The Difference between Affluent, Rich, and Super-Rich

One of the best things I’ve read this week is Ben Casnocha’s blog post titled “The Goldilocks Theory of Being Rich” on what it means to be rich. In the post, Ben correctly posits that today there’s a very small difference between the rich and the American middle class in terms of quality of life. In the post, Ben differentiates among affluent, rich, and the super-rich…

The actual best part about being super rich, as far as I can tell, is this: You’re more likely to feel like you led a life of meaning. You might not be happy all the time or most of the time, but you will feel like your time on this earth counted for something. One way to distinguish happiness from meaning is that happiness is the day to day bounce of emotions while meaning is what you feel when you step back, take a minute, and reflect on what will go in your obituary. (Here’s my post on meaning vs. happiness.)

How so? The feeling of meaning and making a difference manifests in real, concrete ways. Someone like Meg Whitman can walk the HP campus and see thousands of employees who support their families thanks to employment at HP; she can read stories about the millions of people who use HP products every day to be better at their job. That imbues her life with a sense that her life matters. If you don’t have a corporate campus to walk around—if, for example, you’re an options trader and not a builder of things—fear not. With a supple bank account, you can still take actions that generate meaning. Write big checks to charity and you’ll get thank you notes from the children at the public school you helped. You’ll get enough feel-good ooze from your charitable giving to last you a lifetime. Entrepreneur and billionaire Marc Benioff has said, “Nothing is going to make you feel better. Philanthropy is absolutely the best drug I’ve ever taken.”

I liked this analogy posited by Tim O’Reilly:

…money is like gasoline while driving. You never want to run out, but the point of life is not to go on a tour of gas stations.

The distinction between affluent, rich, and super-rich:

Maybe wealth needs its own Goldilocks porridge story: you want not too much, not too little. And I think that ideal middle ground is the “Rich” category in the hierarchy I opened with. More crudely, this ideal amount of money is termed “fuck-you money.” With fuck you money, you can’t fly around the world on a private jet (so you’re not as rich as the Super Rich) but do you have the power to say fuck you to essentially anyone or anything that doesn’t interest you (which means you’re richer than the merely affluent).

Put another way, if you work on stuff that doesn’t excite you for more than one day a week, in my estimation you do not have fuck-you money. You’re still working for the man. At the other end of the spectrum, if you find yourself being invited to more than a few charity galas a year, worrying about physical and cyber security at your home, and asking a PR person to review your public statements, you have a lot more than fuck-you money and all the corresponding drawbacks.

Definitely worth reading this thought-provoking post in its entirety.

Pablo Picasso’s Multi-Billion Dollar Empire

I enjoyed this piece in Vanity Fair on Pablo Picasso’s multi-billion dollar empire.

Picasso did not leave a will. The division of his holdings took six years, with often bitter negotiations among the heirs. (There were seven then.) The settlement cost $30 million and produced what has been described as a saga worthy of Balzac. The family, writer Deborah Trustman noted at the time, “resembles one of Picasso’s Cubist constructions—wives, mistresses, legitimate and illegitimate children (his youngest born 28 years after his oldest), and grandchildren—all strung on an axis like the backbone of a figure with unmatched parts.”

It is unbelievable how prolific Picasso was:

When Picasso died, 43 years ago at the age of 91, he left an astounding number of works—more than 45,000 in all. (“We’d have to rent the Empire State Building to house all the works,” Claude Picasso said when the inventory was completed.) There were 1,885 paintings, 1,228 sculptures, 7,089 drawings, 30,000 prints, 150 sketchbooks, and 3,222 ceramic works.

Much more here.

The Elements of Effective Teamwork: A Google Experiment

This is a fascinating piece by Charles Duhigg (author of the excellent The Power of Habit) which outlines the steps Google took to understand what made some teams at the company effective, while other teams–though composed of very intelligent members–tended to underperform. The code name for the internal project at Google was Project Aristotle:

Five years ago, Google — one of the most public proselytizers of how studying workers can transform productivity — became focused on building the perfect team. In the last decade, the tech giant has spent untold millions of dollars measuring nearly every aspect of its employees’ lives. Google’s People Operations department has scrutinized everything from how frequently particular people eat together (the most productive employees tend to build larger networks by rotating dining companions) to which traits the best managers share (unsurprisingly, good communication and avoiding micromanaging is critical; more shocking, this was news to many Google managers).

Project Aristotle’s researchers began by reviewing a half-century of academic studies looking at how teams worked. Were the best teams made up of people with similar interests? Or did it matter more whether everyone was motivated by the same kinds of rewards? Based on those studies, the researchers scrutinized the composition of groups inside Google: How often did teammates socialize outside the office? Did they have the same hobbies? Were their educational backgrounds similar? Was it better for all teammates to be outgoing or for all of them to be shy? They drew diagrams showing which teams had overlapping memberships and which groups had exceeded their departments’ goals. They studied how long teams stuck together and if gender balance seemed to have an impact on a team’s success.

It’s worth reading the piece in its entirety, but it comes down to the fact that teams where individuals have a chance to speak their minds, engage in mild chit-chat, and share their personal stories and vulnerabilities end up as more cohesive, stronger performing teams compared to the ones that simply get down to business and attempt to get work done.

From the concluding portion of the piece:

Project Aristotle is a reminder that when companies try to optimize everything, it’s sometimes easy to forget that success is often built on experiences — like emotional interactions and complicated conversations and discussions of who we want to be and how our teammates make us feel — that can’t really be optimized.

And this:

What Project Aristotle has taught people within Google is that no one wants to put on a ‘‘work face’’ when they get to the office. No one wants to leave part of their personality and inner life at home. But to be fully present at work, to feel ‘‘psychologically safe,’’ we must know that we can be free enough, sometimes, to share the things that scare us without fear of recriminations. We must be able to talk about what is messy or sad, to have hard conversations with colleagues who are driving us crazy. We can’t be focused just on efficiency. Rather, when we start the morning by collaborating with a team of engineers and then send emails to our marketing colleagues and then jump on a conference call, we want to know that those people really hear us. We want to know that work is more than just labor.

From my own personal experience, I can relate to the findings. I’ve tended to perform better in work groups where the managers or my colleagues tended to take an interest in my personal life, either by asking questions or offering advice.

Physicists Detect Gravitational Waves

Today’s major story in the scientific world is an announcement from Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) on the detection of gravitational waves, long hypothesized by Albert Einstein. The New York Times has the most comprehensive coverage that I’ve seen:

The discovery is a great triumph for three physicists — Kip Thorne of the California Institute of Technology, Rainer Weiss of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Ronald Drever, formerly of Caltech and now retired in Scotland — who bet their careers on the dream of measuring the most ineffable of Einstein’s notions.

Dr. Thorne of Caltech and Dr. Weiss of M.I.T. first met in 1975, Dr. Weiss said, when they had to share a hotel room during a meeting in Washington. Dr. Thorne was already a renowned black-hole theorist, but he was looking for new experimental territory to conquer. They stayed up all night talking about how to test general relativity and debating how best to search for gravitational waves.

Dr. Thorne then recruited Dr. Drever, a gifted experimentalist from the University of Glasgow, to start a gravitational wave program at Caltech. Dr. Drever wanted to use light — laser beams bouncing between precisely positioned mirrors — to detect the squeeze and stretch of a passing wave.

The two LIGO observatories (one in Washington State and the other in Louisiana) showed a similar response to the gravitational waves from two colliding black holes, as seen in the below graphic:

LIGO_gravitational_waves

The sensitivity to detect these gravitational waves is extraordinary:

Lost in the transformation was three solar masses’ worth of energy, vaporized into gravitational waves in an unseen and barely felt apocalypse. As visible light, that energy would be equivalent to a billion trillion suns.

And yet it moved the LIGO mirrors only four one-thousandths of the diameter of a proton.

The actual abstract LIGO is below. The full paper is here (with author citations at the end of the paper that number ~1,000 scientists!).

On September 14, 2015 at 09:50:45 UTC the two detectors of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory simultaneously observed a transient gravitational-wave signal. The signal sweeps upwards in frequency from 35 to 250 Hz with a peak gravitational-wave strain of 1.0 × 10-21. It matches the waveform predicted by general relativity for the inspiral and merger of a pair of black holes and the ringdown of the resulting single black hole. The signal was observed with a matched-filter signal-to-noise ratio of 24 and a false alarm rate estimated to be less than 1 event per 203 000 years, equivalent to a significance greater than 5.1σ. The source lies at a luminosity distance of 410+160-180 Mpc corresponding to a redshift z = 0.09+0.03−0.04. In the source frame, the initial black hole masses are 36+5-4 M and 29+4-4 M, and the final black hole mass is 62+4-4 M, with 3.0+0.5-0.5 Mc2 radiated in gravitational waves. All uncertainties define 90% credible intervals. These observations demonstrate the existence of binary stellar-mass black hole systems. This is the first direct detection of gravitational waves and the first observation of a binary black hole merger.

Incredible. Don’t miss the video at the top of The New York  Times article. It’s worth ten minutes of your time.

Blogging Hiatus

I’ve been meaning to write something about my absence from this blog over the past couple of months.

A query from a reader concerned about my well-being has prompted me to answer publicly that I am okay and that I’m still reading—I just haven’t been blogging. A full-time day job has been consuming me over the past few months, but I am hoping to resurrect writing on this blog, slowly. With that said, I would like your (reader) input on my next steps. Which of the following would you prefer me to blog about in the future? Please vote in the poll below.

(1) Links to articles I read throughout the day or week.

(2) Longer form pieces, such as analysis of longform articles or book reviews

I am thinking there is also a way to strike a balance between (1) and (2), but I’d be curious to hear your thoughts; feel free to reply in the comments. If there is a weighing toward (1), I am thinking of posting 5 to 10 posts per week. If the weighing is toward (2), I am thinking of posting 1 to 4 posts per month.

Thanks for your input!

 

The Fed Raises Rates, Explained by the Rube Goldberg Machine

Today, the Federal Reserve raised interest rates for the first time in more than half a decade. I cheered a little bit when the announcement came to pass, I admit. For the last two to three years, the question of when the Fed will raise rates has been an ongoing topic of discussion in my line of work.

The New York Times has put together a very clever explainer of the impact of the Fed raising rates via the Rube Goldberg Machine.

The short-term interest rates vs. long-term interest rates is something worth considering:

When the Fed raised rates in the mid-2000s, long-term rates didn’t go up. This puzzled a lot of economists, including the Fed chairman at the time, Alan Greenspan. The culprit, according to a theory put forward by his successor, Ben Bernanke, may have been savers in countries like China. They were sitting on piles of cash and had few reliable places to park it, so they chose the safest vehicle they could find: United States government debt. Whether that analysis is correct or not, the key idea is that while the Fed has a great deal of control over interest rates in the short run, it has a good deal less in the long run.

I also liked this explainer on the notion of the increase in rates being “priced in”:

The Fed must change beliefs in a way that doesn’t surprise anyone, or it risks putting the economy in shock. This is why, for the last few weeks, the Fed has been loudly (by central bank standards, at least) telling markets and consumers that it’s going to raise rates in December. It wants people to be able to prepare for that announcement and for markets to price in their reaction ahead of time. So there’s a strong possibility that the Fed’s decision on Wednesday to raise rates will not cause much of anything to happen. And if indeed this is the case, the Fed will have actually succeeded in running its machine.

As the article correctly points out, rate increases make life a little bit harder for borrowers and a little bit easier for savers. Are you cheering this move?

Amazing Missed Connection in Boston

This is an incredible missed connection posted to the Boston arm of Craigslist. The writing is beautiful and the story is powerful and uplifting. In case the link is brought down or expires, here is the full text for posterity:

I met you in the rain on the last day of 1972, the same day I resolved to kill myself.

One week prior, at the behest of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, I’d flown four B-52 sorties over Hanoi. I dropped forty-eight bombs. How many homes I destroyed, how many lives I ended, I’ll never know. But in the eyes of my superiors, I had served my country honorably, and I was thusly discharged with such distinction.

And so on the morning of that New Year’s Eve, I found myself in a barren studio apartment on Beacon and Hereford with a fifth of Tennessee rye and the pang of shame permeating the recesses of my soul. When the bottle was empty, I made for the door and vowed, upon returning, that I would retrieve the Smith & Wesson Model 15 from the closet and give myself the discharge I deserved.

I walked for hours. I looped around the Fenway before snaking back past Symphony Hall and up to Trinity Church. Then I roamed through the Common, scaled the hill with its golden dome, and meandered into that charming labyrinth divided by Hanover Street. By the time I reached the waterfront, a charcoal sky had opened and a drizzle became a shower. That shower soon gave way to a deluge. While the other pedestrians darted for awnings and lobbies, I trudged into the rain. I suppose I thought, or rather hoped, that it might wash away the patina of guilt that had coagulated around my heart. It didn’t, of course, so I started back to the apartment.

And then I saw you.

You’d taken shelter under the balcony of the Old State House. You were wearing a teal ball gown, which appeared to me both regal and ridiculous. Your brown hair was matted to the right side of your face, and a galaxy of freckles dusted your shoulders. I’d never seen anything so beautiful.

When I joined you under the balcony, you looked at me with your big green eyes, and I could tell that you’d been crying. I asked if you were okay. You said you’d been better. I asked if you’d like to have a cup of coffee. You said only if I would join you. Before I could smile, you snatched my hand and led me on a dash through Downtown Crossing and into Neisner’s.

We sat at the counter of that five and dime and talked like old friends. We laughed as easily as we lamented, and you confessed over pecan pie that you were engaged to a man you didn’t love, a banker from some line of Boston nobility. A Cabot, or maybe a Chaffee. Either way, his parents were hosting a soirée to ring in the New Year, hence the dress.

For my part, I shared more of myself than I could have imagined possible at that time. I didn’t mention Vietnam, but I got the sense that you could see there was a war waging inside me. Still, your eyes offered no pity, and I loved you for it.

After an hour or so, I excused myself to use the restroom. I remember consulting my reflection in the mirror. Wondering if I should kiss you, if I should tell you what I’d done from the cockpit of that bomber a week before, if I should return to the Smith & Wesson that waited for me. I decided, ultimately, that I was unworthy of the resuscitation this stranger in the teal ball gown had given me, and to turn my back on such sweet serendipity would be the real disgrace.

On the way back to the counter, my heart thumped in my chest like an angry judge’s gavel, and a future — our future — flickered in my mind. But when I reached the stools, you were gone. No phone number. No note. Nothing.

As strangely as our union had begun, so too had it ended. I was devastated. I went back to Neisner’s every day for a year, but I never saw you again. Ironically, the torture of your abandonment seemed to swallow my self-loathing, and the prospect of suicide was suddenly less appealing than the prospect of discovering what had happened in that restaurant. The truth is I never really stopped wondering.

I’m an old man now, and only recently did I recount this story to someone for the first time, a friend from the VFW. He suggested I look for you on Facebook. I told him I didn’t know anything about Facebook, and all I knew about you was your first name and that you had lived in Boston once. And even if by some miracle I happened upon your profile, I’m not sure I would recognize you. Time is cruel that way.

This same friend has a particularly sentimental daughter. She’s the one who led me here to Craigslist and these Missed Connections. But as I cast this virtual coin into the wishing well of the cosmos, it occurs to me, after a million what-ifs and a lifetime of lost sleep, that our connection wasn’t missed at all.

You see, in these intervening forty-two years I’ve lived a good life. I’ve loved a good woman. I’ve raised a good man. I’ve seen the world. And I’ve forgiven myself. And you were the source of all of it. You breathed your spirit into my lungs one rainy afternoon, and you can’t possibly imagine my gratitude.

I have hard days, too. My wife passed four years ago. My son, the year after. I cry a lot. Sometimes from the loneliness, sometimes I don’t know why. Sometimes I can still smell the smoke over Hanoi. And then, a few dozen times a year, I’ll receive a gift. The sky will glower, and the clouds will hide the sun, and the rain will begin to fall. And I’ll remember.

So wherever you’ve been, wherever you are, and wherever you’re going, know this: you’re with me still.

If you have doubts about the authenticity of the missed connection, I think it’s fascinating as an avenue of people sharing short works of fiction at a medium such a Craigslist.

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Related: previously, one of the best missed connections published on Craigslist.

“Even a Silent Phone Disconnects Us”

This is a very good op-ed by Sherry Turkle, a professor in the program in Science, Technology and Society at MIT, on the assault of technology in our lives. An excerpt:

Across generations, technology is implicated in this assault on empathy. We’ve gotten used to being connected all the time, but we have found ways around conversation — at least from conversation that is open-ended and spontaneous, in which we play with ideas and allow ourselves to be fully present and vulnerable. But it is in this type of conversation — where we learn to make eye contact, to become aware of another person’s posture and tone, to comfort one another and respectfully challenge one another — that empathy and intimacy flourish. In these conversations, we learn who we are.

But this was the key paragraph for me:

Studies of conversation both in the laboratory and in natural settings show that when two people are talking, the mere presence of a phone on a table between them or in the periphery of their vision changes both what they talk about and the degree of connection they feel. People keep the conversation on topics where they won’t mind being interrupted. They don’t feel as invested in each other. Even a silent phone disconnects us.

What are we to do? Sherry Turkle provides a few suggestions (among them, practicing unitasking):

One start toward reclaiming conversation is to reclaim solitude. Some of the most crucial conversations you will ever have will be with yourself. Slow down sufficiently to make this possible. And make a practice of doing one thing at a time. Think of unitasking as the next big thing. In every domain of life, it will increase performance and decrease stress.

But doing one thing at a time is hard, because it means asserting ourselves over what technology makes easy and what feels productive in the short term. Multitasking comes with its own high, but when we chase after this feeling, we pursue an illusion. Conversation is a human way to practice unitasking.

What kinds of things are you doing to bring you closer to those around you? How do you practice maintaining (or building) empathy for others?

The Scourge of “I’d Like to Add You to My Professional Network on LinkedIn”

The Atlantic rightly points out that a new universal caption can be made applicable to (virtually) every New Yorker cartoon (as part of its weekly caption contest). And it is this: “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.”

The designer Frank Chimero came up with the clever idea via a few posts on Twitter, with some readers adding to the choir:

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Genius. Is there anyone out there who doesn’t think those unsolicited requests to add you on LinkedIn are uncool and spammy?

Captivating Visualization of the Solar System in the Nevada Desert

In a secluded Nevada desert, a group of friends build the first scale model of the solar system with complete planetary orbits. Using simple objects (marbles and inflatable balls), this do-it-yourself project is beautiful.

[vimeo https://vimeo.com/139407849 w=600 h=400]

It’s pretty incredible that the largest orbit, that of Pluto, is seven miles away from the sun with the scale presented in the video.

I wish there was a “behind the scenes” video to see how they recorded and edited the orbits of the planets.