Limits of History

ButWhatFor? Four for Friday | No. 051

Happy Friday and thank you to all the new subscribers!

For long-term readers, you will notice a change in formatting below as part of the transition to “History Investor.”

For now, the email address I am writing from has not changed — I am trying to understand if changing is a huge negative on deliverability — but everything is running live at All old links from ButWhatFor should redirect there as well.

If you have time this week, I would appreciate your feedback on the poll below — it just takes a single click to share your opinion (and you can type more details after as well, if you like). Given I will have the longer form emails starting here soon (which means I need to pick a day of the week to hit send), I am curious to understand what day of the week works best for you to receive this curation + thoughts email!

The website now has the functionality to allow for likes and comments! I would love to hear from you.

On My Mind

The YouTube algorithm got me late at night last week. I was on the homepage looking for background music while working through a backlog of emails, but YouTube somehow knew that I’m not very happy with the number of pull-ups I can do.

Following 5 months of shoulder physical therapy that necessitated pausing a number of exercises, my pull-up count dropped precipitously. So, YouTube served up a pull-up-related video. And I clicked it, spiraling into a seven-minute distraction.

A trainer in the video (suggested to have a PhD in exercise science) guides that, when doing pull-ups, you shouldn’t hold the isometric at the top of the bar. That was odd to me as I have always assumed you should. Instead, he said that scientific literature suggests you should have a controlled concentric (moving up), immediately switch between directions at the top, and perform a slowed eccentric (moving down).

The trainee asks if it would be bad to hold the isometric. The trainer said that it’s not necessarily a bad thing, but that “it’s not really worth your fatigue” to do so. His point was that you can do something that feels difficult, but — similar to the Short last week — it won’t improve your results.

And that got me thinking about all the emails I had in front of me to chunk through that evening. How many of those emails were actually worth the fatigue it was causing me with the late night?

How many of the emails I send every day — which aren’t necessarily fun to do, and thus feel like they must be work… and I am paid to “do work”— are worth the fatigue? The meetings? The calls? The memos?

It’s an interesting way to think about the effort you can expend in a day.

Are you using your fatigue intelligently? You can’t say “yes” just because you are tired at the end of the day.

Quote of the Week

I think people confuse inaction with patience.

— Noah Kagan

From a recent Tim Ferris podcast with Noah Kagan (transcript here), who was employee #30 at Facebook, #4 at Mint, and has since created seven million-dollar businesses. He is currently the CEO of

Poll of the Week

When would you prefer to receive this email?

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  • Last Week’s Results: ~70% were good with the “History Investor” pivot.

    • 15% thought I could pick a better name.

    • 15% thought it wasn’t a great pivot (I’m sorry! Give me a few weeks to prove that not too much with change.)

Things to Read

Broadly speaking when you're trying to maximize your returns, you need two things. One is you need some sort of an edge… The second thing is how much you can bet on that when you have that advantage. And the intuition is quite straightforward. If you had perfect information, you knew your bet was going to make you money. You would bet everything you could, right?

And then there are degrees of certainty about that. So there's this relationship between edge and betting size, and that leads to your total ability to generate excess returns.

Some of the best returns in my personal portfolio haven’t changed my life as much as my slightly better than average returning investments. Why? I invested less in the better returns. A 5x on 2% of my portfolio doesn’t change things as much as a 2x on 10%. You have to bet right when you know things are in your favor.

This goes for your non-investment life as well. When that job opportunity makes sense… or she is the right girl… or you have a chance to ask that question you’ve always wanted to ask… don’t let the opportunity go by without placing an appropriately weighted bet.

CNBC’s invaluable archive of Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting videos and transcripts only dates back to 1994. Meaning that decades’ worth of Q&A sessions with Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger remain shrouded in the mists of time…

On May 20, 1986, approximately 500 shareholders filed into the Witherspoon Concert Hall at Omaha’s Joslyn Art Museum for the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting.

That Tuesday morning, Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger sped through the formal proceedings in a matter of minutes — before opening the floor to questions from shareholders for the next two-and-a-half hours.

Below is everything that I could find from this (very) early episode of the Warren & Charlie Show…

Kevin over at Kingswell writes about Berkshire Hathaway and related topics. He has a great Friday email that summarizes any key happenings at Berkshire, and I am happy to get it every Friday.

Outside of the Friday email, he also does deeper dive posts on specific topics. In one of these sent earlier this week, he combed through newspapers, interviews, and other material to pull together as much as he could about the 1986 Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting.

As the quote highlights above, this is the only way investors today can read what was said as no consolidated archives / videos / transcripts of the Berkshire meetings go back further than 1994!

Limits of History | From History Has No Lessons For You by Joe Stieb, 2024

As a historian working in professional military education, I find myself in the awkward position of warning strategists and students alike against drawing too many lessons from history…

History shows how we got to the present day in any domain: society, economics, politics, military affairs, ideas, and so on. It gives the strategic thinker a stronger sense of the landscape in which he or she will operate and a better understanding of the people, institutions, and nations that surround them…

History does not provide answers to contemporary strategic questions, but it nurtures the ability to think outside of the parameters of the present while challenging assumption.

Given the recent change in name, it’s fun to then immediately run across an article arguing the limits of utilizing lessons learned through the study of history. It reminds me very much of a quote often attributed to Mark Twain (that I understand we can’t actually document as being his) that goes something like “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”

The article is written from the perspective of military history education, but I found it interesting to think about more generally, as well. History can give you a lot of context and mental models, but at the end of the day, what to do in the here-and-now isn’t something that can be found in a history book.


Impact of interest rates on mortgage payments (Redfin)…

…Means less sellers and more new builds (Redfin)

Record lows on mortgage foreclosure rates (@MikeZaccardi)

Have a great weekend,


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