Defend your base (Drawing challenge; business models)

Day 33: Tuesday

Morning, Tim!

Thank  you for the beautiful imagery yesterday. I could be referencing either your poem, the star across Milan, or perhaps (and here’s the frontrunner…)

The choir members are hilarious.  They’re all adults, some of them quite elderly, but they act like little children […] This meant that yesterday, instead of just chatting during mass, they also told each other to be quiet in between conversations.

This is perfectly like children. It’s kind of a beautiful thing.

Tim have you ever ridden a Segway? I’m going to ride this one to now discuss business models…

So working with early stage companies I come across a variety of ways businesses provide value, ranging from “outsource the humans to other humans” to providing new datasets (e.g. by monitoring something previously not monitored [patients/staff/supplies/etc.]) to making existing datasets useful (e.g. predictive analytics; visual dashboards), among many, many others. It’s a great chance to think about where there are gaps in the market — where there are meaningful problems that there are no real solution for. It has also provided an interesting case study on business models.

Walking through some history, you had mom and pop stores selling things locally — groceries, shovels, bicycles, flowers. Enter Walmart, who truly displaced many of these locally owned stores and sold the same goods. So how did they succeed? They had more shelf space then anybody else, and became a one stop shop — the stores were much larger than what they were displacing and each sold “everything”, at least in that seemingly at that period in time. Having the convenience of going to one store for your cereal, orange juice, and kid’s Christmas present was only part of the story, though. Because Walmart had such scale, they were able to negotiate with suppliers to lower prices; not only could you get Cheerio’s and a rocking horse, but you could do so cheaper than you would be able to anywhere else. That’s part of why Amazon is so interesting current day – by putting your inventory online, you have effectively infinite shelf-space; and by having  (free) Prime 2-day (or 1-day/same-day/2-hour depending on location) delivery, you also begin to chip away at the immediacy constraints of traditional retail. Among many other reasons, it’s why Amazon has an interesting business model.

So that’s the kind of business model stuff that’s going through my head (except a lot more detailed and nerdy) when I’m at work talking with these companies. Take yesterday for example. Doctors are highly trained, and thus are “expensive” labor in total dollars. Wanting to keep tabs on patients and visits, when Doctors take notes about visits they are effectively acting as highly trained, very expensive scribes. To help alleviate this problem, there was dictation software — you could speak faster than you could write, and so notes could be gathered quickly. Alternatively, if you put an actual medical scribe in the room, you could have notes taken in real-time, saving the doctors time entirely but now paying another person. The business model continues to move forward — if you put the scribe remotely and simply have an audio and/or visual stream coming to them they could do some from a call center; you could put that call center in a labor market where it is cheaper and also gain the efficiencies in staffing to obviate the down-town it would take an in-person scribe to e.g. switch rooms. Finally, the direction that is exciting, is in the automation of the scribing all-together. To add color, this would be technology that takes the audio and/or visual stream, parses the audio, and then algorithmically places the necessary snippets of information into the relevant fields within the system. What is really exciting about this model is the lack of marginal cost (put too simply: the cost to serve the next customer). Because it is software (outside the very small tech investment to capture the audio stream), no human is being hired to do scribing, and so you no longer scale linearly with costs and revenues, but instead have a high fixed cost up front (to get the algorithm right and have servers to process the necessary information) and then distribute it over every new customer you have.

whew. That was a really large text wall. I doubt anyone has read this far, but I’m going to include a picture and a game as a reward if anyone has.

So Tim here’s how the game works:

  1.  I’m going to draw a base (See below).
  2. You then draw a base. Then draw something to attack my base.
  3. I then draw something to defend my base, and attack your base.
  4. You then draw something to defend your base, and attack my base.
  5. Repeat steps 3 & 4 (as reasonable)


  1. There are no rules (I kid. I just like it how it sounds intense when people say this…)
  2. Be creative

Zak’s Base


Until tomorrow,


p.s. the title of this post was supposed to somehow capture the fun nature of the game and also the very dry nature of my post about business models. I’m imagining someone shouting “Defend our base!” in each case…and in the case of someone shouting it in business in reference to protecting, for example, their customer base, that person would be…annoying.

Over-hydrating Plums; Kittens; Hashtags (again)

Day 16: Monday

Morning, Tim!

I’m glad to see you are back to your senses (at least taste…I do love a good cup of Earl Grey!)

I’m not sure I’m satisfied with your explanation about latin phrases, but I will take this opportunity to enlighten you about my weekend. While visiting family (again!) I came upon two kittens. While they smelled a bit like res, they were utterly adorable, and I knew immediately you’d want me to capture a picture for you!

cf.cats cf.cuteandcuddly cf.icantevenhandleit


I also had a very good discussion while home regarding something I believe you to be keenly interested in. Naturally, we discussed purple fruits.

First we discussed grapes and raisins. Grapes are delicious. They can be made into wine (more delicious) or grape juice (still good). Raisins are also fine, but they are dried grapes. There is no raisin juice (makes sense…they are dried grapes).

Then we discussed plums and prunes. Plums are good. Prunes are…useful. But you don’t typically get plum juice, you get prune juice. What?! That doesn’t make any sense. Prunes are dried plums. Why aren’t we making juice from the juicy version of the fruit?

Just when you thought I was going to be done talking about purple fruits though…

So Tim, you know your hands can get pruney, perhaps by washing dishes for a long time or taking a lengthy soak in the tub? Some suggest this happens naturally to help with grip but that’s pretty irrelevant to this discussion. Importantly, it occurs when you are overexposed to water. That’s the exact opposite way we currently make prunes. Yet I think I’ve provided sufficient evidence suggesting you could go from plums to prunes by over-hydrating and dehydrating. Where was THIS when I was looking for a science fair project?

Sometimes as I write, I imagine my future employer coming across this blog…

I do wonder about this as well. I assume you are referencing this in hopes they do come across to see the deep, rigorous analytical thinking you’ve done in the past. I think my above logic speaks for itself.

Loved the perfume, Tim – keep it fresh.

Until tomorrow,


Intoxicating Perfume

Day 15: Friday

Good morning Zak,

I am writing you this letter over a fresh cup of loose-leaf Earl Grey tea…

Picture of this post being written over a fresh cup of Earl Grey

This is so meta…

Long time readers of Thily Fin will understand the psychological significance that Earl Grey has for me.  In this context, I’m using the phrase “long time” in roughly the same sense that a 14 year-old boy might use it when he’s in a committed relationship.

Zak, in your last entry you raised a deeply philosophical question about the sense of a particular phrase in context:

Does the Latin abbreviation cf. really mean “Hashtag?”

I once had a Latin teacher who said that “crap” was a suitable translation for res, so Zak, let me just answer your question with a question: does the fact that the ancient Romans never considered likening the concept of “random stuff” to fecal matter or that they didn’t use hashtags to share and compare pictures of kittens all over the world preclude the possibility of us using modern slang to translate Latin phrases?  Isn’t it possible that Cicero’s classic masterpiece De Re Publica, “On the Public res or “On the Republic,” is actually best interpreted as a philosophical commentary “on the public excrement?”

Sometimes as I write, I imagine my future employer coming across this blog…

As you can see, this cf. joke, like most things, gets a lot better when you dissect it.  When I was a 14 year-old boy in biology class, I had to dissect a rat.  Rats are also one of those things that get better when you dissect them.  When you’re given a rat in biology class, it doesn’t seem anything like the concept of “rat” that you thought you knew in real life.  It’s all frozen and yellow… really it’s closer to the concept of “burrito” than anything. But dissecting a rat is one of the most beautiful and meaningful experiences you will have early in life.  You will suddenly become very interested in biology, and later in life it will enrich your understanding of the concept of “rat race.”

Our brains have odd ways of associating concepts, words … and smells.  This can help us be creative when writing.  When I smell bergamot, as I do in my tea right now, my brain associates it with Medieval Italian love poetry…


Ferdinand de Saussure

There was once a French dude named Ferdinand de Saussure, who believed that the association between a word and a particular concept was always fundamentally arbitrary.  He would have argued that there is actually nothing absolute about they way we define words.  What I’m trying to say is, if it’s any consolation to people in biology class, there once lived a random French person with a fantastic mustache who at least in principle wouldn’t have necessarily objected to you giving “rat” the same definition that is presently reserved for “burrito.”

And then there’s Lucretius’ classic poem De Rerum Natura, “On the Nature of res” or…

Anyway, as you start to take your rat apart, you will begin to notice a thick miasma of death that is now filling the space where you were once used to finding breathable air.  That ambrosial aroma is a concept called “formaldehyde,” one example of how rats get better when you dissect them.  The smell of this intoxicating perfume is permanently carved into my brain, right next to memories of my 9th-grade lab partner and rat intestines.

And that’s one great way to begin a committed relationship.

Until Monday,



The Poetics of Spoons

Day 13: Wednesday

Good morning Zak,

As you know, Zak, the German language has some really wonderful words that don’t correspond well with concise translations in other languages.  The most difficult thing to translate, though, is not the meaning of a word, but its terrifying sound.  The next time someone dawdling in front of you keeps you from crossing the street, try yelling Sondersprache! at them, and see what happens.

Chances are nothing will happen.  They might look at you funny.  If they speak German, they might be very confused.  But you’re only doing this for personal satisfaction anyway.

Today’s unusual use for a spoon: curling your mustache whiskers with the tip of the handle.  Zak, I bet you didn’t realize that this blog also occasionally publishes unusual uses for spoons.  It’s actually the only peer-reviewed section on Thily Fin.

Aside from being a really great insult for non-German speakers, the word Sondersprache is also a term used by German philologists (language scholars) that means “specialized language.”  Usually a Sondersprache is a variation of a larger language—like Modern English for example—used and understood by only a smaller subset of people.

These days we might think of Harry Potter fans or Lord of the Rings buffs examples of those kinds of subsets.  They probably would rather I didn’t call them “buffs,” but I can’t just reuse the word “fans.”  I know “buffs” sounds like some kind of disgusting condiment your uncle orders on his hot dog that makes it smell like death itself, but what do you want me to call them?

Sometimes poetry works a lot like spoons.  It’s all about finding unusual uses of things.  Of images for example.  cf. this fantastic piece.

For anyone unfamiliar, cf. is an abbreviation for conferre, a Latin term meaning “hashtag.”

Zak, the problem with using a Sondersprache is that it tends not to be a very efficient way to communicate.  That’s why as more and more people begin to use a particular language, it tends to lose the rich expressive qualities characteristic of a Sondersprache.  What happened to all the crazy weird grammatical forms that used to exist in German, Latin, Greek, English etc?  Well, to put it bluntly, people happened.

It’s very difficult to preserve the unique richness of smaller subcultures, since societal pressure tends toward conformity, efficiency, and automation.  Some people think that Universities might be able to serve as havens for cultural depth.  Others have found the internet to be a rich place for diversity… or at least diversity of a certain kind.

Then there are also well respected authors who feel that language should simply strive to be as transparent and efficient as possible.

Some of our readers might be a part of that too often marginalized people-group of shoelace-enthusiasts.  If anyone happens to be a part of that group, I feel for you.  Shoelaces are an endlessly rich and fascinating facet of the human experience, and outsiders have trouble understanding this.  Take for example this brilliant checkered design with a specialized aglet:


An aglet, for all the muggles out there, is a term relating to the study of shoelace anatomy.  Essentially, it refers to the glossy tip at the end of a shoelace.  You’d have to be a part of shoelace-enthusiast culture to  understand this fully, since aglet is a specialized term that really only us shoelace buffs know how to use properly.

Until tomorrow,




Extra Room

Day 9: Thursday

Good morning Zak,

So a few days ago I drank the last cup of loose-leaf Earl Grey tea.  I’ve been trying to pick up some more, but simple little tasks like that can sometimes turn out to be surprisingly difficult in a foreign country.  Especially when that country is Italy.  Any other foreigners who have been here know exactly what I’m talking about.  The saddest part of running out of tea is the moment when you have to throw away the empty little box it came in.  I’m not sure exactly what it is, but there’s something oddly symbolic in that act.

The recipe for Earl Grey tea is extremely simple.  There are actually only two ingredients: China tea leaves and the essence of Bergamot.  Now I know what you’re thinking.  Whenever somebody tries to tell you that “the essence of” anything is one of the main ingredients of a perfume or a fine wine etc. it’s probably safe to assume that that person is full of the essence of… something else.  Fair enough.  But setting pretensions aside, in this case I really can’t think of a better way to describe the flavor.

“And then he looks at her and swears within himself

That in her making God intended novelty.” -Dante

Bergamot is a weird greenish-yellow lemon-orange that they grow in Calabria at the very tip of Italy’s boot.  It has a really strong citrus flavor, and it can even be dangerous if ingested in large quantities.  That’s why crafters of Earl Grey really just use the essence of this bizarre freak-of-nature fruit.  But a barely perceptible touch of the stuff completely transforms the tea from lifeless bitterness into the exquisite mystery that is Earl Grey…

Okay, so I am a little full of it, but that’s not the point.

Anyway, the point is, I often wake up early in the morning to drink my tea and read some medieval Italian poetry before my roommates get up and play their pop music.  Zak, I really have nothing against pop music.  Like Old Occitan poetry, it’s very formulaic, which makes it well structured.  I just didn’t realize that when I hopped on a plane to fly across the Atlantic, leaving behind my home and almost everything I knew, Justin Bieber alone would follow me here and continue on insisting that I go and love myself.  Nothing against Bieber, I’m just sort of surprised he managed to find me here.

By the way, Zak, we need to go to Calabria.  This is kind of urgent.  You and Megan can drop everything and meet me there:


So whenever I smell the subtle aroma of bergamot it makes me—I’m ashamed to admit—a little nostalgic.  I can’t help thinking of medieval Italian poetry in the morning, and of all the personal stories and experiences my brain has mapped onto that fine literary craftsmanship.

Zak, when I told you at the beginning of this blogging project that Thily Fin is like an extra empty box on a financial reporting from, your immediate assumption was that this means our job must be to fill that box together.  Now I’m not one to quibble about metaphors and what they mean… but let me just quibble with you about this metaphor and what it means.  Maybe there’s actually nothing inherently deficient about an empty little box.  It seems like filled boxes are actually pretty easy to come by, and there’s plenty of stuff in the world to fill them.  There are blogs about pens for example.


…for all the wolf trainers, pen-enthusiasts, and stylish young dinogirls of the the world.

What I’m saying is, however much we fill this box, maybe we should also try to always leave a little extra empty space.  Like space for creativity or something… good poetry tends to do this.  If the essence of bergamot is some kind of metaphor, I don’t honestly know what it means.  But that’s kind of what I like about it.  The allusive subtlety of it leaves extra space for all the crazy and awesome nonsense in the word.  Humans are really cool.  And mostly when we try to capture that in writing, we fall short of the actual essence of what it means to be human.

“She shows herself to those who see so pleasant

That through their eyes she gives their heart a sweetness

Which he who doesn’t taste it cannot understand.”

In this age of information, technology plays a key role in the lives of most of us (he said… writing his blog post).  There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, except that functioning machines often require standardization and automation, which force us to box personhood and human identity into narrowly defined categories.  I think a lot of us find this somewhat uncomfortable, so when we have the chance, why not leave ourselves a little extra space to think.

Until tomorrow,


A Lot of Weather

Day 3: Wednesday

Good morning Zak,

My initial plan was to use this blog mostly for conversations about the weather.  If you want to throw in some of the nuts and bolts of financial modeling, then do your thing but don’t go over board.  I mean, Zak, we can spice things up a little bit, but let’s not give our readers more than they can handle.

So we’ve had some rainy weather recently here in Milan, and the other day I was walking home in some of that rain, when the cross-walk sign in front of me turned yellow.  Normally I would run across the street in a situation like that, but there was a couple walking in front of me, taking their time and… enjoying themselves.

Some people say that “bad” weather makes them a bit down.  English speakers even say that they are “under the weather” whenever they’re not feeling one hundred percent.  I’ve always kind of liked the rain and the clouds.  I’m not sure if it would do the meteorologically judgmental people any good to point out that, unless they are airplane pilots or astronauts, there’s a pretty good chance they spend most of their lives under the weather.  Like it or not.

In the park there was a lady singing and a dude plucking a guitar under a plastic awning.  Random people were stopping and doing their best to dance and not slip on the wet cobblestone walkway.  On Saturday I had seen a performance of The Marriage of Figaro at Milan’s world famous opera house, La Scala.  But nobody in the audience had gotten up to dance.  I guess sometimes bad singing is better than good singing.

Milanese Cobblestone Walkway

Zak, you might wonder why so many great artists throughout history have come from Italy.  At the Conservatory they’ll tell you it’s because the Italians use really good technique, I think it’s mainly because they stop to kiss each other in the rain when the walking sign in front of them is about to change to red.

At this point some of our more creative readers are asking themselves, “is this post somehow about the election?”  I’m not here to judge you, creative readers; I’m not here to judge anyone.  I know the world revolves around the red and blue of US politics, so consider this my acknowledgment of the elephant in the room.  Make whatever you will of things, but if you’re tired of the world of politics, consider entering a different world.

Tom Skilling seems to capture my sentiments very well every time he comes on channel 9 and says, “there’s a lot of weather out there.”  That’s precisely the situation.  Traveling the world is showing me that there is a lot of weather out there.  It’s not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing.  It’s just kind of interesting.  Zak, let’s hope for more weather soon.

Until tomorrow,


The Nuts of It

Day 2: Tuesday

Morning, Tim!

I’m excited to start a new project with you. I’m not sure why I let you go first; introductions seem to suit my skill set better than yours. Not that I do it well; but in a relative manner, you’re great at so many things, and I’m mostly good at introductions[1].

Thily fin seems like a wonderful adventure. As you set out yesterday, it is the box we get to fill. Together. I’m not sure how we’ll fill it, or with what, but thankfully we’ve agreed to keep trying each day. But you’ve really narrowed us in, put us in a box (literally). You didn’t specify how large of a box it is, so that could be a plus; or it could mean we are really cramped. I’m a large person, Tim – be considerate. Regrettably you’ve also made it live in a financial model; that ensures no one will read it.  I suppose if this thing never takes off, it’ll all go back to you opening, perhaps too remarkably. And some might say you should then get credit it if does take off.

But it’s in a financial model, so that’s not going to happen.

In other news, I’m remarkably impressed at how well you’ve captured my work life. Below you’ll find a selection from the financial model I was working on yesterday:

161108_Cashew_Nuts Cartoon_part 1.png

161108_Cashew_Nuts Cartoon.png

I call this piece “The Nuts of It”. It is actually the first in a two-part series on teaching financial modeling. If you’d like, I’m happy to continue teaching you about financial modeling; at least the bolts of it (nuts piece found above).

I suppose I’m done with my bad nut puns (for now).

I intended to write more, but it’s surprising how long those masterworks of art take to create. Eager to see how the Thily Fin box continues to be filled out. Were there things you had intended to fill it with? My initial suspicians: Music, Philosophy, Healthcare, Swordfish fighting (there’s gotta be a good Youtube channel on this, right?), Digital exercises (as in finger movements, not a silly phone app for cardio), etc.

Until tomorrow[2],



  1. As evidenced by this really strong introductory paragraph
  2. I got really worried I’d need a clever sign off that would work each time; then I realized you started with one that would be impossible to use correctly each time based on the aforementioned rules. A bit of a relief knowing I can take my cue by simply forcing you to be creative on Friday.