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8 Fascinating Reads

By Morgan Housel - Feb 14, 2014 at 4:32PM

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Good reads, short quotes.

Happy Friday! There are more good news articles on the Web every week than anyone could read in a month. Here are eight fascinating pieces I read this week.

What real renewables look like
We've made a power breakthrough, writes The Wall Street Journal:

U.S. scientists replicated the power of the sun, if only for a fleeting moment, creating a miniature star that has rekindled hopes that nuclear fusion could one day offer a source of cheap and boundless energy on Earth.

In experiments done at a U.S. Department of Energy laboratory last fall and published in a scientific journal Wednesday, researchers blasted the world's most powerful laser at a target the size of a small pea. It triggered a fusion reaction that unleashed a vast amount of energy -- for a fraction of a second.

Next level
High-frequency traders have taken their game to the next level:

As high-speed stock traders push to trade ever faster, their newest move involves harnessing a technology that U.S. military jets use to communicate as they soar across the sky: lasers.

In March, a small Chicago communications company plans to switch on an array of laser devices linking the New York Stock Exchange's data center in Mahwah, N.J., with the Nasdaq Market's data center in another New Jersey community, Carteret.

The lasers, perched atop high-rise apartment buildings, towers and office complexes along the 35-mile stretch between the communities, are the first phase of a grid intended to link nearly all U.S. stock exchanges this way, zipping market data and rapid-fire trades.

Happy life
I have an optimism bias. Turns out most people do, as the blog Farnam Street shares from author Tali Sharot:

From modern-day financial analysts to world leaders, newlyweds, the Los Angeles Lakers, and even birds, optimism biases human and nonhuman thought. It takes rational reasoning hostage, directing our expectations toward a better outcome without sufficient evidence to support such a conclusion.

Wisdom
Michael Mauboussin gives some great advice in an interview with Shane Parrish:

Q: If you could hop on the elevator with your younger self going into your first day on the job, what would you say?

A: I would probably suggest the motto of the Royal Society -- "nullius in verba" -- which roughly translates to "take nobody's word for it." Basically, the founders were urging their colleagues to avoid deferring to authority and to verify statements by considering facts. They wanted to make sure everyone would think for themselves.

In the world of investing, that means constant learning—which entails constant reading. So I would encourage my younger self to read widely, to constantly learn, and to develop points of view independent of what others say and based on facts. Specifically, I would recommend developing the habit of reading. Constantly ask good questions and seek to answer them.

The key to business success
Mark Zuckerberg gives a simple explanation for why Facebook (META 1.88%) has been a success: 

When I reflect on the last 10 years, one question I ask myself is: why were we the ones to build this? We were just students. We had way fewer resources than big companies. If they had focused on this problem, they could have done it. 

The only answer I can think of is: we just cared more. 

While some doubted that connecting the world was actually important, we were building. While others doubted that this would be sustainable, you were forming lasting connections. 

We just cared more about connecting the world than anyone else. And we still do today.

Rationality
Economist Ha-Joon Chang has lunch with The Financial Times. It's fascinating:

Doesn't the success of Freakonomics (2005), written by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, disprove his notion that economics is closed to new approaches? "They don't get huge brownie points for writing for the general public because a lot of economists have a very dim view of what the general public can understand," he says. "But the Freakonomics guys are accepted as part of the mainstream because they have this very particular view of human behaviour, which is 'rational choice'. That is: 'We are all selfish, we basically do our best to promote our self-interest and that choice is made in a rational way.' "

"I don't take that view," he says, cramming in a piece of lamb before he continues. "Rational thinking is an important aspect of human nature, but we have imagination, we have ambition, we have irrational fear, we are swayed by other people, we get indoctrinated and we get influenced by advertising," he says. "Even if we are actually rational, leaving it to the market may produce collectively irrational outcomes. So when a bubble develops it is rational for individuals to keep inflating the bubble, thinking that they can pull out at the last minute and make a lot of money. But collectively speaking . . . " His hands create a bomb blast above the cutlets.

History
Josh Brown dismantles a doomsday chart being passed around, and ends with some wisdom

It's not different this time, it's different every time. I have no problem with fractals, per se, just the extreme conclusions so frequently drawn from them. The simple fact is there are always too many variables for the chart overlay game to be able to call a crash, and the variables themselves are never the same.

Entirely predictable 
Some airlines start pilots at near minimum wage. Now they're having a hard time recruiting:

The labor shortages and service cuts have hit first and most sharply at the regional airlines that ferry passengers from small markets on behalf of bigger carriers. One of the largest regionals, Republic Airways Holdings, plans to stop flying 27 of its 41 Embraer 50-seat jets because of the pilot shortage. That decision will lower income as much as $22 million this year, Republic said today in a regulatory filing.

Enjoy your weekend. 

Morgan Housel has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Facebook. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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