012: Notes on lunch with Alan Kay, the bouba/kiki effect, and Weekly Brew with Ryan Delk


I recently ran a poll on Twitter asking which mattered more: the past, the present, or the future? The poll ran for three days and over 2,000 people voted, 58% of whom voted for the present. It was pretty interesting to observe how the ratio of votes stayed exactly the same for the last 1,000 votes. I ran the poll out of my own curiosity, and my answer pretty much coincides with Jim’s.

Which do you think is more important, and why? Reply to this email with your thoughts :)


I highly recommend reading this post. Alan Kay has some really insightful nuggets that I don’t think you’ll hear much of anywhere else. Some of my favorite points (and from further elaboration over emailing him):

  • Reading hundreds of books per year is the bare minimum. You need to find your community, people with diverse viewpoints that you can bounce ideas off of.

  • He’s a big supporter of college and grad school, despite their shortcomings, and finds them favorable over autodidacts. A university context will force to learn what you didn’t even know was worthwhile. A good educator will see that a student is trying to get from A to B, and try to introduce them to a C they never knew existed or didn’t think was important.

  • It’s extremely important to fluently learn a number of things that aren't your direct interests. These may or may not be enjoyable, but the point is to broaden your scope beyond what’s immediately appealing.

  • The best technological innovations happened with in-person teams.


Observed by psychologist Wolfgang Köhler through experimentation in 1929, the bouba/kiki effect refers to the non-arbitrary mapping between shapes and sounds.

Booba and Kiki shapes

The effect was weakly observed in Köhler’s experiment, and so another experiment was conducted by Vilayanur S. Ramachandran and Edward Hubbard in 2008 with American undergraduates and Tamil speakers in India. In both cases, 95 to 98% associated kiki with the sharp shape (left in the picture) and bouba with the curvy one (right). Further work by Daphne Maurer and her colleagues suggest that the effect may be visible in children as young as 2.5 years.

What does this mean? The human brain can attach abstract meanings to shapes and sounds in a consistent way.


Weekly Brews are recurring interviews and Q&A sessions with experts in science and technology for members of the Ambitious community. This last Sunday we talked to Ryan Delk, COO of Omni. We covered:

  • The tech and startup scene in Nairobi, Kenya, and what advantages sub-saharan Africa has over Silicon Valley.

  • How the access economy will impact consumerism, credit and debt.

  • What startups Ryan is most interested in and excited about.

Some key takeaways include:

  • Take more risks early. We over-emphasize the downsides in our decisions.

  • Send more emails than you’re comfortable with. People are surprisingly more open to chatting than you think.

  • The biggest lie we tell ourselves is that everyone else has it all figured out.

This Sunday’s guest is Harold Justice, ex-engineer and rocket scientist who worked on the Apollo space program. If you’re interested in Weekly Brews, apply to the community here.


  • Community Heartbeat is a UK-based charity with a great idea: they turn those old red telephone booths into kiosks equipped with defibrillators. I’d love to see this idea brought over to the US.

  • Golden is mapping human knowledge. They just raised a new round, backed by a16z, Founders Fund, and others. A friend told me about Golden not too long ago, and it’s one of the best knowledge-sourcing platform I’ve seen (and I’ve been hunting for a while).


A patent filed in January suggests a sequence of lights as a possible solution to motion sickness in cars. It uses the lights to simulate the car's direction of travel. Although it’s technically designed for autonomous cars, this has practical applications for the present by attaching the lights to the frames of glasses, goggles, etc.

Thanks for reading :)