October 27, 2015
If everyone believes it’s a bargain, how can it not have been bought up by the crowd and had its price lifted to non-bargain status as a result? You and I know the things all investors find desirable are unlikely to represent good investment opportunities. But aren’t most bubbles driven by the belief that they do? ... Logically speaking, the bargains that everyone has come to believe in can’t still be bargains . . . but that doesn’t stop people from falling in love with them nevertheless. Yogi was right in indirectly highlighting the illogicality of “common knowledge.” As long as people’s reactions to things fail to be reasonable and measured, the spoils will go to those who are able to recognize this contradiction. ... Smart fantasy football participants understand that the goal isn’t to acquire the best players, or players with the lowest absolute price tags, but players whose “salaries” understate their merit – those who are underpriced relative to their potential and might amass more points in the next game than the cost to draft them reflects. Likewise, smart investors know the goal isn’t to find the best companies, or stocks with the lowest absolute dollar prices or p/e ratios, but the ones whose potential isn’t fully reflected in their price. In both of these competitive arenas, the prize goes to those who see value others miss. ... rather than judge a decision solely on the basis of the outcome, you have to consider (a) the quality of the process that led to the decision, (b) the a priori probability that the decision would work (which is very different from the question of whether it did work), (c) the other decisions that could have been made, (d) all of the events that reasonably could have unfolded, and thus (e) which of the decisions had the highest probability of success.
Breakfasts and dinners are a big part of Hoffman’s life. He recently published two books on how to be successful in business, and is finishing a third, whose working title is “Blitzscaling.” His business is based on the idea of managing your career through relentless networking, which is something he enjoys. ... Work is already becoming more temporary, sporadic, and informal, and this change should be embraced. Many more people will become entrepreneurial, if not entrepreneurs. The keeper of your career will be not your employer but your personal network—so you’d better put a lot of effort into making it as extensive and as vital as possible. ... Hoffman has an uncanny ability to move seamlessly among the worlds of technology, investing, and politics and the worlds of games, science fiction, and comics. “Business is the systematic playing of games,” he says. He seems to conceive of himself as a self-invented superhero: the Ubernode, the world’s most networked person. He isn’t just another conventional networker or another greedy Silicon Valley prick. His project is to build a better world, whose outlines are much clearer to him than to most people. ... All his activities are in the service of the same cause: to make it possible for more people to operate the way he does. ... At the age of twelve, Hoffman went to his first Grateful Dead concert with his father.
Increasingly, digital ad viewers aren’t human. A study done last year in conjunction with the Association of National Advertisers embedded billions of digital ads with code designed to determine who or what was seeing them. Eleven percent of display ads and almost a quarter of video ads were “viewed” by software, not people. According to the ANA study, which was conducted by the security firm White Ops and is titled The Bot Baseline: Fraud In Digital Advertising, fake traffic will cost advertisers $6.3 billion this year. ... Fake traffic has become a commodity. There’s malware for generating it and brokers who sell it. Some companies pay for it intentionally, some accidentally, and some prefer not to ask where their traffic comes from. It’s given rise to an industry of countermeasures, which inspire counter-countermeasures. ... All a budding media mogul—whether a website operator or a traffic supplier—has to do to make money is arbitrage: Buy low, sell high. The art is making the fake traffic look real, often by sprucing up websites with just enough content to make them appear authentic. Programmatic ad-buying systems don’t necessarily differentiate between real users and bots, or between websites with fresh, original work, and Potemkin sites camouflaged with stock photos and cut-and-paste articles.
More than any other single innovation, the shipping container—there are millions out there, all just like the ones stacked on the Hong Kong Express but for a coat of paint and a serial number—epitomizes the enormity, sophistication, and importance of our modern transportation system. Invisible to most people, they’re fundamental to how practically everything in our consumer-driven lives works. ... Think of the shipping container as the Internet of things. Just as your email is disassembled into discrete bundles of data the minute you hit send, then re-assembled in your recipient’s inbox later, the uniform, ubiquitous boxes are designed to be interchangeable, their contents irrelevant. ... The exact placement of each box is a critical part of the equation: Ships make many stops, and a box scheduled to be unloaded late in the journey can’t be placed above one slated for offloading early. Imagine a block of 14,000 interlocked Lego bricks—now imagine trying to pull one out from the middle. ... The container’s efficiency has proven to be an irresistible economic force. Last year the world’s container ports moved 560 million 20-foot containers—nearly 1.5 billion tons of cargo altogether. Though commodities like petroleum, steel ore, and coal still move in specially designed bulk cargo ships, more than 90 percent of the rest—everything from clothes to cars to computers—now travels inside shipping containers. “Reefer” containers, insulated and equipped with cooling units, carry refrigerated cargo and are plugged into power sources on ships or at dockside. Because the containers are all identical, any ship can move them. ... The Port of Los Angeles, America’s busiest container port, handled 476,000 TEUs in 1981. Thirty years later, 7.9 million 20-foot containers—almost all of them containing goods on their way from factories in Asia—moved through the port, a 16-fold increase. Hamburg’s four container terminals loaded and unloaded 8.9 million TEUs in 2012. On the long list of global container ports, Hamburg and Los Angeles are middleweights: Shanghai, the world’s largest container port, moves 31 million TEUs each year.
Convinced that having a family might not be in the cards for him, Ed Houben (pronounced who-been) decided to become a sperm donor. He would show up twice a month at the clinic, “producing” in “the production room” to fill a cup for cash. The first time he went, they didn't even take his name. It couldn't have been more cold and impersonal. ... Ed Houben is now, at the age of 46, one of the preeminent makers of babies on the planet, father to 106 children of whom two-thirds were made the natural way (i.e., by sexual intercourse) and a third made via artificial insemination. In addition, there are 30 or so he estimates from his years at the clinic. Put another way: Ed Houben, who once had sex once every decade, has fathered roughly ten kids every year for the past 15 years. And he's still at it, thumping his way into history. So prodigious is his legacy that the BBC dubbed him “Europe's most virile man,” while he regularly gets billed by media as “the Sperminator.” ... he's quick to describe himself as a “truly ugly fat guy with glasses.” ... it's disorienting, for Ed lives in what might truly be considered a morally ambiguous space that he argues isn't ambiguous at all. “I really believe children should be conceived from an act of kindness and that they deserve to know their father as more than a number,” he says. “I forbid myself to feel proud of what I do. I don't have any children; other people have children because of a small contribution from me.”