This year, I spent a lot of time doubting myself and not knowing what to do, but looking back, it was one of the best years of my life.
This feeling isn't just true for this year but for every year.
Looking back, I am always amazed by the things I have accomplished.
I write these Annual Reviews not to show off or tell you how cool I am. Quite frankly, I’m embarrassing myself by telling you about my mistakes and where things didn't go right. I write this to reflect and to notice. I want to understand why things are the way they are and discover things I didn’t know I knew.
One of these findings was realizing why I didn't want to continue my quest to build a personal flying vehicle. I had lost momentum and stopped making progress, teaching myself everything about flying. It was a horrible feeling, and while I had ideas, I genuinely didn’t know why I became demotivated. It was after writing this 20,000-word Annual Review and while editing that I realized I fell in love with the history of flying. I wanted to continue writing with this new focus and even publish the book about flying from hardcore engineering to hidden history. This was how it became a goal for 2023.
I discovered this finding and many others because of this Annual Review.
Updating 2022 will focus on the following parts: 1) 2022 Recap, 2) 2022 in Phases, 3) Reflecting on 2022 Goals, 4) Goals for 2023, 5) On Curious Equilibrium (Positive/Negative), 6) Closing Thoughts.
More specifically, here’s an overview of the places we will visit together:
Email Newsletters Sent: 52
Favorite Song: Behind the Sun by Odezsa
Favorite Songs: Spotify playlist of my favorite songs of 2022
Favorite Quote: In a world of crazy people, the sane ones are “crazy.”
Favorite book: The Dream Machine by M. Mitchell Waldrop
Most popular video: URAP at UIUC: Application Advice, My Essay, and Overall Experience
Most popular article: Types of Jet Engines
Awe moment: Catching a Rocket Launch (Falcon 9 by SpaceX)
2022 was an exceptional year because I did things I could have never imagined and did things that I did not plan and could have never planned. But I was flexible and open to all of them. Most importantly, I tried not to get busy, so I could take on new opportunities as they arrived. All the great things I enjoyed doing were unplanned and were not part of a master plan, and there’s something to be said about that.
I started the year on January 1st of 2022 by waking up early and having the compulsion to write a book/guide to help Venezuelan immigrants.
I spent all day thinking about topics and emailing potential publishers. The latter was a mistake because no one could care less; I should have just finished it and published it. Back then, we didn’t have AI-generative tools such as Dall-E, MidJourney, and GPT to finish things quickly.
Helping Venezuelans was a common thing I did in 2022. Later in September, my friend and I co-wrote an essay on the 2022 Venezuelan migrant crisis. Then during Thanksgiving break, I spent all my time working on a platform (and watching the world cup, of course) to raise the ambition of young Venezuelans. Looking back, I worked hard on the project and the other Venezuelan projects, but they didn’t go as far as I would have liked because of my lack of distribution. They were all good and helpful ideas, but journalists, TV reporters, and Instagram pages did not want to support them, which was how I thought I would distribute and reach the people I wanted to help. I need to get better at distribution. That’s for sure.
I start the 2022 recap with a Venezuelan theme because there are many lessons I could learn from here because of the common patterns that spread over everything else I did during the year.
First, I have a lot of energy, more like a shit ton of energy, to get started, build something, and finish the 1.0 version. But oh man! This is where the second point arrives. When it comes to the second, third, fourth….and tenth versions, I seemed not to care anymore, and I just want to work on the next thing. This is nuts! What are the odds the first version I created for myself will be the one people truly want? Third, maybe it’s not that my first version of my projects is bad, but rather my distribution is bad, which, honestly, I think both are true. Although I try my hardest on distribution, I still have a lot to learn (Have ideas/suggestions? Let me know).
Whenever I finished a project, my instinct was to reach out to legacy media folks like people in newspapers, TV channels, or not-so-legacy media like Instagram influencers, where I could reach my target audience. But in all of the projects above, I couldn’t get them to share what I was working on.
Lastly, I have a LOT of fun. I know this because when I was working on these projects, these were the only things I could think about. Not only that, I couldn’t even sleep because when I’m working on exciting things, I tend to wake up at 4 AM to start working on them. Having fun was more than worth it. Perhaps I’m too hard on myself because I wanted these Venezuelan projects to go farther than they did, and maybe they went far enough and helped some people, but my gut feeling is that they could have gone farther, which is a theme of how I feel about every single thing I do or create.
2022 was special because this was a year of obsession, having ideas and going all-in, experimentation, and lots of cool projects.
My year started by working the whole day on this guidebook to help Venezuelans, and then I spent lots of my time finishing my 2021 Annual Review and, later on, another essay I wrote about how to create new countries. This was all at the beginning of the year.
Then, I left home and went back to school.
It feels wrong to write about this, but it’s important because many young people may be reading this and could see they are not the only ones who are “crazy.”
In Updating 2021, I told you how they rejected me from the engineering school. Then I was looking to apply to CS+Philosophy, but they said no, and now I was going to try to find a new major. In the Spring semester of 2022, I tried to do statistics, which was horrible. The classes were boring, and I could not get myself to give a single fuck about what I was learning. I tried to take proficiency tests in introductory courses, and the system of administrators and professors was allergic to me doing that. A story and another pattern, we’ll get to later.
That semester was boring, and I felt like I learned absolutely nothing in my official classes. I audited many classes, though. For instance, I took a computer science class called Computer Systems. I later dropped a class due to too heavy of a workload and wanted free time to work on projects. But I continued to attend every lecture. Anyways, I loved that class and everything I learned there. It made me a much better thinker and computer scientist/programmer. I also got a lot of ideas to create and improve my projects.
The most important thing was talking to the professor every day after class to ask him questions, usually about context and why things got to where they were. The history of things, I enjoy that. Most importantly, in one of these after-class discussions, the professor told me about 11ty/markdown-based websites, which helped me create the Venezuelan ambition platform, my website, and even Aaryaman Patel’s website. Who’s Aaryaman? We’ll get there.
I was also invited to audit Neural Circuits and Systems, a special class with a unique professor. I’d say one of the few alive geniuses from past generations. Jont Allen worked at Bell Labs for 32 years, and when I found him, I realized I wasn’t so crazy anymore because there are truly curious professors. That class was also something else because beyond what you learn about the brain from an engineering perspective, he would use the class to discuss the interesting science he was learning.
At first, I was confused because of how disjointed some topics seemed, like Michael Levin's groundbreaking regenerative biology research, Gyorgy Buzsaki's theory on how the brain encodes information, and listening to Jont Allen’s expertise on the cochlea. Looking forward, they all seem disconnected, but only when you look back can you connect the different pieces and discover a puzzle never seen before.
For instance, if a topic confuses everyone, no matter who they are, it's entropy. This is a tricky topic because of the material but also the history. Well, not for Jont Allen, as he probably is the only person alive who fully understands it. This topic was so meaningful to me that I took the class recording and uploaded it on YouTube for everyone and anyone in the world to have the opportunity to learn from him. I met him through The UIUC Talkshow, and our relationship will be something I will cherish later in this essay.
In the Spring semester, I felt bored out of my mind, and I lost all of my energy and didn't want to do anything interesting. Now that I'm writing this turns out I was working hard on many cool things but didn't realize it.
Well, the semester ended, and I didn’t have a major. I even wrote this essay explaining why I don’t have a major. I didn’t want to do statistics or anything else that was being offered, absolutely nothing. Everything seemed dull, so I thought about creating my own major and found a way to do that. I called, emailed people, and figured out how to do it.
The next semester came, and I attempted to create my own major. I did it, and I didn’t quite succeed. I called it “Philosophical Engineering,” I wanted to test the school’s limits to see how far I could push them. I mostly included independent study classes, which were only the classes I wanted to take. I did that, and they rejected it, but they weren’t mad and suggested applying again. Now, I have a more “reasonable” plan (reasonable because that’s what they want), and I’m confident they’ll approve it. Now I need to get myself to do all the paperwork. When I say “myself,” I mostly mean, yeah, you know what I mean.
Looking back at past Annual Reviews, I went from being entirely heads-down to completely bored. Now I take enough classes to learn what I would not know I wanted to learn, but I also have plenty of time to work on projects, which is how I want to spend my life. I defiantly reached equilibrium from hitting the extremes.
Besides attempting to create my major, what else did I do in the Fall semester? I mostly took BS classes such as general education (I had not taken any by then) to have enough time to focus on projects. That also comes with disadvantages, as too much time does not give you a constraining factor, and constraints are usually almost always good. My constraints were self-given such as two weekly episodes of the talkshow and other things.
Something I continue to ask myself is whether not taking "harder" classes such as maybe mathematics, computer science, or even physics makes me lose my time at college. And whether I need to consider taking classes I can do well without even trying that hard, such as writing, business, etc. The thing is, "harder" classes are usually poorly taught, where they give you tests and busy work. If you find a great professor, the story will be different. With the "easier" classes, you're mostly learning a bunch of bullshit in the forms of bad habits (cough, case studies), woke writing professors, and things I don't care about—a weird place to navigate.
As I look toward the future and ask myself what classes I want and put in my major classes with great professors and independent studies, and continue to find where the interesting people are.
Earlier I told you about pissing professors off; it has happened almost every semester. In order:
I was talking to some friends about this, and two things concluded: I need to calm down and realize where the system is flexible and where it isn’t. I also don’t want to create a dumb reputation of fighting with every professor because that’s not my purpose. Those are examples where it backfired, but most of the time, I get to do what I want, usually by asking. In the past, I’ve gotten to take classes I “wasn’t supposed to,” convinced the professor to increase the class size so I could take it, and get the administrators to look over prerequisites.
As I look forward to the future, I’m excited to learn, meet more people, and create cool projects. I am excited and happy!
“Welcome to The UIUC Talkshow. Our goal with this show is to introduce you to the most interesting people with the most interesting ideas.” This is me at the start of every episode.
The UIUC Talkshow is one of the best, most enjoyable, and most fun projects I've ever created.
Let me tell you how it all started.
Everyone will tell you college is a place to explore ideas. But in my experience, it’s been the worst place to do so. Through classes and tedious busy work, you barely have time to think.
But I wanted to change that. I wanted to feel alive and excited about being in college. Most importantly, I wanted to use college to learn from the most brilliant people in the world.
How? THE UIUC TALKSHOW .
But how did we get the idea? Aaryaman, my co-host, had gotten a job at a new place where we now record our show. He invited me to come to visit him and offered to give me a tour. I thought, 'Why not?' It's essential to make time for new projects and take advantage of serendipitous opportunities rather than always being busy.
So I went, and he showed me around the building, and then we went into this state-of-the-art studio. I was shocked. I stopped and told him, “Most people in the world have ideas but not the means. We have the means, but we don’t have ideas.” I tell him, “Let’s do something!” If you’re down, let me know.
I tell, “Let’s do something!” many people on campus. But everyone is busy as dogs following squirrels that no one has time to think about anything other than grades, homework, internships, and clubs (oh, and stupid shit like frats and going to the bars).
However, Aaryaman called me two weeks later and said, “I’m ready.” I reply with, “Ready…for what?” The rest is history. We met up for a couple of hours to figure out the name, logo, and everything else, and we were rolling (quite literally).
For the first episode, we had no clue what to do. Cameras? Lighting? Audio? No a single clue. But we still did it. Aaryaman wanted to get everything right (he’s a true engineer), but I’ve learned that quantity is THE QUALITY, so we just got started.
On the first episode ever, here’s how the quality looked. Let’s not talk about the audio. It’s even funnier if you see the story behind this picture. First, Aaryaman is wearing my jacket. He didn’t have a “nice shirt” for the video, so I just gave him my jacket. This jacket has saved us a couple of times, here it saved me.
But we continued to get better in literally every episode. This was the second episode—a world of improvement.
Then we started using cameras for different angles and microphones and testing different strategies for better conversations—for example, some photos from the last episode we did in 2022.
A big difference. This quality improvement was due to Aaryaman’s ability to never settle and always wanting to improve. I probably would have recorded it using my phone and a shitty microphone if I were doing it by myself. This isn’t a joke, I actually did that. In many ways, it was a rough draft for The UIUC Talkshow.
Aaryaman brings careful attention to detail while I bring in the urgency to iterate, which is why we complement each other perfectly and make a great team.
Having cameras and making everything professional is a double edge sword. While it gives us credibility, it also can hurt our conversations, and we suffered from that a couple of times this year.
This is important if you want to meet/surround yourself with interesting people. I’ll be straight up, interesting people are busy, and they don’t have time for “chats.” This is why we make The UIUC Talkshow professional and frame it around an “interview.”
But beyond this, we wanted to talk, meet, and learn from the most interesting people on campus. We’re doing this project for ourselves. These are the conversations Aaryaman, and I want to have, and we make them public. They'll probably say no if you ask someone “important” to have a conversation. But if you ask them for an interview, they’ll almost always say yes.
The “interview” is an added incentive to make people want to say yes. Once you add cameras and everything else, some people get cautious about what they say or even nervous. We’ve also had to learn how to deal with those conversations, get the best out of people, and even make them comfortable.
That’s something we’re still learning and haven’t quite mastered yet. When we look at the Lex Fridmans or Joe Rogans of the world, we’re still blown away by how interesting their conversations are and how relaxed their guests are. I heard Joe Rogan spends the whole day with the guest so that they do just one more thing when they get to the interview. Please let me know if anyone knows how Joe, Lex, or any other extraordinary interviewer process before the interview hits record. I’ve researched this online, and nothing helpful shows up.
I’m writing this right now, and I can’t help but think how similar running the UIUC Talkshow has become to running a startup.
We reach out to guests (investors) and find customers (subscribers) while doing everything in between editing, social media, distribution, design, programming, and lots of fun.
Perhaps this is just preparation for something bigger. Maybe I’m just getting the reps in. Perhaps, perhaps, and perhaps. But one thing is certain: the endless excitement I have when working on The UIUC Talkshow.
One of the best UIUC Talkshow memories was going to Quad Day.
Quad Day is when everyone at UIUC goes to the center of campus (The Quad), and they learn about, mostly, clubs. I say “mostly” because we went with the UIUC Talkshow, which isn’t a club. It’s cooler!
Usually, you need to ask for permission, and so on. But that is BS, so I just borrowed a table from a friend, found a random blue tablecloth on the floor, borrowed the poster, printed flyers, and we sat up base. Our philosophy? “Ask for forgiveness, not permission.”
The yearbook photographer even took a picture of us. Not sure what he’ll do once he realizes we are not registered. Maybe they’ll include us; we’ll have to see this May.
And here we were. Our goal? Get 1,000 Subscribers! I know, I know. Crazy goal, but otherwise, I wouldn't have tried as hard. We start by talking and talking and talking to people, bringing them over, and just having fun.
You have to believe in what you are doing because you are repeating yourself not once, not ten times, not twenty times but hundreds and hundreds of times. Every interaction is unique, and you need to have the same level of energy and excitement with every person.
If you don’t love what you are doing, you will get tired and stop doing it. Therefore, it’s a great passion/motivation test.
Did we reach the goal? Noooooooo. Not even close, haha. We got about 80 new subscribers and reached 210 subscribers (subscribe if you still need to).
We wanted to be at Quad Day, and having a goal would be more fun, so I thought a crazy goal would incentive us to talk to people and be more out there. The subscriber count is a bad goal because you want quality, not quantity. I’d rather have ten subscribers who always watch than 10,000 thousand who rarely watch (or 100,000 who always watch 😉). But still, why not? Why not do something crazy that it’s more likely to fail?
But even though we failed at our goal, we achieved things we didn’t even know. We achieved one crucial thing: awareness. Many people know that we exist, and we’ll be in their minds for future opportunities, connections, and reaching the show's objective, creating a movement where we can start thinking and talking deeply about the world.
We stayed there for almost five hours, and our voices began to hoarse, but we kept going. A combination of explaining what we do at the UIUC Talkshow and a series of live interviews closed off a great Sunday and the start of the new school year.
But beyond these goals or what we did or how we did it, the most valuable aspect that I hope other people get is that when you’re yourself, you allow others to be themselves too.
The UIUC Talkshow and other projects I did throughout the semester are, hopefully, an start of a new movement where students do what they love, not join clubs.
In How to College: Advice, Mistakes, and Thoughts, I wrote:
Clubs are meetings and meetings, and not doing much. People join them because they “look good” on their resume, and it’s simply what they’re supposed to do. But you know what, fuck this mentality. These are the same people who think the future will be good or bad but don’t know how. These are the same people who think everything is random and is not worth working hard because everything is luck.
There must be more options, not just clubs, frats, or nothing. Doing cool projects and interesting things must be #1 or at least an option in people’s minds.
It’s sad how many of these clubs on college campuses have applications, interviews, tests, and even high fees. For what purpose? To be like how everyone else is and to do what everyone else does. This is exactly how one loses control of their NPC level. If you forget you think for yourself, your NPC level will skyrocket.
A friend suggested writing a book about NPCs, starting with the meaningless of clubs, the stupidity of majors, and the calamity of college.
Like I've said before, we're all NPCs, and it's really about to what extent one is.
I truly, truly believe that being more vocal, building projects in public, and being unapologetically yourself is how we can start … a cult. I mean, a movement where people think for themselves.
I'm in a college of 50,000 people. What can you do when you align the incentives of 100 of them? How about 1,000? How about 10,000? You can do anything. You can start massive companies. Or you can take control over what the university does. You can work on any problem and solve it.
You can create one of the most important things in the history of the world, like Wikipedia, with 2,000 people. Imagine if we have 10,000 dedicated young college students. What kind of things can we create?
All jokes aside, cults or movements, or whatever you want to call them, are effective ways to align the incentives of a collective group where you can achieve a common goal. Going to Mars/Elon Musk? Good example. Climate change activists? Good example. Any successful startup? Good example. Apple products? Good example.
This skill is massively important to learn because this is how anything important gets done. So we’ll see how things go. I have a lot of things to learn and lots of experiments to do.
How do you create movements? You hold RALLIES! And we sort did that.
This time? During the 2022 Homecoming Parade. I’m not sure how we made it happen, but I found a way to sign up and get a free golf cart (driver included). Don’t ask me how.
We also barely made it to the event, but once we made it, it was a lot of fun!
We had lots of fun. I loved it! I lost my voice, we gave out lots of stickers, and more people know about The UIUC Talkshow.
We started this project for ourselves. That's always been the goal. But I also wanted to use it to get better at other things, like marketing, distribution, building a community, and raising awareness.
When you have goals, opportunities come to you. And that's what happened for the next memory.
One of the best and most random memories from this year was when two of my projects combined for an unbelievable experience.
In May of 2022, I was inspired and followed my intuition to stop studying for finals for a couple of hours and create the UIUC Free Food project. It gained around 100 followers in just one week, but school ended, and the project paused.
School started again, and the UIUC Free Food Twitter Bot had just been buzzing with free food everywhere.
So I checked the Twitter bot, and I saw a free food opportunity, but at the moment, I was talking to the media department trying to set up an internship program for the UIUC Talkshow. After I was done, I went to the free food opportunity and enjoyed it quite a bit. And this is where two intuitions connect: the UIUC Free Food and The UIUC Talkshow.
The event ended, and over 50 Jimmy John’s sandwiches were left behind. Everyone left, and they just left the food, not in the trash, but almost. I notified the UIUC Free Food, and some folks came, but still, a lot was left. And suddenly, my eyes opened. I jumped off my seat and said, “UIUC TALKSHOW EVENT at the QUAD.”
I picked the food, and the event was ready to start. I started by making a UIUC Reddit post, posting on my Snapchat story, and getting some UIUC Talkshow music ready.
I walked about a mile carrying the boxes and getting excited.
We get to the main quad (the center of campus), and the event is almost ready. But before that, I took some flyers on it and taped them to the boxes and, most importantly, my shirt.
I set up the boxes, taped the flyers, and started screaming, “FREE FOOD! FREE FOOD! FREE FOOD! by The UIUC TALKSHOW!”
The event lasted about two hours, and we spread happiness to everyone who came by, from students and professors to workers, mariachis, and even the famous rotten pig.
I had so so much fun. At the end of everything, we gained about 50 new subscribers and about 100 people who know the UIUC Talkshow is a thing.
None of this would have happened if I didn’t create the UIUC Free Food Twitter Bot and even way before that if we didn’t create The UIUC Talkshow.
This is why I say this:
Following your intuition is the highest return activity of all time. This is especially true if past and future intuitions combine.
And last September 2022 could not have been a more perfect combination of those two intuitions. Those projects are not a big deal; they aren’t.
I'm having a lot of fun with them while creating a new movement.
They may lead to something bigger, or they won't, but who cares? What matters the most right now is how much I enjoy doing these types of projects. They are interesting, so I follow interesting. That's it.
This is the true purpose of college: creating hypotheses, testing them, and starting again to find and experience what I love doing and, most importantly, what I’m uniquely great at.
Since the first UIUC Talkshow conversation, we have achieved our goal of meeting interesting people while having deep conversations.
But in October of 2022, it felt like we genuinely reached this purpose because we talked to someone we would have never had the opportunity to talk to if it weren’t for the UIUC Talkshow.
So who did we talk to?Stephen Wolfram.
If you don’t know who that is, he created a Google for nerds (WolframAlpha), the author of A New Kind of Science (a book that changed how science is done), theoretical physicist, CEO of Wolfram Research, and a truly remarkable guy.
I’ve always said The UIUC Talkshow is about the most interesting people with the most interesting ideas. But in reality, it’s about people who are sane in a way most people are crazy.
Wolfram’s story is precisely that from obsessively following his curiosity and making theoretical physics discoveries when he was a teenager to dropping out of high school and college to go directly get a Ph.D. from Caltech with Richard Feynman as his advisor.
You can call him a polymath, renaissance man, or whatever you want, but you can’t ignore him!
Our conversation lasted about two and a half hours, and we couldn't believe we had done it. After the interview, Wolfram said we reminded him of Lex Fridman. We don’t want to compare ourselves to anyone but reaching Lex Fridman’s talent level is a massive compliment.
We met Wolfram because he was in Champaign for the Wolfram Annual Technology Conference, and I emailed him about an interview. We had the conversation, and the Wolfram conference was happening, and we wanted to go. But it was more than $500!
So Aaryaman asked if we could go. A few minutes later, the communications director replied, “Your badges are at the registration table.”
We went from starting a talkshow to interviewing Wolfram a few months later and attending an incredible conference. Oh, and Nassim Taleb shitting on us. Other notable guests include many interesting professors, friends, a local bus driver, a Nobel-prize winner, the UIUC Chancellor, the University of Illinois system president, and yours truly.
We’ll keep following our curiosity and doing what we want while learning from the mistakes of others.
One last memory before we get to the reflection.
You can do something great, but if no one knows about it, did you do it, or was it great? It reminds me of this quote: "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"
This is why I go in hard mode on distribution. Once we made 20 episodes, we had quality and experience, and now we needed to get the word out. Again, we're not trying to become YouTubers, but if you are going to do something, you might as well "make a sound" about it because distribution is everything, whether you're working on a YouTube project or a billion-dollar startup, or even a research idea.
So what did I do? I reached out to lots of people in media across Urbana-Champaign. I contacted the local newspaper, the school newspaper (those mfs never replied after multiple emails to multiple people), the local news, and more. I sent emails, Twitter DMs, and LinkedIn DMs everywhere. I invaded people's phones, and they were surprised once they saw that much push.
For instance, here's a Twitter DM I sent a local reporter:
Finally, this is the interview.
And you know what's even cooler? We killed two birds with one stone. In this four-minute segment, we talked about The UIUC Talkshow and The UIUC Free Food. All in four minutes.
I share this experience because it reflects a crucial aspect of my life and how I find opportunities.
"Ask, and You Shall Receive" is one of the most important principles of my life. Steve Jobs taught me. Since I learned that, I have embodied it as a law of nature and never looked back.
The UIUC Talkshow makes me alive because it makes me practice and improve at everything I love doing. It's a significant preparation for something bigger. I don't know what it is. It may be the talkshow itself, but I know I'm getting the reps in. That doesn't matter, nor do I ever think about it. What matters is that I have a ton of fun every day. I'm playing all day long while working on The UIUC Talkshow. I'm so grateful I started this project with Aaryaman and for him for working as hard or harder than me. I'm excited about what's to come.
The UIUC Talkshow has been a great highlight of my year.
The most significant improvement is finding people who think deeply about the world. Many people look impressive and interesting, but not everyone thinks deeply about what they do or is willing to share. We need to continue finding interesting people who think deeply about the world and do lots of research before inviting them, but in the end, it’s always a gamble.
Another aspect is distribution. While we’ve done a decent job, we need to be world-class at distribution, so I’ll continue to be creative and get good at sharing what we do with the right people. If we spend 10 hours on a video, we need to spend 10 hours distributing that video.
In under a year (more like six months), we recorded 40 episodes. I still can’t believe how much progress we have made in such a short time. It’s hard to think about goals because this project has been one of the most serendipitous things I’ve ever done.
The story begins during a typical finals week. The semester is nearing an end, and the summer is coming! But it’s still finals week, and you know how you’re supposed to study. Well, memorizing (I mean “studying”) for some of my classes is boring, but that’s good because I get new ideas out of boredom.
One of these ideas is about free food. On my campus, there are always free food “opportunities.” Every day there is an event with free food. Typically, you’d need to rely on friends, Snapchat stories, or the school Reddit to find out.
The signal-to-noise ratio is too high, meaning to find what I’m looking for (let’s say free food), I would need to plow through hundreds of posts and hours on social media to maybe, just maybe, find what I’m looking for.
But what if you create a place where you can find free food when you want it? That’s precisely what I made with the UIUC Free Food Twitter Bot.
It works because it’s a student-generated place where students find out and share free food opportunities.
Or think about it this way.
You hungry? Go to the Twitter Page.
Know about free food? Submit the form to let other students know.
The biggest takeaway is when you have an idea for something and you want to do it. You NEED TO DO IT as fast as possible. Inspiration is perishable.
In my case, I was in a differential equations finals review session, and for some reason (I was probably hungry), I got this idea. I wrote it down as usual. I returned to my dorm around 9 PM, and the idea came up again. I felt the excitement and started working on it around 9:30 PM. I finished it and went to sleep around 4 AM. Not smart because I had a final the next day at noon, but….a project like this is a lot cooler!
The two most exciting things are the creation and the distribution. The latter is exciting because that’s where I think about ways to get people to use what I created. In this case, through the creation of memes.
Now, let’s talk about WHY I created it. Of course, I created the UIUCFreeFood because I want to help people.
Or did I?
I can say, "Sure, I created it to help people. I'm such a good person."
"I want to help people" is one of the main motivations for young people today. But it's also a motivation that is harming us significantly. I'll explain.
The idea of helping people became the right thing to say. No wonder why every college essay is about helping people. Ask anyone today what they want to do with their life, and the most common answer will be: "I want to help people."
Helping people is a beautiful thing, AND it's contributing to the great crisis of meaning our generation is going through. Helping people could be a motivation, but it can only sometimes be the primary goal!
Helping people is a consequence of figuring out who you truly are. If you figure out who you are and pursue what you love doing without realizing you will be helping people.
But it's hard to start at the end: helping people.
The UIUC Free Food surely helps many people, but the reason why I created it wasn't to help people. Sure, it's a big part of it, but it wasn't the main reason. If my goal were to help people with food insecurity, I would have joined other clubs on campus and tried to do something about it, but I would have never arrived at the UIUCFreeFood idea.
So how did I create it? What's the story behind it?
First, the idea came to me after a differential equation final review exam. I was bored, and the idea came to me after Prof. Bronski answered a question, and I was probably hungry too. Second, I thought about it and realized I would LOVE something like that because, like everyone else, I love free food, and there are many free food events across campus that we often don't know about. Third, I WANTED to USE IT.
So I went home and stayed up until 4 AM figuring out how to do it. I created it, launched it, and the rest is history! Now it's effortless for me to make up a story and tell you, "Oh my God. I'm such a good person because I created this initiative, and I created it to help people." In reality, I created it because I love doing projects like this. This is what I love doing, in the process, of figuring out who I truly am.
Following your curiosity and doing what you love doing while figuring out who you are and what you want to be is an alternative to the Current Thing of helping people. So if you want to help people but feel stuck, follow your curiosity and figure out what you love doing.
Counterintuitively, this is how you will help more people.
At the of the semester, we also got this award.
While the UIUC Free Food took off, there are many improvements:
Where do I begin on this? Since I started college, I refused to get a bike because I wanted to use that time to think about new ways to move across space and time. I average about 40 miles every week of running and walking around campus.
But then, around April of 2022, we interviewed Kiruba Haran, a professor working on electric propulsion, on the UIUC Talkshow. This interview gave me the idea of building an electric flying machine. I thought it would be a cool idea, but then I watched the first Top Gun Movie, and oh my goodness, that movie gave me inspiration like nothing else. Not just about my project but about the whole “flying” world.
Planes are one of the most extraordinary things we’ve created and the hardest, but I had never really understood how the entire thing worked, let alone the history or basic physics principles.
A few weeks later, I watched Top Gun: Maverick and was curious about how everything worked!!!
In June of 2022, I started building a drone and got everything done except the controller. I still need to finish it. Read more about the project with pictures here. When I started working on this drone, I was trying to put everything together but didn’t understand the basics of anything behind it. Why was the design this way? Or how did the electronic thing work?
The thing itself was fantastic, but suddenly, I wanted to know the history of the whole thing, so I started writing to teach myself. I started working on a mega-essay about flying so I could learn and feed my curiosity. But really, this essay aimed to teach myself everything I wanted to know.
This quickly turned out to be not just a mega-essay but more like a book because I was soon curious about everything. My initial motivation for writing was teaching myself all the different components, but then I became obsessed with the history. That’s all I wanted to know, and frankly, what a significant portion of my writing became.
This is an important lesson. Learning the history of things is so interesting because you can see the different possibilities of our present could have turned out, but for some reason or at times, the stubborn willingness of curious people will their way into whatever they thought was possible.
Life is like tree roots, and the roots are all the possible futures. Our present is simply one root out of an infinite number of roots (or possible futures).
And sometimes our future is willed by some people for better or worse. But most of the time, due to an insane curiosity and work ethic, our future ends up going down one route (or tree root). And that is good because that is present, and I’m grateful for it.
But I’ve realized that there are a TON of other roots that were not developed and where an infinite^infinity of opportunities await to be discovered and for someone to work on them. Often, solutions to problems of the present lay in the past.
That’s the beauty of writing to learn rather than writing to write. I’m not writing to be a writer. I’m writing because I want to find things out and because of curiosity. And that, my friends, is the most beautiful feeling you can ever experience.
So I started writing and writing. I started with the Wright Brothers and continued moving along to find things such as the most beautiful engineering masterpiece: The Jet Engine. I wrote every day for 90 minutes throughout the summer, so three months of writing turned out to be significant.
Writing has important but was only a part of the process. I was working on my drone project and looking for experiences such as reaching out to a local pilot and asking him to give me a ride.
I wanted to fly a plane because it’s so cool and I had never flown in a small plane. Some places charge $100 to give you a ride and even fly it for a bit, but I didn’t want to pay, so I found an alternative in the EAA chapters across the nation. I sent emails, text messages, and LinkedIn requests to about 20 people across different chapters nearby.
One person replied, an experienced pilot from United Airlines, who agreed to give me a ride and showed me his plane. I was ecstatic! His plane was about 90 minutes from where I lived, so I drove there on a Saturday morning and met everyone in the chapter.
But he couldn’t give me a ride that day because his kid needed to go to a birthday party and had to leave earlier. I was devastated, but at least I got to talk to lots of interesting and see the plane.
This is his plane.
This is the inside.
And I continued writing and trying to learn from real-world experiences like that.
My eyes were open to anything remotely close to flying. I read a local library was launching rockets, and I didn't know what that was, so I went! And I launched my first "rocket." Cape Canaveral, you’re next!
I designed a paper rocket, and it was a lot of fun. It’s more complicated than it seems, but you can only know until you try it.
The summer was coming to an end and that meant, I was going to get back to campus and build the personal flying vehicle.
The document reached about 20,000 words, but something happened once I returned to campus in the Fall of 2022.
I started going hard by writing a proposal for the Personal Flying Vehicle (here the proposal, here) so I could get funding from the school or whoever I could find, but soon, no one wanted to help, and I realized how much regulation there is to build a simple thing. Building it was relatively inexpensive (I estimate about 20k), but all the regulations would make it impossible and, quite frankly, discouraged me.
I didn’t consciously think about it like this, but I decided it was a project I advanced quite a lot, but the timing wasn’t right. Part of me thinks it’s wiser to return to this project with FU money. It doesn’t have to be necessarily mine, but I would like to, as I don’t think creating a personal flying vehicle makes any sense. I think it’s cool and want to build to learn and fly around in it. So in a way, it would be donation money because I don’t want to get money to build a company. After all, I don’t think there’s a company to be made out of here. I could lie and hype this up, but that adds the wrong incentives.
A fun project is only what it seems because you never know what kind of opportunities might appear as you start building. And let’s not forget that the money and even the innovation aren’t necessarily in the invention but rather in manufacturing (aka the machine that makes the machine). Making one is easy, but making hundreds or thousands is the real breakthrough.
I'm not too fond of the ending of this story. It feels wrong and not entirely done yet. I don't want to say I'm done with the project because I don't want to be. I'm still interested in aerospace, but my angle of attack could be better. But also, while this excites me like very few things, I still need to find my angle of excitement/opportunity. Through the building of a physical flying object. I have yet to find that. But I'll keep looking.
In the beginning, I told you I started writing a book to teach myself everything I wanted to know. For more than ten weeks, I published essay drafts.
Here are the flying-related essays I published in 2022:
Now that I listed the essays I published. I realized I enjoyed and wrote extensively about history. My excuse to enter the field was to build a personal flying machine, but the timing wasn't right. But what about continuing to learn about the history of flying? I'm down for that. I might consider finishing and publishing a book about flying because why the hell not?
Finishing the book as an excuse to find opportunities, create a podcast, and interview people at cool aerospace companies while working on a cool project could be fun.
This is an interesting endeavor to learn and meet the leading engineers, entrepreneurs, historians, and interesting people in this field. That plus visiting museums, learning to fly a plane and working on cool ideas like the drone project.
A plan might look like this:
Then Steven suggested an even more specific route:
Steven also said, “Then your book wouldn't just be "words," but an homage to everything you've learned, your process, and, of course, flying.”
I don’t have any goals for this project yet. My intuition tells me to let it rest and wait for the right moment. There are moments when you need to go full force and moments when you need to stand still. I will be on the lookout, but I’ll focus on other things for now.
I could undoubtedly finish and publish the book. Heck! I could even sell a good amount of copies, get stupid status by saying I publish another book, go on interviews and podcasts, and just be an “author,” but that doesn’t feel right because that’s not the life I want to live.
I will come back to this project. This year or the next, but I'll come back.
That was how I felt towards the end of the year, but when I finished writing this Annual Review . I came back to this and continued reflecting. I realized I enjoyed and fell in love with history, and that’s something I want to continue learning. Publishing a book is the perfect excuse to learn everything about history quickly. Therefore, I will consider finishing the book.
I did this project during the Fall of 2022, and it’s another reminder to have free time to take on serendipitous opportunities.
We built and landed a vertical landing rocket. Instead of telling you, I’ll better show you.
See a video and pictures of the rocket launching and landing.
The goal of the rocket was to land vertically. Our rocket didn't quite do so, but this was a successful attempt because: 1) We did it! 2) Our rocket achieved stability! Our rocket would have landed vertically if it wasn't for the 32-degree weather and the 15 mph wind. 3) Super cool experience.
The project is over as it was for a competition, and we kind of won, so that's done on that aspect. However, besides building the rocket, the most important element was putting together the team, which allowed me to work and meet great engineers. I want to continue being friends and work on new projects together.
That gets us into goals.
There are projects where it's too early for people to understand, so the personal attacks and hatred would be an unnecessary hassle. But who would they attack if they don't know who did the project? The project itself or even the anonymous builder. The latter is exactly what happened.
I suspected people might find it surprising or even a bit scary, but people took it personally as if the project insulted their entire family. I don’t get it.
Why did people take it personally? That was certainly not the intention, so I wonder if I did something wrong in how I advertised. Did I hit a cord in people’s emotions? But I didn’t say anything related to them or about them but maybe about what they stand for. That might be the reason. It didn’t discuss specifics but what some people might stand up for. When you offer a way not to do what they did in order to get where they are, I suppose that makes people mad.
I'm curious if that's just a natural thing and if I should focus on the early adopters. "Don't use cars. I used to walk everywhere, and it's not fair you get there in 5 minutes when it took me 40 minutes of walking every day for years."
My answer to that is “Sorry but not sorry. Adapt or…adapt.”
I had an internship at a big tech company, and it was fine. It wasn’t that interesting, and I learned a bit.
It had great and not-so-great things. Let’s start with the not-so-great. I could learn bad habits of not working super hard or learning how to work on things I’m not interested in. This is the whole purpose of school, making you numb to dull work. With a job or internship, you do it for the money, but I don’t think I should be worrying about that too much. I need to focus on maximizing my learning.
Also, many people who want to work in startups think they need to work in big companies to learn how to run a startup. That’s flawed logic. Do you really want to learn how to use Jira? Come on that won’t help you, my friend. To learn how to run a startup, work at a startup. To learn how to run a big a company, work at a big company. Counterintuitive but true.
Those aspects concern me because, let’s say, I work there, and they even offer me a full-time job making more than $100,000 or even more, and I take it. When would I ever resign from that job to eat dirt doing what I love? I probably would. But I would make it harder for myself to do what I love. If I don’t have any offers or I can’t find a job, I will be forced to do what I love and, more importantly, find a way to make work what I love. That pressure is good.
That’s my biggest concern.
I traveled quite a bit this year—most of the time alone and a few times with family.
Traveling alone was once uncomfortable, but I’ve gotten to like it. Imagine getting to a city like New York City and just walking wherever my curiosity called or just sitting because I felt like observing people around me.
Why don’t we start with New York, New York? Oh man, I went to NYC twice this year, and the second time, I fell in love with it. Something about the vibes. If I had to describe it, it’s this prominent place where everyone is trying to make it big, from different areas, from finance and theater to software and real estate. That diversity of ambition might be one of the unique things about the big apple and an aspect that might get me to live there in the future.
My first trip was short, and I couldn’t do much. My second trip was also fast, but I planned everything. I went to see Sleep No More, one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen. Not necessarily because of what happens inside but how it’s done. I thought I was going to be sitting down and I would watch people do the play. But I got in there, they took my phone away, put masks on everyone, and everything got weird. I was the only 19-year-old in there, and everyone was way older, so I was like, “Shit, what is going on here?” I can’t recommend it enough! The theater experience is on another level.
On the same trip, I went to the museum of mathematics and spent time talking to a guy who worked there about mathematics and his future Ph.D. at Berkeley. I also went to the Summit Vanderbilt, which was quite remarkable just being in one of the tallest places in the city and just sitting there by myself, seeing people walk or listening to people’s worries as they failed to capture the magic.
I also met up with my friend Will for the first time in person. That sounds weird, haha. “Friend, but met up in person for the first time.” We met up on a discord server, and we met in person. That's the future. We walked for 5 hours straight and more than 10 miles. A great friend and a wavelength I rarely get to see.
That’s New York.
I went to Washington, DC, for a research conference during spring break. I could only visit for a few hours in the afternoon, but I got to see everything from the Capitol to Lincoln Memorial. Yes, I was running, trying to get everywhere before sunset. I also tried to sneak into some National Academy of Sciences event (I think Elon Musk was there), but I was wearing jeans, and they asked me for an invitation, but with a nice suit, I would have been in.
DC was another unique city. The capitol was my favorite building. The word I could use to describe what I saw and felt is majestic, but it’s a lot more than that because it represents the symbolic architecture we somehow lost. I identify with this building so much. Why? The building gets meaning from the symmetry, distinct architecture, and story behind it.
After reading Benjamin Franklin’s biography, I appreciate how hard the process was to get to where we are with the United States. So going to DC made me feel grateful because you can go there and feel the history. Still, I could sense the struggles, the long debates, the moments where it seemed implausible, and the moments of American hope to make the country a country that fights for the flourishing and freedom of the human race.
I also enjoyed this DC trip because I spent nights in my hotel room coding an algorithm to edit The UIUC Talkshow videos automatically. It was one of the first programs I had written from zero to one, and I was so so so happy.
Two more. San Diego and Orlando.
After watching Top Gun, going to San Diego felt like a dream. Especially getting so close to the base and occasionally seeing aircraft break the sound barrier. I also saw the bar where the boys sang Balls of Fire. The city overall was OK. Nothing too special about it, and you can see the struggles of many American cities, such as homelessness. I did enjoy Litle Italy. Overall, it could be a lot better. I didn’t go there for the city. I went to the 1517 Summit, a follow-up to the Thiel Fellowship Events. This event was something else because usually, I talk to these people online, people who don’t go to school, dropped out, or people who are simply doing what they love but to meet not one but hundreds of them at one place felt inspiring and no other word than that. Everyone works super hard to make it big while working on something they like. I met the future, which is a weird thing to say, but the people there are the people who will change the future. For a while now, I’ve been thinking about where the “smart”/interesting people, and I can say 1517 has a good amount of them.
Lastly, Orlando. Epcot is always special, and you get a short glimpse of what Walt Disney wanted it to be. Currently, it’s far from his ideals, but you can still see a glimpse. Spaceship Earth and the concept inspired by Buckminster Fuller will influence one of my goals for 2023.
The highlight of the highlight was seeing my first rocket launch at the Kennedy Space Center. That was one of the best things I’ve seen in my life. You don’t even have to care about rockets to appreciate the beauty of the whole thing. Once you understand how hard building a rocket is, you can’t believe what you see, which is what happened to me. The sound was a lot louder and harder than I thought. The windows also cry. So weird.
I was shocked at seeing the birds escaping the sound and in complete awe of the thing in front of my eyes. I had just eaten pizza with the Saturn V next to us and couldn’t believe it. I just couldn’t. Rockets are an incredible feat of engineering. Vastly underrated.
During Thanksgiving break, I also went to Ann Arbor and was shocked at how similar college towns are. Read more about that here. Will let me crash his apartment and Alex gave me an incredible tour.
Overall, traveling is special. Traveling alone makes you see who you are, and it’s weird but quite enjoyable after a while. It gets out of your world and throws you into another place where people don’t know or care about you, especially in a big city like New York. But it also allows you to see what people in those cities have gotten used to seeing and can’t see anymore, which brings me to my last point. I like to travel because of the comeback. It makes me new to everything I was used to and makes the usual uncommon.
Online metrics: I don’t come close to reaching them for the second year in a row. I can’t pursue these things too closely, and you must let it happen.
In the future, I’ll focus on following my curiosity, getting obsessed with the stuff I’m interested in, and being clever about getting the people I want to reach to see it.
College: the goal was to get into the engineering school, and I didn’t. This was a great blessing. I don’t say this because I want to make myself feel better. I appreciate the free time, and studying engineering is the opposite of free time. Most people, when they have free time, watch shows, play video games, or don’t know what to do, but when it comes to me, I always have a new project or something new to learn.
When I see lots of my engineering friends, they’re always so busy, and while some of them like it, lots of them don’t and could care less if it wasn’t for the supposed big job they’re getting.
Since I decided to do my own major, I’ve been the happiest I’ve ever been in college because I’ve been focusing on my projects as well as spending time with interesting people.
I have 1.5 years left and continue working toward my big exit.
Scientific Research: I got bored with this and wasn’t learning or doing interesting things. During the Fall of 2022, I stopped the research. Will the work I did be published? Maybe, things in academia take way too long, and I couldn’t work in those time frames and speeds.
Writing: I had two goals: daily writing and long-form essays.
Daily writing was weird this year. The most inconsistent I’ve ever been, perhaps with the most writing I’ve ever done, maybe close to 200k words. Out of the year, I wrote about half of the days. There were times when I was writing the flying book where I had like three months of writing every day and other days where two or three weeks passed, and I didn’t write anything. The school played a factor in this because it’s hard to have a regular schedule, and if I don’t write at 6 AM, for some reason, it’s tough to write as I want to get going and start the day.
The other thing that helped was the newsletter. The newsletter served as a way to break the lack of consistency, as every Sunday, I needed to write something whether I felt like it or not. Usually, after the newsletter, I had good streaks after that three or more days of daily writing.
Long-form essays? I wrote the Venezuelan essay as well as the flying series. Besides this Annual Review, I didn’t write that many long-form articles.
YouTube: By the end of last year, I had stopped weekly videos and still wanted to make videos but not in the way I was.
The biggest surprise was creating The UIUC Talkshow and recording/publishing almost 50 videos. That was quite the rally. I love making things, and I also love thinking about distribution.
For my channel, I still made 12 videos with lots of Shorts. One video particularly stands out: the URAP Video.
This video was the most professional I’ve ever done, one of the most helpful, and overall a cool video part of a more extensive hypothesis I’ve been testing, which I’ll talk about later below.
Curiosity Projects: Oh yes!!! This year was great for curiosity projects.
Habits: It felt like I did less than running last year, but in terms of mileage, I did more than in 2021. It felt like that because, during the school year, I did a lot more lifting than running and by a lot.
I didn’t get to read as much, but I did read some books, which I enjoyed quite a bit. I did well with staying free and away from busyness.
I wasn’t that great with my productivity systems except for my weekly planning sheet, which is the one thing I get done every week. Without it, the week is a mess.
Choosing goals is a two-way street. First, you must know what you’re really good at, and second, you must not forget to forget what you’re good at and follow your obsessions. In essence, understand what you’re good but don’t let that define you and pursue the thing that calls out to you. There’s a reason it seems interesting, and you better find out.
So what am I really good at (or at least think)? Let’s write down some bullet points:
It is the combination of these talents that I can continue doing what I love, create value for the people around me and the world, and live my life to the fullest extent.
Let’s continue thinking:
Now, we can focus on specific goals for 2023. I will write the goal, my thinking, and a roadmap.
I want to do a comprehensive study and start a big project in this area. This area excites me, and I can’t quite understand why, which is a good sign. After finishing this annual review, I’m diving deep into this area by writing a big essay.
Ideally, I’d like to solve concrete issues such as free food on my campus, rides from Chicago to Urbana-Champaign, and other miscellaneous things.
In a way, it’s like the Uber competition Uber can’t compete with. “I’m going to Chicago from New York, but I don’t know who’s going, and I don’t want to go with a stranger.” Or even weirder, you need to send a package or something small to Chicago from New York quickly and cheaply, but delivery services are too expensive for quick turnarounds, so you send it to someone taking a plane to Chicago who delivers it to the person by hand.
There are many things to figure out, but imagine a world where we can get that much cooperation, incentives, and personalization alignment.
This is what Human Computation or crowdsourcing is about, and I stumbled upon it with the UIUC Free Food.
I would like to figure out the logistics of everything through human computation/crowdsourcing and solve these seemingly complex problems that become easy to solve and helpful with human computation methods.
Sometimes solutions to present problems are awaiting in the past. Buckminster Fuller was one of the seemingly crazy people who was simply ahead of his time. This year I want to do a deep dive reading everything he wrote or about him.
To be honest, I don’t know much about him, but he sounds great and “crazy,” so I’ll do a deep dive anyway.
In 2022, I almost finished the book about Flying. 2023 feels like the right moment to publish a book. Maybe I’ll finish the Flying book. Maybe I’ll write one about Human Computation or even Buckminster Fuller, or maybe I’ll write one about NPCs.
I like a book idea because it’s a challenging project but a challenging one that is right for me, and I would enjoy it a lot. The thing about books, though, is that you’re almost doing it to say you wrote a book because the actual impact of writing a book is usually pretty low. In my case, I would like to write a “book,” meaning I would learn a lot through writing and then compile it into a book format so other people can read it. I would also put it on my website, similar to what Balaji did.
Something about me wants to write a book, but mainly about the massive amounts of learning, I would have in these massive projects. People in the past, like da Vinci and such, would write books or notebooks to teach themselves things. We need to bring that back. But another part of me knows the low impact it has, but if I focus on the impact on my learning, it would be worth it. So yes, I’ll most likely write a book. Will I publish it? I don’t know, but I’ll say this, if any writing project gets over 30,000 words, I’ll just go the extra mile to make the cover, book format, and some distribution efforts.
If you want to be great at anything, you need to be great at (the thing you’re trying to be great at), and you need to be greater at distribution. There’s no alternative. Want to be a great singer? Sure, your music has to be good, but you need to be a master at getting people to listen to it.
The same goes for me. Whether it’s for The UIUC Talkshow, a startup, the Venezuelan projects, and any other project, I come up with in 2023.
How can I become great at distribution? Let’s think of a roadmap.
I enjoy writing, and I want to continue doing it. I won’t have specific goals other than trying to write every day for at least 30 minutes. I have had that goal for almost three years, and when possible, I want to write for 90 minutes. The flow, momentum, and progress level when I do 90 minutes is something else. For instance, at the moment of writing this annual review, I’ve written for five days of 90 minutes, and it’s 14,000 words. If I split that into 30-minute intervals, it would not have been as much progress.
I won’t have specific goals like how many essays because I will focus on Human Computation and Buckminster Fuller’s research.
My school subreddit is one of the top Reddit communities in the world. It has over 70,000 people, and it’s very active. Besides the casual craziness, the UIUC Reddit is one of my favorite hypotheses.
In the subreddit, students post their problems daily, and if you’re active enough (I am with The UIUC Talkshow account), you can pattern-match many interesting problems and thus startup ideas!
In my weekly planning, I have this note where I write down common patterns and thoughts to improve them.
On my first try, I hit a home run! In September of 2022, I realized people post a lot about URAP (a research program). I had done this research program and had the answers to all the usual questions. I record the video, edit it, post on Youtube, and share it on Reddit.
The video got over 500 views, helped many people get into the program, and allowed me to meet some incredible people. One day I was walking in the dining hall, and someone said, “Excuse me. Aren’t you the guy from the URAP Video?” This guy and his brother became great friends after that encounter.
My video is the go-to resource when people apply to the research program. More importantly, this supports my hypothesis, and I want to continue to prove it wrong.
The URAP video wasn’t the only experiment. I created another one to help people find friends and got over 50 people to fill out a form. I didn’t move forward because of time, but I want to create a team and do it.
Parking should be easy enough.
I want to create my major and get it approved. I also want to get closer to creating my big exit. In 2022, I got close, and in 2023, I want to get there.
I can have amazing goals, but if I don’t have the habits which produce the lifestyle that yields the achievement of these goals, I won’t have a change.
I enjoy creating coding projects. At the moment, I don’t have any specific goals. I usually hear someone has a problem, or I want to solve my own problem and end up coding some way to do that.
However, I do want to finish my website.
Lastly, the best goal is serendipity. And that can’t be a goal.
Friendship with Aaryaman: Good friends start with common interests. Great friends are made over projects.
I’ll go even further and say this. Friendships are not made with interests. Friendships are made with frequency.
That has been my friendship with Aaryaman. If we didn’t start The UIUC Talkshow, we wouldn’t have been as good friends. Maybe it’s part of my personality, but we simply wouldn’t have been. Don’t get me wrong. We were good friends and pretty good friends. But not talkshow level friends. He even read my 2021 Annual Review.
Did we have common interests? Sure! We enjoy thinking deeply about the world, we think about science, engineering, and technology, and we’re not afraid to do things outside of STEM. But other than that, we’re quite different from his raging love of Coldplay and obsessive attention to detail (like a true engineer) to his love for TV shows and photography. Things I’m not interested in. Ok, sure, besides Coldplay because he plays Coldplay all the time, so I’ve gotten to like it.
But here’s where the frequency becomes essential.
If I were to calculate roughly how much time we spent together in 2022, I’d say we spent about 400 hours together. That’s probably more time than I’ve spent with anyone else in 2022. From the UIUC Talkshow biweekly episodes and the 30-mile summer bike to the time outside the talkshow and the random 12-hour video editing session. That’s a lot of freaking time where you either become better friends or start to hate each other.
As great as the UIUC Talkshow was in 2022, I enjoy doing it because I get to spend time with Aaryaman and make fun of his 24/7 Coldplay radio hours. He’s a true admiration and a 4.0 GPA scholar, which still blows me away. This is why projects are the perfect way to become not just friends but great friends with someone. A friend you can always count on and a friend you’ll never forget. Not in clubs, not in frats, not in drunk parties but in the creation of something together in the form of a project.
Another reason why I love projects and will continue working on them.
Getting to know Professors: Relationships with professors have become so dull that we only talk about homework, assignments, and tests. Everyone cares about grades and nothing else!
But meeting professors is one of the most underrated aspects of college. Not just meeting them but getting to know them, going to their houses, and talking about whatever. That is such a beautiful thing and has become rare.
How did we get to know professors at a deeper level? The UIUC Talkshow.
After talking to them for more than an hour, you get to know them, and if both parties are interested, you want to continue the conversation! I know what you’re thinking. This sounds like a date. But it’s really so much like a date.
Below, it’s Lelys Bravo and her wonderful husband, who has invited us to her house to eat brunch on multiple occasions. On this day, we ate cachitos and arepas and drank malta.
The following semester, we got invited again, and I brought more people to enjoy the tasty meals.
Another example was meeting Jont Allen. After the interview, he invited me to audit one of his neuroscience classes, which I loved. We often went out after class to dinner with his wife and granddaughter. It’s such a beautiful experience getting to know someone I admire so much at such a deeper level.
When I was confused about my major or what I wanted to do with my life, he would talk to me and try to help me as much as possible. He gifted me his book and usually sent me exciting science articles.
One interesting story was a Friday early into Fall, and I went into his office to gift him Seven Brief Lessons on Physics. His wife was traveling and asked me to go to dinner with him. But it was too early, and he wanted to get some beers, so we went to Urbana to get his beers. He drank a couple, but now he was hungry and wanted dinner. We’re walking to the car, and I’m thinking that he can’t drive, so who will drive? We get to the car, and he hands me the car keys. “Here, drive.” He didn’t know whether I was a good driver or whether I knew how to drive. He trusted me with his car and then directed me to Olive Garden. That kind of trust and relationship you can’t find these days. Perhaps, you can find it in the 1960s or 1970s college days, but today, everyone is formal and following made-up protocols.
We talked, ate, and learned so much from each other. Very few people get experiences like this, and it’s underrated.
Another cool experience months before the interview was helping Paul Kwiat carry his Escape Room materials from the physics building to his car. Here’s a picture I took:
After helping him, we got a quantum fidget spinner. Totally worth it.
Meeting professors at a more profound level is a hidden aspect of college, and I'll remember it fondly.
Running My First Half-Marathon: I wasn’t consistent with my running because I spent lots of time lifting. However, I ran 200 miles in 2022, which was much better than in 2021, so that’s an improvement.
The highlight of my running year was running and finishing the half-marathon. I ran it but also completed it.
This year I want to run a marathon, but for the second year in a row, I got rejected from the Chicago Marathon. I could still run it, but I’d need to raise $1,700 to run, which is doable, and I’d be down to do it. Want to support me? I’ll pick the charity of your choice. Contact me or DM me.
Winning an Engineering Competition: I won a space-based engineering competition. Our idea was a station that would repair other satellites in space. After coming up with the designs, working hard, and giving multiple presentations, we won.
Teaching my 10-year-old cousin high school math and programming: During Thanksgiving break, I taught my cousin algebra and web development. He made his first website!Check out his website and read the process I recorded.
Want to Change the World? Try Asking Someone Out First: I’ll publish an essay about this soon, but here’s a preview. One day I was eating dinner with some friends and for some reason, talking to strangers came up, and how they wished they knew more people and so on. I told them, "Go ask that person anything you want." We made up a philosophical debate about people being inherently good or inherently evil so it didn’t seem random.
My friends didn’t want to do it, so I did it first. They saw it wasn’t bad and enjoyed it, so they went not one but to three different people and felt like they had made some new friends. It feels like the 8th-grade dances where boys and girls are on different sides. They both want to be with each other, but “fear” wins over them, so they stay in different lines.
One of these friends usually has a stutter, and after that day, he pretty much lost it. That wasn’t everything. After that, I told them to ask out a girl. Why? Talking to strangers or asking a girl out is one of the hardest things for people. Heck! It’s the hardest thing someone could do today. At least, that’s what people make it seem.
One of these friends was super nervous but eventually did it, and the girl even said, “Yes.” They went on a date and everything, but it didn’t work out. It doesn’t mean this guy will become a Giga Chad and ask a bunch of girls out, but now he knows when he meets someone he might be interested in, this guy knows he can do it because he’s done it already. Before he did it, talking to that person wasn’t even an option.
This friend, after asking that girl out, “Juan David. Thank you so much. This has life-changing implications.” I recorded a video of him saying everything, and he doesn’t know about it, and I will send it to him in ten years to reflect the “life-changing” results.
If you can ask a girl out, you can do anything because you’ll realize that it wasn’t bad or that failure doesn’t suck that much. If you know these two things, you can do anything. I’m serious.
Another story along the same lines. My friend, who has a startup, asked me for feedback on the pitch he had just given to investors. I told him jokingly, “You know, it was bad. You don’t need me to tell you. It was bad.” We both laughed. More seriously, I tell him, you were a bit nervous. Try doing something crazy. He doesn’t usually talk to girls, so I tell him, “Go talk to that girl and find out what she’s like.” Well, he did, and not much came out of that situation because he didn't want to move forward, but again, at least he knows he can do it, and if you can talk to a girl and even ask them out, you can definitely talk to investors and do everything else.
So if you want to change the world, asking someone out first might be the fastest way to get there.
Created JuanDavidCampolargo.com: It’s crazy how far I’ve come with coding. For the longest time, I had Chromebook, and they don’t have terminals, so I would get stuck in every tutorial and didn’t know what to do (Replit wasn’t really a thing yet).
I went from not knowing how to use a terminal to do a software engineering internship. That was a steep learning curve, and I’m blown away by the things I can do.
If I ever built a time machine, I would go back to when I was 16 years old and bought myself that Chromebook with my marketing company money. I would tell myself to work harder to get more clients and buy a computer with a terminal! I would have been able to do so much more such as coding, video editing, and anything I wanted!
My website is just one bad example, but it’s an important reminder of the compounding results of just trying to learn in whatever you can.
I was forced to create my website because my Squarespace expired, and the CEO didn’t reply this year. Last year, I explained to him that I couldn’t afford it, so he gave me a year. This year, that didn’t happen, so I had to figure it out on my own.
Coding your website is nice because you have much more control over everything and can add functionality, but getting a good design is much harder. But I’m not afraid and will continue.
Venezuelan projects: I did three Venezuelan-related projects:
This year, I helped Venezuelans in multiple ways and perhaps not in the most successful ways. I've learned that I need to get better at distribution, but you can only help someone who wants to be helped. Some Venezuelans simply think they know everything, and that's…fine. I suppose.
A big motivation, especially for the ambition platform, is to find younger versions of me. I’m sure there is some crazily motivated Venezuelan kid somewhere in the US and the world.
I created these projects with lots of love; they just didn’t go where I wanted them to go. However, I loved writing and coding these projects. When I think about how much love I put into them, it was worth it working on them. I truly loved what I did. And that’s what matters.
Looking into the future, I don’t know whether I’ll create any more Venezuelan projects, but the answer is most likely yes.
TikTok Challenge: I was on a Discord server talking to some interesting people, and one of these guys was graduating from college but didn’t want to get a job, so I told him, “Why don’t you make TikToks and try to see what results you get?
He didn’t seem convinced, so I told him, “Fine, I’ll join you.” Other friends decided to follow suit. There was a group of 5 people, and we started making TikToks. The challenge was making TikTok for 12 weeks straight, one every day.
After a couple of days, everyone had given up, but I wanted to continue, so I continued. After 16 straight weeks, I made close to 500 videos, and nothing blew up. I had a random video with over 100,000 views, but nothing crazy.
It was a good experiment and something I learned to do well; if I continued, I would probably make it. Whatever that means.
Check out my TikTok. Try not to laugh at me.
Arepa Experiment: I returned to campus in early August and was hanging out with Samuel. That day, we were talking about another friend’s birthday that was coming up.
I told him, “Why don’t we make arepas and sell them on Alan’s Birthday?” Samuel said, “Yes.”
The next day we bought the ingredients, cheese, ham, and different sauces. We started on a Saturday at 4 PM, and we were done seven hours later, at 11 PM.
We made and prepared 100 arepas and were ready to walk to the friend’s apartments to start selling them.
This was how we wrapped the arepas and kept them warm.
We got to the party, and there was only one surprise. We had made an overcalculation of how many people would be going to the party because we thought more than 50 would go, but it was early August, and the semester had two weeks before starting, so only 15 people went. If 15 people eat two arepas, that would be 30. We would still have 70 left.
Samuel and I looked at each other and said, “Shit.” At this point, we just wanted to break even and sell as many as possible. We took cash and Venmo, and people just started to take them after we broke even. We didn’t want to throw them away, so giving them for free was fine.
In the end, I still took three arepas home.
That was an interesting experiment that could have gone well, but in this case, it didn’t due to our mistake in the number of people going. However, Venezuelan food is vastly underrated and has incredible potential in the American market. That is an idea I have been thinking about for more than five years.
For more on the thesis, read this email I sent to the founder of Chipotle, Steve Ells.
If this sounds cool, you know how to reach me. If no one does this, I’ll have to do it.
Writing Juan David’s Newsletter: March 2023 will be the year I reach three years of writing the newsletter, and many times I’ve questioned whether I want to continue. But I’ve gotten to love it, it forces me to write something at least every week, and it keeps me in touch with whatever number of people subscribed. It’s a reminder to not worry about whatever I’m worrying about and to get perspective on more important things.
So I will stick to it and will continue writing it. Period. I enjoy it, and I want to continue doing it. For years, I’ve had the goal of reaching X number of subscribers, and that was a bad goal because it caused me to consider the newsletter “unsuccessful.” Do you know what’s going to happen? I will adopt this mentality and gain the most subscribers I have ever acquired, and I won’t even be trying. Such is the paradox of intentionality.
Jokes aside, I write the newsletter because it’s fun, and I don’t care how big it gets. If anything, it’s a lot less pressure with fewer people. It feels like I’m talking to friends, which is what I’m doing since many of my friends are there.
The biggest thing about writing a weekly newsletter is that it forces me to be more observant and take a moment to notice things. It is a weird thing to say, but you experience it when you know you have to write an essay every week for my newsletter. You are simply forced to see more.
Erik Hoel described this very eloquently:
To run a newsletter requires a similar skill. It is a strange skill that cannot really be trained; it arises from a pressure that can only truly be understood when one is determined to produce, say, a good essay a week. You become a noticing machine.
And this is, in my opinion, the biggest perk of this job.
You constantly notice things in your life that would make good essays, good “Substacks,” either in and of themselves, or as possible dimensions or parts. Some of these noticings take place in a very specific sphere (e.g., it’s easy to notice big advancements like ChatGPT) while others are extremely abstract (e.g., noticing the similarities between fictions and dreams).
A new book to review, a paper to overview, all things of that sort can obviously be Substacks. My favorites, though, and what I’d like to do more of this year, are noticings that have a less utilitarian flavor—the ones more like a possible atomic element of some future untitled essay, but you’re not sure exactly what it’s about yet.
Such noticings often involve a particular phenomenology concerning how things are, or feel. Gray hairs in the mirror? Perhaps a Substack. The tree that almost crushed my house? In its split body there is a possible Substack. The way a baby smells could be a Substack. Or a red evening, when the halving sun dissolves right down into the nearby lake. Or the desolation of the winters here in Cape Cod, when the tourists leave and the towns feel like a movie prop in their emptiness—even the clerk taking a cigarette break outside in the cold, the one old enough to no longer be working at the local store just as their teenage job, who in their shuffling is overhung with their own small-town life and its private dramas.Source
This has been my experience. When we met Wolfram and Taleb shitted on us, I wrote about it. When I went to the University of Michigan and realized how similar college campuses are, I wrote about it. When I pissed off a professor, I wrote about it. When my Christmas just didn’t feel the same anymore, I wrote about it. And then, a week later, I realized why, and I wrote about it. When my neighbor was worried about college admissions, I wrote about it. When I watched Everything Everywhere All at Once, I wrote about it. When I talked to a bus driver and felt his struggles, I wrote about it.
You get the point.
2023 will be my third year writing the newsletter, and beyond any tangible results, the best outcome is the unique and unrepeatable opportunity to notice whatever happened in the last week. Those thoughts and feelings will never come back. Better yet, every week, I become better at the art of noticing.
The Internship List Newsletter: This was a random experiment beginning in December. Problem? Lots of people don’t know about internships, and because they don’t know, they don’t apply, and because they don’t apply, they don’t get them! It sounds simple, but the right information to the right people is a more complex problem than it sounds.
One day I made a Snapchat asking if people would be interested in an email list that shares internships. After the first day, 50 people messaged me to sign up. I sent the first email, and people were thankful.
This gained momentum, so before I sent the following email, I made a LinkedIn post that received over 20,000 views and hundreds of emails.
At this point, I had gotten too many people, and my email service was not sending them, so I had to start a Substack. In just a week or two, The Internship List had become bigger than Juan David’s Newsletter, which I have written for three years. That is beautiful. Every project is the apprentice to my next project.
In the next couple of weeks, I want to add people to the team and work together so we can do a better job and I have more time for other things.
There’s a secret I haven’t told you, though. The Internship List is a Trojan Horse. Yes! Sure, the goal is to help students find an internship, but little by little, I want to convince them that internships don’t matter and that they should focus on finding what they love. Ultimately, an internship is a test to see whether they like the thing they think they like.
If there's one thing I've learned from The Internship List, college students want three things: INTERNSHIPS, INTERNSHIPS, and INTERNSHIPS.
Gratitude: This is the one thing it makes me somewhat annoyed. Why am I so ungrateful at times? I don’t get it. Over the last two years, I’ve written two essays on trying to understand that question, and it still gets me once in a while.
First off, I’m healthy, and that’s all that matters. Everything else is secondary. Yes, I have big goals and want to bend the universe to my will. But I need to remember the stuff that matters. It won’t be the big projects, how hard I try writing X essay, or anything else.
I need to remember the things that matter to me and only me. Gratitude, taking things a bit slower and enjoying the ride.
Pissing professors off: I’m not proud about this at all. But sometimes, you have to push to get what you want. Everywhere else in the world, it usually works. In academia, people react like this.
So far, it’s happened three times:
And I don’t want it to happen again. I need to learn how to work with the system and take advantage of it. Richard Hamming said it best:
You find this happening again and again; good scientists will fight the system rather than learn to work with the system and take advantage of all the system has to offer. It has a lot, if you learn how to use it. It takes patience, but you can learn how to use the system pretty well, and you can learn how to get around it. After all, if you want a decision 'No', you just go to your boss and get a 'No' easy. If you want to do something, don't ask, do it. Present him with an accomplished fact. Don't give him a chance to tell you 'No'. But if you want a 'No', it's easy to get a 'No'.
You and Your Research by Richard Hamming.
Consistency: I was not consistent with writing, running, or other things. However, I wrote and ran more than any of the year, so there’s something to be said about that. I need to learn to feel more and see whether something feels right because there can be more opportunities or things I could miss if I follow a strict schedule of running and writing every day. Let’s minimize “bad” commitment and stay free!
Eating too much sugar: I ate too much sugar this year. Like way too much. Probably less than the average citizen, but still, that’s not good. I have a good family history, but if I don’t help myself, who will help me?
When did I eat lots of sugar? When I was hungry and didn’t have anything else to eat. When it was late at night, I should have been sleeping but I was on my computer. When it was the middle of the evening, it was too late for lunch and too early for dinner.
I need to replace those times with more fruits, healthy and balanced meals, and not eating more sugar.
Sleeping late: Every time I sleep late, I don’t do any of the things I like doing in the quiet of the morning, such as reading, writing, and running. My best days start at 5 or 6 AM, the world is sleeping, and I have the focus of a samurai with the flow of water.
If a morning starts like that, imagine the rest of the day. I would like to sleep by 9 PM, but I need to understand where I am right now in the context of my life. In college, that’s nearly impossible because most people wake up at 11 AM, and if you want to talk with people sometimes, it’s ok to sleep late. After college, there will be plenty of time to sleep at 7 PM or 8 PM. At least, that’s what I think.
Lacking purpose: Weirdly, but there were times when I needed more purpose. I don’t quite believe in this stuff, but more like having a mission. There were times when I had a deep sense of mission while working on a new project, but when it was done, I was just cruising in the middle of nowhere, and I felt lost.
However, I'm my best self when I have a deep sense of mission on a specific project. For instance, I’m writing this Annual Review, and I’m all in. At other times of the year, I was committed to starting the Venezuelan project, the UIUCFreeFood, and others.
When they’re done, I’m like, “Ok, now what?”
I need to celebrate that it’s done and finished them. Second, I don’t need to be working on anything to feel happy or have a sense of mission. Happiness is internal, and I can decide to be happy at any time.
This was one of my best years. Period. That’s all I have to say, but sure, I’ll say a bit more.
Being my best year does not mean perfect, but it was a year where I truly believed in ideas, some of which took off. In the dining hall, there’s a lady I always talk to, and one day we were talking about some of the projects I was working on, and I told her, “You know what? I have fun, and one of them will take off.”
The lady stops what she’s doing and looks at me intensely, “That’s exactly right. You have the right mentality. You already believe it.” She continues, “I see lots of students who say “I might” or “Maybe it would work” but very few people say, “It will work.” Keep it up, son.”
She’s a wise lady.
This was also a year where I immersed myself in my curiosity, and when I felt it, I became obsessed, truly obsessed like I had never been before. With obsessions, there were also times of commitment, which is a theme I wrote about in my 2020 Annual Review. Every time I follow my curiosity and let myself be obsessed. I give up optionality and become committed. And commitment is something a few of us young people could have some of.
I am more than grateful. I will have lots of fun. I will continue to be curious and follow my obsessions.
In the 2021 Annual Review, I wrote this:
The way out might be following your intuitions in the form of obsessions of whatever gets your interest/attention and having the tenacity to pursue it, to commit to it, and see what comes out of it with an expectation of a determined result and the wonder of what may come. From Patience and Faith: Updating 2021
I’m amazed at how many obsessions I followed this year; I’m more than grateful for that. I’m excited to have lots of fun in 2023. I’m certain I will continue to be curious and follow my obsessions through curious and obsessive experimentation.
(Big and excited sigh)
See you next year! Or next Sunday.
 UIUC stands for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Talkshow, you know what that is.
We named it after UIUC because we didn’t know what else to name it, and when people search for UIUC, we show up, which was unintended. What about talkshow? We didn’t want to call ourselves because the word “podcast” gives us a more serious and “oh no, another podcast” vibes, so we went with talkshow, which provides us with flexibility about how we do things as well expanding.
Read my past Annual Reviews.
If you’d like to follow my progress, join my Weekly Memos.