Micro-activities

Since becoming a father I’ve had trouble fitting in all the things I’d like to do, so I’m always on the lookout for ways to combine two activities together, or to squeeze one in between two others. A few examples of these “micro-activities” that have worked out well:

  • Meditate while falling asleep
  • Pushups as I roll out of bed
  • Bodyweight exercise on playground equipment while the kids play
  • Mindful breathing while waiting for them to finish things (brushing teeth, putting away toys, etc)
  • Naps during lunch break (and related, lunch during meetings)
  • Squats and stretches while riding the elevator (alone =)

The way these work best is when the activities are in two separate cognitive or physical categories. I haven’t been able, for instance, to listen to a podcast while working (which both require cognitive attention), or to intersperse pushups with cooking (both require your hands). But a physical activity while doing a mental one can work (e.g. pullups while watching the kids).

Mindfulness in particular is well suited for this. Besides the fact that a single 20-minute session is hard to stay focused for anyway, spreading bits of meditation throughout the day has a nice regulating effect on my mood and attention. Chade Meng Tan encourages people to practice just a single breath at a time, finding that produces a large benefit; I agree.

Machine fashion

Computers are great at generating lots of options…not so great at choosing the best ones. So you can guess what happens when they start generating novelty t-shirt ideas.

How images change the world

An interesting argument about how and why to look at photographs of suffering. First, put yourself in the position of the photographer; imagine you are seeing what they did right in front of you:

Azoulay asks her readers to project themselves into the scenes of photographs, to notice the power dynamics at play, to identify the participants, and to view the outcomes not as inevitable but as one possibility among many.
Then prepare yourself to act when you see similar situations in the future:
Viewers, through careful observation of images of horror, become witnesses who “can occasionally foresee or predict the future,” she writes. As a result, they can warn others of “dangers that lie ahead” and take action to prevent them…

To be resisted, it seems, violence must be seen, and photography makes such vision possible.

Learning the basics

I think learning should be about learning the basics in all the fields and learning them really well over and over. Life is mostly about applying the basics and only doing the advanced stuff in the things that you truly love and where you understand the basics inside out. – Naval Ravikant

When I taught an introductory design class at Stanford, I finished by telling the students, “That’s it! That’s all you’ll ever need to know about doing design. Now, go out into the world and spend the rest of your lives trying to actually do it.”

William Carlos Williams and Imagism

I’m enjoying the poetry of William Carlos Williams, credited as one of the leaders of the Imagist movement, which sought to rescue poetry from the vague and flowery language of Georgian Romanticism.

My favorite is the funny and surprising “This Is Just To Say“, which is also great for parodies.

(This is just to say)

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Ezra Pound described the core tenets of Imagism as:

  • Direct treatment of the “thing,” whether subjective or objective.
  • To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation
  • As regarding rhythm: to compose in sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of the metronome.

To the extent product design can reflect poetry, those would be pretty good design principles too.

The Fair Representation Act and ranked choice voting

There may be no perfect voting system, but the Fair Representation Act is trying to improve the biggest problems:

  • Voters are currently incentivized to vote for “the best person they think can actually win”, rather than their actual favorite candidate
  • Only a single person represents a group of often diverse interests
  • Gerrymandering has created bizarre voting districts that bear little or no resemblance to actual communities

By requiring broader districts, and electing multiple people from that district (rather than one each from smaller ones), the authors hope to represent a wider range of views in Congress. By offering ranked choice (or “instant runoff”) voting, they hope to eliminate the strategic and suboptimal voting patterns that favor only the major parties.

Notes from The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

This book surprised me by actually living up to its title. I expected a collection of “life hacks” and instead found a crisp new philosophy of focus and priority.

The Big Idea

The best way to choose what to keep and what to throw away is to take each item in one’s hand and ask: “Does this spark joy?” If it does, keep it. If not, dispose of it.

Decide which things in your life bring you true joy, and get rid of the rest. If something used to bring you joy, or you think it could bring you joy in the future, thats not good enough. Joyless items not only fail in their core duty of improving your life, but also block and distract from the things that do bring you joy.

This of course applies to physical items, but can be extended to relationships, jobs, and activities. Ruthlessly discard joyless things!

5 Favorite Quotes

  • When you put your house in order, you put your affairs and your past in order, too. As a result, you can see quite clearly what you need in life and what you don’t, and what you should and shouldn’t do.

  • When we really delve into the reasons for why we can’t let something go, there are only two: an attachment to the past or a fear for the future.

  • The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.

  • The best way to find out what we really need is to get rid of what we don’t.

  • Human beings can only truly cherish a limited number of things at one time.

Next Steps

I’m going to “tidy up” next week!

Self-preventing prophecies

Nice explanation by David Brin of the role science fiction can play in preventing dystopia:

Previsions Episode 8: David Brin

The phenomenon of the self-preventing prophecy helps keep stories like 1984 and Soylent Green works of fiction. Author David Brin explains.

Posted by XPRIZE on Saturday, July 8, 2017

More good “Previsions” episodes here.

Progressive conservatives

Political conservatives usually battle with political progressives. But there are a few interesting ways that conservative ideas could be used to accomplish progressive goals:

The parties are ideological enemies at this point, but continuing to refine what really matters to each–and being willing to work together–could lead to some surprising and mutually attractive solutions.

Bourgeois Bias

As economic inequality grows, cultural differences are making the gap even harder to bridge, argues David Brooks:

American upper-middle-class culture (where the opportunities are) is now laced with cultural signifiers that are completely illegible unless you happen to have grown up in this class. They play on the normal human fear of humiliation and exclusion. Their chief message is, “You are not welcome here.”

Brooks, of course, wrote one of the defining books on what it means to be upper-middle class in America, with Bobos in Paradise back in 2000.

That said, it’s ridiculous to say that “structural barriers…are less important than the informal social barriers.” The financial, political, and racial disadvantages built into our society are far more difficult to overcome than challenges in choosing the right sandwich at the deli. But all of them are important.