Hi! I'm a junior 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.
Monthly updates/points of interest (May)
Starry Eyes and Starry Skies, classic Epilson Theory, this time on the “Common Knowledge” (read: myth) of the value of a college education
the importance of post-secondary education in America IS a myth – one of our most powerful.
We hold up our ‘Yay, College’ signs in the same way as we do ‘Yay, Military’, ‘Yay, Capitalism’ and ‘Yay, Equality’ signs, because not doing so is to say that we oppose the right-sounding principles that form the basis of the myth. And just like ‘Yay, Capitalism’, well…capitalizes on our desire to signal our deeply held belief in the power of rewarding economic risk-taking to convince us to permit distortions in economic risk-taking, ‘Yay, College’ exploits our belief in equality, innovation, merit and education to convince us to permit distortions in the capacity of our university and degree system to deliver ANY of those things.
The Myth of College is that it grants invaluable life experience, broadened horizons and deeper skills that no other 4-year experience for a young adult could match.
The Zeitgeist of College is that it is now (grudgingly) really about preparing workers for long and prosperous careers.
The Reality of College is that it sells a license to use a credential.
What do I mean by a credential? I mean the portfolio of Useful Signals that are sent by the achievement of a university degree. Beyond the attachment to the ideals of the Myth of College, much of that signal, I think, exists in our Common Knowledge about what traits a student needs to be admitted to that particular degree-granting institution. You know, intelligence, creativity, breadth of talents, work ethic, having the correct parents and grandparents, things like that. Much of whatever is left exists in the signal from completing the degree. Can you follow instructions? Are you comfortable pulling all-nighters? How do you feel about sitting at a desk with a laptop for 60 hours a week?
America's Hardest-Working Know-It-All, about Ken Jennings, the 74-time Jeopardy winner, whose gone on to cultivate/monetize his reputation for being smart by writing quite a few books
When I ask Jennings if he considers himself a comedian, he demurs — "Twitter makes you a comedian in the same way that digital cameras make you a photographer" — but it's clear that he spends time thinking about the mechanics of comedy.
How to write like the great entrepreneurs, great tips, one that stands out:
7. Writing is rewriting. Write down your thoughts in a stream of consciousness. Don’t get hung up on diction. Then spend most of your time rewriting and reorganizing—sweat the details. I’m still rewriting posts days after I’ve published them.
15. Writing is a design problem. Example: never use the idiom of ‘the former or the latter.’ It forces the reader to go back and figure out what you’re referring to.
“The size of the audience you need to make it work is orders of magnitude smaller,” Substack cofounder and CEO Chris Best told BuzzFeed News, comparing newsletters to ad-supported models. “If you charge $10 a month or $5 a month, or $50 a year — if you can get 1,000 or 2,000 people to pay for that, you’ve suddenly got enough to go as an individual.”
“The internet, originally, was supposed to be about, hey, if you could have 1,000 true fans, you could make a great living,” Jenkins said, citing an idea developed by the technology writer Kevin Kelly. “What Patreon and membership represent is the original concept of 1,000 true fans.”
“I just need a few thousand people, and it’s a good model,” Judd Legum, who left his job as the editor-in-chief of the left-leaning political site ThinkProgress to start his newsletter, Popular Information, told BuzzFeed News. “The one where you really need everyone is the ad model where you’ve got to constantly fight for more and more clicks. Because you start every day out basically at zero.”
Hand dryers v paper towels: the surprisingly dirty fight for the right to dry your hands, Big Towel vs Big Hand-dryer. Another weird Big Thing: Big Raisin. Really drives home the point that good writing can turn anything into a melodrama worthy of TV.
Public bathrooms offer three primary options to dry a pair of wet hands. First, there is the venerable crisp-pleated paper towel. Second, the old-style warm-air dryer: those indestructible metal carapaces that, through their snouts, breathe down upon our hands. And finally, the jet dryer sub-species of the sort Dyson makes, whose gale-force winds promise to shear away every drop of moisture rather than slowly evaporating it. In the quest to dominate the world’s restrooms, Campbell discovered, Dryer v Towel is a pitched contest of business strategy and public relations. “Expect to be lied to a lot,” Campbell told me. “It’s almost like the cola wars. You have Pepsi v Coke, and you have hand dryers v paper towels.”
Fuck reading a book a week. No one can read that fast. Let me repeat that -NO ONE CAN FUCKING READ THAT FAST. How about actually reading that god damn book?! Fuck your references to Malcolm Gladwell and Dan Ariely, and stop fucking quoting Lean Startup, for Christs sake. We’ve all fucking read it.
Anyway the HBR’s tips are actually quite insightful and which my personal experience can validate (or which validates my experience?):
“I hope you’re not reading these books word-for-word like they’re fiction books,” he told me. “Listen,” he said, “you don’t need to read these books. You need to understand them.”
He explained more: Fiction demands that we enter a world of the author’s making, inspiring a more immersive experience. Nonfiction — at least the type we tend to read to support our work as business leaders — makes a point and asks us to learn from it. As readers, we gain momentum with each book we read. The more we read, the more quickly we can understand their perspectives and where they fit into a conversation they’re having with other authors, and the more informed we are when we use their advice or incorporate their perspectives into our work.
In other words, the more books we read, the faster it goes.
Here’s Professor Jimenez’s advice on reading nonfiction, with a few additions of my own:
1) Start with the author. Who wrote the book? Read his or her bio. If you can find a brief interview or article online about the author, read that quickly. It will give you a sense of the person’s bias and perspective.
2) Read the title, the subtitle, the front flap, and the table of contents. What’s the big-picture argument of the book? How is that argument laid out? By now, you could probably describe the main idea of the book to someone who hasn’t read it.
3) Read the introduction and the conclusion. The author makes their case in the opening and closing argument of the book. Read these two sections word for word but quickly. You already have a general sense of where the author is going, and these sections will tell you how they plan to get there (introduction) and what they hope you got out of it (conclusion).
4) Read/skim each chapter. Read the title and anywhere from the first few paragraphs to the first few pages of the chapter to figure out how the author is using this chapter and where it fits into the argument of the book. Then skim through the headings and subheadings (if there are any) to get a feel for the flow. Read the first sentence of each paragraph and the last. If you get the meaning, move on. Otherwise, you may want to read the whole paragraph. Once you’ve gotten an understanding of the chapter, you may be able to skim over whole pages, as the argument may be clear to you and also may repeat itself.
5) End with the table of contents again. Once you’ve finished the book, return to the table of contents and summarize it in your head. Take a few moments to relive the flow of the book, the arguments you considered, the stories you remember, the journey you went on with the author.
The New Yorker on Chasing the Aurora Borealis, something which I’ve done recently and after hours, praying, and copious amounts of post-editing came up with this:
There is something at once mind-blowing and unassimilable about the phenomenon. The aurora borealis is, in Karl Ove Knausgaard’s phrase, “immensely foreign,” and it puts you into a kind of panic in which you want to simultaneously observe it, describe it, rejoice in it, interpret it, and record it. Nothing you’ve learned or read about the subject—scientific, folkloric, touristic—seems remotely adequate or even relevant to the experience. You develop the overwhelming impression that some cryptic but staggeringly powerful intelligence is staging a performance expressly for you, even as you remind yourself that this can’t be the case. Surprisingly intense emotions grip you. I remembered something that Kjetil Skogli told me about one of his expeditions: an English guy, overcome by the display, dropped to his knees and proposed to his girlfriend.