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by Ben Yu

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

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It’s 0:48 AM right now. For the past two days I’ve been forced to wake up at 5:30am, a solid three hours before my usual wake-up time, to go hang-gliding with the other fellows. I am beyond tired right now, but I’m going to writing this post because I have to.

I’ve imposed the obligation on myself to pen a new blog post every Monday and every Friday. For the past two iterations of this obligation, I’ve thrown up the posts last minute, due to significant other priorities those days.

Today’s no different. I just came back from our fellow dinner with Peter Thiel, and I haven’t stopped being plugged in all day. There’s nothing more I want to do than sleep right now, and it’s without a shred of uncertainty in my mind that I assert that had I not created the obligation to post today, there would be no way in hell that I wouldn’t be passed out right now and this post would never see the light

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Exercise as a vehicle for epiphany

Back in high school I used to run cross country. Either through the summer or when I stopped senior year-I don’t really remember-I kept up my running habit, generally doing a few miles every day.

This isn’t about running however. This is about having epiphanies, and I distinctly remember I literally had at least one every single time I ran.

It didn’t happen during the run. But it always happened right after the run, as I was walking through my cooldown.

This always fascinated me, and there’s probably a very straightforward explanation for it, such as increased blood flow to the brain as a consequence of running. While running, physical exertion likely commands most of the blood flow, but during the cool down, I’m sure the brain gains the privilege of some increased oxygen supply.

The most intriguing thing is how subtle this entire process is. There’s nothing that feels distinctly

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A good friend of mine sent out an email the other day on ‘leadership’ versus ‘salesmanship’.

I wanted to edit this post a little before throwing it up here, but unfortunately it’s 2:30am already so here’s his email verbatim:

Hey friends,

You’re getting this email because we’ve had a intelligent and meaningful conversation at some point about leadership, or some aspect of leadership (e.g., charisma, trust, being a ‘visionary’). I wanted to send this email out to solicit your thoughts regarding a particularly powerful piece of writing on leadership that I recently read and also hopefully kickstart a conversation. I am curious about your answers to two questions:

  1. What does being a leader mean, in your opinion?

  2. What are some of the most difficult aspects of leadership to learn or develop?

But first, I want to share the piece on leadership. It’s a bit long, but I assure you it’s worth

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The Belief of Possibility

This stems from an observation I’ve been gradually building from rock climbing. I’m really getting into this sport, and from my first experiences to my most recent progress one primary theme keeps standing out to me: to break new ground, you must first believe that the ground can be broken. The rest is just follow-through.

My first and only outdoor climbing experience was what really blossomed my fascination with climbing. Two incredibly patient and generous veteran climbers offered another newcomer and me a ride into Connecticut or some other cold New Eastern place while I was at Harvard. We did several routes, and I’m fairly certain that I exhausted the bulk of my physical reserves by the time I was halfway up my first ascent.

But the veteran climbers kept encouraging us to continue and coached us patiently, and I’ll remain forever grateful that they did. The final ascent is the one

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Connections don’t build things.

This is a rebuttal to the oft-repeated notion that it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.

I’m going to make the somewhat scandalous point that no, it is in fact what you know. Connections are great. But they’re worthless without certain prerequisites in the skill department.

I’m going to journey through some cliches to prove my case. Sure, it can be argued that if Mark Zuckerberg hadn’t met Sean Parker or managed to get initial seed funding from Peter Thiel Facebook may never have become the behemoth it is today, but the fact of the matter is if Mark Zuckerberg hadn’t been able to build Facebook, it definitely wouldn’t be what it is today.

There are thousands of people who have met Sean Parker and Peter Thiel and none of them managed to build Facebook.

Taking another pithy statement that opportunity is the intersection of serendipity and preparation, we can make this point a

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Why Bill Gates Is My Hero Again

There are a lot of choices for tech/entrepreneurial hero these days, and broadly it seems the trending fashion is to throw out a name like Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg. “Stay hungry, stay foolish” seems like the battle cry of our generation.

But I remember when things were different. I remember my childhood days where no one had ever heard of Steve Jobs and Zuckerberg hadn’t even started Facebook. There was only one real tech idol back then that was a household name. A person everyone knew – Bill Gates.

The richest man in the world. Everyone talked about Bill Gates. Everyone was going to be like Bill Gates. He was the hero and the villain of tech. He vindicated software, took down IBM, and stole Jobs’ GUI. He was the winner, and the only one.

But Bill Gates is a tired phrase in this new decade. Everyone still knows him, but no one really mentions about him. What happened to him? Why

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Goals and Writing

Two things were discussed in some depth today with Travis. Our long term goals, and the fact that we both think our writing is shit.

On the first, we share the desire for financial independence (ten million) by the time we’re 30 - the reach goal is by 27. Opens ourselves up to full freedom and the ability to move forward on the big pursuits of our lives. Furthermore for me, I hold the desire to master a scientific or technical field and contribute to it meaningfully in some way. And to build something, create something. That’s about it. We just need to build something.

On writing, there was an interesting post in the NY Times Magazine a while back written by its editor, Hugo Lindgren

Essentially, the article rants about how Hugo never dreamed that he would end up as an editor for so many years - it was at best a temporary job before he wrote the Next Great American Novel (or TV show

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Free Stuff And The Pareto Principle

Recently I came to the conclusion that quite possibly my most creative and ingenious accomplishments have been realized in the pursuit of free and cheap stuff. A ‘sweet deal’, as I’ve been told is my trademark catchphrase.

As I came to this epiphany, I did a broad tally of the worth of all the free and extremely cheap shit I’ve gotten, and the overall value is comfortably into the five figures.

That comes contrary to the popular belief even I myself have held that generally scrounging up good deals one little thing at a time isn’t really that much of a money-saver – it’s far more worthwhile just to keep a minimalistic profile and have good spending habits.

It seems to generally follow the Pareto principle, with the vast majority of the earnings/savings coming from a few particularly sweet deals.

I think this may, perhaps, be an exploration into why the 80% of effort that contributes

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The Power Of Belief

Many impressive things have been done in the name of religion, but I stumbled upon one of the most striking the other day. For 40 years, one Russian family of five had voluntarily cut off all human contact and lived in isolation in the frigidly cold taiga. Karp Lykov, the patriarch of the family, had been an Old Believer and when the Old Believers were persecuted in the 1930s, he decided that rather than renounce his religion he would escape into the taiga along with his wife and two children.

They eked out a bleak existence for over 40 years before being rediscovered by a team of Russian scientists. Karp’s wife died of starvation just years into their exile, and by the time they had been found again they were primarily subsisting off potatoes, rye, and hemp seeds as they had long lost the ability to cook food after their metal pots had rusted beyond use.

Shortly after contact all but

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Ignorant Ben Compendium

I love being able to write whatever the hell I want. Today’s post is a motley collection of questions I’ve sporadically been recording in Evernote. This began at the Science World in Vancouver I’m fairly certain.

It’s mostly going to be an exposition on how ignorant I am of physics and science at large. If anyone has answers I’d love to learn them.

9/24/12 Questions:

  • Why does light move?
  • Why does water have waves?
  • How are photons created?
  • Why does light travel at exactly the speed it does and what causes that?
  • How does light carry/transmit information in a fiber optic cable?
  • Why are plants green? Why do they prefer to reflect green light?
  • Why do plants turn brown from green? (wrote these questions without access to the internets)
  • How do clouds form?
  • How does rain occur?
  • How does a combustion engine work?
  • Why do trees invest in many small leaves and why do some choose small leaves

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