30 Nov. 2006
SETI League
PriUPS Project

Financial Advice

You're suspicious, aren't you?  You know that this is not a financial advice blog, and I must be using that title to get away with something.  After yesterday's story about shrimp enumeration, you are hoping for something more significant and sententious and you're wondering, as Col. Hall said after Sgt. Bilko left the room, "What is he up to." 

Nothing!  Really!  This is really financial advice, and good advice at that.  It involves a true story with a happy ending, too.

Q:  I don't believe you.  What are you up to?
A:  Well, it does involve shrimp.
Q:  Aha!  And I bet it isn't true, either.
A:  Yes it is.  Well, except for the identity of the person involved and any description of him.
Q:  So you lied in the introduction.  Why should we take the financial advice of a liar? 
A:  After you have read it, if you don't agree that it's good advice, you're free to ignore it.

My friend "Rudolfo" is a serial entrepreneur.  I just read an article in New York magazine that asserts that serial entrepreneurs are the least likely people to experience "burn-out," and with this exemplar before me I have no reason to doubt it.  At this very moment Rudolfo is engaged in a momentous enterprise that will cause giant heaps of loot to be deposited in his coffer.  (I don't write this sarcastically; up 'til now it has only resulted in large heaps of loot.  Giant takes a while longer.)  This enterprise involves manufacturing and distributing, i.e., actually producing something worthwhile.  His numerous previous activities were in the same vein, and he has accumulated diverse specialties in the 40+ years we have known each other.  He has been an inspiration to me in many ways.  For example, it is unlikely that I would have pursued a pilot's license if he had tried to discourage me. 

Rudolfo, as befits someone with many talents and interests, can be a bit polymaniacal.  While he is busy entrepreneuring, he has any number of additional schemes percolating in his cranial unit.  And he even has remaining crannies for interesting disaster scenarios.  You may remember the tragic and monumental explosion of the Yellowstone Park volcano of September 2005.  Then again, you may not.  He's always interesting, but he isn't always right.

One day I sustained a telephone call from him:  Did I know how much money could be made in the shrimp trade?  I admitted to an incomplete familiarity with same, and was treated to an exposition of how it worked.  Apparently, big boats go down to the coast of Venezuela and catch shrimp.  The crew processes and refrigerates them in big blocks of shrimp-ridden ice, fetches them to the USA, and sells them for an enormous profit.

Oh.  That's how it works.  I wasn't shocked at any of this.  I knew that shrimps are "seafood," come frozen, and are expensive.  The part about Venezuela was novel but didn't seem improbable.  I expressed mild interest and inquired as to why he was imparting this particular information just now.  It seems that he learned these facts from a gentleman who was an expert in the trade, who just happened to have one of these shrimp boats available, and was looking for a partner to help pay for refitting it, in return for which Rudolfo would become a partner.  A gentleman shrimp importer as it were.  And this was a great opportunity for me as well.  If I wanted to participate in this venture, I too, could be a gentleman shrimp importer, and possibly a shipping magnate.

I thought about it.  Shrimp are expensive indeed, and somebody had to be making money on them.  Why not me?  I should add that in addition to our long friendship, Rudolfo and I had done business to our mutual advantage, albeit never anything involving international fisheries.  But as attractive an opportunity as this might have been, I am afflicted with a minicum of common sense.  That's less than a modicum, but, fortunately, more than none.  After considering the following:

  • If I got involved, I would be part owner of, in effect, a tramp steamer that spent most of its time in international waters.

  • I would be involved in a business that involves the laws and the navies of two continents.

  • I would be involved in a business about which I knew nothing.  Sort of like buying a gold mine because I knew gold was shiny.  Except in the case of a gold mine, I know the ore is processed using cyanide.  The perils of shrimp were far less apparent.

And so, with apologies and good wishes, I declined Rudolfo's offer, warning him that, despite his intelligence and energy, he knew no more about shrimp than I do.  But he can be impulsive.  I followed the story for quite a while.  It finally terminated with the guy trying to sell the shrimp boat in jail for grand larceny or some such, and my friend down a significant sum of money, one which he was unlikely to recover from the guy in jail.  I derived significant entertainment from this episode, as well as some pithy advice which I gave myself and which I propose to pass along to fulfill the expectations of the title of this blogitem.

The Advice

If I were to say "don't invest or get involved in something you know nothing about," you'd properly ignore me.  What fun would we have if we stuck only to known risks?  Someone will invent that death ray or faster-than-light drive, and you might as well have a piece.  At least these are "known unknowns."

I actually had some difficulty distilling this episode to an uncontroversial suggestion.  Have I succeeded?




Eschew involvement with tramp steamers.  If
you are being asked to pay for repairing one:
"Run away!  Run away!"


If I have saved just one reader from penury, or perhaps from a life of scraping barnacles, I will feel that this break with my "no financial advice" precedent will have been worthwhile.

Q:  I thought you said the story had a happy ending.
A:  I did, and it does, I just didn't say for whom.  I, at least, didn't lose a penny, got a good shrimp story out of it, and spent no time in jail.
Q:  Are you out of shrimp stories yet?
A:  For now.

Richard Factor

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