Is this your miracle year? • How to shop online like a pro

It wouldn't be the first time in history that the circumstances you're in (pandemic et al) produced miracle years, so...

Thing 1: Miracle year (could it be this year, please?)

Einstein had 1905.

Photoelectric effect, Brownian motion, special relativity.

Newton had 1665/66.

Theory of gravity plus language of calculus to express it.

Linus Torvalds had 1990.

Linux. Drop mic.

Copernicus, Darwin, von Neumann, and Gauss had their own miracle years.

"Ken Thompson built the basic chassis of UNIX in a week when his wife went on vacation and he had a lot of time on his hands. Applied Divinity Studies responds to this anecdote:

How terrifying would it be if that was true? Is it possible that Thompson was burdened by responsibilities his entire life, and then in a brief moment of freedom did some of the most important work anyone has ever done?"

What the heck is happening here?

It boils down to youth, freedom, and obligations. (maybe)

Most Nobel prize winners win it for the work they did in their late 20s or early 30s.

Einstein was a patent clerk (read: bored out of his mind).

Newton was a college student dismissed for quarantine (don't need to paint this one, do I?).

With great power...

With success come obligations, which kept your geniuses from having other miracle years. (And in Ken's case, wife came home...)

So they no longer had freedom to do what they do best.

I think a bulk of my anxiety comes from knowing that my 20s and early 30s are behind me and my annus mirabilis is not happening (or is it). So I find solace in sitting down on Sunday evenings and writing about cool things for a handful of smart and curious peeps.

Cue the tiny violin. 🎻

Jeez, Z, when did this become about you?!

Ok, fine. Here's a silver lining.

Richard Feynman, Marie Curie, and some others managed to be productive throughout their lives, so you could too. 😜

Fluid intelligence declines suddenly in your 30s.

Crystallized intelligence accumulates slowly till your 50s or 60s.

  • If you're not yet in your 20s, spend time acquiring foundational knowledge.
  • If you're in your 20s, take time to chase not money but your genuine curiosity. (message me, I wanna help)
  • If you're in your 30s, 40s, or 50s, use your crystallized intelligence and rock! (pun intended)
  • If you're in your 60s or over, send me pics from your extended European travels and enjoy the life you've built for yourself. Share your wisdom and invest in new generations.

Thing 1 is heavily inspired by Dwarkesh's post that's been making noise in the internet neighborhood I spent my time in.

Thing 2: How to shop online like a pro

Here's how it often goes.

You go buy something online.

You find 3 products that solve your problem but look the same.

  • 10 reviews - 100% positive
  • 50 reviews - 96% positive
  • 200 reviews - 93% positive

Which one do you buy?

After an hour of emotional torture, you decide on one and still don't know if it was the optimal solution.


I'll spare you the math, here's the shortcut you should take.

  1. Pretend there are 2 additional reviews for each of the products - one positive, the other negative.
  2. Recalculate the positivity rate.
  3. Use the new rate.

That's all you need to know, feel free to skip to Thing 3.

Continuing our example that's

  • 11/12 = 91.7%
  • 49/52 = 94.2%
  • 187/202 = 92.6%

⇒ Your best bet is to get product 2.

You're a geek so you want the math? Start here.

Binomial distributions | Probabilities of probabilities, part 1

Binomial distributions | Probabilities of probabilities, part 1

Thing 3: You are what you consistently do

If you think like the owner and you act like the owner, it’s only a matter of time until you become the owner.
Naval Ravikant

Naval's quote comes from his analysis of the principal-agent problem and has a deeper message than this. But that's for the bushy-tailed.

Principal-Agent Problem: Act Like an Owner (6 min)


Zvonimir "Annus mirabilis in the making" Fras