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by Ben Yu

Thiel Fellow. On leave from Harvard. Makes Sprayable Energy. I’m slightly back!

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We aren’t born anything.

We’re made. And now,

AAAAAAAARRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHH

That’s my passionate battle cry for this post. I feel very strongly about this subject, as I firmly believe it is the answer to life, the universe, and everything.

Today we are going to speak about being ‘born this way’. Over and over and over again in my life I’ve encountered cases of people who believe they just are one way or another, and there’s nothing they can do about that. We’re either happy or sad, lucky or unlucky, impulsive, short-tempered, bad at sports, stupid, slow to get movies, shy, introverted, awkward, manic-depressive, emotional, logical, bad at math, intrinsically entrepreneurial or intrinsically not, risk-taking, impatient, nonconformist, and so on. You get the point.

God damn it.

I feel strongly about this because I used to be the exact same way. I thought we all just were as we were. I was a shy

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How diamonds took over the world

This is in response to Startup Edition’s prompt for this week: What is the single greatest startup hack you’ve seen?

Since I know nothing about startups or hacks or great things, I appealed to my cofounder Deven for advice. He suggested two things. One, the epic arbitrage that the Rothschild ‘bank’ engineered by strategically placing four brothers in different financial centers around the world and hiring the fastest ships to swap information before the general public could. Two, diamonds.

Since he said I’d have to read a giant book to learn about the Rothschild and I had about two days to write this post, I decided to go with diamonds.

This response interprets every aspect of the question loosely, but I think there’s still quite a valuable lesson to be found somewhere here in the rough. If you find it, let me know.

Behind the modest, lowly diamond lies pretty much the greatest

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Why People Live

This past week I learned that I have some incredible readers on this blog. No idea why you guys read this piece of shit. But I’m glad you do. Thanks.

As somewhat promised, here’s a followup post to my Why Do You Live? post on Monday, featuring some of the fantastic responses from incredible readers.

First up, the fucking awesome Michelle Lara Lin, who I’m actually amazed I haven’t met yet. How does everyone not know this ridiculously cool person already?

I can’t admit I’m not biased in favoring this response because she’s an absurdist too and runs a blog called The Stranger, because I am. But notwithstanding, she wrote a amazing post below interspersed with amazing pieces of artwork, so. Read it.

Hello Ben,

I’ve always loved reading your blog entries, but this Absurdist one was a delightful surprise. Camus is my favorite author. He turned my life around and gave me the strength to

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What do you live for?

As someone who subscribes to absurdism, this is something that has always fascinated me. This isn’t so much an essay so much as just a question: what do you live for? Why do you live? I’d love to hear your thoughts, and you can email me at yu (at) benyu (dot) org. I may publish some responses anonymously if there is enough interest.

My thoughts on the matter can essentially be summed up as I see objective meaning in life to be highly improbable. If evolution is true, as it overwhelmingly seems it is, the long path to our creation was sparked without intention.

Something happened, the universe came to be, some dust gathered together and formed the sun and the planets, and somewhere on earth, somehow, abiogenesis occurred, and a couple billion years later eukaryotes came about, and another billion years after that fish and stuff emerged, and then eventually apes had lots of sex and we

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The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant

This is long, be warned. But it is well worth it.

I didn’t write this one, but I think it’s extremely imperative the message here gets spread as far as possible. This was written by Nick Bostrom. I’ve posted my commentary at the bottom so as to not detract from the reading experience.

And so, without further ado, you can read this masterpiece here, or below:

Once upon a time, the planet was tyrannized by a giant dragon. The dragon stood taller than the largest cathedral, and it was covered with thick black scales. Its red eyes glowed with hate, and from its terrible jaws flowed an incessant stream of evil-smelling yellowish-green slime. It demanded from humankind a blood-curdling tribute: to satisfy its enormous appetite, ten thousand men and women had to be delivered every evening at the onset of dark to the foot of the mountain where the dragon-tyrant lived. Sometimes the dragon

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Enjoy it above all

This is another cautionary post, inspired yet again by one of Tynan’s recent entries (sorry for hating on you so much man).

The desire for progress is one of my deepest core motivators. Generally, I try to improve in everything I do, and running is no different.

I started running in high school as part of cross country. That was easy. Every day, the coach told me where I had to be, and what I had to do when I got there. There was no choice. It was mindless, and it worked. I went from never having run in my life to actually beating real, live humans in races. My chronic sleep deprivation during the school year limited my progression, but the improvement was still remarkable.

But the joyous day finally came when school let out forever, and I found myself having to face the prospect of running on my own. Suddenly, everything was different. No one was going to tell me when to run and how

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The sweet spot of productivity

This is a bit of a response to Tynan’s post on Removing Options, where he’s recently installed Nanny for Chrome and has blocked every single website on the internet except about ten that he needs for work so that he can focus on getting work done.

While he’s raving about this now having only done it for a few days, personal experience suggests that this is unsustainable. Inevitably, something will come up where you’ll need to use another website for something - say, watching a really compelling and informative TED video, learning something on Khan Academy, checking out a great dissection of a startup/entrepreneurial lesson on some random dude’s blog - whatever, something will come up.

And once something so compelling comes up that it’s necessary to visit the site to peruse the content, the only option left is to disable Nanny across the board to visit that one site. That first time

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Collaborative Writing, Etherpad, and FTL Fanfiction

I was talking with Ryan Hoover the other day and he mentioned if I’d ever considered collaborative writing, with a tool such as Etherpad.

I hadn’t, but it sounded like fun, so I ended up staying up all night with my buddy Travis writing the following piece of FTL fanfiction. I’ve sworn off games and have been clean for 110 days, but he’s still an addict and raved about this rogue-like and it sounded like fun, so we did it.

 Surprising discoveries

Collaborative writing did not actually turn into the shitshow I was certain it would. It worked remarkably well. Neither of us would have written this piece on our own - it was about 2am when we got started, and Travis was pretty much ready to hit the sack, but thanks to peer pressure I got him to stay on board. And at about 5am or so, I was ready to crash, but he carried us through to the end.

We also wrote much more than either of us would

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The Strenuous Life

Today’s post is inspired by one of my greatest heroes. He wasn’t a perfect man - he shot his neighbor’s dog just because it snapped at him once (his father had just died and he was a bit angry). But he was a passionate, vigorous man, and it’s on this aspect of his life I’m going to focus today.

But first, he says it best himself.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high

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Meeting my cofounder in Antarctica

As a result of this story, I’ve come to be a big believer in the notion that doing interesting things that I like generally end well, even if they at first glance appear to have nothing to do with the rest of my life.

This particular story begins when a mentor of mine from the Thiel network that I had just met mentioned offhand that he was putting a trip together to go to Antarctica, ostensibly because it was Antarctica and why the hell not. Unfortunately, the trip was full, he lamented; otherwise, it would have been cool if I came along. I thought much the same thing and thought nothing more of it.

A couple days later and I met him again for whatever reason. This time, he told me that someone had just canceled the trip last minute and he’d be able to give me their spot, but I’d have to decide right then and there to go. Made a split-second call, thought about it - when would I ever

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