Nude Pastries, Movie Recommendations, and Depression


The diversity of naked pastries in Japan began as a business problem. The solution is now becoming an effective weapon in addressing cancer problems.

The first important fact to understand is that no one loves pastries like the Japanese. Unlike Europe, where bakeries focus on a small range of essentials, Japanese bakeries prioritize diversity and straight up weirdness (like the "carbonara", which is exactly what it sounds like). This is great for business: analysts have found that offering 100 items instead of 30 items results in 2x the sales.

The second important fact to understand is that the Japanese like their pastries naked, which is to say laying open in baskets. Those same analysts found a 300% improvement in sales for pastries that were naked, rather than wrapped individually in plastic.

But the combination of these two important facts results in a serious problem. 100s of different types of pastries, but no wrappers or bar codes. Cashiers were forced to spend months memorizing the look and price of each pastry, creating a slow and error-prone checkout process.

This was such a serious problem that in 2007, one bakery chain asked an AI company to help. After more than 5 years of development and a close call with bankruptcy, the AI company finally launched "BakeryScan". This program could visually identify any type of baked good and deliver a price in milliseconds. And just like that, the naked pastry problem was solved.

But the real breakthrough was in 2017, when a Kyoto based doctor saw an advertisement for BakeryScan. "Huh," he thought to himself, "that bread in the ad looks a lot like cancer cells."

Incredibly, the BakeryScan tech worked just as well on images of human cells as it did on the bakery check-out line. Somewhat uniquely, it was able to conduct "whole-slide" analysis, analyzing an entire segment of tissue to identify cancerous cells all at once, much faster than other existing AI solutions.

This is how innovation often works, as people find surprising applications of technology from one domain and apply it to another. But who would have guessed it'd be the bakery industry coming to save the day for cancer!


I'm a degenerate list maker. I can't help myself.

The result is this new list of favorite movies, each of which I think is a 10/10 experience in its own way. For every movie in my list of 50 Movie Recommendations, you'll find a genre tag, a short one sentence description from me, and a Rotten Tomatoes link to verify I'm not the only person who likes the movie.

While you and I might have different tastes (I like thrillers, documentaries, and indie films), my hope is that you'll be able to find at least 1 movie that you hadn't considered watching before.

If you end up watching a movie from this list, shoot me an email and let me know!


If your friend is feeling sad, you should be there to sympathize and explore the sad emotions with them.

But surprisingly, if your friend is depressed, you should do the opposite.

Noah Smith, who has himself struggled with clinical depression, has an incredibly helpful article about depression to illustrate this point.

As he poetically puts it, depression is like a "fire sprinkler system". In order to avoid the building burning down (i.e. suicide), the brain just floods the building with water (i.e. despondency) so that no action is possible. Depression isn't a sense of feeling sad, it's a sense of feeling like nothing is possible.

That's why depressed people don't need a sympathetic ear or a shoulder to cry on. The natural urge is, of course, to ask questions like "Why do you feel like that?" and "How can I help?". These questions are great for sad friends, but useless for depressed friends.

Instead, Smith argues you should do one of two things when talking to a depressed friend. First, you should talk about absolutely anything else besides the depression. This feels like you're ignoring their problem, but in reality you're providing a helpful distraction.

Second, you should be pro-active about helping create a new narrative for the depressed friend's life. You must spontaneously and without invitation provide positive perspectives on his or her life, pointing to their admirable characteristics and experiences dealing with difficult times. The more you can help create an empowering narrative to replace the disempowering narrative in their head, the better.

To a sad friend, avoiding talking about the subject of their sadness or giving them compliments willy-nilly would seem like you're disregarding their suffering. Counter-intuitively, for depressed friends, that's exactly what you should do to help them.

"You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness." - Jonathan Safran Foer