stay happy. And remember to take a long (60 minute) walk at a moderate pace while listening. You should do the wandering, not your mind. At the end of this post, I have summarized the TED radio hour episode about happiness.

I always feel envigorated, alive and a little smarter after a pod walk with TED, Nature, Radiolab, Science talk or one of the Swedish podcasts about language or science I listen to regularly. As a bonus I get a little exercise (since I never do any cardio) and sunshine (vitamin-D).

Then, I bring out the champagne. Often.

måndag 15 september 2014

Sleep

I'm cooking dinner, surfing the web and (barely) watching dr Mosley in a sleep research program on TV...

They happened to announce the results of the research some five minutes after I turned the TV on: 1 hour of extra sleep per night (from 6.5 hours to 7.5 hours) reduced the risk of heart disease, cancer and inflammation, while increasing the body's ability to recover from illness, injury and training, by switching on around 500 different genes.

Drinking Omega3 oil, adding vitamin-D, eating broccoli and using chili, ginger, garlic, cinnamon, curcumin etc certainly is good for you and reduces inflammation and shortens your recovery time, but it seems nothing is easier and better for you than sleping well, night after night.


Some check points for sleeping well (the usual ones, but they are worth repeating):
  • Stop watching screens an hour before planned bed time. Don't use computers, phones or tablets for reading during that hour. I think Kindle Paperwhite is okay, but you should be careful with absorbing new and exciting information right before sleep. I guess it works for some and doesn't for others. There are page-turners that you just can't put down and there are sleep-inducers that actually help you fall asleep.
  • Turn down the lights in the house well before going to bed. Use candles if you like (cozy, natural low light)
  • Lower your general tempo, cadence. Write down anything you want to stop thinking about, as a list for tomorrow
  • Synchronize with the sun. If you want to fall asleep early in the evening, make sure you get exposed to daylight early in the morning
  • Keep your bedroom cool, silent and dark
  • Sleep with your feet outside the covers and the bed, cold feet is a cue for sleep
  • Make sure you have a comfortable bed (and hard enough)
  • No TV. I can't believe I have to say this: no TV in the bedroom!
  • If you can't fall asleep within 20-30 minutes, try one of these
    • turn around in bed, switch sides from facing left to right or facing downward
    • rotate in bed and put your head where your feet were
    • get up and have a glass of lukewarm milk, the tryptophan can make you sleepy
    • give up; rather than tossing and turning and lying awake for hours, give up, get up, change rooms, read a book sitting in a couch and pay attention to the next bout of sleepiness, or give up altoghether and skip sleep that night, go to the gym, for a run or to the office at 3 o'clock in the morning
  • No coffee. If you still are having trouble sleeping, limit your daily caffeine intake to one standard cup or double espresso in the morning, no more, no later. Or give it up altoghether; become that de-caf guy.