Thinking About Thinking

The Letter Given To The Valedictorian of Harvard College

Posted in Pop Culture by larrycheng on January 31, 2011

This is one letter I decidedly did not receive.  Nonetheless, I thought it was pretty compelling that there is indeed a valedictorian of Harvard.  Out of 1,600+ students in each class, there is one who ranks at the very top. 

Harvard Letter

2010 Blog In Review

Posted in Pop Culture by larrycheng on January 2, 2011

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A helper monkey made this abstract painting, inspired by your stats.

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 280,000 times in 2010. If it were an exhibit at The Louvre Museum, it would take 12 days for that many people to see it.

In 2010, there were 35 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 101 posts. There were 6 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 399kb.

The busiest day of the year was October 3rd with 8,056 views. The most popular post that day was Where In The World Is Eduardo Saverin?.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were en.wikipedia.org, stumbleupon.com, news.ycombinator.com, de.wikipedia.org, and ru.wikipedia.org.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for eduardo saverin, thinking about thinking, eduardo saverin girlfriend, saverin, and mark zuckerberg eduardo saverin.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Where In The World Is Eduardo Saverin? June 2009
83 comments and 9 Likes on WordPress.com

2

Why Are 80% of Harvard Students First-Borns? March 2010
38 comments and 2 Likes on WordPress.com

3

Global Venture Capital (VC) Blog Directory – Ranked By Monthly Uniques January 2010
54 comments

4

Why Do Some Relationships Fail? March 2010
9 comments

5

The Chapter In The Bible That Appears Twice February 2010
16 comments

A Storm In Haiti

Posted in Pop Culture by larrycheng on October 2, 2010

As some of you know, I had the privilege of serving in Haiti for a week this past summer.  I served at a makeshift hospital at the Petionville tent city which houses 50,000 refugees.  I wrote about that week in a prior blog post.  Here’s a picture of the hospital I took when I was there just a few months ago – it’s somewhat reminiscent of a MASH unit.

IMG00028-20100718-1450

I was somewhat dismayed to find out yesterday that an unexpected storm came through the area last week and destroyed not just the hospital but the volunteer tent where many faithful volunteers had been living. 

Here’s what’s left of the hospital:

62990_438019332166_314222577166_5605601_747054_n

And here’s what’s left of the volunteer living quarters:

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Despite the destruction, I understand that the staff at JP/HRO which oversees the Petionville tent city, has already made major strides in rebuilding and have not lost their fighting spirit.  They never cease to amaze me.  If you want to help in this time of need, please donate through the JP/HRO website.  They’re trying to replace lost medical supplies, medical equipment, and shelter.  All my respect goes out to the team there who I know fought through the storm to continue to provide medical care to those Haitians in need. 

How Many Unique bit.ly Combinations Are There?

Posted in Pop Culture, Technology by larrycheng on August 16, 2010

I was thinking randomly about how many bit.ly combinations there are and how much unique shortened URLs they can generate given their current construct.  Here’s their construct:

  • Up to 6 characters after bit.ly/
  • Any mix of capitalized letters, lowercase letters, and numbers

If you limit the combinations to only ones where bit.ly is the domain (and not partner domains), and you presume they can go up to 6 characters (i.e. 1–6) as opposed to exactly 6 characters – how many total combinations are there?  Any math whiz out there who can figure it out pretty quickly and enlighten us in the comments section?  My small math brain was getting cramps thinking about it. 

Given that they shorten 40–50 million URLS per day, I also wonder how long they can last on this construct.  Probably a long time I suspect even including their growth.  Random thought for the day, and thanks for the help. 

Tags:

My Trip To Haiti

Posted in Philosophy, Pop Culture by larrycheng on August 1, 2010

I wasn’t originally planning on blogging about my trip to Haiti as the decision to go was more of a personal one.  But, having been back for a week now, I figured if blogging about it could help in some way, then I might as well.  So, here it goes:

I spent a week in Haiti serving through a collaboration between two organizations – Jordan International Aid (JIA) and J/P Haitian Relief Organization (J/P HRO).  Our sending organization, JIA, has been sending medical teams to Haiti every third week of the month since the earthquake first hit Haiti.  Our receiving organization, J/P HRO, manages one of the larger tent cities in Haiti – Petionville.  The two organizations collaborated such that our team at JIA would be staffing the hospital and triage clinic at Petionville – a tent city of 50,000 people.  J/P HRO also enabled us to set up some mobile clinics at other tent cities where the refugees in many cases had never received medical care. 

When we first landed in Haiti and drove around Port-Au-Prince, I was struck by how the city looked frozen in time a full six months after the earthquake.  There were buildings that had been pancaked from the earthquake and others clearly damaged beyond repair – just sitting there untouched.  I was struck by the lack of both demolition and construction.  The earthquake could have happened the day before.  Port-Au-Prince, itself, was terribly congested with a mix of cars and people owning the broken streets.  Our team stayed at what used to be an orphanage – needless to say, we felt lucky to have some semblance of running water, power, and intermittent Internet access at our home for the week.

The team was principally comprised of doctors, nurses and a couple pharmacists from the Bay Area, alongside a few non-medical folks (like me) from my church.  Our principal role was to help staff and run the “hospital” and “triage clinic” at the Petionville tent city.  If you can imagine M*A*S*H, you’d get the idea of where we were serving.  They were basically tented areas with stretchers and boxes to sit on.  Every day hundreds of people would line up from the tent city, and often wait for hours to receive care.  We had the usual pediatric issues of fever, dehydration, diarrhea, etc.  We would often also see lacerations, burns, and blunt trauma.  There were individuals we treated with longer-term issues like AIDS, cancer, and stroke.  There were a number of babies also delivered during our time.  And underlying all of the traditional physical issues – there were serious issues like post traumatic stress disorder that were prevalent.  Each day, we would see about 150–200 patients at Petionville.  We also had the opportunity to set up mobile clinics at other tent cities in surrounding areas.

Though Haiti was just a 2 hour flight from Miami, I couldn’t have been further from my little world of Boston private equity.  And, that is a good thing.  It was really helpful for me to see the plight of the Haitians and hear their stories.  So many people stick out in my mind from this trip.  The boy who came in without complaint, despite having a severely burned arm from top to bottom.  The woman who gave birth to two very premature twins who did not ultimately survive.  The girl who couldn’t have been older than 13 years old, coming in with her three younger siblings – all orphaned.  The deaf and mute boy on the Petionville grounds whose spirit could not have been brighter.  Our many Haitian friends and staff at the hospital and Petionville who had lost loved ones. 

I’m sure many people have given money to Haiti – but I came to appreciate that giving time in many instances is worth a lot more because it’s through time that you build relationships and start to really care.  I also came to appreciate that in situations of devastation like Haiti, anyone who has an interest to help, can help.  I’m back in the saddle at work now, but I think about Haiti every day – wondering if there’s a broader way to help that country.  I’m quite sure I don’t have the answers, but somehow I think thinking about it is a good thing. 

Why Do Some Relationships Fail?

Posted in Books, Pop Culture by larrycheng on March 13, 2010

I like to blog about different, random, more personal things on the weekends.  Hence, I’m starting a series on books that I think directly or indirectly answer an interesting question with an interesting point of view.  The first installment last weekend was Why Are 80% of Harvard Students First-Borns?.  Today is the second installment and is about one of my favorite relationship books – The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman

If we look around – it’s pretty undeniable that there are broken relationships within marriages, families, and friends.  What’s underlying some of the challenged relationships between spouses, parent/children, etc.?  Clearly, there’s not one simple answer.  Yet, Gary Chapman lays out a relatively simple but profound theory based on a very straight forward framework that may have broad relevance.  First the framework:

He believes that there are 5 primary love languages and everybody has a primary (usually one, maybe two) love language which makes them feel loved.  Importantly, their primary love language is not necessarily the way they communicate love to others – but it’s how they feel loved by others.  The 5 languages are:

  1. Physical Touch – hugs, kisses, physical play, affection, etc.
  2. Words of Affirmation – words of praise, encouragement, adoration, admiration, etc.
  3. Quality Time – focused, attentive time in a joint activity, conversation, etc.
  4. Gifts – self explanatory: meaningful, thoughtful gifts
  5. Acts of Service – helping out with projects, responsibilities, homework, tasks, etc. 

So, that’s the framework.  The theory on why some relationships are strained is pretty straight forward: 

  • Everyone has a primary love language – which is how they receive love.
  • People tend to communicate love to others with their own primary love language.
  • But, if the other person has a different primary love language, they will not feel loved.

For example – your primary love language may be words of affirmation.  But, if your child’s love language is physical touch – no amount of verbal praise will replace your child’s need for hugs, physical play, and so forth.  Or your love language may be physical touch, but your spouse’s may be acts of service.  So, no amount of affection will replace the love communicated through service acts like cleaning up the house, cooking a meal, or taking out the garbage.  That’s why two people in a relationship can be trying hard but not communicating love to each other because they don’t recognize the distinction in each person’s primary love languages.

Though it’s a relatively simple framework – I recommend getting the book if it’s at all interesting to you.  The book gives more insight into how to determine someone’s primary love language, practical ideas around each love language, and more insight and detail on what each love language means.  OK, I never thought I’d write a blog post with the word “love” in it 25 times.  I think my next post will have to be about ultimate fighting or something. 

Why Are 80% of Harvard Students First-Borns?

Posted in Books, Pop Culture by larrycheng on March 6, 2010

That’s my estimate anyways.  I remember it like it was yesterday.  It was my freshman year at Harvard, and I was going to the first lecture of “Justice” – one of the most popular classes on campus.  The lectures took place in Sanders Theater packed by over a thousand students since it’s only offered once every three years.  The first question the professor asked – please stand up if you’re the first born child in your family (inclusive of only children).  I literally felt like everyone in the entire theater stood up – except me since I’m a youngest child.  Why is it that such a high majority of Harvard students are first borns or only children?

Because birth order matters according to Dr. Kevin Leman, author of The Birth Order Book – Why You Are the Way You Are.  I’ve been reading it – here’s his framework on how the different orders generally are (noting that not every characteristic applies to every child):

First Child: perfectionist, reliable, conscientious, a list maker, well organized, hard driving, a natural leader, critical, serious, scholarly, logical, doesn’t like surprises, a techie.

Middle Child: mediator, compromising, diplomatic, avoids conflict, independent, loyal to peers, has many friends, a maverick, secretive, used to not having attention.

Youngest Child: manipulative, charming, blames others, attention seeker, tenacious, people person, natural salesperson, precocious, engaging, affectionate, loves surprises.

Only Child: little adult by age seven, very thorough, deliberate, high achiever, self-motivated, fearful, cautious, voracious reader, black-and-white thinker, talks in extremes, can’t bear to fail, has very high expectations for self, more comfortable with people who are older or younger.

[Related Post: The Letter Given to the Valedictorian of Harvard]

Should Bernie Madoff Have Charged 1% or 2% Fees?

Posted in Pop Culture by larrycheng on March 3, 2010

The short answer is it depends.  Here we go…

On a flight back from London today, my partner showed me a little blurb in the most recent Time Magazine about a bet between two scientists.  They bet $300 on whether the first person to live 150 years would be born by 2000.  They put the money into an investment account which will presumably be settled by their heirs.  So, what will the $300 be worth in 150 years?

Let’s presume the $300 was put into a Bernie Madoff-like fictional fund that generates 10% annualized returns any and every year without fail.  Let’s also presume for a moment that this is a no-load (i.e. no fees) fund.  What would the $300 be worth in 150 years? 

  • A whopping $485 million. 

Now, let’s show the impact if this Madoff fund charged an annual 1.0% fee based on assets under management.  What would the $300 be worth in 150 years? 

  • A surprisingly diminished $123 million. 

Now, let’s say Madoff charged a 2.0% annual fee.  What would the $300 be worth in 150 years?

  • A further diminished $31 million.

Before you go off on the exorbitant cost of paying fees, just note that if the $300 was put into a no load bond that generated 3.0% annualized returns, the end result would be a paltry $25,000.  So, it still pays to pay for alpha by a longshot.

Now, let’s get to the question of this post.  Should Madoff have charged 1.0% or 2.0% annual fees to maximize his fee income from this client over the investment period?

If the fee was 1.0%, the cumulative fees over the 150 years is:

  • $13 million. 

One would expect that charging 2.0% annual fees would net Madoff a much better result over 150 years.  But, here are the cumulative fees at 2.0%:

  • $7 million. 

Why in this case would charging a higher fee result in lower aggregate fees?  For the simple reason that over time, the higher fees diminish the total assets under management so dramatically, that over the long-run, it meaningfully and negatively impacts aggregate fees.  Then why does the answer depend if the math is so clear?  Because this is an unusual scenario where the term of the investment is 150 years.  As it turns out, for about the first ~75 years, it’s better to charge 2.0% fees.  After that, it crosses over and a 1.0% fee generates more cumulative fees as the assets under managements starts to meteorically rise.  Yet again, like in all things, time horizon does matter.     

Email Signature Gone Wild

Posted in Pop Culture by larrycheng on March 2, 2010

This (sanitized) email signature came into my colleague today.  I can’t say I’ve seen anything like it. 

———————————————————

[First Name] [Last Name]
CEO, Company Name
firstname.lastname@companyname.com

TEL:      +44 (0)xx xxxx xxxx [main switchboard]
TEL:      +44 (0)xx xxxx xxxx [direct]
MOB:      +44 (0)xxx xxx xxxx
FAX:      +44 (0)xx xxxx xxxx
SKYPE:    ‘companyname’

WEB:    www.companyname.com
You Tube: http://www.youtube.com/users/companyname
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/firstnamelastname
LinkedIn Group: http://www.linkedin.com/e/coolhandle
BLOG:   http://coolhandle.wordpress.com
Twitter (me): http://twitter.com/firstnamelastname
Twitter (company): http://twitter.com/companyname
Slideshare: http://www.slideshare.net/companyname/presentations
NING: http://companyname.ning.com/profile/coolhandle

———————————————————

 

Time Horizon Does Matter

Posted in Philosophy, Pop Culture, Venture Capital by larrycheng on January 28, 2010

Ever since I started in the investment business, entrepreneurs would often ask in meetings, “What’s your typical time horizon for an investment?”  To be candid, I never thought this was a particularly relevant question.  No institutional VC or growth equity firm will say we’re trying to flip our investments in a year.  And, no firm will say we’re looking to hold every company for 15 years.  Though every firm with some history will have examples of both taking place.  I’d guess that most firms will say their typical holding period is in that 3–6 year range with flexibility above and below that.  To that end, I have always thought that time horizon was never that distinctive or critical of an attribute when selecting a firm.

As the years have gone by, and I’ve been exposed to different investment philosophies – financial or otherwise – and I’ve come to appreciate that in many ways, time horizon can be a driving force in one’s strategy or even ideology.  Though in my vocational world, time horizon isn’t that distinctive because most firms are within a similar band, in the broader world, time horizon is profoundly implactful.  Here’s what I mean…

On investments: What if a firm came along with the resources and focus to invest in companies with a 10–30 year return on investment?  All the traditional defining attributes of a firm – stage, sector, geography, etc. – are subjugated to the outstanding fact that this firm is optimizing for the 20 year return, not the 5 year return. 

An example of this might be Google.  Google bought YouTube for $1.65B in 2006.  Since that investment, they have taken much criticism because YouTube continued to burn cash and the business model hadn’t been proven to work.  In other words, the YouTube acquisition didn’t make sense if your investment horizon was 3–5 years.  But, what if Google’s horizon was 10–20 years, and that’s what they were focused on?  What if they didn’t care as much about the economics and importance of video over the near-term, but just wanted to make sure they were dominant 10–20 years later in video?  Google is one company that can afford to do that, and a different time horizon leads to a different set of actions.

On economics: Let’s say that you are sitting in Tim Geithner’s seat (U.S. Treasury Secretary) at the start of his term last year.  And, he has a simple question – do I bail out the banks?  I would argue that the question to drive the answer is – what’s your time horizon?  Are you aiming to stabilize the U.S. economy in the 1–4 year horizon – over Obama’s term, or is your priority to create the stage for a strong and vibrant economy over the 20–30 year horizon?  Clearly the nature of politics dictates a nearer-term horizon, and hence, the logical decision is to bail out the banks and deal with the consequences later.  But, if your primary objective is to optimize the long-term (20–30 years) health of the economy, one could make a strong argument that bailing out the banks is not the right thing to do.  This is not about big or small government, left or right ideology, populist or otherwise – this is simply about time horizon.

On poverty: Let’s say you want to help the homeless in Boston.  Again, I’d argue that time horizon is a big driver.  If your objective is to help today – you’d probably walk outside and lend a helping hand through money, food or clothing.  If your objective is to help this year, maybe you’d support or volunteer at a homeless shelter.  If your objective is to help over the 20–50 year horizon – then you’d probably focus all of your energies on a structural issues like education and jobs.  Sometimes I wonder if different ideologies on poverty (e.g. Democrats and Republicans) are really just differences in time horizon rather than core philosophy. 

If you look at all different aspects of life – career decisions, child rearing philosophies (think about sleep training), relationships, etc. – different time horizons leads to different decisions.  Hence, while I tended to be dismissive about time horizon in the past, now in many ways, it’s a starting point for making decisions.  I’ve come to appreciate that it’s a healthy thing to ask in any decision making process – what’s my time horizon?