Archive for July, 2017

Cranberry juice

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017 | Thoughts

I bought this at Tesco a few weeks ago. You will notice that it has the words “new recipe” on it. What exactly does this mean?

I mean, it’s cranberry juice. Surely it should be made of the juice from cranberries? Stating that your drink has a new recipe on the side, begs the question “what was in it before and what is in it now?”

How universities stack the value

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017 | Thoughts

I see a lot of online marketers saying “$20,000 for university is a total waste of money. You don’t learn anything. Buy my course for $2,000 instead.” Ignoring the obvious bias they have, it is worth considering why universities still manage to sell their courses and what we can learn from it.

University is a product

When it comes down to it, universities are selling a course. And they are expensive. £9,000 per year in the UK and way more in the US. But university admissions are not going down. Tuition fees are not putting people off. Nearly half of people in the UK will go to university.

On the flip side, you have something like Ramit Sethi’s Zero To Launch programme. It costs over $2,000. I am going to use ZTL as an example, as Sethi is a classic case of what I am talking about, but many other marketers are saying the same things: university is pointless, you need to go to the school of life / hard knocks / whatever.

A common tactic is to compare their info product against a university degree, claiming that their course is more relevant and far cheaper.

But universities stack the value

Where this falls down, though, is that universities are doing something that professional marketers do all of the time: stack the value. They punch so much value into a degree that you would have to be stupid not to buy it.

Universities essentially offer the best info product ever. Here is how. Again, I will compare it to Sethi’s course, but I am not trying to specifically pick on him, lots of marketers are doing the same thing.

The core offer

Your contact time at university depends on your course. Some have more, some have less. I had around 20 hours a week, but I know some history students had 10. Let’s average it out to 15. The academic year is quite short, so let’s say 30 weeks. That is 450 hours of contact time.

That is a lot. This is real in person lecturing and at a good university you are getting it from the leading researchers around the world.

When you do Zero To Launch you get pre-recorded content from Sethi. It’s not interactive and you cannot ask questions. And you do not get 450 hours of it.

But what, there’s more

You also get assigned a personal tutor and get to meet with them for an hour per week. That is 30 hours of consulting per year.

Mike Dillard brags about charging $2,500 per hour for consulting. I’m not sure how much Ramit Sethi charges for his time, but I imagine it’s a lot. In fact, this alone will probably cover the entire value of your tuition fees, even in the US.

Bonus 1: Facilities

You have signed up for an info product and they have made a custom user area to watch the videos in. Great.

My university had two 24-hour computer labs. And access to the White Rose supercomputer grid. And that was just for the computing students. We had labs, including an underground bombproof one for the chemists, lasers, psychology labs, a driving simulator, 3D printers, a selection of theatres for the drama students, etc, etc. Stuff you just cannot get access to elsewhere without a massive amount of money.

Bonus 2: Libraries

Your info product comes with downloadable PDF notes. Cool.

My university has seven libraries, not counting the departmental-run specialist libraries. They have over 2,000,000 items in their collections. And their computer systems get you unlimited free access to thousands of research journals that you would otherwise be paying $30 per article to access. Saving you thousands of pounds right there.

Bonus 3: Community

Your info product comes with a Facebook group. Genuinely useful.

But it doesn’t compare to being dropped into a group of 100-150 peers, all as passionate about the topic as you are. Just turning up to university gets you surrounded by clever people. There is a reason that Google, Facebook and Microsoft all came out of universities: clever people met there and founded companies together. It’s the perfect melting pot for mastermind groups.

Bonus 4: Support

In case you were not already convinced, universities also come with athletics facilities (free or subsidies), a student’s union (discount beer), physical and mental health services, careers advice, and many other student services.

What does it add up to?

Feature Value
450 hours of lectures, which is like attending a conference, which might provide 15 hours of talks for $2,000, but 30 times over. $60,000
30 hours of coaching at $2,000 per hour $60,000
Access to specialist labs and equipment $10,000
Access to academic libraries and journals $2,000
Mastermind group of peers $5,000
An endless array of pastoral support, benefits and other facilities $5,000
Total value $142,000


The reason that people buy online marketing programmes at $1,500 per time, rather than a $10 eBook, is because these courses stack so much value that they make it worth it.

The reason universities can and do charge ten times more than this is because they stack the value even more: to the point where it simply incomparible to anything else.

Higgs Day 2017

Tuesday, July 4th, 2017 | Science

Happy Higgs Day! It is hard to believe that it has been real for five years now. How has your life immeasurably changed by the discovery of the Higgs boson?

What Google autocomplete tells us about humanity

Monday, July 3rd, 2017 | Thoughts

If you want to find out what people are interested in, one of the worst ways to do that is to ask them. Why? Because humans respond to incentives and there is very little incentive to tell your interviewer the truth.

We humans are biased by what we think the questioner wants to hear, but what we are willing to admit, or the self-image we want to portray. For example, few people would admit to voting for UKIP or liking Justin Bieber. And we all exercise far more, eat junk food far less, and enjoy a lot more sex than reality would agree with.

Reported vs observed data

This is a major problem in psychology.

However, there is a way around it. We just have to look at times when people are incentivised to tell the truth.

There is a whole book about this for online dating. In Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking), OkCupid founder Christian Rudder points out that although people say they are not racist when it comes to rating people of a different race as equally attractive, our self-reported beliefs come unstuck.

Another example is Google Search. People are searching for the information they want, so they are unlikely to hide it. Google then anoymises this data and makes it available via autocomplete. You start by putting in “President Donald” and Google, having noticed that everyone else is searching for “President Donald Trump”. offers to complete the search term for you.

Which means you can also work backwards. If you put in the first half of a question, Google will give you the most popular options for the rest.

Should I…

Pop culture wins out here. Most people are looking for the famous song by The Clash. Once we get pasted that we move to people struggling with relationships and dating, and finally onto the big questions i life, such as switching careers or hair styles.

Visiting the doctors

If we add “go to the doctor” onto the end of that, people are worrying about two things: colds and mental health. Colds and flu makes sense: it is the most common thing to get, so there are lots of people worrying about it. Anal bleeding, for example, is less ambiguous about a doctor’s visit being required (it is) and not many people get it. Bad flu, on the other hand, occurs a lot.

Mental health is something that comes up a lot, too.

What should I do if…

Here people are worrying about health and dogs. Getting pregnant is the big question, then two entires on dogs and mental health crops up again.

How long until…

This is all about the holidays: people are already counting down the days until Christmas. Of course, if they had a tracker app like I do, they would already know it is 175. No mention of Jesus coming back, which I was surprised about. How long until I get home: I am not sure if this is some kind of Google maps query; I imagine it is as Google offers that functionality.

Is it true that…

This one is just bizarre. Is cats and cucumbers really the most fact-checked question on the internet? Good to see people are doing their research, though.

Films about…

Mental health and dogs both make a re-appearance here. What is even more interesting is if you go into privacy mode and look at the top ten…

Here mental health dominates, taking spots one and three. People are also interested in drugs, dogs, aliens, 9/11, and somewhere down the bottom is love, space and religion.

Films about self…

Taking the search a step further and adding the word “self”, the topic of self harm comes up a lot. People are interested in self-esteem and self-love, but no self-improvement on the list.


People are frequently concerned with their mental health and the health of their dogs. Everything else can go hang. And they’re really not sure whether 9/11 was an inside job or not.

What we can learn from this? Nothing. It’s a couple of data points pulled out in a non-scientific way. But at least now you know that it is only 175 days until Christmas.