Monthly Archives: October 2006

The paradox of living longer

The paradox of living longer

Peter Thiel said something very interesting to me the other day … he said people think they are going to live forever but they live like they are going to die tomorrow.

What a paradox.
People think they are going to live a very long time … and their right. But most people are borrowing from their future self to live in the now. They’re unprepared for the future and their not calculating their odds correctly.

Thiel points out that most people are severely undercounting how long they will live. And if you want a good investment strategy, you should go long on people’s life and short people who think they will die soon. Thiel points out that the most successful investor of our age, Warren Buffett, is doing just that. Buffett has loaded up on life insurance companies … which do very well if people live longer and don’t calculate their odds of dying correctly.

book: Commanding Heights

The Commanding Heights : The Battle for the World Economy
by Daniel Yergin, Joseph Stanislaw

Kate Hardin of Cambridge Energy Research Associates recommended this book to me because she knows how much I loved Yergin’s previous book, The Prize (one of my all time favorite books). and this book was a great read. it is a fat book (last a few plane trips) and well worth it … the book describes the post WW II economic development of most major nations (goes in detail on about 30 countries including those in Africa, Latin America, Europe, north America, and Asia).

it is especially good on the formation of the EU, France’s patterns, India, and Thatcher.

i highly recommend this book. and it reads like The Prize (lots of little vignettes). quite a fun read with great anecdotes.

Biz idea: Background check yourself and publish

(another free random business idea worth what you paid for it)

There are a bunch of background check services but very few that encourage you to background check yourself. And even fewer that give a potential employer the opportunity to access your verified information.

There should be a business that allows consumers to pay for a resume verification service (verifying that you did get an MBA from Stanford, a computer science degree from Georgia Tech, worked for Goldman Sachs, etc.). Then the consumer can put a unique URL on the bottom of his resume that takes potential employers to a trusted page, with a trusted brand, that lists which of the items on someone’s resume the service was able to verify. It is that simple.

Of course, the economics only comes with building large-scale relationships with employers and universities as I doubt you could charge more than $100/person (plus $20/year to maintain the record).

book: Letter to a Christian Nation

Letter to a Christian Nation
by Sam Harris

This is another provocative book by Sam Harris … and one I recommend. After reading this book you might hate Sam Harris, an atheist who says that Jesus being born of a virgin is about as believable as Zeus controlling the universe and Elvis still being alive.

But the book will make you think. And it is a great book to read with Language of God.

And while after reading this book I am still a believer in God, Harris does call to question some of societies underlying assumptions. And while this book recounts a lot of the arguments in End of Faith, it is much shorter and can be read in a single sitting (it is less than 100 short pages).

Men carry cash … women don’t …

My friend Angie Schiavoni observed to me recently that women carry a lot less cash than men. She rarely has over $10. this rang true a few weeks ago when I was sitting next to a woman on the plane and she did not even have the $5 cash to buy a meal on the plane.

Maybe it is the fear of being robbed or of spending it … but my unscientific survey of a few friends bears the same results.

Of the men I asked the median was about $240. that’s a good deal of cash … and granted, most of the people I asked were fairly well-to-do.

Of the women I asked, the median was about $15. that’s it .. Just $15. not even enough for a cross-town cab ride in SF. Wow. (and these women were, on average, just as well-to-do as the men I asked.) And I don’t think there is a lot of evidence to suggest that women spend less money then men. Do women just prefer to pay by credit card?

And I got a similar response with the question: how often do you go to the ATM? For some men, it was only once every 2-3 weeks. By contrast, most of the women were multiple times per week and one went daily.


For detailed analysis for the differing shopping habits between women and men, I suggest reading Why We Buy by Paco Underhill (great book).

book: China Inc

ChinaincChina Inc: How the Rise of the Next Superpower Challenges America and the World
Ted Fishman

this is a very detailed account about what is happening in China right now. it is also available in Audible and it is a good listen (though it is unduly long).

from outsourcing to china growth and culture, this book takes a global view on the rise in china.

book: Six Days of War

SixdaysSix Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East
Michael B. Oren

Matt Dundon sent me this book a while ago and i just got around to it now. i highly recommend it (and it is available on audible). a great story about the shaping of the modern middle east, the problems within Israel and the Arab states, and how the winner of a war still has little security.

this is a very detailed account of the circumstances leading up to the Six Day War and a very detailed hour-by-hour account of the war. the audio book is about 21 hours or roughly 1/6 of the total time the war itself took.

Assuming an Identity on MySpace

Did you know I can sign up as you on MySpace?

That’s right … I can sign up on MySpace under your email address and assume your identity. MySpace does send an email to verify the email address – but you do not have to click on the verification email to use MySpace. You can still do everything on MySpace you’d always do – like creating an account, adding pictures, adding friends, and generally being active on MySpace.

You can assume anyone’s identity on the number one site in America. But this is only if that email address was not used to sign up for an account.

This guy named Alvin has Jeff Bezos’s email associated with him. Maybe this is Jeff’s alter-ego, but I doubt it.

And did you know the US President has a MySpace profile? Search on “” and you’ll find a guy named “the” who’s occupation is “swinger” and who’d like to meet “tyrants, weirdos, shallow corporate raiders. ex-skull and bone members.. remember the handshake. or is that remember the too.” … of course, he hasn’t logged in since 12/19/2003 – so he’s also an early adopter and early MySpace user.

1310482795_mNick Douglas from Valleywag has a MySpace account under his gmail address. If you know Nick’s gmail address and you search at you’ll be taken to his page. This is his real page.

But if you searched for Nick’s email addresses this morning you wouldn’t have found anything. Anyone with a little ingenuity can register for MySpace under his email. And I just did. If you search for his email now you’ll get this profile:

It looks legit but it is actually my putting it together. Not sure Nick got the email from MySpace with the password I picked … but if he misses the email or chooses to ignore it (because he already has a MySpace account and his other cookie overrides the link when he clicks on it), then I am as good as gold. Given the increase in Myspace phishing, and your tendency to overlook Myspace emails, I’m better than gold – I’m platinum baby.

[note: after 4 hours Nick still has not logged into his new account or changed the password]

Though this can be fun and tame … like me signing up as Clark Kent @ … it can also be used for malicious purposes. Someone can assume another person’s identity, get people to trust them, and be fooled when that person goes to verify their email address in MySpace (which is the only way to verify someone today).

San Francisco is most kid unfriendly city

68591022sSan Francisco has more dogs then kids.

Only 14.5% of the people in San Francisco are under 18. 14.5%! SF has fewer people under 18 then any city in the nation

by contrast, some of the cities with the biggest retired population in Florida have about 18% kids. NYC has almost 30% kids … though I suspect that Manhattan has a much lower percentage.

This is even more amazing given that only 13.7% of San Franciscans are over the age of 65. SF is actually one of the youngest cities in America – the median age is only 36.

Now … what accounts for this phenomenon?
– SF is extraordinarily expensive … especially for kids. And the public school system is very sub-par.
– Large gay population
– SF has a lot of single straight people
– there are a surprising number of straight married couples without kids

But even with all of this, the data are staggering. SF is extremely un-kid friendly.

health insurance premiums and higher deductibles

I am a huge proponent of HSAs and high deductible plans. They might single-handedly save health care in America.

But when you are getting a high-deductible plan, it pays to get the highest deductible you can get. Here’s the facts:

If you want to get a high-deductible plan in California and you are 30-34, you have two choices with Blue Shield — a $2400 deductible and a $4000 deductible. A $1600 difference (all the other items on the plan are the same). You’d think that the yearly premium would be fairly similar with the 2400 being a bit more expenses – maybe about $200 more. But here is where it gets crazy.

The 2400 dues is $114/mo or $1368/yr

The 4000 dues is $63/mo or $756/yr.

So that means the 2400 Plan is $612 dollars more expensive than the 4000 Plan even though you only get a maximum of $1600 in additional coverage. That is a HUGE premium for that insurance.

So if you are healthy, plan on being relatively healthy the next year, and are financially stable, you’d think it was in your obvious best interest to get the highest deductible possible.

(by the way, this analysis is even more true for car insurance and other types of insurance).

Entrepreneurs make the glass completely full

I love talking about entrepreneurship. My most quoted line on the Internet is a quote I once made at a conference off-the-cuff: “my definition of an entrepreneur: someone who steals office supplies from home and bring them to work” (February, 2003)

So given that was 3.5 years ago, I though I should update my definition of entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurs are optimists. Optimism is contagious…

Many people think of the glass as half full or half empty. Good managers think of the glass as half full. Strategic consultants think of the glass as a way to quench their thirst (and bill you $400/hour for it). Entrepreneurs do the following:

– first, they get an empty smaller glass. Then they empty the contents of the bigger glass to the smaller glass — making the glass completely full.

– boom! No everyone around them (customers, employees, the public, etc) sees a totally full glass

– then, the entrepreneur constructs a gigantic glass next to the small glass and let’s everyone around her know that in four years, that super-duper-sized glass will be full — and not just full of water — preferably full of a strawberry-banana smoothie that we all can enjoy — mmmmmmmmm

Paying famous people for their time

Another business idea you are free to steal … paying famous people for their time. Let’s say you want to talk to P-Diddy, Bill Clinton, or Warren Buffett. Pay them for their time.

I’d like to see a business with a directory of famous people who all have a rate per hour that they have specified (kind of like what Ether does with knowledge professionals). Then, through the site, you can schedule a time to talk to your favorite person by phone. Would it be worth it for you to pay $1000 for 30 minutes of Sean Connery’s time? Maybe. Maybe you have something to pitch him … or maybe you just want to ask him an question about what it was like to be James Bond.

And it could be an interesting academic, a great researcher, or someone you want to talk to about roofing.

Regardless, for the famous person it could be fun, easy to schedule (could do it while in the car or at a convenient time for them), and could be a good side source of income (and the target could decide to donate all or part of it to charity).