Joe Mercer

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Warbot is a game that puts a meta spin on the classic card game that we all know and love.

The game mechanics are pretty simple. There are two players, each with money and a face down, shuffled deck of cards. The goal is to take all your opponents money. One player has a dealer chip. Each turn, the players ante in $1, draw a card, and look at it. Then the player with the dealer chip places a bet based on how likely they think it is that they have the high card. Based on the dealer’s bet, the second player can either choose to call the bet, or fold. If they fold, then the dealer keeps the ante, but if they call then both cards are revealed and the player with the higher card takes the entire pot. Then the dealer chip is rotates, and the game repeats. If the two cards are equal, then the round is a push and both players keep their bets.

Now let’s make it meta. Instead playing this game...

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[notes] Zero to One

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future (2014) by Peter Thiel

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This book is short and sweet, like candy. In the prologue, Thiel mentions that it’s heavily based on a lecture series that he gave at Stanford in 2012. I wouldn’t recommend it as a core piece of literature, but it has a couple interesting thought-bits.

1. The Challenge of the Future

“Whenever I interview someone for a job, I like to ask this question: "What important truth do very few people agree with you on?”“

2. Party Like It’s 1999

The entrepreneurs who stuck with Silicon Valley learned four big lessons from the dot-com crash that still guide business thinking today:

  1. Make incremental advances
  2. Stay lean and flexible
  3. Improve on the competition
  4. Focus on product, not sales

And yet the opposite principles are probably more correct:

  1. It is better to risk boldness than triviality
  2. A...

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Exploring the Interview Format

When finals are approaching I tend to find new (and increasingly elaborate) ways of procrastinating my studying. Last term this took the form of old Jian Ghomeshi interviews with musicians: Jason Mraz, John Mayer, and many more. I was incredibly impressed! Jian Ghomeshi is able to distill out what makes each artist unique, and cajole them into opening up about it. He treats them fairly, but isn’t afraid to call them out on contradictions. He does his research.

I was so impressed that I wanted to explore working in the interview format myself. I have a hypothesis that it can be just as valuable at the personal level as at the level of famous people. (Also, I’ve always thought that the idea of hyperlocal news was really interesting).

Here’s my proposed process:

Step 1: The Interviewee should spend 10 minutes answering some questions (stream of conscious answers are fine), and then send...

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[notes] Creative Confidence

Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All (2013) by Tom Kelley and David Kelley

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Introduction: The Heart of Innovation

Chapter 1: Flip - From Design Thinking to Creative Confidence

“Belief in your creative capacity lies at the heart of innovation.”

“Deep empathy for people makes our observations powerful sources of inspiration.”

“We believe successful innovations rely on some element of human-centered design research while balancing the two other [technical and business] elements.”

Chapter 2: Dare - From Fear to Courage

“Bandura’s work [in self-efficacy] scientifically validates something we’ve been seeing for years: Doubts in one’s creative ability can be cured by guiding people through a series of small successes.”

The Failure Paradox

“A widely held myth suggests that creative geniuses rarely fail. Yet creative geniuses are quite...

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[notes] Organizational Behavior (raw)

These are my (un-revised) notes from the Organizational Behavior class at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. The text for the class was called Organizational Behavior by Stephen Robbins and Timothy Judge. I had the 15th edition. Hopefully I’ll come back to these notes sometime in the future, and when I do I’ll clean them up.

1. What is Organizational Behavior

Managers get things done through other people. They make decisions, allocate resources, and direct the activities of others to attain goals.

Management Functions

  • planning => defining an organization’s goals, establishing an overall strategy for achieving those goals, and developing a comprehensive set of plans to integrate and coordinate activities
  • organizing => designing an organization’s structure
  • leading => direct and coordinate those people
  • controlling => monitoring, comparing, and potential correcting


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Hanabi Strategy

When I introduce new players to Hanabi (buy from Amazon), I describe it as mix between Solitaire, Mastermind, and Bridge, except where everyone plays on the same team. This post will focus on the Bridge-like qualities of Hanabi.

The twist in Hanabi is that you don’t get to see your cards, you only get to see everyone else’s cards. In order to teach other players about their cards you hint information (colors or numbers) to them. Each turn in Hanabi you have three options: 1) play a card, 2) discard a card, or 3) hint to your partner.

Similar to the bidding systems used in Bridge, we’ve developed a series of strategies and rules to optimize our hint-giving. Since developing the strategy is kind of the fun part of Hanabi, I wouldn’t suggest reading them until you’ve had a chance to play. I’ve also tried to write them down in such a way that you can incorporate them into your own strategy...

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[review] Made to Stick (raw)

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (2007) by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

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Since the redeeming qualities of this book are predominately captured in my notes, this review will focus on my issues with this book.

Issue 1: Hypocritical Style

Oftentimes I felt this book did not follow it’s own advice. For example, in the first chapter:

“In fact, we’ll follow our own advice and strip this book down to its core. Here it is: There are two steps in making your ideas sticky— Step 1 is to find the core, and Step 2 is to translate the core using the SUCCESs checklist. That’s it.”

That’s not following your own advice. Your advice was to relentlessly prioritize, not to be tricky and try to pass off six steps as two steps.

Hypocrisy also runs abound in the examples this books cites, which are often contradictory when analyzed at anything more than a cursory depth...

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[notes] Made to Stick

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (2007) by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

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NOTE: Bewarned, these notes are un-edited, un-revised, and un-styled. I plan on cleaning them up eventually, but until then, I apologize.

Introduction: What Sticks?

“So not every idea is stick-worthy. When we ask people how often they need to make an idea stick, they tell us that the need arises between once a month and once a week, twelve to fifty-two times per year.”

“The broad question, then, is how do you design an idea that sticks?”

“We adopted the “what sticks” terminology from one of our favorite authors, Malcolm Gladwell. In 2000, Gladwell wrote a brilliant book called The Tipping Point, which examined the forces that cause social phenomena to “tip,” or make the leap from small groups to big groups, the way contagious diseases spread rapidly once they infect a certain...

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You Should Put Your Code On Github

Dear Past Me,

Remember that first assignment in your Introduction to Computer Programming class? Because I sure don’t. You should have put it on Github. You should have put all your code on Github. Right from the beginning. No exceptions.

Putting your code on Github will…

1. Introduce you to Git

I remember back when my version control was saving the file periodically with an appended version number:,, etc. Git was the version control you needed back when you didn’t know what version control was. Simply put, Git is better. Moreover, Github has great tutorials for getting started and practicing Git.

2. Start building a portfolio

I remember back when I was hustling for my first internship, and I would walk into interviews and say, “I can program, trust me.” I should have said, “I can program, let me show you.” Employers love portfolios. Moreover, employers love...

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Hackathons, or Now I’m Standing on the Overpass and Screaming at the Cars, “Hey, I Wanna Get Better!”

I think we should take four months off next Fall to run the hackathon circuit.


We all have experience with product design, but our experience has been with sustaining innovation. We’ve been given existing products and told to maintain or improve them. We’ve gotten really good at prototyping features. We’ve gotten really good at building, testing, and iterating to optimize them. Sustaining innovation is incredibly important, but also kind of boring. After all, who wants to be remembered as the person that made an existing thing marginally better? I want to be remembered as the person that created something new.

This type of innovation is called disruptive innovation. It involves reformulating existing paradigms to craft products that outperform the competition by competing on a different level. It involves thinking in a space that has yet to be explored. It involves taking chances...

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