Monthly Archives: June 2009

I’m Scared to Death. But Supremely Confident.

"When I come out I have supreme confidence. But I'm scared to death. I'm afraid. I'm afraid of everything. I'm afraid of losing. I'm afraid of being humiliated. But I'm confident. The closer I get to the ring the more confident I get. The closer, the more confident. All during training I've been afraid of this man. I think this man might be capable of beating me. I've dreamed of him beating me. For that I've always stayed afraid of him. The closer I get to the ring the more confident I get. Once I'm in the ring I'm a god. No one could beat me. I walk around the ring but I never take my eyes off my opponent….During the fight I'm supremely confident. I'm making him miss and I'm countering. I'm hitting him to the body; I'm punching him real hard. And I'm punching him, and I'm punching him, and I know he's gonna take my punches. He goes down, he's out. I'm victorious. Mike Tyson, greatest fighter that ever lived."

        — Mike Tyson

I love this dual attitude: terrified of failure but also supremely confident of success.

It's too easy (and trendy) to just say "fear is the mind killer" or speak in glowing terms about how instructive failure is. If you aren't terrified of failing you probably don't care enough.

If an investor asks an entrepreneur, "Are you scared of your business failing?" and the answer is, "Not really," I'd be concerned. The best answer would be, "I'm fucking terrified that this will totally flop, and I'm doing whatever it takes to make sure that doesn't happen, and I'm confident it will not happen."Mike-tyson

Too much fear can be crippling and preclude action. I think the optimal amount of fear is one notch before the "crippling" point.

I got nervous before high school and AAU basketball games.

I got nervous before big sales presentations in the early days of business career. So nervous, in fact, that I had a hard time getting business cards out of my suit jacket because my hands were shaking.

I get nervous before public speeches, difficult phone calls, or high-stakes emotional encounters.

I'm scared of failing, scared of letting people down, scared of embarrassing myself, scared of not one-upping what came before.

But the fear tends to be like cotton candy, it melts upon contact when the moment of truth comes — the tip-off of the basketball game, the start of the big sales meeting, or the first words of the crucial one-on-one conversation I'd prepared for. In the clutch moment, confidence must take over. When you come to the plate and crouch into your stance, you must believe that you are capable of hitting a home run.

As Tyson has also said, "Fear is your best friend or your worst enemy. It's like fire. If you can control it, it can cook for you; it can heat your house. If you can't control it, it will burn everything around you and destroy you. If you can control your fear, it makes you more alert, like a deer coming across the lawn."

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Here's a compilation of other Tyson quotes. Here's my post on developing self-confidence. Here's my post on getting to the point of saying "I can do this!" Here's what elite athletes focus on in the clutch moments so they do not choke.

Think Different TV: Colin Marshall and Me

Episode #5 of Think Different TV features Colin Marshall, film critic, writer, and deep thinker, and me in conversation for 60 minutes. I recommend watching the video on the Vimeo site and letting it load all the way. Then you can use the chapter markings on that page. Here's an MP3 audio file of the episode. Here are the topics we discuss:

  • How do you become a good writer? Should imitate the greats? How does a unique voice emerge?
  • Embracing suckage. Your first draft will always suck. We need a museum of first drafts. Show me Shakespeare's first draft! Show me David Foster Wallace's first draft! Show me Steve Jobs' first business plan! [MP3 clip of just this part.]
  • Philosophies of self-improvement: is Merlin Mann right that we need fewer cheesy tips?
  • Bits vs. books: Would you rather go a week without blogs or a week without books? [MP3 clip of just this part.]
  • What is your eternal bio? What parts of identity are permanent? Do political beliefs tell you anything important? [MP3 clip of just this part.]
  • Friendships and the internet: how do online friends compare to "real life" ones? [MP3 clip of just this part.]
  • Long/short (bullish/bearish): formal schooling, Netflix, the state of California, democracy in China, the print book, libertarianism, Twitter. [MP3 clip of just this part.]

Postscreenshot

It's a fun and stimulating conversation. Note due to an audio problem my voice sounds a bit rough but Colin's is smooth which is good because he's the more eloquent anyway.

(thanks to Charlie Hoehn for his diligent technical assistance)

Book Notes: Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters

The book Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters by Alan Miller and Satoshi Kanazawa is a nice introductory guide to evolutionary psychology, very much in the spirit of Robert Wright’s The Moral Animal.

Evolutionary psychology sees “human nature…as the sum of evolved psychological mechanisms.” It is a useful tool for explaining why we do what we do. Romantics might find depressing the cold-bloodedness of it all — it’s not about you it’s about what your genes want to spread far and wide. Romantic or not, it’s an important field to understand, even casually, and since Wright and now Miller/Kanazawa make it so accessible, there’s no excuse not to.

Below are my favorite excerpts from the book, copied from my Kindle and thus all direct quotes. In my notes you’ll find their answers to questions like:

  • Why the liberation of homosexuals may contribute to the end of homosexuality
  • Why men find large breasts of women attractive
  • Why parents kill their own children
  • Why men steal more than women
  • Why older siblings tend to do what their parents do
  • Why women are more religious than men

GENERAL / BACKGROUND

The naturalistic fallacy is the leap from is to ought—that is, the tendency to believe that what is natural is good; that what is, ought to be. The moralistic fallacy would be, “Because everybody ought to be treated equally, there are no innate genetic differences between people.”

You may believe that your personal preferences for an ideal mate are truly personal and individual, not shared by other people. The basic message of evolutionary psychology is that, contrary to what you may have thought, your preferences and desires for your ideal mate are strongly shaped by the forces of evolution. Ultimately, it’s not what you want that matters; it’s what your genes want in order to assist their goal of spreading themselves as much and as far as possible.

There are only two legitimate criteria by which you may evaluate scientific ideas and theories: logic and evidence.

Stereotypes are observations about the empirical world, not behavioral prescriptions. One may not infer how to treat people from empirical observations about them. Stereo-types tell us what groups of people tend to be or do in general; they do not tell us how we ought to treat them. Once again, there is no place for “ought” in science.

Our preference for sweets and fats is an example of an evolved psychological mechanism. Throughout most of human evolutionary history, getting enough calories was a serious problem; malnutrition and starvation were common. In this environment, those who, for reasons of random genetic mutation, had a “taste” for sweets and fats, which contain higher calories, were better off physically than those who did not have such a taste. Those who had a sweet tooth therefore lived longer, led healthier lives, and produced more healthy offspring than those who did not. They in turn passed on their (genetically influenced) taste to their offspring, over many thousands of generations.

The Savanna Principle states that the human brain has difficulty comprehending and dealing with entities and situations that did not exist in the ancestral environment. The Savanna Principle suggests that we continue to have (currently maladaptive) preferences for sweets and fats, and as a result become obese, because our brain cannot readily comprehend the supermarkets, the abundance of food in general, and indeed agriculture, none of which existed in the ancestral environment.

 

MALE VS. FEMALE SEXUAL JEALOUSY AND CUCKOLDRY

Men can never be certain that they are the father of their mates’ offspring, while females are always certain of their maternity. In other words, the possibility of unwittingly raising children who are not genetically their own exists only for men.

According to one estimate, about 13–20 percent of children in the contemporary United States and 9–17 percent in contemporary Germany are not the genetic offspring of the man whose name appears on the child’s birth certificate.

For this reason, men have a strong evolutionary reason to be sexually jealous, while women, whose maternity is always certain, do not.

Men become jealous of their mates’ sexual infidelity with other men, underlying their reproductive concern for cuckoldry. In contrast, women become jealous of their mates’ emotional involvement with other women, because emotional involvement often leads to diversion of their mates’ resources from them and their children to their romantic rivals.

Male sexual jealousy is another evolved psychological mechanism that hasn’t quite caught up to modern times. It solved the adaptive problem of reproduction in the ancestral environment by allowing men who possessed it to maximize paternity certainty and minimize the possibility of cuckoldry. Sexual jealousy was therefore adaptive in the ancestral environment. However, sex and reproduction are often separated in the modern environment; many episodes of sex do not lead to reproduction. There is an abundance of reliable methods of birth control in industrial societies, and many women use the contraceptive pill. For these women, sexual infidelity does not lead to childbirth, and their mates will not have to waste their resources on someone else’s children.

 

WOMEN’S ATTRACTIVENESS

One accurate indicator of health is physical attractiveness, and this is the reason why men like beautiful women. Another good indicator of health is hair. Healthy people (men and women) have lustrous, shiny hair, whereas the hair of sickly people loses its luster. During illness, a body needs to sequester all available nutrients (like iron and protein) to fight the illness. Since hair is not essential to survival (compared to, say, bone marrow), hair is the first place to which a body turns to collect the necessary nutrients. Thus, a person’s poor health first shows up in the condition of the hair.

Marlowe makes the simple observation that larger, and hence heavier, breasts sag more conspicuously with age than do smaller breasts. Thus, it is much easier for men to judge a woman’s age (and her reproductive value) by sight if she has larger breasts than if she has smaller breasts, which do not change as much with age.

It turns out that men prefer blonde hair for exactly the same reason that they prefer large breasts: both are accurate indicators of a woman’s age and thus reproductive value.

Men in cold climates did not have this option, because women (and men) bundled up in such environments. This is probably why blonde hair evolved in cold climates as an alternative means for women to advertise their youth.

Many people, both men and women, express dislike for extremely dark brown eyes.

To claim that girls and women want to look like blonde bombshells because of the billboards, movies, TV shows, music videos, and magazine advertisements makes as little sense as to claim that people become hungry because they are bombarded with images of food in the media. If only the media would stop inundating people with images of food, they would never be hungry! Women’s desire to be blonde preceded the media by centuries, if not millennia.

Men in general prefer women with long hair. (Signals health.)

 

MALE SEXUAL INTERESTS

Male high school teachers and college professors in the United States (but not their female colleagues) have a higher-than-expected rate of divorce and a lower-than-expected rate of remarriage, probably because they are constantly exposed to girls and women at the peak of their reproductive value.

Given their greater desire for sexual variety, it is understandable why men would consume more pornography and seek out sexual encounters with numerous women in pornographic photographs and videos,

Empirical data do demonstrate that handsome men have more extramarital affairs and are not as committed to their marriages, which many wives may consider undesirable. In this sense, handsome men make better lovers than husbands.

Of course, diamonds and flowers are beautiful, but they are beautiful precisely because they are expensive and lack intrinsic value, which is why it is mostly women who think flowers and diamonds are beautiful. Their beauty lies in their inherent uselessness; this is why Volvos and potatoes are not beautiful.

From this perspective, men strive to attain political power (as Bill Clinton did all his life, since his fateful encounter with John F. Kennedy at the White House in 1963), consciously or unconsciously, in order to have reproductive access to a larger number of women. In other words, reproductive access to women is the goal, political office is but one means. To ask why the President of the United States would have a sexual encounter with a young woman is like asking why someone who worked very hard to earn a large sum of money would then spend it. The purpose of earning money is to spend it. The purpose of becoming the President (or anything else men do) is to have a larger number of women with whom to mate.

 

PARENTAL RELATIONS AND KIDS

Developmental psychologists have known for nearly two decades that girls whose parents divorce early in their lives, particularly before the age of five, experience puberty earlier than their counterparts whose parents stay married.

Why would parents kill their own children? Daly and Wilson have two answers to this question. The first answer is that they don’t. Daly and Wilson discovered that what often passes as parents killing their children in police statistics is actually step fathers killing their stepchildren, who do not carry their genes. Biological parents very seldom kill their genetic children.

Parents’ evolved psychological mechanisms therefore compel them to invest most efficiently, which usually means that they invest more in children who have the greatest prospect for reproductive success, at the cost of other children whose reproductive prospect is gloomier.

Women only steal what they need for them and their children to survive, whereas men steal to show off and gain status as well as resources. In other words, women steal less than men for exactly the same reason as they earn less than men.

In the United States, the strongest predictor of remarriage after divorce is sex (male vs. female): men typically remarry, women typically do not.

Couples who have at least one son face a significantly lower risk of divorce than couples who have only daughters. Why is this?

The hypothesis states that wealthy parents of high status have more sons, while poor parents of low status have more daughters.

Parents are far more likely to neglect, abuse, and kill their biological children who are deformed, handicapped, ill, or even physically unattractive and to shift their parental investment of their limited resources toward those children with more promising reproductive prospects. As uncomfortable as we may be with such a conclusion, the truth appears to be that parents do favor some of their children over others, even among their own genetic children, to say nothing about stepchildren to whom they are not genetically related, and they overwhelmingly favor those who are intelligent, beautiful, healthy, and sociable.

OTHER GENDER STUFF

Men who are less inclined toward crime and violence may express their competitiveness through their creative activities in order to attract mates.

careful statistical analyses show that the wife’s age almost entirely determines the likelihood of being a victim of spousal abuse and homicide.

Ask a group of friends, colleagues, and acquaintances (both men and women) to name five of their closest associates. Who are the people they talk to when they have something important to discuss? Chances are that women in your circles mention more family members among their closest associates, whereas men mention more coworkers and business associates in their personal networks.

The relationship between age and productivity among male jazz musicians, male painters, male writers, and male scientists, which might be called the “age-genius curve,” is essentially the same as the age-crime curve. Their productivity—the expressions of their genius—quickly peaks in early adulthood, and then just as quickly declines throughout adulthood. The age-genius curve among their female counterparts is much less pronounced and flatter; it does not peak or vary as much as a function of age.

chances are that many of your female friends would mention traveling as one of their hobbies, while very few of your young unmarried male friends would.

Empathizing is about spontaneously and naturally tuning in to the other person’s thoughts and feelings. A natural empathizer not only notices others’ feelings but also continually thinks about what the other person might be feeling, thinking, or intending.

The tendency to favor “ingroup” members at the cost of “outgroup” members is innate (although we can overcome it through socialization and conscious effort)

RELIGION

With only a couple of minor exceptions, women in all nations and regions are more religious than men.

Many recent evolutionary psychological theories on the origins of religious beliefs share the view that religion is not an adaptation in itself but a byproduct of other adaptations. In other words, these theories contend that religion itself did not evolve to solve an adaptive problem so that religious people can live longer and reproduce more successfully, but instead emerged as a byproduct of adaptations that evolved to solve unrelated adaptive problems.

Different theorists call this innate human tendency to commit false-positive errors rather than false-negative errors (and as a consequence be a bit paranoid) “animistic bias” or “the agency-detector mechanism.” These theorists argue that the evolutionary origins of religious beliefs in supernatural forces come from such an innate bias to commit false-positive errors rather than false-negative errors. The human brain, according to them, is biased to perceive intentional forces behind a wide range of natural physical phenomena, because the costs of committing false-negative errors are much greater than the costs of committing false-positive errors. It predisposes us to see the hand of God at work behind natural, physical phenomena whose exact causes are unknown.

It is an error-management strategy to minimize the total costs of errors by predisposing the human brain to commit more false-positive errors than false-negative errors when the former has less costly consequences than the latter.

If men are more risk-seeking than women, and if religion is an evolutionary means to minimize risk, then it naturally follows that women are more religious than men.

Not only are women more risk-averse and more religious than men, but more risk-averse men are more religious than more risk-seeking men, and more risk-averse women are more religious than more risk-seeking women.

What distinguishes Islam from other major world religions (Christianity and Judaism) is that it tolerates polygyny.

So polygyny increases competitive pressure on men, especially young men of low status, who are most likely to be left without reproductive opportunities when older men of high status marry polygynously.

Humans are instead born racist and ethnocentric, and learn through socialization and education not to act on such innate tendencies. Humans are innately ethnocentric because ethnocentrism—helping others of one’s group members at the cost of all others—was adaptive in the ancestral environment.

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Teaching Entrepreneurship via Business Plans

How do universities teach entrepreneurship?

The most popular way is to place the writing of a business plan at the center of the curriculum. Almost every school has a business plan competition at the end of the semester.

Yet most real-life entrepreneurs do not put much stock in business plans. They think they’re overrated. Recent studies show that VCs don’t care what is in a business plan; the content of plans has little to do with which businesses get funded.

So there’s a gap between how schools teach entrepreneurship and how entrepreneurship is being practiced in the real world. Students graduate with an entrepreneurship major and when they start their first business they think, “Step one is write a business plan!”

To be sure, business plans have their merits. Writing a business plan forces you to think about all the fundamentals of your business idea.

But even entrepreneurship professors would probably agree that the best way to learn about how to start a business is to start a business. If you’re a college sophomore interested in running your own company, start businesses while in school and learn by doing it. This is what they do at Babson and Bentley.

Alas not all students can get real businesses off the ground while tending to their studies. So what’s the next best thing?

Start micro-businesses. Start affiliate businesses. Sell stuff on eBay. Do web design. Write and sell e-books. Heck, write a blog and try to gain huge readership. A micro-business, which requires less than full-time work and could be operated out of a dorm room, probably would teach more than taking a class on entrepreneurship and writing a business plan.

Finally, you might just consider not studying entrepreneurship in school. Wait till you’re out of school and start your business then. Meanwhile, study topics (philosophy?) for which the classroom has a comparative advantage over self-education and real-world learning. Business and entrepreneurship are probably near the bottom of the list in terms of teachability in the classroom.

Upcoming Travel: Latin America and Asia

Chile

(Photo of Southern Chile)

I will be in Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay in July, Beijing for two weeks in August, and probably Mongolia afterward.

I would appreciate hearing your thoughts on what I should do in my free time, who I should meet with, and how I should think about what I am doing. Remember it will be winter in South America.

Also, it has been a pleasure staying with blog readers in my travels, from Dublin to Mumbai, Shanghai to Rome. I find it the best way to understand another culture. If you live in one of these places and want to host me, let me know.

As always, thanks.

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Here are various related posts:

A 30 Year-Old’s Colorful Advice to 20-Somethings

The Musty Man, who writes an infrequently updated but thoroughly entertaining and well-written blog, uses his 30th birthday as an opportunity to dish out advice to the 20-somethings behind him. But first he protests at the well-worn tradition of older people telling younger people how it all will get better soon:

I don't remember the aged teenager telling the 9 year old me about the tsunami of hormones, self-doubt, clumsy fingers, or faked confidence in the face of complete inscrutabilities like drugs and vaginas. I don't remember the 22 year old telling the 19 year old me about the terrors of cluelessness, the revelation that it's called RAT RACE for a reason, the slow death of doing nothing much, the desperation of trying to find a place that fits and then occupy it when other people are probably trying to do the same thing, how much more complicated relationships are, even, than vaginas. So okay, well-wishers, I'm glad it's all gonna settle down a bit and yes of course it will be nice to have a little more predictability about things but don't think I ain't got my eye on you. You fuckers haven't told me the whole truth once, not ONCE.

Hilarious. From the advice itself, something all students should consider as they work to beat the system:

Habits matter. That whole bullshit host of people who couldn't stop telling you that your high school grades were gonna follow you forever were assholes. Your high school grades only come up now when you bust them out to shock people at work – a lot of dudes are never gonna get over the idea that all those high school grades actually meant something, so they'll still get a little crampy when you point out that you spent all of high school everywhere other than there and still managed to make it just as far up the ladder as they did. That's still gonna be fun for you. The danger isn't grades, it's habits. You're in the style of not paying a lot of attention to much because you feel like you don't need to, and you know, you don't. School is never gonna be a thing that takes 100%. But in the end, you ain't up against grades, you're up against your own self. And trust me – in 10 years, you won't regret the grades but you will regret the bad habits.

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Here's the Musty Man's post on his ex-girlfriends. I recommend it for all men. He says you want to ultimately get to a point where you can be happy for an ex-girlfriend and not just fake being happy for her (i.e. secretly wish her new boyfriend gets cancer in his dick).

An Appreciative Approach to People

Appreciative thinking is learning to see the value of things, says Seth Roberts. It’s learning to appreciate what’s good in something.

School teaches us to be proactively skeptical and critical. We’re taught to immediately look for the flaws in experiments or theories. An appreciative approach, by contrast, simply asks, “What’s redeeming about this experiment or idea? What’s done right?”

Some VCs are naturally appreciative, others naturally critical. After an entrepreneur pitch their first feedback will either be, “OK, here’s what I like about what you’re doing” versus “Here’s where I think the problems are.”

I am trying to take a more appreciative approach to people. When I meet someone new at a cocktail party, I am trying to ask myself more regularly, “What’s cool / impressive / interesting about this person?” as opposed to dwelling on their imperfections.

Stay positive, in other words.

I already do this most of the time. But I think I can do this more with at least three types of people:

1. People I perceive as less smart than me. It is possible to learn from someone not as smart as me. It is also very possible that the person is smart in ways I am not and I should try to appreciate that.

2. The type of people who preface every answer with “thank you for sharing.” These are the exceedingly empathetic people. The touchy feely people. The Oprah people. People who love talking about their feelings more than their ideas. It’s too easy to dismiss them as lightweights. I would like to be better at appreciating their approach to the world.

3. Self-absorbed people. When I’m stuck in a conversation with a self-absorbed person who does not realize that he is a self-obsessed asshole, in my head I sometimes play the game, “How long can he keep talking and I stay silent?” I focus in on his obliviousness to the social dynamics of the conversation. As a result I miss out on appreciating actual virtues he may be displaying, let alone listening to and comprehending the words coming out of his mouth.

Here’s to ever more appreciativeness!

Store Thoughts in the Appropriate Place as Soon as You Have Them

I have learned one thing from productivity expert David Allen: write down thoughts, ideas, questions, or tasks as soon as you have them.

Many people focus on organizing their information and data. But first you need to collect and store your own new thoughts and ideas. You need to be disciplined about capturing them as soon as they come to mind. It's easy to create folders and wikis on your computer. It's harder to pause a conversation or meeting, or lean over to your bedside table when only half-awake, so you can jot down a thought you may need to remember.

I have pads of paper on my bedside table, on my desk, in my briefcase, and am always scribbling things down on my PDA.

Buried in a Wired article Allen summarizes this philosophy clearly:

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned in my quasi-scientific approach to sustained laziness is the value of storing thoughts in appropriate places, as soon as I have them. That means parking them where I will later evaluate their merit (or lack thereof) and dispose of them accordingly. Having a thought once is what the mind is for; having the same thought twice, in the same way, for the same reason, is a waste of time and energy. I also found out that having a place for good ideas produced more of them, and more often.

That last sentence is true, too. In my book I talk about how most business ideas sprout forth from your "fringe thoughts" list.

Bottom Line: If you're thinking the same thought twice, in the same way, for the same reason, you're wasting time and energy. Store your thoughts / tasks as you soon as you think them.

The Days Are Long, But The Years Are Short

My friend Gretchen Rubin, who created a very touching three minute video titled The Days Are Long, But the Years Are Short about riding the bus with her daughter (all parents should watch it), returns to this phrase in a recent post about the author Laura Ingalls Wilder.

She says happiness is listening to the Laura Ingalls Wilder books on audio CD with her four year old daughter. Here’s the last page of Little House in the Big Woods, emphasis my own:

 

When the fiddle had stopped singing Laura called out softly, “What are days of auld lang syne, Pa?”

“They are the days of a long time ago, Laura,” Pa said. “Go to sleep, now.”

But Laura lay awake a little while, listening to Pa’s fiddle softly playing and to the lonely sound of the wind in the Big Woods. She looked at Pa sitting on the bench by the hearth, the firelight gleaming on his brown hair and beard and glistening on the honey-brown fiddle. She looked at Ma, gently rocking and knitting.

She thought to herself, “This is now.”

She was glad that the cosy house, and Pa and Ma and the firelight and the music, were now. They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago.

My Mom read all the Little House books to me growing up. My favorite is Farmer Boy which I’ve read several times.

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Here’s Gretchen on why you should keep a one-sentence daily journal.

Assorted Musings

About once a month I post a splatch of assorted musings — thoughts too short to justify full blog posts, too long to fit into Twitter (where I micro-blog a couple times a day), and always half-baked. What follows are cheap shots, bon mots, and quick thoughts….


1. What is it that's so appealing about the "tortured genius" archetype? Has easygoing depression always been endowed with hipness? If an artist is insanely happy and optimistic about the world, does she lose credibility among her fellow artists? Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, touches on this a bit in her excellent TED talk.


2. When explaining dissatisfaction in a romantic relationship, women frequently say, "I've always thought I liked you more than you liked me."

Reciprocity matters. In friendships, it's not ideal if I consider you my best friend but you don't consider me your best friend. Either way, true friends don't spend much energy trying to decipher how much the other person "likes" the other.

But in romance this is paramount, especially for women. Women seem to pay closer attention to whether the like or love is flowing bi-directionally at the same clip. And she will stress if she feels her level of love is not being reciprocated by the man.

The problem is that men communicate their like / love in ways different from women, making an apples-to-apples comparison nigh impossible.

"Love" is an intentionally vague word — it allows us to avoid having to communicate the finer fluctuations in our feelings, but at the risk of those finer fluctuations being misinterpreted.


3. For writers or journalists, Dan Baum has been posting some terrific stuff. Here he is on why you should never accept a comment "off the record." Here's an interview with him about freelance writing. Here are failed proposals he pitched to magazines. Here are all his Tweets, well formatted, about his getting fired as a staff writer at the New Yorker. Tons of inside dirt.


4. Pick-up artists believe women are attracted to men who display aggressiveness, narcissism, and general asshole characteristics. The pick-up community also concedes that you needn't be an asshole all the time — just when you're spitting game at women. But can you really turn off the alpha game once you've turned it on? Isn't there a risk of asshole-tendencies, originally developed to help you on a Friday night, infiltrating your overall character during the week? I bet you hard core PUAs have weaker male friendships than their non-PUA counterparts.


5. People who preface points with, "The point I'm trying to make is…" too frequently give a sense that they're not effectively making the point. Just say "My point is" instead of "I'm trying to…"


6. Perhaps people use religion as their token "irrational" vice – that is, to be rational all the time is too high a burden, so religion is our one out. It's similar to people who say coffee is their one addiction. (H/t Tyler Cowen)


7. Why isn't there a kissing school / kissing tutors? A place where you can practice kissing with a paid instructor of the opposite sex in a private room? The key is it's not just for couples. It's for single people who want to practice kissing. It seems like there's a business opportunity here if you can ensure it doesn't devolve into prostitution.


8. Meghan Daum, in her column on commencement speeches, writes, "One of life's greatest, saddest truths: that our most 'memorable' occasions may elicit the fewest memories. It's probably not something most commencement speakers would say, but it's one of the first lessons of growing up."

I've written elsewhere that the most intense social bonding happens when we least expect it, i.e., not during the carefully manicured moments or celebrations.


9. It's revealing whether a woman enjoyed her high school years. Happiness in high school has most to do with the success of your social life. Women who loved high school probably had a successful social life. To have a successful social life means you were "in" (in vs. out group dynamics reign supreme). To be "in" usually requires adeptness at emotional manipulation. Research shows teenage girls use verbal attacks and emotional bullying to establish power structures.

So if an adult woman tells me she had a wonderful high school experience — God forbid "the best four years of my life" — it might predict certain undesirable qualities.

(The male high school experience is less intense, less emotional and more physical, and thus a less useful predictor of adult personal qualities.)


10. Speaking of criticism, it's hard to take it when it's about self-perceived strengths. And yet this is very important to hear. Also, the hardest type of criticism to hear is when it's half-true, half-false and hits at a deep, private insecurity.


11. On nouns and grammar. We say, "Is she a lesbian?" We do not say, "Is he a gay?" We say, "He is gay." Lesbian is a noun. Gay is adjective. Lesbian feels more domineering. If I say he's gay, gay is just one of several pertinent adjectives. If I say she's a lesbian, she is neither man nor woman — she is this other type, lesbian.

Another random spotting of a new noun: "a water." E.g., "Can you get me a water?" instead of a "water bottle."


12. Government does such a good job at running things into the ground. Amtrak, education, social security, medicare. Here's a long article on how the government has totally fucked up the U.S. Postal Service. Read it and weep. Up next: General Motors!


13. Having "more experience" than someone else is not by itself enough. It's about how well you can draw the appropriate lessons from the experiences. It's about how well you can distinguish specific experiences as generalizable versus anomalies. I'd hire the reflective 30 year-old over the unreflective 50 year-old with more experience any day of the week.


14. Consider three individuals. One is lower class. One is middle class. One is upper class. The lower and upper class persons are most likely to spend money on "unnecessary stuff" — a fourth pair of shoes, the impulsive ice cream cone on a hot day. Of course they do so for different reasons. The middle class person is more likely to be frugal.

Another thought on money. In poor families it's more common to give cold hard cash as a gift. In rich families to give cash as a gift is seen as unimaginative, even offensive. I think the intuitive explanation here is the right one — when you don't have much money cash is more important than symbolism. "It's the thought that matters" is an expensive principle. So, attitudes toward gift giving are probably an accurate reflection of class.


15. I do feel a strong community sense from the familiar strangers I see every day at the gym. The familiarity factor. This type of community is not to be dismissed just because there's no interaction among its members (I've never spoken to them).