M

Mo Bitar

Notes to self. Working on Standard Notes, an end-to-end encrypted notes app.

There is no team

I’ve come to learn there is no such thing as a “team”. Only very productive individuals. You can’t take a group of average individuals, make a team out of them, and produce above-average results. In fact work quality and efficiency decrease with team size. The most productive unit is the individual.

This is a sort of anticlimactic realization for me. Back when I worked on Standard Notes solo, I had always been mystified by how large teams operate and produce. How did companies like Apple, with team sizes of hundreds and thousands, coordinate to ship frequently and speedily on a consistent basis? From the way I see it now, my answer would be: they hire great individuals. And the rest is automatic. I had a friend who worked at Apple who had likewise been previously mystified by their magic. After he saw what the insides looked like, he said, psht, I could start a company like Apple. He was unimpressed.

There was no magic. There was just a group of individuals working under the same roof.

This also removes mystification from the hiring process: there is no surprise result when hiring and integrating an individual in a team. You will get from that individual exactly their productive power and nothing more. I daresay you also can’t coach, manage, or train someone to be more productive than they innately are or are capable of.

So, to build a great team, hire great individuals. It sounds obvious, but when you’re in the thick of it, it’s kind of not. When you’re on the ground-level not pontificating from a birds-eye view, it’s easy to think a B-player integrated into an A-team still makes for a great result. It won’t. It brings down the group average.

There is no magic. There is no team. There are only really productive individuals. A great team spontaneously forms when a group of really productive individuals collaborate. The magic is in the collective human processing power.

Simulation Overflow: Intervention

In previous posts on simulation theory, I had written with full certainty that our simulation was based on non-interventionist principles. That once a simulation was created, the simulator would not dare interfere in its rote operation as not to taint its outcomes, so that the simulator can observe what interesting results become of each unique fork of a simulation. I had also surmised that the purpose a simulator creating simulations is for its own intellectual amusement.

I want to make clear that my musings with simulation theory are not just a pastime, but unfortunately what I actually base my spiritual—or lack of spiritual—beliefs on. So it’s quite important that I ascertain I am working with the most reasonable model possible.

An unshakeable thought, however, has recently struck me.

A few months ago I planted a row of several dozen arborvitaes in my backyard, in an attempt to create a privacy barrier between my neighbors and I. The summer here has thus far been dry and rainless, so it was imperative that I gave each plant at least a couple gallons of water 4-5 times a week. For the first few weeks, I was watering the plants by hand. My garden hose flow rate was about a gallon every 20 seconds, so I’d spend about a minute hovering over each plant with the hose until it got its daily dose. Needless to say this was an excruciatingly boring process that sucked me out of half an hour each day.

I decided automation would be key if these plants were to have any chance of survival. So I set up a simple drip irrigation system. You have a long black flexible poly tube that you run through the plants in a horizontal S pattern. Where the tube meets the root of each plant, you pierce a little hole. You connect the tube to your faucet, turn on the water, and droplets of water begin dripping from the holes onto each plant. Slowly but surely, each plant gets its fill.

Initially I had the tube running on the ground level, zig-zagging through each plant in the aforementioned horizontal S formation. On one plant the tube would meet the roots from the front, and the adjacent plant would meet the tube from the back. I had this system running for about a week before noticing the results were suboptimal: only one half of each plant’s root area would be watered. So on some plants only the front half of the soil would be moist, and on other plants, the back half.

I decided to refactor the setup so that instead of zig-zagging on the ground, the poly tube would instead zig-zag through the center of each plant, elevated about 1 foot off the ground. The redesign process was extremely painstaking, but it was the right thing to do. The end result was that each hole in the tube met the plant directly at its center. When the water flowed, drips would begin splatting and hitting the branches and landing in random locations, but overall the distribution pattern meant that I now saw a perfect ring of moistness around the roots of each plant: both halves, front and back, got an equal amount of water. Problem solved.

You see, I had engineered a solution, and when it wasn’t working as expected, I fixed it. I changed things up. I knew what the desired outcome was and found a solution that was more directed towards that outcome.

So why was it with such certainty that I had ascertained in my previous posts that the simulator-thing was non-interventionist, when it could be equally likely that the thing is an engineer? In fact if the universe is fractal and likes to repeat itself at every scale, we are more likely similar to the thing than dissimilar. What does an engineer do when a design isn’t working as expected? The engineer fixes. The engineer engineers.

Does our simulator-overlord fork the universe repository every time it wants to make a change, or does it interject fixes on the master branch? I had previously been cocksure that the thing dare not intervene in a simulation past its initial creation, akin to the watchmaker theory. But if the thing were an engineer, I daresay it probably can’t help itself.

What I like about an interventionist simulation model is that it allows for spirituality, whereas previously I had been at the mercy of a cold and barren scientific interpretation of the universe that made me feel small, helpless, and at the mercy of random unfoldings which you’d be a fool to assign any sentimental value to. While more acceptable in a scholarly scientific setting, I am a human and live my life 99% outside the realm of scientific academia. Science has been absolutely useless to me, if not a harbinger of despair and isolation and a vacuum of meaninglessness.

So fuck it, the simulator intervenes. It grants my wishes when I ask for them. The events that transpire in my life have meaning. My life has purpose.

It seems I’ve arrived at…God…with extra steps.

Science™

Some thoughts on science that deeply conflict me:

  • Science largely does not exist at the scale it does today without capital. Science is funded. There is always a money trail. Take away the capital, and the only science being conducted is in high school chemistry classes.
  • Medicinal science is largely built on the homicidal tenet of when “the benefit outweighs the risk.” The risk is presented (but most times not) to you as a percentage: 1% of people who take this drug may experience a serious, non-reversible reaction. When you are afflicted with a condition, do you take the drug, in spite of the risk? The answer is: this frame has not yet been rendered.
  • No single process inside or outside of this universe knows what is going to happen next. Predictions may be made, some with high statistical ground, but they remain predictions. The only way to figure out what the next frame looks like, or next ten frames will look like, is to render them, in order. (This concept is known as computational irreducibility, and pervades a large part of our universe.)
  • Science is two things to two different camps of people: to people who have never experienced adverse reactions to pharmaceutical products or procedures, science is wondrous, and must be pushed forward so long as the benefit to risk ratio is at least 51/49. To the people whom the tail end of pharmaceutical commercials apply to (“talk to your doctor if you experience…”), health science is a con based on manipulating/marketing people to believe that their for-profit pill or procedure can save their life.
  • Science in most cases must be brute-forced to make progress. Progress is made on behalf of the human whole, but often at the expense of individuals. To develop a pill that can save the life of 10,000, you necessarily have to test it on 100 people, 10 of whom will probably die or develop irreversible diseases. To develop a self-driving car technology, some folks are going to have to get run over.
  • There is inhumane non-compassion felt by those largely on a certain side of the political spectrum that do the bidding of pharmaceutical for-profit companies masquerading as Science™. These people hold that for-profit products developed hastily which lead to some number of humans developing cruel conditions must continue to roll out, because the benefit outweighs the risk, while simultaneously holding that even a single life’s suffering is too much.
  • Science is largely at odds with the doctrine of individual liberty. You cannot simultaneously be pro-science and pro-liberty. Science is necessarily authoritarian, or at least very persuasive. You can’t choose what’s in your water, food, and medicine, and any feeling of control is largely an illusion.
  • There is likely no case in any societal setup where you matter above the average health of the population. You are expendable, because this is what it takes to organize large populations. Case in point: vaccine rollouts don’t stop when one or more people experience an adverse reaction. The show must go on. Likewise, most pharmaceutical products are not removed from market when participants experience fatal reactions. Instead, another comma is simply added to the list of reactions.
  • Medicinal products and procedures largely thrive in environments of information asymmetry: you know infinitely less about what is being sold to you than the creators of the product. If you truly knew what a procedure or product did to your body, you probably wouldn’t take it. So euphemisms are developed to make taking out your credit card easier. Case in point: when you get an MRI, they often inject you with a serum meant to help make the scan images clearer. When you ask the technicians what the product is, they give it really cutesy names like “dye” or “contrast”, and tell you that just drinking a lot of water over the next few days will be sufficient to flush it from your system. The truth? Contrasts are injections of the toxic heavy metal Gadolinium in your body. This gadolinium is retained for the rest of your life in your skull, bones, and bloodstream, even from just 1 administration. Some patients experience permanent adverse reactions to the ever-presence of this heavy metal in their body.
  • I believe there is no turning back at this point. Science is necessarily cruel, but it can likely be said that when you zoom out and inspect the stats on a wide enough timespan, the number of lives saved is greater than the number of deaths caused. On the scale of our own individual lives however, science can fuck you up, no matter how careful you are. And what does a world without science really look like anyway? It may very well be that sciencing is the primary “purpose” of this simulation.
  • Science is cruel, because ultimately aging, disease, maladaptive mutations, and death all fall in the realm of science, before we were ever present to write any of it down. This can’t be changed, but there is one thing that can be: the feigning of compassion by those who champion science relentlessly while simultaneously holding that even one life’s suffering is too much. Science and compassion cannot be on the same side of any spectrum. To those who have been on the bloody edge of science’s sword, there is nothing more painful than seeing it championed as an infallible pro-human enterprise, when in most cases it is nothing more than a profit maximizing scheme. So long as the profit is greater than the threshold of discernible unrest and distrust, the show goes on. The existence of for-profit pharmaceutical companies is not an evil. The emergent evil is the conflation of privately funded science as Science proper, and the championing of this for-profit science by the majority-share impressionables who repeat corporate talking points, euphemisms, and studies as gospel, and decry anyone who dare explore any other interpretation as blasphemous and dangerous. The real danger is feigned compassion.

Oscillation

Left versus right is a game of oscillation. The oscillation between the two poles creates heat. The heat creates movement.

The generation of heat, on a societal scale, is difficult and not meant to be easy. It also needs to be a complete game. Each side wants to win, and each side must feel everything is at stake.

Consider were it not this way: maybe you could get lazy, notice you are playing the game, and get away with attempting to generate the minimum heat possible. So when the heatball is in your court, you hang on to it languidly for a bit before tiring or boring and throwing it across. It would seem in this case the heat generated is not capable of much movement. Maybe an inch.

Or consider the counter-scenario in which when your side has the ball, you would literally rather die than see it in the hands of your opponents.

If you want to observe what each side really wanting the ball does for outcomes, then this is a really good game. And: Everyone involved—the simulation-runners and thus the participants—want a really good game, whether implicitly or explicitly.

In less codified words, that you feel the world is worsening or ending because one side is having its way with the ball is the way you’re supposed to feel—the way this game is supposed to make you feel. Because if it didn’t, there would be no game. No game means no heat. And no heat means no movement.

Imagine a solar system spiraling through space. You have the individual planets orbiting some axis in what appears to be fixed motion. But then you have the entire system itself pushing through forward space. In our example, it is the oscillation of these planets that give the system as a whole the momentum to move through space.

I suppose we might ask, where do our own political and social oscillations take us? Is it a progressive forward motion? Is it random zig-zags through unexplored space? Is it backwards motion?

The answer is yes.

In (my) simulation theory, the goal of the simulation is to create amusing results that could not be anticipated or pre-calculated by the simulator. This would create the most compelling simulation for both the runner and the players. Running a simulation which you otherwise know the result and outcome for is like playing the same video game over and over. One would go mad.

To create a great simulation which does not die of its own predictability, the runners have to be perpetually amused by surprising outcomes, and the players then must fundamentally have no idea where the fuck they are or where they’re going.

Is this a nihilistic perspective, or an opportunistic one? Can one believe this is just a game and oscillations in belief are just a means of generating heat, yet still believe that we are progressing towards the total annihilation of human suffering, or is human suffering itself just a function of these oscillations—oil for the machine? Are our own emotions tied to the phased oscillations of the team we play for, or are our emotions heat generation for our own body? Is the motion of human-time forward or random?

Yes.

Simulation Overflow: Part 2

In Part 1, we established what motives a potential thing running our simulation could have from a universe-sized perspective. We mentioned a thing could be running many simulations, like jars on a shelf.

Assuming there was a purpose of running multiple simulations, what could the thing be solving for?

I would assume the thing had initially run simulations that resulted in fancy arrangements of planetary matter, and was awed at the results, but one thing-day a specific simulation developed something more interesting than it had ever seen before: arrangements of conscious matter.

This spectacular event instantly made any simulation without conscious matter infinitely less interesting, and so the thing killed off experiments that did not contain the spectacle, and began furiously forking the one that did.

One interesting thing about running these simulations is the apparent cheapness of space for the thing. Seemingly infinite lightyears in width, height, and zeight, space and time to a thing could be as cheap as a byte is to us. It’s clear that space is not the precious resource. The thing had seen so many planets, stars, and meteors in all sorts of dizzying formations but could only be entertained so much as a carnival kaleidoscope is entertaining to us.

Life was the precious resource, but admittedly, the thing had at some point likewise seen it all. Tiny single-celled organisms swimming in random patterns that utterly bore the thing.

I suppose you see where this is going: homesapiens were one day born from a jar, and the thing could not help but find this most interesting of all.

Now this seems to be just brilliantly convenient, coming from a human-centric narrator after all. But the axiom of our simulator overthing is that it prefers vibrancy over inanimacy. It prefers to be…surprised. And why wouldn’t it?

In terms of possibility-generation, humans seem most potent. To a thing wanting to be impressed by its experiments, simulations in which conscious matter repurposes light and radio waves to transmit species-oriented information is infinitely more wondrous than an endless showdown of one wild animal eating another and fighting to occupy the territory of all like 1 acre.

We can also assume that as we are at the apex of our own space-time expansion, and that every jar on the shelf of a thing runs time at its apex, then we are subsequently at the apex of time in the outer-jar environment as well. This would mean that because this experiment is still running at the apex of thing-time, it is interesting enough to continue running.

It could be that other simulations have developed something more interesting than humans and their technology, but if we believe that the development of conscious matter which one day leads to humans was so spectacularly surprising an event, then the thing could be in a position where it does not take us for granted. And that all simulations running now have equalized at the point of the inception of the variable that leads experiments here.

I think in the perspective of a thing that wanted to be amused by its experiments, a human species that develops energy-based technology is far more interesting than one that develops impressive copperware. If from our time perspective the emergence of such technology is within our own recent memory, and it is a spectacular event at this apex of time, then it is certainly most spectacular at the apex of thing-time as well. If it weren’t interesting, it would mean there are other experiments yielding more interesting results. Yet this would mean that the thing would likely re-calibrate all previous experiments, including our own, to focus on this other more interesting development.

Yet our simulation is still running.

It could also be that the thing perished eons ago and we’re all fucking alone somebody please help

Techno conservatism

It’s bleak and rainy outside. I woke up earlier than usual this morning, and even before I saw what it looked like outside, my insides matched. So it’s the perfect day to write a rage piece against the bewildering behavior of what I can only describe as techno-conservatism, whose followers seem to absolutely loathe any sort of movement or innovation in the space. Have you seen the comment threads in Hacker News on articles about Signal’s new crypto payments feature? Every single one of them a lambast. Common phrases include scam, pump and dump, no one asked for this, why not use Stripe, why, and an endless barrage of linguistically creative of ways to block the movement of a product towards any particular future.

This isn’t an isolated incident. Perhaps crypto is a heated topic, but almost any sort of groundbreaking technology or innovation in a fast-moving space receives the same treatment. I mention HN because their commenters are usually the most rational. So if on HN comments have devolved into reddit quality, then I fear looking at what’s become of reddit.

But let me try not raging against their rage and instead interpret events from their vantage. At this point I’ve come to understand there is no way this is about the particulars. No matter the topic, you will see the same breed of comments and commenters. And the dissent is always louder than the support—people in favor of, say, cryptocurrencies will be a lot less violent about their support, than dissenters about their condemnation. The single safest thing you could do if you support something controversial is probably keep to yourself. So rationalists are overrun on comment threads, and techno-conservatists thrive.

I think rather than focusing on the particulars, we can break this down into something much simpler: there are two camps of people. Those who believe the world is progressing towards something worse. And those who believe the world is progressing towards something better. Those in the “worse” camp will likely see any event in any space as a sign of the impending doom, and attack it mercilessly like a runaway immune system. And those in the “better” camp can see any event as a sign of the positive future to come.

Crypto is an excellent divider, slicing these groups sharply in the middle. On the impending doom side, crypto is a sign of energy waste, get rich quick schemes, techno-elitism, scams, and a thousand other loosely related consequences. At this point techno-conservatists have gotten so good at rational gymnastics and linguistics that crypto can be linked to almost any major issue. On the better future side, crypto is a sign of financial liberation, decreased power of government, decentralization of currency, and a thousand other tightly related consequences. Techno-progressivists have also gotten so good at the language game that almost any issue can seemingly be solved with crypto—which you believe to be true, as I probably do, if you're on the bright side.

So it’s made me feel a little better to understand that the event absolutely does not matter. It could be Signal adding crypto payments or it could be Facebook creating a cryptocurrency or it could be most anything of the format “X company does Y crypto,” and you will immediately trigger the two camps in their respective manner. The techno-conservatists will put on their thinking glasses and write a compelling thesis on why this move will likely only inch us one step closer towards doom, and the techno-progressivists will, in lower fearful quantities, write their thesis on why this move should be applauded and how it brings us one step closer towards a brighter future.

The techno-conservatist knee-jerk reaction to any innovation they don’t understand or is too sudden and abrupt, and that perhaps other people are getting rich off is, who needs this? Why this thing and not this other preexisting thing? Can we slow down a bit? I mean we’re ignoring all these other million factors. People still don’t have clean drinking water and you want to write more crypto code? In essence: Can we just keep everything as-is for the next 1000 years, because I’m sort of worn out keeping up with all this stuff.

The techno-progressivist knee-jerk reaction to any innovation they don’t understand and others are getting rich off is likely: what’s wrong with me? Why have I overlooked this? Damn, there are people smarter than me who are on top of these things while I’m here watching TikTok? Wait, Moxie, the genius cryptographer behind Signal's and WhatsApp’s encryption is working on this? What a goddamned legend. I’m an absolute idiot for not understanding this or looking into it sooner.

Funnily enough, there’s actually a mathematical way to measure just how idiotic you are. It’s called the price of Bitcoin. If you refuse to touch crypto with a twelve foot pole, you are infinitely idiotic, otherwise your level of idiocy is measured by how high a price you paid for being late. I say this mostly humorously and self-reflectively. In some technologies I am indeed an idiot and have looked into them far later than others. But I suppose that’s key in the distinction between techno-conservatists and techno-progressivists: allowing yourself to be ok with being an idiot. I mean likely you are. There’s no way any one person is not infinitely idiotic with regards to anything they’re not paying attention to. Forgive yourself, accept yourself, and yield to others’ less relative idiocy in a space.

Just yield, man.

How does Naval speak so eloquently?

Have you ever heard Naval speak? He’s been on various podcasts, like Joe Rogan’s and Tim Ferris’. He oozes eloquence. Every sentence he speaks is brand new. Every analogy and metaphor a drop of revelation. I’m not sure if prophets are still made today in the post-Information Age, but he’s one for the ages. It’s not that he’ll just drop one-off quotables during the course of an interview. No—every sentence he speaks is something that twists your mind. Wow, you think—I didn’t know you could do that with the English language, with such few words.

How does he do it?

This topic intrigues me because the topic of prophets as a whole is fascinating. How do normal men in the course of history become superimposed on the human timeline as to be mistaken of extra-terrestrial origin? There are some religious texts—likely all of them—that are pure literary gold. What enables these authors to compose beyond the creative threshold of the time?

What enables Naval to speak more eloquently than others?

Here’s what I think: I think he makes it up as he goes. I think he has no idea what he’s about to say until he says it. Most of what he says is spontaneous and likely not even something he’s heard himself say before. He’s just as surprised and impressed with himself when he speaks as you and I are.

I think it’s the medium that unlocks something special in him. I don’t think Naval could write an essay, for example, as profoundly as he can give an interview. I don’t think he can sing or write a song as profoundly as he speaks. I don’t think he can give as profound a TED talk as he can a profound open-ended interview. I think the medium unlocks something special in him that he himself did not know existed in such packaged and consistent form until such interviews began to occur.

I have a friend who on the phone and during the course of normal spontaneous conversation will speak such profound utterances in such simple ways that I tell him you simply must record yourself speak or publish your works, or something! If the world heard what you're saying, they’d melt for more. The funny thing is, whenever he goes to transcribe this profundity to other platforms, it falls apart. He doesn’t come off as smooth. It doesn’t sound the same when written out, or sung out, or podcasted out. Nope. It only works if it’s on a phone call, and it’s spontaneous, and non-recorded. This is the random mutation that my friend possess, and it’s non-transferrable, and non cross-platform.

I think yet others have other random mutations that allow them to thrive in certain creative environments beyond the threshold. Great singers or songwriters can express themselves more passionately in a song than in an essay or interview. Great writers can express themselves more lucidly in a novel or poem than in a speech. Great artists can provoke thought in a painting or sculpture more than they can in a conversation. Great speakers and politicians deliver more impactful orations in a monologue than via song. Great playwrights and movie directors show a more vivid tale with the lights on than off.

What then is the source of greatness in the works of singers, writers, speakers, and artists? How does an artist paint something exquisite, or a singer compose something beautiful, or a writer write something profound? They simply begin painting, composing, writing, or singing, and their random tint does the rest (and of course years and years of compounding wisdom and experience).

So, how does Naval speak so eloquently? He just begins speaking.

Rarity is extremely uncommon

With all the perpetual hype around cryptocurrencies and recent hype around non-fungible tokens, it can be easy to forget just how uncommon rarity is. Try this exercise:

Look around you, or outside your window, and point to any object and ask, “is this rare?” The answer will almost certainly 100% be “No.

The tree outside my house — not rare.
The bushes by the trees — unique, but not rare.
The brick my house is made of — not rare.
The gravel on the road — not rare.
The ceramic my coffee cup is made of — not rare.
The lightbulbs embedded into my ceiling — not rare.
The chair I’m sitting on — not rare.

In fact, I’d challenge you to find a single rare item in or outside your home. Chances are if you do find such an item (you probably won’t), it would likely either be gold, jewelry, or some explicitly collectable item.

Rarity is extremely, extremely uncommon on Earth. Everything is so easy to replicate and reproduce.

So it shouldn’t be too difficult to rationalize that when something rare is found, and it is certifiably rare, the human instinct is to harbor it. Imagine walking the mountain path for miles and seeing all the same trees, animals, bushes, leaves, dirt, branches, rocks—but then suddenly your eyes alight on this shimmering yellow rock type element that you’d never seen before. Would you not stop to pick it up and lust over its exquisite uniqueness? You’d carefully stash it in your hide satchel and take it back to your tribe. Perhaps foolishly you'd hold it up in the air and exclaim, Look what I found! Likewise enchanted, ooo’s and aah’s emanate as a crowd forms around you, everyone reaching up trying to get a piece, or—if they’re lucky—a closer look. Eventually someone with more foxskin than you decides they simply must have that item, if for no other reason than because everyone else is likewise swooning over it, and makes you an offer you can’t refuse. Thus is born the value of gold. Gold is truly rare. And gold is extremely uncommon.

By now we’ve hopefully established that rarity is extremely uncommon. We've simply defined a word. Here comes the boss level:

In the physical world it is somewhat labor intensive to reproduce artifacts. Yet even given the relative difficulty of reproducing physical items, rarity remains extremely uncommon. In the digital world, it is virtually cost-less to reproduce artifacts. So if in the physical world there is no abundance of rarity, the digital world is nothing if not infinite copies perpetually propagated through the ether. In the digital world, where artifacts are comprised of commoditized bits and bytes, rarity is by definition impossible.

So how shall we react when we are told the news that rarity is now possible in the digital realm, via making the reproduction of digital artifacts so expensive, that it is by the laws of physics nearly, if not totally, impossible? If I produce a 1 of 1 digital artifact and I say—nay, prove—that it would require more energy than is available to most nation states to recreate this digital artifact, should this exquisitely rare item not have value? The answer is simply, non-controversially yes. The more difficult question is, what should be its value? The answer to that is still somewhat simple: the most someone is willing to pay for it.

Speaking less abstractly, a digital art piece should be valued the same way a physical art piece is valued. There is no need to struggle with “I can’t believe someone paid millions of dollars for a JPEG!”—NFTs do not invent the art market. They simple translate it to the digital realm. If ever you find yourself struggling with the valuation of NFTs, simply translate your qualms to the physical realm (“I can’t believe someone paid millions of dollars for oil on a canvas!”) and quickly end your befuddlement.

Bitcoin of course is the aboriginal rare digital item. Should Bitcoin have value? Well, let’s hash this one out real quick:

Is Bitcoin rare? Yes.
Is it virtually impossible to reproduce a Bitcoin? Yes.
Do a lot of people want Bitcoins? Yes.
Do a lot of people agree Bitcoins should have value? Yes.

So, it shouldn’t be hard to imagine why someone would want to pay tens of thousands of dollars for—yes—bits and bytes. Why remain so befuddled by this concept? Rarity is platform agnostic. It does not matter if it occurs in the physical realm, the mental realm (ideas, poetry, literature), or the digital realm. Rarity is extremely uncommon, and thus extremely valuable.

The Kids Choose

If you haven’t been following lately, there’s a newly relevant form of digital scarcity called NFTs that are selling for thousands of dollars, sometimes even hundreds of thousands of dollars. NFTs are rare collectibles, whether they be digital artworks, music, memes, or domains. In most cases NFTs are just a smart contract application built on top of Ethereum, where each collectible series is its own smart contract. Hashmasks are one example. There are a total of 16,384 unique digital items, and each item is represented as an address on the Ethereum blockchain.

Onlookers are incredulous at the concept: how can infinitely duplicatable RGB pixels on a screen have value? Why would I pay thousands of dollars for a digital artwork that anyone can take a screenshot of and stare at locally for hours on end? This concept will never work, they say. NFTs are totally ridiculous, and should not have any value.

Yet it’s remarkable how soon we forget the arbitrary nature of…just about everything on this damned planet. Do you think it obvious that gold should have value, or physical paintings, or dollar bills, or Pokemon cards? These narratives were at one point invented. And some group of zealots were tasked with convincing everyone else that this should be worth something. When enough people were in agreement that these things had value, then at that point, those things become valuable, and remained perpetually valuable so long as the narrative retained enough believers.

The question is not “do NFTs have value?”, but rather, can enough people be in agreement about the value of NFTs as to create a liquid market? The answer of course is yes. Humans are nothing if not malleable in their beliefs. If you thought reality was grounded in any sort of objective nature, go talk to the billions of people that believe bearded men in the past could walk on water, or part the seas with a cane, or split the moon in half and put it back together. To these people, these beliefs are far more obvious than any scientific fact you can lob at them.

So who choses what has value and what doesn’t? The kids do. Today a bunch of gray-hairs in suits dictate what should and shouldn't have value. Yet if you can’t convince a generation of kids to buy gold, and they instead want to use their hard-earned money to buy digital art, where do you think the value goes over time when the kids inherit the globe? If you can’t convince the kids that the dollar is a safe store of value, and they instead want to use their hard-earned money to buy digital currency, where do you think the value goes over time?

Value is invented. It is decided. It’s not obvious. And it’s not exclusive. The common attribute amongst all stores of value is their relative rarity. It can be a piece of metal, it can be a piece of paper, or it can be a dildo. Ultimately, it’s the story behind the pixels/material/paper that contains the value, and not their physical characteristics. Not all digital art should have value. But if [some exceedingly famous person] minted a unique art piece and etched it on an Ethereum block, and sold that story to the public, do you not think this should have value? In fact, getting an exceedingly famous person’s autograph on a piece of toilet paper would instantly make the toilet paper valuable. How much would you pay for Da Vinci’s poop stain? You, maybe not much. But I guarantee you there is a market of Da Vinci aficionados that would pay millions of dollars for it, and its value would only go up over time. It’s the story.

I’ll even take this regrettable analogy one step further: if it was determined that Da Vanci’s poop occurred on the day he finished the Mona Lisa, the Poop Paper’s value would instantly rise from ten million dollars to a hundred million dollars.

It’s the story.

The Bitcoin Story

According to Hacker News, Bitcoin has many problems, and therefore, is not merit-worthy:

  • “Transactions are slow and expensive"
  • "It lacks a lot of the controls that traditional banks have for good reasons, so fraud becomes harder to tackle”
  • “I just wanted internet money, not a speculative financial instrument.”
  • "This volatility is why it will never be a useful currency.”

By this same logic, email should also not have succeeded:

  • Email is slow, heavy, and uses largely outdated technologies
  • It’s nearly impossible to make email private/encrypted
  • Email, as software, is largely impossible to make incremental improvements on due to its sheer decentralization

But email’s days are numbered, yeah? Any day now.

Perhaps by this same logic, the English language shouldn’t succeed either:

  • There/their/they’re is a UX nightmare that will inhibit adoption
  • The gh in laugh makes an f sound—give me a break. But sometimes it also makes an oo sound, as in through. But also it can make an oh sound, as in though. Good luck scaling that.
  • English is riddled with homographs and contronyms that will confuse even English professors

Will the startup that disrupts the English language come from California, or will it be Texas?

If the pattern has not yet been made obvious, networked technologies like Bitcoin, email, and the English language are not valued by their feature set and design—they’re valued by the number of nodes that speak that same language. The most useful language is the one spoken by the most number of people. The most useful communication technology is the one accessible by the most number of people. The most important currency is the one believed in by the most number of people.

The philosophical arguments against Bitcoin end up being precisely why it is so valuable:

  • “Bitcoin isn’t even the best cryptocurrency. It was just first.” Yup, exactly. But like, a Big Bang of a first, am I right? This is important.
  • “Bitcoin is just a pyramid scheme that requires new believers to make previous believers’ holdings more practical. It has no intrinsic value.” Yup, it’s a networked technology. The more people you can get to speak your English-disrupting language, the more valuable it becomes. Without belief, without adoption, there is no value or utility.
  • “Bitcoin is just a cyberpunk fantasy about a future where Bitcoin will matter.” Yeah, but it’s a hell of a story, right? If you think this story is compelling, check out Christianity’s stories, or Islam’s stories, or the United States national story. Now those have suckered in quite a few. What would you put Christianity’s market cap at?

If you continue judging stories like Bitcoin by their technical merits, you will perpetually blind yourself to their importance, value, and potential. When you instead judge networked technologies by their narrative, ubiquity, trust, and ultimately, decentralization, you might begin to understand what a $1 trillion dollar story looks like.

On the Epic side of history

Imagine a natural road spontaneously forms between point A and point B, and that as a consequence of this road, individuals suddenly wake up to the importance of point B, and of traveling there. Companies had first ignored point B altogether, but because the overwhelming majority of individuals now travel this road, these companies must now begin meeting individuals where they are: at point B. If they don’t, they will perish.

But then comes along a wonderful invention: a road between point A and point B, but built on Conveyer Belt technology by the iCompany. Anyone traveling on the iRoad will arrive to B in 1/10th the time of the natural road. At first, the toll for individuals is far too pricey, so they disregard the iRoad; individuals are ok with the time cost of taking the natural road. But as time passes, more and more people begin taking the iRoad due to its undeniable benefits. Time turned out to be just one factor. Journeyers on the iRoad experience benefits like reduced health risk, less wear and tear, and an all around more comfortable experience. At some point, not taking the iRoad becomes of great consequence to individuals. Taking the natural road becomes no longer an option.

The benevolent iCompany has done a great service for humankind building this road that has completely changed the way people get to point B. And because the iCompany knows that other companies would love to travel this road just the same to cater to all its journey-goers, it charges them a hefty toll for access. It says, “anything you sell to people on this road, we will take a meaningful percent of, in perpetuity, forever and ever.”

Sellers on the iRoad grimace once at the terms of the deal, but sign nonetheless, knowing that not being able to sell to journeyers on the iRoad means their business will cease to exist. They can go and sell to riders of the natural road, but it isn’t enough to guarantee a meaningful existence.

Over the days, months, and years, sellers go through a whirlwind of survival challenges all to put on a smile of a face to its customers on the iRoad, whom they can only meet through frosted glass. Throughout all the changes, mutations, and evolutions, one thing remains beautifully constant: the iRoad commission. It is the axiom of existence on the iRoad.

Merchants on the iRoad have for years felt the commission too high, and an impediment to their survival. But what can they do? Fight the iRoad, and risk being barred. Avoid the iRoad altogether, and immediately perish. Build your own iRoad, and fail.

Building an iRoad is of course no easy feat. In fact, only two companies in the history of the world have succeeded in doing so. The other such road, the gRoad, exists parallel to the iRoad, and funnily enough, charges the exact same toll.

It’s almost as if these two roads have a monopoly over access to passengers traveling to point B. We can say this because:

  • Individuals can ignore point B at their own peril
  • Companies can ignore point B at their own peril
  • The only way to get to point B is via one of two roads
  • Building your own road is historically impossible and impractical
  • Both roads charge the same commission and are unwilling to negotiate
  • This commission is often seen as egregiously excessive

In non-monopolistic cases, there would be many, many more roads to point B. And because individuals can choose which roads to travel, these roads compete to a point where commissions and tolls are reduced to their lowest natural level.

In cases of monopolies, there is no competition. And thus no real reason to lower prices, especially for a good as important as access to point B.

There are two common arguments one sees over this epic battle:

  1. The Textbook Libertarian: "If you’re not happy with the fee don’t use the road." As mentioned, one cannot simply ignore this road. This response is equivalent to "Don’t exist", but I think things that exist want to stay in existence. So this is ultimately too nihilistic a response.
  2. The Textbook Retailer: "All roads charge tolls." Sure, almost all roads will levy a toll. The difference is that traveling most roads is optional. Point B however is special. Very, very special. So special that if you ignore it you will perish. And there are only two roads you can travel to get to point B. These two roads appear to act in unison to maintain what sellers deem unreasonably high tolls.

It’s extremely important to understand what differentiates this case from any other case where you can successfully apply The Textbook Libertarian and The Textbook Retailer:

Monopoly.

The constricting of competition.

The complete suffocation of choice.

A total hoax

A friend of mine, whose intellectual opinion I admire, recently told me that he believes the coronavirus is a hoax. Completely fictional. Doesn’t even exist. I said, lolwut? That this virus could be completely fabricated had never remotely crossed my mind to be in the realm of possibility. But, this friend of mine had been right about other complex topics in the past. So I lent him my ear.

The idea is that the virus, and the subsequent lockdown, is cementing power into the hands of a few organizations and screwing over poor people and small businesses (which, objectively, I suppose it is). And indeed, you find that with most conspiracy theories, this is also the case: the masses get screwed, and the powerful consolidate ever more power.

The inspiration for my friend’s ideas was a 3-hour interview on London Real with David Icke. I won’t link to it here, but I’m sure you can find it. David Icke is essentially the Alex Jones of the UK, whatever that happens to mean. But, because this message came as a personal recommendation from a friend, I promised I wasn’t going to judge a message by its messenger. Unique perspectives, historically, tend to come from outsiders and outcasts. So I suspended any judgement, and watched the video with a completely open mind. I’m not insecure about my ability to discern, so if I watched the video and I was convinced, then so be it, and if not, then I’d stand to come out stronger.

~~

My friend and I argue endlessly about the nature of conspiracy theories. He says, given any theory, you have to investigate the facts and come to a conclusion for yourself. Certainly hard to argue against. And I say, conspiracy theories are more a mindset, than about the particular details of an incident. I shout over him abstract structure and form, he shouts over me certain events and their peculiar nature.

Conspiracy theories are absolutely delicious, by the way. They make sense of the senseless, and connect disparate pieces of information in such mesmerizing fashion, that you think this mesmerization can only be attributed to its quality of truth. In my experience, the truth is rather ugly and incomplete, rather than perfect and whole. (Think religious narratives, and how uniquely complete and comforting they are, versus the rather grotesque nature of scientific narratives.) Above all, conspiracy theories reject chaos, and imply cause and intention behind the wildest of human events.

So how to explain the perfect nature of these theories and their undeniable deftness at compiling facts and presenting them in a timeline of pure symphony and perfection? Here’s my conspiracy theory on conspiracy theories:

Chaotic things happen in the universe, and in our world. The powerful are more equipped to take advantage of these events when they occur. For example, in the case of a contagious virus that is chaotic, governments can use this chaos to their advantage to overreact, if deemed beneficial. I think conspiracy theories, as a rule, tend not to necessarily modify event chronology (apart from the few that completely deny the total occurrence of an event), but to instead attribute intention and non-chaos as the aboriginal source of an event. Whereas chaotic events have a natural cause and a never-ending emanation of effect, conspiracy theories, or what defines them, tend to take an event that has had significant consequences, and retrofit causes, intentions, and strategies to ultimately imply a non-chaotic cause. Ultimately, “someone is in control,” rather than “it’s a wild, chaotic universe."

I think it would be more in the realm of possible logistics, based on what I understand about the chaotic nature of the universe, that the powerful are simply better equipped to take advantage of chaotic events that tend to leave the less powerful helpless. And these chaotic events tend to cement power into the hands of the few.

Assuming an actual deadly virus that, say, literally makes you throw up blood and kills you within 10 seconds of contraction, the powerful and rich will always, one way or another, be more insulated from something like this than the poor. And so events like these tend to make the rich richer, the powerful more powerful, and the poor poorer.

The classic example is 9/11. Conspiracy theorists would say, the attack allowed the government to expand its powers (Patriot Act, Iraq War), therefore, the attack was intentional, and designed to do just that.

Whereas non-conspiracy theorists would say, the attack was chaotic, but in that chaos, it allowed the government to expand its powers and to take exceptional measures.

In some or many cases, the government can simulate chaos to catalyze opportunity. Conspiracy theorists, as a rule, cannot differentiate between what is chaos and what is simulated, and err on the side of complete simulation.

~~

I watched the whole three hour video, by the way. The first half was relatively coherent. And I’m not going to lie: hearing an eloquent person say that this whole ordeal was completely fabricated made me feel really good. It was comforting. It was freeing. It made me feel like I knew something others didn’t. That I now had an advantage. But I also know that truth—natural truth—is rather grotesque, uncomfortable, chaotic, murderous, and random.

He spent the second half of the video tying human breeding with AI, cloud computing, Bill Gates, 5G, vaccines infested with self-replicating nanobots, fortune-tellers and psychics, demons, sacrificing the blood of children to the devil—he connected all these impossibly disparate pieces into one complete narrative that ultimately said: someone is responsible for making your life as shitty as it is. It’s not your fault, it’s not the universe’s fault: it’s the fault of a secret cult with Bill Gates, DARPA, Zuckerberg, and even Elon Musk at its masthead.

Poor Jack Dorsey got left out of the meetings.

Bullshit opinions

If a friend describes to you some weird random physical pain they’re experiencing, probably the best thing you can say to them is, “you’ll be fine.” It’ll pass. In most cases this ends up being true.

But imagine making a “spiritual” symptom checker website where the result for every input is “you’ll be fine” (rather than the present “you have cancer” minefield). You’d get harassed and bullied mercilessly for reckless endangerment.

The difference between the friend and the internet is that on the internet, everyone thinks you’re talking to them.

I’m not.

I think a valid response to disagreement on the internet is, “I’m not talking to you.”

If I say it’s nice and sunny today, and you say no, actually, it’s cold and windy where I am, it’s simply the case that I wasn’t talking to you, but talking to people who may agree with, or are able to empathize with, my perspective. Or perhaps share the same circumstances.

On Twitter, people attempt to speak to their finite followers. Not the infinite, never ending, ever-disagreeing masses. Tweets are forcefully ejected from their target audience through retweets, which is like having something you say to a small group of friends amplified to your entire town. Surely almost never what you want.

If someone says something on the internet, and you disagree with it, while even just one other person finds it agreeable, you have no more business interrupting that conversation than you do interrupting two people chatting arbitrarily ridiculous opinions in a cafe.

I say ridiculous shit to my friends all the time that I wouldn’t dare say on the internet. Not because I’m afraid to say those things, but because, I’m not talking to you.

To the whole wide world, I really don’t have much to say. Which is probably why I struggle to tweet. Who even are you, shape-shifting person reading my non-existent tweets?

I think Twitter, blogs, and social media, compared to say PhD dissertations, are fine places to post ridiculous opinions which you truly have conviction for.

If I tell a friend who complains of a tummy ache, "you’ll be fine," I’m a good friend. But in a tweet, I’d be a horrible person. If I tell a friend, “perhaps this lockdown needs to end and is causing more harm than good,” the friend either agrees or counters cordially. On the internet, you’re a horrible person. I suppose in this particular case, this horrible opinion of mine, spoken privately, goes to corrupt only one other individual, whereas on Twitter, I’m “corrupting” 34 million individuals.

I argue that someone who gains millions of followers on a play social media website is not suddenly responsible for changing the nature of their discourse. Certainly, for your own peace of mind, you should tweet with caution if you wield such influence. But there is no moral obligation for someone who did nothing but create a social media profile and gained a few million voluntary followers to suddenly align their opinions with those of health experts and the scientific community.

This case may be difficult to make with someone like Musk, but imagine an 11-year-old who gains fifty million followers and begins expressing, what can only naturally be, bullshit opinions. Ought this child complete a university degree before expressing any sentiment on current events? Or ought you to simply understand the context that an 11-year-old is saying something ridiculous not worthy of taking too seriously?

If you want accreditation, if you want peer review, if you want vetted opinions, this is not the domain of Twitter, nor Facebook, nor any other casual social media network. Perhaps a scientific journal has what you’re looking for?

If you want bullshit conversation, welcome to Twitter.

Welcome to the internet.

Slogan? Try not to get so upset about what you see.

Simulation overflow

Quantum is the proof that we’re in a simulation. That there is a dimension beyond our own, by which our own physical rules and laws do not operate. Entangled particles bypass the light speed limitation because their state is reconciled externally. We only see the resulting particle flips. Not the computation, like what other particles to affect in the global counter.

If a hundred-trillion light year wide simulation existed on a hard drive, the simulated particles are very far apart, but only inches apart on the physical drive. Far when simulated, flat when stored.

Why would a thing want to run a simulation? I believe for its own intellectual amusement. Think passionate science experiment. Or obsessed botanist.

If a thing could run one simulation, it’s likely it could run many simulations. And if it could run many simulations, it probably is.

If you’re a thing and you’re running a simulation, aiming for self-contained autonomy would be most intriguing, particularly so that you could observe many simulations at once, and monitor their behavior as labeled jars on a shelf. “This one has X, this one doesn’t.”

Does the simulation branch off at every point of binary potential? I don’t think so. A thing could likely run many simulations, but not infinite simulations. So it must optimize where and when simulations are forked. I believe this could be somewhat subjective. I also don’t believe a thing would want to inject hastened state or custom events into a simulation past its initial starting point, but instead prefer to fork a simulation based on an influential event. A thing would definitely want to fork simulations at the incipience of Hitler, for example, to see alternative outcomes. A thing would fork at other similar magnitudinous events, like 9/11, or Donald Trump. Or perhaps it forks at a point where one split would result with an x speed of light, and the other with a y.

Can simulations access other simulations? I wouldn’t think so. It would be impossible for a thing to keep simulations self-contained and uncontaminated if it creates a bridge between them. Although, perhaps some simulations have a bridge precisely for this reason: to measure its consequence.

If a thing can run many simulations, couldn’t there be many things running many simulations? I think so. Could we ever know for sure? If and only if this is something the thing is testing for.

Or perhaps a bug. An unintentional bridge. State reconciliation errors that leak information. Maybe the thing is sloppy.

I find it comically suspicious that we are unique in existing, on a stranded rock, in an otherwise infinitely empty universe. This fact alone seems very, very simulation-like. Were it not for this fact, I would honestly think it harder to have arrived at this conclusion.

Just as well, three crazy, infinitely improbable events all chanced to occur in an embarrassingly barren universe: one, it came to be. Two, simple organisms came to be. And three, creative consciousness came to be. These occurrences seem to have required careful—or perhaps luxurious—forking. There could certainly be other jars where these events did not happen. And perhaps there too are jars where more than the earth alone was inseminated. Nonetheless, the isolation is extremely simulation-like.

How similar are we to the thing? I think pretty close, in essence, or on our way. It would be most amusing to a thing if it could replicate its own essence through another medium, the same way replicating our own essence is intriguing to us. It has the potential to be a recursive feat. Is the thing in its own simulation? Likely. It wouldn’t know. And in that case, the deeper you are in the cycle, the further you are from base "truth". What does base look like? We’re not allowed to wonder.

If it’s recursive, why would things at every level act the same, have the same desires, and continue creating simulations? Perhaps it may be that we’re simply in the tree that resulted in an obsessive need to replicate consciousness, or the appearance of it. There could certainly be other trees that have stagnated. In that case, a simulation that continues recursing seems to be more impressive than one that doesn’t.

If we do end up creating a simulation that we deem fully autonomous and infinitely intriguing—perhaps, more intriguing than our own—that could also serve as sufficient proof we are in a recursive cycle.

Is there any use in believing we are in a simulation? Probably not. Unless it helps you conjure new theories. Or helps you imagine a new video game, movie, or novel. It may even compel you to write a meandering blog post masking science fiction as theory, shamelessly bordering on complete and total scientific blasphemy.

A year of pain, and some growth

2019 has been a strange year. In April, I underwent a retrospectively unnecessary surgery that caused me to suffer a level of physical and emotional pain, lasting more than six months, than I had ever experienced before. I went from being unrelentingly focused and productive, to not being able to summon the will to write a single line of code. I don’t want to give this excruciating experience any credit for where I have ended up today, so I will treat the resulting occurrences as purely incidental:

Productivity, coding, and burnout

  • For almost a three month period, Standard Notes sat completely still, in terms of feature development and to some extent, bug fixes. This turned out to be not such a bad thing. It taught me, above all, that things can wait. Surprisingly, during this long productivity drought, the company did not erupt in flames. Everything continued to function. New users continued to sign up, use the app, and pay for it. Others still sent in praise for what they liked, and condemnation for what they didn’t like.

    It also disarmed bug reports. I don’t panic anymore when someone expresses dissatisfaction with a feature or dis-feature. I don’t panic to build new features or iterate on new versions. I’m not in a constant frenzy. I also don’t work nights and weekends anymore. This is actually unusual for me, since nights and weekends were to me, previously, the only time I’d ever work on side-projects. In fact, in my first career position as a software developer earlier in the decade, having finally exhausted the course of my small-time indie projects that were to make me rich, I was shocked to find out that the company I was to work for had closed offices on Saturday and Sunday! I thought, what lousy dedication! I never not worked weekends, prior to that. If I wasn’t working, I felt like I was failing. This turned out to be a tough mentality to shed.

  • After I had sort of recovered emotionally, and to some extent physically, the two-and-a-half year period of relative unrelenting focus and furious productivity necessary to build the product finally caught up to me. I was burnt out. Usually when I burn out, I recover quickly. Maybe two weeks to a month, tops. But here days, weeks, and months passed, and I still could not summon the will to code or iterate. I did what was absolutely necessary but no more. I still loved Standard Notes dearly, and wanted to continue making it the best it could be. But if not me coding, then who? Ah! I must explore this thing they call hiring. And so finally, after many years of trying to do everything myself, I realized, I could not anymore. Me coding has become quite bad for business. If I’m coding, I’m not talking to users. I’m not thinking about business models or growth. If I’m coding, I’m not doing anything else. And coding can be an emotionally exhausting experience—you don’t want to walk away, or can’t be bothered, until you solve the problem at hand. It creates an introverted monster out of me. So I don’t code anymore. As much as possible. Standard Notes is now a ~6 person team, with a mixture of full time and part time people from around the world.

Hiring, culture, and remote-first

  • As far as hiring goes, it turns out you must actually make a decision on what kind of company you want to build: local, or distributed. It was mostly a blind process at first. I searched in Chicago for developers, because hey, that’s where I am. But it didn’t quite feel right. Do I really want to build a physical office culture, where I have to see people every day, and be an example of office excellence and dedication for them? Where I have to judge people by what time they come in and leave? Where I have to worry about how each member’s physical presence affects the other’s? Where I have to fret over which snacks to buy, and whether or not we have a ping-pong table, and what constitutes excessive ping-ponging? Na. That all sounds dead boring to me. I honestly would rather not have to babysit anyone’s physical presence. And as a self-proclaimed introvert, I’d probably do a lousy job at being there for people, physically. But in email and chat? Easy. Been doing that my whole life. And, it turns out, so have most of the people you’ll look to hire. So it works out. Local companies, all-in-all, sound like a huge hassle.

    What’s more, hiring locally is a huge constraint on access to talented people. Imagine you were browsing a website where you see a world map and tell the query box: “Give me the most talented software developers you can find—from anywhere.” And boom—the map erupts with red bubbles indicating the overwhelming amount of people that satisfy your criteria. But then you tell the website: actually, instead of searching the whole damn world, let’s limit this to a tiny 3 mile radius of people. At this point the website should, rightfully, ask you: mate, are you sure? What are you expecting to find with this query? But it obliges with your strange command, and filters the hundreds of thousands of results around the world, to like 5, in your local island-like radius. So yeah, local-first is quite strange.

    I have seen that “founders” (a word which SV/SF culture has tainted, quite honestly, but to which I cannot find a better alternative) who prefer local-first tend to be more interested in the idea of what a company should be, rather than optimizing for results and productivity. That is, they tend to romanticize the idea of building a team, and having everyone forcefully show up at some physical coordinate, whereupon they are all chained to a computer or white board for eight or nine hours. They romanticize the idea of having a ping-pong table or snacks, because they’ve seen that’s what a lot of rich companies do. They fancy themselves CEOs, founders, entrepreneurs—and that this typically involves being as ostentatious as possible. Whereas, if your primary focus is building great software, it doesn’t really matter how or where it’s done.

  • As to how to find people to hire, this at first brought great pain and befuddlement upon me. I thought I had to start networking, god forbid. The first revelation here was, duh, a job posting. So I tried the various remote job posting sites. This was overwhelming, as I got hundreds of emails, but hadn’t the slightest clue how to filter incoming candidates. I would exclude backend developer candidates based on the UI of their resume, or if they sent it as a Word document instead of a PDF. Fast forward a few months to where I have filled all the positions I was looking to hire for, and it turns out: I’ve hired 0 people that came from job postings. Instead, all the people I hired came from either: the SN community, prior Twitter interactions, and prior work interactions. More recently, I created a jobs page on our website, and I’ve been getting great leads from there. Really, really great leads. Not as abundant in quantity, obviously, but very high in quality. And laser targeted candidates of course, given they’ve had enough interest to happen upon our homepage in the first place.

Habits, lifestyle, and tweeting

  • While it’s a topic that’s always a bit difficult to talk about, I can feel some slight comfort being a little more honest here given that the state I am living in is legalizing marijuana on January 1, 2020. While the creative benefits marijuana confers can be at times undeniable, and thus, can have a dependency-forming effect (kind of like shaking an empty bottle to death so that you get every last drop out of it), I’ve formed better habits here in 2019. I’ve gotten to the point where I just don’t enjoy it as much. It’s really good for problem-solving, so has become more of a tool when necessary, than some sort of fun-box that provides entertainment on demand. It’s really not a toy. It’s a tool.

  • I still have not figured out how to write more, or tweet. On my personal account, I’ve tweeted only a handful of times in 2019. Tweeting remains impossibly awkward for me. I’ve never quite figured out how to be the type of person that has 79k tweets. I look at those people in awe and confusion—how!? On the one hand, people who tweet that much clearly have a level of spontaneity and lack of GAF about what other people think, which I hugely admire. On the other hand, every tweet to me feels like an insistence of yourself and your ideas upon someone else. They’re essentially brain farts, but are treated by their authors and followers as some sort of divine arrangement of letters. A lot of Twitter is reacting (or, overreacting) to current events, which I do too, but—and this is honestly not a humble brag but something I ultimately dislike about myself—I can’t hold on to an opinion too firmly. No opinion lasts with me more than a couple hours before I ping-pong between different sides of the story. I’ll try to have an opinion agreeing or disagreeing with some narrative, but then my mind will be like—have you considered the other side of this? And so on. The result is that I simply do not have any opinions that survive a night’s sleep. There is just way too much information, and it’s impossible to consume all sides of a story. The only solution for me has been to completely sit out current events, lest I end up in some infinitely recursive cycle of digging endlessly deeper till you realize, shit, there’s no right answer here. It’s much more complicated than you could have ever imagined. So yeah, my dream of being a “100k tweets” person lives to die another day.

Books, games, and arbitrary lists

Those were some words. Good.

It was hard to write about any of this stuff as it was happening, because it was all sort of brewing. But a year end review is a nice writing prompt. As far as progress goes, there’s really no more short-term low-hanging fruit. Everything I’m embarking on now requires the patience of watching a tree grow. 2019 was a tiny branch that today I saw protruding, and thought, hey, there’s something.

The imagined world

An idea is a story. A story about how the world could be. Great ideas are often described as having an almost ethereal source. Beyond the mind—as if the mind were a receiver, and not a generator. Some people think, I’m not an ideas person. They just don’t come to me.

But, and apparently like every other damned thing in this world, ideas appear to be nothing more than stories. They fictionalize the present, and imagine what an alternative could look like. You don’t have an idea for an app, or a website, or a service—you imagine a world in which that service existed. You create a story about how the world would look with your invention. You imagine the fame and glory it will bring you. Your consciousness submerges in a flash flood of thought and creativity, and you emerge after it all with a wild look about your face. A wild idea has appeared, from whence unknown! But really, you just told yourself a good story.

Nations, religions, and cultures are stories of the collective human mind, a la Sapiens. But I think so are products, and apps, and websites, and services. They are stories first and foremost, with the physical manifestations appearing soon after.

A year or so ago, Dropbox released a huge redesign of their brand. Their new visual design and story communicated something along the lines of: We are no longer a folder syncing company. We are a collaborative solution that enhances creativity and efficiency amongst teams. They rolled out this messaging across their entire digital presence, including website and social profiles, but, their product remained exactly the same. Quite literally nothing had changed in their actual interface (yet). And I thought, what a con. Who are you fooling? You’re not a creativity-inducing company. You’re a folder.

But I think now I admire what they did. They told a story about who they wanted to be. The problems they wanted to solve. And though they were not that today, they knew it was who they wanted to be tomorrow. First you tell the story. Then you build the story. It’s a technique that has worked wonders for, dare I say, the greatest storyteller of our generation: Elon Musk.

Expectation and reality may not always meet, but the only way to keep advancing and innovating is to keep telling more innovative and creative stories. Reality follows, with some delay.