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2020 Books

Posted: 6 August 2020

Algorithmic Trading - Ernest Chan

15th October 2020. Read it to find out!

Alibaba - The House That Jack Ma Built - Duncan Clark

15th September 2020. A good friend recommended this book. I really liked the idea of Jack Ma’s Iron Triangle. I started to take an interest in logistics during my first project at Palantir. The project was based in Copenhagen and I had a great time working on it. I decided to further my knowledge in the supply chain industry and, as of today, finished 3 out of 5 courses in the MIT MicroMasters in Supply Chain Management. I really liked how the lecturer succinctly summarizes supply chains - information and financial flows facilitating the flow of physical goods. This resonated with me as I independently did a philosophical exercise on what a God on Earth would be, but this is a story for another day.

Jack Ma came from a humble background, was rejected even by KFC, failed the Gaokao, and many more. He’s a true fighter. I’ve got many great quotes in this book, and as usual, have marked them with little stickers on the physical book. I put some notable ones here.

  1. 85 percent of the fish in sea are shrimp-sized. I don’t know anyone who makes money from whales, but I’ve seen many making money from shrimp (p. 94).
  2. Because schools teach knowledge, while starting business requires wisdom. Wisdom is acquired through experience. Knowledge can be acquired through hardwork (p. 123).
  3. Masters of negotiation always listen, don’t talk. Those who talk a lot only have second-rate negotiation skills. A true master listens, and as soon as he moves his sword, you pretty much collapse (p. 126).

In total, I think I stuck about 20 stickers. I really liked the first two quotes and remembered them. I like the first because a lot of start-ups are striving to be next unicorn, aiming to capture whales and using that to raise more funds. I personally prefer the route of catching shrimp, but hey, I own the small boat and the net and don’t loan the harpoons and trawlers. On the second quote, I enjoy the pursuit of knowledge. I need to hold myself back at times and execute harder. And the last quote I just added it in for fun as I was browsing - I simply wanted to put 3 quotes.

Educated - Tara Westover

12th September 2020. I first got this book in 2019 - a couple of colleagues highly recommended it. It was also recommended by Bill Gates here.

It’s really impressive how Tara overcame the challenges she faced. When she had a toothache and it was causing immense pain, she refused to take medication or apply for a government grant, as she was brought up in a family that claimed that modern medicine is bad and the government is out to get you. She also had to work in her family’s junkyard, where her Dad was pretty much reckless. He was willing to risk serious or fatal injuries to save a few minutes. True enough, one of his sons got burnt badly, and they did not go to a hospital. Tara was injured badly herself after falling off and almost getting impaled. Her Dad was also injured after a fuel tank exploded when he was trying to cut it open. In spite of all this, Tara pushed through, did pretty well in ACTs, managed to get into college and do well, and a visit to Cambridge eventually changed her life.

In her book, one statement resonated with me: “Curiosity is a luxury reserved for the financially secure: my mind was absorbed with more immediate concerns”. It’s almost like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs - if you can’t get your basic needs settled, it is hard to think about higher level ideas. This might be a stretch, and it would be interesting to read some academic papers on it, but it seems to me that lots of valuable companies are founded by people from “good schools”. And most students who go to these “good schools” come from financially secure backgrounds. Of course, I’m not making a generalization - Jack Ma is one such example. He did not go to a “good school” but built a super valuable company. I guess the general point I’m trying to get at is the idea of “the rich getting richer”. We should think a little more on the redistribution of wealth.

I also started thinking more about the information bubble we live in. I am a product of the information I consume and digest. Am I truly me, or am I an aggregation of information around me? What would happen if Tara did not leave her information bubble? Interesting questions to think about.

Prisoners of Geography - Tim Marshall

6th August 2020. A light and enjoyable read. I learnt small bits of information about various conflicts around the world. There have been many small wars throughout history, like the Mexican-American War in 1846, the various civil wars and independence movements, etc. The list goes on. When you look at history through this lens and look closely at the events after World War II, you realize that there actually have been many small wars after World War II, like the Korean War, Vietnam War, the Six-Day War. Countries all over the world are disputing borders based on the history of the land which is defined arbitrarily. For example, In the Middle East, various tribes have lived on those lands for perhaps a thousand years, and the colonialists redrew the boundaries (Sykes-Picot). These boundaries are of course “imaginary” - you do not see them physically on the ground. When you force various tribes with a thousand years of history to start living in a state or country with other tribes that they historically do not like, there is bound to be conflict.

The biggest takeaway from this book is that the borders we see today are definitely not static and will change. It could be 10, 100 or a 1000 years before they change, but one thing is for sure - it will change. Perhaps the only time it will not change would be when humans become a spacefaring species and we identify ourselves as Earthlings.

When you start with the assumption the borders are fluid, you start to understand geopolitics better.

Reminiscences of a Stock Operator - Edwin Lefevre

13th August 2020. A book written in 1929 about stock markets that is still largely relevant today. Jesse Livermore traded in a day where he could corner, move markets, inside trade and more so we have to take what he did and extract relevant learnings and apply it to today’s context.

I found it interesting when he mentioned do not try to catch the first and last eighths. Specifically, when prices are going down, and you didn’t catch it at the low - that’s fine. When prices are going up, and you didn’t catch it at the high - that’s fine. Selling or buying at the eighths are fine too.

When selling a large amount of stock, you more often than not will move the market so you have to make a market for it - it’s interesting how he made the market and how sellers sell on the way down.

Don’t fall into the trap of buying a stock at 10, just because it was at 30, and 10 is now a bargain.

Think about what a tip truly is, and what financial news actually tells you.

Many lessons in this short book.