I’m moving to Auckland in 2021! Blog post content will suffer while I wrap up my work for ONI and organise the logistics of moving myself and my possessions to the other side of the world in the middle of a pandemic. A couple thoughts from the week:
Angela Duckworth’s plot of Phone location vs Grades quantifies what we already intuit: phones are really powerful distractions.
Packing the array of mildly useful objects I’ve collected over the past 3.5 years in Oxford is a huge source of decision fatigue. Packing things into boxes is relatively trivial, but attempting to vaguely optimise the set of possessions is an incredibly complex task. Moving objects to New Zealand by freight comes in at approximately US$0.5 per Litre, but in 1000 L units. How much are those old running shoes worth now? Postage stamps are “value dense”, but how do you recapture that value efficiently? As a technology hobbyist, a range of electronic componentry has hardly any value in the abstract, but if it can be used to fix something can be hugely valuable.
It has been an unusual year, one filled with new challenges and opportunities to learn and grow. I enjoyed a friend’s suggestion to use Year Compass to direct some personal reflection. A few things to share:
Building things other people use is very satisfying. 2020 was the most productive year I have had in terms of programming, oddly brought about by moving into a People Team role. Compared with cutting edge research, the smaller challenges of automating office applications provided an opportunity for me to see a project from start to finish, and learn a lot along the way.
Overcoming hesitation is a way to get more done. Trying to keep pace with ONI’s founder has been a wonderfully challenging growth opportunity. One of the biggest lessons I’ve taken away is that hesitation is a barrier to getting more done. I’ve tried to push harder to overcome my activation energy and been rewarded with more productive days.
People will talk if you ask nicely Thank you to the people who spoke with me this year. Working in Talent Acquisition led me to (virtually) meet many people over the last few months, and it has been a pleasure to gain insights from people across the world with a diverse range of experiences.
This week around Christmas I have enjoyed playing board games, and learning a little more about the hobby.
Lessons from Games:
Games where success is based on a combination of skill and luck are more fun than games based purely on one or the other. Games like Chess and Go, which involve no element of chance, dominate competitive tournament play, but their ubiquity makes them less novel. They can only involve two players, so the experience is less social, and the confrontational nature is exacerbated by the skill difference leading to a known result. Chess and Go have a significant enough following on their own to sit outside the board game community. Distraction, reading about perfect information games I discovered Chess on an Infinite Plane.
Games are meant to be fun. It’s worth remembering that while the explicit objective of a game is for each player to try and win, the implicit goal is to enjoy that time spent with the other people playing. It’s necessary to calibrate with the group how aggressively competitive the experience is intended to be, and the pace of play (e.g. use of time limits for moves).
Be careful what to optimise for. Games are often problems of optimising for certain conditions or outcomes, and part of learning to play well is learning what needs to be optimised for. An example from the cooperative game Pandemic is that the victory condition is discovering a cure, not eradicating diseases. The temptation to work towards eradication ultimately is a distraction from the main goal.
Don’t hoard, don’t waste. Many board-games teach some resource management, be it optimising the use of turns, a currency, or pieces. Often the optimal strategy requires a balance to be found between miserly minimisation and spendthrift excess.
I have commented that an advantage conservative political parties have over progressives ones, is that there is only one way to maintain the status quo, but several ways to change. Therefore progressive parties are far more vulnerable to factions and infighting over disagreements of how to change, entrenching status quo bias into political systems. Perhaps Trump changes this dynamic by creating disinformation: if there are multiple versions of the status quo, there can be multiple ways to conserve it. Side note: I’ve been following the President’s Twitter feed, and Trump’s attempts at undermining the democratic process are frightening.
The Feeling of the Page
I tend to think that the medium of consuming text (printed page or screen) is trivial compared with the content, but increasingly the evidence is to the contrary. If something is more comfortable to read (e.g. font size) or the texture of the printed page is pleasant to the touch, the way the content is received is different. Valuing the subtle details of a medium and how it affects interpretation is something I can improve.
This week I’ve found myself gravitating to videos of drill instructors at boot camp. Craving that spartan lifestyle is for me the sign of decision fatigue as I sprint to complete projects at the end of a challenging year.
I’m about to embark on some holiday reading for personal growth, including Ray Dalio’s Principles. A 30 minute summary is provided in the video below, and more extensive notes to come soon.
I am thankful to enjoy working with really talented people. Musically gifted physicists, roboticist poets, athlete immunologists, and project managing dancers. One significant benefit of spending time with inspiring people is being close enough to see them fail. At a distance, from where we see our heroes and legends, the bar can seem impossibly high. This saps motivation: why attempt the unachievable? Seeing the daily struggle of what it takes to be great, makes it possible. Great people do not only raise the bar, they also set it within reach.
Quote I’m Pondering
“Today is only one day in all the days that will ever be. But what will happen in all the other days that ever come can depend on what you do today.”
In captivity, John learned, in ways that few of us ever will, the meaning of those words – how each moment, each day, each choice is a test. And John McCain passed that test – again and again and again. And that’s why, when John spoke of virtues like service, and duty, it didn’t ring hollow. They weren’t just words to him. It was a truth that he had lived, and for which he was prepared to die. It forced even the most cynical to consider what were we doing for our country, what might we risk everything for.
As the Trump coup slowly and painfully fades from the news cycle, Obama’s eulogy for John McCain is a reminder of what leadership can look like, from both sides of politics. This quote is a reminder that from positions of immense power, and crippling powerlessness, not to forget the significance of the immediate decision that is before us.
This week has been a reminder of how fortunate I am in the people that form my community. The people I live, work, and take time off with are wonderful. They inspire me to learn both deeply and broadly, write poetically and analytically, to run faster, and to laugh more easily. I don’t often take pause to be grateful, but this week I am thankful to have them in my life.
This weekend I’ve been thinking and reflecting on problems of ego. I have an intuitive but imprecise understanding of the concept, and doing some reading (and YouTube watching) to better understand ego has left me with muddled thoughts. Humility is not the opposite of ego, but arrogance and ego are intertwined. Insecurity, the need for external validation, and overconfidence all seem to be connected to problems with ego. The way to overcome ego seems to be detachment from the individual, focus on upholding principles, and adherence to logic and reason. Sharing some resources:
This week I have been thinking about opportunity cost, integrity, and metrics for performance. The opportunity came up to run 20 miles over the beautiful and steep terrain of Wendover Woods, and so having enjoyed fresh air and soft earth, I have not written cohesive thoughts about the intended topics.
Things I particularly enjoyed about trail running: The technical challenge of judging each foot placement to stay upright. Great conversation both on the trails and during the rest stops. Using different muscles compared with the repetitive motion of road running. Beautiful foliage and clean air.