Skip to main content

Christopher Marks

4 Your Eyez Only

1 min read

Cannot wait for the new J. Cole album to be released.

Here's two tracks: False ProphetsEverybody Gotta Die

Christopher Marks

Christopher Marks

Solid quotation from Joseph Campbell

1 min read

“Eternity isn't some later time. Eternity isn't even a long time. Eternity has nothing to do with time. Eternity is that dimension of here and now that all thinking in temporal terms cuts off.... the experience of eternity right here and now, in all things, whether thought of as good or as evil, is the function of life.”

Christopher Marks

Memorable words are often two 'chunks' long

2 min read

The simplest way to illustrate this point is just to name successful companies, prestigious schools, famous cities, and other everyday words:

Companies

  • Goo-gle
  • Face-book
  • A-pple
  • Win-dows
  • Ya-hoo
  • e-Bay
  • Twi-tter
  • Snap-chat
  • In-sta(gram) - colloquially Insta
  • Tin-der
  • Ven-mo
  • U-ber
  • My-Space
  • Flick-r
  • You-Tube
  • Linked-In
  • Whats-App
  • Out-look
  • G-mail
  • Face-Time
  • Net-flix
  • Drop-box
  • Git-hub
  • We-chat
  • Click-hole
  • i-Tunes
  • Bai-du
  • Wealth-front
  • Word-press
  • Best-Buy
  • Wal-mart
  • Safe-way
  • Whole-foods
  • BA-ML (abbreviation for Bank of America Merill Lynch)
  • Gold-man (instead of Goldman Sachs)
  • Black-rock
  • Roths-child
  • E-Y
  • De-loitte
  • etc.
  • notable exceptions: Amazon (a place), Spotify (3 syllables but arguably said as two, 'Spot-Ify'), Airbnb (still sort of broken down into two chunks, 'Air-bnb'), Skype (one syllable), KPMG (abbreviation), PWC (abbreviation), a billion other companies I can't think of

Really prestigious schools (no order)

  • Cam-bridge
  • Ox-ford
  • Stan-ford
  • Har-vard
  • Prince-ton
  • notable exceptions: Yale (one syllable), MIT (abbreviation)

Famous cities

  • Lon-don
  • Pa-ris
  • Ma-drid
  • Ber-lin
  • Lis-bon
  • Pi-sa
  • Flor-ence
  • Du-bai
  • Hong-Kong
  • Pe-king
  • Mos-cow
  • Que-bec
  • New-York
  • S-F (San Francisco)
  • L-A (Los Angeles)
  • Bos-ton
  • D.C. (Washington D.C.)
  • Dall-as
  • De-troit
  • this is a stretch, because there are a ton of famous cities that aren't 2 syllables, but there are also quite a few that are

Everyday words

  • Drink-ing
  • Danc-ing
  • Runn-ing
  • Cook-ing
  • Talk-ing
  • Eat-ing
  • Cry-ing
  • Fuck-ing
  • Sleep-ing
  • Yell-ing
  • these are just verbs ending in -ing
  • massively grasping at straws
  • T-shirt
  • Sweat-shirt
  • Box-ers
  • im just naming clothes
  • Foot-ball
  • Ath-lete
  • Pop-star
  • Sing-er
  • Ac-tor
  • Writ-er
  • Hack-er
  • E-con
  • Eng-lish
  • but it's also weird how our description of actions people take are usually 2 syllables long
  • yeah that's enough of this list

The simple reason for this is that it's much easier for things to spread by word of mouth if it's easy for people to say the word being spread. It's especially easy if people are able to quickly visualise how the word should be spelt in their head, and even more so if there's a consonant dividing the first and second syllable.

On a personal note, I've found it's infinitely quicker to say I go to school at Hog-warts than Warw-ick (especially if I'm talking to an American). That weird English 'rw' sound is as baffling as wor-ces-ter-shire being pronounced wooster-shire.

Christopher Marks

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future

5 min read

Only about a fifth of the way through Zero to One by Peter Thiel and Blake Masters, but here's a few excerpts I particularly like.

 

This first quotation neatly summarises my frustration with higher education, and the problems associated with competition and extrinsic goals:

"Competition is not just an economic concept or a simple inconvenience that individuals and companies must deal with in the marketplace. More than anything else, competition is an ideology--the ideology--that pervades our society and distorts our thinking. We preach competition, internalize its necessity, and enact its commandments; and as a result, we trap ourselves within it--even though the more we compete, the less we gain. This is a simple truth, but we've all been trained to ignore it. Our educational system both drive and reflects our obsession with competition. Grades themselves allow precise measurement of each student's competitiveness; pupils with the highest marks receive status and credentials. We teach every young person the same subjects in mostly the same ways, irrespective of individual talents and preferences. Students who don't learn best by sitting still at a desk are made to feel somehow inferior, while children who excel on conventional measures like tests and assignments end up defining their identities in terms of this weirdly contrived academic parallel reality. And it gets worse as students ascend to higher levels of the tournament. Elite students climb confidently until they reach a level of competition sufficiently intense to beat their dreams out of them. Higher education is the place where people who had big plans in high school get stuck in fierce rivalries with equally smart peers over conventional careers like management consulting and investment banking. For the privilege of being turned into conformists, students (or their families) pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in skyrocketing tuition that continues to outpace inflation. Why are we doing this to ourselves?"

 

Thiel then expands on his own personal experience, and how he wish he got out of this mindset earlier:

"I wish I had asked myself when I was younger. My path was so tracked that in my 8th-grade yearbook, one of my friends predicted--accurately--that four years later I would enter Stanford as a sophomore. And after a conventionally successful undergraduate career, I enrolled at Stanford Law School, where I competed even harder for the standard badges of success. The highest prize in a law student's world is unambiguous: out of tens of thousands of graduates each year, only a few dozen get a Supreme Court clerkship. After clerking on a federal appeals court for a year, I was invited to interview for clerkships with Justices Kennedy and Scalia. My meetings with the Justices went well. I was so close to winning this last competition. If only I got the clerkship, I thought, I would be set for life. But I didn't. At the time, I was devastated. In 2004, after I had built and sold PayPal, I ran into an old friend from law school who had helped me prepare my failed clerkship applications. We hadn't spoken in nearly a decade. His first question wasn't "How are you doing?" or "Can you believe it's been so long" Instead, he grinned and asked: "So, Peter, aren't you glad you didn't get that clerkship?" With the benefit of hindsight, we both knew that winning that ultimate competition would have changed my life for the worse. Had I actually clerked on the Supreme Court, I probably would have spent my entire career taking depositions or drafting other people's business deals instead of creating anything new. It's hard to say how much would be different, but the opportunity costs were enormous. All Rhodes Scholars had a great future in their past."

 

Also snaps for anything that skewers economics (in its current state) for being a pseudoscience:

"So why are economists obsessed with competition as an ideal state? It's a relic of history. Economists copied their mathematics from the work of 19th-century physicists: they see individuals and businesses as interchangeable atoms, not as unique creators. Their theories describe an equilibrium state of perfect competition because that's what's easy to model, not because it represents the best of business. But it's worth recalling that the long-run equilibrium predicted by 19th-century physics was a state in which all energy is evenly distributed and everything comes to rest--also known as the heat death of the universe. Whatever your views on thermodynamics, it's a powerful metaphor: in business, equilibrium means stasis, and stasis means death. If your industry is in a competitive equilibrium, the death of your business won't matter to the world; some other undifferentiated competitor will always be ready to take your place. Perfect equilibrium may describe the void that is most of the universe. It may even characterize many businesses. But every new creation takes place far from equilibrium. In the real world outside economic theory, every business is successful exactly to the extent that it does something others cannot. Monopoly is therefore not a pathology or an exception. Monopoly is the condition of every successful business. Tolstoy opens Anna Karenina by observing: "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Business is the opposite. All happy companies are different: each one earns a monopoy by solving a unique problem. All failed companies are the same: they failed to escape competition."

Christopher Marks

The Hard Thing About Hard Things

6 min read

I finished reading 'The Hard Thing About Hard Things' by Ben Horowitz today. It's a really fun book, full of start-up war stories and a narrative of "you can achieve what's best for the people you care about [in this case, the company's employees] if you can persevere through hard decisions and embrace uncertainty." I particularly liked his emphasis on finding people with the right motivation to work with, and striving to start a company that people are excited to work for beyond their own material gain. Here are my favorite excerpts:

"There are no shortcuts to knowledge, especially knowledge gained from personal experience. Following conventional wisdom and relying on shortcuts can be worse than knowing nothing at all."

"Coach Mendoza began his opening speech, 'Some of you guys will come out here and you just won't be serious. You'll get here and start shooting the shit, talking shit, bullshittin', not doing shit, and just want to look good in your football shit. If you do that, then you know what? Turn your shit in.' He went on to celobrate on what was unacceptable: 'Come late to practice? Turn your shit in. Don't want to hit? Turn your shit in. Walk on the grass? Turn your shit in. Call me Chico? Turn your shit in.'"

"No matter who you are, you need two kinds of friends in your life. The first kind is one you can call when something good happens, and you need someone who will be excited for you. Not a fake excitement veiling envy, but a real excitement. You need someone who will actually be more excited for you than he would be if it had happened to him. The second kind of friend is somebody you can call when things go horribly wrong--when your life is on the line and you only have one phone call. Who is it going to be? Bill Campbell is both of those friends."

"If you are going to eat shit, don't nibble."

"'Gentlemen, I've done many deals in my lifetime and through that process, I've developed a methodology, a way of doing things, a philosophy if you will. Within that philosophy, I have certain beliefs. I believe in artificial deadlines. I believe in plying one against the other. I believe in doing everything and anything short of illegal or immoral to get the damned deal done.' Michael had a way of making things extremely clear."

"An early lesson I learned in my career was that whenever a large organisation attempts to do anything, it always comes down to a single person who can delay the entire project."

"After all that we had been through, how could I ask the team to charge up yet another impossible mountain? How could I muster the strength to do it myself? I felt like I had no more stories, no more speches, and no more "rah-rah" in me. I decided to level with the team and see what happened. I called an all engineering meeting and gave the following speech:

'I have some bad news. We are getting our asses kicked by BladeLogic and it's a product problem. If this continues, I am going to have to sell the company for cheap. There is no way for us to survive if we don't have the winning product. So, I am going to need every one of you to do something. I need you to go home tonight and have a serious conversation with your wife, husband, significant other, or whoever cares most about you and tell them, 'Ben needs me for the next six months.' I need you to come in early and stay late. I will buy you dinner, and I will stay here with you. Make no mistake, we have one bullet left in the gun, and we must hit the target.'

At the time, I felt horrible asking the team to make yet another big sacrifice. Amazingly, I found out while writing this book that I probably should have felt good about it. Here's what Ted Crossman, one of my best engineers, said about that time and the launch of the aptly named Darwin Project many years later:

'Of all the times I think of at Loudcloud and Opsware, the Darwin Project was the most fun and the most hard. I worked seven days a week 8 am-10 pm for six months straight. It was full on. Once a week I had a date night with my wife where I gave her my undivided attention from 6pm until midnight. And the next day, even if it was Saturday, I'd be back in the office at 8am and stay through dinner. I would come home between 10-11pm. Every night. And it wasn't just me. It was everybody in the office. The technical things asked of us were great. We had to brainstorm how to do things and translate those things into an actual product. It was hard, but fun. I don't remember losing anyone during that time. It was like, 'Hey, we gotta get this done, or we will not be here, we'll have to get another job.' It was a tight-knit group of people. A lot of the really junior people really stepped up. It was a great growing experience for them to be thrown into the middle of the ocean and told, 'Okay, swim.' Six months later we suddenly started winning proofs of concepts we hadn't before. Ben did a great job, he'd give us feedback, and pat people on the back when we were done.'

Eight years later, when I read what Ted had written, I cried. I cried because I didn't know. I thought I did, but I really didn't. I thought that I was asking too much of everybody. I thought that after barely surviving Loudcloud, nobody was ready for another do-or-die mission. I wish I knew then what I know now."

"If I'd learned anything it was that conventional wisdom had nothing to do with the truth and the efficient market hypothesis was deceptive. How else could one explain Opsware trading at half of the cash we had in the bank when we had a $20 million a year contract and fifty of the smartest engineers in the world? No, markets weren't 'efficient' at finding the truth; they were just very efficient at converging on a conclusion--often the wrong conclusion."

"'We have a very high churn rate, but as soon as we turn on email marketing to our user base, people will come back.' Yes, of course. The reason that people leave our service and don't come back is that we have not been sending them enough spam. That makes total sense to me, too."

(TBC more quotes tomorrow)

Christopher Marks

My 'healthy' diet that gives me hives

2 min read

In April this year, I was walking back from Tesco with groceries and it was a little hotter than usual for April in England. I started to get really itchy and hot. When I get home, I took my shirt off and saw I was covered in hives. My first reaction was: what the actual fuck. I thought it was just an allergic reaction to a new shirt I had bought:

 

 

 

I have a habit of ignoring any medical issue until it either goes away or becomes too acute to be ignored. Since April, every time it got a little bit too hot in the shower or if the Central line was too hot (which during the summer it always was), I would break out into hives. Any room that exceeds 20 degrees celsius is a total gamble.

I've been so confused why this randomly started happening. Was it because I wasn't exercising enough, or not getting enough sleep? Is it stress related? Is it because I've been drinking too much coffee?

I still don't really know. It's probably a combination of the above. But today, I googled 'foods high in histamines' and found the following list: 

  

 

Fuck.

Me.

For context, my breakfast is always either bacon and eggs with spinach, tomatoes, and mushrooms, or it's oatmeal made with milk and with mixed nuts added. I also snack on seeds a lot. Also, the only fruits I regularly eat are bananas, apples, and oranges.

I put spinach and tomatoes in pretty much everything I cook - pasta, chilli, sometimes just sauteed as its own side dish.

Look at that list of high histamine containing foods again.

It's like I've deliberately chosen foods that are going to give me hives.

Today marks the first day of me radically changing my diet to cut out all high histamine foods, because I'm really fucking tired of getting itchy the second I get slightly warm.

Christopher Marks

If there's height bias in the workplace, explain child labour

3 min read

I write down the random thoughts that pop into my head when commuting in to central London. Here's a select few:

  • If there's height bias in the workplace, explain child labour 
  • If a train below the ground is called the subway, shouldn't a train in the sky be called the superway?
  • In the same way there's public toilets, there should be public kitchens cleaned daily
  • When your host family gifts you a goat it's sweet, but when I do it it's "eating all the furniture and a complete nuisance"
  • "Our current system is a 3-legged table, and while some would call that a stool, it's actually just a piece of shit"
  • Rationale: online education is proliferating
    Examples: duolingo, Coursera, Udacity, edx, khanacademy
    Focus is mainly on giving people alternative qualifications to a university education, or being a quick app that you spend 5-10 min on a day to learn a skill like language or coding
    The problem: our existing education system is guided by crappy research into gamifying the learning process and making kids intrinsically motivated to learn, politics in the education system, and politics about public funding. The system is extrinsically driven - which is ridiculous for something as intrinsically rewarding as learning.
    Background: I come from a family of educators (grandad, grandma, mum, Andrew, dad in his own way). I went to montessori school, was home schooled, went to a half home school half regular school, went to a private high school. I struggled with reading as a kid, and became a qualified reading tutor. I've also used Coursera, sololearn, Udacity, khanacademy, duolingo, and others to try and learn.
    Levels 0-12 where 0 is pre kindergarten, focuses on fundamentals like reading, association, mathematical reasoning, creative thought 
    Sources to pull from: math club, read America, mum (heavily), grandads research, breakthrough silicon Valley, Reading partners, camp otarbos. There's going to be an absurd amount more of similar groups in the bay. Could grade assignments using a ML algorithm, that errs on the side of being conservative and reviewed by an individual. Eventually would want to hire full time teachers
    Long term goal is to completely replace traditional schooling and university and be the place teachers aspire to work at. Medium term goal is to be a supplement to traditional schooling across all ages excluding university. Short term goal is to create a pre-k foundations curriculum. We would focus on the youngest age groups first. As you get older you have more options to specialise and get more choice with your courses, but the younger years have a required base. 
    Pricing: Premium services would be on the spot tutors, a subscription that ensures all assignments are graded by a human, added stuff for standardised testing.
    Company could be called Foundations.
  • You can't arbitrage time forever
  • If you're gonna be full of shit, at least make sure it's firm
  • Life goal: start a company that becomes a verb

Christopher Marks

5 goals

1 min read

I'm perpetually coming up with things I'd like to do and fantasising about how great it would be to do those things rather than just doing them. It's a real pain in the ass. To try and channel this into productive action, I created a big list of goals and have narrowed it down to 5. These are:

  1. Learn fundamentals of Growth Hacking (A/B Web Testing using Optimizely, analysing user journeys through Mixpanel & Google Analytics and setting up JS events, conducting product analysis using insights from behavioural science) and complete Google's 'Digital Garage' Certificate
  2. Complete the Machine Learning engineer Nanodegree on Udacity 
  3. Build a personal website from scratch (Known is great but I think it'd be a fun challenge)
  4. Apply to the Thiel Fellowship
  5. Write one comedy piece a week (satire, sketch, or stand-up)

Christopher Marks

Our 2016 US presidential candidates are anomalously old

1 min read

Trump is 70 and Hillary will be 69 come November.

Below is the spread of the age of all US presidents when they assumed office:

Age of all US presidents when assuming office

Trump would be the oldest president to assume office ever, and Hillary would be the second oldest president to assume office ever (second to Ronald Reagan, who assumed office at the age of 69 years and 349 days). The youngest president to assume office was Theodore Roosevelt at the age of 42 years and 322 days.