Things I wish I had known when I was 20. #1 Narrative Fallacies

What should I write about on my blog? Most successful bloggers have a theme, like, “obscure programming techniques”, or “copied food recipes that I take pictures of”, or “cute kitties”.

This blog is hence-forth about things I’ve learnt and that I wish I had known 20 years ago (when I was 20). The first of these is “narrative fallacies”.

There’s a famous book called “The Black Swan” by Nassim Taleb.

Note: When I say famous, I mean “very few people you’ve ever met will actually have read this book, but a larger number might have heard of it”.

It introduces the finance concept of black swan events, which are events that are basically unknowable (and hence unpredictable), but may have massive implications when they occur. He talks about this in a finance sense, where unpredictable things can cause massive ramifications in financial markets. eg: 9/11.

Note 2: “The Black Swan” is a … challenging read. I’ve pretty much summarised the main bit here. You’re welcome.

Anyway, blah blah finance blah. Bear with me. Taleb talks about how our understanding of the world is based on bullshit stories we’ve developed in our past to explain things that happen. These bullshit stories are called Narrative Fallacies. Which is fancy speak for “bullshit”.

In “Thinking Fast and Slow” (an even more ‘famous’ -see above definition of famous book) Daniel Kahneman picks up on the theme. Kahneman talks about how we love stories, and in general, the simpler the better. We like simple. And in particular, we like to believe simple. So we have a level of confidence in our understanding of the past, which is almost certainly a big pile of poo.

A big pile of poo.

Like thunder = some god dude banging on something with a hammer. Or vaccines causing autism. Or global warming la la la la lah….

But I want to talk about a particular form of narrative, the self-narrative. Self-narratives are stories you believe about yourself, and about events in your life.

For example, children may develop a self-narrative that says “I’m good/bad at maths”, or “I’m good/bad at sport”. Obviously, these narratives are extremely simplistic (as befits children), and performance at maths or sport could be explained (as adults) by a huge number of factors, most of which have little to do with the child. Quality of teaching, assistance of parents, stage of physical development etc etc. You can make up your own narratives, feel free.

The thing I wish I had known 20 years ago is that these narratives exist, and that they can be rewritten. It may have been true that at some point, you were bad at Maths. Or languages, sport. Maybe you are overweight, or weak, or shy. Or any number of other beliefs. The point is these narratives can be erased, and new (probably more positive) beliefs can be put into place.

Have a think. How many things do you believe about yourself that are based on stories you made up a long time ago? The negative stories will begin “I can’t…”, “I don’t like to…”, “I’ve never been able to…”, “I’m bad at…”.

Takeaway point: If you want to change these stories to the positive versions “I can..”, “I’m good at” etc., you can. It might not be easy, it will take concerted effort, but they can all be rewritten. Your life is your story.

Things I wish I had known when I was 20. #1 Narrative Fallacies

New year, new start!

After a long hiatus from blogging, mainly because I was a) too busy, and b) recovering from my “Xero is way overvalued” pick, I’m back! Xero has dropped way back from its $45 high, to about $16. I still suspect its overpriced, but its a crap-load easier to grow into $16 (or a $2billion market cap) than a $45 (5.5billion).

Anyway, more Xero and other coverage to come.

Big news, we’re moving back to Wellington. And buying a house. Buying a house seems difficult so far. I’ve emailed 12 real-estate agents, or more correctly, sent 12 emails to a number of real-estate agents. I’ve had… 2 replies. No auto-replies, just … nothing. Being a geek, that just seems rude. Or useless. Rudeless?

Real estate agents get a bad rap. So far, that seems pretty fair. So far, they could be replaced with an auto-responder that says “We have received your message and don’t care”.

New year, new start!

Why I sold Ecoya

After attending the Ecoya AGM in Auckland a week or so ago, I decided to sell almost all of my Ecoya shares. Here’s why:

I bought Ecoya at 68c, and they are now $1.10-$1.30 (I sold them over a bit). But after attending the AGM it appeared quite clear to me that the original reason for buying, essentially the marketing expertise of Geoff Ross and his team, was no longer valid.

There was no CEO at the meeting, although subsequently the COO Stephen Sinclair was named CEO.

Ultimately, my investment thesis was based on the understanding that Ecoya would be the Business Bakery (and Geoff Ross’s) main focus going forward. This no longer appears to be the case, particularly with the Moa IPO. There was also talk of more acquisitions which is something that makes me nervous.

In such a highly competitive market, it seems Ecoya has lost its only potential edge. Note, that this is not investment advice, so burn your own pots of money! :-)

Why I sold Ecoya

A review of TelstraClear WarpSpeed internet

A month or so ago, I upgraded our internet to the top TelstraClear plan, WarpSpeed. Telstra claim an excellent 25mbps download speed, faster than a hot buttered cat on a hot barbecue. Thats pretty fast.

However, given my previous experience with Telstras lightspeed plan, I was a little… skeptical. LightSpeed was significantly slower than the actual speed of light (299 792 km / s), and most of the time could have been passed by a granny in a mobility scooter. Going uphill. LightSpeed truly stank. Repeated phone calls to Telstra resulted in… nothing. Promises of improvements, and no changes.

Being somewhat a sucker for punishment, I decided to try the WarpSpeed plan, the fastest on the Telstra block. A few repeated calls to Telstra got things sorted, and I sat back, buckled my seat-belt and…

Its faster. Much faster than LightSpeed. LightSpeed (in case I haven’t made the point) sucked. But, since LightSpeed claimed 15mbps, and generally delivered about 2mbps, how does WarpSpeed compare to its claims?

After about a month of usage, and various speedtests via, I have some definitive data. TelstraClear need to update their advertising, and put a maximum speed on their WarpSpeed plan of…. 15mbps!

So 40% slower than advertised. 40% is a LOT. Thats like a car claiming to have a top-speed of 150km/h actually only going 90km/h.

That has to be false advertising somewhere. Does the Commerce Commission care?  But 15mbps is a lot better than 2mbps on the LightSpeed plan so thats a positive.

Note: The tests were done to the closest server by ping (generally christchurch). The actual download speeds were between 2.08mbps! and 15.23mbps. Nothing over that, with an average probably around 10mbps.

Update #1: I tried this afternoon (Saturday at 1:30PM) and achieved 19Mbps. My guess is everyone is at the sevens…

Update #2 (4/2/2012): I had a call from Dion at TelstraClear who left me a lovely message about how Telstra stuffed up the provisioning and my account should now be at the 25mbps speed I’m paying for… It is better, some times, I’ve actually hit 20mbps on occasion. Right now, 10mbps, but tests have put it in the 10-18mbps on average… so much better, only about 20%-50% under advertised speeds. Is that good?

Update #3 (22/5/2012): A solid 10mbps tonight!

A review of TelstraClear WarpSpeed internet

keyring is closed…

Hi guys, am getting a few posts about, the cool wellington sun exposure website I developed a while back. Basically works out whether your house gets sun based on terrain and time of the year. It was very cool, and got me through some patches where I was so bored I died (thanks to working at a bank).

Unfortunately, it was pretty resource intensive, and cost a bit to run. Servers are not hugely expensive, but it adds up over the years. And keyring was always a niche sort of product. And my first go at a standalone startup. Maybe I got the pricing wrong, but hardly anyone bought a report. Lots of people used the site, but not much in the way of money was generated.

So we’ve taken keyring down. The end. Which is a bit sad, because I thought keyring was super-cool, but you have to be pragmatic about these things!


Thanks to everyone who used it and sent me messages. Really do appreciate it! Now, busy working on, the bestest customer intelligence platform ever. Big business tools for little businesses.



keyring is closed…

Climate change update

Remember how Climategate was all the rage in the media in 2009. All the anti-climate change zealots grabs on to this like a drowning person grabs on to a life-preserver. The media was publishing all the news about the scandal and everyone was split into 2 camps, the climate change believers, and the non-believers.

It was an outrage. To be fair, both sides were relying on faith. The believers, on faith in the scientific system, and the non-believers on faith in… um… bloggers and um… well, hmm. Bloggers I guess. Which is a bit odd but anyhow. The advantage of believing in the scientific system of course is that we’re surrounded by evidence of its effectiveness. The big flaw in the non-believers argument of course is the “absence of evidence does not constitute evidence of absence”.

So I was wondering the other day, what was the result of all the outrage and pontification and grandstanding and accusal of betrayal and lying and falsifying data? For such an enormous scandal that rocked the scientific world, I seemed to have missed somewhat the results.

To summarise from Wikipedia (you might have to take this on faith!), basically there were a few methodological issues, and the CRU (the climate unit at the centre of the scandal) needed to be a bit more up-front and release data quicker. But essentially, nothing was found to be wrong and nothing was found to be faked. The chief guy who resigned was re-instated. And the vast majority of scientists support the concept that climate-change is being bought about by humans.

But given that there was weeks of media coverage and commentary saying how bad the scandal was, how come there was not weeks of coverage saying how everything is fine, and the scandal was a gross-misrepresentation by misguided people? And, maybe an apology for the weeks of coverage of a bunch of rubbish? And how come all the climate change nay-sayers didn’t go… oops. Yeah, guess we got that wrong.


But no, no such luck. At its heart, the scientific system is about a bunch of humans trying to out-do each other. A bit like the competition for places in the All Blacks squad. Its not perfect, since humans are uniquely flawed, but it is, on its evidence, the best and most effective system we have. Its a difficult position being a climate-change un-believer, because on one hand, you are using all of the results of hundreds of years of the scientific system. But then the scientific system says “oh yeah, you know the global warming thing. We’re doing that…”. And you go, “ah… well, the scientific system is a bunch of frauds, and we don’t believe anything they say…”, while turning on the scientific air-conditioner in your scientific car, driving down a chemically based road, munching on your scientifically produced big-mac… thats an awful lot of hypocrisy for one person!

Climate change update

Alasdair Thompson

So Alasdair Thompson put his foot in it. According to the NZ Herald, he said:

In a debate on gender pay equity, Mr Thompson said women deserved to be paid according to their productivity, just like men, and backed equal opportunity.But he said that among many factors affecting work, women could be more likely to put their careers on hold while having children and take more sick leave. He suggested once-a-month “sick problems” could be behind the days off.

The comments about the “once-a-month sick problems” seemed to have created the most outrage. A multitude of comments, from both sexes, generally decrying the comments seem to be the outcome. Which is understandable. I haven’t seen any evidence in my dealings with working with women, and even if there were, they would be impossible to separate from my “take time off to watch the football” days, which I doubt many women do.

But the problem is much worse in my opinion. It goes much further than a simple gender debate about pay equity.

Here’s a quick quiz to illustrate (try and answer honestly based on  your gut feeling):

  1. Person A works 40 hours a week at job XYZ. Person B works 35 hours a week at job XYZ. Should Person A get paid more?
  2. Person A works 40 hours a week at job XYZ. Person B also works 40 hours a week at job XYZ. Should they get paid the same?

Ah, the ol’ trick question survey!

Did you answer yes to both? Or did you go “this has got to be a trick”!

Ok, heres the same questions, with a twist:

  1. Person A works 40 hours a week at job XYZ. Person B works 35 hours a week at job XYZ. Person B has been the top producer at the company for several years. Should Person A get paid more?
  2. Person A works 40 hours a week at job XYZ. Person B also works 40 hours a week at job XYZ. Person A is a stand-out employee, highly productive and crucial to the companies success. Should they get paid the same?

The only difference is that the second survey actually includes a concept of productivity. The real problem, is that Alasdair Thompson and, judging by the comments I’ve seen, and my own experience, still equate productivity with hours spent at work. In my opinion, this is the attitude that needs to be tossed out. We should be outraged that people who are differently productive are treated the same.

But measuring productivity is hard, and probably even more controversial than gender pay differences. And so NZ continues to meander down the productivity stakes…

Alasdair Thompson