Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, Conciousness, Venus Colonies and More

Cosmos Carl Sagan

I have long been a proponent of opening the space frontier, space colonization (Venus especially), Carl Sagan and space exploration, as many of you know. I often find myself emailing people lists of my favorite space related YouTube videos, short stories, and articles. Eventually I realized that I should simply type these links into a blog post about the Cosmos, Carl Sagan, and more to easily share with people and reach an even broader audience.

Cosmos by Carl Sagan

For starters if you haven’t seen the original Cosmos series with Carl Sagan – that is absolutely the first thing you should check out. It’s incredible. Despite being made in 1980 and featuring some seriously dated graphics, the concepts are so lucidly explained, simple, and yet often mind bending that it’s quite a journey. You can find the entire series on YouTube for free. Here’s Episode 1 of Cosmos by Carl Sagan

A full playlist can be found here. Occasionally episodes of Cosmos get deleted out and you have to find another one on YouTube, but it shouldn’t be too hard.

Cosmos & Consciousness

As part of my ongoing meditation practice I love digging into some of the deeper and more grand mysteries of both our existence and the cosmos itself. To that effect, I’ve created a YouTube playlist of a number of my favorite videos around the concept of life, our place in the cosmos, and what we are. Here’s a sample of one of these – a video by Symphony of Science called “We Are All Connected.” It gives me goosebumps to listen to this.

Awesome Short Stories

Whenever I get into a conversation with someone about space exploration, I always recommend checking out two incredible short stories.

The Last Question by Isaac Asimov (Written in 1956)

The thing that impresses me about both of these stories is how long ago they were written, yet how timely they seem today. The last question is a classic science fiction story by one of the genres all time greats. I don’t want to say too much without giving it away – but its deep and thought provoking.

The Gentle Seduction by Marc Stiegler (Written in 1989)

This story is absolutely amazing. Its one of the most lucid and clear descriptions of what I think “the singularity” might look like (and for those of you unfamiliar, all the more reason you should read this story). This one will take a bit of time to read but its incredibly worth it.

 The Fermi Paradox & The Drake Equation

Drake Equation The Fermi Paradox is another space concept that I absolutely love. This was a favorite of Carl Sagan’s as well. The concept is essentially – if you look at the fact that the Milky Way alone has 400 billion stars – each of which likely harbors multiple planets (the math of crunching these numbers is called The Drake Equation) – the math works out that we should be seeing alien life all over the place – but we don’t. Well why not? First, check out this great video which explains the paradox simply and easily.

But to me, the most interesting examination of this is actually the idea that Carl Sagan’s model for understanding the expansion of alien life slightly misses the point that it really more of a “big bang” type model – the notion that as soon as a single intelligent lifeform evolves in a given galaxy – within a relatively short cosmic time frame (approx. 20mm years) they will come to completely dominate their galaxy. So instead of many pockets of intelligent life within a galaxy – there will almost always ever be a single dominant life form. The chart below explains this distinction and this article is a full read on the theory and the math behind it. The main takeaway is the notion that humans are likely in 1 of 2 phases – either we are about to takeover our entire galaxy (assuming we avoid wipeout) or we are just at the cusp of another alien civilization taking over the Milky Way. Essentially we are either at Point A or Point D of this graph today. Fermi Paradox Drake Equation Either way – its fascinating stuff and I suggest digging into it if it’s the kind of thing that gets you excited. If you want to really go deep on this, read through the “Explaining the Paradox Hypothetically” section on Wikipedia, its great.

Venus Colonization

While most people are focused exclusively on the colonization of Mars, there is actually a surprisingly strong case for the colonization of Venus. I originally discovered this one day in a deep Wikipedia binge and have really gravitated to it since. Specifically there are 3 major risks to Mars colonization that people just gloss over.

  • Gravity – Mars only has approximately 0.4 of Earths gravity and the long term impacts of this low gravity could be several damaging. There are currently no known solutions for this problem. This is also something that even long-term would make terraforming Mars tough because we still end up with a planet that is too low gravity.
  • Pressure – Mars also has almost no surface pressure – requiring both every structure to be completely pressurized, which is extremely expensive and challenging from a design perspective, and people to constantly wear pressurized suits.
  • Radiation – Mars has almost no atmosphere which also makes radiation a very dangerous prospect – requiring further protection and raising the expense and challenges of permanent colonization.

The problem with Venus is that everyone looks solely at the surface – you have to zoom up about 30-40kms into the atmosphere to find the single most earth-like place in our solar system. A place where the atmosphere protects you from solar radiation at the equivalent of earth’s sea level, a place where the gravity is approximately 1g, and a place where the pressure is exactly the same as sea level pressure on earth. This means that all you would need to wear is a gas mask and you would be perfectly fine. The real kicker though is that at this height in Venus’s atmosphere – breathable air is lifting gas when unpressurized. What this means is that just filling a civilization with breathable air makes it automatically float – and there is no risk of a Hindenburg-esq explosion event because the pressure would be equal – the civilization doesn’t have to be pressurized so that even a rupture or tear would cause a very slow leakage of gas instead of an immediate implosion/explosion.

Here are also two great articles about the colonization of Venus.

The Surprisingly Strong Case for Colonizing Venus

Will We Build Colonies That Float Over Venus

Additional Space Resources

Lastly, I wanted to share a few awesome websites to check out about cosmos, space exploration, and much more.Here are three of my favorite sites to check out (all of them are in my Feedly RSS reader and I check them pretty much every morning) related to space news.


IFL Science

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and if you’re passionate about space exploration please share and comment!

29 Lessons from Paul Graham & Y Combinator – Advice for Startups

Hacker News was originally recommended to me by this crazy Czech guy named Jan Sramek. Jan flew in from London to New York and happened to be in my training class when I first started working at Goldman.

Jan, who is currently one of the founders of a stealth mode startup in Switzerland called Erudify, was sort of an oddity to us. Not only had Jan already written a Self Help Book by the ripe age of 22, but he also seemed to have an entire PR team lauding all these wild feats and accomplishments he had achieved in the UK during his undergrad years.

I knew he was a pretty smart guy and I would always pick his brain about what he was reading, thinking, etc.  One day I asked him if he knew any good blogs to read. I was bored and looking for some good stuff other than mashing refresh on the WSJ website and Bloomberg over and over again.

That happened to be one of the most fortuitous questions I’ve ever asked in my life. Not only did Jan recommend Tim Ferriss’s blog to me but he also shared Hacker News.

I still remember sitting at my desk as all the blog posts and news stories on Hacker News filled my head with entrepreneurial daydreams. Meanwhile I was stuck sitting there 14 hours a day with my eyes glued to the markets.

Since Y Combinator runs Hacker News, I instantly wanted to read the book “The Launch Pad: Inside Y Combinator, Silicon Valley’s Most Exclusive School for Startups” as soon as I heard about it.

Launch Pad is a quick read and I definitely recommend it for anyone interested in startup life or wanting to learn more. I learned a ton about Y Combinator and a bunch of its companies (Rap Genius and Code Academy are two that I discovered – and both kick ass).

Below are all of my Kindle highlights (29 in total) from the book.  I wanted to share them to give you a taste of what the book is like.

The twenty-five-year-old had the most advantages, which included “stamina, poverty, rootlessness, colleagues, and ignorance.”

If you’re not fully focusing on your product to the exclusion of all else, you’re wasting your time.

“There’s so much luck involved with startups you increase your odds of success by swinging the bat multiple times. Each time you do something that isn’t swinging the bat, you theoretically decrease your odds of success,”

No one asked ‘Should we fix payments, or build a recipe site?’ and chose the recipe site. Though the idea of fixing payments was right there in plain sight, they never saw it, because their unconscious mind shrank from the complications involved. You’d have to make deals with banks. How do you do that? Plus you’re moving money, so you’re going to have to deal with fraud, and people trying to break into your servers. Plus there are probably all sorts of regulations to comply with. It’s a lot more intimidating to start a startup like this than a recipe site. When Patrick Collison was asked what he thought about Graham’s point about the intimidating nature of a big problem, Collison politely dissented, arguing that what should be emphasized was that addressing a hard-to-solve problem is actually not as hard as everyone thinks: founders and employees alike are inspired to work harder than if they were taking on the mundane. [Referencing Stripe]

One’s environment is critically important to one’s productivity.

“Here’s how to generate new ideas. Three things. One: founders are target users. Two: not many people could build it, but founders are among them. Three: few people realize it is a big deal.”

“Ask yourself: ‘What do I wish someone would start a startup to do for me?’” says Graham. “The next best thing: something for someone else that you know is a problem.”

The best kind of thing to work on – and I appreciate this is going to be somewhat abstract or higher-level advice – the thing you want to work on is, there’s this need that’s really clear and you can just launch some shitty site and people just start using it.

Friends can mislead, Taggar says. His advice: address what businesses need, not what consumers say they would use.

“One of the big things they focus on is ‘proxy for demand.’ Which basically means when looking at some new idea, they want to see what people are doing at the moment? What kinds of crappy solutions are they hacking together at the moment.” They’ll ask founders who are building a product what their future users are doing right now. “If the answer is, ‘No one is really doing it at the moment’—a lot of people think that’s a good answer, but it’s not. Because it means they’re not desperate for it.”

“If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of the product you’ve launched, you’ve launched too late.”

He suggests that startups set a specific weekly target for growth, which can be measured in terms of revenue or users or something else, but should be essential to the startup. Anything that is not directly related to that metric is to be pushed to the wayside.

“I’m always a fan of, rather than trying to do huge, radical releases of stuff, just test out theories, the easy, simple way, and just see if anything starts happening,”

“The gold standard of weekly revenue growth is 10 percent a week. That’s insanely high. That works out to 142x a year.”

This is a strange question to pose, because, in startup life, commitment comes in only one size: total.

“They don’t fuck around, right? The startups that succeed, they don’t go to meet-ups, they don’t run around talking to boards of advisers, they just write code and talk to customers, right?” This is Graham’s oft-repeated mantra, too. Write code and talk to customers.

“We did it because we want their software to be good,” he explained. He mocked the “professional” notion that work and life are supposed to occupy separate spheres. In a startup that begins in an apartment, the founders work odd hours, wearing the most casual of clothing. They look at whatever they want online without worrying whether it’s “work safe.” The cheery, bland language of the office is replaced by wicked humor. And you know what? The company at this stage is probably the most productive it’s ever going to be.

In the YC universe, business schools are deemed so useless that no one bothers to expend any energy in remarking upon their irrelevance to software startups. The only question relating to formal education that does draw attention is whether to finish or even go to college.

Only to the basic YC tenets: work on code and talk with customers; launch fast and iterate; focus on one measurable weekly goal.

“The way to get really big returns is to do things that seem crazy,” he wrote in 2007, “like starting a new search engine in 1998, or turning down a billion-dollar acquisition offer”—a reference to Facebook.

“It will all come to what they feel in their gut about you guys as founders. If you seem”—he pauses again—“you know, fearsome, like you’re going to take over the world, then they’ll think, ‘OK, these guys are going to take over the world, and there’s definitely a world here for them to take over,’ right?”

The transition that makes people seem more confident, more resourceful, and tough—right?—that’s what you get out.

The YC User’s Manual tells founders that even in the very best case, when an investor is paying close attention, information equivalent to only four or five sentences will be absorbed from a presentation seen for the first time. One of the sentences should be a genuine insight, something that will surprise—“If a statement is not surprising, it’s probably not an insight,” the manual says. Investors may remember far less of the presentation than this, however. A single noun may be all that sticks in the mind afterward. “Something to do with chat.” “Something to do with databases.” The manual says about a third of the startups on Demo Day will do no better than this.

A lot of things broke. But a lot of things always break. So we’re going to fix the things that break.” He tries out a joke: “And then more things will break.

In YC’s portfolio “the number one company is worth more than the next 199 companies combined, while number two is worth more than the next 198 combined, and so on.”

[To be a billion dollar company] “One: you really need a huge market. And two: you need founder-market fit.”

“Just focus on one of three things: One, be cheaper. Two, focus on a niche. Or, three, be 10x better than the other products out there.”

“The point of this story is that you guys need to have this kind of swag. You need to suck people, and especially investors, into your own reality.” He heads into the conclusion. “So, what have we learned? One. You’ve got to put yourself out there and meet people, even if it’s awkward. Two. You’ve got to hug your cofounders and love your batchmates. Three. Experts aren’t going to help you solve your problems. Four. You’ve gotta have swag.”

“Smart people by definition have odd ideas.”

Hope you enjoyed and as always – hit me up on Twitter.


How Taziki’s Leapt From Three to Twenty Stores in Under Five Years

How did Fresh Hospitality take Taziki’s from a local favorite with three locations to #32 on the Fast Casual Top 100 Movers & Shakers with more than 20 locations now open?

I recently shared this entire story (and much more) on a panel at the Fast Casual Executive Summit.

Our panel told the story of Taziki’s fast paced growth by looking at how Fresh Hospitality used systems and technology to create a rapidly scalable brand.  The full panel is embedded below (40 minutes) as well as my particular portion (~10 minutes) focusing specifically on how critical systems and technology are to scalability and growth.  I’ve also embedded the slide deck that we used for the presentation as well.

(Forgive the video & sound quality – this was recorded on an iPhone!)

Systems Are Essential to Scalability & Growth (me)

Restaurant Management Systems (full panel)

The Taziki’s Story (slide deck)


Hope you enjoy and as always – would love to follow up and chat more on Twitter!