Unicycle #23 - Fantasy Intellectual Draft

Hello dear friends :-)

Last week I asked you to check off the people you know or follow from a list of ~150 influential people. Thanks to everyone who replied. The list came from Arnold Kling’s Fantasy Intellectual Draft. 10 “team owners” each drafted 15 people for their team. The team scores points when the “players” create and spread memes, make testable bets about the future, and argue well for a point of view that they disagree with. Kling’s goal was partially to come up with a scoring system to evaluate public intellectuals on their ideas. Notice that there are very few politicians or news anchors on the list, and the ones that did get drafted tend to only score high on memeing.

This game caught my eye for a few reasons. First, it’s fun to consider who you would pick. Are there people you follow who didn’t get drafted but would score well? What about the ones you follow closest - how would they do in the draft? How about the scoring system — does it do a good job of rewarding good ideas, and how might it be improved (full scoring details here)?

Second, I recognized a lot of the people on the list, including some of my strongest influences (Cowen, Taleb, Callard, Alexander, Haidt, Thiel, Zvi, Balaji). I spend a lot of time reading online (more than I should, perhaps) and many of these people come up time and again (my list, if you’re curious). How common is that, and how much is my taste? So I asked you.

To be fair, the people who’d do well in this draft don’t overlap exactly with the people who’ve affected me the most. The draft is primarily about public intellectuals who are active today, whereas important ideas come from all over. Even within that narrow focus, your particular history comes into play. In one response from last week, a friend wrote:

I don't think the people whose ideas I see the most often are the ones that influence me the most. Nassim Taleb for example has a lot more influence on my thinking than Trump, even though I hear about Trump's ideas more often and I only read Taleb maybe 8 years ago. Those ideas are still more important to me / more influential.

Highlights and lowlights:

  • Everyone has at least heard of Donald Trump, Elon Musk, Joe Rogan, Rand Paul, and Condoleezza Rice. However — apropos my earlier point about politicians — only Musk and Rogan got any stars.

  • Paul Graham got 5 stars, the most of anyone. Musk and Balaji Srinivasan each got 4. Twelve others got 3 stars.

  • Graham and Balaji also got stars from everyone who listed them. I guess that makes them the most compelling thinkers on this list. Once you pop, you can’t stop.

  • Three people listed Megyn Kelly, but I had no idea who she was (I don’t watch the news). Back to my hermit cave now…

Thanks for indulging my curiosity. The best is yet to come 🚀

Grin

Unicycle #22 - Climb The Mountain

Hello dear friends :-)

This week’s newsletter will be short. My mind is mostly on work. We started the next stage of our legal battle with the SEC on Monday when they filed a formal complaint against us in court. I’m delighted to finally get this out in the open (we’ve been talking to them for over three years but couldn’t discuss publicly). It’s been a frustrating, expensive, and Kafkaesque ordeal. Hopefully we’ll finally get some concrete answers on how blockchain companies can legally do business in the US. Details at https://helplbrysavecrypto.com.


Small Experiment

I have a small favor to ask. It’s simple and will take you 5-10 minutes. Here’s what to do:

  • Open this list of names.

  • Hit Reply on this email and copy-paste the list of names into the reply.

  • Go down the list, deleting every name you don’t recognize. If it sounds vaguely familiar but you’re not sure who the person is or what they do, delete them.

  • For everyone who’s left, put an asterisk next to their name if you consume their content regularly. Maybe you read their tweets or blog posts or articles, or listen to their podcast, or pay attention to a business they run and what they say about it, etc. This one is kinda vague, so do your best. Maybe ask yourself “what have I seen/read/heard from this person in the last month or two”. If you can’t think of anything, don’t star them.

I’ll tell you what this is all about next week. I’m very curious how it turns out.


A Story

Here’s a story I heard recently:

A man decides to climb a mountain. To prepare, he asks a friend what it’s like at the top. The friend describes it in detail.

Then he asks another friend what the peak is like. This friend gives her own description.

The man goes on, asking twenty friends and receiving twenty responses.

Finally he says to himself “Now I know so much about what the peak is like. There’s no need for me to climb the mountain at all.”

source

The best is yet to come 🚀

Grin

Unicycle #21 - Back in the Saddle

Hello dear friends :-)

It’s been a while, hasn’t it. Almost three months now. Here’s what happened: I was burnt out from writing weekly. I must have felt it coming when I took December off, then couldn’t bring myself to get back into it in January. I knew I wanted to keep doing the Unicycle, but wasn’t sure how.

The break from writing gave me a chance to chill and reflect. Why was there so much conflict in me? My answer today is that I had the wrong idea of what it means to write, and who I was writing for. I focused to much on the internal critic who told me my work was not good enough for you, the reader. And while I consciously knew that this is *very common*, I still let myself fall into the trap.

Ira Glass says that everyone goes through this when they first start. He calls it the Taste Gap. When you first start, your skills don’t measure up to your standards and you’re frustrated. The way through it is to keep going until your skills catch up.

The most important possible thing you can do is do a lot of work … because it’s only by actually going through a volume of work that you are going to catch up and close that gap.

So I’m back.

Unicycle Reboot

My plan from now on is to pretend you, dear readers, don’t exist. This video that I shared in December has been on my mind, and it explains the why. If no one is reading and I’m still enjoying the writing, that’s the sweet spot.

This brings me back to the original vision of the Unicycle that I wrote about eight months ago — a kinda silly device that you ride for your own amusement. Imagine feeling pressure to to show something insightful and respectable while rolling around on one wheel and flailing your arms. It’s hilariously absurd.

I’ll apologize in advance. It might be lame for a while. You may be disappointed. Sometimes I’ll even write bad stuff on purpose. I do hope you stick around, but if not, no worries. The fact that you can unsubscribe at any time gives me confidence that you’re inflicting this on yourself by choice 😉

That said, I do enjoy reading your responses. If you’re moved to reply, I’d love to hear from you.

Donation

Since no one claimed the $200 bounty last year (though a few of you came close), I said I’d donate it. In the interest of holding myself accountable, here’s what I did.

Half went to New Incentives, a charity that uses direct cash transfers to incentivize people to vaccinate their kids in rural Nigeria. GiveWell ranks them as one of the most efficient and effective charities in the world. Plus they align with my interest in designing incentive structures.

I donated the other half to Sci-Hub, a free repository of scientific research publications. It’s not what a typical charity looks like, but it is doing a great public service to the world. Virtually all professional scientists use it, and so do curious amateurs like me who don’t have expensive journal subscriptions. Papers on Sci-Hub get twice as many citations as those that aren’t — more proof of how popular it is. If Sci-Hub disappeared today, scientific progress would take a huge hit.

The irony is, while Nature named Sci-Hub's creator as one of the top 10 people who matter in science, her project is regularly under attack by major publishers for ignoring copyright laws. While most research in the US is funded by public money through the NSF and NIH, the results are locked away in journals that charge absurd prices for access. Sci-Hub seeks to free them. I strongly believe in open access and open source, so I felt it could use the support.

Happy Friday

Unicycle #20 - Writing and Health

As a reminder, I’m Alex Grintsvayg and you’re reading Unicycle. I welcome your feedback - hit Reply or message me anonymously. If someone forwarded you this email, subscribe here to follow along.


Happy New Year, dear friends :-)

2020

It’s been over a month since I wrote to you. I took December off to reenergize and reflect on 2020. Last year I did’t do new years resolutions. Instead I picked a broad theme of “writing” and let that nudge my decisions throughout the year. Here are some of the concrete things that came out of that:

  • started the LBRY tech blog and wrote a dozen posts

  • took Write of Passage online writing class

  • three blog posts on my blog (two were part of the course)

  • started this Unicycle and wrote 19 emails

  • got back into Twitter and wrote a bunch of threads (I think of those as mini-posts).

  • read a bunch of books and articles, and took notes on what I read. some of these directly fueled my writing here.

All this was a big success in my book. Not big because I hit any major goals or overcame a towering obstacle. The opposite, in fact. It was the right blend of intentional and gentle. I was never in danger of failing something (except missing my 12pm deadline). I tried a few things, discarded the ones that didn't stick, and stuck with a few that felt good. I focused on what "sparks joy" about writing, what's low-friction, what's fun, what I can fully commit to without reservation. Now I have nothing to regret or shame myself over. And looking back, all the small nudges in the direction of writing made a real change in my identity.

That's not to say that it was all effortless. Sitting down to write is still an struggle. I finish fewer things than I'd like because I'm constantly tweaking them. There's always a worry that you'll think "wow that's dumb, what a waste of time" and unsubscribe, even though I've sent a bunch of these now and no one has and the feedback is all positive (but you totally should unsubscribe if you're thinking about it, link's at the bottom).

The hardest part for me, I discovered, is committing to ideas publicly. Saying "I believe this" is almost always followed by "well, most of the time, but not in these cases, and anyway it all depends on the situation because there are no absolutes, and I might be wrong or change my mind later." Logically, I know it's ok to simplify and I don't need to add these caveats. No one will hold my past writing against me. Yet if I don't include the totality of my precise beliefs, I'm not satisfied. Twitter helps remind me not to worry about perfection. So does remembering that if no one ever tells you you're wrong, you're not learning anything. In fact, the lack of unsubscribers should be telling me to be more opinionated.

Another unexpected benefit is that I have a "footprint" of stuff to look back on for this review. If you asked me what I was thinking about four years ago, I'd be hard-pressed to remember any details. All I recall are some facts: started LBRY, became a dad, played some ultimate. This year I read through my newsletters and notes, which brought back a lot of memories and hints of the thoughts I was chewing on.

My favorite part of Unicycle is connecting with people through my writing. I'm not good at staying in touch when I don't regularly interact with people in real life. With Unicycle, I kind of am talking to all of you each week. When it resonates, I love hearing from you and going deeper, or just knowing I struch a chord.

Thanks 😊

2021

This year will be my Year of Health.

Last year was chaotic, and I lost many of the healthy habits I value. I didn’t play much sports or do anything active. My sleep was off. I didn’t spend much time outside or with friends or in solitude (away from computers and people).

In 2021, I’m looking forward to fixing this. I once again don’t have concrete goals. Instead I’ll set my compass for health and let that guide my day-to-day choices. So far I’ve started with meditating daily, eating less sugar and dairy, and working hard with my daughter to help her sleep through the night (last year’s upheaval affected her too, maybe even more than me).

I’ll also be changing the Unicycle a bit. My promise to write weekly was a core driver of my writing success last year. This year, it’s not a good fit for my health effort (which includes spending less time staring at screens). So it’s with a heavy heart that I’m dropping my commitment to writing every Friday, and also the $200 reward. Since no one claimed it, I’ll donate it to a charity instead.

What are your plans for 2021? Write to me! I want to help you make them happen if I can. At the very least, research shows that telling someone else your goals makes you more likely to follow through 😉

Cheers,
Grin

Unicycle #19.3

Clarification on Twitter and threads

Several people told me they couldn’t find the thread, didn’t know how Twitter or threads work, and so on.

Sorry about that y’all. The challenge of communication is often in the assumptions you make, and I made a bunch in that last email.

To clarify for anyone who was confused, do this:

  1. Click this link to open the Twitter thread

  2. The first post in the thread is this:

    summary of this paper on the top 10 strongest findings in behavioral genetics
    strap in, its fascinating stuff
    but first, a definition you need to know...

  3. Below that text is a picture of a journal. Scroll past that picture. You can click it if you want to read the full paper I’m summarizing.

  4. The next tweet in the thread starts with “a crucial word in 🧬 context is heritability”. Keep reading there.


This brings up a more general question about Twitter content: should I continue to link out to Twitter for the threads I write, or copy the text into the newsletter itself?

Some of you don’t use Twitter, and would prefer the threads inlined. Others do, and want to see the threads in their natural habitat (which includes quoted tweets, pics and videos, replies from others, and so on). Of course, I could also do both.

Sounds like its time for a vote! Click your choice below:

A. Only link to Twitter threads (but I don’t mind if you also copy the text into the email)

B. Only link to Twitter threads (and I actively don’t want the text in the email)

C. Don’t link, just copy the thread directly into the email

D. Both! Copy text into email and link to Twitter

E. Neither! Keep your tweeting and your newsletter separate


Cheers and sorry for all the emails,

Grin

Loading more posts…