Monday, December 12, 2016

EP 027: Mitch Horowitz and the Secret History of America

Today on Startup Geometry, I talk with Mitch Horowitz, editor, voiceover artist, historian of alternative religion and the occult, and author of Occult America and One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life. We discuss the influence of experimental religions have had on American history, our favorite uncanny tourism sites, how the belief that "thoughts are causative" has affected the real world, and why having a Definite Chief Aim can help you achieve it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Links for Later 9-13-16

  1. Newly discovered galaxy Dragonfly 44 is 99% dark matter, was first discovered using telephoto camera lenses.
  2. A drill instructor put a Muslim recruit in a clothes dryer repeatedly at Camp Lejeune
  3. Based on the recommendation of Tyler Cowen and Michael Orthofer, I picked up a copy of Arno Schmidt's Bottom's Dream. It's a really big book. Will let you know when I start reading it.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

EP 026: Gordon White

This week I talk to Gordon White, former "weird kid", proprietor of the popular Rune Soup podcast and blog. Gordon is also a documentarian, world traveler, digital strategist and practicing magician. He's the author of three books that came out in the last year or so: Star.Ships, which we discuss in this podcast; The Chaos Protocols, which takes a heterodox view of how to handle the post-financial crash economy; and Pieces of Eight, a personal history of the Chaos Magic movement.

This interview has a twin over on Gordon's podcast, where he interviews me about the Bruno books.You can listen to that over on Rune Soup or on iTunes.

Due to technical difficulties (or spiritual interference) the original media file for this episode dropped out after the intro. Please download again now that the media file has been replaced. If there are still difficulties, please let me know in the comments or on Twitter. -Scott

Episode Outline, Notes and Links

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Startup Geometry EP 025 Robert Pool on Peak Performance

Robert Pool is a mathematician, science writer, and, together with Anders Ericsson, the author of Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise. Today, we talk about the use of deliberate practice to improve physical and mental performance, why the 10,000 hour rule isn't what you think it is, the relationship between talent and success (it's less important than you think, what good mental representations will do for you, and why taste is essential to the development of expert skills.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Startup Geometry EP 024: Cory Doctorow

Cory Doctorow is a bestselling author of both science fiction and techno-sociological nonfiction, one of four editors of longtime popular weblog boingboing, and an activist and advocate for intellectual property rights, working extensively with the Electronic Freedom Foundation and others to put control of content back in the hands of the users like you and me.

Photo credit: Jonathan Worth 2013
Today, we talk about the EFF's plan to defeat Digital Rights Management (DRM) as a business model of rent-seeking corporations. DRM is the set of digital locks on the content you buy--everything from eBooks to your car's computer have DRM embedded--and while it isn't impossible to break, it is highly illegal for you (or anyone) to do so. That means you don't have control of things that you bought. It also means that security flaws cannot always be researched or revealed. That's a big problem.

We also talk about how he became a writer and how he gets his writing done despite a punishing travel and speaking schedule. Spoiler: 250 words a day, every day will result in a finished product very quickly. That's one page per day. You can do that, can't you?

Show Links and Notes
The EFF on the DRM lawsuit
Bunnie Huang on the DRM lawsuit

Cory's website,
The flashbake version control tool

Cory's books include:

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Mariana Gosnell's Lost and Found Photos

My aunt Mariana "Sere" Gosnell died three years ago, after a long and exciting life. For many years, she worked for Newsweek, primarily working as an editor in the Science and Medicine section. She was also a world traveler, pilot, photographer and wonderful human being. This spring, Deborah Acosta, a reporter for the New York Times, called to tell me that she'd found a cache of Aunt Sere's pictures outside of a storage facility in New York. Here's the story of how she tracked down the owner of these pictures and the reason they had been cleaned out of the storage space. More here

Friday, July 15, 2016

EP 023 Kevin Kelly

Kevin Kelly spends a lot of time thinking about the future. He once spent six months imagining that he only had six months to live (and keeps a timer on his own life expectancy), and co-founded the Long Now foundation, built around the idea of a 10,000 year clock to promote very long term thinking. His current book, The Inevitable: Understanding the Twelve Technological Forces that will Shape Our Future, deals with the future that is happening now, the ongoing future, the one William Gibson says is already here, just not evenly distributed yet. He is the co-founder and current Chief Maverick of Wired, and is a prolific writer, publisher, photographer and founder of group projects, including the Cool Tools book and website, The Silver Cord, a crowdfunded graphic novel about angels, and the Quantified Self meetups.

Today, we talk about how to think about the future, why people choose personalization over privacy, what it might mean to look through someone else's eyes for a day, and why the artificial intelligences in your future won't be what you expect.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

EP 022 Michelle Warnky on Overcoming Obstacles

Michelle Warnky is the owner of Movement Lab Ohio, a competitor in obstacle races and a traceusse de  parkour (a parkour freerunner). You can see her on American Ninja Warrior, where she's one of a small group of successful repeat competitors, and you can learn how to be a ninja in your own life at her gym.

Today, we talk about her experience as an English teacher in Kazakhstan, how to develop the skills you need to move your body through obstacles, and how she's balanced her roles as solo competitor, teacher and business owner.

Monday, July 04, 2016

George Saunders Goes To A Trump Rally

Who are all these Trump supporters?

He wings it because winging it serves his purpose. He is not trying to persuade, detail, or prove: he is trying to thrill, agitate, be liked, be loved, here and now. He is trying to make energy. (At one point in his San Jose speech, he endearingly fumbles with a sheaf of “statistics,” reads a few, fondly but slightingly mentions the loyal, hapless statistician who compiled them, then seems unable to go on, afraid he might be boring us.)

And make energy he does. It flows out of him, as if channeled in thousands of micro wires, enters the minds of his followers: their cheers go ragged and hoarse, chanting erupts, a look of religious zeal may flash across the face of some non-chanter, who is finally getting, in response to a question long nursed in private, exactly the answer he’s been craving. One such person stays in my memory from a rally in Fountain Hills, Arizona, in March: a solidly built man in his mid-forties, wearing, in the crazy heat, a long-sleeved black shirt, who, as Trump spoke, worked himself into a state of riveted, silent concentration-fury, the rally equivalent of someone at church gazing fixedly down at the pew before him, nodding, Yes, yes, yes.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Alejandro Jodorowsky at the British Library

In conversation with Iain Sinclair, following a screening of Jodorowsky's Dune. Get up and make some art.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

EP 021 Shava Nerad

Shava Nerad is the former Executive Director of the Tor Project, open source software that helps users protect their online privacy. She is currently CEO of Oddfellow Studios, and a frequent writer through Quora (where I met her) and on her Patreon site.

Today, we talk about her early days as the youngest female Chief Software Engineer at DEC and IT manager at MIT, how to manage and relate to very different people, how she won an argument with Richard Stallman, and how and why Tor came to be one of the most praised and reviled pieces of software in the world (often by the same people).

Extended bio:
Shava Nerad has been working online since 1982, when she was Chief Software Engineer at Digital Equipment Corporation on the IVIS Project, the first commercial multimedia authoring system in the world. She has been staff or faculty at UMass/Amherst, MIT, UNC/Chapel Hill, and University of Oregon. She’s done commercial work for DEC, Varian, ComputerVision, her own web consultancy Net Prophets, Inc., and eMarket Group, Ltd.

While at eMarket as VP/Marketing and Business Development, she led her company to 3rd fastest growing private company in Oregon, #285 on the Inc5000, 25 in the Inc Urban 100, and Best Companies to Work for in Oregon. She was nominated for Woman Entrepreneur of the Year by reporting staff of the Portland (OR) Business Journal for her business acumen and service to her community. She has a long history of nonprofit and political activism, including leadership positions at Oregon Public Networking/, The Tor Project, and Democratic organizations in Oregon.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

EP 020 Helen DeWitt

Helen DeWitt is the author of The Last Samurai, Lightning Rods, and, with Ilya Gridnef, Your Name Here. The Last Samurai, originally released by Miramax Books in 2000, is being released in a new edition by New Directions in May 2016. For many years, the book was passed along in secondhand copies among cognoscenti, and I'm glad to see it back in print.
Sibylla, a single mother from a long line of frustrated talents, has unusual ideas about child rearing. Yo Yo Ma started piano at the age of two; her son starts at three. J.S.Mill learned Greek at three; Ludo starts at four, reading Homer as they travel round and round the Circle Line. A fatherless boy needs male role models; so she plays the film of Seven Samurai as a running backdrop to his childhood. While Sibylla types out back copies of Carpworld to pay the rent, Ludo, aged five, moves on to Hebrew, Arabic and Japanese, aerodynamics and edible insects of the world - they might come in handy, if he can just persuade his mother he's mature enough to know his father's name. He is bound for knowledge of a less manageable sort, not least about his mother's past. And at the heart of the book is the boy's changing relationship with Sibylla - contradictory, touching and tender.
Today, we talk about the desire to choose your own parents, your own publishing team, and your own cafe.

Photo credit: Helen DeWitt

A small correction: in our discussion of coffee drinks at Neues Ufer, the drink served in a small ceramic bowl was incorrectly identified as Kremkaffee; the correct drink name is Milchkaffee. I remember ordering Kaffe Krem in Germany at one point, which I suppose would be coffee-flavored cream. Personally, I've always liked the Dutch phrase for cafe au lait: Koffie verkeerd, "spoiled coffee" or "coffee done wrong".

Over on her site, she mentions some verbal tics of her own that annoy her. I am completely immune to hearing these & think she sounds wonderful. On the other hand, I writhe every time I hear my own voice saying anything on any recording: I always say that I have a face for radio and a voice for silent film.

If you enjoyed this interview, you can also watch a short video interview with Helen by the team over at The Paris Review, done earlier this Spring, but released this month:


Show Notes 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

EP 019 Luca Turin on the Secrets of Scent and the Scientific Method

Luca Turin is a biophysicist and expert in the sense of smell. He is best known to the scientific community as the proponent of the vibrational theory of olfaction: that smell receptors detect the vibrational frequencies of the molecular bonds of parts of the scent molecule. This theory represents an alternative to the older shape-based theory of smell: that scent molecules bind to specific receptors that conform to the shape of the scent molecule. The debate on this topic is detailed in Turin's The Secret of Scent, and Chandler Burr's The Emperor of Scent.

He is also the author, with his partner Tania Sanchez, of Perfumes: The A-Z Guide, which provides a sensual and witty look at over 1,000 commercially available perfumes. He also writes perfume criticism in several locations online, including at, and is a scent molecule designer and consultant to the industry.

Links and bonus materials

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Links for Later 5-7-16

  1. Tim and Alex Heathfield Vavilova found out that their parents were Russian spies. Now, they've lost their Canadian citizenship. Crazy story.
  2. John Gardner, "Personal Renewal"
  3. Delmore Schwartz, "The First Morning of the Second World"
  4. Problems with John Cochrane's WSJ editorial on opportunities for economic growth.
  5. Profile of Navy SEAL Charlie Keating IV, who was killed by ISIS while training Peshmerga, and who was the grandson of Charles Keating of the S&L crisis fame.
  6. How to beat procrastination: do a small, concrete step toward the big, scary, abstract goal. (Raise your vision, lower the stakes strategy.)
  7. Farnam Street: "What We Can Learn from the Prolific Mr. Asimov", plus Asimov on new ideas.
  8. Scott Alexander of Slate Star Codex reviews Albion's Seed, discusses the impact of the four early cultures of America: Puritans, Cavaliers, Quakers, and Borderers.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Links for Later 3-22-16

  1. Lessons from the very prolific Isaac Asimov.
  2. Sleek cyberpunk fashion short film by ACRONYM (recommended by William Gibson).
  3. Generic NYT article on Millennials.
  4. Donald Trump is not making a lot of sense.
  5. Ted Cruz is the worst person in the world.
  6. Mapping creativity. Not sure I buy these studies, or the article's conclusions.
  7. Stewart Lee wrote a negative review of his own show.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Hadrian's Farewell to Life

Little soul, sweet one, wandering one,
Friend and companion of this body,
Out you go from your house,
The pale one, still one, naked one,
Not laughing anymore, funny one.


Animula, vagula, blandula
Hospes comesque corporis
Quae nunc abibis in loca
Pallidula, rigida, nudula,
Nec, ut soles, dabis iocos


Saturday, February 06, 2016

History of Japan

Bill Wurtz made a rapid fire, animated, very funny history of Japan. (via Hank Green)

Monday, February 01, 2016

Startup Geometry EP 018 David Heinemeier Hansson

David Heinemeier Hansson is the co-founder (with Jason Fried) of Basecamp (formerly 37signals) , author of Remote and Rework (also with Jason Fried), and creator of the Ruby on Rails framework. He's also a race car driver, having won the 2014 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race, and an avid photographer.

Today, we talk about why it's best to build products that you would (and do) use, the low-risk approach to building a company, why funding yourself helps to slow the clock, how that approach bleeds over to every aspect of the business (from marketing to management), and why much of his life is lived outside the office.
A photo posted by DHH (@dhh79) on

Show Links and Notes

Ruby on Rails

David Heinemeier Hansson
signal vs noise blog
Twitter: @dhh, @dhhracing
Instagram: @dhh79
Medium: @dhh

Monday, January 18, 2016

Startup Geometry EP 017 Andrei Codrescu

Long before there were blogs or podcasts, Andrei Codrescu was writing online (much of it through his "hidden literary magazine" Exquisite Corpse) and publishing audio commentary (often as a commentator on NPR). He is the author of many books of poetry, essays and fiction, and has taught literature at Johns Hopkins University, the University of Baltimore and Louisiana State University, where he recently retired as the MacCurdy Distinguished Professor of English.

Codrescu large

Now, he's planning on developing a podcast of his very own. Today, we talk about this upcoming project, which comments on his previous radio work, the importance of peripheral locations, and changes in Romania from the fall of Communism to the present day.

Show Notes and Links
Andrei Codrescu
Twitter: @acodrescu
Exquisite Corpse:Click on the large No to enter site
NPR archive
Ioan Culianu
Mircea Eliade
Lars Iyer
The Original Brothers Grimm translated by Jack Zipes
Lafcadio Hearn

Hollan Holmes - Twilight

Monday, January 11, 2016

Startup Geometry EP 016 Emanuel Derman

Emanuel Derman first had a successful career as a particle physicist, and then an even more  successful career on Wall Street, doing advanced mathematical modeling of financial instrument prices and volatility. Currently, he is a professor at Columbia University, where he directs the program in financial engineering. He's the author of My Life as a Quant and Models.Behaving.Badly.

Today, we talk about the differences between models & theories, finance & physics, and life & experiments. We look under the hood of the Black-Scholes[-Merton] option pricing formula, talk about the gaps in classical and behavioral financial models, and find out what he would change about his life if he could live it again.

Show Notes and Links

Emanuel Derman
Faculty Page
On twitter: @EmanuelDerman
Books: My Life as a Quant, Models.Behaving.Badly

[0.47] Intro. Models & Theories.
[3.45] What differentiates a theory or model in physics from one in finance?
[5.43] How to protect yourself from self-deception.
[6.55]William Blake "If a fool were to persist in his folly, he would become wise."
[7.26] At Goldman, they used models without idolizing them.
[8.40] What do you teach your students at the Columbia Financial Engineering Program?
[10.15] Example: Black-Scholes[-Merton] model for option pricing. Andy Lowes at MIT, "In physics, you have three laws that explain 99% of phenomena. In finance, you have 99 laws that explain 3% of phenomena."
[12.15] Principle of replication (arbitrage pricing theory).
[16.20] What you need to know to price a derivative. How does it fail? Correcting for that. Paul Wilmott.
[22.02] Physics: better to go deep (abstract principles). Finance: sometimes better to stay on the surface. Eugene Fama: "Finance is what doesn't go away after everyone knows about it." Elon Musk: importance of thinking by first principles vs. thinking by analogy.
[24.50] ED's favorite models. Black-Derman-Toy for interest rate. Local volatility model. Extensions of option pricing. Fixing and extending models by relaxing perfect/Platonic assumptions. Mao Tse-tung: "Let a thousand flowers bloom."
[27.07] Nassim Taleb's critiques of financial  modeling. Heuristics.
[29.30] Using the process of model-building to help discipline your thoughts. Quantifying vague intuitions.
[31.50] Institutional problems. Understanding the underlying assumptions.
[33.17] Exciting areas in finance research. Moving from derivatives to the underlying assets. Market microstructure.
[36.00] Behavioral finance. (I'm a bigger fan of finding better psychological bases to economic behavior and economic concepts like risk or utility, rather than disguising social psychology research as economics through the use of math. That's what I'm babbling about in this section. -SG). Subjectivity in economic models: it's actually "How much money do I stand to gain or lose
Hayek: In physics, the macroscopic things are sense data and real...and atoms are the abstractions. In finance, the only things that are real are the people, the markets are the abstractions. Mel Brooks on comedy vs. tragedy.
[44.24] Recommended reading: Justin Fox The Myth of the Rational Market, John Kay Other People's Money, Emanuel Derman Models.Behaving.Badly, Nassim Taleb's Black Swan & Antifragile, Elie Ayache The Blank Swan & The Medium of Contingency.
[48.48] Manfred Eigen
[49.12] More about Emanuel Derman can be found at..., What he would like to do if he could relive his life over again, How you can respond to a model vs. a theory.

The Models
Monte Carlo method
Efficient Market Hypothesis
Geometric Brownian motion (random walk, martingale)
Jump diffusion models
Black-Derman-Toy interest rate model
Derman-Kani trees/ volatility smile models