Sunday, March 31, 2019

Book Review: The Case for Christ

Back in college I read the first couple chapters hanging out in a book store or a friend’s house one night. It was nice, but not nice enough I bought the book. Well, my church is going through the book in Bible study and sermons during Lent and they were giving away free copies, so of course I picked one up and started reading it.

Wow! It’s a good book! I really was not expecting much. I mean, how much 2000 year old evidence could there be? I was expecting him to cover maybe 10 sources or pieces of evidence, but when you add them all together you have dozens of points, and that’s just in his simple book for laymen. He lists dozens of sources with more thorough analysis of the individual pieces of evidence. 

I’ve been a Christian my whole life. Sure I have doubts from time to time, but it’s always been a constant. My Christian experience, and simply knowing how quickly the early church grew despite persecution from the Romans has always been enough evidence for me. It was never important to me that Josephus or Tacitus wrote about Jesus. The fact that only a few of the disciples wrote down the story of Jesus, and not all of them never bothered me. Of course, in today’s world, were the three years of Jesus’s ministry to happen, everyone would write three books about his life. However, for the first century to have the four gospels, plus a few letters from the original 12 disciples, copied and translated remarkably consistently from a group of 12 people where a few might have been illiterate, there was no printing press or internet, and both the Jews and the Romans were trying to squelch Christianity, by historic standards is as strong as evidence comes. For example, Thallus wrote a three volume history of the Mediterranean, which would be an important text if it were found, but it hasn’t survived to modern times. So why do we have the New Testament? Probably because the people spreading it were incredibly convinced that this was a really important story to tell.

Who might possibly enjoy reading the book? Good question, honestly, anyone middle school and older, Christian or atheist. It’s an easier read than the Bible and provides a context to the Bible that the Bible itself does not give. It doesn't have all the answers, and honestly we never will. 

If there is any change from me after reading the book it is that I might talk about God and Jesus more. Instead of being nervous of being ridiculed or challenged for my faith, at the moment I feel more like, ‘…whatever, and here is point A, B, C and D for your objection.’ What I’ve realized is that it’s easy to attack faith, and people have been attacking Christians (and every faith) for years, but it’s a lot harder to attack evidence, and people can't really dispute the evidence of Jesus and his resurrection. For example, why did the people who knew Jesus in large part die claiming he was raised from the dead? It's one thing to die for a faith as people still do today, but it's another thing to die for a faith that was started by a person you knew. In other words, if the original disciples knew that the story of Jesus was false, they would not have died committing to it.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

My High School Friend the Unicorn Founder and CTO!?

I'm taking 2019 off of Facebook. So if I haven't responded to your messages, it's because I haven't logged in at all. If someone wants to post any of these articles on my Facebook wall (if Facebook still has a wall) feel free to quintuple my traffic for the day. Point being, I try to be in the real world more than in the virtual one. In the past I've upset people by things I've written on social media so I try not to do that. Then every time I log onto Facebook specifically I feel like everyone has these awesome lives, with their spouses, with kids, traveling the world, doing cool stuff. And I know I'm probably part of the problem, climbing Mt. Everest, traveling around the world, flying airplanes, working at a cool new start up, etc. That's part of why I try to blog about the stuff that hurts, because I want my blog to be a place of reality.

So while checking my email I had a LinkedIn notification about one of my good high school friends who I haven't talked to in a decade. He and I both went to college in Massachusetts and despite me running a few track meets at his university, I think we only actually ever met up once I think, and I might be confusing that with when I visited him in Massachusetts my senior year of high school. He was the year ahead of me. Anyway, we both went to high school in Sabetha, Kansas and he went to an excellent college in Massachusetts, which I didn't even apply at because I didn't want to be seen copying him, even if I might have helped give him the idea to go there (haha! I don't think I did, but I might have). He was the only person that outscored me in quiz bowl over the course of the season, and had he been a little quicker on the buzzer would have had significantly more points than me, double probably. He could have gone to college anywhere. At the same time he was quite humble, and never put on a show. He was even embarrassed about how well he took one particular standardized test. He ended up getting a B.S. in Computer Science.

The last I had heard from him a few years ago was that he was working at some small tech company doing computer science stuff, and had gotten married, and was still living out in Massachusetts. I was happy for him, it seemed like things had gone his way. So when I clicked on this LinkedIn article from a large respected publisher I was blown away. He is the founder (one of three founders) and CTO at a unicorn! A unicorn is a start up company that has a valuation over $1 billion and is still private, not listed on any stock exchange. Fifteen years ago it was an anomaly, but it's actually somewhat common now... but not common enough I know any unicorn founders!

I watched the Shawshank Redemption last weekend, because I have a broken leg and can't do much else. It's been my favorite movie since high school and still is. There is a part near the end where Red gets a postcard from Texas and laughs thinking of Andy driving down the coast in a convertible with the top down. That is exactly the kind of laugh I had when I learned this about my friend. You see, at the risk of saying too much, his family experienced a trauma during some very formative years in his life. So despite the eight or nine figures of net worth that he now has, I wouldn't trade places with him. I kind of hope he keeps going and doesn't check out to sit on beaches the rest of his life, it would be pretty cool to say one day my high school friend is a billionaire.

To be clear, I have a strict no asking for handouts policy. Great financial wealth often brings out long lost friends and relatives looking for free money. Sure, I would like advice from anyone that financially successful, but knowing him years ago, there is only so much he could tell that I haven't already read somewhere else. I mean, he took a risk on a startup with two friends or coworkers, and it has totally worked out because there is a definite market to be served. I've had the feeling lately that I can't fail at entrepreneuriship. Maybe it's this nine year long bull market. Maybe it's simply the variety of people I know who have been successful at entrepreneurship. Maybe it's just that I've reached a place where I can afford to fail a little.

At the risk of giving his identity away, although everyone from Sabetha I went to high school with will already know who I'm talking about, I want to share a story. He did particularly well on a standardized test his junior or senior year. You need to know that I went to very high performing somewhat rural public high school. We had multiple individual and team state athletic champions. A large percentage (maybe 5%) or so of graduates went to prestigious universities (which is wholly unnecessary, but there is the prestige of being accepted to those colleges). From my graduating class of 68 there are two medical doctors including one who did a residency at the Mayo Clinic, and I think one Ph.D. Multiple classmates had some form of athletic scholarship. It was just a high performing place. Lest anyone from Sabetha read this and feel bad about their life post high school, that's ridiculous! We've all had issues, and I say without a doubt that every single person I went to school with fostered an atmosphere of excellence. There was a woman in my grade who had a baby junior year, and she was partly stigmatized for it. I wasn't particularly friendly with her, but she kept showing up to school and she graduated on time with us. She was thrown a huge challenge and instead of check out and give up, she at least got her high school diploma. Across the spectrum there are stories like that.

With that explanation of my high school out of the way, at a whole school assembly he was recognized for his achievement on that standardized test. We stood, everyone stood, and gave him a standing ovation. I don't remember any of the state athletic champions getting a standing ovation from the entire student body. It was frankly the only standing ovation from the entire student body I remember in four years of high school. He was embarrassed of course. But for the rest of us, there was a feeling that when one succeeds, we all succeed. Our school had a better reputation because of him. We were all more likely to get into good universities because of him. And so it is the same with him becoming a founder and CTO of a unicorn. If he can do it, we can do it. Maybe not exactly the same, I don't particularly like computer programming, and the industry he is in doesn't really excite me. But if he can have career success, then even when I have significant self doubt in my career, I have to remember feelings are not fact, and I am quite successful in my career already.

On the odd chance that this article finds its way to my old friend, because I don't have his phone number any more to congratulate him: Well done sir! I hope that you feel as accomplished as you are.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

A Concrete Example of Inequality

I’ve been investing in the stock market in individual companies since 2011, and one of the first companies I bought was John Deere. I only bought a little, but I still own it and it's increased in value quite a bit. They send out a nice annual report every year, and attempting to be the diligent investor, I’ve read most of it. One thing that caught my attention years ago was the major ownership. As of the 2018 annual report which was just sent out in January 2019, there is an organization called Cascade Investment L.L.C. that owns 9.8% of John Deere on page 22 of the annual meeting and proxy statement. Turns out, it’s one of Bill Gates investment firms. 
Bill Gates owns 9.8% of John Deere
So Bill Gates owns owns 31,423,573 shares. In 2018 Deere paid $2.58 in dividends per share of stock. That comes to $81,072,818.34 that Bill Gates made in dividends just for owning such a large share of the company. To the best of my knowledge, he’s basically all hands off and doesn’t really direct the company at all. However, I’m pretty sure that somewhere up the ladder phone conversations happen, and Microsoft will be used at Deere indefinitely. 

The CEO, who does a good job, made $18,525,667 from employment in 2018. In other words, the CEO who works hard, certainly ends up answering calls and emails on the weekends and at night, made less than 1/4 of what Bill Gates made, just for owning such a large portion of the company. That’s inequality! I’ll call that inequality #1 for the day. 
Top Five Employees Pay
Inequality #2 is between the CEO and the next four highest paid officers. The next four people made between $4,273,996 and $4,633,762. That’s less than a quarter of what the CEO makes. I am 100% a fan of CEOs being paid well, but is it really appropriate for the CEO to make over four times as much as the division directors? I mean, 50% more or double would still be a huge step up. I mean, for the average person, if they had a salary making $1.5 million a month I don’t think they would last very long, probably only a number of months, at the most a couple years. I just don’t really know what you do with that kind of money.

An aside, if the CEO was fired, for cause, meaning he did something wrong, he would still get over $42 million dollars. 

Inequality #3 is for the board of directors. While they certainly serve an important function, basically keeping the CEO and senior leadership from going off track, it is a part time job, something that probably takes 2-4 days per month on average. Let’s just say that it takes a total of two months of full time work per year. For the members that served a full year, they were paid $270,160 to $329,928. Hands down, I want that kind of job! You could sit on one or two boards, make half a million dollars a year, and work less than six months a year. 

I want to be on a board of directors!
The final inequality, #4, is between the median employee and the CEO. The median employee was a US based employee who made $76,083. That’s 1/243rd of what the CEO made. In other words, the CEO is doing the work of 243 median employees. What is interesting about this, is that as Deere expands outside the USA the current ratio of 29,152 employees in the USA and 42,946 outside the USA will become even more lopsided. Eventually the median employee may very well be an engineer in India, at which point the salary will be somewhat less than $76,083. As I’ve thought about financial inequality probably over a thousand hours I can’t see the reasoning to pay any one person more than 10 times any other person. Ten times the median USA income is a pretty large income. You can afford to fly first class wherever you go. You could live in a million dollar home. You could buy that fancy sports car. You could buy a vacation home. I don't see how you can really justify an income above $10,000,000 per year on a value added basis. I will say, I do think that founders of companies, like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos deserve outsized rewards for the disruption and innovation they implemented. However, there is a difference between being a manager and being a founder. A manager likely took the safe route, at an established company and worked his or her way up. A founder risked going bankrupt to corner a market that likely didn't really exist when the company was started.
Median Pay to CEO Pay

In closing, Bill gates was paid by John Deere 1,065 times as much in dividends alone, not counting stock price appreciation, as the median employee and more than four times as much as the CEO at John Deere, simply because he owns the stock and not because he worked on those Saturdays when production was behind schedule, or did any work at all actually relating to Deere. That is inequality. 

Again, I am a shareholder of John Deere. I think Sam Allen is doing a really good job. Bill Gates is donating more money to charity than probably anyone in the world, which is great. I do think people in corporations responsible for making big decisions should be paid very well. I think founders of companies like Microsoft should be rewarded for their innovation. As for my politics, I'm a registered unaffiliated voter, I like to think I'm independent. I just look at these numbers and get frustrated, and want to go into politics to revise the tax code and lower the price of healthcare or at least make the prices more transparent. I'm privileged. My parents gave me opportunities when I was young, helped pay for a chunk of my college expenses, and (along with my extended family) bailed me out in 2010 when I couldn't find an engineering job. I'm good at what I do. I'm not the best configuration engineer in the world yet, but I'm good. Still, I expect that I will only make $3-5 million dollars in my entire working career. There are thousands of people that stand to inherit more than that. And my income is above the median and above the average, for whole households! So when I struggle to save money and pay all the medical bills after having a broken leg and pulmonary embolism in six months, how is the median person or family supposed to afford a safe place to live, a car, food on the table, and a little entertainment in this country?!

Friday, March 15, 2019

I’m alive

Not sure what "I'm okay" means, but I'm alive.

I broke my leg on the first ski run of the day March 9th at 9 AM at Copper Mountain. I broke my left tibia malleoulous, and fibula near the top of my boot. At the same time I partly tore my deltoid ligament and syndesmosis ligament.

I've lost my inReach, somewhere between Golden, Canada and Longmont, CO.