Citizen of Facebook

After disappearing from the internet for the past few years for my post-college all-consuming job, upon emerging I used Facebook to reconnect and figure out everything that I’d missed (who knew non-traders have their own form of colocation except they call it peering?). I put up my new website and integrated it with Facebook, which turned out to be awesome because everyone can share and comment on posts using their Facebook identities.

During my years invisible to the internet, I considered myself elevated above those who were on Facebook hours a day (I have never owned a television and went years without internet in my Chicago apartments because

1) I was too lazy to get it installed and rationalized the diminishing returns of getting it installed because I would be moving to a new apartment in x days anyway (I moved every year). I use this rationale to get out of many annoying tasks, but incidentally used the same rationale to persuade (other) people to do tasks ASAP. Weird, huh?

2) I was always at work and hooked into the internet anyway, but not browsing for anything unrelated to work obviously. During my no-tv no-internet lifestyle, I mainly read my kindle constantly and used my phone for email, but it was a really old phone so I couldn’t download most apps onto it.

3) My computer was really old so I couldn’t download most things (like Chrome) onto it and my trader workstation had spoiled me for any inferior setup: I needed my ergonomic keyboard, my wireless ergonomic mouse, and eventually my gamer keypad controller. Interfacing with a flat laptop keyboard became intolerably suboptimal).

During those post-college work years, I viewed Facebook as a time sink and smugly considered myself superior for using it rarely, but now I think it’s a tool that makes it easy to connect with your friends, to share information and form groups. A lot of the tech innovations are like ways to waste time, but some of them also fundamentally have real value and we shouldn’t be afraid to admit that, which is part of why I started trying twitter etc.

When I got back to the world, I asked my friends to tell me everything I’d missed on the internet, and it turns out some stuff had happened without me noticing- for example, social games. I tried my first ipad/iphone social game DrawSomething at Yinmeng’s recommendation and played it a lot for 2 weeks before getting tired of the same words while moving on to sketch club as an outlet for my drawing needs instead.

After visiting Zynga I decided I did need to check out what this whole Facebook app thing was about considering it’s a bazillion dollar industry (this is the same reason if it’s ever revealed I’ve looked at porn or done anything otherwise questionable- purely for research and educational purposes), so in addition to testing some games I read The Facebook Effect, the contents of which are the topic of the rest of the post. Apparently while I was invisible online, Zuck was off executing on his vision of Facebook as a platform, an ambition that impresses me because he had this idea back in the day when few companies had that vision.

Although it’s possible that hindsight and the human instinct for narrative spins lucky randomness into deliberate strategic decisions, Zuck certainly talks and acts like a visionary, confident leader. He says, “We can make the world a more open place… Let’s build something that has lasting cultural value and try to take over the world.” Repeatedly refusing to sell the company, first for tens of millions, later for billions and tens of billions, Zuck comes off as passionate about the project, really believing his ideology, not caring about money, and thinking extremely long term.

Unlike some “serial entrepreneurs” whose goals are to create a company with the intent of getting acquired, Zuckerberg, an idealist (one anecdote that shocked me was that Zuck was found crying during a dinner with VC’s because he felt so guilty about considering their superior offer after giving his word to another VC- when was the last time you cried out of guilt? When was the last time anyone cried out of guilt regarding a business decision? Did he react like this because he was so young, such a crybaby, or such a dreamer? I think it’s got to be because he’s so idealistic, which is sort of unbelievable but somehow to me the most believable possibility), really does not want to sell and took time to conceive of a principled business philosophy and worldview. For example, he said he “wanted outside apps to help keep Facebook honest by forcing it to make its own remaining applications good enough to compete successfully.” Welcoming competition seems like a really big picture, long term, global-optima seeking view that I don’t hear many other CEOs talk about. Is it a necessary cognitive bias for a successful leader to be sure he’s working on something fundamentally good and world changing, or is a strong ideology what makes a leader successful in the first place?

Zuck also expressed insights into the tech industry and its interplay with human psychology. He says [Facebook] is about people; Google is about data; Facebook is “a technology company. Myspace is a media company.” Insisting Facebook is a utility, “Zuckerberg… realized that Facebook wasn’t a tool for keeping track of news made somewhere else. It was a tool for making news.” Young men are always the revolutionaries- I’m very curious to see what happens as time passes and Facebook has even more success.

While “The Social Network” dwells on interpersonal dramas, The Facebook Effect doesn’t really talk about that, instead explaining some of the conditions and strategy surrounding Facebook’s success:
-“Facebook’s ultimate success owes a lot to the fact that it began at college. That’s where people’s social networks are densest and where they generally socialize more vigorously than at any other time in their lives.”
-“The Harvard connection makes a product less suspect.”
-Immediate popularity because “Harvard students are preternaturally status-conscious.”
-They were able to roll out iteratively and incrementally bc each college was its own network, allowing them to wait to make sure they had enough servers etc before rolling out to another school and taking on more users, thus assisting in avoiding getting Friendster-ed.
-They employed a peer pressure “surround strategy:” “if another social network had begun to take root…. thefacebook would open not only there but at as many other campuses as possible in the immediate vicinity.”
-To ensure demand, “When the number on the waiting list passed 20 percent of so of the student body, thefacebook would turn that school on.”

Because this book was published in 2010- forever ago in internet years, it doesn’t include some of the more recent developments, and a lot of questions remain to be answered. While “a trusted referral is the holy grail of advertising,” I want to learn more about how Facebook will revolutionize advertising beyond engagement ads. The tagline is that Adwords “fulfill demand,” whereas Facebook “generates demand,” so will the people who generate the demand (the other users) get incorporated into and paid by the model in a new way? What developments have occurred since 2010 that the book doesn’t cover?

Another question arises on accessing content. As more and more content becomes user generated with privacy settings, how will Google access, search, and distribute this information? Will Google integrate with Facebook and show different search results depending on which friends’ content is accessible? (Also, how can Facebook help resurrect Microsoft from obsolescence? I don’t dare short Microsoft while Facebook is on its team.)

Much of the author’s info comes from interviews, as evidenced by his erroneously calling a drug “Provisual” instead of “Provigil”- a mistake that would most likely occur from confusing the spoken word (Don’t ask how I know about Provigil, a drug I would not recommend to anyone since you still feel sleepy- you just can’t fall asleep, so it’s worse than useless for keeping your brain functional for higher order tasks). All of the remarks were positive about Facebook, so the book may be somewhat biased.

Nevertheless, you leave the work feeling impressed by the success of the company, acknowledging that it has already changed society and social interaction, and wondering what will happen next. Will Facebook’s currency take over? Will Facebook be the new basis for society and government? It also raises philosophical questions, like do you think it’s true that “a more transparent world create a better-governed world and a fairer world?”

Zuck says, “You have one identity… the days of you having a different image for your work friends or coworkers … are probably coming to an end.” While Facebook does allow you to only share info with people you friend, etc, Facebook does push transparency as a core value. Should transparency be a value? Is openness really optimal? Do people only have one identity? Demand for Linked-in would suggest people want to have multiple identities, but is that an outdated cultural idea, along with privacy? Will the single profile enter our collective consciousness and cause us to view work as just another attribute of our unified identities?

The internet is changing human relationships, intelligence, society, government, culture, and Facebook is determined to be a driver of that change. On the internet, we are all created equal (more so than offline at least), and if the most popular website Facebook has taken over the internet, then are we all citizens of Facebook? Has Facebook already allowed us to unify as a species and become truly global and we (I?) just haven’t realized it yet? Facebook started as a model of real life social relationships, and quickly evolved into a real world where social relationships are created and lived. I cannot wait for this Facebook IPO!

Push Past Pain To Pleasure

Although I sometimes make a comment that makes people think I’m hard hearted, like, “Oh, you don’t want kids? Great! More resources for my kids,” in reality I am a big softy. If you tell me an emotional story, I’ll probably cry, especially if your face morphs in a way that suggests pain. This is why 5 years ago when Hulu played some commercial about daily giving to poor kids, instead of muting the ad, I thought, “It’s not the kids’ fault they’re born in countries with no wifi and their parents keep having more and more kids. There but for the grace of God go I.” I looked through the website which showed brief profiles of hundreds of pathetic kids and chose about 10 that looked the most promising- one was deaf and some might have had minor health issues but they seemed like they could all go on to be high functioning members of society. Some even still had parents who were probably simply overwhelmed by an avalanche of random other worries. They varied in age from 4 to 17 and were from South America, Africa, and Asia. For the next few years, I gave about $20 a day to this program, ultimately giving thousands of dollars.

A few times a year, the charity would send me a bundle of handmade cards and photographs of my kids. These cards would say stuff varying from, “My favorite class is gym. I often baby-sit my 6 brothers and sisters,” to “My best class is maths where I got an 85%,” to “I was an orphan living in a police station until you gave me $2 a day. My favorite class is soccer.” As the cards accumulated holiday after holiday, I realized that this was a total waste of my money. There was no discernible progress occurring. I did not feel like I was making an impact. I didn’t feel the kids felt I was making an impact- they probably viewed their dutiful cards to me as some quarterly chore like filling out performance reviews for someone you knew was completely useless but was impossible to fire. Instead of feeling good about giving, I felt like this random cause was a laziness/guilt tax.

Thousands of dollars later, I eventually got around to canceling my sponsorship. Why was it that giving to this charity felt like a tax I was paying rather than a gift I was giving? Why didn’t I feel good about a great cause, a sponsorship I had initiated with only altruistic intentions? For a long time, I wondered if it was because I was just an ungenerous person who would rather spend thousands on the furniture-scratching cat at her side than on deserving human beings across the world. But I’m not ungenerous- I objectively donate a lot of money to various causes. Why was it that this charity made me feel nothing? Now I think I’m beginning to understand the answer.

Part of the answer is that I can’t give what cost me nothing. This money I was sending to these kids was nothing to me. I could easily afford $20 a day- I almost never bought groceries because most of my food came from my company where I spent 90% of my waking hours. The moment I gave them my bank information and this charity stopped being a deliberate decision, it became something that cost me nothing. When you choose which brand to buy at the store, you’re making a deliberate decision that costs you some brain cycles. You choose the organic, all natural cleaner because it’s better for the environment and in case your cat rolls around in it she won’t get poisoned licking herself clean. I feel good about this action, the extra thought and effort I put into it, and this extra cost to my autopilot shopping experience matters more to me than the cost to my wallet. I don’t value something if it costs me nothing, and if I never have to think about it, then it costs me nothing.

The main project that has been costing me time lately has been fund-raising for PGSS, a nerd camp I attended in high school that went defunct in 2008 when Pennsylvania lost all its money due to financial chaos caused by evil high frequency traders.

When Joel first told me about this program, he said, “I LOVED it.”
“Did you have sex?”
“…Everything but.”
“It’s great for other reasons too- when you drive up to the dorm the TA’s all greet you by name: they’ve memorized all the faces off the face book” (this was a pre-Facebook use of the term face book). Joel went on to describe how the classes were actually really hard, how the team projects were real work, how the other kids were awesome, how you get an Erdos number of 2 (or 3?) if you work on the math team project with that one ancient professor. The best part was this program was totally free! What would normally cost >$4000 per student was all free. My parents couldn’t afford to send me to CTY the summer I’d wanted to go- my dad said he was always sorry about that. I had subsidized meals from school and we were pathetically poor compared to my suburban peers. Most of Pennsylvania is not hugely rich. Outside of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania has lots of rural areas where kids don’t get to take AP classes or spend a few grand on a summer program, which meant we would be behind other kids when it came to applying to colleges, which was the ultimate goal we had been toiling towards for 12 years. PGSS was selective- it took 60-90 kids across the different districts in Pennsylvania, most of them the top kid in their high school, and brought them all together for a great summer.

Part of me had wondered if, when I left Pittsburgh, no one from Pennsylvania would hold a candle to the new people I’d meet at MIT, but that didn’t happen: apparently human intelligence is not distributed like that. The smartest people I know from Pennsylvania are still the smartest people I know, and most of them went to PGSS. Whenever I go to a party with a lot of high powered, super educated people, I run into someone from PGSS. This nerd camp is how I know all the smartest people from Pennsylvania! Well, all the ones who were high school juniors before 2008.

When I first heard about the Pennsylvania Governor’s Schools being shut down, I thought it was such a waste. I donated my $4K, the cost of sending 1 student to PGSS, figured I’d done my part, and then sat back. After not even getting any acknowledgment of my donation, I was mad and wondering how incompetent the people running this revival were. Who doesn’t even send a thank you note? And $4K is nothing to sneeze at! After all, I’m only a few years out of college. There are people who’ve been out of this program for 20 years and are richer than me! Why am I the one donating $4K when some 46 year old should be spearheading the effort with $30K or something? What’s the point of a program where 80% of the kids who go to PGSS go on to MIT, Stanford, CMU, Caltech, and Ivies, where half the people have Ph.D.’s and/or M.D.’s and/or J.D.’s (some of them all 3 degrees), and they can’t even raise enough money to get the program back? I only have 2 B.S.’s and both are completely useless! Are these brain surgeons and rocket scientists and patent lawyers too busy floating on their yachts to cut a check?

I forgot about Save PGSS and went on to donate to MIT and some other charities (a charity event is how I got this photo with Mr. Damon- he begged to be photographed with me, a real MIT Good Will Hunting genius, and I can never reject my fans). Then a few weeks ago when I was in California, there was word of a SF PGSS reunion. I brought tim rogers to pose as a 17 year old math prodigy and intended to shake hands with a few tech founders with one hand while stuffing cherry tomatoes into my mouth with my other hand before zipping away in my rented Nissan GTR, the front of which bottomed out even easier than the Tesla roadster. I couldn’t drive in the city with that thing without repeatedly asking tim if he was sure there weren’t really steep hills en route that would require my swerving into the other lane to avoid scraping the bottom of the car against the road.

At this reunion, I learned that the PGSS revival effort was basically Jeremy, a few alums, and his mom tracking down all the alumni and doing a million annoying tasks. I felt so humbled by how much Jeremy’s mom was doing for this program, a program that I had benefited from. I thought about all the ways PGSS has benefited me. For one thing, it was a great thing to put on my college application. In fact, my team project was mentioned in the application notes (everyone my year got to view their admissions notes).

I made friends that are still my best friends, people whose judgment I trusted. I think it was one of my first real confirmations that me and my dad weren’t the smartest people on Earth (thankfully one of many such confirmations). I mean, I had suspected we weren’t the smartest people who ever existed since we had, like, cars and computers and other technologies that I wouldn’t have come up with, and plus there were all these otherwise inexplicable books. But there was almost no one whose judgment I actually trusted. It was such a relief to make friends who you knew you could rely on, and to realize that you weren’t the smartest person on Earth, otherwise you’d be the one that would have to advance civilization (trust me, you don’t want to rely on me for this).

And everyone was really nice! Sometimes high school kids are mean, but every single person at PGSS was really nice to everyone else. After just one summer together, I became closer to these people than people I’d seen every day for years during high school. mitri has helped me move into every place I’ve lived since college. I’ve spent weeks at Tony’s lake house and he journeyed all the way to the Village from the Upper East Side to cut my cat’s nails. Ray let me drive his Miata even though it became clear that my understanding of manual transmission was more theoretical than practical and more nonexistent than theoretical. It’s not like PGSS happened for a summer and then was over. It touched the rest of my life. I’m still friends with these people and so proud we’re all getting more and more awesome as time passes. Everyone is either in the upper echelons of academia, working at a top company, starting their own companies- is there any other high school summer alumni base that can claim this level of achievement? I feel so proud to number among these illustrious ranks!

After hearing about Jeremy’s experiences, I said I wanted to help and added this page to his PGSS Alumni website to start thanking supporters. I want to donate a lot to the revival of this program.

Because I realized the way giving feels good to me is if I can push through the indifference zone, then through the pain zone, all the way through to the pleasure zone on the other side. After a bunch of charity events and decisions regarding allocating my wealth, I learned this about charity: if I’m in the indifference zone and it costs me nothing to donate, then it’s a waste of my money because it’ll be a laziness/guilt tax rather than a joyful gift. If I’m in the pain zone and regretting having given this much money, then it’s a waste of money because I won’t give again- I just don’t care about the program enough to have it be worth that much money to me. If I can get past the pain zone and still want to donate money, then that’s when I know I really care about the program. That’s when donating feels really good. PGSS allows top students learn and work on science projects together for free, selected on merit, regardless of socioeconomic background. What’s more inspiring than that?

I also realized that if I’m donating money to MIT, which I paid for, then it doesn’t make sense for me not to donate to PGSS, which was absolutely free. PGSS is one of the things that has touched my life in a big way- I can’t imagine life without the friends I made there. And life isn’t about what you get, life is about what you give! What’s the point of anything any of us are doing if we’re not giving back to the world?

I pledge to match up to $20K any pledges that come as a result of people reading this blog. Go here to pledge or email me or leave a comment. Your pledge will not be collected unless we raise enough to restart the program and you can make it conditional on random things like if enough other engineers/CEOs/doctors/people from your city also pledge as much as you pledge. Big donors will have honors showered upon them! For the first person to pledge more than $1K, I will blog about your greatness or topic of your choice, the only topic of censure being something too sensitive to high frequency trading strategies, although I may consider it for outstanding donations. Imagine- you could be getting investment advice from me! That’s easily worth billions.

Virtual Reality Game Opera

‘Let’s go work out, Hua.’
‘I’m busy.’
‘You’re playing Draw Something and watching Game of Thrones.’
‘No, I’m taking notes and planning things! You’re the one reading HPMOR and watching Starcraft.’ (Hehehe I’ve gotten many people addicted to HPMOR. You can be the next victim!)
‘You said one of your goals was to become as strong as possible. How will you be strong if you don’t work out?’
‘But if you don’t do what you want all of the time, you’ll be unhappy some of the time.’

Thirty minutes later, I’m bored out of my mind in between some set of something (exercise bores me so I mainly exercise through games or learning some new skill or sporadically crossfit. Sets are boring. I only do one rep of anything because in that rep I destroy the universe by ripping the fabric of space time). As I’m unhelpfully zoning out while waiting for my turn, I enter a fantasy about a Korean soap opera where everyone gets plastic surgery and their identities become confused. After 1.25 hours in the gym (what a waste of time! Crossfit has 4 minute workouts that kick your ass. But I tend to use this fact as a reason to never work out at all…), I have the plotting almost totally done and I’ve changed story elements so that it’s actually a virtual reality game opera and hence more fun to draw. The above drawings are from scenes from this story. The first installment is here. I’m also working on a lost-martial-arts soap opera that’s very fun to draw, especially since I eliminated most men from this story (men’s clothing is so boring to draw), and I think I’ll make illustrated story versions of my movie scripts as well.

‘Aren’t you glad you went to the gym, Hua? Exercising inspired you to think of this story.’
‘No, I thought of it because I was bored!’
‘Let’s go work out today.’
‘You work out every day?!’
‘Yes, except rest days. And when I’m sick.’
‘I’m sick.’ (Everything I know about debate I learned from South Park, specifically Cartman.)

Sketch club and Web Comics

Sketch club is an amazing iPad app and this is my first sketch club drawing! It’s me punching a baby dinosaur I belatedly realized resembled Barney. Whatever, it was self defense.

This drawing was inspired by the fact that I was late to every engagement I’ve had this week- I’m usually late to everything, although incredibly I was never late to work- and I fantasized that my excuse was that I punched a mugger so hard I ripped the fabric of space time and ended up in a past or future ice age I then had to punch my way out of.

“Sorry, punching through space time is not an exact science. This was the closest I could get: it was either a day early or an hour late.”

In reality I have never punched anyone, probably because my punch would rip the fabric of space time. Once Colin said I could try punching him but I didn’t take it seriously. Although would I even know if I ripped space time? Maybe I did punch Colin and now we’re in some other universe…

Part of my motivation to draw more came from my recent trip to San Francisco. For a long time I rarely drew anything except a few portraits here and there, but in San Francisco I met artists, and Yinmeng also got me playing drawsomething on my iPhone, which led me to get the sketch club app and now I’m inspired! I’m thinking about drawing web comics because my non-portrait drawings would be too inexplicably weird in any other form.

I have fantasies and conversations with real people who don’t exist- my last imaginary conversation was with Scientist Ryan Gosling who agreed it was possible I’d already ripped space time. I’m not like tim rogers who plans out every possible conversation for the next 6 months, but if you think I say weird stuff, keep in mind you’re getting the edited version- my unfiltered thoughts are even weirder. I don’t want you getting the impression my stories about my great cat are exaggerated, or, if you’re an accredited investor, that it’d be unwise to give me all your money to manage. Thus consider all my weirder drawings to be part of my web comic, a genre where all kinds of weirdness abounds, of which this drawing is the first installation. Web comic name suggestions welcome.