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Bill Gates Has 5 Book Recommendations for Your 2021 Holiday Season

Stacy Johnson

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Bill Gates Has 5 Book Recommendations for Your 2021 Holiday Season



Bill Gates wants you to read more science fiction.

On Monday, Gates released his annual holiday book recommendation list — along with a blog post explaining why two of his five selections are science-fiction books. As a child, he wrote, he was “obsessed” with science fiction. And though the famous reading enthusiast focused more on non-fiction as he aged, he’s lately found himself “drawn back to the kinds of books I would have loved as a kid.”

In his youth, the billionaire wrote, he devoured the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert Heinlein — and spent “countless hours” discussing Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” trilogy with the late Paul Allen, his childhood friend and eventual Microsoft co-founder.

This year, Gates’ holiday book recommendations include a pair of modern science-fiction works that “made me think about how people can use technology to respond to challenges.” That’s unsurprising: Gates has spent much of the past year touting the need for technological innovations to address climate change. In February, he published his own book on the topic, “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster.”

Beyond the sci-fi, Gates also recommended two non-fiction books about “cutting-edge science,” and a piece of historical fiction that “made me look at one of history’s most famous figures in a new light.”

Here are the five books that made his annual “favorites” list this year:

‘Klara and the Sun’

By Kazuo Ishiguro

“I love a good robot story,” Gates wrote about the latest novel from the Nobel Prize-winning British author Kazuo Ishiguro.

“Klara and the Sun” is a story told from the point of view of a solar-powered robot named Klara, a gravely ill child’s companion in a dystopian future United States. Despite the story’s dystopian setting, Gates noted, the artificial intelligence-powered robots “aren’t a force for evil.” Rather, the book refers to Klara and other similar robots as “artificial friends.”

Artificial intelligence has long been an area of interest — and investment — for Gates. In a 2015 Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session, he noted that machines with “super intelligence” could realistically threaten humanity someday.

Ishiguro’s book, perhaps, represents the flip side of that argument. “This book made me think about what life with super intelligent robots might look like,” Gates wrote. “And whether we’ll treat these kinds of machines as pieces of technology or as something more.”

‘Project Hail Mary’

By Andy Weir

Much like Andy Weir’s 2011 novel “The Martian,” which appeared on Gates’ 2020 summer reading list, “Project Hail Mary” involves a human who ends up in a tricky situation in outer space. The protagonist is a high school teacher who wakes up on a mysterious spacecraft, with no knowledge of how he got there.

According to Gates, it’s a book that difficult to describe without giving away too many plot twists. But, suffice it to say, the teacher “uses science and engineering to save the day,” Gates wrote. “It’s a fun read, and I finished the whole thing in one weekend.”

‘A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence’

By Jeff Hawkins

In 1996, Jeff Hawkins invented the PalmPilot digital assistant. Since then, Gates wrote, Hawkins has “spent decades thinking about the connections between neuroscience and machine learning,” culminating in “A Thousand Brains,” a non-fiction book that published in March.

In his book, Hawkins — who also co-founded machine learning company Numenta in 2005 — dissects how people think about the nature of intelligence, how the human brain works and what it’ll take to develop a true artificial intelligence.

“‘A Thousand Brains’ is appropriate for non-experts who have little background in brain science or computer science,” Gates wrote. “It’s filled with fascinating insights into the architecture of the brain and tantalizing clues about the future of intelligent machines.”

‘The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race’

By Walter Isaacson

Gates also recommends this biography of biochemist Jennifer Doudna, who won the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her work on CRISPR gene-editing, a system where DNA is cut and genes are modified to treat diseases. The book is written by Isaacson, who was also the biographer for Gates’ longtime friend and rival, Steve Jobs.

“The Code Breakers” is more than just a biography of Doudna’s scientific career and discoveries. It delves deeply into the potential applications of CRISPR gene-editing, such as curing blood diseases like sickle cell anemia, Gates wrote, adding that CRISPR “is one of the coolest and perhaps most consequential scientific breakthroughs of the last decade.”

CRISPR has been deeply divisive in large portions of the scientific community for many years, largely due to moral concerns. “Isaacson does a good job highlighting the most important ethical questions around gene editing,” Gates wrote — including whether the process should be used to alter the human gene pool for future generations.

‘Hamnet’

By Maggie O’Farrell

Here’s where Gates’ list veers from science and technology into historical fiction. William Shakespeare named his only son Hamnet, and Maggie O’Farrell’s novel of the same name is a fictional account of the life of the Bard’s child.

Hamnet died in 1596, at age 11, of unknown causes — though a popular theory for his cause of death was bubonic plague. Three years later, Shakespeare began writing “Hamlet,” and O’Farrell dives into the possible ways that the loss of his son could have shaped the playwright’s most iconic tragedy.

“If you’re a Shakespeare fan, you’ll love this moving novel about how his personal life might’ve influenced the writing of one of his most famous plays,” Gates wrote. “I thought it was a beautiful, well-written look at how grief tears a family apart.”

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Looking for a Job? You Might Get Hired Via the Metaverse, Experts Say

Stacy Johnson

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Looking for a Job? You Might Get Hired Via the Metaverse, Experts Say



Metaverse worlds could go mainstream, with firms looking to create immersive environments where people can work and play. Siemens and Hyundai have already used virtual worlds for hiring and people management. Using the metaverse for recruitment could cause security and privacy issues, say experts. The metaverse gained attention when Facebook changed its company name to Meta last month.

When Facebook announced it had changed its company name to Meta, the virtual world known as the metaverse suddenly got a lot of attention.

Meta is aiming to build a digital experience where multiple people can interact in a 3D environment with CEO Mark Zuckerberg outlining his plan to transition away from being a social network and becoming a metaverse company.

No longer a place solely for geeks and gamers, some say metaverse worlds are set to go mainstream and will be the next evolution of the internet. Others say its just the latest corporate buzzword to get investors excited over some nebulous innovation.

Regardless, brands and businesses are already looking to create immersive environments where people can work and play. Meta started testing its remote work app Horizon Workrooms in August, with people using the company’s Oculus Quest 2 headsets to hold meetings using avatars of themselves, per Reuters.

One way companies are planning to use the metaverse is for hiring and people management, with the likes of Hyundai already using virtual world app Zepeto for new employee inductions and Samsung reportedly staging a virtual recruitment fair via a platform called Gather in September.

Working from home during coronavirus lockdowns over the past 18 months accelerated demand for virtual worlds, according to Thomas Johann Lorenz, co-founder of Journee, which describes itself as a metaverse company.

“When it comes to retaining talent at your company or keeping up a company culture in the remote-first age, you need tools … that are stronger than just email and Zoom,” he told CNBC by phone. “The internet as we know it … has so far been about [a] highly efficient exchange of data and information,” he added, while he said the metaverse will be able to tap into human communication that is about “relationships, emotions and experiences.”

The firm created a metaverse for Siemens, where it held a virtual conference. Employees who were connecting for the first time could meet on a virtual beach to watch fireworks and take group selfies, and the firm has also worked on metaverse experiences for BMW and Adidas. Lorenz expects the metaverse to feature on existing hardware such as smartphones, and said virtual reality headsets won’t be required for such experiences.

Journee is currently working for a large pharmaceuticals firm on a hiring project, with the company aiming to communicate its health care work “beautifully” to candidates who can ask questions of staff via a virtual world. Recruits can also learn about a firm’s “story,” important when potential staff increasingly want to know about a company’s purpose, Lorenz said, adding that firms that want to attract tech talent need to go beyond traditional ways of hiring.

While Meta may talk about virtual worlds as new and immersive experiences, others see the metaverse as already existing via platforms like Discord, which started out as a place for video gamers to hang out online.

Niche candidates

Art director Richard Chen ran a Space Bugs art project that saw more than 3,000 nonfungible tokens sell out in six hours last week after being launched on the OpenSea marketplace. NFTs are unique assets, such as artworks, that are verified and stored using blockchain technology. They are often bought using cryptocurrencies.

“The NFT market is so new that there’s very few experts for hire from social and marketing agencies, but the experts are the people sat at home behind their computer screen,” he told CNBC by email. Chen has hired around 25 community managers the firm initially found in Discord chat rooms, having them work on pilot projects to assess their skills.

“They can’t be easily found in real life or the best talents aren’t always near you location-wise so getting them from the metaverse is the best way forward for our niche projects,” Chen added. The firm has also used audio app Clubhouse and messaging app Telegram for hiring and Chen said he learned “a lot” about the blockchain and metaverse from Discord members.

Not everyone is convinced of the potential of the metaverse. Kubi Springer, founder of consultancy SheBuildsBrands, said there is a generational divide. While her nine year-old son plays games via virtual platform Roblox (whose founder told CNBC its business plan has been based on the metaverse for 16 years) and is excited about the future of virtual worlds, Springer herself is less convinced. “We just don’t have enough of a hold on this technology,” she told CNBC via phone.

“Technology’s amazing. It’s advanced our lives in many different ways [but] I think there [are] also many things that we’re seeing, including the dark web that shows that technology and augmented reality and AI, we need to have a really strong hold on it, or it will have a strong hold on us,” she said.

Springer expects companies to use metaverse platforms for hiring, but is concerned about data protection and security, as well as the efficacy of virtual worlds. “You don’t hire people just off of skills and talents … you hire them off that feeling you get when you connect with a human being to work out whether or not they’re somebody that might be a great fit for the team … And how do you gauge that in the metaverse?”

Hiring headache

As with all new technology, companies need staff that understand how it can be applied. Digital agency R/GA is currently hiring for a “head of immersive,” someone who can run its “direct to avatar” division, which is creating virtual e-commerce stores in places like Decentraland, a self-proclaimed metaverse for buying and selling land.

But it is proving difficult to find someone with the right combination of skills, according to Nick Pringle, R/GA London’s executive creative director. “We’re trying to find a bit of a unicorn in a way: we need someone who’s got big brand experience who knows how to operate with large clients and [also] has an innate understanding of the platforms … there’s probably people you could count on one hand right now [who have that],” he told CNBC by video call. While R/GA isn’t using metaverse platforms for hiring yet, it expects to in future.

And, Pringle said, there is a tension between large, centralized metaverse worlds created by the likes of Meta, Microsoft and gaming company Epic and decentralized places where people own their data. “If we want to get to a metaverse where you jump from place to place to place, what they call ‘interoperability,’ then you need to have one open protocol, one open way of coding that like HTML did for email,” he told CNBC.

Martin Migoya, CEO of consultancy Globant, agrees that the “plumbing” behind the metaverse is still at an early stage, and told CNBC by video call he thinks virtual worlds can be positive for hiring: “When you’re interviewing [people] on a screen, you don’t know a lot of things about them. But when you have the possibility to express many new things like you can express with your avatar in the metaverse, I think there will be a lot of opportunities to really understand people much better than before.”

– CNBC’s Annie Nova, Sam Shead and Ryan Browne contributed to this report.

Missed this year’s CNBC’s At Work summit? Access the full sessions on demand at https://www.cnbcevents.com/worksummit/

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Many People Are Flying Private Jet Services for the First Time. Here’s What They’re Paying

Stacy Johnson

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Many People Are Flying Private Jet Services for the First Time. Here's What They're Paying



Private air travel is prospering under the pandemic.

In fact, interest is so high that many private jet companies have a different problem of their hands: keeping up with demand.

Private aviation company VistaJet said new memberships for the first half of 2021 are up 53% compared to 2020, with Europe bringing in the greatest number of new members (51%) during this period. 

“It’s no surprise that searches for ‘charter travel’ have increased by 520% over the last 12 months,” said Naveen Dittakavi, CEO of the flight website Next Vacay. “Searches for ‘if you wanted to take a private plane’ have increased by 1,100% in the past 12 months worldwide.”

Most people who can afford to fly privately don’t, said Gregg Brunson-Pitts, founder of Advanced Aviation Team, a Virginia-based private jet broker. The pandemic caused some of those people to book private jets, many for the very first time.

“People … have come off the sidelines,” he said. “It wasn’t just the wealthy people with means —governments were using them. They were a way to move around supplies so our business picked up pretty rapidly even during the shutdown.”

Flashpop | Stone | Getty ImagesWhen asked who is considered as someone able to afford private travel, Gregg Brunson-Pitts said “maybe someone with a net worth of $5 million or more.”

Brunson-Pitts, who was the director of the Travel Office at the White House during President George W. Bush’s second term in office, acknowledged charter jet pricing isn’t as transparent as commercial flying. But there are reasons for this, he said.  

Unlike a commercial flight — where passengers are flying on the same plane at the same time on the same date — charter jets vary considerably by size and service (none vs. “VIP catering and flight attendants”), said Brunson-Pitts. Due to rising demand, flexibility around travel dates also affects prices, he said.  

As such, a flight for a family of four from New York City to Washington, D.C., could easily vary from $10,000 to $50,000, he said, depending on customers’ requirements.

To get a broader idea around prices, CNBC spoke with newly converted private flyers about how much they paid for their first flights during the pandemic.

‘Wrestled for years with the costs’

Name: Jarrett Preston
Profession: CEO of international asset trading company Idoneus

Preston said he was “a very occasional private flier” prior to the pandemic.

“I wrestled for years with the costs and benefits of private travel,” said Preston. “As the global pandemic moved into full swing and flights were drastically reduced or rerouted, lines became longer [and] incidences of violence on board aircraft increased, I decided that private air travel was necessary.”

Courtesy of Jarrett PrestonJarrett Preston said he flies privately for three reasons: safety, security and efficiency.

He paid around $10,500 to fly from Tampa to Miami and back with Florida-based Monarch Air Group charter service. 

“Beyond the incalculable time savings, my safety and that of my family and team come first,” he said. “It has been one of the best business and personal decisions I’ve made.”

Safety, privacy and comfortability

Name: Ahmad Sahroni
Profession: Businessman and politician

As a member of the People’s Representative Council, one of two elected bodies in Indonesia’s legislative branch, Sahroni said he started flying privately for “safety, privacy and comfortability.” 

Courtesy of Ahmad SahroniAhmad Sahroni, an Indonesian politician, said privacy is one of the main reasons he started traveling via private jet.

He paid around $36,000 for his first flight, which was with the Indonesian aviation company CeoJetset. He flew from Bali to the country’s capital city of Jakarta.

“As a person with high mobility … time efficiency is also the key factor,” he said.

As to whether he plans to continue flying privately after the pandemic wanes: “Yes, definitely.”

‘Takes all the stress out’

Name: Steven Sadaka
Profession: CEO of executive search firm StevenDouglas

Sadaka often flies out of Miami International Airport.

“It’s very stressful going through such a large international airport. There are endless lines through security, and you’re treated as a number,” he said. “This was always a pain point for me, but I could never justify [spending] $6,000 an hour for a charter jet.”

Courtesy of Steven SadakaSteven Sadaka said when the pandemic started, he and his family were no longer comfortable traveling in airports or on commercial flights.

The company he now flies with, Jet It, runs about $1,600 an hour, he said. He paid $8,000 for a round-trip flight from Boca Raton, Florida, to Teterboro, New Jersey, for his first flight.

Sadaka said private jet travel “takes all the stress out of travel.” Now, he said, he’s not going back.

“I can arrive five minutes before takeoff, a car is waiting at my destination, and I don’t have to worry about cancellations,” he said. “I can travel on my schedule, even if it changes.”

Semi-private travel

Name: Derrick L. Miles
Profession: Founder and CEO of health tech company CourMed

Miles made the switch for two reasons: time savings and Covid-19 safety.

“Travel delays, spending time in long lines can all negatively impact our organization’s ability to get more accomplished each day,” he said. “Time is money.”

He is now flying with JSX, a Dallas-based service that operates 30-seater jets in the United States. On his first flight, he paid $1,200 to fly round-trip from Dallas to Miami. 

“While JSX does not operate a true charter service, I personally prefer its ‘hop on’ jet service,” Miles said. “They have flights pre-set to go to certain destinations, and I can travel at a more modest price point.”

The biggest perk, according to Miles: “getting my time back.”

“I don’t have to go to the private hanger until 20 to 30 minutes prior to departure,” he said. “In addition, the JSX parking lot is about 20 yards away from the facility. Therefore, I’m saving hours of time, and I can focus on the company’s liquidity, profitability and growth.”

Most private of all

Name: Brandon Ham
Profession: Investment manager in the finance industry

It’s not in a jet, but Ham flies the most private way possible — he pilots his own plane.

He started flying lessons just before the pandemic began, he said. In September, he bought a Cirrus SR22 single-engine piston plane.

Courtesy of Brandon HamBrandon Ham and his girlfriend, Kirsten Opsahl, in front of a 2021 Cirrus SR22T, which Ham said is “nearly identical” to the plane he is having built.

He declined to share the cost of the plane, but said certified airplanes get to “seven figures quickly,” while new jets cost “many millions.”  He said it’s far more expensive to own and fly his own plane than to fly commercially in first-class seats. Yet chartering a jet with a professional pilot is even pricier, he said.

“The purchase price only tells part of the story,” he said. “Running costs and maintenance are massive expenses with all airplanes, with jets typically costing thousands of dollars per hour to operate.”

The greatest aspect of plane ownership is the flexibility, which outrivals even charter services, said Ham.

“If you feel like sleeping in, you can. If you’re wondering if you have time to finish your round of golf or take another run down the mountain, you can,” he said.

But there are drawbacks as well.

“Cost is surely one of them, and the fact that the plane doesn’t have a bathroom, nor food and drink service … my plane will also fly much slower than a commercial jet,” said Ham.

Time is saved “on the ground” though, he said, adding that door to door, from his apartment in Chicago to his sister’s house in Nashville, it’s faster to fly his own plane.  

Ham didn’t fly privately before he became a pilot, he said, adding that he will continue to fly commercially, especially to go abroad.

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Cramer’s Investing Club: We’re Looking Long Term and Buying More Disney on the Dip

Stacy Johnson

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Cramer's Investing Club: We're Looking Long Term and Buying More Disney on the Dip



(This article was sent first to members of the CNBC Investing Club with Jim Cramer. To get the real-time updates in your inbox, subscribe here.)

We bought 75 shares of Disney at roughly $144.82 each. Following Monday’s trades, the Charitable Trust owns 575 shares of Disney. The buy will increase Disney’s weighting in the portfolio from 1.8% to 2.07%.

On Friday, we commented that as tempting as it was to step into those stocks most at risk of the omicron variant — the ones that need cross-border activity and are tied to travel and entertainment — we simply did not have enough information and felt it better to wait and see if we would get better prices Monday. With that being the case this morning, we are ready to take advantage.

While the omicron variant has certainly added a headwind to the experiential side of Disney’s operations (think parks, cruises and theatrical releases), we remain long-term bullish and see an opportunity to reduce our overall cost basis in a position that we have purposely kept small — precisely because when we initiated it, we acknowledged that we were not out of the Covid woods. Even with this purchase, the position will be small enough to allow for further buys should the pressure persist.

As difficult as it can feel during times like this to step in and buy, with shares in a sub-2% position in the portfolio (prior to this purchase) and down ~8% from our lowest previous purchase price ($158.90), our discipline — which is what we rely on to keep us level headed and unemotional — dictates that we step in and add to our position as we see no long-term fundamental change in the business.

On the streaming front, as Jim called out in his morning alert, Loop Capital reduced their price target to $190 (from $205) citing a greater than expected planned increase in content spend to support the buildout of Disney+, which should hurt segment profitability, though help to achieve management’s 230 million to 260 million subscriber target.

While we acknowledge the spend could hamper profitability in the near-term, we think it is the right move to support long-term growth and as a long-term investors believe that near-term weakness resulting from growth-oriented investments represent buying opportunities.

As for our thinking on the experiential side, while that is something we will continue to monitor, we believe much of the pressure to be priced in at current levels and when looking for names with Covid-oriented risks, want to target those companies that have pricing power and proven to be in high demand as capacity restrictions are reduced, two factors we believe Disney demonstrated when they last reported earnings. Recall, management noted that the company’s new Disney Wish cruise ship (launching in June of 2022) is already “nearly 90% booked,” and that they have realized significant pricing power as customers are adopting new guest experiences and services like Genie+.

Though we remain of the view that we are not yet out of the woods, we believe that Disney will be a key beneficiary as pent-up demand is unleashed and that the increased content investments will not only allow Disney+ to achieve subscriber targets but also provide for a strong flywheel effect once content is fully ramped and experiential operating segments all allowed to operate at full capacity.

The CNBC Investing Club is now the official home to my Charitable Trust. It’s the place where you can see every move we make for the portfolio and get my market insight before anyone else. The Charitable Trust and my writings are no longer affiliated with Action Alerts Plus in any way.

As a subscriber to the CNBC Investing Club with Jim Cramer, you will receive a trade alert before Jim makes a trade. Typically, Jim waits 45 minutes after sending a trade alert before buying or selling a stock in his charitable trust’s portfolio. If the trade alert is sent pre-market, Jim waits 5 minutes after the market opens before executing the trade. If the trade alert is issued with less than 45 minutes in the trading day, Jim executes the trade 5 minutes before the market closes. If Jim has talked about a stock on CNBC TV, he waits 72 hours after issuing the trade alert before executing the trade. See here for the investing disclaimer.

(Jim Cramer’s Charitable Trust is long DIS.)

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