Weekly Newsletter

Evolution #

Possible Creatures
A professor of Evolutionary Biology discusses his work mapping “nature’s library” of proteins. He makes tenuous parallels to Platonism, but the work stands on its own whether you take those into account or not.

Mind and Brain #

The Science of Near Death Experiences
Explores the debate about the mechanism of near-death experiences between scientific materialists and spiritual believers. I surprisingly fall somewhere in the middle on this and other similar issues. Although my beliefs and background are steeped in science, reading Michael Crichton’s book [Travels](Travels (Vintage Departures)) convinced me that there’s nothing to be gained by taking a hard stance against these phenomena without having done the proper due diligence. I do, however, take issue with the idea that these phenomena, and consciousness by extension, are inexplicable. Even if these experiences were proven to arise from a non-materialist form of consciousness, I still firmly believe that they could be explained.

Business #

Warren Buffet’s Annual Shareholder Letter
This year marks Berkshire Hathaway’s 50th Anniversary. As a result, Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger, the two managers of Berkshire Hathaway added a section to the report about the history of the company and the reasons behind its unreasonable success. If you need more reason to read this, Bill Gates stated publicly that this year’s shareholder report is the best ever (presumably he’s read the other 49). The report is longer than the typical newsletter piece. If you don’t want to read the entire thing, I recommend skipping to page 24. From that point on, the report focuses on the history of Berkshire Hathaway, which I found more interesting and more readable than the prior portion. Much of Munger and Buffett’s advice focuses on the characteristics of a good organization, rather than a good finance company, making this worthwhile for even readers not particularly interested in finance.

Nutrition and Food #

This Fast-Food Loving, Organics-Hating Ivy League Prof Will Trick You Into Eating Better
Profiles Brian Wansink, a Cornell food psychologist, who believes that food choices arise from external factors. The article makes a compelling case for the validity of this hypothesis on a large scale. This article contains insights about human behavior that go well beyond nutrition and, while it failed to convince me that this approach works on a smaller scale, I need to do more experimentation to prove or disprove this claim.

Farming #

Say Hello To The (Soon To Be) World’s Largest Indoor Vertical Farm
Covers the AeroFarms project, which aims to create a large indoor aeroponic farm in an abandoned Newark factory. Aeroponic farms use mist, rather than soil to deliver nutrients to plants. As a former volunteer for a hydroponic farm, I’m in full support of this project.

Startups #

Can a Book Be a Startup
Eric Ries, author of the The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses, discusses how he’ll be applying his own methodology of lean development to his new book. As an aside, when Matt and I contacted a successful Dartmouth alum about Repcoin, our thesis project that happens to be the future of reputation on the web, he recommended we read Ries’ book. Ries has also worked as a consultant for GE, so he’s loosely connected to me in more ways than one (if you’re interested in what Ries was doing at GE, check out this article).

Technology #

Guiding the Blind Through London’s Subway with Estimote Beacons
Explains a project to implant beacons that guide the visually-impaired in London’s subway systems. A great example of a worthy problem solved with an innovative technological solution.

The Invention of the Perfect Cup of Coffee
Profiles the inventor of the Aeropress machine, an autodidact dropout polymath. Definitely the nerdiest article in this week’s newsletter, but worth reading nonetheless.