Monthly update: Spooky technology and alternative education

Nov 28, 2020 12:01 pm

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Here's what had my attention in November...

What I've been up to

πŸ‘¨β€πŸŽ“ Since before our son was born, friends would ask us – knowing that we like to be abroad for about a third of the year – what we were going to do about his education.

Our answer was always a breezy "oh, we've got five years to figure that out and I'm sure lots of new options will have come along by then".

Well, three of those years have rushed by in a maelstrom of puke and Lego, and lots of new options have not come along. So what are we going to do?

The best we've come up with so far is forming a "microschool": effectively a concept where the parents of 5-10 children find a space and club together to pay a full-time teacher. This model has developed some traction in the US recently with schools being shut for longer than they were in the UK, and investor Jason Calacanis lays out the case for them well here.

This wouldn't solve the problem for us while we were abroad, but would at least stop us racking up the non-attendance fines back home. If you're aware of any other interesting options (other than home-schooling), we'd be keen to hear them.

πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ Watching all the "excitement" over the US election brought one of my favourite quotes to mind:

"The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum" – Noam Chomsky

I'm not saying it doesn't matter which septuagenarian has access to the nuclear codes, but – viewed through the lens of my current obsession with macroeconomics – I can't help considering the many other important things we're not being encouraged to think about.

Trillions of extra dollars (and hundreds of billions of extra pounds) have been printed this year. What effect will that have on inflation, asset prices, inequality, and so on?

Advances in technology are going to remove the need for millions of jobs in the next few years – and even if they create an equal number of other jobs, they won't be created in the same places for people with the same skills. What's the plan for that?

There are big challenges and opportunities ahead that will need to be dealt with, and even a person with outsized individual influence is only a tiny part of doing that. If roughly half of people believe everything will be great because their guy won and the other half think it'll be terrible because their guy lost, 100% of people are missing the bigger picture.

Tech tip

I've recently started using the Google Lens feature which is part of the Google Photos app (available for iOS devices as well as Android).

It uses spooky "computer vision" to recognise the content of any photo you take, tell you what it is, then show you Google search results relating to it. I've used it to:

  • Identify the brand of a toy that was a gift, to see if the same company made other similar ones.
  • Find out the name of a plant I really liked when visiting someone's office.
  • Get the name of an apartment block I spotted to find out who the developer was.

It's one of those things that's surprisingly useful when you remember it exists and get into the habit of using it. Just try not to think about the privacy implications.

What I've published

– How to have a successful business partnership. Most important tip: don't trust someone who keeps on telling you how trustworthy they are. Trust me on this one.

– Our inevitable deflationary future. We've been conditioned to think "deflation = oh no!", but according to the book that inspired this article it could be the key to our future prosperity.

– The 100 hour rule. It's kinda like the 10,000 hour rule, but 100 times easier to achieve.

What I've enjoyed

🎧 The thing I love about listening to professional investors is they don't care about being popular or parroting the fashionable view – they care about being right, because when they're right they make money.

I found this podcast interview with Jonathan Escott such an entertaining listen for that reason. Whether you agree with everything he says (which you almost certainly won't) or not, it's so refreshing to hear unashamedly contrarian views on many of today's big issues.

❓ For years I've used a flashcard app to memorise things like the basic vocabulary of a new language before travelling somewhere. I must have a card for "what's the wifi code please?" in about six different languages.

The one I've always used is Anki (available on the web and as an app), but I only discovered this month that you can download shared flashcard decks that have been created by other people. I'm using it to improve my abysmal geography and pick up some general knowledge to amaze and astound people with.

Now the only thing standing between me and a spot on Jeopardy! is my unwillingness to learn anything about American sports.

πŸ““ I listened to a biography of George Orwell this month, which I'd classify as "OK" and not a strong recommendation. However, it alerted me to the fact that all Orwell's essays are freely available online. His classics "Politics and the English language" and "Why I write" in particular are short (about a 10-minute read each), accessible, and as relevant today as when they were published just after WW2.

πŸ‘‹That’s it for November! It'd be great to hear from you if you've got news or recommendations to share.



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