pp.jpeg

Hi! I'm a rising senior at Amherst College majoring in CS/stats. I'm interested in the intersections between technology and business. When I'm not in school, I split time between Singapore, Palo Alto, and Jakarta.

I took 3 gap years after high school, during which time I completed my National Service in Singapore in the Civil Defence as an ambulance EMT and volunteered in Indonesia's 2014 presidential campaign.

When I'm not reading and writing notes / exploring you can find me on /r/ mildly interesting / in the gym / worrying about the rise of automation.

I'm currently using this site as a my online (one of the perks of this being that it is un-lose-able and accessible/share-able from anywhere) commonplace book. It hosts

RFP (things I’d like to have)

  • a book recommendation system that recommends more recently published books that cover the same material (could be based on references)

    • on that note, any network-based organization of books in general that connects books by their references, allowing you to see what authors/material you’ve been most interested in, and therefore might be interested in

  • a collection of updated startup-related statistics, e.g. “number of miles driven by autonomous vehicle companies,” “number of accounts opened by challenger banks”


Books:


Monthly updates/points of interest (July)

All past articles

Habits > Goals, great Farham Street self-help-ish article

Keeping a goal in mind and using it to direct our actions requires constant willpower. During times when other parts of our lives deplete our supply of willpower, it can be easy to forget our goals. For example, the goal of saving money requires self-discipline each time we make a purchase. Meanwhile, the habit of putting $50 in a savings account every week requires little effort. Habits, not goals, make otherwise difficult things easy… While goals rely on extrinsic motivation, habits are automatic. They literally rewire our brains.

Ivy League Schools Are Overrated, one of the New Republic’s most popular articles, brought to my attention by this Farham Street post about Steven Pinker on What a Broad Education Should Entail.

“Super People,” the writer James Atlas has called them—the stereotypical ultra-high-achieving elite college students of today. A double major, a sport, a musical instrument, a couple of foreign languages, service work in distant corners of the globe, a few hobbies thrown in for good measure: They have mastered them all, and with a serene self-assurance that leaves adults and peers alike in awe. A friend who teaches at a top university once asked her class to memorize 30 lines of the eighteenth-century poet Alexander Pope. Nearly every single kid got every single line correct. It was a thing of wonder, she said, like watching thoroughbreds circle a track.

These enviable youngsters appear to be the winners in the race we have made of childhood. But the reality is very different, as I have witnessed in many of my own students and heard from the hundreds of young people whom I have spoken with on campuses or who have written to me over the last few years. Our system of elite education manufactures young people who are smart and talented and driven, yes, but also anxious, timid, and lost, with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose: trapped in a bubble of privilege, heading meekly in the same direction, great at what they’re doing but with no idea why they’re doing it.

When I speak of elite education, I mean prestigious institutions like Harvard or Stanford or Williams as well as the larger universe of second-tier selective schools, but I also mean everything that leads up to and away from them—the private and affluent public high schools; the ever-growing industry of tutors and consultants and test-prep courses; the admissions process itself, squatting like a dragon at the entrance to adulthood; the brand-name graduate schools and employment opportunities that come after the B.A.; and the parents and communities, largely upper-middle class, who push their children into the maw of this machine. In short, our entire system of elite education.

I should say that this subject is very personal for me. Like so many kids today, I went off to college like a sleepwalker. You chose the most prestigious place that let you in; up ahead were vaguely understood objectives: status, wealth—“success.” What it meant to actually get an education and why you might want one—all this was off the table. It was only after 24 years in the Ivy League—college and a Ph.D. at Columbia, ten years on the faculty at Yale—that I started to think about what this system does to kids and how they can escape from it, what it does to our society and how we can dismantle it.

A young woman from another school wrote me this about her boyfriend at Yale:

Before he started college, he spent most of his time reading and writing short stories. Three years later, he’s painfully insecure, worrying about things my public-educated friends don’t give a second thought to, like the stigma of eating lunch alone and whether he’s “networking” enough. No one but me knows he fakes being well-read by thumbing through the first and last chapters of any book he hears about and obsessively devouring reviews in lieu of the real thing. He does this not because he’s incurious, but because there’s a bigger social reward for being able to talk about books than for actually reading them.

The author of the previous article also wrote Solitude and Leadership, a graduation address delivered at West Point, which is just so good and worth quoting many sections of at length

That’s really the great mystery about bureaucracies. Why is it so often that the best people are stuck in the middle and the people who are running things—the leaders—are the mediocrities? Because excellence isn’t usually what gets you up the greasy pole. What gets you up is a talent for maneuvering. Kissing up to the people above you, kicking down to the people below you. Pleasing your teachers, pleasing your superiors, picking a powerful mentor and riding his coattails until it’s time to stab him in the back. Jumping through hoops. Getting along by going along. Being whatever other people want you to be, so that it finally comes to seem that, like the manager of the Central Station, you have nothing inside you at all. Not taking stupid risks like trying to change how things are done or question why they’re done. Just keeping the routine going.

We have a crisis of leadership in America because our overwhelming power and wealth, earned under earlier generations of leaders, made us complacent, and for too long we have been training leaders who only know how to keep the routine going. Who can answer questions, but don’t know how to ask them. Who can fulfill goals, but don’t know how to set them. Who think about how to get things done, but not whether they’re worth doing in the first place. What we have now are the greatest technocrats the world has ever seen, people who have been trained to be incredibly good at one specific thing, but who have no interest in anything beyond their area of exper­tise. What we don’t have are leaders.

What we don’t have, in other words, are thinkers. People who can think for themselves. People who can formulate a new direction: for the country, for a corporation or a college, for the Army—a new way of doing things, a new way of looking at things. People, in other words, with vision.

That’s the first half of the lecture: the idea that true leadership means being able to think for yourself and act on your convictions. But how do you learn to do that? How do you learn to think? Let’s start with how you don’t learn to think. A study by a team of researchers at Stanford came out a couple of months ago. The investigators wanted to figure out how today’s college students were able to multitask so much more effectively than adults. How do they manage to do it, the researchers asked? The answer, they discovered—and this is by no means what they expected—is that they don’t. The enhanced cognitive abilities the investigators expected to find, the mental faculties that enable people to multitask effectively, were simply not there. In other words, people do not multitask effectively. And here’s the really surprising finding: the more people multitask, the worse they are, not just at other mental abilities, but at multitasking itself.

One thing that made the study different from others is that the researchers didn’t test people’s cognitive functions while they were multitasking. They separated the subject group into high multitaskers and low multitaskers and used a different set of tests to measure the kinds of cognitive abilities involved in multitasking. They found that in every case the high multitaskers scored worse. They were worse at distinguishing between relevant and irrelevant information and ignoring the latter. In other words, they were more distractible. They were worse at what you might call “mental filing”: keeping information in the right conceptual boxes and being able to retrieve it quickly. In other words, their minds were more disorganized. And they were even worse at the very thing that defines multitasking itself: switching between tasks.

Concentrating, focusing. You can just as easily consider this lecture to be about concentration as about solitude. Think about what the word means. It means gathering yourself together into a single point rather than letting yourself be dispersed everywhere into a cloud of electronic and social input. It seems to me that Facebook and Twitter and YouTube—and just so you don’t think this is a generational thing, TV and radio and magazines and even newspapers, too—are all ultimately just an elaborate excuse to run away from yourself. To avoid the difficult and troubling questions that being human throws in your way. Am I doing the right thing with my life? Do I believe the things I was taught as a child? What do the words I live by—words like duty, honor, and country—really mean? Am I happy?

So it’s perfectly natural to have doubts, or questions, or even just difficulties. The question is, what do you do with them? Do you suppress them, do you distract yourself from them, do you pretend they don’t exist? Or do you confront them directly, honestly, courageously? If you decide to do so, you will find that the answers to these dilemmas are not to be found on Twitter or Comedy Central or even in The New York Times. They can only be found within—without distractions, without peer pressure, in solitude.

“Your own reality—for yourself, not for others.” Thinking for yourself means finding yourself, finding your own reality. Here’s the other problem with Facebook and Twitter and even The New York Times. When you expose yourself to those things, especially in the constant way that people do now—older people as well as younger people—you are continuously bombarding yourself with a stream of other people’s thoughts. You are marinating yourself in the conventional wisdom. In other people’s reality: for others, not for yourself. You are creating a cacophony in which it is impossible to hear your own voice, whether it’s yourself you’re thinking about or anything else. That’s what Emerson meant when he said that “he who should inspire and lead his race must be defended from travelling with the souls of other men, from living, breathing, reading, and writing in the daily, time-worn yoke of their opinions.” Notice that he uses the word lead. Leadership means finding a new direction, not simply putting yourself at the front of the herd that’s heading toward the cliff.

So solitude can mean introspection, it can mean the concentration of focused work, and it can mean sustained reading. All of these help you to know yourself better. But there’s one more thing I’m going to include as a form of solitude, and it will seem counterintuitive: friendship. Of course friendship is the opposite of solitude; it means being with other people. But I’m talking about one kind of friendship in particular, the deep friendship of intimate conversation. Long, uninterrupted talk with one other person. Not Skyping with three people and texting with two others at the same time while you hang out in a friend’s room listening to music and studying. That’s what Emerson meant when he said that “the soul environs itself with friends, that it may enter into a grander self-acquaintance or solitude.”

Introspection means talking to yourself, and one of the best ways of talking to yourself is by talking to another person. One other person you can trust, one other person to whom you can unfold your soul. One other person you feel safe enough with to allow you to acknowledge things—to acknowledge things to yourself—that you otherwise can’t. Doubts you aren’t supposed to have, questions you aren’t supposed to ask. Feelings or opinions that would get you laughed at by the group or reprimanded by the authorities.

This is what we call thinking out loud, discovering what you believe in the course of articulating it. But it takes just as much time and just as much patience as solitude in the strict sense. And our new electronic world has disrupted it just as violently. Instead of having one or two true friends that we can sit and talk to for three hours at a time, we have 968 “friends” that we never actually talk to; instead we just bounce one-line messages off them a hundred times a day. This is not friendship, this is distraction.

This Wired article The Ultra-Pure, Super-Secret Sand That Makes Your Phone Possible, an excerpt from a book about sand, was also fascinating,

Finding silicon is easy. It’s one of the most abundant elements on Earth. It shows up practically everywhere bound together with oxygen to form SiO2, aka quartz. The problem is that it never occurs naturally in pure, elemental form. Separating out the silicon takes considerable doing.

Step one is to take high‑purity silica sand, the kind used for glass. (Lump quartz is also sometimes used.) That quartz is then blasted in a powerful electric furnace, creating a chemical reaction that separates out much of the oxygen. That leaves you with what is called silicon metal, which is about 99 percent pure silicon. But that’s not nearly good enough for high‑tech uses. Silicon for solar panels has to be 99.999999 percent pure—six 9s after the decimal. Computer chips are even more demanding. Their silicon needs to be 99.99999999999 percent pure—eleven 9s. “We are talking of one lonely atom of something that is not silicon among billions of silicon companions,” writes geologist Michael Welland in Sand: The Never-Ending Story.

The next step is to melt down the polysilicon. But you can’t just throw this exquisitely refined material in a cook pot. If the molten silicon comes into contact with even the tiniest amount of the wrong substance, it causes a ruinous chemical reaction. You need crucibles made from the one substance that has both the strength to withstand the heat required to melt polysilicon, and a molecular composition that won’t infect it. That substance is pure quartz.

The result is what Unimin markets as Iota quartz, the industry standard of purity. The basic Iota quartz is 99.998 percent pure SiO2. It is used to make things like halogen lamps and photovoltaic cells, but it’s not good enough to make those crucibles in which polysilicon is melted. For that you need Iota 6, or the tip‑top of the line, Iota 8, which clocks in at 99.9992 percent purity—meaning for every one billion molecules of SiO , there are only 80 molecules of impurities. Iota 8 sells for up to $10,000 a ton. Regular construction sand, at the other end of the sand scale, can be had for a few dollars per ton.

Hooked, a Bloomberg piece on a serial bank robber, but the following caught my attention wrt the opioid epidemic

Hathaway says 2010 was a pivotal year—that’s when Purdue Pharma LP, maker of OxyContin, changed the pill’s chemistry so it couldn’t be crushed into a snortable powder or heated into a vapor for inhaling. The new version had a time-release formulation; it was useless to addicts who were crashing. “That is the beginning of the heroin epidemic,” Hathaway says, pointing to himself as living proof. He and his son began using heroin to get the same results they used to get from crushed Oxy. “It’s hard to explain to somebody who hasn’t been through it how it takes over your life,” he says. “The worst thing is the withdrawal. If I stop, I’m not going to work. I’m not eating. I’m not doing anything.” Addicts begin to schedule their lives in eight-hour increments, in fear of the crash. “Withdrawal sends you into such a terrible sickness that all you can think about is you got to get well,” Hathaway says. “It gets to the point that it’s not about being high, it’s about not being sick. I think that’s the thing that’s hard for people to understand. It’s really about not being sick.”