The Rate of Return on Everything

This week on the podcast, we review a working paper entitled “The Rate of Return on Everything.” We answer the question, which assets tend to have the highest rates of return over time? What is secular stagnation? Why is economic growth important for a large democracy like the United States, and what we can do to improve growth in a decadent society? Are there tradeoffs between growth and inequality? We also talk about Jack Bogle, modern index investing, and how investing in equities contrasts with investing in real estate.

Show notes/transcript:

1. Scott Sumner-Univ. Of Wisconsin, Madison Economist

2. What happened in 1970? Low Growth

3. Capital in the 21st Century-Thomas Piketty

4.  Robert Nozick-Wilt Chamberlain Experiment

5. John Rawls-Veil of ignorance

6. Secular stagnation

7. Hedonic adaptation

8. “Zero to One”-Peter Thiel

9, “Enough”-Jack Bogle

10. Vanguard


it’s been a while since we’ve sat down has been a bit yeah and we’ve got an interesting subject today yes a bit ambitious yes it’s a it’s a paper by the san francisco federal reserve bank called the rate of return of everything the rate of return of everything not just some things not the most important things but everything everything that’s right and it’s also got the board of governors of the federal reserve system on their their names on it too yeah it does so tell us this uh tell us what the federal reserve is federal reserve is a interestingly it’s a private bank but it’s set up to maintain the stability of the us economy maintain full employment prevent you know runaway inflation and bank runs so it’s it was actually um it’s chairman is appointed by the president confirmed by the senate i want to say um and it’s like a quasi federal government institution it’s supposed to be independent and it’s supposed to just like make sure things run well in the economy uh and so there’s four major functions of the federal reserve uh the first one is it controls the money supply that sounds important that is important yes so that’s important because the supply of money affects all kinds of different things so during the great depression there’s a big uh money supply shock so it was like actually this is my view a little bit but there’s a great economist called scott sumner at the university of wisconsin-madison that talks about this a lot um there’s like a big deflationary shock and they should have actually injected more liquidity into the economy but they didn’t and the depression ended up just as bad as it was so maintaining the money supply and making sure there’s enough money flowing around is really important for a functioning economy so another uh obstacle the federal reserve wrestled with was the um downturn in 2007 2008. that’s right that’s right and so they must have had an idea that they need to inject the liquidity into the market did they uh yeah yeah so there’s they should have they should have done it faster and they didn’t do it aggressively enough actually in 2008 and that actually contributed to a lot of the problems we had yeah and if you listen to uh because the next big uh obstacle would have been the pandemic and and when you listen to them on the podcast and in the news where the representatives federal reserve appeared um they’ll they’ll say that they realize they needed not only to inject money they need to inject it fast speed was a problem 2007-2008 yeah hilariously they’re kind of solving for the right crisis so i think the response was perfect for um 2008 crisis like the response towards the pandemic would be it would have been perfect in 2007-2008 in terms of speed and volume and size i think hilariously it probably wasn’t exactly what we needed here but you know they’re they’re doing what they can and in reality all the money we threw at the problem and this is more on the fiscal side not on the fed side which is monetary policy on the fiscal side all the money should have gone towards containing the virus and getting rid of that because there wasn’t like a problem in the real economy other than the fact that there’s this crazy virus running around it it does seem like that the speed thing was that was if it wasn’t perfectly done it was probably better done because they realized that you couldn’t vet everyone fast enough and decide who need the money you just need to get the money out there to as many people as you can and then try to sort out some of the other problems later so yeah that’s on the fiscal side towards uh the big stimulus package um that’s different this is a little bit different than what the fed did that’s not the fed that’s like the federal government like spending wise they did get money out the door although the fed did a ton of emergency lending overnight lending to make sure everyone had liquidity when things you know when the i remember the market sitting on my couch and durham was kind of cold and the market’s going handle down handle down handle down which is like you know whenever the market goes down five percent they like shut it off a little bit and it’s just like oh no we’re shutting it off again and again and again like whoops yeah so uh they but they were quick to act um you know kind of like tony montana i think i tweeted out this is uh jerome powell’s the head of the fed jay powell and uh fed chairman and he was kind of like going tony montana on top of the pile of coke at the end of scarface with all the liquidity injections like everything he had kind of going nuts okay another function one of the major functions is of the fed is to regulate financial institutions yeah they do that too they give them rules yes try to make them behave yep follow the rules um they also manage uh check clearing uh procedures that’s right that’s interesting in itself another big banking function um

and they supervise the fdic that’s right for commercial banks yes that’s the bank run prevention kind of so if you have less than a quarter million dollars in a bank um then it’s backed by the federal direct insurance so what is it corporation deposit insurance federal deposit i would have to look that up yeah i can’t quite remember the acronym but you see it on all the stickers when you they’re all on the doors on the sticker on the banks and you know that’s what’s protects your money up to a quarter million dollars yeah yeah so the federal government will guarantee the deposit up to that amount which is you know not all banks have that across the world it’s important to remember yeah okay that that’s to prevent um in panics so you know we both personally know someone who showed up at a at a bank and withdrew all their cash during 2008 you know and like it’s prevent that from happening from happening um the central bank of the united states that’s what the federal reserve system is it’s the it’s the central bank of the united states yes so that in itself should tell us how important big it is yes right so that’s who who wrote this paper of this treatise on the rate of return of everything yep it’s a paper um it’s quite interesting it details uh what what returns um over time that each asset class is average so they covered um t-bills is that correct uh treasury bills that’s right and then bonds real estate and equities equities and equities are equities are pieces of companies stocks i think stocks yeah and uh the scope of this is they studied 16 advanced economies from 1870 to 2015 just about 150 years that’s right so it’s limited data set of what they could kind of get their hands on always important to remember when setting off on these ventures you know it’s there’s limitations of what you can actually look at and what’s available it’s like australia a bunch of other advanced oecd countries i’d say from 1870 to today what are o e d c countries um advanced developed countries essentially okay um so it covered those four classes um and and surprising to me the one that they had the most trouble digging out was uh information historically about housing and the other thing that surprised me is about that is that housing is about 50 of the national wealth in a typical economy that really surprised me yeah it’s interesting i guess the habitats where people live uh make up quite a bit of economic activity in general yeah and it tells you a lot like when there’s a housing crisis while the whole economy and the world shakes yeah it’s on the margin it can really matter yeah that’s it that’s really important okay um


you want to talk a little bit because this comes up one of the things they really studied intently uh well secular stagnation you want to talk about secular stagnation sure so secular stagnation secular stagnation is the idea that essentially since 1970 or so there’s a great website i’ll have to put a link in the description um called what happened in 1970 and it’s all about how in 1970 uh growth rates started slowing down and we’ve been stuck in kind of this uh this funk of low growth for a very long time um there’s a number of reasons why this may be happening um i’ve got my own thoughts a bunch of people have their different their own thoughts and and whether or not it’s a fixable problem is is interesting i think it’s always good to look at western europe as kind of maybe 20 years ahead of where we are in certain spec aspects along these lines um and i think it it’s important because economic growth has really slowed down over the past you know 40 50 years and that has direct consequences on our political life our day-to-day life um how we approach the world in ways that i think people really don’t realize so for example on the political front there’s some sense in which things have gotten really weird partisan crazy um going all the time now right like so you see like this crazy partisanship everybody’s at each other’s throats and i think this is actually a symptom not a cause i’m a big believer on the fact that this is a symptom not a cause a lot of people even academics will say well this is like a cause not a symptom and i think that’s like this huge mistake like it doesn’t make logical sense to me although i do tend to i do have this bias i think people are like kind of trying to do the best they can and or just get incentivized into these weird things there are bad people but that’s on the margin um so why do i think this is a a symptom of of low growth so i think democracy is especially a huge democracy like the united states you know we’re probably we’re the biggest democracy i would say correct probably trying to think yeah you know you can almost kind of bunch europe together now but it’s kind of a different thing but even then i think they’d be slightly smaller so with 350 million people all kinds of different people from different places you know america is not a very homogeneous place compared to most countries right like so most countries are small in terms of numbers they usually um have one ethnic group so like in denmark most people are danes things like that they tend to like more of the same things america is like super varied like you go to new orleans and then you go to like you know raleigh and they feel like different places um all this is less true in big city cities nowadays but you know there’s a lot there’s a lot more variation in people preferences attitudes etc so why is that important well if you’re trying to run this this country and keep everybody together democracies really work well with the pies growing so if the pie is growing each year we can all sit down at the table and we can all split it up in different ways and everybody gets more than last year and even though sometimes it might not be exactly equal everybody’s getting more than last year so we’re kind of happy um as the pie gets bigger more slowly um there’s less to divide up amongst us and that to me is what’s really going on is that there’s less to divide up and so people are uh more desperate to kind of claim their share of the pie so that’s one of the things the paper um they they looked at was that the growth rate of the economy is relative to the rate of return of capital and the reason that that’s important is because it affects wealth affects income and effect affects inequality so um that growth rate and rate of return when that we say that this this this is really important the rate of return of everything it it’s not only um important because um it affects somebody that wants to make some money on it on some capital they have it affects people because if uh if they’re looking at their retirements they were saving for that or if they are retired they can’t make money money on their capital so they can support themselves yes although although super important um uh distinction here there’s difference between um the rate of return of these asset classes and the rate of return um like the growth rate of the real economy these are two separate things and so also the paper talks about um the rate of return of these asset classes may be higher than like the rate of return to labor so capital is like let’s just describe capital quickly so capital is anything that you you know makes you money so land there’s human capital capital if you have a machine that spits out apples you can sell it’s capital um and then labor is like doing things yourself right like so going out and shoveling would be labor um

this is uh the theme of a big book that came out in 2015 2016 somewhere where i long been called capital and capital in the 21st century i believe was the capital between may just be capital i can’t quite remember by pick i’m eddie to butcher the french here he’s a french economist and his idea was that the returns on capital are higher than the returns on labor and maybe this is getting worse and that’s a big problem for inequality so the people that own capital keep getting richer and the people that just have their labor are kind of like stuck or stagnant or maybe heading backwards and you see this in like real wage growth over the past since 1970 it’s fairly stagnant and um you know in inflation’s like a weird metric right so if you lump like tvs together with essential goods like healthcare and um education you could like draw this trendline you know tvs getting like super cheap they’re getting a lot cheaper cars are like maybe getting a little bit cheaper but then the essential goods people need like so education which is the proxy for mobility in our society it’s getting much more expensive and healthcare is getting much more expensive as well keeping people alive so when you look at those two things it kind of paints a bit of a grim picture at the end of the day so that’s kind of the distinction between you know growth rate um in the real economy and then the rate of return to these capital to to capital which we’re talking about so the second asset classes what is what is the impact on rate of return of capital for inequality i mean does it mean that the top gets pushed forward faster than the bottom is that with it increases inequality yes so if the rate of return of capital is higher on average um that will make the rich richer and and make inequality worse now if that’s true does it mean that the relative position of the bottom sinks slower or just doesn’t improve as quickly so yeah it’s tough so like there’s all these trade-offs um there’s always trade-offs that’s the important thing to remember so

there’s um it’s a great thought experiment by robert nozick it’s and it’s uh it’s a wilt chamberlain it’s it’s like called the wilt chamberlain example i think or something but it involves wilt chamberlain so you imagine we had like a group of 500 people so who’s your favorite basketball player we’ll summon wilt chamberlain michael jordan so michael jordan and michael jordan is in the audience um and we all want to see michael jordan play but michael jordan he’s really tired of playing basketball doesn’t really want to do it so we all chip in you know a dollar and so there’s a hundred of us so michael jordan gets 99 to um let’s say we all had one dollar just like this last spirit we all had one dollar even michael so michael gets 99 dollars now he’s got a hundred dollars um and he goes plays basketball and all like well we get to see it and it’s like so excited he dunks the basketball sticks his tongue out it’s awesome um so like he’s got all this money now and it’s vastly unequal right because everyone else has no money but we all get this like utility from seeing michael jordan play basketball and we wanted it because we voluntarily gave them the dollar we didn’t have to do it so you know voluntary exchange can create unequal outcomes that make sense in different ways even though we’re all better off which is important to think about there’s also this uh trade-off between

the size of the pie and how much we grow the pie and how equal the pie is so we you can get more growth and uh but the people that at the top will be much richer than the people at the bottom um even though you can have this it’s called a something being paredo optimal soprito optimal means we can both gain like so we do a transaction and we both gain um which is important so like economists love burrito out like outcomes because um we both gain even though you might gain a lot more than i do um so it could be so it’s probably the case that you can have higher growth rates and um but the trade-off is that it’s more unequal now the people at the bottom are absolutely much better well off and and some of this is like a preference peer preference thing so i like to ask this question would you rather be you know a middle class person today in america or would you rather be cornelius vanderbilt i would rather be a middle-class american today so yeah you can tell a lot about how people like think about inequality and how much they value it how they answer that question so i would like to be a middle class person because i think you’re much better off in terms of just raw health care like entertainment i think is a lot better i think some people value positional like this is their inbuilt preference they value positional status a lot more than like raw and like that probably pans out on like political beliefs too then we’re all like well-being so i think like being a middle-class person would be much more enjoyable than um being cornelius vanderbilt and like not having like ibuprofen and crap like that like you know like these things are worth a lot to me but some people really value status and positional status and would much rather be cornelius vanderbilt and i think people that would rather be vanderbilt and have the biltmore estate and like all this stuff tend to um be more concerned about the inequality question because you know all things being equal not everybody can be coordinated built but we can get a lot more people to the middle class standard of living uh theoretically than than so you know what’s achievable and my thought is you know if you answer you’d rather be a middle-class person well that’s like man this growth is good and the inequality we’ve experienced because cornelius vanderbilt you know it was much less unequal then like he was a rich person but he was not like bill gates or warren buffett rich relatively like people get are are much richer now jeff bezos like on paper his wealth is so much more than cornelius vanderbilt could ever dream about um so like there’s these trade-offs right there’s trade-offs between inequality and growth i tend to think growth is much more important because one i don’t think our democracy really works without it two i think there’s all these other gains you get um such as ibuprofen you know ibuprofen hadn’t been invented like it’s a huge benefit to me and it did create you know some unequal outcomes for the guy who invented it but we did end up better off in the long run so what you’re telling me is the more important question seems to be growth in inequality well i personally believe that but i could see how someone would be more concerned about inequality because uh you know people that care more about positional status than i do would be more concerned about inequality we probably don’t make the point when we say that we don’t mean that we’re unconcerned with the people at the bottom that those the ones i actually think are the most important consideration because everybody else can kind of fend for themselves you can worry about your position and whether you’re driving a chevrolet or mercedes-benz i’m really worried about the guy that might be riding not even have a bicycle it’s very rawzine of you explain that so uh it’s very well seen so john rawls had this experiment called a thought experiment called the veil of ignorance so the idea behind the veil of ignorance was that whenever you evaluate like a certain policy you’re trying to think about what we should do you should always imagine that you’re um go behind the quote-unquote fail of ignorance and imagine you are the least well-off person in society and evaluate it like that so a lot of people think like this and the answer would be what matters more is it the absolute position or is it the relative position that’s absolutely relative so like relatively to like a the poorest person today compared to jeff bezos is much farther off than you know probably the poor poorest person was when cornelius vanderbilt was alive and uh cornelius vanderbilter you know jp morgan someone like that however the poorest person or let’s say the lowest quartile it’s easier to think about is probably significant is significantly better off than in absolute terms than the person in 1900 um so just trade-offs again it’s like trade-offs between these two i tend to think you know the absolute position is much more important but there are a lot of people who who care a lot more about it i i think i like to think about it like this and i think this may help you rock something so let’s say you and i are walking down the street you know we both spot a 20 belt one at the same time i pick it up i give you one cent i keep 19.99 how would you feel

if you saw it first i just i would feel like that’s just you that’s we both saw it saw it at the same time if we saw the same time well then i think you ought to split it with me if everything being equal everything being equal but how would you feel if uh i took 19.99 it gave you a cent then that wouldn’t feel like that’s not fair exactly even though you’re better off yes you are in absolute terms better off so i think that this is important in understanding people’s psychology about why um they are concerned about it is because like it’s that example right there it’s like if i give you a penny yes you are better off but it’s taken as a slight because there’s like kind of like an almost internal kind of fairness clock and it’s inbuilt to like they’ve done experiments with um like reese’s monkeys with this and like you give them like one monkey like one grape and another monkey like 20 grapes he’s like what the heck are you doing like so this is somehow like super inbuilt to primate psychology um and it’s left over and so like it’s some kind of moral like um

what’s the word it’s moral foundation like jonathan height would say it’s kind of a moral foundation okay now now that we’ve explored that explore this so i can remember in the 60s and 70s generally there was one person in the household that worked one that stayed home in families and one that stayed home with children and you had one car and you had a little ranch style house and and that’s what middle class was in life yeah and that’s one of my sort of global views of life is that if everybody had that then things would be just peachy yeah except for unless a 20 bill falls on the floor yeah then we got problems so now things have changed yes now we’ve got uh now we have uh two people working yes and we have two cars in the garage and you can’t have a little ranch anymore you got like big house bigger house yeah and um and so so we’ve got many many more people working yes and what’s been the impact of that with growth okay so

how to attack this important things to remember do you know what hedonic adaption is i do not so imagine like so i started coming in and every day i brought you this uh you know delicious cappuccino from starbucks you know it’s amazing if suddenly i was like well you can’t have a cappuccino anymore you know like so the first time you get like a lot of utility from like oh so good and you get less and less and less and less and less going on so if i gave you like instant coffee from star like little instant coffee pack you’d be like man this is gross like i’m used to like this really sucks but if you had no coffee and i gave you the instant coffee packet like wow this is yeah i’m coffee i like coffee i’m amped up you know good to go um so hedonic adaption is the fact that like and it’s always important to keep in mind in your own life is that whenever you know whenever you step up the hedonic um ladder to like a nicer car uh or something like that it’s like the effects are short run and then essentially they get built in soon after that so i think a lot of what’s been going on you know why people have this sense things are worse is because expectations are lower if that makes sense so instead of thinking you’ll be better off than your parents you’re going to be like the same or maybe worse off and that is like a big blow because you know you’re going back down the ladder if that makes sense and millennials you know we have a lot less money on average than uh boomers that are our age like it’s just this real fact is a large portion of that due to growth uh why is that the case or it yes how what is the impact of growth on that so the impact of growth so in real terms there hasn’t been very much growth that’s the answer to that it’s like there hasn’t been real growth very much real growth and that has caused that to be a problem there’s there’s more people and shrinking opportunities um and you can feel this just almost in the the ether on like college campuses it’s like the desperate it’s almost desperate the partying and drinking because there’s this knowledge there’s just less opportunity and fighting um more hard to just kind of stay in place one of the things that they uh they come across in the paper is that the natural rate of interest is decreased over the last 40 years and near zero yeah so i don’t think this is a new trend um you know there’s like a dr a rough trend line i i saw a graph once that showed the interest rates since like old testament times like you know like pre-jesus times and and it was heading south since then um and you know it’s like a messy it’s a messy graph right he’s going up and down up and down up and down like a uh electric cardiogram but it is heading um heading south and the answer is why is that um and karl marx had this idea that you know the capitalists are done once um once interest rates head below zero we’re head to zero and that’s where we are now it’s like essentially a zero interest rate negative interest rate environment in western europe i i and i think his critique is correct in maybe some sense i don’t think it’s like destiny but i do think it’s correct in the sense that it is an indication that people have less ideas like there’s less competition for money for projects to like do things like people just have less ideas in general less good ideas and and they’re less likely to take action to do things and so more competition or less competition for good ideas since we have fewer i think there’s very few good ideas so there’s more competition for them yes uh you can see this now especially in like the venture capital industry this is a shift over the past six years you know like you know now everyone wants to be working venture capital and they’re all competing for less and less good opportunities um where it seems like the real like twenty dollar bills in the sidewalk is building good companies like there’s just no one building good companies because and that’s emblematic of and and the question is is like these are a bunch of smart people so do they realize it’s just too hard now is it just too painful compared to watching game of thrones on netflix or whatever i don’t know but it’s a it’s a real effect and it’s worth thinking about so do you think that it’s harder to um to know how to do something like start a company like you you that’s one of the things you did is you’ve been involved with a startup is it harder to do that because you just don’t know how or is it just harder to have ideas what what’s causing that i think it’s hard to have good ideas i think there’s more knowledge about it’s like i okay i think the fact that thinking about startups is like in the culture and like entrepreneurship is in the culture or these these ideas is actually like a a red flag that it’s not really happening very much like so it used to just be in the ether like it just happened you know like you know people would always be starting things and it’s the lowest rate of new company formation like every year it keeps ticking off like there’s less and less and less um and i think like there’s a sense it’s too difficult or there’s no good ideas or all the frontiers have been used up but you know we can imagine all kinds of areas where this is like you know all kinds of good ideas we could be doing but we’re just not uh i think one of the things that’s true is risk plays into this like um you can think i’ll go to college because the statistics show that if you go to college you have over the course of a lifetime higher earnings and so this is sort of my golden ticket and so i what i just need to do is go work hard and study hard and i’ll get this degree and then i’ll be successful but then i whereas if you sort of strike out on your own and start something then um there’s greater risk because for one thing you just don’t show up and go to class every day you’ve got to create it yes i do think it’s maybe something like okay so what’s the alternative so i i think in a world with a lot of opportunity the risk for starting new things is lower because like the alternative as well i can just go find something pretty easily right i can go work at you know i don’t know the factory and make a solid living if things don’t work out i think now the real risk is slipping out of the middle class and i think that’s what you feel in college is like this really sense of foreboding like you know you’re like on the edge it’s understanding you’re on the edge of not making it and slipping down the mobility ladder is very scary for people and if things don’t work out the risk is much more existential than it used to be

um explain that so like it used to be if you’re a grand vision for the world making the world future different didn’t work out your alternative was well you could definitely go get a job immediately that was dignified and high-paying now i think it’s like if you didn’t follow that track and didn’t make it it’s like you’re off the wagon buddy you better like you’re done does that make sense like you will your mobility social mobility will suffer so um now explore um it seems that in the relatively recent past there was uh there was an uh it became a popular idea that if you were involved with stem like you were sort of like more golden if you were in the humanities track in which case you would be an art historian and you would have the future yes so so i think uh yeah so the the grand illusion i would say here is that um that stem is the savior right in reality i i i know i personally benefited from the fact that like i knew the humanities would not you know there’s no salvation which is somehow very like a very valuable lesson early seeing the world as it really is whereas stem like you know there’s still this hubris that like oh like it’s salvation right you just do it you’re fine but the truth is like no you still have to work just as hard maybe les maybe slightly less hard it’s unclear but that is really important to understand like you know if you look at the engineering fields like

other than computer science and like probably oil and gas petroleum engineering you know there has been a good engineering field to go into maybe electrical you know i don’t know but in the past like 20 years like you you wouldn’t make any money going anywhere else and that that’s a that’s a good example that you know it’s like there’s just fewer and fewer opportunities and and uh that makes things difficult for everyone so if you do take the gambit assume the risk i think of elon musk and he’s always he’s willing to risk it all he just he astounds me and like he’ll just invest everything because he feels like it’s a good idea yeah a guy with good ideas um what is it about is that the difference is it that people that are willing to risk i mean you you went in with a startup and and there was a good chance of failure maybe a dominating chance of failure and what did you learn about uh through the thus having survived a lot of that the company survived a lot of that and uh it seems to be tracking well what did you learn about i mean was it smooth all the way and you just sort of go in and have your coffee in the morning work along and head home at five or it’s different than that yeah so a co-worker friend and i i think we talked about this in a previous episode you know we counted 12 independent times where we thought there’s a greater than 75 percent chance probability would we would not be there the next week like we would not be around um you know like

i really hesitate to give advice i think you should generally be quite skeptical of advice unless someone who’s like really close to you and even then you know and this is a piece of advice right so it’s like yeah take it as a will right but you should generally be skeptical of advice um i i think there’s like

you know elon can do that there’s great book zero to one that describes it’s called notes on startups i highly recommend it anyone but there’s like this this reading of zero to one it’s like wow like i really should not go into startups like that’s probably that is probably the correct reading of zero to one it’s like really like i should i should not start anything um which is like counter-intuitive right but like

when you’re talking to people like that like who should be starting these things like well it’s people like at google it’s like the engineer at google is making half a million dollars a year and sitting around on the bing back chair eating m ms like that’s who should be doing these things right this is super capable people who are not doing it otherwise um you need to understand like where you are and like does your life have kind of product market fit with um startups and things like that because you know it’s not it’s not for everybody and i and people take that the wrong way as it’s something like attractive and and sexy and like cool to do and like yes but you need to understand like it’s it’s it’s a pretty serious undertaking and if you’re going to go for it you need to you need to understand all of it critically evaluate you know all of life and is a pretty serious undertaking it was being able to measure things and quantify them and say you know okay i’m going to give this a whirl and i’m going to give i’m going to invest this whether it’s time or money or whatever it is and yeah and uh and and trot yep i think yeah then you’ve got to be able to risk not succeeding and if it doesn’t succeed what are you going to do you have to some plans about that but yeah i’m going to circle back around and pick back up on equity housing bonds and bills and so what uh the rate of return of everything said was that um equities and housing returned more than anything else that’s right and by significant margin like ten to one or five to one or something like that that’s right that’s right and uh for the sec go after elon we’re not uh this is an investment advice like you have bigger fish to fry so uh do your own research um i want to yeah so always important to remember there’s risk and there’s in risk and reward and people are fairly rational so um especially when evaluating things like this so

equities where did you want me to go with that well i think risk and reward is that’s sort of the whole that’s a big part of the entire question so if we start with housing what i would say about housing real estate is that um

the risk is you know you can’t create you can’t diversify well like the the the three primary considerations in real estate it’s one of those sort of truisms is location location location right right so uh you’re gonna pick something but you can only you know it’s gonna be hard to pick more than one that’s right initially and then maybe you can grow it and maybe over time you could grow in to a number of them but even when you grow into a number of them they’re likely to be in the same community so that’s right so get gaining diversity is very difficult with housing real estate yeah and and just talking about my personal bias i like i tend to like equities more i believe equities um you know they have so real estate does outperform um like in this paper that’s what they talk about real estate outperforms equities by small margin although there are there’s this trade-off where transaction costs are much higher for houses so you you can just go buy um equities super you know like for not you know vanguard you go you pay point zero one percent you know fees a year to buy and have them manage you know most of their index funds and then you you look at houses and you’re like well i can buy one house at a time in one location and i have to pay property taxes and upkeep and maintenance and you know it is interesting that this paper found that result because it you know what i’ve always heard and seen is that you know housing really does not outperform um well real estate housing kind of two separate things but it doesn’t outperform inflation and i think there’s the there is the truth that there’s uh land that’s one thing and then your house which is a wearing good that’s important it’s like buying a car a car and a house are much more similar than people would like to understand like to believe um as a consumption good you know it’s something you consume over the life cycle so that’s the big dirty secret about a lot of houses they’re meant to last like 30 years till the end of a 30-year mortgage and they kind of fall apart right you know i don’t know like not like by design but that’s just how they’re built um and i think in that sense yeah they probably it’s more a commodity but real estate is is a bit different in that it it does seem to perform similar to equities or maybe a bit better yeah that was that’s a one of the points we should raise is we said a lot of this is a measure of risk versus reward and the big hedge is diversification with risk so if you can like own all the houses in your state or maybe in the nation or a portion of them in a small very small portion yeah then you’d be well diversified and the chances that you would do well would be greatly increased because um if there’s an earthquake somewhere there’s a fire or something happened to one house that’s just a very small part of your holdings right but if it happens to be the house you own it’s a disaster catastrophe it’s a big big problem so diversification is really important and that leads us directly into talking about equities which you sort of brushed up against in that it’s really now because of bogle really easy you might talk about jack bogle just a little bit historically to diversify yeah yeah so uh it is it’s much easier to diversify in equities like you can go you can buy there’s like a fun vt which is vanguard total world stock index and it’s you can buy for 75 bucks you can buy a tiny sliver of every single publicly traded company that an american essentially has access to it’s not quite the case but it’s pretty close um and so wow that’s pretty easy it’s like 75 bucks and go crazy housing you know there are similar equivalents called reits which are like real estate investment trusts but they don’t have every house in america and they don’t have every house in the world and it’s like usually select and like the southeast or something and um that could be okay but it’s definitely not as easy and there’s also more management fees because it’s it’s more difficult to administer than uh housing and was that bogle’s idea as a graduate student is an index fund where you would literally own a sliver of every company or representative sample of every company in the country and yeah so jack bogle’s idea um so at princeton his senior thesis was the idea of an index fund uh his idea he essentially saw a paper similar to this one the rate of return of everything’s like well if you look at the average return of the entire index um it’s like well it’s like 10 and if you just took the fees off of that you know that’s a lot of money over 10 years um and just kind of going back on on how people don’t do big things anymore it feels like you know jack bogle this is his senior thesis in college i mean think about that that’s pretty weird isn’t it like you have the senior thesis idea and he’s probably saved you know given more money back to investors than anyone else i mean i can’t imagine how many billions of dollars in value have been given to retirees and you know all these pension funds that use uh vogels uh you know vanguard and just all the other uh index funds that have popped up afterwards you know you talk about good ideas he didn’t only come up with the and apparently he’s largely responsible for index so he’s large so people could kind of done it before but he’s he popularized popularized uh index fund investing and then the the other thing i know him for is uh low fees and saying if you could reduce management fees you could you could your yield the amount of money you made would just over time would be much much greater yeah so standard investment funds usually charge two and twenty that means two percent of um the amount you have invested every year and then 20 of the returns and so like you know you’d have to outperform the index so brilliantly to make money after 2 and 20 that it’s just like really not possible there’s a couple people that can do it you know they in weird ways but they have secrets and it’s not it’s not something you can really replicate that’s one of those things that in that random walk theory is that you the market is random and you can’t select the winners and it’s in all that stuff sort of in vain i mean that’s the idea in any event uh so that’s more so the efficient eugene fama the efficient market hypothesis it’s the idea so um you know if you got two people if you got 100 people and they’re all measuring the number of m ms in a jar you know the average is really close to the number um it’s very similar like if all of the information is public and we all can see that information and everyone is rational the price will be just about what it should be now big asterisk asterisks here you know so we if we all see the public financials for apple and we all make our own decision like on average like the the price that in apple is is fairly efficient so like why do you get this equity premium then um so you get this equity risk premium because it’s volatile so people you know they need money in the short term so not willing to always invest it in in more volatile assets like equities because they need to spend it tomorrow that’s one thing um the other way you can make money is uh inside information like so that’s illegal right but you know if you knew there was special information if you were a lot smarter than everyone else and everyone missed something that’s another way or you know like so some people can make money beating the market and there’s people that you know there has to be has to be someone to make the market right too to make it efficient so all the people you know there’s like a lot of professional people who spend so if you spent like all your time and you’re super smart you could probably um beat the market but you will also probably you know like it’s efficient in that it’ll kind of just pay for the time you spent doing it does that make sense um it’s hard to just like critically evaluate other than it being just random and get a higher return if that makes sense so it’s really hard to um it’s it’s hard to do anything other than and then get the market average which you’ve got a very reasonable chance to do if you bought mine yeah yeah you just you do have a much more reasonable chance um and well the important thing to remember it’s like it’s super competitive to price it correctly right so you’ve got like all these smart people who have this financial incentive to be correct and that’s what you’re going up against and like you have to be like really good to beat that and that’s that’s what uh which most people miss yeah and but so that’s very difficult but trying to get the market average is is straightforward really straight yeah yeah so you just you’re just counting on the equity risk premium and um yeah that that’s much especially over the long term it’s a much easier strategy to follow and that’s what bogle has sort of brought to main street is that you can do that with the index funds and you can get you can get low fees by cutting out all the man a lot of the management right in the indexes you do those two things and then then main street can have can have stocks that’s right that’s right equities equities that’s right and we’ve talked about this at least as on an aside it’s like there’s there might be two reasons that stock market is where it is even today during the pandemic and it’s bounced back significantly that’s right one of them is money pressure which i think of is like water pressure there’s yeah the money’s got to go somewhere to be invested go somewhere yep and we haven’t i don’t know if we we haven’t gone much to bonds and bills yet but they have very low yields because interest rates are low yes so historically like oh do you have the paper pulled up by any chance uh don’t do you have the what the rate of return for bills and bonds has been on average i don’t not at my fingertips okay talk for a second i’ll pull it up okay then what what i will say is that um because the rates of return have been low at banks then that tends to cause pressure to put money elsewhere and because housing isn’t it’s much more difficult to invest in that puts more money pressure on the market which tends to prop it up uh during bad times and i think the other thing is is that uh bogle uh made main street aware that uh by holding and and and realize the market goes up and down that you would be able to do well uh in the long term so main street’s not prone to sell off things and they’re industry holds a lot now individual investors hold a lot of the stock market yeah especially you know 401ks you like incentivize not to sell and you pay penalties and to withdraw so i did find the yeah the average unweighted returns for bonds or in real terms are 2.6 percent and what’s inflation these days well that’s real returns that’s adjusted that’s real terms now now compared to what’s the real return for bonds now it’s probably it’s less than that it’s probably less than that because like uh they would have to return four percent right now to you’d struggle to get a bond that returns that over time and then you got to pay taxes on the gain yeah then you have transaction fees and transaction fees yep so it’s uh it does create a lot of money pressure on the stock market yeah searching for returns searching for returns yep yep so that that explains a lot about uh and one of the things i say is that one of the riskiest places long term put your monies in the bank everybody runs to the bank your grandmother was like this your grandfather was like this and their generation was like this because they lived through the depression so they put their money in the bank because it was safe well that was true in a sense especially with fdic and the fed and all that stuff but over long term uh inflation and taxes chipped away at it that’s right yeah you know you’re losing two percent a year on inflation and you know yeah and what did the banks do with it for savings accounts they put it in t-bills so bills so you know they borrow for the federal government and then they take some cut and then they give you that percentage so right so that’s one of the riskier investments long term whereas if you get in the stock market and you hold through the ups and the downs and at some point in the future you may elect to take some of it out well yeah so i yeah it does come back to like what do you mean by risk do you mean volatility do you mean how much does it go up and down so for example houses like they seem like really low volatility right because you buy it and then you don’t know what price it is reality houses probably have similar volatility to equities um just judging on their returns they probably have similar volatility it’s just like you don’t have this ticker like paying you don’t know constantly yeah you don’t have it pinging away and that on the nightly news they never go and your housing value today it went down five thousand dollars ah handle down it went handle down today five percent down oh my god yeah no you never hear that which is different okay um

so uh we’ve uh uh unpacked a lot of this yeah um would you would you like to summarize some of your thoughts about the rate of return of everything and what you think it means yeah so i i think the the big takeaway from the rate of return of everything um was kind of confirming my biases a little bit about equities being you know especially for someone like me a younger person that’s the place you want to go this is the place you want to be thinking about if you um if volatility does not bother you so if you don’t so if it drops in half like if that doesn’t bother you a lot of people psychologically it’s it you know investing is mostly a psychological gain and whether you can handle losses and a lot of people have a lot of trouble with that i think it’s inbuilt to human nature you know most people would much rather avoid losing than winning um i think that’s like a that’s the truth about human nature that’s important to keep in mind and incorporate to keep in mind about yourself in investing equities it’s interesting the most surprising thing to me in the paper was real estate actually outperforming equities that that was i did not expect that um i agree about that and um and they’re very similar there might be a small edge to housing but yes it’s not very large and one of the points i should make and probably is people are familiar with this and some may not be is that you’ve never lost anything in the stock market until you sell it so if the stock market and it has during my lifetime it’s gone down half yeah and which is it it will get your attention when it does that but it also lets you know that the one thing you can’t do is realize your loss you can’t sell then yeah well it is it is important to remember though so if you buy a basket of equities like you’ll tend to get something maybe you’ll get something similar to the returns i think returns will be lower just because interest rates are lower that’s so important to keep in mind lower than what you know is stated in the paper which is like what 10 some odd percent i think they’ll be much lower than that i think equities will still remain higher than bonds and bills for the foreseeable future just due to the current interest rate environment and that seems to be like a solid trend you could count on knock on microphone stand

but that’s just something to keep in mind is just you know you never want to invest more than you can afford to lose and and and what you would need in the short run because in the short run lots of crazy things going to happen i think that’s that’s a a couple of things about that i agree with is uh if you’re in equities you’re in for the long run yes that’s important remember entire paper is about the long run and that’s what we’re talking about so you don’t buy a house and sell it next week or next month or even next year everybody would know that would be a risky proposition and you and i wouldn’t be willing to go into the stock market with that kind of time when either that time whether so going in when you’re young and having plenty of time to learn and study and observe and watch your money grow uh seems to be really key and one of the things i really encourage young people to do is because you need that large time that long time with it the long run yeah time matters more than almost anything else time fees matter more than anything else um and so we talked about one more thing we talked about returns and this is the raw returns real returns that does not include fees um and you know i encourage everyone to go out there and just look at your 401k and see the fees i remember you know i ca there’s a there’s a formula you can use we won’t talk about it today to calculate expected returns based on the dividend yield and a couple other things jack bugle used it i think it’s a useful tool i wouldn’t use it for its predictive power but i think it’s good to think about you know um i think right now like a 401k that i use has fees that are equivalent to probably a quarter of the returns expected returns year over year right and that’s pretty standard in the industry and that is a massive amount i want people to understand one percent of fees is huge yes it’s huge because if you’re only getting let’s say you get you know nowadays six percent real four percent real returns say four percent that’s a quarter of your returns which you know it’s a lot of money it’s a lot of money and what you know people often spend more time um mowing their grass during the week than they do reviewing their retirement portfolio or their financial situation and it doesn’t take a lot of time and you certainly don’t have to be a rocket scientist or a brain surgeon yeah you know i think that one of the beauties that bogle and vanguard brought and we’ve mentioned them several times and it’s because it it’s easy to understand and very helpful um one of the beauties of the what they’ve recommended is uh it’s something that you can understand it’s something you can appreciate it’s something you can be involved with and take advantage of and that’s what they brought to main street in america yeah i think it’s quite good and it’s a very elegant idea it’s like what if you could capture the returns in this paper like that’s all we want to do like and um he he wrote a book right before he died called enough i love this book it’s called enough he’s like well you know jack boggle he’s pretty wealthy person by the time he died just like worth probably 80 million dollars like you know he’s like i’ve flown in first class and it was nice but you know it’s not that much you know 10 returns like that’s enough and it’s a lot you know he’s gonna make like he’s like i’ve got 80 million dollars and you know in terms of visionaries that captured a percentage of their uh their value created bogle is way down there like it didn’t capture very much so their big rivals fidelity and for the fidelity family um i can’t remember the the name of the owners but you know they’re all super wealthy and that’s always a sign right you know if you’ve got a super well you know if your financial manager is really wealthy you know you should be curious about that yes just keep your eyes open because he got part of it by putting his hand in your pocket yeah somebody’s pocket exactly exactly and so that’s how much the finance industry makes money or has made money in the past people are much wiser now but it’s in selling um securities and taking a writer and like two percent of of um management fees sound small but in reality you make a ton of money even one percent you mentioned these 401ks one percent um is is huge and and will really your returns um this also reminds me automated investment systems are better because removing the psychological and human helmet like things that automatically invest are much better than you have me think about it because i think you know it’s easy to get rattled and have questions yes yes and you know there’s that’s a good point about if you turn on the tv and you see some investment product well it ain’t cheap to buy that tv tom so yes you should always ye you should always be skeptical about people’s investment advice because generally you know people have incentives to occlude and and generally you know like if someone’s giving you investment advice on like emma whatever the what is the msnbc invest business channel you should be very skeptical because you know unless it’s jack bogle because he’s you know he created a trillion dollar company he’s only worth 80 million dollars they manage a trillion dollars and he’s only worth 80 million dollars he’s a smart person well that’s not telling you he’s given that money to someone else and that’s that’s you know yeah that and you know for those interested in the podcast and in this subject that’s a great place to start reading it’s because of just what you said as somebody that has that much under management but realized i mean 80 million dollars anybody would love to have that but when the comparison is compared to like the other people in the field it’s nothing and he you know i would i would actually even before i looked at vanguard i would look at vogel’s books yeah that’s great advice yep great okay well it’s good to see you again it’s good to be here on the podcast thanks for joining us and we’ll see you next time on narratives thanks

Well that’s our show for today i’m will jarvis and i’m will’s dad join us next week for more narratives


Why does your dog act like a dog and not your cat? Why does your cat not act like your dog? If cats are better hunters than dogs (hint: they are), why do we hunt with dogs instead of cats? Why do we ride horses rather than cows? Why are cows primarily a food source and not horses? We sit down with Faith Jarvis this week to learn about the domestication of the animals that are our pets and the ones that become our dinner.

Startups, with Eric Smith

What do Machine Learning, the French Horn, Championship Scrabble, the Lotus Evora, cryptocurrency mining and startups have in common?   Eric Smith.   Eric joins Will in this week’s episode for an exploration of startup life.   


eric is a good friend of mine he’s been my co-worker for what is it four years now four years yeah we figured this out already we already figured this out so we’ve already been through this it’s great man uh he’s been my co-worker for four years you got your uh an undergraduate what did you study math statistics that’s well you got it i did bang bang bang the math and the statistics and i also took a lot of uh graduate statistics classes um i went to well i went to nc state again for my master’s in the analytics and that was a one year well ten month program um so it took one year to get that and you did did you do that back to back yeah i didn’t okay i just you know i didn’t i didn’t work anywhere i didn’t do an internship i just went straight to uh grad school that’s really cool that’s cool there’s actually no break anyway so it’s like you graduate on may 5th or whatever for undergraduate and then it’s like okay june you start go it’s like yeah i had like three weeks off so i don’t even know what it is i don’t remember but yeah basically no down time just jumped right in just back to back and we we haven’t talked about this yet so i’m just going to veer off course man but yeah you played in the triangle wind ensemble yeah and you still do well yeah i don’t know what happens right now i’m still part of the group and there you are working on other ways to proceed that’s really cool man that’s cool uh and what do you play i play french horn very nice and did you get started in high school with that or no i started well actually i started piano and well preschool i guess technically nice so i played instruments for a while and then in fifth grade um you know i i wanted to play french horn actually my dad is a french one player but we can get back to we’ll get back to him later uh but um so i wanted to play french one two in fifth grade and they were like the teacher band director was like no you should certain trumpet and so i started on a trumpet i played trumpet in elementary school and then one year in no maybe a half year in middle school so i you know in sixth grade i played it like half of the year and then i switched to french horn like the other half i think anyway so you know i played ever since um so yeah that’s been over 20 years i guess that’s awesome man that’s really cool i’m glad you’ve been able to keep that up with everything going on yeah i mean it’s a little bit so like last week i um so i have like this this is not a typical instrument it’s it’s a it’s a it’s a high f french horn so you know typically french ones are in the key of f which is just or b flat or both uh but this one’s a higher french horn and it’s it’s like almost it’s not it’s not pocket sized but like you can it’s it’s smaller than a foot wide and you can i can stick it on my desk to have it to play like as opposed to like a full-size french horn which is like yeah you know that would be too big to sit on a deck well maybe not too big but it’s unwieldy for if i’m just sitting at my desk on a table no anyway the what i was getting at was um so you know i was i’ve been kind of tempted to play it at random times during the day it’s awesome and um this hasn’t made it onto a zoom call yet man what’s going on well yeah i i thought about it i thought that might be pretty fun anyway yeah what i was gonna say is um so you know i would i just play it at random times of day or night and like last week or i think it might have been yeah it was about a week ago uh i was leaving to do something and like neighbors one of the neighbors said is that you’re the horn player no you know we can we can hear we can tell we we were hearing you i’m being nice about what i said about what they said but yeah exactly you know we could hear you through the walls at 1am last night yikes and so you know i apologize i was like uh well i’m sorry i won’t do that again now i’m a little bit scared to touch it yeah i’m like they’re going to yell at me but high up well anyways

i live in a town house so that’s it’s i probably shouldn’t have been doing that anyway but anyway that that’s a side aside it’s all good anyway so so uh yeah that that’s superman so uh getting back to it so you um you graduated from state in the masters of analysis program which is kind of like an applied statistics machine learning this was pretty early on in the machine learning well they didn’t call it machine learning back then but it’s got to free that but they called it data mining i think big data yeah or analytics yeah same same word really it’s and then machine learning like that i just consider them all really basically the same thing and then i guess ai artificial intelligence is another subset or superset of that right but they’re all kind of the same thing to me just because i’ve i’ve done statistics i’ve done math i’ve done analytics i’ve done data mining i’ve done machine learning it’s all basically the same i’m right i’m an expert in all of them you’re the boss man well so so eric is the chief data scientist here at tanjo the startup we both work at i thought i’d mention that yep um that’s super cool man so uh you graduated and i know you know you had um and i love this story so what year did you graduate um math i got my masters in 2010 2010. so that’s 2010. so 2010 and you know you were interviewing with um big bank up in buffalo yep nice little iteration there um and uh you know you got flown up there you’re interviewing with the team and um you kind of you know you faced a fork in the road at this point you tell me about that a little bit yeah so and kind of halfway through the master’s program yeah like my dad um he uh and we can talk about him later again uh you want to go ahead and tell him so uh well yeah we’ll just start with that yeah david smith um yeah but she does have his own wikipedia page yeah he does and i have edited it i um one the one funny thing i i said that was um david smith invented checkers really oh the board game i put that on there and you’re giving those those moderators i don’t know if it’s still there but you know i all right put that on it and go check that out and it stayed for years oh god draw your own conclusions okay sorry very cool uh so yeah so your dad uh notable um so he invented the first 3d uh it was called yeah so 3d adventure game i guess is what you would call it i think they had like that you know that tank game was before it like yeah the one with the wireframes that that was around i think maybe there were some others too but his was the first like real-time 3d adventure game um very cool and it was called the colony and it was for mac and uh amiga and commodore and i like maybe i’m making all that up but you know that that was 1987 that was the year i was born um windows wasn’t around at that point i don’t think linux was maybe it was but anyway wow that yeah so he started off um he’s that that was kind of his starting point in technology um he founded vertice enter uh vertis corporation in 1990 nice um and that was kind of built on the same technology um and he came out with a product called virtus walkthrough which um it’s basically a tool that you can use to create 3d worlds and you know architects can use that to build you know make buildings and rooms and stuff um

and actually our boss at tanjong is richard boyd and he you know my dad hired him in about that you know early on pretty hell to lead the sales team um so i’ve known him for a while we’ll get we’ll talk more about all these people later but definitely um yeah my dad um he went on to found several gaming companies with um so the first one he did was with uh tom clancy and the first game that was basically a prototype they came up with was kind of this uh it’s based off of one of tom clancy’s books i guess all of the games were or most of them but um one was called ssn and it’s basically a submarine combat game uh you know they had like russian and chinese and american submarines and you’re just for the red october yeah you’re pretty you’re you’re just shooting things you know i played it i played it nice um and i guess the main the the biggest uh success they had was the game rainbow six um which came out in i think 1996 for pc and playstation uh and that sold maybe 100 million copies so big deal yeah that was we can yeah he can claim that have started the company that uh did that that’s awesome um and i guess you know he founded another he um founded a game company with michael crichton called timeline um the you know i think they came out with one game but it wasn’t quite successful yeah it was called timeline based off of the book timeline which also had a movie which uh didn’t do that well but um anyway so yeah the my dad’s license plate was timeline nice with ones because the eyes were taken anyway so um yeah he’s got he did those gaming companies and maybe a few more and i guess um he did he’s basically done a lot of startups over the years um so since since those he did um he did a few more startups and then worked at lockheed martin for a while with with you know richard boyd and several other people you know from the virtus days and um kind of i think in around 2013 or so maybe he i don’t know the year exactly but you know he got he jumped back into doing startup companies nice so he did one called we’re ality which was um basically foldable uh 3d glasses for your mobile phone it’s cool um and then more recently his uh his startup is called croquet and it’s kind of you know all this stuff kind of it’s 3d related so um that one is kind of it’s a web-based um i guess almost you could call it an operating system but it’s got a lot of functionality so you can you know you’re basically you can collaborate with other people within 3d worlds um you can you know you can talk kind of like a zoom call you can share videos and um you can also like since it’s collaborative you can share data sets and you know 3d visualizations and you know everyone’s seeing the same stuff but it’s he’s done a lot of work to make that seamless that’s awesome um so that’s what he’s doing now that’s very cool and you know he’s he’s uh based out of los angeles right now super cool so it’s 2010. you know you’re faced with this choice okay back to that huh yeah so essentially startup or um big bank right yeah so yeah my dad was doing another one of his startup companies in 2010 i guess it was i think he was working at lockheed yeah he was he was definitely working at lockheed at that point in time but you know he he can’t get away from the startups yeah so um basically i got involved like kind of halfway through my master’s program um

and i guess i kind of made a fork in the road for myself which was like so you know i did all these interviews at the analytics program yeah which were good experience i guess um but you know i just i got far enough along with one of them that i was like well i’ll either do this one or i’m going to work work on this project with my dad yeah and it turned out that the uh people at that at t bank in buffalo they uh decided uh not to look let me or they didn’t want me to work for them uh this weird way to put it they didn’t they didn’t hire me basically yeah so um uh which i mean that’s probably good good in a lot of ways too yeah because buffalo is yeah it’s buffalo yeah well anyway yeah buffalo yeah buffalo wings yeah no exactly yeah i don’t know if i’d want to live in western new york because of you know it’s just so far away and yeah whatever anyway it wouldn’t be awesome um so yeah i i instead of moving to new york i moved to florida which is where my dad was living at an apartment uh for lockheed martin you know um so basically i worked for him for rice well i lived there for about a year um i spent one summer there and i didn’t want to spend another summer there yeah don’t blame me because central florida orlando was gets over 100 or 90 you know high 90s and it’s just like it’s brutal it’s yeah well winters are great but you know because low is 70 or it’s like okay yeah that’s nice but anyway let me get back to so you’re working all the stuff yeah in florida working for my dad working for your dad in florida how was that and so this is this is kind of funny um and will’s heard it once i love this part twice or three times yeah that’s great i’m gonna explain it again yeah do it verbatim um so originally like my dad you know he told me he wanted to keep track of hours that i worked tyranny of the time card so um he just wanted to give him an update of like the stuff i worked on and how long and you know what what i was planning on doing next so you know i the first time the first week i basically did like around eight hours a day yeah um normal so i figured oh this is this is good yeah i did a lot of work and i got a lot of got a lot done yeah and so you know the first time i you know i emailed him the time card he was like you know so now that you’re working at a startup you really need to work 60 hours a week and i’m like okay i guess that makes sense fair enough you’re the startup expert yeah so you know he’s a workaholic um he likes to work a lot i guess i guess that’s what needs to be done okay so i so the next week well i guess i um i don’t know i worked maybe 10 hours a day let’s just say that um so that’s on average so you know i would i wrote down all the hours that i had and i sent them to him and he he told me um so you know if you really want to be successful if you want this project to be successful you’re going to have to work 80 hours a week

and so um yeah well yeah so that okay i mean living in florida might as well not that i was doing anything else but all right i guess i can try that to do that and i guess um so somehow i managed to get that many hours i managed to jam that many hours into a week i don’t know it was like 14 hours a day but no that’s maybe too many 12 let’s just take 12 hours a day um so i managed to do that i basically worked and ate and that’s it slept a lot anyway so my dad

um so you know i wrote my hours out again you know some some days had like 13 hours or yeah it’s like a lot of work basically and then so he sees it and he’s like well you know that’s not you’re not really working hard enough so um you know if you want to make this company into a success you know a successful startup you’re going to have to work 100 hours a week oh my god um and you know at some point i stopped really taking him seriously yeah you know he definitely he was definitely inconsistent with that’s not the only time he he was like bugging me about how many hours i worked but yeah he he’s definitely inconsistent about it so you know some some some days he’d be a little nicer he’d be like well okay 60 is fine this week but it’s 120 weeks sometimes just depends well yeah i mean if you work 16 hours a day that’s uh that’s over a hundred so it’s like within the realm of possibility it’s possible yeah um but you know you need to sleep and eat too like in bathroom i don’t know but anyway so that went on for a year well i’m actually more than here because i ca you know i lived in i lived in florida for a year but um i got tired of i didn’t want to live through another summer there so i moved back to north carolina um and i can’t i continued working on the project um

for well let’s see i i don’t i don’t remember you know basically there there were people who were working with us like you know my some of my dad’s co-workers gotcha and you know that some would some would jump on or jump off and right you know at some point it was basically just me working on this project oh wow so i was i did i did like everything so like you know the back end servers the the database stuff the the back end coding the the website itself the you know the controller code for the website sorry i could do i could kind of do all of that then you know my dad was basically uh giving me control of the project yeah so you know for maybe two two years i was kind of doing it all on my own um yeah and i guess at some point in i think 2013 gallow funding just a little trial um yeah so uh my dad you know my dad knew richard boyd from virtus so um they’ve been good friends since then and they also worked at lockheed together um so yeah he my dad uh let richard in and you know wanted him to run this project full-time um so that you know around that time 2013 is when maybe mid-2013 is when he let richard on and you know we he richard uh brought in a few of a few other kind of people he knew from the past and he uh kind of spun it into a a real company um that’s awesome so yeah and then i guess around august or that might be the right time august 2013 uh richard got us a little funding from the startup factory i guess they called themselves triangle startup factory at that point in durham and the american underground um so

and you’re off to the races yeah um so basically what we did at that point was kind of improve our website and well we we almost started over actually um another one of our co-workers helped us out uh jay sanders um you know he was contracting with us for for that part of the time and you know he he’s come full circle so we can get back to him but anyway um yeah so we you know he helped we we built our website up pretty well and um i guess that um what was it startup incubator lasted for about three months and then you know we were kind of in limbo for a little bit maybe half a year but um richard got you know had been trying to working on he was working on you know getting some major funding for for that period of time and he got it in i guess april 2014 so that’s you know that’s the part where you know well now we’re going to that’s a real deal now yeah so it’s it you know it went from you know living room project to um well kind of kind of full-time job for me well yeah well more than a full-time job maybe two or three full-time jobs okay three full-time jobs for me um in the into uh a startup incubator so you know we were becoming more legitimate and then you know once we got our big load of funding then you know well now things are starting to move right so um at that point we decided to work on an app a mobile app for i guess i think we only did ios at that point so the iphone and ipad but um so our uh our app was basically kind of a news reader type app um personalized news reader so it was called nomibot um and basically you you could choose a set of bots to bring you stuff from the internet and um you know you could swipe right or left kind of like tinder but um and it would improve its results over time but the uh i guess that made the downfall of that app was that it didn’t really get a lot of engagement you know people didn’t maybe they just didn’t get it or it just wasn’t appealing to them gotcha um the demographic you know you just sometimes you hit it or sometimes you don’t and i don’t think we hit it yeah um and so i guess after we kind of spun that down you know we we were looking into what to do next and we came up with you know a set of maybe five different ideas um so so let’s see one was kind of um it was like a restaurant recommendation or like local events recommendation tie down with like restaurants um so we you know we took a look at that we looked at some other things like education like some kind of education based recommendation system and then another one was like healthcare based um i think there was maybe one more but the the one we ended up deciding on was called well i don’t think we had a name for it but it was basically um let’s see pinterest for knowledge so tanjo yeah we we call it tanjo now um and i guess well our company is named after it uh actually uh so the the company names that we had before tanjo were the first one was sizzle spelled with three z’s and no vowels so s z z z l um and you know i nobody can spell that yeah how do you explain that yeah on the phone i mean and then we we re i think in 2013 for the startup factory we re you know we changed our name to sizzle with onesie so well that’s 300 easier to explain but still thousand percent hard to explain so um you know s zl how do you say that on the phone yeah exactly scl and there’s cz like tough to tell yeah seo if you say it really quickly just it just kind of you can that’s a lot of letters it could be yep um anyway the um so we we came up with our product called tanjo which was like pinterest for knowledge so you basically have a set of boards and you can type in you know keywords and titles and it will find you stuff related to that so i guess at some point we decided that we you know our company name needed to be more in line with our product so we reincorporated as tom joe and i think that was 20 today so anyway so i was there for when we made the brand change yeah maybe i’m jumping a little bit ahead it might be 2017. but i know so um we didn’t have any revenue until 2017 i want to say yep yeah so because it wasn’t until a year after i was on i mean or so yeah it’s been a while you know i was 17. i was there the whole time and you know we i didn’t make a cent for until

well i i mean i guess once we got our big round of funding then i started making a salary but you know before for six or four f whatever four years i wasn’t making anything i was just doing it for the experience and um whatever potential acquisition you know i don’t have a stock yeah yeah anyway um well so so sitting here today where tondo is a successful company um i know you and i we were talking about this earlier just the number of times that we thought you know we’re a week away from dying as an organization yeah yeah yeah you’ve had more than i have but yeah i can i can explain a few things so you know back when i worked for my dad in florida yeah like you know basically if i worked like four hours one day he was gonna say he he would say like well you know you’re not working hard enough and i’m gonna pull the plug on the project so you know i i’d work a little harder next week but you know it you know i guess this this company as a whole is kind of it seemed like it’s just going to go away or evaporate after like a week but and you know my dad might have been like 12 of those times but right right exactly but but i think it does and we were talking about this earlier again it’s just you know it underrates like we just don’t you know the importance of just not quit just keep trying you know like super important just to keep trying and you know and we also we were talking about this we’ve got a team you know you and i we don’t get rattled you know we really just don’t get even when things like really looked like they were not gonna turn out very well we just kept trying you know kept even if it looks like the probabilities are stacked against us we just find the best way forward and just keep trying to go through it and don’t know you know no one freaks out no one everybody’s just calm cool collected stoic throughout it which i think is really helpful yeah um i remember this was kind of after you know after nomibot and then you know we we made ten tanjo but like we kind of run run out of funding at some point yeah and basically you know we had to let go of a lot of people yeah including our cto and you know a lot of marketing people but um at that point in time like you know that just seemed like like the end was happening like yeah it could be could it could have been tomorrow but like um this is just one example of of you know kind of miracle things but anyway um so like our um our cto who is still works for us his name is ken lane um in i think 2015 around october 2015 he was actually laid off of from gse which is a nuclear power plant simulation company but um you know he was looking around for jobs and you know richard somehow knew and called him and uh he showed up uh one day and you know i met with him um and he was you know he was instantly hired and accepted so you know he kind of you know reignited the the whole company as a whole i think and you know kind of i think for me personally i think he kind of saved us at that point in time right and you know that’s that’s one example of things that have happened to our company there are many where yeah there’s many more of those but example that’s really a good example you know that’s that’s one great example of of of what you know what kind of things have happened but you know i personally i didn’t give up like even though it seemed like things were going to go away but i just just got to keep trying you know i didn’t not to say i didn’t feel bad but um you know i didn’t want it to go away right like i wanted to keep going like i mean i i haven’t worked any other place except for my uncle’s furniture store so you know i don’t have like i don’t have company experience i was advised by people to you know you you should really work at a at an established company you know right after graduating big salary and you know i didn’t do it yeah i just went for this and you know i don’t regret that it’s a problem yeah and i i feel like i’ve got um a lot of experience from it and um what was i gonna say yeah i don’t know i just yeah just sitting from where i’m sitting you know it’s just you and i i mean i i mentioned when we were talking a little bit earlier you know i just i deposited a check you know someone said it’s where’s anyway so someone had sent us a check and said hch but i need to deposit it um this was last week and it was larger than like our first two years of revenue when it sits before i joined on uh you know it’s just like man how far we’ve come it’s just yeah insanity making i know for like tanjo and nomibot you know we had it in the app store and it was like a free app and we were like banking on getting ad revenue and we never actually even set up the ads so it’s like never made it up i mean it yeah never made it that far and then for the next you know the website tanjo you know when we started out we were going to do like a subscription service kind of like slack you know you pay five dollars a month per user and you get access yeah um and you know never nobody bought into that either but kept trying yeah i mean you know nowadays you know we we’re you know whole you know companies are just buying our stuff and it’s like wow that’s just costly no it’s orders of magnitude more than any of that it’s like it would have been nice to have that back then but you know it’s like yeah it’s kind of crazy just seeing these numbers the journey the journey is really cool to see yeah so you know i was i was there the whole time and you know it was zero for me for the first four years and it was zero for the next three years well i guess i made a salary but our company didn’t really yeah get any income not not very much anyway at all but um yeah like it’s just picked up so much it’s it’s wild testament to just keep trying just keep trying yeah uh so you’re really good at scrabble yeah is that right is that true i guess you could say so can you tell me like kind of your your rankings and and how how good you were yeah so you know i i started in scrabble in ninth grade i was in just in high school um so i played you know quite a few tournaments during that period of time well maybe not that many actually so the weird thing is they didn’t have any tournaments in north carolina at that point so you know i had to go to georgia tennessee um so it was a little bit hard getting around to places but i did it um all my parents did it anyway yeah so i i played tournaments in high school and a little bit in college too gotcha although in college i kind of neglected you know i just kind of showed up and i i kind of sucked but it’s not good anyway so i you know i quit for a few years maybe more than a few but then in like i guess around the 2012 2011 time frame so you know i i was kind of working for my dad but um

i started kind of getting more serious about it gotcha um and um so i guess my rating was like 13 or 1200 at that point and you know i don’t know what rank that was in the state but you know i was i had played enough against the computer that i basically knew what i was doing strategically um and it was kind of more a matter of just learning words at that point gotcha like you know to get to the top levels like you need to know all the words like there’s there’s like 200 000 words yikes um and i i’ll kind of go step by step later but just to for my um rank so basically i i just kept gaining rating like i won like five tournaments in a row nice like and it wasn’t it wasn’t luck it was just like i just knew what i was doing i guess yeah even though i didn’t know like all the words i just had such good strategy i could beat you know people who knew all the words and um so let’s see like i played in two national scrabble tournaments one was 2012 in orlando and i guess i was i might have been i was in orlando at that point i think um and then i played in one in las vegas next year um and in that tournament so that’s basically all the top players from the country yeah all in one place and you know they have different um brackets so you know they’ll be like it’s a pretty big tournament so there’s like 100 people in each bracket um but i was i played the top bracket even though uh my rating was slower but um so you know i played i played world champions like that’s awesome and i beat some of them

so yeah after that tournament actually i actually got uh 28th place so that’s you know that was pretty good for me that’s really good i think i won 18 games and lost 13. nice but um so that was good enough for like a tie for 20th and technically i got 28th on a tiebreaker but uh anyway um the uh let’s see so after that tournament i was ranked number one in the the state of north carolina nice um and then i played one more tournament which was the north carolina state championship yeah um and this so this is kind of a funny story um so i didn’t win the tournament but i would i had a shot i guess you could stay close so like with four rounds to go four games to go basically um i was playing you know the there’s this one guy he’s he knows all every word in the dictionary and he’s he knows them better than most people on the planet yeah and he’s also pretty good strategically um i think i had a winning record against him before this tournament somehow i don’t i don’t quite understand how but um i i guess it’s just i’m better strategically but um so you know with four rounds to go i had to he had he won enough games where i had to beat him four times in a row like wow like literally i’d have to beat him once and again and again so so the first game that i played so the you know four rounds from the end um so i i was basic i basically had the game in the bag um so uh the like i knew what what his seven letters were because you can track what tiles have been played against what are known you know the known title distribution right right um so i knew exactly what tiles he had and he had like he had um abd uh r o sv and so you know i looked at those letters and it’s like he’s got a v and b and like that’s like that looks like garbage yeah and i’m like you know i i didn’t really you know i kind of i glanced at it and i looked at it i was like i don’t see any words in that i think it’s fine i don’t see any seven or eight letter words in that yeah and so i was just like you know i’ll play somewhere else i won’t block this this a over here that he can play through but you know i was like once i saw him he just like jumped on the he knew he like he obviously knew this word it was bravado’s b-r-a-v-a-d-o-s and he just played it instantly and i just sat there i was like oh no okay yeah you know i sat there and i knew my tournament was over but anyway so i didn’t win uh that that tournament i got second place because i must have won a bunch i beat a bunch of other people after in the final three rounds but anyway that was that was the story of that tournament and that was the last one i played gotcha um it’s basically at that point 2013 was when you know i kind of already explained tanja got a little bit real yeah yeah we got our we got our first dose of funding at the triangle startup factory and kind of you know it was i couldn’t uh i’ll explain one thing so basically i was just spending too much time on it um just on screen so actually yeah this is a little bit this is kind of funny so um there was like a television crew that wanted to interview you know people at our scrabble club and in durham or uh i guess it was briar creek very cool um this i don’t know what date this was exactly but it was on tv it was on like pbs um and i you know they interviewed me and you know one of the questions they asked me was like so uh you you must spend like all your time you must spend 24 hours a day playing scrabble yeah and it was kind of a rhetorical it wasn’t even a question but i was like uh no but i maybe i spend like eight hours a day playing and you know i was a little bit serious even though i was trying you know i was trying to think of something funny to say for television exactly but like you know i i kind of heard myself saying that yeah you know and i saw it you know i saw that on tv and i’m like you know maybe it’s time to stop playing right right maybe i need to stop putting so much time into this you know like the the rewards output aren’t yeah worth the input yeah like i can so so you know all the time i put into it it you know maybe some of it’s learning words some most of it’s probably just playing against the computer or people on i think i was playing people on facebook a lot back then but anyway um a lot of time get got put into it and you know at the end of the day like what what do you do with like all these words that you’re learning like you you don’t even learn the definitions yeah um people just learn these to to learn them to have as like tokens as like game pieces for the game right this is a valid string of letters you can put on the board for first 80 90 points like okay like if you don’t know the word you don’t get the points so um a lot of you know the top players in the world they know the whole dictionary like all the sevens all the eights even some of them know all the nine letter words which is like those hardly ever show up but like you know you know you never you need every percentage point you can get right at that level of play um you know i i might have you know i think i i didn’t i definitely did not know the dictionary cold for even but i i think at my high point i knew well certainly all the twos but like all the threes fours and fives so like all those you know there might have been less than 20 000 of those words but i mean they’re let they’re easy to learn because they’re shorter yeah um but then there’s like thirty thousand sevens alone and like uh i knew like you can order them by probability so it’s like you know e e is the most common letter there’s the most e’s and then you know all the common consonants and vowels like stuff with those letters i knew pretty much all of them you get diminishing returns yeah it’s basically diminishing returns so if you know the top four thousand seven letter words that accounts for like the ninety percent of the probability of all the words you’re ever going to see gotcha um and you know that doesn’t even count the words you all you know just as an english speaker yeah um you know so maybe maybe i knew like 70 or 80 of all the words but to get that next level require yeah or like you know the eight letter words are even i i know even less of those and so i know like 50 of those but to get to yeah like you say to get to the next level like you have to know every single one and like even even the ones that are obscure that have like three z’s and two y’s yeah like like well i mean that might be a stupid example but nobody’d ever played that but um that’s impossible to get but um you know there’s i mean i’ve played crazy words too but yeah uh just just because i learned like different word lists that have i think i knew all the all the uh j q x and z words yeah um there weren’t nearly as many of those but they were just more fun and easier to learn just i don’t know why but gotcha so i knew all those but um yeah to get to the next level you just have to know all the words and you have to be good at like knowing you have the the word in your letters like so you might you know you might know the word it might be a common word but you just can’t rearrange your letters quick enough or gotcha or fat or you know you might just miss it right right but like all the top players they they can do it instantly like they see a set of letters they you know they match that usually they will put them in alphabetical order they call it alphagramming and interesting so they’ll put like all the letters in alphabetical order and they’ll just spot it instantly they’ll know what words in it and they could even have a blank like you know blank could be anything and they could put that with a set of letters and or even two blanks like you can they just spot the words instantly wow like they can instantly see that oh that letter has to be a cue to make this into a seven letter word that’s wild um i mean i’m i’m not i’m definitely not the best at that like i can if i had time i might be able to figure out more words but like i just don’t have the kind of experience and i i don’t put that many hours into it that’s cool but yeah like that really just kind of getting back it doesn’t really have much practical value at the end of the day at the end of the day yeah it’s like this isn’t gonna help me with my job this isn’t gonna help me with anything else i do it’s just learning kind of pointless word you’re not even learning the definitions you’re just learning these tokens for this one particular board game that yeah like i mean it’s fun but it’s not very useful rather than that right i mean well technically for stuff i do it at tanjo i do a lot of text analytics so it’s slightly helpful like you know i’ve seen you know one stop word title yeah well so um the uh one of the projects i did was like a lot of scientific uh articles basically i had to do a topic model of and you know i saw words in there i’m like i knew that from scrabble i knew that from scrabble i knew that word it’s awesome so it was like you know words that i literally had no i didn’t know the definition of yeah like i’m now i’m seeing them like okay that’s a scientific word it’s awesome okay that’s what it means that’s really cool yeah so that was that was earlier this year but um so that was kind of fun um but you know really it’s it’s of no practical value that that’s super interesting dude so i want to do a little segway here and uh you drive an awesome car can you can you tell the audience what it is yeah uh so i drive i have a lotus of aura 400 the 400 is for horsepower i believe that it does have four and technically 406 but you know i don’t think they want to call it the lotus evora 456 doesn’t have the same ring to it yep so that it’s uh it’s um a black it’s black car it’s got black seeds uh black rims

yeah and i so i got it uh april 20 it was last year 2019. yeah so i’ve had it over a year um it’s got 7 thousand miles so i haven’t driven it like that much i think but you do you do drive you daily drive it yeah i i did drive it to work and back and you know in recent times i haven’t really driven it much but you know i drove it to work and i’ve taken it on a few trips so actually um you know the story of buying it um so you know when my other car is a smart car and quite the collection so basically i kind of annexed it from my mom uh i kind of claimed it for myself it’s got a lot of ben like positives but it’s also got negatives um you know one of the worst things is the acceleration yes done it’s got not yeah like 0 to 60 i think i timed it was like 15 seconds um now you’ve got like what three nine or just pick up is pretty bad yeah it’s so now it’s zero to 60 is four seconds yes i mean i might have done that a few times i might have floored it from zero to a few times but anyway um it’s fast yeah um so the smart car it’s good at like parking yeah uh good at what else

um if you look out of them yes fuel economy is good it’s big enough for you it is big enough surprisingly yes a lot of people you know they’ve made jokes like uh does your head stick up through the sunroof so eric for the audience is six eight so you know yeah quite the side season so you know i just stared at him i’m like okay yeah you’re funny yeah all right move on excited that’s the way to be man way to be okay yeah anyway um so yeah you know i i was kind of fed up with the smart car in a lot of ways yeah so you know i was like you know i i don’t i can’t i’m not rich like i can’t i can’t afford a ferrari or a lamborghini or crate mclaren or whatever but um but at the same time i didn’t want to get like a toyota or a honda just kind of a generic car not to bash any any any one brand but um i wanted something that was unique and um yeah you know nobody else would be driving it or right you know maybe nobody else have heard of it either but yeah i wanted something that was kind of you know known for reliability and yeah um basically i i talked to my cousin who he’s actually in um car design school that’s cool in detroit um and he suggested the lotus brand to me um as kind of an alternative for super cars so it’s it’s cool anyway um so i looked that up and you know i saw they had like three kinds they have the elise they have the exige and then they have the avora actually they don’t sell those first two in the in the united states anymore although i think they’re bringing it back i was told that interesting um anyway yeah i think they’re going to also stop production of the evora next year so they’re going to bring in a bunch of new brands lotus got bought out by some chinese manufacturer um anyway um what was i saying i’m picking the avora yeah yeah yeah so you know i saw that and i’m like oh that looks nice and oh it’s got you know people like it a lot um it’s got good reliability it’s got a toyota k uh camry engine with a supercharger it’s supercharged yes it’s not turbo super maybe one or the other somewhere yeah that’s a 400 horsepower out of a yeah camera engine so you know that that engine could last two hundred thousand miles yeah like which is really so that’s you know i’m not gonna get rid of this car anytime soon anyway um that was one of the factors so yeah you know i had to fit you know in the car to begin with so you know i went to the there’s like there aren’t many dealers in the country um so there’s one in winston-salem which is an hour and a half from here so i went there you know just to start out i checked out what they had and i tried to see if i would fit in it to begin with and you know i kind of you know i fit a little bit i it definitely had leg room the head room i had to kind of uh tilt the seat back a little bit to to fit but um it worked um and it was really nice i guess the the main thing is that the the stock they had was all manuals and uh i don’t you know i needed automatic um which they do make uh obviously the dual clutches sequentially yes still gotcha um that’s cool and you know i didn’t want to deal with the whole car salesman and stuff yeah yeah so you know i looked online i’m like uh you know i typed it or i searched on like the colors that i wanted and uh you know they have dealerships in atlanta there’s a bunch in florida just because you know florida’s filled with supercars um you can’t go to miami without exactly spotting that one but anyway um they also had there was some in new jersey uh there were some in new york uh i was basically looking within 10 hours of ice of here of north carolina there’s one in ohio and then one in indiana called gator motorsports they they had a black you know the black one with the black interior with the black wheels nice and so you know i just and it was like discounted a lot so you know they it was a demo car so it had it had like 700 miles on it but it was technically new um and i i drove up there with my mom to to test drive it and you know she got to do it too because i why not um but you know i liked it a lot uh i didn’t really you know the maybe the next closest thing i would consider might have been the acura nsx the the hybrid the one you know but that’s like that was like doubled a lot more it’s a lot more it’s a cool car yeah i would you know i i was just considering different things but yeah yeah this uh this one was had a good price and you know i just went for it uh so i flew up to indiana it was indianapolis and um i drove it back home uh well i actually drove it through michigan so i saw my um i saw some family in grand rapids and then i saw my cousin in detroit he’s the one who recommended the lotus thing to begin with so he was thrilled and then i drove it back um actually i don’t know this is kind of a funny story like on the way so i it the the car had like a light came on like you know i looked it up in the handbook and i’m like oh that seems a little serious so i was uh maybe an hour away from columbus yeah ohio and you know i knew that they had a dealership there and like so i actually brought it there for them to do service on it oh man it was that was a little bit funny and a little scary but yeah um got it they uh there was a free oil changed at before 1500 miles and i was nobody mentioned to tell me that that i had that but you know i would i was driving like a thousand miles home yeah so maybe they should have told me but anyway i got it like 40 miles ahead of that so they gave it to me it’s awesome let’s go like i think anyway yeah so the car i don’t think there was anything really wrong with it they just that’s cool uh you know they did a few things and said you’re free to go and nice so i drove it all the way back anyway yeah it hasn’t there’s been nothing really major wrong with it but i do you know i have taken it to winston-salem a few times yeah uh because you know they’re getting fixed yeah there have been some small issues like the truck trunk sometimes won’t open or like things stuff like that the air conditioning stopped working

yeah that’s cool um and then uh one of the i think he’s like the lotus salesman yeah i don’t know what his his job title is he just wants you to upgrade yep he his name is ken yeah just like just like our uh cannon tanjo but yeah um a little more pushy he always seems to want to get me to upgrade to the the avora gt what’s the difference between gt and the 400. so it’s got like 10 more horsepower 10 more and that’s nothing and it’s lighter lighter so and it’s got 0.1 seconds more acceleration dude that car is fast enough man yeah so yeah if if i upgraded it you know uh i could have that much more yeah and it would be a little different yeah and i i can certainly afford to two of them yeah why don’t you replace the spark car you know no yeah basically like why would i i just keep pepping to be nice to them but it’s like why would i like i’ve only got 7 000 miles in my car why would i why would i do this i feel like a lot of people they they keep them for probably about that long probably seven ten thousand miles this supercar kind of thing you know i don’t know well yeah i guess in my maybe he doesn’t understand but like i bought the car because of the camry engine i wanted you keep it going for 20 years but it does move yeah well we’ll see if it lasts that long but it’s i think it hasn’t blown up yet it’s got it’s had some minor problems but not bad that’s it anyway that’s difficult um yeah it’s and it’s parked right outside where i’m sitting yeah too bad it’s covered times we could go take a ride yeah i’ve been in it it’s quite yeah i uh may or may not have been drag racing and i may or may not not have done a zero to 100 before so you know yeah we’ll let our listeners you know ponder that i haven’t been pulled over in it that’s good no no tickets even keep it that way and i try and keep you off slack when you’re uh when you’re uh it’s cool man that’s super cool and i thought it was a really cool choice um especially because you know that car looks like it probably cost twice two or three times as much as it does yeah it definitely looks like a super car it really does and it’s it’s kind of kind of is in a lot of ways yeah but i guess it’s not a supercar because it doesn’t cost you ten thousand to replace a fuel cap yeah well like a ferrari who has time for that doug demaro does but not enough um so i i want to transition i’ve got two more things i’d like to talk to you about tonight um to crypto so i know you’ve uh you’ve i don’t know if you’re into it as much now but i know you’ve been in crypto mining crypto and and had a bunch of really interesting times with that yeah i got started in 2017 i think i bought a lot of bitcoin yeah but then i you know i didn’t keep it um so it it went up like um after the point where i had a lot of it um anyway so the i got into the mining aspect so you know yeah you build you know you build a gpu based computer you know with a bunch of gpus which are graphical processing units um basically those are those can solve hard like cryptography pro uh puzzles basically if you get rewarded for that uh and you know basically when somebody sends like ethereum or bitcoin on you know to from one address to another like the miner has to like validate that transaction and they get a small percentage of whatever that transaction was worth um so yeah i got started with mining around

2017 i think like october um so you know i built a few you know small computers with like six gpus each yeah um and that kind actually 2018 kind of the beginning or like maybe it was late 2017 was the point in time where like bitcoin went to 20 000. yeah and like i didn’t sell any of it oh that like i didn’t i just wanted to keep going like i didn’t i mean i it wasn’t like life-changing money that i had but yeah like i think at the high point i had about hundreds of cryptos oh wow some of it was like ripple coin i had i had all kinds i had bitcoin i had bitcoin cash i had uh oh wow ethereum i had you know they call them like the altcoin bag yeah you just have a lot of different random ones that right that you kind of hope they’ll they’ll turn into something but so i mean i didn’t really sell any of it i just like you know that’s it wasn’t life-changing to so if i you know if i sold it off at once it might have been it would have been yeah um i didn’t so it kind of crashed later you know and a little bit early 2018 so you know i it basically went down to like 10 of what it was yeah like you know 10 maybe i had like 10 000 worth at that point i don’t know exactly but i i remember distinctly when bitcoin would say it was that 18 17 or 18 000 and i had some bitcoin at the time from like 2015 or something i had gotten some and i went home to rural north carolina and i went to like it was a house party or something and i was talking to people that were just um you know mostly like electricians and like you know very like you know salt of the earth people and everyone was talking about bitcoin and i sold that night i went home and i sold because i i sat there and i was like you know what like you know this is what saturation looks like you’re yeah you’re absolutely right you know i i was like what in the world i saw it go up and i’m like well it’s it’s a bubble it’s obvious so no why wouldn’t i sell right but but no i don’t want to sell i want it to go more yeah no so yeah i just i didn’t if it were like a million bucks like i might have just sold it all because yeah like that might have been life-changing to some degree at least uh but like a hundred and you know i could buy a car with that but not right right not more than exactly like you can’t live off you can’t no no you can’t improve your life with that really i mean well that’s maybe an understatement um but you know some people that would mean a lot but um in the long run for me that doesn’t that didn’t seem like you know i wanted it i just wanted to roll the dice and keep going with it yeah see where it went um but yeah so you know at my uh at some point i think uh yeah 2018 in march i moved to a townhouse and i set up a bunch more computers so i have uh five separate um they call them rigs that’s awesome so you know i have five rigs with 12 gpus and they’re still mining ethereum that’s awesome which uh you know lately it’s it’s it’s been on a ride lately up and down it almost hit 500 but then it hit 300 and you know i don’t know where it’s at it it can change you know 100 in a day yeah so it’s kind of gambling you never know what’s where it’s going to go next um but you know i’ve been mining ethereum for a while and it’s it’s a sizable amount it’s just not it’s not where it was right it wasn’t um so it’s not life-changing or anything but definitely i wish i kind of had started and um like 2014 or yeah i don’t know i i back when it was tiny back when it first was like it came out like i s i i had coinbase and like i saw it there i was like oh well maybe i should buy that but i didn’t it was like 11 bucks that’s what i remember right now um but instead of like buying crypto and making gpu rigs i was buying legos which uh

it’s an alternative investment but it takes up space and like i still have like a few hundred you got an impressive collection man yeah i gotta say i’ve seen it it’s awesome yeah and i’ve got i don’t know i think i have like thirty thousand dollars worth of lego sets on a shelf at my house i i think a kid would would probably pass out if you walked in there yeah i mean it is awesome it really is cool if one of ken’s kids walked in just like a drink oh my god uh and well i mean i’ve always liked legos but yeah um i also have a lot of uh like cars like lego cars sets so i have like technic stuff or well not i have a few technic cars but that’s right like there were a lot of like lamborghini and ferrari lego sets yeah that came out i remember that i’ve got a lot of those that’s awesome you know i have like 10 ferrari 40s um those were retired a few years ago and those are worth like at least maybe not quite three times what wow but those are worth a lot interesting so some you know some some lego sets will go up a lot in value if they’re retired um but some will go down so some are just not worth what you paid for them i wonder what the average like internal rate of return on like i said is yeah it’s i mean i know people wrote articles like saying the average i don’t know i don’t know the number but like it’s just gone up basically a lot like you know ten percent per year whatever it might not be that exactly but the i kind of you know i know that on average the legos i bought are worth more than what i paid but you know getting how far are they beating inflation i guess yeah i don’t and that and getting rid of them is another story i need storage like it’s interesting yeah like if you sell them on ebay it’s like uh you still have to pay like all the fine all the fees and stuff and it’s it might end up not it might end up just being a waste of time yeah like for all the trouble that it’s worth in the end so they’re going to look at too so i don’t know yeah i i mean i’ve got legos yeah as an alternative asset class man it’s pretty cool it’s much cooler than like i don’t know oil at least you can see it as opposed to crypto yeah you can’t see crypto that’s a and you know if you lose your hash key you’re really in trouble or if you if your house burns down your legos will burn down that’s fair yeah you know trade-offs man but so will your gpu computer that’s right that’s right that’s right you know so i guess they’re equal in that way yeah that’s really cool that’s typical well eric thanks so much for coming out tonight and uh sorry for the technical difficulties but i think we we created a really cool show yeah we um we uh i don’t know what i’m saying we’ve we fixed it figured out new equipment tonight so you know yep that’s awesome awesome well thanks eric and uh we’ll have you on again thank you bye

well that’s our show for today i’m will jarvis and i’m will’s dad join us next week for more narratives

Wood And Strings

Bobby O’Neal Talton is a 90-year-old award-winning violin maker with a lifetime of experience in the art of creation.  As a boy he built wooden airplanes to fly around the hills of southwest Virginia; as a young married man, he built a house because his family needed a place to live in Springfield. Virginia; as a middle-aged man he moved to banjos, dulcimers. violins, violas and cellos.  Join us as we explore the imagination and creativity of an award-winning nonagenarian artisan.


so welcome to narratives this is will’s dad and we’re here today in on the crystal coast of north carolina and beaufort north carolina and today we have a nonagenarian luthier who makes violins and his name is bobby talton and i have a special connection to bobby talton he is my mother’s brother my mother had six brothers and no sisters so there were seven of them this is her next oldest brother and so today i should we’ll unpack a little bit i shouldn’t uh describe what a nonagenarian is and that means you’re between 90 and 100 years old so that’s that part and then um what about the luthier part you’re a luthier uncle bobby well violin makers cello and not everything but concentrated on violins cellos and i built uh oh yeah

uh other instruments too but these were just here and there there was the banjo guitars and a few dulcimers so violin makers probably prefer the term violin maker over luthier which means string instrument right yes that’s that’s correct okay good a great start um so what we’re going to talk about will faith and glenn had an episode a few weeks ago and they talked about education in depth and i thought it would be enlightening if we talk to an artist about education and where the artist got his education and you didn’t go to harvard to learn violin making is that right uncle bobby uh no basically i went to the basement in my woodworking shop and uh started butchering up some wood that’s a that’s a great way to look at it and and and speaking to you it really a lot of what where you started in your artistry of instrument making violin making specifically today uh was by building a house yeah betty jane and i were chasing the prices of houses and our savings could match the increase in the price of houses from one year to the next so we went out and bought a piece of woods some a lot of pine trees the dirt road and we started building our house now that i would have a very difficult time except i have been around you and some people that have built houses knowing how to build a house so how did you start to build a house uh i’ve started many things you just buy a piece of land and talk to people they tell you it can’t be done but you go out and buy the land and then you go down and cut some trees and when the trees are cut down you go talk to a man with a bulldozer and get him to come out pile the stumps up you burn them then then they pilot stumps and he also had a blade on his dozer and he scraped out a huge shallow hole not it was uh it he had to do it with a bulldozer because we had a pretty deep basement and uh then after that he came out and left the bulldozer there and they burned all the stumps and then we that was it so what i’m hearing is what sort of spurred this creative artistic endeavor you have is first of all necessity you needed a place to live for the family to live and walked and walked once when you’re young and you think you can do anything you’re invincible and a lot and a lot of that’s probably true when you’re 20 or maybe late 20s and start these things yeah and the other thing you kind of like the lady you’re living with you’ve been hanging around with a long time and she she thinks you can do anything and you’re not not quite sure but you’re going to do it anyway so you have to show her that you you have to kind of get a little help from her in fact you have to get a lot of help from her so you got you had great motivation in addition to that you didn’t we’ve talked about this you couldn’t go google how to build a house you had to network you had to ask around talk to people meet people find out what people’s skills and talents were to figure out how to help you also uh at that time they had drawing boards and i spent a lot of time on the drawing board and so if you own a drawing board you call a blueprint we call it drawings so you get a drawing on a house and then it doesn’t tell you how to build it but it shows how it goes together so when you know how it goes together if you keep working that you can figure out how to put it together so a lot of that had to do with the kind of work you did were you uh yes absolutely so that gave you a a good background to sort of leap off from and one of the things that you’ve told me is that your father-in-law mr crossman he cut every single piece of wood in the house with a hand saw two hand saws one was for a cross cut and the other one is a rip saw sharp as razors we had two saw horses and i would mark and he would cut and while he was cutting i would nail and that’s there was no plywood at that time we just used prop mostly one by six pine boards for sheathing and for uh uh yeah sheathing and the subflooring so and you and mr crossman were both working regular jobs during the day is that correct yeah but he got off i got off a half hour earlier than he did and he was working then and his office is where the vietnam memorial is now it was a kind of a temporary building and been there for about 50 75 years and uh so i would pick him up jump in the car shop get fast food go out start sawing nailing because we always when we finished and i think this is pretty important and to me has been uh not recommending anybody else to it but when we left every night we put out the materials that we will be working on the next day so we didn’t have to waste a lot of time standing around saying what are we going to do so you got to maximize your time and and distance whatever so mr crossman was what age was he then was he in his 40s 50s oh no no he was probably uh very close to retirement he’s close to 60. but he was wiry small active and also he was a shipwright went through apprentice school so he knew knew how and lived in a family that they all worked at the shipyard and up north they were yankees boston but anyway he knew how things went together how door locks worked windows went in and everything he was a great help and he never questioned me he just let me take the lead and then sometimes i would ask him because i found that after a while it was smart to ask him and then he would tell me very very bostonian how old were you when you started building the house i would have been

about 26. okay so and so 26 27 like that you and mr crossman there were there were parts where special uh skills might like you had an electrician come in not to pull the wiring but to connect the wiring some of the wiring up you had some things like that where you had some specialized help is that right the way we uh i got it some help because these were office workers but with respect to the electrical system uh there was a fella who had been submariner on world war one and he you know submarines he was electrician so he said i’m not pulling wires but if you’ll pull the wires i’ll come out and tie them in for you so good old herm shuit is that okay sure uh herm came out and brought his dikes he called them the heavy pliers and he wired up my house and then he complained because i used number 12 wire which was very heavy wiring the house was wired up like a naval ship so you had an electrician someone that had electrical background to help you had a mason come and you learned some from him and he did how did that work well at that time you could get a handbook and wiring was fairly simple we used fuses so i put in the fuse epoxy and i’d work to remember i’d worked at western electric for a year doing semi-complex electrical work so i was used to drawings you call them blueprints but drawings schematics and wiring was pretty simple so it took you about a year to build this house is that correct yeah pretty close to a year pretty close to a year so you build a house and then then you had an interest and mr crossman was a big one for sailing as well is that right mr crossman was you and mr crossman had interest in sailing oh absolutely and the house wasn’t finished completely they were we kept working on the house uh grading the grading was done but there were things to build but since it was a home-built house we moved in and we still had a couple of months of work and yeah back to the sailing that was he was the epitome of a true sailor and that and he was from boston which would be yeah he grew up on the water and he knew fish and his new sailboats and he had never i don’t think read a book anything but when he got on a boat you didn’t have to worry about it people automatically ask him would you like to take the wheel and i’m talking about a good sized sailboat that happened a number of times and i was always amazed that people would look at him and not at me and say well you take the wheel and so pretty soon the house is finished and then the next project is a sailboat you build a sailboat is that correct yeah we uh we we had some leftover stuff and he and i used to take his lovely daughter my wife and her mother and we would take them into town to spend some money and we would stay in the car and we would head to annapolis and go to the uh i forgot what the boatyard was at but that was uh trumpy i think the famous wood boats and we’d go out and see what the leftovers were for the uh from the week’s work and they would he and i were to pick up some of that beautiful mahogany the cutoffs stick them in the trunk stop by and get a bushel of steamed crabs and head back and pick up his wife and my wife and we’d go eat crabs and talk sailboats did you did mr crossman help you with the sailboat as well did he work on the sailboat did mr crossman work on help you build the sailboat absolutely um uh because he and his i think it was tim and his family and he had the uh uh boat built by the duponts and the bar owner for the races of 1912 and when they went out all the boys worked in the shipyard but the two of them that had the highest crafts in the apprentice school was the uh pattern maker and and the shipwright which was uh frank my father-in-law and so he’s when they would go out everybody would pull off a hatch or a piece of the rail and they would scrape sand while they were sailing they would and then when they got back they would varnish it so the reason they had the boat was the i think the duponts and the bar owner wanted somebody to have the boat they would take care of it so it was a fine sailboat 50 some feet overall on about 26 feet on the water line she was gaff rigged and i was the second sailboat that ever had the wine glass killed it was built for the races of 1912 by the way wow so um the the sailboat that you built that i remember and i was on was a cat boat is that correct uh cape cod cat yes by charlie woodholtz i worked with him what is a cat boat uh i don’t know but the cat boat is a single mass and it was more or less like the sharpies are in north carolina but it was a north northeastern boat a big around boston harbor and originally it it was you could take the beam and double it and get the length you know to put it another way if the boat was eight feet wide the length of the hull would be 16 feet so it was like a as frank used to say you can hold a dance in the cockpit of a category and what’s a sharpie of they’re they’re sort of native to north carolina sharpies yeah they’re very shallow draft boat and they were new england boats but also in north carolina they had their here in around beaufort they they use the sharpies are very shallow draft and shallow draft and when i say shallow draft i mean the rudders were like very long and narrow they had to go in very shallow water okay so now you’ve built a a house and you’ve built a sailboat and i don’t know where the interest came unless it was from your son my cousin michael uh started playing bluegrass music and played the banjo is that right yeah the the guy across the street from us at that time had a badge and he could sing good and so michael went over and sat on the stoop with a little while and next thing i knew mike came to me said he’d like to have a banjo and so things developed from there and yeah he eventually um michael maybe his second banjo was the kyle creed is that right concrete we bought him a cheap badger and that didn’t last about a month and a half because uh he could uh he could pick very well and he also fell in with a bunch of nice people at that time who worked during the day but they all loved music and washington that time was a hotbed of bluegrass and so michael um we were fortunate enough to find a fellow who picked the best banjo i’ve ever heard and bar none and he was really good but he never got the credit that he was due but we were lucky enough to get michael to him and he listened to mike and so he took michael as a student for a couple of years he didn’t keep students very long and he didn’t keep anyone that didn’t show promise could pick he couldn’t stand anybody they were that was trying and didn’t make it you either did it and stayed with him or he went someplace else and that and that led to the call creed banjo which that was michael’s second banjo is that correct actually it was a third we had the first one which we bought was just a reasonable price and then we bought a second banjo which somebody had that couldn’t play but they heard michael and we call that the bill wallace banjo and when michael had that i wanted to get him the better one i heard that the best uh danger maker up around galax at that time was kyle creed so we drove to galax it’s fun times for better jane and i we drove up to galax and walked down the street and there was a music store we walked in we said who’s the best banjo-picker in the county since we were in galax they said kyle creed and we said how do we get there so we went to his house

and he invited us in and we contracted for kyle creed manager which we have now and and outside of knowing you and michael i know of kyle creed banjo so they have made penetrance um so that was the kyle creed banjo and then that led it was the next banjo the one that you built yes yes and we still have that too and so that was the was that the first instrument that you really that you have memory of putting together a building yeah because uh we had contacts and uh we were sailing we we always hung out at the washington salem arena on weekends and holidays and we’re always hanging around people with sailboats and we call them sail bumps people that were unhappy with marriage and love and whatever and then go down and hang around on the washington salem arena on sunday mornings and and they were going to give us an award for being the only family who was around there but um so i decided that after the kyle creed that i would get a piece of wood and make my own well make michael’s own banjo which i did and uh which he has now and how long did that project take

uh that went on for a few years he played the kyle creed for a long time and then uh found you know i walked down to the basement which is where i had my wood shop and i needed to build something so i talked to the guy at the smithsonian i was like god but at any rate i talked to good friend at the smithsonian and he had a let’s put it this way he had access to get into the smithsonian and he had moved the big locomotive down in the natural museum so he was always interested in michael picking the kyle creed and i told him it would be nice for this and that and i would like to since i the boat was in the water then the cat boat was in the water and he said uh well he said we have some fine instruments in the smithsonian and he says the guys i work with also keep the those instruments in repair and they have access to a lot of good wood and he says we’re hauling in some beams from an old house and a couple of pieces of cherry you need to look at it so i looked at the cherry and one thing led to another and that’s where the uh i started out with the neck of the banjo because on the neck of that banjo which is a little different it has some tuners not my idea but i had seen some and these were not tuners that you twist these were tunas with levers on them and you could buy store-bought we call them store-bought tuners but we made our tunas out of brass we cut them and put levers on them and i think michael is one of few people that could play the banjo with the tuners because it did some pretty interesting things good sounds so they’re they’re that was one of the first instruments if not the first instrument you built and then you retire from for the first time i should say you retire and you move to north carolina yeah i came down hung around with the boats my brothers were all fishermen and all my friends down here were fishermen so and so and and very shortly thereafter you wind up in beaufort you were over atlantic beach for a short period of time and then yeah it was my i had two brothers we had three cottages along there one two three and so better jane was although she was a hampton virginia girl and used to the water and her daddy had a hampton one sailboat which was first class in virginia built by syrio i met him by the way the hampton one class had running backstage on it so uh at any rate she was not fond of beach life she liked town life snug houses so we came to beaufort quite often and uh this house we’re sitting in now we bought 40 about 43 years ago and somewhere along in there you um started building dulcimers yeah that was yeah well actually i built some skiffs and then one thing led to another then i built a bunch of dulcimers so the and then the adult the adult smurfs uh you want to tell the story about how you transitioned from dulcimers to violins okay well i don’t know whether you want to hear this or not because your wonderful wife and my niece by marriage and benny and i told her that my brothers were very competitive family all boys and that’s the way things were if you grew up during the depression you competed for everything but anyway my one brother did they had big boats and they were fishing offshore in fact they uh there’s a plaque two plaques three plaques on the pavilion in morehead city with their boat names and theirs because they basically were instrumental in developing offshore charter fission in moorhead cities and so uh but at any rate they found i was building this gift and that that was good so my second brother jimmy came over and borrowed the mold that i made for this gift because he had a wonderful shop in a boat shop built a 50-foot boat in there but at any rate a little 40 plus so he built a few gifts and i decided i wasn’t going to build skits anymore so they just thought dulcimers and since we were hanging around with music and i was picking with michael and dennis the oldest boy played he still plays bass i think he’s he’s he’s been retired and his his band is funny by the way the and um michael was picking bandages so i built boys were away and better jammer by ourselves so i just started building dulcers and that’s when james my brothers decided they would build ulcers and so they never could cut a scroll though i’m just saying this is where it was and so uh i decided i was in fact i was in the car with you one time i complained about my brother stealing my dulcimer design and everything and they were doing all kinds of research at the library and everything and benny your wife said why don’t you build a violin and see if you can do that if he can steal that so i built the violin and nobody ever

tried to build a violin but they did get me to repair some that uh that reminds me or as it is as if your brothers saw bobby driving to raleigh and said you know i think i’d like to go to raleigh so they start driving to raleigh and benny goes well why don’t you build a spaceship and go to the moon and and that’s kind of what happened with the violins and we now arrive at where we were going and that is violins and um so one of the things i want to ask you about is like okay you decide to build a violin and you’ve developed a lot of skills and um so where did you get the materials for a violin did you go to the hardware store did you go to where they sell lumber in town and get some nice what did you do to get file in parts and how did you know what to get well first of all i made a wonderful friend and the people um were living in beaufort and some folks drove up the house next door to us sails right next to town hall and um we thought it would be good neighbors who went over and suggested that uh there was a wonderful place that we liked it and they had a the house was bigger than ours but it turned out that

they were in the textile business and um one thing led to another they put a contract on the house they were third contract and they got the house and so we kind of became friends because we were doing our house then and they provided the textiles for the old furniture which we haven’t i say oh that’s about 100 some odd years old that came with the house and so all the textiles in there are one-off design because the company that his family

on more or less more i think uh did all the uh tapestry of the in the country i think but anyway they had two i think two plans one up north and one uh thinking in valdez north carolina that was long ago we’re talking 40 years ago so any rate uh it turns out he was a violin player uh but he he never got a chance to go on stage anything but he had a fantastic year and he knew that i played guitar messed around i never played very good in fact the kids wouldn’t let me um do anything except stand in the background play rhythm that was okay because i could build stuff but anyway uh he said when he was looking at adults from he said bob why don’t you build a violin and at that time that was before i was riding with you and then he said why don’t you since it was uh brotherly competition then he said why don’t you build the violin and see if they can build the violin so anyway i mentioned to don out on the sidewalk in front of the house his house next door to me he he took a credit card out and said bob please build the violin and take the credit card and don’t buy any cheap wood buy a good wood so i did i drove to baltimore i found out where the supply house was it was the only one i ever i found was one in alabama i drove down there then i drove to baltimore and baltimore ran into the manager there was only four people working there the owner the manager a packer and the lady that kept the books and since he was a mandolin picker uh we were in the back and i got a real good dissertation on woods to buy for violins because they provided it all over the country and so he took a cardboard box and he took all the stuff that i needed to uh build a violin so i built a violin now do you know where that initial wood came from because early on you got some from germany but well where they got the reason first of all baltimore’s obvious was port and the woods that they bought i think most of it came from bosnia and in bosnia the family the father the head of the house we would go out and cut the spruce bring it in make it into splits and

put it back to season then they would take it to market and the buyer was generally from germany the buyer that i got my wood from he went into bosnia got the wood and um they put it on the ship and it came into baltimore and that’s where the little warehouse was it wasn’t small but i mean it had four people running it so the spruce from bosnia is what i’m guessing what good violins are made often made from is that that’s what all mana made from and uh it was all graded and that’s another story you can buy cheap wood and price doesn’t always determine the best wood when you’re buying wood for violence so how do you determine what might be good wood for a for a violin and what might not be uh i relied on the young fella that ran the warehouse because he picked mandolin and uh that’s where i learned i didn’t get that from a book and first of all um i don’t want to tell too much because people be flocking into the place and but i’m not building any stuff now but first of all he had a wet sponge not wet but damp and he would pull out the splits and we’d check the grain and uh there’s some other things that we would do not really

i don’t think it’s really necessary to talk about that how you pick the wood and the price is not what determines the quality of wood and it’s a calculated guess on your part to part with your money and how it’s going to turn out because you never know until you finish it and you scrape a bow across it and it seasons for a little while then you’ll find out whether or not you made a good choice yeah that’s the first thing is you can do a really good job of picking nice wood and nice parts and do a really good job of putting them together but it doesn’t ensure that you’re going to have something that sounds wonderful is that right well yeah and you need somebody that can has a good ear may not be on the stage but you need somebody that has really a good ear and i was fortunate to uh run into two people one is the young fellow that helped me with the wood and number in parts remember violin mostly they’re put together by hand but you don’t cut all the parts but you do fit all the parts like the pegs that go in it’s you buy the picks but you got to shape them and do some other things and the fingerboards

and the bridge bridge those things so uh you can buy expensive you can buy cheap and the tuners but the main thing is uh the the wood you don’t know what’s going to happen to put the heart of the violin the heart of the violin is that little sound post that goes up in there and the old way i feel about it is you can build the violin and we’re talking about a lot of time i’m talking about a lot of time sitting there cutting trimming and the difference on the violin the guitar is on a violin you’ve got to tune the back to the belly uh you might talk about what that means to tune the back to the belly the the belly is the top of the violin yeah yeah and the back is the back and it’s more like a a body has got the shoulders and it’s got the chin and it’s got the head and uh you know the ears got ears so it’s comparable to the body so how do you tune the belly to the back well i don’t tell everything because it’s like finding a fishing hole you’re not going to tell everybody where it is or how you find it and it’s not it’s just that um some things i have a closet in my mind not being selfish about it but i think if a person is going to go that far you need to go out and find the fishing hole by yourself or you need to find out about tuning the back to the belly and the number of different ways there are electronic devices now and different people have different things and i have some secrets that deal with salt water uh let’s see i’ll give you some clues the salt water and i’ll just give you a clue uh one of the things with violins is they dry out over a period of time that’s the reason the old violins sound good they dry out but if they get too dry they break let’s just suppose let’s just suppose that you uh

somehow or another figured out how to get permeate the violin would certain parts with salt when you put it together it’s going to pick up some moisture and there are those people that think that you can’t build the violin on the coast i have a different idea and that is you build it in this uh high humidity salt air and some other ways to get the wood to uh yeah you get my secrets here and so uh any rate i’m just telling you some things that you got to figure out how to do it yourself because i spent a lot of time doing that so when you apply these these techniques many i’m guessing you developed yourself then you what you’re trying to do is get the back and the belly to sing together is that is that kind of what they’re doing no i i don’t i have to be very blunt you can’t get the back to sing with the belly because if you do you got a problem because then when you hit c if the back is it resonates at c and the belly resonates at c you get a heart you get a big c you go along a b c d and then it goes it comes down so you’ve got to have a certain amount of difference between the back and belly and what makes what separates boys you can’t use that expression anymore but what separates some people from other people is that okay i think you can say that okay what separates some people from other people is um figuring out how to get those two voices to be okay but not be the same you’ve got to have a a base and you’ve got to have a a tenor okay so instead of singing everybody’s the back and the belly singing a melody are they singing a harmony is that closer to what’s going on yes then you aren’t going to get two tenors singing together you’re going to have a tenor and a bass or an alto or whatever so you’ve got to have a certain amount of difference and that’s that’s pretty interesting and you get that with chisels and some other things and anyone that’s really interested can go out and get two pieces of wood and a pocketknife and they can find out how to do that and that’s not like a guitar or a dulcimer although some of the guitar makers are now saying that they are cheering the back no i don’t think so the violin is a notch above guitar makers i believe but that’s just a prejudice and biased opinion well as a longtime guitar player i would agree with you and and but what’s interesting here to me is that uh i know that you would tune these instruments uh the back and the belly or you might say the top and the back that might be easier for people to relate to you do this by removing wood by hand is that right yes with finger plans uh chisels uh scrapers and the other thing that i had an advantage on for what 20 or 30 years that my next door neighbor a good neighbor and friend who gave me his credit card to start all this business has a fantastic year and so he would he spent a lot of time with me during the winter time in particular we’d have a fire in the fireplace he’d come over and uh i knew he was busy but it’s when i was tuning the back to the belly the top to the back his ear was much better than mine but i had some other ways that i used but i liked his ear better and uh he uh i don’t think there’s such a thing as perfect pitch but he was be able he could come down one day and i would tune say the top because i was tuning to a specific uh let’s say to a specific point and he could say it’s out a little bit you better take off a little bit more wood and you got to be careful when you take off the wood because if you take off too much you’ve destroyed and that’s when some of the more expensive violins and i ran in to a couple of people and they said the violins don’t sound rich and what it is they they shaved their back or the belly as the case they didn’t stop in time so the hard thing to do is is to if you’re going around a curve to know when to stop but you’re in a race and you’ve got to get around fast so the main thing is is a stop before you turn over but beat the other guy around the curve does that make sense it does you don’t want to over prepare if you if you take too much off you can’t put it back on it’s about if you don’t take off enough it doesn’t resonate correctly so it’s a judgment decision that you don’t use on other instruments i think i think that’s exactly right and and the person you i think you’re referring to is don silver and that’s one of the things that strikes me about this journey that you’ve had with musical instruments and art in your life is that you have run across some of the most wonderful people and i i know quite a few of them and they’re just they’re just they’re just really wonderful so and don’s one of them don silver is one of them the other thing about don is he has a violin that uh some universities would like to have it’s very old probably it’s english and that kind of is since it’s not italian then it can’t be good because it’s english however it uh he had a choice like don i think is 89 now yeah he’s a year year two younger than me and we’re both we still talk and he still plays the violin but he’s reached a point where he has to have hearing aid for one ear but his his he can feel the vibrations he’s one of the two people i know that i really have good ears and can tell you where to go and i was very fortunate to have him and so we’ve been friends for a long time now you might want to mention you sort of brushed against this but we glossed it over so we’ll go back and talk about sound posts yeah oh okay this is this is interesting because you never hear people talk about this much but i’ve mentioned this a couple of times i used to talk to kids in fact i talked to some people that duke and about violin making and whatever but you you build a violin you put the wood together back in the belly you put the neck on it carve the scroll put some wires on there so you can tune it up and then at the back and the belly we talked about the tuning the what you’ve done is you’ve got a body then okay we’re going back to the the body thing so you’ve got a body it’s got shoulders it’s got a back it’s got a belly it’s got a chin it’s got ears and you use that nomenclature on the violin so you’ve got a body you’ve built it you spent maybe three months it takes a lot of time because i’m very slow meticulous some people said i don’t believe that i think i’m pretty fast however it has no heart so when you put that one little peg in there the sound post it’s the key to the whole thing so you’ve got your name on the inside the date it was built you’ve got the wood and the violin makers put his heart and soul into that he’s really uh and he’s it’s some boring times too and then there’s exciting times but you put the sound post in there to me that’s the heart so then you’ve got the complete body and so then you get somebody like don silver and you tune that thing up he tunes it because he tunes it to his ear and he takes a bow and he runs does a scale because he’s a classical violin he’s not a federal player he’s a violinist he just doesn’t know it they never got on the stage but he’s got the ear and he’s he gets the sound out of the violin it’ll get right into your heart and your brain the hair on the back of your neck and he takes a it is worth the three months of sitting in a a snug shop with fireplace going and tuning woods and putting things together and he runs a bow across that uh the strings on that violin he does a g he goes from g and d a and he gets to the e and say do that again don’t try to try that g string let’s see what’s happening there and you sit there and it’s a very i’m going to use a word it’s a delicious time it’s like getting to the bottom of a ice cream cone when you get the cone and you know so that’s what i’m talking about the sound post and he says bob the the c string i mean that g string is a little uh is overpowering the uh

i’m not going to name the strings but that string is overpowering that string because maybe we can you move that a little bit so that’s my job and so i would move that and then we would get the soul of the violin would come right out into the air and it’s the heart of the violin is that sound pig and it you don’t the player gets the soul out that’s what don does that’s the way i feel about it don’s been playing since he was a child is that right yes one of the things that i’m familiar with is it takes 10 000 hours just the average person if they took 10 000 hours you could become a virtuoso at something and don’s probably one of those people that has spent 10 000 hours with a violin in his hands he sounds like that to me um but i will ask you this about the sound post so you have the body together the back on the top you’ve got a box you’ve got a body and you place the sound post that’s when the sound post goes into the violin is that right yes so um do you want to talk about that or how you do that much about the sound post because it’s uh it goes under the leg see you’ve got a lot of tension on the bridge and the one of the legs of the bridge is uh sits on the sound post not on it but a certain distance which we don’t talk about too much because that that comes from judgment you know good judgment bad judgment and sometimes you can change that a little bit and so uh it the the sound pose sits under the uh the tenor part the high part the e string and the a string and that sound posts that say and the g strings so what it does it keeps this it transmits the the a string and the e string into the back and that’s from the belly to the back and so that basically the sound post if it’s done right will not let the g strings the lower strings overpower the higher or the tenor strings if you’re just talking so you must get this in there by drilling a hole in the violin and shoving it in there is that how that works not exactly there’s no way in the world and everybody has a different way it’s a special little tool it’s just a piece of steel it’s got looks like a uh s that’s been flattened out and it’s got a blade on either end and the standard way is to to impale that little dowel looks like a piece of a sucker stick if anybody ever had penny suckers only it’s bigger a little dowel and you take that but it has to be fitted to the back and the belly and that fitting is pretty important too and there’s some things and ways to get that done and some tricks and these are things that you work out over a period of time i could tell someone how to do it but it wouldn’t be any fun for them it’s best if they find the fishing hole themselves and they can figure out how to shape the foot that be the foot and the head of that that little heart soul not well the heart of the violin that sound po sound post so anyway so you have you have this tool that you can attach well now there’s some different ways and uh you can

but the standard way is if you take it to violin shop they’re going to impale the sound post on one of these things turn it and slip it into the um f hole twist it and get it up and then uh they each person has its own way of getting it in to the right position and you got to move it back and forth and sometimes you want to move it back and forth but if it’s not set just right then you aren’t going to get a balanced sound and sometimes you can never set one and then the violin doesn’t work good so it’s not as good as the other violins on the shelf next to it so now you just mentioned f holes can you tell the listeners what the f holes are yeah well the uh the back and the belly of the uh the violin is like an air pump more or less and they vibrated different resonances and so the sound post does its job of not only carrying the sound from the back to the belly but also keeping the thing from collapsing and so where it sits has a lot to do with how good a voice the violin has so does that make sense yeah and the f holes you they’re in the belly or the top of the violin you have two holes they’re morally more like slots than holes aren’t they yeah and um there’s a lot of mystique attached to the f holes you got strand holes and you’ve got the mates you make your own and um the other thing is you’re pumping air or sound i’m not sure but when that back vibrates with the belly and the air comes out the f holes it must but it’s a very minut amount but the sound comes out too i’ve never taped up the f holes i’ll do that sometimes to see what happens but in the meantime f holes are very important and they have a lot of mystique attached to where and how if you look at those f holes they have notches they’ll be two little notches it’s like an f with a curl at the end and it has two notches on it and i’ve seen so many violin players and people don’t know what those little notches are for those notches should line up with the feet of the bridge and so it’s a good way to know where to set the bridge the bridge is what holds the strings up like a suspension bridge you got the i’ll call them the wires that go over and those feet go to the belly of the violin and under the foot of the i’m going to say the tenor string so people understand it is the uh is a sound pose but it’s not under the foot and the distance from the sound post to the foot of the bridge is very important and i’m talking about the thor [ __ ] or four and a half if you hang around boats up and down sideways whatever so do you tune violins with position of the sound post as well do you move it to change the sound of the violin it does and it changes the balance of the sound by uh not having one the base over power of the soprano and break her neck so that that must be pretty easy to uh to measure the distance from the back to the to the belly by reaching through the to the f holes the sound holes and trying to figure out how long this sound post is going to be is that easy or is that not so easy no it’s a very simple post but fitting it and moving it and uh setting it where you think it’ll do the best is very difficult time consuming because every time you change it you don’t know whether you’ve moved it to benefit the violin or not and not only that you move it four and a half and you move the top of the sound post four aft and sideways and the bottom post and i don’t know how it’s an infinite number of of uh positions for the sound post and that’s where my good friend don came in so when you sort of uh uh completed construction let’s just say it that way then you and don would get together and you would start tuning these violins is that what you would do well well no yeah they weren’t turmeric you played them then when you get the sound post in and sometimes we spend a couple of days moving that sound post around because don could remember i never could but don could remember whether we improved it or we made it were you know whether it was good or bad and so uh his ear was essential for me to uh to move the sound post so you would move it and he would make a suggestion and you would try that and you he played it again you’d listen to it and and the bridge now you’re moving the foot of the bridge and the sound post and the strings and where i you’re talking about boring and you just give i just give up and walk out but what we would do is um don would have to detune each time because we had to take the tension off the string so we could move the sound post and the bridge and then he could detune that is loosen up those strings and then i would move the sound post then he would tighten them up the strings and retune the violin i think he could retune a violin in eight hours i think he could do it uh probably uh i i’m just guessing here i’m saying 60 minutes so he could do all this in five minutes it takes me an hour so he would loose the strings we’d move the bridge or move the foot or the sound post or the other and we move the bridge forward and f but remember all of it so you know you know if you could have a journey you got to know where you start you got to know where you’re going to and if you stop along the way you got to know where you stopped and if you don’t you’re in trouble so moving that sound post and moving the bridge you had to know when you were going ahead or whether you’re moving back or whether you’re right where you were when you started and so don was essential to me and i i just don’t know how i could ever thank him for uh helping me set the sound post and the bridge the feet of the bridge and we’re talking about a very very small amount of movement very very small those were the two primary ingredients are variables you had to control was position of the sound post and the position of the bridge is that i like that word you just used is an infinite number of variables on a violin that separates set from some other instruments and uh it takes somebody with a good ear to do it otherwise uh if you’re just setting the student vial in on a standard music shop you just put it in a certain spot but if you can really get somebody that’s critical you you need a good ear so don would you would start and he you i’m guessing in the beginning you could make bigger adjustments as you until you started getting close is that how that would work is that when you made a move don would tell me whether it was good or bad and that’s how you sort of figured it out and would don play like a tune a few bars would he play for five minutes and say oh this is really beginning to sound how how did that work i never could control john he had his own mind

i would move the sound post or maybe the bridge you don’t move both at the same time if you do both at the same time you don’t know what so you’d move the foot of the bridge the top the bottom you got one two three four different positions so you would move only one position and then but he would start playing and he wasn’t quite sure and i couldn’t stop him so i had to sit and wait for him to to go through a whole i wouldn’t call it a melody but he wasn’t going to just uh do a scale and all of a sudden he’d start enjoying that thing and he’d sit there and i he thought he was on a stage in carnegie hall somewhere and he wouldn’t stop playing and i wasn’t sure so i had to be patient but he was patient with me too so i’m guessing that once it started sounding good to don then he really would play it for a while for one thing you really do have to have a lot of feedback from the instrument you know what’s it really what is it really saying oh yeah it was he it was talking to him when it was talking to him good and being nice then he wasn’t he was going to let it stop talking because then he started enjoying it yeah and so i had to sit while but i enjoyed it too because i i could uh i got to the point that i could tell when the violin was speaking well you know speaking i mean talking to me uh and i don’t know how but it’s if you hang around and just keep listening pretty soon you develop a certain sense like fishermen know when a fish is on the line other people don’t that’s that experience of well it is experience once you’ve done something repeatedly for a long period of time you know what to expect yeah and we when we have no experience we can’t be very good at that but as the time begins to add up even if we’re a novice we we pretty quickly begin to know what to expect and i think that’s probably part of being a virtuoso is developing those things you just took what i said and said it very well so it can be understood yes well tell me this then tell me about scrolls well scrolls

first off

scrolls are uh there’s no two scrolls that are hand cut that are alike and a scroll is not a piece of parchment that’s what not a piece of parchment it’s not a roll of paper oh no it’s this we should tell people what the scribe is it’s a little curly cue thing on the top of a violin and i forgot what that curve is but the way you get that curve for the scroll if you take a pencil you drive a nail on a board take a pencil and put a string around it and wind it up and as you as you take the pencil and drag it around on the board you’ll get the shape of a scroll and each time you you go around it unwinds and it goes out that’s how you get the scroll the shape of it but then it’s uh

you’ve got depth let’s say we got depth and you’ve got shape and the you got two parts to it and if you take a scroll look at the neck of a violin hold it up to the light and see if the ears that’s those little things at the end of the scroll see if they match each other perfectly if they do it’s probably machine cut if it isn’t it’s probably hand cut and it’s hand cut it’s nearly impossible the best way to cut a scroll is to get another scroll and take a pocket knife some chisels or whatever you want to make in the shop and start carving and so uh and you cut you cut away everything that doesn’t look like a scroll is that right yeah and it’s it’s kind of tricky and particularly on a violin the viola is a little bit easier and i like cellos they’re really fun i like to cut a scroll because after doing a violin a cello is so big and you know it’s okay so we should say and i’m going to put some pictures there’ll be links to pictures uh on the site or there’ll be pictures on the site of some of uncle bobby’s at least one of his violins and some of his instruments so that you can identify some things we’re talking about but the neck comes out of the body and then do you do you carve the neck first and the scroll last how does that how you know i you do the body first the back and the belly and you tune them and you glue them together and then you uh you you do the neck and the scroll and you fit it into the body that’s tricky then you put on the fingerboard make the bridge and put on the chin rest and the pegs now um i might mention to you sometimes if you want to kind of check your violin first thing i do is when i pick up a violin i look over on the back and i look for two little pegs so look generally it’s a half a half a little black dot or white dot but there’s a little peg in there and when you hand make a violin you have to keep taking the back or the the belly and you have to keep putting it on the body the core the course you have to keep putting it on and off so therefore i generally use and this guy some kind of name of stradivari uh used this black ebony wood and mine around but he used half one and set it into the purpling there that little black stuff that goes around the edge and so you’ll find a black dot and then i also take a little bit of pride at the neck you’ll find a piece of uh ebony wood back there and that guy by the name of stretch stradivari somebody he did that too and that that is not easy to do without messing up the whole back so if you’re going into shops sometimes and you’re looking at violins look for those two little dots in the back which are pegs that you can put it on and off does that make sense to you yeah and for the listeners where what uncle bobby was indicating is that on the back if you if you turned the violin upside down what we normally think upside down at the bottom and at the top is where these two places are is that correct yeah yeah and then they’re the position pegs so that you keep if you might have to keep carving off some and putting some on you’re always taking on and not taking off too much better to leave a little bit heavy but my thought is if you leave it a little bit heavy and don’t go around the curve too fast and turn over that over a period of time maybe 50 or 75 years that wood’s going to dry out and then you will have a good sounding violin but if you make it to sound perfect now and you thin the wood too much then it doesn’t the you you’ve gone too far you’ve turned the car over and there’s blood all over the road and people laying on the street so you don’t want to go too fast and turn off the people and everything so that’s how you got into violins and then did you make violas after violence i know you made some violases yeah while i was building violins my friend don

asked me to build a feel of

the music director of some i’m trying to think the place in greensboro i can’t remember it but it was pretty well alone um and and and the the violin director or teacher or head of the uh instructor was a big man so i built a big villa and don donated it to the school there with a scholarship and i got a call for a couple of years from kids that inherited that and they i don’t i think the scholarship probably ran out but that’s that’s another thing about things that we’ve done over our time do you have do you have an estimate of how many violins you’ve built not many not many uh i haven’t and also i didn’t have apprentice boys to do my cutting i did it all i’ve never been in a hurry i’d stop and take a trip down the intercoastal and come back and do it again and summertime was not a good time to build best time was the fall of the year and when it was cold and i could have a fire and a fireplace and violas you made less less violas than violins yes that’s true and the same way cellos mostly i built violins a couple of two cars and a couple of badges that’s about all i’ve ever built and cellos you you mentioned cellos and you built a few of those and um tell me about your association with duke and cellos well um the guy brought me a cello from it was an antique shop and he brought me a cello he says can you do anything with this and it was the worst looking mess you’ve ever seen it was black solid black and so uh you have to use water i use a damp sponge but you have to use it sparingly there’s nothing wrong with using one if you’re careful and don’t let the water at any rate so i got a damp sponge and rubbed on a little bit and i found a beautiful piece of wood under there and the strings oh by the way this was not a standard cello i found out later it was called a church base and you want me to go tell you about the story of that sure okay because it’s pretty interesting let me start over again and say prior to the revolutionary war the english was selling us violins that came over on the ship but they were not sending over cellos they took up too much space and they didn’t make enough money those english were very clever so it was a guy up in connecticut who was even more clever and he was a cabinet maker and he needed a cello but all he had was a thing in his memory they didn’t have drawings and things in so he made a cello and i forgot what his name is i got around here somewhere but at any rate he uh made that and then later on they started bringing in cellos so so far as i know i think the six in the world now he made six of them but one of them ended up in west virginia and it was probably virginia that time before it came west virginia and as you know they had a lot of coal and this uh they thought it was a base and they put it up in the attic time went by people died whatever it came out of the attic and ended up in an antique shop the dealer brought it to me one time and he said uh he knew i’d done a little bit of work and anyway i don’t repair violins i build them i don’t but i can but i don’t do it so he said can you help me out i said i don’t know a pretty interesting instrument but it was all cracked and it was solid it wasn’t it was just solid black and it turned out to bend up the attic next to where all the soot from the uh coal dust was so i cleaned it up and it was made out of cherry and cherry over a couple hundred years was as hard as steel and you couldn’t bend it you couldn’t do anything so i made a mold and got a with the hardware store and got a bunch of screws and you know threaded the wood and so i was able to put some pressure on this cello

both down and from the sides and from the back and he had a friend had a waterfront place down on the creek it was very damp so they put it down on the creek in high humidity and every day not every day but every once in a while i’d go by and put a little pressure on each screw and i was able to put it back together without tearing up the wood after i put it together he got interested in it and did a research and uh at that time i was messing around with uh brenda niece she’s she’s marrying her in fact she’s 15 of us right many years ago she’s been coming in in a couple of three days she comes out every year and plays a cello we’d eat some soup and stuff anyway i i got that thing together and

brendo at that time was a curator of the musical instruments at duke university i think it was whatever it’s on the internet so she came down and saw it and called some guy up and some lady up in new york had a pickle no i shouldn’t say too much there but they had a benefactor i think you were benefactors who uh put up the money and they bought it and it’s a duke now and it turned out this story was there were six of them built that they know of and one of them was at duke and their museum it was a couple or three years ago and it’s got my name on it it says restore it i told them i don’t restore our repair but she put it on there anyway and she plays cello by the way and she she comes to see me every year and she sits and plays that cello and i’ve got a violin she likes called a squirrel violin so enter that’s the story of that church base and uh that’s the reason i used cherry on the cellos you know it’s interesting um not only have you built a lot of instruments it seems like a lot of instruments and really i should say that you’ve created a lot of art but you’ve interested a lot of people in music i know my family plays i know your sons play um there’s no it’s hard to say how much that’s flowered it would be impossible to track it all down but a lot of people have picked up music in their life from you doing this and from you being interested so thank you for that and i’m going to loop back around and go from the beginning and say we’ve spent a couple episodes on will faith and glenn talked about education a couple of weeks ago and uh this is a different way to be educated and educated the point where it becomes art and you become an artist instead of just educated so thanks for the time we appreciate we’d like to come back and speak to you again about some other things if we might here at the crystal coast in beaufort north carolina um uh and we’d like to try to get you to talk about you and aunt betty maybe the next time we get together you think you’d be willing to do that yeah well it uh we’re close up both of us are close of 91 so if you’re coming back don’t wait too late and uh because that’s a much more interesting story i love stories and this was not much of a story but i think i’m sure you got this cut off but the better jane and i have lived a destroyer you’ve lived a fairy tale i think and we should just mention as a teaser because we’ll come back and do this how long have you uh been married aunt betty i’ve been married 70 some years nearly going on nearly 71. and how long have you known that betty um uh about 76 76 but she put a note in my we figured it out this morning because you had mentioned you might come down with something and we think she stuck that note in my history book uh about 75 76 years ago so and and and the last thing we’ll mention as we wrap this up is uh you will actually be 91 in october is that right yeah next month yeah next month betty will be 91 in april is that right no no in january january i’m three months older she is she loves right after my birth after october where she loves october she loves november december because at that time i’m older than she is and that’s very important to her i can understand why uncle bobby thanks for sitting down with us and we look forward to seeing you again here on the the podcast and uh and see you soon and uh and and glad to hear from you always good to talk to you.

Julian Jaynes And The Origins Of Consciousness

What’s on your mind?

This week Will and I review the work of Julian Jaynes and his exploration of how the human mind may have developed and evolved over the last several thousand years. Is mental illness an illness at all or merely an expression of brain function that would have been common in the past?  What are some of the different ways our minds may operate to successfully navigate human interactions?  What is bicameralism and how does it work? How about the role of consciousness? Interested in the book? You can purchase it at our affiliate link on Amazon here.


hi i’m will jarvis and i’m will’s dad we both love and are fascinated by stories stories about people stories about places and stories about events our stories give shape and form to life they give texture color and rhythm to the blank canvas that every new day presents to us and they do that by informing us of our past as a directional marker for our future okay will it’s narrative time tell me a story so what’s on your mind today well today i thought we could talk about julian jane’s the origins of consciousness and the bicameral mind sounds like a great idea tell us a little bit about julian james well just to set the table at a very high level we first got interested in this topic because of a book review by scott alexander from the now not in existence anymore this could have changed by the time of publication the podcast blog slate star codex which that’s a whole other topic we can talk about later the whole saga with the new york times and boxing and lots of exciting things going on there i’m sure we’ll talk about that later but anyway scott wrote a post um revealing julian jane’s best known book the origins of consciousness um and the breakdown of the bicameral mind which i find very interesting uh it really highlights it kind of goes along with the theme of this podcast around metaphor and language shaping our understanding of reality at a very very detailed level i would say yeah julian james on a personal level is a very interesting character because he spent nearly his entire life developing one idea and writing the book and um and and it does have so much to do with storytelling and narrative and communication because of the whole idea that he developed was that our consciousness and our mind and our brain development over time has been due to language

definitely i i think it’s interesting so julian james was a psychologist he studied at yale mcgill and harvard not that that’s super interesting where he studied just his ideas i think are much more interesting he’s born to a unitarian minister and his work is is quite interesting i i always find it it fascinating i i think we have this view of you know our lived experience as being common across all of humanity so i think it’s important to note some some of our listeners may even experience this and have never realized this not everyone has a inner monologue this is kind of a rare it’s okay i’ll cut that out it’s not kind of rare this is uh not universal not everyone has some people think of pictures some people think in all kinds of different ways but i think that’s quite interesting just to to realize that it was news to me i always assume that everyone’s mind works like my mind where you just have this internal monologue that goes on right but and you were the one that enlightened me that was different and that had it was during our discussion of of james that uh that came up and i still don’t know a lot about it i’m just fascinated

definitely it’s it’s super interesting uh human experience is much uh much more dynamic and just even our liver experience is much it’s it’s very different than i think what you people even realize right between individuals a lot of individual individual variation so um julian jane starts his book with what he thinks our mind was like before consciousness arose and he starts it out with a discussion of the bicameral mind and you think maybe we could talk a little bit about the anatomy of the brain that might help sure i think that would that would really help yeah so and to be to really make it simple and a lot of people probably know quite a bit about this but uh there’s a brain stem sort of the bottom of your brain and that regulates things like respiration in your heart rate and those kind of bodily functions and then there’s the cerebellum that’s sort of behind that a little bit and it controls your motor functions and then thought and reasoning and those things take place in your cerebrum which is the top part of your brain and it’s divided into two hemispheres the left and the right and held together by the corpus callosum which is just a little band of tissue that holds the two hemispheres together so that’s the anatomy the only other part of anatomy that i think that might be interesting and this is really important to the question is wernicke’s area and broca’s area which control the processing of language and the production of language written language and spoken language now having said that what’s interesting about the bicameral mind what is interesting about the volcano what’s interesting to me is like i’m right-handed and the 90 of people that are right-handed wernicke’s area and broca’s areas on the left side and if on the corresponding area on the right side the brain is sort of dormant doesn’t appear to do much of anything so you got a left and right hemisphere you’ve got wernicke’s area in broca’s area and they don’t appear to be doing anything on the right side on the left side they’re real active in language and which we’ve talked about is so important to us and in the the theory of bicameralism what julian jane’s thought is those two inactive dormant areas on the right side of my brain since i’m right-handed um he thinks that 3 000 years ago um what was going on then was that those areas on the right side of my brain were talking to those corresponding areas on the left side and giving them instructions

through auditory hallucinations and that’s sort of how bicameralism works as far as my understanding is it’s kind of the gods talking to you yeah the other thing i thought was interesting about that was that um they made there’s a point made that schizophrenia auditory hallucinations would work like that which makes you think that maybe people that are schizophrenic sort of have a more bicameral mind interesting interesting so i guess uh charting the course out of jane’s big idea is that there’s we used to imagine ourselves as being one way and now it’s completely different it’s completely different so have you have you had uh have you tried to imagine what having a bicameral mind would be like having something something that is envisioning your mind as something as someone else is someone ordering yourself or to go around yeah it does make me think that when people think they hear god or god is speaking to them that might be what that is could actually be that that’s interesting and then it would be very real and explain a lot of things it did explain a lot to me when you know about um not only the schizophrenic part but um uh how pretty in many thousands well not many thousands several thousand years ago that might have been the way that people’s minds worked and they they would describe it as the gods speaking to them and then they would just do whatever the voice told them i imagine since right really no right yeah so so what are some particular objections we could think about to this idea

i found um i found it one of the most intriguing ideas i’ve run across in quite some time because it explains so much that um appears to be sort of out in the gray area maybe out left field a little bit like schizophrenia or uh like religious prophets hearing voices getting commands from god right and there’s even things i’ve become aware of and i’m not sure where i’m aware of these things from like um that god is within us which would explain that too right it would really be us talking to ourselves right so kind of when you’re when you’re in a quaker meeting and you’re led to speak maybe it’s your communication from the broker’s region of your brain too i think especially the more vivid it would seem to you the more likely that would be and it also makes me wonder you know this entire idea seems like it’s a process of evolution to me and if that’s true then those dormant areas probably still work some although they may not dominate our thinking anymore they probably still so if you were you could block the extraneous noise of life out enough then you might hear those things again so yeah it’s it uh it it explains many things in life that i’d never really considered before interesting yeah what about you what do you think about that so i think uh you know your best particular objections against some of jane’s ideas would be well if we go um and there’s some things we haven’t quite covered yet which which will help i think with this so uh a lot of jane’s ideas are this idea that there was this break where we realized that um you know the voices were actually inside of us they’re actually you know this is us this is i you know i am the one who is the inner monologue if that makes sense um and that had to do with the bronze aids collapse seeing an archaeological record coming along coming along coming along and suddenly there’s this complete break you know what caused it not quite sure but you know mass migrations famine a lot of bad things going on people moving around and the question is well if you come into contact with other people that are not in your you know local tribe your local kind of village and they have their own gods that are talking to them and you look and you’re like wow and and suddenly start thinking well maybe it’s all just internal it’s not quite that there’s someone else talking to me in my head if you know if they have their own person so maybe it’s exposure to other people that suddenly um makes you realize wow this is um it’s a bit self-referential if that makes sense yeah james is has really developed this i it obvious it was obvious that he spent probably a lifetime thinking about this and um he’s got all kinds of historical references um and ideas why this might be true and it seemed to center around about 3 000 years ago at the end of the bronze age and to put that in perspective a little bit there was the stone age then there was the bronze age and that’s when people started using metal for uh weapons probably primarily tools so that’s how that’s how we demarcate these different areas is in the archaeological record what do we see that still remains so stone tools to metal working bronze and vintage iron is it takes another leap and and the bronze age of course when we started using a lot of tools and weapons like that i did cause a big upheaval in the world things change rapidly for a lot of reasons they think there’s some environmental influence that could be true too but if it if the big influence was the bronze age and using um tools and using weapons as they had never been used before then that would have caused a great upheaval in society and you could see why those stresses uh would favor some evolution in humans so that makes sense to me so that’s that would be a real advantage so i i think the biggest kind of

counters we could look forward to jane’s work that may make us question some of the ideas would be

you know what what if we went and we talked to some fairly uncontacted people so or or people that don’t interact very much with the modern world so maybe son bushman or you know someone in the deep in the amazon uncontacted people um what’s the island off indonesia north sentinel islanders you know people that just do not you know you can’t go talk to them not allowed but if we could you know and we could ask them what their lived experience is like and if it doesn’t line up with this that would be that would that would lead us to have questions about the idea that this this is the way things actually happened it would and it also raises the question um over a long enough period of time would we have developed consciousness in any event was there is there just such an evolutionary advantage that that would have occurred i think so i think so well and one thing you know this does tie into um i was recently reading a book by garrett jones called hive mind it’s the idea how you know if you look at you know average iq scores across different countries um the average iq score is much more predictive of total um gdp per capita standard of living than um just an individual’s score is um because it just it factors up so much more so the the output of the united states is so much bigger than the output of um you know what’s a what’s a good country example that we can mention because then several you know quite a few countries in the third world and it’s it’s factored a lot more maybe there’s something to do with having um smarter people around you at all times they you know they just it’s just the average civil service is so much better if you know bureaucrats tend to you know not accept bribes they engage in more repeated games they behave better better and prisoners dilemmas they’re less likely to defect it’s better for all of society so much more matters more that on average are people that people you interact with on a daily basis um smarter than versus just like an individual’s intelligence mental horsepower shall we say

so what this leaves me so i was reading the book about um hive mind quite good and he goes into kind of a deep dive of um the flynn effect actually do you know what the fun effect is i do not so jim flynn was a philosopher he’s a philosopher i think he’s still alive from new zealand he had this idea that um you know he looked at you know this hereditarian idea around intelligence that it’s all your genetics that’s all that matters and he said and he looked at he said you know i just don’t i do not believe that you know what i’m going to look at the data and actually try to and prove that this is not really the case and so he looked at all the data and he noticed if you look over time um iq scores uh keep increasing they keep increasing it’s called the flint effect and this is um been it’s a fairly robust effect over time and they just keep getting higher and higher and higher and and he’s looking at this and he’s wondering why does this happen is this happening you know it could be better nutrition iodine less lead exposure you know quite a few things we can think about there but it could also be and his idea is is that we’re getting better at abstraction so you know if you dropped you and i his example is you if you dropped you and i off in new guinea and he said go and figure out how to live we would probably have quite a hard time figuring out how to cultivate you know local foods how to hunt et cetera it would not be a very easy thing but those people are very good at it um although we may be currently better than at abstraction so maybe exposure to the modern world makes you better at abstraction and i feel like jane’s work is kind of closely related to that it’s uh the more abstract things we work on over time the better you get at it this is a very similar thing right so just being exposed like creating this podcast we have to think through okay what are we going to talk about you know what’s interesting you know it’s very abstract activity and the more you do it the better you get at it that makes sense i’m sure our listeners will recognize that the podcast seems to get better you know kind of it’s probably asymptotic like we have some kind of ceiling of maybe it’s like we’re not quite joe rogan right but you know we’ll get better over time and um i think that his work is it’s similar to that and that you know encountering more complex problems civilization ideas like that um and more complex interactions with other people and strangers lends itself to requiring more um actual thinking and more um the kind of kind of thinking of oneself as an individual more to be successful that seems to make sense very cool so i think that’s um kind of what we got for today okay that that was interesting and uh so i’ll introduce you as will jarvis and i’m will’s dad and we’ll see you on the next episode thanks all right here we are with part two of julian james in the bicameral mind which we discussed at some length in the previous episode and now we’re gonna concentrate on the second part of that concept consciousness that’s right so i guess we could get started by defining consciousness you know people have spent a lot of time thinking about that and what it means but to me it’s sort of easy to boil down to sort of self-awareness that’s what consciousness is what do you think so consciousness ooh yeah so good lord where to begin there’s a lot there’s a lot i i think in this context what we’re talking about is is recognizing one’s thoughts as one’s own if that makes sense yeah and so you know if the bicameral mind was a sort of a mechanism of one side of your brain giving commands to the other side of your brain consciousness is just in self-awareness is you just realizing you’re there right that’s right uh like jane says you know the difference between what others see of us and our sense of our inner selves and the deep feelings that sustain it yeah now why would that be advan an advantage if we were gonna form more closely knit societies if we were going to be involved with a more global world with a world outside of our own sort of imagination or self i think one of the biggest things there’s well there’s two trains i think are very important i think abstraction is very important understanding abstraction and the second point is um self-efficacy understanding that you have the ability to make change in the world you’ve got to understand that you are an independent entity first to be able to act in the world i think that’s very important i think it’s very difficult to affect the world if you do not understand who you are that’s interesting level what role does um an increased ability to communicate have to do with those things well i think to be able to effectively well i think to be able to more effectively communicate and perform complex tasks you have to have a theory of mind of other people so understanding so first you have to understand that you have you yourself are a discreet entity that’s very important the second thing that is very important in any kind of repeated games and games here i mean any kind of human interactions kind of in the game theory sense you need to be able to imagine yourself as another person so let’s say it’s like if we’re playing chess the best chess players what do they do they look at the board they look at where they are their current positions then they look at their opponent and they imagine themselves they have to be able to visualize themselves as their opponent and what they would do it’s a very so it’s very it’s multi-level but it’s very in any repeated interaction you need to understand yourself and you need to understand the other person that’s i think probably exactly right and i hadn’t really considered about the role of communication and self-awareness in that regard but if we’re gonna form a society a greater society if we’re going to be able to interact with other kinds of people you’ve got to be able to appreciate their perspective that’s right you need to very deeply understand their perspective to be successful it’s it’s interesting i’m not quite sure i’ll have to have a child psychologist on some time and we can talk about at what point theory of mind switches on because it’s not inbuilt it doesn’t happen automatically there’s there’s some point where kids switch over from you know kind of the whole world is everything in your mind to oh wow there’s other people with discrete experiences in the world as well like this person has experiences just like i do that’s a really big jump and you know there’s probably some people who still adults who have not even made that jump i think there are adults that don’t make quite a few probably and it sort of makes sense like we in the in the last episode we talked about schizophrenics and how bicameralism would explain their experience and um so

this sort of explains why it would be such an evolutionary advantage to be self-aware because it would lead you to appreciate others that’s right which and then that would be just fundamentally important for large groups that’s right and even more important well in playing political games and also in conflict

yeah or especially probably avoiding conflict we’re an avoiding conflict and avoiding conflict would be another evolutionary advantage that’s correct that’s correct so the further we go down that road the more important communication and self-awareness and appreciation of other people become that’s right that’s very interesting

it is it’s also interesting to me on another level and like i was mentioning there’s kind of two main i mean things i pull out of this uh abstraction is the second one so the ability to abstract

in your mind different problems and take it from not just okay what’s right here in front of me but actually manipulate things change things use your imagination build different models of the world you know that practice is very important to creating building all kinds of different technology not just you know social technology as well as actual physical technology is consciousness the key to being able to utilize abstract thought for abstraction yeah i think it’s very important i would i has a hesitate to say it’s it’s everything because you know i’m sure there’s edge cages i haven’t thought about but it is very it is clearly foundational and that you need to understand yourself how your how you work before you can have a theory of that before you can actually act upon anything successfully i mean just just for you know this is almost a null example but i understand my basketball skill i didn’t understand my basketball skill and i understand there are hard limits on my basketball skill if i’m going to successfully affect the world by becoming an nba player that would be a complete waste of time because that would be a complete misunderstanding of my current abilities even my abilities ceilings i mean we’ve got this modern you know idea that you can do anything well but like of course clearly they’re hard limits you know i’ve not i don’t have this crazy vertical i don’t you know you’re not seven feet tall which is seven feet tall you know exactly exactly funny enough i’ve read an interesting fact that about 20 of all men in the united states over seven feet tall playing the nba i’ve read that before too so essentially if you’re tall enough you can play in the nbas i think that’s so i guess what that means is your chances of being worth many millions of dollars rise dramatically if you’re a seven feet tall yes that one almost physical right yes although there’s lots of trade-offs right and there’s lots of trade-offs there’s lots of trade-offs now there’s health problems that come along with it and all kinds of things but that that’s that’s interesting how many different how much the world opens when we become conscious self-aware not it doesn’t have to do with just us so much it does have to do a lot with our success our ability to manipulate the world um but how it affects other people as well that’s right yes i think it’s it’s very important on well obviously on many different levels i i think on on the level of actually enacting change or progress or doing anything productive it’s very important to understand exactly where you are and also try and understand what the world is and that’s a very abstract thing what are they what’s the what’s the meme 4d chess it’s like 40 chess trying to figure that out so consciousness doesn’t deal with us just knowing things about us it’s about knowing where we are in the world how we fit into the world right i think it’s a second order effect of consciousness okay very important effect that’s interesting and getting back to the anatomy side a little bit of what consciousness is there are gamma bands or gamma waves in your brain the neural oscillations and where those occur during consciousness

essentially engages most of the brain it lights up most of the brain when that happens so being self-aware just leads to unbelievable brain activity and one of the things that i read about that was that schizophrenics will have impairment of that particular brand band of neural oscillation which sort of goes back to their they may be much more bicameral than others it’s very interesting uh it’s um so so i guess leaving us back into jane’s work one of the big takeaways that i find from the work is that there’s this clear break this clear break between bicameralism and understanding you know yourself as a this discreet entity that you know is introspection so you know he tries to um provide examples of this in literature you know he talks about the old testament and you know there’s there’s actually um and a lot of scholars say well if you read the epic of gilgamesh you know there’s clearly elements of introspection in that and you know i don’t know i haven’t read the epic of gilgamesh since high school so i couldn’t quite tell you but um it is interesting you know i’m always skeptical of big theories like this that you know um but but there is some kind of um creatures that that you can give to whenever there’s a cult following like i love movies with a cult following and i love you know this like secret this group that has a small secret and that jane’s acolytes i feel like are much like this where you know you know they’ve found something that they really believe is fundamental there may be holes in it but it’s a very complex topic and it’s very there’s a lot going on there’s a lot of different angles there could be things that are correct about it in some instances that are not correct in others and and context matters a lot here i think that’s exactly right and that’s one of the things i got out of reading some about james is

it’s not you can’t say precisely i don’t think and there seems to be a lot of controversy about like suddenly we went from bicameralism to consciousness right and it still seems to be even even if there was a shift 3000 years ago at the end of the bronze age that really favored consciousness over bicameralism there seems to be a lot of bicameralism in the world today so it’s not like we all are the same we’re all similar and our minds may work very i’ve always been aware that our minds work very differently but there could be just fundamental differences in our our minds in some ways we’ll we think people’s minds might be pathologic and they might actually be fairly normal if we jump back under the circumstances right yeah i think that’s a really good that’s a really good point is that another way you could frame it is that people that could abstract like this and introspect like this suddenly got rewarded a lot more so instead of you know there’s this whole um instead of a real break with everybody it’s that in general on average people became the median person was much more likely to be able to introspect like this because it was more advantageous to do so yeah there would be huge advantages in life to be able to do that and one of the physical manifestations of some of this is they realize this is true the corpus callosum which holds the two hemispheres together if it’s thinner then you’re able to uh imagine your creativity is greater your artistic ability is greater apparently there’s more fascial crosstalk between the left and right hemispheres so and that that sort of again it seems to be some evidence that all of those things are an advantage and you know it probably may well have led to the rise of consciousness and i agree being able to do those things is just an enormous advantage in life especially yeah especially in the modern world i think it’s it becomes even more true as kind of society progresses and things become more virtual and less physical you know there’s a it’s interesting you know i was listening to a podcast by the hoover institution and it was with um ronald reagan’s speech writer whose name peter robinson i believe and peter thiel and he talks about you know there’s just been this big shift to interior interiority you know it’s like a therapy culture video games um you know our world does not look very different than it did in the 60s just physically so physically went to a neighborhood in the 60s and 70s you know there might be a flat screen tv but still a tv the living room would look very similar to even this room we’re sitting and i’m trying to pick out items that would be different the computer the computers um that’s pretty much it i think that’s the only thing that would be different so almost all innovation has shifted to these um items that are kind of interior to our minds introspective and um people almost avoid um kind of making change in the world almost there’s much less of that that makes me wonder if they’re being advantaged to being introspective if that will select out even more and more in the future first of all which you would sort of guess that’s probably the truth that’s what that would be especially with coved yeah you know it’s just yeah that kind of advantage and then the second thing is where do we go from here like there may have been a big leap going from being bicameral to conscious what’s the next big leap there probably is one there’ll probably some advantage to the way we think that we’ll make us change again definitely possible you know it’s interesting it makes me want to explore this topic further and really see what other big shifts are possible are there other shifts that have happened yes or no yes or no these are all kind of testable things right that you know and we talked about this on the last episode i i think this does kind of bring to mind how disparate individuals experiences can be in just ways we don’t realize you know i have a friend he’s color blind and even that is that’s an odd thing to imagine right and that’s a very minor change is being colorblind that’s a very minor change but there’s always this huge range of experiences in ways that are very difficult to kind of fathom for someone that does not um experience the world in that way in fact it’s probably impossible to even really understand you can conceptually kind of understand that it’s happening but it’s very difficult to to um to really imagine it you know dan brown it may have been his last book the god that did the da vinci code and those things i think his most recent book was about um how man would merge with artificial intelligence and you know the artificial intelligence in itself is just you know we could do episodes and episodes about that one subject but um there’s just so many ways in which we could we could change in the future over the next several thousand years that’s true and one of the big shifts i see i’ll call this out now there’s a great book called age of m by robin hansen you know i got that i got to have lunch with him at a conference about a year ago pre-coveted and it’s fascinating to talk to him about some of these these issues but he um he his model is the most discreet kind of real model i’ve seen of artificial intelligence so the idea is like well what’s the most straightforward path to ai and now we’ve got gpg3 that just came out and this so maybe we’re completely off base of this but i do find this to be the most compelling he’s like well the most straightforward path would be we get really good imaging technology we can completely image your brain and then we just create a virtual simulation of it it’s very straightforward you know the versus all the other ai paths i see this is the most uh this i can grok the best is the easiest for me to understand and i think it makes the most sense because it’s kind of a straightforward path it’s just well better imaging technology you know we can already kind of do this with worms a little bit there’s actually a whole project about this is like modeling a worms brain um and if you get it at a low enough level it may be the quantum level we don’t know you’re able to um model the brain completely so the idea is you create these emulations these brain emulations and you put them on computers and you can run them faster so we could you know train up a you know the best nuclear engineer in the world in like five minutes hit go he’s trained work on this problem so suddenly so this is the idea this is the next big leap um and then the next question is is do humans become obsolete well it’s like yes at some point because you know human society shifts to these just emulations of humans not real physical humans because you know it’s costly to have a body it’s fragile you know you can back up an emulation at any time um and there still may be a place for humans as weird kind of um you know like a museum kind of relic right like physical humans but emulations will for the most part the one encouraging thing about this is they’ll they would behave like humans so you know a lot of people worry about you know paper clip problems you know what if the we create this ai and it’s all powerful and it decides we’re going to turn everything in the universe into paper clips and it goes crazy you know i’m fairly skeptical of things like that because i don’t know how we would design i don’t see a good pathway for designing um an intelligence that doesn’t operate like we do because it’s the only intelligence we barely know we remotely understand is our own so a related subject what do you see is the difference between consciousness and sentience you brought up earthworms you brought up a i i think consciousness is says the athens it’s difficult i think conscious is just the ability to recognize that you’re sent in that makes sense yeah i think that’s right and uh so it’s it’s really interesting to you know there’s a lot of people i think there’s many different ways this could happen some people think it’s just a raw horsepower number so if you just have enough neurons and it’s complex enough this is like a complexity argument then you’re conscious

it seems odd to me i don’t know um there’s there’s other thoughts too you know you could be kind of well there’s this idea of pan psychism where our brains are kind of just like receivers for consciousness and if you have a receiver that’s built the right way you can kind of you know recognize this but you know and then jane’s has kind of like a physical explanation kind of more of a um which is interesting i don’t know it’s a very difficult topic all and i often times often wonder how valuable the topic really is to cover i mean it’s very interesting right it’s like super interesting but uh and on on the ground practicality terms you’re making the world better for people i don’t know how effective or how useful it is yeah i think that’s probably true but we we that is you know uh popular culture when does when does a.i become sentient well probably when it becomes conscious it’s probably about right it’s probably about that point so what does that require well we don’t know exactly but we have an idea that maybe we were not conscious in the past that we were bicameral and just environmental pressures gave us a you know darwin there was just an evolutionary advantage to being conscious um and so if it’s that simple then uh with time you would think that a.i would it would probably just occur whether the chance or circumstance or maybe ai’s subject to you know those evolutionary pressures as well right yes and well it is it definitely is subject to evolutionary pressure right any ai we create is subject to our own evolutionary pressure now right um yeah but then again i don’t know at the end of the day does it really matter that the ai is sentient i think yeah that’s a good point i don’t think it does i think it’s just one of the states i think in humans it doesn’t really matter i mean if if a schizophrenic is more an expression of a bicameral mind does that really matter what we think it does now because we think there’s something wrong right and there might be something i mean we would like them to um be less troubled by their position exactly that’s what we would really like but if their minds work like that and they weren’t troubled by it and you’ve mentioned that there’s many ways for minds to work you don’t don’t have to have this monologue going on in your head that’s right you know much lighter wider range that people realize yeah and that and it works it works a lot of different ways essentially this reminds me of a talk i had with a very well-known uh child psychologist so i have this this line of questioning i love to ask all academics and it’s what what kind of piece of knowledge do you understand from studying your field that most people like the average person would would not really realize or not you know think of on a regular basis and he said the most interesting thing to him was that you know you really don’t understand how much children understand they understand essentially everything you know everyone talks to kids and this is actually a huge pet peeve of mine is when people talk to children like they’re not adults you know i think it’s important to frame children as small adults not um and you know they that have not been exposed very much versus like a completely separate class of people because just you know they’re still developing like theory of mind things of that matter nature but essentially and they may have less horsepower than most adults have mental horsepower but that’s coming online as well just a very interesting fact and i wonder if ai’s are similar in that respect that’s an interesting thought and if children don’t have the the horsepower that we do their minds seem to be much more plastic and flexibly much more plastic yeah so there’s less crystallized more fluid yeah definitely so um yeah that’s true very cool okay well have we wrapped julian james i think we have rap julian james i’ll include some some readings that we found useful kind of in in going through this and kind of some information about the bronze age collapse as well from the last episode in the show notes so you can um pervade them and get your liking okay good well another episode of narratives thanks well that’s our show for today i’m will jarvis and i’m will’s dad join us next week for more narratives

Science Productivity, Elite Overproduction, and Competition

This week on the podcast, I am joined by my two siblings, Faith and Glenn Jarvis. We talk about some of the problems we see in modern science, our experience with elite overproduction, and how we experience competition. Faith is a biochemist, and Glenn is a Mechanical Engineering major at North Carolina State University.


hi i’m will jarvis and i’m will’s dad we both love and are fascinated by stories stories about people stories about places and stories about events our stories give shape and form to life they give texture color and rhythm to the blank canvas that every new day presents to us and they do that by informing us of our past as a directional marker for our future okay will it’s narrative time tell me a story welcome to the narratives podcast today we’re on the campus of north carolina state university we’re at the the brand new centennial campus semi illegally semi oh shh not supposed to say no completely legally it’s completely all legit we’re sitting 12 feet apart we’re 35 feet apart as we speak panels oh my god um much like the democratic national convention we are zooming in today we’re zooming in together um so today i’ve got my two siblings here i’ve got on my left i’ve got glenn hey guys and glenn is a student he’s a mechanical engineering major mechanical engineering major here at north carolina state university oh yeah you’re entering your fourth fourth and hopefully final year hopefully four out of six or like hell that’s awesome and then on my right i have faith jarvis my sister that’s me and uh she is a what’s what’s your your scientist at thermo fisher i do analytical development for clinical trials so what does that mean it means that somebody has to make the initial batches for research studies and clinical trials and someone has to make the quality controls and look at every single vial that comes off the lines to make sure there’s not hair in it so that’s what i do it’s pretty intensive and very important you don’t want your hair in your your clinical trials it kind of throws things off a little human dna that’s awesome so uh today we’re actually on the centennial campus it’s the bougie campus it’s uh it’s quiet quite beautiful we’re actually in kind of an abandoned classroom right now it’s kind of scary to look at um it’s 96 degrees in here but we’re doing fine we’re doing fine we’re doing fine we actually got run off from the library yeah we were outside trying to record and yeah crazy times crazy no you can’t eat them donuts no eating donuts outside of the library it’s very which is very interesting and we do eat down nuts here since they do sell donuts in the library so a little bit of an anti-trust case there yeah it’s definitely it was a there’s a monopoly issue paging uh all the congressional democrats we have a big problem here university you know big donut is really keeping us down man um oh man very cool so today we wanted to come together because we’re all working on a startup idea together which i think is really cool um and we want to talk about that and we’ll get into that a little bit later but first off i just wanted to introduce both of you um kind of talk about kind of how we all intersect together kind of our common interests and a lot of things we like to think about kind of on a daily basis and read about it because i think you guys have a really unique perspective on life the universe and everything is douglas adams so kindly likes to say so um so glenn you’re currently a fourth year mechanical engineer yep here at state um so what about mechanical was was interesting to you um when i was looking through the majors i was like oh totally i knew i wanted to do engineering i was a big lego kid as a kid and um i i didn’t find anything with medicine interesting and i didn’t find anything with a softer science or humanities interesting and so i decided you know what i’ll just i’ll go really basic and i’ll just say anything mechanical i’ll do this mechanical engineer and i actually came in as a neuroscience major and i was like all right well this sounds i don’t like this whole life science thing so i went for mechanical engineering and i got into some you know higher level calculus and i realized like oh this isn’t as intense and crazy and nerdy as people are saying i really think that almost anybody can understand like early calculus and you don’t have to be that smart to understand like even like calc 2 calc 3 type stuff well it’s already all been derived for you so exactly exactly and i i really think you know in primary schooling they they give math a bad name they give design a bad name and everybody’s like i never want to do math when i grow up i’m because i was horrible and it was cool but i i don’t know i found that that was not the correct case when i got into engineering and i think it’s really fun i love modeling i love data manipulation with a little bit of coding and stuff like that and and you’re talking about calculus i think it’s this this will relate to kind of some things we talked about a little bit later in the podcast but um you know do you remember do you know when calculus was invented uh after the creation of oxford university that’s all i know yeah kidding the area under the curve 17th century 17th century can you believe that so that’s pretty crazy we’re like 400 years on from you know isaac newton and so humans have lived a long time without understanding calculus is one thing we did did not know how to get there under a curve for a while and we did just fine and we did it for all the murderer and the rape and it was great oh god yeah so a lot of ads so i i just think that is super interesting because now we teach that to high school kids yeah i mean you can derive a lot of classical mechanics without calculus is what i found but now we we teach it with calculus which is i mean would you just use basic algebra if you didn’t have calculus or is that sort of you can use basic algebra and then there’s also um there’s methods of like you can do it analytically like you can say you know we’re going to plot it out on a curve and then oh this kind of fits and then you can test to test test it and say okay well yeah it’s pretty much f does equal m a and you don’t have to say oh if acceleration is the derivative velocity which is the derivative of you know position with respect to time i mean you can just say acceleration is how velocity changes with time you know you don’t actually have to understand what a derivative is you can just say how it changes with and you don’t know how you need to know the mathematical operators to actually describe motion with and so i don’t and now we teach it with the with the mathematical operators right but the d over dt and stuff like that do you find that a better or worse way to teach people is it more or less intuitive than just saying this is just the change over time um or do you just need that foundation to really move up in the physics world i think it’s a better way to understand it if you know how the calculus works but it’s not a better way to understand it if you’re just trying to learn the physics and you’re not really understanding how the calculus works because anybody can learn something like the power rule and just know okay that works like it does but you know if you don’t understand it the way that people understand addition where it’s like oh i have two things and two other things that means i have four things now like that’s just how addition works but like calculus should be understood by all people not by all people but by you know people learning physics and stuff like that just like that like change over time is something that’s pretty simple and you you know we we get lost when we say when we just start memorizing like this is a chain rule this is u substitution this is the power rule and when you get into that like a little bit higher calculus than from high school and so you know people stop understanding the the what’s really behind the physics when they’re in the early physics classes definitely and a real problem is in the engineering classes the early physics classes for engineers are not taught by engineering professors and they’re not taught by the good physics professors they’re taught by the bottom of the barrel physics professors and i know this because like i’ve talked to a lot of physics people and i know this because all of my engineering friends say oh i hated physics one i hated physics too right because what what they do is they take you know those physics professors who really aren’t doing who well and who might have tenure or something like that who are only caring about oh yes i’m doing this really intense you know uh study on how quarks interact with blah blah and okay now i’ve got to go teach some stupid old mechanical engineers about how force equals mass times acceleration they don’t even know vectors how does someone come out of high school without knowing vectors i’ve never heard the term vector before i graduated high school right exactly and it’s like such a simple idea and then like no one teaches it well here’s a vector in like physics one and i’m like i don’t know what the [ __ ] that means right here’s a vector in my notes right exactly exactly and i mean what when do they even teach us vectors in like pre-algebra in high school i took that when i was a sophomore in high school and now i’m coming in as an engineer and i know like i’m pretty good at calculus i know it and i’m like hold up physics one like vectors what i don’t even understand then they’re like oh yeah there’s the x y and z directions and i kind of understand that right because i like i like i don’t know i’ve done some drawing or whatever and but like they don’t say and there’s these kind of relations that like kind of relate them but the rest of it is just like oh you just have equations in each direction right i had no concept of that because they they literally didn’t even cover vectors in physics one which is the basis of not only physics one and two and like all of my solids and dynamics and fluids and heat transfer classes it’s like this is the basis on which you build your understanding in three dimensions and it’s just not there it’s they just don’t even teach it to you so and then they were like here’s an iran i’m like but what does the comma mean right like there’s a comma and there’s

yeah it’s super interesting you mentioned so i just finished a book on uh academia and it’s actually it’s entitled uh good work if you can get it by jason brennan do you guys know jason brennan i have no idea uh he’s just like a libertarian philosopher he might take offensive calling than that but from the university of arizona teachers at georgetown now i read like one of his textbooks in college but it’s really interesting so he just does this giant deep dive like if you want to work in academia this is what you have to do essentially it’s all publishing so like you go into phd you need to publish like that’s all you need to do that’s all that matters other than passing and going to the highest best school you can but it’s interesting because at r1 research universities which we’re sitting at one right now unc duke nc state

essentially the highest status thing is being a researcher and it’s like low status to just be a lecturer so it’s actually a different like class of professor that teaches most the classes that make sense so lectures do not have voting rights what oh man it’s so so you know academia is quite um you know just and this is an empirical fact it’s it’s overwhelmingly um left-wing yeah it it’s it’s empirically true like you know it’s 25-1 in some fields it’s a size like 50 to 1 and like academic associate sociology and that’s like uh you know liberals to moderates i mean that’s not even like you know there are very few conservatives which is interesting because um the whole system is incredibly hierarchical i mean like oh my god like this is the most it’s not a democracy no it is nothing near a democracy the people that are lecturers they don’t even get to vote on anything i always heard that upper level academia was like the mob because it’s a bunch of people slaving away on the off chance they’ll win the lottery and get to be tenured like the low level drug dealers work so on the off chance they’ll get to be the big boss one day and make a bunch of money it is very simple and the the one thing that was interesting in the book i didn’t realize this is essentially if you don’t land a tenure track job out of the phd program almost immediately your chances of getting one essentially not zero so like if you went out and you’re like oh i’m just gonna be a lecturer or a postdoc well postdocs that’s kind of a different case but i’m going to be like an adjunct or something like that you’ll never get tenure essentially is that because they don’t want to take a chance on you or the phd students coming out or just that much more impressive because the field has advanced i think it’s both i think it’s incredibly competitive you know it’s subsidized so there’s like this glut there’s a glut of uh phd’s there’s not like a there’s there’s actually a lot of jobs but there’s a huge glut of production of academics now and it’s you know it’s good work if you can get it i mean that’s a really good title because you know a r1 research university professor that’s tenured is expected to work 200 hours a year the rest is up to them i heard that the biggest downfall of modern society is probably going to be only overproduction because it’s going to be elite over production because everybody wants a really great meaningful job and if they don’t get it they’re going to go out and write because it’s got to be somebody’s fault you have a degree in a phd from harvard and you can’t be a professor and you have to go and work it’s a barista starbucks you can’t study like medieval literature all the time like whose fault is that right so i know last year columbia so i was an english major finding out if i really stand out in this crowd so the english phds at columbia there were six of them they graduated and none of them got a tinder track job on columbia it was pretty interesting so you were talking about elite overproduction yeah so how did reading shakespeare help you in your life well you know i don’t know it’s like i read a lot of things but that were helpful it’s shakespeare shakespeare and i don’t i don’t mean to rag on english majors but like to be totally fair like will’s probably the most business successful person out of the three of us like for sure i know i’m only like a college student of course i know a japanese major and she never learned japanese so it could have been worse right so and i do find that uh people always get the wrong message i think i’ve told you guys this before the wrong message when i say this um they always always misconstrue this um so i’ll say you know like they’re all like what major were you and why would why did you do it and you know was it helpful and they say you know uh and i was like well you know as an english major and i find it was helpful because i think there is the i recognized early on there was this kind of elite overproduction phenomenon which we’ll talk about in a minute and i don’t really love that term but i think it does identify something real um so i i noticed there’s this phenomenon and there’s this idea that stem would save you like and this is still commonplace stem will save you and i had no illusions about that i had because there was no chance that the degree would provide any sense of like uh protection or in the job market security yeah economic security so it really forced me to confront that a lot earlier than essentially anyone else better than you’re graduating you’re now like oh no right exactly because i think that that happened to quite a few people i know it’s like oh my god here we are i’m like well you know i’ve been working on this for three and a half years like as hard as i can and that set me up well whereas um i think in you know i’ve been telling you guessed that for a while so i kind of came before you so you’re able to you know learn these lessons earlier um but i think and people always get the wrong message out of that like oh well you know the degree was probably actually helpful and i’m like no i don’t i don’t really think it was very helpful it was it was a consumption good i think it was quite good and i had a lot of time to um read a lot of things which i think is is really valuable like i was just going to the library and i just pulled books off the shelf and whatever subject i was interested in and it’s like you hear elon musk how do you learn about rockets he went and he read von braun’s book on rocketry right i mean like that’s the best way to learn things so you know i find that’s much easier than you know just some research professor who does not give a rat’s ass about teaching i mean using all the kids i know a bunch of second year third year um aerospace engineers and they don’t even know what delta v is it’s like oh i’m finally oh i’m so glad i’m in my aerospace class so i’ve been so like i’ve been waiting for so long to actually learn how to make a rocket right oh my god you’re in your third year and you haven’t even learned anything about rockets like i mean and then i look at it and i’m like wait i’m in my third fourth year of mechanical engineering i’ve you know what i’ve designed you know what i’ve engineered i’ve engineered a boat made of cardboard like yeah that’s it that’s it you know what it was it was a pretty good boat i gotta say i love my boat and it was with a team of really good people too but so i learned how to like kind of work as a team but like really like i’m here to learn about not like oh how to learn about engineering it’s like i want to know how to engineer and i shouldn’t have to wait until my fourth semester and i mean i’m high that’s right that’s right so finally in two separate engineering classes where like they’re called design of and that makes me like hopeful for the future right but i don’t know i mean it still seems like it still seems like hold up uh where’s all the engineering at right like where’s the actual engineering and that brings up a really good point um i i really like science and this is tied up with all the elite overproduction i i think science as a method is a very powerful thing um i believe you can find the truth with science which you can’t really do with anything else right you just find things so

but i do find there’s this there’s a meme in the culture that goes around right now um and it’s mostly from left left-wing people directed more right-wing people um and i won’t comment on any of that that’s the whole different thing we talk about but um and the idea is like you don’t trust science yeah and i think so i don’t trust science and what they’re really saying is not that i that that people that they don’t agree with don’t believe in this objective method it’s that people do not believe in technocratic experts um they don’t believe in the institution if that makes sense have you seen the replication crisis in psychology and as it like spreads and spreads and sort of metastasizes into like actual sciences you know exactly right now it’s in like biochemistry and i’m like oh jesus i’m like paging through the pages and pages of the studies that are getting recalled yeah and i’m like jesus like how are you ever going to know anything if you can just say whatever you want in scientific journals that are peer reviewed right so exactly so this huge distinction between science as a high status institution and the process itself anyone can do the process which i think is very important i want to everyone all our listeners understand anyone can do the process of science forming hypothesis and testing it if you’ve seen mythbusters you can do science you can do it yeah i don’t even have to watch that many episodes yeah but it’s like three episodes right if you don’t write it down you’re just screwing around just write that down right exactly but between the institution and i think our institutions are very sick and this is something i think we all believe in um our scientific institutions especially so one of the examples faith you just mentioned the replication crisis um which is fascinating i was going to mention your point what you just said that uh you know it started in psychology and social psychology and i think the reason we caught it there first was because because it’s really easy to test the replications test replicate and everyone understands it um what i do wonder about is uh you know quantum physics where there are probably 30 people in the world who can understand some of these problems they call it the um the theory of everything now because they’re super certain that it’s like very true but six years ago they were also going at the theory of it exactly exactly like oh there’s quirks and ends and you’re like i don’t know how much you really believe that but you sure do have 10 years right exactly and so we have to like cast a lot of skepticism because they’re very small groups you know it’s like and there’s no way to objectively evaluate it from where we’re sitting um so you have another cern right another sorry from building another 30 people here to understand how to use it yeah exactly um so i think that’s that’s super fascinating that uh you know so this replication crisis and what the replication crisis is i think we should probably define that just in case the reader hasn’t heard about it um so it started with power posing i don’t know if you guys remember this there’s famous ted talk oh i hate dead dogs so much man oh god don’t get me started on 10 dogs so and you know the the there was a famous harvard psychologist and she’s like look i found this great thing if you power pose you know you flex from the mirror before your interview you know you don’t remember like woman wonder woman for people who can’t see us right so you stand like wonder woman spread arms spread legs stand like a man show off those lats right so you uh you uh you do the power pose and then um you get some benefit like you’re more confident yeah you’re more confident in the interview right like yeah it’s a yeah you feel more self-confident yeah and so and then they perform better on like interviews that’s right and it turns out this is like completely does not replicate there’s no effect there’s no effect and this person made a bunch of money on the book and it was like it was very bad like so that andrew gellman came in and like oh look at they have these people p hacking we’re going all these statistical things what p hacking is uh so p hacking is you have a set of data and you have a bunch of hypothesis like oh maybe x correlates with a b c d or e and if it doesn’t correlate with four of them but it does correlate with one of them you can say look at that it correlates with f and you sort of hide the fact you’ve also tested for all of these other things but statistically if you test something enough times and you include enough variables some of those are going to correlate right so you have to pre-register your hypothesis and then say what you’re going to test for like before you do it you can’t go back and say oh this is like oh look i found this effect so so this is uh do you guys uh have you heard of this book you might have heard of this book glenn um it’s a famous book on relationships and i’m making blanking on the guy’s name right now very famous uh marriage counselor yeah uh what was this guy’s name uh oh man y’all keep talking my life can we go back to pee hacking while he’s looking for that because i i took statistics and i really believe in statistics and i know they think that if you like actually understand how they work it’s it’s easier to not be fooled but this p hacking thing i don’t really understand it and i know i kind of have a notion of what alpha values are right and i kind of have a notion of like what p values are but i don’t really so c could you reiterate on so if you have a bunch of hypothesis so like imagine you’re rolling a dice and you say okay if i stand on one foot and i roll the dice it makes it come up on twos more because magic is real so you try that and you’re like oh jesus this doesn’t work and so you try a bunch of different you start standing on the other foot you try waving your other hand around in the air you try like head banging while you do it and so statistically you’re going to end up with like more heads or like more rolling only twos on dice like just because yeah eventually you’re going to end up with twos every time in a row you say look at that when i stand on my head and karma sutra it always rolls on twos right but it that didn’t have any effect it was just chance that made that happen basically just because if you run something enough times standard variability normal variability yeah eventually it’s going to kind of matter just what distribution is that when it’s like normal distribution a normal distribution yeah if you have that then eventually one time it’s going to all end up on twos right that’s pretty interesting yeah and that’s that’s because you’re playing the metagame right you’re saying out of the statistics of the statistics yeah you can find anything you know right yep and find something that’s uh enticing enough to publish yeah and then you get six years later somebody comes says oh this doesn’t really replicate and you’re like oh maybe you weren’t chanting the karma sutra loud enough and like you can really just bury anything also and like you have tenure and the people replicating it are probably lecturers right they don’t vote and right they have the power to be fired yeah so how loudly are they gonna say this is actually [ __ ] and also with replication problems i mean you have to replicate and replicate and replicate and replicate right i have there’s a story of uh when i was back in life science when i came in as neuro my professor in my intro to life science class said you know oh he told us a story about there was this grad student and uh they were tasked with their first thing and they were supposed to read this and replicate this study and like they you know they were so optimistic they were they’re so happy because it looked like a pretty easy thing to do as a grad student and they did it and it didn’t come out right and they did it and it didn’t come out right and this happens for you know two years of their life and they’re like they’re like you know going crazy because it’s like how i must be a failure as a scientist right how easy should it be to replicate this simple study about two worms and then it turns out you know somebody comes in you know a tenured professor takes a look at it and is doing it and he put they put more resources towards it and i mean the best thing they could do when they because eventually it was oh what happened is someone falsified evidence right and so now i’ve wasted two years of my life as a grad student i can’t become i’m not on the path will was talking about i can’t become a tenured professor and only one for now

right yeah i’m gonna have to be a barista now right exactly now i have to teach this lowly lsc student life science student uh intro and how why it’s bad to falsify there and what what ended up happening was um you know they could prove that the data was falsified but the only thing you can really do in science is you can go in front of like this conference this national conference and you can say we were unable to replicate replicate this and that’s like a oh as a scientist you’re like oh that’s a big pow but as like a civilian you’re like oh you’re on our own you’re like i don’t know what that means maybe they didn’t even try they just slept who cares that they get this huge government grant for this giant scientist you know years earlier to go and learn about two worms and then they were just like lazy and falsified data right right and also they made a big discovery about that specific two-worm enzyme that they were talking about is it was a hemoglobin that could hold 200 times the oxygen and so they said oh we found that it had zinc on this place instead of copper or something like that and it was like a huge hemoglobin and so what they were doing is they said okay what we’re going to do is we’re going to make a company and it’s going to use these giant hemoglobins exactly combat medic aids where you don’t have to refrigerate like plasma and you can just like inject people with super oxygenated blood so that like you can get them to a hospital and they they went to file a patent and a patent had already been filed by the person who had falsified the data for with yeah and so it’s like so they have something that just wouldn’t work because they falsified the data and it’s like so bad science not only does it can it like ruin a grad student’s life right it can ruin the potential for innovation in the future like for really big things all of things that like like who would think that’s the third research exactly yeah so uh and probably the research profession was like oh i’ll just scroll down some numbers it’s two worms this is never gonna affect anything exactly right they wrote cu because they were lazy instead of like actually finding out that it was 10 or yeah so this is a that’s a great segue to kind of talk about um kind of our views on on so the science is the institution um i think we all three of us fundamentally agree that uh it’s broken oh yeah it it does not work and i think this is a quick segue on i did a biochemistry degree so i think that’s the most skilled job-oriented degree really currently that you can get if you just really need a job because you’re poor so they teach you all of these skills so you can just go and work in a lab somewhere and be like a wage slave but i got into this to my first job and the skills they taught us were like 60 years out of date really like they never go back and update them because there’s no profit in that like the professor’s gonna move on in two years that’s right they have to industry has to retrain every new graduate oh wow doing things which is a huge investment yeah yeah so the university system well we all know they’re behind and they’re not incentivized to student success on that side but on the other side um you know science went from wacky people with really weird ideas so isaac newton his two great interests were uh gravity physics and alchemy okay like no i’m serious like you can look up like that alchemy was real and gravity was not you know like it was you know like it’s also back then you don’t know right so um and i think what we’ve really lost is that now the people that um work in science are all politicians and they’re all salesmen because you’ve got to sell the papers and you’ve got to sell the grant givers and if you can do that you’ll be successful and you’ll have this great 200 hour a year job if you don’t you’re working at starbucks i think also as you sort of work really hard to open the field to like white men who aren’t rich and women and like people of color as you do that there are so many more qualified applicants trying to get into right and standardized you have to sell so much harder like if they’re five million dollar people who can just work in science for free then they can all do whatever they want but if there are five thousand applicants for this one job then they have to sell in politics and i don’t have a solution for that and i do think it is really important to have women and minorities in scientific positions but that is a issue you run into because everyone is equally qualified right so there’s a lot more smart people so uh and that that brings me back to just the fact that okay the grant process this is a big idea we have and this is a startup we’re actually working on the grant process is fundamentally broken and what it does it’s a time of materials contract that doesn’t pay you for outcomes so it incentivizes people to drag things out to do shoddy research you know do p hacking doesn’t matter right like my professor used to talk about how she would extend she would write grants for 10-year projects before she had like project ideas and then she would just apply that and be like oh this will totally take 10 years because it’s so hard to get new grants and she had to eat so right right and you know you look the productivity of science scientists today is about two percent of what it was in 1940. statistically how are you gonna like it’s very difficult there’s an economist make that repeatable that’s stunning yeah that’s very difficult right but i think anecdotally this is true because technology’s slowing down so much you know technology is the younger brother of science and if science uh our rate of discoveries has gone down a lot i think things have gotten a little bit harder but even that i mean we teach calculus to high school students now right so i mean we’re so far ahead in that sense where we didn’t even know that existed 400 years ago or how that worked um and so the idea we have here um is that you could pay for outcomes more directly so if you actually put out bounties for achievable this is really important um achievable near-term um and advancements in science and i think also approvable and provable like that’s very important that’s very important and that’s where you guys really come in um that would be incredible so you our idea is you take philanthropist money which you know that’s my special skill set on the business side startups been working on it for five years i’ve learned a lot i think there’s so much philanthropic money out there trying to reach being misspent yeah being miss meant but people are so desperate to help other people and like advance technology for the betterment of the human race and it’s so hard to find things that your money will actually help exactly so like you know coming up with these road maps that are very detailed and include like this is the next step this is achievable within a short period of time um we’ll put up the bounty because like most bounties today are huge it’s like okay make the mice live three times long well that’s not a billion dollars that’s not feasible without a billion dollars research money right and like and you need that up front because you got to buy the mice you got to buy the mice you know it’s really expensive right so the idea is that you know you two are especially talented and skilled in in in having the ability to ferret out these problems and find the right ones and i have a special talent in building out and finding um the money to go with it right and on top of that um we’ve got extremely high trust so you know like it’s this is a very high trust society it will ran off with all the money and be real awkward very often thanksgiving you know it’s not like we met these guys you know two months ago at some star conference like we’ve known each other for a very long time so that’s kind of one of my entire life well you’ve been leasing that bmw i thought you bought it all oh my god right so uh that’s uh he ran off and got married oh no that’s happening now she owns half of all your assets that’s crazy right it’s nuts it’s nuts um so we’ve been we’ve been thinking about that i want to get back to elite overproduction a little bit um faith have you heard about this glenn uh i have a general sense of it from from what faith was saying but i haven’t heard of it like traditionally it was like nobles in times of plenty would have a bunch of kids and they would all survive but like only one person can be the king so then you have a bunch of like second sons and third sons and they want to be rich and famous and all yeah right a bunch of kids and then these status like so even though our society gets bigger um status positions maybe don’t scale exactly okay so you might have an over inflation of the top end of a status streak right because you need like you need a pyramid shape and almost in a in a status hierarchy yeah and it’s like a matte fraser so you end up with a bunch of disenfranchised really smart people with a bunch of free time and a bunch of money and that destabilizes governments and can cause like wars because they’re bored and i think that it’s almost obvious that like having like like making them lower status isn’t really it’s not a viable option because they have like the connections and they have the education and they have the money you’re never gonna remove that status from because it’s sort of intrinsic like you can’t really take that away and people get really unhappy if you try to make them lower status super matters do not go for that at all even even worse than probably taking someone’s money away i think status is like you know the chimp brain like people freak out because imagine if all your friends decided statistically they had to hate you yep right well and also so you know part of this could be like um you know it’s the fun effect everyone’s getting smarter right you know over the decades right people are just getting smarter for whatever reason we took land out of the water rare exceptions yeah there’s also better better like psychological tools of like people kind of get like how to oh i kind of understand what alone is and then they teach that to their kid better better and like people are less abusive to their kids now so they end up with less weird psychiatric problems they’re less they’re less ill but also it’s interesting because you know the our institutions have not scaled with um population growth especially like college especially last incoming size harvard like unc chapel hill enrollment over time he’s good by the way i am i’m really cut anyway so i know harvard has not scaled at all i know harvard refused to use their money to double their incoming class size because they didn’t want to dilute the harvard brand and i really feel that really highlights it’s a positional good and not sort of what’s the opposite of a positional denial now a valuable good good that’s just a good good in itself it doesn’t matter so yeah yeah so i mean i think we should you know hashtag tax the endowments um of these uh these institutions so you know harvard like if you don’t you know if you really do have the best education in the world why don’t you share it with everyone yeah yeah exactly right that’s a real question why don’t you give a harvard degree to everyone who completes the online courses if you’re zooming the classes anyway yep because it’s just purely positional which creates these arm races that’s like um so uh funny enough glenn’s wearing a crossfit shirt right now so if you look if you look at uh crossfit uh games athletes is super fitness nerdy but over time it’s just this like incredible arms race right so it’s like it’s so incredibly competitive you know athletes 10 years ago like um you know there’s a guy i’m miley clayton with i follow him on twitter and we’ve chatted a couple times russ green but he completed the crossfit games and i’ll be honest you know that was in 2010 i guarantee you russ couldn’t compete right now he’s a very fit person right like uh and athletes just get shorter and more compact they’re all five foot nine and everybody’s taking care of the answer is that i mean probably

like a lot of steroids but you know like so and they have to train eight hours a day or nine hours a day you have to eat right and you have to take performance and drugs and that’s the price of the so like a little bit of competition like that and a purely positional game creates like you know the people get a lot fitter but like at the expense of what right like yeah a lot i don’t know but it’s very much the same thing with harvard right so you know like all these kids losing their mind uh you know like working 80 hours a week studying just to get that top one percent and even like one percent isn’t good enough right like i at this point it’s it’s really like i was the valedictorian i didn’t get into harvard like right you know like that’s not going to happen that was not going to happen they didn’t even send me like a rejection letter like you’ve taken my 60 for the application oh yeah and they’re like thank you for increasing our uh our decreasing our acceptance right right yeah and there’s also this interesting thing that you almost you kind of hit on there it’s like um if you are that one percent of whatever pool you’re selecting from so like our high school when we were growing up if you’re faith if you’re the valedictorian if you’re the one percent it’s like being the one percent being that super high ranking high status person uh doesn’t mean as much to you as the person who wants to be who’s like in the fifth percent who says oh i could be the one percent i’m really grinding for it i’m really grinding for it but like and so and then you you expand your your pool right the whole world now right our mom calls us getting ponded okay cause you’re a small fish in a big pond yeah yeah and so oh okay i’ll apply to harvard you know what i don’t really care that i was a valedictorian but i was so i had the status and so right you know let me try to get that more status and then they’re like oh you came from this super small pond well where the ocean and they smack you down and then you realize hold up uh it doesn’t matter that you’re the one percent on this specific hierarchy of right yeah so i think that brings up a great segue to another idea i’ve been thinking about um always trying to recognize what game you’re playing and what the rewards are if you win them um because you have to edge out right and who do you have to like like never play zero or something exactly exactly so i i have a friend um and she’s a younger person and i love i love talking i have friends that are a lot older than i am i have friends that are a lot younger than i am and i and carefully you’ll get canceled i know so people think people think this is like really weird like even average like well why are you going out it’s like 250. and i’m like well you know like i really like the perspective because it gives me an idea of what happens when you get there and where you were and it gives you some positional idea of like where you are in life um but you know she’s a much younger person she’s in college right now and um you know really uh worried about status and what she’s going to do and like call it like college and career and things like that you know and she does her parents have money or is she like out on the streets if she doesn’t get a job uh you know it’s important for her to get a job but she you know she wants to be a high status go into a high status field i won’t say which um and so let’s say it’s finance is i’m just making this up but so let’s say she wants to go into finance right um what i’ve been trying to imprint is this idea that look like okay let’s say you win this game and you work at the top investment bank and goldman sachs for 80 hours a week for six years exactly so you know like you you can make a lot of money that’s probably the best part about it you can make like a good amount of money um but you know and maybe find this is bad because i i want to focus more on a social good kind of thing um but you know the you would you you’re only going to be marginally better than the person that would be doing the job like if you don’t do the job it might be one percent worse but it’s so competitive that like it would be almost a wash like it’d be very difficult so kind of like with doctors if the next person who would have gotten your space in med school that was like that much less good as you you know was a doctor instead it might have been like a half of a percentage point on how good a doctor they’re going to end up being yeah and like if you’d all end up a wash yeah but if you can find things you can do that like oh god if you don’t do it does not happen i think that’s where you can find meaning and i think that that really eases people’s kind of status anxiety a lot because like i think people are built to sort of be good at one thing like if you’re in a village of 50 people and you’re like an okay wooden worker but you’re the best woodworker for 50 miles you’re gonna have a lot of status but if you live in a huge city and they’re you’re like there’s a hundred percent there’s 100 woodworkers you can work really hard to be a better woodworker and that’ll give you neurosis or you can be like an okay woodworker which is all we’ll also give you right right yep yep yep i think it’s interesting right and like yeah you know i see this on even in like my gym you know like i am like probably top quartile for strength maybe maybe higher than that for men um which feels pretty good but you know like jarvis children are about like neanderthals yeah pretty pretty stocky

whenever i go to competitions it’s like oh my god yeah nothing like nothing i did a competition together and we win right we walked in we were like yeah we’re pretty strong dudes for our crossfit okay we’re i’m not really good right whatever but and then we go in and just the roar of the massage guns going off they had the crossfit shoes strapped up tied ready to go right yeah they’re like they have like you know ankle pads wrist wraps it’s like oh okay so maybe we’re not going to really compete but you know just for fun right and this this is another idea i have if you truly want to com like i i don’t suggest people like try and compete often i think generally you should only compete like when you really want it and you really think it’s a valid thing to do specifically in crossfit you’re talking about right in the entire way you should in life don’t compete constantly because you’ll sort of well like you know you’ve got limited you should only ever compete or fight for something if you know like if you know you can win you should try to win very fast does that make sense like so like uh i don’t think like so you know you mean don’t go to law school and compete with your classmates on a career for four years right you know exactly exactly like you know maybe avoid that so i have a friend who’s like you know well like you’re really strong you should like try and like compete in olympic weightlifting and i’m like no i don’t want to do that because i only want to compete in that if i won’t if i’m going to be prepared to win do something and i’m not willing to trade that so like i’ll do it for fun like you know you don’t want to work eight hours work out eight hours exactly like i’m not interested in that like i i i only eat raw sweet potatoes exactly i only go to the gym for my health and to see friends right and it fulfills that and i win at ambition but if you want to compete i think you should generally um you should be prepared to win and you should be willing to sacrifice to get there and under trying to understand that before you jump in i think too many people jump in to these crazy status games um and they don’t really understand like well all i want is this like crappy trophy like why the heck would i spend that much time doing it it makes me think about the basketball league we played when we were younger right none of us were good at basketball no we’re not going to most christ-like every week because they couldn’t give me like most prizes they gave us these little stars that were like oh you were the best muffins and then they had another one for if you’re like not a very great basketball player it was the most christian yeah most christ jersey it’s like seven it was like gray stars it was amazing yeah yeah yeah oh man oh man but you will you will note that glenn then when we went to that competition when we decided to compete we put out more effort than was like there was no there’s nothing left on the table nothing no there was i guarantee i have no you know what i mean like whenever we go and do like whenever we actually decide to compete on something we’re gonna hit it hard we will kill ourselves carry them

yes i mean it’s just which is an interesting like i don’t know i i think people i i don’t like to compete i i tend to i want to avoid it but if we do if you ever do compete um i hate losing and if you ever met a good laser you met a loser right putting a good showing is what losers say yeah no i mean seriously and i don’t know i think that’s winners say to losers to make them compete hard to make themselves look better i think yeah yeah and it’s also like um sometimes losing and when you really try hard is like a signal to you to find a different access to compete on yes and if you put it all out there it’s like man that’s not enough maybe that’s something too you know yeah and also sometimes sometimes that’s not exactly true sometimes like you know you lose real hard and then you realize oh but there’s potential for me to be the best if i change xyz if i change this then like yeah and um but sometimes it’s like it tells you oh this game isn’t something that’s very fair so maybe it would be like bad for you to compete real hard and then still lose and then you’ve wasted all these resources so for context we play modern warfare

during quarantine and even now you know you can’t we can’t really get together to see each other or so you even go out and see friends right because you know coronavirus is still has community spread oh my god so shut down large universities which we might be sitting on an hour before you can’t get your tuition back exactly

um but so we started playing this this free game and it was perfect because uh you could play it across platforms and glenn has a computer i have an xbox fight there’s a playstation oh my god so so we can all get together and we can all uh all play together and uh been really fun right but it’s just it’s it’s interesting so you’re talking about that yeah so we started out and we were really bad at really the entire thing and it’s just for fun and like this is an example where it’s like i would get pumped by 13 year olds with sniper rifles from like 1600 feet away exactly so we keep playing when you get better and better and then we win and we’re like oh my god we won and then like and then what and then we’re like what what ha well like why do we spend all this why do we spend well you know and we got the value from because we actually you know came up with this idea of talking because we just ended up talking all the time right it’s just like this form to to talk in reality with this one other goal we all work toward together but it’s a little funny they realize what the point of it is completely we’ll be like we’ll be like in a helicopter with all our guns and stuff and we’re flying to the objective and then faith’s like talking about rim does rendezvous or whatever it’s called and you’re like what let me come on board with this jump out of the helicopter and slam onto the ground and that that does often yeah we end up getting shocked as we’re talking about something yeah this is pretty awesome you’re telling me they’re overproducing at least

the 13 year old who hears like the last 10 seconds of your audio after you kill them and like what the [ __ ] are they talking yeah like this makes no sense at all at all which is uh pretty interesting um so we talked a lot about competition we talked about uh elite overproduction um what are some other solutions to the problem of having um you know like general status anxiety in the air because i think that is incredibly high in people um well you could segment people into little groups right so i i think so if you have everyone only has 10 friends exactly and they all the same difference then one out of 10 people can be the coolest person in their friend group and like the smartest person so then you can’t be friends with anybody else though or you’ll find someone who’s like cooler than you are so that’s what i think we’re gonna end up doing is like you don’t talk to anyone outside of your real niche because facebook is doing that right now right like you only see liberal content if you’re a liberal and and conservative content if you’re but so you just segment society so everyone can

portland down so i think you know so social media has kind of expanded the sizes of our social groups but i think it also has the potential to solidify our smaller social groups so like um if your church has a facebook page and it’s like you know oh you got 50 people in your church then then that can kind of do what you’re saying is kind of like solidify your smaller social groups but there’s also the potential when you’re like oh i’m in you know this facebook group of you know 400 000 redditors or whatever yeah it’s like well i’m just one person in all of this and you get that yeah you you have no idea where you are on the social hierarchy anymore that that’s super interesting because it feels like the internet has had this like uh compression effect well so in one sense it’s amazing right because if you had some wacky thing you’re interested in like uh was a good example silkworm so your face the interest in silkworms right now we’ll talk about that in a minute um in your small town i guarantee there’s no one else who’s interested in silkworms nobody not one person no where is it there’s nobody else interested in this rocky mountain don’t

email me if you think it’s really cool exactly but uh so in one sense you can connect with those people but in the other sense people are incredibly lonely yeah have you like have you guys noticed this like and something i think our listeners that are in major cities the united states will not understand is just how lonely and bombed out a lot of the country is if you get outside of the metropolitan areas i live in greenville north carolina for reference and there’s nowhere to go to meet and hang out with people that’s not like in my house but i don’t want to invite strangers into my house so i don’t make new friends so much so i just have my old friends from college and some people don’t go to college so they have their old friends from high school or like middle school which really locks in a bunch of toxic dynamics because you know you can’t go anywhere else if someone is abusive or someone is just like not fun to hang out with and people don’t move anymore like statistically the people americans do not move different places like they either clearly locked into where they are which is weird right because like you know it’s the internet revolution yeah it should be all distributed connect to anyone in the world but but you just connect to the people also in greenville exactly you know and even the people that you know are supposed to be the best of this in san francisco in the tech sector they’re all there there’s more concentration there’s not less concentration yeah and you know they’d leave if they could because there’s so much poop on the streets yeah so yeah yeah san francisco california’s governance is uh it’s frankly gavin newsom if you’re listening it’s embarrassing please fix it laughing stock in north carolina it’s hilarious i mean you know roy cooper gets us power i don’t know like yeah he can clean the power lines off there aren’t used needles on my streets right exactly and you know there’s way more drug dealers in greenville so yeah i don’t i don’t know it’s just it’s fascinating how but even with that you know it’s still a massive concentration in the tech sector san francisco less so now i’m assuming because it’s so expensive and people are heading out and like somebody has to sell you coffee so if you pay them 7.25 an hour how are they supposed to be they can’t they can’t yeah you can’t live long no yeah it’s like it’s it’s uh you know and and san francisco is the future of america is so disturbing because just the not so inequality i was reading a book do you guys know freddie deboer is no idea uh four diamonds uh no no so he’s a blogger i really enjoy his writing uh super lefty guy um he’s very intellectually honest a lot of interesting things to say so he’s an english educator got a phd and he wrote a just finished a book i highly recommend called the cult of smart and so the thesis the cult of smart is that like we’re obsessed with academic achievement right now but if you gave everybody a college education today um the wage premium would disappear so the wage premium the college i maybe i should say again the wage premium would disappear for college educated people if we gave everybody a college degree right now it’d become like a high school degree but you’d have to spend four more years in high school exactly um and there’s a lot of people that don’t love academics um and that’s okay if you wanna yeah russell instead of learning calculus that’s fine or if you want to weld or if you want to work on cars or if you want to or raise your kids exactly exactly if you would rather do that than learn calculus that’s probably a more healthy choice than what we do or clean houses all day like that candy owned on twitter oh for reference they were talking about communes and one person chimed in and they were like an old college coins of mine and she was like yeah i’m i would just love to just clean a house all day and then just do whatever i wanted and i’m like why don’t you just be a house cleaner and not be dependent on a man or the four other people in your commune to feed you but tommy’s well you know and we could talk about communities more in some of the problems i mean if you’ve ever lived in a dorm room it’s like a dorm but with 40 year olds that never do any dishes yeah right absolutely it’s a commune absolutely um so the cult of smart idea essentially is that you know we have hollowed out like options so now you know we shift off you used to be able to go work at the factory and uh dogmatic free throws not off to the ugg hurts you don’t get paid sweeters there we go no yeah i mean seriously uh and that that has happened and all most of that i think happened at the hand of economists who are free trade doctrinaires um in the 80s and 90s who thought you know what like and i remember taking econ 101 i don’t know if you guys haven’t had to take econ because yeah i escaped it okay so i remember the classic example i remember sitting there and seeing this was like so they’re describing the gains from free trade it’s like well you know we get cheaper goods because there’s people with comparative advantage you know i don’t have to pay people or whatever because they’re in internment camps and in western china right um and uh just an example but there’s plenty others uh so pretty sure people occasionally boycotting their [ __ ] is less expensive than paying a living wage so exactly so you know like so they went with it um and the idea was that well these factory workers you know they might lose their jobs they can retrain and they’ll have these cheaper goods hashtag learn to code hashtag learn to code right you’re a journalist listening to this it’s out of work right exactly but you know this ignores the fact that um you know there are negative externalities to people that are less well-off you know the externalities are not happening to economists they’re not that that’s what i would say in fact they’re more diverse i like to call that stickiness within the model it’s like something’s like there are things which make this incorrect right right and it it so it’s like you might have a machine which kind of looks like what you think the reality is but there’s something sticky in it you’re not really going to run exactly like you’re saying right and this is a phenomenal i like to talk about called uh how big are the ed’s cases so how big and the edge case here is that like you destroy people’s lives and they’re all going to be uh you know using pain pills and things like that because they they don’t have a source of meaning where it used to be you could go and you could work and provide for your family it was like it was honorable and like work was respected workers yeah and i think that’s like a really i remember you remember the there’s an actor recently who was famous in the 90s but he’s working at trader joe’s now like falling on hard times and you know everybody was making fun of them on twitter like that’s way more beneficial to society to work at trader joe’s than to be an actor yeah like you know like to tan people peanuts is better for the economy than absolutely be a one person better actor than the next person in life exactly that job and i thought that’s just so embarrassing right you know like this guy’s out there you’re trying to provide for his family make the world a better place um and you know everybody’s just you know being terrible to him like i don’t find it embarrassing to work at trader joe’s like oh i don’t find embarrassing work anywhere you know what i mean like yeah like i mean if you’ve got a job someone finds value in what you’re doing exactly in a way that like i think people don’t realize like they literally someone has to pay for that yeah there’s a revealed preference right that it’s valuable someone wanted you to do that so much it made their life so much better they were willing to pay you money to do it which is pretty cool and you know they might not act like it there’s a million cairns in the world but even though even the worst karen is gonna still has to pay the money or or has chosen to pay the money for you to do that that service for you to give them that coffee like that’s right obviously she thinks you’re pretty great which is interesting um what else do we want to talk about i had something there well i have an example of um for the graduate students in the audience i guess um so the way we do it in my college is mechanical engineers have a final project which lasts an entire senior year and companies come in and give us contracts and yeah we waive our ip rights and stuff like that but anyway so you could be slave labor yeah so we show to them we show to actual companies that we have the design knowledge to actually produce something and so sometimes that goes good and sometimes that goes bad but um we so i was assigned to my group what or whatever and i was talking to the graduate student who is kind of over us who’s like teaching us and i said oh so you know i really want to kick this out of the park um you must have done this since you’re a mechanical engineering graduate student you’ve graduated mechanical engineering um what can you tell us about this real hardworking project where you know we get to really showcase our skills to be like oh we are productive and he said oh i got to do research instead of doing a design project so i’ve never actually designed anything

amazing and i mean it was like it was like there were crickets in the zoo like i don’t know who let them in i don’t know how they got computers but the crickets were there and so i mean that was just a firsthand experience of like okay so you’re becoming a graduate student to get a phd in something and you aren’t any further like okay you’re teaching a class and you’re doing research but i mean it’s obvious that the research isn’t going anywhere and it’s also obvious that like you trying to explain to us how we’re going to do this design project is silly it’s like i don’t you’re not you’re not really caught that that’s like have you ever heard of the insta institutionalization of instruments no is that carol quickly okay so this is bill clinton’s favorite book bill clinton looks like he’s gonna get castle now because one of these epstein girls was rubbing his back and i got pictures of it sorry um yeah it’s horrible like two years ago yeah i mean anyway so he was on the plane so it was like god you might want all the politicians on the planes you gotta like replace them with women because they won’t that’s fair but you know they as statistically a lot worse statistically um all women should be so president if them not raping other women is a priority for you that’s right that’s right which you know that’s uh that’s high on my priority list um so he wrote this book uh evolution of civilizations it’s quite good um bill clinton’s favorite book i’ve just finished reading it highly recommended he has this concept called institutionalization of instruments so have you ever thought about how we got college football no okay so do you want an interest in something that’s instrumental is vaguely so it’s like and i will get the philosophy

mental philosophy definition here we go um intrinsic value or this okay so it’s like uh means to an end if that makes sense okay so things are deemed to have instrumental value if they help one achieve a particular end yeah like music has an instrumental value for whatever we because we find closer to the air okay yeah so um originally cause pleasure through the year would be like an intrinsic value i guess yeah that’d be a true value um so college football began because uh essentially uh in the ivy league kids were getting fat they weren’t exercising um and so they’re like well we’ll come with this cool game and it was originally just running just just run the ball it’s very similar to rugby um and you know some people that was before the disposable black kids came in and then they added oh gosh jesus no it’s true it’s weird when you look at it sketchy it’s like a cartel design i don’t have tbis but you’re paying them with education yeah you know the tao proteins don’t care about the uh you know education you don’t get because they tutored it um pretty bad that’s the story for another day but um so the idea is like okay how do we get from that it’s like an exercise like thing like we use pe game to which is an intrinsic value right right to like 56 000 people in carter finley stadium

yeah yep so it’s like well what happens so you know you start playing the game and then you’re like well you know like man yale keeps running down our throats running it down our throats so you’re like you need you know let’s start we’ll spit maybe let’s get a couple ringers that’s what we did modern warfare we got

and so you start doing that and suddenly you know like well the running just running it’s kind of boring what if we threw it threw the ball so then they had passing right and then suddenly you know like then they like well we need a coach because yale’s still beating us like lapel and so it’s an arms race and then suddenly you’ve got 56 000 people screaming at each other in carter family stadium with the unc nc state game you make a couple billion a year and now you’re stuck it’s amazing this is the people in it then you have like hundreds of thousands of people in the parking lot right so yeah yeah so when you mentioned your graduate student who had never actually designed anything yeah not calling my out like it’s like wow like it’s just this institutional institutionalization of the act of designing something right yeah and also we have a design school did i tell you about that right we have design school engineering school and the idea that it’s like oh we’re gonna make the products and then oh we’re gonna make products that work right and it’s like all the design students and the engineers like do you even know math and all the physics students are like oh engineers you don’t know math you know no math which is very odd man when you think about it like how these weird things just they’re like emergent phenomenon right like that are somewhat random and how they come about right yeah you’re just like one day you’re like oh you know we should get fit on a fall day so you toss this leather ball out there and yeah start ramming speaking of emergent phenomenon glenn tell them about your club idea my club idea oh oh it’s just you guys it’s like it’s a sport to be a club sport it’s gonna be a real sport it’s gonna be amazing institutionalization of this instrument all right so the idea is i like i like strongman strongman’s a sport where it’s like oh you’re lifting but it’s kind of like oh weird awkward things and so we’re going to lift couches this year or whatever and now we’re going to actually try ours one time it was like a giant rock sphere right and so whenever i see that i’m like oh man if you only had like like one lever you could just do that and then i came up with the idea why don’t we have a standardized toolkit or something like that and then the only goal is who can get one thing from one place through another and you use you know whatever mechanical advantage you want because you still have to put in the power yourself right you can’t have like power tools and all that that’s no fun what you want is like you know oh are you going to spend the extra minute to set up this intricate pulley system or are you going to get will who’s 200 pounds heavier than everybody else to just pick the dang thing up and throw it or whatever so you start with like a 300 pound square and you have to move it 100 yards and you have a toolkit so it’s whoever can just get it to the other end of the field first wins right it’s like team one is hammering in their their pulley system and team two is have their lever system really going well and team three is just really throwing that thing hard and will’s just carrying it above his head he’s probably gonna snap his torso but it’s fun to watch it’s really cool so that was my idea for a little sport and i don’t know i think it’d be fun that’s awesome you know i’d watch it on youtube i really like it i really like the combination of like uh you know you’ve gotta you gotta be smart enough to you know there’s like this interplay of being smart and you also have to be fit enough to move it and like you know how that plays together is pretty interesting and in every sport you know somebody’s taller somebody’s shorter there’s mechanical advantages where it’s like there’s no true fairness and i kind of like the idea in some sports where it’s just like all right less rules can be more fun because it allows us ingenuity to come in and i think that’s the coolest aspect when somebody learned to dunk in basketball or to goaltend it’s like that can go positive or negative right because everybody loves talking but nobody loves goaltending and so instead of adding more rules you could find a a way to go about it where having less rules inspires more creativity but that’s really cool i don’t even have a name for it just an idea that’s a good idea i love that kind of competition well that’s our show for today i’m will jarvis and i’m will’s dad join us next week for more narratives

Christmas Trees

Here we are, in the dog days of a COVID summer, we thought we would bring you all a show about something a bit more positive-Christmas trees! We have a good friend of mine, Avery Barr, on the show to talk about how Christmas trees go from seed to your living room. We also what CRISPR means for Christmas trees, how to successfully coach high school students, and just what an “air raid” offense is. Avery is a third-generation Christmas tree farmer, high school football coach, and avid skier. Enjoy!


This week’s episode takes us from the Opium Wars in the mid 1800’s to the American tech companies of today and from the Holodomor, to the current Uyghur persecution in China. Join us for a historical perspective of how the modern world must come to grips with attempts to erase entire cultures and peoples.

The Intro

We are a father and son duo interested in narratives. Narratives is a project exploring the ways in which the world is better than it has been, the ways that it is worse, and the paths toward making a better, more definite future.  

In this podcast, we talk about our love of stories, a trip to Oxford, stories about progress, and what we learned about narratives from UNC-Chapel Hill Professor Christopher Armitage, a man who himself was taught by Tolkein and Lewis.