Dreams of Electric Sheep

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I’ve started a Substack! It’s called Dreams of Electric Sheep and it’ll be where I do the bulk of my writing from now on. I’ll leave the blog for more personal updates.

My first post was on the first venture capitalists – whalers who pioneered the current VC organizational structure and learned how to invest under massive uncertainty.

“Just like phenomenal startup founders, the best captains avoided the herd. The herd mentality became apparent with the > 50% of whaling voyages entering the North Pacfic in the 1850s. So many captains copied each other that when the Bering Strait was blocked due to icebergs in 1851, the whaling season ended in failure.

So why did young men decide to risk their lives as captains when the odds were entirely stacked against them? Herman Melville’s quote says it all: the thrill to rise above the rest and the “everlasting rich for things remote” characterized remarkable captains. Being a whaling captain is much like being a startup founder. The question of when one quits; when one listens to their team (who you have a responsibility to) versus your intuition; and most importantly, when one feels satisfied with their accomplishments.

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Financially Drowning on $300k a Year

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“In fact, if you took and average U.S. family of four and told them that a family who made $300k/yr – the top 2% of income in the U.S. – was struggling, they would laugh hysterically.  They would never believe you because the median US salary is $62k. It would be called fake news.

Unfortunately, this story is playing out across the country. Of course, it is not happening everywhere nor is it happening to everyone.  It is primarily happening to secular people that have kids and live in ultra-expensive places like New York City, DC suburbs, Bay Area, etc.  The inflation rate in those cities for core goods (housing, healthcare, and education) have been growing at a rate of more than 10% a year for the last 10 years. How do these elites manage to keep afloat? The short answer is that they’re not able to and the consequences could have a drastic impact on the future of our nation’s democracy.”

Worked on this piece with Auren Hoffman

Books Read in 2019

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In 2019, I somehow managed to read more than a book a week with 59 books in total and nearly 20k pages (19,965). But all of these are vanity metrics, I felt like reading a lot this year partly because I had to write my dissertation. School is an easy time to get external reading done: the boundaries for “work” are very vague.

The books in bold are the ones I would recommend (* are must reads). Please reach out if you’d like to discuss any!

Letters to a young contrarian*
On Grand Strategy
The Trial of Henry Kissinger
How Proust can change your life
Time Series Analysis
Beginning of Infinity
Death of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra
The New New Thing*
Coddling of the American Mind
The Little History of Philosophy
The Strange Death of Europe
Efficiency (WSP)
The Course of Love
Why Nations Fail
Street of Eternal Happiness
PayPal Wars
Genius: Feynman*
The Beautiful and The Damned
The Revolt of the Public
Crash Early, Crash Often
Insane Mode
The Four
The Buy Side
Living in the End Times
Rocket Billionares
The Cambridge Economic History of Modern Britain: Volume 2
Handbook of Macroeconomics
Hitch 22: A memoir of Christopher Hitchens
Range: How Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World
Japan and the Shackles of the Past*
The Master and the Margarita
One Giant Leap
The Empire of Air
The Facebook Effect
Icarus Fallen
The Radiologist Report
Road to React
The Seekers
The Airbnb Story
The Quants: How a New Breed of Math Whizzes Conquered Wall Street
The Seven Ages of Paris
Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber
Algorithms to live by
The Concept of the Political
Bullshit Jobs*
The Madness of Crowds*
The World of Yesterday*
Down and Out in Paris and London*
George Orwell’s A Collection of Essays*
Bronze Age Mindset
Road to Wigan Pier
Lifespan: Why We Age—and Why We Don’t Have To
Naked Statistics
This is Not the End of the Book*
A World lit only by Fire
Wittgenstein: Duty of Genius*
The Collected Short Stories of Stefan Zweig

Mindfulness is the End of Capitalism

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“Subjection of Nature’s forces to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam-navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalization of rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground–what earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labor?”

Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto

The Beginning of Economic History

1989 saw the first set of GPS satellites in space; it also encompassed the fall of the Berlin Wall and Woodstock ’89. As time has passed however, it looks as if Francis Fukuyama’s 1989 brief, written in the National Interest, on the liberalized democratic society as the end of history remains an even more powerful concept today than ever before.

What was yet to be seen in 1989 was how accurate Francis Fukuyama’s piece on the End of History? would be. America’s future in 1989 seemed endless and certain – it was going to climb Olympus and take its mantle as the lead superpower of the world. But, 2016 ushered in critiques from elites that Fukuyama was wrong: we were undoubtedly heading back into the global abyss of nationalism and to a level not seen since the 1930s.

Fortunately, they haven’t been proven right thus far. Fukuyama’s critics miss the crucial fact that he hasn’t been quite proven wrong: a return to nationalism doesn’t imply that we have found a better alternative to the liberal democratic system that the West has adopted since WW2.

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Might is Right

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The Athenians said, “we shall not trouble you with specious pretences … since you know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.

Thucydides, Melian Dialogue

JFK versus Kruschev in the Cuban Missle Crisis is one of the past century’s most climactic moments. Both were bright, powerful leaders that for a few days decided the future of the world. Not many people know that JFK was the black sheep of his family: the golden child was actually his brother, Joe Kennedy Jr., who died in WW2. However, JFK came from financial privilege, went to LSE, and earned his keep as a war hero before his serendipitous election to the senate. All of this later situated him within the American intelligentsia.

On the other hand, Kruschev was born in one of the poorest Russian towns and fought his way through Russian politics through equal parts tenacity and savvy. He was one of the few generals who could tolerate Stalin’s bipolar nature, knowing when to laugh and when to be “ignorant” of his misdeeds. Kruschev’s background was as far from that of JFK’s as one could imagine and in the Missile Crisis, these opposites attracted.

We all know how close we came to disaster in 1962 – it was a known known even at the time. Sadly, our world today is not that clean cut; the pugnacious mushroom clouds of nuclear warfare aren’t staring at us in the face, rather America’s biggest threats today loom in the shadows and are larger than ever before. Cyber warfare, autocratic governments, IP theft, genetic weapons: the list goes on ad infinitum.

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The Deadliest Disease

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philosophy / reading / tech

I know hardly anything about Galahad except that everybody dislikes him.”
“Dislikes him?”
“They complain about him being inhuman.”
Lancelot considered his cup.
“He is inhuman,” he said at last. “But why should he be human? Are angels supposed to be human?”

T.H. White, The Once and Future King

History of Aging

It’s interesting to look at the societal shift in how we view our elders: a story that harkens back to the siutation in antiquity between Athens and Sparta. In Homer’s time, Athens famously prided itself on favoring the young over the old – the Council of Elders was a mere mirage of power while the young reigned over everything. In Sparta, the elderly Gerusia, 28 members over the age of 60, controlled affairs through a top-down approach. The Englightenment returned to the time of Athens by rejecting ugliness, traditional wisdom, and anything to do with old age. The printing press and the freedom to read books were the killing blows to the power of elders over their societies. Why listen to a church elder when there were hundreds of books at your disposal?

Fast forward to a century ago. Telling a Londoner that they could feasibly expect to live to the age of 80; or that they could have kids without fear of mortality; or that they and their family could be incoculated against smallpox and measles would have justifiably thrown you into the asylum.

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The Modern Proletariat

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philosophy / tech

“In truth, [the proletariat] were not human beings; they were merely toiling machines in the service of the few aristocrats who had guided history down to that time. 

The industrial revolution has simply carried this out to its logical end by making the workers machines pure and simple, taking from them the last trace of independent activity, and so forcing them to think and demand a position worthy of men.”

Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England

To the innocent and often untrained eye, the bay area is a living utopia. One thinks it’s a treasure trove of bright people that aspire to build a brave new world. Like a Randian novel,  they can frolic amongst the chosen coders and get untold riches from building great companies. On closer inspection this is a clever deception – designed to deceive the worker. If anything, the tech worker is susceptible to many of the concerns that Engels vehemently fought against. As Marx implies: any freedom we feel is merely an illusion – the wool is collectively draped over our eyes. Nowhere does this apply more than the software engineer in Silicon Valley. 

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The Spiritual Warfare of Bullshit Jobs

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book review / philosophy

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

Genesis 2:15

Even at the start of humanity, humans were given a purpose: to work; to deal with adversity; to make things happen. That’s not the case today, we’re not existentially given anything in the form of meaning. And increasingly so, it looks as if we cannot look to our jobs as a substitute for meaning either.

We stick to what we know by hanging out with the same groups of people. That’s a factor to our current stratification today – elites in technology or the paper belt are hardly in sync with blue collar workers. Children are told that if they go to university, they’ll be happier and more successful with their white collar jobs. However, rates of depression are highest amongst those who had a privileged upbringing. Why is this the case and what molds a problem into a crisis? Forget the first rule, we need to be talking about the modern-day fight club of hopelessness.

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To See Paris and Die

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Paris was a very old city and we were young and nothing was simple there, not even poverty, nor sudden money, nor the moonlight, nor right and wrong nor the breathing of someone who lay beside you in the moonlight.

Ernest Hemingway, a Moveable Feast

I’ve been told one of the most timeless skills you can acquire is a film education. Quite an obvious observation: it feels like our real lives are in the virtual world. But acquiring an understanding of film has been a process. I started with your vanilla action movies, comedies, and Sci-Fi. Now I’ve progressed onto foreign films, especially those by French directors. I’ve noticed Paris is one of those cities that seems to swallow its country whole; without Paris, France loses its identity. New York as well: remove the city and the state of New York becomes an empty shell.

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Aren’t We in the Dark Ages?

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Macro / philosophy

Conquest is not the victory itself; but the acquisition, by victory, of a right over the persons of men.

He therefore that is slain is overcome, but not conquered: he that is taken and put into prison or chains is not conquered, though overcome; for he is still an enemy”

Thomas Hobbes, The Leviathan

Everyday we’re bombarded by the notion that this is the best time to be alive. Indeed, medieval life was as “nasty, brutish, and short” as Hobbes claimed.

We can expect to live longer, healthier lives without much help from the biotech community and have an abundance of cheap entertainment and technology. On paper, the world is doing well; in reality, the story is more nuanced than it seems.

“Do you know what the leading causes of death in the U.S. are?” Lieberman replied. After heart disease comes cancer. The third is medical error.

As [he points] out, the health care industry heavily markets its own importance and pushes treating illness over preventing it with lifestyle modification. And humans are lazy; it’s easier to take pills than exercise.

Does Medicine Actually Make People Live Longer?

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Rethinking China

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“What is truth? For the multitude, that which it continually reads and hears.” 

Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West

Trend following is generally a waste of time, but if you’re lucky you might find something that makes you think. Not all minds that wander are lost. On this note, a topic I’ve delved into lately has been Chinese innovation and the supposed decline of America.

From Themistocles and Xerxes, or Obama and Trump, we’ve witnessed this question arise when a new paradigm has emerged. In the modern wake of the trade war, the current shape of the question is America versus China. Rephrased, it’s really asking what shapes countries over the long run – democracy and property rights or a no holds barren autocracy.

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Beginning an Infinite Game

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“A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.” 

James Carse, Finite and Infinite Games

Graduating university is a cornerstone of a classic American life. I recently graduated and one reason I had such a tough time updating the blog was revising for my (mostly) useless exams. My friends who took time off during university to work and then returned to school said it was near impossible to feel like a student again: the siren song of work was too tempting to ever let it go.

This made me curious why that was. Culturally, we as students are told that we are having the time of our lives. In reality, all my friends were looking forward to getting on with their lives and leaving school behind. But that’s selection bias – what do the facts say?

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Underrated Leaders

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Without LBJ, there would be no civil rights act

If you live a long enough life, you’ll meet an innumerable amount of people, from all walks of life. I want to focus on those who you’ll skip over the first time around; the person who you don’t originally understand or comprehend the actions. They could be vastly different to you. Maybe they’re unnaturally brilliant or they’re phenomenally well-traveled, or are social savants. Any of these qualities at a young age especially sets you apart. But, that often makes you underrated.

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Unorthodox Status Games

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book review / philosophy / reading

I definitely don’t get inspired from writers easily nor do I make a habit of putting people on pedestals. I don’t watch inspirational videos nor motivational speeches. Yet, when encountering the blog, Ribbonfarm, written by Venkatesh Rao I could see writing of a different quality – a veneer of criticism carefully slathered over any topic he touches. Others take themes and concepts for granted, as they are. But, Rao makes sure to add in his brush strokes in whatever he sees: a renegade Picasso.

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Are Blogs Lindy?

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philosophy / reading

The lindy effect is one of the most important mental models from acting. It arises from Albert Goldman’s article in the New Republic:

“the life expectancy of a television comedian is [inversely] proportional to the total amount of his exposure on the medium. If, pathetically deluded by hubris, he undertakes a regular weekly or even monthly program, his chances of survival beyond the first season are slight; but if he adopts the conservation of resources policy favored by these senescent philosophers of “the Business”, and confines himself to “specials” and “guest shots”, he may last to the age of Ed Wynn [d. age 79 in 1966 while still acting in movies]”

But history as one can guess takes its reader on an unforeseen journey. In this case, esteemed mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot in his famous way summarized Lindy’s law as such:

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Vingean Uncertainty and Macroeconomics

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Macro / philosophy / reading

There exits a thought puzzle that has riddled sci-fi writers for decades, perhaps even for centuries now.

The quote below was put forth by notable Sci-Fi author Vernor Vinge:

Assume you’re writing about an alien species that is presumably smarter than our species. How do you effectively plan out their actions as if you could do this, you would be as smart as this species?

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A New Cinematic Age

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Hollywood / philosophy

“I can tell you one thing—these people are richer than God”


I went to go see the readily acclaimed film, Crazy Rich Asians, and for once, I can vouch for the Rotten Tomatoes score of 93%.

It’s the first movie in over 25 years to possess a majority Asian-American cast in spite of Asian-Americans climbing up the socioeconomic ladder in the past few decades. In the face of this, it’s not surprising that many are jealous of Asian-Americans.

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