An Importqant Message from the Global Entertainment Industry


Great cartoon from The Pirate Bay that illustrates how emerging technologies tend to be feared (and villainized) by existing power structures even as those technologies drastically improve the quality of life for human beings.

Cartoon after the jump. Continue Reading…

Nassim Nicholas Taleb: “Bankers Designed Banks to Blow Up”…mMd4PSxEKeE.asf

Just watched a fifteen minute interview by Bloomberg of Nassim Nicholas Taleb (The Black Swan). In the interview Taleb discusses the current crisis, robust systems, nationalizing the banks and the fallacy of using narratives of history to guide present-day policy/response.

Below are some quotes from NNT, which I’ve organized into like-nuggets of wisdom:

  • Looking at biology, things that survive have redundancy . . . we have spare parts, which is the exact opposite of leverage. . . . We have diversity and nothing is too big. Things fail early. . . . Banking is organized in a completely opposite way. . . . Complex systems have properties that banks don’t have. And biological systems have survived.
  • [We have an] Illusion of stability and then blow-ups are larger. Imagine if half-country was fed by one restaurant it’d be okay except one day people would starve.
  • Bad news travels immediately . . . This environment won’t tolerate the smallest mistake . . . I don’t know the system can allow for too much leverage.
  • People can invest in real things – they don’t have to invest in paper. . . .
  • What we have is a system of deposit where people buy a company, they borrow against it, and buy another company. . . . If that disappears we have less growth but it would be a more robust economic system.
  • The government is neither nationalizing the banks nor letting them break.
  • [With regard to banking,] separate the payment system from the risk taking system.
  • It looks like we have no control. The government has no control over what the banks are doing. The banks aren’t in control of what they are doing.
  • The press reports everything except the important stuff. September 18th . . . we had the run on money market funds and the government had to step in.
  • The situation is not comparable to the Great Depression. The situation is very different.
  • This crisis is not so much a Black Swan to me. It’s like saying you’ve got a pilot who doesn’t know about storms. . . . The Black Swan for me would be to emerge out unscathed and go back to normalcy.
  • We should be very careful when we make a historical analogy like the Great Depression because the world is not like it was in the Great Depression.
  • Capitalism is you let what’s breakable break fast.

Bloomberg also ran an article on the interview with Taleb, but it is spartan as far as quotes or insights from the actual interview.

From what I can tell, it seems Taleb views bank nationalization as similar to taking out plane hijackers. It’s an interesting, more palatable way to look at nationalization in that it frames the situation as one where the public will be harmed unless someone (in this case the government) steps in and takes drastic action.

Having said that, I don’t get the impression that Taleb is a proponent of long-term nationalization. NNT would prefer banking be structured similarly to a biological system where there are redundancies and fragile things “break early.” This system wouldn’t foster as much leverage and therefore would slow growth, but it would be considerably more robust.

This is more or less what I believe, as well. A free market is an organic, naturally forming system that is decentralized and redundant. It’s robust because market actions failing apart at any micro level will not break the entire system.

How do we get there from here? Good question.

(H/T to Jesse)

How to Eat Grains


Continuing the recent interest in fermentation (See discussion of Seth Roberts’ posts on Probiotics and Your Immune System and The Staggering Greatness of Homemade Yogurt) comes this post from Stephan at Whole Health Source discussing how to eat grains.

There are two ideas that seem to be repeatedly coming to the surface here:

  • Carbohydrates seem to be better for human consumption when fermented as fermentation reduces anti-nutrients and even introduces some new nutrition in the process.
  • Foods that don’t seem “paleo” at first blush maybe just need some fermentation, which is really just another way of saying they need to be pre-digested prior to eating.

Regarding that second point, our hunter/gatherer ancestors had little food storage tech. This has two implications in my mind:

  • Food is consumed fresh if at all possible, to the point of gorging. Our bodies have an amazing ability to store excess carbohydrate consumption efficiently as fat.
  • Food found but not readily consumed rots or ferments. Our bodies do well with this (Evolutionary luck or design?) by receiving immune system boosts from the introduction of bacteria, reducing toxins via fermentation and maximizing nutrient absorption.

Anyway, here is Stephan:

The second factor that’s often overlooked is food preparation techniques. These tribes did not eat their grains and legumes haphazardly! This is a factor that was overlooked by Dr. Price himself, but has been emphasized by Sally Fallon. Healthy grain-based African cultures typically soaked, ground and fermented their grains before cooking, creating a sour porridge that’s nutritionally superior to unfermented grains. The bran was removed from corn and millet during processing, if possible. Legumes were always soaked prior to cooking.

These traditional food processing techniques have a very important effect on grains and legumes that brings them closer in line with the “paleolithic” foods our bodies are designed to digest. They reduce or eliminate toxins such as lectins and tannins, greatly reduce anti-nutrients such as phytic acid and protease inhibitors, and improve vitamin content and amino acid profile. Fermentation is particularly effective in this regard. One has to wonder how long it took the first agriculturalists to discover fermentation, and whether poor food preparation techniques or the exclusion of animal foods could account for their poor health.

Managers as servants

Another Google Reader shared item from Patri that relates to group behavior (and the work environment), a discussion of “non-hierarchical management in the workplace:”

Instead of the standard “org chart” with a CEO at the top and employees growing down like roots, turn the whole thing upside down. Employees are at the top — they’re the ones who actually get stuff done — and managers are underneath them, helping them to be more effective. (The CEO, who really does nothing, is of course at the bottom.)

Swartz also quotes a friend who believes that people who act like jerks in the workplace are not worth the trouble.

I have a “no asshole rule” which is really simple: I really don’t want to work with assholes. So if you’re an asshole and you work on my team, I’m going to fire you.

I have worked with (and near) several assholes in my time and I’m convinced that firing one unpleasant person, even if they perform a vital function, is equivalent to hiring two great employees.

This hits on two points. One reminds me of how leaders, as central decision-making nodes in a system, tend to have considerably less “freedom” than many think. They work within a delicate eco-system of employees/followers, resource/time constraints, personal and system goals, etc. Thus even as it appears the manager may do very little “work,” he/she is spending a great deal of time balancing a slew of complex demands.

Enter in this great advice I read last night from William Glasser in Control Theory regarding child-rearing (Chapter 18, Control Theory and Raising Children):

Try as hard as possible to teach, show, and help your children to gain effective control of their lives.

Apply that concept to managing employees (or team members). You want to empower your employees to have more control. You do this by teaching them how to substitute their own good judgment for yours. This makes the hierarchical system less centralized and more robust. The worst managers I have seen strip control from employees. It’s not that any manager should just tell their employees to go buck wild and do what they want, rather they should mentor and teach them which will give them greater control, and more freedom to you, the manager to spend time considering more important decisions.

Which brings me back to all the talk about regulation and centralization (and how I think decentralization makes more sense).

Less related is the comment on “assholes;” moving fast and eliminating bad apples from your group is a good way to improve the odds of success. I know that has been the case in my own experience.

The Bad Apple: Group Poison


Fascinating write-up of a study on “bad apples” affecting group behavior. Supposedly conventional wisdom is that groups are dynamic enough to overcome the bad apples; however, I would have suspected the opposite: it’s easy for one person to spread the “virus” of a bad, disruptive or counterproductive attitude.

The big takeaway here (for me) is to be aware of two things:

  1. Be aware when you might be exhibiting bad apple behaviors
  2. Be aware of when others are exhibiting bad apple behaviors

H/T to Patri Friedman via Google Reader for sharing this. Cross-linking this article to another he shared that is on a similar subject.

Groups of four college students were organized into teams and given a task to complete some basic management decisions in 45 minutes. To motivate the teams, they’re told that whichever team performs best will be awarded $100 per person. What they don’t know, however, is that in some of the groups, the fourth member of their team isn’t a student. He’s an actor hired to play a bad apple, one of these personality types:

  1. The Depressive Pessimist will complain that the task that they’re doing isn’t enjoyable, and make statements doubting the group’s ability to succeed.
  2. The Jerk will say that other people’s ideas are not adequate, but will offer no alternatives himself. He’ll say “you guys need to listen to the expert: me.”
  3. The Slacker will say “whatever”, and “I really don’t care.”

Groups that had the bad apple would perform worse. And this despite the fact that were people in some groups that were very talented, very smart, very likeable. Felps found that the bad apple’s behavior had a profound effect — groups with bad apples performed 30 to 40 percent worse than other groups. On teams with the bad apple, people would argue and fight, they didn’t share relevant information, they communicated less.

Even worse, other team members began to take on the bad apple’s characteristics. When the bad apple was a jerk, other team members would begin acting like a jerk. When he was a slacker, they began to slack, too. And they wouldn’t act this way just in response to the bad apple. They’d act this way to each other, in sort of a spillover effect.

What they found, in short, is that the worst team member is the best predictor of how any team performs. It doesn’t seem to matter how great the best member is, or what the average member of the group is like. It all comes down to what your worst team member is like. The teams with the worst person performed the poorest.

The actual text of the study (pdf) is available if you’re interested. However, I highly recommend listening to the first 11 minutes of the This American Life show. It’s a fascinating, highly compelling recap of the study results. I’ve summarized, but I can’t really do it justice without transcribing it all here.

Paul Volcker: “Not an Ordinary Recession”

Paul Volcker recently gave a speech that has gotten a lot of replay action on the blogosphere. I believe most are saying that Volcker is calling for a return to “narrow banking” (see Jesse).

A lot of people listen to Volcker as he led the charge at the Fed over taming inflation back in the late 70s and early 80s. I wonder more if he wasn’t just at the right place at the right time, doing what had to be done — raising rates. I’m convinced that most people give entirely too much credit both on blame and accolades. Don’t get me wrong, the Fed has enormous power, but my estimation is that they are almost always messing things up. The Fed is reactionary always and almost always reacts too far.

Therein lies the problem. The Fed fails at regulating. Hardly surprising, really. Is it not a joke to pay lip service to free markets, which are incredibly dynamic decentralized systems, and then use a central body to regulate the blood of the system, money? It’s a sad joke.

I could go on, but I’ll hold off. There are two pieces of Volcker’s recent speech I want to quote and comment on briefly. First:

One of the saddest days of my life was when my grandson – and he’s a particularly brilliant grandson – went to college. He was good at mathematics. And after he had been at college for a year or two I asked him what he wanted to do when he grew up. He said, “I want to be a financial engineer.” My heart sank. Why was he going to waste his life on this profession?

A year or so ago, my daughter had seen something in the paper, some disparaging remarks I had made about financial engineering. She sent it to my grandson, who normally didn’t communicate with me very much. He sent me an email, “Grandpa, don’t blame it on us! We were just following the orders we were getting from our bosses.” The only thing I could do was send him back an email, “I will not accept the Nuremberg excuse.”

There was so much opaqueness, so many complications and misunderstandings involved in very complex financial engineering by people who, in my opinion, did not know financial markets. They knew mathematics. They thought financial markets obeyed mathematical laws. They have found out differently now. You know, they all said these events only happen once every hundred years. But we have “once every hundred years” events happening every year or two, which tells me something is the matter with the analysis.

So I think we have a problem which is not an ordinary business cycle problem. It is much more difficult to get out of and it has shaken the foundations of our financial institutions. The system is broken.

The system is broken. The system was too opaque. Finance is incredibly complex. It is here where I actually started wondering if Volcker “gets it” as far as understanding that our system is far from robust as centrally controlled and designed. As it is, Nassim Taleb is the only person I’ve seen who seems to glimpse the complexity of the financial system. However, I’ve seen even Taleb defer in theory to people “who saw this coming,” like Nouriel Roubini, for potential ways to “fix” the system.

Volcker’s comment about his grandson also hits home with me as I went into finance/accounting. When everyone you know is running into a field, that may be cause to rethink your choice of education (Everyone I knew in college was getting into Real Estate — this was back in 2001). Then again, I still wish I had gone and pursued computer science, but the dotcom crash (2000) scared me away.

More from Volcker:

What do I mean by different? I think a primary characteristic of the system ought to be a strong, traditional, commercial banking-type system. Probably we ought to have some very large institutions – or at least that’s the way the market is going – whose primary purpose is a kind of fiduciary responsibility to service consumers, individuals, businesses and governments by providing outlets for their money and by providing credit. They ought to be the core of the credit and financial system. …

What has happened recently just underscores that. And I think we’re at the point where we can no longer fool ourselves by saying that is not the case. The government will support these institutions, which in turn implies a closer supervision and regulation of those institutions, a more effective regulation than we’ve had, at least in the United States, in the recent past. And that may involve a lot of different agencies and so forth. I won’t get into that.

So just as soon as I thought maybe Volcker “gets it,” he goes and says we should have a strong core (read: centralized) system of banking that is heavily regulated. He wants this core to be firewalled from entrepreneurial finance to eliminate conflicts of interest.

I’ll be brief. Regulation has failed. The Federal Reserve is a monstrous regulatory body that has repeatedly exemplified failure, and I’ve already mentioned its innate centralization. The SEC? Failure at every turn. More regulation? More centralization? How many examples do we need whereby larger organizations display a need for more regulation, and when more regulation is presented, said regulatory agency is either captured by the body it intends to regulate or is inept?

What we need are decentralized banking systems that are free enough and unencumbered enough to fix themselves or self-destruct without taking down the entire network.

The great centralization experiment has failed. Let’s move on (and follow the example of the internet, which exemplifies the power of decentralization).

Enough for now.

Update 2/24/09: Saw a youtube clip of Volcker’s speech. Wanted to get this quote down:

The description of a fat tail reflects a kind of analysis that isn’t appropriate. They think that financial markets follow normal distributions. pattern like the law of physics. The one remark I’ll leave with you: if you think the financial world follows a normal distribution pattern like the laws of physics. If you think that you’re a financial engineer but you’re not a very good financial analyst.

So he recognizes how inherently unpredictable financial markets are but then goes on to suggest that the Federal Reserve can fix imbalances that present themselves.

Cognitive dissonance.


Why Is This Bubble Different From All Other Bubbles?


Mostly interested in the latest Case-Shiller chart with the nice dotted line reversion to the mean. Based on the intersection point on the index, we can’t expect to hit a bottom on house prices until 2012, and then we would likely expect to overshoot a bit to the downside.

Takeaways include: expect house prices to fall further on a nominal basis, an inflation-adjusted basis, or both (likely both). This is information I’d almost rather not have as even if we don’t find a house in the next couple of months and relegate to renting for another year or so, we’re only marginally better off a year from now in the overall correction.

What can you do?

Here is the full-size.

George Soros finally gets it


Rolfe over at Option Armageddon tackles George Soros amazing flip-flop from his side-pocket banking position that he publicized a bit over two weeks ago (Feb. 4).

As I commented on OA, it seems more and more true believers in the financial system are losing faith and turning into apostates. What’s interesting in Soros’ case is how dire he paints the present situation, comparing it to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Perhaps he’s not far off the mark.

Per Rolfe:

Anyway, only three weeks after arguing “side-pockets” were the magic bullet, Soros now sounds downright despondent. Reuters:

Renowned investor George Soros said on Friday the world financial system has effectively disintegrated, adding that there is yet no prospect of a near-term resolution to the crisis.

Soros said the turbulence is actually more severe than during the Great Depression, comparing the current situation to the demise of the Soviet Union.

He said the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in September marked a turning point in the functioning of the market system.

“We witnessed the collapse of the financial system,” Soros said at a Columbia University dinner. “It was placed on life support, and it’s still on life support. There’s no sign that we are anywhere near a bottom.”

Three weeks ago George thought all we needed was a little financial engineering. Now he sees “no prospect” of resolution and says we’re falling like the Soviet Union. What changed? My guess is that George finally started to think outside the box; he put his big brain to work thinking about the very foundation of our economic system and realized its broken.

Why highlight this particular flip-flop with a blog post? I think it’s emblematic, and not in a good way.

I continue to be struck by the level of ignorance among our captains of industry, our leading policitians, our financial elite and, most ominously, our economic “experts.” Few appear to recognize the depth of the crisis we face. Most still aren’t prepared to ask the hard, fundamental questions about our economic system. Anyone who mentions the gold standard, for instance, is treated as a novelty.

The problem, I think, is that so many of our leaders are tied immovably to the old way of doing business. A man will make himself believe most anything if his salary depends on it. Lots of salaries are at risk, so lots of heels are digging themselves in.

Anyway, as I’ve argued for awhile, the only way to “solve” the crisis is to let asset prices fall. And that means the balance sheets on which those assets currently reside need to recognize substantial losses. Call it the “Fight Club” solution*—everyone goes back to $0. This would be highly painful for ALL Americans. But it would be most painful for those with the most to lose…


*Fight Club screenplay:

…I believe the plan is to blow up the headquarters of these credit card companies and the TRW building.

Why these buildings? why credit card companies?

If you erase the debt record, we all go back to zero. It’ll create total chaos.

As I noted (H/T MVC), today happens to be Chuck Palahniuk’s, Fight Club author, birthday.

While Rome Burns…ile-rome-burns/

John Mauldin over at the Ritholtz’s Big Picture writes about long-term investing, what it means (He defines as a 20 year horizon), and when it works (He also discusses how Europe is in big, big trouble, but that is another topic that is being widely discussed).

As part of this long-term investing discussion, he takes to task some of the bromides bantered about regarding missing bull markets, “no pain no gain,” blah blah buy! buy! buy! etc.

It’s a long read for a blog post, but there is some worthwhile nuggets. What I really took away was here:

In the 103 years from 1900 through 2002, the annual change for the Dow Jones Industrial Average reflects a simple average gain of 7.2% per year. During that time, 63% of the years reflect positive returns, and 37% were negative. Only five of the years ended with changes between +5% and +10% – that’s less than 5% of the time. Most of the years were far from average – many were sufficiently dramatic to drive an investor’s pulse into lethal territory!

Almost 70% of the years were “double-digit years,” when the stock market either rose or fell by more than 10%. To move out of “most” territory, the threshold increases to 16% – half of the past 103 years end with the stock market index either up or down more than 16%!

Read those last two paragraphs again. The simple fact is that the stock market rarely gives you an average year. The wild ride makes for those emotional investment experiences which are a primary cause of investment pain.

The stock market can be a very risky place to invest. The returns are highly erratic; the gains and losses are often inconsistent and unpredictable. The emotional responses to stock market volatility mean that most investors do not achieve the average stock market gains, as numerous studies clearly illustrate.

Not understanding how to manage the risk of the stock market, or even what the risks actually are, investors too often buy high and sell low, based upon raw emotion. They read the words in the account-opening forms that say the stock market presents significant opportunities for losses, and that the magnitude of the losses can be quite significant. But they focus on the research that says, “Over the long run, history has overcome interim setbacks and has delivered an average return of 10% including dividends” (or whatever the number du jour is. and ignoring bad stuff like inflation, taxes, and transaction costs).

The 20-Year Horizon

But how long is the “long run”? Investors have been bombarded for years with the nostrum that one should invest for the “long run.” This has indoctrinated investors into thinking they could ignore the realities of stock market investing because of the “certain” expectation of

ultimate gains.

This faulty line of reasoning has spawned a number of pithy principles, including: “No pain, no gain,” “You can’t participate in the profits if you are not in the game,” and my personal favorite, “It’s not a loss until you take it.”

These and other platitudes are often brought up as reasons to leave your money with the current management which has just incurred large losses. Cynically restated: why worry about the swings in your life savings from year to year if you’re supposed to be rewarded in the “long run”? But what if history does not repeat itself, or if you don’t live long enough for the long run to occur?

For many, the “long run” is about 20 years. We work hard to accumulate assets during the formative years of our careers, yet the accumulation for the large majority of us seems to become meaningful somewhere after midlife. We seek to have a confident and comfortable nest egg in time for retirement. For many, this will represent roughly a 20-year period.

We can divide the 20th century into 88 twenty-year periods. Though most periods generated positive returns before dividends and transaction costs, half produced compounded returns of less than 4%. Less than 10% generated gains of more than 10%. The P/E ratio is the measure of valuation reflected in the relationship between the price paid per share and the earnings per share (“EPS”). The table below reflects that higher returns are associated with periods during which the P/E ratio increased, and lower or negative returns resulted from periods when the P/E declined.

Look at the table above. There were only nine periods from 1900-2002 when 20-year returns were above 9.6%, and this chart shows all nine. What you will notice is that eight out of the nine times were associated with the stock market bubble of the late 1990s, and during all eight periods there was a doubling, tripling, or even quadrupling of P/E ratios. Prior to the bubble, there was no 20-year period which delivered 10% annual returns.

Why is that important? If the P/E ratio doubles, then you are paying twice as much for the same level of earnings. The difference in price is simply the perception that a given level of earnings is more valuable today than it was 10 years ago. The main driver of the last stock market bubble, and every bull market, is an increase in the P/E ratio. Not earnings growth. Not anything fundamental. Just a willingness on the part of investors to pay more for a given level of earnings.

Every period of above-9.6% market returns started with low P/E ratios. EVERY ONE. And while not a consistent line, you will note that as 20-year returns increase, there is a general decline in the initial P/E ratios. If we wanted to do some in-depth analysis, we could begin to explain the variation from this trend quite readily. For instance, the period beginning in 1983 had the lowest initial P/E, but was also

associated with a two-year-old secular bear, which was beginning to lower 20-year return levels.

Look at the following table from my friend Ed Easterlin’s web site at

(which is a wealth of statistical data like this!). You can find many 20-year periods where returns were less than 2-3%. And if you take into account inflation, you can find many 20-year periods where returns were negative!

Look at the 20-year average returns in the table above. The higher the P/E ratio, the lower (in general) the subsequent 20-year average return. Where are we today? As I have made clear in my last two letters, we are well above 20. Today we are over 30, on our way to 45. In a nod to bulls, I agree you should look back over a number of years to average earnings and take out the highs and lows of a cycle. However, even “normalizing” earnings to an average over multiple years, we are still well above the long-term P/E average. Further, earnings as a percentage of GDP went to highs well above what one would expect from growth, which is usually GDP plus inflation. Earnings, as I have documented in earlier letters, revert to the mean. Next week, I will expand on that thought.

And given my thesis that we are in for a deep recession and a multi-year Muddle Through Recovery, it is unlikely that corporate earnings are going to rebound robustly. This would suggest that earnings over the next 20 years could be constrained (to say the least).

In all cases, throughout the years, the level of returns correlates very highly to the trend in the market’s price/earnings (P/E) ratio.

This may be the single most important investment insight you can have from today’s letter. When P/E ratios were rising, the saying that “a rising tide lifts all boats” has been historically true. When they were dropping, stock market investing was tricky. Index investing is an experiment in futility.

You can see the returns for any given period of time by going to

Now let’s visit a very basic concept that I discussed at length in Bull’s Eye Investing. Very simply, stock markets go from periods of high valuations to low valuations and back to high. As we will see from the graphs below, these periods have lasted an average of 17 years. And we have not witnessed a period where the stock market started at high valuations, went halfway down, and then went back up. So far, there has always been a bottom with low valuations.

My contention is that we should not look at price, but at valuations. That is the true measure of the probability of success if we are talking long-term investing.

Now, let me make a few people upset. When someone comes to you and starts showing you charts that tell you to invest for the long run, look at their assumptions. Usually they are simplistic. And misleading. I agree that if the long run for you is 70 years, you can afford to ride out the ups and downs. But for those of us in the Baby Boomer world, the long term may be buying green bananas.

If you start in a period of high valuations, you are NOT going to get 8-9-10% a year for the next 30 years; I don’t care what their “scientific studies” say. And yet there are salespeople (I will not grace them with the title of investment advisors) who suggest that if you buy their product and hold for the long term you will get your 10%, regardless of valuations. Again, go to the Crestmont web site, mentioned above. Spend some time really studying it. And then decide what your long-term horizon is.

Boy Wonder: Ben Croshaw vs. Yahtzee


Interesting write-up on Ben Croshaw a.k.a. Yahtzee of video game reviewing fame and hilarity (See Zero Punctuation). I rarely even own or care about the games Croshaw reviews as its just fun to listen/watch his dry, humorous video reviews.

I liked the angle of nobody-turned-somebody that the author of this article took. That Croshaw is an outsider is also a refreshing and increasingly common meme we’re seeing as the internet-world competes with the established “authorities.”

H/T to David Byars for first telling me about Yahtzee.

Croshaw is beloved by many, and envied by most. He is the Peter-Pan-gone-right that misleads many of us to think that a little luck and a general lack of focus might lead to our discovery. Aspiring models and actors tell themselves the same myth, although it’s admittedly a larger leap for someone to genuinely identify with Kate Moss or Christian Bale. Croshaw, on the other hand, is just unkempt and self-deprecating enough for us to emotionally access him. At the end of the day, odds are we find ourselves to be prettier, richer, hipper, or nicer than little Ben C, which makes it all the more easier to think we could do what he does.

Yahtzee is living the collective dream of plenty of people I know online. In fact, he’s living the dream of some of the most ambitious, charismatic folks I know in the real world as well. Nobody is asking him to define himself by trade, title, or career path. He has dabbled in most aspects of the industry he enjoys, enough to give him the ethos and vocabulary that substantiate his reviews. Simultaneously, this lack of specialization gives him the refreshingly removed perspective of an outsider, and at least at one time, the enthusiasm of a fan boy.

It is indeed the sensation of Yahtzee that causes us to forget the hard labor of Ben Croshaw. Almost by the book, he got his lucky break being discovered by The Escapist (and a number of other outlets who wanted him) after MS Painting just two installments of Zero Punctuation and uploading them to YouTube.

After feeling a 400% increase in traffic, it was clear to The Escapist that Croshaw had been a lucrative acquisition. It may be tempting to say Zero Punctuation was a bit of a lottery ticket on both ends, but to undermine the work that went into production is hazardous. An avid writer, Croshaw understands narrative. A student of humor, he understands timing. His breadth of knowledge of game mechanics comes not only from playing, but developing, constructing, and imagining. The difference between Yahtzee and every mook who thinks he or she can, is that Yahtzee does and frequently, Yahtzee fails. His own site is stacked with work that never really got off the ground ranging from novels to games to storytelling in GMod. He hit it big by synthesizing many of his talents in a way that rang culturally relevant, but that took the kind of insight that grows out of patient observation. For most of us, patience is the missing link.

Ultimately, the internet is drawn to Yahtzee because he is one of the faceless masses, yet he has a face (and a hat). He is still, in part, a boy with loaded questions and an affinity for sex jokes. He is a forum troll with his very own forum. His opinions are manifold and he enjoys the audience. In 2003 he was blogging the sentiments of bloggers past and bloggers yet to come:

“I am a consumer, part of the system of capitalism. To the corporations that control our lives, I am nothing but a huge mouth wearing designer jeans, just one of billions, to be cajoled or threatened with advertising into giving my money to people who already have too much. Although I vocally consider this a despicable state of affairs, I buy their loveless food and wear their manufactured garments. I am simultaneously antagonist and component.”

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