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Are you deconfining? Here are some news from the past month.
1. WORK: Podcast, Covid Event
2. COVID LIFE: Covid Theatre, Raoult, Stocks, Deconfining
3. CULTURE: The Last Dance, Baldwin, Jane, Willie 1er
4. THOUGHTS: Covid Justice, 3 Types of Training, Yoyoka
Things have been cruising past the initial learning curve. Seven episodes of the Deep Tech: From Lab to Market podcast are now online. I particularly recommend the recent ones with Different (who published a great report on investment in deep tech) and Fifty Years (a mission-driven early stage deep tech VC). One anecdote: during one of the recordings, a nephew bumped into a heavy glass table which shattered on the floor (nobody was hurt). If anyone needs such sound effect, I have edited it out.
Deep Tech Startups Against Covid
I am producing and co-hosting an online event on May 28 (9am PST) featuring VCs who each backed a handful of startups fighting Covid-19, including innovations for prevention, testing and treatment. RSVP is free here.
Around The World
At this point, caution with at-risk population (mostly >60yo), early testing and treatment, and selective isolation make the most sense to me.
I have a nagging feeling that many governments are stuck with performing ‘Covid Theatre’ (like ‘security theatre’ in airports), which I would also call the ‘goalkeeper effect’: it is statistically more effective not to dive, but the optics are bad if you don’t, and nobody gets blamed for diving the wrong way vs. not making a move. Meanwhile, millions are stuck at home, the economy is wrecked and taxpayers will foot the bill directly and indirectly via government debt and inflation.
I translated another of Dr. Didier Raoult’s videos (turn on English subtitles), where he’s looking at various country data, and concludes Covid-19 is likely on its tail end in many countries, and that a ‘second wave’ is very unlikely (notably as the Spanish Flu — the only major one reported with such characteristic — had its first wave in the summer, while Covid-19 started in the winter).
The hydroxychloroquine (+ Zinc?) debate — tainted for many by Trump’s endorsement — raises questions about the duty of care of doctors and governments, and the lack of economic interest of industry in repurposing known drugs vs. developing new treatments. If Raoult (and Trump) are right, there won’t be much money to make.
The New York Times published what I see as a hit piece on Raoult: He Was a Science Star. Then He Promoted a Questionable Cure for Covid-19. Despite the title, photo and overall character assassination, I think most of what is written about him portrays a free thinker of the kind that makes useful discoveries. You’ll make your own judgement.
(Somewhat) Confined life
We can now go around freely in France up to 100km away from home.
Restaurants are limited to takeaway. Cinemas and other public venus are still closed.
The main highlight is that I restarted sports with a few friends in a ‘home dojo’, which boosted both morale and fitness. Some forests also re-opened so I went to do some light rock climbing. I won’t take trees for granted anymore!
Overall, I think the most interesting public companies are (1) Those that were overly punished (2) Those benefitting from Covid-19. I focused on the first type and generally didn’t built enough conviction to buy the second type as they seemed already ‘recovered’ a month ago … In retrospect, they were quite safe bet and unlikely to go down (thanks to high demand). Hindsight is always 100%!
Among the stocks I mentioned last time and kept going up (maybe too much? Shopify, JD, Peloton, Upwork and Fiverr. The latter two have been going gangbusters over the past month, but while I was quite sure about the offer side skyrocketing, I doubted the demand side, and didn’t like that both are still unprofitable.
I can’t explain to myself how so many stocks and the S&P 500 are back where they were 6 months ago considering the economic slowdown and massive wave of unemployment (e.g. How is Facebook at $230, its highest ever?). It looks like a lot of money doesn’t know where to go … Unless it’s an anticipation of the inflationary effect of an unprecedented QE?
My Uncle from America (Mon oncle d'Amérique)****
The inheritance or help of an ‘uncle in America’ is an archetype representing an unexpected fortune coming your way. This trope was already found in a Balzac novel back in 1844.
In this movie, it’s a distant echo, as we follow the connecting destinies of a working class girl who wants to do theatre, a farmer’s son, and a middle-upper class civil servant.
In parallel, a scientist gives short insights into the behavior of lab rats and their response to basic needs, rewards, and punishment (leading to fight, flight or apathy) as a reading of human behaviors and trajectories. The editing of the movie is quite interesting, mixing various sources.
Overall, it rang quite true, and the performances of a young Gerard Depardieu and others are great. Apparently the director initially wanted to title it ‘The Sleepwalkers’, a more befitting title to this illustration of a form of social determinism.
I re-watched this movie about a student drummer pushed at wits end by an abusive teacher. A Chinese friend said the teacher is a tiger parent. I had new thoughts about this: this approach can work on some, but it crushes many more and destroys joy. Yet, excellence seems to come consistently from people who decide to take their craft seriously to rise above. The question is thus: what makes someone take a path seriously?
The Last Dance****
I never followed TV sports but a sporty friend recommended this Netflix show on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls as ‘the best sports documentary of the last decade’, and I have to agree it’s the best I’ve seen (though my sample size is pretty small). Especially understanding what caused guys like Jordan, Pippen and Rodman to do what I wrote above: take their craft seriously.
For Jordan I believe it was a combination of brother rivalry, a need for love and recognition within his family, combined with a mother who challenged him to train to improve over a summer after he got rejected from a youth team draft. That instilled a growth mindset and a focus on the craft rather than ‘talent’. Also, it seemed what he initially wanted was to play baseball! (and he tried during his first retirement). Is Jordan a failed baseball player? ;)
For Pippen, poverty in a large family seemed to be a strong motivator (and also why he signed a 7-year contract that turned out undervalued).
It’s less clear to me for Rodman, but it sounded like he was pretty much drifting homeless until he decided to try basketball. Later on, dating Madonna helped him focus, and take things seriously on the court, while continuing some of his off-court antics.
I took note of some quotes:
(his mom recalling MJ’s failure to make the team) “My words to him were ‘if you really want it, you work hard over the summer’.”
This sounds like a great way to show not only support, but also to foster a growth mindset.
(about his gambling hobby) “[I don’t have a gambling problem], I have a competition problem.”
MJ was obsessively competitive and even his gambling looked skill-based. This might come from his craving to be acknowledged by his parents and among his siblings.
(about his team mates) “I’m gonna ridicule you until you get on the same level as me.”
Not necessarily the best way to motivate everyone to excel (see ‘Whiplash’), but MJ might not have known many other ways. Fortunately coaches Doug Collins and Phil Jackson seemed to have.
(about some supposed taunt from an opposing player) "Smith never put his arm around Mike and said, ‘Nice game, Mike.’” — “He’s always finding some place to find something to get him all fired up”
An odd but effective way to motivate himself!
What is also interesting is how MJ would make up such insult in his on mind to fuel his motivation. It sounds a bit like the guy in Memento.
What decides a person to maintain this distorsion bubble, and — in the case of MJ — a competitive spirit way past what was needed to impress his family?
What decides someone to keep upping the ante toward the next difficult goal way past its initial ‘usefulness’? And is this a satisfying way to live?
Some manager and investors say they like ‘PHDs’ = Poor, Hungry, Driven people coming from a place they never want to go back to.
I first heard it from Josh Wolfe (founder of Lux Capital).
Then I found prior uses by Mario Gabelli (founder of Gabelli Asset Management Company, late 90’s?) Rick Pitino (basketball coach, 1997).
(about a player from another team they were trying to beat) “He played on the front of his toes. Give him a head-and-shoulder fake, go one way, he can’t stop.”
This, to me, showed the level of mastery Jordan had reached.
“Michael didn’t allow what he couldn’t control to get inside his head” and (from memory) “Why worry about shots I haven’t taken yet”
MJ has all the Zens!
“Start with hope”
Or in the words of Antoine de Saint Exupery: “If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
SPOILER ALERT (though I guess I was among the last ones to know it)
The ending of season 1 is quite anti-climactic:
We hear the management couldn’t afford to overpay for its players, and MJ regrets not having one more year.
I read up on Wikipedia what he was up to afterward and found golfing, charity work, consumer products and being a team owner but nothing seemed to stand out.
MJ is now 57 and could surely do more great things — but what is he interested in proving to the world now?
I Am Not Your Negro*** (Netflix)
A documentary on the life of James Baldwin, an African-American novelist, playwright, essayist, poet, and activist. A piece of America’s social history and struggle with race, from the point of view of an acute observer, writer and activist.
The Lives Of Albert Camus***
A documentary on the author of The Plague, who grew up in poverty in Alger and died in his forties in a car accident 2 years after receiving his Nobel Prize. I couldn’t help but see parallels with Jack London, one of my favorite authors — in the way he was doing ‘gonzo journalism’, and the protagonist of his ‘Martin Eden’ — as well as the main character in Kim by Kipling, a foreigner born in India and in love with the country and its people (despite the prevalent colonial views of the time).
A documentary on Jane Goodall, an English primatologist and anthropologist (now 86yo) and one of the 3 famous Trimates women who were sent by anthropologist Louis Leakey to study hominids in their natural environments. They studied chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans respectively. Jane was the chimp girl. It certainly wasn’t an easy job—a single white woman in the wild with little training for extended periods of time—but even more impressive was how her mom had raised her to be this risk-taking, and even came along!
Willie 1er (Netflix)***
After his twin brother's death, a 50-year-old (simple) man finally decides to move out of his parents' house and to the neighboring village. A first film by young grads from Luc Besson’s film school. I enjoyed it and found it quite endearing. The guy’s credo is: “An apartment, I’ll have one. A scooter, I’ll have one. Friends, I’ll have some. And you can piss off!”
I gave a second try to this French movie, a satire on the modern advertisement business after watching the two OSS 117 with actor Jean Dujardin. I was also encouraged by the fact it was directed by Jan Kounen, whose documentary and experience with shamanism and Ayahuasca were very interesting. I felt the movie was ok and a bit outdated.
Russian Dolls (Les Poupees Russes)**
The second movie of the Spanish Apartment trilogy by Cedric Klapisch. It’s an entertaining romantic comedy but I liked better the last one, Chinese Puzzle.
Roll: Jiu-Jitsu in South California**
A documentary on the early years of BJJ in the US, with Brazilians coming over to the welcoming shores of SoCal for fame and fortune. I didn’t find it as interesting as Choke but noted that competitions made the style more cooperative (fight another club vs. each other) yet possibly less effective due to more rules.
Planet of the Humans*
I thought Michael Moore might have brought some new light on the environment and the flaws of the green movement, but it turned out to be a poorly researched and biased documentary that he only produced. I found it a waste of time.
I came across this UK website selling test kits and PPE and couldn’t tell if it was a scam or not. It this an official site? Is this pretending to be? The fact that the domain was registered on March 31, 2020 does not give a lot of confidence.
Covid Justice Warriors
Has someone told you aggressively to wear a mask in a place where it’s not mandatory yet? (e.g. walking in the street). Justice awaits!
The New Horseman
The ‘Four Horsemen of the Internet (and Civil Liberties) Apocalypse’ used to be Terrorists, Drug Dealers, Pornographers and Pedophiles.
It looks like viruses/pandemics will be the D’Artagnan to those Four Musketeers in the latest assault on privacy and freedom.
Here is a black-mirroresque illustration with the charming spot robot dog from Boston Dynamics / Softbank helping enforce social distancing in parks. Add some flying drones to that it’s going to be a lot of fun.
The Three Types of Training
I was discussing with the BJJ coach about the difficulty in keeping morale high when consistently training with stronger opponents: in a way, I have been losing almost all sparrings for about 2 years, as my training partners were more experienced, often heavier, and kept training too! The coach reassured me that I was now taking out people who started later, as well as many of the judo guys who don’t train specifically ground work. He also clarified the three types of training:
TO WIN: The first type is when you try to win. You are also careful not to lose, and will keep distance, defend, protect yourself, disengage. Such bouts tend to have much less action and as a result, less technical learning.
TO PRACTICE: This is when you are trying new things and follow your instinct. It will often fail and you will end up in bad situations or losing. But if you don’t try new things you will get stuck always doing the same thing, and will not improve your instinct and ‘decision speed’.
FOR FUN: Winning is ego-boosting, testing is intellectually interesting, but if you forget to have fun in practice, it can become a drag. I think this is the major flaw of ‘Tiger Parenting’: it strips out the joy of practice and winning.
Finding the mix that works for your goals is tricky, but the idea is to be clear about what you’re doing — and ideally making it clear to your partners too.
For some reason, the guys at Jungle Survival carved a nice little niche for themselves building elaborate pools and structures from scratch in the jungle. Some called it ‘real life Minecraft’. It is certainly a time-consuming gig, I hope the millions of views bring good income! (I heard a ballpark figure that 1,000 views = $1-$10 so they should be ok, even after paying their video editor if they don’t DIY).
If you’re still reading here is a little reward for you: it seems that John Bonham, drummer for Led Zeppelin, came back to Earth as a ten-year-old Japanese girl. If it doesn’t put a smile on your face, I don’t know what will!
Bonus: Smooth criminal by Michael Jackson’s drummer
To deconfinement and beyond!