Dec 31, 2020 • 11M

Avoid Boring People in 2020

Leon Lin
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Something surprising about finance and tech to help you avoid boring people monthly
Episode details

As usual, we'll end off with an update on the newsletter and my personal life. There's also a reader competition so look out for that:

  1. 5 favourite free articles, subscriber articles, and links

  2. Reflecting on the newsletter and announcing a small reader competition

  3. Reflecting on my year

I’m also testing a narration feature by Ad Auris; the media player above is an audio version of this article.

1. Favourite articles and links

Favourite free articles

The free articles mostly covered finance and tech:

  1. Relatively speaking, the billionaire isn't rich. Why it's all relative.

  2. A story is a lie and a story is true. Stories matter for investing, technology, and you

  3. Doctor GPT-3 or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Artificial Intelligence

  4. There's more to communities than Facebook goat groups. Looking into the common theme of community vs individuality for events, newsletters, and investing

  5. You don't want quality time, you want garbage time - This isn't the tech you're looking for, robots in equity research, and quality time

Favourite subscriber articles

The paid ones were more varied, also covering art and frameworks:

  1. Understanding Picasso and Picasso's new painting perspectives

  2. Getting some intuition behind neural networks and why the next machine learning startup is in your front yard

  3. Cost of Capital in the 21st century

  4. Wisely and slowly, they stumble that run fast - The Pace Layer Framework implies it's the job of business to change quickly and governments to change slowly

  5. Not everything is insider trading - A look at the professional investor's information stack

As always, happy to forward any of these - email me.

Favourite links

I try to avoid sharing popular sources when compiling the link section, though it's not a hard and fast rule

  1. The math and physics behind animation

  2. Could a text prediction algorithm (like gmail or your phone keyboard) be used to play chess?

  3. Does Commodification Corrupt? Lessons from Paintings and Prostitutes

  4. This isn't Sparta. Comparing the popular legacy of Sparta with the history

  5. "Color blindness is an inaccurate term"

2. Free newsletter growth has exceeded expectations; paid newsletter growth has met (low) expectations

I wrote 121k words across 56 articles this year, which seems substantial to me. Apparently it's the length of an epic novel. I've heard feedback that some articles are getting lengthy, so I might reduce word count moving forward.

I don't like to discuss subscriber counts for the same reason people don't like discussing salaries and companies don't like discussing financials. I feel it's like knowing your IQ [1] - lower than expected and people lose respect; higher than expected and people feel you're overrated. I started with eight people on my list and am way past that now, so anything further is pure upside. That said, I'll probably have to revisit this mentality when I start promoting the newsletter more.

Free subscriber growth is in the hundreds of percent year over year, which is fantastic. There are single events that drove large growth, but a lot of it was due to slow steady growth throughout the year. Open rates are still good at the 40-50% range. I need to work on better marketing and promotion though.

Paid subscriber conversion and growth has not kept up, and I feel it's because I don't currently have a clear value proposition. Only doing tech company case studies and investing memos would make the subscription an easier sell, but I want to have more freedom in my topics, as seen from the above links. I've also heard feedback that weekly posts might be too much, and I'll be thinking about the frequency next year.

As of now, a paid subscription is a show of support that lets me continue learning stuff to write about [2]. For example, I wouldn't have been able to write the GPT-3 article without the reading and courses I took this year.

I've also had many people ask about my writing process recently. Here's the rough outline: I save interesting articles when I read them, trying to group the ones with a common theme together. I set aside time on my weekends to write (since I the subscriber articles are weekly), and ideally have time to edit on the weekdays before publishing [3]. Being able to sleep on an article before editing it makes a difference for me.

I don't normally sit down and get inspiration for what to write; that sometimes happens but it's rare. There are days in which I'll be staring at my screen for an hour without anything good. There's also times where I'm not quite "feeling" a topic, but write it anyway to see where I get.

Reader competition

One thing I'm concerned about is whether people are getting the references in some of the articles, like the double meaning of avoid boring people. I don't want to insult my reader's intelligence by making references too obvious, but also don't want to make them too obscure. I thought we could do a simple reader challenge to see if I need to make things clearer.

Here are three questions on previous articles, which also gives more context on how I choose the wording for articles. First few readers to reply win a prize. I'm flexible on the prize, thinking of a postcard for now but open to suggestions.

  1. What TV series is being referenced in the Kelly Criterion post? Hint: There are 9 main actors/characters mentioned explicitly and 3 names that are less obvious

  2. What comic series is being referenced in the "Dream and Desire" phrase in the Lottery post? Hint: The author is also referenced in Section 1

  3. What math paradox is being referenced in the Gatekeeper post's subtitle, "Does the gatekeeper of gatekeepers gatekeep himself?" Hint: It's related to set theory

Looking forward to seeing your answers! Reply to the email directly.

3. Life is alright, all things considered

Early this year I realised I was more stupid than I was in high school. I was wiser and more experienced, but had forgotten the math and science from back then. I could be content with that for the rest of my life, or try to change that.

In an effort to be less stupid, I've been spending a lot of time this year learning theory again. It's paid off, I'm happy with the progress made, and am less intimidated by some subjects than before [4]. That's been a major event for me as I reflect on the year.

The template I used for my annual reflection is here and my filled in version is here. I had one large failure on the work side and one on the personal side, but not quite ready to share either of those yet. Outside of those, things are generally good. I'm naturally interested in discussing any of my interests more; feel free to reach out if anything below seems interesting to you.

Highlights on knowledge work

  1. Programming in python is finally sticking, on perhaps my fourth attempt to pick it up. I started with Automate the Boring Stuff, did projects on hyperskill, and am working on a Rice University Fundamentals of Computing course now

  2. That opened up being able to take machine learning and deep learning courses, such as the Andrew Ng Deep Learning Specialisation

  3. Which made it helpful to learn math such as linear algebra and calculus. I used Hefferon's Linear Algebra and am working on Strang's Calculus. Both have answers to their practice problems, a feature I find essential in textbooks [5]

  4. In the process, I stumbled upon abstract algebra and group theory, which is the most fascinating I've learnt this year and made everything above worthwhile. It also made understanding linear algebra much easier. I started with Socratica, continued with Matthew Salomone's intro series, and hope to have time for more rigourous practice next year

  5. I needed to revise statistics, and used R for Data Science to get the practice required to use R for work. Also hope to have time for more rigour next year

  6. Doing Nand2Tetris was painful but gave me a good intro to understanding computing fundamentals

  7. Reading about art on Smarthistory has also helped given context to many famous artworks

Highlights on physical skills

  1. I finally regained my ability to do one arm chin ups, years after losing them due to being lazy. Am trying to strengthen the end ranges now

  2. Also finally squared my front splits, got my flat pancake stretch, and overall better body awareness. I credit Jen Crane for the active flexibility drills and making me realise flexibility is more about strength than passive range of motion

  3. The flexibility gains also helped me get a pike press handstand for the first time, and regain a straddle press handstand. I'm unsure if I'll ever work on a stalder though

  4. Maintained bouldering ability and grades, which I guess is the best I could have hoped for with gym closures

  5. Picked up bartending flair from Flair School

Highlights on other stuff

  1. Finally launched my cocktail club website, but have had to pause for obvious reasons. Did a few virtual cocktail making lessons and cocktail recipe commissions and also got Barsmarts certified

  2. Joined communities such as RenCo and Recurse [6]

  3. Learning about SEO best practices, though I haven't put them into practice


  1. Didn't read as many books as I wanted, since my spare time was spent on courses [7].

  2. Wasn't able to get much dance practice

  3. The planche and handstand pushup are still eluding me; my (bad) excuse is that I'm too lazy to train them properly

Goals for next year

There's apparently some effect where if you publicly announce your goals you're less likely to achieve them [8]. With that in mind, I'll keep these more general

  1. Learn more about liquor and wine

  2. Learn more programming

  3. Learn more math and statistics

  4. Get stronger active flexibility. I'm working towards middle splits and a needle but am unsure if that'll be achievable next year

  5. Get stronger on strength skills, from one arm chins to planche work

That's all for 2020, see you all in 2021. Thanks again for reading and for sharing. Looking forward to seeing the answers for the reader competition!


  1. This isn't my saying; I can't remember who said it first

  2. As a reminder, the paywalled articles eventually go on my personal blog archive after a substantial delay, and I'm happy to forward any before that. I have some naive belief that information should be free to the extent possible

  3. There is a percentage of the time I spend the night before rushing out a piece in a panic

  4. Still stupid in many science areas though as I haven't had time to work on those

  5. I am unsure what is the point of having problems without providing solutions tbh. I'm not even doing all the problems, but do need to know if the ones I'm doing are right...

  6. I technically haven't joined Recurse yet; I'm in the next batch in 2021.

  7. I have books I bought in 2019 that are still unread even though they're important...

  8. I don't know if that's actually true, but why take the chance