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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Pareto's Principle?

Hello all, long time no see.

I got my graded business stock project back today, and comparing it to others in the class left me thinking about Pareto's Principle. I'll come back to this example, first a bit of background on the Principle.

Pareto's Principle, otherwise known as the 80/20 rule or the law of the vital few (or for the economics nerds, the Principle of Factor Sparsity), is a concept seen everywhere in our world - 80% of results come from 20% of the effort. It originated with Vilfredo Pareto in 1906 when he noted that 80% of the land in his home country of Italy was owned by the wealthiest 20% of the population. Joseph M. Juran later applied it to quality control (80% of your problems come from 20% of your causes) and named it Pareto's Principle. Today, most people generally know about the Principle either through school courses or through the spread of Tim Ferriss's works (the 4-Hour Workweek and the 4-Hour Body). To keep it short and sweet, the LifeHacking community LOVES Pareto's Principle. Why? Because if correctly applied, you can get a lot of results for a little effort - that's something I can really get behind.

But how does this apply to my Business project, you ask? Let's take a look, shall we? I'll put mine up against two other projects that stood out to me. Quick FYI: The project entailed playing with $200,000 of fake money - $100,000 invested in stocks of our choice and the other $100,000 invested in an index containing our stocks.
- My Project was in a plain paper folder, and had little Post-It tabs to make reading/grading slightly easier. The writing quality was pretty spot on, but most of my analysis was my thoughts instead of quantifiable percentages and values. I had the required graph of the success of my portfolio compared to a similar amount of the relevant index (in this case, the NYSE Index), but also several optional graphs (one charting the price of each of my 4 stocks). I did most of the project without advice from the professor other than his preferred formatting of the pages. Much of the hard work (making graphs, assembling the pieces of the project to form a cohesive whole, etc) was done the night before.
- My neighbor's project was spiral bound with a slick cover. It had several embedded images and graphics to better illustrate his decision process. His tabs were built-in instead of Post-It notes like mine. I didn't get a good look at his project, but it looked like something a company would put out to shareholders for an annual statement - again, very slick. I heard him speak with the professor many times over the course of the project, he was clearly keeping close tabs on his portfolio and working hard over the ~ 9 weeks.
- A guy across the room was really on his game. He had three graphs for each stock and his individual write-ups for each company were about 1.5 pages each, while mine were confined to a page with a large graph. His project was also very polished, with a lot of attention to detail and obviously a lot of time spent over the project period. Different quantified analyzes were EVERYWHERE. Our professor hinted that he figured this guy put in the most effort overall out of the entire class.


So, now the grade rundown. My project: 91. Neighbor: 94. Crazy-effort guy: 99. At first it may seem like I'm a slacker, but let's really put this in perspective. The lowest grade in class: 70. Average grade (not sure what method he used to determine "average," but I'm assuming either mean or median): 89. Highest grade: Crazy-effort's 99. So all of a sudden, I'm running with the big dogs with considerably less effort than they put in. Hmmm.... 2 points over the average, guesstimated 20-30 hours less work than the higher grades I pointed out. Not an exact 80/20, but the idea remains the same.

What have I learned here? Focus on what Ramit Sethi calls the "Big Wins" in the personal finance realm, the victories that hold the most weight. I could have bumped my grade up 2-3 points by spending a lot more time adding graphics, keeping close watch on my stocks, or going out and putting my report in prettier packaging - but that doesn't interest me. I have a solid A in the class already, and I would get little joy out of putting so much time or money into so little results. Most people would start by making things pretty, but that's not me. I'll stick to my relative expertise - clear and supportive writing, and a clean look sans embedded graphics. And I'll walk out of class with an A report in hand and a smile on my face.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Official Spartan Sprint Recap

On 3/26/2011, I dined in hell.


Or something like it. For those of you who haven't heard about my preparations for the Spartan Sprint, here's a quick recap:

- The race is run on a 3.5 mile course, with 16-17 obstacles interspersed throughout.
- For preparation, I mixed Coolrunning's Couch-to-5k (running) with Mark Rippetoe's infamous Starting Strength (lifting).
- This event was sure to be a pretty big challenge for me - I'd never run a 5k distance in one sitting before, and the Sprint adds a ton of obstacles to that distance (including hills... Should've known that after I read the race location: "Rocky Hill Ranch")

Before I sum up the race, here's a few things I learned:
- An injury on the bottom of my foot kept me from running for a couple of weeks at the end of my training stint. I really needed that running conditioning.
- I could definitely benefit from working on Burpees. I used to do sets of 10 at home as a part of my workouts in high school, but the race called for painful amounts.
- I feel like the race could really benefit from having obstacles placed at more even intervals. I realize that the slopes of the course made obstacle placement difficult, but it would have been interesting to see nonetheless.

Enough of that crap. Here's how it all went down: 

 Pre-Race
Our ambitious crew of 8 runners (we had 4 of the initial 10 sign-ups drop, and 2 people jump in late to fill spots) departed in three separate vehicles, to attempt to get people on the road ASAP after their Friday classes ended. I was in the first car, which headed straight to RunTex in Austin (awesome shop, by the way) to do Pre-Registration for the whole group - and eat a last supper at Hut's Hamburgers on 6th street (always delicious).

Through a long ordeal of consulting incorrect internet directions, calling park managers late at night, and following a Boy Scout troop; we finally all made it to Buescher State Park together. We got up early the next morning, ate a frugal breakfast of Nature Valley bars and water, and headed off to the race.

The Race
The race went well for all of us, and everybody had a great time. The amount of hills took us all by surprise and really sapped everyone's strength. I'm not kidding, the hills on that course were easily some of the steepest I've seen in Texas. Here are the obstacles, to the best of my memory:

1. Fire pit (could be counted as 1 or 2 obstacles) - Right off the bat, you're jumping over knee-to-waist height flames into a mud pit. (This is the "This is really happening" moment, Spartan)
2. The Over/Under/Through obstacles - First is a 5' wall to vault over, a second wall with a narrow space to crawl under, and a chest-to-head height tire to climb through. Then you do it again, only the second tire is lower and narrower. Most of us lost our bibs trying to crawl through one of the tires, but oh well.
3. Balance Beams - 2 x 4's of roughly 8' or 12' length (can't quite remember). The boards were laid on the side so that racers were balancing on a 2" surface. Each "beam" was really 4 boards laid in a zigzag pattern of 90ยบ changes. Took a nasty spill right when I started my first one.
4. Rock Drags - Grab onto a rock weight (~30 lb. rock attached to a rope) by its rope, drag it about 20 ft and then drag it back. Relatively easy if you commit to power through at the beginning.
5. Barbed Wire - A competitive Spartan's favorite obstacle to pass by faster runners, this obstacle has racers crawling around 20-30 ft under strands of barbed wire.
6. Cargo Net - climb up a big net to around 15 or 20 ft in the air, then climb down the other side.
7. Tunnel - there was a fancy name for this, but I can't recall. Basically it's just a small tunnel that racers have to crawl through. Not too difficult, the worst part of it was just coughing up the dust that racers in front of you kicked up.
8. Water Crossing - Jump into a pond and try to wade/walk across as quick as possible. The water came up to about chest/neck height on me (I'm about 5'7", a bit short), and there were tree limbs scattered throughout the murky water to trip racers up.
9. Tunnel #2 - Could just be considered part of the Water Crossing, but at the end of the pond racers had to scramble up a second tunnel. This one was slightly higher, and most could go up on hands and knees instead of crawling the whole thing. Steep slope, and lots of mud.
10. The Big Wall - An 8 ft wall, this was a make-or-break obstacle for a lot of people. I helped my running buddy over, helped out a few strangers, and finally managed to find someone willing to help me out. Thankfully I got over, and kept moving.
11. Bucket Brigade - My favorite obstacle of the race. Racers grabbed two 5 gallon buckets, jumped into a pond, and marched around the pond's perimeter in waist high water with each bucket half full. After getting around the pond, racers carried their buckets up a steep slope by using tires embedded in the mud as footholds. Dump out your water and get moving, Spartan.
12. Small Net - A second cargo net, this one was much shorter and was probably placed as a filler obstacle to tag on extra seconds to a racer's time.
13. Horizontal Wall - Cross a 20-30 ft wall, using small little wooden squares on the wall as handholds and footholds. Seemed somewhat unfair for racers late in the day, since mud accumulated rapidly with each person crossing.
14. Javelin throw - Essentially a broomstick with a long nail for the tip, thrown at hay bales about 20 ft away. If it stuck, you pass. If you missed, or your javelin fell; you fail. I'm guesstimating that about 1 in every 5 Spartans actually made the throw.
15. Soapy Wall - A plywood slope with soapy water thrown on it for extra slickness. Racers could grab onto knotted ropes for assistance, and upper body pulling power saved the day for those to make it past this obstacle.
16. Gladiators - You're almost there, Spartan! A few sound blows with the Gladiators' weapons, and you're through to the finish line. Watch out for low tripping swings, though.

And that should be all of them. Sounds doable, right? What if I told you that missing an obstacle cost you 30 burpees? Yeah, that's right. You've been running up and down hills, scrambling over rocks and obstacles, wading through mud pits, AND you have to muster up the strength to pound out 30 burpees in a short span for competitive time. I missed three obstacles: Balance Beams, Horizontal Wall, and the Javelin Throw. Yeah, that equals 90 burpees altogether - a "normal" person's workout for a day.

I personally finished last out of my 8 friends, but I don't care. I challenged myself, and still managed to make it through just after the halfway point in our heat. We're all officially hooked and can't wait for the next race.

Aroo! Aroo! Aroo!


P.S.

One Suggestion: Post-race, hit up a buffet after you take part in the race's festivities. You've earned it.