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Small rant / iPads
  Romm3l, May 06 2015

The question I have in this blog is what can you usefully do with an ipad? But first here's a simple model of how I see some things: You can broadly split activities you choose to engage in during your discretionary time into two crude categories.

- Activities that are immediately enjoyable and entertaining but don't lead to much longer term personal development or progression (or even hinder those things). E.g. playing computer games, marathoning tv shows, eating deep-fried fast food with sugary drinks.

- Activities that are more effortful, require more motivation, are not necessarily enjoyable in the present while you're doing them but which may lead to positive feelings of progression or accomplishment, and personal development towards goals, etc etc in the long term through their sustained engagement. E.g. reading/studying, exercising, helping others, cooking your own simple nutritious food at home using fresh seasonal ingredients.

The problem is always wanting to spend more of your time doing category2 activities (as your cold, rational system2 knows it should) and less of category1 (as your hot, animalistic system1 tempts you to do). I'm not close to being a rational utility maximiser who always does the most productive things with his time, but here are some ideas I've found useful for approaching this:

- Humans are forgetful creatures of habit and mindlessly follow whatever yields dopamine and whatever they are used to doing. When I do some category2 stuff I try to make a conscious effort to congratulate myself and mindfully notice the good feelings of accomplishment and progress I'm having. That way, next time I'm deciding whether I should read and make notes on a challenging/technical book or download some total crap tv show like game of tits, I can hopefully trick my hot system1 by telling it:

"hey remember that last time you effortfully concentrated on something and learned something new? Made connections to other things you know and improved your model of the world? Didn't that feel great?"
"Oh yes that did feel good, perhaps I should read more so I can get more of that good feeling!".

"Also do you remember that time you sat on your arse and rewatched some episodes of whatever show you liked? Didn't you feel like a loser for wasting all that time and lethargic for having spent that time motionless indoors?"
"Why yes I was pretty unhappy with myself for that! I better not do that now!".

- Even when I fail to do the above I try not to beat myself up too much but instead recognise and accept I'm not one of those supermotivated ultra-driven workaholic types that become CEOs and CFOs of fortune 500s, and you can't go from casual 10k funrunner to ultramarathons overnight. Unnecessary negativity and guilt doesn't help anyone.

- Precommitments are pretty effective. My family makes the conscious decision to not have a TV in our house. Since I've currently returned to study, deadlines, exams and the pressure to get a competitive job force me to continue working at a decent pace.

Now that I've finished with that little detour, this blog is about what you can do with an ipad. I wouldn't ever choose to buy one for myself - without ever having owned one I see them as a large smartphone that can't make calls but also can't do things that a regular laptop can do (proper multitasking, alt-tabbing separate windows, proper keyboard already go a long way in terms of productivity). I can see how it would be a 'neat' lifestyle gadget to have, but one danger is it would facilitate more time spent in addictive category1 activities at the cost of distraction from category2. Another thing is they're expensive and I'm all for trying to live a high quality life frugally (the easiest way to make yourself richer is to learn to live better on less money). However I have acquired this ipad for 'free'* so I am wondering how, if at all, I can put it to good use in order to enhance my quality of life. For ipad owners, what kind of things do you use it for that are worthwhile? So far my only idea is as a luxury e-reader / newspaper reader.

* while ipads' usefulness may be debatable if you are relatively young and know how to use computers, I believe they are one of the best gifts you can possibly give to members of the elder generation who didn't grow up with computers and don't necessarily care to learn but would like to have the advantages of modern communication and information access the internet brings in their life. I bought the ipad2 for in-laws a few years ago, and they liked it so much and use it so much that I thought it would be nice to upgrade them to the newer ipad air2. Now they have no more use for the old one, so I am going to see if i can find productive uses for it (if not I'll most likely give it away to other family/friends)

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Transitioning from Poker - my thoughts
  Romm3l, Mar 24 2015


I have noticed that threads here related to transitioning from playing poker as a primary means of income have garnered a lot of interest. I thought some may find it useful if I weigh in and share my own experiences and thoughts, and at the very least I'll benefit myself from organising my thoughts on the subject when I reflect and try to write them here.

Quick backstory
I dropped out of uni to play poker during the mid~2000 boom years. Did well at online hsnl and later hsplo, and managed to save a decent amt of what I earned such that I have ample financial breathing room. Quit poker in 2013 to restart uni from square one (undergrad economics). Targeting a career in investment management - fairly competitive and hard to get into so im not guaranteed anything, but my odds are looking ok currently having secured a relevant front-office internship at a major asset manager. Also got married and started a family.

Poker vs traditional careers
As we all know playing poker rewards luck and skill, and anyone can get into playing and will be guaranteed on average an equal share of luck in the long run, making skill the primary determining factor of expected outcomes. By contrast getting good jobs and working within an organisation may involve not just how well you can do the job but many other factors like how well your managers think you can do the job, your network and relationships, etc. Not to mention some barriers to entry: just getting the job in the first place is a job in itself, with interviews, assessments and competition from other applicants.

It's very easy to think of the situation with poker as better or fairer, especially when it's the situation that happens to favour you more (i.e. when you're playing poker). If we ignore these normative constraints and think only in terms of what gives you the best outcomes, I would argue it's not bad to have the other stuff.

Barriers to entry
It's an economic reality that a field with no barriers to entry and potential to profit will become crazy competitive over time such that profits get competed away (see: perfect competition model in econ 101, and a previous blogpost of mine where I look at the consequences applied to poker). Try winning at online nlhe cash today. Try trading goods on ebay. Try being a coder for hire on quora. Sure you can make some money doing all these things, but your economic profit (net of 'economic costs' which include the effort you put in and what this effort would have yielded if it was instead put into your second best use of time: your opportunity cost) is going to be very low because of the competition. Unless you manage to find some underproduced niche in these things, you are one of many commodity producers and your market price is going to get bid down to or below your economic cost.

A field with barriers to entry protects you from competition and lets you make more profit than one without - this is as true in the labour market as it is in business. Barriers to entry are no good for people outside those barriers, but are great for people inside them. Some barriers can be crossed with a lot of effort others may be unwilling or unable to put in. For initial entry into the job market, barriers to entering a good job may be your academics, extracurriculars, and quality of your educational institution. Later on in a career those barriers may be the unique and unreplicable skills, experience, relationships, credibility and reputation you've built up through your career. I want to highlight one 'barrier' that I personally underestimated or didn't know the importance of, but now think is a huge determinant of outcomes:

Social capital
Since the 'cognitive revolution' 75,000 years ago humans started to get bigger brains and use them for increasingly complex communication, coordination and innovation, allowing us to go from somewhere in the middle of the food chain to right at the very top, driving tons of much bigger, stronger, faster and scarier species to extinction. With the agricultural revolution 12,000 years ago the size of our communities and extent of our co-dependence took on another dimension. We are built to be social animals that gain from cooperation with community.

(online) Poker is probably one of the few ways to make a living that don't require any social skills and in my experience, just like with muscles and lifting, it can be a case with social skills of 'use it or lose it'. Unless you're a naturally social and likeable guy (like my good friend Quentin/mipwnya, who by the way is a beautiful man) it's possible that years of not having to use many social skills leads to atrophy in this area. Compounding the problem is the fact poker seems to disproportionately attract people who were slightly uncomfortable or awkward in social situations in the first place.

It turns out that in working for organisations, it's one of the most important skills you can have. An organisation is a large-scale coordination of many people with many different skillsets to produce profitable things that no single person could possibly do. Social capital is a vital part of performance within an organisation, and building networks relationships, reputation, trust and credibility is vital to even getting opportunities for interesting, well-paid work within good organisations. It also serves as a very strong barrier to entry in the market for good jobs, which is very very good for the people inside that barrier. If a natural conclusion of all this is that getting inside barriers to entry is a better idea than being a competitive commodity producer, building social capital might be an important thing to not overlook.

Closing thoughts on poker: Barriers to exit
I found as you get years deeper into a poker career, your (real as well as perceived) barriers to entry into other occupations increase. Your CV gap becomes bigger. You may not like returning to square one at an older age. Your social skills may atrophy more and it may become more and more out of your comfort zone to leave poker. You can get in a situation where as your set of alternative opportunities starts to close, you feel increasingly poker is one of the few only options. This creates (probably mostly perceived) barriers to exit from poker. While in reality you do have an alternative opportunity set you'd be comfortable with (many seem to be turning to coding, or have ideas of 'starting a business of some kind'), if we take the view to an extreme that poker/gambling is going to be your only lifetime income, then the associated observations should be pretty scary. If you are reliant on a source of income to sustain you for life that may not even be viable in 10 years, you need to be making, saving and investing very large income today to not run out of money in the future. Poker profitability trends are already not very much in your favour, from what I can see. I don't want to open a can of worms that iirc has been discussed to death in other threads, but continuing to play poker might not be a wise idea for long if you're not making a lot of money and it might be making transition more difficult the longer you stay in the game.

Closing thoughts on programming: putting the ideas together
I'll end with this as programming seems to be a popular transition choice judging from some comments. I suspect this is in part because it shares some characteristics of poker that may be appealing: no barriers-to-entry, performance more easily judged on what you can build so you might not have to get out of your comfort zone with this uncomfortable business of building social capital, and potentially an immediately gratifying feeling of solving puzzles. It can be a great road to go down, or a terrible one. Coding skills are very much in demand and will continue to be so indefinitely. However you’ll do much better if you create barriers to entry for yourself within coding than if you don’t. I’ll start with a story and extract generalisations:

Last summer I did an internship in equity research for a small independent boutique. They do proprietary quantitative investment analysis on global stocks and sell it to buy-side institutions who manage money on behalf of households, pension funds, sovereign wealth funds, etc, who pay pretty generously for the research. The subscriber section of the website (the main way clients interact with the product, unless they’re big clients in which case they get a more tailored service) is impressively coded and connects up to our data backend (result of analysis) to display results and lay everything out well. All of the coding and tech grunt-work is outsourced, mostly to various groups on quora at minimum cost relative to revenues. Those Indians, Brazilians and eastern-Europeans do a fine job building hard stuff (when told exactly what’s required of them and nothing is left to their ‘initiative’) that’s vital to the end-product, but receive a minimal share of compensation the research firm makes. The founder gets the lion share. Prior to starting the company he was a senior manager at a major American ‘bulge-bracket’ bank and so not only knows quite a lot about investment research but also has a large amount of credibility and contacts. This is why clients value his product highly and wouldn’t buy something put together by people they didn’t know or who didn’t have the same credibility/background.

While working with the founder I was able to deliver a pretty decent project that involved coding (in VBA/excel) which people on quora could not. I learned VBA/coding in a few weeks prior to beginning so my level is nothing like actual experienced programmers. However I added value where coders on quora couldn’t by combining a basic level of coding with a basic knowledge of finance/investing, social capital and initiative. Whereas hard-core coders on quora are useless without a very unambiguous specification of what the code needs to do, I could have lunches with the founder and talk (read: mostly learn from listening to him talk) investing, what he’s trying to do with the analysis and why. Then I’d implement it without needing to be told exactly with the code needs to do as I know in high-level terms what’s needed and can come up with my own ways to attack the problem. Here I also met another friend of the founder who used to work for a major bank but now just does VBA/excel solutions for a living. From his perspective it’s easy work and easy money that pays well, and people hire him over people they don’t know who could easily do the job because his networks and past experience in traditional jobs gives him credibility and contacts.

Generalisations: if you have social capital and can communicate effectively and build relationships with the organisation and people paying you to work, you’ll deliver better results and be more likely to be hired again than someone who doesn’t. If you can combine coding with another field, and view coding as just a tool you must learn to implement solutions that help deliver useful results in that other field, you’ll be much more useful and hireable than someone who is purely just a coder. Both of these are potentially profitable barriers to entry.

Closing thoughts on ‘starting a business of some kind’
For reasons mostly covered my gut feeling is this is a great idea at some point in life, but much more so after having been in traditional work for a good while first, and built experience, skills, social capital, networks and credibility. This will expand your opportunity set of potentially businesses to enter and allow you to find more profitable niches with larger barriers to entry. The opportunity set of potential businesses available to someone who has just quit poker and insists on remaining their own boss is much narrower and consists much more of things with no barriers to entry (with associated lower expected outcomes).

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Comments (19)

  Romm3l, Jan 26 2015

a quick thought experiment - might be interesting if you share my views. i would probably look down upon people who buy glossy magazines to keep up to date with salacious gossip and scandalous stories concerning what's happening in the personal lives of a-list celebrities. i might think of people who indulge in that kind of thing as vulgar proles. yet i might think nothing of people interested in poker who follow gossip concerning who is winning and losing big in the nosebleed games on hsdb, or stories of what's going down in macau. are these two things the same thing, and is there inconsistency in my views? or are they different and if so, why?

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