The top 1%

Day 98: Tuesday

Morning, Tim!

I went to a beautiful concert last night. The program was truly beautiful:


Beethoven Overture to Egmont
Brahms Variations on a Theme by Haydn
Mendelssohn Symphony No. 5 (Reformation)

I was also well rested and, thankfully, had less stress from work and school. I was able to truly appreciate the music.

One thing I observed during the break was how good these musicians were, and how difficult it would be to ‘make it’. In school, being in the top 1% (99th percentile) on standardized tests would be remarkable. In a room of 100, that means you’re the best. Which is very impressive. Yet despite that, being in the top 1% in the world in musical ability won’t cut it — after all, with a world population of 7.5 billion people, being of 1 in 75 million may not work. In fact, according to some quick google searches (look at the rigor I put into that!), total professional musicians may well be under 1 million people worldwide.

Yet this got me thinking. Everyone has to be in the top 1% at something — be it music composition, photography, juggling, baking, banking …or even facts. In fact, many top 1%s might be on facts — related to their job, sports interests, family — or even random things, such as facts about trains, planes, cranes, or the ever-present aches and pains.

What things are you in the top 1%? Knowledge, skills, etc.

Looking forward to comments and learning more!

Until tomorrow,



Day 85: Friday

Morning, Tim!

The Pope is visiting you tomorrow — how exciting!

I’ve been pondering your chances of becoming Pope. What with your ability to speak languages and translate — somehow, miraculously, English included! — perhaps you have a shot. Now, you may remember that there were betting sites on who would become pope, with demonstrable odds. But that was back when there was a Pope opening…so we’ll have to factor that in. Here’s what I’ve found.

First, there’s a simple 14 step guide, so it seems pretty easy. There’s even a step about going back and talking to your high school guidance counselor!

But that seems perhaps too straight forward. Ultimately, what I’ve found in reading, is that you must be 1) Catholic and 2) Male.

So you’re fairly close, I suppose.

But that’s only on technicality. There’s also the piece around for the most part having to be a Cardinal (because that’s who decides…). So what are those requirements?

Well, you have to be a priest, then a bishop…so you’ll need education (Which you’re rocking now!…wait…I guess composition doesn’t count..). And some years of experience.

Ultimately I like this post’s description best:

So that’s the career path: be born into the right half of the population, become one of a billion catholics, then one of 400,000 priests, then one of 5,000 bishops, then one of 200 cardinals, wait for the current pope to die or retire, and convince 2/3rds of your fellow cardinals to select you as the one, the only pope.

But let’s be honest, Tim. This is a boring analysis because it’s already been done. Let’s think of other factors that may limit you…

  1. Handlebar mustache. To date, scrolling through the 266 Popes, I found that none had a handlebar mustache. Being the first mustachioed Pope would be impressive, but also may be a limiting factor if they weigh that and discriminate against your kind.

Well…perhaps that’s it. I’ve sat and thought of other factors. For example, age; but, while you’d be young, you’re apparently older than the youngest ever pope. I also considered height and weight, ownership of birds, an ability to ride a unicycle, sense of humor, etc., but surprisingly there aren’t readily available datasets on those…that seems like a good blog idea. If we start to run out of topics here we can go start that one.

In fact, Pope facts generally aren’t readily available, I think an oversight the internet has made! So rather than an unusual use of a spoon, I’ll offer the fact that made me chuckle the most:

There are about 5.9 Popes per square mile in Vatican City

…pretty crazy.

Until Monday,


p.s. Do you think the pope gave up something really important to him for Lent? Perhaps his new year’s resolutions…

Passionately Curious

Day 81: Monday

Morning, Tim!

At work, we have this commitment to “being curious over right”. The idea here is that, rather than being committed (with ego) to a position or idea, to take on the lens of curiosity and understand why people might be coming to a different conclusion, how their background and experiences contribute to their understanding of the thought at hand.

In your last post:

You could present the most pointless and ridiculous ideas to him, and he would always dive right into them with you head first.  There wouldn’t be even a moment of hesitation to ask how worthwhile something really was.

I think there are hints of that theory in your professor’s actions. There seems to be a passionate commitment to curiosity, a keen desire to explore in order to better understand patterns, connections, ideas.

It’s curious that we have a commitment to being right. Certainly, the spot of dopamine the brain receives when being right helps. But put up mechanisms to fight our own ignorance, as if we don’t want to even explore the possibility that we aren’t right. What causes this blindness?

First, we love putting on the lens of confirmation bias. I’ve linked to the below comic before, but it’s one of my favorites so here it is again.C4C4E4A9-363E-4112-97D0-11964D9AC29F.jpg

The idea here is that we seek information that confirms what we already believe. Rather than take an objective lens, we put on blinders to information that is contrary to our existing beliefs.

Second, we don’t want our ego to be hurt. The way this pans out is our unwillingness to challenge others. We accept as fact or highly researched opinion others points of view, failing to challenge for fear of embarrassing others. Too often someone will state their point of view, perhaps more confidently than what they could otherwise back up if someone continuously asked “why”. But societal norms suggest we don’t do that to others — and likely because we would have a hard time handling that being done to us.

Third, there are elements of peer reinforcement. We fall prey to group think, choosing to go along with the crowd to balance the need for relationships and/or not have to do the hard work of thinking ourselves.

I like the idea of being curious. It’s something I look for in those I hire — people that are passionately curious to learn more, to understand how things work and why others think the way they do. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed that too. I hope we can continue to be curious.

Until tomorrow,


The Connection Crisis

Day 61: Monday

Good morning Zak,

Remember this post from before Christmas?

I wish I could bring you back something that would summarize what Milano means to me… There’s just something in the air here that I wish I could share with you.  Cigarette smoke, smog, and then something else.

What I ended up getting you was coffee and conversation.  Here in Italy, coffee is what you Americans call “espresso.”  In retrospect maybe I should have gotten a different gift, since the coffee-drinking habit might kill us some day.  On the bright side, it may also help us live longer

Many news sources and journalists say that our society is entering a post-truth age.  This is supposedly a recent development.

“What is truth?” -Pontus Pilate c. 32 A.D.


The public too often disposes of facts and evidence in favor of conspiracy theories and other unfounded nonsense.  In a post-truth society, science and fact are sometimes replaced by gut-feeling, superstition… and mystery.

Every year in ancient Greece there used to be this famous religious rite known as the Eleusinian Mysteries.  Maybe you’ve heard of it.  This was an initiation ceremony for the cult of Demeter and Persephone.  As any good history student can tell you, participants in this ceremony were required to… well…

We have no idea what they did.  It’s called the Eleusinian Mysteries not the Eleusinian Tell-Everyones.  Initiates to the cult were required to keep its practices a secret, and they remain a secret to this day.

It’s easy to understand why people were attracted to this sort of thing—it’s about connection.  I mean, secrets can be a lot of fun. They can bring people closer together.  As a case and point, take our blog’s secret peer review process for unusual uses of spoons.  It’s nice to be a part of a small community that shares certain exclusive knowledge—even if that knowledge is of no real consequence.

fvf-lgThe scientific community is like that.  It has its secrets I mean.  Only scientists really understand why we believe humans evolved from fishes, or how the entire universe once fit into a mass the size of a golf ball.  As a layperson, I don’t really have access to all the data and methods that lead to those conclusions.  But Bill Nye, Neil Degrasse Tyson, and other public pundits insist that I adopt these beliefs and the ideologies that accompany them as an article of faith.  Faith in a method and process that I do not see.

Speaking of faith, it might be worth pointing out that the modern English word “pundit” comes from the Sanskrit paṇḍita—a Hindu pandit is a priest or wise-person.

The gradual dogmatization of science has begun to cause us problems.  Whenever philosophical opinion gets presented as scientific fact, it undermines faith in the objectivity of the field as a whole.  Needless to say, this is starting to have very negative consequences…

280px-a_small_cup_of_coffeeBut the biggest problem with the cult of science has nothing to do with politics.  In my view, the main issue is much more personal—it’s about connection.  Unlike traditional cult mysteries, the secrets of science don’t bring people together; if anything they do the opposite.  The founders of the new religion have failed to consider some very fundamental questions: where are the faithful supposed to gather? what rituals will they perform together?

“And if I understand all mysteries and all knowledge, […] but have not selfless love, I am nothing.”

Corinthians 13:2

Those are not rhetorical questions; they represent the main syndrome of our society.  If we solve the connection crisis, if we figure out how to have meaningful human contact in the Age of Information, a lot of the symptoms we’re experiencing will start to go away.

To our American readers, hope Saint Valentine is good to you tomorrow… or whatever you people say.  Seriously though, hope you can find yourselves some coffee and conversation.

Until tomorrow,