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The Day Dostoyevsky Discovered the Meaning of Life in a Dream

cosmigraphics156.jpg

The 1845 depiction of a galaxy that inspired Van Gogh’s ‘The Starry Night,’ from Michael Benson’s Cosmigraphics: Picturing Space Through Time.

 

One November night in the 1870s, legendary Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky (November 11, 1821–February 9, 1881) discovered the meaning of life in a dream — or, at least, the protagonist in his final short story did. The piece, which first appeared in the altogether revelatory A Writer’s Diary (public library) under the title “The Dream of a Queer Fellow” and was later published separately as The Dream of a Ridiculous Man, explores themes similar to those in Dostoyevsky’s 1864 novel Notes from the Underground, considered the first true existential novel. True to Stephen King’s assertion that “good fiction is the truth inside the lie,” the story sheds light on Dostoyevsky’s personal spiritual and philosophical bents with extraordinary clarity — perhaps more so than any of his other published works. The contemplation at its heart falls somewhere between Tolstoy’s tussle with the meaning of life and Philip K. Dick’s hallucinatory exegesis.

Portrait of Fyodor Dostoyevsky by Vasily Perov, 1871

The story begins with the narrator wandering the streets of St. Petersburg on “a gloomy night, the gloomiest night you can conceive,” dwelling on how others have ridiculed him all his life and slipping into nihilism with the “terrible anguish” of believing that nothing matters. He peers into the glum sky, gazes at a lone little star, and contemplates suicide; two months earlier, despite his destitution, he had bought an “excellent revolver” with the same intention, but the gun had remained in his drawer since. Suddenly, as he is staring at the star, a little girl of about eight, wearing ragged clothes and clearly in distress, grabs him by the arm and inarticulately begs his help. But the protagonist, disenchanted with life, shoos her away and returns to the squalid room he shares with a drunken old captain, furnished with “a sofa covered in American cloth, a table with some books, two chairs and an easy-chair, old, incredibly old, but still an easy-chair.”

As he sinks into the easy-chair to think about ending his life, he finds himself haunted by the image of the little girl, leading him to question his nihilistic disposition. Dostoyevsky writes:

I knew for certain that I would shoot myself that night, but how long I would sit by the table — that I did not know. I should certainly have shot myself, but for that little girl.

You see: though it was all the same to me, I felt pain, for instance. If any one were to strike me, I should feel pain. Exactly the same in the moral sense: if anything very pitiful happened, I would feel pity, just as I did before everything in life became all the same to me. I had felt pity just before: surely, I would have helped a child without fail. Why did I not help the little girl, then? It was because of an idea that came into my mind then. When she was pulling at me and calling to me, suddenly a question arose before me, which I could not answer. The question was an idle one; but it made me angry. I was angry because of my conclusion, that if I had already made up my mind that I would put an end to myself to-night, then now more than ever before everything in the world should be all the same to me. Why was it that I felt it was not all the same to me, and pitied the little girl? I remember I pitied her very much: so much that I felt a pain that was even strange and incredible in my situation…

It seemed clear that if I was a man and not a cipher yet, and until I was changed into a cipher, then I was alive and therefore could suffer, be angry and feel shame for my actions. Very well. But if I were to kill myself, for instance, in two hours from now, what is the girl to me, and what have I to do with shame or with anything on earth? I am going to be a cipher, an absolute zero. Could my consciousness that I would soon absolutely cease to exist, and that therefore nothing would exist, have not the least influence on my feeling of pity for the girl or on my sense of shame for the vileness I had committed?

From the moral, he veers into the existential:

It became clear to me that life and the world, as it were, depended upon me. I might even say that the world had existed for me alone. I should shoot myself, and then there would be no world at all, for me at least. Not to mention that perhaps there will really be nothing for any one after me, and the whole world, as soon as my consciousness is extinguished, will also be extinguished like a phantom, as part of my consciousness only, and be utterly abolished, since perhaps all this world and all these men are myself alone.

Beholding “these new, thronging questions,” he plunges into a contemplation of what free will really means. In a passage that calls to mind John Cage’s famous aphorism on the meaning of life — “No why. Just here.” — and George Lucas’s assertion that “life is beyond reason,” Dostoyevsky suggests through his protagonist that what gives meaning to life is life itself:

One strange consideration suddenly presented itself to me. If I had previously lived on the moon or in Mars, and I had there been dishonored and disgraced so utterly that one can only imagine it sometimes in a dream or a nightmare, and if I afterwards found myself on earth and still preserved a consciousness of what I had done on the other planet, and if I knew besides that I would never by any chance return, then, if I were to look at the moon from the earth — would it be all the same to me or not? Would I feel any shame for my action or not? The questions were idle and useless, for the revolver was already lying before me, and I knew with all my being that this thing would happen for certain: but the questions excited me to rage. I could not die now, without having solved this first. In a word, that little girl saved me, for my questions made me postpone pulling the trigger.

Just as he ponders this, the protagonist slips into sleep in the easy-chair, but it’s a sleep that has the quality of wakeful dreaming. In one of many wonderful semi-asides, Dostoyevsky peers at the eternal question of why we have dreams:

Dreams are extraordinarily strange. One thing appears with terrifying clarity, with the details finely set like jewels, while you leap over another, as though you did not notice it at all — space and time, for instance. It seems that dreams are the work not of mind but of desire, not of the head but of the heart… In a dream things quite incomprehensible come to pass. For instance, my brother died five years ago. Sometimes I see him in a dream: he takes part in my affairs, and we are very excited, while I, all the time my dream goes on, know and remember perfectly that my brother is dead and buried. Why am I not surprised that he, though dead, is still near me and busied about me? Why does my mind allow all that?

In this strange state, the protagonist dreams that he takes his revolver and points it at his heart — not his head, where he had originally intended to shoot himself. After waiting a second or two, his dream-self pulls the trigger quickly. Then something remarkable happens:

I felt no pain, but it seemed to me that with the report, everything in me was convulsed, and everything suddenly extinguished. It was terribly black all about me. I became as though blind and numb, and I lay on my back on something hard. I could see nothing, neither could I make any sound. People were walking and making a noise about me: the captain’s bass voice, the landlady’s screams… Suddenly there was a break. I am being carried in a closed coffin. I feel the coffin swinging and I think about that, and suddenly for the first time the idea strikes me that I am dead, quite dead. I know it and do not doubt it; I cannot see nor move, yet at the same time I feel and think. But I am soon reconciled to that, and as usual in a dream I accept the reality without a question.

Now I am being buried in the earth. Every one leaves me and I am alone, quite alone. I do not stir… I lay there and — strange to say — I expected nothing, accepting without question that a dead man has nothing to expect. But it was damp. I do not know how long passed — an hour, a few days, or many days. Suddenly, on my left eye which was closed, a drop of water fell, which had leaked through the top of the grave. In a minute fell another, then a third, and so on, every minute. Suddenly, deep indignation kindled in my heart and suddenly in my heart I felt physical pain. ‘It’s my wound,’ I thought. ‘It’s where I shot myself. The bullet is there.’ And all the while the water dripped straight on to my closed eye. Suddenly, I cried out, not with a voice, for I was motionless, but with all my being, to the arbiter of all that was being done to me.

“Whosoever thou art, if thou art, and if there exists a purpose more intelligent than the things which are now taking place, let it be present here also. But if thou dost take vengeance upon me for my foolish suicide, then know, by the indecency and absurdity of further existence, that no torture whatever that may befall me, can ever be compared to the contempt which I will silently feel, even through millions of years of martyrdom.”

I cried out and was silent. Deep silence lasted a whole minute. One more drop even fell. But I knew and believed, infinitely and steadfastly, that in a moment everything would infallibly change. Suddenly, my grave opened. I do not know whether it had been uncovered and opened, but I was taken by some dark being unknown to me, and we found ourselves in space. Suddenly, I saw. It was deep night; never, never had such darkness been! We were borne through space and were already far from the earth. I asked nothing of him who led me. I was proud and waited. I assured myself that I was not afraid, and my heart melted with rapture at the thought that I was not afraid. I do not remember how long we rushed through space, and I cannot imagine it. It happened as always in a dream when you leap over space and time and the laws of life and mind, and you stop only there where your heart delights.

Through the thick darkness, he sees a star — the same little star he had seen before shooing the girl away. As the dream continues, the protagonist describes a sort of transcendence akin to what is experienced during psychedelic drug trips or in deep meditation states:

Suddenly a familiar yet most overwhelming emotion shook me through. I saw our sun. I knew that it could not be our sun, which had begotten our earth, and that we were an infinite distance away, but somehow all through me I recognized that it was exactly the same sun as ours, its copy and double. A sweet and moving delight echoed rapturously through my soul. The dear power of light, of that same light which had given me birth, touched my heart and revived it, and I felt life, the old life, for the first time since my death.

He finds himself in another world, Earthlike in every respect, except “everything seemed to be bright with holiday, with a great and sacred triumph, finally achieved” — a world populated by “children of the sun,” happy people whose eyes “shone with a bright radiance” and whose faces “gleamed with wisdom, and with a certain consciousness, consummated in tranquility.” The protagonist exclaims:

Oh, instantly, at the first glimpse of their faces I understood everything, everything!

Conceding that “it was only a dream,” he nonetheless asserts that “the sensation of the love of those beautiful and innocent people” was very much real and something he carried into wakeful life on Earth. Awaking in his easy-chair at dawn, he exclaims anew with rekindled gratitude for life:

Oh, now — life, life! I lifted my hands and called upon the eternal truth, not called, but wept. Rapture, ineffable rapture exalted all my being. Yes, to live…

Dostoyevsky concludes with his protagonist’s reflection on the shared essence of life, our common conquest of happiness and kindness:

All are tending to one and the same goal, at least all aspire to the same goal, from the wise man to the lowest murderer, but only by different ways. It is an old truth, but there is this new in it: I cannot go far astray. I saw the truth. I saw and know that men could be beautiful and happy, without losing the capacity to live upon the earth. I will not, I cannot believe that evil is the normal condition of men… I saw the truth, I did not invent it with my mind. I saw, saw, and her living image filled my soul for ever. I saw her in such consummate perfection that I cannot possibly believe that she was not among men. How can I then go astray? … The living image of what I saw will be with me always, and will correct and guide me always. Oh, I am strong and fresh, I can go on, go on, even for a thousand years.

[…]

And it is so simple… The one thing is — love thy neighbor as thyself — that is the one thing. That is all, nothing else is needed. You will instantly find how to live.

A century later, Jack Kerouac would echo this in his own magnificent meditation on kindness and the “Golden Eternity.”

A Writer’s Diary is a beautiful read in its entirety. Complement it with Tolstoy on finding meaning in a meaningless world and Margaret Mead’s dreamed epiphany about why life is like blue jelly.

He Has 17,700 Bottles of Hand Sanitizer and Nowhere to Sell Them

 An Amazon merchant, Matt Colvin, with an overflow stock of cleaning and sanitizing supplies in his garage in Hixson, Tenn.
Credit…Doug Strickland for The New York Times

He Has 17,700 Bottles of Hand Sanitizer and Nowhere to Sell Them

Amazon cracked down on coronavirus price gouging. Now, while the rest of the world searches, some sellers are holding stockpiles of sanitizer and masks.

An Amazon merchant, Matt Colvin, with an overflow stock of cleaning and sanitizing supplies in his garage in Hixson, Tenn.Credit…Doug Strickland for The New York Times

On March 1, the day after the first coronavirus death in the United States was announced, brothers Matt and Noah Colvin set out in a silver S.U.V. to pick up some hand sanitizer. Driving around Chattanooga, Tenn., they hit a Dollar Tree, then a Walmart, a Staples and a Home Depot. At each store, they cleaned out the shelves.

Over the next three days, Noah Colvin took a 1,300-mile road trip across Tennessee and into Kentucky, filling a U-Haul truck with thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer and thousands of packs of antibacterial wipes, mostly from “little hole-in-the-wall dollar stores in the backwoods,” his brother said. “The major metro areas were cleaned out.”

Matt Colvin stayed home near Chattanooga, preparing for pallets of even more wipes and sanitizer he had ordered, and starting to list them on Amazon. Mr. Colvin said he had posted 300 bottles of hand sanitizer and immediately sold them all for between $8 and $70 each, multiples higher than what he had bought them for. To him, “it was crazy money.” To many others, it was profiteering from a pandemic.

The next day, Amazon pulled his items and thousands of other listings for sanitizer, wipes and face masks. The company suspended some of the sellers behind the listings and warned many others that if they kept running up prices, they’d lose their accounts. EBay soon followed with even stricter measures, prohibiting any U.S. sales of masks or sanitizer.

Now, while millions of people across the country search in vain for hand sanitizer to protect themselves from the spread of the coronavirus, Mr. Colvin is sitting on 17,700 bottles of the stuff with little idea where to sell them.

“It’s been a huge amount of whiplash,” he said. “From being in a situation where what I’ve got coming and going could potentially put my family in a really good place financially to ‘What the heck am I going to do with all of this?’”

Mr. Colvin is one of probably thousands of sellers who have amassed stockpiles of hand sanitizer and crucial respirator masks that many hospitals are now rationing, according to interviews with eight Amazon sellers and posts in private Facebook and Telegram groups from dozens more. Amazon said it had recently removed hundreds of thousands of listings and suspended thousands of sellers’ accounts for price gouging related to the coronavirus.

Amazon, eBay, Walmart and other online-commerce platforms are trying to stop their sellers from making excessive profits from a public health crisis. While the companies aimed to discourage people from hoarding such products and jacking up their prices, many sellers had already cleared out their local stores and started selling the goods online.

Now both the physical and digital shelves are nearly empty.

Mikeala Kozlowski, a nurse in Dudley, Mass., has been searching for hand sanitizer since before she gave birth to her first child, Nora, on March 5. When she searched stores, which were sold out, she skipped getting gas to avoid handling the pump. And when she checked Amazon, she couldn’t find it for less than $50.

Get an informed guide to the global outbreak with our daily coronavirus newsletter.

“You’re being selfish, hoarding resources for your own personal gain,” she said of the sellers.

Sites like Amazon and eBay have given rise to a growing industry of independent sellers who snatch up discounted or hard-to-find items in stores to post online and sell around the world.

These sellers call it retail arbitrage, a 21st-century career that has adults buying up everything from limited-run cereals to Fingerling Monkeys, a once hot toy. The bargain hunters look for anything they can sell at a sharp markup. In recent weeks, they found perhaps their biggest opportunity: a pandemic.

As they watched the list of Amazon’s most popular searches crowd with terms like “Purell,” “N95 mask” and “Clorox wipes,” sellers said, they did what they had learned to do: Suck up supply and sell it for what the market would bear.

Initially, the strategy worked. For several weeks, prices soared for some of the top results to searches for sanitizer, masks and wipes on Amazon, according to a New York Times analysis of historical prices from Jungle Scout, which tracks data for Amazon sellers. The data shows that both Amazon and third-party sellers like Mr. Colvin increased their prices, which then mostly dropped when Amazon took action against price gouging this month.

Then the companies, pressured by growing criticism from regulators and customers, cracked down. After the measures last week, Amazon went further on Wednesday, restricting sales of any coronavirus-related products from certain sellers.

“Price gouging is a clear violation of our policies, unethical, and in some areas, illegal,” Amazon said in a statement. “In addition to terminating these third party accounts, we welcome the opportunity to work directly with states attorneys general to prosecute bad actors.”

Mr. Colvin, 36, a former Air Force technical sergeant, said he started selling on Amazon in 2015, developing it into a six-figure career by selling Nike shoes and pet toys, and by following trends.

In early February, as headlines announced the coronavirus’s spread in China, Mr. Colvin spotted a chance to capitalize. A nearby liquidation firm was selling 2,000 “pandemic packs,” leftovers from a defunct company. Each came with 50 face masks, four small bottles of hand sanitizer and a thermometer. The price was $5 a pack. Mr. Colvin haggled it to $3.50 and bought them all.

Hand sanitizer that Mr. Colvin is keeping in a storage locker.
Credit…Doug Strickland for The New York Times

He quickly sold all 2,000 of the 50-packs of masks on eBay, pricing them from $40 to $50 each, and sometimes higher. He declined to disclose his profit on the record but said it was substantial.

The success stoked his appetite. When he saw the panicked public starting to pounce on sanitizer and wipes, he and his brother set out to stock up.

Elsewhere in the country, other Amazon sellers were doing the same.

Chris Anderson, an Amazon seller in central Pennsylvania, said he and a friend had driven around Ohio, buying about 10,000 masks from stores. He used coupons to buy packs of 10 for around $15 each and resold them for $40 to $50. After Amazon’s cut and other costs, he estimates, he made a $25,000 profit.

Mr. Anderson is now holding 500 packs of antibacterial wipes after Amazon blocked him from selling them for $19 each, up from $16 weeks earlier. He bought the packs for $3 each.

Eric, a truck driver from Ohio who spoke on the condition that his surname not be published because he feared Amazon would retaliate, said he had also collected about 10,000 masks at stores. He bought each 10-pack for about $20 and sold most for roughly $80 each, though some he priced at $125.

“Even at $125 a box, they were selling almost instantly,” he said. “It was mind-blowing as far as what you could charge.” He estimates he made $35,000 to $40,000 in profit.

Now he has 1,000 more masks on order, but he’s not sure what to do with them. He said Amazon had been vague about what constituted price gouging, scaring away sellers who don’t want to risk losing their ability to sell on its site.

To regulators and many others, the sellers are sitting on a stockpile of medical supplies during a pandemic. The attorney general’s offices in California, Washington and New York are all investigating price gouging related to the coronavirus. California’s price-gouging law bars sellers from increasing prices by more than 10 percent after officials declare an emergency. New York’s law prohibits sellers from charging an “unconscionably excessive price” during emergencies.

An official at the Washington attorney general’s office said the agency believed it could apply the state’s consumer-protection law to sue platforms or sellers, even if they aren’t in Washington, as long as they were trying to sell to Washington residents.

 
 

Mr. Colvin does not believe he was price gouging. While he charged $20 on Amazon for two bottles of Purell that retail for $1 each, he said people forget that his price includes his labor, Amazon’s fees and about $10 in shipping. (Alcohol-based sanitizer is pricey to ship because officials consider it a hazardous material.)

Current price-gouging laws “are not built for today’s day and age,” Mr. Colvin said. “They’re built for Billy Bob’s gas station doubling the amount he charges for gas during a hurricane.”

He added, “Just because it cost me $2 in the store doesn’t mean it’s not going to cost me $16 to get it to your door.”

But what about the morality of hoarding products that can prevent the spread of the virus, just to turn a profit?

Mr. Colvin said he was simply fixing “inefficiencies in the marketplace.” Some areas of the country need these products more than others, and he’s helping send the supply toward the demand.

“There’s a crushing overwhelming demand in certain cities right now,” he said. “The Dollar General in the middle of nowhere outside of Lexington, Ky., doesn’t have that.”

 

He thought about it more. “I honestly feel like it’s a public service,” he added. “I’m being paid for my public service.”

As for his stockpile, Mr. Colvin said he would now probably try to sell it locally. “If I can make a slight profit, that’s fine,” he said. “But I’m not looking to be in a situation where I make the front page of the news for being that guy who hoarded 20,000 bottles of sanitizer that I’m selling for 20 times what they cost me.”

After The Times published this article on Saturday morning, Mr. Colvin said he was exploring ways to donate all the supplies.

The Coronavirus Outbreak

  • Answers to your most common questions:

    Updated March 13, 2020

    • What is a coronavirus?
      It is a novel virus named for the crownlike spikes that protrude from its surface. The coronavirus can infect both animals and people and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to lung lesions and pneumonia.
    • How contagious is the virus?
      It seems to spread very easily from person to person, especially in homes, hospitals and other confined spaces. The pathogen can travel through the air, enveloped in tiny respiratory droplets that are produced when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes.
    • Where has the virus spread?
      The virus, which originated in Wuhan, China, has sickened more than 142,100 in at least 113 countries and more than 5,300 have died. The spread has slowed in China but is gaining speed in Europe and the United States. World Health Organization officials said the outbreak qualifies as a pandemic.
    • What symptoms should I look out for?
      Symptoms, which can take between two to 14 days to appear, include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Milder cases may resemble the flu or a bad cold, but people may be able to pass on the virus even before they develop symptoms.
    • What if I’m traveling?
      The State Department has issued a global Level 3 health advisory telling United States citizens to “reconsider travel” to all countries because of the worldwide effects of the coronavirus. This is the department’s second-highest advisory.
    • How long will it take to develop a treatment or vaccine?
      Several drugs are being tested, and some initial findings are expected soon. A vaccine to stop the spread is still at least a year away.

 

Startups Weekly: What the E-Trade deal says about Robinhood

[Editor’s note: Want to get this weekly review of news that startups can use by email? Just subscribe here.] 

How well do Robinhood’s financials stack up against incumbent online brokerages? While we wait for the seven-year-old company’s long-planned IPO, Alex Wilhelm examined Morgan Stanley’s big $13 billion purchase of E-Trade for fresh data comparison points. Robinhood has 10 million accounts — twice what E-Trade has — but it also appears to make much less money per user and has far fewer assets under management, as he covered for Extra Crunch. So while its fee-free approach has destroyed a key revenue stream for competitors, it still has to grow its own “order-flow” business into its private-market valuation.

One solution is to make the platform stickier via social features. On the same day as the E-Trade deal announcement, Robinhood launched a new Profiles feature to encourage users to share stock tips. Josh Constine explored the offering and where it is headed on TechCrunch, concluding that “Profiles and lists, and then eventually more social features, could get Robinhood’s users trading more so there’s more order flow to sell and more reason for them to buy subscriptions.”

Alex also took a look at a new report on fintech funding, which found last year was a peak overall — but skewed towards later-stage companies. Certainly, the wealth management segment is looking mature.

But the category is massive, with many more incumbents left to disrupt. What are fintech investors looking for? Check out our popular investor survey on this topic from November.

How your startup can use TikTok for growth

You know that TikTok is where the cool kids are these days, but maybe… how do I say… it is not the social media platform you know best when it comes to growth. So Geneviève Patterson and Hannah Donovan, founders of TikTok-oriented video editing app TRASH, have published a two-part guide to help you figure it out.
The first part, freely available on TechCrunch, walks you through how to increase your authority ranking in the TikTok algorithm, its review process, and pointers for making your own content. The second part, for Extra Crunch subscribers, goes deep on how TikTok decides whose content gets featured more (and less).

Fifth Wall’s Brendan Wallace: the proptech sector is hot despite WeWork

“Our mandate is any technology that can be strategic to the real estate industry,” the prolific investor told Connie Loizos in an extended interview for Extra Crunch this week. While WeWork may have depressed some investor interest, plenty of models are working great across various segments — so he and his partners are raising more funds. One of the hottest sectors, perhaps surprisingly, is in sustainable buildings. As Wallace details, public pressure, large-tenant pressure, large-investor pressure and new metro requirements have removed any choice that the industry has in the matter:

Make no mistake; we are front-and-center to what is happening in the real estate industry and the collision with technology, and this is the single-most-important thing that has happened to the real estate industry in the last five decades. The real estate industry is going to have to go carbon-neutral and that is brand-new.

Is this sector also your focus? Be sure to check out our survey of investors in construction robotics from last week to find out some of the latest opportunities, plus our overview survey of real estate and prop tech investors from November.

The future of manufacturing and warehouse robotics

Ahead of our big robotics conference at UC Berkeley in early March, we have been producing a whole series of surveys on robotics verticals. This week, our resident financial analyst Arman Tabatabai teamed up with our hardware editor turned conference organizer, Brian Heater, to do a series of interviews with VCs who are focused on warehouse and manufacturing robotics. Investors include:

Read more here.

Tell TechCrunch about gaming startups and remote work

Our media columnist Eric Peckham wants to feature your advice in two upcoming articles. If you have relevant expertise, click the links below and share your opinions.

Across the week

Do AI startups have worse economics than SaaS shops? (EC)

Elon Musk says all advanced AI development should be regulated, including at Tesla (TC)

SpaceX alumni are helping build LA’s startup ecosystem (EC)

Dear Sophie: I need the latest details on the new H-1B registration process (TC)

Tracking China’s astounding venture capital slowdown (EC)

The rise of the winged pink unicorn (TC)

Voodoo Games thrives by upending conventional product design (EC)

Ex-YC partner Daniel Gross rethinks the accelerator (TC)

How companies are working around Apple’s ban on vaping apps (EC)

Rippling starts billboard battle with Gusto (TC)

#Equitypod

This week was a fun combination of early-stage and late-stage news, with companies as young as seed stage and as old as PE-worthy joining our list of topics.

Danny and Alex were back on hand to chat once again. Just in case you missed it, they had some fun talking Tesla yesterday, and there are new Equity videos on YouTube. Enjoy!

This week the team argued about org-chart companies, debt raises, some of the items mentioned above, and much more. Details here.

Facebook’s Twitter account compromised, hacker group claims credit

There’s this brilliant feeling on Fridays if you’re a reporter when you think that all the things you have to write about are complete. You kickstart some work for Monday. Maybe you tighten up a to-do list. Hell, you might even read some email.

But then on Fridays like today, something eye-catching happens and the Great Content Gods demand written sacrifice and here we are.

Facebook’s Twitter main page and Messenger were temporarily vandalized by a person or persons claiming to be from the OurMine hacker collective. The action, and the group, should sound slightly familiar as it hacked a bunch of sports-related Twitter accounts just this January.

Trawling the TechCrunch archives turns up the OurMine name more times than I reckoned it would. For example, OurMine also hacked the Twitter account of Niantic’s CEO back in 2016. Later that year, OurMind also hacked several media-related Twitter accounts. Hell, OurMine actually hacked TC once — a fact that this episode brought to my attention.

TechCrunch has reached out to Facebook for comment on the compromise. We’re not expecting to hear back anything of substance but, if we do, we’ll update this post. Twitter provided public comment regarding the hack, saying that it “locked the compromised accounts and are working closely with our partners at Facebook to restore them” when it noticed the matter.

What was posted? The following, per a screenshot taken by TechCrunch’s security sage Zack Whittaker:

lol, what is this, 2016? pic.twitter.com/G59Z5gnZfp

— Zack Whittaker (@zackwhittaker) February 7, 2020

As you can see from the screenshot, the tweet appears to have been posted via Khoros. Khoros, in case you also didn’t know, sells software to help companies use social media to interact with customers and users. So, perhaps the Folks With Time On Their Hands got in that way. Either way it was taken down quickly. (Khoros is based in Austin and has raised no known venture capital, per Crunchbase.)

And with that, Friday really is a go.

5 Critical Life Lessons You Can Learn From Kung Fu Panda

Kung Fu Panda is an animated movie that teaches several interesting life lessons, embedded in a predictable storyline. It is highly entertaining, done in a Dreamworks storybook fashion.

Even though we first watched the movie over a week ago, my kids can not stop talking about it.

In the show, the panda, whose name is Po, was chosen by a wise old turtle, Ooguay, as the dragon warrior to defeat the enemy. Unfortunately, Po was an unlikely character for he was fat and clumsy. He was viewed with much skepticism and doubt by his martial-arts teacher, Shifu, and the Furious Five: Tigress, Monkey, Mantis, Viper, and Crane.

The highlight of the show, at least in my opinion, clearly belonged to the numerous spouts of wisdom and quotes cleverly delivered by the various characters. Animated or not, wisdom can be found anywhere. All you have to do is look and listen with an open mind.

Here are 5 of the wise sayings that I picked up in the movie:

Living In the Now

Ooguay: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.”

beat self doubt

We don’t need to read Eckhart Tolle’s book “The Power of Now” to learn the importance of the present moment. We can simply watch this movie to learn from Ooguay about how necessary it is to let go of our past, doubts, and fears if we want be happy.

Thoughts of the future or baggages of the past take away your joy in the most significant moment which is now. What matters is not what has happened or what is going to take place.

Hence, be faithful to what you are doing. Treat each moment as a gift and you will live life fully!

See Also: Live Life to Its Fullest: 39 Ways to Live and Not Merely Exist

You Can’t Run Away From Your Destiny

Ooguay: “One often meets his destiny on the road he takes to avoid it.”

Ever had that tingling sensation that you are meant to do something else? Perhaps it is a dream that you have had since you were young. Or it may just be a recent awakening, like in my case.

I have always thought I would pursue my grand idea of being an accountant or banker. Yes, I know. It sounds like a boring profession, but the thought of having an iron rice bowl appealed to me then.

Even when I first started exploring opportunities on the web, making a ton of money was my first concern. Along the way, someone directed me to watch The Secret movie on Youtube. Well, the rest is history.

I never quite thought that I would be writing articles on self help and personal development. I didn’t imagine that I would be interested in a coaching or healing profession. I’m convinced now that I am threading on the right path since I love what I do passionately. Each day of living this purpose feels so right to me intuitively.

Hence, if you find yourself experiencing that sense of discomfort, that inner knowing that you are in the wrong job or a purpose that you need to fulfill, perhaps it is time to ask yourself what your destiny is. Oddly enough, no matter which way you turn, this destiny calls out to you.

Things Happen For A Reason

Ooguay: “There are no accidents.”

If events do not go according to your expectations, then learn to stop fretting over your suffering and misery. Things often happen for a reason. It may just be a life lesson that you need to take.

As we all know, life is never a bed of roses. If you do not recognize the lesson for what it is, you will find yourself continually stuck or attracting more of the same. You are in a vicious cycle, unable to break out. Step aside, take notes, and learn from there. Then, you will find yourself moving on, becoming a more evolved and higher Self.

Your Passion Keeps You Going

Tigress: “It is said that the Dragon Warrior can go for months without eating, surviving on the dew of a single gingko leaf and the energy of the universe.”

Po: “Then I guess my body doesn’t know I’m the Dragon Warrior yet. It’s gonna take a lot more than dew, and, uh, universe juice.”

Admittedly, it sounds a little far fetched – to be able to survive without eating. But haven’t you experienced several times when you were so absorbed in what you were doing that you forgot to eat?

It is true that our passions can keep us alive. Even in the most challenging of times, they have us going.

A friend I came to know lately shared that her volunteer work in an Aids Organization helped sustained her during a time when she went into depression herself. If not for the patients who needed her and if not for the passion to help others, she would not have survived that period.

You Can Be the Most Unlikely Hero

Po: “There is no charge for awesomeness – or attractiveness.”

At the heart of the story was a character with no apparent gifts or talents. He had to fight feelings of low self-esteem and confidence. He had to endure snide remarks by the Furious Five. Plus, he had to undergo rounds of brutal martial arts training, that kept him from eating.

Towards the end, Po unraveled the secret of the Dragon scroll from a meeting with his father. His father had tried to cheer him by telling him the secret ingredient of the family’s noodle soup: nothing. Things become special, he explained, because people believe them to be special.

As you probably guessed by now, Po saved the day. He realized that he could be awesome if he chose to believe so. And he was indeed the Dragon Warrior, after all!

What you can take from the movie, Kung Fu Panda, is this:

Take action to fulfill your destiny, even if at first you think you suck.

You just need to believe that you are special. And in pursuing your path, you may just discover that awesomeness or attractiveness is being who you really are. There is no charge for that!

Written by Evelyn Lin, the creator of a blog named Attraction Mind Map.

The post 5 Critical Life Lessons You Can Learn From Kung Fu Panda appeared first on Dumb Little Man.

The best and worst moments of the 2020 Golden Globes

The best and worst moments of the 2020 Golden Globes

The 77th Annual Golden Globe Awards started wild and stayed wild. 

Broadcasting live from the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, California, host Ricky Gervais kicked off the night with a cringe-worthy monologue (including a jab about Jeffrey Epstein.) Then underdog Ramy Youssef (we told you to watch Ramy!) took home a big win, and Matt Bomer and Sofía Vergara had a mix-up with a teleprompter. 

Jason Momoa showed up in a tank top, Cousin Greg did a little dance, Daddy Roy gave a little kiss to Kieran Culkin, Michelle Williams read the house down, Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix made pleas for our planet, and everyone cried with Tom Hanks. Oh, and Fleabag just kept on winning. Read more…

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Airbnb’s New Year’s Eve guest volume shows its falling growth rate

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

It’s finally 2020, the year that should bring us a direct listing from home-sharing giant Airbnb, a technology company valued at tens of billions of dollars. The company’s flotation will be a key event in this coming year’s technology exit market. Expect the NYSE and Nasdaq to compete for the listing, bankers to queue to take part, and endless media coverage.

Given that that’s ahead, we’re going to take periodic looks at Airbnb as we tick closer to its eventual public market debut. And that means that this morning we’re looking back through time to see how fast the company has grown by using a quirky data point.

Airbnb releases a regular tally of its expected “guest stays” for New Year’s Eve each year, including 2019. We can therefore look back in time, tracking how quickly (or not) Airbnb’s New Year Eve guest tally has risen. This exercise will provide a loose, but fun proxy for the company’s growth as a whole.

The numbers

Before we look into the figures themselves, keep in mind that we are looking at a guest figure which is at best a proxy for revenue. We don’t know the revenue mix of the guest stays, for example, meaning that Airbnb could have seen a 10% drop in per-guest revenue this New Year’s Eve — even with more guest stays — and we’d have no idea.

So, the cliche about grains of salt and taking, please.

But as more guests tends to mean more rentals which points towards more revenue, the New Year’s Eve figures are useful as we work to understand how quickly Airbnb is growing now compared to how fast it grew in the past. The faster the company is expanding today, the more it’s worth. And given recent news that the company has ditched profitability in favor of boosting its sales and marketing spend (leading to sharp, regular deficits in its quarterly results), how fast Airbnb can grow through higher spend is a key question for the highly-backed, San Francisco-based private company.

Here’s the tally of guest stays in Airbnb’s during New Years Eve (data via CNBC, Jon Erlichman, Airbnb), and their resulting year-over-year growth rates:

  • 2009: 1,400
  • 2010: 6,000 (+329%)
  • 2011: 3,1000 (+417%)
  • 2012: 108,000 (248%)
  • 2013: 250,000 (+131%)
  • 2014: 540,000 (+116%)
  • 2015: 1,100,000 (+104%)
  • 2016: 2,000,000 (+82%)
  • 2017: 3,000,000 (+50%)
  • 2018: 3,700,000 (+23%)
  • 2019: 4,500,000 (+22%)

In chart form, that looks like this:

Let’s talk about a few things that stand out. First is that the company’s growth rate managed to stay over 100% for as long as it did. In case you’re a SaaS fan, what Airbnb pulled off in its early years (again, using this fun proxy for revenue growth) was far better than a triple-triple-double-double-double.

Next, the company’s growth rate in percentage terms has slowed dramatically, including in 2019. At the same time the firm managed to re-accelerate its gross guest growth in 2019. In numerical terms, Airbnb added 1,000,000 New Year’s Eve guest stays in 2017, 700,000 in 2018, and 800,000 in 2019. So 2019’s gross adds was not a record, but it was a better result than its year-ago tally.

Don Imus, Legendary ‘Imus in the Morning’ Host, Dies at 79

The controversial radio personality passed away on Friday morning at Baylor Scott and White Medical Center in College Station, Texas.

Don Imus, the radio personality whose insult humor and savage comedy catapulted him to a long-lasting and controversial career, has died at 79. His three-hour radio program, Imus in the Morning, was widely popular, especially with the over 25-male demographic.

Imus died Friday morning at Baylor Scott and White Medical Center in College Station, Texas, after being hospitalized on Christmas Eve, a representative said. The cause of death was not disclosed.

Mike and the Mad Dog host Mike Francesca tweeted Friday, “Shocking news on the passing of my friend, Don Imus. He will long be remembered as one of the true giants in the history of radio.”

Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough added, “Morning Joe obviously owes its format to Don Imus. No one else could have gotten away with that much talk on cable news. Thanks for everything, Don.” Morning Joe started as a fill-in for Imus in the Morning after Imus was fired from MSNBC in 2007.

Imus in the Morning, which debuted on WNBC-AM in New York in 1971, most recently reached radio listeners via Citadel Media and was simulcast on the Fox Business Network.

Imus was loved or hated for his caustic loudmouth. Outspoken in an age of political correctness, his often coarse satire offended sensibilities. Yet his listeners included those whom he often ridiculed. His call-in guests included President Clinton, Dan Rather, Tim Russert, Bill Bradley, David Dinkins, Rudy Giuliani and political analyst Jeff Greenfield, who once remarked, “He’s out there talking the way most of us talk when we’re not in public.”

He sparked national outcry in 2007 when he made derogatory, racist remarks about the Rutgers women’s basketball team. CBS Radio and MSNBC then dropped his show. 

He rebounded by signing a multiyear contract with the Fox Business Network in 2009 to simulcast Imus in the Morning from 6-9 a.m., with Fox anchors appearing during the program.

Imus battled a lifelong addiction to drugs and alcohol. In 2009, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. 

Imus was often compared to syndicated shock jock Howard Stern, who also had a stint on WNBC radio early in his career, and they frequently appeared on each other’s shows. Although Imus could not match Stern’s audience in terms of numbers, advertisers were well aware of Imus’ better-educated and richer demographic, often preferring him.  

Imus in the Morning sandwiched music around his in-your-face commentary in which he mocked authority figures and ridiculed social and political problems. His no-holds-barred humor, including gags and pranks, spurred the onset of “shock jocks” like Stern. A mix of rock ’n’ roll, raunchy humor, call-ins and hard barbs, Imus in the Morning was a huge hit.  

He also performed stand-up for a time, garnering favorable reviews from such unlikely reviewers as The New York Times

An active philanthropist, Imus and his wife, Deirdre, founded the Imus Ranch in 1999, where each summer children with cancer could enjoy the outdoors.

John Donald Imus Jr., was born on July 23, 1940, in Riverside, California. He was raised in Prescott, Arizona, where his family owned a large ranch. He dropped out of high school to join the U.S. Marines and after basic training won a chair in the band.

Following discharge, he worked at an array of odd jobs: window dresser (he was fired for staging mannequin striptease shows), uranium miner and railroad brakeman, where he suffered a serious neck injury and won a large cash settlement.

While recovering, he set his sights on becoming a disc jockey, ostensibly to play his own music on the airwaves. He moved to Los Angeles, enrolled in a Hollywood broadcasting school and landed his first deejay job at KUTY, a station in Palmdale, California. 

During an eight-month stint there, he developed a skill for comic patter and moved to KJOY in Stockton, California, where he staged satirical social and political gags, including an Eldridge Cleaver look-alike contest when the Black Panther was on the lam. His station manager did not see the humor, and he was fired.

He moved to KXOA in Sacramento, where his satirical hijinks were appreciated by the station manager who counseled him that his humor would be more lethal and less likely to attract legal action. Intent on becoming more lethal, Imus created a slew of satirical characters, including the huckster Rev. Billy Sol Hargus.  

His on-air antics infuriated authorities, including the FCC, which was not amused when he phoned a fast-food outlet and ordered 1,200 hamburgers and requested a bizarre array of toppings. The gag resulted in a ruling that deejays must identify themselves when making on-air calls. The clash with government authority, not surprisingly, boosted his ratings, and KXOA was No. 1 in Sacramento while he was there.

Imus is survived by his wife, Deirdre; sons Wyatt and Lt. Zachary Don Cates; and daughters Nadine, Ashley, Elizabeth and Toni.

“Don loved and adored Deirdre, who unconditionally loved him back, loved spending his time watching Wyatt become a highly skilled, champion rodeo rider and calf roper and loved and supported Zachary, who first met the Imus family at age 10 when he participated in the Imus Ranch program for kids with cancer, having battled and overcome leukemia, eventually becoming a member of the Imus family and Don and Deirdre’s second son,” his family said in a statement.

The family will hold a private service in the coming days and asks for donations to be made to the Imus Ranch Foundation.

Revenue train kept rolling all year long for Salesforce

Salesforce turned 20 this year, and the most successful pure enterprise SaaS company ever showed no signs of slowing down. Consider that the company finished the year on an $18 billion run rate, rushing toward its 2022 revenue goal of $20 billion. Oh, and it also spent a tidy $15.7 billion to buy Tableau this year in the most high-profile and expensive acquisition it’s ever made.

Co-founder, chairman and CEO Marc Benioff published a book called Trailblazer about running a socially responsible company, and made the rounds promoting it. In fact, he even stopped by TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco in September, telling the audience that capitalism as we know it is dead. Still, the company announced it was building two more towers in Sydney and Dublin.

It also promoted Bret Taylor just last week, who could be in line as heir apparent to Benioff and co-CEO Keith Block whenever they decide to retire. The company closed the year with a bang with a $4.5 billion quarter. Salesforce, for the most part, has somehow been able to balance Benioff’s vision of responsible capitalism while building a company makes money in bunches, one that continues to grow and flourish, and that’s showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

All aboard the gravy train

The company just keeps churning out good quarters. Here’s what this year looked like:

How to Create Facebook Video Ads in Minutes: Tips For Beginners

Facebook video ads are an essential part of any business’ social media toolkit. According to Wyzowl, people recall just 20% of the information they read compared to 80% when info is presented in more visual formats. This largely explains the rise of self-directed learning on Youtube.

We’re at an age where every marketer knows videos are important. But not every marketer knows yet that videos are surprisingly easy to make. You might think good video content requires professional gear, complex software, and a big budget — but that’s not the case.

It’s true that making a video ad used to mean hiring a scriptwriter, director, actors, and camera crew — then paying for professional editing on top of that. But advances in technology have changed all that. There are now very simple and inexpensive ways you can do that.

Here how to create Facebook video ads in minutes:

how to create facebook video ads

Take advantage of stock footage and audio

One of the simplest ways to get great content is to use what others have already created. Using stock video footage allows you to include imagery in your video that would be difficult to film yourself.

Say you want a sweeping aerial shot of mountains in your video. Getting that shot yourself would be very difficult and expensive. But if someone else has already filmed it and made it available as stock footage, you can pay a small fee and use it in your own video ad. Most stock video libraries will allow you to search by keywords to quickly find what you’re after.

You might be surprised to know that it’s not the only deadline and budget-driven marketers who use stock media. Even major film studios use stock footage to save time and money.

You can blend stock footage with content you create yourself or even make your entire video from stock by editing various scenes together.

The same goes for stock audio and music. Getting the right to commercially-released music is very expensive and so is hiring a composer. But with stock music, you can add great background music to your video without paying too much.

Use ready-made templates

If you want to create videos very quickly, you can also try using a Facebook video ad template. Templates are helpful because they give you a general outline to fit your content into. These will usually come pre-loaded with stock video and audio, which you can keep or replace, as well as spaces to add your own text.

For example, you could use this travel ad template or this ready-made cafe ad and replace the stock footage provided with original content you’ve shot for your business.

You could also try a dedicated Facebook video ad maker. This will provide you with a simple drag-and-drop interface – just choose stock video and audio that work for your business then add your own text.

Edit your video online

If you are going to use your own video content, it’s helpful to have some basic editing tools on hand. Access to a good editor is helpful because it means you don’t need to nail everything in one take. You can quickly trim down scenes to get the timing right and edit together multiple takes.

There’s plenty of complex and expensive editing software out there but all you need for simple Facebook video ads is a free online editor. With a good editor, you can put together a video and send it straight to your account from the editor.

It may take a little practice, but it’s pretty easy to get the basic editing techniques for making your video content look great.

How to Create Facebook Video Ads That Work

create facebook video ads

It’s one thing to put a video together but another to create effective content. Here are some tips on how to create Facebook video ads that work:

  1. Ensure your videos are exported in the right file type and size to play easily on Facebook. Check out Facebook’s guidelines for video ads, and always ensure your content is optimized for mobile devices as that’s probably where it will be seen.
  2. Keep your videos short – 15-60 seconds is a good general guide. It’s hard enough to grab people’s attention on social media; don’t push your luck once you do.
  3. Mention your brand early – ideally in the first 3 seconds – and make sure your logo or company name also appears on the screen visually, not just in the audio. More than 85% of Facebook users watch videos without sound!
  4. Speaking of soundless videos, ensure your ad has subtitles and text so people can engage with it even if they don’t turn on the sound. This is also a reason to include good music – if people do turn the sound on, they should be rewarded!
  5. Your videos shouldn’t look sloppy but you also don’t want something overly polished. People aren’t on social media looking for slick ads. So go for good, authentic content that adds value to people’s scrolling experience and just happens to also boost your brand.

Get your video in front of the right people

Don’t forget to target your ad when it’s time to share it on Facebook. You can customize the audience for your ad according to location, age, gender, languages, interests, behaviors, and even connections.

Follow those guidelines and start putting video ads together and you’ll start to see great results. Whether you’re starting off with simple templates or editing a mini-masterpiece, online videos should be a key part of your online promotional strategy.

See Also: 8 Reasons Why You Should Be Using Facebook Advertising

The post How to Create Facebook Video Ads in Minutes: Tips For Beginners appeared first on Dumb Little Man.

Jimmy Kimmel goes after Trump over shocking joke about dead congressman

Jimmy Kimmel goes after Trump over shocking joke about dead congressman

At the same time the House was voting to impeach him on Wednesday, President Donald Trump was holding a rally in Michigan, tearing into everyone and everything that even slightly displeased him. Among his targets was Rep. Debbie Dingell, who voted for impeachment. 

On Thursday’s episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live, Kimmel highlighted how Trump retaliated against the perceived slight by implying that Dingell’s late husband, long-serving Rep. John Dingell, was in Hell, “looking up” at her.

“Trump believes that since he graciously allowed the flags of federal buildings to be lowered to half mast to honor John Dingell, his widow should have shown her appreciation by voting not to impeach,” said Kimmel.  Read more…

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Jimmy Kimmel goes after Trump over shocking joke about dead congressman

Jimmy Kimmel goes after Trump over shocking joke about dead congressman

At the same time the House was voting to impeach him on Wednesday, President Donald Trump was holding a rally in Michigan, tearing into everyone and everything that even slightly displeased him. Among his targets was Rep. Debbie Dingell, who voted for impeachment. 

On Thursday’s episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live, Kimmel highlighted how Trump retaliated against the perceived slight by implying that Dingell’s late husband, long-serving Rep. John Dingell, was in Hell, “looking up” at her.

“Trump believes that since he graciously allowed the flags of federal buildings to be lowered to half mast to honor John Dingell, his widow should have shown her appreciation by voting not to impeach,” said Kimmel.  Read more…

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