Warren Buffet's Annual Letter

Berkshire Hathaway’s annual letter is always an interesting read. Buffett is a talented writer and is able to articulate complex ideas with fun metaphors. Some interesting nuggets of wisdom that stuck out:

In the world of business, bad news often surfaces serially: You see a cockroach in your kitchen; as the days go by, you meet his relatives.

I think this holds true in many other worlds as well. Buffett talks about the importance of culture, and often times bad news ends up being the result of an institution being ill equipped to handle it. Furthermore rarely to problems occur in a vacuum, we live in a world of systems and so when one thing goes wrong there are likley to be other problems.

Our investment results have been helped by a terrific tailwind. During the 1964-2014 period, the S&P 500 rose from 84 to 2,059, which, with reinvested dividends, generated the overall return of 11,196% shown on page 2. Concurrently, the purchasing power of the dollar declined a staggering 87%. That decrease means that it now takes $1 to buy what could be bought for 13¢ in 1965 (as measured by the Consumer Price Index).

Something to think about. But you must reconcile it with his other advice about not being willing to trade a night’s sleep for extra profits. Berkshire Hathaway keeps a pretty large cash fortress for times of economic peril. This is a smart strategy because when cash is in short supply it quickly becomes more valuable.

Huge institutional investors, viewed as a group, have long underperformed the unsophisticated index-fund investor who simply sits tight for decades. A major reason has been fees. Many institutions pay subsantial sums to consultants who, in turn, recommend high-fee managers. And that is a fool’s game.

Buffett calibrates the performance of people to the data. Anyone is able to open a Vanguard account and invest in a stock index fund. If an investor is unable to beat the general market as a whole, then what special ability does the investor really have in discerning what investments are good or bad?

Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini Manages with Data

From The New York Times:

Dr. Reisman saw that the practices had helped his boss recover, but he was not convinced. “Because you’re doing yoga, everyone has to do yoga?” Dr. Reisman shot back, as recalled by Mr. Bertolini.

Mr. Bertolini appealed to Dr. Reisman as a scientist. They would measure workers’ stress levels by tracking heart rate variability and cortisol levels, common measures of anxiety. And they would team with the Integrative Medicine Program at Duke University, which does research into the efficacy of alternative treatments.

When Mr. Bertolini reviewed Aetna’s financial performance for 2012, he noticed something surprising: Health care costs had fallen. For the year, paid medical claims per employee were down 7.3 percent. That amounted to about $9 million in savings. The next year, health care costs rose 5.7 percent, but have remained about 3 percent lower than they were before yoga and meditation were introduced at the company.

DJ Patil Tells Us Where Data Science is Going

I especially enjoyed Barack Obama’s data science joke at the beginning of this video:

Network Neutrality Day

I spent the morning watching today’s FCC meeting where they passed rules about network neutrality and community broadband. I think these are huge wins for consumers, but was especially excited by a point made by Tom Wheeler before the vote on network neutrality. He pointed out that with the 4 million comments that the FCC received on the topic it was the most open rulemaking process they had ever engaged in, and that receiving this input gave their ruling extra legitimacy. As a fan of open government, I strongly agree. Many government discussions and decisions are made quietly, and the quieter these decisions are made the less legitimate the rules can feel. The network neutrality rules, whether you agree with them or not, are the product of a vigorous public discussion about a technical issue, and an example of democracy at its best.

Tony Hwang Understands the Value of User Experience

From the New Haven Register:

At the suggestion of a colleague who spoke at the hearing, Hwang agreed that an easy to access link on the DPH website or on each hospital website would be satisfactory and allow consumers to readily find the information.

He said he began his search by going to individual hospital websites, assuming that is what a consumer would do.

He didn’t find the information, but if a hospital wanted to point out its particular success in a given area of care, that information was easily accessed.

Finding information on hospital associated infections, by using the state Department of Public Health site, is a multi-step process.

You first go to the Department of Public Health website;then to Topics A-Z; then find Healthcare Association Infections; then go to HAI Data, Reports and Publications; then, under Acute Care Hospitals Data to the Hospital Compare link that will take you to the information gathered by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

As the article describes the information the state is collecting is already available, but it’s just not easily accessible. These kinds of problems are not limited to hopsital infections but other data that people are looking for. Webmasters can use tools like Google Analytics to determine what information people are looking for and then get an idea of how easy or difficult it is for them to find it, and also to get an idea of if they are failing and figuring out ways to get them to the data.

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