The Audacity of Slope

After a decade in real estate, I can safely say that right now, if you want to see the most creative buildings and structures in the world, you go to China.  It’s not Dubai.

On almost every trip, I’m left speechless by a building or structure that is breath-taking in its creativity and sheer audacity.

Let me present Exhibit H.  Nestled deep in the mountains west of Beijing, this serpentine structure is so large as to be visible, several zoom levels up on Google Earth.

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What is it?

This is none other than the longest waterslide in the world.  Made of some kind of welded metal, meant to be ridden on these bamboo rafts with no harnesses, and shooting through power transmission lines and what looks like a transformer, this slide starts 500 feet up.  At ground level, you can’t even see the beginning.  The edges of the slide look uneven and the contraption looks completely unsafe.

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The local story (in my mind: legend) is that the villagers ignored the authorities, who told them not to build it because it was unsafe, and they built it anyway.

I would like to nominate this ride for an award.

On another note, the sheer audacity and the mind-blowingness of this waterslide reminds me of the time I was in Changchun and stumbled on an AK-47 shooting attraction at a theme park, but that’s a story for another time.

China is in many ways a blank slate.  It’s a country that few outsiders understand.  Visiting it always leaves me in awe.  If you think you know China, you likely don’t.

Things I’ve Learned as a Consultant – Part II

  • As an extension of the last point of the last post, when you’re in professional services, whether banking, law, design, consulting, whatever, you’re trying to sell someone something that there are no physical results of. And sometimes, not even precedents. You’re saying ‘trust us’. So how do you build that trust? A brand goes a long way.
  • But having been on both sides of this — the salesman and the person doing the contracting/hiring, I believe the absolute best thing that will help you nail the pitch, without question, is a sample. Samples are the strongest test, for the simple fact that having something that addresses the requirements perfectly makes you impossible to ignore. This not only makes them know you are capable of doing the job, but that you’ve listened. It is a rare client that knows 100% exactly what he or she wants before the service has started, because as I’ve written in the previous post, clients engage you based on a dark nebula of capabilities they imagine you can do. In the beginning, it is important for them to know that you are responsive, that you can react to their feedback.
  • But I cannot stress this enough: “Let em test the product, give em a promo show/Just a breeze, not enough to catch a real vibe/Then we drop a maxi single and charge em two for five/Ain’t tryin to, kill em at first just, buildin clientele/So when the album drops the first weeks it’s gon’ sell” — Jay-Z (Rap Game/Crack Game)
  • The reason is that if you have a sample or a pitch that addresses their requirements, it will cause them anguish if they have to pick someone over you. It will cause them to justify their own metrics. You will be remembered.
  • If you are in a profession that does not allow you to provide a work sample, just be aware that a buyer of services, especially if they are purchasing a particular service for the first time, will latch onto other things (attribute substitution). For example, how polished of a speaker are you? Do you buckle under pressure? Do they like you? Do you have the proper gravitas? Are you older, do you have a few grey hairs? Many of them are unfair and irrelevant, but this is what happens, so it helps to be aware.
  • Related to that last point, there are people in the consulting business who dye their hair grey and wear glasses in order to appear older and more experienced. Just saying. When you’re a bright young person it’s easy to become disillusioned about this. But if you encounter this situation, it is better to step back. What is it really telling you? That as much as you think clients are paying for the actual insight, they’re paying for reassurance. They are buying the brand.
  • The higher your fee, and the longer you take, the higher the expectations of your client. They will grow. And grow. It is better to program in interim deliverables to anchor their expectations early and allow for feedback. This is as a result of differing perceptions of time between those in the flow of doing work, and those waiting for something.
  • But curiously, even if you are able to finish something ahead of schedule, having any extra time left leads to doubts. You’ll check and recheck your work. Due to Parkinson’s law, the project has a good chance of actually always ending up taking the amount of time allotted to it.
  • Everything is about good communication. It’s not just about having the facts or a superior product. You can have a superior product and still lose the pitch, you can have all the facts and insights but fail to engender understanding. And you can have titular authority in your firm, but fail in managing or marshaling the resources of the people under you. Good communication includes soft skills, connecting with people, speaking with enthusiasm, being authentic, etc.
  • Smaller clients are good because often you work directly with the person who is both the decision-maker and stakeholder in the service. But smaller clients have less to lose when they try to negotiate your fee — down — after you’ve already performed. They can also be demanding, and your interactions will be subject to the whims of the person buying your service, who is often the same person writing your check. Big clients will often have no problem paying you, but because the stakeholders, decision-makers, and people you are interacting with can be three different sets of people, the layers of hierarchy and management can lead to confusion, delays, conflicting directives, which ultimately means, more time spent on it and more work for you.
  • Since consulting is the business of selling brains, the necessary conclusion to this premise is that the better the brains perform within a given length of time, the more value you can capture, and the less costs you incur. Research has shown that cognitive thinking is a physiological process, meaning it’s another body function regulated by energy levels. Keep up your energy levels and you have the potential for longer periods of higher thought. Exercise, meditate, eat right. This cannot be stressed enough, and goes back to the athletic component of traveling for consulting.

Things I’ve Learned as a Consultant

  • As in any other job, being good at the job is a process, not an outcome. Pursuit of the frontiers of the field, a focus on incorporating new ideas, relentless introspection and feedback, hard work, and constant improvement of technical skills will help you stay ahead.
  • Identifying and improving the necessary technical skills was the easy part. Merely recognizing what the other necessary skills were, like salesmanship, self-discipline, introspection, hard work, was harder, and it was hard to miss that I didn’t even have them.
  • Consulting is a lifestyle choice. This is not only when it comes to travel, although that is a significant portion of it. The consulting lifestyle revolves around the project lifecycle. It starts with the pitch and sale, moves onto research and analysis, and concludes with presentation and feedback and iteration — with different required skills in each portion of the cycle.
  • When extensive travel is required across multiple time zones, being good contains a physical, athletic aspect to it as well. Maintaining clarity of thought, focus, and polished communication skills when I am physically in a meeting with a client while my biological clock is deep in an REM cycle, is as physically demanding as being in minute 32 of an intensive Muay Thai workout.
  • There is another, longer cycle, which is the lifecycle of a consultant himself or herself. As an entry-level person, you are primarily engaged in research, analysis, report preparation. As you progress out of the back office (figuratively speaking) and into more of a client-facing role, you are called on to do more meetings, pitches, presentations, face-to-face communications with the client. Before you know it, your job is no longer research and analysis; it turns into that of a representative, salesman, and manager of the younger versions of you. As with the project-cycle, different skills are required at different points in the cycle.
  • There are several things about the nature of the job itself. First, a consultant is a paid outsider, so that no matter how convincing you are, nor how much you know, you have no inherent power to actually implement your ideas. Clients can and will ignore your advice. This can be demoralizing.
  • Another important thing about the nature of the job itself is that that you’re in the business of selling time — your time, which is finite. Consulting is the business of selling your capabilities to achieve a recommendation, insight, or strategy, which in itself is the product of human minds working in real-time. If that sounds vague, that’s because it is. And because what you’re selling is so undefined, there is naturally a huge variability to it, regarding both the actual product and your client’s expectations. Managing both of these things becomes a huge drain on resources and time. Clients will, almost as a rule, demand that you do anything and everything for them that they’ve seen you do, read about you doing, heard about you doing, and imagine that you can do.
  • Because of this variability (also known as customization), scaling a consulting practice is difficult. Consulting is the business of leasing a limited portion of human brainpower for a limited period of time to accomplish a task. Unless the human brains in your employ can be programmed to think faster and more effectively at the same time, increasing the productivity of the fundamental resource (brains) has natural limits.
  • But scaling can be done, and in order to do so, the metric that I find natural and easy to focus on is the implied professional fee that is being charged to the client. This can be done in almost any service industry: think about what you’re charging the client in terms of an implied per hour cost. Take your fee and divide it by the number of hours you or your people will work. Whether it is $100, $200, $500, $1000+, the principle is the same.
  • If you want to scale and grow, you need to ruthlessly outsource tasks that can be performed at an equivalent level to those with the lowest rate. If your rate is $500/hour, does it make sense for you to be doing document preparation or formatting that you can pay $15 to $20/hour for? Or even to be maintaining a model yourself? The argument to this is that by removing yourself from the work, the overall work will lose quality. As a thought experiment, does a film lose quality because a director is not doing the cinematography or acting himself? This is a big problem in small consulting companies where everyone is expected to do everything. My experience has suggested to me that this is immensely inefficient.
  • Merely going through this exercise will force you to develop systems, templates, methods, and training, which will increase the productivity of the entire team. Another issue at play here is the sheer economics of batch tasking and the costs of switching. Switching tasks incurs mental and thus temporal costs. Even if, theoretically, there were a ‘superstar’ consultant who could do each of 5 individual tasks at a superior rate than anyone else in the organization, this person may still be slower to complete the entire ‘set’ of tasks than 5 different people specializing in those tasks, because of the switching costs.
  • This is the kind of issue you deal with as you make the transition from entry-level positions to higher ones, and you’ll have to abandon old habits and gain new ones. This is the kind of struggle you experience at any professional services firm. Where you go from being a person who produces work, to the one who guides and oversees it, and then finally who ‘manages’ and sells it. You remove yourself from the work that you were originally hired to do, and you need to develop new skills to adapt.
  • It may very well be the case that you are content with the level of sales and work-to-reward ratio you are experiencing. Then none of this applies. But in a changing world, stagnation is by definition a regression. To even keep up, we must keep growing and optimizing.
  • More on people — who as brain-carriers, are a consulting firm’s primary asset, as the saying goes. Programmers talk about the 10x programmer, and to a certain extent I believe this is true of people in any service-oriented industry. Performance conforms to a distribution with fat tails on either end. 80% of the people are in the middle, which does not imply mediocre. It just means everyone is clustered there. Then there are the 1–5% who are outliers in either direction. Alternatively, if you think about the 80/20 rule, it is saying that a sufficing level of work, the 80%, is easy to achieve. This is the equivalent to getting a solid B in a bell-curve weighted class. I hated this system in college, by the way. But the 20% is the spread field, where you distinguish yourself from others. It’s a wide open field. 20% is the details, and this is where people differentiate themselves by adding more value than others.
  • Think of it this way. Say you hire a painter to paint your walls. Both cover the walls in paint, but one of them pays attention to the details. He covers your existing furniture, he pays attention to the finishes, making sure the edges and corners are perfect, nothing is smudged, no glue is on the ground, nothing has been broken, making sure there is absolutely no blemish anywhere, everywhere. Conscientiousness and care go a long way in differentiating yourself from the pack. To use a consulting example, at the analyst level, this would be someone who works faster and harder than others, builds new frameworks and approaches, even while paying attention to formatting and presentation, to typos, wording, someone who builds models that can be easily followed by others, someone who integrates frameworks located across different sources, someone who doesn’t hard-code inputs in Excel, etc.
  • All of the above is in the name of widening the gap between implied hours charged for, and hours actually worked. The other way to do this, obviously, is by increasing the number of implied hours charged for; i.e. charging more. The easiest thing to envision, in theory, is the hardest to pull off, and this is to develop a truly unique skill. A moat skill, a monopoly skill, one that no one else has. As in the story of the repairman and the hammer. When you develop a skill like this, you can charge whatever you want. But this is incredibly difficult to do.
  • The more realistic thing that can be done is develop a brand and a reputation for good work. A brand is something that does marketing for you even while you sleep. A brand helps you charge more for work of an equivalent quality, because in consulting, the hardest thing to realize is that people are not buying the service itself — they are buying the reassurance. This is why lawyers can get paid even when there is a risk of losing, and consultants can get paid when there is the clear possibility of finding nothing new. This relates back to the old saying that consultants are in the business of using the client’s watch and getting paid to tell them what time it is. But people hire them anyway.

Zombies

When you mention anything to him, he waves it off dismissively.  You talk about what the young people are doing.  He scoffs.  He watches Bitcoin prices obsessively – in hopes that it will fall – and vindicate his preconceived notions about it.

It’s hard to hold a conversation with him, because he sits with his arms crossed, leaning back from you in a fortress of resistance, and interrupts every few seconds.  Squinting.

He has worked a long time, a long, long time, sacrificing time with family and friends, might be on his second or third wife, and most of all – has waited.  In his waiting, he has soothed himself from vicious bosses, midnight revisions, 20-hour flights, drudgery, and the career voyeurism of former colleagues making it big – or busting, with one simple mantra.  Which was that he was on the right path.  That all he had to do was stick around, avoid conflict, and he would rise in the ranks.  Meaningfulness, in his job, has been lost decades ago.  Chaos at home, disrespect and slights, politics – against all these things he’s sought solace at work.  And has found it.

And most likely, he’s been lucky.  Lucky to survive recessions, lucky his firm was either an indirect beneficiary of the tax code or secret bailouts, and most of all, lucky to have chosen this firm, which had been a toss-up at the time.  He is lucky that the way roles and responsibilities have been divided at the firm, have likely inflated his accomplishments and hidden his failures.  He is lucky that the company has such a strong culture that likely if he does not exist, the firm would do just as well.  But he does not believe in such things as luck.

By his will and determination alone, he has made it.  He’s a partner, director, C-suite exec, producer, whatever.  And now, the decades of self-soothing and justification have paid off, and because it’s no longer necessary, he has let the motivational rafters, break.

And thus other things have broken.

He is impatient, he does not listen past a few sentences.  He listens and reads only things that confirm his worldview and soothe him.  Things are put neatly into binary categories, the simplest of which is good and bad, useful and worthless – especially when it comes to people.  In the decades he has spent supporting his fragile, illusory motivations, his logic has turned to cobwebs.  His empathy does not exist.  His ability to listen is gone.  He knows everything already, does not need to change himself, his diet, his friends, his opinions, anything.

He knows everything.  He is already dead.

Kids, don’t be like these men.

RE Voyeurism: Koh Samui Edition

When I was on Samui a few months for a project, I did a little “side”-seeing at some villa projects around the island.  Overall, with average prices in the nice areas at about ~$200/sf, I was seriously considering a purchase for a while.

What drew me to this particular project was the view.  The pictures don’t do it justice; when you’re in the villa and looking out over this Chaweng Hills vista, you feel like you’re flying.  I would like to know where in the world you can get this combination of a) this hill + beach view, b) located in a relatively urban area with most conveniences nearby (e.g. Tesco), c) in a growing tourism market, d) luxury build, e) listed at less than $1m.

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The Asset:

  • 3br villa at the Verano Residences (1 left in Phase II) as of November 2017.
  • 760 sqm of land, 340 total built area – 180 sqm indoor, 160 sqm outdoor (patio, balconies, terraces, pool).
  • Villa situated 100+(?) feet above Chaweng district in eastern Samui.
  • Price is 18.7m THB for villa only, 19.7m THB with furniture included. This is less expensive than many 3br developments in Samui, given its land plot size and views.

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Verdict:

A very, very reluctant monitor.  With an expected return of around 5-7%, I would classify this as a vacation property rather than an investment.  If we categorize it as a vacation property, ~$600,000 is a little too much for us for right now to plunk down in cash.

Actually, once I have the cash I’d rather develop my own villa and save about 30% on the overall price.  Most developers/contractors I talked to on the island noted that luxury villas can be built for about 10m THB.  Add that to land in similar locations going for 3-6m THB, and the better play is to live on the island for a year while managing the construction 🙂

Rationale:

  • Yield – yield is uncertain.  Little evidence of yields being in double-digits unless oceanfront.  Asset is fairly priced, but a 6% yield doesn’t compensate for currency and geopolitical risks and the ever-present risk of coups or other political instability in Thailand that keep people away.  Also, the airport is a privately-owned single runway.As a note, the pro forma that the developer sent to me illustrates 10-15%.  I think it may be a little high given the assumptions he uses of between $330-$700/night.  Airbnb is showing rates of at least 30-40% less for similarly-sized units and I discounted it somewhat.  There is also a long history on the island of buyers being promised double-digit yields and ending up with ones in the 6-8% range – the most notorious being the Aqua development, which is nearby, although it doesn’t have nearly the awesomeness in view or finishings.The yield is nothing to sneeze at, but you can get this yield in US SFRs in mid-size cities for much less risk, much less capital, and I can at least leverage it.My estimate may be way off, but I think even 10% isn’t enough to compensate for the various risks, especially if the point below is true.
  • Cap gains – Appreciation potential is uncertain.  Little evidence that price/sqm has risen much over the past 10 years.  Some of this may be because Samui also went through the 2007-2009 bust, but still.See below for an excerpt from decade-old newsletter from Berkeley Investment Advisors (red annotations are mine):
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  • Supply – Continuing supply that does not seem to have a natural limit.  Lots of land sales.  Although as a positive, premium product is being priced HIGHER than the target.  The big one will be Anamaya, which is directly on the coast and at a lower elevation, but right next to the beach.
  • Demand – Tourism is growing at double-digit rates per year.  No broker could or would give me an estimate of how many villas are sold per year, but I’d estimate an estimated 20-50 3BR sell per year on the island based on the absorption of the big projects.Samui is on the cusp of becoming a lot bigger.  With less than 3 million visitors it’s still on the under-visited side, compared to destinations like Bali/Phuket, but a growing blip on the radar – bigger than places like Boracay or Ko Phi Phi.  The Ritz, Holiday Inn, and Sofitel are entering the market next year..Picture3.png
  • Intangibles – Views are unparalleled for the price.  For ocean/island views with decent infrastructure and fairly urban locations (Bali, Honolulu, Malibu, Phuket, etc.), mid-$500k price leans towards a bargain.  Location in Chaweng Hills, one of the premium locations on the island.

Here’s a gratuitous picture again of the view.  Yes, that bathtub is on the balcony.

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sigh.

Great Life (& Investing) Lessons/Reminders from Dune

It embarrasses me somewhat that it took me so long to read this masterpiece by Frank Herbert.  Without a doubt, one of the most fully-imagined and creative sci-fi worlds I’ve ever had the pleasure to visit.  And written first in the mid-1960s!  Undoubtedly the entire scifi canon that came after it owes it a debt.

Also, the influences on Star Wars storylines, which came after it, are almost too obvious.  Takes the latter down a notch for me.

Paul sensed his own tensions, decided to practice one of the mind-body lessons his mother had taught him. Three quick breaths triggered the responses: he fell into the floating awareness… focusing the consciousness… aortal dilation… avoiding the unfocused mechanism of consciousness… to be conscious by choice… blood enriched and swift-flooding the overload regions… one does not obtain food-safety-freedom by instinct alone… animal consciousness does not extend beyond the given moment nor into the idea that its victims may become extinct… the animal destroys and does not produce… animal pleasures remain close to sensation levels and avoid the perceptual… the human requires a background grid through which to see his universe… focused consciousness by choice, this forms your grid… bodily integrity follows nerve-blood flow according to the deepest awareness of cell needs… all things/ cells/ beings are impermanent… strive for flow-permanence within…. Over and over and over within Paul’s floating awareness the lesson rolled.
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I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
These passages are one of the best arguments for, and descriptions of, meditation and mindfulness I’ve ever read.  The mind’s ability to tame itself and the body is one of our species’ superpowers.
Once, men turned their thinking over to machines in the hope that this would set them free. But that only permitted other men with machines to enslave them.
This could not be more relevant today.  Self-sufficiency of thought, thinking from first principles, will always be in demand.
Also, those who do not have the discipline or fortitude to think for themselves will be subjugated by others who do.
Very well: ‘That which submits rules…The willow submits to the wind and prospers until one day it is many willows—a wall against the wind. This is the willow’s purpose.
Don’t fight inexorable forces, whether it’s nature or the markets or whatever else.
Think you of the fact that a deaf person cannot hear. Then, what deafness may we not all possess? What senses do we lack that we cannot see and cannot hear another world all around us? What is there around us that we cannot—’”
It is 100% true that our conscious minds miss almost everything as it processes reality through a series of filters.
The mind commands the body and it obeys. The mind orders itself and meets resistance.
the proximity of a desirable thing tempts one to overindulgence. On that path lies danger.
Balance in all things.  Maintain discipline in all circumstances.
Greatness is a transitory experience. It is never consistent. It depends in part upon the myth-making imagination of humankind. The person who experiences greatness must have a feeling for the myth he is in. He must reflect what is projected upon him. And he must have a strong sense of the sardonic. This is what uncouples him from belief in his own pretensions. The sardonic is all that permits him to move within himself. Without this quality, even occasional greatness will destroy a man.
Be humble.  Always.
“Most educated people know that the worst potential competition for any young organism can come from its own kind.”
Internecine and intra-group struggles are often more vicious and insidious than inter-group ones.
“Growth is limited by that necessity which is present in the least amount. And, naturally, the least favorable condition controls the growth rate.”
Look for bottlenecks, in processes or organizations or resources.  This is a meaningful heuristic to approach any analysis.
that polish comes from the cities, wisdom from the desert.
Do you wrestle with dreams? Do you contend with shadows? Do you move in a kind of sleep? Time has slipped away. Your life is stolen. You tarried with trifles, Victim of your folly.
Always try to see reality for what it is, rather  than what you would like or fear it to be.
“Mood’s a thing for cattle or for making love. You fight when the necessity arises, no matter your mood.”
Discipline in all matters.
Muad’Dib could indeed see the Future, but you must understand the limits of this power. Think of sight. You have eyes, yet cannot see without light. If you are on the floor of a valley, you cannot see beyond your valley. Just so, Muad’Dib could not always choose to look across the mysterious terrain. He tells us that a single obscure decision of prophecy, perhaps the choice of one word over another, could change the entire aspect of the future. He tells us “The vision of time is broad, but when you pass through it, time becomes a narrow door.” And always, he fought the temptation to choose a clear, safe course, warning “That path leads ever down into stagnation.”
We came from Caladan—a paradise world for our form of life. There existed no need on Caladan to build a physical paradise or a paradise of the mind—we could see the actuality all around us. And the price we paid was the price men have always paid for achieving a paradise in this life—we went soft, we lost our edge.
Beware of paradises and complacency.
Keep in mind, though, that we need control only three per cent of the energy surface—only three per cent—to tip the entire structure over into our self-sustaining system.
This recalls the fact that seawater is less than 5% salt, and that the actual percentage that makes a system ‘tip’ is about 10%.  Often the characteristic that defines or moves an entire system is in the superminority!
Then, as his planet killed him, it occurred to Kynes that his father and all the other scientists were wrong, that the most persistent principles of the universe were accident and error.
The Fremen were supreme in that quality the ancients called “spannungsbogen”—which is the self-imposed delay between desire for a thing and the act of reaching out to grasp that thing.
A leader, you see, is one of the things that distinguishes a mob from a people. He maintains the level of individuals. Too few individuals, and a people reverts to a mob.
“When your opponent fears you, then’s the moment when you give the fear its own rein, give it the time to work on him. Let it become terror. The terrified man fights himself. Eventually, he attacks in desperation. That is the most dangerous moment, but the terrified man can be trusted usually to make a fatal mistake. You are being trained here to detect these mistakes and use them.”
Fear does not only kill minds.
The concept of progress acts as a protective mechanism to shield us from the terrors of the future.
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Deep in the human unconscious is a pervasive need for a logical universe that makes sense. But the real universe is always one step beyond logic.
Narrative fallacy and a teleological view of history are related; how we understand ourselves and the universe are on the basis of stories.  Indeed this may be how we understand everything.
“I would take them in small groups, not larger than platoon strength,” Hawat said. “I’d remove them from their oppressive situation and isolate them with a training cadre of people who understood their background, preferably people who had preceded them from the same oppressive situation. Then I’d fill them with the mystique that their planet had really been a secret training ground to produce just such superior beings as themselves. And all the while, I’d show them what such superior beings could earn: rich living, beautiful women, fine mansions… whatever they desired.”
A great tactic of recruiting to breed mindless and fanatical followers, whether the Ottomans and the Mamluks, or investment banks from the Ivy Leagues.
Yet, it is possible to see peril in the finding of ultimate perfection. It is clear that the ultimate pattern contains its own fixity. In such perfection, all things move toward death.
Great expression for antifragility.
When law and duty are one, united by religion, you never become fully conscious, fully aware of yourself. You are always a little less than an individual.
This is what makes theocracies extremely strong, whether in the past or in the present day.  This is also what makes high performing teams extremely strong.  When the individual disappears, the group is indomitable.
“They’ve lost the initiative, which means they’ve lost the war.”
This doesn’t mean always to take action, as waiting itself is a kind of action.  It points only to the necessity of being alert and aware.
A sum of decisions had accumulated in his awareness.
This is a great pithy phrase for what I’ve often longed to express an
How often it is that the angry man rages denial of what his inner self is telling him.
Anger, fear, emotions cloud our judgement.
Time could be made to serve the mind. One concentrated the entire attention.
The way it is made to serve the mind is nothing more than taking the time and effort to concentrate and focus, and that is the way great things are accomplished.
“It’s been so long since guerrillas were effective that the mighty have forgotten how to fight them,”
Be a student of history.
“The power to destroy a thing is the absolute control over it. You’ve agreed I have that power. We are not here to discuss or to negotiate or to compromise.
You cannot win against people who have less to lose than you.  The side that has a lower BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement) has the upper hand in a negotiation.
They’re accustomed to seeing the future, Paul thought. In this place and time they’re blind… even as I am.
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“Expect only what happens in the fight. That way you’ll never be surprised.”
Do not expect anything to happen, this is a basis for fallacies, mistakes, error.  Those who live constantly in the future or who are certain, are prone to disappointment, denial, paralysis when something serves to challenge their worldview.
“There will be flowing water here open to the sky and green oases rich with good things. But we have the spice to think of, too. Thus, there will always be desert on Arrakis… and fierce winds, and trials to toughen a man. We Fremen have a saying: ‘God created Arrakis to train the faithful.’ One cannot go against the word of God.”
Do not try to create utopias, accept the struggle.  The Way is through the struggle.  It is worthwhile to even artificially create hardship in your life.  When dynasties, families, organizations forget where they came from, that is usually the beginning of the decline.

RE Voyeurism: Ellui City, Seoul Edition

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Officetels are residential/commercial zoned mini-apartments in Korea.  This one happened to be in my neighborhood, which has great location characteristics:

  • Next to Lotte World Tower, the 5th tallest building in the world and tallest in Korea.  The combination of this, the Lotte World Mall, Lotte World Department Store, and Lotte World (1 of 2 largest theme parks in Korea) within Instagramming distance of the project puts it in one of the most trafficked tourism areas in Seoul.
  • Next to Samsung SDS, National Pension Service (Korea’s SWF), Coupang, other large employers besides Lotte, who owns the subdistrict.
  • Next to 2 existing subway stops, with construction happening on a 3rd gives it premium access.

The location can’t get better for a residential district in South Seoul.  Office-adjacency wise, you can probably find better around Gangnam Station proper and the Samseong (Trade Tower) areas, but Jamsil is a rising office subdistrict.

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Return characteristics are a bit flimsy for foreigners though:

  • Smallest units are ~170 SF, and go for 195m KRW, which is more or less $180k.  Foreigners will pay an acquisitions tax on top of this.
  • Payment structure is 10% down, 60% over a 2-year construction period, with the remainder due at the end.
  • Residents only can qualify for a interest free loan for the 60%, during the construction period, which converts in a permanent IO loan @ 3% after delivery.
  • Rents forecasted at about 750k KRW, with a 10m KRW deposit.  You are reading that right, welcome to the Korean lease system.
  • Returns for domestics would thus be around ~8% on equity.  For foreigners, according to my calculations, maybe 3-4% at full occupancy.
  • They claim that actual market prices for this type are about 240m, so you would instantly have some cap gains at delivery.

Verdict: worth a look but pass.  I like the product type; Korea faces the same demographic issues as Japan – lots of singles who marry (if ever) at older ages – and the product type is amenable to AirBnB’ing.  The numbers more or less check out, but the lack of financing makes it not so good for me.  Also, KRW/USD is not particularly cheap ATM.

Also didn’t like the shifty typical RE-agent ways of the sales team.  An agent initially told me it was a 100m KRW sales price when I was passing by him on my bike, then the actual price turned out to be 2x.  Also claimed it was only 50% sold but then when we looked at the units, only 3 of the 10+ floors are still available.  Also, the closer guy they brought in to try to pressure us had these smoke-stained lips and kept leaning in with cigarette breath.  He looked disinterested the whole time.