2 / Life, Universe, and Everything Else

Good Morning!

And just like that, we are at the second edition of SlipStream, our weekly curated newsletter for the curious and hungry-for-growth kinds. After all, we are the kinds that believe in “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

This week, we’ve tweaked the format a bit. You’d probably notice the difference as you read. But before that, lemme ask you a simple question.

🤔🤔🤔What is the toughest problem confounding the geeks?

Any guesses?

No…?

Well, most startups today started as a personal pain point of the founders. The founders were so peeved with em that they put in the time, effort, money, ingenuity and other resources to solve those problems. For themselves. And for humanity.

For example, look at what Larry and Sergey did with Google. They wanted to organize the world’s information and here we have this behemoth that has a finger in every pie! Look at Elon Musk. He hates traffic. So he’s building the Boring Company and investing in Hyperloop.

So, what's common to Peter Thiel, Sergey Brin, Moby (the musician), Jeff Bezos, Larry Ellison, and others? What common problem are they working on?

They are out to figure out probably the toughest challenge of our lives. Death.

If Silicon Valley is to be trusted (which SG does!), death is like yet another “start-up” challenge that is waiting to be solved! Hopefully sooner than later.

The Valley entrepreneurs have invested in anti-aging, longevity, and immortality. Of course, there are scientific, ethical and philosophical debates around the idea of never dying but as of today, it is a distant problem that is waiting to be solved!

But why would they want to take on the challenge?

Probably because the intellectuals, authors, and writers challenged them to! From this cnbc.com article, here’s an interesting snippet of conversation between Sergey Brin and his girlfriend…

“I’m here with my darling, Sergey,” she said, referring to her boyfriend, Sergey Brin, the co-founder of Google. “And he called me yesterday and said, ‘I’m reading this book, “Homo Deus,” and it says on page twenty-eight that I’m going to die.’ I said, ‘It says you, personally?’ He said, ‘Yes!’ ” (In the book, the author, Yuval Noah Harari, discusses Google’s anti-aging research, and writes that the company “probably won’t solve death in time to make Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin immortal.”) Brin, sitting a few feet away, gave the crowd a briskly ambiguous nod: Yes, I was singled out for death; no, I’m not actually planning to die.

No wonder! Thanks, Yuval!

Of course, we are far from the solution. We have not even scratched the surface. But till they solve it, the concept of an expiry date has been used by entrepreneurs, dreamers, hustlers, and others to get more things done.

For example, in a 2017 interview, Ben Horowitz (of A16Z fame) talked about the concept of death (as mentioned in the Samurai Code)…

As long as you keep death in mind at all times, you will fulfill the ways of loyalty and familial duty. You will also avoid myriad evils and calamities, you will be physically sound and healthy, and you will live a long life. What is more, your character will improve and your virtue will grow.

He said,

“Keep death in mind at all times!? That’s the last thing I’d want to do”

Further…

“But then you get into it and realize that if every day is going to be your last day, you make sure it is exceptional. As importantly, it was a lesson for me on how to set a culture… How do you get people to behave the way you want them to when you’re not there? A great technique for doing that is to have a shocking rule.”

Reminds of Steve Jobs and his speech at Stanford (read the full text here)!

In it, he says,

…since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?”

Steve further talks about Stewart Brand’s The Whole Earth Catalog (which to be honest is an inspiration for SlipStream - we really want to create something as iconic as TWEC; just that TWEC was focused on geeks in the valley. We are focussed on tinkerers and doers).

Guess the Silicon Valley of the 70s must have been an amazing place with all these cool kids running around, doing cool things!

You know, Steward Brand (of TWEC) was hanging out with Kevin Kelly a lot. And on the idea of limited time and death, Kevin wrote this blog post which is among the best that you’d ever read. If this post does not wake you from your slumber, nothing ever will!

He says,

Of course I could die next month and not get to any of them. Or I could live to be 99 and have an extra 5,000 days.  Man, in that case I will be so happy to have to reset my clock! For now, the countdown clock, even armed with an average date, helps me focus. I don’t think having the actual date of my death would change much. The time left is still too short. And too close. And getting closer. And I’m sorry but I need to do something else right now….

More you read about this idea of death and the limited time we have here on Mother Earth, humbler you get! We are after all nothing but an anomaly on a speck of dust in the cosmic arena!

Thanks to the efforts of Carl Sagan and others, we actually know that we are meaningless. See this photo of the space, taken from beyond Jupiter…

Image result for pale blue dot

You see that pale blue dot? That’s Earth!

That’s home! We are that small! That insignificant. Thanks to Carl Sagan, we know how tiny we are. Here’s a story of the photo (from SETI’s website)…

Voyager 1 was expected to work only through the Saturn encounter. When the spacecraft passed the planet in 1980, Sagan proposed the idea of the space probe taking one last picture of Earth. He acknowledged that such a picture would not have had much scientific value, as the Earth would appear too small for Voyager's cameras to make out any detail, but it would be meaningful as a perspective on our place in the universe.

Carl further went onto write some beautiful lines describing our home. Here’s an excerpt!

Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there--on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The point is, we are insignificant. And we have limited time.

Finally, Vishal Khandelwal of the Safal Niveshak fame posted the following

PS. Do zoom in to the image!

The point of this tome about death and dying?

Life is short. The time we have is limited. Memento Mori. We can either make the most of it. Or while it away. The choice, ladies and gents, is ours.

PS: If you are interested in reading more about longevity, here are some links to get you started.


Ok… enough about death… and life… and time!

Time to move onto the newer things that we are super excited about…

This week on, we have added a few sections - cool tools that you could use to be better, books that we loved, a gorgeous chart, and more.

Read on…


⚒️🔪⚙️Hello, Jarvis!

Just like Tony had Jarvis, each week we ask a different contributor talk about their respective Jarvis. Their favorite toy that has made life better and more productive for them. In this edition, Akshay talks bout his wireless headphones. Over to him!

As a busy professional do you really have the time to physically pick up your phone each time some calls you? I mean how 20th century is that, imagine you’re typing away at your next investor deck and someone calls you - do you really want to move your hand away from the keyboard and pick the phone? 

This is why I invested in a good Bluetooth headset about a year ago, and my productivity has been transformed ever since. I am no longer a slave to my phone, I can actually go and pee without having to carry my phone with you (provided I’m about less than 100 feet from the washroom 😁).

And while you have the right to be a baniya and spend under 2k on a Bluetooth headset, I would advise you against it as you would end up buying a new set every six months otherwise. 

My recommendation for a Bluetooth headset for the upwardly mobile Indian is the One Plus Bullets Wireless 2, which costs close to 6k.

This is a neckband type of headset that comes with a magnetic set of earbuds that turn off the device once they are connected together. And if you use a OnePlus phone, then they will automatically start playing the last thing you were hearing once you separate them.

Some of you may be wondering why I didn’t recommend the airpods type of truly wireless Bluetooth headsets. Did I hear you say that it would look cooler when you are presenting your deck to investors? Well, that may be so, but this why I recommend this:

  1. It is a solid and reliable set of Bluetooth headsets that has a good build quality and use of metal.

  2. It’s comfortable to wear all day long - it’s lightweight and after some time you will forget that it’s around your neck. I often forget that I am wearing them and start searching for where they are.

  3. It will almost never get lost because if you want to hear someone talking to you, you just need to take them off your ear and they will magnetically attach and stay around your neck. No need to search for a container to store them.

  4.  The battery life is great. If you own a OnePlus dash charger, then 5 minutes of charge is enough to get you through the next couple of hours. And any time you are not using them, they are magnetically attached and turned off hence not consuming any battery. This is a major feature it has that most other 2k Bluetooth headsets don’t have.

  5. The quality of audio output and mic is pretty good. I use the first-generation version, and reviews tell me that the second generation is even better. I’ve used them to take calls while cycling and the person on the other side has never complained about not being able to hear me despite all the wind and traffic noise.

My only reservation is that at this price point, they should have included active noise cancellation in it. But I’m hopeful they include that in the next version, which is the one I will upgrade to. Not because the first-gen ones I’m currently using have deteriorated in any way. But because of fatigue with the same tech for so long.

Oh, and I’d strongly recommend that you buy a memory foam ear tip to go along with these. They give a good degree of noise isolation and enhance audio quality even further. Comply has the best-known company in this area, but I couldn’t find any compatible ones with this headset by them on Amazon and eventually bought a generic one.

In case you’d like to share a recommendation, please write in :)


📙📖📚 What to read

So, what is common between Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Ried Hoffman, and Bill Gates? Apart from the fact that they are billionaires? And apart from the fact that their names have 4 characters?

The answer is, they all read science fiction books when they were young. And they are vocal about how that has heavily influenced their thesis towards life! In fact, most Gen X founders recommend three must-read books in the sci-fi domain. These are…

1.Foundation Series by Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov is truly the granddaddy of science fiction - he wrote books that looked so far into the future that it was truly an astounding feat of imagination. In the foundation books, he introduces the concept of Psychohistory (which states that while one cannot foresee the actions of a particular individual, the laws of statistics as applied to large groups of people could predict the general flow of future events. In a way, you could credit him for the big data revolution we are currently experiencing).

Isaac Asimov’s writing style is simple and easy to follow, you can binge read the series without too much effort. A good starter sci-fi book.

2. Dune by Frank Herbert

While Isaac Asimov’s books are big on ideas, they lack complex multi-dimensional characters. Frank Herbert’s books are also big on ideas, and at the same time pivot around complex characters and storylines. He looked at the oil shortage of the seventies as a metaphor to build a fictional universe thousands of years in the future with Spice as a scare and yet valuable resource. His book makes you look at events in the light of larger forces that influence geopolitics, and is a mind-expanding read.

3. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Here’s a cool trick to try, search on Google for “answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything”.

.

.

.

.

.

Right, now did you get 42 as the answer?

Wondering why?

Well, it’s inspired by Douglas Adam’s science fiction book series - The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. There are some fantastic and satirical ideas that the author shares - most of these have now become memes. For example - the invisibility device which generates a SEP field to make things invisible.

Guess what SEP stands for? Somebody Else's Problem.  

This a very British book with a typically British approach towards comedy - the kind of comedy which may not make you laugh out loud, but will make you feel like you belong to an elite club of people who got the joke :D

What books would you recommend?


😳😳😳 What to Binge Watch

While on the topic of tech billionaires who love sci-fi, have you heard of the cult show - The Expanse? It has a 96% positive rating on rotten tomatoes and counts Jeff Bezos among its fan base. In fact, the show was due to be shelved after it’s the third season. The only reason the fourth season happened is because Jeff intervened to rescue it.

So, The Expanse is set a couple of hundred years in the future (not as distant and unrealistic as the Star Wars series) and the premise is that man (and women and transgenders to be politically correct) has colonized our solar system. Earth is like the old world - complacent, resource-rich, resistant to change (think Europe) while Mars is undergoing an ambitious multi-generational terraforming project and has the most driven and smartest people in the solar system inhabiting it (think the younger version of the US). The Asteroid Belt is where both these planets get their resources from. Asteroids are mined for the ore which is shipped to Earth and Mars (think the Middle East and its oil reserves). 

Here’s the trailer…

This is a complex show - it’s not a simple photon guns & spaceships & warp drives type of shows. In fact - most of the tech is highly grounded in the current trends of technology. They have hand-held devices which are all glass, no bezels. They show the political power dynamics and the fights among the three sets of people that you would expect from today’s countries, and the show’s central storyline is about man’s first encounter with an alien life form and alien tech.

The show also has a fairly strong India connection. The showrunner, Naren, is an Indian-American who like any good Indian-American is a Ph.D. in Applied Physics from Cornell.

The background announcements in public places (like train stations) include announcements in Chinese and Hindi (which I thought was so fantastically realistic) and many of the characters have an Indian origin (which is honestly a no-brainer, considering we make up 1/6th of the global population).

The show is based on a book series, and each season covers one book, which should translate to 9 seasons — that is a lot of sci-fi to binge on. 4 seasons are already out and I think this is the perfect time to binge on it - the story has progressed along nicely and there is still plenty to come.

What do you like to binge-watch? What do you think others must-see?


📈📈Chart of the week

This week’s chart is courtesy of this tweet. Thank’s Sean.

Image

The chart is self-explanatory, the way all the charts must be. SlipStream is our attempt at learning how to build communities. What did you build to learn what? Please do tell us! We are eager to hear from you.


📒📋📘Reads of the week

And finally, interesting reads that caught our fancy this week…

A. This ET story on how foreigners are creating startups in India. It’s a very hopeful read amidst the environment that we are in!

B. A listicle about leadership that actually makes sense! In it, the author says, leadership is about…

  • Communicating to your team that they are safe

  • Building trust within the team and with-in each other

  • Ability to listen to feedback

  • Staying positive even when in adversity

  • Not procrastinating. Ever.

  • Setting strict boundaries (aka, saying no to things that are beyond the comfort zone)

  • There is one more. Go read the piece :)

C. You know Seth Godin? Of course, you do. He and a buddy just co-authored these pieces. There is this humanness about these long emails, read slowly. A place where time, sort of slows down. The way it ought to be!

D. Daku sent us https://what3words.com. And the mind was BLOWN. We no longer have to remember complex, long, clunky addresses. All you need to know is three words. PS: If you ever wish to meet SG, he is hanging out at ///saying.unframed.blasted!

E. Prasant sent us this Wired story about Sahil Lavingia of Gumroad on how he is NOT attempting to make a billion-dollar company!

F. Anon asked us to read this David Perrell essay on building what he calls Audience Frist Products. This is in theory and principle similar to what gurus have been doing to us. This tweet thread from David summarises the concept well. Essentially, a three-step process. You build an audience first > build a product for that audience > and then scale! Hello, ThePodium.in!

G. Anon 2 shared this video where Neil deGrasse Tyson talks about “fake” moon landing!

H. And in the end, here’s a cool job that you may consider applying. Blume (the Venture Capitalist) is hiring in their marketing function. From whatever we’ve heard, Blume is a great bunch of people and they are doing some of the coolest things in the VC space in India. Details about the gig here.


So, that’s about it for the time being. Do share with us the links that you thought were interesting!

Thank you once again for reading. We are grateful for your support!

Gratitude and Regards,

AkshaySaurabh, and thePodium.in team.

PS: Do tell us about you. What do you do? Where are you from? What are the biggest challenges that you face? What can we do to help?

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