Listening at high speed; Failure To LYFToff; Musk the rapper; question 11; a great story

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

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1. Following up on yesterday's email about how listening to books, videos and podcasts rather than music during times when I can't be reading has been a huge improvement in my life, here's another tip:

I've trained myself to listen to nearly everything at high speed – 2x on YouTube (the max; just click Settings to change the speed) and 2.5x for most podcasts and Audible books. It has been absolutely transformative, allowing me to absorb vastly more information.

I told my cousin about this trick recently and he went nuts, "I never knew this – you've changed my life!"

I won't lie and say that I can understand and retain as much information at such high speeds, but I'm so used to it now that I suspect there's only a 5%-10% difference if you tested me on what I'd just listened to. I'll take that tradeoff all day long!

(Funny story: it now drives me nuts when I have to listen to something at normal speed – for example, watching 60 Minutes or the late-night comedians on my DVR (why isn't there an option to speed it up?!) or when my wife and I are in the car together and want to listen to a book or podcast. I want to crank it up, but she hates that, so we usually compromise on 1.5x speed. Ah, the secrets of a 25-year happy marriage: compromises in which neither of us is happy, LOL!)

2. Harris Kupperman (aka Kuppy) with a smart post on his Adventures in Capitalism blog, Failure To LYFToff... , about the potential implications of the fizzling of the Lyft (LYFT) IPO. Excerpt:

This must be the panic moment amongst the VC community. Suddenly, their mark-to-fantasy valuations are in doubt. I can guarantee you that the VC community will rally together and find some way to prop LYFT up. Without idiot retail gladly taking these scams off their hands, VC portfolios will detonate. However, LYFT has already told you that outside of closed-door transactions amongst VCs marking up their books, the valuations are already suspect. Furthermore, since anyone who's bought a share of LYFT on the stock exchange is underwater, I suspect that the desire to buy the next of these Unicorn IPOs will be substantially reduced.

3. This cracked me up: Hear Elon Musk's Surprise Rap Song 'RIP Harambe'. Excerpt:

Elon Musk combined a Twitter joke, a years-old meme and Auto-Tune into a surprise new song called "RIP Harambe," which the Tesla CEO uploaded onto SoundCloud this weekend.

"This might be my finest work," the SpaceX boss said of the track, which he posted on his fictitious Emo G Records' SoundCloud page between tweets about the Tesla Semi; Emo G is a play on emoji, a callback to a Musk joke from earlier in the weekend. "I'm disappointed that my record label failed," he added.

The two-minute track is a bouncy tribute to Harambe, the gorilla who was killed in the Cincinnati Zoo after dragging a three-year-old boy who climbed into his enclosure in 2016.

Late-night comedian Stephen Colbert had fun with it last night.

4. Here's question 11 of 12 to ask before you tie the knot:

Has she had long-term relationships in the past? How have they ended? What would previous boyfriends say about her?

5. In yesterday's email, I shared some comments on blockchain from a "MIT computer scientist/engineer" who co-founded "a blockchain company back in July to tackle supply chain problems."

The young man who shared these comments, Angel, has a great story. I met him in October 2009, when he was a senior in high school. He was one of hundreds of inner-city high school students in a program I'd started (and Bill Ackman funded) to help them pass Advanced Placement exams.

One part of the program assisted them with their college application essays and I was randomly assigned to Angel. What a great young man he was! He and his mother, who speaks no English, immigrated from the Dominican Republic to the United States when he was a few months old. With no money, they lived in a tough part of Harlem where Angel attended public schools.

Despite the many obstacles in his life, Angel had done very well in school and was applying to top colleges including his dream school, MIT. But he had no-one to help him with this complex and intimidating process, and his essays were a mess.

With his permission, I'm sharing two versions of his common application essay: what he initially sent me, and what he eventually submitted after we went back-and-forth a few times over a six-week period. I think you will see the vast difference between the two.

I'm not sure MIT would have accepted him based on what he wrote himself, which is pretty messed up if you think about it. With either essay, he's of course the same kid with the same potential. The only difference is that in the final version he had some assistance in better telling his story... The kind of assistance (along with SAT prep, tutors, etc., etc., etc.) that any well-off kid can take for granted...

Here's what he wrote himself:

"And that's why this country doesn't go anywhere, why we don't go anywhere." It was then that I realized how I could change the world, or at least make a difference. I was in the Dominican Republican reminiscing about good past times with a cousin, Colasito. When we were young, we always used to play with our other cousins. We would run around in the green beautiful fields chasing chicken or trying to figure out ways to knock down coconuts. However, as we grew older, everything changed. What once used to be a group of innocent kids with an optimistic look towards the future had turned into hopeless souls without a worry or care about the world.

Colasito was telling me how everyone changed for the worse. All of our cousins had become alcoholics and turned to drugs to escape from what they deemed a pointless life. They dropped out of school as it seemed to play no role in helping them achieve any kind of success. It wasn't just a change for the worse, but a plunge into a sea of despair and hedonistic morals. For some reason, my cousins have all given up on the world, which had seemed to give up on them a long time ago. Yet, as I was a part of that once innocent group, I didn't end up as a hopeless soul without a purpose.

I wondered what made the difference, but instantly I was amazed as to how obvious it was. Unlike my cousins, I had the chance to move to the United States. Although I didn't grow up in the most enriching neighborhood, I still had the opportunity to grasp the value of an education. Unlike my cousins, I was able to learn and see the difference that a proper education could do for someone's life. Unlike my cousins, I had encounters with altruistic and successful role models. Unlike my cousins, I had a fighting chance.

Back home, the youth grows up in an environment where all of the adults spend their days in the closest "colmado" (the Dominican bodega) drinking and hanging out. No one realizes the benefits of working hard academically. The majority of people adapt an indolent lifestyle and do the minimal amount of work they need to do to survive. Due to such standards, kids in turn lack motivation to do well in school.

Colasito, who had long ago realized what I failed to notice, believed that since everyone was falling under such an epidemic, our country wouldn't manage to withstand on its own in the world. With an already collapsing worldwide economy, I and Colasito had agreed that the only way for our country to be successful was for education to gain a place in the society. However, it wouldn't be as easy as just creating schools in each town. The kids back home need motivation.

Now compare this to the final version I helped him write:

I often read about the many high school seniors with 4.0 GPAs and 2400 SATs and, frankly, I worry about whether I can compete with them to achieve my dream, a coveted spot at a top college. As I reflected on my life, however, I think that I have more to offer than what mere grades and test scores show, such as a richness of experiences and true grit and determination.

I was born in the Dominican Republic, in a town where poverty and lack of education wreak havoc, and moved to New York City when I was young, so I have experienced life in both the wealthiest country in the world as well as one of the poorest. In my large extended family, few have even finished elementary school, much less high school and certainly not college. I was raised by a struggling mother who, to this day, doesn't speak English, and we've always had to worry about money. Even after moving to the land of opportunity, I grew up in one of the poorest and most dangerous areas, Harlem.

It wasn't easy for me to stay off the dead-end path followed by so many of my friends and family members. As a youth in the DR, I would play with my cousins, running around in the beautiful green fields, chasing chickens and trying to figure out ways to knock down coconuts. However, as we grew older, everything changed. What used to be a group of innocent kids with an optimistic outlook towards the future turned into hopeless souls, living only for the moment.

With every passing year, I received the depressing news that yet another friend or cousin had become an alcoholic or turned to drugs to escape from what they deemed a pointless life. One by one, they dropped out of school because it seemed to play no role in helping them achieve success. It wasn't just a change for the worse, but a plunge into a sea of despair and hedonistic morals. They have all given up on the world, in part because they believe – with some justification – that the world gave up on them long ago.

I was once part of that innocent group, yet my future today is vastly different. Why? Mainly because my parents made an enormous sacrifice, leaving their home country and coming to the U.S. Unlike my cousins, I was afforded the opportunity to learn and see the difference that a proper education could make. Unlike my cousins, I had some – not many, but a few – committed teachers and other successful role models who helped me develop my potential. Unlike my cousins, I had a fighting chance – which isn't to say that it was easy.

In Harlem, being "gangster" is valued much more than being smart, and so my commitment to academics was always threatened. I was the school "nerd," a constant target and easy scapegoat for bullies to pick on. At times, I wanted to quit. I felt like an outcast as everyone around me would talk about their fun and exciting experiences with drugs and gangs. Due to this toxic environment, I not only started to lose interest in my schoolwork, but also began to fear for my life, so I asked my mother if I could drop out of school like she did when she was in the fourth grade.

Thankfully (with the benefit of hindsight) she wouldn't hear of it, scolded me for even having the thought, and told me she would have loved to have stayed in school. I soon realized the error in my thinking: my mother correctly saw education as a beautiful and life-changing thing, which I was prepared the throw away, as so many of my peers do.

My mother faced many hardships, but she never gave up and was able to provide me with the chance to succeed. Thanks to her, I finally made the connection between struggle and progress, and realized that if I was able to excel academically, I would eventually see my hard work pay off. Optimism became my creed. I fought through all criticism and bullying, and have now built an untouchable resiliency.

He was accepted early into MIT, from which he graduated with a degree in Computer Science and Engineering.

Yesterday, he sent me this nice note:

I got accepted with an SAT score of 1880 / 2400. I jokingly, yet proudly, boast that this is probably the lowest SAT score MIT has accepted! A testament to how important it was to be able to tell my story correctly.

I can never say it enough – thank you so much for the help you gave me back then. I can't express how much it meant to have someone so successful with a million other things to worry about dedicate time to help a kid they hadn't even met. I don't think you get enough credit for the good that you do.

Whitney Tilson

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About Whitney Tilson

Prior to creating Empire Financial Research, Whitney Tilson founded and ran Kase Capital Management, which managed three value-oriented hedge funds and two mutual funds. Starting out of his bedroom with only $1 million, Tilson grew assets under management to nearly $200 million.

Tilson graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College with a bachelor's degree in government in 1989. After college, he helped Wendy Kopp launch Teach for America and then spent two years as a consultant at the Boston Consulting Group. He earned his MBA from Harvard Business School in 1994, where he graduated in the top 5% of his class and was named a Baker Scholar.

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