Running Tumblr on WooCommerce

Tumblr has recently released features for creators to earn a living with their art. Whenever you turn those features on, we provision an entire WordPress site, complete with WooCommerce (and WooCommerce Payments) plugins to facilitate billing. This post explains why (in case it’s not obvious).

Your new WooCommerce is hiding behind this toggle

Read more about Post+ and Tipping on Tumblr.

When I am not writing blog posts on this site, I work at (actually, the company is called Automattic) on helping creators earn a living without sacrificing artistic freedom. When we bought Tumblr, we wanted to extend that option to Tumblr creators as well. Only, Tumblr isn’t running WordPress.

Or is it?

At Automattic, we also work on WooCommerce – the most extensible eCommerce platform on the web. Why not extend it to power Tumblr features as well? Actually, there are lots of reasons not to do it, but we did it anyway.

How does it work?

Whenever you enable Tumblr monetization features, we:

  1. Create a new WordPress site on infrastructure to serve as a payments backend
  2. Install WooCommerce, and WooCommerce-Subscriptions plugins to power the payments
  3. Create a Stripe account for you via WooCommerce-Payments
  4. Create products on that site with the price point you set on Tumblr
  5. Link that backend site to your Tumblr blog

From now on, your Tumblr blog will use that site as its billing API.

A design I originally drew many months ago, still accurate.


At Automattic, we like to eat our dogfood. And eat the dog food bowl. And eat the table under which the dog food is served. It is really surprising how the dog has managed to survive.

The above design is definitely inefficient from data perspective: Yes, we do have some duplication. Yes, we create 38 new SQL tables each time somebody decides to try out tipping on Tumblr.

But it is very efficient from an organizational perspective. We already have composable pieces for each requirement. Even if any one piece is not fitting exactly right, we would have to make it so. (WPCOM) is a giant multisite (It’s one installation of WordPress running all the blogs – read more about multisites). Our systems teams made it run on bare metal, effectively turning WordPress into “serverless”. New WordPress sites have a marginal cost for us. The ones with WooCommerce are slightly more problematic, but that is something we have to solve anyway.


WooCommerce is an eCommerce platform based on WordPress distributed as a plugin. It is designed with extensibility in mind to suit any use case, including our billing system (dubbed “Tumblrpay”).

Checkout is the only interface of WooCommerce that we expose

Hundreds of open source contributors and our colleagues are making sure WooCommerce is reliable, secure, and a perfect solution for any payment-related use case. It powers a thriving ecosystem of extensions that make it do exactly what you want, although some use cases are easier than others.

By far, the biggest challenge of our work was making it run on the giant multisite of We had to improve security, reliability, stability, and data handling. We are streamlining database structure and plugin APIs and fixing bugs that are only uncovered at this scale.

WooCommerce Payments

WooCommerce Payments is an Automattic-owned payment gateway based on Stripe. It leverages Automattic’s infrastructure and experience from running WooCommerce at scale to provide the most convenient merchant experience of any WooCommerce payment method.

Our teams are monitoring fraud, paying attention to the payment flow and a set of processes to ensure security, stability, and maintenance on the payment side.

But the main reason we made it handle Tumblr web payments and renewals is because it’s fully vertically integrated with the rest of our business and existing workflows.

Alternative designs

I am pretty confident that this is not how you would imagine monetization features on Tumblr to work. The design had the following goals:

  1. Use each component of the existing ecosystem for its strenghts.
  2. Find gaps in those, and improve each component so other efforts (including the Open Source users) can benefit.
  3. Leave minimal footprint. No new dashboards, no new systems.
    Ideally, each subsequent billing need should be a configuration, not a custom project to be maintained.

The alternative architectures we were discussing did not meet these goals:

  • Combined backend for all Tumblr blogs, running on top of Stripe Connect (the obvious SAAS-like architecture with 4-5 bigger tables):
    • Does not utilize our infrastructure
    • Does not contribute to other products
    • Requires custom management UIs and new dashboards for Fraud, Systems, and Accounting teams
    • Creates issues with In-App-Purchases
  • Running “One Big WooCommerce” – a design where it’s still WooCommerce under the hood, but are payments are aggregated on one store, instead of per-merchant:
    • Cannot use WooCommerce Payments, requiring a custom payment gateway
    • Requires us to write custom logic for splitting revenue across “merchants”

In-App Purchases

Running hundreds of thousands of WooCommerce sites is easy compared to the gymnastics we had to perform to enable In-App-Purchases in the app.

We are effectively running a Marketplace on top of the Apple IAP API, and it’s not easy. I will describe it in a seperate post – subscribe to know where it’s ready:

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Some lessons learned

This is a random assortment of lessons we learned:

  1. Just because you find a clever way to do it, it is not always worth it. You have to design for ease of maintenance in the future
  2. Real problems are org-chart problems. Everything technical is solvable, but organizational issues are much harder to untangle.
  3. Chekhov’s function: If you deploy a function to a shared codebase, chances are somebody is going to use it without the same precautions as you would take. Sanitize your inputs.
  4. It’s always the cache.
  5. Tumblr users really want to share porn, while both Apple and Stripe really do not want that.
  6. Running 80 000 database updates per minute is a bad idea.
  7. Complexity grows at an exponential rate. If you have 3 untested features, when something breaks, you don’t know what you can depend on. Even if you build on a stable foundation, it’s best to do it one story at a time.
  8. When your wp_users table is bigger than 300 million, than don’t create a user that owns more than 100 000 sites. As a role on each site is stored as a user_meta, that giant entry will create cache timeouts.
  9. Composer autoloader filenames are incompatible with WordPress coding standards.
  10. WooCommerce boot order is a delicate beast.
  11. Your job is to code yourself out of the job


I want to give huge huge huge kudos to my amazing teammates who made this challenging architecture a reality:

And the entire product team using this infrastructure to build amazing features like crabs, so you can give crabs to other Tumblr users. It has been a joy to work with them.

Ups and downs of parenting

I was talking to a friend today and realized that when I talk about fatherhood, it’s mostly in negative terms. We work together (and sometimes travel as well), so my limited flexibility is a natural topic. But still, I felt compelled to offset the negativity of the described parenting experience with the positive side, and it was hard.

It’s not that the beautiful side is not there – quite to the contrary; it is just very hard to explain to somebody who does not have children.

The bad stuff about parenting – sleep deprivation, chores, responsibilities – is very legible, very easy to explain. The amazing stuff is not as easy – the subtle smiles, the jokes the kid makes, the way they brave through scary situations.

Paul Graham mentioned this as well in his amazing essay on “Having Kids”:

What I didn’t notice, because they tend to be much quieter, were all the great moments parents had with kids. People don’t talk about these much — the magic is hard to put into words, and all other parents know about them anyway — but one of the great things about having kids is that there are so many times when you feel there is nowhere else you’d rather be, and nothing else you’d rather be doing.

If you are considering having children, I encourage you to read the opening sentence. If this describes you, go ahead and read the whole thing.

Before I had kids, I was afraid of having kids. Up to that point I felt about kids the way the young Augustine felt about living virtuously. I’d have been sad to think I’d never have children. But did I want them now? No.

If you want to chat with other parents on how to have amazing life while nurturing your children, my wife hosts a series on Interintellect, called Kinderintellect.

This weekend we attended a wedding and left our daughter with her grandma for the first time. I don’t remember partying that hard before, but it was a welcome break and a very good celebration.

We returned home around 2 am, and at 4, our baby woke up and demanded a full schedule of play she was denied the previous evening. Party Hard.

Few things I’ve read

Fish & Ships

Gregory is creating dreamy illustrations, and one of his series is -very appropriately- called “Fish & Ships”. Check out his Twitter

From digital nomad to becoming a parent

Continuing the parenting thread, Nikolaj has a very good post about becoming a parent as a digital nomad:

While traveling full-time we heard this all the time: “Better do this now, you can’t do it when you have kids”, which is such bullshit. There is such a negative framing of the before and after having kids.

He also touches on the “dynamic equilibrium” of location independence:

really like the idea about being on the border of many different communities and applying a bit from each

How to trade money and time

Let’s talk about something other than parenting, ok?

Convenience is my love language. I spend some effort in hopes of saving the future Artur a lot of annoyance in the future. My attempts include hiring Virtual Assistants, buying 10+ chargers, testing many many headsets, and generally drowning in extra cables.

Katja lists a few more ideas in her article on how to trade money and time:

I agree that time is very valuable. I just disagree that you should avoid putting values on valuable things. What you don’t explicitly value, you squander

Can Matt Mullenweg Save the Internet?

Matt is my boss, a friend, and kind of an important figure in Internet history. The article in protocol with a little grandiose title “Can Matt Mullenweg save the Internet?” is a very good introduction (and a reminder for myself) to why I continue to work for Automattic for seven years now:

I think it’s crucially important to have alternatives that are creator-focused, versus advertiser-focused

This paragraph captures very well how it is to talk to him:

Before he answered, Mullenweg changed the frame of the question. This happened constantly in our conversations: I’d ask about Instagram or the iPhone, he’d respond with Plato or Camus

What do you wish existed?

I am absolutely drunk on power.

Recently, I got access to both Dall-e and Midjourney. Both are AI image generators trained on the entirety of digital art available on the Internet.

The idea is that you submit a prompt (for example, “beautiful utopia with dramatic light and shadowing reflection under the sea”) and end up with an original image (below).

This is great fun.

  • Dall-e is a web app by OpenAI (the guys that brought you GPT-3) and generates the most “realistic” images. You get 50 prompts free, later you have to pay $15 for 115 prompts.
  • Midjourney works as a Discord (discord is similar to Slack or MS Teams) bot. You get 25 prompts free and later have to pay $10/month.

I much prefer Midjourney, as it produces much more “artistic” results. I was reluctant to deal with Discord but liked it quite a lot. Creations generated by free accounts are posted to Discord public channels, and you get to observe human creativity in action.

Some of the images are unreal, but the human ingenuity that gave them life is as fascinating.

Original prompt by Deyna Beth

While I am trying to generate an image of my hometown, somebody else creates an image from a prompt: “Corgi wearing space suit.”

Original prompt

How do I start with Midjourney?

  1. Click here to join the Midjourney Discord
  2. Join one of the “Newbies” channels ( for example, newbies-117, or whichever will be available when you join)
  3. Type in a prompt “/imagine your amazing image idea”. You can add --ar 16:9 for 16:9 aspect ratio or any ratio you want.
  4. Wait for your image to be generated. You can now click a button to “upscale” one of them.
  5. Enjoy!

Alternatively- email me your idea, and I will generate it for you!

I’m also collecting the best findings in this thread. Click for “spider man playing the violin on the battlefield”.

A few things I published

A few things I’ve read

Most of the people who’ve made beautiful things seem to have done it by fixing something that they thought ugly. Great work usually seems to happen because someone sees something and thinks, I could do better than that.

In the age where you can generate stunning images with a few words, the taste may be something unique to humans. It’s up to us to decide what creations are good, and which ones should fade away like Frankenstein’s monster.

Synchronizing WordPress posts with Github

I treat my WordPress blog as my “digital home” – THE place to collect my thoughts, describe projects, and publish ideas.

It works very well for writing, but my coding projects feel better on Github. They also appreciate the documentation and descriptions I attach to them.

Over time, my projects would get out of sync with their WordPress counterparts. I would add new features, change behavior or describe new use cases and would have to manually change that in WordPress, which I naturally forgot to do.

I wrote this simple snippet to embed any Github .md file inside WordPress posts or pages. Content would be refreshed from Github every hour and displays inside the post like it was written on WordPress.

Here is an example page. Almost the entire content is from the associated

How to sync your WordPress posts with any markdown file on Github

  1. Use the attached code to introduce the GitHub markdown handler to your WordPress blog. Remember to also attach Parsedown.php!
  2. Create an amazing project solving the world’s most pressing problem, write a .md file describing it
  3. Copy the URL to Github markdown file
  4. Paste it to WordPress block editor, and see how it turns into the content from the file.

Here is the code:

// Drop this in functions.php or your plugin.
// You NEED to have Parsedown.php also :
__NAMESPACE__ . '\artpi_github_markdown_handler'
function artpi_github_markdown_handler( $matches, $attr, $url, $rawattr ) {
$url = str_replace(
[ '', '/blob' ],
[ '', '' ],
$transient_key = 'gh_' . md5( $url );
$content = get_transient( $transient_key );
if ( ! $content ) {
$request = wp_remote_get( $url );
if ( is_wp_error( $request ) ) {
return false;
$content = wp_remote_retrieve_body( $request );
if( ! $content ) {
return false;
require_once __DIR__ . '/Parsedown.php'; // You will need to download Parsedown
$md_parser = new \Parsedown();
$content = $md_parser->text( $content );
if( ! $content ) {
return false;
$content = "<div class='github_readme_md'>$content</div>";
set_transient( $transient_key, $content, 3600 );
return apply_filters( 'embed_github_readme_md', $content, $matches, $attr, $url, $rawattr );
view raw functions.php hosted with ❤ by GitHub

Book: A short history of nearly everything

I would call this book a “multivitamin” of natural sciences: It fills the gaps in the general knowledge of:

  • The cosmological and geological history of the planet earth,
  • History of physics, history, astronomy, and the science itself,
  • History of our – and other – species

In “The Interconnected Mess of it all,” I wrote about how dismantling the world into discrete disciplines is not serving science that well. “A Short History of Nearly Everything” drives that point home, as it showcases the interdisciplinary pursuits of famous scientists and the cross-pollination of ideas between disciplines. Particularly in the period of Romantic Science (the late 1800s – early 1900s), few prolific scientists amassed discoveries and inventions by applying new scientific methods to previously unconnected disciplines.

It is a surprise that we are still here.

The Book starts with the tumultuous early days of the universe, solar system, the earth, and our atmosphere. It underscores how many seemingly miraculous coincidences have had to happen in order to make life on earth possible.

It also lists a long list of threats to our continual existence: Asteroids, Supervulcanoes, Diseases, Ice Ages, Warming periods, and other cyclical cataclysms that can render the planet uninhabitable.

There are just so many threats beyond our control that gained a renewed understanding of Elon Musk‘s efforts to make humanity a multi-planetary species.

Scientists are as petty and random as the rest of us

Max Planck is credited with saying that “the Science progresses one funeral at a time“. Scientists who made their careers by discovering X are not very happy with the new generation trying to disprove the painstakingly proven theories of the old guard.

Scientists are, after all – human and not that much more objective than the rest of us. Their idiosyncratic quirks are pretty interesting.

Halley (for whom the Halley’s commet was named) was an exceptional figure. In the course of a long and productive career, he was a sea captain, a cartographer, a professor of geometry at the University of Oxford, deputy controller of the Royal Mint, Astronomer Royal, and inventor of the deep-sea diving bell. He wrote authoritatively on magnetism, tides and the motions of the planets, and fondly on the effects of opium.

(Parkinson had one other slight claim to fame. In 1785 he became possibly the only person in history to win a natural history museum in a raffle. The museum, in London’s Leicester Square, had been founded by Sir Ashton Lever, who had driven himself bankrupt with his unrestrained collecting of natural wonders. Parkinson kept the museum until 1805, when he could no longer support it and the collection was broken up and sold.)

In the 1860s, journals and other learned publications in Britain began to receive papers on hydrostatics, electricity and other scientific subjects from a James Croll of Anderson’s University in Glasgow. One of the papers, on how variations in the Earth’s orbit might have precipitated ice ages, was published in the Philosophical Magazine in 1864 and was recognized at once as a work of the highest standard. So there was some surprise, and perhaps just a touch of embarrassment, when it turned out that Croll was not an academic at the university, but a janitor.

(Cavendish) he was particularly devoted to the weekly scientific soirées of the great naturalist Sir Joseph Banks – it was always made clear to the other guests that Cavendish was on no account to be approached or even looked at. Those who sought his views were advised to wander into his vicinity as if by accident and to ‘talk as it were into vacancy’. If their remarks were scientifically worthy they might receive a mumbled reply,

We are not the best stewards of our planet.

For almost the entire history of our species, we had to fight for survival. We had to dominate nature and the elements, protect ourselves against predators and survive the perils of the natural world.

But since the scientific revolution, we started winning disproportionately, and the fight stopped being fair. We continue to exert our dominance, wiping the entire species’ and polluting the environment out of habit.

Now it’s our responsibility to grow up and become good stewards of our planet.

Since 1946, the United States had been ferrying 55-gallon drums of radioactive gunk out to the Fallarone Islands, some 50 kilometres off the California coast near San Francisco, where it simply threw them overboard.

Imagine ground sloths that could look into an upstairs window, tortoises nearly the size of a small Fiat, monitor lizards 6 metres long basking beside desert highways in Western Australia. Alas, they are gone (because of us), and we live on a much diminished planet.

This point is also mentioned in The Overstory, The Invention of Nature, and Of Wolves and Men.

My Highlights

  • There seemed to be a mystifying universal conspiracy among textbook authors to make certain the material they dealt with never strayed too near the realm of the mildly interesting and was always at least a long-distance phone call from the frankly interesting.
  • Most star systems in the cosmos are binary (double-starred), which makes our solitary sun a slight oddity.
  • The reason the Voyager craft were launched when they were (in August and September 1977) was that Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune were aligned in a way that happens only once every 175 years. This enabled the two Voyagers to use a ‘gravity assist’ technique in which the craft were successively flung from one gassy giant to the next in a kind of cosmic version of crack the whip.
  • Halley was an exceptional figure. In the course of a long and productive career1, he was a sea captain, a cartographer, a professor of geometry at the University of Oxford, deputy controller of the Royal Mint, Astronomer Royal, and inventor of the deep-sea diving bell. He wrote authoritatively on magnetism, tides and the motions of the planets, and fondly on the effects of opium.
  • He merely recognized that the comet he saw in 1682 was the same one that had been seen by others in 1456, 1531 and 1607. It didn’t become Halley’s comet until 1758, some sixteen years after his death.
  • Halley’s traumas were not yet quite over. The Royal Society had promised to publish the work,
  • Jean Chappe spent months travelling to Siberia by coach, boat and sleigh, nursing his delicate instruments over every perilous bump, only to find the last vital stretch blocked by swollen rivers, the result of unusually heavy spring rains, which the locals were swift to blame on him after they saw him pointing strange instruments at the sky. Chappe managed to escape with his life, but with no useful measurements.
  • (Cavendish) he was particularly devoted to the weekly scientific soirées of the great naturalist Sir Joseph Banks – it was always made clear to the other guests that Cavendish was on no account to be approached or even looked at. Those who sought his views were advised to wander into his vicinity as if by accident and to ‘talk as it were into vacancy’20. If their remarks were scientifically worthy they might receive a mumbled reply,
  • Among much else, and without telling anyone, Cavendish discovered or anticipated the law of the conservation of energy, Ohm’s Law, Dalton’s Law of Partial Pressures, Richter’s Law of Reciprocal Proportions, Charles’s Law of Gases, and the principles of electrical conductivity. That’s just some of it. According to the science historian J. G. Crowther, he also foreshadowed ‘the work of Kelvin and G. H. Darwin on the effect of tidal friction21 on slowing the rotation of the earth, and Larmor’s discovery, published in 1915, on the effect of local atmospheric cooling
  • It is hard to imagine now, but geology excited the nineteenth century – positively gripped it – in a way that no science ever had before or would again.
  • And when, in 1841, the great Charles Lyell travelled to America to give a series of lectures in Boston, sellout audiences of three thousand at a time packed into the Lowell Institute to hear his tranquillizing descriptions of marine zeolites and seismic perturbations in Campania.
  • Throughout the modern, thinking world, but especially in Britain, men of learning ventured into the countryside to do a little ‘stone-breaking’, as they called it. It was a pursuit taken seriously and they tended to dress with appropriate gravity, in top hats and dark suits, except for the Reverend William Buckland of Oxford, whose habit it was to do his fieldwork in an academic gown. The field attracted many
  • In 1794 he was implicated in a faintly lunatic-sounding conspiracy10 called ‘the Pop-gun Plot’, in which it was planned to shoot King George III in the neck with a poisoned dart as he sat in his box at the theatre. Parkinson
  • (Parkinson had one other slight claim to fame. In 1785 he became possibly the only person in history to win a natural history museum in a raffle. The museum, in London’s Leicester Square, had been founded by Sir Ashton Lever, who had driven himself bankrupt with his unrestrained collecting of natural wonders. Parkinson kept the museum until 1805, when he could no longer support it and the collection was broken up and sold.)
  • His other slight peculiarity14 was the habit, when distracted by thought, of taking up improbable positions on furniture – lying across two chairs at once or ‘resting his head on the seat of a chair, while standing up’ (to quote his friend Darwin).
  • Jurassic refers to the Jura Mountains on the border of France and Switzerland.
  • for his work with dinosaurs that Owen is remembered. He coined the term dinosauria in 1841. It means ‘terrible lizard’
  • Before Owen, museums were designed primarily for the use and edification of the elite27, and even they found it difficult to gain access. In the early days of the British Museum, prospective visitors had to make a written application and undergo a brief interview to determine if they were fit to be admitted at all. They then had to return a second time to pick up a ticket – that is, assuming they had passed the interview – and finally come back a third time to view the museum’s treasures. Even then they were whisked through in groups and not allowed to linger. Owen’s plan was to welcome everyone, even to the point of encouraging working men to visit in the evening, and to devote most of the museum’s space to public displays. He even proposed, very radically, to put informative labels on each display28 so that people could appreciate what they were viewing.
  • at a place called Bone Cabin Quarry, only a few miles from Marsh’s prime hunting ground at Como Bluff, Wyoming. There, hundreds and hundreds of fossil bones were to be found weathering out of the hills. They were so numerous, in fact, that someone had built a cabin out of them – hence the name37.
  • The number of neutrons is generally about the same as the number of protons, but they can vary up and down slightly. Add or subtract a neutron or two and you get an isotope23.
  • When you sit in a chair, you are not actually sitting there, but levitating above it at a height of one angstrom (a hundred millionth of a centimetre), your electrons and its electrons implacably opposed to any closer intimacy.
  • The picture of an atom that nearly everybody has in mind is of an electron or two flying around a nucleus, like planets orbiting a sun. This image was created in 1904, based on little more than clever guesswork, by a Japanese physicist named Hantaro Nagaoka.
  • Soon afterwards, at a meeting in Wisconsin, Patterson announced a definitive age for the Earth of 4,550 million years (plus or minus 70 million years) – ‘a figure that stands unchanged 50 years later’16, as McGrayne admiringly notes. After two hundred years of attempts, the Earth finally had an age. Almost at once, Patterson turned his attention to the question of all that lead in the atmosphere. He was astounded to find that what little was known about the effects of lead on humans was almost invariably wrong or misleading – and not surprisingly, since for forty years every study of lead’s effects had been funded exclusively by manufacturers of lead additives.
  • It would prove to be a hellish campaign. Ethyl was a powerful global corporation with many friends in high places. (Among its directors have been Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell and Gilbert Grosvenor of the National Geographic Society.) Patterson suddenly found research funding withdrawn or difficult to acquire. The American Petroleum Institute cancelled a research contract with him, as did the United States Public Health Service, a supposedly neutral government body.
  • To his great credit, Patterson never wavered. Eventually his efforts led to the introduction of the Clean Air Act of 1970 and finally to the removal from sale of all leaded petrol in the United States in 1986. Almost immediately lead levels in the blood of Americans fell by 80 per cent21.
  • As
  • Clair Patterson died in 1995. He didn’t win a Nobel Prize for his work. Geologists never do. Nor, more puzzlingly, did he gain any fame or even much attention from half a century of consistent and increasingly selfless achievement. A good case could be made that he was the most influential geologist of the twentieth century.
  • Most particle physicists feel, as Leon Lederman remarked in a 1985 television documentary, that the Standard Model lacks elegance and simplicity. ‘It is too complicated. It has too many arbitrary parameters19,’ Lederman said. ‘We don’t really see the creator twiddling twenty knobs to set twenty parameters to create the universe as we know it.’ Physics is really nothing more than a search for ultimate simplicity, but so far all we have is a kind of elegant messiness – or as Lederman put it: ‘There is a deep feeling that the picture is not beautiful.’
  • It was Arthur Holmes, the English geologist who did so much to determine the age of the Earth, who came up with a suggestion. Holmes was the first scientist to understand that radioactive warming could produce convection currents within the Earth.
  • extensive mountain range on Earth was – mostly – under water. It traced a continuous path along the world’s seabeds, rather like the pattern on a tennis ball. If you began at Iceland and travelled south, you could follow it down the centre of the Atlantic Ocean, around the bottom of Africa, and across the Indian and Southern oceans and into the Pacific just below Australia; there it angled across the Pacific as if making for Baja California before shooting up the west coast of the United States to Alaska. Occasionally its higher peaks poked above the water as an island or archipelago – the Azores and Canaries in the Atlantic, Hawaii in the Pacific, for instance
  • tiny grains of iron ore within the rocks point to wherever the magnetic poles happen to be at the time of their formation, then stay pointing in that direction as the rocks cool and harden.
  • attachment to rocks, but this problem intrigued him. It occurred to him that the answer might lie in dust from space.
  • Scattered through this thin dusting are exotic elements not normally much found on Earth. Among these is the element iridium, which is a thousand times more abundant in space than in the Earth’s crust (because, it is thought, most of the iridium on Earth sank to the core when the planet was young). Luis Alvarez
  • ‘Well, you have to remember,’ Asaro recalls, ‘that we were amateurs in this field. Walter was a geologist specializing in palaeomagnetism, Luis was a physicist and I was a nuclear chemist. And now here we were telling palaeontologists that we had solved a problem that had eluded them for over a century. It’s not terribly surprising that they didn’t embrace it immediately.’ As Luis Alvarez joked: ‘We were caught practising geology without a licence.’ But there
  • But let’s suppose we did see the object coming. What would we do? Everyone assumes we would send up a nuclear warhead and blast it to smithereens. There are some problems with that idea, however. First, as John S. Lewis notes, our missiles are not designed for space work32. They haven’t the oomph to escape Earth’s gravity, and even if they did there are no mechanisms to guide them across tens of millions of kilometres of space. Still less could we send up a shipload of space cowboys to do the job for us, as in the movie Armageddon; we no longer possess a rocket powerful enough to send humans even as far as the Moon. The last rocket that could, Saturn 5, was retired years ago and has never been replaced. Nor could we quickly build a new one because, amazingly, the plans for Saturn launchers were destroyed as part of a NASA spring-cleaning exercise.
  • Although it is little more than a guess, it is thought that in over four billion years the temperature at the core has fallen by no more than 110 degrees Celsius. No one knows exactly how hot the Earth’s core is, but estimates range from something over 4,000 degrees to over 7,000 degrees Celsius – about as hot as the surface of the Sun.
  • Did you know there are more geysers and hot springs at Yellowstone than in all the rest of the world combined?’ ‘I didn’t know that.’ He nodded. ‘Ten thousand of them, and nobody knows when a new vent might open.’
  • Put the human body under pressure, and that nitrogen is transformed into tiny bubbles that migrate into the blood and tissues. If the pressure is changed too rapidly – as with a too-quick ascent by a diver – the bubbles trapped within the body will begin to fizz in exactly the manner of a freshly opened bottle of champagne, clogging tiny blood vessels, depriving cells of oxygen and causing pain so excruciating that sufferers are prone to bend double in agony – hence ‘the bends’.
  • Aluminium is the fourth most common element on Earth, accounting for nearly a tenth of everything that’s underneath your feet, but its existence wasn’t even suspected until it was discovered in the nineteenth century by Humphry Davy, and for a long time after that it was treated as rare and precious. Congress nearly put a shiny lining of aluminium foil atop the Washington Monument to show what a classy and prosperous nation we had become, and the French imperial family in the same period discarded the state silver dinner service and replaced it with an aluminium one29. The fashion was cutting edge even if the knives weren’t.
  • What sets the carbon atom apart is that it is shamelessly promiscuous. It is the party animal of the atomic world, latching on to many other atoms (including itself) and holding tight, forming molecular conga lines of hearty robustness – the very trick of nature necessary to build proteins and DNA.
  • Trillions upon trillions of tiny marine organisms that most of us have never heard of – foraminiferans and coccoliths and calcareous algae – capture atmospheric carbon, in the form of carbon dioxide, when it falls as rain and use it (in combination with other things) to make their tiny shells. By locking the carbon up in their shells, they keep it from being re-evaporated into the atmosphere where it would build up dangerously as a greenhouse gas. Eventually all the tiny foraminiferans and coccoliths and so on die and fall to the bottom of the sea, where they are compressed into limestone. It is remarkable, when you behold an extraordinary natural feature like the White Cliffs of Dover in England, to reflect that it is made up almost entirely of tiny deceased marine organisms,
  • If you have ever been struck by how beautifully crisp and well defined the edges of cumulus clouds tend to be, while other clouds are more blurry, the explanation is that there is a pronounced boundary between the moist interior of a cumulus cloud and the dry air beyond it. Any water molecule that strays beyond the edge of the cloud is immediately zapped by the dry air beyond, allowing the cloud to keep its fine edge. Much higher cirrus clouds are composed of ice and the zone between the edge of the cloud and the air beyond it not so clearly delineated, which is why they tend to be blurry at the edges.
  • Charles William Beebe and Otis Barton in 1930. Although they were equal partners, the more colourful Beebe has always received far more written attention. Born in 1877 into a well-to-do family in New York City, Beebe studied zoology at Columbia University, then took a job as a birdkeeper at the New York Zoological Society. Tiring of that, he decided to adopt the life of an adventurer and for the next quarter-century travelled extensively through Asia and South America with a succession of attractive female assistants whose jobs were inventively described as ‘historian and technicist’ or ‘assistant in fish problems20’. He supported these endeavours with a succession of popular books with titles like Edge of the Jungle and Jungle Days, though he also produced some respectable books on wildlife and ornithology.
  • Navy provided funding for a more advanced submersible, to be operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution of Massachusetts. Called Alvin, in somewhat contracted honour of the oceanographer Allyn C. Vine, it would be a fully manoeuvrable mini-submarine, though it wouldn’t go anywhere near as deep as Trieste. There was just one problem26: the designers couldn’t find anyone willing to build it. According to William J. Broad in The Universe Below: ‘No big company like General Dynamics, which made submarines for the Navy, wanted to take on a project disparaged by both the Bureau of Ships and Admiral Rickover, the gods of naval patronage.’ Eventually, not to say improbably, Alvin was constructed by General Mills, the food company, at a factory where it made the machines to produce breakfast
  • Today Alvin is nearly forty years old, but it remains the world’s premier research vessel.
  • Perhaps nothing speaks more clearly of our psychological remoteness from the ocean depths33 than that the main expressed goal for oceanographers during International Geophysical Year, 1957/8, was to study ‘the use of ocean depths for the dumping of radioactive wastes’.
  • Since 1946, the United States had been ferrying 55-gallon drums of radioactive gunk out to the Fallarone Islands, some 50 kilometres off the California coast near San Francisco, where it simply threw them overboard.
  • Crab-eater seals are not a species of animal that most of us have heard of, but they may actually be the second most numerous large species of animal on Earth, after humans.
  • At depth, microbes shrink in size and become extremely sluggish. The liveliest of them may divide no more than once a century18, some no more than perhaps once in five hundred years. As The Economist has put it: ‘The key to long life, it seems, is not to do too much19.’ When
  • Making a host unwell has certain benefits for the microbe. The symptoms of an illness often help to spread the disease. Vomiting, sneezing and diarrhoea are excellent methods of getting out of one host and into position for boarding another.
  • in 1983 when Barry Marshall, a doctor in Perth, Western Australia, found that many stomach cancers and most stomach ulcers are caused by a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori. Even though his findings were easily tested, the notion was so radical that more than a decade would pass before they were generally accepted.
  • In an attempt to devise a vaccine, medical authorities conducted experiments on volunteers at a military prison on Deer Island in Boston Harbor52. The prisoners were promised pardons if they survived a battery of tests. These tests were rigorous to say the least. First, the subjects were injected with infected lung tissue taken from the dead and then sprayed in the eyes, nose and mouth with infectious aerosols. If they still failed to succumb, they had their throats swabbed with discharges taken straight from the sick and dying. If all else failed, they were required to sit open-mouthed while a gravely ill victim was sat up slightly and made to cough into their faces. Out of – somewhat amazingly – three hundred men who volunteered, the doctors chose sixty-two for the tests. None contracted the flu – not one. The only person who did grow ill was the ward doctor, who swiftly died. The probable explanation for this is that the epidemic had passed through the prison a few weeks earlier and the volunteers, all of whom had survived that visitation, had a natural immunity.
  • Happily the outbreak stopped there, but we can’t count on always being so fortunate. Our lifestyles invite epidemics. Air travel makes it possible to spread infectious agents across the planet with amazing ease. An Ebola virus could begin the day in, say, Benin, and finish it in New York or Hamburg or Nairobi, or all three.
  • Walcott had found, in effect, the holy grail of palaeontology. The outcrop became known as the Burgess Shale, from the name of the ridge on which it was found, and for a long time it provided ‘our sole vista upon the inception of modern life12
  • Anapsids gave rise to the turtles, which for a time, perhaps a touch improbably, appeared poised to predominate as the planet’s most advanced and deadly species, before an evolutionary lurch let them settle for durability rather than dominance.
  • Some animals absolutely prospered – including, a little surprisingly, the turtles once again. As Flannery notes, the period immediately after the dinosaur extinction could well be known as the Age of Turtles31. Sixteen species survived in North America and three more came into existence soon after.
  • Rarely has a man been more comfortable with his own greatness. He spent much of his leisure time penning long and flattering portraits of himself, declaring that there had never ‘been a greater botanist or zoologist’, and that his system of classification was ‘the greatest achievement in the realm of science’. Modestly, he suggested that his gravestone should bear the inscription Princeps Botanicorum, ‘Prince of Botanists’. It was never wise to question his generous self-assessments. Those who did so were apt to find they had weeds named after them. Linnaeus’s
  • In the 1860s, journals and other learned publications in Britain began to receive papers on hydrostatics, electricity and other scientific subjects from a James Croll of Anderson’s University in Glasgow. One of the papers, on how variations in the Earth’s orbit might have precipitated ice ages, was published in the Philosophical Magazine in 1864 and was recognized at once as a work of the highest standard. So there was some surprise, and perhaps just a touch of embarrassment, when it turned out that Croll was not an academic at the university, but a janitor .
  • Croll was the first to suggest that cyclical changes in the shape of the Earth’s orbit, from elliptical (which is to say, slightly oval) to nearly circular to elliptical again, might explain the onset and retreat of ice ages. No-one had ever thought before
  • In fact, global warming could plausibly, if paradoxically, lead to powerful localized cooling in North America and northern Europe.
  • We don’t know precisely the circumstances, or even the year, attending the last moments of the last dodo, so we don’t know which arrived first, a world that contained a Principia or one that had no dodos, but we do know that they happened at more or less the same time.
  • dodos were so spectacularly short on insight, it is reported, that if you wished to find all the dodos in a vicinity you had only to catch one and set it to squawking, and all the others would waddle along to see what was up.
  • In 1755, some seventy years after the last dodo’s death, the director of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford decided that the institution’s stuffed dodo was becoming unpleasantly musty and ordered it tossed on a bonfire. This was a surprising decision as it was by this time the only dodo in existence, stuffed or otherwise.
  • biggest-ever member of the pigeon family,
  • Imagine ground sloths that could look into an upstairs window, tortoises nearly the size of a small Fiat, monitor lizards 6 metres long basking beside desert highways in Western Australia. Alas, they are gone, and we live on a much diminished planet.
  • Schouten made life-sized paintings of every animal they could reasonably recreate and Flannery wrote the words. The result was an extraordinary book called A Gap in Nature,
    • Book: A Gap in Nature

Principles for reading

We are not well adapted to the world of abundance. In the past, information was scarce and valuable.

But in marvelous lands of modernity, we have access to way too much content. Just like with food, we must learn to consume it mindfully and responsibly. Here is how I handle it:

My principles for reading

My entire “system” is designed to satisfy the following 3 principles:

1. Do not read crap

I prefer to read nothing than crappy clickbait. The best approach to avoiding low-quality content is never to start reading it. The next best thing is to stop reading it the moment you realize it’s not great.

If you are struggling through a book, you have my permission to abandon it right now.

2. You have to get something out of it

Read either for pleasure, knowledge, or both. Infotainment is an excellent way to learn, but it has to contain some actionable items.

There is a very successful genre of non-fiction that only makes you feel like you are learning something, improving yourself, or getting valuable tips.

News, for example, is not giving you an accurate picture of the world, nor is it making you feel better. This article explains why following news is a bad idea.

3. Knowledge is a graph

If it’s for knowledge, integrate what I read with my existing knowledge. Otherwise, it will be lost in the bottomless pit of my brain forever.

My reading flow

My media “diet” looks as follows:


I listen to fiction almost exclusively on Audible, preferably while outside and moving. If it’s a particularly entertaining book, it motivates me to spend more time outdoors or working out. Win-win.


I avoid reading new articles straight away because the urgency usually makes them more appealing than it really is. So instead, I put new pieces to the Pocket app.

I have pocket sorted in the oldest-first order (as opposed to the default newest-first setting). This is because, by the time I get to the article I just put there, it will no longer be urgent or relevant.
Usually, I wonder why it was a good idea to read it and delete the article without reading it.

I try to highlight exciting takeaways while reading. Sometimes these highlights are valuable, but seeking takeaways makes me more mindful and read more carefully.


For similar reasons, I read books mainly on Kindle or the Kindle app. I extolled both virtues in For the love of Kindle – the ultimate nomad library.

For Kindle books, you can add the Audible version to your book in the Kindle app. You can seamlessly switch between listening to an audiobook, reading the regular version, and making highlights.

You have to pay for both versions, but if you are not getting more value out of this book anyway, you should not be reading it.


There are two podcasting apps that I know of that let you do highlights:

While listening to a podcast episode in one of these apps, you can press the “back” button on your headset (or triple tap the AirPods) to mark that point of the episode. Later, in the app, you will see a transcription of that moment. It has been a game changer for content-heavy podcasts like The Tim Ferriss show or the Huberman Lab.

Highlight management

All of the sources mentioned above connect to a fantastic app called Readwise.

Readwise automatically exports my highlights to my note-taking app (currently Logseq), where I can review, pull quotes on the fly and access everything I deem worthy.

All my blog posts and newsletter issues are compilations of those notes, and all are fueled by what I am reading. Quality of inputs matters.

Sort by Surprising

In the project management land, surprises are very costly. In the best case, they are introducing work you have not budgeted for, extending your timeline.

In the worst case, you discover a dependency on external vendors, or internal teams. And that is blocking you right now! Your team cannot proceed and can only sit idle and observe the roadblock removed.

Since sitting empty-handed is corrosive, drains morale and kills momentum, you undertake some filler work or some other project in the meantime. By the time your dependencies get resolved, you are deep in something else, which you have to switch back from.

Your total cost of the surprise is:

Cost_Of_a_Surprise = Time_Spent_Waiting_on_Others + Time_Spent_Integrating_Their_Solution + Time_Switching_Back_From_Filler_Work

Simple solution: Frontload the surprises

There are many project management frameworks and philosophies, but my simple heuristic is to discover surprises, so work can be put in parallel as soon as possible.

When kicking off the project, the natural instinct of engineers is double down on what they know, share that brilliant idea on how to deal with the X requirement, or use the technology Y they have been playing with in spare time. This compounds the problem, because it postpones dealing with uncertainty. The least known area holds the most surprises, and is usually the most underestimated.

I fight these urges, starting any project with the least known area first.

  • We will make slower progress at the beginning,
  • We cannot jump at those exciting ideas from the kickoff,
  • We will discover undetected dependencies which we can start delegate right away
  • We can adjust timeline much sooner

In plain SQL, `SELECT tasks FROM project ORDER BY surprising DESC;`

RVing, while Working, while Babysitting

Over the last year, we have spent 4+ months in our RV, with a growing toddler and a confused dog. We worked, visited amazing places, swam in cold lakes, ate way too much pizza & gelato, and had quite a good time.

The people we met on the road were usually retirees, families on vacation, or young #vanlifers working from their converted vans. I don’t think we’ve personally met anybody else spanning all of those categories.

Sleep-deprived young parents, upon learning this was our second Grand Tour of Europe asked with hope in their eyes

It gets easier, doesen’t it?

Hopefull parents

It kind of does, but mostly you learn to manage. This post contains our tips and tricks. (I have included a roundup of our favorite places in RVing around alps.)

Why RV in the first place?

Traveling with a baby and a dog is different from the peaceful nomading of a single life. Nothing really goes according to plan, you have to pack tons of stuff into your car while everybody gets annoyed, and you have to frequently submit to the whims of your 1-year old overlord.

With the RV, you can:

  • Stop anywhere and start cooking lunch immediately,
  • Never really pack the car since all the stuff is already with you
  • Always find a place for a nap, even if that means a gas station parking lot

But the biggest advantage of RV-ing is that you by design stay close to nature (except for the gas station parking lots of course). Campgrounds are usually in places where it is hard to find a hotel and are run by (and for) people who appreciate lakes, mountains, forests, and goats. My kind of people.

There are plenty of puddles to run into, grass to lie on, and mud to explore for dogs and babies, keeping them somewhat entertained while at least somebody is trying to work.

As a parent, I wouldn’t go as far as to state that you don’t have to hurry, but compared to other travel modes, it’s much slower, relaxing, and mindful. If you feel like driving only 20 kilometers today, there is plenty to see over there. You want to stay one more week at lake Garda – nobody will judge. If suddenly the Verzasca Valley in southern Switzerland inspires you – well, go ahead!

After I originally drafted this post, I got stranded at the Montreal airport, which reinforced my love of RV independence. Always having a roof over your head is one more advantage of RV-ing.

Where did you go?

I wrote a whole post about that, with amazing pictures. Go check it out!

Gimme your best RVing tips!

Where do you work?

Having constant access to a table/desk where I can comfortably focus on work was part of the reason I got interested in the RVs. Worst case scenario, I can always hide in the RV and work from there – it’s like I have a home office always with me.

Since my laptop charges with USB-C, I decided to completely forgo the 110/220V installation and power everything from 12v. This charger works really well for Macbook Pro. I try to spend as little time sitting by the desk as possible. My go-to is a comfy chair outside, with the laptop on my lap.

I try to work from coffeeshops and restaurants, but my all-time favorite are picnic tables.

What about the Internet?

Normal nomading rules apply while RVing and the nomadic rule 47 states:

It is always cheaper to buy a local prepaid sim card.

Nomadic Rule 47

While Internet roaming around Europe is technically “free”, the countries that have cheaper data will impose limits – like 3GB/month in my case. I always buy a local sim card, and so far we have tried:

The best router I have found so far is TP-Link Archer MR200. I have also tried Teltonika RUT-955 with high hopes of turning my RV into a super-high-tech van, but it turned out that the router just wasn’t doing a good enough job at being a router, despite other fancy features.

It is also worth noting that the iPhone “wifi hotspot” function is amazingly fast and it’s probably the fastest router you will be able to put your hands on.

Working with a toddler

One does not know real work until one tries to perform it with a toddler.

I have to clarify that only one of us was working. Last year, I have been enjoying 6 months of parental leave while my wife was working. This year, Maria decided to take some time off work to focus on our family when I returned to full-time work.

The biggest challenges, as at home, are keeping the Toddler happy while not disturbing the Working One. Fortunately, there are always new and interesting places to see nearby.

New Category: Monumental Playgrounds

Where do you sleep?

In the RV. You are probably also wondering where we park it, and we have a couple of strategies:


Most often we stay at campgrounds. Since our lives are sufficiently complicated, we opt-in for some convenience. Many campgrounds offer experiences much better than the best hotel: amazing views, swimming pools, a mini zoo with the goats, or a mountain stream just by your RV. My favorite so far is Caravan Park Sexten which offers amazing saunas.

RV parks

Western Europe has a lot of RV parks (Wohnmobil stellplatz or Area Sosta). These are cheaper and barer than campgrounds but are usually more centrally located. This is more like a parking lot with special facilities for the RVs.

Free spots

There are plenty of spots where you can just park and sleep. In most countries, it is legal to sleep in the car (which I find funny because if you put a tent in the city center, they would find you but cars, including RVs are privileged). You can find some amazing spots using the park4night app.

OMG it’s so cramped

Yes and no. Our RV has maybe about 12 square meters of living space. But what is great about RV life is that the outside counts as well. RVing is all about putting fewer walls between you and the open fields, dense forests, and inviting beaches. You take more walks, eat meals on a folding table outside, and just chill on a comfortable chair.

The layout of my RV

What about the Rain?

All of the above works until it starts raining. Our energetic toddler. There is a variety of tactics we use to deal with that situation:

Some campgrounds, especially the bigger ones, have a “Kid’s Club”. This is a place where they will entertain your 4-year-old, but usually, they will not kick out a parent with a younger baby when it’s raining.

We have an awning and an awning tent. This adds another 7.5 sq meters of usable space. The awning tent is mostly there to prevent everything from getting wet when it’s raining and windy, but it also provides a bit of a boundary for Ewa and the dog.

I will update this post with any future tips and tricks. In the meantime, you can see where we travelled here.

Full-time working from the RV

My friend (and Teammate) Fab travels, and works from his RV full-time, with 2 dogs (although I am not sure how much work dogs get done). He is legitimately productive, and you can follow his adventures here.

RVing around alps

Over the last year, we have spent 4+ months in our RV, with a growing toddler and a confused dog. We worked, visited amazing places, swam in cold lakes, ate way too much pizza & gelato, and had quite a good time. These are some of the places we visited.

I believe this area offers the most densely packed set of landscapes, towns, and cultural experiences on the continent. My RVing tips will follow in another post.


This is hardly a hidden gem. However, there is a reason behind Italy’s popularity. I can even name a few:

  • Fantastic nature, more coasts, mountains, and lakes that any nation deserves
  • Great food even outside of Pizza and Pasta
  • Friendly, laid-back people
  • Classic architecture immersing you in beauty

You can also add unique historical artifacts, but even if you don’t see any of the “old stuff”, Italy still holds up.

Southern Tyrol

Southern Tyrol is a region between Austria and Italy where even the locals are not really sure about their nationality.

Caravan Park Sexten is probably our favorite camping so far, with amazing views over the 3 Zinnen peaks.

During the winter you can enjoy 115 km of ski routes, and during the summer you can hike there or ride e-bikes. Caravan Park Sexten also has mindblowing SPA with 3 thermal pools, 9 saunas, and a cold plunge overlooking the mountains.

Lake Garda

Lake Garda is a destination with a strong gravitational pull. This time we tried out a huge “premium” campsite with a kid’s club, animations, and 3 different playgrounds. These facilities helped entertain Eva, and I enjoyed biking with her (part of the way) around Garda, visiting small towns on the way.

This is a trendy RVing destination, with many diverse campsites to choose from. A string of charming villages along the lake’s coast is connected by a ferry system.


Venice is surprisingly charming and not at all as touristy as I would guess it would be. Tourism has not yet wholly recovered from COVID, and we were able to enjoy a coffee on st. Mark’s Square without an issue WHILE wrangling the baby & the dog. We enjoyed Camping Fusina with views over the city of Venice while our toddler marveled at huge ships passing by.


There is more to Pisa than just the famous leaning tower, but tourists absolutely congregate there. We stayed at “Area Sosta” – parking for campers, without many additional amenities. We did not need them anyway.


Florence is a beautiful town but very hard to navigate with an unruly dog and a stroller. I particularly enjoyed the tour of Brunelleschi’s dome for the Domo and a stroll around the city. It was way more crowded than Venice and full of American tourists. I hoped to spend more time, enjoying the birthplace of the renaissance, but the Easter holidays may have been a suboptimal time to do so.

We stayed close to Florence, at a “Hu Firenze” camping, with a great bike path alongside the Arno river for the excursions to the city.

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre is a picturesque series of small towns between Carrara and Genoa. The fishing villages built on rugged coast inspired “Portorosso” of Disney’s Luca. As charming as those villages are, it’s a struggle with the stroller during Easter.

There are 5 villages to visit, with trails connecting them. The best and basically only way to get tot those towns is by train between Genoa and La Spezia. You will need a national park ticket to access the footpaths. Check out this site to plan your trip.

There are no campings inside the Cinque Terre national park. Instead, we stayed at Carrara – the best marble mine in Europe. It provided material for Michaelangelo’s David, amongst the famous Reneissance sculptures. In the city of Carrara marble was everywhere. The train station’s bathrooms were the most impressive I have ever seen.


In most of the countries in Europe, you can camp overnight at parking and other public spaces. This is not the case in Switzerland, where most of the parking spots are private. There is however plenty of camping and parking spots specifically for campers. They are usually paid.

Verzasca Valley

Verzasca valley is located north of Locarno. The titular river has shaped a canion offering spectacular views.

We stayed at a Stellplatz in the city of Sonogno, near a small stream and trout farm.


Rheinfall (Switzerland) is a popular location and the biggest waterfall in Europe by volume. You can park RVs overnight at no charge, and you can visit the waterfall during the evening for free. The gentle hum of the Rhein river will help you sleep.



Hallstatt, Austria is called “The most Instagrammable Town in the World”.

  • It attracts six times more tourists per capita than Venice
  • Picturesque lake vistas and a charming church tower
  • The oldest salt mine in the world
  • Has a Chinese clone
  • And a creepy skull church

I wrote more about Hallstatt here 👉



Neuschwanstein is the real™️-life inspiration for the Disney iconic castle. It may shock you to learn that despite being built by an actual king (Louis 2nd of Bavaria), it didn’t serve any protective nor administrative purposes. It is a pocket universe immersed in the romantic ideals of the medieval mythos. Louis the 2nd wanted to live in a Wagner opera, so he built one around himself.

Despite a certain level of pretense, it is surprisingly charming and offers many surprises and incredible views. The tour is well worth a visit.The region of Fussen has other castles, lakes, and mountains suddenly appearing out of nowhere.

Camping outside of official places is forbidden in Fussen. There is one parking under the castle that can accommodate RVs, but you can not sleep there. I recommend camping Bannwaldsee. It is close enough to reach Neuschwanstein on foot, or you can use the city bus. You receive free bus passes when you check in to the camping.

Rothenburg ab der Tauber

Rothenburg ab der Tauber is considered one of the exemplary medieval German Towns. It is a prime example of the medieval architecture.

We stayed at a Stellplatz very close to the center of the town


Similarly to Rotheberg an der Tauber, Bamberg is a very nice town and a great stop while travelling through Germany.

All the places mentioned here are on this map.

Human Memory and Academic Writing

I do not trust my memories, and neither should you.

I just published an excerpt from my Master’s Thesis about Source Monitoring Errors– the instances where the brain makes a “wrong call” and misattributes a fictional memory as a true one. The brain stores information surprisingly well, but it is terrible at distinguishing where it comes from. As a result, it often confuses fact with fiction, hearsay, dreams, and conjectures.

Our brains count on the real memories (contrary to the imagined ones), typically having more texture, details, smells, colors, and emotion. The information about the source of information is not stored in your memory at all. Instead, each time you recall a piece, your brain is using heuristics to remember, “Did I hear that from a reputable source or seen it in a TV Show” and it’s never 100% confident in the answer.

Fry’s brain is trying to distinguish fact from fiction.

Source Monitoring Errors can have grave consequences:

  • Early eyewitness testimonies are usually taken by low-ranking law officials that can accidentally distort the memories by asking leading questions. Half of wrongfully executed death penalty victims lost their lives (according to one study) because of this mechanism and weight of (distorted) eyewitness testimonies in court.
  • Interaction of rich content, and the emotionally charged discourse on social media can create real memories, which can lead to extreme beliefs, which can lead to more charged content, which can lead to more distorted memories…

Read more about Source Monitoring errors and the Misinformation effect here.

Writing things

Note-taking, journaling, and writing things are superpowers. They compensate for the deficiencies of human memory and turn your thinking into a multiplayer sport. Here are some benefits to publishing your thoughts, especially if you are a student:

  • Explaining things to others is a best way to deepen your understanding (It’s called the Feynman Technique).
  • Following your curiosity will make you more interested in what you are learning about, compounding your recollection.
  • Putting your ideas out there will get you the attention of others, interested in similar topics.

Publishing content as a student seems like a no-brainer, but why do so few of them participate?

Writing things in academia

Academia is a credentialed system, reinforcing the idea that you need permission to write your thoughts, and only if they are captured in the most boring way imaginable. It took me a few years to recover from the traumatic experience of writing like a pretentious robot allergic to simple words. When I copied the content of my master thesis into WordPress, three different tools started complaining about passive voice, the readability of sentences, and the use of complicated terms.

It seems like everything you need to succeed as a writer is to follow the exact opposite of academic writing:

  • Write like you would for a layman.
  • Use short sentences and simple terms.
  • Break the text with punctuation, feel free to bold and underline.
  • Don’t be afraid of showing your human side, because that will help your readers connect.

Academic papers use the “impartial” and “professional” language to signal objectivity. Still, as the ongoing replication crisis proves, this is pure posturing, only making these papers harder to read (which may be for the better). As Paul Graham points out in Write Simply:

Of course, fancy writing doesn’t just conceal ideas. It can also conceal the lack of them. That’s why some people write that way, to conceal the fact that they have nothing to say. Whereas writing simply keeps you honest. If you say nothing simply, it will be obvious to everyone, including you.

If you are a student, you are often required to submit academic writing. I implore you to publish your notes and pursue simple writing on the side. Translating academic papers into simple words is one of the best niches out there and will do wonders for your understanding. After a few years, your blog may become a better asset than the degree.

Surprising things.

The secret heart of academia is… Wikipedia.

Academics are looking down on Wikipedia, blogs, and other “unreliable” sources, but at the same time, they use it extensively to their own and science’s benefit.

In an experiment, this paper found that a single quality Wikipedia article written by chemistry experts influenced the content of 250 published peer-reviewed academic papers! Articles referenced in Wikipedia also become more cited.

Basically, Wikipedia is used like a review article: “Wikipedia is either the largest or second-largest repository of up-to-date review articles articles in the world… Wikipedia is highly likely to also be the first- or second-most influential repository”

Time millionaires

This article introduced me to a concept of time millionaires – people who see leisure as a true value in life, not their career track record:

time millionaires measure their worth not in terms of financial capital, but according to the seconds, minutes and hours they claw back from employment for leisure and recreation

If society was truly progressive,” she says, “it would not work people to the bone in the first place, or make the assumption that leisure, time to rest, time to be with your family, is only for the wealthy.”

One of my millionaire friends, Paul Millerd, recently released a book urging you to pursue a “Pathless Path”. You should check it out if you are curious about making your career serve you vs. the other way around.

Greek translation for “work” was literally “not‑at‑leisure.” In Aristotle’s own words, “we are not‑at‑leisure in order to be‑at‑leisure.” Now, this is flipped. We work to earn time off and see leisure as a break from work. Pieper pointed out that people “mistake leisure for idleness, and work for creativity.” To Pieper, leisure was above work.

Sweaters for the penguins

Australia’s oldest man is knitting sweaters for the injured penguins. Nuff said.