Surprising, Octopus

9/30 - What's Next

Hey, happy Monday! Hope you have a great week.

What are you working on lately? Send me an email and let me know.


Articles to Read.

General and Surprising

The most valuable insights are both general and surprising. F = ma for example. But general and surprising is a hard combination to achieve. That territory tends to be picked clean, precisely because those insights are so valuable.

The more general the ideas you're talking about, the less you should worry about repeating yourself. If you write enough, it's inevitable you will. Your brain is much the same from year to year and so are the stimuli that hit it. I feel slightly bad when I find I've said something close to what I've said before, as if I were plagiarizing myself. But rationally one shouldn't. You won't say something exactly the same way the second time, and that variation increases the chance you'll get that tiny but critical delta of novelty.

It's not true that there's nothing new under the sun. There are some domains where there's almost nothing new. But there's a big difference between nothing and almost nothing, when it's multiplied by the area under the sun.

The Thrill of Uncertainty

Fixed rewards are too easy to get excited about. Changing rewards offer enough buzz to want to figure out tomorrow’s puzzle. Variable interval rewards flood your brain with dopamine because that high is evolutionarily necessary to survive the hellish world of hunting and famine. The dopamine rush of obtaining something important that you knew would eventually come but didn’t know when is what keeps you hunting for more.

Variable interval rewards are why we compulsively check email. Some messages are really important, but you don’t know when the important ones will come, so you keep checking and checking.

So much of investing is not what you know, but how you behave. And behavior is hard to teach, hard to control, and hard to even come to terms with. There’s uncomfortable truth here: My best guess is that 10% of people are born natural investors, and 10% of people can’t ever be taught how to invest successfully no matter their education. The other 80% of us could improve by spending more energy on how we respond to risk and reward vs. the active chase of searching. Barry Ritholtz was once asked the greatest financial lesson he’s ever learned. “You’re a monkey. It all comes down to that. You are a slightly clever, pants-wearing primate.”

Why do rates of entrepreneurship vary?

Why do societies vary in their rates of entrepreneurship and organizational founding? Drawing on the largest available longitudinal sample comprising 192 countries over 2001-2018, I examine the evidence in relation to several explanations, including variation in the density of established organizations, national investment in research and development (R&D), technology transfer to new companies, the quality of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, venture capital (VC) availability, and governmental support and policies for entrepreneurship. Contrary to prevailing theories, there is limited empirical support for these explanations.

Rather, the evidence shows that the strongest predictors of cross-national variation in entrepreneurial activity were normative, with social norms being the most strongly associated with entrepreneurialism and rates of organizational founding.

Is the era of the $100+ graphing calculator coming to an end?

Texas Instrument’s best-selling graphing calculator, the TI-84, is a woefully outdated piece of technology. While the cost of its components has dramatically decreased, its price ($150 MSRP) has not.

Yet, for millions of middle school and high school students around America, the graphing calculator is still a required standard — and TI controls an estimated 80% of the $300m+ market.

“You’re trying to convince teachers who’ve been teaching with TI for 20 years to try something new,” says Luberoff. “It’s hard enough to be a teacher without dealing with technological change. But most understand our tool is more equitable. It’s modern technology. It’s what kids use now.”

Outdoor Preschool Trends

Children gather in a forest clearing with their teacher

There are more than 400 outdoor preschools in the U.S. designed to create a closer connection between children and nature. But are the programs simply a trend for green parents, or a lasting model for early-childhood education?

The tally of 400 outdoor preschools looks impressive until you consider that there are 120,000 childcare centers across the country.

The American Brain

It’s well known that the economic marketplace is all about supply and demand—a supply of products and services satisfies the demand for all kinds of things, like homes, cars, food, and healthcare. The two components react to and influence one another. Demand drives supply as supply scrambles to match it, and suppliers try to manipulate demand to drive it towards whatever they’re supplying.

We don’t always think of it like this, but the marketplace of ideas (MPI) works the same way. The demand for everything from knowledge to wisdom to leadership to entertainment to emotional catharsis is met by an endless supply of human expression. But there isn’t really an established way to analyze the MPI the way there is with economics, so we’ll come up with our own way of doing it, using the new language we’re developing.

In its most basic form, the MPI is an attention market, where attention is the key currency instead of money.

The Octopus: An Alien Among Us

Whatever the reason, the octopus evolved an extraordinary nervous system. It can use tools, solve problems, and show unexpected creativity. In a now classic demonstration, octopuses can learn to open a glass jar by unscrewing the top in order to get to a tasty morsel within. The octopus has a central brain and also an independent, smaller processor in each arm, giving it a unique mixture of centralized and distributed command.

Just to be clear, I’m not saying that octopuses are not conscious. But the octopus nervous system is still so incompletely understood that we can’t yet compare its brain organization with ours and guess how similar it might be in its algorithms and self models. To make those types of comparisons, we will need to examine animals in our own lineage, the vertebrates.

More to Check Out: 
Are hippos over-powered?
- How Much Air Pollution Is Produced by Rockets?
SAT Scores Fall as More Students Take the Test
- A Town for People with Chronic-Fatigue Syndrome
Online courses vs. colleges for software engineering


My Update.

  • Happy new year!

  • Re-read this essay I wrote 1.5 years ago, “just start.”

  • Watch this video for some motivation: