189: TZ Discussion – Synthesizing the Future

Justin and Jason discuss the lastest with Pluggio and the power of the discount, the prospect of using Kickstarter to finance cancelled TV shows, political campaigns and even for paying off the national debt, why Justin should hurry up and write the definitive “kickstrapping” blog post, why you shouldn’t discuss your startup name in a cafeCraig Venter’s synthetic organismsthe Yale scientist who discovered a Fungus that eats plastic and the 16-year old kid who discovered a microbe that does the same, Jason’s idea for using genetically altered sea algae to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patchexperiments that hint of longer lives, why no one under the age of thirty seems to know how to write desktop applications, using APIfy to turn any website into an API, estimating tasks and making progress on AnyFu, how Lance Jones got AnyFu clients through a blog post, Justin’s desire to efficiently auto-generate documentation from PHP source code, Jason’s idea for the ultimate math and science academy, the power of “spaced learning” and it’s relation to “spaced repetition” (the SuperMemo algorithm), how memories can be erased and a few tricks to improve your retention.

  1. Daniel Duan says:

    I think Jason should “open source” the super science league for kids. By “open source” I mean recording all the techniques and lessens learned during the execution of “club 0” and distribute it to the public somewhere. This could be a collective blog for all the participating members (parents, kids, and every and any other roles involved), a book (probably not the best option) or a series structured organizational instructions (it could even be branched, versioned or revisioned, sounds natural somehow, no?) on how to run the club hosted on Github.

    Anyway, I’m a long time listener, thank you for producing these awesome episodes. Keep up the good work!

  2. Aleksander says:

    Jason, that science & math academy idea is awesome. You must definitely do something about it.

    (Giving kids a better education and kindling and fueling their passions beyond anything that a typical school can provide is a topic that has been at the back of my mind for years. I don’t have kids myself, but I have young half-siblings, plus my sister works in a children’s home and tells all kinds of stories… And it pains me to see kids grow up to not be curious or ambitious about what they can do with their lives. So I do sometimes think about doing something about it, but it’s never been as specific as what you’ve come up with.)

    Regarding world-class specialists working in 10-minute bursts: How isn’t that inhibited by the cost of context switches?

    I mean, imagine a world-class programmer who interrupts his work every 10 minutes to have a break and do something totally unrelated. How do you get into “the zone” after that, how do you switch so quickly that it doesn’t make a big difference in the 10min working frame?

  3. Jason says:

    @Daniel Duan – Thanks for the positive feedback!

    You’re absolutely right about putting it all online, and in fact I was already thinking along those lines. I will try to outline it all in my upcoming post – A Blueprint for the Ultimate Math and Science Academy.

  4. Jason says:

    @Aleksander – Thanks, I’m glad you like the idea. I’m really going to try to get something going this fall.

    About the 10-minute bursts and the context switching, what I was referring to was a method known as “spaced learning” for improving the encoding of long-term memories (i.e. for learning new material). This technique isn’t meant for improving productivity, but considering how much we talk about that kind of thing I can understand the confusion. Sorry about that. 😉

    Anyway, this link does a pretty good job of explaining “spaced learning”:


  5. Aleksander says:

    Yeah, I know 10m bursts were about learning, I just slightly drifted off with my thoughts when you talked about “deliberate practice” and all I caught was experts working in short bursts. 😉 But now I listened again to that fragment and it’s about practice (in music, chess, etc.), which obviously is not far from memorization. Sorry for making up a problem. 😉

  6. Chris says:

    Jason, when you mentioned breaking up talks to estimate them, I immediately thought of this book I read at my last job: http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/0735605351

    That task breakup thing is spot on.

    (also I’d love to do a PhoneGap/Titanium for desktop or talk with you guys about it!)

  7. nethy says:

    Hi guys,

    Good show. I missed a lot of your recent shows but listening to this one it sounds like you to have started thinking about Anyfu as a smaller project than before. To me Anyfu sounded like a great ideas since you started talking about it. One that could be deceptively big: big impact, that is.

    Creating markets is always something with a lot of potential for wealth creation. Economists focus a lot on lowering transaction costs (what markets do) and it has all kinds of effects on economies. It allows specialization and allows economies to route around obstacles more easily. We already know expertise is extremely valuable because of how much employers pay for it. We also know that its very hard to buy & sell. Mostly its “traded” in employee sized pieces. Even if you want such a big lump, its still very hard to buy. What happens when you make it easy to buy it in units 1/1000th that size? That’s is an interesting question.

    I think you guys are dead on about the high bar and the concept of a “public expert.” It solves the vetting problem that basically makes it impossible to buy expertise on markets like elance. It’s a little baby with the bathwater, but sometimes you just won’t take a bath unless its guaranteed baby-free. Anything that lowers transaction costs could make a huge difference and guaranteeing quality reduces em.

    Anyfu also touches on expertise itself, another big focus in economics going back to Smith & Ricardo. Specialization is one of the magic keys to wealth creation.

    If your experts are able to make a substantial income in an attractive way with Anyfu, it could have all sorts of effects. The obvious one is that it raises the incentive for being a public expert and increases the likelihood they’ll work on The x Tutorial, being a core contributor to an open source project, writing books or giving public lectures. If these things can get you a spot on Anyfu and a regular supply of customers, more experts will do them. These have positive externalities almost by definition.

    You don’t have to be very big to start having an impact either. Say you have just 200 active experts. 20% are impacted enough (eg free time & monetary incentives) by Anyfu to influence their actions beyond just doing Anyfu sessions. Apart from the value created by those 200 experts for their clients there will be 40 high level experts spending more time generating public good in various forms. Considering the quality and value of public resources that some of your existing experts have already produced, any multiplication of the time they spend on future products is a substantial contribution.

    ..that turned into a bit of a rant. Sorry about that. It’d be interesting if you guys had an economist on the show to talk about some of these things.

  8. Jason says:

    @nethy – Thanks so much for the insight and for the accidental pep talk. I really appreciate it.

    You’re right, AnyFu has a lot of potential, not only for itself, but for other people, so it’s worth doing for a lot of reasons.

    I think that recently Justin and I have let our respective obligations get the better of us and slow us down a little bit, but probably me more than Justin to be fair. But after reading your comment I’m feeling a little more motivated and sometimes all it takes is that little extra motivation to make the next step. So, thanks for taking the time. 😉

  9. nethy says:

    Cheers Jason,

    It caches me by surprise when I find how involved this casual podcasting format tricks me into feeling. I only realize it when I start to write a little comment about how interesting it would be if Anyfu starts making being a tech web-celeb lucrative, hit send and see a comment written by an old man shaking his stick at an ipod and remember that I literally pointed a cranky finger at it that on the train when you started pondering adding a 7th project to the mix.

  10. Jesse says:

    I love the math/science academy idea. One suggestion would be to look MakerSpace type places in your area for hosting at least initially. Here are links to a couple in my area, I sure there have to be things like that our there.



  11. @Jason, I was reading the “Geek Dad” edition of Wired magazine and was thinking about you after listening to the episode. They also have a dedicated page on their site. Check out David Pogue Goes Hunting the Elements And Makes The Best Chemistry Video for Kids.

    On the topic of “Memory Hole”, I would love to be an alpha user if you build it as I really want that too (like @Justin said in one episode I would also send money your way! – or wait wait maybe you should “kickstrap-it”).

  12. Chris says:

    Jason, you should really look into FIRST to augment your math/science academy ideas. Dean Kamen’s vision almost exactly mirrors your own. There are 4 different ‘level’s of programs. The second is called Lego League.

    What most people don’t realize about Lego League is that it’s not just about legos and robots. Each team has to undertake a research project that changes each year. Past topics have included colonizing Mars, exploring the ocean, different forms of power, food science…there are many more.

    By the time you get to high school robotics program and go to Nationals, I guarantee that there are universities and companies scouting kids out.

    Anyway, it would provide a built-in program of activities for about 2 months out of your year.

    Great thoughts!!

  13. Jason says:

    @Chris – Absolutely, the FIRST Robotics competitions are really cool. I think competitions are a fantastic way to focus effort and engage kids (or adults for that matter) and I especially like competitions that are built around projects like these are because they more closely resemble how progress is made in the world.

    Another science competition that I just discovered that’s really cool is the iGEM synthetic biology competition, which has both high school and collegiate divisions.


    I wrote a little about it on G+:


    And just now, while Googling for the iGEM link, I stumbled across GeneCon, which has both a high school and researcher division.


    Thanks so much for the comment

  14. Re: MemoryHole Have you looked at Anki, an open source ‘intelligent flashcard’ app? “Intelligent scheduler based on the SuperMemo SM2 algorithm.” http://ankisrs.net/
    And about learning and the brain, one of the most interesting things I’ve seen come down the pike lately is Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation. Have you heard about it? Not sure how it would go over with the kid’s parent’s but fun to think about. Zap your brain into the zone: Fast track to pure focus

  15. Jason says:

    @John Humphrey – Yep, I’ve played with Anki and a few other spaced repetition apps, and while I think they’re useful for active memorization like studying an academic subject or language, they’re just too far outside my information consumption workflow to be of any practical value. That’s why I want to build something that integrates with my browser and automatically emails me material on a daily basis.

    In terms of Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation, we discussed it back in show 183:


    It’s definitely interesting stuff.

  16. Probably I heard about tDCM from you guys!