The unstructured time in Managed Isolation has given me time to consider a range of questions. The most time consuming are the logistics: where am I going to live? What forms of transport will I be using? What type of work am I going to do? This in turn leads to other less tangible questions: What should the price of housing be in an ideal world? Why are road bicycles more expensive than entry level motorcycles? There are also more general questions from world news: Why is there so much scepticism about vaccines? What does the Gamestop saga mean for investing? Should governments be able to revoke citizenship? Is Google evil, and if so when did it become so? My hope for the coming months is to do some longer writing trying to improve the answers available to questions that interest me. For now, more trawling property classifieds.
As I reflect on the last week of Managed Isolation and Quarantine, I realise that I have once again overestimated my free time in a period without formal work obligations. Despite repeatedly over committing to weekend activities and holiday to-do lists, I have not managed to learn to be conservative about my expectations of time off. When times are busy, side projects and nice-to-dos are easy to set aside, drifting lightly on their low import into amorphous blocks of time like these two weeks of hotel confinement. Having arrived here, the actual number of tasks I’d like to accomplish is overwhelming, and without clear hierarchy. Friends are kindly advising me that after an intense 3 years at ONI, a little seemingly unproductive rest is actually the most productive thing I could be doing, but those sensible comments pale compared with the guilt at not accomplishing what I set out to do. Perhaps next time I will remember this reality, having written about it in place of the topics I would have liked to explore given more time.
Today I’m writing from the tarmac in Singapore, surrounded by people making the journey from Heathrow to Auckland. We are unable to leave the aircraft, isolating to protect the locals from possible transmission of the UK strain. It is strangely familiar to be flying after more than a year; the same Android based entertainment systems, the same tray portioned food, the same cacophony of mewling infants to make sleep a little more difficult. The masks are new, as are the temperature checks, but overall it’s not that different to flights past.
It’s been a particularly strange transition. In some ways, it’s a very sudden change. Yesterday I was in Oxford, tomorrow I’ll be in Auckland, almost opposite sides of the world. The UK has suffered thousands of deaths and is under tight restrictions of movement, life in New Zealand is largely as normal with virtually no cases. Despite the geographic and social change, having worked from home and living out of a suitcase the past few weeks, the coming two weeks in quarantine is likely to feel much the same as my last two weeks in lockdown.
I will deeply miss the community I shared at ONI. In my last few days I was left feeling so deeply appreciated by my friends (who happen to be colleagues) that the words that feel most true are to say I feel loved. Perhaps it has revealed an over investment, emotionally and socially, in my work. I prefer to think of it as having had the privilege to belong in a community of people who shared principles, who inspired me to be better, and who were reliably kind in the face of immense challenge.
I am excited for the adventure to come. Moving is an opportunity to set new goals, find new friends, and attempt to amplify strengths and leave weaknesses behind. It is likely changing countries in the midst of a global pandemic will be the most significant part of this year for me, but I hope that it is just the beginning of something even more meaningful.
Weeks in a Year
A quick note on week numbers: Typically when asked how many weeks are in a year, 52 is a good answer. Keeping time is a little more complicated, and this week we are still in the 53rd year of 2020. Interestingly, this can cause issues in systems like GPS if the unusual 53 week year is not accounted for.
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.
Photos from the Week
A couple brief ideas:
Conservative vs Progressive
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.”Barack Obama’s Eulogy for John McCain
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.
Photos from the Week
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:
Freud: Id, Ego, Superego
Jocko: Dichotomy of Ego
Political news is loud this week, as we approach a presidential election in the United States of America, and locally England enters a month long lock down. On Tuesday the US will likely elect Joe Biden to replace Donald Trump as president of the United States. This will make President Biden the oldest person at the start of their presidency, a record currently held by Trump. As the leader of the free world ages, and the polarisation of America’s politics grows more divisive, the ever less inspiring presidential debate becomes ever less relevant. It is in reading about the last four years under President Trump that I realise, uncomfortably, that my future no longer leads to a life in the United States. In this post I explore this idea.
The American Dream
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.
I have a sense that science no longer occupies the pedestal it once held in the US. Disinformation in the name of free speech, and scepticism without rational thinking, are symptomatic of a failing education system. Whilst migrants are common amongst the top scientific researchers in the US, the Trump administration has made it harder to employ skilled migrants.
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.Barack Obama speaking at the Cambridge Public Library. 20 September 1995
Obama’s opponent in the 2008 presidential race was John McCain, who sought to quell fears rather than stoke them during his time on the campaign trail.
I have to tell you, he [Obama] is a decent person, and a person that you do not have to be scared of as president of the United States.Senator John McCain at a rally 10th October 2008
Trump has vindictively and cynically stoked the same racial tensions, and appealed to the worst aspects of the Republican base.
More thoughts to come later.
Photo from the Week