Tim Minchin – Commencement Speech

1. You Don’t Have To Have A Dream. 
Americans on talent shows always talk about their dreams. Fine, if you have something that you’ve always dreamed of, like, in your heart, go for it! After all, it’s something to do with your time… chasing a dream. And if it’s a big enough one, it’ll take you most of your life to achieve, so by the time you get to it and are staring into the abyss of the meaninglessness of your achievement, you’ll be almost dead so it won’t matter.

I never really had one of these big dreams. And so I advocate passionate dedication to the pursuit of short-term goals. Be micro-ambitious. Put your head down and work with pride on whatever is in front of you… you never know where you might end up. Just be aware that the next worthy pursuit will probably appear in your periphery. Which is why you should be careful of long-term dreams. If you focus too far in front of you, you won’t see the shiny thing out the corner of your eye. Right? Good. Advice. Metaphor. Look at me go.

2. Don’t Seek Happiness
Happiness is like an orgasm: if you think about it too much, it goes away. Keep busy and aim to make someone else happy, and you might find you get some as a side effect. We didn’t evolve to be constantly content. Contented Australophithecus Afarensis got eaten before passing on their genes.

3. Remember, It’s All Luck 
You are lucky to be here. You were incalculably lucky to be born, and incredibly lucky to be brought up by a nice family that helped you get educated and encouraged you to go to Uni. Or if you were born into a horrible family, that’s unlucky and you have my sympathy… but you were still lucky: lucky that you happened to be made of the sort of DNA that made the sort of brain which – when placed in a horrible childhood environment – would make decisions that meant you ended up, eventually, graduating Uni. Well done you, for dragging yourself up by the shoelaces, but you were lucky. You didn’t create the bit of you that dragged you up. They’re not even your shoelaces.

I suppose I worked hard to achieve whatever dubious achievements I’ve achieved … but I didn’t make the bit of me that works hard, any more than I made the bit of me that ate too many burgers instead of going to lectures while I was here at UWA.

Understanding that you can’t truly take credit for your successes, nor truly blame others for their failures will humble you and make you more compassionate.

Empathy is intuitive, but is also something you can work on, intellectually.

4. Exercise
I’m sorry, you pasty, pale, smoking philosophy grads, arching your eyebrows into a Cartesian curve as you watch the Human Movement mob winding their way through the miniature traffic cones of their existence: you are wrong and they are right. Well, you’re half right – you think, therefore you are… but also: you jog, therefore you sleep well, therefore you’re not overwhelmed by existential angst. You can’t be Kant, and you don’t want to be.

Play a sport, do yoga, pump iron, run… whatever… but take care of your body. You’re going to need it. Most of you mob are going to live to nearly a hundred, and even the poorest of you will achieve a level of wealth that most humans throughout history could not have dreamed of. And this long, luxurious life ahead of you is going to make you depressed!

But don’t despair! There is an inverse correlation between depression and exercise. Do it. Run, my beautiful intellectuals, run. And don’t smoke. Natch.

5. Be Hard On Your Opinions 
A famous bon mot asserts that opinions are like arse-holes, in that everyone has one. There is great wisdom in this… but I would add that opinions differ significantly from arse-holes, in that yours should be constantly and thoroughly examined.

We must think critically, and not just about the ideas of others. Be hard on your beliefs. Take them out onto the verandah and beat them with a cricket bat. Be intellectually rigorous. Identify your biases, your prejudices, your privilege.

Most of society’s arguments are kept alive by a failure to acknowledge nuance. We tend to generate false dichotomies, then try to argue one point using two entirely different sets of assumptions, like two tennis players trying to win a match by hitting beautifully executed shots from either end of separate tennis courts.

By the way, while I have science and arts grads in front of me: please don’t make the mistake of thinking the arts and sciences are at odds with one another. That is a recent, stupid, and damaging idea. You don’t have to be unscientific to make beautiful art, to write beautiful things.

If you need proof: Twain, Adams, Vonnegut, McEwen, Sagan, Shakespeare, Dickens. For a start.

You don’t need to be superstitious to be a poet. You don’t need to hate GM technology to care about the beauty of the planet. You don’t have to claim a soul to promote compassion.

Science is not a body of knowledge nor a system of belief; it is just a term which describes humankind’s incremental acquisition of understanding through observation. Science is awesome.

The arts and sciences need to work together to improve how knowledge is communicated. The idea that many Australians – including our new PM and my distant cousin Nick – believe that the science of anthropogenic global warming is controversial, is a powerful indicator of the extent of our failure to communicate. The fact that 30% of this room just bristled is further evidence still. The fact that that bristling is more to do with politics than science is even more despairing.

6. Be a teacher.
Please? Please be a teacher. Teachers are the most admirable and important people in the world. You don’t have to do it forever, but if you’re in doubt about what to do, be an amazing teacher. Just for your twenties. Be a primary school teacher. Especially if you’re a bloke – we need male primary school teachers. Even if you’re not a Teacher, be a teacher. Share your ideas. Don’t take for granted your education. Rejoice in what you learn, and spray it.

7. Define Yourself By What You Love
I’ve found myself doing this thing a bit recently, where, if someone asks me what sort of music I like, I say “well I don’t listen to the radio because pop lyrics annoy me”. Or if someone asks me what food I like, I say “I think truffle oil is overused and slightly obnoxious”. And I see it all the time online, people whose idea of being part of a subculture is to hate Coldplay or football or feminists or the Liberal Party. We have tendency to define ourselves in opposition to stuff; as a comedian, I make a living out of it. But try to also express your passion for things you love. Be demonstrative and generous in your praise of those you admire. Send thank-you cards and give standing ovations. Be pro-stuff, not just anti-stuff.

8. Respect People With Less Power Than You.
I have, in the past, made important decisions about people I work with – agents and producers – based largely on how they treat wait staff in restaurants. I don’t care if you’re the most powerful cat in the room, I will judge you on how you treat the least powerful. So there.

9. Don’t Rush.
You don’t need to already know what you’re going to do with the rest of your life. I’m not saying sit around smoking cones all day, but also, don’t panic. Most people I know who were sure of their career path at 20 are having midlife crises now.

I said at the beginning of this ramble that life is meaningless. It was not a flippant assertion. I think it’s absurd: the idea of seeking “meaning” in the set of circumstances that happens to exist after 13.8 billion years worth of unguided events. Leave it to humans to think the universe has a purpose for them. However, I am no nihilist. I am not even a cynic. I am, actually, rather romantic. And here’s my idea of romance:

You will soon be dead. Life will sometimes seem long and tough and, god, it’s tiring. And you will sometimes be happy and sometimes sad. And then you’ll be old. And then you’ll be dead.

There is only one sensible thing to do with this empty existence, and that is: fill it.

And in my opinion (until I change it), life is best filled by learning as much as you can about as much as you can, taking pride in whatever you’re doing, having compassion, sharing ideas, running(!), being enthusiastic. And then there’s love, and travel, and wine, and sex, and art, and kids, and giving, and mountain climbing … but you know all that stuff already.

It’s an incredibly exciting thing, this one, meaningless life of yours. Good luck.

Thank you for indulging me.”


Another day in the Summer of Antwerp

Antwerp is… just wow.

I know Europe sounds like a smorgasbord of Paris, Barcelona and London, but it is not.
Paris, and I should know, can not offer you… experiences. It offers sights, and moments of ‘oh my god I’m in Paris’, but you will always be mere spectator. Paris does not need you and it lets you know it, even as you’re stepping on your last metro to the airport, it will say ‘Attention a la marche’ mechanically for what is not not only the umpteenth time, but once more in an infinite series of times to come. Paris, in short, makes for great pictures of places half the planet has visited before you, and will do so long after you’re gone. (and Barcelona is really just a souvenir shop of tapas and… did I say tapas already?)

Antwerp, on the other hand, is made of you, and me, and it will call for your participation on a daily basis. Zomer van Antwerpen (Summer of Antwerp) does not lay out iron towers for you to wait in line and climb. It builds hippie communes in the woods right outside the centre, and says ‘Hey guys, we sort of patched together these hammocks, wooden platforms, benches and a bar out of re-used scrap. And, we thought you might be hungry too, so we’ve got this little volunteer kitchen going with world food at prices even your mom can’t compete with. And you know what would make it even cooler? If you’d bring some picnic cloth or wine or mainly, yourself and your friends’. And so we do. Every summer. We, heart-feltly cool people of Antwerp, show up to enjoy each other’s company. It just so happens the city of Antwerp built us a few circus tents and fireplaces and trade-as-you-wish book shelves.

The rest… is familiar.
Raph shows up at my door. I jump in his car. I throw his USB stick somewhere to the back of the car and plug in my iPhone. Today, Frightened Rabbits – The Modern Leper, so loud we couldn’t even hear ourselves honk. Park the car on the river side where every year, the Cirque du Soleil swings by for chocolate and giggles. We go into town.

We open random travel guides at random pages at the Fnac, and discuss the merits of Cuzco over Hanoi. We toy around with speakers on demo and comment a Philip Roth book or two. We’ll grab a sandwich at Panos and mention, for the 100th time, that we really should find an even cooler place to lunch, ever since the too-good-to-be-true Vapiano chain closed its Antwerp branch, for reasons beyond our comprehension; it was always packed with kindred souls.

We’ll walk down the antiquaries street and today, discovered an art gallery slash french cuisine slash limited fashion store slash music shop slash we’re-psyched-you-love-it-but-please,-no-pictures-locale. We nod in complicity and ambulate around the place in childlike wonder. Raph or I or both will shout across the store once more that Antwerp just doesn’t compare, and 8 minutes of hopping later, Raph will say ‘On bouge mec?’, and I’ll say ‘yep, let’s roll’, and onwards we go. Enter the Diesel store, even though even their armbands are beyond our budget and joke about how making you feel inferior is part of the clerk’s job description. We’ll still flip a price tag or two just to fuel our jokes. On and on, we’ll explore our own city in a non-stop mixture of familiarity and incomprehensible surprise. Either the walls move when we’re not looking, or this city is just alive in ways we can’t keep up with. Three stores later, Raph correctly points out we’re not in a buying mood at all, sales or no sales. I’ll say ‘okay sure, let’s hit Zomerbar, but first I need to get my glasses tended to’.

We’ll march over to Theo, the Belgian brand of glasses deluxe, where, though I didn’t buy mine at their store nor did the previous glassmaker fit my lenses particularly well into the frame (or so Theo’s friendly clerk will point out, with a sigh reserved for the love of craftsmanship and the pain of lack thereof) they will happily fix me up. The lady will first look at me, front and back, to determine just how well my glasses currently fit me. Then she’ll remove them from my head (a sensory experience I only otherwise experience when a girl takes them off from me in bed), and head back behind the counter where she will minutiously proceed to shape them back to perfection like the gentlest of chiropractors. She will charge me nothing for it. Why would she. We’ve just collectively made the realm of designerly glasses a better place. It’s a win-win-win situation, an outcome embedded in the blueprint of this town’s psyche. On to the Zomerbar.

We’ll order fresh mint tee, then fancy the day’s penne dish with salmon sauce, then I’ll ask for a plate with just bread and humus, though neither figure on the day’s menu, and get charged ridiculously symbolic prices for it, then come back for a coconut lemongrass curry as I strike up a conversation with the guy that I mistook for last night’s guy, but no, apparently ‘tapas guy’ only comes in at 21.00.

Then back to the hammocks for more semi-siestas, in between hilarious statements (not unlike our facebook statuses) and barely audible music from my iPhone that I craftily got to hold steady on a randomly cut tree trunk. It is not a chair. It is not a table either. It is, along with the cushion-filled potatoe bag currently serving as a nearby kid’s toy, a something-something that the city of Antwerp and the organizers of Zomerbar must have considered ‘perhaps fun to have lying around’, for purposes later to be defined by the people of Antwerp themselves. In Paris, such potato bag would come labeled as ‘Ceci n’est pas fait pour s’asseoir dessus’, whereas in Antwerp, the chief commander of potato bag utilization is a 6 year old with endearing ADHD, otherwise referred to as ‘Kids who like to play extra long’ here where I grew up.

We’ll stay long enough to be part of the regular crowd, agree that the dreadlocked bartender is cute as fuck, comment once more that was makes this place truly magical, is the fact that people age 65 or 15 show up and find each other’s presence ‘cool’. And remember how last night, we stroke up a conversation with this 50-something teacher who overheard our french and toasted hers and her husband + friends couple mojitos to our youth, and how we wondered just how much of our outspoken sexual and depraved chat she just understood. Ponder that for a minute, then pick up the conversation again right where we left it, on the subject of male jealousy and the scenario’s in which breaking a barstool on somebody’s back is a respectful act of communication, really. Then too, we might feel like moving ventures, and at my request, Raph will scout the internet on his blackberry (which I christened ‘the fat poo of a nigger’ for its black ugliness), and conclude that there doesn’t seem to be much playing at the cinemas tonight. But we’re in doubt.

And we do feel like being entertained. So we’ll drive right back up in the car and drive home so he could grab his macbook so we could go online so we could watch trailers of movies to watch. 20 minutes later, all in his car, Natasha, we’ll watch an episode of The Office, the one where Dwight gives a Mussolini-like speech to an audience of salesmen. Then we’ll lie comatose in his car some more, to the soundtrack of Mumford and Sons. Then hunger will strike, and I’ll explain that I’m in dire need of Red Bulls (plural), because my last night’s experiment of sleeping in his car so as not to wake up my mom did not afford me much sleep (though fantastic dreams).

Another ten more minutes of comatose staring at the dashboard windows and we’ll make a snap decision. We should eat healthy, dismissing the Quick hamburger joint nearby. We used to hang there all the time, the perfect meeting point at walking distance from his and my house. Sometimes bring a guitar, sometimes just for girl talk. But hey, we’re hungry for healthy stuff, and it doesn’t take long to happily admit that, again, no one will better cater to our needs than the Zomerbar.

Drive back up there, park the car, walk inside, wait in line, get the evening’s dish, canteen style, join more strangers at a table, get called up by his parents, they’re here too, near the bar. Come by, say hi, they came with his little cousin, who Raph swears she’ll soon break hearts, and I think ‘wow, three generations at one table’. And as if to drive the point further, his father laughingly announces that Raph’s grandma, age 96, recently decided she’d like to find herself a new lover. (I am not making this up). Off we go. To the Dansing Chocolate, our favourite cafe.

We still haven’t seen the end of Knocked Up (the movie we started watching last night in his car until I dozed off and told him to just leave me on the backseat with his car’s keys, and we’ll meet again in the morning.) We show up at the cafe after I grabbed a Red Bull at the Pakistani shop and search for table nearby an electricity plug. Open up the MacBook, let Raph order a beer and start the movie again. Watch it some more until a deliriously hot girl enters the cafe. It is God’s obscene tease. Raph tires of the movie and I say ‘then let’s move cuz I’m cold at this table’ and sit ourselves down so that I could afford a better view. Another round of mint thee and we talk of women. Drinks were had. I saw panties. Had to drink my mint thee with my eyes covered so as not to stare. They left. We stayed some more. I’d accentuate the often hilarious punchlines we nailed by slamming my fist on the table. Then go get another handful of M&M’s from the counter. Off we go.

Back to the car. Another round of The Modern Leper, so loud… so good. We’re almost home. I quickly tune in The Killer’s – Read my mind. We arrive home but I insist Raph parks a bit further away so as not to make my dog bark as I segue into the When you were young. We shout the lyrics at the top of our lungs and agree to meet at 10 AM at the tram stop tomorrow morning. We’re taking the same train to Delft. He’s visiting Monique, my former accomplice in lingerie and sex talk, and now Raph’s. As for me… another day, another town. I’ve got stuff to do in every European country anyway. And I come online to find Gilberto on Gchat, my mexican hombre who got a grant to study in NYC. I’ll come visit. Right now, I need to sleep. It’s just another day Antwerp.

3.53 AM.

—Originally posted on Facebook on the 18th of July 2010

Tal’s latest longreads

How Google builds its maps—and what it means for the future of everything.
An exclusive look inside Ground Truth, the secretive program to build the world’s best accurate maps. (via Alberto Romero)

How Apple and Amazon security flaws led to my epic hacking
A writer loses everything on his iPhone, his iPad and his Mac—including all of the photos from the first year and a half of his daughter’s life—after a hacker infiltrates his Amazon, Apple, Gmail and Twitter accounts.

A man walks into a bank
Patrick Combs deposits a junk-mail cheque for $95,000 – for a joke. The bank actually cashes it.

Global copycats: the sincerest form of flattery
A profile of Oliver Samwer and his web copycat factory in Berlin, which specializes in building knockoff websites inspired by growing American startups—then, sometimes, selling them back to the original company

What’s so bad about a boy who wants to wear a dress?
On gender-variant kids, and their parents.

The Disappeared
How the fatwa changed the life of Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses.

What Happened to Diaspora, the ‘Facebook Killer’?
It’s Complicated.

The kindness of beasts
Are animals capable of moral behaviour?

Crushing Debt Drove Me to Kosovo — And Then to Iraq
A man with $90,000 in debt makes some hard decisions about his life—starting with a trip to Kosovo for an IT job.

Obama’s Way
Lewis follows the president for six months—joining him for basketball pickup games, a trip on Air Force One, and inside a decision on how to handle Libya.

How Much Tech Can One City Take?
San Francisco struggles for its soul.

Reinsurers and the God clause
On the insurer’s insurer and calculating the risk of modern catastrophe.

Tal’s latest longreads

Professors Without Borders
How Udacity, Coursera and other online universities are changing the way we learn—and changing who has access to higher education.

I Used to Love Her, But I Had to Flee Her
The psychic benefits of leaving New York city.

Hearing the Voice of God
A look at anthropologist Tanya Lurhmann, and on how it is possible for people to experience the voice of a higher being.

The Audition
On a percussionist’s nerve-wracking audition for the Boston Symphony Orchestra

Into the light
After losing his sight at age 3, Michael May went on to become the first blind CIA agent, set a world record for downhill skiing, and start a successful Silicon Valley company. Then he got the chance to see again.

Our Billionaire Philanthropists
Bill Gates and George Soros are handing out billions, but there are downsides to foundation giving.

On Seeing a Sex Surrogate
The story of a man with polio dealing with his sexual desire and his perceieved physical and romantic inadequacy.

Vanishing Voices
There are roughly 7,000 languages in the world, but 78 percent of the world’s population only speaks the 85 largest languages. Thousands of languages are on the edge of disappearing.

The Busy Trap
Almost everyone I know is busy. It’s not as if any of us wants to live like this; it’s something we collectively force one another to do.

Girls Love Me
On the next Justin Bieber, 16-year-old Austin Mahone, and how pop stars are made.

The Battle Over Climate Science
Inside the increasingly hostile global warming debate. (MUST READ)

Inbox Zero Tactics

Was asked what my zero-inbox method is (from years of fine tuning).
Short story:
1. Auto-archive filter&label combo
2. Enable Send&Archive + Auto-advance to next email
3. Periodically archive those sticky unanswered emails at the bottom.

Detailed method below:

Ah, you want to tackle ye old gmail beast…
Basically, the aim is to make your inbox a) personal and b) a to-do list. None of that ‘automated confirmation mail’ crap that you neither care about nor can do much with.

Here’s my list of tactics:

1. Filter filter filter.
The most useful filter/label combo I use is called ‘Automated mails’. Everything from Amazon to iTunes to any sort of email update/newsletter goes there. Filter actions are ‘archive (skip the inbox) and label ‘automated mails’. Also, I make sure to put all my labels ‘below the fold’ (the little ‘more’ in the left column in gmail). Avoids unnecessary distraction.
—This principle can be expanded to other labels like ‘Travel stuff’ (ryanair-type itinerary emails), etc.

2. Archive archive archive
a) Enable ‘Send&Archive’ in your gmail labs settings.
This is the 2n biggest tactic. Everything in your inbox, you answer and archive at once. Even if you expect a reply. Let that reply take care of coming back to your inbox. Your job is to archive everything out of sight.
b) Enable ‘Auto-advance’ in labs and set to ‘next email’. That lets me start at the bottom of my inbox, reply, jump to next, reply, just to next, archiving my way to the top. By the time you’re done, everything’s gone

3. Once you’ve got these 2 steps down, you’ll notice there’s a kind of ‘sediment’ of mails that just stick at the bottom. Stuff you don’t quite get around answering but don’t wanna archive out of sight yet. That’s okay for a while (sometimes you’re just busy), but if you see they just stay there forever, take a deep breath and archive them too. Trust in your ability to search and find them back should you one day wake up at 3 AM with an urge to answer them after all.

That’s pretty much it. Start with zero-tolerance filters (until you only get emails in your inbox from people you care about) and use the send&archive button till kingdom comes.

Tal’s latest longreads

Guess What’s Cooking in the Garage
The next big breakthrough in synthetic biology just might come from an amateur scientist

What Facebook Knows
The company’s social scientists are hunting for insights about human behavior.

Welcome to America, Please Be On Time
What guide books tell foreign visitors to the U.S.

The Cult of Smartness
How Meritocracy Is Failing America

The Many Pivots Of Justin.tv
How a livecam show became home to video gaming superstars

Letter to Emily White at NPR: All Songs Considered
A professional musician calls for a rethinking of how we value (and pay) artists in the digital era.

How Many Stephen Colberts Are There?
There used to be just two Stephen Colberts, and they were hard enough to distinguish. The main difference was that one thought the other was an idiot.

Raph and Tal’s Choice – Best of Antwerp

St Anna tunnel
‘t Steen
Antwerp Zoo
Central Station
Hendrik Conscienceplein
MAS (Museum Aan de Stroom)
Cartoons cinema
Rubens huis
Cogels Osylei
Het Elfde Gebod

De Meir

Nul sterren pension
Enich Anders

Dansing Chocola
De Muze
Kaptein Zeppos
‘t Zeezicht
Cafe Stanley
Beni Falafel
Bar Italia
Momade cupcakes
Desiré de Lille
Grand Café Horta
Cafe internazionale
Patine wijnbistro
Civilta Del Bere

‘t Stad Leest
TseTse comics
Chocolatier Goossens