Yet more inspirational quotes

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails.
Explore. Dream. Discover.
Mark Twain

Let others lead small lives, but not you. Let others argue over small things, but not you. Let others cry over small hurts, but not you. Let others leave their future in someone else’s hands, but not you.
Jim Rohn

Watch your thoughts; they become your words.
Watch your words; they become your actions.
Watch your actions; they become your habits.
Watch your habits; they become your character.
Watch your character for it will become your destiny.

We should be taught not to wait for inspiration to start a thing.
Action always generates inspiration.
Inspiration seldom generates action.
Frank Tibolt

Remove the word “problem” from your vocabulary and replace it with “challenge”. Life will suddenly become a lot more interesting and enjoyable.
Donna Watson

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World is amazing and surprising!

Jack Weatherford provides an interesting and much more positive account of Genghis Khan’s life and legacy than I would have expected.

Although his name is now erroneously associated with terror and slaughter, he showed surprising restraint during a time when few others in power did. He allowed freedom of religion, encouraged free trade, developed a paper currency, and observed diplomatic immunity. As he encountered new cultures, he adopted or adapted their best practices, and constantly updated his military strategies.

In 25 years, his army amassed a greater empire than the Romans had been able to achieve in 400. Whether judged on population or land area, it was twice as large as that of any other individual in history.

Genghis Khan, alongside Augustus, now tops my list of leaders I truly respect!

The Pursuit of Happiness: six experts tell what they’ve done to achieve it

I came across the following article in the Wall Street Journal last week. Many of the themes and experts will be familiar to readers of my previous posts on happiness (hedonic adaptation, Alan Krueger, etc.) but I thought it was interesting nonetheless.

“Yes, money can buy happiness. But you have to spend it with care.

Take your dad to the Super Bowl. Buy a home near the office. Get married. Go out to dinner with the family. Take a memorable vacation, and be sure to buy souvenirs.

Where does this advice come from? I talked to half-a-dozen academics who specialize in “happiness research” — and asked what changes they had made in their own lives.

• Relishing the day. Possibly the biggest obstacle to greater happiness is so-called hedonic adaptation. Sure, you are thrilled when you first get promoted or get a pay raise. But soon enough, the thrill fades and you are lusting after something else.

“When something good happens, you want to find a way to hold on to it for longer,” says David Schkade, a management professor at the University of California at San Diego. For instance, you might go out to dinner to celebrate even modest career accomplishments. Similarly, you should purchase souvenirs or take photos when you’re on vacation, so you remember the trip for longer.

Prof. Schkade tries to follow his own advice. As an undergraduate, he attended the University of Texas at Austin. When the Longhorns won the national championship in January at the Rose Bowl, he bought T-shirts that marked the occasion, so he wouldn’t quickly forget the team’s victory.

“You have to combat adaptation,” Prof. Schkade says. “You want to celebrate the small things, not just the big ones. If you save all your celebrations for getting married or becoming vice president, you won’t celebrate very much.”

• Dodging traffic. Studies have found that commuting ranks as one of life’s least enjoyable activities. The reason: While folks often adapt to changes in their lives, both good and bad, it’s tough to adapt to commuting, because you can never be sure how much traffic you’ll hit.

“Lack of control is what tends to induce stress in human beings,” notes Andrew Oswald, an economics professor at England’s Warwick University. “It made me re-evaluate whether I should be a long-distance commuter.” A few years ago, Prof. Oswald moved closer to his office, slashing his commuting time from 60 to 20 minutes.

• Seeing friends. If commuting makes people so unhappy, why do they take jobs or buy homes that will mean a long commute? Folks rely on their initial reaction — and, at first, the long commute may not seem so bad. “People don’t think about how things will play out over time,” says Cornell University economics professor Robert Frank.

Suppose you have the chance to take a higher-paying job that will leave you with less time for socializing. At first blush, that might strike you as a reasonable trade-off. But in all likelihood, you will quickly take the larger salary for granted.

Meanwhile, you’ll miss out on seeing friends and family, which surveys suggest are among our happiest times. “Earlier on, I tended to sacrifice my family time to try and push research ahead,” recalls Richard Easterlin, an economics professor at the University of Southern California. “I do that much less now. Going out to dinner with family for me is always an enjoyable experience.”

• Buying memories. Some folks are inherently less happy and some more so, and this basic temperament seems to be remarkably enduring.

Nonetheless, you may be able to boost your level of happiness by thinking carefully about how you spend your time, says Princeton University economics professor Alan Krueger. On that score, try “buying memorable experiences,” he suggests.

As an example, Prof. Krueger cites taking his father to the 2001 Super Bowl, which pitted the New York Giants against the Baltimore Ravens. “I got a lot of mileage out of that,” he says. “I had the anticipation of the game, as well as the game itself. I framed my ticket, which reminds me of the trip.” Still, he adds, “it would have been better had the Giants won.”

Limiting options. Having lots of choice might seem like a good thing. But in fact, it can lead to unhappiness.

Consider a study conducted by professors Jane Ebert and Daniel Gilbert. Participants were allowed to choose an art poster to take home. Some were told that, if they didn’t like the poster, they could exchange it for another. Others were told their decision was final.

“Who was happiest with their choice?” asks Prof. Gilbert of Harvard University. “Those for whom the choice was irrevocable. When options are open, the mind generates debate. When options are closed, the mind generates satisfaction.”
This insight spurred Prof. Gilbert to limit his own choices. “It made me realize that I ought to propose to my girlfriend,” he says. “Sure enough, now that she’s my wife, I’m happier.”

For the holidays: Do good, feel better

I wanted to share with you a wonderful idea called Through this site, which partners with the world’s top not-for-profits, you can buy presents like one hour of a cancer researcher’s time, credits to offset 10,000 pounds of carbon emissions, the reintroduction one big cat, or the microcredit for one woman’s small business in Africa.

I have no connection to this site and don’t know the people who founded it but I think it’s an inspired and inspiring idea, especially at this time of year.

Happy holidays – and a better New Year!

LeWeb3 Conference Debrief

The conference was interesting with the quality of the debates and presentation on par with anything done in Silicon Valley. If anything the conference showed that France and Europe are not lacking in entrepreneurs and ambition – they are just hampered by excess regulation, less developed capital markets and lower scale due to differences in languages and product markets.

I also thought that the participation of the various French presidential candidates was compelling. They did not bring much to the debate, but it’s good for them to be more Web aware and it shone the spotlight for a day on the state of the Internet in France.

As for me, I caught up with my entrepreneur and VC friends and met some of the companies we are considering buying. I partook on a radio debate on Europe 1, one of the largest French radio stations, discussing: “Is the print media dead?” I was also interviewed on iTV along with my friend Tariq Krim, Founder of, where we explained to French TV viewers what Web 2.0 stood for.

France and the mirage of progess

I just arrived in Paris from Buenos Aires for LeWeb3 conference organized by Loic Lemeur. I was horrified to see all the stores open on a Sunday! Had France given in to consumerism? Did the French government decide to trust shop owners and consumers to decide for themselves when to shop? Did the bureaucrats who set store opening hours not realize that preventing stores from being open on evenings and week-ends was actually the best defense against rampant capitalist consumerism?

I was relieved to learn that this was just an exception and stores were only open during the first few Sundays of December. Apparently many consumers had complained about not being able to shop when they were not at the office because all the stores were closed. Didn’t they realize the state always knew better what was in their self interest?

Anyway, the moment of terror had passed – arch-conservatism was safe in France after all!

Read New Scientist’s 50th Anniversary Special Edition

The predictions for the next 50 years by dozens of world class scientists are wide ranging and intriguing. The set of articles on the “big questions” is fascinating covering topics such as “Do we live in a computer simulation?” to a physicist’s interesting perspective on “Do we have free will?” and “Is the universe deterministic?”

Two articles really resonated with me:

I loved James Hughes amazing, optimistic and uplifting vision of the future in “What comes after homo sapiens?” and hope to be around to experience it.

I was even more touched by Paul Brok’s take on “What is consciousness?” where he recounts the history of the understanding of consciousness from a futuristic perspective.

Here are a few tantalizing excerpts:

“Consciousness went the way of phlogiston, the theoretical substance that scientists once used to explain fire. Strange we ever thought the problem hard. But as our post-millennial neuroscientists marveled at the sparkling, dare I say spectral, patterns cascading from their high-resolution brain scanners, they were nagged by a mischievous question: who’s running the show? … The illusion of the ghost in the machine was compelling – the natural intuition that somewhere in the shadows of the brain there lurks an observing “I”, an experiencer of experiences, thinker of thoughts and controller of actions.”

“This was hard to reconcile with the material facts (the vacant machinery that actually packs the skull) and it was plain to see the mental operations underlying our sense of self – feeling, thoughts, memories – were dispersed throughout the brain. There was no homuncular assembly point where a little soul-pilot sat watching the dials of experience and pulling the levers of action. We were, neuropsychologically speaking, all over the place. And anyway, who did we think was pulling the levers in the little soul-pilot’s head? If we found a ghost in the machine we’d have to start looking for the machine in the ghost.”

“Imagine being teleported. A special scanner records the state of every cell in your brain and body and digitally encodes the information for radio transmission. Your body is destroyed in the process but reconstructed as soon as the signals are received and decoded at your destination. You “arrive” in precisely the same condition that you “left”, identical in body, brain and patterns of mental activity. Your memories, beliefs, plans, skills and emotions are perfectly intact and you go about your business feeling and believing that nothing about you has changed in the slightest. It’s just like waking from a dreamless sleep and getting on with the day.”

“If you are comfortable with this scenario then you should be comfortable with bundle theory. You appreciate that the observing “I” is no more than patterns of energy and information, which can be disrupted and reconstituted without destroying the self – because there is no self to destroy. The patters are all. If, on the other hand you believe that some essential “you” would be lost in the process you are an irredeemable ego theorist. You believe that the reconstituted body is not “you” but a mere replica. Although the replica will know in its bones that it is the very person who stepped into the scanner at the start of the journey and friends and loved ones will agree, you insist it could not be you because your body and brain would have been destroyed.”

“Incidentally, we see here a neat inversion of conventional thinking. Those who believe in an essence, or soul, suddenly become materialists, dreading the loss of the “original” body. But those of us who don’t hold such beliefs are prepared to countenance a life after bodily death.”

For the full article, buy the magazine 🙂

However, I cannot resist including the short story Paul Brok’s uses to illustrate the article:

“On this special day, my 121st birthday, it is good to be surrounded by those I love. There’s no denying I feel old, but in body, not spirit. Oh dear, there I go, slipping into the old ways of thinking: mind and body, spirit and substance. There’s no excuse. The ghost in the machine was exorcised long ago – and here’s Celeste, my sweet, uploaded daughter: the living proof. She kisses my aged forehead. Chronologically, Celeste is 90 years old. Physically she’s a genetically re-engineered woman of 30. Psychologically, well, these days you have to keep an open mind about psychological ways of being. But one never stops worrying about one’s children, and the uploading – the transfer of information from old brain to new – was, I confess, a little troubling. I have always felt some responsibility for the current popularity of mind transposition. I helped create a climate of acceptance. Forgive me if I reminisce.”

“And so Celeste, my sweet, uploaded daughter, takes my hand and leads me to the chamber where my gift awaits. I see my re-engineered body, which sits motionless: the limp corpse of a young man prepared for resurrection. Its carbon nanotube brain lies dormant but will soon be infused with my digital ghost. Like Celeste, I chose 30. That was a good age. Unlike her, I resisted the temptation to tinker with cosmetic details. Take me or leave me. And I’m opting for a conservative, level 1 transposition: my new brain will run, like the old one, as a stand-alone unit with unenhanced software. Celeste is level 3 – enhanced and hive-mind compatible. She is fully immersible – and these days mostly immersed – in the web of awareness, a.k.a. the hive.”

“What’s it like?” I ask her.

“Inconceivable,” she says, her eyes mocking my nostalgia for puny individualism. Then she tells me that the time has come. I sit in the chair adjacent to the corpse, wishing that it didn’t have to be quite ceremonial.”

“When did I realize I was God” says the psychotic aristocrat in the old film The Ruling Class. “Well, I was praying and I suddenly realized I was talking to myself.” My epiphany was less grandiose. It was quite the opposite. I realized I was talking to myself, but no one was listening.”

“Happy birthday, Dad.”

“Goodbye, Celeste.”

Amazing dog story

As a dog owner and lover, I am very moved by stories like this one:

An 81-year old couple adopted a tiny abused puppy ten years ago. The puppy grew up to be a 160-pound dog (shepherd/wolf cross) that saved their lives last week when the couple was trapped in a snow storm; the dog dug a tunnel in the snow under fallen trees and pulled the man and woman back to their house through the tunnel. Amazing.

The God Delusion is great

I had heard of Richard Dawkins but had never read any of his books. The book is an extremely well argued case for atheism laying out the case for God’s existence, why there is most likely no god, the roots of religion and morality and what’s wrong with religion. It should be read by believers to question their faith and non-believers to give them ammunition for religious debates. It will also encourage agnostics to take a side.

I have been told that readers of Richard Dawkins’ columns and previous books might find it redundant, but as a first time reader of Richard Dawkins, I thought it was awesome!

Many Worlds in One is fascinating!

Alex Vilenkin does an amazing job at describing in laymen’s terms the recent findings in astrophysics and cosmology. His book traces cosmology’s emerging picture of the universe from the big bang and inflation to quantum cosmology and multiple universes. He also covers his personal theory of how the universe originated from nothing.

It’s sprinkled with funny anecdotes and makes for an extremely interesting and humbling read as we get lost in the universe’s enormous scale. This book was also the perfect prelude for the next book I read during the Costa Rica trip, The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, which I will review tomorrow.

Kite surfing is divine!

Ted Halstead, a friend of mine and president of the New America Foundation, recently became addicted to kite surfing and convinced me to join him in Costa Rica for Thanksgiving to give it a try. I invited my cousin Cyril, my friend William, his wife Sophie, my dad and his girlfriend. We rented a local’s house on Playa Copal, in the northwest of Costa Rica (1 hour northwest of Liberia airport, west of La Cruz, next to EcoPlaya Hotel).

As we neared the location, after a final 20 minute drive on a bumpy dirt road, we were exposed to an amazing setting! The western orientation allowed us to see the most beautiful sunsets. We walked on beautiful and deserted white sand beaches, gazed at Nicaragua across the bay and encountered turtles, monkeys and iguanas during hikes. The house also came with it own fauna as we encountered scorpions in our rooms and tarantulas in the shower!

We met by a very international crowd of kite surfers from Australia, Austria, France, Germany, Switzerland and the U.S. Shockingly enough I had not seen as many BCG and McKinsey consultants in one place in a long time and our evenings were filled remaking the world and playing no limit Texas Holdem poker 🙂

Most importantly it was windy! I was told that from October to May there are 28 days of wind per month. The wind was not gusty and averaged around 20 knots – perfect for kite surfing!

It was humbling and fun to be a beginner all over again. I spent the first day learning to fly the kite and the second day trying to manage the kite with the board seemingly swallowing the entire Pacific Ocean in the process. As I needed moral support I enlisted the help of my cousin Cyril whose bumbling approach was endearing until he managed to step on a stingray and get stung by jellyfish!

After 2 days it magically clicked and we were finally able to get out of the water and actually kite surf! It’s an amazing sensation of gliding that appealed to the skier in me! In addition, playing with the elements gives you an engrossing sense of seeming power over nature (delusionally great for the ego 🙂 I am afraid to report that I am now addicted and will have to seek it out as often as I can. Kite surfing world, here I come!