Our pick of the week’s science and tech stories, including a venture capitalist's advice to start-ups, how to deal with anxiety and the con man who won the war on terror.

Do things that don’t scale
Paul Graham | 15 July 2013

Venture capitalist’s advice to start-ups. However good your idea, don’t expect it to take off exponentially from day one. You’ll probably have to wear out some shoe-leather bringing in the first customers. Airbnb may look now “like an unstoppable juggernaut”, but early on it was so fragile that a month of recruiting users door-to-door in New York made the difference between success and failure.

What happens when we actually catch Edward Snowden?
David Pozen | Lawfare | 15 July 2013

He gets prosecuted. But a jury might acquit him – not on the facts, but out of sympathy. Trial would be a circus; NSA would be in the spotlight for months; programmes and legitimacy would be questioned. Much of world opinion would be on Snowden’s side. Any secrets he took with him are a sunk cost: who knows who else has them now? All things considered, America might do better leaving him to languish in exile.

What are you waiting for?
Stephen Grosz | Medium | 15 July 2013

When the fire alarm rings, why don’t we just run? “Research has shown that, when a fire alarm rings, people do not act immediately. They talk to each other, and they try to work out what is going on. They stand around.” Because, says this psychoanalyst: “Committing ourselves to a small change, even one that is unmistakably in our best interest, is often more frightening than ignoring a dangerous situation.”

Nothing to do but embrace the dread
Daniel Smith | New York Times | 13 July 2013

How to deal with anxiety: if not quite embrace it, at least accept it. It’s not a disorder, it’s an emotion. “Toss aside the bath water of anxiety and you will also be tossing aside excitement, motivation, vigilance, ambition, exuberance and inspiration, to name just several of the inevitable sacrifices. Get rid of anxiety? Even if you could – and you can’t – why would you want to?”

Lunch with Cory Doctorow
Tim Harford | Financial Times | 12 July 2013

Conversation with sci-fi writer and Boing-Boing blogger. “I arrive at Hawksmoor 10 minutes early, he’s there already, sipping sparkling water at the bar and reading a book. He’s wearing thick-rimmed spectacles worthy of Eric Morecambe, a Disney ‘Haunted Mansion’ T-shirt, and a jacket; he’s 41 but looks younger. Did I mention that I have a tiny crush on Cory Doctorow?”

It’s more than just money
Jerry Brito | CatoEdit | 12 July 2013

Think of Bitcoin not as a currency but as a payments system – and, better still, a decentralised one, with no choke-point at which it can be controlled or censored. “The bottom line is that bitcoin has the potential to be much more than just digital money. It is a platform for financial and informational innovation that is open to anyone and everyone without needing to get permission to experiment.”

Con man wins the war on terror
Adam Higginbotham | Business Week | 11 July 2013

Jaw-dropping tale of British ex-soldier who sold 6,000 bogus bomb-detectors to the Iraqi government for $38m. “According to sales brochures, the equipment could locate explosives, narcotics, cash, diamonds, gold, ivory, and missing persons – even underwater, underground, or from an aircraft flying up to three miles overhead”. Other countries bought them too. He’s now serving ten years in jail, but his plastic dowsing rods are still in use.

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