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

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There’s this interesting notion that desperation is the best thing that can happen to us. I just watched two movies for Mother’s Day with my mom - The Great Gatsby, and Iron Man 3. In a way, both were about desperation, but the last one explicitly, so I’ll start there.

Aldrich Killian, main villain, reveals that he owes his success to Tony Stark - after Tony rejected him and left him hanging outside on the roof after a party in Switzerland, Aldrich was driven to despair and desperation. After entertaining the thought of suicide, he suddenly comes to the revelation that he now has a driving force in life: to exact his revenge on Tony, and in his desperation he resolves to see his enmity to its end. So ultimately, Tony’s having left him with no where to turn was what made him into the very successful supervillain he is today.

Same bit of a story with Gatsby. Grows up desperately poor...

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My fourth grade teacher did

Who took a chance on you? That’s the Startup Edition question for this week, and I love it.

Pretty much everyone ever has taken a chance on me, so I’m grateful to this question for finally compelling me to acknowledge and be thankful to all the people who have helped me get to where I am.

Here are a few of the entities that have taken a chance on me:

  • My parents, when they decided to nurture and feed me
  • Harvard, when they decided to teach me
  • The Thiel Fellowship, when they decided to invest in me
  • My cofounder, when he decided to work with me
  • My girlfriend, when she decided to love me
  • My friends, when they decided to influence and be influenced by me
  • Myself, when I decided to live on my own terms and run for my dreams
  • Startup Chile, when they decided to give us free monies
  • Svbtle, when Dustin decided to let me ramble on like an idiot here
  • The trillions of cells in my body, who decided...

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We aren’t born anything.

We’re made. And now,


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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