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.
For a novel that is 88 years old, the future imagined by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World feels remarkably relevant. Soma feels prescient in a world with ever increasing prescriptions of anti-depressants and an opioid epidemic. It poses a question that I have yet to resolve: how to choose if it is better to live a happy and comfortable life, or to suffer in the name of a good cause?
V for Vendetta
On the 5th of November, the start of the UK’s second lockdown, I watched the film adaptation of Alan Moore’s comic series V for Vendetta. Some plot elements felt eerily familiar in the context of a US Presidential election during a global pandemic. As a “Bush-era parable” (see quote below), I found the undertones of the 9/11 Truth movement unpalatable, whilst the reminder of the threat of fascism felt necessary given a US president with a fondness for white supremacists. Valerie’s letter made me cry (for the third time).
[The movie] has been “turned into a Bush-era parable by people too timid to set a political satire in their own country. … It’s a thwarted and frustrated and largely impotent American liberal fantasy of someone with American liberal values standing up against a state run by neoconservatives – which is not what the comic V for Vendetta was about. It was about fascism, it was about anarchy, it was about England.Alan Moore on the film adaptation of his comic book V for Vendetta
For most of my life, the United States looked to be the leading country in the world. It was an American flag that flew on the moon, Hollywood told stories from the American perspective, American soldiers protected the weak from tyranny, and American universities were home to the world’s leading researchers. I was a high school student when the election of Barack Obama on a platform of hope looked to be a rejection of a racist past. The promise to fix a broken health care system and an acknowledgement of the burden of climate change made me feel optimistic in a world of cynicism following the Iraq War and the financial crisis. I first visited the US in 2012, and was enthralled at the sense of opportunity as I lived on the energising chaos of Silicon Valley Hackerspaces. I think fondly of my time in New York and Boston in 2014, every new relationship a wonderful opportunity to learn. The mix of cultures, of passions, and the uniting desire to do something made me feel that this ought be home.
Hard Work and Sacrifice
Americans work hard. Compared with Europeans and Australasians they take fewer holidays, they work more hours. They set ambitious goals. The technological prowess of the United States is most famously demonstrated by the space program. NASA continues to be science’s most recognisable and captivating brand.
Some of the hardest work to be done in the US is mending a racially and politically fractured society. Consider the following:
Racial harmony is not going to come by us holding hands and singing Kumbaya. That understanding has to be earned, it has to be worked for, and there are sacrifices involved and I think that breaking isolation requires work and sacrifice.