Alexander Singh

Co-founder of Domino. Subway philosophizer.

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Design the Beginning, not the End

During my conversation with Vadik one of our discussions was on the iPhone and how its current form was not directly and consciously conceived of by Jony Ive and his design team, but by the multitude of social, economic, environmental and cultural influences and decisions made throughout the process by the company, and culture as a whole.

The choices around materials, functionality, and features were the primary contributor to the phone we see today, with the conscious aesthetic design process accounting for a fraction of that.

This reminded me of a discussion on habits with Naval and Shane on the Knowledge Project podcast and the idea of designing your habits, not your goals.

The End is inconceivable at the Beginning, and it’s a mix of hubris, ignorance, and fantasy that paints an imaginary picture of what it will look like.

Alternatively, try to design the start - and the system -

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Individuality at the Intersection of our Interactions

In Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, Rovelli cites the “odd” behavior of quantum matter - to exist simultaneously in all possible states until observed or interacted with - and questions whether all reality is interaction.

Born as blank canvases, it’s easy to observe how we take shape through our interactions with others.

The individual can only exist through their interactions with others.

Our individuality is unique only at the intersections of those interactions.

How do individualistic cultures reconcile the value of “The Individual” as greater than the group which nurtures it, sustains it and maintains its form?

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Wet Clay

Wet clay is malleable, unfinished and unformed. You can still mold it, guide it and leave your mark. It is yours until it dries. Then, change necessitates destruction.

Seek the wet clay in your education, your work, your friendships, your home, your ideas and in love.

A random collection of examples include:

1. George S. Patton’s decision to become a pioneer of the nascent “art” of tank warfare

2. Cryptocurrencies and Blockchain technology*

3. A.I. and Machine Intelligence*

4. Non-Western countries (Carribean, Central & South America, Asia, Africa, the Middle East)*

5. Digital Design*

6. New farming techniques (indoor, vertical, urban)*

7. Natural wines*

8. Clothing that lasts*

9. The colonies and later, the young United States of America through to the end of World War 2.

10. Republics, in the early 1800s and onwards.

11. The printing press and eventually, the print

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The Attraction of Contrasting Alternatives

LightPhoneFloatingHIGH.jpg

The Light Phone can only make and receive calls, similar to every other phone ever made since Alexander Graham-Bell’s invention nearly 150 years ago. The phone’s functionality is not its selling point, however. They’re selling absolution through disconnection.

Just 10 years after the first iPhone and 18 after the first Blackberry, the release of a phone that is just a phone is now a novelty.

Yet it’s messaging is compelling. “Go light” - “Your phone away from phone” - “Designed to be used as little as possible” - in our abundant world, with our smartphones-as-real-life-remotes, the concept of a product with singular functionality is attractive again, and this is a common phenomenon.

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1. During the Industrial Revolution, mass-produced objects were coveted for their consistency.

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2. Now I can duck into a random store in Greenpoint, and find them selling handmade mugs, plates and

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Form through Contrast

In “Getting Real”, Jason Fried encourages the reader to “pick a fight” because sometimes the best way to know what your app should be is to know what it shouldn’t be.

It touches on a broader point: all form is defined through contrast. Try not to look at yourself, or your endeavors as being the sum of a set of constituent parts. Instead, see them as the difference - or the remainder - after you subtract them from the whole.

To understand what something is, ask “what is it in opposition to?”.

This contrast - this opposition - gives your endeavors not just form, but energy, a name, and a purpose.

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Conscious Filters

This is a quiet reminder that the universe is a desolate wasteland when not processed through our conscious filter.

Celebrate our divine gift* - that we can build such grand mythic structures and find such indescribable beauty in absolute nothingness.

*Divine in capability, not in provinence

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Misadventures in Galactic Colonization

There is a vision of us as a multi-planetary species. It’s attractive & enthusiastic. It appeals to our innate desire for exploration, expansion, and progress. Musk says it’s essential to our long-term survival. He’s probably right.

Yet I cannot help but feel as though all we’re doing is spreading our proprietary brand of insanity. No matter how far we run across the interstellar plane, we’ll never escape our nature. If we don’t value self-understanding, how can we seek to settle the stars with a soft hand? As we’ve seen on Earth, a life of plunder demands a life on the run. Perhaps this grand adventure is a subconscious attempt to flee from ourselves.

The Fermi Paradox asks why we’ve seen no evidence of extraterrestrial life in spite of the high probability of its existence.

Perhaps it’s because any sufficiently advanced civilization embarks on a journey inward, not outward.

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On Blindness

What do you think of when you see the word “blind”? I’m guessing you immediately think of a person with a visual impairment.

What do you see in front of you, right now? Around you? In your room? Everything, of course.

We depend on our sight so completely that we unconsciously, perceive our vision to be the entirety of existence. The center of the world. You are acutely aware of what’s in your field of vision, yet how often do you think of what’s outside of it? If you’re like me, then almost never.

In taking an inverted view, we humbly accept that we are blind to everything but the sliver of reality within our field of vision. From this vantage, we can ask ourselves what else we might be blindly oblivious to.

Are you blind to your emotions? How are you feeling right now? What emotions are they? Where did they come from?

Are you blind to others? Do you struggle to empathize with

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Play, Practical Learning & Uncharted Paths

One of the Internet’s greatest gifts is its limitless storehouse of knowledge. We can learn about everything and we can learn to do anything in exchange for a mostly invisible price.

In having the world’s mysteries revealed to us piece by piece, we are unwittingly forced to adopt the ideas, processes, and patterns of our teachers. That’s fine if you’re fixing your sink, but not ideal when exploring esoteric, intellectual, creative or conceptual topics: philosophy, cooking, coding, painting, etc.

Seek to learn from others, but create time and space to play with the knowledge you receive in pursuit of the uncharted paths.

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Experimentations in execution

We often confuse ourselves in the space between the idea and its execution.

1. The execution is the sum of your activities to give your idea form. You may need to experiment with many different forms until you find one that sticks.

2. Most of our confusion in execution is borne from a lack of clarity, itself due to a lack of clear insights that we usually uncover through research. In digital product design, that involves the whole “speaking to our end users” thing. In painting, it might involve several studies, or explorations of technique, hue, and color combinations, etc.

3. Another common mistake is to believe your idea can maintain its “purity” after you’ve given it form. This leads to a fallacy wherein you believe the first, ephemeral iteration of your idea is the best one.

4. Whether its form is a digital product, or a wooden chair, a home, or a canvas painting, the act of

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