Ode of Remembrance

Just memorized this part of a poem I found a few days ago. It’s called Ode of Remembrance by Lawrence Binyon written after the First World War.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young.

Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglo.

They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted.

They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old.

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the setting of the sun and in the morning,

We will remember them.


13 Nov 2011, 7:30pm | leave a comment

Interviewing at Y Combinator Part 2

“Someone just showed us an idea like this right before you guys. I don’t like it. What else do you have,” said Paul Graham sitting across from us. I could almost feel the air being sucked out of our collective lungs as we deflated in despair. This is not how it was supposed to go.

Two weeks earlier we had been notified that we were being invited to fly to Mountain View to interview with Y Combinator. With one caveat. Paul Graham, affectionately known as PG by Y Cominator faithful, had told us that he liked our team but not our idea.

Then he told us to come up with something new in the two weeks before the interview.

So in the frenzied days leading up to our interview we talked to everyone we could, brainstormed for hours on end, and finally settled on an idea. We built ReadStream in two nights, successfully got it on TechCrunch, and got on the plane thinking that we had it made.

YC always says that they look for teams that can execute and hustle quickly – and to us ReadStream was the epitome of that ethos.

Pulling up to the YC office was an unbelievably surreal experience. Here was this place that I had thought about, read about and dreamt about for what seemed like years and it was finally a real live thing in front of me.

Photo

We walked in the door, quickly found our way to the big open room where they hold their dinners and I pulled out my laptop. I loaded up a few different pages on ReadStream for our demo as we chatted with YC alums and other interviewees.

Then Jessica came out and said they were ready to talk to us. By the way, everyone says she’s the nicest person in the room and that is 100% true. Even though the whole experience is unbelievably stressful, a smile from Jessica is like an oasis of comfort in an otherwise crazy day.

They sat us down at a long thin conference table. YC partners on one side, us on the other. “So what are you working on?” said PG looking at some notes. Harj, Paul Bucheit, Sam Altman and the rest of the partners stared back at us. 

“So because you didn’t like the idea we applied with, we built this app called ReadStream in two days, got it on TechCrunch and have some early traction with it,” said Wesley launching in to our pitch. 

The partners gathered around our laptop and looked at what we had built.

30 seconds in PG stopped us in our tracks. “Someone just showed us an idea like this right before you guys. I don’t like it. What else do you have?”” 

Bravely we struggled to continue, and started to throw ideas out. That’s when the questions began.

People tell you that it’s impossible to prepare for a YC interview and it’s completely true. That’s because they ask you a bunch of different questions about you, your co-founders, your experience, and your idea. Then they figure out what your weakest answers are and hammer away at them. No, seriously, they just keep asking about your weakest areas and don’t let up. It’s an unbelievable experience.

“So you guys are students?” “Are you going to leave school?” “Why now?” “Why would you leave school it’s only freshman year?” “Are all of you going to leave?” “What happens if you get sued?”

The rest of the interview was a complete blur. At one point I remember PG pausing, scrunching his eyes and running his hands through his hair. “So does anyone have any other questions?”

The room was silent. And that was the end of our interview. 

And so concluded one of the craziest, most intense days of my life. Later that night we got the “you’re not getting funded” email, and we flew back to college. 

Good luck to everyone interviewing tomorrow, I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world.

You should follow me on Twitter here. You can see part 1 here.

 


12 Nov 2011, 4:38am | 5 comments

Calvin Coolidge on Persistence

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.

Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.

Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.

Education alone will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.

Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.


11 Nov 2011, 6:58am | leave a comment

Life Lessons According to Reddit

I was looking through my bookmarks today and came across this awesome post called “I’ve been on this Earth for 35 years, and this is what I’ve learned. What about you?” The original poster says:

If you always seem to have drama in your life, you are probably the one causing the drama.

If customer service representatives or restaurant servers always seem to be rude to you, you are probably the one being rude.

If your computer always seems to be freezing up on you, you’re probably doing something wrong.

In my experience, drama begets drama, rudeness begets rudeness, and ineptitude begets ineptitude.

One last lesson – The lessons you pick up in life, whether they increase happiness or reduce unhappiness, work for you. They may work for others, but they probably don’t work for everyone. But it’s fun to share them.

Check out the rest of the thread here.


10 Nov 2011, 6:54am | leave a comment

My Credo

I wrote this credo and delivered it as a speech for my English class senior year of high school. It’s supposed to basically sum up my viewpoint on life up until that point. I still agree with it today.

The late American author David Foster Wallace wrote, “Everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe; the realest most vivid person in existence.” Think about it. You have never experienced anything except through those eyes and ears with which you are listening and watching me today. We all have it. We are all the centers of our own senses and thus our own experience. But this predicament that we all share also imposes another one, the fact that we are alone within ourselves. Any thought, or experience, or message from another person has to be delivered through indirect means. We are forever inmates in a prison tapping morse code to our fellow inhabitants through the walls of our cells. We can’t feel what another person is feeling unless we have felt it ourselves; words can’t quantify human existence, they can only sketch it.

Continue Reading


9 Nov 2011, 7:29am | 1 comment

Getting Up Really Early

For the longest time I followed the stereotypical hacker schedule: code from the early evening until the wee hours of the morning, sleep until the afternoon (if possible), rinse and repeat. There’s something I really like about going on a 12-hour work binge, and there’s also something to be said for the complete lack of distractions and intense focus that comes with working at 2 AM.

Recently, however, after reading a few articles that mentioned it, and seeing it in more than a few biographies of successful people I decided to do the unthinkable: start getting up early. Usually waking up is one of the most difficult things for me to do. Let me repeat: I hate getting up early. Even waking up at 10:30 or 11:00 for class can be a struggle sometimes. But I decided to give it a shot anyway.

And I love it. 

I try to get up at 6 or 7 AM when I have few enough things to do that I can go to sleep early. It’s shocking how much it adds to my day to get up in the morning. I get to watch the sun come up (in winter) and hear the birds start chirping which is refreshing in itself. Plus there’s a total lack of distractions – I feel like it’s much easier to get stuff done. And the best part is, even if I end up messing around for an hour and not being productive it doesn’t matter. By that point it’s only 7 or 8 AM and I have plenty of time left in the day to things that matter. 

I think the only reason this has become feasible for me is because I’ve started to be able to do it without having to rely on my alarm. As I’m falling asleep I just think in my head over and over that I want to get up at 6 AM, and for whatever reason I usually wake up at around 5:55 or so. It’s the weirdest thing. I still set my alarm just in case, but after doing it for two weeks or so I haven’t needed it. Getting up without one is such a refreshing experience it’s ridiculous. Especially since when I do use one I’m a chronic snooze button addict. So not only do I feel better, but my roommate doesn’t get disturbed either.

Just thought I’d share an interesting thing I’ve been testing out. Let me know what you think in the comments or on Twitter.


8 Nov 2011, 4:13am | 3 comments

Weird Things I Do: Memorize Things

This is the one in a series of (at least) 30 posts I’m going to write this month as part of what Wesley Zhao and I have dubbed No-Blog-Sloth November Challenge. One post will appear here a day from now until the end of November.

I really admire Christopher Hitchens. I think his command of the English language is incredible, and his wealth of literary, historical, and philosophical knowledge is absolutely magnificent. I mentioned in another blog post that watching him debate is one of those beautiful things that makes life worthwhile. And I think that part of what makes his speaking style and writing style so effective is his incredible ability to cite, word for word, entire literary passages that he finds interesting, poignant, or particularly relevant to the point he’s trying to make. Having made this observation, I recently decided to start memorizing things.

When I told this to one of my friends, his objection was that rather than memorize things word for word he prefers to understand concepts as a more effective way to learn. And to this I definitely agree. I hate memorizing things for tests, I think it’s boring and unproductive especially given the fact that I tend to forget everything I memorized right after I get out of the exam. But I think the process of memorizing things for personal development is beneficial in three ways:

1. It gets you acquainted with how people eloquently express themselves within the English language. When you closely study how a writer goes about composing a great passage by reading it over and over again I think you begin to internalize the elements within its style that make it great. So basically it improves your style as a writer.

2. It improves your content as a writer, debator and speaker. If I’m writing a blog post and I can whip out a quote by Socrates to underscore my point, or recite a poem during a speech I think it will greatly add to the power and affectation of whatever I’m saying. 

3. It improves your understanding of what you’re reading. If you read something over and over again, I think it’s safe to say you’ll have a greater level of comfort and understanding of the issues being discussed than someone who only reads something once. 

In order to accomplish this goal of memorizing things I set up a notebook in Evernote with things that I want to memorize. When I come across a passage I like or think might be important I add it to the Evernote and start memorizing. Every night I try to review one of the things I’m supposed to have memorized and clean up any inaccuracies. 

I haven’t been able to use anything that I’ve memorized in any useful way beyond just the personal enjoyment I get from spending time with beautiful language, but I’m hoping that those situations will come. So what have I memorized? 

Here’s three of them, written entirely from memory I promise! 

1. Today is victory over yourself of yesterday, tomorrow is victory over lesser men – Musashi
2. Your wealth of wisdom has enfeebled you – Socrates (This is nicely ironic given the subject of this blog post, but I’ll write a follow up to this about this quote and why I agree with it.)
3. Thermopylae by Cavafy (a modern Greek poet).

Honor to those who in the lives they lead
Define and guard a Thermopylae.
Never betraying what is right
Honest and just in all that they do
But with pity also, and compassion too.
Generous when they’re rich and when they’re poor.
Still helping in small ways
Still helping when they can.
Always telling the truth
Yet without hating those who lie.

And even more honor is due
To those who foresee (and many do foresee)
That Ephialtis will turn up in the end
That the the Medes will break through after all.

NOTE: there may be errors in the above – I haven’t checked for accuracy in the spirit of it being memorized :)

If you’re thinking “I could never spend the time to do something like memorize a poem” which I’m sure a few of you are then I have a question for you. How many songs do you know by heart? If you equate music with poetry as I do then you probably have tens or hundreds of poems committed to memory without even knowing it.

See you tomorrow, and let me know what you think about this post on Twitter.

 


7 Nov 2011, 12:06am | 2 comments

Gary Vaynerchuck

Amazing video of Gary V. One of my personal heroes. The guy is an absolute machine.

 

Apologies in advance, but I’m a brown-nosing Vayniac. I’ll get that out in the open right now. However, I have learned a ton from this guy, have watched dozens of his speeches, was sitting in the front row of this presentation, actually got mentioned in the speech between 33:00 and 33:30, and can tell you that this talk was one of his best ever. Watch this presentation.

I speculate that he really brought his A-Game because he was amongst peers. The room was filled with 1,000 (?) of the best entrepreneurs in the world, and that’s who he is. Even though most of the attendees are not doing social well, or not doing it at all, Gary and these folks still share much of the same DNA. They build businesses. I think Gary felt like he was talking to a different crowd here than one he might address at Big Omaha or SXSW, and that this required something different. All I can say is…. watch the whole thing, including the last question he takes during Q&A. He brought the house down!

 

Check it out here.


6 Nov 2011, 2:19am | leave a comment

Cultivating frugality

This is the one in a series of (at least) 30 posts I’m going to write this month as part of what Wesley Zhao and I have dubbed No-Blog-Sloth November Challenge. One post will appear here a day from now until the end of November.

A big problem I’ve had ever since high school is spending money. Sophomore year of high school I started a company selling BlackBerry and iPhone apps. This was right at the beginning of the app craze and I made several thousand dollars doing it. By senior year all of that money was gone, and I couldn’t really point to any large purchases that had sucked it away. I had literally spent it all on gas, food, and other consumables for which I have nothing to show. 

Working that hard and having it all go down the drain on things which don’t really drastically improve your quality of life is a really bad feeling. 

When I got to college I had the same issue. It was so easy to go to Wawa and blow $10 on a sandwhich and a drink that I was constantly running out of money on my debit card. So I finally decided I had to do something about it.

After reading Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller by Ron Chernow I decided to track my expenses. Chernow says that throughout his life Rockefeller kept meticulous records of his finances, and not only did that help him save money through the years, it also gave him a good sense of where his money was going. This helped him make better business decisions, because it allowed him to see clearly where his money was going in his business. 

How does tracking your expenses lead to spending less? Well, as Sebastian Marshall always says, “what gets measured, gets improved.” Or something like that. But I really do see a difference.

I’ve struggled with consistency over the time that I’ve been doing it, but in general I carry around a small black notebook in my back pocket every day. Right after I buy anything, I take a second and jot down the price and the item. I also keep a running total of the amount spent for the day. This has the added benefit of improving my mental addition skills.

Looking back I can tell you that on August 22nd I spent $9.29 all on food. On October 4th I spent $8.69 at Chipotle. On November 2nd I spent $12.75 on coffee, food and ATM fees. 

Doing this every day has been a really eye opening experience into showing me where my money is going, and where I can get the best value for what I’m buying. For example I know that I will never again go to a Penn dining hall and buy sushi. A few days ago I bought sushi and a drink for lunch it totaled to $9.98. If I went to a great food cart near the gym I could have gotten the same amount of higher quality food for $3.50. 

Compounded over months or years, small decisions like that end up addding to a lot of money. And building up even a small amount of savings allows you to make decisions that you otherwise probably couldn’t which can in turn bring a lot of value to your life. So my theory is that if I can make a decision that will cost less, but won’t significantly affect my present quality of life I will make that decision.

Until tomorrow. You should follow me on Twitter or check out my project DomainPolish.


4 Nov 2011, 1:51pm | 8 comments

Great design is all around us

This is the one in a series of (at least) 30 posts I’m going to write this month as part of what Wesley Zhao and I have dubbed No-Blog-Sloth November Challenge. One post will appear here a day from now until the end of November.

Yesterday I was sitting in my design class (ironic I know) and just sort of looking at the table we were all sitting around. It’s a reasonably small class so we all just sort of congregate around this conference table of sorts and talk about what we’re working on.

As I was looking at the table, I noticed it was oddly shaped. Basically the table was slightly wider around its middle, and slightly shorter at either end. What a useless piece of design I thought. What’s wrong with making a rectangular table? Clearly someone was just trying to make a more expensive version of their regular model of table, and so decided to slightly change the shape for no good reason – maybe to make it a little more “sleek”. 

Just as I was getting becoming satisfyingly self-righteous, the “Aha!” moment came. And I have to say, that table design is absolutely genius in its subtlety. The slight tapering of the table meant that the widest point of the table is right in the middle. Which also meant that people sitting on either end of the table could see eachother, instead of being blocked by the people in the middle. It’s kind of like stadium seating for tables. 

I was so struck by this because it’s one of those little tiny functional design elements that are present in every day things that we don’t really notice. It makes our lives massively better, but with such a small tweak that unless you were paying attention it would be very easy to miss it. In my class I sit at one end of the table and never have to lean forward or backward to see who I’m talking to because everyone is in full view.

See you tomorrow :)


3 Nov 2011, 1:57pm | leave a comment

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