Great Groupon Scams

Whether it’s a Parisian pickpocket or a Roman wedding ring-finder, I’m fascinated by great scams. Especially ones I get sucked in to. (well, almost in this case). To me, great scams highlight powerful mental tricks. Here’s a great one I almost fell for on Groupon.

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Biology As Ideology

“Many people now believe that science is the religion of the twentieth century — that the authority of its clergy (scientists) is beyond question or challenge and that its recent findings can indisputably explain the past and predict the future of human existence and of our individual behaviors.

In this brief extraordinary work, RC Lewontin – – one the world’s most prominent geneticists – – takes to close and informed look at this tidy and showmanlike packaging of science as the panacea for global problems, persuasively demonstrating how science (and scientists) is molded by society and how the dominant social and economic forces in society determines for large extent what scientists do and how they do it.

Science and society in fact exist to symbiotically (hence the title of this book), and by admitting the shadings and limitations with in science we discover book the richness of human nature in the real value of science.”

Biology as Ideology, 1992
Quoted from the back cover
$10 on Amazon.com
 (not an affiliate link)

The Earth Doesn’t Orbit The Sun

Over Thanksgiving weekend, I wanted to research the “fundamentals” I learned as a kid. You know, things that are “absolutely true”: 1+1=2, Earth is round, Global warming is real. I made some good discoveries with “The Earth Orbits the Sun”. Of COURSE that’s true, right?
I was surprised to learn “The Earth Orbits the Sun” is wrong. No joke, it’s a misleading representation of our solar system and how physics works.

Earth Orbits the Center of Gravity of the Solar System

The Earth doesn’t orbit the Sun.

The Earth orbits the center of gravity of the solar system.

The Sun orbits the center of gravity of the solar system, too.

The center of gravity of the solar system is not inside the Sun.

An animation of a planet and a sun orbiting around the center of this minimal system (NASA)

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Space Mirror

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As I hiked along today, I thought of a space mirror. I was thinking, wouldn’t it be cool to be able to see dinosaurs as they roamed the Earth?

Well, the light is out there, somewhere in our universe! As in, the light that once reflected off of dinosaurs as they trudged the planet is still traveling through space at the speed of light. If we could somehow look at that light, we would glimpse back in time. Today, if you were a million light years away, looking at Earth, you would see what was going a million years ago. Imagine discovering a mirror in space. It reflects light back at Earth. When you look at it, you see back in time! You could setup a museum around this. Come in and see what the dinosaurs are up to! And how different life on Earth looks. Come back tomorrow and see what happens. Reality TV: “Earth 65,000,000 BC”. The trick would be finding an already existing space mirror. Perhaps if light traveled so close to something really gravitational, like a nest of quasars or a set of black holes, it could be bent 360 degrees, all the way back to Earth.

What would you look at if you had a space mirror?

 

2014: Amelia Earhart flies around the world

2 guys, a garage, blah blah blah. I’ve heard this story countless times. Everything in Silicon Valley, the myth goes, starts in a garage. And every startup that has ever been within 1 mile of garage will be rich like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Aladin. Overdone.

Here’s a fresh story. There’s a woman named Amelia Earhart. She’s not the one that you’ve heard of.  Read the rest of this entry

Are you guilty of recommending an article without reading it first?

Screen Shot 2014-07-12 at 10.22.00 AMThe headline looks interesting. You copy the link and paste it over to your friend in a chat window, or an email. I’ve done this a billion times. Most of the articles I send to friends, I haven’t read. Maybe you’ve done it too? Is this a problem? After all the article had a catchy headline, and sounded like something your friend was talking about the other day.

Scientific Publications have the same problem?

But what if this same practice carries into more serious work? Like scientific publications. Read the rest of this entry

Wine and Cheese Pair (Artists as Leaders)

What we must have are those books that come on us like ill fortune, like the death of one we love better than ourselves, like suicide. A book must be an ice axe to break the sea frozen inside us.

– Franz Kafka*

In Paris, I had lots of fun drunken conversations. “So, do you like French wine?” someone asked. Hmm. There are times when I like French wine, and the wine makes lots of sense and it seems like little doors open all over my body. There are other times where I drink and I say, did someone forget to wash this cup? Or there is soap in the glass, or maybe the glass was half water before the wine was poured? But when that right wine is paired with the right food, that’s when galaxies spin and fossils erupt alive out of the ground.

It’s the same with books. Independently, 2 books might be “ok”. But their union can be an explosive force just as with a wine and food pair.

I’ve wanted to write about the books I’ve recently read. I wanted to say “I found this really fucking amazing book, and it really opened my mind”. But as I started to think about how I found the book…it’s actually the wrong book before it that got me to this right book. The book that I yelled at and laughed at condescendingly got me to 2 winning books. Like wine and “the right food”, it’s really the pairing that matters.

The Stinky, Rotty Cheese

The Hard Thing about Hard Things: Building a Business When There are No Easy Answers – Ben Horowitz

This book, wow, I fucking hated it. Halfway through the audiobook, while screaming to myself about how stupid the book was while driving up 280, I told myself “if I make it through this book, I will write the author and tell him what a idiot he is”. Even worse, the author’s viewpoints weren’t anything new to me. The points covered in the book are the same as every other “business” book I’ve read. That made me even MORE frustrated: even though I’ve read most of the material before, something about this book drove me insane. Perhaps I could tell the author “your book is  like other business books I’ve read but I yours made me insane”.

Fast forwards a few weeks, and I don’t think he’s an idiot. He seems to be great at what he does. But his style is completely different than mine. And that’s a enormous discovery, personally. I even read the book twice! If you’ve been disappointed by the business books you’ve read, I recommend reading this, perhaps it will polarize you.

The Dirty, Earthy Wine (which Pairs Wonderfully with the Cheese and makes a BOOM)

Redesigning Leadership – Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business, Life – John Maeda

I was out of town staying with friends for a week in Napa. I blabbed on about why I couldn’t stand the Horowitz book. We talked about the difference between being an “artist” and a “businessperson”. Most of my life I’d thought of myself as business minded with the blood of artists (painters, specifically). The artist-blood was the trick in my back pocket. My friends said that I might embrace the artist and see what happens. Everyone went off to go to bed, and I started Googling “artists as leaders” in the dark. Big turning point.

I ended up reading about this guy John Maeda, who was the president of RISD art school. He wrote a book on leadership, great! I read the whole thing that night, and in the morning I knew one new thing: artists are very different leaders. Maeda’s book for me was like a flimsy bridge made of popsicle sticks. It was just enough to get me where I needed to go. Just the existence of such a book, the tone in which it was written, and the mindset of the author were earth shaking. This kicked off all sorts of thinking and ideas, like an action movie where terrorists blow up a dam and all the water explodes out.

 

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration – Ed Catmull

And then a few weeks later this book came along, a classmate in my design class at Stanford was asking if anyone had read it. I’ve gotten in the habit of buying books when people mention them, and I bought it immediately. Something about Pixar and creativity. I’m about halfway through it, and it resonates with me, a lot of principles I’ve understood myself but never heard from others. Creativity and innovation are fragile, why doesn’t anyone fucking talk about that? And that’s where I’m at today.

So that’s it. I spent about an hour writing this post and I think I covered what I wanted to. Post…and iterate. One other point — both the Horowitz book and Catmull book I listened to as audio books. Maybe there’s something there.

*(As of today, I have no idea who “Franz Kafka” is. But I read a quote of his in a book I’m reading, and it’s interesting. Maybe I’ll read up on Kafka.)

220 Mile Hike – John Muir Trail

The first couple of times, I typed out “the John Muir Trail”. Now I just say “JMT”. It’s 220 mile long hike, from Yosemite to Mount Whitney.

My friend Matt Inouye talked about hiking the JMT for years, and decided to do it. He asked if I wanted to go. I said yes (not really, I said “I’m interested”, and asked a lot of questions leading up to “OK I’m in”). We’re going sometime in August. That’s where I’m at. I’m excited about going from zero to big time hiker. I’ve never camped more than 1/2 mile from the car. I’m practicing while out in Hawaii, hiking about 4 miles a day with a 20 pound backpack full of lava rocks and 5 cans of refried beans. My legs are getting kind of sinewy.

I’ve come a long ways adventuring. Last October I spent a month in Paris. I was terrified before leaving, wondering what would happen while I was gone, what might happen in a new world. But it was epic, despite a million times where I could have just said “fuck it” and cancelled the adventure. Then I went on a biotech sailing trip to Mexico in January. Before leaving I was consumed with the idea of the boat sinking out in the middle of the ocean. The day before heading out, I  thought about bailing, just going home…the week would pass and I would be safe on land. But as soon as I stepped on the boat all my fears went away.

I read a Teddy Roosevelt (26th president of the USA) biography last year. He described himself as a big chicken, who was really sick and restricted as a kid. Because he was a chicken, he really challenged himself, and ended up on lots of crazier-than-average adventures, being a cowboy. So being a big chicken has its advantages.

Anyway, it’ll be cool to see how my thinking changes in the coming weeks. Feels like I could write pages and pages about everything already here.