Life Lessons

1 Resources

I wish I had encountered these sooner. I hope I will revisit them often.

  1. Seneca's Moral letters to Lucilius, Letter #2: On Discursiveness in Reading -- There are more books than one can possibly read and this is a great source of anxiety and paralysis for me. I feel like I fundamentally disagree with Seneca, in that I believe casting a wide net, being selective, and exposing yourself to a breadth of perspective is valuable. However, I agree with Seneca in that the pursuit of truly investing in an author will give you a coherent narrative and a framework for understanding and continuing their work. Most importantly, Seneca compells me to question: how often do I read a truly great work? And why am I so willing to risk reading a new -- albeit predictably average -- book when I have the option of re-reading something I know is fantastic; especially being privy that spaced repetition is required to take full advantage of the learning. In essence, "You must linger among a limited number of master thinkers, and digest their works, if you would derive ideas which shall win firm hold in your mind. [...] nothing hinders a cure so much as frequent change of medicine [...] fall back upon those whom you read before. Each day acquire something that will fortify you against poverty, against death, indeed against other misfortunes as well; and after you have run over many thoughts, select one to be thoroughly digested that day."
  2. Seneca's Moral letters to Lucilius, Letter #5: On the Philosopher's Mean -- "The first thing which philosophy undertakes to give is fellow-feeling with all men; in other words, sympathy and sociability. We part company with our promise if we are unlike other men. We must see to it that the means by which we wish to draw admiration be not absurd and odious. [...] let men find that we are unlike the common herd, if they look closely"
  3. Metacrap: Putting the torch to seven straw-men of the meta-utopia by Cory Doctorow
  4. John Perry Barlow's, "25 Principles for Adult Behavior"
  5. As We May Think by Vannevar Bush, published in the Atlantic
  6. Epicurus on Happiness Alain de Botton -- Surround yourself with those who can teach you and help you grow.
  7. HOWTO: Be more productive (Productivity) by Aaron Swartz (see my followup) -- Not all time is created equally, procrastinate effectively. Also see John Perry's thoughts.
  8. Marginal Gains Dave Brailsford -- Small individuals gains can stack and earn large compound interest
  9. Various Knowledge Maps:
  10. You and Your Research by Dr. Richard Hamming (video) -- Work on problems which matter
  11. Cargo Cult Science by Dr. Richard Feynman -- Do not mislead your fellow [wo]man
  12. Drowning In An Information Ocean by diegocaleiro
  13. Research Debt. i.e. why learning is so hard and the low hanging fruit we're missing to fix this. (added 2017-03-29; via Mark Carranza)
  14. All Questions Answered Dr. Donald Knuth -- The role of future humans in academia is to be interdisciplinary. An academic "fusion" advocated also by Eric Lander in New York Times, "Power in Numbers".
  15. We're all headed towards certain death -- why let that stop you from trying?
  16. Heuristics (Inspiration for Living Life) by Dr. Richard Feynman (See also Algorithms to Live By by Brian Christian) -- the science of computational theory is a way to understand and approach any of life's problems, not just a career tool
  17. How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie -- Don't criticize, condemn or complain
  18. Debate Versus Persuasion
  19. Ben Franklin's Autobiography Benjamin Franklin -- The importance of having grounding virtues
  20. Benign Violations: Making Immoral Behavior Funny A. Peter McGraw & Caleb Warren -- Understanding humor helps us avoid hurting people
  21. Inventing on Principle by Bret Victor -- It takes considerable thought, work, and deliberation to discover your calling
  22. Randy Pausch Last Lecture: Achieving Your Childhood Dreams -- "[...] Brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people."
  23. In search of tomorrow - if programming were backed by a graph/memex. Turned into: EVE: A day in the life - literate, responsive programming
  24. The Learning Map - Danny Hillis at Oscon 2012
  25. Publisher's Smiling Curve (reflections on Who Owns the Future and the forgotten middle class) -- Regulations, protocols, and reviews are meaningful tools to understand and recognize systemic imbalance and address discrepencies.
  26. 2014: What Scientific Idea Is Ready For Retirement? by Brian Christian -- We should fight against beuracratically imposed inefficiencies and look to technology for solutions on modernizing these practices.
  27. Explorable Explanations -- The next generation of education will require a cartography for representing and exploring knowledge
  28. Mek's Life Lessons (Overflow)

2 Life Learnings & Agreeable Principles

  1. "That which is not tied on will be lost" -- Ted Nelson (2018-06-16), a day before his birthday, I went with him, my dear friend Drew Winget, and my former Internet Archive colleague Tim Johnson to visit Ted's personal archives and houseboat. Ted said this while opening his houseboat's front door with a key which was attached to him by a retractable string. He literally ties his wallet, pens, cameras, and other things to him. It's honestly a really smart system. He has an amazing long-term memory, though he has so much on his plate, he sometimes forgets his shoes when they're not tied to him. A sign of true intelligence is knowing one's weaknesses and augmenting oneself with solutions to realize every possible advantage. This quote, though, is even more profound out of context: "That which is not connected, is lost". i.e., a memory (or generalized, a graph node) without any associations (edges) is irretrievable if its direct link is lost. This reinforces my belief in the importance of connecting and mapping knowledge. See more of my thoughts on this topic.

    During our drive back, Ted explained why he felt so comfortable standing out. He said, "Three of my favorite people are Walt Disney, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Buckminster Fuller -- And they weren't modest, why should I be?". This idea of emulating the qualities you appreciate about your heros is a great way to build confidence and instill behaviors which may not come naturally or may be viewed as unpopular as others.

  2. Protocols are Key. Implementing a patch or shim simply means there is resistence to protocol. (rule of thumb: protocols are constant or linear, shims are quadratic or worse in implementation)
  3. It's easy to get a no, if you want a yes, first achieve a related accomplishment which one would be irresponsible to turn down.1
  4. "Opportunity is all around us, but we have beliefs and habits that block it." -- Paul Buccheit
  5. Systems should be designed which give users the power of choice, not the service provider.
  6. "One needs no silver plate, encrusted and embossed in solid gold; but we should not believe the lack of silver and gold to be proof of the simple life. Let us try to maintain a higher standard of life than that of the multitude, but not a contrary standard; otherwise, we shall frighten away and repel the very persons whom we are trying to improve. We also bring it about that they are unwilling to imitate us in anything, because they are afraid lest they might be compelled to imitate us in everything. The first thing which philosophy undertakes to give is fellow-feeling with all men; in other words, sympathy and sociability. We part company with our promise if we are unlike other men. We must see to it that the means by which we wish to draw admiration be not absurd and odious." -- here Seneca eludes that one should be mindful of the risks of thoughtlessly deviating from or violating too many social norms, as the more ways we act unlike others, the less confident others are to follow us.
  7. Effective procrastination is key – taking breaks and shifting contexts is important, but if you differentiate between work and play, something is wrong.
  8. Architect systems which are capable of compounding in value via recaputlation and re-integration; e.g. wikipedia.
  9. "Part of the beauty of being human is that when you spend enough time outside of your comfort zone, you get a new comfort zone." -- CR Saikley
  10. "If you believe something should be public, make sure as much discource and creativity surrounding the idea happens in public forums within the public domain. Instead of fighting copyright holders, build gravity to pull it into the public domain until its economically disadvantageous for the work to be proprietary" -- (paraphrasing) Kurt Bollacker
  11. "Several years ago my wife bought me a very nice guitar - much nicer than I would have considered buying for myself. After a bit of playing this transcendent instrument, my playing went to an entirely different level. I realized a couple things. The first is that my old instrument was holding me back. The second is that life is far too short to spend any time in that state." -- CR Saikley
  12. On being indispensible and effective self-promotion. When applying for a position, understand the difference between being someone an employer wants to hire and someone an employer cannot afford to not hire. What qualities, skills, and or performance characteristics make someone dispensible to this orgnization? It's worth having a conversation with those familiar with an organization and its management's perspective on what metrics are critical so you can best advertise yourself. As a pre-requisite, put in the work to establish rapport and build trust with these people and demonstrate your abilities and competance. In return, ask them to help you quantify your impact, because they have the perspective best to understand the values of the organization or team. — Kristy Headley
  13. Life favors the prepared (paraphrasing Louis Pasteur @Q529) and "it is hard for an empty sack to stand upright" (Franklin)
  14. Have multiple projects you've thought about, even if you can't work on them all. Think about who can work on them.
  15. It's easy to serve people tangentially, without formal commitment. But there's no deed more noble or challenging than being directly accountable to another; to be faced head-on by those whose well-being is at stake.
  16. maintain a list of `n` people who are worth supporting / helping / investing in2
  17. A closed mouth doesn't get fed, ask for help when you need it.
  18. “Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler.” [Einstein]. This comes in to play all the time. A corollary in conversation / communication is, don't raise questions people don't have. Don't burden people with more to worry about than they need. Stick with what is necessary and essential. KISS (Keep it simple, silly)
  19. Set the groundwork. In an age where many cathedrals ceased to be built with the majesty some might imagine, one Antoni Gaudi drafted comprehensive models and blueprints for an impressive feat of engineering, a hundred years ahead of its time: the Sagrada Familia. During his lifetime, Gaudi built a most impressive facade — the front-facing section — of a cathedral which he knew couldn't possibly be finished in his lifetime. He did so with the belief that no one would let his masterful work go to waste, especially with such an impressive start and all the models to guide it toward completion.

    One moral of this tale is that a certain critical mass of upfront work helps seed a vision. The vision needs to feel within reach and it needs to be easy (or compelling) enough for others to have confidence in participating.

    Thanks to Drew Winget for bringing up this example while we were discussing creating a "library of the future" which focuses on pioneering a coherent experience over various technological and visual interfaces into the works of Mortimer Atler's, "Great Books" of the Western Canon.

  20. Richard Feynman on Cargo Cult Science page 4 (posted by me on facebook) "I would like to add something that's not essential to the science, but something I kind of believe, which is that you should not fool the layman when you're talking as a scientist. I am not trying to tell you what to do [...] when you're not trying to be a scientist, but just trying to be an ordinary human being. We'll leave those problems up to you and your rabbi. I'm talking about a specific, extra type of integrity that is not lying, but bending over backwards to show how you're maybe wrong, that you ought to have when acting as a scientist. And this is our responsibility as scientists, certainly to other scientists, and I think to laymen."
  21. We are naturally coerced to act like those around us. Either by necessity of a competitive spirit, to achieve higher status, or out of desire to accommodate/oblige those around us.3
  22. Encourage your friends to partner with you. Commit to amplifying your combined efforts on areas you are mutually passionate. Do not get greedy; consider your combined accountability and contributions should more than double your individual effectiveness.
  23. publishing your belief, early, on an topic is a good way to figure out if you're wrong and who cares about the issue being right.
  24. Before you complain about equity in a project, figure out if you would be doing a project even if your partners weren't
  25. 80/20 engineering may be good enough to create something valuable and working, but remember the remaining 20% often includes a strategy for adoption
  26. "Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation" [Benjamin Franklin, 13 Virtues of Life]4
  27. "Form [presentation] is as important as content", Brenton Cheng, recalling a story where he up fruit for his son as pyramids when his son wouldn't eat it previously. (2016-11-28 @ Internet Archive)
  28. "μή εἶναι βασιλικήν ἀτραπόν ἐπί γεωμετρίαν", i.e. There's no royal road to [knowledge] geometry. — Euclid while teaching King Ptolemy, via Proclus. I encountered this from a summer camp golf instructor who was in the PGA. My golf instructor demonstrated correct form for a swing and then scolded me when I tried to replicate his swing. He told me the example was to demonstrate the goal and that the value of the exercise was in the steps to reach that outcome. Try to make one change at a time; individual, controlled, small adjustments to your grip and notice the difference it makes. This is what re-inforces good practices.
  29. Make up for it in volume. -- Greg Lindahl
  30. People need the basics -- CR
  31. Being the best manager means developing and effectively practicing the best protocols for organization and movement.
  32. Everyone is in some way disabled; everyone can be enabled
  33. Deadlines inform expectations and contexualize ambition. Checkpoints (strategic planning) mitigates risks and minimizes losses of gains.
  34. Be honest, but know what and what not to say, and when to say it. In the words of Franklin, "Tricks and treachery are the practice of fools, that don't have brains enough to be honest."
  35. Silence is a form of dishonesty -- Drew Winget 2020-02-13 (At Serapeum, about speaking up for onself's needs)
  36. When You Face Dragons, Find Equally Powerful Allies (EdCamp Conference 2020 @ Clever)
  37. "[...] it is necessary for a prince, who wishes to maintain himself, to learn how not to be good, and to use it and not use it according to the necessity of the case" -- Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince. Reflection: Even for one whose wishes is to do good, one must have sinister thoughts enough to understand how others may do bad; otherwise, how else shall these evils be dealt?
  38. "[...] How we [may] live is so far removed from how we ought to live, that he who abandons what is done for what ought to be done, will rather learn to bring about his own ruin than his preservation." -- Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince. i.e. know the difference between what society expects, and what is possible.
  39. "To wield love or fear? Love is the flower, bloomed until its pedals wither. But it is the seeds of fear from which roots are grown. And by which pedals fall." -- Mek. Reflection: I was thinking about this today from the perspective of political power. Not that, e.g., a "prince" should rule by being loved or hated, but rather the power in knowing what people love and fear. And that for galvanizing action, it makes sense to appeal to what people love by surfacing what they fear. And by demonstrating how their love is at stake.
  40. If someone is bad at taking care of themselves; this could become your liability If someone (especially someone you care about) is not taking care of themselves, it’s your responsibility to make them aware of it without expecting them to change. If they get influenced by your good habits that’s great, but if they don’t change then you still lovingly take care of them in times of need without telling them “I told you so!” — Komalta Rajani
  41. Seek relationships with flexible give and take; those who count exchanges in utility are unsustainable. — Komalta Rajani
  42. Freedom of speech can be equally as important as freedom from the thoughts of others.2
  43. Avoid sarcasm unless it can be employed as method of non-hurtful social encryption. The following is an except from 5: McGraw and Caleb Warren, a doctoral student, presented their elegantly simple formulation in the August 2010 issue of the journal Psychological Science. Their paper, “Benign Violations: Making Immoral Behavior Funny,” cited scores of philosophers, psychologists, and neuroscientists (as well as Mel Brooks and Carol Burnett). The theory they lay out: “Laughter and amusement result from violations that are simultaneously seen as benign.” That is, they perceive a violation—”of personal dignity (e.g., slapstick, physical deformities), linguistic norms (e.g., unusual accents, malapropisms), social norms (e.g., eating from a sterile bedpan, strange behaviors), and even moral norms (e.g., bestiality, disrespectful behaviors)”—while simultaneously recognizing that the violation doesn’t pose a threat to them or their worldview. The theory is ludicrously, vaporously simple. But extensive field tests revealed nuances, variables that determined exactly how funny a joke was perceived to be.

3 1% Optimizations (Organization: Storage & Retrieval)

  1. Require everything have a place. You'll spend less time searching for your phone, wallet or purse. If things aren't required to have a place, verifying tasks (involving many items) are complete can explode combinatorially. The same is especially true for thoughts. We have a lot of them, so keeping them organized is important, otherwise, some computation becomes intractable. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, "Let all your things have their place"4
  2. "[...] let each part of your business have its time." [Benjamin Franklin]
  3. Make the right promises and keep them. i.e., "Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve. [Benjamin Franklin]"
  4. "Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing. [Benjamin Franklin]"
  5. When you're loading a dishwasher, place all similar cuttlery together. It's a constant time insertion whether your insert a utensil in the correct or an arbitrary bucket (the bucketing is basically a hash, which means a marginal scalar factor added to the expense of insertion), but if you front-load this computation, the sort operation at retrieval time will be a constant, versus a linear sort. Then the limiting factor becomes the size/bandwidth of your hand. That's a problem for someone else to solve.
  6. Put your socks, underwear, and shirts in separate mesh nets when washing and drying to reduce time separating your items.
  7. Buy all of the same white socks to further reduce sorting complexity.
  8. If you want to perform an activity more, make the items it entails spatially and temporally local. For instance, to practice guitar more, leave the instrument out of its case and in your way. The same is true of documents or tabs in your browser. The same is true for negative influences; reduce their spatial and local presence.
  9. Pinned Tabs: My calendar, gmail, a Table of Contents of all my projects, a universal TODO list, chat systems

4 My Protocols

4.1 Conventions for Note Taking

  • Every document should have a date
  • Every file, section, blurb (ideally) has a unique tag (markup or numeric) which allows it to be indexed/searched/referenced.
  • Every note should (ideally) be semantically tagged
  • Every note should exist only once (single point of truth) and by symlinked by other things that need it
  • Todo items and notes should work the same way. Todo items are just actionable notes, thus:
  • Open questions
    How can autocomplete for tagged notes, as we're typing them?

4.2 Universal Todo List UUID('f73de879-b51c-4ac3-b5f4-db4f0e37d021')

I shall maintain a Universal TODO List which shows me all open tasks and what is planned for a given day.

  1. The same todo item shall never exist in more than one source (e.g. database, file, website/service) unless it's a synched backup. One single point of truth, many symlinks.

4.3 Universal Table of Contents

  1. Have a Table of Contents + Todo list for your learnings and questions

4.4 Quantified Self

  1. Maintain a spreadsheet to track important(?) metrics

4.5 Rules for Projects (4-26-2015)

Maintain a list of problems which bother you and a Table of Contents of all projects you're working on.

  1. Every project shall have a registered domain and a landing page
  2. Every project shall have a team of > 2 interested folks (who know about it)
  3. Every project shall have an executive summary
  4. Every project shall have a repository (for version control + code + assets)
  5. Every project shall have a landing page
  6. Every project shall have an essay describing its long term goals (public exec summary)
  7. Every project shall have a todo list #project tag in the universal TODO list
  8. Every project shall have a top-level table of contents (TOC) enumerating the aforementioned

4.5.1 Executive Summary

  1. A list of existing services
  2. Market research
  3. Simple roadmap of milestones to guage successs
  4. Projections + business model for breaking even (based on roadmap)
  5. Unique stategy for customer acquisition

5 Philosophy

  • Have concrete, concise and well reasoned answers, be willing to change them. Premeditate answers, ponder their context and significance, and do so on your own time. Life favors the prepared (paraphrasing Louis Pasteur @Q529). To understand and be capable of articulating your stance is a competitive advantage and will help you identify others who align.
  • If someone asks you for your biggest life learning, you should have some pre-meditated answer
  • If someone asks you for your favorite philosopher, you should have some pre-meditated answer. A philosopher is simply one who is passionate about something. Who cares about something, thinks about something, and develops conventions and methodologies to address this something. The only reason not to have a favourite is because you haven't found a "something" you care enough about that you're willing to learn from others.
  • If someone asks you your life mission, or what you stand for, you should have some pre-meditated answer

6 Notes on Engineering Systems

  1. Build systems which compound and value to each other (common infrastructure)
  2. Build systems which are isolatable (easy for people to setup and maintain)
  3. Be weary of using bleeding edge tools which don't have some stand-in replacement
  4. Shims are a low friction way to make existing services interoperable with each other, but writing them requires O(n) time (a shim for each non-interoperable service). A constant time solution requires protocol-level consensus, where features can be arbitrary incorporated into each node's protocol and subsets of systems can choose to agree.

7 Provenance: Keep a trail

  1. Write everything down, record everything, always have access to these records; make it handy and searchable. Build interfaces to improve accessibility.
  2. Maintain a table of contents for your life
  3. Maintain a list of the problems which you want to solve, and ideas for solving them
  4. Use version control on everything you can
  5. Keep a common book where you evaluate what problems are important to you, why they are important, what resources and solutions you have discovered, and who else cares about these problems. If you have a problem, others likely have the problem. And being a source of organization carries with it gravity which can bring to it additional gains to server your collective cause.

8 Dealing With Others

  1. Research people before you connect. Look through their linkedin, understand who they know. Never ask if they "know someone". Do the work for them.
  2. Try your own ideas yourself before approaching others

9 Permenance

This is a hard problem. Turning every computer in the world into an equitable/fair network of distributed, secure, non-monopolizable storage where incentives are aligned to store files and ensure redundancy (e.g. Filecoin, IPFS)

10 Connect everything you can

  1. When you meet two people working on a similar problem, introduce them. And do so in a way which proposes collaboration on an element on which they complimentary, not competitive.6
  2. List the ways in which problems are or could be connected.
  3. Be an edge connector in research: Become an expert in a single field by becoming familiar with the fields around it and its application6 (Knuth)
  4. Record observations and outcomes of (whether good or bad)

11 Experiment

  1. Schedule a meeting with someone "impossible" to connect with to discussion your and their mutual passion once a month (researchers, entrepreneurs, artists)
  2. Have a room in your house dedicated to a language or behaviour. (spatial locality)

12 Version History

Version 1.0, 2015-12-26, Initial Release

Author: root <mek>

Date: 2015-12-26 23:27:41 PST