All In One Festival

Last weekend we hosted a few out of town DJs: Siesta and Luce from Shanghai and Oshi from Beijing, for a warehouse event in Chengdu. It’s fun to get outside of the normal venues that I play at in Chengdu and experience something a little different. This location is in Chengdu’s East Music Park (东区音乐公园) which is a remodeled manufacturing district of the city.

All in One Festival Chengdu

All in One Festival Chengdu

All in One Festival Chengdu

All in One Festival Chengdu

Published on November 12, 2014

Photos from Halloween 2014 at Dojo

This year, finally, Halloween fell on a Friday night. In late August we decided that we’d host a Halloween party at Dojo, and that finally went down almost two weeks ago. We had two areas of music with 12 DJs at this event, but most importantly, lots of amazing costumes. Below are a few photos, but at the bottom of this post there’s a link to the full set of photos.

Halloween at Dojo

Halloween at Dojo

Halloween at Dojo

Halloween at Dojo

Halloween at Dojo

More Halloween 2014 Photos
Published on November 12, 2014

Book Review #20: The Heart Never Dies

“Life is too short to play it safe” says one criminal to another. And that theme of dangerous audacity is the ever-present core of The Heart Never Dies, a blood-soaked story of vengeance.

Bob Worthington is a broken, elderly man desperately trying to reconnect with his grandchildren who have been estranged since his adult son committed suicide. He jumps when he receives the chance to earn $800,000 for delivering a stolen art piece across the country – an ancient Egyptian statue called Sekhmet. But the job he’s hired to do, and the Sekhmet object itself, hold secrets which will change Bob’s life forever.

Supernatural Suspense

Sekhmet statueThis is the third book that I’ve read and reviewed by Steven P.R. (the first two being The Turning and A Pocket Full of Needles) and several of the same common themes are present here: hot pursuit, themes of justice and morality, and shocking horror.

The Sekhmet statue in Bob’s possession is supposedly endowed with magical properties. According to Egyptian legend, the Sekhmet statues were used by Pharaohs to destroy their enemies. Sekhmet warriors were granted powers by the statutes. They lived for hundreds of years and had extraordinary strength and supernatural abilities, which eventually turned them into crazed, ruthless killers. To eradicate the source of their power and stop them, the Pharaohs destroyed hundreds of Sekhmet statues.

Bob is in possession of one of the only known Sekhmet statutes still in existence, and it unexpectedly confers its mysterious ancient power to him.

Bad Cop, Good Criminal

Appearances can be deceiving, and the moral condition of characters in this book is often in direct conflict with who they appear to be.

An example from the opening scene: a Virginia State trooper who allows two kidnappers with a young girl in their trunk escape a traffic stop because they produce snuff films which the trooper is an enthusiastic fan of. The films are part of a series of snuff films called Tickle Me Time which is broadcast via the internet to an exclusive group of members who pay $1,000 a month for the privilege of witnessing people be tortured and killed.

In The Heart Never Dies the villains are evil incarnate, and the protagonist is an every-man justifier suddenly enabled by an ancient deity.

The assembly of the characters and scenes is reminiscent of a Tarantino film: abstract, colorful, plucky and savage. Justice and morality are strong themes, as several characters identify with a higher force that guides them to take dramatic action. At times it reads like a fantastically violent interpretation of the Bible, with a righteous protagonist guided by a moral obligation to do right.

As in most Tarantino films, the conclusion is a bloody, poetic mess that almost no one survives.

Favorite Passages

Melanie woke up groggy as hell. The lampposts outside cast faint orange streaks through the blinds of the motel room. She rubbed the spot where Bob should be lying. The mattress was cold. She turned on the lamp atop the nightstand. Dark shadows fought the light. She strode to the bathroom and flicked the switch. She splashed her face with cold water. More awake.

The pulsing red eyes of Sekhmet were indicative of something. The cold breath it let out coursed through his body with some kind of mystical essence.

“Go,” Marcus said. She knew where to go and headed over to the basement door as she had done eight times already. The lacerations on her back were still healing. There were bruises between her shoulder blades and on her arms and on the nape of her neck and along her ribs. When Bob noticed the bruises, it made his blood boil. He knew why God had brought him here. He would serve as God’s almighty fist.

Conclusion

As with the previous two books by the same author, I enjoyed this book and read it quickly. Like the others, it too possesses similar themes of supernatural powers, retribution, and answering a higher call. It is incredibly violent, and that certainly means this book is not for everyone. But if you’re a fan of the lurid and highly animated style of Quentin Tarantino and Hunter S. Thompson, this is likely to be a book that you will really enjoy.

Rating:

4.5 Stars

Published on November 11, 2014

Book Review #19: Do the Work

Do the WorkDo the Work is a 2011 book written by Steven Pressfield about productivity, procrastination, and getting things done. It is a follow-up to his much more well-known book titled The War of Art. Like The Obstacle is the Way, this book is largely about re-contextualizing everyday challenges.

On Resistance

Do the Work begins with a quote which sets the fluid and poetic tone which is carried throughout: “On the field of the Self stand a knight and a dragon. You are the knight. Resistance is the dragon.”

Resistance is something that we all face. In many cases, the more important a task is, the more staunchly we resist the completion of that task. Projects started and never completed, commitments begun but never fulfilled, and so on. Although the title of this book is starkly simple, its content is imaginatively described.

Our own reluctance to follow through is described as resistance, and takes the form of procrastination, uncertainty, and a fleeting sense of priority. In no way is this resistance to be taken lightly or underestimated, as Pressfield clearly and repeatedly states that “resistance’s goal is not to wound or disable. Resistance aims to kill.”

Slay the Dragon in 109 Pages

The knight and dragon metaphor used throughout the book is about going directly through the obstacle that prevents you from completing any given task. It is the no-nonsense “get it done” mentality that underpins the colorful anecdotes that this book is composed of. This interesting combination of simple action-based instruction and vivid imagery is easy and fun to read, which makes this 109-page book fly by in a single sitting.

Favorite Passages

Start before you’re ready. Good things happen when we start before we’re ready. For one thing, we show huevos. Our blood heats up. Courage begets more courage. The gods, witnessing our boldness, look on in approval.

If you’re writing a movie, solve the climax first. If you’re opening a restaurant, begin with the experience you want the diner to have when she walks in and enjoys a meal.

Resistance is not the towering, all-powerful monster before whom we are compelled to quake in terror. Resistance is more like the pain-in-the-ass schoolteacher who won’t let us climb that tree in the playground. But the urge to climb came first. That urge is love.

Navy SEAL training puts its candidates through probably the most intense physical ordeal in the U.S. military. The reason is they’re trying to break you. SEAL trainers want to see if the candidate will crack. Better that the aspiring warrior fails here—at Coronado Island in San Diego—than someplace where a real wartime mission and real lives are at stake.

When we experience panic, it means that we’re about to cross a threshold. We’re poised on the doorstep of a higher plane.

Conclusion

The forethought and mindset required to effectively complete the tasks that you commit yourself to is invaluable. At just over one hundred pages, it’s hard not to recommend this book because the energy investment that it asks is low while the potential bounty is enormous. I enjoy Steven Pressfield’s no-nonsense writing style and found this book to be more impactful than I thought it would be. I think it’s likely that I’ll read this again when I’m mired in the trenches of some major challenge.

Amazon link: Do the Work

Rating:

4.5 Stars

Published on November 11, 2014

Game Review #7: Bitcoin Billionaire

Bitcoin BillionaireBitcoin Billionaire is a newly-released casual game about mining Bitcoins, the virtual currency. It’s developed by Noodlecake Studios, who made Super Stickman Golf, a very solid game released in 2011 that received a design award from Apple.

Last week a new episode of South Park titled Freemium Isn’t Free aired which hilariously pokes fun at free to play mobile games. The joke is that free to play games are dumb and simple waiting games, and of the most well-known freemium games in particular, this is very accurate.

Bitcoin Billionaire is a perfect example of the situation described in South Park. But a less funny truth omitted from the South Park episode is that sometimes games can be completely mindless and still lots of fun.

Bitcoin Billionaire is one of those. In terms of unique and interesting gameplay, it is a barren wasteland.

No Skill Required

The first interesting thing to note about Bitcoin Billionaire is that on the surface, it might seem to only barely meet the criteria for a game. There’s almost no skill or strategy involved since the game involves the following gameplay mechanics:

  • Tap anywhere on the screen to earn Bitcoins
  • Invest the Bitcoins you earn to receive passive income and increase the amount you earn per tap
  • Spend BTC to access unlockable items like a pet dog and penthouse apartment

That’s it. There is no cooperating with other players, nor real strategy involved. Tap, upgrade, and then keep tapping and keep upgrading. The game only requires persistence, to keep tapping and keep upgrading. At no stage of the game do anything but numerical values and pixel-art interior design objects change.

Bitcoin Billionaire

Clever Monetization

One of the chief criticisms of the freemium business model is that it’s difficult to find enjoyment when everything is behind a paywall. Bitcoin Billionaire smartly allows players to be passively as well as actively monetized, reducing the pressure on players to spend actual money.

When faced with a costly upgrade, players have two options to overcome the block aside from simply investing an exorbitant amount of time:

  1. Make an upfront purchase of the premium in-game currency (“Hyperbits”)
  2. Elect to watch a brief video advertisement or allow a banner ad to appear for 30 seconds

As is now common knowledge, it’s normal for 98% of players in a freemium game to never spend money. Revenue is accrued from the 2% of paying players, a small percentage of which will be high-spending players who will usually make up the lion’s share of the revenue in a typical freemium game. What Bitcoin Billionaire does with optional video ads and banners is attempt to monetize the other 98%. They cleverly make these completely optional, which I suspect makes players much more likely to endure, and in many cases, even choose to watch all of them and collect the speed-up benefits.

Currently, not even a week after release, Bitcoin Billionaire is ranking within the top 200 grossing apps in over 15 countries. This game has good reviews, tons of downloads due to a feature by Apple, and is monetizing well. It’s important to note that the ad revenue which this game collects is not factored into the top grossing chart figure, so the actual take is even higher than the chart position indicates.

Mindless Joy

There’s no skill to hone in this game aside from persistence, so what makes it fun?

Its weakness is the same thing that makes it fun: it’s ridiculous. I rode the subway yesterday and tapped the screen on my phone furiously with two hands for about three minutes while someone across from me just stared. I had just unlocked the downtown apartment and got the aquarium and fast computer upgrades, all of which are pixel art visual details which change nothing in the game. Is this game dumb? Oh, absolutely.

But it’s also satisfying seeing your fake Bitcoin count continually rise. The pixel art style of the game has charisma and the developers take every opportunity to make the in-game items varied and interesting. Like the Medicinal Herb Farms investment, which when purchased prompts your character to say: “Herb farming, man, is like, so good for you.”

This game knows exactly what it is, and it unfolds with a keen awareness.

Conclusion & Rating

In many ways I feel that Bitcoin Billionaire highlights what’s really unique about mobile games. This would never work on another platform. The act of performing mindless and repetitive activity at various points throughout your day only to collect fake Bitcoins is appalling, even in the context of mobile games. But in this case, even this vain and purposeless task isn’t without some charm.

4 Stars

Bitcoin Billionaire on the iTunes App Store

Published on November 11, 2014
Video

Song of the Day #161: Let’s Go

Stuck in the Sound – Let’s Go

Stuck in the Sound is a Paris-based indie rock band formed in 2002. The official video for this song, Let’s Go, was released as a single with their 2012 album titled Pursuit.

The concept for this video, a dedicated Chinese boy who commits himself to becoming an astronaut only to find something unexpected, is amazing. The visuals don’t just accompany the song, they elevate it to another level.

Check out Stuck in the Sound on Spotify.

Published on November 6, 2014

Book Review #18: The Obstacle is the Way

The Obstacle is the WayThe Obstacle is the Way is the third book published by Ryan Holiday, the 27-year old marketing guru who was famously the Director of Marketing for American Apparel. It’s loosely based on Roman stoic philosophy, and features a lot of quotes and ideas from figures like Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius.

Perspective as Reality

One of the defining qualities of stoicism, which emerged in 3rd century BC, is that perspective defines reality. True sages, according to the stoics, are invulnerable to bad fortune because virtue is sufficient for happiness. Stoicism teaches that the key to overcoming destructive emotions is fortitude and self-control, leading to what’s called “stoic calm”.

The title of this book originates from a Marcus Aurelius quote which says: “the impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

Ryan Holiday talks about the process of facing seemingly insurmountable obstacles – a process which results from logic and self-discipline:

  • To be objective
  • To control emotions and keep an even keel
  • To choose to see the good in a situation
  • To steady our nerves
  • To ignore what disturbs or limits others
  • To place things in perspective
  • To revert to the present moment
  • To focus on what can be controlled

The Premortem

Epictetus

Stoic philosopher Epictetus, born a 1st century slave

One interesting exercise of perspective described in this book is the premortem. As defined by Holiday:

A CEO calls her staff into the conference room on the eve of the launch of a major new initiative. They file in and take their seats around the table. She calls the meeting to attention and begins: “I have bad news . The project has failed spectacularly. Tell me what went wrong?”

The CEO is creating an exercise in hindsight, except it’s in advance. The technique of the premortem was designed by psychology Gary Klein, but the idea was founded by the stoics thousand of years ago. Today it’s used by startups and Fortune 500 businesses.

Thinking about problems in unconventional methods such as this often quickly reveal oft-missed problems or challenges. This is just one described in the book.

Favorite Passages

Marus Aurelius truly saw each and every obstacles as an opportunity to practice some virtue: patience, courage, humility, resourcefulness, reason, justice, and creativity.

Every obstacle is unique to each of us. But the responses they elicit are the same: Fear. Frustration. Confusion. Helplessness. Depression. Anger.

An employee in your company makes a careless mistake that costs you business. This can be exactly what you spend so much time and effort trying to avoid. Or, with a shift in perception, it can be exactly what you were looking for— the chance to pierce through defenses and teach a lesson that can be learned only by experience. A mistake becomes training. Again, the event is the same: Someone messed up. But the evaluation and the outcome are different. With one approach you took advantage; with the other you succumbed to anger or fear.

You always planned to do something. Write a screenplay. Travel. Start a business. Approach a possible mentor. Launch a movement. Well, now something has happened— some disruptive event like a failure or an accident or a tragedy. Use it. Perhaps you’re stuck in bed recovering . Well, now you have time to write . Perhaps your emotions are overwhelming and painful, turn it into material. You lost your job or a relationship? That’s awful, but now you can travel unencumbered. You’re having a problem? Now you know exactly what to approach that mentor about. Seize this moment to deploy the plan that has long sat dormant in your head. Every chemical reaction requires a catalyst. Let this be yours.

A decade earlier, a century earlier, a millennium earlier, someone just like you stood right where you are and felt very similar things, struggling with the very same thoughts. They had no idea that you would exist, but you know that they did. And a century from now, someone will be in your exact same position, once more. Embrace this power, this sense of being part of a larger whole. It is an exhilarating thought. Let it envelop you. We’re all just humans, doing the best we can. We’re all just trying to survive, and in the process, inch the world forward a little bit. Help your fellow humans thrive and survive, contribute your little bit to the universe before it swallows you up, and be happy with that. Lend a hand to others. Be strong for them, and it will make you stronger.

Conclusion

This book is a very good introduction to stoic philosophy and how to re-contextualize the challenges that we are all constantly facing. The way in which we look at these challenges, and all things in life, defines their very nature, so the value and impact that learning to think of challenges in this way cannot be overstated.

Due to the writing style of this book, which reads like very many short but profound statements, it became slightly exhausting by the end. Most of the concepts are simple to understand, but difficult to develop into innate features of our psyche. But it’s as much a worthy pursuit as anything.

Amazon link: The Obstacle is the Way

Rating:

4.5 Stars

Published on October 25, 2014

Book Review #17: Zero to One

Zero to OnePeter Thiel is the billionaire entrepreneur and hedge fund manager who became Facebook’s first investor in 2004. In September of 2014, he published his first book, titled Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future.

Although Thiel is more famous for being a venture capitalist, this book is about how to think creatively, create value, and build a viable business. The book got started when a graduate student of Thiel’s named Blake Masters took detailed notes on the class and published them online, which you can read here: CS 183: Startup.

The Paypal Mafia & Expectations

Peter Thiel co-founded Paypal in 1998, which was sold to eBay in 2002 for $1.5 billion. The group of co-founders that he founded the company with became known as the Paypal Mafia, who after the Paypal sale went on to create seven companies valued over $1 billion (including Tesla, LinkedIn, and Youtube).

The first book published by someone with a list of achievements like this quickly becomes a big deal. Last month, when Zero to One was released, I started noticing a lot of my favorite podcasts, like Tim Ferriss and James Altucher, invite Thiel on as a guest.

I had very high expectations for this book. Fortunately, it is extremely practical, smart, and engaging. It’s one of the best books I’ve read this year.

Leaders & Followers

To find big success, you cannot follow. You must undertake the simple but difficult task of innovating. In the technology community, it’s popular to think in terms of the luminaries who’ve grown to become the face of the industry. Peter Thiel addresses this immediately and simultaneously explains the title in the first lines of the book:

Peter Thiel “Every moment in in business happens only once. The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry Page or Sergey Brin won’t make a search engine. And the next Mark Zuckerberg won’t create a social network. If you are copying these guys, you aren’t learning from them. Of course, it’s easier to copy a model than to make something new. Doing what we already know how to do takes the world from 1 to n, adding more of something familiar. But every time we create something new, we go from 0 to 1.”

I don’t have much interest in reading about investment or capital management, but this book is about so much more. In this way, it’s very similar to Creativity, Inc. which is one of the best books that I read this year. It’s a grounded, practical guide to creating value and distinguishing yourself amidst a landscape of followers.

ProgressIn the first chapter, Peter Thiel introduces the concepts of intensive versus extensive progress. Intensive progress, or vertical progress, is when a company does something new, like build a word processor when the market is building typewriters.

If you start with one typewriter and build 100, you’ve made extensive (or horizontal) progress. The best example for horizontal progress (in Thiel’s words) is China, which has been straight-forwardly copying everything that has worked in the developed world.

To the right is an image from the book which explains how this concept works.

Zero to One is about escaping this trap and embracing the principle of innovation to give your business a chance to grow large enough to change the world. But creating value alone isn’t enough – you also need to capture some of the value you create.

It’s simple but powerful ideas like this which fill this book.

Favorite Passages

Tolstoy opens Anna Karenina by observing : “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Business is the opposite. All happy companies are different: each one earns a monopoly by solving a unique problem. All failed companies are the same: they failed to escape competition.

For Hamlet, greatness means willingness to fight for reasons as thin as an eggshell: anyone would fight for things that matter; true heroes take their personal honor so seriously they will fight for things that don’t matter. This twisted logic is part of human nature, but it’s disastrous in business. If you can recognize competition as a destructive force instead of a sign of value, you’re already more sane than most.

Higher education is the place where people who had big plans in high school get stuck in fierce rivalries with equally smart peers over conventional careers like management consulting and investment banking. For the privilege of being turned into conformists, students (or their families) pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in skyrocketing tuition that continues to outpace inflation. Why are we doing this to ourselves?

For a company to be valuable it must grow and endure, but many entrepreneurs focus only on short-term growth. They have an excuse: growth is easy to measure, but durability isn’t. Those who succumb to measurement mania obsess about weekly active user statistics, monthly revenue targets, and quarterly earnings reports. However, you can hit those numbers and still overlook deeper, harder-to-measure problems that threaten the durability of your business. For example, rapid short-term growth at both Zynga and Groupon distracted managers and investors from long-term challenges. Zynga scored early wins with games like Farmville and claimed to have a “psychometric engine” to rigorously gauge the appeal of new releases. But they ended up with the same problem as every Hollywood studio: how can you reliably produce a constant stream of popular entertainment for a fickle audience? (Nobody knows.) Groupon posted fast growth as hundreds of thousands of local businesses tried their product. But persuading those businesses to become repeat customers was harder than they thought. If you focus on near-term growth above all else, you miss the most important question you should be asking: will this business still be around a decade from now?

In philosophy, politics, and business, too, arguing over process has become a way to endlessly defer making concrete plans for a better future.

Conclusion

I loved every moment of this book and finished it in two sittings. It’s not just that it’s practical and insightful: it’s makes its point with remarkable clarity. I would consider this a must-read for anyone working in the tech industry especially, but is a fantastic read for anyone who wants to develop a better understanding of what makes some companies explode while others get crushed by the competition.

Amazon link: Zero to One

Rating:

5 Stars

Published on October 25, 2014