Self-determined approach to seeing the world

August 11, 2018

For many people (myself included) it is the media (TV, newspapers) that determine what we see of the world. The media decides what we see and what we don’t see. I suppose that by viewing a range of TV newscasts and newspapers, one can have a larger aperture on the world. And, by and large, I think the media does a descent job. Nonetheless, it would be nice to determine my own view of the world. Rather than someone else feeding me a view of the world, it would be nice if I deliberately chose the mechanisms by which to see the world. I wonder if it would be good to simply cut off all media and identify, say, 5 (non-media) avenues for getting an understanding of what’s happening in the world? How do you get your view of the world? Are you on a self-determined path to seeing the world? I am interested in hearing your thoughts.

Food scientists know how to make addictive foods, web scientists know how to make addictive web sites

July 28, 2018

I remember years ago hearing about how food scientists have figured out the right combination of sugar, fat, and salt such that it affects the brain in a way that you can’t stop eating the food. The food is a drug and you become an addict.

For a long time, I frequented the web site XXXXXXX. Throughout each day I would break away from what I was working on to see what was happening on XXXXXXX. I spent a significant amount of time each day on XXXXXXX. Then one day I decided that I didn’t want to spend my life’s precious hours viewing XXXXXXX, so I stopped cold turkey. Every day for months after my mind kept telling me “Go see what’s happening on XXXXXXX”. It was only after 3 or 4 months that the insistent pull to that web site subsided. Literally, the web site was a drug for me and I was addicted, and it took hard work to stop the addiction. As I now think about it, I can see why it was addicting: the web site is filled with bright, colorful pictures, and tantalizing, teasing salacious stories. Just as cooking scientists have figured out how to create addictive foods, so too web scientists have figured out how to create addictive web sites. Recently I decided to stop visiting another site, XXXXXXX. I am going through the same withdrawal symptoms as I went through with XXXXXXX.

Note: I redacted my blog. No point identifying specific web sites.

“I don’t know” is a good response

July 22, 2018

I ran into an old friend recently. He does research at Harvard University. A very bright fellow. I observed during our conversation that he responded, “I don’t know” to many of my questions. Since then I’ve reflected on that conversation and realized the wisdom of his response. I think about the things that I know with absolute certainty; it is a short list. Anything that I say outside this list is pure speculation. Sadly, I often speak with an air of confidence and certainty, when consciously or unconsciously I know that I really don’t “know” and am just making things up. I’ve decided that the mark of a wise person is one who is willing to say, “I don’t know.” I am going to say, “I don’t know” a lot more often from now on.

This is the ultimate diet (really)

May 22, 2018

In my lifetime I have tried just about every health diet ever created. In just the last month I’ve tried two diets. In every case, the first day of the diet I notice a remarkable increase in energy and alertness. I tell all my friends what a fantastic diet it is. The next day, a little less energy and alertness. By the end of a week on the diet, I am back to the same energy and alertness levels as before starting the diet. Nonetheless, I continue the diet. By day 10 I feel worse than before the diet – less energy, less alertness, and sometimes even nausea. I feel like an idiot for boasting to my friends about what a great diet it is. Eventually I wise up and I jump onto the next diet. And the cycle starts all over again.

I have come to realize two important things:

  1. My body adjusts shockingly fast to a new diet. It just takes 2 or 3 days for my body to fully adjust. Once adjusted, the improved energy and alertness levels fade rapidly.
  2. My body loves change. Every time I change my diet I get a significant boost in energy and alertness.

What is the ultimate diet? The ultimate diet is one that constantly changes.

My aquarium fish have a good life

May 5, 2018

They are safe, no predators to eat them. They don’t have to scavenge for food, I feed them every morning. The water temperature is controlled, so no need for housing or clothes.

All they have to do is, well, nothing. Just live. Just swim around and enjoy life.

I check my email 52 times a day – yikes!

May 2, 2018

Recently I counted the number of times that I checked my email. 52 times in one day.


Email is evil (mostly).

Every time I check my email, it is a context switch. That is a productivity killer.

Why Multitasking is Killing your Productivity

Change my mind on what I expect to get from attending workshops and conferences

May 1, 2018

This week I attended a technical workshop. I always get both intimidated and depressed whenever I attend these kinds of events. The speakers go through their material way too fast for me to understand. They seem so smart, far smarter than I.

But I just had an insight: the purpose of conferences and workshops is not to teach you new stuff, but, rather, to give you flashes of ideas which can then be pursued afterwards. In other words, the purpose is to give you pointers to new ideas. Also, I need to remember that the speaker has been thinking about the subject for a long time, whereas I am hearing it for the first time. The speaker may indeed be very smart, but I shouldn’t make a judgement based on one brief talk.

For some people, conferences and workshops also provide a place to make new connections (meet new people). I suppose that I do make some connections, but being an introvert, I am terribly uncomfortable in such situations and don’t make much in the way of meaningful connections.

I need to change my mind on what I expect to get out of workshops and/or conferences.

People a few moves ahead of everyone else in humanity’s chess game against reality

April 29, 2018

Computer Scientist Scott Aaronson:

There’s plenty of mathematics that strikes me as boutique scholasticism [produced by a small, narrow-minded clique]. But there’s mathematics that looks to me like boutique scholasticism, until [mathematicians] Greg Kuperberg or Ketan Mulmuley explains it to me, and I say: “Ah, so that’s why [mathematicians] David Mumford, Alain Connes, and Edward Witten cared so much about this. Now that I understand it, it seems … almost like an ordinary applied engineering question, albeit one from the year 2030, being studied by people a few moves ahead of everyone else in humanity’s chess game against reality. It will be pretty sweet once the rest of the world catches up to this.”

Perfect practice makes perfect

April 22, 2018

You’ve probably heard the expression, “Practice makes perfect.” However, that is not quite true. If one practices using sloppy form or practice is done mindlessly, then perfection will never be achieved. It is perfect practice that makes perfect.

Look longer and see more

April 14, 2018

Artist David Hockney:

“Most people don’t look much. They scan the ground in front of them so they can move around. I’ve spent my life looking.”

Talking about his portraits: “I’m trying to get the personality. I’m trying to capture something of them.”

The subjects sit in a chair on a raised platform in Hockney’s studio. The sittings last 20 hours over 3 days. “For most people it’s a strange experience to have someone looking, peering at you for such a long time.”  One of his subjects (Stephanie Barron) is interviewed and says this: “I found that it was exhausting. To be the subject of an artist who is concentrating so intently on you can be a bit daunting.”

Comparing the work to photographs, Hockney calls his portraits “20-hour exposures”.

“Photographs have a fraction of a second in them. Drawings and paintings, of course, have more time because it takes time to do it.”

The interviewer asked: “A lot of people think this is an old-fashion idea. Painting is old fashion. Portrait painting is even more old fashion.” Hockney responded: “It’s not really, I know the argument about painting is dead. But painting can’t die because photography is not good enough actually. It’s just a snap. Why not look longer at something? Look longer and maybe see more.