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.”


The perfect business model? Parents pay for their children to work and be advertised to. And it actually sounds pretty fun!

Nice quotes from the Do Lectures

Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one — Michael Forbes

It’s better to fail with your own vision rather than following another man’s vision. — Johan Cruyff

I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take a game winning shot….and missed. I have failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed — Michael Jordan

Diversity and design

“Creativity is just connecting things…[but] a lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.” – Steve Jobs, 1996

The orchid gene

“Most of us have genes that make us as hardy as dandelions: able to take root and survive almost anywhere. A few of us, however, are more like the orchid: fragile and fickle, but capable of blooming spectacularly if given greenhouse care…The genetic sensitivities to negative experience that the vulnerability hypothesis has identified, it follows, are just the downside of a bigger phenomenon: a heightened genetic sensitivity to all experience.” – The Science of Success

My New Year’s media diet

I would like to be more intentional about how I consume media. Here are some thoughts on how I might do that in the coming year.

Read the Eternities (via)

Focus my reading on classical writing, not modern writing

Books first

Books are the complete thought meal (Tim Sanders). Films can be good as well, but leave less to the imagination. Video/tv is the least considered and most ephemeral.

70/20/10 rule

  • Time: 70% pre-1900, 20% 1900s, 10% 2000s
  • Media: 70% written word, 20% films, 10% tv/video
  • Reading: 70% books, 20% magazines/journal articles, 10% news/opinion

Balance media with life

Media should be a relatively small part of life…80% life, 20% media (meta-life)?

Balance consumption with production

80% production, 20% consumption?

Think in the morning, act in the noon, eat in the evening, and sleep at night. – William Blake

(I read this originally as “read in the evening”, which likely works better for me than Blake, given the miracle of incandescent light).

Don’t start the day with someone else’s thoughts (via)

It’s the only chance you’ll have to think your own.

So, what might this look like in practice? All of these 80/20 or 70/20/10 ratios are terrifically arbitrary, but they’re an interesting starting point.

  • 16 waking hours each day
    • 20% media = 3 hours
      • 80% production = 2 hours, 26 minutes
      • 20% consumption = 34 minutes

Of those 34 daily minutes:

  • 70/20/10 eras = 22 minutes pre-1900s/7 minutes 1900s/3.5 minutes 2000s
  • 70/20/10 media = 22 minutes writing/7 minutes film/3.5 minutes tv/videos
    • Of the 22 minutes writing: 15 minutes books/5 minutes magazines/journals/2.5 minutes news/opinion/blogs

Now, pre-1900s is really only books, so that would wipe out the entire “writing” allocation, leaving no room for magazines, journals, or opinion, or for anything since 1900. And you wouldn’t really watch video news from any other era than the present, so the 3.5 minutes on the 2000s would be all video news. So some wiggle room is necessary.

Still, the rough daily schedule is something like: 22 minutes reading classic (pre-1900s) books, 7 minutes watching a film, and 3.5 minutes catching up on the news.

That’s not much time! And it’s hard to imagine watching a film 7 minutes each day. So let’s expand it to a two-week scale: 5 hours reading books, 1 1/2 hours watching a film, and 45 minutes catching up on news. That would roughly correspond to 1 300-page book (at a thoughtful rate of 1 page/min) and 1 film every two weeks, and 45 minutes on blogs/news catchup.

The era breakdown is probably best spread out over time, so that you’d tackle one book or movie at a time rather than splitting your attention between several. So at a rate of 26 books per year, you’d have 18 pre-1900s books, 5 from the 1900s, and 2-3 from the 2000s. Your 26 movies, being mostly from the 1900s and 2000s, could be split more evenly, and perhaps given their rapid evolution give half (13) from the 1900s and half from the 2000s. (Having just reviewed my Netflix queue, I’m tempted to give even more emphasis to recent films. Movies from the mid-80s don’t carry the same weight as Plato’s 2000-year-old dialogues).

How would you practice this? It seems important to first have a set of items that you are interested in consuming in the near future. I keep a massive Amazon wishlist of things I’m interested in, so I’ll need to prioritize from that a set of 18 pre-1900s books, 5 1900s books, and 2-3 2000s that I will actually tackle. Same exercise with films from my Netflix queue.

Next is to set aside the time for consuming and producing. A daily time for reading seems right, as does a biweekly time for a film. News or blogs could be done as either a daily check-in (3.5 minutes! What tools would make that possible?) or as a biweekly binge (might help prioritize what’s really important). Experimentation is probably necessary here.

Producing is a more nebulous area, but setting aside an hour to write each morning, and perhaps one afternoon a week to film or write something longer, would be a good use of that time. And, similar to consuming, keeping a list of things I’d like to produce–and scheduling them–would make sure I’m ready to go immediately.

So, given that I started with those arbitrary numbers, how does this look?

The first big ratio was “80% life, 20% media (meta-life)”. Is it right to spend a fifth of my waking life on media? Well, the average America watches 5 hours of television each day (almost a third of their waking life), and my combined internet and video consumption is probably at least that much. So slimming down to “just” 20% actually seems like a good first step, and I enjoy books and films enough that I’m happy to start there.

The producing/consuming ratio is the part I’m least clear about. Is producing media really 4 times as important as consuming it? Worth spending 2 1/2 hours a day? How would I even do such a thing? Well, blogging is a part of it, and personal journaling could be considered media production as well. Beyond that, it would be interesting to blend more rich media production, creating video or music on a variety of topics. This is something that is subject to big change given experimentation, however. The thinkers I most respect, however, are tremendously prolific in their writing and filming–even if they are not “professional” writers or filmmakers. So there’s something in this media production craft that seems worthwhile.

And the 20% consumption is not the limit of all media I’ll see. Media is a part of many other parts of life (that other top-level 80%), and if movies, books, or the internet are included in my work or social life I consider that separate. Watching a movie with friends is socializing, not “consuming”. But I hope to be more intentional about the things I personally choose to consume on my own time.

Here’s the schedule I’m going to start with during my sabbatical:

  • 1 hour of writing daily
  • 30 minutes of book reading daily (~1 book every 2 weeks)
  • 5 min blogs & news daily (5 min catchup at the end of the day)
  • 1 filmmaking or long writing session each week
  • 1 film watching session every 2 weeks

I’ve also separated my media wishlists (Amazon & Netflix) into the appropriate categories:

Thoreau said that we should “be careful what objects and what subjects we thrust on [our] attention.” Hopefully my new media diet is an appropriate mix! I’ll check in later with an update…

Universities in the digital age

“Improving university education is one of the cheapest and simplest things that we could do to improve the U.S. economy’s long-term prospects. The current system, in light of both the promise and distractions of modern technology, is almost laughably poorly designed. – Philip Greenspun.

Some good ideas, including changing grading, stop lecturing, open offices for students, and teaching the full work process (from vague request to refined and documented solution).