English royal swears off tea

This official position of this blog is that there is no form of peer pressure more obnoxious than that which attempts to make people eat or drink certain things. As such, I do not judge Prince Harry for his rather un-English acquiescence to his wife’s demand that he abstain from tea, among other beverages. It’s still funny though:

THE royal family is said to be “amazed” at the difference in Prince Harry, as he celebrated his first dry New Year without even tea or coffee to get him through.

Meghan Markle is said to have banned her husband from drinking the hot drinks and he has replaced alcohol with mineral water, in support of her pregnancy.

Former party-lover Prince Harry looked leaner and bright-eyed at Sandringham at Christmas – and the royal family is said to have noted the change.

Interesting choice of words:

Another allegedly said: “Now his regime doesn’t make him the most entertaining party guest in the world, but he’s definitely more chilled and relaxed.”

Sounds like a broken man.

Expat egress

China expat

When China was still cool

The Golden Age of the Expat in China is decidedly over:

Fifteen years ago in California, a tall technology geek named Steve Mushero started writing a book that predicted the American dream might soon “be found only in China.” Before long, Mr. Mushero moved himself to Shanghai and launched a firm that Amazon.com Inc. and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. certified as a partner to serve the world’s biggest internet market.

These days, the tech pioneer has hit a wall. He’s heading back to Silicon Valley where he sees deeper demand for his know-how in cloud computing. “The future’s not here,” said the 52-year-old. […]

Now disillusion has set in, fed by soaring costs, creeping taxation, tightening political control and capricious regulation that makes it ever tougher to maneuver the market and fend off new domestic competitors. All these signal to expat business owners their best days were in the past.

And employees as well, due to rising competition from Chinese talent and escalating language requirements. I wrote about it here.

Incidentally, I interviewed Mushero for an article about cloud computing in mid-2014. This is what he had to say:

“The market itself, even without the foreign players, has exploded in the last year,” says Steve Mushero, CEO of ChinaNetCloud, a foreign-owned sever management and cloud computing company based in Shanghai. When ChinaNetCloud started running cloud services in 2008, there was virtually no competition, and even until last year, Mushero says, the industry had very few significant players.

In retrospect, I arrived in China near the tail end of the expat optimism bubble (2010). Even in early 2012, an article like this rang true. (“China wants you. Job prospects are abundant.”) The turning point was probably around 2012. Now the word on the street is that China is a place to leave, not start your career. There are many exceptions of course, but the overall trend is clear.

Now an expat who has anchored himself to mainland China by working long-term and starting a family there, is less likely to exult about the opportunities in his host country than to sheepishly explain why he can’t leave.

The most relaxing song on earth, according to science

Here is “Weightless,” a song specially designed to be the most relaxing piece of music on earth:

Listen and feel your blood pressure and cortisol levels ebb.

It’s science:

According to Dr. David Lewis-Hodgson of Mindlab International, which conducted the research, the top song produced a greater state of relaxation than any other music tested to date.

In fact, listening to that one song — “Weightless” — resulted in a striking 65 percent reduction in participants’ overall anxiety, and a 35 percent reduction in their usual physiological resting rates.

That is remarkable.

Equally remarkable is the fact the song was actually constructed to do so. The group that created “Weightless”, Marconi Union, did so in collaboration with sound therapists. Its carefully arranged harmonies, rhythms, and bass lines help slow a listener’s heart rate, reduce blood pressure and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

The definition of literary failure

It can’t get much worse than this:

We spoke about a scene at the end of the film, when Dovlatov has had yet another story rejected and has failed even at conformism, unable to produce a minimally suitable poem for a trade publication for Soviet oil workers.

Ouch!

Sergei Dovlatov was a Russian author who was unable to publish in the Soviet Union and only achieved recognition after emigrating to the US in 1979. Here’s a trailer for the movie that the article is talking about:

Being an unpublishable writer in the Soviet Union:

In “Dovlatov,” German, Jr., presents that feeling of trauma with a tinge of romance—the poetry readings in cramped living rooms, the accumulation and discarding of both lovers and vodka bottles with equal listlessness, the long, uneventful, repetitive days with nothing to do but debate art and literature—a black hole that sucks up one’s energy and best years.

“Only the disciplined ones in life are free”

Eliud Kipchoge

An amazing new world marathon record has just been set:

Somewhere around mile 7 of my race along the Schuylkill River, I found myself marveling at what the great Kenyan distance runner [Eliud Kipchoge], almost unquestionably the greatest marathoner ever, had just pulled off. He hadn’t just set a new marathon record; he’d shattered the old one by a minute and 18 seconds, running the fast Berlin course in 2:01:39.

Consider what that means: The 33-year-old Kipchoge, who is 5 foot 6 and weighs 115 pounds, had run 26 straight, blazingly fast, 4-minute and 38-second miles. I’ve always said of world-class marathon times like this that if I didn’t know it could be done, I wouldn’t believe it was possible to run that fast for that long.”

And the limits of human capacity have been stretched a bit further. Kipchoge also seems to have gleaned some nuggets of wisdom from his years of pounding the polyurethane:

He is also marathon running’s “philosopher king,” according to Cacciola, distinguishing himself as much with his motivational speaking as he does out on the course. “Kipchoge is the type of person,” writes Cacciola, “who says stuff like: ‘Only the disciplined ones in life are free. If you are undisciplined, you are a slave to your moods and your passions.’ And: ‘It’s not about the legs; it’s about the heart and the mind.’ And: ‘The best time to plant a tree was 25 years ago. The second-best time to plant a tree is today.’”

Survival of the laziest

Science says that laziness, or as I prefer to call it, economy of effort, could be a fantastic survival strategy:

A new large-data study of fossil and extant bivalves and gastropods in the Atlantic Ocean suggests laziness might be a fruitful strategy for survival of individuals, species and even communities of species. The results have just been published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B by a research team based at the University of Kansas.

Looking at a period of roughly 5 million years from the mid-Pliocene to the present, the researchers analyzed 299 species’ metabolic rates—or, the amount of energy the organisms need to live their daily lives—and found higher metabolic rates were a reliable predictor of extinction likelihood.

“We wondered, ‘Could you look at the probability of extinction of a species based on energy uptake by an organism?'” said Luke Strotz, postdoctoral researcher at KU’s Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum and lead author of the paper. “We found a difference for mollusk species that have gone extinct over the past 5 million years and ones that are still around today. Those that have gone extinct tend to have higher metabolic rates than those that are still living. Those that have lower energy maintenance requirements seem more likely to survive than those organisms with higher metabolic rates.”

I’m not sure whether this is related, but many of us have had the experience of working with high-energy, high-stress people who scurry around in a whirlwind of activity and give every indication of being extremely busy, and yet are strangely unproductive (and sometimes actively destructive) within the organization. Do they have elevated metabolic rates and if so, are they less “fit” to survive?

“Maybe in the long term the best evolutionary strategy for animals is to be lassitudinous and sluggish—the lower the metabolic rate, the more likely the species you belong to will survive,” Lieberman said. “Instead of ‘survival of the fittest,’ maybe a better metaphor for the history of life is ‘survival of the laziest’ or at least ‘survival of the sluggish.'”

The most successful leaders often have a laconic, hands-off management style, and it’s astounding what a truly great leader can accomplish by just hiring the right people, saying a few words and then heading out for a round of golf. The less perceptive might see this approach as leisurely or even “lazy,” but it’s actually just extremely efficient.

I close with an anecdote from historian Paul Johnson about a 1946 encounter with Winston Churchill:

He gave me one of his giant matches he used for lighting cigars. I was emboldened by that into saying, “Mr. Winston Churchill, sir, to what do you attribute your success in life?” and he said without hesitating: “Economy of effort. Never stand up when you can sit down, and never sit down when you can lie down.” And he then got into his limo.

Peter Thiel interview

Interesting interview with Peter Thiel in a Swiss magazine:

At the moment, Silicon Valley still looks all-powerful.

The big question is: Will the future of the computer age be decentralized or centralized? Back in the 60s, you had this Star Trek idea of an IBM computer running a planet for thousands of years, where people were happy but unfree. Today, again we are thinking that it is going to be centralized: Big companies, big governments, surveillance states like China. When we started Paypal in 1999, it was exactly the opposite: This vision of a libertarian, anarchistic internet. History tells me that the pendulum has swung back and forth. So, today I would bet on decentralization and on more privacy. I don’t think we are at the end of history and it’s just going to end in the world surveillance state. […]

You label yourself a “contrarian”. How did you become one? How does one become a contrarian?

It is a label that has been given to me, not one that I give normally to myself. I don’t think a contrarian per se is the right thing to be. A pure contrarian just attaches a minus sign to whatever the crowd thinks. I don’t think it should be as simple as that. What I think is important for people is to try to think very hard for oneself. But yes, I do deeply mistrust all these kinds of almost hypnotic mass and crowd phenomena and I think they happen to a disturbing degree.

Why do they happen in a supposedly enlightened society?

The advanced technological civilization of the early 21st century is a complicated world where it is not possible for anybody to think through everything for themselves. You cannot be a polymath in quite the way people were in the 18th century enlightenments. You cannot be like Goethe. So there is some need to listen to experts, to defer to other people. And then, there is always the danger of that going too far and people not thinking critically. This happens in spades in Silicon Valley. There is certainly something about it that made it very prone to the dotcom bubble in the nineties or to the cleantech bubble in the last decade.