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Annual Letter 2018

Welcome to our family letter! Each year we share meaningful stories from our adventures, key takeaways from new books, links to favorite lectures/podcasts, and insights we gained on how to live better.

We wish you happiness in the new year!

Best regards,

McPhail Family


Sumay’s Emergency Room Adventure - Sumay wrote a story about her asthma attacks this Spring. It was a very scary time, but we tried to make the most of it. She presented it to her 3rd grade class.

Tales from Jiangyin China - We all wrote about our most recent trip to Jiangyin China...Lihong's home town. We discuss everything from food and going to the spa, to economics and challenges facing China's environment.


1.     Love and Friendship - We talked a lot about love and friendship this year. We concluded that the English vocabulary badly needs an upgrade in both areas. We share three distinct types of friends and why they are all important here, the six Greek words for love, and our love languages here. Easily the most fruitful Sanghas of the year.

2.     Forgiveness and Understanding – Our new hero, Jordan Peterson, talks a lot about the “human condition” and overcoming challenges of everyday life. We listened to just about everything he has to say on the subject. The biggest takeaway we can channel from this is the importance of sharing forgiveness and understanding with ourselves and others. Life is mostly suffering for most people. We are all deeply flawed and capable of doing horrible things. Realizing this is a necessary part of overcoming our flaws and avoiding the temptations of bitterness and resentment. You can find a summary of what we learned from Dr Peterson here.

3.     Prioritize Growth and Quality Relationships – We all struggle with where to invest our time and emotions. This seems especially true for working parents. Sometimes we need to re-evaluate priorities so that we can invest more in ourselves, more in our marriage, more in our kids, more in deep and meaningful friendships, and more in bright young people that need a helping hand. Reprioritizing has helped make room for Sangha, reflectiong on our favorite books, and learning from meaningful experiences.

4.     Don’t Fear the Robots This article titled “Data, data, everywhere” was published by the Economist back in 2010. When we read this something clicked…and we understood that future career success was going to depend crucially on our ability to turn data into value. We spend a lot of time discussing how digitization, automation and machine learning are shaping the future. Our tentative conclusion is that: Yes, artificial intelligence is going to revolutionize our economy, social structures, and our institutions…. But, we don’t need to fear the robots. We will be sharing more about this here in 2019.

5.     Kids as young as five can (and probably should) learn basic programming skills – Sumay is on a Technovation team building a top secret app (shhh) Aila is learning Python, a programming language that is now so popular that has surpassed all other coding languages, because it is free, open source, simple to use, and the leading language for many machine learning applications. Sumay is starting a school to help teach friends and family how to code. For more information you can go here.

Best Books, Podcasts, and Videos

Writing our takeaways from books, podcasts, and videos is something we plan to do more of in order to better retain and synthesize what we learn. Depending on your interest we have three categories: family, finance, future.

1.     12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson was easily our favorite video of the year. These are not your main stream “eat healthy”, “get regular sleep”, “blah blah blah” kinds of rules. Buckle up!

2.     AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order, by Kai-Fu Lee. This was our favorite book of the year. Lee is one of the world’s leading experts on AI. We wrote our key takeaways here.

3.     “Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress”, by Steven Pinker, is Bill Gates favorite book of all time. We haven't read it yet, but we read a summary and watched this video. We all intellectually understand that the media is biased toward bad news. “If it bleeds it leads”. All this negativity is a real problem, and books and videos like this are a breath of fresh air.

4.     “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow”, by Yuval Harari, is an entertaining and terrifying look into how conquering famine, plague, and war is likely to change our priorities. With survival largely solved, invention is moving toward human enhancement. Yuval uses logical reasoning to explore how this will impact human life, societal structure, and belief systems. We summarize our takeaways here.

5.     The Ezra Klein Show is incredibly insightful. In this particular podcast, Ezra interviews, Andrew Yang who is running for president in 2020 on a platform to introduce “Universal Basic Income” (UBI). Ezra does a great job of showcasing hosts while also challenging them. For example, Ezra does a pretty good job of pocking holes in Andrew’s stump speech…which is a doom and gloom scenario of mass unemployment created by rapid improvements in AI and robotics.

6.     Bill and Melinda Gates Annual Letter. 2018 marks the tenth year that the Gates family has published an annual letter. It’s a brilliant combination of uplifting, insightful, and humbling. Most everyone knows that Bill Gates is rich, but he has arguably done more to end human suffering than any other single person in history. His book reviews are tremendous and a testament to his growth mindset. We are in the process of writing about his insights on a range of critical topics including the rise of China and how technology will shape the future.

New Year’s Resolution

Commit to Less – Especially on vacations. We are calling it the 30% rule

Best quote

“We agree on basic values. For our wedding, Bill’s parents gave us a sculpture of two birds side by side, staring at the horizon, and it’s still in front of our house. I think of it all the time, because fundamentally we’re looking in the same direction."Melinda Gates, 2018 Annual Letter

We love this quote. We come from different countries and have very different personalities, but we share the same values. Differences make it harder to communicate and find consensus. But differences also help families, teams, and even nations to consider all perspectives, and in the process reach a higher level of understanding. We think the world could use a bit more understanding.


McPhail Family



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