Author Archives: Michael Barnathan

About Michael Barnathan

Michael Barnathan is a computer scientist, inventor, educator, and semiprofessional photographer. He is also the founder of Project Polymath, something which he left a Senior Software Engineer position at Google to pursue. He holds a Ph. D. in Computer and Information Sciences from Temple University. When he isn't busy with the complexities of starting a university, he enjoys inventing devices such as EEG helmets, raising the survival rate for breast cancer through diagnostic computer algorithms, composing music, and birdwatching.

Meaning and Happiness

Which is a more important pursuit in life: meaning or happiness?


Viktor Frankl, a prominent Jewish psychiatrist and neurologist in Vienna, was transported to a Nazi concentration camp in September 1942. When the camp was liberated three years later, he was his family’s sole survivor. Dr. Frankl used his experiences to write his bestselling book Man’s Search for Meaning in 1946, which he completed in only nine days. Frankl, whom the Nazis used to treat suicidal prisoners in the camps, concluded that the difference between those who lived and died came down to one thing: meaning.

People who find a meaningful purpose to their suffering are far more resilient than those who fail to do so.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing, the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way,” Frankl wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning. Two suicidal inmates that Frankl encountered in the concentration camps profoundly shaped his observations and conclusions. One patient had a child in a foreign country. The second patient was a scientist who had unfinished work and writing to complete. Both anticipated something beyond their present circumstance waiting for them to finish and fulfill.

Frankl wrote, “This uniqueness and singleness which distinguishes each individual and gives a meaning to his existence has a bearing on creative work as much as it does on human love. When the impossibility of replacing a person is realized, it allows the responsibility which a man has for his existence and its continuance to appear in all its magnitude. A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the ‘why’ for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any ‘how.'”
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Startup Idea Checklist

The unfortunate part of being an idea person in entrepreneurship is the tendency to accumulate more ideas than you have time to implement, and consequently, the need to discard most of them. But there are certain defining characteristics of ideas which can determine their success at a given stage in the business lifecycle. It turns out that many of these characteristics are possible to define in a fairly simple checklist. Before you chase an idea, try running it through this checklist and see if it matches what you’re looking for at your current stage of business and financial/risk situation. For instance, if you’re working on your first venture (and not teaming up with a more experienced entrepreneur, which you should do if you can), you might want to avoid scenarios which require large outside capital investments, as the terms offered are generally not as favorable to first-time entrepreneurs.

1. Does the startup serve an immediate need?

1a. To whom?

1b. What need?

1c. If existing solutions meet the need, how can you better meet the need?

2. Can the startup scale to address a broader need in the future?

3. Are the user and the customer the same person? i.e. Does the person paying also receive the benefit?

4. Does more than one “type” of customer need to join simultaneously?

5. Where does the money come from?

6. Can it be bootstrapped? Are initial expenses necessary to acquire revenue?

7. Can you start it off yourself? If not, where will you find the necessary co-founders?


While this is not the end-all-and-be-all of a startup’s viability, it’s a useful tool to narrow down the possibilities before making the mistake of embarking on one that isn’t suitable.


Photography: exposure and metering

Want to take pictures like this?

Waves of Nacre

Waves of Nacre

Mediterranean Sunset

Golden Leaves

See The Light

Then you’ll need to master the art of exposure – controlling the amount of light which enters your camera.


What is exposure?

Like the eye, cameras operate by recording light when it strikes a sensor in the camera. The camera’s sensor is made of a grid of semiconducting material (the number of light-sensing “buckets” in this grid determine the resolution of the photograph). When light strikes a “bucket”, the incoming energy frees paired electrons in the material, causing an electric current to flow. This electricity is picked up by a processor in the camera (its “brain”) and the responses from the “buckets” are compiled to form an image.

The amount of light striking the sensor while the camera’s shutter is open determines how much light is recorded in the image. In other words, the more light that enters the camera (or the longer the camera is exposed to a constant source of light), the brighter the resulting image will be. This is called the exposure.
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Michael Barnathan

January 3, 2013

Welcome to the official blog of Project Polymath! We’re excited to get the discussion going on the future of education, and to share many of our insights and interesting finds within and across many areas of study.