If you travel back in time, and happen to know how to cure an otherwise fatal illness that has afflicted several people in the town you’re in.

You visit the first patient – a young boy – medicine in hand; a priest walks in, and starts chanting.

The villagers present don’t want your help – they’re convinced the priest should do his job. You know the outcome will be death, unless the antidote is delivered.

You have several options:

  1. Yield to the priest, and let the young boy die
  2. Try a daring move and deliver the medicine – saving the boy’s life

Though (2) is a moral high ground, it may be the wrong choice.

This may also sound like a trolley problem – utilitarians and deontologists may agree that (2) is the right behavior, at least naively.

Though the outcome will likely be that you will be sent to prison: the interpretation would likely be that the priest’s prayers cured the boy.

So perhaps letting the priest finish and letting the boy die is the only option – it may raise sufficient desperation to let you try your approach on the remaining patients.

Perhaps this simplistic situation carries over to our time. For example, if you work at a company, and they do not heed your experience – perhaps the only available path forward is to let them make their mistakes, and arrive at wisdom you may already have.

Your warnings ahead of time will fall on deaf ears, and the hindsight of error may not expose you in a good light – especially if a desperation threshold is not reached the way it was in the life-or-death example. They’ll learn from their mistakes, and eventually grow – but the value you could have brought in guidance is rendered obsolete.

Perhaps sometimes the best choice is to walk away – find a like-minded group of peers, or a group willing to accept leadership of experience.

Names and enlightenment

I grew up thinking I was bad at remembering names.

Then, I learned it was a skill, and I was just being lazy: to commit a name to memory, repeat it out loud in a sentence after hearing it at least once, and also think it several time inside your head. Then remember to think about it again a minute later, and five minutes later. Then you got it!

There came a time I thought I got good at the skill – learning thousands of names at tango festivals, and remembering the name of every Lyft driver at the end of a ride after conversation. A proud moment was after a day of interviews at a company with 5 different people, followed up with an hour-long demo of the product, in the debrief with the HR – I told him about my experience interviewing using the names of all the 5 people who had interviewed me.

And then, I went to physical therapy, and met my therapists: Sarah Plumer-Holzman for the shoulder, and Sarah Edery-Atlas for my hip. Good luck with that!

“Before I sought enlightenment, the mountains were mountains and the rivers were rivers. While I sought enlightenment, the mountains were not mountains and the rivers were not rivers. After I reached satori, the mountains were mountains and the rivers were rivers” – Dōgen, Zen Buddism


Understanding is one of the deepest things we do as humans. Once something is understood, it becomes easy, or even enjoyable, to deal with – and it’s nearly impossible to forget something you truly understand.

For most of my life, it’s been an intuitive process.

However, as I’ve had to get better and better at understanding complex subjects quickly, I’ve developed at least some approaches to it that I’m more aware of.

One way I understand something is in terms of questions about it. Some basic ones:

  • What is it?
  • How does it come to be?
  • When should it be?
  • Where is it?
  • Why does it need to be?
  • Who made it? Who intended it?
    (tenses may vary)

Some slightly more elaborate ones:

  • What is its history, its current state, its future?
  • How does it change? Where is it flexible, where is it rigid?
  • Who is responsible for it?
  • Who can it benefit and how?
  • What’s related to it?
  • How important is it?

Depending on the subject, the questions may change in subtle ways. Simple questions help illuminate the silhouette of a problem/solution/project/idea/proposal/theory/situation/relationship/thing. Deeper understanding relies on the art of asking the right questions: great illuminating answers start with a great question.

Another way I feel I understand something is in terms of how to build it or do it. Sometimes, even though I am unable to find a good question, or a satisfactory answer to a reasonable question I do have, I am still able to create something – and I feel like I understand it in some sense, because I am able to reason about it sufficiently to bend it to my will for whatever purpose I may have. Of course then all my basic questions will be future tense!

I still rely on intuition a lot. More types of understanding reinforce each other; first, having answers to basic questions, then to deeper questions, then being able to express my understanding through creation, and still always having intuitive imagery for what it is I think I’m understanding.

The Socratic tragedy is the feeling of incompleteness of understanding, no matter how deep or broad – a puzzle piece always seems to be missing. Enlightenment comes, and becomes mundane, as master Qingyuan Weixin famously wrote: “Before I had studied Ch’an for thirty years, I saw mountains as mountains, and rivers as rivers. When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge, I came to the point where I saw that mountains are not just mountains, and rivers are not just rivers. But now that I have got its very substance, I am at rest. For now I see mountains once again as mountains, and rivers once again as rivers”.

Code as art

Artistically, a codebase is an expression of a Software Engineer’s understanding of a real world problem (including the people working on it and their relationships) and its solution.

Most code is written by many engineers, so actual production code can be dissected by who wrote it – the entire codebase is a representation of how well each contributor understood the entire problem and the role contribution they’re making plays in solving the grand real world problem.

A proposal for a weighted democracy

Democracy is about public good, not just public power.

But if everyone has equal power, evil and good have equal power.

Democracy should be a system that trends towards benefitting the public. Otherwise, it will trend in a random direction, sometimes for good, sometimes for bad.

So democracy should be weighted – those who have done more good for the public have more political power, more voting power.

But how do you measure contribution, in order to weigh by it?

Easy. If you perform a public good – you get points. Donate to charity, help clean up the streets, participate in recycling programs, build a public playground, erect a public museum, create knowledge, popular open source free software – there are countless ways to contribute in a way that benefits everyone.

You start off life with 0 points, and each benevolent action increases your points. Perhaps it’s possible to lose points as well: detracting from public wealth could be accounted for in a more advanced system, a form of criminal punishment.

Tallying up votes in vanilla democracy is already complex. The only way to implement a system like this is with technology. The perfect platform for it is the blockchain, a publicly verifiable data storage facility, e.g. Ethereum.

There are several technological problems that must be solved.

First, there has to be an identity on the blockchain. Then, a smart contact that ties an identity to its political power, with methods for increasing and decreasing political power. The hard problem of course is minting political points.

It boils down to a bootstrapping problem. A decentralized democratic point award system can indoctrinate new participants easily: point awards are voted in by the top 100-1000 or more people with the most points in the system. So the only issue is who gets to start the system. The good news is that it’s possible to hold the bootstrappers publicly accountable for faithfully awarding only those who actually do public good, and eventually take their power away, leaving leadership in the hands of people who have dedicated their lives to serving the public.

After the identity problem is solved, and the smart contracts for point accounting are implemented, the final technological obstacle is simply implementing a smart contract that enables identities with political power points to vote on any issue submitted to a public forum.

In summary, to implement weighted democracy that advances humanity in a positive, rather than a random, direction of development, 3 systems would have to be implemented:
1. identity
2. political power point accounting for a given identity
3. voting rights for identities with political power points on a system of typed issues


To me, multitasking means a very specific thing, and I thing a lot of people get the meaning wrong. Maybe I’m wrong! You tell me.

When I multitask – I’m aware of multiple problems that exist, and I have singular focus on a specific solution that addresses multiple problems.

The way I’ve seen people understand the concept is that they are doing multiple things simultaneously. That’s impossible. You only do one thing at a time, there’s only one you, but you can multitask if you solve multiple problems with the brush of a single stroke.

The art of building

A few years ago, I consulted with one of my mentors.

I said I’m miserable living in San Francisco, and I think the only thing keeping me here is the ridiculous opportunity that’s been bestowed upon me by fate – and that I think I should stay, but maximize what I’m getting out of my time here.

We discussed 2 options: getting into venture capitalism, and trying to make money by convincing people with money that I know how to best make a return on their wealth – or, actually building something. Obviously, in his mind actually building something and being able to personally shape the future was a lot more interesting than just trying to make a buck.

So we drilled into that.

At the time, I was leading a team of engineers – which seemed like a great opportunity to learn the leadership skills I’ll need to propel a company I’m building towards success. I tried to inquire in how I should take advantage.

While true that leadership is inevitable in an endeavor like building a company, I humbly heeded his wisdom: he said in fact, I should be doubling down on my engineering skills if I intend to truly build a technology company.

Today, knee deep in both leadership and code, his wisdom rings true.

Past/experience future/math

There are 2 ways to approach flow-like thinking.

(1) Past/experience/feeling or (2) Future/rationality/math

When you’re improvising music – how do you figure out what the next note is? How do you know what the best next thing to say is? What the next best improvised dance move is?

(1) One way to think about it is – well, I know this is how it will sound like, and here’s the sound I want. How do I know? Based on my experience, on the past. You compress experience into a feeling, and act on that feeling.

(2) Another way to think about it is – I think this will work well, even though I don’t have experience with this exact transition, because of my understanding of how things work in general. That’s a rational/mathematical thought process.

(1) leads to expectations
(2) leads to predictions

Aladdin was a thief

Aladdin was a thief.

How inappropriate. What an awful lesson to teach kids – that stealing is okay. He’s charming, sure. But in the real world, thieves are criminals! Predators, attacking innocent, hard-working humans.

Is it so black and white?

Virtue is about building a marvelous future. Building is key – nature flourishes, and the environment improves, and humans thrive, there’s room for happiness and bliss.

So suppose you’re a builder. You wish to build this marvelous future. Is stealing still bad?

Actually, what aspects of the mind are required to steal? What are you training for? Could thievery be a game to help one understand a virtue due to the skills required? Is thievery fun?

How do you do it? Ok, I need to create a distraction, sleight of hand, manage other people’s focus while still maintaining my own focus on the goal. Focus. Everything is at stake. Can you summon that focus to build castles?