How to make cranberry juice palatable

August 14, 2019

Lately I’ve been hearing a lot about the benefits of drinking good quality cranberry juice. Not wanting to be left behind, I bought a few bottles of Knudsen Just Cranberry Juice. Good stuff. But wicked sour. After a few days, I could drink no more. Too sour. Then a light bulb went on in my head – add a few drops of liquid Stevia. Ha! I did that and now the juice is palatable. Now I am merrily drinking a couple glasses of good quality cranberry juice each day.

Count reps or not?

August 13, 2019

Clearly, the goal is to improve over the years. More accurately, the goal is to improve the number of perfect-form reps over the years.

There are pros and cons to counting reps.

Pros

Counting reps (along with recording the number of reps performed) gives concrete evidence of whether there is improvement.

Cons

There is an enormous temptation to sacrifice form for that extra rep. Instead of focusing on movement and mind-body connection, the focus is on a mostly meaningless number.

Bottom Line

For many workouts the number of reps you can perform will remain the same. There will even be times where the number of reps decreases. But, if the effort is put in, over the long arc of time the number of perfect-form reps will slowly rise. That is all you can ask. That is success.

Cultivate craftsmanship in your work

August 11, 2019

The woodworker has an intimate relationship with the wood he works. Its subtle virtues call out to be cultivated and cared for. In this appreciation for the subtle virtues of his medium, the craftsman has stumbled onto something crucial: a source of meaning outside the individual. The woodworker doesn’t decide arbitrarily which virtues of the wood he works are valuable and which are not; this value is inherent in the wood and the task it’s meant to perform.

Such sacredness is common to craftsmanship. The task of a craftsman is not to generate meaning, but rather to cultivate in himself the skill of discerning the meanings that are already there.

There’s nothing intrinsic about the manual trades when it comes to discerning this meaning. Any pursuit—be it physical or cognitive—that supports high levels of skill can also discern a sense of sacredness.

The Pragmatic Programmer, a well-regarded book in the computer programming field, makes this connection between code and old-style craftsmanship:

One hundred years from now, our engineering may seem as archaic as the techniques used by medieval cathedral builders seem to today’s civil engineers, but our craftsmanship will still be honored.

It’s here that some might respond that their knowledge work job cannot possibly become such a source of meaning because their job’s subject is much too mundane. But this is flawed thinking. The craftsman doesn’t have to have a rarified job. Throughout most of human history, to be a blacksmith or a woodworker wasn’t glamorous. But this doesn’t matter, as the specifics of the work are irrelevant. The meaning uncovered by such efforts is due to the skill and appreciation inherent in craftsmanship—not the outcomes of their work. A wooden wheel is not noble, but its shaping can be. The same applies to knowledge work. You don’t need a rarified job; you need a rarified approach to your work.

Deep Work, Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

To be productive you need long periods of uninterrupted concentration

August 10, 2019

My full-time writing schedule means that I have to be pretty much a hermit. The only way to gain enough efficiency to complete The Art of Computer Programming is to operate in batch mode, concentrating intensively and uninterruptedly on one subject at a time, rather than swapping a number of topics in and out of my head.

  • Donald Knuth, computer scientist

To do real good physics, you do need absolute solid lengths of time … it needs a lot of concentration.

  • Richard Feynman, physicist

Within a semester dedicated to research, he alternates between periods where his door is open to students and colleagues, and periods where he isolates himself to focus completely and without distraction on a single research task. During these periods, which can last up to three or four days, he’ll often put an out-of-office auto-responder on his email so correspondents will know not to expect a response soon. To Grant, it’s important to enforce strict isolation until he completes the task at hand.

  • Adam Grant, youngest professor to be awarded tenure at the Wharton School of Business

Writing novels is hard, and requires vast, unbroken slabs of time. Four quiet hours is a resource that I can put to good use. Two slabs of time, each two hours long, might add up to the same four hours, but are not nearly as productive as an unbroken four. If I know that I am going to be interrupted, I can’t concentrate, and if I suspect that I might be interrupted, I can’t do anything at all. Likewise, several consecutive days with four-hour time-slabs in them give me a stretch of time in which I can write a decent book chapter, but the same number of hours spread out across a few weeks, with interruptions in between them, are nearly useless.

  • Neal Stephenson, writer

Today I counted the number of times that I checked email

August 2, 2019

I am trying to improve my ability to focus on things for a long period of time. That means resist distractions. That means don’t check email.

To get a sense of how often I check email, today I kept a running count each time I checked my work email, hotmail, and gmail. Here are the results:

Work email: 17 times

Hotmail: 6 times

Gmail: 2 times

Note that these numbers would be much higher but I worked hard to resist the urge to check my email. I think that on a typical day the numbers would be twice as much (maybe more).

This is a sad state of affairs. Checking my email so often is crazy. There’s no need for this. It is a huge distraction. I can’t (nobody can) do deep work with such distractions.

I will continue to build will power to resist the urge to obsessively check email.

Have you counted the number of times that you check email in a day? Is it higher or lower than the numbers above? Let me know, please.

h-index

July 31, 2019

There are a lot of things difficult about being a professor at a research-oriented university. But one benefit that this profession enjoys is clarity. How well or how poorly you’re doing as an academic researcher can be boiled down to a simple question: Are you publishing important papers? The answer to this question can even be quantified as a single number, such as the h-index: a formula, named for its inventor, Jorge Hirsch, that processes your publication and citation counts into a single value that approximates your impact on your field. In computer science, for example, an h-index score above 40 is difficult to achieve and once reached is considered the mark of a strong long-term career. On the other hand, if your h-index is in the single digits when your case goes up for tenure review, you’re probably in trouble. Google Scholar, a tool popular among academics for finding research papers, even calculates your h-index automatically so you can be reminded, multiple times per week, precisely where you stand.

Deep Work, Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

An alarming statistic on how much time emails and web browsing take out of our work

July 28, 2019

A 2012 McKinsey study found that the average knowledge worker now spends more than 60% of the workweek engaged in electronic communication and Internet searching, with close to 30% of a worker’s time dedicated to reading and answering e-mail alone.

This state of fragmented attention cannot accommodate deep work, which requires long periods of uninterrupted thinking.

— The above comes from an awesome book that I am reading, titled Deep Work, Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport.

Don’t drink coffee, drink this instead

July 17, 2019

I kicked the coffee habit after learning what sleep does to the brain: The caffeine in coffee blocks sleep receptor cells in the brain, resulting in sleep problems. Poor sleep results in a whole host of well-documented health problems.

Of course, the thing that makes coffee so appealing is its ability to enhance alertness – it makes the brain think better! I recognized that and went in search of an alternative drink that would achieve (mostly) the same results. I found it. Here it is:

1 cup water

Juice from 1/2 lime

A few fresh mint leaves

A few fresh rosemary leaves

A few drops liquid stevia

Some ice

Put in blender and blend

Then add some seltzer to give it some bubbles

Enjoy!

Here are the books I am reading this summer

July 16, 2019

This summer I have been fortunate to have stumbled across some wonderful books. Here’s what I am reading:

  1. So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport. I enjoy reading books that challenge my beliefs, especially beliefs that I never consciously formed and were unconsciously inherited from my culture, family, and friends. This book does just that – it challenges a long-held belief. The book says, “Follow your passion” is bad advice. Wow! The whole book explains why. The author’s premise is that you master something, almost anything at all, and then you use that mastery to move you into a place where you can control your work. To have rare, valuable work you must have rare, valuable skills.
  2. Why We Sleep by Mathew Walker. Fascinating insights into sleep. See my last post. Every human needs to read this book.
  3. Cool Tools by Kevin Kelly. A large book containing interesting info about lots and lots of things. This is the kind of book that you open to any arbitrary page and learn something new.
  4. Infinite Powers by Steven Strogatz. Here’s a neat story at the beginning of the book: Novelist Herman Wouk was doing research for a big novel he hoped to write about World War II, and he went to Caltech to interview physicists who had worked on the bomb, one of whom was Richard Feynman. After the interview, as they were parting, Feynman asked Wouk if he knew calculus. No, Wouk admitted, he didn’t. “You had better learn it,” said Feynman. “It’s the language God talks.”

What books are you reading this summer?

A few interesting things about sleep

July 13, 2019

I am reading an interesting book, titled Why We Sleep by Mathew Walker. I’d like to share with you a few things I learned.

  1. Inside your brain is something called the suprachiasmatic nucleus. It controls your circadian rhythm, that is, your sleep cycle.
  2. When you fly to a different time zone, the suprachiasmatic nucleus must readjust to the new night/day pattern. But it’s a slow process. For every day you are in a different time zone, your suprachiasmatic nucleus can only readjust by one hour. So, if you fly from the east coast to London (+5 hours) it will take your body 5 days to readjust.
  3. Scientists have studied airplane cabin crews who frequently fly on long-haul routes and have little chance to recover. Two alarming results have emerged. First, parts of their brains—specifically those related to learning and memory—had physically shrunk, suggesting the destruction of brain cells caused by the biological stress of time-zone travel. Second, their short-term memory was significantly impaired. They were considerably more forgetful than individuals of similar age and background who did not frequently travel through time zones. Other studies of pilots, cabin crew members, and shift workers have reported additionally disquieting consequences, including far higher rates of cancer and type 2 diabetes than the general population.