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Space: Exciting Opportunities of the Final Frontier

Even if you aren’t a space nerd and don’t follow the industry, chances are you’ve heard about the Chinese Tiangong space station, The Emirates Mars Mission, China landing a robotic spacecraft on the Moon, Russia’s and India’s plans to land on the Moon, impressive successes in gathering samples from asteroids, first flight on Mars, Virgin Galactic’s and Blue Origin’s first fully crewed spaceflights, and, of course, the rapid development of an industry-changing and fully reusable SpaceX’s Starship that may be able to take us to Mars one day.

The space race is back.

Only this time, it’s not going to be just two superpowers racing to the Moon.

This time, with the help of private companies, and Starship leading the way, entire new industries are going to be born.

Just like the invention of the elevator had forever transformed architecture and city design in the late 19th century, Starship has the potential to completely transform the space industry and spark a new era of innovation by simply lowering payload costs.

When NASA’s Space Shuttle was in operation, it could launch a payload of 27,500 kg to Low Earth orbit (LEO) for $1.5 billion, or $54,500/kg. Today, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 can offer to send 22,800 kg of cargo for $62M or only $2,720/kg, and Falcon Heavy at $1,410/kg is even more affordable.

Launch cost per kilogram to LEO versus first launch date. Source: NASA Ames Research Center
Launch cost per kilogram to LEO versus first launch date. Source: NASA Ames Research Center

Even though this is an astonishing cost reduction by a factor of 20, it’s still inaccessibly expensive for most startups, and that’s one of the main reasons why space has been a realm of governments and companies that mainly rely on government contracts to survive.

Enter Starship: the tallest (120m), highest-thrust (about double the Saturn V), and only fully reusable orbital rocket in history.

 

Once complete, it will be capable of lifting 100 metric tonnes to orbit. The booster will run on sub-cooled liquid methane and liquid oxygen propellant and exert 72 meganewtons of force (16,190,000 pounds of force) during liftoff.

Starship and Super Heavy Stack
Starship and Super Heavy Stack

If Starship can send 100 tonnes of cargo to orbit, it can also send that cargo from New York to Sydney in less than an hour. For comparison, a Boeing 737 has an empty weight of 45 tons. This can create an entirely new market for space launch, one that involves not a hundred or so launches per year, as is currently the case, but hundreds or even thousands per day, which, in turn, would drive a radical cheapening of space technology.

Elon mentioned that the propellant cost of orbital launch would be about $10/kg, with a marginal cost of Starship mass to orbit under $100/kg, suggesting a roughly $200/kg price tag to LEO, which is an order of magnitude below that of the Falcon 9.

Today, even the most basic 6U CubeSat costs ~$300,000 to make, mainly because it costs about the same to put it in LEO, so you are going to be more than willing to pay premium prices for all your satellite’s components and spare no expense in testing everything to the max.

With the launch costs that low, the cost of all space hardware will radically drop because it will no longer be necessary to engineer all parts to super exacting conditions. Companies will be able to drastically reduce expenses by simply taking on the risk of paying for another launch.

What else will be possible when Starship is fully operational and the launch costs are down by >20X?

Since Starship is designed to be refuelable in orbit, it’ll pave the way for “space gas stations” and significantly increase the market size for companies like OrbitFab.

At the 2016 Recode conference, Jeff Bezos said that building things in space makes much more sense than trying to build them on Earth. Heavy industrial manufacturing should happen in outer space, and the Earth should be zoned for residential living. He wants thousands of entrepreneurs building things in space, but high launch costs remain the main challenge for on-orbit manufacturing.

There are products that could revolutionize life on Earth, but our planet’s constraints—mainly gravity and dust—prevent us from creating them.

For example, gravity makes it virtually impossible to 3D print a heart with its four chambers and highly organized muscle tissue made of different types of cells. On Earth, tissues printed with runny bioinks made of gel and human stem cells collapse under their own weight, and we have to add scaffolds or toxic chemicals, which creates problems in the long run, such as eventual immune reactions to these synthetic scaffolds or inaccurate structures.

This is where microgravity comes to the rescue. Without gravity, cells can freely self-organize into their correct 3D structure without needing a scaffold. Printing in microgravity allows the object to spit out in genuine 3D, improving speed by up to 100 times.

And it’s not just organs.

ZBLAN optical fiber made in 0G gravity is 100X more efficient than the silica-based one made on Earth, and gallium-arsenide semiconductor is 10,000 times better in quality.

0G ZBLAN fiber VS 1G ZBLAN fiber
0G ZBLAN fiber VS 1G ZBLAN fiber

There are already companies working on making this a reality:

Made In Space has manufactured the first ZBLAN optical fiber on the ISS and working on a robotic assembly machine with an in-built 3D printer; Techshot is working on 3D bioprinting soft tissue, and Varda is planning to be “the Foxconn of Space.”

Carbon nanotubes, metal alloys, and crystallized proteins are just a few more products on the shortlist for space manufacturing today; even with the current launch prices, these products are expensive enough to be profitable. So imagine how many and what kind of new possibilities will be created with >20X better margins.

Think of how it could allow other companies in the space economy to bypass launch to LEO, fundamentally changing the capabilities of the assets in space. Products like large antennae and giant solar panels that would not otherwise fit in a rocket capsule could be assembled in orbit and joined to more sophisticated parts built on Earth. On-orbit gas stations could fuel newly assembled rockets, which could be built with negligible concern for weight and propellant. And the entire high pollution industries could be relocated to orbit to avoid harmful effects on the environment on Earth.

Given its potential, I believe that on-orbit manufacturing can be the biggest new space market, made possible, in large part, by Starship’s success.

If manufacturing in space sounds too difficult, there’s another manufacturing opportunity—an Alien Dreadnought—and it’s right here on Earth.

Manufacturing and supply chains are currently in pretty much the same state they were 50 years ago, and everyone in the space industry, including SpaceX, Blue Origin, and ULA, partly outsources their manufacturing to many small factories across the US.

While it made sense during the first space race, using mom-and-pop machine shops now is horribly inefficient because 90% of them are too expensive, unreliable, and inconsistent. The archaic supply chain not only increases costs but also lead and iteration times, resulting in launch delays and blown-up rockets.

What we need is an efficient factory that can cover +95% of all space and defense components.

Even though Hadrian is already working on this, the demand for supply chains in the space and defense industries will only continue to grow exponentially, so there’s still room for more manufacturing companies.

When it’s 20x cheaper to launch a satellite, we will see the problem of space junk—the debris that floats in LEO and GEO—intensify to the point when we won’t be able to ignore it any longer. Considering that the worst-case scenario is Kessler syndrome—a catastrophic chain reaction of collisions with the potential to block safe access to space for generations—we will hopefully see the birth of an entirely new sector of “space janitorial services” whose whole purpose will be to clean the debris. Given that there are ~107,000 new satellites planned by 2029, this may become a reality a lot sooner than we think.

Since there are still over 4 billion people without internet access, satellite broadband will continue to grow, representing at least 50% of the global space economy.

If the internetless half of the world isn’t enough to skyrocket the demand for broadband, the rise of self-driving cars, the increasingly ubiquitous IoT devices, and the soaring popularity of video streaming and cloud gaming will undoubtedly help.

Given Starlink’s ambitions to have 42,000 satellites in orbit by 2027 and its current capabilities to build 60 of them per month, I’m not sure if it’s reasonable to enter this market, especially considering that Amazon is launching a constellation of 3,236 satellites for Project Kuiper, and OneWeb is planning to send 48,000 satellites. Even not counting Telesat (1,671 satellites), Viasat (288 satellites), and Mangata Networks (791 satellites), this is the most crowded sector in the Space industry.

Since the majority of these companies are launching their satellites to low Earth orbit, one potential solution is to go higher, to the geostationary orbit (GEO). The caveat here is that GEO satellites are an order of magnitude more expensive to build, at least four times more expensive (per kg) to launch, and have higher latency and lower bandwidth per user than LEO satellites do. On the plus side, since GEO is at ~35,000 km above the Earth’s surface, each satellite gets a much wider field of view, allowing companies to cover most of the planet’s surface with only three satellites spaced at appropriate intervals.

If competing with Starlink in providing internet doesn’t sound too appealing, there are quite a few other, no less exciting, use cases for small satellite constellations.

First, there’s Earth observation (EO) – the most popular one. With a camera as a payload, EO satellites help companies evaluate the progress of a construction site, monitor road traffic, a pipeline, or soil health, track vessels, detect changes in forests, plan urban infrastructure, and much more, thus creating lots of exciting opportunities.

The EO satellite market is an incredibly broad topic, deserving a separate post, so here I’ll focus on two main types of companies and low-hanging fruit.

There are satellite operators and data providers, with publicly traded US giants like Planet, which operates 200+ satellites in orbit, capturing 1.2M high-resolution images per day, Maxar, with 285+ launches and 80+ satellites on orbit, and Airbus, with 70+ satellites across the pond.

While having millions of images and giant datasets is great, not only the current process for purchasing satellite imagery is ridiculously archaic, tedious, and time-consuming, but companies and governments don’t care about the imagery per se; they need actionable data and insights.

That’s where the smaller companies like SkyWatch, Boeing’s subsidiary UP42, Bird.i, RS Metrics, and others come in, and where I think the lowest barrier to entry into the space industry is.

Most of these companies curate satellite imagery from multiple providers, use machine learning to process it, and sell it as a service. One of the RS Metrics products, for example, is a dataset containing traffic data from 65,000 retail parking lots, which can be used to monitor economic growth, value the property, or help retailers manage supply chains.

SkyWatch and UP42 are building APIs for sourcing and processing satellite images, making it easier to build geospatial products. Think Twillio, but for satellite imagery.

The problem is end users don’t care about satellite imagery per se; they need actionable data. So by using these APIs, there’s an opportunity to build a data-processing product for currently underserved industries – maritime, agriculture, and transportation.

Asteroid mining is another exciting and potentially incredibly lucrative market.

Back in 2017, Goldman Sachs predicted that the world’s first trillionaire would make their fortune by mining in outer space.

Asterank estimates that more than 500 of the ~6,000 asteroids in NASA’s database are worth $100+ trillion each. The estimated profit on just the top 10 “most cost-effective” asteroids—the easiest to reach and to mine—subtracting rocket fuel and other operating costs, is around $1.5 trillion.

And, of course, there’s 16 Psyche, with $10 quintillion worth of materials.

An animation depicts a mapping of the positions of known near-Earth objects at points in time over the past 20 years, and finishes with a map of all known asteroids as of January 2018. Source: JPL/NASA
An animation depicts a mapping of the positions of known near-Earth objects at points in time over the past 20 years and finishes with a map of all known asteroids as of January 2018. Source: JPL/NASA

What can we get from these asteroids?

Valuable metals and minerals at much higher concentrations than found on our planet: platinum, iron ore, nickel, niobium, yttrium, dysprosium, etc. Platinum is the most interesting and highly disruptive from an economic standpoint. According to now-defunct Planetary Resources, a single asteroid the size of a football field could contain $25B-$50B worth of platinum, or ~10X the annual global mine production. This means that a single successfully mined asteroid would likely crater the global price of platinum.

There’s another compound found in asteroids that’s more interesting from a technological standpoint — water.

Water is easily converted into rocket fuel by splitting the hydrogen from the oxygen in H2O and can even be used unaltered as a propellant. Ultimately being able to stockpile the fuel in LEO would be a game changer for how we access space.

On a sad note, while asteroid mining is a very exciting industry, there’s still not a single company that had any success in any way. The two companies that used to go all-in on asteroid mining—Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries—are now both defunct – the former have failed to raise additional funding (raised ~$49M during their nine years of existence), the later pivoted towards smallsats, and both were acquired.

Trans Astronautica Corporation and the UK’s Asteroid Mining Corporation still exist, but we have yet to see any meaningful results from them.

We do have three successful asteroid-sampling government missions, though.

First, there was a proof-of-technology Hayabusa (2003-2010) by the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), which returned to Earth a sample of material from a small near-Earth asteroid Itokawa.

Then, the Hayabusa2 (2014-2020) repeated its predecessor’s success by returning the sample from asteroid Ryugu (which cost ~$150M).

And finally, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx collected a whooping ~60 grams of soil from asteroid Bennu and is currently on its way back to Earth (expected to return in 2023).

NASA’s bigger Asteroid Redirect Mission—to capture a piece of an asteroid and bring it to orbit around the Moon—was cancMoon by the Trump administration.

While the psychological barrier to mining asteroids is high, the actual financial and technological barriers are far lower, and cheap launch costs could potentially be the infliction point.

I believe that with China’s plans for a Moon base and NASA’s return to the Moon, the firMoonuccessful space mining companies will be the ones extracting water, aluminum, and silicon from, you guessed it, the Moon (with MoMoonxpress (raised $65.5M) and ispace (raised $195.5M), potentially, leading the way), even though, at this point, the potential commercial customers for these upcoming use cases are non-existent.

If you want to dig deeper (no pun intended) into the economic feasibility of asteroid mining, here’s an interesting paper that focuses on supplying water in space and returning platinum to earth.

If we come back to Earth, there’s one sub-industry that stands out and has been one of the few sources of revenue for government programs and private companies alike, and it’s space tourism.

The first space tourist was Dennis Tito, who spent a week on board the ISS in 2001 and reportedly paid $20M for a ride on a Russian Soyuz. Space Adventures arranged this and six more flights since then – a company set up to get private individuals into space.

However, the infliction point for space tourism is happening right now, 20 years later, with the successful fully-crewed flights by Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin.

While we don’t know yet how much Blue Origin rides will cost, Virgin Galactic used to sell tickets for $250K each before getting a backlog of 600 reservations and ultimately suspending sales in 2014, and now has reopened sales at $450K per seat.

Virgin Galactic ($SPCE) revenue forecast. Source: Canaccord Genuity
Virgin Galactic ($SPCE) revenue forecast. Source: Canaccord Genuity

Besides fun few-minute rides to the Karman line on New Shepherd (or 20km below that if you’d chosen Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo), SpaceX plans to use their Starship to fly up to 100 people around the world in minutes, which could revolutionize long-distance travel. From New York to Shanghai in 39 minutes, instead of the 15 hours, it currently takes by airplane? Yes, please.

But space tourism doesn’t end with rockets and space planes. There are also space balloons.

Space Perspective flight.
Space Perspective flight

Space Perspective offers 6-hour flights to a 30km altitude on a massive 510,000 m^3 space balloon for $125,000 per person. The most interesting part? They already have over 400 seats reserved, and all flights for 2024 are sold out even though they just started accepting reservations earlier this year. While I’m not sure why it’s called a space flight if it only gets you to 30km and you don’t experience weightlessness, it is still a unique experience with a great view. And the demand is clearly there.

Just like tourism on Earth cannot exist with only airplanes and needs hotels, space tourists will also have to stay somewhere once we move beyond fun few-minute rides and ISS gets discontinued.

That’s where commercial space stations, aka extraterrestrial hotels, come into play, with Axiom Space currently leading the way.

They plan to start by attaching the first part of its space station to the ISS in late 2024, then add more pieces until it has enough to stand alone, and finally, detach itself and fly as an independent, Axiom-owned space station. Axiom says that they already have more than 20 countries signed up that want a human space program but couldn’t previously afford it.

Axiom's future commercial space station
Axiom’s future commercial space station

The first guests to such stations might put up with strenuous ways of conserving water that the astronauts on the ISS endure, but if one enterprising space station offers showers and a good toilet, they’ll be able to charge a premium. That, in turn, will produce a demand for a lot more water, where asteroid and moon mining might come in handy.

Although today’s space tourism market represents less than $1B of the overall ~$400B space industry, with the addressable market of well over 1 million people that are worth $5M+, there’s general consensus that space tourism will grow at least three to eight times by 2030.

There also could be unexpected and subtler benefits of space tourism. More people will experience the “overview effect,” in which seeing our planet as one borderless, delicate biosphere increases awareness of the fragility and beauty of life. As the vast majority of these space tourists are going to be high-net-worth individuals, perhaps a shift in their perspective will have an outsized influence.

If you noticed, I didn’t mention any opportunities in the launch sector. That’s because I believe it’s already too crowded. There’s only room for ~ ten launch companies for the next couple of decades, and most of the existing launchers will be consolidated.

Morgan Stanley estimates that the global space industry will grow to be a $1+ trillion market by 2040, up from the current $350B and $277B in 2010:

The Global Space Economy ($t). Source: Morgan Stanley
The Global Space Economy ($t). Source: Morgan Stanley

And the investors (Seraphim Space Fund, John Doerr, Khosla Ventures, Sequoia, RRE, Bessemer Venture Partners, Construct Capital, Lux Capital, Founders Fund, First Round, Andreessen Horowitz, Space Capital, among others) are taking notice: Q2 2021 was the largest quarter on record for space infrastructure investment and the fourth largest quarter for total space investment.

Source: Space Capital.
Source: Space Capital.

I believe that thanks to the advancements of this decade, entirely new markets will be born in space, and 2020s is the best time to enter this industry.

If you’d like to dig deeper into the Space industry, an excellent place to start would be “The Case for Space” by Robert Zubrin and “Space Is Open for Business” by Robert Jacobson.

tl;dr What has changed? Why now?: the space tech advancements of the last decade, the easier access to capital thanks to the success of SpaceX, and, most importantly, the significant drop in the launch costs. If you start now, your product might be ready by the time it costs <$200/kg to get to LEO on a Starship.

What I Learned by Wearing a Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM)

For the past 14 days, I’ve been wearing a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) while testing every possible food I normally do and don’t eat combined with different types of physical behavior.

I learned a lot and changed my already over-optimized diet as a result.

What is a CGM?

As the name suggests, it’s a system made of a sensor and a reader/smartphone app that continuously measures your blood sugar throughout the day and night.

It’s mostly used by diabetics, but with the recent rise of both, a number of startups promoting CGM use, and overall wellness awareness (pandemic silver lining), it has become rather popular among non-diabetics as well.

Why would non-diabetics use CGM?

As Dr. Peter Attia (@PeterAttiaMD) mentioned in his recent AMA episode, higher glucose variability and higher peak glucose levels are associated with accelerated onset of disease and death, even in non-diabetics. Studies show that higher glucose variability in non-diabetics is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular and Alzheimer’s diseases, cardiovascular death, frailty, cancer death, and all-cause mortality compared to lower glucose variability. And CGM provides almost instant metabolic data so you can make changes in your diet and lifestyle to reduce the likelihood of a surprise diagnosis later in life.

Given my obsessions with health and data, I ordered the Abbot FreeStyle Libre CGM as soon as I got to a country that allowed me to do that without a doctor’s prescription. If you’re in the US, you can use Levels – they use the same Abbot device but pair it with their great app for more insight into your metabolic health.

The system is incredibly easy to use. Apply the sensor to the back of your arm (it doesn’t hurt, I promise), download the app (or buy a separate reader if your phone doesn’t have an NFC chip), pair them, wait a few hours for a sensor to calibrate (mine took almost 24 hours to calibrate properly, keep that in mind), and you’re good to go. Each sensor lasts only 14 days, so if you want to use it for recommended 28 days, you’d need to order two of them.

It is recommended to maintain glucose levels between 72–110 mg/dL (4.0–6.1 mmol/L), limiting post-meal glucose rises to less than 30 mg/dL (1.8 mmol/L) from pre-meal levels, and maintaining average glucose of 100 mg/dL (5.5 mmol/L) or lower.

Over two weeks, I managed to keep my average at 4.7 mmol/L (85 mg/dL):

Average Glucose Levels – Continuous Glucose Monitor

 

While staying in the target range 68% of the time, which isn’t too bad given that I intentionally experimented quite a lot.

Time in target range – Continuous Glucose Monitor

My estimated hemoglobin A1c was 4.6%, which is almost perfect.

Hemoglobin A1c – Continuous Glucose Monitor

I say “almost,” because based on this observational 2011 study that found a continuous increase in the associated risk for all-cause death throughout a broad range of hemoglobin A1c values, I’d prefer to keep my HbA1c below 4.5, even though based on the adjusted HRs and this study, anything below 5.0 seems to be good enough.

Crude incidence rates and adjusted HRs for all-cause mortality according to category of baseline glycated haemoglobin

As you can see, at hemoglobin A1c <4.5, there are only 5.7 all-cause deaths per 1000 person-years, with an absolutely dramatic increase to 24.5 deaths at ≥6.5 HbA1c.


Over the course of these two weeks, I kept a journal where I documented most of the meals and glucose readings.

Glucose Log – CGM

Some of the results were expected—yes, most foods with a high glycemic index will spike your glucose—but there were quite a few things that surprised me and changed my behavior as a result.

1. Not all fruits are the same.

I’ve heard lots of conflicting opinions about fruits. Even though I love fruits and never felt a sugar rush no matter how much I’d eat, it was interesting to see that some fruits which are considered to be the “good” ones would spike my blood sugar, but it would stay within the normal range after eating some other, supposedly the “bad” ones.

Fruits that spiked my glucose: cherries (8.4 mmol/L / 155 mg/dL after eating only 150g, even though its glycemic index is only 20), oranges, apples, strawberries, apricots, grapes.

Fruits that didn’t have as much effect, keeping my blood sugar within the normal range: bananas, pomegranate, raspberries, blueberries.

Behavioral change: eliminate all fruits that significantly elevate my glucose levels from my diet, keep eating the ones that don’t.

2. Almost any type of pasta is bad.

I’ve tested the wheat flour, rice, egg, and buckwheat pasta. The only one that didn’t spike the blood sugar as much was the soba made from buckwheat, which isn’t surprising given that it has the lowest glycemic index (56) of all.

Behavioral change: I used to have a side of pasta with my standard Mediterranean roasted vegetables at dinner, now I either have soba or don’t add it at all.

3. Rice has the worst effect on my blood sugar.

Yes, given its glycemic index of ~70, it shouldn’t surprise me as much, but no matter what type of other food I’ve tried during these two weeks—pastries, candies, pasta, cake—nothing could compare to what rice did to my glucose levels: it increased it to the record 10.7 mmol/L or 193 mg/dL!

Glucose spike after eating rice.

Behavioral change: forever eliminate rice from my diet.

4. Wheat flour in any shape or form causes the longest blood sugar spikes.

I’ve already mentioned the terrible effects of pasta and rice, but products made of wheat flour—bread, pizza, cakes, wraps, cookies, pastries, bagels, etc.—take the first place for the glucose surge duration.

For example, the glucose levels would go back to normal only 20 minutes after the 40% increase caused by cherries, but it’d stay up for 1.5 hours (!) after eating the wheat flour sugar-free pastry.

What about whole-grain foods? Unfortunately, there was no difference.

Behavioral change: I stopped eating bread roughly six years ago, but now I’ve also removed all other types of wheat flour foods, even the supposedly “healthy” salmon or vegetable wraps.

5. A 30-minute walk normalizes glucose levels.

One interesting find was that a 30-minute walk could significantly lower both the peak and the duration of the blood sugar spike. It turns out that muscle contraction when you exercise is an effective mechanism that absorbs glucose without the corresponding rise in insulin. And you don’t have to exercise a lot to realize these benefits. As long as you aren’t completely sedentary after consuming some sugar, any movement helps.

Behavioral change: take a 30-minute walk after every meal.

6. Pairing carbohydrates with protein or fat doesn’t affect the glucose response.

Surprisingly, one of the most common recommendations, that consuming carbs (e.g., fruit) with protein, healthy fat, or both can bring down the glycemic index of the carbohydrate-rich food, and have a positive effect on blood sugar, didn’t work for me.

E.g., a single banana would raise my glucose levels to 6.1 mmol/L / 110 mg/dL, and pairing it with nuts (cashews, Brazil nuts, almonds) has had the same effect. Adding avocado, olive oil, and seeds to a single serving of whole-grain pasta also didn’t make any difference.

Here’s an interesting article and a study if you want to dig deeper into this.

7. Maintaining stable glucose levels during the night is very important.

I’ve had a few nights when my blood sugar would drop dangerously low – to 2.5 mmol/L or 45 mg/dL. As a result, my sleep quality was terrible, waking up was a challenge even after 8 hours of sleep, and I wouldn’t have enough energy during the day.

Why would I have hypoglycemia episodes at night?

The first reason was Berberine which I take used to take instead of Metformin on my workout days. I knew that Berberine lowers blood glucose but didn’t know that it does that so much to cause hypoglycemia.

The second reason was high-carb dinners. All nights with the lowest blood sugar, aside from the Berberine episodes, were the ones when I had rice, pasta, pizza, or any other high-carbohydrate meal for dinner.

These high-carb dinners caused my glucose levels to crash in the middle of the night – my body was going into emergency mode to wake me up.

Behavioral change: I stopped eating high-carb dinners and taking Berberine in the evening.


Continuous glucose monitor is simultaneously a behavioral and analytical tool that can track and uncover strategies and tactics which can save lots of time and money by preventing bad outcomes in the future.

Just like Oura Ring and Apple Watch changed my behavior towards sleep and fitness, drastically improving the quality of my life as a result, CGM has become a remarkable food consumption accountability tool and helped to even further optimize my diet and lifestyle during these two weeks.


Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on the internet, so everything in this article is a personal experience and not medical advice. Always do your own research and talk to your doctor before doing any health experiments.

The Best Books, Podcasts, Articles, and Videos of 2020

Every now and then, I send “The Curious Letter,” a short email with one book, one article, one podcast episode, and one video that I’ve enjoyed.

Thanks to travel restrictions, this year, I’ve read more books, articles, and papers, listened to more podcasts and audiobooks, and watched more videos than in any other year before that.

This post is a collection of the best three books, three podcast episodes, three articles, and three videos that I’d discovered in 2020, along with a few random things that made this year better.

I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I have.


? Top 3 Books of 2020

“The Psychology of Money” by Morgan Housel

This book’s premise is that doing well with money has a little to do with how smart you are and a lot to do with how you behave.

A genius who loses control of their emotions can be a financial disaster, while ordinary people with no financial education can be wealthy if they have a handful of behavioral skills that have nothing to do with formal measures of intelligence.

It’s short—only 19 straight to the point chapters—but very enjoyable read with lots of stories and examples illustrating just how weird and complicated our relationships with money are, and practical advice on how to make it easier.

“Greenlights” by Matthew McConaughey

Wildly entertaining, remarkably wise, and candid, this memoir brings you on a philosophical and inspiring journey of McConaughey’s life.

“Greenlights” tell us to continue along our path, not only in traffic but also in life. Sometimes we come to red and yellow lights, but through a combination of luck, skill, and different point of view, you can make them “greenlights.”

Using beautifully profound and engaging life stories, the author looks back over the first 50 years of his life and illustrates how some of his red lights turned green and how he has always kept his eyes open for the next green light.

As McConaughey says at the end of the book, “I hope it can be useful and lend a hand if you need it, that it might teach you something, inspire you, make you laugh, remind you, help you forget, and arm you with some life tools to better march forward as more of yourself.” – and I can confirm that it does all that and more.

Highly recommend listening to McConaughey himself telling this incredible story in the audiobook.

“A Promised Land” by Barack Obama

If you enjoy memoirs and biographies, I’m sure you’ll enjoy reading this one.

It’s incredibly beautifully written—I’ve highlighted numerous passages and phrases simply because it’s rare to see such a masterful command of the language in modern non-fiction books nowadays. From his years living in Indonesia to a school in South Carolina, the author evokes the sense of place with a light but sure hand.

This first of two volumes starts early in his life, giving a glimpse of the family values that were instilled in him, charting his initial political campaigns, and providing a rare insight into the decision-making process that the 44th President of the United States, his team, and his family went through during his years in the White House.

The President himself narrates the audiobook, so I highly recommend it.

Honorable mentions:

  • “Hell Yeah or No” by Derek Sivers
    “Thoughts around what’s worth doing, fixing faulty thinking, and making things happen.” This is one of those extremely rare books with zero fluff and full of great points that you want to highlight entire chapters.
  • “The Almanack of Naval Ravikant” by Eric Jorgenson
    This short book has probably the highest highlights and notes to a number of pages ratio in my library. I’ll certainly be returning to the chapter on happiness until I’m ready to write my own.
  • The audio version of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” narrated by Stephen Fry is absolutely phenomenal.

? Top 3 Podcast Episodes of 2020

The Tim Ferris Show – My Healing Journey
(Apple PodcastsSpotifyPocket Casts)

I never feature The Tim Ferris Show in my newsletter, even though it is my all-time favorite podcast, simply because everyone listens to it anyway. This year, Tim has released so many truly great episodes (I’ve listed seven of them off the top of my mind while putting together this collection) that I had to include at least one in the top three.

While I immensely enjoyed Jim Collins‘ and Seth Godin‘s second appearances, was inspired by Dr. Martine Rothblatt, pleasantly surprised by Hugh Jackman and Matthew McConaughey, this episode is easily the most important one.

In this conversation with Debbie Millman, he describes the most life-shaping, the most difficult, and the most transformative journey of his 43 years on this planet.

It puts your own childhood traumas into perspective, helps to realize that there is light on the other side, and that deep, lasting change is possible. I believe that the next decade will finally be the decade when mental health gets the attention and openness it deserves, and this episode might be just the tipping point.

Lex Fridman Podcast – Dan Carlin: Hardcore History
(Apple PodcastsSpotifyYouTube)

I love it when my favorite podcasters appear as guests on some of my other favorite shows.

Dan Carlin (@HardcoreHistory) is a historian and political thinker, and I’ve enjoyed listening to his “Harcore History” podcast for years (the “Supernova in the East” series made it my top 3 list last year).

Lex Fridman (@lexfridman) is an AI researcher at MIT, a great thinker, and the previous guests of his podcast (formerly called the Artificial Intelligence podcast) included Elon Musk, Stephen Wolfram, Jack Dorsey, Ray Dalio, Eric Schmidt, and many more incredible human beings.

In this wide-ranging conversation, they discuss ideologies of the US, the Soviet Union, and China, who was the greatest leader in history, what role violence plays in human civilization, trying to answer the questions of whether we will always have war, what is the future of podcasting, and much more.

Invest Like the Best – Nick Kokonas – Know What You Are Selling
(Apple PodcastsSpotifyPocket Casts)

I think that Nick Kokonas is one of the most interesting people alive.

He is the co-founder of Alinea Group, including Alinea (named the Best Restaurant in America and Best Restaurant in The World), Next, Roister, and The Aviary NYC. He spent a decade as a derivatives trader, has co-written three books, and believes in radical transparency in markets and business.

There are so many gems in this episode that even if you’re not interested in restaurants, you’ll find lots of valuable business and life lessons.

You’ll learn why restaurants and even book publishers can be great businesses if you do them in the right way, why it’s so important to own something, the importance of taking the right risks, and much more.

Honorable mentions:

  • My First Million Podcast – even though it’s difficult to pinpoint a single episode, I’ve listened to almost every one of them this year. If you’re into business and ideas, you’ll like these casual discussions between Shaan and Sam about business opportunities.
  • Venture Stories – Building Mind-Controlled Bionic Arms with Tyler Hayes (Apple PodcastsSpotifyPocket Casts). If this episode doesn’t inspire you to start working on something meaningful and fundamental, I don’t know what else might.
  • Business Wars Podcast (Apple PodcastsSpotifyPocket Casts). This series goes into the stories of some of the greatest wars in business, such as Blockbuster vs. Netflix, Boeing vs. Airbus, and Sony vs. Nintendo — what drives these companies and their leaders, inventors, investors, and executives to new heights — or to ruin. I’ve learned countless lessons from listening to this podcast, and I highly recommend it.

? Top 3 Articles I’ve Read in 2020

Solitude and Leadership by William Deresiewicz

“If you want others to follow, learn to be alone with your thoughts.”

This is one of the best articles I’ve ever read.

The author argues that solitude is one of the most important necessities of true leadership.

He starts by explaining what leadership truly means, talks about bureaucracies, why there’s a crisis of leadership in America and what to do about that, how to learn to think for yourself, and why multitasking is a terrible thing. He then explains the true meaning of solitude and why there would be no America without it.

68 Bits of Unsolicited Advice by Kevin Kelly

The timeless wisdom of the founding editor of Wired magazine and author of the famous 1,000 True Fans theory in 68 bits that he has shared on his 68th birthday.

Some of my favorites:

“The universe is conspiring behind your back to make you a success. This will be much easier to do if you embrace this pronoia.”

“When someone is nasty, rude, hateful, or mean with you, pretend they have a disease. That makes it easier to have empathy toward them, which can soften the conflict.”

“Don’t be the best. Be the only.”

100 Things I Learned in 10 Years and 100 Reads of Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations by Ryan Holiday

“Meditations” was one of the “quake books” for Ryan Holiday, just as it was for me back in 2015, shaking everything we thought we knew about the world.

In this article, Ryan reflects on what he has learned in ten years, with one of the greatest and most unique pieces of literature ever created.

Honorable mentions:


Top 3 Videos I’ve Seen in 2020

Space: The Final Business Frontier

This mini-documentary is a part of a great series, “Gian Leap” produced by Bloomberg — the stories about entrepreneurs and visionaries taking that next Giant Leap and developing the entirely new industries in space.

It pairs well with the “Moon Shot” series, which explores some of the breakthroughs scientists are striving to achieve across multiple disciplines.

What Just Happened? by Casey Neistat

“So I woke up this morning, a 38-year-old guy, who is married and has three kids. When did that happen?”

In this important, and, as always, an incredibly high-quality video, Casey reminds us that time is not equal – the older you get, the faster it moves, and if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you might just miss it.

Richard Feynman: Fun to Imagine

Professor Richard Feynman is one of my biggest heroes. He was the greatest example of how someone can play the game of life and have fun while being one of the smartest and most accomplished people on the planet.

He was known as the ‘great explainer’ due to his ability to help non-scientists imagine something of the beauty and order of the universe as he saw it.

In this series, aired on BBC2 in July 1983, Feynman looks at the mysterious forces that make ordinary things happen and, in doing so, answers questions about why rubber bands are stretchy, why tennis balls can’t bounce forever and what you really see when you look in the mirror.

Honorable mentions:

  • You Will Never Do Anything Remarkable by exurb1a.
    “The greats didn’t know they were greats. They were just mortal humans who refused to bow to cynicism.”
    In this video, exurb1a talks about a few fascinating and remarkable people, including Sergei Korolev, who was grossly mistreated during his lifetime and largely still untalked of today, and Ignaz Semmelweis, who was an early pioneer of antiseptic procedures but was ridiculed by the medical community. He then explores what makes a great person of history and why you can definitely be one of them.
    “If one is cautious about pursuing an unusual path, it may help to remember that the cynics will be forgotten just as readily as your failures will be, too.”
  • The Future of Bioelectricity by Nasjaq
  • How Rockets Are Made — Rocket Factory Tour — United Launch Alliance

✨ Random things that made my year

  • TV: The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix, Ted Lasso on Apple TV+, and Soul on Disney+ were the best things I’ve seen on TV this year.
  • Fitness: Rowing after the Hugh Jackman’s recommendation, Power Abs programs by Kari Pearce (Fittest American Woman ‘18 & ‘19), a modified hanging challenge, and the resistance bands training were the highlights of everything I’ve tried.
  • Health: I easily quit caffeine for a few months, learned that the weight loss on intermittent fasting comes more from muscle mass than fat mass, have finally done the Viome Health Intelligence test, dove into biotech and longevity in particular, and continued my multi-year streak of not catching the flu.
  • Travel: Even though there were fewer trips in 2020 than in any other year since 2012, I was lucky enough to explore a beautiful island of Sri Lanka with my family before the pandemic hit, spend my birthday in a gorgeous Casa de Calhariz estate (my new favorite place in Portugal), and get the taste of country living in the most picturesque suburb of Noordhoek in South Africa.
  • Products: My extremely tedious quest of finding the most comfortable pair of shoes is finally over, thanks to Atoms. And the most comfortable office chair award, as well as thanks from my back, go to AKRacing.
  • Learning: Decision by Design by Shane Parrish, The Biggest Ideas in the Universe by Caltech physicist Sean Carroll, and MITx: 16.00x Introduction to Aerospace Engineering were the most impactful courses I’ve taken this year.

That’s all for this year. You can find my collection of the best things from the previous year here: The Best Books, Podcasts, Articles, and Products Of 2019.

What were the best books, podcasts, articles, and videos that you discovered in 2020?

Let me know in the comments or on Twitter!

If you enjoyed this post, consider joining “The Curious Letter” to occasionally get these types of recommendations directly in your inbox.

3 Questions to Improve Your Everyday Life

The quality of questions you’re asking yourself determines the quality of your life.

You may not be aware of it, but you’re asking yourself hundreds if not thousands of questions every single day. Most of them direct our intentions, focus, and energy.

Questions can open our minds or close them. They can lead our energy toward positive ideas or help us to form negative, limiting beliefs.

Today, I want to share my three favorite questions with you that I ask myself multiple times a day. Questions that improved my focus, productivity, and quality of everyday life.


The first question helps me catch myself when I’d go astray and do easy things that don’t matter instead of focusing on what’s important.

Every time I start working on something, I ask myself:

1. Is this essential?

Remember that time when you knew you should be doing that one thing that actually mattered and moved the needle, like launching that ad campaign, making that phone call, or signing that client. Still, instead, you’d be “productively” procrastinating by researching, thinking about the best ways to do that thing, or creating dashboards in Notion. It’s okay; we’ve all been there.

The question “Is this essential?” gives you clarity, saves time, and makes it easier to achieve your end goal.


The second question I like to ask first thing in the morning, and it works as a reminder throughout the day.

2. What’s the most important thing for the day?

The concept comes from Peter Thiel – co-founder of PayPal, Palantir, Founders Fund, and one of the most interesting people alive.

At PayPal, he’d give everyone a single thing to focus on, only one problem to solve.

Most people tend to procrastinate on the most important and very difficult to solve A+ problems and work on B+ problems instead. So I ask myself, “what’s the one thing on my endless to-do list, that if I accomplished it today, would make the entire day a success?“.

Then I’d focus only on that thing until it’s done. And if after that I have time to tackle the second most important thing – great, I’d do that, and if not – the day is still a success, and I’d feel great about it.


The third question is all about peace of mind.

How often do you catch yourself thinking about some offhand comment that someone has made about you or your work? Going on and on in your mind about the fight that you’ve had with your friend or coworker? Or just getting angry about a canceled flight or a traffic jam?

Whenever I find myself in that downward spiral, I ask a simple question:

3. How am I going to feel about this in 15 minutes? 15 days? 15 years?

Answering this question helps me to almost immediately let go of what seemed to be an important problem that occupied all of my headspace just a second ago. And it works 100% of the time.

You’re not even going to remember that missed flight in 15 years, let alone care about it, so what’s the point of getting all worked up about it now?


Asking yourself helpful questions is great, but how do you remember to do that?

I’m a big fan of sticky notes, and I have a few of them with these questions, along with a few reminders around my workspace. So I’d actually see the questions multiple times a day without the need of reminding myself to ask them. You could also create a wallpaper for your phone or even a browser extension asking you a question whenever you open a new tab. That’d work just as well.


These questions gave me an entirely new perspective not just on my day but on my life, and I hope they’ll help you too.

What are some of your favorite questions that you ask yourself regularly? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter!

How to Quit Caffeine Without Withdrawal Symptoms

I’ve been drinking coffee every day for the past 15 years.

8 days ago, I stopped, fully expecting massive caffeine withdrawal with headaches, fatigue, decreased blood pressure, etc. – every symptom that I had before even if I skip only a day.

Imagine my surprise when there was none of it: no sluggishness, no headaches, but the same great energy levels and ability to focus.

How on earth did that happen?

One word: adaptogens.

I’ve been adding a mix of adaptogens to my morning cup of coffee – Chaga, Reishi, Moringa, Tulsi, Ashwagandha, Siberian ginseng, Amla, Rhodiola, and Schisandra – for a month before quitting cold turkey.

Here’s why that worked.

The caffeine molecule is structurally similar to our brain’s adenosine, which protects us by slowing nerve cell activity, and basically tells the brain when it’s time to rest or sleep.

Due to its similar structure, the adenosine receptors get blocked with caffeine molecules, keeping them from signaling tiredness. The excess adenosine then signals the adrenal glands to release adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormone), even further increasing your alertness. In other words, by consuming caffeine, you are deliberately putting your body in a stressed state.

After a while, your brain adds more adenosine receptors to compensate for the caffeine, which results in a so-called “caffeine tolerance,” i.e., you need more coffee to get the same effect.

Caffeine also indirectly increases the amount of dopamine (a neurotransmitter that makes us feel good) and serotonin (a natural mood stabilizer) in your brain by blocking their reabsorption into your body. This is why caffeine is addictive. You get used to the elevated dopamine and serotonin levels and miss them without a caffeine boost.

So when you skip your morning coffee, your brain gets flooded with adenosine, the dopamine and serotonin levels in your brain drop, and, as a result, the brain’s chemistry becomes unbalanced, leading to all those nasty caffeine withdrawal symptoms.

This is where the adaptogens come to the rescue.

Adaptogens are natural compounds and plant extracts that help normalize your body’s functions under stress and have been used for thousands of years in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine.

They help your body to “adapt” (hence the name) to resist better physical stressors like exercise or mental stressors like studying.

Adaptogens also reduce mental fatigue, improve physical endurance and stress resistance, help with workout recovery and anxiety disorders.

When used correctly, adaptogenic herbs normalize your body’s functions rather than stimulate or suppress them.

While caffeine destabilizes your brain’s chemistry leading to withdrawal symptoms without another dose, adaptogens help to balance it out, so you can quit drinking coffee without the consequences.

If that wasn’t enough, Ashwagandha, Schisandra, Eleutherococcus, and ginseng have been shown to extend the life span in some animals, and Rhodiola to strengthen the endocrine system, including the thyroid and adrenal glands (the same ones that caffeine is tricking into releasing extra cortisol).

Some people are concerned by the scarce of scientific research, but the beauty of adaptogens is that they have been proven remedies in human trials for at least a few thousand years.

Excitement, Passion, and Disgust

How often do we find ourselves in a perpetual quest to discover something that excites us, something that we are passionate about?

The curious thing is that you can make yourself get excited about virtually anything. Once you realize that, the concept of “passion” becomes arbitrary.

The more excited you are about something -> the easier it is to learn about -> the easier it is to do -> the better you are at it -> the more excited you are about it. It’s a self-reinforcing loop.

By that logic, it is possible to use the excitement to get boring and tedious stuff done.

Don’t want to do taxes? Get excited about taxes. Don’t want to do the chores? Get excited about the chores.

The easiest way to get excited about a subject that you want to work on, chores, or habits you want to form is to over celebrate every time you do them.

Do boring stuff -> over celebrate it to get dopamine rush -> feel good about doing boring stuff -> get excited about doing it again.
That’s where the first loop kicks in if you’re using it to get excited about something you want to work on.

You can easily reverse this concept and use it to break bad habits.

If you want to break a bad habit or stop consuming something – sugar, coffee, alcohol, etc. – simply change your perception of it. Where the head goes, the body follows, and our perceptions precede actions.

We don’t do something that we don’t enjoy, let alone something that disgusts us. Let’s say spiders disgust you. You wouldn’t pet one every day or even enjoy looking at it, would you? Yet, what is this feeling of disgust towards spiders if not a simple matter of perception about them in your mind? After all, they are not that different from many other living creatures that we feel indifferent or even affectionate about.

If you can feel disgusted towards spiders, you can cultivate the same feeling towards anything else, including your bad habits.

One way to do that is by first learning about your bad habit’s negative effects and then vividly picturing those horrible effects every time you repeat that habit. Do that enough times, and these vivid images will begin to associate with the product/action, changing your perception. For example, when I stopped eating processed sugar, I’d anchored the image of clogged arteries to any product that contained it. Now, I don’t see a donut, but a clogged artery, making it difficult for me to want to eat it.

If it’s difficult for you to play with imagination, the other way is deliberate overconsumption. You could buy five chocolate bars, a couple of cakes, a pint of ice cream, a bottle of soda, and eat them all at once. You’d feel absolutely horrible afterward, which is perfect. Anchor that feeling, write it down in vivid detail, play it in your head, hammer it into your head. Then recall this feeling any time you’d have a sugar craving. Don’t eat sugar? Great. This method works for any other bad habit, just as well.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of how our minds and behavior can be shaped in almost any way we want. If there are any thoughts, believes, actions, or habits that are impossible to change, I have yet to find them.

The Point of Diminishing Returns in Life

Have you heard the story of Tyler Cowen in an ice cream shop? It’s a very short one, and I love it.

Once at an ice cream shop, Tyler asked for the smallest size of chocolate ice cream, but even the small one was too big. Then he asked for the sample size, had three bites, and reached the point of diminishing returns on his ice cream.

Most of the value of consumption is either memory or anticipation.

Simply by choosing sample size, you’d get both – anticipation of ice cream and memory of eating it – but no adverse effects of overeating.
In other words, you’d get the maximum value at the lowest possible price.

If you think about it, it works not only for consumption but also in many other areas of life.

You don’t need to push 400 pounds at the gym. After a certain point, adding more weight not only will not only decrease the health benefits of exercising but will also hurt your body.

You don’t need to make that extra billion dollars. (Unless you’re using it to send people to Mars, in which case, go right ahead). After a certain point, adding more work would only hut other areas of your life while decreasing the value of having more money.

Would visiting that 71st country on your list add more value to your life? Probably not.

Before starting anything, find your point of diminishing returns and decide not to go over it. Get the maximum value at the lowest possible price.

The Best Books, Podcasts, Articles, and Products Of 2019

Every Friday, I send a short email with a collection of the most fascinating finds from my week that includes books, podcasts, articles, videos, and more. I call it “The Curious Letter.”

Today is the last Friday of the year, and I’ve made a collection of the best three books, three podcasts, three articles, and three products that I discovered in 2019.

It was incredibly challenging to pick only three in each category, so I also added a few honorable mentions, and I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I have.

? Top 3 Books of 2019

1. Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality

This fanfic by AI researcher and writer Eliezer Yudkowsky is the best book I’ve read this year, and it’s now in my top-30 books of all time.

It’s alternate-universe Harry Potter where Petunia has married an Oxford biochemistry professor, and young genius Harry grows up fascinated by science and science fiction. When he finds out that he is a wizard, he tries to apply scientific principles to his study of magic, with sometimes surprising results.

It’s not just a fanfiction, but also a platform where Yudkowsky bounces off complex ideas in a way that’s accessible and fun.

This book is brilliant and thought-provoking. You will laugh, you will want to cry, you will root for the characters. But more than anything, you will learn a lot.

As one of the reviewers said, “Anyone who is a Potter series fan and a rationalist, an economist, a libertarian, a devotee of reason and science, or just a nerd, will love this work,” and I couldn’t agree more.

I immensely enjoyed it in audio, but it’s also available in PDFEPUB, and even as a podcast.

2. Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life

I thought a lot about whether should this book by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh or “Awareness: Conversations with the Masters” by Anthony de Mello take this spot.

Even though they are both masterpieces in their own right, “Peace Is Every Step” has had more impact on me this year.
It helped a great deal to go through a rough time, return to the fullness of the present moment, and gain back seemingly lost peace of mind.

It is a beautifully written book, a calming balm for the soul, and a rallying cry for compassion. If you’re looking for guidance in living a more mindful, peaceful life, and ready to see the world differently, read this.

3. Nonviolent Communication: Life-Changing Tools for Healthy Relationships

Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication helped me to reflect deeply on how I use communication in my everyday life. Its core ideas sound obvious yet hard to implement without very conscious effort.

Every time that we communicate with other people, we can either build a deeper connection, understanding, and compassion or simply ignore them and create further disconnection.

He argues that all frustration and anger are about unfulfilled needs; hence our communication should be about getting to the core of those needs. And even though it sounds simple and obvious, it turns out to be incredibly difficult, since we not only cannot properly communicate those needs but often we don’t even know what needs do we have.

This book may save the relationship you have, improve the future ones, and make your life much better as a result.


Honorable mentions:

  • Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries by Safi Bahcall
  • Lifespan: Why We Age—and Why We Don’t Have To by David Sinclair
  • Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David J. Epstein

 

? Top 3 Podcasts of 2019

1. Naval Ravikant – How To Get Rich

That was the easiest pick of all because the sheer amount of wisdom packed into this episode is unmatchable by any other podcast known to me.

Even though it’s based on the tweet-storm from 2018, the podcast came out in 2019, and this updated version also includes all the Q&A episodes they did after the tweetstorm and 10 minutes of unreleased material on finding time to invest in yourself — at the end.

2. Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History – Supernova in the East (Part I, Part II, Part III)

Each episode of Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History is a masterpiece. He takes you deeper into the subject matter than you could’ve ever hoped for.
Dan’s meticulousness, attention to detail, and his way of diving into the episodes of history and re-contextualizing them in a way that modern listeners can relate to, make this a must-listen for history aficionados.

The “Supernova in the East” series tells the story of Imperial Japan’s side of World War II, it offers a different perspective on Japan’s role in the notorious events of the war, including the Rape of Nanjing and the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

3. The Tim Ferriss Show – Jim Collins – A Rare Interview with a Reclusive Polymath (#361)

Some of you may know that The Tim Ferriss Show is my favorite podcast. It was the first one I’ve subscribed to back in 2014, and I’ve listened to every single episode ever since.

This year, the most influential episode for me was Jim Collins’ interview.

They talk about tons of different fascinating concepts, including “who luck” – the luck of the right people that intersect your life plays in the journey, “the flywheel effect” – building momentum until a point of breakthrough and beyond (I even made the whiteboard notes about that and had it next to me during my three months in Mexico earlier this year), and many others.

3.1 The Portal – Tyler Cowen – The Revolution Will Not Be Marginalized

I’m going to cheat here by adding another podcast, but I have to include “The Portal” by Eric Weinstein.
It is one of my recent finds, and it has quickly become one of my favorite podcasts.

Every single episode is fascinating, thought-provoking, and makes you feel dumb as you appreciate the sheer scope of knowledge and intellect of Eric and his guests.

I’ve had to choose only one episode, and it’s a wide-ranging (it truly is) conversation between Eric Weinstein and Tyler Cowen – the economist, author of MarginalRevolution.com, and one of my favorite thinkers. It starts rather slow, but then the interview format turns into a brilliant conversation.


Honorable mentions:

 

? Top 3 Articles of 2019

1. The Story of Us – Wait But Why

Another easy pick for the top spot. Tim Urban’s Wait But Why is one of my favorite blogs, where each essay could easily be an excellent book on its own. His articles on procrastination, picking a life partner, AI, and, of course, the Elon Musk series, are absolutely brilliant, and my favorite reads on the internet.

“The Story of Us” series took him three years to write, currently has nine chapters, and appears to be his most ambitious project to date. He went deep into the “U.S. history, world history, evolutionary psychology, political theory, and neuroscience, through dozens of books, hundreds of datasets and articles, and into literally thousands of conversations” to write it, and I can certainly say the result was well worth it.

2. Rick and Morty and the Meaning of Life

“Knowing the truth, that nothing matters, can actually save you in those moments. Once you get through the terrifying threshold of accepting that, then every place is the center of the universe, and every moment is the most important moment, and everything is the meaning of life.” – Dan Harmon.

This essay by Daniel Jeffries goes insanely deep into the meaning of life through the lens of “Rick and Morty” (and yes, I obviously love that show) by asking the classical question that is at the heart of all the great stories throughout all time:

“Will you crumple in despair knowing the terrifying truth that life is totally meaningless, or will you saddle up the universe and strike out for a life of fun and adventure?”

P.S. You can start with this video by Will Schoder.

3. What the Hell is Going On? and Peter Thiel’s Religion by David Perell

These two long-form essays are remarkably well-written and present compelling arguments in a detailed way.

In “What the Hell is Going On?” David discusses how the shift from information scarcity to information abundance is reshaping commerce, education, and politics.

In the second essay, he is exploring the significance of religion through the lens of Peter Thiel – a person I’ve been particularly curious about this year. I’ve found an interesting introduction to Rene Girard and Mimetic Theory I wasn’t familiar with before, and lots of great points, such as:

“If you’re going to follow a role model, find one who you won’t compete with. Don’t look to your peers for answers. Find somebody in a different stage of life who you admire and respect. They should be somebody who defied the status quo and took an independent path.”

and

“When we pursue optionality, we avoid bold decisions. Like anything meaningful, venturing into the unknown is an act of faith. It demands responsibility. You‘ll have to take a stand, trust your decision, and ignore the taunts of outside dissent. But a life without conviction is a life controlled by the futile winds of fashion. Or worse, the hollow echoes of the crowd.”


Honorable mentions:

 

? The Best Products of 2019

1. Oura Ring

I’ve only got my hands on this ring this year, and I believe it’s the best and the most accurate consumer-level sleep tracker currently available on the market. It helped me immensely to understand better the importance of sleep and how my body works and reacts to certain activities so that I could have a better quality of life.

2. Waking Up app by Sam Harris (iOS, Android)

If you want to develop a real regular meditation practice or to level up your existing meditating experience, the guided 50-day course in this app is probably the best way to do so.

3. Notion

This year, I’ve finally organized all of my notes that were scattered between Apple Notes, Bear, and Google Docs, built an information-capturing system, and started building my second brain.

While there are dozens of apps you could do this in, after testing all of them, I’ve chosen Notion for its incredible flexibility, cross-device support, and powerful features.

What are the best books, podcasts, articles, and products that you discovered in 2019?
Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.

If you enjoyed this post, consider joining “The Curious Letter” to get these types of recommendations every Friday!

How to Sleep Better

I’m a sleep nerd. I genuinely believe that a good night’s sleep is a foundation for a highly productive and happy life, and it’s great to see the trend of using sleep deprivation as a badge of honor is finally getting the bad reputation it deserves.

I’d struggled with chronic insomnia for most of my adult life, but now I’m falling asleep in 5 minutes, waking up without the alarm, and my sleep score is almost always above 85.

Oura Ring Sleep and Readiness Scores

This results from years of continuous experimentation to optimize my sleep, and here’s everything that actually helped me:

1. Keep a consistent sleep schedule.

Going to sleep within the same one-hour window every day has had the most impact on my sleep, bar none.

The exact time usually doesn’t work because life happens, and “being late to bed” just gives you anxiety, which will, ironically, ruin your sleep. For me, the perfect window is from 10 pm to 11 pm. You’ll have to find your own “perfect window” because everyone has a different circadian rhythm, and by sticking to the same sleep schedule, you’ll normalize yours.

Your brain and body will know when they are supposed to shut down and relax, which will allow you to fall asleep quickly every day.

2. Don’t use a wake-up alarm clock.

I try to use an alarm to wake up as little as possible. If you need an alarm, you’re, by definition, sleep-deprived. You’ll never need it if you consistently sleep enough. Try to use the alarm only as a backup, and when you do, use the wake-up light alarm clock with sunrise simulation instead of the standard sound-based ones (they shock you into waking up, leading to sleep inertia).

3. Use blue-light-blocking glasses & f.lux after sunset.

There’s an ongoing debate whether blue light has a negative impact or not, but blocking it before sleep seems to work for me. I wear these glasses one hour before bed; they’re not fancy-looking but do the job and block 98% of blue light. f.lux makes the color of your computer’s display adapt to the time of day – warm at night and like sunlight during the day. I’ve been using it for years and love it.

4. No screens in the bedroom and at least an hour before sleep.

My bedroom is a strictly screen-free zone. No phones, tablets, laptops, or TVs are allowed at all times.

The first apparent reason is that blue light from the screens may restrain the production of melatonin and have a negative impact on your circadian rhythm.

But more importantly, the constant influx of information you get from your devices keeps your mind engaged and tricks your brain into thinking that it needs to stay awake. Not to mention social media apps that are designed to give you a positive social stimulus and dopamine influx, which, again, directly inhibits the production and release of melatonin and makes it much harder to unwind.

Make your bedroom a place for sleep and sex only, and watch the quality of your life improves.

5. Avoid caffeine after 12 pm.

That’s highly individual because people with a specific variation of the gene PDSS2 (also CYP1A2, AHR17, ULK3, and NRCAM, but that’s beyond the scope of this article) process caffeine more slowly than others.

You can determine your caffeine sensitivity by taking a DNA test (23andMe or similar ones).

You should also know that the caffeine molecule is similar in shape to the adenosine molecule, a neurotransmitter. It plays a significant role in the sleep-wake cycle. When adenosine binds to enough receptors, it signals the brain that it is time for rest. Caffeine doesn’t replace the need for sleep but masks tiredness since adenosine can no longer do what it is intended to do.

The average half-life of caffeine in healthy adults is 4-6 hours, so if you go to sleep at 10 pm, a general rule of thumb is to avoid caffeine consumption after 12 pm.

6. Exercise any time during the day but at least a few hours before bed.

I’ve found that any type of high-intensity exercise, especially running, during the day does wonders for my HRV. Although, you should avoid very late high-intensity exercise because it’s perceived by the body as a form of stress and stimulates the release of cortisol (also known as the stress hormone), and your body needs some time to return the cortisol level to normal.

7. Read a fiction book before falling asleep.

Reading a fiction book in bed before sleep has become one of my favorite rituals. I think that non-fiction business books before bed stimulate your thought process, and you end up dwelling on your daytime problems. In contrast, fiction books invite you to a new world where you can actually “turn off,” stop thinking about what “you should’ve said or done,” and easily fall asleep. Bonus points if it’s a physical copy so that you wouldn’t stare at a screen.

8. Meditate before going to bed.

I meditate with Headspace for 20 minutes before going to bed. I’ve been doing that for so long that Andy Puddicombe’s (founder of the app) voice now works as a trigger for my brain to wind down and get ready to sleep.

9. Drink chamomile tea with honey and apple cider vinegar.

I got this recipe from Tim Ferris, and it does work as a tranquilizer for me as well. Chamomile tea contains apigenin which helps to lower anxiety levels, and vinegar improves your blood sugar and insulin levels.

10. Take 200-400mg of magnesium 30 minutes before sleep.

I take all of my supplements in the morning except for magnesium, which I’ve found better taken in the evening before sleep. I mostly choose Glycinate or L-Threonate because they are absorbed more easily, while Citrate is considered to have a laxative effect. After a particularly stressful day, I combine it with 200mg of L-Theanine.

Magnesium blocks the activity of more stimulating neurotransmitters and binds to calming receptors, and theanine activates the GABA system, which reduces the activity of the neurons.

11. Maintain a healthy diet and don’t eat after 7 pm.

Nutritionists usually tell you to wait two to three hours between your last meal and bedtime. This allows digestion to happen and the contents of your stomach to move into your small intestine, preventing problems like heartburn and insomnia. Eating also prompts the release of insulin, which plays a huge role in shifting your circadian rhythm.

Bear in mind that nothing from this list would work without a healthy diet. That is, at a minimum, no processed sugars, no junk food, and no alcohol. And speaking of alcohol,

12. Avoid alcohol.

Unfortunately, many people falsely believe that alcohol helps them sleep better because it works as a sedative. What they don’t realize is that alcohol significantly affects the quality of their sleep.

Soon after falling asleep, your body enters a period of deep sleep, when it restores itself physically. Then, a typical sleep cycle includes REM sleep – the mentally restorative stage.

When your body is sedated with alcohol, it can’t reach these restorative stages of sleep because it has to process alcohol in its system instead, and you spend most of your night getting a lot of light sleep, which isn’t nearly as beneficial. So even if you sleep for 8+ hours after a few drinks, you will not wake up feeling rested and recovered.

13. Stay hydrated.

The better hydrated you are, the easier it is for your blood to circulate and deliver nutrients and oxygen to your body. Proper hydration improves HRV, resting heart rate, recovery, and thermoregulation; it helps lubricate joints, remove waste, and prevent infections.

The recommendations for how much water to drink per day vary, but the rule of thumb is ~1 ounce of water for every pound of your weight (or ~70 ml per 1 kg).

14. Keep an optimal room temperature.

You’ll find lots of people saying that keeping the room temperature at 60-68°F (15.5-20℃) is optimal for your sleep.

I find this a bit misleading. There is no universal optimal because it depends on your sheets, body fat, clothing, body temperature, and humidity. The more natural rule of thumb is that you’re not supposed to be too cold (not shivering) or too hot (not sweat). One empirically validated ‘hack’ is to wear socks – keeping your feet and hands warm prevents blood from shunting too much to the extremities and keeps your core body temperature better regulated.

15. Fix the underlying problem.

Many people recommend using weighted blankets and CBD oil because they help with anxiety, which in turn makes falling asleep easier. I haven’t used them because they address the symptom – anxiety – instead of fixing the underlying problem that causes it.

These underlying issues are different for everyone, but the most common ones are stress at work/school, relationship issues, emotional traumas, financial stress, and medical illnesses.

If you want a temporary bandaid to simply help you through a few nights, then sure, CBD oil and weighted blankets will help. But if you want to improve your sleep once and for all, then you’ll have to fix that problem that causes your anxiety.


Sleep tips for traveling.

How to preserve your established circadian rhythm when you travel and change time zones?

There’s a hard way – arrive at a new place, force yourself to live by the new hours for a couple of weeks, and your body will adapt in time.
But, of course, there’s an easier way. Start even before you reach your destination. Figure out what time you’ll be living in, and start living by that time while on the plane. That means you should sleep if it’s nighttime at your destination, even if it’s 10 am your current time.

My recipe for easily falling asleep on the plane:

  • Use a 100% blackout sleep mask (I use Manta Sleep);
  • Get a 100% natural cocktail of Magnesium, L-theanine, and Melatonin;
  • Use noise-canceling headphones (I use Bose QC35);
  • Stay hydrated before and during the flight.

Once you reach your destination, hit the gym, and do a quick workout within an hour of arrival. I don’t know the science behind it, but it almost always helps me eliminate jet lag.


Book, podcast, and gadget recommendations.

People often ask me for books, podcasts, and gadget recommendations, so here’s a special list of everything sleep-related that can help you to sleep better and, as a result, have a better life.

Reading:

Start with the book Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matt Walker.

Many people swear by this book, claiming that it’s changed their lives, and according to Google Scholar, it’s been cited more than a hundred times in academic papers. Walker goes more in-depth on some points I’ve made in this article and touches on CBT-i (the application of cognitive-behavioral therapy to sleep issues). In his book, the key point that Walker makes is that you need at least 8 hours of sleep:

“After being awake for nineteen hours, sleep-deprived people were as cognitively impaired as those who were legally drunk… After sixteen hours of being awake, the brain begins to fail. Humans need more than seven hours of sleep each night to maintain cognitive performance. After ten days of just seven hours of sleep, the brain is as dysfunctional as it would be after going without sleep for twenty-four hours.”

Even though it’s a pop-science book, and there are quite a few factual errors, “Why We Sleep” has probably been one of the most important instruments in raising general awareness of the importance of sleep in recent years, which is all that matters.

After you finished “Why We Sleep,” read the essay “Matthew Walker’s ‘Why We Sleep’ Is Riddled with Scientific and Factual Errors” by Alexey Guzey.

He compares the facts that Walker presented in chapter one with the scientific literature and does a comprehensive review of all scientific and factual errors and an apparent invention of new facts by Walker.

The essay’s main point is to show that if you naturally sleep well and wake up with no alarm clock after less than eight hours of sleep, stick to that. People are different, and not everyone needs the full 8+ hours. Many people tried to sleep more after reading “Why We Sleep,” which led to more awake time, frustration, worry, sleep-related anxiety, and insomnia.

Podcasts:

  • Peter Attia, M.D. and Matt Walker, Ph.D., go in-depth on sleep, different stages and cycles, the dangers of chronic sleep deprivation, REM vs. non-REM sleep roles, and much more. So basically, if you don’t want to read Walker’s book, listen to this podcast.
  • Think Your Way Out Of Insomnia by NPR – When you can’t sleep, your thoughts can be your worst enemy. In this episode, Stephen Amira, a psychologist at Brigham, and Christina McCrae, a clinical psychologist and CBT-I expert at the University of Missouri, explain five key strategies to help break the spiral, based on what many believe is the most effective treatment out there: cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, or CBT-I.

Sleep gadgets:

  • Oura Ring – as far as I know, this is the best and the most accurate consumer-level sleep tracker currently available on the market. Yes, it’s far from perfect, but this is the best option if you don’t have access to a sleep lab. With a body temperature sensor, infrared LEDs, 3D accelerometer, and gyroscope, it tracks your actual sleep time, sleep cycles (REM, deep, light), HRV score, resting heart rate, respiratory rate, and other things, allowing you to see how are you actually sleep at a glance.
  • Manta Sleep Mask – the best sleep mask that I’ve tested so far (and I’ve tested quite a few of them). It’s highly adjustable, ridiculously comfortable, and offers 100% blackout.
  • Philips wake-up light alarm clock with sunrise simulation – I’ve mentioned this before, but will say this again – you shouldn’t use alarm clocks, but if you do, use this one instead of the annoying sound-based alarms because they shock you into waking up, leading to sleep inertia.
  • The Pod Pro / Cover by Eight Sleep – this is an entire sleep optimization system packed into a mattress. If you and your partner have different optimal sleep temperature preferences, you can easily set your own temperature for each side of the bed. Combine it with sleep tracking and a premium memory foam, and you’ll get an ultimate biohacker’s mattress.
  • White noise machine – I tend to stay in quiet places, but the white noise machine can be a lifesaver if you have a noisy household. It creates a sound that remains consistent across all hearable frequencies, which creates a masking effect that blocks out the sudden changes in noise that can cause you to wake up during the night – the snoring, dog barking, or garbage truck rumbling down the street.

Whatever you do to improve your sleep, remember one rule – don’t stress too much over it.

Ironically, it may backfire and lead to a vicious cycle of ever-increasing worry about sleep, frustration, anxiety, and insomnia.

Take it easy, and gradually implement one change after another to see what each of them does to your sleep.

As always, if you have any questions, suggestions, or want to chat about what worked to improve your sleep, hit me up on Twitter or email me at hi [at] mgrev.com!

Oversaturated Markets Are A Myth

One of the ridiculous things I hear people say is, “I’d love to do that, but this market is too saturated; I won’t be able to compete.”

Every single market is “saturated,” in one way or another, but that shouldn’t stop you from entering it if it’s something you’re genuinely interested in.
And if the market seems to be saturated, the only thing you should take from it is that there’s money in that space.

So how do you enter what appears to be a saturated niche and win?

There are a few ways that I know of and that I used for my companies and some of my clients.

1. Be consistently 20% better than the average.

It’s easy to look, for example, at the pet niche and say that there’s no way that it’s still possible to enter it and compete against such giants as Chewy and PetSmart.
But if you dig deeper, you can always find at least one area where you can do at least 20% better.
In a pet market, one of such areas would be personalized customer service.
It’s one of those paradoxical markets with one of the most passionate types of customers on one side and one of the most faceless and commoditized suppliers on the other.
If you can show your customers that you genuinely care about their pets and consistently provide a 20% better service, you’ll establish yourself as a strong player with a steady stream of returning customers.

2. Specialize.

Another way to enter a saturated market is deep specialization.
Specialization galvanizes support. It’s easy to share and remember.

Instead of being a generic web agency, you can focus solely on designing high-converting Shopify stores and become a household name in the e-commerce space.

Instead of being a fitness apparel company and selling every piece of clothing imaginable, you can focus on creating the most comfortable pair of leggings.

Instead of being a graphic designer, focus on packaging design, know all ins and outs, and be the designer that people immediately think of when they create a new physical product.

Casper started by creating one great mattress instead of hundreds for every occasion; Spanx was born from the idea of footless pantyhose-shaper; Allbirds began by creating the most comfortable pair of merino wool shoes.

You get the idea.

3. Change the game, create your own niche.

Creating your own sub-niche is a twist on the previous point.
Think of your strong skills and qualities and how you can combine them to create your own niche.

As Scott Adams, creator of wildly popular comic Dilbert, says:
“I’m a poor artist. Through brute force, I brought myself up to mediocre. I’ve never taken a writing class, but I can write okay. If I have a party at my house, I’m not the funniest person in the room, but I’m a little bit funny, I can write a little bit, I can draw a little bit, and you put those three together, and you’ve got Dilbert, a fairly powerful force.”

Everyone has at least a few areas in which they could be in the top 25% with some effort.

Let’s say you’re a good developer, have some marketing skills, and know how to write properly. By combining these skills, you’ll be ahead of most developers, marketers, and writers.

Good at design, know a thing or two about dogs, and have a passion for fashion? Then, why not create the Outdoor Voices of the dog market?

Combining two or more skills that you’re at the top 25% can propel you to the top 5%, and the better you are, the less competition there is.

The main point is that perfect competition only exists if you do the exact same thing as others are doing. Selling exactly the same product, providing exactly the same service, and creating exactly the same content.

And remember that “saturated” markets are good because they are harder to enter. And hard is good. The harder something is, the less competition you’ll have in the long term – everyone wants easy.