Reflections on Having a Bad Idea

A few weeks ago, a friend came to me with a bad idea.

He wanted us to start a dietary supplement and nootropics company together. We would use dropshipping to offload most inventory and management costs, then go to a mutual friend for cheap web design, and then tap into our networks for some surprisingly good sales and endorsement opportunities.

He acknowledged that I have no formal biology background besides AP Bio and watching House. He also had no formal background. This might lead an objective observer to conclude that we were not the best qualified individuals for selling other people chemicals to put in their bodies.

But… we had both started and run businesses successfully. He had had been using supplements and nootropics on a daily basis for years, and had put an impressive amount of effort into understanding them as evidenced by his ability to rattle off chemical components and mechanisms with the slightest prompting. He also had unique access to people who could promote and sell our product.

Most importantly, the entire supplements/nootropics field was in the “Wild West” (his words). Entrepreneurs all over the world were putting out bundled nootropic supplements with names like Alpha Brain and Brain Force Plus, and so if we, in the spirit of scientific adventure, put our heads together and actually tried to run a legitimate company which used only the most scientifically verified substances, we could pass the low bar set by the current market, and then rely on marketing skills and connections to carve out our own little chunk of a two billion dollar industry.

This was a really, really bad idea.

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A Deep Dive into K-pop

KPOP Collections: Kpop Groups Collage

Prior to last month, I knew next to nothing about K-pop (Korean popular music) besides having heard a few songs in passing and the rumors of the industry’s infamous elements, most notably a string of high profile suicides over the last few years. As an American with no connection to music or South Korean culture, I wondered if I was getting an accurate picture of the industry or if I was being misled by the most lurid and morbid elements eagerly conveyed by the media.

So I decided to do a deep dive down the internet rabbit hole of K-pop to understand what it is, how it works, and what I think about it. For anything that’s not my personal opinion or that goes beyond basic historical knowledge, I’ll cite my sources, which are a mixture of news articles, academic articles, YouTube videos, and some content aggregators like Wikipedia and Statista. I welcome any corrections or criticisms on inaccurate sources or things I didn’t understand.

I’ll warn you upfront – this essay is over 30,000 words long. It is the largest post I have made on besides my novel. Since I sympathize with anyone who doesn’t want to make such a large time investment into a subject of passing curiosity, I will present my key findings here divided between the five parts of the essay. If you’re not sure if you want to read everything, you can jump to any individual part and understand it without reading the other sections.

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Little Soldiers – Inside the Chinese Education System

Image result for chinese test takers

Note – Scott Alexander posted a “Review Review” of this piece on Slate Star Codex on January 22, 2020.

I’m a typical SSC reader when it comes to education. I love Scott’s graduation speech, I think Bryan Caplan is right, and I actively participate in our semi-regular tradition of talking about how much schools suck.

That’s why Lenora Chu’s Little Soldiers: An American Boy, A Chinese School, and the Global Race to Achieve was pure nightmare fuel for me. It’s a non-fiction account of an ethnically-Chinese, American-born woman following her multi-racial child through the Chinese school system in Shanghai. While we complain about our soft, liberal, decadent school experiences in America or Europe, tens of millions of Chinese kids are subjected to a school structure that seems purposefully designed to make everyone as miserable as humanly possible.

Or at least that was my take-away. Lenora Chu has a kinder perspective on the system. Mostly.

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