Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future – Peter Thiel, Blake Masters



An integral part of the now legendary “Paypal Mafia” coterie that included Elon Musk (of Space X and Tesla fame); Reid Hoffman (of Linkedin); Steve Chen, Chad Hurley and Jawed Karim (of You Tube), David Sacks of Yammer and Russel Simmons of Yelp, Peter Thiel is today acknowledged as one of the most astute, successful and proven serial entrepreneurs.

Thiel’s first glimpse was accorded to Silicon Valley in 1985. After two stints at Stanford he went on to establish PayPal (formerly known as “Confinity”) in the company of friends in 1998. A couple of years down the road, Thiel merged his business with Elon Musk, who was busy incorporating his own venture titled

In this crisp and transparent book, Thiel lays down some of the essential facets underpinning every successful start-up venture – a venture that has the vision and verve to unlock what Thiel perceives to be…

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You’re More Powerful than You Think: A Citizen’s Guide to Making Change – Eric Liu

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The recent imposition of trade tariffs by an obstinate Trump administration and the reciprocating adverse measures announced by his Mexican and Canadian counterparts (with the EU sure to soon follow suit) has not only triggered a global concern about an impending trade war but has also set off a panic whose potential backlash could be to say the least ominous. While the whole world seems to be prepared to engage in a deadly ‘who blinks first’ game of attrition, Mr. Eric Liu’s new book, “You’re More Powerful Than You Think”, (“the Book”), could not have made a timelier appearance.

We, as citizens of the world have been brought up with an entrenched belief that governance represents power or even vice versa. The conviction that the governed have been bestowed with as much power – if not more – as is in the possession of the governing has never either bit us hard or raked our conscience. This deliberate ignorance, nay, resignation has led to social, cultural, economic and even structural imbalances which are now taken as a given. The startling fact that the eight richest men in the world have a combined wealth equal to that owned by the entire lower half of the prosperity pyramid, is not startling anymore! The ludicrous fact that a country trumpeting itself as the world’s oldest democracy proceeds to elect a bigot and an unscrupulous loose cannon as their President, ceases to be ludicrous! However, as Mr. Liu painstakingly and inspiringly elucidates in his book, there is no reason for the world to wallow in or stew over this dreaded status quo. A clear understanding of both the prevailing power structure and its mores, combined with a channeling of the immense potential to generate power from within, would lead to a thorough dismantling of the top down structure that has for its foundation the dreaded principles of ‘trickle-down economics and effects’. The replacement will be a true representative mix that gives voice to reason, justice and common sense.

In order to usher in such a paradigmatic shift, Mr. Liu emphasizes that at the very outset it is essential to comprehend what he proposes are the three Laws of Power:
“First power concentrates. That is, it feeds on itself and compounds (as does powerlessness)
Second, power justifies itself. People invent stories to legitimize the power they have (or lack).
Third, power is infinite. There is no inherent limit on the amount of power people can create.”
While the first two laws are self-perpetuating mechanisms that justify and even glorify the ascendancy of the haves over the have nots, and turns a blind eye towards the oppressive tactics followed by the wielders of power, the third law is the antidote for the first two venomous laws. The third law legitimizes the genuine potential of the people to organize, commune, congregate, act and to achieve results.

Mr. Liu also identifies nine solid strategies employing which unequal and intemperate power structures may be turned upside down. These strategies advocate neither violence not reprisals, but serve as a testimony to human endurance and resolution. A blend of empirical approaches and tactical successes, these strategies range from the Observe, Orient, Decide and Act (“OODA”) loop developed by military strategist and United States Air Force Colonel John Boyd to the communitywide work stoppages, hunger strikes and mass marches organized by the tomato harvesters of Immokalee fighting for fair wages. One quintessential attribute that binds all the strategies postulated by Mr. Liu together, is one of organizing. When each one of us recognizes that the sum of our parts at times may be greater than the whole, the resulting synergies can have devastating impacts on the unsuspecting and complacent characters sitting at the top of the pedestal. As Mr. Liu writes, “the powerful, meanwhile, don’t particularly attend to the lives or minds of the powerless because they assume they don’t have to”.

At the heart of the nine strategies are the imperatives to:

1. Change the game;

2. Change the story; and

3. Change the equation

For facilitating an accomplishment of each one of the above core concepts, Mr. Liu provides a set of clear, practical and easy to implement pathways that entail the expending of concerted effort rather than monetary resources. We can trust Mr. Liu at his words since being the Founder and CEO of Citizen University and also donning the role of an Executive Director at the Aspen Institute Citizenship and American Identity Program has ensured that he has put most of what he preaches into concrete, tangible and fruitful practice.

At a time when the whole world is enveloped in a state of uncertain flux in terms of paradoxical developments – burgeoning GDP growth in the West v exacerbated poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa; stunning developments in Artificial Intelligence v disturbing statistics regarding rising unemployment; uniformly improving living standards for all v racial incarceration of youth and children – there is an urgent need for every like-minded and reform oriented individual to punch above herself and rise beyond the petty and unacceptable set of bias involving religion, race, colour, caste, sex, creed and sexual orientation. This is the only hope that the world has.

As a start, one would do brilliant to pick up a copy of “You’re More Powerful Than You Think” – for surely we all are!

(Written as part of the Blogchatter’s A2Z Challenge) – PART 25 ALPHABET Y)

Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: Reflections on the End of a Civilization – Roy Scranton

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The 2014 Roadmap on Climate Change Adaptation struck more than just a somber warning when it stated that, “Rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, climbing sea levels, and more extreme weather events will intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict. They will likely lead to food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources, and destruction by natural disasters in regions across the globe.”  Sentiments similar to these have been echoing across the Globe. A raft of reports such as the World Bank’s 2013 report, Turn Down the Heat: Climate Extremes, Regional Impacts, and the Case for Resilience, and their 2014 follow-up Confronting the New Climate Normal, all seem as though they have been drafted by grim Cassandras.

So with all these ominous forebodings and dire prognosis, how much time do we actually have on our hands to save the Earth from an impending and irreversible catastrophe? While a plethora of experts wield an overabundance of views on this controversial topic, Roy Scranton seems to have no doubts whatsoever when it comes the trajectory of our future. In his book, imaginatively and fatalistically titled “Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: Reflections on the End of a Civilization”, Mr. Scranton opines that we are already late in our bid to save the Planet. In other words, to paraphrase one of his most colloquial of phrases in the book, “we are fucked.” This kind of fatalism, however is not an outcome of some frustrated fibbing. Mr. Scranton has seen the worst that humanity could offer by being right in the middle of a smoldering Baghdad. A private with the United States Army, Mr. Scranton lived every day as though it was his last amidst a fusillade of bullets, shrieking of mortars and the spontaneous explosion of improvised explosive devices. But what we are doing to our Planet might be even more grave in magnitude than even all our wars put together. Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, head of the US Pacific Command, postulates that global climate change is the greatest threat the United States faces, more dangerous than terrorism, Chinese hackers, and North Korean nuclear missiles. It is not just the United States that faces such adire predicament.

It’s not just glaciers and ice sheets that are melting. Along with them, so are the deposits of Carbon and Methane that lie long frozen in seabeds and permafrost. As Mr. Scranton educates us, “as a greenhouse gas, methane is more than twenty times more powerful than carbon dioxide, and thousands of gigatons of the stuff lies locked under the oceans in clathrate hydrates, waiting to be released.”  In the words of oceanographer John Kessler, “These solid, ice like structures are stable only under specific conditions, and are estimated to contain a quantity of methane roughly equal in magnitude to the sum of all fossil fuel reservoirs on Earth.” As geophysicist David Archer warns, “The potential for planetary devastation posed by the methane hydrate reservoir . . . seems comparable to the destructive potential from nuclear winter or from a comet or asteroid impact.”

So how do we brace ourselves for the inevitable collapse of our civilization? Mr. Scranton in this part harangue, part philosophy, argues that instead of engaging in meaningless actions and providing fatuous lip service to keeping our civilization alive, we would need to learn to ‘die’ as a civilization collectively in this age of the Anthropocene. “The problem is that the problem is too big … The problem is that the problem is us.” he asserts. Mr. Scranton, when he uses the phrase “learning to die” actually exhorts us to let go. Letting go of the ego, the idea of the self, the future, certainty, attachment, the pursuit of pleasure, permanence, stability, salvation, hope and death. This is in line with the philosophy propounded by the Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius.

If we have to stop ourselves from “fulfilling our fates as suicidally productive drones, in a carbon-addicted hive, destroying ourselves in some kind of psychopathic colony collapse disorder”, Mr. Scranton urges us to consider the problem of global warming in terms of Peter Sloterdijk’s idea of philosopher as an interrupter. Sloterdijk “sees the role of the philosopher in the human swarm as that of an aberrant anti-drone slow-dancing to its own rhythm, neither attuned to the collective beat nor operating mechanically, dogmatically, deontologically, but continually self-immunising against the waves of social energy we live in and amongst by perpetually interrupting their own connection to collective life. So long as one allows oneself to be ‘a conductor in a stress-semantic chain’, one is strengthening channels of retransmission regardless of content, thickening the reflexive connective tissues of mass society, making all of us all the more susceptible to such viral phenomena as nationalism, scapegoating, panic, and war fever. Interrupting the flows of social production is anarchic and counterproductive, like all good philosophy: if it works, it helps us stop and see our world in new ways. If it fails, as it often and even usually does, the interrupter is integrated, driven mad, ignored, or destroyed.”

Futher elaborating on the principles of Sloterdijk, Mr. Scranton paraphrases the philosopher “What Sloterdijk helps us see is that responding autonomously to social excitation means not reacting to it, not passing it on, but interrupting it, then either letting the excitation die or transforming it completely. Responding freely to constant images of fear and violence, responding freely to the perpetual media circuits of pleasure and terror, responding freely to the ongoing alarms of war, environmental catastrophe, and global destruction demands a reorientation of feeling so that every new impulse is held at a distance until it fades or can be changed. While life beats its red rhythms and human swarms dance to the compulsion of strife, the interrupter learns how to die.”

Employing the unique method of humanism to bring to bear the gargantuan dangers of Climate Change, Mr. Scranton takes recourse to the epic of Gilgamesh to hammer home his point. “We must suspend our attachment to the continual press of the present by keeping alive the past, cultivating the info-garden of the archive, reading, interpreting, sorting, nurturing, and, most important, reworking our stock of remembrance. We must keep renovating and innovating perceptual, affective, and conceptual fields through recombination, remixing, translation, transformation, and play. We must inculcate ruminative frequencies in the human animal by teaching slowness, attention to detail, argumentative rigor, careful reading, and meditative reflection. We must keep up our communion with the dead, for they are us, as we are the dead of future generations.”

We do not have time on our hands. That ship of hope seemed to have sailed away right under our collective arrogant nostrils. Average atmospheric CO2 levels have rocketed from 290 ppm to over 400 ppm, a level the planet hasn’t seen in more than two million years. At the same time, methane (CH4) levels have increased from 770 parts per billion to more than 1,800 parts per billion, the highest concentration of atmospheric methane in at least eight hundred thousand years. In the words of Climate scientist James Hansen, formerly with NASA, we face an “apocalyptic” future, a view that finds resounding approval with various other experts such as Vaclav Smil and institutions such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the World Bank, the International Energy Agency (IEA), and the World Trade Organization (WTO). Maybe the time for conventional measures are passé. It’s time perhaps to pay heed to the words of the likes of Mr. Scranton.

Blake, Huxley, Morrison & Ash

(Photo Credit: Crispina Kemp)

Doors. Open and Shut; Heavy and Light. Doors. Comrades; Confidantes; Teachers; Traitors.

William Blake found the secret of perception behind one of these. Aldous Huxley gathered the courage to unbolt his, and in addition to the power of perception, discovered the virtues of Heaven and the vice of Hell. Jim Morrison ventured deep inside, turned unhinged, remained within, and produced a melody immortal in its sweep and searing in its wake. Eckhart Tolle was a lucky man. To him was revealed the wide vista of man’s True Being.

Even Venky had his own door. Behind which he now exists in a grim and dour silence. A door which could have been his opening to fulfillment, bliss and contentment. A door to peace, pure love and life. A door opening which found himself face to face with his Ash. But in a startling moment it bolted shut leaving him alone.


(Word Count: 150)

Written as part of the Crimson’s Creative Challenge #24 More details regarding this challenge may be found HERE.

X-Files: The Whirlwind – Charles Grant

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New Mexico is flummoxed and ravaged by a sequence of grisly murders. While no motives seemingly can be ascribed to the killings, there is no semblance of doubting the intent. Pure, cold, and terrifying sadism. Every helpless victim is skinned even before he/she is dead. The killer seems to have a sense of clinical impartiality. This unbiased attitude takes within its ambit men, women and even cattle!

As is the inevitable, the case files get transferred to Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. The two intrepid agents put their heads together to prise out some clues that might assist in at least deriving a logic for  what seems to be an absolute conundrum. For one all these encounters seem to have had their location, the areas surrounding the Konochine reserve of Sangre Viento – also known as Blood Wind.

Scully and Mulder also, during the course of their digging, get enlightened about the uncanny, uncommon and unseen rituals that is the preserve of Native Americans living in seclusion. Can this be the key to unlocking the mystery?  This is what “The Whirlwind” proposes to tackle. The book moves at a brisk and steady pace and keeps the reader engaged. However it becomes very staid and prosaic and also lends an element of predictability in so far as the plot is concerned.

(Written as part of the Blogchatter’s A2Z Challenge) – PART 24 ALPHABET X)

The Perfect Paradise

(PHOTO PROMPT © Sandra Crook)

They called it the “Perfect Paradise.” If the confluence of sun, sky and sand made for a horripilation inducing spectacle, the jagged dwarf table top peak exacerbated the effect, although its features made it seem more an eyesore than a majestic manifestation. The locals took to calling it “The Hunchback of Notre dam.” Soon nature was ravaged by the touch of commercialism and the tentacles of capitalism. They first built a bridge connecting the two extremes of the island. Resorts and restaurants mushroomed like ugly fingers. Finally, when they ran out of money they abandoned it.

Sullied. Adulterated. Tarnished. Dumped.

(Word Count: 100)

This story was written as part of the FRIDAY FICTIONEERS challenge, more about which may be found HERE

For more stories based on the above prompt, click HERE 

Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Lewis Galantière (Translator)


Winner of the Grand Prix of the Academie Francaise, Wind, Sand and Stars is universally acknowledged as one of the most popular books on flying. However to cloister this indispensable Palmarium within the narrow confines of aviation would tantamount to causing absolute injustice, for Exupery’s work is a book on courage, confidence, catharsis and above all a memorable exploration of the very essence of being alive.

In 1926, Antoine de Saint-Exupery enrolled himself as a student airline pilot with the Latecoere Company, the pre-cursor to Aeropostale (now Air France). He was entrusted with the operation of the line between Tolouse in Southwestern France, and Dakar, in then French West Africa. Exupery chronicles in precise detail and perfect verve, his experiences as an airline pilot responsible for carrying passengers and air mail over skies that are at times benevolent and at others brooding; over mountains that are at once malevolent and magnificent and over landscapes barren and breathtaking. Exupery’s respect and reverence for the predictable performance of his craft as well as the unpredictable behavior of the elements of Nature forms the crux and core of the book. Even when being buffeted against raging storm winds and being tossed around in his flight like a ragged doll, Exupery neither traduces the gale force winds nor tamely surrenders to its treacherous demands. He just flies his conveyance in a matter of fact manner riding what he views as a temporary discomfiture – an elongated hiccup almost!

Exupery during the course of his tryst with the Latecoere Company was exposed not only to awe inspiring wonders of nature but also to the anguish and agony of humanity. These were the times when slavery was still an acceptable societal more and the story of a slave commonly known as Bark who was until his paid release (courtesy of Exupery and his friends magnanimity) in the captivity of the nomadic Moors, makes for some introspective, beautiful and rejoicing reading. Freedom we understand is not merely the release from physical chains but the very unshackling of a desolate soul struggling to find its deserved place under the rays of a bright and radiant sun.

Exupery instills in the reader an encouraging faith in humanity and a perennial belief in hope by recounting his near death experience following a crash that found Exupery and his navigator Prevot in the middle of a vast and scorching African desert. Lack of water and food, exhaustion, the outcome of mindless wandering, myriad mirages, a combination of heat and hunger, all but made certain that the two aviators would soon mingle in body, soul and spirit with the sands of the desert in the perennial sleep of life. The miraculous appearance of two inquisitive Bedouins however ensured that the contrivance of fate had kept the Grim Reaper at bay.

Wind, Sand and Stars is a book of hope, humility and humanity. It is a tribute to the ceaseless symbiosis between Man and Nature; life and death; and agony and ecstasy. It is Exupery’s amazement at both the constructive and destructive facets of mankind, as what has been painstakingly nurtured by a pair of hands comes for some wanton destruction by yet another pair of identical hands. It is a precious lesson for all homo sapiens to view with benediction what they have been bestowed with – a chance opportunity to experience life in a wide expanse termed Planet Earth.

On the 31st of July, 1944, Antoine de Saint Exupery took off in an unarmed P-38 on his ninth reconnaissance mission from an airbase on Corsica. To the great consternation of the squadron compatriots who revered him, he did not return, dramatically vanishing without a trace. The wind, sand and stars which was so dear to this magnificent literary genius had claimed him for their own deciding that he was now for and of the elements. Exupery met his end doing what he loved doing the most – sailing serenely, with the skies above, the sea below and the wind all around him for tranquil company. But not before imparting to us a few invaluable, indelible and inextinguishable tenets of life.

(Written as part of the Blogchatter’s A2Z Challenge) – PART 23 ALPHABET W)

The Hip Flask


(Photo Credit:  Matt Bowden on Unsplash)

Uncorking the top of his reliable hip flask, Venky tilted back his head and in a swift and surreptitious gesture downed a generous swig of Scotch before quickly replacing the lid and putting the flask back to its rightful place. This practiced maneuver was until the past one year not even a possibility let alone a habit. Things had changed in an impromptu, impetuous and imploding manner, just like the trajectory of the roller coaster he was witnessing. This particular one was a bright green elevated railroad track designed with tight turns, steep slopes, and the inevitable inversions. There were yellow multiple cars for the brave hearted to buckle themselves into before they screamed and shrieked.

Tight turns, steep slopes and unpredictable inversions. Venky did not even know why he deposited himself in this park every week vacantly gazing at the upturned hollering homo sapiens. He never purchased a ticket himself. He just placed himself directly underneath the biggest roller coaster and as the railroad track spun, weaved, wobbled, and rocketed before coming to a shuddering halt, watched the movement with unblinking eyes. There was a void in those eyes and a vacuum in his heart.

But he was used to roller coasters without riding one. Ash, his own, personal and unrepentant roller coaster. On a blisteringly hot April day, she left him. Left him to navigate tight turns, negotiate steep slopes and reconcile with inversions.

Unlike the temporary yelling crowd above him, he had to do this daily!

(Word Count: 246)

#TellTaleThursday with Anshu & Priya

For more stories for the week, please click HERE

Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh

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Written by Evelyn Waugh in 1930, “Vile Bodies” is a scathing indictment of a decadent society that ran amok in London during the intervening period between the two World Wars. The excesses indulged in by the ‘bright young’ (as Waugh prefers to address the boisterous and raucous youth) ranged from various bouts of inebriation to profligate employment of resources. Evelyn Waugh’s stunningly sarcastic style cock snooks at this derisive bunch of ‘Vile Bodies’ who go about their revelry in a completely indifferent and unfettered manner.

Adam Fenwick-Symes is a struggling young novelist who aspires to attain fame and fortune with the publication of his autobiography. His dreams however literally go up in flames as subsequent to a tormenting boat ride to Dover, an asinine Customs Officer burns his final manuscript on the grounds of it containing incendiary material unsuitable for the palate of the English populace. To make matters more complicated, Adam is hopelessly in love with an inveterate socialite Nina Blount, the charming daughter of the forgetful Colonel Blount. Adam’s marriage with Nina depends upon Adam ascending the ladder of affluence sooner rather than later. How Adam goes about this seemingly impossible proposition forms a bulk of this laugh riot.

The frenzied procession of eccentric characters is sure to leave the reader in fits of unhinged laughter; the imposing evangelist Mrs.Melrose Ape and her retinue of girls named Chastity; Discontent; Fortitude etc. the tragically comic Agatha Runcible; a bevy of party animals all entertained by the ever obliging Ms.Lottie all coalesce to create a magnificent mayhem of chaos, confusion and cacophony. Every page is soaked with irreverent wit which at first proceeds to highlight before thoroughly demolishing the notions of impudent vanity. The fact that Evelyn Waugh was himself going through a bout of contrasting emotions (as revealed by himself in the preface to the book) is starkly evident from a reading of his work as the plot is a cleaved creation of two halves. What begins as a rib-tickler transforms into an apogee of apocalyptic tribute to greed, vanity and pretentiousness.

Waugh dazzles with his extraordinary style of narration and impeccable sense of humour. The telephone conversations between Adam and Nina, forming part of a few passages in the book are a veritable work of unrivaled art. The struggles of the Vile Bodies as they desperately try to confine themselves within an elusive moral compass, only to fail and plunge themselves willingly into a whorl of decadence is captured with breathtaking clarity by Evelyn Waugh. Although “Vile Bodies” does not join Waugh’s “Scoop”; “A Handful of Dust” and “Brideshead Revisited” as 3 of the 100 greatest works of the Century, it’s absence is more of an aberration than a deliberate excision. For this is a book that deserves to read, re-read and guffawed over until one’s jaws ache with the effort!