Welcome to Muhr's Must Reads!

I focus on relevant business & finance articles while frequently drifting to topics such as sports, art, technology and more! MMR was created because I'm passionate about sharing what I find interesting.

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The defense industry and silicon valley have had a long history in tandem – there is even a lot of evidence that defense spawned the technology industry there. Whatever the case, an interesting parallel that popped into my head while reading this article. That thought was about the creation of the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) during WWII that preceded the CIA. While traditionally technologies were developed for military use first, could there be a new era of consumer-/industrial-driven advances being applied to warfare? Rather than the target customer for technology companies, the DoD is now more of a(n) sub-sector/afterthought due to companies focusing on problems that affect the mass population – and the military is tough to do business with for many reasons. While DARPA focuses on challenges that are 20-30 years out, the new task is to find challenges that need fixing which are much more immediate.

This is obviously a super-long read but I find it fascinating. We’re living through a truly unique time in the history of finance with all the extraordinary experimentation going on via central banking. There is no good way to sum up the essay but I think that this quote is pretty on-the-money: “History shows us that economic recovery from a depression has never been successfully engineered without a major debt reduction, default, hyperinflation, political revolution, or world war.” Now that is a pretty wide statement of possibilities, but I think that currently the mentality of the market is that – at least for the Fed – central banks have “beaten” the recession. The essay really is about volatility rallying for any of the stated reasons. I think it’s a pretty good bet vol is relatively cheap compared to all the “shadow convexity” that exists with these multi-dimensional risks playing out in real-time.

I’m a huge fan of Charlie Munger and the “mental-model” school of thinking. That’s why when I read this article it was just another confirmation that if you can find certain patterns in nature, they can be applied across a variety of disciplines. Here’s a good quote: “...the same basic species-area curve was found regardless of the species or habitat. To put it mathematically, the curve followed a power law, in which the change in species number increased proportionally to the square root of the square root of the area. ... Power laws are common in science, and are the defining feature of universality in physics.”

BBC - The astonishing vision and focus of Namibia’s nomads 7min

The capital of the Kunene region, Opuwo lies in the heartland of the Himba people, a semi-nomadic people who spend their days herding cattle. Long after many of the world’s other indigenous populations had begun to migrate to cities, the Himba had mostly avoided contact with modern culture, quietly continuing their traditional life. But that is slowly changing, with younger generations feeling the draw of Opuwo, where they will encounter cars, brick buildings, and writing for the first time. ... How does the human mind cope with all those novelties and new sensations? By studying people like the Himba, at the start of their journey into modernity, scientists are now hoping to understand the ways that modern life may have altered all of our minds. ... Like an irregular lens, our modern, urban brains distort the images hitting our retina, magnifying some parts of the scene and shrinking others.

Bloomberg - Domino’s Atoned for Its Crimes Against Pizza and Built a $9 Billion Empire 12min

Domino’s Pizza Inc. has decided that modern works better than authentic, and fun is best of all. For the past five years, the company has been emphasizing all the ways you can order pizza with minimal human and maximal digital contact. ... Since the end of 2008, when Domino’s was threatened by declining sales and distressed franchisees, its share price has increased 60-fold. The company is now worth $9 billion. The second-biggest U.S. chain has also been stealing customers from rivals, notably from the biggest, Pizza Hut Inc. Domino’s went from having a 9 percent share of the pizza restaurant market in 2009 to 15 percent in 2016 ... Given how the company’s technological prowess and financial fortunes have improved in step, you could be fooled into believing the former is entirely responsible for the latter. But the truth is, most customers don’t use a voice-activated app or emojis to order pizza, and most pizza is still delivered by humans in cars or on scooters or bikes. And although Domino’s offers 27 toppings and sauces, most people still order just pepperoni. As much as tech, what buoyed Domino’s was a once-in-an-industry strategy: In 2009 it admitted that its foundational product was … bad.

Wired - Inside the Hunt for Russia’s Most Notorious Hacker 23min

America’s War with Russia’s greatest cybercriminal began in the spring of 2009, when special agent James Craig, a rookie in the FBI’s Omaha, Nebraska, field office, began looking into a strange pair of electronic thefts. ... The leading victim in the case was a subsidiary of the payments-processing giant First Data, which lost $450,000 that May. That was quickly followed by a $100,000 theft from a client of the First National Bank of Omaha. What was odd, Craig noticed, was that the thefts seemed to have been executed from the victims’ own IP addresses, using their own logins and passwords. Examining their computers, he saw that they were infected with the same malware: something called the Zeus Trojan horse. ... The ruse is known as a “man in the browser” attack. While you sit at your computer logging into seemingly secure websites, the malware modifies pages before they load, siphoning away your credentials and your account balance. Only when you log in from a different computer do you even realize the money is gone.

Damn Interesting - The Greatest Baroque Composer Never Known 7min

The Missa Salisburgensis first came to Hintermaier’s attention in 1969, when it was published for the first time as part of a collection of Benevoli’s works. Tucked in among the historical notes was the Mozarteum archivists’ assertion that the original mass was an ‘autograph’—that is, written in the composer’s own hand. As a musicologist whose doctoral research had focused on the Salzburg court, Hintermaier did not especially know the oeuvre of an Italian such as Benevoli, but he was intimately familiar with the manuscript libraries in Salzburg—so familiar, in fact, that he had come to recognize the handwriting of the various composers and scribes whose work was held there, and he knew the Salisburgensis was definitely not written in Benevoli’s hand.

Ars Technica - Inside NASA’s daring $8 billion plan to finally find extraterrestrial life 16min

Europa truly does represent a singular chance. Crossing 800 million kilometers with a sizable, robust payload will require vast sums of money—there won’t be a second chance. But Europa represents a gamble in another sense, too. No one knows whether NASA will discover a frozen, dead world far from the Sun or if the organization will make the most profound of discoveries just below the ice. ... During the last decade, NASA has recast its human and robotic space exploration programs around the search for life both in our Solar System and beyond. Much of this effort has focused on Mars, which is relatively close to Earth and may have harbored life in the past. Culberson has pushed the agency further to seek extant life. He and a lot of scientists believe the best place to find extraterrestrial life in the Solar System lies in deep oceans below Europa’s inhospitable surface. ... Notably, the JPL team thinks it has solved the vexing problem of planetary protection, the concern that any stray microbes from Earth could contaminate Europa’s ecosystem. The solution has come straight out of the pages of science fiction—the lander mission will be the first interplanetary spacecraft to carry a self-destruct mechanism.

Newsweek - Meet Henry Orenstein, The Man Who Changed How The World Plays 20min

The boy whose teen and young-adult years were ripped from him by the murderous Nazi rampage through Europe would show millions of children and adults how to play, how to squeeze more fun out of their lives. ... Orenstein now speaks English with a borscht-thick European accent that’s just one notch above a whisper. He is still alive, still gambling and still winning most of his bets. Glancing out the window of his New York City pied-à-terre, which offers sweeping views of Central Park, he leans forward and rests his elbows on the large poker table in front of him. ... The story of how Henry Orenstein went from a small town in Poland, through five concentration camps, all the way to his 24th-floor apartment on one of Manhattan’s most expensive strips of real estate is the stuff of fiction, and science fiction. He bluffed and cajoled to survive the Holocaust, and just a few years later, armed with unrelenting drive and rare creativity, he tinkered and hustled his way to the top of America’s toy industry, helping to put dolls, race cars and one of the most successful action figures in history into the hands of generations of children. Then he transformed poker from a game played in dimly lit rooms to a billion-dollar business.