Cannibals and European ethnocentrism

In 1563, French philosopher Michel de Montaigne was invited to the King of France’s court to meet three Brazilian cannibals who were brought to France. After having been interrogated for hours by the 13 year old king, Montaigne sought to ask a few questions. And their answers were incredibly revelatory:

First, the Brazilians expressed surprise that “so many tall, bearded men, all strong and well armed” (i.e., the king’s guard) were willing to take orders from a small child: something that would have been unthinkable in their own society. And second, the Brazilians were shocked by the severe inequality of French citizens, commenting on how some men “were gorged to the full with things of every sort” while others “were beggars at their doors, emaciated with hunger and poverty.” Since the Brazilians saw all human beings “as halves of one another… they found it strange that these poverty-stricken halves should suffer such injustice, and that they did not take the others by the throat or set fire to their houses.”

Montaigne records these observations in an essay entitled, “Des Cannibales.” Well ahead of its time, the essay challenges the haughty denigration of cannibals that was so common among Montaigne’s contemporaries, but not by arguing that cannibalism itself is a morally acceptable practice. Instead, Montaigne makes the more provocative claim that, as barbaric as these Brazilian cannibals may be, they are not nearly as barbaric as 16th-century Europeans themselves. To make his case, Montaigne cites various evidence: the wholesome simplicity and basic nobility of native Brazilian life; the fact that some European forms of punishment — which involved feeding people to dogs and pigs while they were still alive — were decidedly more horrendous than the native Brazilian practice of eating one’s enemies after they are dead; and the humane, egalitarian character of the Brazilians’ moral sensibility, which was on display in their recorded observations.

Big hedge funds fueled fourth-quarter dive in Apple shares

Big hedge funds fueled fourth-quarter dive in Apple shares

Big hedge funds fueled fourth-quarter dive in Apple shares



Noted stock pickers including Leon Cooperman, Eric Mindich and Thomas Steyer unloaded billions of dollars of Apple shares between September 30 and December 31, according to disclosure documents filed on Thursday.


“The stock just went up so much in early 2012 and then was coming back to earth,” said Justin Walters, co-founder of Wall Street research firm Bespoke Investment Group. “Three months from now, we’ll be seeing a lot of the people who sold starting to pick it up again.”

Wishful thinking from Apple investors or fact? 

Relaxing as key to productivity

Fascinating new research about how relaxing and getting comfortable can actually make you more productive. Piece by Tony Schwartz for the NYT:

More and more of us find ourselves unable to juggle overwhelming demands and maintain a seemingly unsustainable pace. Paradoxically, the best way to get more done may be to spend more time doing less. A new and growing body of multidisciplinary research shows that strategic renewal — including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations — boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health.

Two system for successful startups

There seems to be two product systems which are quite popular and successful at the moment, for mobile apps. 

1. Simple, mono-action apps

This is Instagram and Vine.

Focus around a unique use case, craft a superb user experience, wait for the market.

Instagram: Take a picture, apply a filter, share it to all social networks. 
Vine: Take a 6 second, non-continuous video, share it to all social networks.

2. Kill the middleman

This is Uber, AirbnbiCracked and Exec.

Find some market which does not need a middleman, as we now have phones with constant Internet connections. Then make connections, and exchanges of goods/services between people super easy, peer-to-peer style. 

Airbnb: peer-to-peer house/room rentals
Exec: peer-to-peer house cleaning

In the case of Uber and iCracked it’s business-to-peer via the app.

So you know what you have to do, if you want to build a startup now. (Or you could build a cheap, efficient solar panel (apparently, you can’t).)

The history of pasta

The history of pasta

The history of pasta


“Today, pasta con sarde, or pasta with sardines, is one of Sicily’s signature dishes. Yet as legends go, this version of how pasta became a staple of Italian cuisine is far less familiar than the tale of Marco Polo’s supposed discovery of noodles in China in the 13th century—a tale that has been subject to more spin than a forkful of spaghetti. In the first place, Polo actually wrote in his account of his travels that the noodles he ate in the Orient were “as good as the ones I have tasted many times in Italy,” and likened them to vermicelli and lasagna. Second, there are commercial documents recording pasta shipments and production in Italy long before Polo’s journey. Most convincingly, scholars have pointed out that the whole story was a deliberate fabrication published in the late 1920’s by editors of The Macaroni Journal, a trade publication of North American pasta manufacturers. While the Asad ibn al-Furat tale may be no less fanciful, there is evidence to suggest that pasta may have come from the Middle East. Still, the story of the humble noodle’s journey from east to west has as many twists and turns as a strand of fusili, and is often as slippery.”

— The surprising history of pasta, which may have actually originated in the Middle East. Complement with an architectural anatomy of pasta designs

I think about what constantly-flowing information means for blogging. In some ways this is Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, etc. But what if someone started a stand-alone blog that wasn’t a series of posts, but rather a continuous stream of blurbs, almost like chat. For example: “I just heard…” or “Microsoft launching this is stupid, here’s why…” — things like that. More like an always-on live blog, I guess.

It’s sort of strange to me that blogs are still based around the idea of fully-formed articles of old. This works well for some content, but I don’t see why it has to be that way for all content. The real-time communication aspect of the web should be utilized more, especially in a mobile world.

Great ideas from MG Siegler

An always-on blog, strapped to the news and connected to social services which would allows for a continuous stream of blurbs. Or reactions, if you see that always-on blog as some sort of news identity.