🔥 The Fireside 17

Confident idiots, Russian Roulette, Boredom, TheFireside turns 2!

Welcome to Issue 17 of TheFireside!

This is a special edition because it marks the 2nd anniversary of this newsletter, started in September 2017. Thank you everybody for being such loyal readers :)

If you feel like doing something nice for the occasion, I’d really appreciate if you’d recommend TheFireside to a friend or two by clicking the button below. A personal recommendation goes a long way!

Share TheFireside 🔥

On to The Fireside...

This issue of TheFireside took a little longer that expected to put together because I wanted it to be special. The first 2 links are recommended readings for everyone. The second link, in particular, talks about a concept - ergodicity - that has been mentioned in this newsletter before but it’s such an important idea that it’s worth repeating. The 3rd link - “The story of us“ - will keep you busy reading for weeks and I’m sure it will be remembered as one of the best collection of blog posts of all time.

New blog posts: I’ve published two short blog posts. The first one is about the importance of being bored and the epidemic of kids glued to their phones. The second one is about designing your environment for success and why I was a fat kid. Enjoy.

New Book: “Shantaram“ by Gregory D. Roberts is easily in the top 3 novels I’ve ever read. It’s an autobiographical account of an armed robber and heroin addict, escaped from an Australian prison to India, where he lived in a Bombay slum. There, he joined the Bombai mafia, was tortured in an Indian prison and was sent in Afghanistan to fight with the Mujahideen. The style is beautiful and the storytelling is sensational. Probably the only book that made me cry. Buy it, read it and fall in love with it.

Have a great rest of the week :)


➤ The links

🌎 Three Big Things: The Most Important Forces Shaping the World

[Manuel's best pick] CollaborativeFund’s blog is one of the best blogs I’ve found in a very long time. Almost any article is worth reading. The main point of this article is that since the world is driven by tail events — a minority of things drive the majority of outcomes — one can’t truly understand what’s happening in the world, and indeed in history, unless he understands the “Big things“, the handful of events that are so powerful they influence a range of seemingly unrelated topics.

🔫 A Big Little Idea Called Ergodicity

Russian roulette is the infamous game of chance in which a player places a single round in a revolver, spins the cylinder, places the muzzle against his head, and pulls the trigger. If you’re completely insane you might roll the dice and take $1,000,000 to play Russian Roulette one time but there’s no amount of money that would make you play it 6 or more times.

Though you will (hopefully) never play Russian roulette, there are a surprising number of scenarios in life that have rules very similar to Russian Roulette but which otherwise sane and rational-seeming people (including Nobel prize winners) choose to play. In fact, you may be playing one of those games right now and don’t realize it. So how do you recognize games like Russian Roulette and, more importantly, how do you make sure you consistently win at this game? The key is a big little idea called ergodicity.

👨‍👩‍👦‍👦 The story of us

WaitButWhy (A.K.A. “The best blog on the planet“) is back after months of silence and I’m so freaking excited. This time they are back with a series of posts that try to answer one question: why is our society more divided than ever? The result is a wonderful (and hilarious) journey through history, evolutionary psychology, political theory, neuroscience and everything in between which is exactly all the things TheFireside is about. There are 8 “chapters“ in total and I haven’t finished the series yet. My advice is to read the introduction and the first chapter and then decide if you want to continue reading. I bet you’ll read them all ;)

🤪 We are all confident idiots

Charles Bukowski famously said “The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence“. In the field of psychology, this is known as the DunningKruger effect, a cognitive bias in which people mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is. In the words of Dunning himself:

“Incompetent people do not recognise, cannot recognise, just how incompetent they are. Logic itself almost demands this lack of self-insight. For poor performers to recognise their ineptitude would require them to possess the very expertise they lack. To know how skilled or unskilled you are at using the rules of grammar, for instance, you must have a good working knowledge of those rules, an impossibility among the incompetent”.

🤑 Why are Some Societies more Entrepreneurial than Others?

In this rather long research paper Valentina Assenova, drawing on the largest available longitudinal sample comprising 192 countries over 17 years, examines the evidence in relation to several explanations, including the usual suspects like national investment in R&D, the quality of STEM education, venture capital availability, and governmental support and policies for entrepreneurship. Contrary to prevailing theories, the strongest predictors of cross-national variation in entrepreneurial activity were normative, with social norms being the most strongly associated with entrepreneurialism.

If you don’t want to read the research, here’s the summary: more gender-egalitarian societies and societies that value and reward performance and endorse status privileges have on average higher rates of entrepreneurship, national income and economic growth. While this is probably not surprising, I wonder what the implications are. Unlike laws, social norms take a VERY long time to change (when it’s at all possible) and it’s a bottom-up process. Does it mean that countries with low entrepreneurial activity are destined to remain so forever?

😨 The Fine Line Between Fear and Courage

Making decisions for a group is really hard, because if you go against the group and are wrong you’ll be remember forever, but if you go against the group and are right no one will remember at all.

★ Other things from the internet

(That may or may not make you look smart at dinner parties)

🧠 To Pay Attention, the Brain Uses Filters, Not a Spotlight

A research by a neuroscientist at MIT shows that our theory of focus might be wrong. The core finding here is that our brain 'suppresses' distracting sensory information, instead of us 'focusing' on something to the exclusion of other things. Still too soon to draw conclusions but interesting to see how this research essentially matches what people who meditate have already known for years.

😁 Do this one simple thing to be happier

Ignore the clickbait-y title. This article, based on a research by professors Diener and Pavot, suggests that because your happiness level is more dependent on the frequency of positive events, rather than the intensity, you should be creating a “daisy chain of happiness-inducing events” all day long. I like this research because it’s yet another confirmation that the way we design our environment, habits and, ultimately, our life has the most profound effect on our happiness and well-being.

PS: Read the full TheFireside archives here

🔥 The Fireside 16

How Visa become Visa, Starbucks secret side-hustle and How to get new ideas

Hello beautiful human being! This issue of the Fireside has fewer links than usual because I really struggled to find great articles (the Internet seems to go on holiday in August). However, I think this issue’s articles are all amazing, in particular the one about the history of Visa.

A bit of house keeping: I'm moving this newsletter to a different email provider (Substack) and it would be really helpful if you could add the email address “thefireside@substack.com“ to your contacts list. If you are on Gmail, please also drag this email to the Priority tab.

And in other news, a couple of weeks ago I got down on one knee and asked the love of my life to marry me and she said yes 😊💍

On to The Fireside...

New blog post: A couple of weeks I found a free app called Glide that makes it crazy simple to create a mobile app using Google Sheet. That’s right: Google Sheet. I built myself a food diary app in 30 minutes and since a lot of people asked me how I did it, I recorded a short video. Enjoy it.

New Book: “Shoe Dogby Phil Knight is the memoir of Nike’s CEO and founder. I’m usually not a big fan of memoirs but this book is exceptionally well written and a reminder of what running a business *actually* looks like. Super recommended, especially if you are a Nike detractor.

Have a great rest of the week :)


➤ The links

💳 A History of Visa

[Manuel's best pick] Visa is one of the biggest companies in the world. Cards bearing the Visa logo are used more than 340 million times every day. Yet unlike other companies of similar size and ubiquity, few people know what Visa does, how they make money, or why they even exist. This is the fascinating story of how Visa came to be and how it has built such a huge competitive advantage that even companies like Apple or Google chose to partner with Visa rather than compete head-to-head.

☕️ Starbucks, monetary superpower

When you think about Starbucks you probably don't think about a financial company. But what if I told you that Starbucks is able to raise $1.6B at 0% interest rate, every year, from their customers and make a $155M pure profit simply by offering gift cards? An amazing account of how even a small thing like a gift card, at Starbucks scale, can become a multi-billion dollar side business.

🧘🏻‍♂️ On Finding Your Purpose and Living a Meaningful Life

Hunter S. Thompson's letter to his friend, Hume Logan, on finding your purpose and living a meaningful life. One of the most profound advice I've ever come across.

💡 Isaac Asimov Asks, “How Do People Get New Ideas?”

Isaac Asimov is one of the most prolific writers of all time, having written more than 500 books (including legendary series like "Foundation" and "I, Robot"), and one of my childhood heroes. In 1959 was invited by the American secret agency ARPA to help their scientist to "think out-of-the-box". While he eventually decided to leave the agency, he wrote an essay on creativity that was never published. Until now.

★ Other things from the internet

(That may or may not make you look smart at dinner parties)

📚 Free and liberated ebooks, carefully produced for the true book lover

Many people don't know that copyrights for books expire 70 years after the death of their author. This means that the works of Jane Austen, Lewis Carroll, Edgar Allan Poe and Shakespeare (to mention few) are all available for free to anyone. Standard ebooks is a website that offers hundreds of old books in modern, high-quality free ebook format. There are lots of websites with free public domain ebooks, but this is the highest quality one I’ve ever encountered, by a looooong shot.

PS: Read the full TheFireside archives here

🔥 The Fireside 15

Psychedelics, How to get lucky and how to launder money in the UK

🔥 The Fireside

Happy Friday!

Two months ago, the UN released a terrifying report that shows beyond any doubt “unprecedented nature’s dangerous decline” and “accelerating species extinction rates”. The report presents a long list of facts and numbers about the ecological catastrophe we are facing but one figure shocked me: 300-400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge and other wastes from industrial facilities are dumped annually into the world’s waters.

In the last paragraph the report very briefly touches on a potential solution: “steering away from the current limited paradigm of economic growth”. Alas, it seems very unlikely that the world will steer away from the model it has employed to progress for the last 150 years any time soon.

Which means we’ll need to think harder about potential solutions…

On to The Fireside…

New Project: I launched a new side project, SmilePostcards that allows you to create a personalised postcard in 30 seconds and send it anywhere in the world. From $0.99/postcard. No minimum.

New Books: It’s been a while since the last Fireside and in this time I’ve read 13 books. The best one was probably “So good they can’t ignore you” in which Cal Newport debunks the long-held belief that “follow your passion” is good advice. Indeed, he goes as far as saying that this belief can actually be dangerous, leading to anxiety and chronic job hopping. Luckily, he offers an explanation of what makes people love what they do and how anyone can achieve it. A must-read for any millennial.

Notable mentions: “Never split the difference”, “Food rules” and “Genome: The Autobiography Of Species In 23 Chapters”.

New podcasts: Joe Rogan’s interview of Naval Ravikant is probably THE podcast of the year. In classic Rogan’s style, the podcast is over 2 hours long but you’ll wish it was longer. Also, Sam Harris and Shane Parrish talk mental models, how to think and many other interesting things. Probably four of the best thinkers on the planet share their thoughts on pretty much everything. Put the kettle on and enjoy it.

Have a great week end :)


➤ The links

🍀 How To Attract Luck: The Science Behind How People Get Luck

The world is dominated by fat-tails distributions. For example, a tiny fraction of your network is responsible for most of your professional success and a small group of books have massively changed your point of view. I’ve known about this fact (called “Pareto rule”, or the “80/20 rule”) for years but I always struggled to figure out how to put it into practice in my life. In this very pragmatic article, Taylor Pearson explains how so called “fat-tails distributions” dominate the world and how you can use this mental model to their advantage. If you read only one article, make it this one.

🧠 A Framework for Putting Mental Models to Practice

One of the hottest topics of the last decade has been mental models. They are considered by many the holy grail to improving decision making and, in general, getting better at pretty much anything. But whilst mental models are great, most of them are effectively useless in real life. This is a paradox people who know mental models have known for a long time. In this series of posts, the author explains what is wrong with mental models and what a better approach might be.

🌀 Michael Pollan and Tim Ferriss | SXSW 2019

The majority of people have a big misconception about psychedelics. They think they are evil/wrong/unethical and even immoral. On the other hand, psychedelics have proved to help people get rid of all sorts of mental illnesses and addictions to a point where some people have called this decade the “Renaissance of psychedelics”. If you are interested in the topics watch this video where Tim Ferriss interviews Michael Pollan, the author of “How to Change Your Mind”.

👨‍💻 Deep Work: The Complete Guide

If you work in a service industry (that is, if you work in front of a computer), producing high quality work is all about mastering the art of deep work. Based on Cal Newport’s book (yes, the same guy of “So good they can’t ignore you”), this comprehensive guide will teach you to harness your focus, ditch distractions, and improve your productivity.

💰 How Britain can help you get away with stealing millions: a five-step guide

Dirty money needs laundering if it’s to be of any use – and the UK is the best place in the world to do it. “The British company registration system contains a giant loophole – the kind of loophole you can drive a billion euros through without touching the sides. That is why UK shell companies have enabled financial crime all over the world, from giant acts of kleptocratic plunder to sad and squalid frauds that rob pensioners of their retirement savings.

★ Other things from the internet

(That may or may not make you look smart at dinner parties)

🐟 Parasite living inside fish eyeball controls its behaviour

There’s a parasite living inside fish eyeball that can control its behaviour. When the parasite is young, it helps its host stay safe from predators. But once it matures, it does everything it can to make the fish easy to catch and continue its life cycle.

🌙 In the event of moon disaster

Letters of note is a blog that collects amazing historical letters. This is the letter H. R. Haldeman, President Nixon’s Chief of Staff, wrote in case the Apollo 11 mission turned out to be a disaster.

PS: Read the full TheFireside archives here

🔥 The Fireside 14

Privacy, Pain, LSD, Nationalism and A Mysterious Infection

🔥 The Fireside

Happy Tuesday! I’ve been thinking a lot about the concepts of “craftsmanship” and “mastery” lately. The happiest people I know are, by far, those who commit themselves to a job, a cause or an art for a long time, find joy in the process and are motivated by an higher sense of purpose and mastery rather than money.

In his fantastic book “Drive”, Daniel Pink explains many reasons why these people are the happiest but the most important one, I believe, can be found on page 76:

“Intrinsically motivated people usually achieve more than their reward –seeking counterparts. Alas, that is not always true in the short term. An intense focus on extrinsic can deliver fast results. The trouble is, the approach is difficult to sustain. And it doesn’t assist in mastery-which is the source of achievement over the long haul.”

I believe that when a lot of people say they feel “stuck” in their life or unmotivated what they actually mean is that they don’t have a sense of purpose. This is definitely true for me. I’ve felt “stuck” for the last 5-6 months. Unable to think straight and move forward.

The good news is that you can find purpose by refining your craft and seeking mastery. Ironically, this newsletter helps me do that. It doesn’t make any money. There is no obvious benefit in doing it. The only “goal” for this newsletter is to make people think, which is obviously impossible to measure.

Yet, I spend an absurd amount of time researching articles, writing summaries and in general, putting together every issue. It’s craftsmanship. And every single time I send an issue, I’m genuinely proud of it and it makes me incredibly happy.

On to The Fireside…

New Article: Nothing to hide”. I don’t know you but I’m tired of hearing that we shouldn’t worry about mass surveillance unless we got something to hide. In this post I explain why the “nothing-to-hide” argument is morally broke, historically backwards and practically ineffective.

New Book:A short history of nearly everything” by Bill Bryson is one of the most mind blowing books I’ve ever read. In it, Bryson talks about… well, nearly everything, from astronomy to quantum physics, to the theory of evolution and tectonic movements. If you have interests across different topics and want to know how it all fits together, this is probably one of the best books about science ever written.

Have a great rest of the week :)


➤ The links

⚖️ The science of inequality: why people prefer unequal societies

Most societies in the world are unequal. And almost everyone will consider inequality to be unfair as well. But is it true? In this truly remarkable article, three Yale scientists argue it’s not inequality in life that really bothers us, but unfairness. If you read only one article, make it this one.

😖 Why the sexes don’t feel pain the same way

We all instinctively know that men and women experience pain in a different way (ever heard of “man flu”?) Now science is uncovering why: brain pathways in men and women are remarkably different. Interesting article about the stereotypes and reality of pain and why, at lest in mice, pregnant females switch their pathways to those observed in males.

🌀 LSD-Tripping Brains Reveal How the Drug Causes the Psychedelic Experience

It’s no secret that LSD causes wild hallucinations, altered states of consciousness, one-ness with the universe, and a host of other psychedelic effects. An LSD study published recently supports one leading theory suggesting that the brain on LSD trips because it’s experiencing sensory overload. In other words, what we perceive as “hallucinations” is how we would perceive the world around us if our brain didn’t filter out most of the stimulus. This is still very new but incredibly fascinating.

🐒 This Is Your Brain on Nationalism

Tribalism (or the us-versus-them thinking) runs deep. It’s so embedded in our biology that even 3-year-olds innately prefer to play with kids of their own race and some people even think getting completely rid of it might change the definition itself of being human. Interesting reading, especially in light of the rise of nationalism in Europe, Trump and Brexit.

💸 The Cult of Early Retirement Meets (Or Strangely, Doesn’t Meet) The Cult of Entrepreneurship

F.I.R.E. is a very very famous acronym online. It stands for Financial Independence - Retire Early. It goes like this: 1) figure out how much you need to retire. 2) Live extremely frugally and save like crazy for a couple of decades. 3) Invest those savings into “safe” financial assets (usually index funds) that compound over time. 4) Retire. While theoretically sound, can you see what the problem is here? There is another approach to financial freedom. One that requires a bit more effort but substantially less time and discipline.

★ Other things from the internet

(That may or may not make you look smart at dinner parties)

🤢 A Mysterious Infection, Spanning the Globe in a Climate of Secrecy

Scientist have found a fungi (bacteria) that is resistant to antibiotics. Indeed, it’s resistant to EVERYTHING and nobody knows how to deal with it. To avoid panic, the authorities have decided to keep it a secret for over 18 months. Terrifying.

💡 88 Important Truths I’ve Learned About Life

I’ve found this collections of “truths” very elegant and succinct. My favourites are:

#11 “If you never doubt your beliefs, then you’re wrong a lot.

#35 “Proof is nothing but a collection of opinions that match your own

#86 “Wishing things were different is a great way to torture yourself

PS: Read the full TheFireside archives here

🔥 The Fireside 13

Drug Addiction, OpenLife, People That Don't Exist, How Travel The World...

🔥 The Fireside

Happy Tuesday! Q1 is coming to an end and I hope you’ve achieved your goals (because you did set goals for Q1, right?)

It’s been a while since last edition of The Fireside. Whilst it’s true that the objective of this newsletter is not to have a specific frequency but rather to collect enough interesting and thought provoking articles, I’ll try my best to keeping a monthly-ish schedule. 🤞

On to The Fireside…

New Article: The Ultimate List To Travel The World Like A Pro”. In this post I write about everything I’ve learned about travelling to over 22 countries in the last 2 years. It is the longest post I’ve ever written.

New Project: “/OpenLife”. I’m doing an experiment where I test my accountability by publicly sharing data about my private habits. Right now I share things like the completion rate of my personal goals and how many times I go to the gym but I plan to add more data in the future.

New Book:Atomic Habits” by James Clear is the best book about habits I’ve ever read (and I’ve read quite a few books about the topic!) and it’s already considered a must-read. Clear breaks down how good habits are formed and bad habits are broken with a scientific-backed framework made of four pillars.

Have a great rest of the week :)


💼 How Much Immigration Is Too Much?

Immigration is very much at the top of the political agenda right now and you’re very likely to have a very strong, passionate opinion about it. In the UK, it was the real decisive argument of the Brexit referendum and in the US it got Trump elected as President. This article by David Frum, is one of the best, most reasonable pieces on a political issue I’ve ever read and although it’s focused on American immigration, its arguments can be applied very easily to Europe. Highly recommend it for anyone regardless of your stance on the topic.

👍 Status as a Service (StaaS)

Why are social media so popular? Why some social media succeed so spectacularly while others fail? What makes them social media so addictive? These are difficult questions to answer unless we understand two basic truths about human psychology: 1) People are status-seeking monkeys, 2) People seek out the most efficient path to maximizing social capital. In this truly brilliant article, Eugene Wei argues that we can only truly understand social media when we see them as “StaaS” or providers of “social status”.

🤔 Cognitive bias cheat sheet

Humans are weird and sometimes they act in a completely irrational way. These irrationalities are called by scientists “cognitive biases” and are studied in psychology and behavioural economics to explain seemingly weird behaviour, like doing things that go directly against our own best interest. Learning about cognitive biases is probably the single most important step towards truly understanding human decision making. In total, there are 175 cognitive biases with a lot of overlapping between them. In this article, Buster Benson goes through all of them and groups them into 20, high-level, unique mental strategies.

💉 How Science Is Unlocking the Secrets of Drug Addiction

On the topic of oddities, one of the most interesting things about humans is how easily they get addicted to self-defeating substances. Alcohol, nicotine, drugs, even chocolate. As long as it gives us pleasure, we are willing to do anything to get more of it, even at the cost of our own health. Now science is finally unlocking the fundamental biological components of addiction and developing new tools to defeat it, including a sci-fi-like machine that rewires the neural pathways in your brain using electromagnetic waves.

🧠 Rule Thinkers In, Not Out

“Imagine a black box which, when you pressed a button, would generate a scientific hypothesis. 50% of its hypotheses are false; 50% are true hypotheses as game-changing and elegant as relativity. Even despite the error rate, it’s easy to see this box would quickly surpass space capsules, da Vinci paintings, and printer ink cartridges to become the most valuable object in the world… What if the box had only a 10% success rate? A 1% success rate? My guess is: still most valuable object in the world….You have to go pretty low before the box stops being great.”

★ Other things from the internet

(That may or may not make you look smart at dinner parties)

😵 This Person Does Not Exist

This tool presents a random, computer generated photo of a fictional person. Refresh the page each time for a new face.

🌚 81 megapixel photo of the moon

A guy on Reddit (and where else?) took nearly 50,000 images of a night sky to make an 81 Megapixel image of the moon. Simply spectacular.

PS: Read the full The Fireside archives here

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