Compare it with being dead

I’ve overheard someone comparing washable diapers with the non-reusable ones. One supposed to be environment friendly and the other less so.

In the comparison the washable diapers were almost free from all environmental damage. Which would obviously only be true if you skipped the washing bit of the reuse.

If you haven’t heard of the Penny lick ice cream glasses: in the 1800s London, one happy customer would get their ice cream, lick the glass clean and return it to the vendor, who would refill it and give it to the next customer. Apart from being yuuuck, this is perhaps the best way to spread tuberculosis, which the Penny lick did very well on until it was banned in 1899.

Don’t skip the washing bit when reusing a diaper, it’s super-ill-advised.

However, washing a reusable diaper makes the whole thing very unfriendly to the environment. When you compare the two options, apples-to-apples, you’re only choosing between the lesser of two evils.

This was a cafe chat that I’ve overheard and this is a Friday morning, so clearly we are not expecting scientific evidence. Also, I love when something is environment friendly and I’m on the same side: I too want the reusable stuff to win. But, for a mathematician, it’s nice to have the facts straight.

People don’t cheat when comparing stuff on purpose, and I’m certainly no exception. Humans are generally not good at rational reasoning.

Like now, I want to think that all this cappuccino will disappear if I swim for an hour. Sports are a great way to burn a gazillion calories.

Do you know how many calories would I burn simply standing still instead of swimming? Surprisingly, still quite a lot. Simply living-and-breathing consumes almost the same amount of calories as swimming for the same period, the difference is only some 20%.

Turns out that people mostly compare calorie consumption during sports with: being dead.

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Not news

Both Berlin airports were shut down for 24 hours last Friday. No flights in-or-out of the German capital for a whole day, but I only know this because my girlfriend was lucky enough to be on the last Berlin-London flight before they closed the airport for the strike. The news outlets were pretty silent.

This week then, now for two consecutive days, both airports were shut again on Monday and Tuesday. No flights in-or-out of Berlin, again, for 48 hours.

Shouldn’t it have been covered in the news somewhere? I’ve seen it on Reuters and Twitter, but really, nothing on CNN and BBC.

I mean, this is the Germany capital being cut off the maps for all international and domestic airlines for 3 whole days now, with thousands of flights cancelled, and BBC doesn’t seem to care about it. The German Zeit doesn’t care much either.

Is it only me who’s missing this in the news? Or is this uninteresting and all people care about is random boobs and futballists?

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Surely You’re Joking

“Well, Mr. Frankel, who started this program, began to suffer from the computer disease that anybody who works with computers now knows about. It’s a very serious disease and it interferes completely with the work. The trouble with computers is you play with them. They are so wonderful. You have these switches – if it’s an even number you do this, if it’s an odd number you do that – and pretty soon you can do more and more elaborate things if you are clever enough, on one machine.

After a while the whole system broke down. Frankel wasn’t paying any attention; he wasn’t supervising anybody. The system was going very, very slowly – while he was sitting in a room figuring out how to make one tabulator automatically print arc-tangent X, and then it would start and it would print columns and then bitsi, bitsi, bitsi, and calculate the arc-tangent automatically by integrating as it went along and make a whole table in one operation.

Absolutely useless. We had tables of arc-tangents. But if you’ve ever worked with computers, you understand the disease – the delight in being able to see how much you can do. But he got the disease for the first time, the poor fellow who invented the thing.”

— Richard Feynman in the book “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!: Adventures of a Curious Character”

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Big brothers

Snapchat started selling Spectacles, their $150 sunglasses with the built-in camera. Whoever is wearing them can essentially: take a short video of anything and anyone without much notice and upload it to the Interwebs right away.

Sure, it’s only 10 seconds of a video, and their usage is very limited, and the quality is crap and and and.

But you know where the future is heading.

In a few years’ time, everyone and everywhere will record everything. Just like we all have mobile phones that follow us everywhere, we will keep glasses with ourselves at all times. I know I will. You know you will, too.

The content will also be searchable, with tags and location and everything. You can ask: “hey, Internet, what’s going on right now in my hood?” — and there you have it, someone’s live stream.

It’s not what we want. It’s what technology wants. When Google came out with the Glass it wasn’t useful at all, but it showed us what the technology could do at the time. We didn’t like the product. It was too weird and clumsy and too geeky, something like mobile phones were 20 years ago.

Now, Snapchat may bring something more fashionable. Something that we might embrace. If we don’t, that’s not a big deal either: you can be sure that in a few years someone else will reinvent the lot.

If there’s anything we should have learned about technology by now is that whatever it wants: will get it.

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Where is Bori’s kuki?

Bori is my girlfriend’s newborn niece, now two weeks old.

Kuki is the Hungarian kids’ word for penis.

My girlfriend and I were really eager to visit Bori right after she was born. So eager that, together with rescheduling our lives and flying in from two different countries, we made it on the very weekend Bori and my girlfriend’s sister were released from the hospital.

Bori has an older brother. Berci is 3 now, and knows a fair bit about the world. In a big part because he’s as curious as a young gentleman of 3 could ever get. He wanted to be part of the first bathing experience of his little sister.

We wanted to be part of the first bathing experience of his sister too. Bori and Berci, the mom and dad, my girlfriend and me, all lined up in the hot and steamy bathroom, to watch as this super-cute blob is being washed at home for the first time.

Berci was just next to his sister, watching the events very closely.

He noticed something.

He noticed something missing, to be more precise.

“Mami, where is Bori’s kuki?”, he asked.

I bit my lips while my stomach started to feel funny. This was going to be awesome. Mami was about to respond.

“She doesn’t have one. Bori is a girl, girls have vaginas.”

I was quite satisfied with the answer. Berci wasn’t. After a beat he had another question.

“Alright, but then, where are Bori’s boobs?”

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Doughnut safety

I popped in to Tesco on the way home for some dinner shopping. They seem to put the evil items next to the healthy stuff nowadays? Either way, I went for avocados but doughnuts caught my eye.

This being Tesco, it’s never just a doughnut, they come in packs of four, so this required some planning.

“I’ll eat two in the evening, two in the morning, and otherwise it’s only carrots for dinner and skimmed milk with the morning coffee”, I thought. That sounded fair.

The doughnuts in my backpack misbehaved on the way home. The pink, sugary topping melted and made everything inside my bag, the phones, cables, the laptop case, everything, covered in syrup. It looked the way I imagine a unicorn murder scene. Very, very sad indeed.

It took some time to recover the content of the bag, then the bag itself, and then I looked at the plate of the still semi-perfect looking doughnuts. Maybe I’ll still eat the two pieces set for today, the damage is done anyway.

Doughnuts are awesome.

Once finished, I looked at the other two pieces left on the plate. Without the safety of their box, they will go dry and tasteless by the morning. They will no doubt look terrible. Also, we’ve seen what they are capable of. The safest is to eat them all up.

When it comes to syrupy stuff, I say.
Safety first!

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Nothing new under the piano

“It seemed very fresh to me—I mean that part where you say how the First Industrial Revolution devalued muscle work, then the second one devalued routine mental work. I was fascinated.” […]

“Do you suppose there’ll be a Third Industrial Revolution?”
Paul paused in his office doorway. “A third one? What would that be like?”
“I don’t know exactly. The first and second ones must have been sort of inconceivable at one time.”

“To the people who were going to be replaced by machines, maybe. A third one, eh? In a way, I guess the third one’s been going on for some time, if you mean thinking machines. That would be the third revolution, I guess—machines that devaluate human thinking. […]”

“Uh-huh,” said Katharine thoughtfully. She rattled a pencil between her teeth. “First the muscle work, then the routine work, then, maybe, the real brainwork.”

“I hope I’m not around long enough to see that final step.”

(From Kurt Vonnegut’s Player Piano. I enjoy reading it very, very much right now.)

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Attention control

This newly developed addiction for Snapchat messages, Facebook likes, retweets, pokes and what not, it’s nothing new. Attention economy is eating our life for forever now.

Some 15 years ago, when email was the enemy, I implemented a rule to avoid going down the interesting-links-in-emails rabbit hole: I could only open URLs that I listed the day before. The list could be as long as it needed to be, the stupid links from emails could also make the list, but there was no clicking on stuff that I didn’t put on the day before.

The stupid links immediately lost their fake relevance and urgency, so even if they were on the list, the next day I largely ignored those.

Also, this being in 2001, when I ran out of stuff to do on the internet (whoah!), I started inventing new stuff for the next day’s list, like “what does McDonald’s sell in India?”.

(It’s the Maharaja Chicken Sandwich. As expected, beef burgers were not on the menu.)

Without going too much into the details, I’m trying to implement a similar system now, where I try to regain control over my attention. I want to get into the habit to take out an hour in the evening to schedule everything for the next day – on paper, without any screen that might work my Pavlovian reflexes. The goal is to move impulsive action to planned action.

Please ping me if you have anything to add.

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Chicken wings habit

I kept the habit of swimming since 2016. Wherever I am, at least once a week, I find a swimming pool and jump in it.
I practice. I work out. Every week, for over a year.
At least 1.5 kilometres every session. It took me 52 minutes to finish all the laps last year, and now I’m down to 45. I learned forward crawl: I do 750 metres breathe stroke, 750 metres forward crawl.
I’m not the fastest person in the water, but I’m in the medium-to-fast lane.
So then.
When will I finally grow a man’s arms instead of these chicken wings?
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Reading list in 2016

It’s been a pretty good year this, at least as far as my reading list goes. The full list of 34 books I’ve completed in 2016 (the two favourites on top, then in no particular order):

Top#1: How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life (Adams, Scott)

My favourite book of this year. Plenty great ideas in this one, some of which I’m subconsciously implementing for over 15 years, but works to an incomparable greater effect as a conscious daily practice. One example: if you hunt for deer, you want to improve your chances by going to the forest, learning about how deers behave, and perhaps getting a gun. (Replace deer with whatever you want achieve.)

Top#2 The Elephant Vanishes (Murakami, Haruki)

I’ve found Haruki Murakami by accident when I was looking for contemporary urban short stories on the Interwebs. This was the book that came up first on Amazon, I’ve read the first chapter and I was sold immediately. Excellent read, full-heartedly recommended.

Blind Willow Sleeping Woman (Haruki Murakami)

Another collection of short stories by Haruki Murakami. After the Elephant Vanishes I was sucked into his world, and this book gave exactly that: more of the same drug.

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants (Gladwell, Malcolm)

The way Malcolm puts disadvantages and advantages into perspective is brilliant. Goliath might have been a massive fellow, but it would have been useful only in close combat: as soon as David chose slingshot as a weapon and dismissed sword & armour to be more agile, he became the natural favourite. (Translate this to your startup, and you’ll be killing it.)

The Art of the Deal (Trump, Donald J.)

I’ve read it over the spring when no one would have considered a Trump presidency, apart from, perhaps Scott Adams who blogged about Trump’s persuasion skills for a while. The realisation that Trump could become president hit me while reading his book: the way he brought massive projects to life is the exact way you can win anything (and the way I’ve accidentally lead an ad agency to success some ten years ago): by telling appealing stories that people remember.

It’s actually one of my favourite books this year but I wouldn’t tell anyone. Read it as if someone else wrote it.

The Tao of Warren Buffet: Warren Buffett’s Words of Wisdom: Quotations and Interpretations to Help Guide You to Billionaire Wealth Enlightened Business Management (Buffett, Mary)

One of my favourite learnings of this year is from Warren Buffett, although not exactly from this book: write down the 25 goals you want to reach in life. Put them in order: on top the ones you absolutely, must achieve, and the goals you care about less in the bottom. Now circle in the top 5 and cross out the bottom 20: the crossed-out ones are the ones that divert your focus and keep you from reaching the most important goals.
The book offers similarly smart business management insights.

The Magic of Thinking Big (Schwartz, David J.)

It’s a “whether you think you can do it or you think you can’t you’ll be right” self-help book, but the one of the few that passed my well-trained bullshit filter. Recommended for those times when you can’t seem to get up to speed.

Revolution (Brand, Russell)

“When I was poor and I complained about inequality they said I was bitter, now that I’m rich and I complain about inequality they say I’m a hypocrite.” He’s a great writer, yet this book doesn’t seem to go anywhere. I’d recommend reading Russell’s Guardian posts or watching his stand-up shows instead.

Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days (Livingston, Jessica)

A list of interviews with companies that we don’t really look at as startups any longer: Apple, Paypal, Gmail, Trip Advisor and many others. It’s a time-travel to the 2000s (when I too started to work for one of the first Internet companies and created my first startup). Absolutely loved it.

Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered (Kleon, Austin)

It’s more a nice gift to creative people than a book, at least in a sense that it can be read during a a short plane ride. I also like the way it’s drawn-and-written, sort of Wait but Why? style.

Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy (Fielding, Helen)

I’ve read the latest Bridget Jones book mostly because my girlfriend was laughing on it so hard. For me it was rather difficult to get in the head of a 50-year old lady dating men in their 30s, but it’s all in all a fun read.

God’s Debris: A Thought Experiment (Adams, Scott)

Upmost fun. In my 25+ years of studying mathematics I’m quite used to playing with abstractions. This book offers exactly that sort of fun.

All Marketers Are Liars: The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low-Trust World (Godin, Seth)

Absolutely fantastic. Stop thinking about marketing in a way that worked in the TV-era: we can’t buy eyeballs any more. The only thing that works today is developing the story, one that’s important to others.

Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us (Godin, Seth)

Another one from Seth Godin, I’ve read it because the other book of his was so brilliant. This one is great too, but it’s almost the same thing: read whichever comes first.

Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? (Godin, Seth)

And one last one I’ve read from Seth Godin this year, about becoming irreplaceable in the new economy. (Quite along the lines of Yakuzuzu’s “what would you do if you didn’t need to work any longer?”) A bit longer than it should be and pretty repetitive, so if you can multitask somewhat, listen to the audiobook version in the background.

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (Adams, Douglas)

The first time I’ve read the series I was about 16, and I accidentally bumped into the book when I was moving stuff in my old room. I’m 32 now, and it’s not the same experience really, but the Hitchhiker’s Guide is still upmost fun.

Cat’s Cradle (Vonnegut, Kurt)

Starts with a story based on Ede Teller, the weird Hungarian physicist who was one of the inventors of the atom bomb. That part is awesome. Then it becomes weirder and weirder.

Breakfast of Champions (Vonnegut, Kurt)

It’s another nice-and-easy Vonnegut novel. Excellent story, I love the style, the fun scenes and jokes, though I don’t remember too many details. Great read to switch off after a long day.

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard (Heath, Chip)

Excellent, hands-on advice with plenty examples in the book. Look for opportunities to change the environment in order to shape your behaviour. (Habits for the win!)

Rich Dad, Poor Dad (Kiyosaki, Robert T.)

Recommended by many, it’s a great book for people who are not entrepreneurs. I forward the title to my friends who are thinking about becoming investors or seem to have gotten stuck in a rat-race – for already entrepreneur folks it’s just stating the obvious. (Doesn’t do any harm hammering it though.)

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future (Thiel, Peter)

Great and inspiring, but if you read one or two articles from Peter Thiel’s blog, you probably get the same effect. The main point is that the author prefers startups that invent something out of thin air rather than the ones that merely improve on stuff.

Monty Python Live! (Chapman, Graham)

It’s scripts, drawings and stories from and about the Flying Circus series. After reading the book, I started to work on another script with no delay – I guess it’s what you’d call inspiring.

Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth (Weinberg, Gabriel)

It’s a users manual to startup marketing, listing the 19 marketing channels Gabriel wrote about. Don’t read the book, read the Medium post and actually implement it in real life.

Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time (Ferrazzi, Keith)

The best takeaway from this book is already explained in the title: meet people, make strong relationships, and do fill your lunchtime, dinners etc. with those meetings. The book hammers this in across a few hundred pages.

Is It Really Too Much To Ask? (World According to Clarkson, #5) (Clarkson, Jeremy)

Collection of stories by Jeremy Clarkson. If you like him in Top Gear / Grand Tour, you’ll like this book.

The World According to Clarkson (World According to Clarkson, #1) (Clarkson, Jeremy)

Same as all other books in this series really; see above.

The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That is Connecting the World (Kirkpatrick, David)

It’s the story of Facebook. If you only have two hours, just watch the movie. I had one great takeaway from the book I didn’t remember from the film: Zuckerberg kept working on other side projects for quite a long time while developing Facebook.

The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph (Holiday, Ryan)

Stoicism repackaged really, so it’s a good gateway drug for friends who haven’t been bitten by it. It inspired me to practice cool-headedness.

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business (Duhigg, Charles)

Most of the stuff we do in a day is controlled by our subconscious, so as soon as we get the habits most things will fall into place. Great book, highly recommended (as well as most interviews with the author).

Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business (Duhigg, Charles)

The difference between internal and external locus of control, and the fact that this can be changed by simple nudges. (Note to self: re-read this as soon as you become a father.) Also from Charles Duhigg, also very highly recommended.

The Achievement Habit: Stop Wishing, Start Doing, and Take Command of Your Life (Roth, Bernard)

The core takeaway was identifying the difference between trying and doing: most barriers only exist in the mind. By saying you’ll try you identify yourself as a “trier”, by saying you’ll do it you automatically enable your “doer” mode.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull (Bach, Richard)

I’ve read it on Scott Adams’ recommendation for a “weird story”. It was less weird than boring.

Ego Is the Enemy (Holiday, Ryan)

Two super-important things that stuck with me. First, there is a danger in applying career labels: are you a “filmmaker”, “writer”, “investor” just because you’ve done that once? Do you want to do something else at any time?
And second, stay a student for ever and more: “You can’t learn something you think you already know.”

How to Win Friends and Influence People (Carnegie, Dale)

It’s a psychology book written exactly 80 years ago and it still works: always think about what the other person is thinking about. Motivation only goes as far as you can align others’ goals with yours. Already forwarded to many of my friends.

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