The best Buffet for your money

Mount Everest, K2 and Kangchenjunga are the 3 indisputable tallest mountain ranges out there. It is likely on the bucket list of many new and aspiring climbers, working as a backdrop siren call as they hone their skills on lesser mounds.

Book lovers have their own list but this list can never be definitive since there can be no universal consensus on what should go into “the toughest reads out there!” book list. Each person’s list, like the idea of utopia or hell, is personal and unique.

But odds are a 100 book list made by a lot of bibliophiles would likely contain gems like:
    Finnegans Wake by James Joyce
    Moby Dick by Herman Melville
    Simulacra and Simulation by Jean Baudrillard
    The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
    Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

These books are reputed to be very tough slogs and there is no definitive guarantee you will turn the last page and feel glad you dived in. In fact, chances are most of these books will be flung across the room well before the last chapter. A lot of them are wilting in bookshelves around the world waiting for a day when the owner inevitably bundles it into the charity box for donation.

When I purchased ‘Berkshire Hathaway Letters to Shareholders‘ on 15 November 2013 (for the pricy sum of £2.07) I was not sure what I was in for. All I knew was that I liked Warren’s way of thinking, his approach to business and investing and I wanted to read more from the man directly, not via a biographer or hired hand. I surely would have done a double take if my future self had told me I would take 865 days to finish this thick fat almost 1000 page book.

 

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‘Berkshire Hathaway Letters to Shareholders’ is not a book really but a collection of annual letters written by Warren Buffet, the legendary investor and 2nd richest man on Earth. Each year he writes a letter to his shareholders telling them how well (or poorly) Berkshire Hathaway, the company he runs, did. So technically this books, containing 50 letters, from 1965 to 2015, took 50 years to ‘write’. (Amazon automatically updated the kindle version with the letters of the last 2 years, after I purchased the book in 2013. Go Amazon!).

But then saying this book is a collection of annual letters written by Warren Buffett is akin to saying “History is about some important dates”. ‘Letters to Shareholders’ is soooo much much more than just a collection of letters. Through these 50 letters, Buffet talks about the wider investing and business world and touches on a lot of very interesting subjects, giving the reader a solid grounding on many helpful topics that can stand in as 24 Carat practical life lessons.

The book is especially splendid at educating the reader on 3 topics:

1. Investing: Over 50 letters (sermons?) Buffet elaborates on what being a value investor is all about and how to think like a smart value investor. There are books explicitly dedicated to teaching you investing and they fail at it while this £2 book does in effortlessly. Warren talks at length on how to think about investing and then how to act on that thinking. This alone makes this book worth the time needed to read it. I envy the young reader who finishes it before his 25th birthday. He is guaranteed to have a literally richer life than he would otherwise have had, whatever his starting position was weath-wise. Warren’s 2005 letter has a write up on ‘How to minimize investment returns’. What a tour de force that particular one was. As was the 2013 section ‘Some thoughts on investing’.

2. Business: Berkshire Hathaway buys and oversees a boatload of companies and Buffet wades deep into what specific metrics matter when running and evaluating a firm and which are the dubious ones (it’s EBIDTA). There are many colleges around the world, esp. in third world countries , offering dubious 2 year+ MBA and Business Diplomas that fail to do what this one little book does by itself: Give the reader an unbeatable and thorough education in the basics of thinking like a CEO/Businessman.

3. Understanding the Insurance Industry : Berkshire Hathaway at its core is an Insurance firm and as a Consultant currently embedded at one such firm, I could not have hoped for a more comprehensive overview on how to look into and understand the industry and the myriad operators in it. Insurance plays a crucial part in economies globally and the book gives the reader lessons on how to evaluate the health of the industry and a firm in it. Nothing comes close.

So yes, while it took me the better part of 30 months to finish this book end to end, it was only because one should ingest this book slowly and gradually to let the lessons and Buffet’s wisdom sink in, like sand settling at the bottom of a lake. A beach read this book is most definitely not but you know what this book most definitely is : The best £2 I ever spent.

So go on, jump in and climb this Everest of a book . The view from the top is breathtaking.

My 2015 Movies Watched Review

Back in 2014 I managed to cram in a decent 76 movies into my year.
I told myself at the end of that year I would see MORE in 2015.

I did. I saw 77. 1 more.
Thats right. ONE MORE than 2014.
This is what impartial observers would lament is a case study in “winning in letter but not in spirit

Still…fair is fair. more is more.

Now as a Project Manager in the Consulting Space, taking a ‘situation’ and analyzing the shit out of it is a skill that comes second only to breathing both in ease and frequency from Monday through Friday. (weekends are for movies)
So that what I am going to do below.
Caveat Emptor : I am doing this for one veteran client : Me. But I am uploading this here so you can see it to get one useful thing from the infograph :

A list of the very best 6 movies from this pool. Of which 61 were extremely watchable.

 

Guide to surving the 2015 winter

Here is a good heuristic I picked up here in the south of England:
Summers are for Biking. Winters are for Gaming.

With the weather getting chillier by the passing day, nothing remotely beats sprawling on the sofa and firing up the xbox  with a hot cup of coffee parked next to you.
So far I only played only 2 games this year on my console and recently started on the third. Which promises to be smashingly fun and a massive time suck. Exactly what you need to survive the winter here.

The game that I thoroughly enjoyed playing this year : ASSASSIN’S CREED – BLACK FLAG. What fun playing a pirate!

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The game is open world, which means you can roam pretty much wherever you want and totally ignore the linear narrative and plot. Which I did. Did not even bother with finishing the main plot till now and I don’t think I ever will. This is the cool thing with open world games like GTA, Fallout etc. You can totally ignore the main plot of the game and just do your thing. And in Black Flag the “thing” is Piracy! And believe me, hunting ships in the open sea is bloody darn fun. And I went deeeep into looting Spanish and English ships on the Atlantic to capture money and supplies to upgrade my ship (`The Jackdaw’). Gorgeous graphics makes it a quite an experience too. No hyperbole : Watching a massive blue whale suddenly emerge from the water, next to your ship and then do a flip. Memorable. Completely recommend a buy.

Metro Last Light : first person shooter. Meh. Started playing. Not a baaad game per se but nothing that stands out from the million other FPS out there. Gave up about 15% in.
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Now gamers around the world right now are very pumped about ‘Fallout 4’. I am staying away from playing it only because my personal gaming philosophy is ‘Wait for the reviews from the first lot of folks who play it’. I am rear echelon infantry in gaming. And that is why the game I am getting into this winter here is a game that won a lot of `GAME OF THE YEAR` awards in 2014. I engaged with it earlier in the year but this RPG has such a high learning curve I gave up about 2% in. Seriously. This is the type of game where the accompanying “slim” strategy guide is 500 pages of arcane details.

The Game in question is  : Dragon Age Inquisition
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I picked up where I left it and now, about 10% in, I am obsessively hooked. This game is so damn massive, people have played it for 200 hours and still not finished it. That is like playing a game from 9 AM to 5 PM for 25 days straight and still leaving it incomplete. These type of games are like digital heroine and the last 2 times I was this sucked in comprehensively was when I came across Civilization 5 on my PC in 2013 and Final Fantasy XI on the PS2 in 2008.

Like Mass Effect, another brilliant RPG, Dragon Age Inquisition has a in game team you slowly develop over multiple missions and you tend to become very attached a few of them and the more skilled they become, the more ambitious your missions become.

By the time the chilling xmas the newspapers are predicting is here, I am going to go kill some Dragons with my team mates.

Buy this Game, kiss your girlfriend/wife goodbye and rock this Christmas Winter!

Games as a Portal to Deep Learning

I am 37 years old and I regularly play games on my Xbox and relish it. Most people I know dismiss it as a silly distraction. But real Gamers know just how good, immersive and addictive these games are. But even fewer realize how educational video games can be.

Yes. EDUCATIONAL. And not in the vague weasel-politician-word sense but in the real sense the word implies.

Allow me this anecdote. It ties this picture  together.

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I am a massive fan of Annual ‘BEST OF’ the year reviews and lists.
In early 2014 my go to gaming website, Gamespot, released the list of the best XBOX 360 Games reviewed the previous year.

Much to my delight one of the games on that list was part of a series I have thoroughly enjoyed – ASSASINS CREED. So many hours lost to that one. Thanks Ubisoft!

I promptly purchased the game : ‘Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag’

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is a historical fiction action-adventure open world stealth video game. Players have praised the massive open world gameplay, numerous side-quests, beautiful graphics and very cool naval combat. The story is set in the early 18th century Caribbean during the Golden Age of Piracy, and follows notorious pirate Edward Kenway. Unlike previous games, gameplay elements focus more on ship-based exploration in the open world map, while also retaining the series’ third-person land-based exploration, melee combat, and stealth system. The game spans across the Caribbean with the three main cities of Havana, Nassau and Kingston along with numerous islands, sunken ships, and forts. For the first time in the series, naval exploration became a major part of an Assassin’s Creed game, where Edward Kenway captains the Jackdaw, a ship he captures from a Spanish fleet.

I am about 50% into the game and totally love it. Piracy is so much fun!

There is a sequence about 45% into the game story when I found myself swimming to a British ship to kill a bad guy on-board and it was almost sunset. The ship was HUGE and there is a moment, when the light caught the ship as I was swimming to it, capturing it’s full massive frame. For a deliciously brief second or two I understood the shock and awe the new world people must have experienced when they saw these ships off their cost in the 15th century. Like I REALLY REALLY got it. It was the most immersive experience I have ever had playing a game and I have been playing them for 15 years.

Something else I noticed when playing was that the Spanish ships always attacked British ships and vice versa in the open sea. I got used to seeing these sea battles all the time and remember these are Game A.I controlled which means someone while designing the game programmed this into the game. I wondered Why ? Looked it up. Turns out The Spanish and The British have a LONG history of sparring on the high seas.

Went to GoodReads.com and researched a bit. ‘Empire of the Deep: The Rise and Fall of the British Navy’ has some solid reviews and seemed best poised to answer my questions. Hit the buy button. 56 chapters and 720 pages of naval history awaited me. Niceee! As I write this I just hit chapter 13 : The famous 1588 Battle between the Spanish Armada and British Navy. It is gripping stuff Sir.

The only problem is visualization. The author paints a picture with words of all the ships of the era but it is a bit difficult to visualize correctly. I don’t know the difference between a Caravel, A Galley and a Brig. Makes full immersion difficult. Very luckily, while browsing a BHF charity book-store I stumbled into this Hardcover Gem : ‘Empire of the Seas: How the Navy Forged the Modern World’ by Brian Lavery. Like a Playboy magazine, I didn’t buy it for the content but for the PICTURES. Gorgeous sketches of naval history from the Medieval ages on.

The game also got me interested in SHIP BUILDING as an activity since you find yourself constantly using your loot to buy ship upgrades and I wanted to understand that a bit more. And Discovery Channel came to the rescue. The are selling this DVD documentary on ship building : “The World’s Biggest Ship: Building the Triple-E” – The deliciously lengthy 2 Disc documentary gives you an idea of how the Danish and South Koreans built the world’s most massive ship. Fascinating stuff. And as luck would have it, an hour away is the best place in Earth to fully quench my thirst for understanding this naval history : The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London, is the leading maritime museum of the United Kingdom and may be the largest museum of its kind in the world. IN THE WORLD. Wow. Living in London is coincidentally convenient! I am going there soon, after I finish the book, the game and the documentary.

All this, everything you read above, started from one question in the middle of a game : ‘I wonder why those two ships in the distance are sparring?’

So when your kid/husband/nephew starts really getting into gaming don’t just dismiss it as a silly distraction. It could be a portal to so much more.

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Born Lucky

If you are reading this blog post the odds are you are an adult, well over the age of 16 (at least chronologically).

This means you were likely born somewhere between the 1960s and 1980s. And while reading this very absorbing wikipedia entry I was only NOW stuck by an astoundingly cool fact.

You and I, without effort, just by the accident of birth, have done something that’s rare in human history : When we happily toasted to the new year on 1st Jan 2001, we not only cheerfully crossed over from one century to another (from the 20th to 21st century), we are crossed from one millennia to another (more specifically from the 2nd millennium to the 3rd millennium). This kind of jump is not a boast the majority of humans from the past can make. 1 of 10 centuries in a millennia allows for the opportunity. With the rapid mind boggling way technology and human progress has accelerated in the last few decades, the vinegar in this realization comes from the hard reality that you and I were grew up and were educated in one millennia but work, play and live in a different millennia. So if you ever live to see your great-grand-kids/nieces/nephews you can wheez to them that you have seen and experienced life across centuries and millennia and the next grandfather/grandma who can claim so is 900 odd years away so they better pay attention to the pearls you are dispensing.

Because that statement would be factually a 100% correct.

Is’nt that mind bogglingly cool ?! image

Beware of The Baby & The Puppy

I may not have gleened too much off the passing wisdom iceberg that is a considered introspective life that some of our heroes reputedly live(d) but if asked to dispense something memorable in the here and now, a week into my 37th birthday, here it is :

NEVER TRUST ANY ADVERTISEMENT THAT FEATURES CUTE ANIMALS OR KIDS.

American novelist Sinclair Lewis was especially smart and prescient when he wryly noted early on that ‘Advertising is a valuable economic factor because it is the cheapest way of selling goods, particularly if the goods are worthless.’ The last 65 years have proved him right and how.

image Most sellers of un-needed goods (and they all mostly are that) are guilty of the wasteful crime of producing worthless same-as-the-next one-in-the-aisle products. They know this. The ad team they desperately hire to peddle the product knows this. Much more alarmingly for them both, the buyers are catching on. The real solution of making something genuinely worth possessing is a hard tough route. That’s too much effort. So that rules THAT noble route out. So now the lazy ad team injects a cute baby or a adorable puppy, hoping the idiot consumer (that’s YOU by the way) is distracted enough by the ‘awwww’ feeling long enough to reach into his purse and hand over the money. The only time this rule is invalid is when the end user of the product is an actual baby or puppy.

image Ads like these are an immediate insulting inadvertent revelation by the seller and her ad team of how little they all think of your general intelligence. For the ad is obliquely saying that a list of real benefits or features won’t convince you as much as a aww prop. Or maybe when they don’t have any REAL benefits or distinguishing feature, this shameful tactic is EVEN more useful.

The next time you see these type of bullshit ads, don’t fall for it.

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The charade of interviews and resumes

Paul Graham is a programmer, writer, and famous investor and this blog on Start Up Ideas was a terrific read. Here is a quote from it worth repeating here : “One of my tricks for generating startup ideas is to imagine the ways in which we’ll seem backward to future generations.”

“Ways in which we’ll seem backward to future generations”

If you ever wanted to get into business you could spend a whole summer mind-mapping ideas just from that phrase.

How about we modify it to be more contemporary in the here and now ? Like how about “Ways in which this X practice will seem backward to people from that Y Country ?”

Example : In London, if you have an Oyster Card you can travel on any public train, tube, bus, tram within city limits. Idea is self obviously smart and logical. But if you went to Delhi you cannot use the Metro Card anywhere else in the city. Seems so backward once one has used the former. This situation additionally embodies that famous quote by scifi writer Gibson : THE FUTURE IS ALREADY HERE. IT’S JUST NOT VERY EVENLY DISTRIBUTED.

Now take Resumes and Interviews. I am going to take a wager that we’ll seem backward to future generations about this inane, needlessly convoluted and very artificial process.

A resume is a piece of paper, composed by the author, with information cherry picked by the author, given to a future employer who cannot ever verify ALL the data in this piece of paper, with the purpose of getting employment by the author who cherry picked the information. Anyone see a bias here ? It’s like someone asking you to buy a Car/TV using only and only the brochure for information about the object. No peeking anywhere else for data!

An interview is a short 1 hour, tightly controlled, unnaturally stressed process to find out if the interviewee can perform certain tasks over the next 2000 to 10000 to 20000 hours with the employer/interviewer.

This is how the majority get selected into white collar desk jobs even today in most parts of the world. I cannot be the only guy who finds this whole thing in massive need of re-engineering or even outright elimination. I am going to wager these two twentieth century practices will not survive the end of this progressive century.