The Profile: The adventurer on a fatal mission & the neurologist who hacked his brain

People call Kenneth Feinberg “the master of disaster” because his career is just one very long list of tragedies. 

— The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks
— The Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings
— The Boston Marathon bombings
— The BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster
— The Las Vegas concert massacre

What’s a life worth? That’s the question Feinberg has been forced to answer as a mediator in nearly all of America's crises. His job is to decide who receives compensation — and how much they should get — for their suffering. It’s not easy being the person America turns to in the wake of our worst catastrophes.

In this ‘Without Fail’ podcast episode, Feinberg details the complexities of the job. In the days after September 11th, for example, he made a promise to the public: “My door is open to any 9/11 survivor who wants to meet with me in private.” He’ll never forget his very first meeting. He shares the following in the podcast:

I remember it like it was yesterday. A 24-year-old woman came to see me, sobbing.

“Mr. Feinberg, my husband died in The World Trade Center. He was a fireman, and he left me with our two children. I’ve applied to the fund, and you’ve calculated that I’ll get $2.8 million, tax-free. I want it in 30 days.

I said, “Mrs. Jones, why do you need the money in 30 days?” She said, “My husband died, and he left me with our two children. Now, Mr. Feinberg, why 30 days? I have terminal cancer. I have 10 weeks to live. My husband was going to survive me and take care of our two children. Now, they’re going to be orphans. I have got to get this money while I still have my faculties. I have to set up a trust, find a guardian — we never anticipated this.” 

Imagine having 950 of these types of conversations. “You think you’re ready for anything,” he says. “And you’re not.” 

Feinberg shares many more anecdotes in the podcast, and it’s one of the most fascinating conversations I’ve heard in a while ... Makes you think: Can you really put a price on life? I had goosebumps all the way through. Check it out here. 

Here we go with this week’s profiles:

— The adventurer on a fatal mission [**HIGHLY RECOMMEND**]
— The neurologist who hacked his brain
The Facebook fixer
— The developer who built the retweet button
— The kids of Akron, Ohio
— The man who became a shoe
— The handmade empire
China’s data giant

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The adventurer on a fatal mission: In the fall of 2018, the 26-year-old American missionary John Allen Chau traveled to North Sentinel Island in the Indian Ocean with the idea to convert one of the planet's last uncontacted tribes to Christianity. Aside from Chau, almost no outsider had ever set foot on North Sentinel. The islanders killed him, and Chau was pilloried around the world as a deluded Christian on a mission to die. Here’s the fascinating story of the young traveler driven to extremes by unshakable faith. (Outside Magazine)

“Lord, let Your Will be done. If you want me to get actually shot or even killed with an arrow, then so be it.”

The neurologist who hacked his brain: Neurologist Phil Kennedy dedicated his life to the dream of building more and better cyborgs and developing a way to fully digitize a person’s thoughts. In 2014, he decided that for his next breakthrough, he would tap into a healthy human brain. His own. He underwent surgery to implant a set of glass-and-gold-wire electrodes beneath the surface of his own brain. Why? To build a brain-computer interface that flows as smoothly as a healthy person’s speech. Here’s what happens when you gamble with your own mind. (Wired)

"We'll extract our brains and connect them to computers that will do everything for us. And the brains will live on."

The Facebook fixer: Nick Clegg is a former Liberal Democrats leader and deputy prime minister in the U.K. After failing to realign British politics, he moved to California and became Facebook's head of global affairs and communications in 2018. Has he sold out – or can he really be the missing link between government and Big Tech? (New Statesman)

“Ignore ideology and partisanship; seek progress and compromise; look for evidence- and reality-based solutions: this is Clegg’s approach, as he would have it.”

The developer who built the retweet button: Developer Chris Wetherell built Twitter’s retweet button. And he regrets it to this day. “We might have just handed a 4-year-old a loaded weapon,” Wetherell recalled thinking as he watched the first Twitter mob use the tool he created. “That’s what I think we actually did.” Wetherell, a veteran tech developer, led the Twitter team that built the retweet button in 2009. He says it’s time to fix it. (BuzzFeed)

"It dawned on me that this was not some small subset of people acting aberrantly. This might be how people behave. And that scared me to death.”

The kids of Akron, Ohio: LeBron James opened the I Promise School to help at-risk students. One year later, 90% of its students have met or exceeded their growth goals in a district assessment. Could the school set a blueprint for others across the country? (Bleacher Report)

"Getting the brain out of survival mode and to a place where it can think and process. It's transformational."

The man who became a shoe: The Stan Smith shoe has sold more than 50 million pairs since it was released in 1971, although the actual figure is likely much more, making it the most popular Adidas sneaker of all time. This is a profile of Stan Smith the man & how he went from a "decent" tennis player to the most popular sneaker on the planet. (Esquire)

“I guess it is pretty weird seeing my face on a pair of sneakers.”


The handmade empire: Etsy, the e-commerce site for handmade and craftsy goods, has earned cultlike devotion from sellers and buyers alike for its “keeping commerce human” ethos and its focus on small vendors rather than big corporate conglomerates. But Etsy is enjoying a striking turnaround, thanks in part to an effort to give customers the consistent, reliable experience they’d expect from … a big corporate conglomerate. (Fortune)

“The core of Etsy is amazing. It just needs the opportunity to breathe.”

China’s data giant: Ping An built an empire around safe and staid products like life insurance. Now it's betting its future on inventive uses of big data. Facial recognition and “micro-expression” analysis are now standard features for companies using Ping An’s cloud. Should customers be fine with the fact that a company that sells health insurance can calculate their body fat percentage with a face scan? (Fortune)

“Ping An claims its A.I. can read 54 distinct ‘micro-expressions’ to determine whether loan applicants are lying.”