Fishes in a pond are funny. If you put your hands out, pretending to feed, they flock to you. They flock because other fishes flocked, not because of the presence of food. This herd-like behavior is common among humans.
If your business idea isn’t producing weird looks from people, it’s a common one, therefore the herd is already competing for it. People applaud you for starting a restaurant, but those same people would likely ridicule you for starting a commercial space travel business. It’s uncommon, it’s risky; “No one has ever done it before,” they say. The weird looks are a byproduct of not seeing what the founder sees. Being a YouTuber was weird a decade ago, but less so now. The more people understood what the internet is and what it’s capable of, the less weird “internet jobs” look. When space travel is commonplace, people will give you a “that’s cool” response for wanting to be a spaceship captain—the same response people give you now for wanting to be a YouTuber.
It’s not about being weird for the sake of being weird; weird simply means the herd hasn’t appeared. The idea might be worthless, but if it turns out to be valuable, it’s like the first person to find gold-rich land. (Execution is the efficiency of digging the gold, leverage are tools to increase efficiency. Another topic for another time.)
The question “how do I find good ideas?” doesn’t interest me. Here’s a more interesting, potent question: “Some people seem to produce weird, valuable ideas on a consistent basis. What sort of worldview do they have that enables it?” What if consistently discovering weird, valuable ideas is simply an inevitable byproduct of despising the herd and ruthlessly being oneself?
I like ponds. The fishes have taught me plenty of things.
Computers Are Cyberservants
Kings were wealthy because they had servants—one servant for feeding peeled grapes, one servant for sewing shirt from silk, one servant for cooking the best meal the kingdom could offer, one servant as a personal guard (with sword and shield), one servant for… you get the idea.
In the cyberspace, computers are cyberservants. They are instructed by coders, and they can be ordered to do anything—serve sites, securely accept money, render lewd graphics, create a happy-faced AI to talk about the weather, clean messy data, schedule blue light filter on 6 PM, DDOS some server, or even self-destruct. When you send an email, a cyberservant takes your mail and slides it down the recipient’s inbox, like a mailman; when you watch videos on YouTube, a cyberservant takes data from YouTube and displays it on your screen as audio and moving images; when you send Bitcoin, a network of cyberservants around the world mines the block to embed your transaction into the Bitcoin ledger; when you write on Google Docs with your colleagues, a cyberservant sends your keystrokes to your colleagues and displays your colleagues’ keystrokes to enable collaborative writing; when you use Photoshop, a cyberservant manipulates pixels for you; when you run a SaaS, a cyberservant delivers services to your customers and collects money on your behalf; when you encrypt a message, a cyberservant uses math to protect your message from being surveilled.
Computer operators are wealthy because they have an army of cyberservants working for them. Coders are wealthier because they can build any cyberservants they like.
You Have Inbox, But Have You Tried Outbox?
I have a file in my computer titled
outbox.txt. It’s like an inbox, but… out. Whenever I have something to do on the internet, whether it’s sending an email, or sharing a tweet, or opening an issue on a GitHub repository, or whatever, I put it in my outbox. When the outbox is “full,” I do everything all at once, just like how I do laundry only when the laundry basket is full. Doing things this way provides me a buffer between the intention to do something and the doing itself, which gives me time to rethink and reconsider. Sometimes the thing isn’t necessary, sometimes the thing is stupid, sometimes the thing is emotionally charged, sometimes the thing isn’t written well. This buffer nice; I can undo or edit the thing before it gets out to the world.
This outbox-based workflow wasn’t designed or planned—I didn’t even have a name for it when I first did it. It started small, and grew, and grew, and grew, until I have this intricate system. I don’t want to be distracted each time I want to do something on the internet. Writing email is a good example: If I want to write email, I have to open the email app, which contains a lot of distraction. Goddammit, I just want to write email in peace!
I like this outbox-based system. It has one weakness, though: Making this workflow works requires lots of manual, repetitive work. Perhaps I can automate it all with code…
P.S. This piece of writing made me build a small outbox prototype: https://silentroom.vinliao.com. (It can only handle email for now!)
What Are You Reading?
Reading can be turned into a signaling game. “What’s your favorite book?” “What are you reading?” “What’s your book recommendation?” I used to brag my “intelligence” by reading a ton of books and talking about it—it was a like a full-time hobby. It felt good. But that game is nonsense because most books are junk. Business books are mostly padded noise with a nice cover; spiritual books are mostly kumbaya with yoga pants. Skimming through junk is necessary to find the gems, but what’s the point of reading junk? Junk belongs to the bonfire.
Books worth reading are the ones that get deeper the more it’s read. It contains truth. Truth is timeless, and such books can stand the test of time. Some of them package truth in a raw fashion, some fictionalize it, but they speak truth nonetheless.
Now, with all that said, here are my favorite timeless books that I reread all the time. Please click the affiliate link below to show your support.
Friendship Ended With Firefox Now Vieb Is My Best Friend
I just found a web browser called Vieb (details: https://vieb.dev). This browser delights me so much that I have to share with you, even though you might not use it. Essentially, it’s a browser that can be used without a mouse.
But that’s not the point of this writing. I want to explore this question: Why am I sharing Vieb with you, even though you likely won’t use it? Because I feel delighted. Yes, yes, delighted! Perhaps what I want to share is not the browser itself, but the delight I feel for having found this browser.
Minimal, fully vim-based (
hjkl to move around,
y to yank links,
/ to search,
:q to quit the browser, etc), customizable (rc file). My god, this browser makes me so happy that I can’t stop yapping about it! As they say: A delighted customer (or user) is the best marketing force. I want to create things that make others delighted, like how Vieb delights me.
I’m Talking To You
The word “you” is direct and personal. When I use it, I’m talking to you—not him, not her, not other people.
The word “you” can make you feel nice when used appropriately (example: I like you), but it also can hurt your feelings: reading “he’s evil” has a different effect than reading “you’re evil.”
I’ve written a handful of fiction with “you” as a main character, and the main challenge is writing something relatable without hurting the ego. After all, if the reader feels insulted, they won’t read.
I just used “the reader” instead of “you.” How does that you-less paragraph feel? Here’s an experiment: I’ll substitute “the reader” with “you.”
I’ve written a handful of fiction with “you” as a main character, and the main challenge is writing something you can relate to without hurting your ego. After all, if you feel insulted, you won’t read.
You see? Personal and direct.
A Deathly Reminder
There I was: standing beside the coffin, looking at the well-dressed corpse. Everyone tried to cheer themselves with chitchat and forced smiles—they seemed unaware what they were there for.
“Isn’t she beautiful?” asked my one of my relatives.
I could barely talk, I said nothing.
There’s something primal about seeing a corpse. It reminds us of our humanity; it reminds us that no matter what happens, we’re heading towards the coffin—the mistakes, the victories, everything.
I can still vividly recall that funeral: it was filled with nostalgic tears; the fingers of the pianist danced nonstop with soft tunes. I’m sorry.
Unix Philosophy Applied To Writing: Say One Thing And Say It Well
In Unix philosophy (a programming philosophy), there’s a mantra that says, “Each program should do one thing and do it well, and they should work well together (paraphrased).” This leads to small programs that can be easily “linked” to other programs—like how small lego blocks can be used to create a lego tower.
It turns out that philosophy can be applied to writing. When writing, my goal is to say one thing and say it well—not two, not five, not one-and-a-half, just one thing. It might be short, but it doesn’t matter. Each piece of writing must stand on their own two feet, and they should be coherent when connected. This leads to modular writings (or tweets) that can act like lego blocks—easy to connect, easy to reference.
Who knew that a programming philosophy could be applied to writing?
Where Do Writing Ideas Come From?
I was at my friend’s house. Looking outside from his balcony, I saw a bird inside a rusty cage. Two birds stopped by, and those lovey-dovey stood there beside the caged bird—they all seemed busy looking at each other. After a while, the two birds flew away, leaving the caged bird alone.
“Did you saw what happened?” I asked my friend while pointing at the cage.
“How long has the bird been there?”
“It’s my neighbor’s bird. I’ve never paid any attention to it.”
That sight triggered something emotional within me—something primal. It showed me what imprisonment and freedom looks like. I was so emotional that I had to pour it into a fiction (title: Quez’s Cage).
I didn’t go to my friend’s house to find writing ideas, but it came nonetheless. It’s strange, honestly, how writing works: the catalyst is unpredictable and random. I don’t know what I’m going to write next. It feels like an adventure in an unknown land.
Imagine lounging in an ultra-comfortable, first-class airplane seat. It’s soft; it’s purple. As you attentively listen to the (very cute) flight attendant explaining how to fasten your belt buckle, she ends her presentation with the following statement: “Oh, just to let you know, the pilot is not on this aircraft. He is controlling this aircraft from the airport with a remote control. Have a nice flight.”
“What? The pilot isn’t here?” you say to yourself. You want to get off the plane, but it’s taking off.
That pilot, my friend, is an illustration of a person without skin-in-the-game: The pilot controls the plane without bearing the risk of harm—if the plane crashes, the pilot doesn’t bear the consequence.
I cringe every time someone throws unsolicited advice at me. All those people have no skin-in-the-game—if I’m harmed by their advice, they’re not harmed. What if I followed their advice, failed, and wasted a decade of my life? Would they also lose a decade of their life? Would they return my decade back? Of course no. What I’m likely to receive is an apology like: “Haha, sorry, my bad, haha, anyway, let’s grab a beer.”
I’m not against credible, useful advice. I’m against stakeless, potentially harmful ones.