Moontower #38


It’s the official start of holiday season. I thought this would be a good time to share some of my favorite finds from 2019 including a gift guide in advance of Cyber Monday.

Moontower Gift Guide

Everything in this list is something I have gotten great use out of and found to be reliable. Several of them have been secret Santa gifts I’ve been given. You can’t go wrong buying them for your white elephant exchange or jumping on them if someone else brings it to the party.

1. A car jump starter. I have a VicTsing model (link)

  • Doubles as a high capacity power bank
  • I keep this in my car and have used it many times to give myself a jump without anyone’s help as well as used it to help other motorists. It’s a quicker, easier process than putting 2 cars nose to nose.

2. A 12v/120v power inflator. There are many types to choose from. I have this Bonaire model (link)

  • Set target tire pressure and hit ‘go’. It auto shuts off when the tire is filled. The best part — a digital guage.
  • Comes with regular 120v power cord and the 12v that plugs into your car’s ashtray. I had to use that one on Friday actually.
  • Comes with multiple needles for filling basketballs or bike tires.

3. Asus ZenScreen. My laptop has a 13″ screen but the ZenScreen connect via USB to give you another monitor. (Link)

  • Draws power from your laptop so no need for a separate power supply
  • The included case acts as a stand allowing you position the monitor horizontally or vertically

4. Youtube Premium (Link)

  • I watch more Youtube than I do TV. If you have the same habit, it’s worth the monthly subscription to get rid of the ads. I started paying for it this year and I’m happier for it.

5. Youtube TV (Link)

  • If you are thinking about cutting the cord, I just wanted to share our solution. We switched to Youtube TV in January and we have been happy. It has all the channels we want and there is no lag when you change channel. The lag was always a pet peeve from our Comcast setup. The quality is good and we are saving a little bit of money.

6. Shady Rays Sunglasses (Link)

  • I like their aviator styles. I wrote this summer: I ordered some Aviator style sunglasses from Shady Rays. They are about $60 bucks. If you break or LOSE the glasses up to 2 times they will send you a new pair for the cost of shipping. 

7. A massage gun. I got a Hypervolt (Link)

  • For the person who likes when the masseuse karate chops their back rapidly Street Fighter II- style. They are pricey but if that therapy is your jam, these guns are pretty awesome. Get your kids or partner to do your back. You can do your legs, IT band, etc yourself. There’s 3 intensity settings and it lasts several hours from a single charge.
  • I actually got a knockoff from China for a fraction of the price and it works perfectly. If you are interested and in the Bay Area hit me up and I might be able to help.

8. “Demonslayer” sake (Link)

  • At $50 a bottle this is a treat but it’s very smooth junmai daiginjo. I mentioned a bit about sake from my trip to Japan. (Link)

9. Most practical stocking stuffer

  • White Wizard Spot Remover (Link). We give this to everyone. Takes blood out of white sheets. If you have kids you keep this stuff in a holster. I have no idea if it’s destroying the environment but it’s so good I assume I’m being evil.

10. Games

Boardgames I started playing this year with my 6-year old:

  • Evolution — The Beginning: I wrote about it here
  • Forbidden Island (Link): Simple and fun coop game by the same game designer who brought you Pandemic. The game gets kids to work together and while the replayability for adults is limited there is enough variation in board layout and characters to keep kids engaged. Take about 30 minutes to play and requires no more reading than identifying the names of regions.
  • The Magic Labyrinth (Link): By far the best version of a memory game our household has ever played, No reading required and adults and kids are on equal footing since the game is about trying to remember you and others’ footsteps through a maze with invisible walls. This game was a big hit around here and is one of our favorites to gift since its fun and has few rules to learn.

Boardgames for 10 and up:

  • Settlers of Catan (Link): This was the gateway game that got us into European boardgames 11 years ago. Putting it here because we recently re-discovered it when I took a chance and taught it to Zak. Honestly, unless you are used to playing games for hours it might be a reach for age 6 but I’d feel very comfortable teaching it to an 8-year-old. Teaching someone the rules is the most painful part, but I have yet to meet anyone who did not enjoy playing. Even non-gamers. It’s a gateway game for a reason. While its conflict is economic like Monopoly, it feels less punitive and the entire design is one of the most elegant I’ve seen. Dusting it off was like seeing an old friend and wondering why you let it take so long to connect.
  • Decrypto (Link): A party game like Codenames. Both games are great for teams and so many ages. As word games go Codenames and Balderdash are hall of famers but Decrypto is an instant classic we started playing last Christmas.
  • Acquire (Link): I’m putting this game here even though it’s several generations old. It’s a classic game of M&A and stock ownership using the hotel industry as the theme. Many Moontower readers are finance pros so might appreciate the rec if they didn’t know about it already. It’s in a sweet spot of complexity and has clever market-driven dynamics.
  • A general tip: normal people don’t like reading rule books. Learning rules is best done via Youtube videos. Just search for a tutorial of the game you are interested in and use the rulebook as a reference. If you need even deeper rule clarifications I’m 99% confident any question you can think of is covered in relevant BGG forum.

Video Game

  • We just discovered Portal : Bridge Constructor (Link). Available on many platforms including iOS and Android. We are playing it via Xbox Game Pass which has 3 months for a $1 intro rate which gives you access to tons of free games. If you liked Lemmings growing up you will dig this game. The whole house is addicted to structural engineering principles now.

11. Finally, a rec I received from Twitter — Storyworth memoirs (Link)

  • Our knowledge of our parents before we are born is very limited. If you have ever asked them to recount their stories, you may have left the conversation wishing it was written down. And that’s just for the stuff they thought of when they were on the spot or during that evening around the table. Storyworth is a service which prompts them every day with a question that they answer and at the end of the year you can get physical and/or digital copies. I’m sure the efficacy of this depends a lot on your parent’s bandwidth, willingness, and literacy but I thought the concept was worth surfacing here. I actually think they should have a version for family recipes!

Please share your recommendations and I’ll include them in next week’s Moontower!

My Favorite Newsletters 

I started writing Moontower as a way to recycle a lot of content I have found interesting and hopefully adding an extra layer of value either via curation or commentary. I’ve discussed my consumption habits before…as news goes I only read the local stuff. Basically Bay Area. This is a random firehose of info of course and mostly filled with clickbait about real estate, crime, and who’s leaving SF.

For everything else I read there is at least some level of curation — the content must come from Feedly (curated RSS reader) or social media (Twitter where I curate who I follow, or Slack groups that I subscribe to). This year, the newsletter has been a 3rd curated source. Some are more like blogs and some are just links or “Best of Lists”. But mostly they feel like a substitute for some segment of the blogging/RSS world. I subscribe to about 25 newsletters, some are weekly some are monthly. Here are my favorites:

Rad Reads by Khe Hy (Twitter) (Subscribe)
Monday Musings by Dave Perell (Twitter) (Subscribe)
Best of Twitter by Alexey Guzey (Twitter) (Subscribe)
Sketchplanations by Jono Hey (Twitter) (Subscribe)
The Knife Fight by Brent Beshore (Twitter) (Subscribe)
The Balance by Brian Mahoney (Twitter) (Subscribe)
The Weekend Reader by Maxwell Anderson (Twitter) (Subscribe)
A Berg’s Eye View by Erik Berg (Twitter) (Subscribe)


The Interesting Times by Taylor Pearson (Twitter) (Subscribe)
The Rabbit Hole by Blas Moros (Twitter) (Subscribe)
Convexity Maven by Harley Bassman (Subscribe)
Book Club by Patrick O’Shaughnessey (Twitter) (Subscribe)

Please share your recommendations and I’ll include them in next week’s Moontower!

Productivity Tools
1. My history of note-taking apps went like this:

  1. Sending myself emails
  2. Google Keep
  3. Google Docs
  4. Evernote
  5. Evernote + Trello

Then in Dec 2018, I moved my entire workflow into Notion. A process that took about 20 hours to re-categorize and file. But I’d confidently say my premium subscription to Notion has been the single best purchase of 2019. In fact, my Notion workflow made me think a Moontower email was operationally doable. If you are curious about Notion you can check out this video of how I use it. The video is from May and I’ve expanded a great deal from then but it gives you the gist. I recommend watching the video at 1.5x speed and it’ll be over in 10 minutes. If you are interested in using Notion I’m happy to point you to the best ways to get acquainted with it.

2. Otter.AI

Uses AI to transcribe conversations between multiple people, which is a different league than transcribing a single speaker. It’s not perfect but damn impressive plus it does a great job auto-tagging content and inserting handy timestamps in the output. You get 10 free hours of transcription per month. To transcribe a podcast, play it through a speaker and simply press record on the Otter app..

The Money Angle

Let’s test your portfolio math intuition

  • Your current portfolio has 5% return and 15% volatility for a Sharpe ratio of .33
  • You want to allocate 10% of your portfolio to a prospective asset
  • You want to maximize the Sharpe ratio of the resulting portfolio

Choose between A1 and A2

Turns out a 10% allocation to either portfolio improves the Sharpe ratio by the same amount despite A2 having nearly 6x the risk.


More Intuition Tests

I pulled these lessons from an excellent paper by Bridge Alternatives. I re-factored the paper here but the original link is included for the math wonks. It’s hard to overstate the impact of correlation when constructing a portfolio. This paper will make you question your understanding of diversification.

Thanks to Joe for bringing this paper to my attention.

Climb Higher

Here’s a list of quotes I have kept on the front page of my Notion dashboard in 2019.

On Motivation

  • “Training is the opposite of hoping” — unknown
  • “If you never fail, you’re only trying things that are too easy and playing far below your level.” — paraphrase
  • “If you don’t get what you want, you either didn’t really want it, or you tried to negotiate over the price” — Kipling
  • “The ratio of time you spend sweating to watching others sweat is a forward-looking indicator of your success.” — Scott Galloway
  • “Is my motivation for X from inspiration or insecurity?” — paraphrased via Sam Andrew

Business and Communication

  • “When something becomes a commodity, there will be concentration. Hell, Samsung makes flat screens for Sony because the margins are so bad.” — Bob Lefetz
  • “You don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate” — Chester L. Carass
  • “Do not confuse contracts for power” — Naval Ravikant
  • “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – George Bernard Shaw


  • “I am not thinking of those shining precepts which are the registered property of every school; that is to say — learn as much by writing as by reading; be not content with the best book; seek sidelights from the others; have no favourites; keep men and things apart; guard against the prestige of great names; see that your judgments are your own; and do not shrink from disagreement; no trusting without testing; be more severe to ideas than to actions; do not overlook the strength of the bad cause of the weakness of the good; never be surprised by the crumbling of an idol or the disclosure of a skeleton; judge talent at its best and character at its worst; suspect power more than vice, and study problems in preference to periods.” – Lord Acton
  • “Mind is so powerful as evidenced by placebo effect. The link between expectations and beliefs is astounding” — Dan Ariely
  • “A good filter reduces the chain of coin flips you must win before you reach your goal” — paraphrase
  • “I never want to get caught flat” – my friend Ollie who trades his own money and has a legendary appetite for risk
  • “Curiosity is antifragile, like an addiction, and is magnified by attempts to satisfy it” – Nassim Taleb

Last Call

  • Morgan Housel’s Three Big Things: The Most Important Forces Shaping the World (link with highlights)
  • Bloomberg Beta is a fund backed by Bloomberg which invests in technologies that are specifically influencing the future of work. Their operating manual and FAQ is full of insight and context. If you manage a business it’s helpful to see what investors are betting the future of workflow and connectivity will look like. Don’t let its github homepage scare you off. (Link)
  • Costco is a clever, non-straightforward business model. It is widely studied because of how counterintuitive their practices are from their limitations on profits, generous pay, membership float, and merchandising strategy. One of my own takeaways from reading this is a maneuver recognizable to anyone who has played Power Grid (aside: I could make the case that playing this game should earn you a semester of MBA credit) — sandbagging. When you are a market leader, everyone guns for you. Costco sandbags by hiding their profits in their customers’ pocket. The market can be slow to understand that since the profit doesn’t show up in an income statement. But that says more about the limitations of accounting than it does about Costco’s business. The surplus they return to customers is a forward asset and has major sandbagging advantages — it’s invisible to competitors and the IRS. To see how they do this check out breakdown from Masterinvest. (Link)
  • Our kids are sugar fiends this time of year. We asked Yinh’s brother how tooth decay works. Not quite what I thought: It’s more important to watch the frequency of eating sugar vs quantity. Every time you put sugar or acid (yes that includes diet soda or lemon water)  in your mouth, the ph drops from neutral 7 to acidic and sugary.  It takes your mouth and saliva about 15 minutes to clear things out and get back to neutral. Say you have a small bag of skittles. If your kids eat that EVERY day but consume it in about 20-30 minutes and be done, you’re unlikely to get cavities. Even less likely if you brush after the candy. Alternatively, if you have one bag of skittles and put one skittle in your mouth every 15-20 minutes per day, your mouth is constantly in the red zone of acidity and/or sugar. That will be a sure recipe for decay. That’s why we see things like baby bottle teeth decay. Apple juice nursed in the baby’s mouth for hours every day. That baby would be much less likely to get decay to consume the same volume of Apple juice in one 10 minute sitting. I also see adults nurse coffee with creamer every day for 4-6 hours with decay everywhere. It’s the lactose which is also a sugar. Black coffee or green tea without sugar is fine. The concept is frequency. That goes for soda, foods, tic tacs, anything with sugar or acid.

From my actual life 

Favorite Restaurant Discoveries in 2019

Bay Area:

  • Brewster’s (Petaluma): Outstanding bbq and beer garden. Great play area for kids and live bands.
  • Larsen Family Winery (Sonoma): Wide open kid-friendly area. Great spot to spend an afternoon with other families. (Thanks to Katie for this one)
  • Tacos Oscar (Oakland): Grab your tacos and sit at a picnic table in the back. Then feel old. Yinh’s discovery.
  • Bar Shiru (Oakland):  A Tokyo-inspired cocktail den with high ceilings & an extensive, jazz-centric record collection. The Bay Area’s first hi-fi vinyl listening bar. We focus on playing records in their entirety on a fully analog sound system. The interior is minimalist and cool. Try the Sequoia sake
  • Duende (Oakland): Great California fare. Location makes it an ideal dinner spot before catching a band at the Fox Theater.

When Traveling:

  • Beachcomber (Crystal Cove in Newport Beach): Best and biggest Bloody Mary I’ve ever had. Relax on the beach as you wait for your table.
  • Night + Market (West Hollywood): A hip non-traditional Thai spot. Outstanding sangria and chicken sando. Thanks Jason.
  • Favorite new restaurant: 3 Ravens in Banff. It was one of the best dining experiences I’ve had. The combination of exemplary cuisine and the floor-to-ceiling modern glass windows provided a breathtaking panoramic view of the snowy mountains. It’s a bit off the beaten path because it’s actually an extension of a local art school’s dining hall!
  • Finally Japan. It deserved its own guide which I put together here.

Leave a Reply