Fake Olive Oil, Fitness, Karaoke and WestWorld

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This is it: I'm 40. Like other old folks realized before me, hindsight is the name of the game! After the big CES show in Vegas and our SF startup demo day, I have a little quiet time before our next program kicks off in Shenzhen on March 1st. Selection is almost done but you can still apply here and watch a cool trailer here. There are less work-related items this time. Let's start!


Someone - among its 9,739 members - actually reads this newsletter! I bumped into a few readers in Vegas, SF and Hong Kong. Thanks for the comments and birthday wishes - one even read a book I recommended! I love the unexpected conversations, recommendations and opportunities that come out of those emails. I'm glad if you find value there, whatever it might be!


My girlfriend saw the olive oil I bought and told me she heard about a scandal with that brand, which apparently was faking its oil or something. After years living in Mainland China I imagined the worse with "gutter oil", despite the olive-colored bottle with its Italian-sounding name. Doing some research online, I had to face the reality that most olive oil is a liquid lie. Unless you read and understand clearly the fine print, you're not buying what you think you're buying.

I trusted you!

There are three layers to the lie:

  1. Olive oil from somewhere is sent to Italy, where they are merely bottled. The only Italian thing there is the name.

  2. In some cases, lower quality "virgin" is passed as "extra virgin".

  3. In some cases it's not even made with olives but mixed with sunflower oil or god knows what!

Combining permissive regulations and "foreign branding", it is produced at lower costs, and sold by using the aura of an Italian-sounding name and design.

Note: "Foreign branding" can be used in surprising places (not just Häagen-Dazs - the Nordic-sounding American ice-cream brand): a Korean-American friend of mine who moonlights as a semi-pro fighter in Thailand told me he appears alternatively under the Korean, Chinese or Australian flags on promotional posters. The promoters would make him Chinese to attract Chinese tourists, Korean if he fights a Chinese and Australian for... I don't know why. Maybe for Australian tourists.


I just finished writing my fifth contribution to Forbes, coming out tomorrow. Thanks to jet lag in Vegas, I also wrote a whimsical "ABC of Hardware Startups". You can read it here. And if you know enough Japanese (like I do :) well, almost enough), you can watch online the documentary NHK just broadcast about Shenzhen, HAX and one or our most successful startups, Makeblock, who makes "lego for robotics", before it's taken down by NHK. Among other activities I gave talks for MIT students in HK and at the StartMeUp festival in HK. My presentation about "The Rise of Gen H" (for Health) is here.


Keeping fit with a hectic travel schedule is tough. I am of the persuasion that willpower and instinct should not be relied on for lifestyle decisions. Self-control and discipline fail in the face of choice. You just can't trust a brain that resists exercising, eating and sleeping right despite years of evidence its immediate instincts are wrong.

The best answer I found to this is lifestyle design (or "systems vs. goals" as Scott Adams would put it). The way to be successful at making changes is to take advantage of the times when you have a sense of clarity and will, and use that time to set yourself up for success in the times that you don’t.

So I switched from my 20-minutes-away-not-always-open combat gym to a classic fitness gym for a month. They have 3 centers within 5 minutes of where I live, classes all the time, luxurious facilities and sell healthy food on top. So the only challenge is really showing up. My plan is to show up there at least 4 times a week for a month and judge the results then. That means a hiatus from combat things. To be fair, I did not fall in love with either boxing (I don't find healthy punching and being punched, thought it's an interesting experience), wing chun (too slow learning curve), nor BJJ (cool but I'd rather develop more mobility - maybe I'll come back to it), so it's ok. I might look for another martial art or come back to BJJ later on.

Oh, and since apparently the way we metabolize food can vary drastically from person to person, a new solution seems to be updating your microbiome (= using a healthy person's poop to reboot your guts). If you're in good shape, you can also become a donor in HK, which will bank you 5,000 HKD (about US$650) after you qualify. Check here.


After many years without listening to music (I had zero songs on my phone and laptop) I finally signed up at once for Spotify, Musixmatch (overlays lyrics on Spotify), and SoundHound (song recognition). This was for karaoke reasons - I foolishly tried Rihanna's Diamonds without much prep at an office party. I'm now very into the song Crazy by Gnarls Barkley. I will prevail!

Beyond listening, I was witness (and cause) to several people singing karaoke for the very first time in their life. I believe that with the right environment, it can be a valuable "crucible experience". You overcome your fear to contribute to a group's enjoyment - and realize it wasn't such a big deal, thereby getting rid of a self-limiting belief. And karaoke is not as much about singing as it is about community anyway; it is like singing "Happy Birthday" :) Congrats to T. and J. who walked through fire!


+ I started watching the series WestWorld on the premise of a sci-fi anticipation thing. Despite its high production value and aura of seriousness it's pretty unequal. So you have all those human-looking robots (they are not "clones") in a mock cowboy town, where rich "guests" go to cosplay. I guess it tries to talk about the rise of AI but sometimes feels like a cheap Western movie.

The parody world of a parody world

Apparently, guests look for thrills because their regular life is too dull. They come to live out their sexual fantasies and perform acts of mock heroism knowing fully they can't get hurt. With all those little scripted missions that present themselves to guests, the whole atmosphere felt like bad role-playing games. One mysterious long-time visitor is looking for the "secret" of the place. Overall, characters are very one-dimensional.

Yet, it is probably the step right after VR takes over our lives. As a side note, here is a picture I took at a SF startup of four people having a meeting :)

Team meetings are so much cooler in VR

Just like food today has disconnected taste, looks and nutrition, "experiences" (and people) can be the same: a more realistic experience or rich special effects (like in Rogue One) could still be cheap thrills with no value beyond cheap entertainment. Of course not everything has to be about learning and growing and self-discovery but still. Funny enough, I think one character in WestWorld says that "people are finally themselves" there. And just like what happens with the anonymity online, it's not always pretty. Will each of us be able to give into our instincts in a private fantasy world? I'm not sure that's the way upward for humanity.

+ Rogue One, Part Deux: as a Rogue One disappointee, I was looking online if I was alone - a tough call in a world of 7 billion people - and Internet did not disappoint. Those guys did an interesting review (almost as long as the movie itself) and follow-up and more follow-up. Their review of The Phantom Menace is much more entertaining and insightful, though (thanks to Michael F. for the pointer). In short for Rogue One: too many characters, not enough development, flat scenes. CGI doesn't save bad stories and underdeveloped characters. Like food with sugar, fat, salt and MSG, Rogue One surely isn't a nutritious meal.

+ Thanks to Audible, I finished The Truth by Neil Strauss (it's a long book but he's a fast talker and I listen to him at 140% speed), where the famous author of The Game (a controversial title about seduction whose primary focus is, to me, awareness of others and self-confidence) goes on a journey to figure out if he's designed and able to be in a long-term relationship with his girlfriend. As he usually does in his gonzo-style journalism, he tries the most intense and sometimes most unusual paths, to finally find a sort of solution. I recommend watching as a teaser his panel with Esther Perel, the acclaimed TED speaker on relationships. They both put a fair amount of thought (and experience) into their insights.

That's it for now. Oh, and Donald Trump is President of the USA. Let's give it a few months to determine if a revolution is warranted.

Happy New Year of the Rooster! (or is it a Coq Sportif?)