How My Friend Achieved His Lifelong Dream

This summer I hiked 220 miles over 23 nights on the John Muir Trail. It runs all the way from Yosemite National Park to Mount Whitney near LA. 23 days out in the middle of nowhere.

It was my friend Matt’s dream. He’s a hiker, he’s a backpacker, he’s an Eagle Scout. He sells hiking gear online. He sells boots and backpacks and tents and sleeping bags. And he told me “Tito, my dream is to hike the John Muir Trail. I’ve thought about it for years. I want to make it happen before I go off to school. Before I start a family. Before I start a business. Before I buy a house. I want to make this dream happen now.”

Hiking the John Muir Trail is a big dream. I’ve talked to a lot of people who say “I’m planning to go, once I graduate”, or “That’s on my bucket list, once I retire”. People really want to hike this trail.

But it was never my dream. At all. I had no interest in hiking, hiking gear, spending lots of money to be out in a bunch of trees and dirt. Even spending a weekend outdoors sounds kind of boring.

But I said “yes”. And everything changed.

You know, hiking isn’t boring. On the first day, we’re hitting our first mountain, and we’re climbing up, and lightning is flashing in the background. Matt tells me that “the top of a mountain is the most dangerous place during a lightning storm”. And as we get to the top, I look around for the first time and there’s 3 fires caused by the lightning that are burning up the forest around us. After all the worry with the lightning, it doesn’t even matter! We take a bunch of photos, head down the mountain away from the fires.

I’m not some amazing hiker now. It’s not my true passion. What changed was my perception of how to accomplish my own dreams.

I’ve learned that 60% of American adults have some big amazing dream that they’re thinking about, and they don’t know why they’re not making progress on their dream. They have it clearly defined in their head. They’ve got a plan. But they’re not getting there and they don’t know why. That’s how I felt about my own dreams, about my own sense of accomplishment. How good could I be if I can’t make progress on my dreams?

What I’ve learned is that by helping my friend with his dream, I discovered my own sense of accomplishment, my sense of self, my sense of confidence. I’m even thinking of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, which is a 6 month hike. 6 months, that’s an incredible change for a guy who had no interest in the outdoors.

So help a friend of yours with their dream.

It’s easy. You pull out your iPhone, pull up your Favorites list, and you call the person at the bottom of the list. You say “Hey, what have you always dreamed of doing, but you’ve never done?”.

Maybe it’s a hike. Maybe it’s meeting Taylor Swift. Maybe it’s spending a month in Hong Kong, Paris, or Cairo. You can make a plan and and make it happen in the next year.

And after that year, your friend will have accomplished their dream, and you’ll have this massive self confidence in your abilities, and surprise that your dreams can change. That you can help other people achieve their dreams means you can help yourself accomplish your dreams. So call up your friend and ask them “What have you always dreamed of doing, but you’ve never done?”

How to: Rediscover Books You Abandoned

The book “Invisible Cities” has been sitting on my virtual Kindle bookshelf for months.

This morning, I came across a quote from its author in this amazing video about GPS tracking for trash, and was reminded of my abandoned book.

These days, I prefer listening to books to reading books. So, I went online to see the price of the audio book on Audible. Like most books on Audible, it’s listed as $20 :(

“I feel like a dummy, I don’t want to waste $20. Maybe I’ll make another feeble attempt with the Kindle book”

Redemption! Whisper Sync

Then I noticed this cool service Amazon has where I could buy the Audible book for just $3.95. It’s called WhisperSync.

This is a chance for redemption. “I want to read this book. I haven’t read it in six months. I repent. Give me audio”.

“Give It Another Try”

I imagine an option on my Amazon account where, if I haven’t finished reading a book in 6 months, Amazon automatically gives me a cheap/free copy of it on Whisper Sync. It’s called the “Give It Another Try” program :)

Screenshot 2015-02-26 09.40.04

Add Your Latest Blog Post to your Email Signature

Imagine if your signature automatically had a link to your latest blog post, like this:

Email Sig Screenshot

I’ve been trying to find a way to add my latest tweet, blog post, and “currently reading” to my email signature. After a lot of searching, I found a Safari/Chrome/Thunderbird plugin called WiseStamp.

You can automatically include your latest blog post to every email signature. Twitter and Facebook, and other RSS feeds too!

Here’s how to add your latest WordPress post to your email signature.

Read the rest of this entry

6 cool biohacker projects from 2014

I wanted to highlight a sample of the amazing biohacker projects all around the planet. Art projects are among my favorite this year, really pushing new boundaries!

1. Real Vegan Cheese

Real Vegan Cheese gives a whole new meaning to the word “experiment”. I love that this breaks the boundaries of normal “synthetic biology”. It’s a group of amateur and professional biologists working together across 2 communitylabs, crowdfunding research money, budgeting funds, and winning at iGEM. Lots of firsts there. All around engineering yeast to make cow’s milk, with the goal of creating cheesy vegan cheese with no animals involved.

Too many synthetic biology projects sound like boring algebra problems: “If we lower the price of X using BIOTECH to X/100, we will revolutionize Y and make $Z billion”. Real Vegan Cheese breaks the mold and pushes science in some breathtaking new directions! (BioCurious and Counter Culture Labs, Bay Area California. Winner, iGEM 2014 – Best Community Lab Project)

Screenshot 2015-01-05 16.26.18


2. Grow Your Ink

Grow your own custom ink colors in a biotech lab. Everyone’s is different. I think it would be awesome to write with ink created by celebrities…like “Barak Obama’s Ink” or “Taylor Swift’s Ink”. Get into a biohacker lab and make your own! (La Paillasse, Paris)

Beautiful photo gallery on Flickr


3. DNA Barcoding Plants in Alaska

Ellen Jorgenson and friends from Genspace cram into this tiny plane to go out to the middle-of-somewhere Alaska — to get DNA samples of native plants. Back in the lab in sunny Brooklyn, local high school students learn to analyze the DNA samples to discover and identify what species the plants are. It was all documented on, check out their open lab notebook here.

Barcode Alaska


4. Method Quarterly

Do you use terms like “open science”, “ivory tower”, and “democratize biotechnology”? Then you’ve got to check out Method Quarterly. It’s a new magazine, founded by a bunch of cool people like Christina Agapakis. This interview with a scientist named Evelyn Fox Keller from issue #1 is fascinating.

We put up boundaries within science — separating people, disciplines, and careers. We also put up boundaries between science and everything else. How do we create and enforce these boundaries? What separates science from art? From pseudoscience? From technology? How do we cross boundaries? How do we break them down?

Method Quarterly

5. Car Pools – growing algae fuel in 43,000 pools in LA

“Car Pools is a series of simulations that examine the potential ecological effects associated with the public release of genetically altered algae for biofuel production. The project draws on current open-pond algae production methods to imagine a future infrastructure of fuel producing pools for the city of Los Angeles, a metropolis built for cars, home to more than 43,000 swimming pools.”

I love that this group owned the word “simulation”. It’s not an experiment, and that’s part of why it’s awesome. I hope 2015 is the year of simulation. Winner, iGEM 2014 – Best Art & Design Project (Art Center College of Design, Pasadena)


6. HUM – the vibrator, redesigned by physicists

“The vibrator, redesigned by physicists.  Sleek, minimal, intuitive. This is your gal. This is your little dude. Arduino hackable. An orgasm graph for every woman. The future of sex research. This is HUM”

Awesome article about HUM in Cosmo

Get it on Indiegogo (ends January 16th, 2015)

HUM Vibrator

 Liked this post? Give it your upvote on Quora!

Synthetic Biology Phobia-Phobia

The biggest fear of synthetic biologists is that the public fears synthetic biology?

Read “The Construction of Imaginaries of the Public as a Threat to Synthetic Biology

Wonderful work from Dr. Claire Marris. Thanks to Christina Agapakis for the link. I’ve included a couple of excerpts here from the paper that resonated with me. “Science outreach” rubs me the wrong way, it comes across to me as shoving “science” down “the public’s” throat. Dr. Marris has some excellent insights about the future of synthetic biology.

Figure 1., An eternally surprising result from surveys on public attitudes to science: more scientific information does not simplistically lead to more positive attitudes. Source: Hart Research Associates

The expectation is that the ‘informed view’ will be more positive.

Thus, organisations that campaign against current developments in syn-thetic biology are dismissed as anti-capitalists who oppose any profit-makingendeavour.
Public concerns are to be surveyed (or more accurately surveilled) and their concerns are to be overcome rather than respected and responded to.

Both committed and uncommitted publics are perceived to be irrationally fearful of GM techniques per se, and this is assumed to be based on an a preoccupation with, and misunderstanding of, ‘naturalness’ (e.g. they do not realize that we have been manipulating nature since ancient times) and a lack of knowledge of the molecular basis of genetics (e.g. they do not even know that ordinary tomatoes contain genes).

Though the paper might sound negative to some, I found Dr. Marris’s article inspirational. Maybe 2015 will be end of “science outreach” when we come up with something more meaningful and powerful. Now what do we do with these insights?

Marketing Plan: Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring

Just a thought my mom had while drinking coffee. Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring is credited with inspiring the creation of the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). Heres the thought:

Rachel Carson wrote about how DDT was destroying Bald Eagle eggs, the symbol of American independence.

Rachel showed that because of DDT, Bald Eagles were laying eggs with brittle fragile shells and dying off. That powerful image carried her idea around the country.

If she had written about just bees or salamanders instead, would her message have been lost?


Want to go to NYC for the Science x Kickstarter Hackathon?

Hooray, Kickstarter is getting into science. They’re hosting a big science hackathon in NYC. Sponsorships are available for scientists and hackers who aren’t in NYC. awesome!

From Aurora at Kickstarter:

A weekend of collaboration and creativity — scientists, artists, designers, writers, and makers working together to bring their ideas to life

February 28 & March 1, 2015 10am-10pm ITP, NYU Tisch School of the Arts

Why are we doing this?

We want to help.
This event will help unite scientists with designers, artists, writers and makers; folks that are passionate about bringing new ideas to life. The Kickstarter Outreach team will also offer help with conveying your compelling idea in a way that appeals to a general audience.
Support is out there.
The science community on Kickstarter is comprised of young makers, experienced enthusiasts, and many more. They’re eager to support and offer feedback, you just need to get your story out there!
Science is for everyone.
Everyone has a stake in exploring the world around them. Science provides the explanations for what we discover. We can work together across disciplines to help bring those ideas to life!

Check it out on Eventbrite

Sponsorships are available for scientists and hackers who aren’t in NYC!

We stood in the same spot, 42 years apart

My mom and I stood at the same spot in Yosemite, 42 years apart!

At home in Hawai’i, my mom was showing me a photo took in 1972 when she camped in Yosemite National Park. Half Dome is easy to see.

I wanted to figure out where she took the picture from. I triangulated where it was using Google Maps. I was surprised to find that it was Columbia Rock, where I visited with Nanna from Copenhagen last month! Nanna sent me her pictures and it’s an exact match for the spot where we ate snacks for an hour. Cropped to make it the same framing.



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