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Why Scala?

The video below is a very cool talk on why we use Scala by Martin Odersky.

As processors are no longer getting significantly faster per core (Moore’s law), but we get more cores, we need to figure out how to execute our programs faster.

Through Scala we can use parallel and concurrent programming.

Other languages use functional programming too (e.g. JS can do it) but Scala is one of the more modern languages built specifically for it. It also allows us to solve problems such as a mutable variable changing when there are concurrent changes. (Too many tweets changing the net number of tweets at the same time, the variable can be multiple different values at the same time, and this can cause bugs).

In Scala we think in terms of space rather than time as in iterative languages (we do this, now we do this, and last we do this…) which allows multiple ‘workers’ to perform different tasks at the same time.


Von Neumann, the smartest man who ever lived and one of the pioneers of the computer (and a pioneer in about 50 other extremely important fields), is my personal hero, so I thought this was pretty cool:

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The current computer behaves in very much the von Neumann paradigm. The thought that this style is actually limiting is an interesting paradigm.

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How to Plan Better

  1. Put it on paper. Studies have shown that we’re more likely to achieve our goals when we commit them to paper.

2. Time-Blocking

Block out time to work on important and non-urgent projects. On a traditional to-do list, obligations that take hours to complete appear alongside tasks that last a few minutes. Without time-blocking, it can be hard to tell them apart. Fast Company defines time-blocking as assigning individual tasks to manageable time slots.

2. If/Then Tasks

Block out time – after work, if you have enough mental energy, you can use it to do more mentally heavy work like coding or creating. If you are low energy, you can use it for another task like decorating the house or cleaning or working out.

3. Eisenhower Matrix


Do work stuff immediately. Schedule time for important projects. Be ruthless about how you spend your time and don’t waste it on people who aren’t good to you or on things with minimal return. Try to find ways to make urgent but not important tasks easier – outsource them, delegate, pay someone else, or fit them in when your brain is tired and you need a distraction. Instead of browsing the internet when you’re tired at work, just file your expense report or do that online chore instead.

5. One-Three-Five List

Pick one important goal of the day to finish. Fit other stuff around that. Three medium tier importance ones, like exercising, hanging out, other tasks.

6. Kanban Board

Visualize your progress on projects such as home decoration. Share it with other people.

7. Could-Do List

Sam Bennett likes to be realistic when planning out her day. Instead of writing a to-do list, the author of Get It Done: From Procrastination to Creative Genius in 15 Minutes A Day takes the pressure off by creating a “could-do” list. In order to weigh the importance of her optional tasks, she plugs them into a worksheet. She suggests reserving columns for tasks, time (how long each task will take), expense (if any), inclination (how appealing the task is on a scale of one to 10), and the return on your investment (also scaled one to 10). Based on those metrics, it should be easy to see which items take priority—and if you don’t have time to get to everything, it’s not the end of the world.

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Eight Brain Hacks To Learn Anything Faster

1. Teach Someone Else (Or Just Pretend To)

If you imagine that you’ll need to teach someone else the material or task you are trying to grasp, you can speed up your learning and remember more, according to a study done at Washington University in St. Louis. The expectation changes your mind-set so that you engage in more effective approaches to learning than those who simply learn to pass a test, according to John Nestojko, a postdoctoral researcher in psychology and coauthor of the study.

When teachers prepare to teach, they tend to seek out key points and organize information into a coherent structure,” Nestojko writes. “Our results suggest that students also turn to these types of effective learning strategies when they expect to teach.”

2. Learn in Short Bursts of Time

V: Pomodoro.

Experts at the Louisiana State University’s Center for Academic Success suggest dedicating 30-50 minutes to learning new material. “Anything less than 30 is just not enough, but anything more than 50 is too much information for your brain to take in at one time,” writes learning strategies graduate assistant Ellen Dunn. Once you’re done, take a five to 10 minute break before you start another session.

Brief, frequent learning sessions are much better than longer, infrequent ones, agrees Neil Starr, a course mentor at Western Governors University, an online nonprofit university where the average student earns a bachelor’s degree in two and a half years.

He recommends preparing for micro learning sessions. “Make note cards by hand for the more difficult concepts you are trying to master,” he says. “You never know when you’ll have some in-between time to take advantage of.”

3. Take Notes by Hand

While it’s faster to take notes on a laptop, using a pen and paper will help you learn and comprehend better. Researchers at Princeton University and UCLA found that when students took notes by hand, they listened more actively and were able to identify important concepts. Taking notes on a laptop, however, leads to mindless transcription, as well as an opportunity for distraction, such as email.

“In three studies, we found that students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand,” writes coauthor and Princeton University psychology professor Pam Mueller. “We show that whereas taking more notes can be beneficial, laptop note takers’ tendency to transcribe lectures verbatim rather than processing information and reframing it in their own words is detrimental to learning.”

4. Use the Power of Mental Spacing

While it sounds counterintuitive, you can learn faster when you practice distributed learning, or “spacing.” In an interview with The New York Times, Benedict Carey, author of How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens, says learning is like watering a lawn. “You can water a lawn once a week for 90 minutes or three times a week for 30 minutes,” he said. “Spacing out the watering during the week will keep the lawn greener over time.”

To retain material, Carey said it’s best to review the information one to two days after first studying it. “One theory is that the brain actually pays less attention during short learning intervals,” he said in the interview. “So repeating the information over a longer interval–say a few days or a week later, rather than in rapid succession–sends a stronger signal to the brain that it needs to retain the information.”

5. Take a Study Nap

Downtime is important when it comes to retaining what you learn, and getting sleep in between study sessions can boost your recall up to six months later, according to new research published in Psychological Science.

In an experiment held in France, participants were taught the Swahili translation for 16 French words in two sessions. Participants in the “wake” group completed the first learning session in the morning and the second session in the evening of the same day, while participants in the “sleep” group completed the first session in the evening, slept, and then completed the second session the following morning. Participants who had slept between sessions recalled about 10 of the 16 words, on average, while those who hadn’t slept recalled only about 7.5 words.

“Our results suggest that interweaving sleep between practice sessions leads to a twofold advantage, reducing the time spent relearning and ensuring a much better long-term retention than practice alone,” writes psychological scientist Stephanie Mazza of the University of Lyon. “Previous research suggested that sleeping after learning is definitely a good strategy, but now we show that sleeping between two learning sessions greatly improves such a strategy.”

6. Change It Up

When learning a new motor skill, changing the way you practice it can help you master it faster, according to a new study at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. In an experiment, participants were asked to learn a computer-based task. Those who used a modified learning technique during their second session performed better than those who repeated the same method.

The findings suggest that reconsolidation–a process in which existing memories are recalled and modified with new knowledge–plays a key role in strengthening motor skills, writes Pablo A. Celnik, senior study author and professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation.

“What we found is if you practice a slightly modified version of a task you want to master,” he writes, “you actually learn more and faster than if you just keep practicing the exact same thing multiple times in a row.”

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Post-Burning Man Reflections

Things I learned:

  • From publishing workshop – you need an audience and a platform to get published
  • Social media is otherwise essentially a vacuum; it’s worse than useless. The way many of us use it is like eating white sugar every day in large quantities – pleasant but harmful; it will rot your teeth, cause wrinkles and Diabetes II, and cause you to become obese. If you are not benefiting from it, you should not be consuming it passively. Just as we should be careful and conscientious about what food we consume, we should also be just as aware of what media we consume. Mindless trends, television, and unimportant data is like noise – it will only drown out the more important things. Junk food for the mind will make it just as unhealthy as eating donuts every day for the body. Relaxing for half an hour and vegging out is not the problem. The problem is that consuming social media and television affects what you care about, what you think about, what your world consists of. Social media and television tastes sweet – it tastes good, may even feel good to lose yourself in the swirl of things that don’t matter. But it is devoid of nutrition, devoid of meaning or anything that is good for you. And you can only have so many calories in a day. You are either devoting a sizable chunk of your attention to empty calories, where you could be devoting it to enrichment, or you are consuming too much, overloading your mind with senseless noise and teaching it to focus on things that don’t matter. “Instagram is so thirsty, yet gives you Death by Water.”
  • Think bigger.
  • One of the world’s biggest problems right now is global warming. What can we do to help tackle this problem? I need to do more reading on this, but it seems like two very big issues we are poised to face are the dependence of humanity on oil and the unsustainable consumption of meat. In light of this, two potential avenues to pursue are improving and spreading the use of solar energy and finding meat substitutes that people actually eat and adopt, which means the meat substitute has to taste good. Two examples of companies tackling these issues are Solar City and Impossible Foods.
  • Another one of the world’s biggest problems is humanity increasingly becoming stratified between Have and Have Nots. How can we solve this problem?
  • Reading in a hammock under the shade while drinking cold tea in the desert is one of the best recreational activities. The Temple of Unitea was by far the best camp.
  • It is good to unplug to remember what is important.
  • Neal Stephenson is an insanely creative writer and I should read more of his work.
  • From the biography I read: Elon Musk is especially good at breaking down large, complex problems into a simpler equation, and solve them with a foundation of math, physics, and examining costs/profits.
  • Spending time with friends at Burning Man is a great way to bond with friends.
  • Remember what is important to you. Social media is not important. Even photography, while inherently enjoyable, is unlikely to impact the world in a significant manner (or at least the content that I create is unlikely to).
  • Optimize your life for making the biggest difference in the world. Don’t spend much time or thought space on things that don’t matter.
  • During free time, spend my time reading, writing, working out, hosting friends for dinner, and eating healthy. Spend less time plugged in to the web.
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Things I Learned From Keto

I tried keto for one week, and not only got great results, but learned a lot of things along the way. This is the article of my learning.

  1. If you are hungry, eat more fat. Before when I tried to limit calories, I would often fail and make ramen at night because I’d be hungry. But now I understand that if you want to be full, you should just eat more fat. Avocados, sugarless nut butters, bacon… These all keep you full, for longer. That way you don’t end up getting late night munchies because you’re starving. You’re just full and don’t need to eat as many calories.
  2. What you eat is very important and affects you greatly. Potassium deprivation is a thing. When I was in ketosis, I got headaches, fatigue, and my legs cramped up until I could barely walk, much less exercise. I was taking Magnesium supplements and tracking my macros, so I knew I was in a Potassium deficiency. Before, I’d always hear things like ‘Bananas cure soreness’ and I’d think yes, sure. But feeling just how bad one week of Potassium-deficiency can make you feel made me understand just how everything we eat is so important in how it affects our body. This repeated what I learned when I tried to be vegan and fainted after 3 weeks of protein deficiency and lost all of my muscle. What you eat is very important and we should all be more careful about what we put in our bodies.
  3. Carbs and especially processed sugar are bad for you long-term. A lot of people say, “Eating carbs can’t be bad, look at asians, they eat lots of rice and are thin.” That may be partially true, but it’s not the full picture. A lot of the people in my life have been pre-Type 2 Diabetes, and Alzheimers runs in my family. Eating a lot of rice and sweets causes insulin spikes which causes your body to become insulin resistant and can lead to Type 2 Diabetes. My grandmother had both Type 2 Diabetes and Alzheimers, and she was notable for having a sweet tooth. My mom is thin, and similarly was pre-type 2 Diebetes before cutting out carbs. Similarly, a keto diet is often used to treat epilepsy, because sugar affects your brain. Additionally, eating too much sugar can lead to wrinkles and increased risk of cancer.
  4. Track your macros. I think one of the greatest gleanings I’ve gotten from this experiment is to track my macros and calories. Before I often ate whatever I wanted. I did some light monitoring but I wasn’t being real with how much I was consuming. I’d casually eat a cupcake that someone left at work and didn’t realize how much it was all adding up.

In conclusion, I am excited to take these learnings to eat healthier and have a better lifestyle. I am making modifications to my diet and seeing where they lead me! Here’s to a healthier, longer life!

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What is Success?

Success is not money, a nice house, gorgeous spouse, and accomplished kids (although having those are very nice.)

Success is not a job title.

Success is not a destination.

Success is when you enjoy what you do so much that you get to wake up every day and play. And the only way to reach success is through play.

Success is waking up many days thrilled to be alive, reluctant to go to sleep, because you are chasing your calling.

“I’d tell men and women in their mid-twenties not to settle for a job or a profession or even a career. Seek a calling. Even if you don’t know what that means, seek it. If you’re following your calling, the fatigue will be easier to bear, the disappointments will be fuel, the highs will be like nothing you’ve ever felt.”
― Phil Knight, Shoe Dog

Success is building something that you can point to as your own.

“I wanted to build something that was my own, something I could point to and say: I made that. It was the only way I saw to make life meaningful.”
― Phil Knight, Shoe Dog

Success is finding your meaning. Meaning is personal and different for every human. Instead of asking, “What is the meaning of life?”, life asks us, and it is our job to answer with our life.

Success is doing something that no one else in the world can do but you.

Success is love. Love provides meaning.

Success is transcending yourself, losing yourself in what you love so much that you forget yourself, and getting to play.

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Quality x Quantity

In order to be great at anything, you have to produce great quality consistently. Being a great photographer does not mean that you only produce one great photo, but you produce great photos consistently. To be a great athlete, you do not win one championship. You win again, and again, and again, until it is time to pass the torch. Great athletes and people also fail more than other people, because they put in more attempts, they try different things, they put in more time.

In order to become good at something, you have to put in time and effort. A lot of it. An unbelievable amount. In this day and age when there are so many talented people, it is much harder to stand out. Think more than 60 hours a week over the span of years, if you want to break free from the curve of the average, and if you want to compete with the people who do nothing else for a living. Hobbyists can indeed be as good as pros, but those that are are relentless and usually obsessed. There are some pros who are not very good at what they do for example, but it is hard to beat a pro who is at the top of their industry.

Yes, there are ways that you can expedite your learning so that you improve at a rate far faster than the average person (namely, 1-1 tutoring with the best), but even so, you will not be up-leveled even with these hacks unless you put in the work to improve and practice and develop your own voice and understanding.

I’ve learned lately that quality is so much more important than quantity. I did not follow this philosophy fastidiously in the past, but I would like to start following it now. However, in order to produce quality, you ironically have to start with quantity: you have to do something a lot to get better, and then cull your work down to the best. People underestimate how much culling is done. That means going out of your way to shoot every day, and then culling that down to only the best shots, sometimes not using any shots from a particular shoot at all, because you tried something new, and you realized it didn’t quite work. Not occasionally going out to shoot and then choosing the best among those. It means sketching and practicing every day. Applying yourself, challenging yourself in places where you are weak. It means writing dozens and dozens of short stories that never see the light of day. Iterating, getting better. Putting in hundreds and hundreds of hours into reading documentation and studying how to write better code that your coworkers may not be able to immediately see the results of. Spending hours pouring over specs, strategizing, thinking, and working late at night slaving over grueling details to ensure an excellent product. People will see the glamorous, beautiful result and never fathom the thousands of hours poured into the foundation of it. And why? Why bother with it? Do it for the beauty that you’ve made with your own hands, your own mind, your own sweat, blood, tears, your own heart. The beauty that you made, that you created. Do it for the spectacular view after the grueling climb, the exhilarating high of joy and the satisfaction of knowing that you did something hard that nothing else can quite replace.

Whatever you do, do it well.

Ultimately, if you are trying to make art, 1000 poor quality photos are not worth 1 art piece. The 1000 poor quality photos are worthless, and the art piece, if great, is priceless. If you have to take 1000 poor quality photos to produce that one great photo, then so be it, so long as you cull your work down to the best.

If you are trying to start a business, one great business that influences the lives of millions in a positive way is much better than 10 mediocre ones that are barely profitable. But to be a good CEO, you must consistently perform.

If it comes down to it, it is better to have fewer items of quality than many pieces of work of low quality. One of my favorite songs is “Obedear” by Purity Ring, a band so committed to perfection that they hardly produce anything. But I will never forget their one song, whereas I experience hundreds of other songs that visit and then leave my consciousness. Maybe they were pleasant, maybe they were okay, but I don’t remember them. One of my favorite games is Machinarium, an astoundingly beautiful and painstakingly detailed game. Although that game studio has not produced many pieces of work, they have already earned their acclaim with Machinarium.

Of course, on the road to “getting good,” you have to fail. The trick is that while you are learning, to put in far more time and effort than others, and fail frequently and fast to learn. People drastically underestimate the amount of work and culling that successful people do. We only see the tip of the iceberg. So produce a lot, fail fast, learn a lot, and then start producing great work, consistently.

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On Being Trash

I had an epiphany recently.

I was looking at some of my photography and comparing myself to some of my favorite photographers of all time.

Below you can see some of their work:

(Photographers I want to emulate in their respective categories, @ is for instagram.

Urban landscape: @5.12, @mmeyers76

Nature landscape:

Street photography: @monaris_

Fine Art: Deepak Ghosh (my friend)


I also caught up with my friend who is a professional photographer and amazing at his job. We talked about some of the things he does to hone his skills.

At some point it hit me like an incoming freight train:

I am trash.

My photography is trash.

Now, this is not self-pitying. Nor is this necessarily a bad thing. I suddenly realized just how trash my photography is, and that this was a good thing. Now that I could see how trash my photos were, I could get good.

I look at it this way.

When people first start out taking photos, they buy a DLSR and point and shoot everything, and think every photo they take is good. In reality, these photos are not good. These beginners just can’t tell the difference. (I was here at one point.)

As people slowly get better, they start to understand what not to do, what rules to follow, what is a good photo, how to copy, what makes a photo good. At some point they might find a photographer that they really look up to. And about 1-2 years in of seriously pursuing their art and improving (I’d only say 1 if you are pursuing it seriously, consistently, and putting in a lot of time), they suddenly realize that they’ve been trash the whole time, and not only that, but just how trash they really are.

This is a beautiful thing.

Think of anything in life that’s a hobby, job, or skill. When you first start out you don’t know anything. And it takes awhile to improve, and suddenly when you’ve passed a certain point after years of perseverance and hard work, you understand what quality means in that field when to beginners it is not immediately apparent.

To a novice software engineer, all code kind of looks the same. It’s hard to tell if code has gaping flaws if you’ve never encountered the consequences of those flaws before. But the experienced eyes of a software engineer who has been doing development for 10-15 years can see all the nuances and complexities, the underlying system design, potential future problems, bugs, best practices, all the reasons why this code is elegant and efficient and will do well and why that code is shit or buggy or has problems and will cause a fire and make the company go up in flames.

The trick to learning is to keep persevering, and to find people who are amazing at what they do and learn from them. To learn from those people, and not your peers. To compete with the best that exist in the world, and not your peers. I’ve learned that if you don’t think you are trash yet, you probably haven’t gotten to the point where you can tell that you are. The point is to realize that you are hot garbage (and how garbage), but then keep improving until you are garbage Level III.

Now I know I am trash, and that’s a beautiful thing.

🗑 <- my new spirit animal

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Book Thoughts

Hillbilly Elegy is an eye-opening memoir about Vance’s upbringing as a self-described hillbilly, or a member of the white working class of America in Appalachia descended from the Scots-Irish. It’s an inside look on broken families, toxic masculinity, toxic culture, Mountain Dew Mouth (children’s teeth falling out due to poor dental hygiene and diet leading to extreme pain and premature rot), regarding pie as health-food because it contains fruit, eating nothing but fast food as the norm, and the ailments that plague the poor white middle class of Appalachia. Vance has a unique perspective as he describes going from that side of the coin to the privileged world of Yale Law School, how vastly different the two were, and how he had only been so luck to get there due to some strokes of luck (such as joining the military) and good influences in his life (his grandmother). He describes how most of his hillbilly friends were ignorant of personal finances such as how to open a credit account, how to network to gain jobs, how to dress to interview for a white collar job. Hillbilly Elegy gave me a much better understanding of the effects of a broken home on the human psyche and how it causes people who have grown up in these environments to have involuntary reactions. That being said, the book also mentions that even growing up in a broken home does not excuse poor behavior, angry reactions, or the harm that comes from it. A lot of critics complain that this book does not represent them. I say, this is one man’s memoir and he has a right to his own story.

This memoir rose to fame because it offers an explanation as to why a lot of Appalachia whites voted for Trump and a look into their mentality. For example, the author describes why his neighbors who lived on welfare hated government handouts. Many of those who accepted welfare maintained strong cognitive dissonance and actually thought they were hard-working, even when they able-bodied and did not look for work. Those who did work were resentful of watching those who did not work possess nicer phones and eat better than they did, thus also growing resentful of government food stamps and aid, which is interesting given that the Americans who hated welfare and Obamacare the most were often the ones who benefited most from it. Vance also touches on the victim mentality that permeated hillbilly culture. When he was looking for work in his hometown before his start of law school, he found a job lifting roof shingles that paid decently well. The company owner was a kind man. Another employee at the company had a pregnant girlfriend. The owner asked if his girlfriend would like a job answering the phone. The girlfriend accepted and then proceeded to frequently not show up for work every third day. The man himself would be constantly late to work and took three hour-long bathroom breaks daily. When they got fired, the man blamed the owner and asked with indignation, “How dare you! Don’t you know I have a pregnant girlfriend?” It was eye-opening to see such a different perspective, even though we all live in America. This was definitely worth a read.

Nikola was a strange guy. The coolest thing about this autobiography was the feeling that you were speaking to the man himself. He was clearly an extraordinarily intelligent human.

Some of Nikola’s noteworthy traits were his vivid imagination, photographic memory, and his ability to conjure up detailed, realistic inventions and diagrams with perfectly accurate physics applied to them in his head. He was probably on the spectrum, and not great at reading people, which affected his ability to take care of himself financially, although thankfully not to his ability to contribute to humanity. Luckily, he had been born to an affluent Serbian family in Croatia that enabled his education, and his vast intelligence and its ability to generate profit was both recognized and funded by the business community. I was particularly impressed by his prescient ability to envision and predict the internet and smart phones we have today. The world is sorely worse off for not having his intellect.

There was a cool section where he elaborated on what some might think of as karma… but from a physical view. I found it extremely interesting that he equated cause and effect not just on a sociological or psychological level but began to think of it from a physics perspective. Unfortunately, he teased his thoughts but did not go into depth. I wonder to what extent he was talking about physical effects of our actions. He mentioned the butterfly effect, and how a butterfly flapping its wings can cause a hurricane across a different state. I don’t think he was speaking about the karma of our actions on the quantum level, because at the subatomic level things are governed by statistical probabilities rather than laws that determine with certainty, so to a large extent events are indeterminable. But on a physics perspective, there is much we don’t understand about cause and effect. I wish he had elaborated more, but now we will never know.

Savage Inequalities was eye-opening. Shocking in its details revealed. It’s not listed as one of my favorites, simply because it was an almost unpleasant read since it was so tragic, and also because I would have liked to see a balanced view of the distribution of inequality across America and how many U.S. schools are privileged v not and the extent of the severity. Neglected school districts were in America’s poorest and predominantly black/Latinx communities such as East St. Louis, in NY, etc. East St. Louis was by far the worst of the bunch, and could only be described as a hellhole. Students in East St. Louis lack textbooks, working facilities (e.g. some of the schools have broken stumps for toilets), good teachers, and so many other basic necessities to learn. Trash and sewage piles up in their backyards because of the lack of an adequate garbage removal system. The soil contains lead, which children play in, from its past as a toxic waste dump, and the inhabitants are at daily risk of inhaling toxic fumes from the Monsanto factory next door. The factory sounds an alarm and pays off those who have inhaled the toxic fumes with $400 to not sue. The city is known for its violence and vices – two of its chief industries are gambling and prostitution. An estimate of over 95% of their students drop out before high school, and those who make it to community college almost never matriculate. I searched for St. Louis to look up images for context and one Google image of a strip club caught my attention. I clicked on it, and it was a random man complaining that the strippers in a particular club in East St. Louis had obvious C-section scars from pregnancy, looked older than he liked, and had bullet wounds on their bodies, which were most likely either from actual bullets or intravenous drugs. This hurt because these women were the schoolchildren who had grown up in these schools, in a city full of lead.

I learned that most inequality stems from self-interest. It’s not that wealthy white families wish ill on poor black/Latinx families. They just want the best for their own children and their self-interest perpetuates inequality when they refuse to equally distribute public school funding amongst poorer districts, knowing that it will decrease the quality of their own. They hide behind the San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez court case that less is okay, so long as a minimum is kept, but the children in these poverty-stricken schools are not receiving an adequate education.

This book impressed upon me that we are oftentimes more the product of our environments and privilege than of our own skills. I’ve seen increasingly more through my life that intelligence and brilliance comes from all sorts of places, but the reason why we see it more in middle-upper class and predominantly white communities is because their children have been allowed to foster and grow their talent, and given immense privileges that many others could never dream of.

Bad Blood was shocking. When I got to the part where George Schultz didn’t believe his own grandson about the fraud that was occurring at Theranos and even turned on him, I realized my mouth was agape and a lady on BART was looking at me with concern. It’s amazing how manipulative and charismatic people with celebrity can influence people, but it’s unsurprising how magnetic they can be. By becoming a celebrity and recruiting other celebrities to endorse her, Holmes hacked the human mental circuitry. I learned that 1) people want to believe in and be a part of something bigger, something that gives their lives meaning and purpose, and 2) they will follow the person who provides that and even maintain shocking amounts of cognitive dissonance to allow it.

Holmes had a lot of strong skills, but she was a bully and most likely either a sociopath or an extreme narcissist, or both. Ultimately what Theranos did was unconscionable and illegal. It’s ultimately really not worth it to become great if you also become a complete asshole.

This book also enlightened me on how to spot a narcissist, and caused me to look deeper into what causes people to not have a conscience.

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What does it mean to be a good person?

After finishing the Pulitzer-Prize-winning nonfiction, “The Bully Pulpit,” by Doris Kearns Goodwin, I was struck by my impression of two great men and American presidents, Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, who were the dearest of friends turned enemies as they battled each other for the presidency. Although Teddy Roosevelt is by far one of the most respected and well-known presidents of American history, and while Taft is mostly recognizable to most Americans for his noteworthy weight, I walked away impressed not by Teddy Roosevelt, but by Will Taft. I was awed by Taft specifically for being an extremely good person, and although entranced by Teddy’s zest for life and endless curiosity, I developed a disgust for what I perceived to be Teddy’s faults – his egotism and self-centeredness. But why did I think Will Taft was a good person, while I did not think the same of Roosevelt?

Roosevelt was undoubtedly one of the most accomplished presidents of American history. He made great strides in preserving national parks, 150 in total, from coal mining companies that would have scalped them of their resources and beauty, and effectively signed legislation to regulate corrupt trusts that were conducting illegal and harmful practices to protect the interests of the laborer. He undoubtedly did a lot of good for the American worker, and preserved America’s nature for posterity. He seemed like a friendly, genial guy, cared about the poor and honorably upheld ethical practices in government despite corporate pressure from the Republican machine, and possessed many traits that I admire.

However, he also took advantage of an uprising in Panama to wrest possession of the Panama Canal, a crucial resource for the people of the country that the U.S. was purporting to be helping. One of the foremost muckraker journalists of the age, Ida Tarbell, argued this to be immoral. Roosevelt also took unnecessarily harsh punitive measures on an African American troop to degrade them and strip them of their service privileges when they were accused of shooting and killing several white southerners in an area after they were shot at first. This was a horrible thing to do the most oppressed and powerless people in the country, and it endorsed the racism of the Southerners.

Taft, on the other hand, as Governor of the Philippines, helped the Philippines to establish independence, establish schools, and invited railroads to create better transport for the land. He eradicated corrupt Spanish friars that composed of much of the land-owning class in the Philippines, purchased their lands, and redistributed the land to poor Filipinos. Above all, he treated the Filipino people with dignity and respect, and was much loved. He had other wins as president, but above all, he treated everyone regardless of race or gender with the utmost concern and respect, even working to convince Teddy Roosevelt to repeal his unnecessarily harsh punishment of the black troops and going great lengths to reinstate their service privileges and to protect them. He advocated for women’s suffrage. He worshipped his wife and held her in only the highest respect for her strength, competence, and intelligence. He seemed like an ego-less man. When asked how he felt on the eve of winning the presidency, he responded that he was happy, because his wife and children were so happy and proud. This struck me, as it  seemed like he did not think about himself at all.

Most telling of all, in the presidential race of 1912 for what would have been Roosevelt’s third term if he had won, and Taft’s second, Roosevelt turned on his prior best friend, Taft. He lied about Taft to the media and deliberately misrepresented facts, attacked Will Taft maliciously, and treated Taft and his family with utmost contempt. I was dumbfounded to read that Taft refused to attack back, and was at peace with losing the presidency. He didn’t want to hurt Roosevelt. He refused to hurt the man who treated him so terribly. And after the end of it all, after Roosevelt did acts to Taft that most would consider unforgivable, Taft found it in his heart to forgive it all.

It was from this understanding that I began to formulate my own thoughts.

I believe being a good person consists of two parts: both must be present. Without either, the point is moot.

  1. To be a good person means that you are compassionate: you help others, but you also reflect on your actions and avoid hurting others as much as in your power. Compassion gives you the ability to know when you are hurting others.
  2. You also have a small ego.

No number of good things you do to help other people excuses doing something to hurt someone out of your own self interest. This does not mean that you always put others above yourself. Always putting others first is unhealthy, and if someone constantly does that, they might be a codependent. One can love oneself first, and still be a compassionate human being. There are two roots of bad behavior: lack of compassion combined with higher amounts of selfishness, and having too large of an ego. When taken to the extreme, these are associated with personality disorders such as Narcissistic Personality Disorder or even sociopathy, which hurts everyone around the person in question.

I’ve noticed that sometimes, people with no compassion still help others. Oftentimes people help others for selfish reasons. On the most innocuous level, they might help someone because they want to be liked or loved. On a more nefarious level below that, they enjoy being seen as selfless, or as having a big heart, or as championing a cause. The problem with this is that they do kind acts because it is tied to their ego. Their so-called selflessness is an integral part of their ego, something that they wield with pride. Oftentimes it makes them feel superior or deserving of love and attention. These people oftentimes brag about how selfless they are, or they think it. People have evolved to be self-interested as it ensures survival, but it’s not that good people think of themselves as good people (ironically bad people do) – they simply think about themselves less. They have less ego. The difference is that selfish people unconsciously help others to feel good about themselves, not because they are genuinely not thinking of themselves. A devil’s advocate might argue that if the actions are kind, intentions don’t matter. I say that this is absolutely not true. Favors done for other people because they are tied to ego are not borne out of kindness at all, but selfishness. People with large egos may help others a lot because they take pride in their so-called selflessness and kindness, as all they think about is themselves. And that selfishness then causes them to do horrible things to the same people they help when it is in their self-interest to, and they do so for the same reason why they helped them. In the end, they are selfish, and their kind acts come from the same place as when they hurt others. In the end, they only care about themselves and how they feel. A prime example of this is portrayed in “Bad Blood,” about Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos. Holmes set out to help others and revolutionize medical testing in order to become great. Her intentions revolved around her massive ego. Her complete lack of compassion led her to knowingly release dangerously faulty medical tests that harmed patients. In the end, she only cared about her own greatness.

Being kind to someone does not excuse hurting them later. A compassionate person would think of others’ feelings and avoid hurting other people. Doing good things for a person, and then hurting them does not balance out. You do not take the average of the two. If someone saved his wife’s life, helped her pay off her debt, and helped her to get an education, that’s great. But if he also cheated on her to go after someone he wants without feeling bad about it, lied to her about it, and manipulated her to keep her around after he cheated, he is not an ‘okay’ person because the two average out. He is not, as he might believe, a selfless person who has occasional lapses in judgement due to emotion. He is simply not compassionate. Most people know not to hurt others like this and have a conscience that prevents them from acting this way. Realistically, this person is selfish and lacking in compassion, and possibly might have Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

A racist who participates in violence against minorities probably has a lack of compassion. A rapist who commits a chain of assaults probably lacks compassion for his/her victims. Hitler had no compassion for the people he murdered.

A good person has a small ego. That, however, doesn’t mean they are doormats. It just means they think of themselves less, and if they have compassion, will try to not hurt those around them for their own gain. It is easy to help others when you lose nothing, when it helps you form relationships, and doing so makes you feel good. The minute Teddy Roosevelt wanted to be president, he betrayed his best friend and hurt him in unimaginable ways, because he wanted to be president, and he did not care who was hurt in the process. Someone with a large ego and low compassion will frequently help others to make themselves feel good about themselves, and then continue to act out of self-interest, even if it hurts others. They hurt others because they do not think about how others feel when they pursue what they want, or they do not care. The worst case of these are sociopaths. People with no compassion might feel shame after hurting others when caught, but they continue to not prioritize not hurting others in the first place because they do not feel genuine remorse and empathy. Meanwhile sociopaths don’t even feel shame if they are caught, but might decide to cut ties because they have been outed. People with Narcissist Personality Disorder usually make excuses to continue the cognitive dissonance in their minds to rationalize why they are a good person. Because they don’t have the compassion to see from others’ perspectives, they sometimes tend to be extremely sensitive to criticism, and may have unreasonable emotional outbursts when confronted. Their outbursts are all about their own feelings rather than what they might have done, because all they can think about is their own feelings. They play the victim, when in reality, they cannot understand the harm done to others; the only pain they feel is their own.

A truly good person is compassionate and ego-less. These people are rare, but I saw this in William Taft. He astoundingly did not care about his own pride and fame and only became President because the party pressured him to run as he was a fan favorite (he was known for being extremely competent), and because the presidency pleased his ambitious wife. On the other side, sociopaths and psychopaths lack compassion, and because of extreme psychological damage, people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder also lack compassion and hurt those around them. Of course, most people fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum. Some people may not go out of their way to give 15 minutes of their time to people they profess to love because they are selfish, lack enough empathy to overcome their selfishness, and ultimately can’t be bothered to inconvenience themselves. These people don’t have a disorder, they’re just assholes. Some people may help others a lot out of compassion and avoid hurting others chiefly because they dislike conflict, but have too much pride and are unable to let go of slights and ultimately just hurt themselves. I noticed that some people seem to emit a wonderful light from their eyes and seem genuinely kind – it took me awhile to realize that these people frequently possess a small ego and are compassionate, and what seems like an otherworldly angelic-ness is simply that they are not thinking about themselves, how they appear to others, their social standing, their own problems, etc. They are just paying attention to the people around them.