Stages of Learning a Language

July 10, 2017

For the past year, I’ve been learning a modeling language from MIT called Alloy.

It’s been interesting to watch my progress in learning the language. I started with knowing nothing. I did lots of reading. Nothing really seemed to stick in my brain. Then one day I suddenly realized that things were sticking and the language had come together in my brain – I understood the language. But when I sat down to apply the language to a problem, I froze: “Where do I start?” After lots of struggles with applying the language to problems, I started creating models without constantly having to look things up. Someday I hope to be a master.

Here’s a timeline showing the stages I went through in learning the language. I think the stages may apply to other types of languages – natural languages, programming languages, etc.

The myth of the 40-hour work week

July 4, 2017

Recently I heard someone entering the workforce saying that he hoped his new job would not entail working more than 40 hours per week.

Since that time, I’ve spoken with several people about their jobs and asked if they work just 40 hours per week. Here’s what I learned:

  • My brother is a carpenter. He works rain or shine. “The work has to get done even if the ground is muddy or the temperature is roasting (or freezing). I work a lot more than 40 hours per week.”
  • A family friend is a lawyer. “I’ve worked my whole life, work is all I know, it’s a thing I love doing. I work much more than 40 hours per week.”
  • A fellow down the road fixes lawn mowers and snow blowers. He spends 20-30 hours each week on that business. In addition, he puts in 40 hours a week at another job.
  • A friend of mine designs and sells clothes online. She is always working, 7 days a week, morning, afternoon, and evening.
  • Another lawyer friend recently told me that he works 7 days a week.
  • My brother-in-law is a medical researcher. The only time he’s not working is when he’s on vacation. Even then, he keeps plugged in.
  • Personally, I work a lot. I am always pushing myself to keep on top of technology. For good or for bad, work is my life.

Conclusion: The 40-hour work week is a myth.

Three quotes I reread every day

July 1, 2017

Clarity, above all, has been my aim. I prefer a clear statement subsequently disproved to a misty dictum capable of some profound interpretation which can be welcomed as a “great thought.” It is not by “great thoughts,” but by careful and detailed analysis, that the kind of technical philosophy which I value can be advanced. [Bertrand Russell]

Everything is vague to a degree you do not realize till you have tried to make it precise. [Bertrand Russell]

Quintessential: (1) of the purse and essential essence of something. (2) of or relating to the most perfect embodiment of something.  (I just love this word)

Want to think great thoughts? Then stop thinking

April 7, 2017

The mind can only think old thoughts. Things that it has learned and thought before. To think new thoughts, to have great insights, you must go outside the mind. You must stop thinking. When you stop thinking, then you allow the timeless consciousness in. The timeless consciousness is not bound by old, limited thought patterns.

How to stop thinking? Easy. Simply shift your attention. Focus your attention on your breathing. Focus on the inhalation and then the exhalation. You can’t think when you’re focused on your breathing. Do this for one or two breaths. Then resume work on your problem. You may very well find that you suddenly have a new insight.

— This is a synopsis of some of the neat things that I have learned from Eckhart Tolle.

A day in my childhood is profoundly influencing me now

April 3, 2017

Today I remembered a particular day in grade school (perhaps 3rd or 4th grade). It was recess and I was playing with two friends. It was exciting. It must have been a Friday because the next day there was no school. I felt depressed. I wanted that excitement again. I think that I even walked to school, somehow hoping that my friends would be there. But the playground was empty. It saddened me, deeply. Oddly, I see the same kind of thing playing out, now. My workdays are exciting. Each morning I open my instant messenger, Skype, which lights up with bright green colors, indicating that my colleagues are online. Throughout the workdays I have an exciting, intense time interacting with my colleagues. Then the weekend arrives. When I open Skype, it displays all red – nobody’s online. It saddens me, deeply.

Every TV newscast starts with “Breaking News”

March 29, 2017

Have you noticed that every TV newscast these days starts with “Breaking News”?

Presumably, “Breaking News” means that something unusual and extraordinary happened. Something that requires urgent reporting and attention.

But it occurs to me that if everything is unusual and extraordinary, then that becomes the new norm. That is, the unusual and extraordinary become the usual and ordinary. It is no longer “Breaking News”.

So many different identities … who am I, really?

March 24, 2017

I am a New England Patriot’s football fan.

I am a technology evangelist.

I am Roger.

I am an avid reader.

I am a health buff.

So many different identities.

Are they who I am?

It’s fascinating how my mind (ego) defines itself by creating these various identities.

Imagine the chaos that would ensue within my mind if I could disassociate from all those identities. I have been told that the real me would emerge.

Food chemists … TV writer chemists?

March 17, 2017

Several years ago, someone wrote a book describing food chemists. Apparently, people in the food industry have discovered a certain combination of fats, salt, and sugar that makes people want to eat more and more. Good for the food industry. Bad for consumers.

It occurs to me that an analogous thing has happened with TV writing. There are some shows on TV that hit me with a huge emotional punch. After an episode is over my adrenaline is racing, the show runs through my mind over and over, and I have a hard time sleeping. And, …. I can’t wait to see the next episode! Good for the TV industry. Perhaps not so good for TV viewers.

Have TV writers discovered a way to write which causes viewers to crave more and more?

I spoke with a colleague about this and she referred me to these books and TED talk:

Made to Stick

Thinking Fast and Slow

Rory Sutherland

The greatest two lessons that I’ve learned

March 7, 2017
  1. Nothing that I do is important.
  2. My thoughts are not important.

Washing dishes is no less (and no more) important than anything else. So, I may as well treat everything with equal presence – give the same presence to washing dishes as to driving a car on an icy road.

Since my thoughts are not important, I no longer need to be consumed in my thoughts and emotions. I am free to simply observe (witness) my thoughts and emotions without condemnation.

These “lessons” at first seemed shocking to me, but on further reflection they are liberating.

Consciousness is the Universe looking at itself

March 4, 2017

The Universe is experiencing itself, for a brief moment, as a human being. It’s also experiencing itself, for a brief moment, as plants and animals. The Universe chooses, through you, to be conscious.
– Eckhart Tolle