Controlling Fear

Having a reliable method to control your fear and achieve focus quickly is indispensable. During one sleepless night reading Frank Herbert, I discovered my solution.

A bit of backstory:
During undergrad, it was common before and during tests for me to be unnecessarily nervous. This degenerated my ability to focus and fully apply myself to the important task at hand: acing the test creatively in a reasonable time frame.

While meditating, one of my many calming methods is the recitation of poems, such as the Jabberwocky, Litany Against Fear, and If. I find that of all poems, the Litany calms me the most quickly.

To immediately calm myself in risky situations, I use the same techniques. My favoured methods are solving simple integrations or reciting the Litany Against Fear.

This Litany, from the Original Dune, an “incantation spoken by many highly educated people who faced danger or fear during their everyday lives. The incantation helped focus their minds in times of peril.”

The content of the Litany:
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

If you aren’t sure how to begin searching for a reliable and personalized method: think of things that make you happy and calm and read while simultaneously reading the Litany aloud to yourself.

18 General Lessons I Learned in University

Some of these may seem obvious; keeping their importance in mind is not so obvious.

Through my experience as an undergraduate, I’ve found that the following lessons are useful to be aware of. Hopefully, they will help you and those you love to avoid unnecessary suffering. Some of these lessons overlap and they are not in order of priority.

I recently received the Thiel fellowship, and wrote a seperate post on additional lessons I’ve learned.

0. Putting as many hours as you can into doing what you love pays off.

The best programmers I know started programming as a hobby first.
The best researchers I know started researching as a hobby first.
The best mathematicians I know started playing with math as a hobby first.
The trend continues and transcends disciplines of study.

1. Don’t lie about your knowledge base.

It’s better to say “I don’t know.” People respect honesty and pure intellectual pursuit/curiosity more than your pride. Plus, you learn more that way!

2. Don’t cut corners.

Build up your knowledge base from understanding.
Put effort into doing (even tedious or arduous work) as well as you can. By doing this you may discover passions you wouldn’t expect!

3. Fix your procrastination habit.

Don’t know how to fix it? Read this.

4. You can do anything but you can’t do everything.

Don’t start an entirely different project each day.
Good quality work is done by working through the tedium inevitable in the details of a complex project, and thinking of each step as a new project.
Sort out your priorities and keep them in mind.
Good food, exercise, and sleep are foundational to long-term functionality.

5. Create your own motivation.

Do things in chunks, reach the “mindset”, if you hit a wall, come back to it, you will ponder it unconsciously.
You have to assign your own meaning to life – no one will do it for you. The rules and meaning I live by are an improved version of Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s philosophy:
1. Stay healthy.
2. Learn [and make] something new every day.
3. Lessen the suffering of others.

Keep these in mind; these simple rules changed my life for the better.

6. Being a Jack of All Trades is itself a talent.

Limiting yourself to the current ideas of one discipline makes original research unnecessarily difficult. I find original research is really just connecting past ideas into a new idea that is more than the sum of its parts.

My friend Adam Munich wrote this lovely post detailing the dangers of overspecializing. I highly recommend it!

7. Be aware that friendly curiosity occasionally comes off as interrogation.

I’ve recently begun briefing myself with: “I’m an incredibly curious person, feel free to stop me if I’m asking too many questions.”

8. Don’t fear failure.

Giving up before you begin is far worse than failing.
Don’t waste opportunities due to fear of failure and cling to the theoretical hope offered by the past possibility of success.

9. You can’t please everyone.

You will quickly exhaust yourself trying to conform to the needs of all.
If you are motivated, honest, kind, and aware of (and abide by most) social norms, fearing the opinions of others is largely unnecessary. Many things that work for others may not work for you and vice versa.
Don’t feel obligated to help everyone that requests your help.

10. Have a workspace.

Make yourself a workspace that you can retreat to and feel at home in.
I have some friends who prefer to work on different task types in different places, and others that enjoy using one workspace for most if not all of their work. Find your preference.

11. Accept compliments.

Compliments are mostly beneficial to those who give them.
“Thank you, that’s very kind of you to say” is my favored response, for it is truthful.

12. There is a difference between nice and kind.

In my opinion, the difference lies in your motivation.
Being kind is honestly (and gently if possible) doing what is best for the other person.
Being nice is saying what they want to hear.

13. Communicating your ideas is an important skill.

Keeping the audience interested during public speaking is is of equal if not more importance to the content of your speech.

14. Credit your collaborators and prior art.

Don’t claim the work of others as your own.
Keep a log of your contributions to a project to avoid IP disputes.

This applies to homework as well: Making use of the internet to research a problem is to be encouraged as there could be hidden treasures of mathematics to be discovered beneath the surface of many of these problems. However, there is a fine line between researching ideas and using the answer you found on another website. If you photocopy a crossword solution then what have you achieved?

15. Stuck? Explain it to someone.

If you are stuck on a problem, explain the problem, then brainstorm or bounce your ideas off of a friend.
Can’t find a friend who will listen? Explain it to yourself out loud or free write.

16. Write it down.

Although possible to keep all of your project plans and todos in mind, a purely mental method is an unnecessary burden. Writing things down significantly lowers my stress level.

17. If you don’t immediately find your passion, fear not.

I switched my major from:
\(\rightarrow\) Psychology/Studio Art
\(\rightarrow\) Anthropology/Studio Art
\(\rightarrow\) Math
\(\rightarrow\) Math/Computer Science
\(\rightarrow\) Math/Physics
\(\rightarrow\) Electrical Engineering
\(\rightarrow\) Computational Physics.
Playing in these disciplines I’ve discovered that what makes me happy is implementing my passion for STEM to enable the disabled. I wonder what you will discover!

The Engineer-Musician

There is a connection between engineering and music. For the sake of simplicity, I will shorten “math, physics, computer science, mechanical & electrical engineering” to “engineering.”

Let’s start with the general question:
Are engineering and music the same?

My immediate thought was that these fields constitute a gradient of knowledge and defining boxes that constitute each field is limiting to the solving of problems and the mastering of skills. I then realized that my immediate thought was an oversimplification and the question was too general to answer meaningfully, thus I refined the question slightly:

Are engineering and music two ways to look at the same thing?

I answer with a vague hypothesis: these fields are connected by general principles applied in different contexts.

As we know, one can’t prove that something is true purely by example; however, finding examples of these connections is exciting and interesting to think about. An example of evidence that supports this hypothesis is number theory. Number theory is deeply connected to the theory of harmonics. Using mathematics to prove that there exists a deep connection between the structures of engineering and music is almost cheating. Modern math becomes increasingly abstract. Each major concept works with many diverse objects, all sharing some common property. An abstract theory is born from the consequences of this property, which may then be applied to any of the diverse objects.

This led me to think about the connection of general thoughts and actions between the fields, rather than the underlying principles themselves. For example: the connection between completing projects in engineering and playing a musical instrument. Both activities are never-ending fountains of entertainment and learning; there is always room to improve yourself in your understanding and implementation of your knowledge in both cases.

The application of these knowledge bases involve a similar level of 3D spatial reasoning and abstract thinking. These subjects are built on modules and components. The understanding of each piece of the puzzle and how said piece connects and interweaves with the whole picture (which itself is another puzzle piece) is integral to both completing a project on time and understanding a piece of sheet music (especially if it is in an orchestral context).

I will attempt to demonstrate this connection with two specific examples:
learning a complex piece <= learning an instrument
learning to code <= learning a programming language.

(1) Before one learns and reliably performs a piece, they understand the language of music, whether that understanding is purely by ear or complemented by reading sheet music. They learn to play an instrument (in my case, the trombone). This learning forms a dictionary of muscle memory that consists of sheet music/sounds as keys and embouchure/hand position as corresponding entries. After practicing consistently over a long period of time, I began to feel the instrument as an extension of myself, as a voice to communicate with. To learn a complex piece, I practice each measure, and then practice weaving the measures together.

(2) Before one becomes a good programmer, they understand the basics of computer science (what it means to compile/interpret a program, how to create efficient programs, how to write general instead of hardcoded source, how to use existing libraries in your project, the practices of writing readable source/how to document code). They learn the basics of coding: variables and data types, strong vs weak typed languages, assignment vs. equality. They learn the syntax and lexicon of a programming language, and they learn to create code to execute their ideas. This new lexicon leads to a new way of thought, it includes the structures and semantics at a level of abstraction above the basic syntax of the language, this includes the concepts such as instantiation, monads, and verification. Enough practice leads to thinking in code, and intuitively recognizing how to compose an elegant and efficient solution to a computationally intensive problem.

Similarly, I find that composing orchestral music and creating/working on original research use similar structural thought and insight. Enough examples, I think you’ve got the point!

Although I am not a master of engineering nor music, I consider myself an engineer/scientist and an amateur trombonist. I enjoy learning and developing myself in both areas. I personally think of both music and engineering (especially mathematics, programming, and robotics) as collections of 3D structures to play with and put together whilst keeping in mind various properties and limitations.

Blame Bias & Project Unbreakable

Project Unbreakable is a project run by Grace Brown, Kaelyn Siversky, Christina Dunlop, and Kerri Pang. It was created to raise awareness of the common nature of sexual assault and serves to alter the general sociocultural perception of rape. Disproving the regular assumption that rape is an uncommon, unfortunate occurrence that happens only to those who deserve it. The project is a composed of a collection of art submitted by survivors. These submissions are photographs of a survivors holding posters decorated with quotes from their attackers. Submissions also include quotes from others in reaction to survivors seeking help (e.g., “You deserved it,” “I don’t believe you”). This project features male rape survivors and showcases the reality that men can get raped. There is no discrimination as to who can participate in Project Unbreakable (“anyone who has experienced any form of sexual abuse, whether physical or emotional”). However, they do not accept admissions from children.

In my psychology class, we discussed an unfortunate phenomenon colloquially known as blame bias. People tend to think that good things happen to them because they’ve earned it; they think that bad things happen to them for an environmental reason. Paradoxically, people tend to think that good things happen to others because they are lucky, and bad things happen to others because they have done something wrong deserve it. This blame bias is flipped in many persons afflicted with disorders/tendencies such as depression and anxiety.

In essence, blame bias is:
______ things happen to ______ because ______.

Normal Perception
Good; me; I deserved it
Good; others; of environmental factors
Bad; me; of environmental factors
Bad; others; they deserved it

Afflicted Perception
Bad; me; I deserved it
Bad; others; of environmental factors
Good; me; of environmental factors
Good; others; they deserved it

This flipped paradigm is prevalent in survivors of sexual assault. One of the scars left by assault tends to be a deep feeling of shame: a belief that the incident is somehow the victim’s fault. Project Unbreakable serves as a place to assure survivors that this is not the case. My professor, a clinical psychologist, explained that the correct treatment of rape survivors is incredibly difficult and extensive, for the hole they have been pushed and fallen into is so deep. This hole is dug in the victim’s perception by cultural messages and the reactions of others.

Project Unbreakable serves as a stepping-stone to begin to rise from the hole, it allows for rape survivors to face their memories and deal with them at a distance. It is far easier for rape survivors to look at the stories of others and see that these people are innocent. This triggering experience helps many internalize the objective truth that the incident was not their fault. Additionally, the Project helps lesson the ignorance of others with “blame bias,” showing that rape is a widespread problem, and not the fault of the victim. This education implicitly helps victims of sexual assault. The Project has received thousands of submissions and continues to bring self-awareness to those suffering from the negative effects of blame bias.

A Simple Look at Nanowire Assemblies in Optics

Below is a quick attempt to summarize and extrapolate from an article on Optical Routing And Sensing With Nanowire Assemblies in a simple manner, without assuming the reader is deeply familiar with the esoteric lexicon of photonics and optoelectronics. I can’t freely distribute the article which inspired this post; check with your local university to find a copy. More information on the relevant article is post script.

Disclaimer: I am a relative n00b in the material science-y side of photonics; I’ve previously played in physics at a higher level of abstraction. I attempted to keep the oversimplification to a minimum in my “simple” discussion below.

Sidenote: I decided to include the definitions in-line rather than using footnotes. I found the use of footnotes to organize definitions very similar to spaghetti code – which I prefer to avoid.

Enough dabbling, onto the physics!

What are nanowires and nanoribbons?

A nanowire is any wire with a diameter on the nanoscale [order of 10^-9 meters], and nanoribbons are structures which filter for different wavelengths of light [colors] depending on their chemical composition and structure. These ribbons act as short-pass filters; that is, they will only allow the smaller wavelengths of any beam that is not monochromatic.

I recently came across an article exploring of the combined use of nanowires and nanoribbons. Nanowire assemblies could potentially replace/supplement lithographically [created by transferring a pattern by selective exposure to light] defined structures currently used in most integrated photonic circuits: circuits which transmit laser beams compared to electronic integrated circuits which transmit electrons.

The main advantage of using nanowire assemblies is that they stand without assistance from their substrate’s structure and they are flexible. This allows them to be manipulated on surfaces and to be used as mobile probes in fluids. This versatility contrasts with the permanent location of lithographically defined structures with respect to their substrates.

The team of physicists who published this paper experimented with the assemblies in both dry and liquid mediums. In the dry medium, they synthesized Tin-dioxide nanoribbons and manipulated the ribbons and wires with a probe under a dark-field microscope. They used both a HeCd laser [a laser which emits blue light] for continuous unfiltered light [constant stream of most colors of light] and a YAG laser [a laser which emits ultraviolet light] for pumped pulsing; laser pumping is a technique used here to create or amplify laser beams. They ran the laser beams through various nanowire assemblies [photonic circuit configurations] and measured the transmission efficiency by comparing the output intensity of the lasers to the input intensity.

Nanowire assemblies have unpredictable geometries; this introduces uncertainty into the functionality of their assemblies. Additionally, the precise geometry definable in lithography allows for less interwire coupling losses.

Photonic & Electronic Integrated Circuits

Let’s look at an alternative to lithographically (i.e., created by transferring a pattern by selective exposure to light) defined structures: optical integrated circuits.

Specifically, we’ll examine the usage of single-crystalline nanoribbons, useful because of their lack of edge effects. These edge effects, usually due to grain boundaries (defects in the crystal structures) cause significant loss of efficiency in the transmission of optical signals. Using far field microscopy and spectroscopy, the waveguiding behavior of individual nanoribbons can be observed in detail. The size of any given nanoribbon can be inferred from the color of it’s guided photoluminescence; large ribbons are white (less filtering), while smaller ribbons are blue (short-pass filtering). Waveguides are used in optics to transmit light and signals for long distances and with a high signal rate. The team [0] experimented with light injection into a ribbon cavity. Optical cavities are arrangements of mirrors that provide a type of filter for injected light. Light confined in an optical cavity will reflect multiple times and interfere with itself to filter for desired frequencies by eliminating undesirable frequencies by means of destructive interference. Various coupling geometries are usually tested using near-field optical microscopy (NSOM). For example, the quantification of the transmission loss of long straight ribbons using NSOM results in the finding that these single-crystalline ribbons had substrate-induced radiation loss and in some cases, imperfect single-crystalline leading to minor scattering crystal steps. However, this percentage of loss in the light’s amplitude is acceptable for use in sub-micrometer light-transmission (used in integrated planar photonic applications).

Nanowire light sources can be successfully coupled to ribbon waveguides to create input and output for future photonic devices. Most research into developing nanowire photonic circuitry explores various nanoribbon bondings, various ribbon geometries and especially focuses on the efficacy and efficiency of this alternative to electrical integrated circuits in the hope of proving that photonic integrated circuits have the potential to supplement and possibly overtake today’s electronically based circuitry.

Practical devices will require a combination of electrically driven nanowire light sources and nanoribbons: the next generation of integrated circuits will likely be a combination of parallel electrical and optical circuit elements. The main problem to overcome is developing better ways to integrate optical and electrical circuit elements for the parallel processing of electron and photon based signal transmission.

Sources Cited

0] Sirbuly, D. J. (2005). Optical Routing And Sensing With Nanowire Assemblies. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 102(22), 7800-7805.
1] Law, M. (2004). Nanoribbon Waveguides For Subwavelength Photonics Integration. Science, 305(5688), 1269-1273.

The Purpose of Communicaton & Assigning Credit

It is tempting for some to take all of the glory.

It is a common misconception that research is purely original. However, scientific discovery is not magically creating original work. Innovation is almost entirely based off of combining old ideas in new ways. It’s about using an existing toolbox to piece together something that is more than the sum of its parts.

Innovation is based on making new connections. By embracing this realization, you become an ultimate collaborator: when you learn someone else has already found a similar set of connections, instead of brooding, you can congratulate them and add your own connections to help the idea come to fruition.

I think it worth your time to be careful that everyone who contributes to your project is properly credited, including relevant prior art.

While having a wonderful discussion with Chris Olah a few months ago, we dabbled on the topic of the purpose of communication.

We came to the conclusion that the main purpose of communication is to form connections. These connections are not just between people, they are between ideas.

The collaboration of ideas is relevant (if not crucial) to innovation and is halted if people feel that their ideas will be stolen. If you give proper credit to those you collaborate and build off of, they will not feel like you have cheated them, and will continue to be open and help you in your quest to better the world around you.

By giving credit to those who help you, you will become a better innovator in the process.

Why Art Leads To Mathematics

I was recently approached to write an essay to convince (high school) art students that math is freaking excellent. This was the result:

You can think of the study of mathematics as the study of art. Throughout our childhood schooling, we were mostly taught the mechanics of art: drawing lines, shading, painting techniques. These notions are developed in a technical way without an inherent understanding of aesthetics. Furthermore, without being exposed to art galleries or painting schools, the capacity of these devices to express emotion, people, philosophy and concepts remains unplumbed. It is only after studying artistic techniques, and art from the masters that we begin to appreciate art.

Our first attempts at art are challenging and sloppy. Many a student cannot see the forest for the trees and complains about how pointless art is. Even over the course of high school, most students remain bogged down in the mechanics, and cannot experience the joy of self expression. By and large, the children who quickly grasped the technicalities and were able to freely express themselves through various media are the ones who became talented artists. If you approach a sketch artist drawing a woman, and comment on the difficulty of drawing curved lines, you will probably get a strange look. The artist has transcended individual shapes and sees the bigger picture.

Mathematics comes less naturally than art to most of us: it requires a degree of abstraction that our primate brains have only recently been equipped to handle. As such, many students will continue to study the technicalities and mechanics of math until they are almost done with their math degree. Any mathematical idea you were taught in school or have come across since is most likely a tool akin to spelling or vocabulary. To be honest, the same is probably true for me. However, the junior math major either immediately grasped the mechanics of mathematics, or he learned not to get bogged down by them. When you see a mathematician manipulate some equations, it may appear to you as an exercise in futility. Bear in mind, however, that algebraic manipulation is as trivial to the math major as drawing curved lines is to you. If so, what does the mathematician see behind the equations that makes him love mathematics?

When studying mathematics, the math major sees pure truth in our understanding of everything. When something is proved in mathematics, it is true forever. Mathematics is also completely subject to our imagination, and not at all limited by the the outside world. Math is a language that allows us to speak about concepts and ideas that no language can express. Algebra is not a series of mindless tricks but the study of the idea of structure. Almost anything you can think of that possesses structure (including art), can be modeled using algebra. Analysis is more than taking a complicated derivative. It allows us to describe and understand the very notion of change. Every physicist, economist, chemist, etc. uses calculus to study the world around us, but calculus itself is more than this. Furthermore, not being bogged down by reality, mathematics is capable of arriving at beautiful generalizations where we discover that there are simple yet powerful laws that govern space, structure, change, and quantity.

Art enables us to describe every emotion and experience known to man, but mathematics enables us to understand the laws that govern everything. Art cannot show us something that is not a human experience, for it is limited by the person who uses it. Mathematics, on the other hand, can show as absolute truth realities too grand to be fully understood by the human mind.

At this point, you may appreciate that others love mathematics, but it “isn’t for you.” Before we proceed: what is mathematics, anyway?

When you think of math, you probably think of the tedious stuff that you do when you are forced to add, subtract and multiply long lists of long numbers. However, this isn’t math; this is arithmetic, which is barely a toenail on the huge elegant beast that is mathematics (i.e. arithmetic is only a teeny tiny part of math). Arithmetic isn’t what gets mathematicians up, out of bed, and excited about their jobs. We don’t just sit around doing long division all day.

Math is not about crunching numbers. Sure, that is part of math, but real math is exploring the properties of shapes, patterns, logic, algorithms, programs, and the relationships between all of these things. It’s about finding elegant and beautiful connections that naturally exist both in the real world and in the perfect mathematical one. It’s full of puzzles and mysteries!

Think about some of man’s greatest achievements:
Sending people to the moon and rovers to Mars, and coming up with mathematical models that describe everything from weather patterns to how galaxies and stars form to how the universe began and maybe will end – the glue that holds all of these things together is math. So, as you can see, math isn’t just boring arithmetic or formulas that come from nowhere. The distance formula is derived from the Pythagorean theorem, where the differences in x and y between two points are the lengths of the base and height of a right triangle. The area of a triangle, 1/2*(base)*(height), isn’t something to memorize: it is half of a square or rectangle.

Think about your every day life:
What is the best way to use linear perspective fool the eye’s depth perception? Use math! Alter the image with various linear transformations.
How do you get your sculpture to remain stable while it strikes an uncommon pose? Use physics! Move your sculpture’s center of mass to the appropriate location.
How do you create an eye-catching pattern as a background or an engraving? Use Escher’s symmetrical method or use fractals! There are so many options!
Are you bored in class? Think about all of the math in the room around you! Transform the ceiling tiles into weird diamonds! Imagine graphs of various polynomial functions that you can ride on like a roller coaster!

Math isn’t boring, it’s fascinating, and it allows us to do magnificent things. Do you want to be more creative? Math allows you to draw connections between otherwise unconnected objects. Math is the same in every country. Being fluent in mathematics gives you super powers: the ability to apply universal truths across fields. Are you tired of waiting on the world to change? Go out and change it yourself with your new found superpower.

Based of off this and this.

Why Young Innovators Should Answer the Call

Disclaimer: The following is only my opinion. I am not directly affiliated with the Thiel Fellowship or Thiel Foundation, but I did have the opportunity this summer to interact with and work with many of the fellows and other people involved in the community.

This is a response to an article, by a man that I respect and appreciate, regarding how to succeed as a Student Entrepreneur.

TL;DR I believe that to find success, you must go at your own pace.

Mike Olson is a very intelligent and cool guy. I appreciate that he used female pronouns in his theoretical example. I agree that experience is important and often undervalued. I agree that one should intern before starting their own company. I am incredibly grateful for my life-changing experience during my internship at Cloudera, which I’ve written about in greater detail here (post).

I’m not technically an entrepreneur. I’m a researcher who wants to help people on a large scale. In fact, not all of the fellows are working on companies. Many of the fellows are devoted researchers who want to help people and find the standard university system too limiting. I’ll use the term “innovators” to encompass entrepreneurs and researchers.

When I was accepted into university right out of 8th grade, I received very similar feedback: I was told that I needed to wait to grow up first, that I was too young to succeed. Many expected me to drop out and return with my tail between my legs to the local high school. Fortunately, the challenging and fast-paced environment I surrounded myself with was exactly what I needed to be happy and prosper. In university, I found that math and science are tool kits – not the rote and useless subjects my previous schooling experience had led me to believe. I learned that using these tool kits to solve problems and help people was more creative and satisfying to me than making art or writing short stories. I discovered my passion for research through brainstorming with my professors and pursuing my ideas to a close. I learned that working through tedium is necessary to achieve goals.

My emotional maturity quickly grew once I found intense passion in learning and inventing. I realized that, in order to stay in university, I had to work hard. I’d never had to work hard before. I learned a lot of lessons very quickly, and I loved it. The opportunities which allowed me to find such a competitive and nurturing environment are opportunities I will always be grateful for. When opportunities are given to you, it is best to heavily consider them, and not just pass on the call.

Classes have contributed a minor amount to my overall STEM knowledge; they served to introduce me to interesting topics and spark my curiosity. University certainly isn’t necessary to discover your passion in science and math. With a significant amount of determination, this love can be discovered and fostered through other means. People, including professors (they are people too!), are generally happy to share their knowledge. The internet is also a magnificent resource for autodidacts; it provides access to online textbooks and courses. There are many resources and introductions to explore STEM outside of university. You can find passion with some scrap metal, a battery, rubber bands, and a library card.

Many younger innovators find themselves stuck in the mud, and discouraged by the slow pace of the world around them. Mike makes a valid point: that fellows (and others in the under 20 community) have less experience than those who have taken the conventional education/work route. However, the selection process for the Fellowship quickly weeds out those who will not benefit from going at their own pace; those who don’t have the emotional maturity/correct mindset to succeed as innovators at their current age. Obstacles are there to keep out those who don’t want it badly enough.

The Thiel Foundation provides the broader Under 20 community and their select group of fellows an opportunity to seize their goals and help the world around them. It gives us a friend group floating in the same boat – people who have been through similar experiences, and are more than willing to brainstorm with us. It gives us tools to complete our projects and help the world around us. We are determined people who learn from our mistakes quickly, and ask the opinions of more experienced innovators when we are unsure. We know how to work hard to achieve goals that we are passionate about. We thrive off of overcoming hardships and learning from our mistakes. Why wait on the world to change when we can go out and change it ourselves!

Success is about finding your niche. It is about figuring out how to help others by doing what you love.

The Fellowship and the community surrounding it provide a platform for hundreds to find their place and succeed. It provides opportunities and motivation to young innovators. Staying in the conventional educational path may be the right answer for some. For others, the right answer is to dream more and work harder. There are many ways to go at your own pace, and one of them is picking up the phone when Peter Thiel calls.

I’d like to thank Thomas Sohmers for giving me extraordinarily helpful feedback on a pre-launch draft of this article.

Temporarily Mute: An Overview of Communication Methods

If you’ve run into me in the past 2 days, I’ve squeaked at you and scribbled on my notebook “lost my voice! How are you?” As of this post, I am still mute. However, I will write it in the past tense to create a false sense of encouragement that my voice will return soon.

At first, I attempted to squeak and whisper to talk over the phone and converse with friends over lunch. Vibrating my swollen larynx made my problem worse. Thus, I switched to keeping my mouth shut and set about finding less damaging methods of communication.

My first realization was that my knowledge of sign language is useless without having conversation partners who are also fluent in ASL. (This supports my opinion that ASL should be a required language in elementary schools, or at least present at every primary school as an afterschool club.)

Without both parties knowing ASL, gestures lose their usefulness and specificity. While communicating with general gestures is useful, playing conversation charades is highly inefficient for conveying complex information.

The most useful gesture I’ve found is that of pointing. Pointing to my notebook where I’ve scribbled things or to my computer screen where I’ve typed something – which brings me to…

I type an order of magnitude faster than I write, so, when possible, I relied on typing in gedit (Notepad, TextEdit, etc. depending on your platform and preferred plain text editor).

However, there were myriad situations writing in my notebook was easier. Additionally, scribbling furiously has the added benefit of being amusing to observers.

The efficiency of typing and scribbling is greatly improved by not deleting or scribbling out previous conversations. As you build a library, you can gesture, draw arrows, highlight, circle, etc. your previous phrases instead of creating each new sentence from scratch.

Text-to-Speech apps
TL;DR I found it mainly useful for getting people’s attention.

When unable to get your intended conversation partner’s attention (if pointing or tapping their shoulder fails), using text-to-speech apps is useful. Out of SVOX, Talk, and Virtual Voice (free on Google Play), I found Virtual Voice to be the easiest to use and the most natural sounding.

The main issue I found with text-to-speech apps is the lag time. By the time I was able to type my sentences out fully and press “speak”, the conversation had moved on. Text-to-speech apps have the disadvantage of not being able to repeat past comments and phrases. I found myself deleting text repeatedly, and ruling out comments as not important enough to type for one time usage.

My main finding was the kindness of people. Strangers recommended cold remedies and offered me lozenges. People got the attention of professors for me, or acted as my text-to-speech mechanisms. A funny instance of this occurred during my Quantum Mechanics class as I was attempting to respond to a classmate who asked “Which old quantum mechanics papers do you [our QM professor] recommend?”

I responded (by furiously typing in gedit) “Learn German to read old Quantum Mechanics books and articles. An example of this is Mathematische Grundlagen der Quantenmechanik by Johann von Neumann. Highly recommend.” However, the friend who was kind enough to act as my voice didn’t know German, and hilariously Americanized the pronunciation of the title and author of the book. This amused the professor, who speaks German. The professor was further amused as I attempted to squeak out the correct pronunciation.

Being temporarily mute taught me to value my voice and helped me to explore the efficiency of methods of communication to the general population (those who are not versed in ASL).

Communication is mostly used for creating connections – not necessarily just the connections between people, but the connections between ideas.

Every conversation creates connections in your mind between previously separated concepts and spark chains of new ideas. Value this truth, and utilize it. Go call a loved one and tell them I love you or record yourself singing a song, and appreciate your voice for the efficient vessel of connection it is.

Procrastinating? Fix it.

I am often asked how to stop procrastinating or asked how I get so much done. While I think I don’t get enough done, I will share some of my methods of crushing procrastination with mindfulness.

Step 1. Make Time.

There is always 5 minutes to squeeze in one more thing. Get up an hour earlier, drink some coffee, it makes a difference. Use the “in-between” time: read over your paper as you walk to class, answer emails in line at the cafeteria, code while you eat dinner.

Step 2. Create visible todo lists, and prioritize them.

It’s easy to put off your work if you can’t see the length of your list increasing in size as you laze about.

Be careful not to spend more time on todo lists than actually doing. It is easy for some to fall into a false sense of accomplishment by writing lists. Make sure you are moving from thinking to doing.

Step 3. Procrastinate the right way.

Of course, I encourage you to prioritize and stick to your priorities as much as possible.

However, as much as everyone would love to not procrastinate, we are human. I’ve found that the best method of procrastination is doing another task of a lower priority.

Let’s say I have a psychology paper due in 2 days and a simulation due in 8 days. Instead of procrastinating my paper by going on YouTube, I’ll procrastinate by doing my simulation.

Step 4. Learn when to multitask and when to hyperfocus.

The title is mostly self explanatory.

Step 5. Work is Play.

Life is a game and a constant test.

As John Green said, “The test will measure whether you are an informed, engaged, and productive citizen of the world, and it will take place in schools and bars and hospitals and dorm rooms and in places of worship. You will be tested on first dates, in job interviews, while watching football, and while scrolling through your Twitter feed. The test will judge your ability to think about things other than celebrity marriages, whether you’ll be easily persuaded by empty political rhetoric, and whether you’ll be able to place your life and your community in a broader context. The test will last your entire life, and it will be comprised of the millions of decisions that, when taken together, will make your life yours. And everything, everything, will be on it.”

This pressure can be smothering for people, especially those in highly competitive environments. By thinking of learning/life as a game by setting goals for yourself as levels and creating reward systems, you can greatly reduce this stress.

Step 6. Get passionate.

I’ve found that passion for an idea will push me past my perceived limits.

Feeling sick? Lay in bed and rest while answering emails, coding some simple scripts, or writing blog posts.
Feeling frustrated? Obstacles are set up in our paths to keep the people out who don’t want it badly enough.

Step 7. Fill your free time with fun projects.

You can learn anything by doing fun projects. Building your set of skills and practicing a combination of these skills regularly while having fun will make you faster and more efficient at completing tasks.

Finally, JUST DO IT! The mental blockade you’ve put up by calling yourself lazy, or staring blankly at your todo-list is easily overcome. It is literally as easy as just doing it. Be direct with yourself: stop wasting time.