The Nico Lemay Blog

Never Stop Wondering

Amazing VideoBuilding the Perfect Squirrel Proof Bird Feeder, by Mark Rober.  There is over engineering, and then there is Mark Rober.  I’m new to his channel, but if I understand correctly, he worked for NASA for about a decade on the Mars Curiosity Rover, and today makes a living off his incredible Youtube videos, where he puts his grasp of state of the art engineering to work solving entirely benign problems.  In this video, which is a product of the Covid lock down, Mark fights tooth and nail to keep his bird feeder free from squirrel intrusion.

Podcast Worth HearingDiogenes the Punk Rocker of Ancient Greece, by the History on Fire Podcast.  For any of you who don’t know the History on Fire Podcast, I recommend it!  Written and hosted by the University Professor Daniele Bolelli, the podcast has by now visited a vast number of historical topics, from the story of Joan of Arc, to Cortez’s conquest of the Aztec, to smaller episodes such as this one, which is about the historical figure of Diogenes.  Diogenes was a fringe Greek philosopher who lived in the ancient world. A unique character, Diogenes is famous for not giving a shit (no, seriously), insulting important people, living in self imposed poverty, and for creating scandals. He also had some pretty clever ideas. Bolelli’s podcast gives us a deep dive into just about everything known on the figure.

I liked this podcast because, when we look at famous philosophers and thinkers from the past, we tend to see them only as the fully formed, formidable figures they were when they created the famous works for which they are known. In reality, they started off as babies, and much went into who they became. In the case of Diogenes, he is seen today as a sort of vagrant-philosopher, and I didn’t think much of him. I imagined that he lived his whole life as some ne’er-do-well, while in reality, he began his life in a wealthy family involved in finance, and as a young man he aspired to a successful career of his own. Through trials, setbacks, destitution, and interactions with the messengers of the Gods (the Oracle of Delphi), he developed a worldview which made him famous. It made him famous because he did not simply preach it, he lived it, in opposition to every social norm you can imagine. You can’t get a better short lesson on Diogenes than in this Podcast. Refreshingly, Bolelli readily admits what is known, what is unknown, and what is probably fabricated by later historians about the ancient life of Diogenes. If you don’t mind a thick Italian accent in your ears, (who knows, it might be a plus), and if you just can’t get enough history, you shouldn’t miss this podcast.

also, see the short piece I wrote on Diogenes earlier this week!

The Book Missing from High School CurriculumsUnshakeable, by Tony Robbins. High school curriculums don’t make a lot of sense. They pack in plenty of classes that feel laughably useless, they assign any number of uninteresting books that torture even the most avid readers, and teach you very few things about how to survive in the world once you’re out. The most criminal omission in high school curriculums is the lack of education about personal finance. The simplest lessons about what compound interest can do for you, and about what the accumulation of debt can do to ruin you, are unknown to the vast majority of teenagers leaving high schools and entering the world of adults. I had a credit card when I was 18, but I didn’t know how it worked!

We live in a world where capital, or money, is an integral part of our lives. In the past, everyone needed to know how to acquire food. Hunters spent years learning to hunt, gatherers learned to gather, and farmers to farm. Today, we don’t spend any time at all learning how to manage money, but it is the modern means to survival. Money allows us to outsource everything we don’t know how to do, and it has allowed us to learn collectively to do a great many things as a species. But money is at the center of it all. And before you tell me that parents can teach their children about money, I tell you now that leaving this most essential education to children’s parents is a surefire way to perpetuated inequality. Naturally, wealthy parents will be able to impart better lessons about wealth acquisition and retention to their kids than could poor parents. This results with an unequal playing field for the next generations, and reinforces the cycles that keeps the wealthy rich and the poor poorer. Anyone who wants to be proud of their nation should want to encourage equality of opportunity, and I think it requires a financially literate citizen.

In my own learning about money, I haven’t been able to find a better book than Tony Robbins’. Surprisingly, the famous motivational speaker/life coach/philanthropist has now produced two books about personal finance. The first, called Money: Masters the Game, is a brick. For that book, Robbins interviewed the best hedge fund managers and money experts in the world, and made a compendium of their knowledge for the average North American individual. This second book, Unshakeable, is to me a short, pocket sized version that is far more accessible than the first. This week I read Unshakeable for the second time, and I felt the need to recommend it to others.

One final thought: when it comes to money, I have trouble trusting someone who makes a living off giving advice. Even more-so, I have trouble taking money advice from someone who only makes their money by giving advice. On both these counts, Robbins’ is exonerated, and you can feel good about this book. While the information in the books is assembled and written by Robbins, it comes from the greatest money masters in our modern world. And secondly, Robbins donates all the book royalties to one of his charities, Feeding America, which currently feeds over 4 million people per year in 56 countries around the world, which somehow goes a long way to ensuring the sanctity of a book like this, who’s purpose is to equip the average individual with the financial literacy needed to thrive.

Engineering Company I’ve been Reading AboutRosemount: The Eyes and Ears of the World’s Factories. I personally never thought much about industrial manufacturing processes before I started my engineering degree, and even then, not so much. Recently I started a job in the domain, and it seems to be quite an important topic!  In this age of specialization, the vast majority of us know next to nothing about how things are made.  I was surprised to learn that there is a whole market out there, measured in the tens of billions of dollars world wide, for highly precise sensors that measure the characteristics of fluids passing through pipes.  These fluids range anywhere from beer in a brewery to steam in a nuclear plant.  In both of these applications, and in all those in between, it is extremely important to know the characteristics of that fluid, such as its temperature, its pressure, its density, and etc.  Otherwise, final results will be hard to duplicate, and in the worst case, not knowing the characteristics of your fluid can result in catastrophic failure and death. 

One way to look at these specialized instruments, is as the eyes and the ears of our factories. Just as the cold on your skin tells you to put on your jacket, these sensors inform the computers and individuals that control the processes of production around the world. One of the most popular sensor product lines is created by Emerson Electric’s Rosemount company.  Started in the 50s to create parts useful to the burgeoning American Space industry, Rosemount eventually diversified it’s product line to primarily go after the Oil & Gas sector.  Today, Rosemount has more than 30% of the pressure sensor business in that sector, and it also controls a significant part of several other industrial sectors in which flowing fluids are common, such as chemical, food and beverage, pulp and paper, and etc.  According to this article, total sales for Rosemount in 2012 amounted to 2.7 billion dollars, which is stunning coming from a market that I hadn’t even heard about 3 months ago. I’ve always heard, when there’s a Gold Rush, sell shovels.  Rosemount and it’s competitors seem to have learned this lesson well. Without their devices, the world would lose the ability to produce almost all modern products.