Sunday, December 31, 2023

Going Infinite by Michael Lewis

Going Infinite by Michael Lewis is a compelling book about Sam Bankman-Fried, the now-convicted founder of FTX and Alameda Research. Lewis first heard of him at the end of 2021, when Sam took FTX to $1B in revenue, up from $100M in 2020, and $20M in 2019. The book largely chronicles his rise, with the end covering his rapid fall. It felt like a satisfying conclusion was lacking, largely because it not clear where the money went. 

Lewis covers how Sam went to MIT and interned and then was hired at Jane Street Capital. It's a high-frequency trading firm and it was fascinating reading about the interview process there, one centered around probability and chance. It was to determine how someone operates in an environment of uncertainty, how do they go about making decisions? The questions were all mental math around odds, like what amount of money would someone trade for a possibility of a larger amount of money. It was testing someone's relationship to information. 

Lewis covers how these type of calculations fit Sam perfectly and his decisions involved an expected value calculation. He would at the spur of the moment change a plan based on a new calculation he made of how he wanted to spend his time. 

Sam loved things where there was only partial knowledge of a situation, and when he discovered crypto trading, he found it a perfect fit for him. Sam quit his job in 2017 to start Alameda Research as a crypto trading firm and by November 2018, Alameda Researched traded more than 5% of the total volume of crypto markets. He then founded FTX as a new company, a crypto exchange, and as this was occurring, Sam was living in Asia, and then moved to the Bahamas. In late October 2022, it all came crashing down, triggered by a crypto crisis. On November 11, FTX went into bankruptcy in the United States, as FTX should have been holding some $10B in customer deposits, but only had a fraction of that.

It's a shame that Sam flamed out given his donations to various causes, including fighting climate change and promoting democratic principles, including how he toyed with the idea of paying Donald Trump billions to not run again for President. The book closes with the bankruptcy efforts to try to figure out what happened with the money, before the trial of Sam, and it's an interesting read.

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Gallop Toward the Sun by Peter Stark

Gallop Toward the Sun by Peter Stark is a solid book subtitled Tecumseh and William Henry Harrison's Struggle for the Destiny of a Nation. Stark tells the story of the Indian leader and his efforts to prevent the encroachment of white settlers onto Indian lands, in opposition to Harrison who was attempting to expand American lands further and further west.

Harrison was appointed governor of the Indiana Territory, some 260,000 square miles, in 1800, briefly serving under John Adams as President, followed by Thomas Jefferson, then James Madison. Jefferson relentlessly pursued land acquisition, and was in office for the Louisiana Purchase, where France under Napoleon sold the Louisiana Territory for $15M, or half a billion acres at roughly three cents each. 

Harrison pushed to increase the U.S. footprint, wanting to get the Indiana Territory to 60,000 residents so it could get statehood, with he perhaps a Senator. James Madison became President in 1809 and wanted land acquisition done without conflict, but would rely on Harrison's promises of fairness in dealing with the tribes. Harrison would appease the White House with his statements, but then do whatever it took to get more land, getting tribes to sign agreements that harmed other tribes. 

Tecumseh was a Shawnee warrior and worked to bring together various tribes, attempting to unite them into an alliance against American expansion. There was first negotiations and then armed conflict between Americans and tribes led by Tecumseh. Eventually came the War of 1812 between the U.S. and Britain, with Harrison taking a military command and Tecumseh fighting on the side of the British in an effort to maintain Indian lands. Tecumseh was killed as he advanced on someone he believed to be Harrison, and the territory governor ultimately realized his goal of national office, becoming the (short-lived) ninth U.S. President.

The book is an interesting story of two opposing forces and Stark quotes historian Colin Calloway who described the contest between the leaders as "a war for America's heart and soul."

Thursday, December 07, 2023

Hidden Potential by Adam Grant

Hidden Potential by Adam Grant is an interesting book subtitled The Science of Achieving Greater Things and split into three sections, with three chapters in each:

Skills of Character - getting better at through character skills

Chapter 1: Creatures of Discomfort - embrace awkwardness and do things, don't be afraid of being embarrassed 

Chapter 2: Human Sponges - rather than asking for feedback, it's better to ask for advice on how to improve at something, asking what you can do better elicits more specific suggestions and input that can help you

Chapter 3: The Imperfectionists - it's not a perfect world, it's ok to make mistakes, or deal with things as they are and appreciate flaws, judge on your best moments, not your worst, ask multiple you trust people to score the work you do

Structures for Motivation - get the scaffolding to help you when you need it

Chapter 4: Transforming the Daily Grind - make practice fun, enjoy the time you spend on things, play at things, make a game out of drills

Chapter 5: Getting Unstuck - try different things, be willing to start over or go backwards in an effort, take a detour and spend time on something else to get unstuck or reach a goal

Chapter 6: Defying Gravity - work together to accomplish something, the tutor effect... be a teacher of something at the same time you're a student, encouraging others helps us find our own motivation, making progress can be about simply bouncing back and not quitting

Systems of Opportunity - open doors for people underrated or overlooked

Chapter 7: Every Child Gets Ahead - Finland's educational system has created a culture of opportunity that assumes everyone can excel, just some might need more personalized support

Chapter 8: Mining for Gold - the 2010 rescue of 33 men from a Chilean mine, with ideas of how to keep them alive and then get them to safety sourced from a wide spectrum of people, the best leaders have prosocial skills and are often the best listeners

Chapter 9: Diamonds in the Rough - astronaut Jose Hernandez and his path to getting accepted by NASA into the program, setting up people for success in interviews by helping them be comfortable and talk about their interests and passions

It's an excellent read and Grant in the epilogue tells about interviewing for admission to Harvard, getting in and then once there, turning down the remedial writing course that he was pointed to and getting an A in the regular course, which led to his interest in psychology and writing. Grant closes the book with "success is more than reaching our goals - it's living our values. There's no higher value than aspiring to be better tomorrow than we are today. There's no greater accomplishment than unleashing our hidden potential."