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Colin O’Brady Crosses Antarctica Solo!

By   Shlomo Maital

 

Colin O’Brady Near the Finish

   33-year-old Colin O’Brady has just completed a 921-mile journey across Antarctica, solo, alone, unaided by wind, pulling a heavy sled with his tent and food. The New York Times calls it “one of the great feats in polar history”.   No-one had done it before unaided.

   A friend of O’Brady, Englishman Louis Rudd, 49, started out at the same time as O’Brady and is also close to the finish. In a gentlemanly act, O’Brady said he will wait for Rudd, then they will fly out together.

     O’Brady survived 932 miles of bad weather, freezing temperatures, mishaps, jagged ice projections and loneliness, for 53 full days, without a day off.

     In his final push, O’Brady completed the final 77.54 miles in one shot, sleepless, for 32 hours – an ultra-marathon tacked on to a regular day’s walk.   O’Brady said, “I just felt locked in for the last 32 hours, like a deep flow state. I didn’t listen to any music – just locked in, like I’m going until I’m done. It was profound, it was beautiful…!”

     What can we take away from this amazing feat?  Rather than think about his suffering, O’Brady said “I was reviewing the entirety of the expedition in my mind, and I was aware I’m going to tell this story for the rest of my life, but I told myself, you’re living this right now – live it!”

       We can learn from those two words – live it!   I see so many people enjoying wonderful experiences, vistas, celebrations ..and focused on taking selfies. Surely photographing these experiences at least somewhat mars the ‘live it’ enjoy it experience.   Let’s live it. Be in the moment, as the mindfulness people tell us. Never mind the selfies. Live it, so that you will be able to relive it, many many times, with sharp memories. Because, you will relive it, and if you really live it while you’re living it, those memories will serve you far better than any selfie.  

     Thanks, Colin! We get it.  

 

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Selective Silence: a User’s Guide
By   Shlomo Maital 


 
  In the Jewish Talmud (Ethics of Our Fathers), Rabbi Shimon ben Shatach says, “I have lived all my days among the wise, and found nothing better than silence.”
   Silence?   Nothing better?
   Rabbi ben Shatach spent his days in study with his colleagues.  Talmud study involved dialogue, conversation, debate, argument. 
    Silence?
    It has taken me many years to figure out what he meant.  Here is what I think.
    Selective silence.  Speech, when it is warm, embracing, informative, loving, is of course vital.  There is nothing better than such speech.  The Talmud is built on it.
    But words that are hateful, hurtful, wounding, insulting, humiliating?  Such speech is better transformed into silence.
     But how?
     Here is my modest suggestion.  I affirm that I have used this method and it works.  I wish I had understood it years and years ago. 
      You are about to say angry hurtful words.  Your brain has formulated them.  They exist, those words, they live, they burn in your frontal cortex. 
       Stop.  Listen to yourself SILENTLY say them.  Then stop.  Don’t say them out loud.  Only to yourself. 
        I can think of many occasions, when, had I used selective silence, my life and those around me would have been a whole lot better.
     I’ll bet you can too, dear reader. 
Is this what Rabbi Shimon ben Shatach meant, when he said he found nothing better than silence?  Selective silence?   Silencing hurtful words? 

Finding (and Retaining) Meaning in Life

By   Shlomo Maital

 

The October issue of Monitor on Psychology (APA) has a fine article by Tori Deangelis,  “In search of meaning”.   In it she makes several key points:

  • Almost every problem that’s brought into therapy …is implicitly about the meaning of life. This is from Dr. Clara Hill, a psychology professor and author of Meaning in Life (2018).
  • Psychologists George and Park agree that “people believe their lives are meaningful when three aspects are in place: they feel their lives make sense and have continuity, they are directed and motivated by meaningful goals, and they believe their existence matters to others.

 

         Sense, continuity, goals, value for others…   these components are similar to those that guide startup entrepreneurs.   ‘Make meaning, not money’, is the principle taught by startup expert Guy Kawasaki. Turns out – this is also the recipe for a meaningful life.   Make sense – there is a reason I am alive and I need to find it, matching my passions and skills.   Continuity – I am part of work that began before me and will continue after me. Goals – meaningful ambitious aspirations. Value for others – my life has meaning, and creates value, for others.

               A number of approaches to “meaning therapy” have proven effective. Logotherapy was developed by Victor Frankl, a psychiatrist who survived Nazi death camps and later made his survival technique into a therapeutic method, based on 3 things: kindness or creative work, truth and beauty, and facing life’s difficulties with courage.

         Another approach is story-telling. Shape your life as a story – tell your own story, looking back – and build your own story, looking forward in time. A research finding shows: Those who frame their lives as a journey find more meaning than those who see their lives in a linear, steps-to-a-goal fashion.

     Other research simplifies meaning into two key parts:   close personal connections and purposeful work. Problem is, many challenging jobs, as in high-tech, take a heavy toll on family life and family connections.   In one of my Coursera courses on entrepreneurship, given together with a former very senior high-tech executive, the first of 10 key lessons taught to students is: Take care of your family.   Purposeful work can end up losing meaning if you end up without those around you whom you love and who love you.

   The article ends on a positive note, quoting a wise psychologist: While meaning is a profound human experience, it is in the end based on ordinary, attainable things.

     But, I would add, to find meaning – you have to be aware that it is important and must be sought.

Smoke That Kills, Stoves That Save Lives

By   Shlomo Maital

 

The man in the photograph is Eric Reynolds. Next to him is the stove he invented. It burns cleanly wood pellets. This California-born entrepreneur identified a problem (African villagers burn wood inside their huts, for cooking, and the smoke kills many through respiratory problems), and found a solution. He gives away the stoves, through his company called Inyenyeri,  and funds the business by selling the wood pellets at a reasonable price.   The business model is based on the fact that poor Africans cannot afford large capital expenditures but can afford to buy the wood pellets from time to time.

     His story is told in the Dec. 8 edition of the New York Times.   The article begins: “Eric Reynolds will tell you that he is on the verge of freeing much of humanity from the deadly scourge of the cooking fire. He can halt the toxic smoke wafting through African homes, protect what is left of the continent’s forest cover and help rescue the planet from the wrath of climate change.”

     Some time ago I wrote a blog about an Engineers Without Borders project, by Israeli (Technion) engineers, who used biomass to generate methane, bottle it, and then let the villagers use it for cooking instead of wood smoke. Reynolds has tackled the same problem, in Africa, but has a different solution.

     According to the New York Times article, “He is happy to explain, at considerable length, how he will systematically achieve all this while constructing a business that can amass billions in profit from an unlikely group of customers: the poorest people on earth.   He will confess that some people doubt his hold on reality.”

     We know that C. K. Prahalad, in his book Fortunes at the Bottom of the Pyramid, explained long ago how one can build businesses on the poorest of the poor. So it is indeed possible.  

     Reynolds says, “Profit feeds impact at scale,” …he is now in the midst of a global tour as he courts investment on top of the roughly $12 million he has already raised. “Unless somebody gets rich, it can’t grow.”   More than four decades have passed since Mr. Reynolds embarked on what he portrays as an accidental life as an entrepreneur, an outgrowth of his fascination with mountaineering. He dropped out of college to start Marmot, the outdoor gear company named for the burrowing rodent. There, he profited by protecting Volvo-driving, chardonnay-sipping weekend warriors against the menacing elements of Aspen. Now, he is trying to build a business centered on customers for whom turning on a light switch is a radical act of upward mobility”, the New York Times article noted.

     Reynolds is 66…and qualifies for being one of the world’s many “snow-capped idea volcanoes” (senior grey-haired entrepreneurs).

 

 

Life Below Ground – at 250 Degrees!

By   Shlomo Maital

 A lot of money is being spent looking for life on Mars.

   What about looking for life on Earth – in unexplored places. It’s called “deep life”.

   A fascinating report by AFP, a global news agency, informs us:

   “Scientists have drilled a mile and a half (2.5 kilometers) beneath the seabed and found vast underground forests of “deep life,” including microbes that persist for thousands, maybe millions of years, researchers said Monday.   Feeding on nothing but the energy from rocks, and existing in a slow-motion, even zombie-like state, previously unknown forms of life are abundant beneath the Earth despite extreme temperatures and pressure.   About 70 percent of Earth’s bacteria and archaea — single-celled organisms with no nucleus — live underground, according to the latest findings of an international collaboration involving hundreds of experts, known as the Deep Carbon Observatory, were released at the American Geophysical Union meeting in Washington.   This “deep life” amounts to between 15 and 23 billion tons of carbon, said the DCO, launched in 2009, as it nears the end of its 10-year mission to reveal Earth’s inner secrets.   The deep biosphere of Earth is massive,” said Rick Colwell, who teaches astrobiology and oceanography at Oregon State University.

   A Japanese scientist who led the study said the following:

   “Most of deep life is very distinct from life on the surface,” said Fumio Inagaki, of the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology.   Using the Japanese scientific vessel Chikyu, researchers have drilled far beneath the seabed and removed cores that have given scientists a detailed look at deep life.   “The microbes are just sitting there and live for very, very long periods of time,” he told AFP. He described the team’s findings so far as a “very exciting, extreme ecosystem.” Among them may be Earth’s hottest living creature, Geogemma barossii, a single-celled organism found in hydrothermal vents on the seafloor. Its microscopic cells grow and replicate at 250 degrees Fahrenheit (121 Celsius). [This is well above the boiling point of water!]  “There is genetic diversity of life below the surface that is at least equal to but perhaps exceeds that which is at the surface and we don’t know much about it,” Colwell said.    

       Brought up from these ancient coal beds and fed glucose in the lab, researchers have seen some microbes, bacteria and fungi slowly waking up. “That was amazing,” said Inagaki.   Scientists have found life in continental mines and boreholes more than three miles (five kilometers) deep, and have not yet identified the boundary where life no longer exists, he added.

           These microbes way underground are important, because they have captured huge amounts of carbon, leaving the oxygen we humans breathe.

           And perhaps they hold the key to removing the carbon spewed into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels, causing climate change and global warming.

Direct Listing: Disintermediation Lives!

Or: Here, Spot!

by Shlomo Maital

 

   Ernest Hemingway hated big pretentious words, called them “two dollar” words, and preferred two-bit words in his writing. And it was very effective.

   I agree. Except for this one exception.   Disintermediation.   17 letters!   It means, removing mediation, go-betweens.   Go-betweens clip coupons, take a slice of the money – a big slice – and run. Israeli farmers get 3 shekels a kilo for avocado, retailers sell them for 18 shekels a kilo. Guess why!?

     The Internet is the great disintermediator. It can link people who need rides with those who can offer them.  Or people who want to buy anything with those who want to sell anything – directly.   Without anybody in between.

     Here is the latest example of disintermediation – but not via the Internet.

     Spotify is a music streaming platform, developed by Swedes, and launched in 2008. It is available widely, has $5 b. in revenue, employs 2,960, has raised $1 b. in venture capital, and has 157 million monthly users. Five out of 8 regular users are young, between 18 and 34.

     Its market cap is $29.5 billion.

     Spotify thinks different(ly). On Feb. 28 2018 Spotify (NYSE symbol SPOT) shares were listed on the New York Stock Exchange. But NOT, not as an Initial Public Offering. Rather, as a DPL Direct Public Listing.

     What’s the difference?

     IPO is a sale of new shares, by a company, on the stock exchange, to raise capital.

     DPL is simply a listing of existing shares, no new ones, not with any intention of raising capital, but simply making shares ‘liquid’ and enabling those who wish to sell ‘existing’ shares on the stock market.   There are no intermediaries, investment banks, underwriters, banks, nobody to clip coupons. Direct from SPOT to you.   Here, Spot! Good boy!   Sit.

     The NYSE stock exchange has far less stringent requirements for DPL than for IPO. DPL is mainly designed for smaller businesses.   But SPOT saw the opportunity. Spotify does not need more capital (it can raise all it wants, at any time). It would like to be listed, and permit those who want to cash out (after a whole decade!) partly, to be able to do so. Hence, DPL.

     DPL is disintermediated. And the trend may catch on. This could be a disruptive technology for Wall Street. Ever since Netscape did its IPO in 1995 and saw its shares soar by ten times, Wall St. has cashed in on IPO’s. The resulting bubble led directly to the 2000-2001 crash that did much damage. DPL does not have the same ‘bubble’ potential – because it simply lists existing shares, without any increase in their supply.

   Of course, those existing share prices could crash too – but somehow it is less likely for a balloon to burst when no air is added (i.e. no more new shares), than when you have a whole bunch of greedy enthusiasts pumping more and more air into it.

     So, Hemingway – OK to say, disintermediation? Or, if you insist:   Dis   …. Inter …… Mediation.

Here, Spot(ify)  !  Sit!  Lie Down!  Good Boy!   List.  Direct.  Well done! 

 Kids Sue Elders: Is This What We’ve Come To??

By   Shlomo Maital

   I recently wrote a column in the fortnightly magazine Jerusalem Report, titled “Waging War on our Children”. The title was a direct quote from Professor Larry Kotlikoff, Boston University. Kotlikoff pioneered economic studies of “intergenerational equity” – how one generation passes on a better (or a worse) economy and society to the younger generation.

   Today, Kotlikoff’s meticulous studies show, it is …worse! Much much worse. Because, when you take the present value of US spending obligations (education, health, pensions), and the present value of US tax revenues, there is an enormous fiscal gap of $200 trillion, or 10 times US GDP.   This is the debt burden the US is dumping on its young people. And this is true of other countries too, including my own, Israel.  (see Kotlikoff.net)

       In the latest issue of NATURE magazine (Nov. 8), I spotted this amazing short article.   American ‘kids’ (young people) are suing the government (older generation), for ruining the climate and leaving them with a bloody mess.

       This is a serious suit. Of course the Trump administration seeks to have it dismissed. But the Supreme Court will debate it seriously.

       Is this where we’re at? Is this how low we’ve sunk? Our kids have to sue us, to get us to do something about the god-awful mess we’ve left them?  

       Hey kids. It’s not just the climate. It’s the toxic volatile divisive angry political situation, the hollowed-out economy (industry sent abroad), the spend-and-borrow society, the crummy schools, and much more.   Broaden your suit. Sue us for the mess in general, not just climate change.   Maybe that will wake us up?!

 Peak America? The Numbers Say, Yes!

By   Shlomo Maital

 

   Writing in the Washington Post, (and on his GPS program on CNN), Fareed Zakharia cites Morgan Stanley expert Ruchir Sharma, who argues that America may at this moment be at its peak of economic and financial power – and heading downward.

   “As Morgan Stanley’s Ruchir Sharma has pointed out, the global economy looks as if it’s at “peak America.” U.S. stocks have outperformed the rest of the world this decade, and that sort of trend rarely lasts. The current recovery is now the second-longest in history, and it is due for a downturn. Interest rates are rising, corporate profit growth is slowing, and budget deficits are surging. Even President Trump seems aware of the likelihood of a dip, which is why he has been preparing the ground for it, blaming the Federal Reserve for raising interest rates.”

   Sharma notes this striking fact: US stock markets have tripled in value since 2010, while all other stock markets in the world have risen by only an average of 50%.

   The last time such an imbalance happened? 1999 (just before the dot.com bubble burst). And before that?   1929.

   Zakharia notes:   “Anywhere one goes in the world these days, leaders talk about the United States’ retreat from the world stage. They note that it began before Trump. Most date it to the aftermath of the Iraq War, spanning the administrations of George W. Bush, Barack Obama and now Trump. And while the Trump administration is bellicose in its policies, especially on trade, they are all in service of a Fortress America mentality that seeks less engagement with the world, politically and economically.”

   And he continues: “Foreign leaders also note that the United States is likely to be increasingly constrained by its mounting budget woes. The Financial Times’s Gillian Tett points out that the U.S. government now spends $1.4 billion a day on its debt, 10 times more than the next major industrialized country does. As interest rates rise and more Americans reach the age of collecting Social Security and Medicare, the federal government will be unable to fund much else. Ezra Klein has quipped that the American government is “an insurance conglomerate protected by a large, standing army,” and that is becoming truer every day.”

   Many in the US and abroad loathe President Trump. They should not, however, gloat when he makes America decline (again)   (MAD).   A world with a declining America will be chaotic, violent and troubled.

     Zakharia: “American retreat will not produce a better world. It will be messier and uglier. To get a glimpse of it, look at the Middle East today. As the United States has withdrawn from its traditional role as the region’s power-broker — maintaining relations with all sides and striving to achieve some degree of stability — Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are all jockeying for influence. The United States has simply subcontracted its policy to Riyadh, encouraging the Saudis’ reckless behavior and resulting in the world’s gravest humanitarian crisis, the war in Yemen, where 12 million people are on the verge of famine.”

 

   

 

 

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
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