A Glimpse at the Coming Metaverse

Ben Thompson of Stratechery talking about why he’s becoming more bullish on virtual reality than augmented reality during an interview with Mark Zuckerberg about the Metaverse:

I do have to say, the last couple of years, particularly the COVID era, has changed my perspective a little bit as there does seem to be more and more of sort of a bifurcation between your online reality and your offline reality. It’s something I wrote about in the context of work, where people call it working from home, but I actually think that’s a misnomer: it’s actually working online, and you can work online from anywhere but when you go online, you’re in a different place cognitively speaking than you are when you’re at home or playing with your kids, or you’re seeing your friends or whatever it might be.

I get to work from home sometimes, but I think there is a key nuance here. One of the hardest things about working online from home is that the people around you don’t want or feel like you are somewhere else, cognitively speaking. Frankly, getting to that other cognitive place in the first place can be quite difficult when surrounded by the context of all the non-work things around you.

Does a future where you can slip further into the internet make it easier or harder to be productive online?

Well, it depends on how you define productivity. In the interview, Zuckerberg claims that fostering human connection is his life’s work. He then goes on to freely admit that ruining meaningful unadulterated human connection is a “killer use case”:

Although I do think that for augmented reality, for example, one of the killer use cases is basically going to be you’re going to have glasses and you’re going to have something like EMG on your wrist and you’re going to be able to have a message thread going on when you’re in the middle of a meeting or doing something else and no one else is even going to notice. Think about what we’ve had over the last couple of years during the pandemic where everyone’s been on Zoom, and one of the things that I’ve found very productive is you can have side channel conversations or chat threads going while you’re having the main meeting. I actually think that would be a pretty useful thing to be able to have in real life too where basically you’re having a physical conversation or you’re coming together, but you can also receive incoming messages without having to take out your phone or look at your watch and even respond quickly in a way that’s discreet and private. So I think that there are going to be those use cases. I think that there are going to be easier ways to get in and out of experiences where you’re experiencing that deep sense of presence.

The problem with social media on cell phones is that your kids, friends, and colleagues know you are being rude and self-absorbed when you ignore them. The problem–of course!–is not the behavior and our inability to be fully present in our interactions. The problem is being so transparent in informing others that they are insufficiently interesting to hold our full attention.

This is the promise of the coming metaverse.

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All Global Circle has expanded its physician survey program and is now paying the biggest sign-up bonus around: $25 for signing up and another $25 for validating your account. If you don’t get a survey in the first 90 days and stay active by logging in twice a month, you’ll also receive an additional $25 “loyalty” bonus.

Signing up for these offerings is also an easy way to support me/this site (so thank you!)

Functional Embezzlement

From Charlie Munger’s Herb Kay Memorial Lecture, “Academic Economics: Strengths and Weaknesses, after Considering Interdisciplinary Needs” (University of California at Santa Barbara, 2003):

…I asked the question “Is there a functional equivalent of embezzlement?” I came up with a lot of wonderful affirmative answers. Some were in investment management. After all, I’m near investment management. I considered the billions of dollars totally wasted in the course of investing common stock portfolios for American owners. As long as the market keeps going up, the guy who’s wasting all this money doesn’t feel it, because he’s looking at these steadily rising values. And to the guy who is getting the money for investment advice, the money looks like well-earned income, when he’s really selling detriment for money, surely the functional equivalent of undisclosed embezzlement. You can see why I don’t get invited to many lectures.

Fee-drag is insidious and nearly invisible to the human mind at a glance. As COVID-19 demonstrated, we are not wired to intuitively understand compound growth. When you see your accounts growing, you are happy. Even if you see your fees, they may seem reasonable on a snapshot basis.

What you don’t see, of course, is the effect of those fees year after year. Every loss is another piece that can’t undergo the magic of compounding in your favor. As the saying goes, “it’s time in the market, not timing the market.”

If you ever wonder how nice people can practice in an Assets Under Management model, the same problem works in both directions. Your money is still going up, so they feel they are providing a valuable service, especially in holding you to a plan and preventing you from otherwise hamstringing yourself (like, say, risking your nest egg on chasing meme stocks on Reddit or buying start-up cryptocurrencies).

Psychologically, we’re very good at cognitive dissonance: of not seeing what is inconvenient for us. Those professionals would rather see the “value” they create in terms of investment growth and the end-result financial security and not the excessive value removed from larger investors (and the even larger wealth those clients might otherwise enjoy).

The Big (Temporary) PSLF Expansion

You may have heard the news by now: PSLF has been (temporarily) expanded (again).

Back in 2018, TEPSLF created a new pot of money to help borrowers who had used the wrong payment plans in the past.

Now, in a final heave of their national emergency powers, the government will finally fulfill the spirit of the original law: more people getting forgiveness, fewer people missing out because of technicalities and bad servicing.

All “federal” loans are forgivable.

The inclusion of FFEL loans in the PSLF program is more noteworthy than you might think. You see, Direct Loans (the only current option and always part of PSLF) are provided and held by the federal government. The government forgiving its own loans is the whole point of the program. The now defunct FFEL program however was instead a public-private partnership: loans provided by private banks and secured by the federal government. In order to pay off FFEL loans, the government is going to encourage tens if not hundreds of thousands of borrowers to consolidate loans into the Direct system in order to forgive them, paying private companies real money in the process. This is why PSLF has specifically never included FFEL loans in the past (even though one could consolidate those FFEL loans and trade them in for a Direct Consolidation loan, making them eligible with minimal effort).

The fact is that for recent graduates the news is largely irrelevant. Very very few people graduating in recent years hold any FFEL loans or Perkins loans, and nearly everyone is using the correct payment plans. It’s just much easier for new graduates to set themselves up for the program than the older borrowers who were further along in the process (and who have been getting rejected or lost years of payments [often due to bad servicing]).

At baseline, people need to stop worrying about the PSLF rug being pulled out from underneath them, but hopefully, this second expansion will assuage lingering doubts. The program is still real, and it’s never going away retroactively.

Here is the Department of Education’s “Fact Sheet” about the overhaul.

And here is the very readable official description of what it all means and what to do next. This is the official party line, and it’s what you need to read.

The bottom line is that if you have any FFEL or Perkins loans, you need to consolidate those now and file a PSLF form (well at least by October 31, 2022). There are a lot of people working in public service and academics who are magically eligible for forgiveness this week that weren’t before (and there are going to be some very anxious people trying to track down employment verifications from back in 2008).




The ABR is Sorta Changing Its Fees

In recent years, the American Board of Radiology (ABR) has utilized a membership fee model, where–for example–those working towards an initial certification in diagnostic radiology would pay a $640 annual fee until passing the Certifying Exam. Since one takes the Certifying Exam 15 months after finishing residency, that has meant recent diplomates have paid a specialty tax of around 1% of their gross income for a total of five years before enjoying the privilege of paying a mere $340 per year for MOC forever.

The fee schedule looked like this:

To illustrate, here’s my payment history (the annual fee actually increased a bit during my training because money).

As of September 2021, ABR has moved to “an exam fee model.” How does that look? Well, a one-time $640 application fee followed by a $1280 Core Exam fee and a $1280 Certifying Exam fee.

It doesn’t require a doctorate to note that the total cost for initial certification is the same: $3200.

That fee continues to put radiology in the highest echelon of medical specialties in terms of board costs, as enumerated in this 2017 paper (which incidentally undercounted the radiology costs).

What has changed is that this fee structure is now standard across other exams and is resulting in a decrease in the (otherwise ludicrous) subspecialty exam fees.

You see, until now, the much shorter half-day CAQ exams actually cost the most! As above, you can see I paid $3,280 this spring for the privilege of spending a morning taking a poorly formulated exam to pseudo-prove that I can totally do the thing I already do every day. That’s more than the cost of the combined total of the much, much bigger Core and Certifying Exams.

But, as of this September 17, 2021 update, it’s merely the same $640 application fee + $1280 exam fee for a total of $1,920 (a savings of $1,360!).

Of course, before you get any warm fuzzies about their generosity, keep in mind that the CAQ exams comprise a relatively small proportion of ABR revenues since only ~200 people take them every year, and, meanwhile, MOC revenues continue to grow year after year. The ABR, per its internal narrative and official documents, has recently been operating at a loss.

Thankfully, they have some retained earnings on hand to mitigate the red.