Life Lessons, Year Review

Mini Blog Series 7: 5 Interesting Things I Learned Online in 2020

2020 was a tough year. But it made me realize how incredibly blessed I am. While the country was witnessing a surge in unemployment, I was able to get a promotion at work. While so many people had to live through the pain and trauma of the COVID-19, nobody in my close contact had a bad case of it. While people were stranded away from friends and family and had to pass the quarantine alone, I was lucky enough to come back to my family even before the first nationwide lockdown. My fortune was mostly a matter of circumstance and for that, I am fortunate.

2020 also gave me the time and space to explore and learn a lot of things. I effectively used the time I spent in commute before to read and write. I came across a lot of interesting things online and would like to share 5 out of those.

I. Quickly Accomplishing Ambitious Things

Patrick Collison, the CEO of Stripe, posted a list of ambitious projects that were accomplished rather quickly.

  • Apollo 8. On August 9 1968, NASA decided that Apollo 8 should go to the moon. It launched on December 21 1968, 134 days later.
  • JavaScript. Brendan Eich implemented the first prototype for JavaScript in 10 days, in May 1995. It shipped in beta in September of that year.
  • Disneyland. Walt Disney’s conception of “The Happiest Place on Earth” was brought to life in 366 days.
  • iPod. Tony Fadell was hired to create the iPod in late January 2001. Steve Jobs greenlit the project in March 2001. They hired a contract manufacturer in April 2001, announced the product in October 2001, and shipped the first production iPod to customers in November 2001, around 290 days after getting started. Source: Tony Fadell.
  • Amazon Prime. Amazon started to implement the first version of Amazon Prime in late 2004 and announced it on February 2 2005, six weeks later. Source: The making of Amazon Prime.
  • Git. Linus Torvalds started working on Git on April 3 2005. It was self-hosting 4 days later. On April 20 2005, 17 days after work commenced, Linux 2.6.12-rc3 was publicly released with Git. Source: LKML.
  • COVID-19 vaccines. On January 10 2020, the SARS-CoV-2 genome was published. 3 days later, Moderna finalized the sequence for mRNA-1273, its mRNA vaccine candidate; the first batch was manufactured on February 7. On February 24 (45 days after genome publication), Moderna shipped the first batch of mRNA-1273 to the NIH for use in their Phase 1 clinical study. 266 days of clinical trials and regulatory coordination followed. On November 16, Moderna announced that the vaccine’s efficacy was 94.5%.

II. Platforms over Optimizations

Neil Kakkar notes, “For any long-term project, build platforms before optimizations.” He defines the two as,

platform is a base – something for you to stand on. Somewhere where what you do accumulates. It can be a process, or a physical platform. Habits are platforms.

An optimization is a hack that helps you work better. Intermittent fasting, summarizing everything you read in your mind, deciding not to jizz, or not to watch anime are optimizations.

III. Pessimism around Airplanes

Just before the Wright Brothers took their first flight, people thought it was impossible for men to even build such a machine. Not only common men but even the men of science and intellectuals. David Perell highlights it best,

In the words of American astronomer Simon Newcomb: “The demonstration that no possible combination of known substances, known forms of machinery and known forms of force, can be united in a practical machine by which men shall fly long distances through the air, seems to the writer as complete as it is possible for the demonstration of any physical fact to be.”The predictions against flight didn’t end there. Even after the Wright Brothers had flown, other scientists doubted the potential for commercial air travel.

Another astronomer named William H. Pickering said: “The popular mind often pictures gigantic flying machines speeding across the Atlantic and carrying innumerable passengers in a way analogous to our modern steamships. . . . [I]t is clear that with our present devices there is no hope of competing for racing speed with either our locomotives or our automobiles.

IV. The Overlooked Variable in the Pandemic

I went through a lot of articles on COVID-19, the current state of the world, and what the future holds. This article was one of the most “enlightening” pieces I read about the coronavirus. It presents a lot of data on what makes COVID so odd compared to other viruses and how we might be able to adjust behavior to protect ourselves from it.

V. From Luxury to Necessity

David Perell notes, “One of history’s few iron laws is that luxuries tend to become necessities and to spawn new obligations. Once people get used to a certain luxury, they take it for granted. Then they begin to count on it. Finally they reach a point where they can’t live without it.”

Here’s to another year of learning and discovering new things.

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