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by Ben Yu

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

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Thiel Fellowship Closing Ceremony Speech

I have come to the conclusion that I suck at blogging on demand and that if I make myself write a post on Monday I will generally tend to wait until the last minute to write it. To counter this, I’m going to try writing every other day and only posting the best two pieces on Monday and Friday. If that still fails, I’ll try every day and Tynan can tell me I told you so.

Anyway, in the meantime, as it’s midnight CST here on Monday, here’s the short semi-prepared speech I gave this weekend at the Thiel Fellowship Closing Ceremonies (we all gave a two minute quip about our two years).

There were a lot of surprising things I learned as a Thiel Fellow, but one of the most striking is how quickly two years go by. Most of my life’s seemed interminably slow, and when I accepted the fellowship two years seemed like forever. But here I am, two years later, and it feels like it’s gone by in the

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There are no shortcuts

The sparking foundation for this belief is the tech startup I tried to found with no technical background. It failed, I learned lots of ‘lessons’, and I realized I needed to get technical and bring something to the table before trying again.

A while later, I chanced upon the You and Your Research talk by Richard Hamming, and it made a lasting impact on me. I’ve been thinking and referring to it for probably over a year now.

Main takeaway: Oak trees come from acorns. In the talk, Hamming goes on to note the ‘Nobel Prize effect’ - the fact that no great work is generally done by a recipient of a Nobel Prize or similar distinction after receiving the award.

When you are famous it is hard to work on small problems. This is what did Shannon in. After information theory, what do you do for an encore? The great scientists often make this error. They fail to continue to plant the little

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Habits

Today was a 40 hour day for me. Literally - I’ve been stuck in April 8th for 40 hours. 24 hours everyone faces, but I got an extra 16 hours thanks to the time difference between Tokyo and San Francisco.

For the first time ever, my train from Shibuya Station to Nippori Station in Tokyo was late last night, and I missed the last train from Nippori to Narita Airport. I spent the night huddled in a small 24 hour McDonald’s before taking a 5:07 AM train to Narita early this morning to make my 8:55am flight. I made it, and was soon on my way to Seoul for a connection to Los Angeles. From LA, I finally made it up to San Francisco, where mostly exhausted from jetlag and a general inability to get any quality rest for the past few dozen hours, I pumped out some much needed work before rushing through my daily checkin post so I could finally go to sleep.

But wait - my daily checkin tells me I

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My new favorite foreign place on Earth

Next to San Francisco, because everything is next to San Francisco, Tokyo is now officially my favorite place on Earth.

Admittedly, I’ve only been here for five days so far, but I’ve never been so sold on a place so quickly. Decided fairly unequivocally that I was in love with this place on the train ride to our apartment from the airport.

This is coming in without too much prior bias. All of my friends who have been to Japan without exception are direly in love with the country, but I’ve never had any particular desire to come here. The only reason I’m here is literally because a friend of a friend tweeted about a RT ticket being $314 from LAX to NRT. Managed to snag RT tickets from SFO to NRT for $345 everything included, so just jumped on it on a whim last July. Literally no prior planning.

What’s to like about Tokyo/Japan? Some of it’s personal, some of it’s just objectively

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That time I climbed Kilimanjaro (and got carried down in a stretcher)

So this is just a short recounting of the time I decided to go to Africa and climb Kilimanjaro. I may decide to flesh it out once upon a future, and I may not.

I’m also not sure what the moral of the story really is. It’s either ‘don’t be an idiot’, or, ‘even if you’re an idiot all things usually turn out alright, so just go with the flow and wait for the stretcher’.

How and why I went to Africa and what I did in the few weeks preceding my Kili climb is another story in itself. For now, suffice it to say that one day I suddenly found myself on a bus driving along the long road from Dar Es Salaam to Moshi. The story begins with my tragic choice of bus.

The night before my hosts in Dar Es Salaam had thrown a huge party (aka Bingo at the Indian Restaurant Down The Street) celebrating their departure on the morrow for Sri Lanka. As a consequence, I stumbled to bed sometime around 2am. A

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Nothing

I’ve been thinking all day about something to write about. At this point, it’s enough of a detriment to my other work that writing about nothing has become the right call.

I’m obligated by my self-imposed rules to make a post every Monday and Friday. But today, there’s just nothing that particularly strikes my fancy as a suitable subject.

I think it’s important to keep in mind why rules were originally imposed, and not lose track of the fundamental goal. In my case, I’ve imposed various rules on myself to ensure that I stay productive.

Today, I find my rules conflicting towards that end. I’m trying to push out revisions for my provisional patent on Sprayable Energy as tonight is the deadline for filing - tonight, US patent law historically changes from a first-to-invent system to a first-to-file system.

Yet attempting to find a topic for this post is taking enough of a cognitive load

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The importance of structure

For the longest time, I struggled between deciding how to best be productive. Should I rigorously confine myself to a fixed schedule, or should I give myself maximal freedom to be creative and let serendipity run its course?

Somehow, possibly with laziness as a underlying motivator, I deluded myself into thinking freedom was the way to go. I certainly didn’t want to compromise my ability to be imaginative and stumble upon wondrous new worlds by putting on blinders.

While I know it to not be entirely true, my general feeling is that I failed to get anything done for about a year after making that decision and entering the free world as an entirely autonomous being devoid of any external impositions. Certainly, I failed to accomplish anything tangibly significant.

In my misguided attempt to preserve all opportunities for creativity, I precluded myself from actually creating anything.

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Net Worth

An email conversation between a few friends and myself on net worth. My thoughts follow.

Began with two of us stating we didn’t really like this article

And then somewhere I noted that my goal was 10 million in net worth for financial security and independence and concluded a long rant (included at the end) with this paragraph:

Ultimately, perhaps: Do what makes you happy. It’s fine if it makes you happy for the standard reasons - as long as you’ve thought it through and are sure it will truly make you happy, do it. Try to maximize happiness both now and in the future. Maximizing happiness in the future gives the greatest returns since there is more of the future than there is of the now…but then again, we are young now and won’t be in the distant future, so there is a strange thing to be said of the particular quality of life and the variant opportunities afforded only in certain

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Wealth Distribution Fallacy

I’ve seen several people post to this video recently.

This is just a quick response I posted as a Facebook comment somewhere.

TL;DR I want to point out that the ‘rightness’ or ‘wrongness’ of wealth distribution should be in terms of where people are in regards to how much wealth is needed to maintain a good quality of life, not how wealth is distributed in relation to the total amount of wealth.

If the total amount of wealth is $100 under today’s rate of monetary value (e.g. $1 in this scenario buys what $1 today would) with the same amount of people as today, everyone’s doing shit. Doesn’t matter if 10 people own $60…we’re all going to die.

On the other hand, if the total amount of wealth is 100 centillion with the same amount of people, we’re all doing fine and every single one of us can almost certainly buy and do anything we want. The reason for this is just because in this

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Advice won’t make you. (however, persuasion might)

A response to recent articles like this and this quora question

I have a different and more straightforward take on why advice won’t make us or break us. There are those of us that read hundreds of self-help books and don’t make it, and there are those of us that haven’t sought out advice and all and get along just fine.

  1. Watching Tiger Woods hit a golf ball won’t instantly confer upon you the same capability to swing a ball. This applies just as much to an intellectual or entrepreneurial pursuit. While the right coaching can be indispensable, it’s ultimately sheer work, making mistakes, and our own internal introspection on our specific state that will make us.

  2. The last part above segues into my second point: advice is easier given than received. Easier said than done. Ultimately, only we can act on the advice given, and also provide the necessary amount of inner reflection to distill

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