To get more done, do less

There is no hard and fast rule, but I would suggest incorporating a rest day once every seven to 10 days. The key is to listen to your body and its signals, irrespective of your planned training schedule. Spending the afternoon trawling the Gap for a bargain, pulling up every weed in your overgrown garden or trying in vain to assemble a wardrobe do not count as rest.

Buttocks-on-sofa is the position to assume.

To reiterate, it is not wasted time. Push aside any (unnecessary and self-destructive) feelings of guilt or laziness and trust that resting makes you better, faster, stronger and more resilient (and also gives you the chance to watch “Top Gun” for the 100th time).

Chrissie Wellington, four-time Ironman champ. The importance of R&R

OK. I’ll believe her.

It’s backed up by research on memory — doing nothing really seems to actually get things done. I can definitely attest that working too much is bad for your brain (and body, although I think the physical effects are more obvious). It’s almost like being depressed — it really takes everything out of you. The first time you feel this, you won’t even know what’s happening. It’s only when you look back after a while of relaxing that you can realize it.

The best warning sign: if you find yourself disliking something that you used to love, you should take a break from it. Time off can be a miracle cure, because too much of anything is a bad thing. Even water can kill you.

The dose makes the poison

Paracelsus aka Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim


This video is titled “The Pleasure of Finding Things Out”. At about 3:38, Feynman discusses his father and how Feynman was raised.

This is video of someone who is arguably one of the smartest people to ever live, who is widely known for being able to explain things well, and who is at an advanced enough age that he’s had a lot of time to think about his own life, as well as watch other humans grow from children into adults (which means he’s been able to observe the process many times).

To me, that makes the next 90 seconds very interesting. I think he explains the secrets of raising genuinely smart kids (or rather, what to do with kids in order to raise a genuinely smart adult).

  1. Spend time with them
  2. reading facts to them
  3. and discussing what you’ve read with an emphasis on relationships between things, cause and effect, etc.

You’re teaching the kid how to process thoughts — literally a “thought process”. You’re teaching them how to process the written word (and spoken word), as well as what to do when they have the thought in their head: do I understand this thing? Is it true given all the other things I know are true? If this is true, what else must be true?

And the rest of the video is good too.

On Tools & Results, part 2

NPR has an article about violins.

They gathered professional violinists in a hotel room in Indianapolis. They had six violins — two Strads, a Guarneri and three modern instruments. Everybody wore dark goggles so they couldn’t see which violin was which.

Then the researchers told the musicians: These are all fine violins and at least one is a Stradivarius. Play, then judge the instruments.

Joseph Curtin, a violin-maker from Michigan, was one of the researchers. “There was no evidence that people had any idea what they were playing,” he says. “That really surprised me.”

Curtin says of the 17 players who were asked to choose which were old Italians, “Seven said they couldn’t, seven got it wrong, and only three got it right.”

I think I called this one. It’s the same thing, no matter what field. There should have been a 50/50 split, and instead, only 3/17 were right.

If it disagrees with experiment it is wrong.

In general we look for a new law by the following process. First we guess it. Then we compute the consequences of the guess to see what would be implied if this law that we guessed is right. Then we compare the result of the computation to nature, with experiment or experience, compare it directly with observation, to see if it works. If it disagrees with experiment it is wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It does not make any difference how beautiful your guess is. It does not make any difference how smart you are, who made the guess, or what his name is – if it disagrees with experiment it is wrong.

— Richard Feynman

Understanding Science

I love Science. I think that sharing knowledge and testing ideas against the real world are great ways to find truth.

But, I think Science is really misunderstood. From the evolution-creationism “debate” to “are eggs good for you?”, Science really takes some learning and education to figure out what’s meaningful and what’s bullshit.

When you see something like “Scientists discover fat gene”, what does that really mean? The average person thinks “oh, fat is genetic”, but is that really true? Sometimes, news people report a headline that says “Scientists discover fat gene”, but what actually happened was that some PhD student noticed that people with a certain gene tend to be fat, and wrote a paper. Doesn’t mean it’s right — it means someone turned in their homework.

This is something that’s bugged me for a while. If I had millions of dollars, I would probably spend some of it helping do PR for Science. Key people like teachers, news reporters, and politicians should not be scientific experts, but should understand how to ask questions of scientists and how to make decisions based on scientific information, without being thrown off by bullshit.

The real problem is that this isn’t easy to do. I don’t think anyone’s really figured out how to make the knowledge quickly digestible. The goal should be to make the principles obvious and unambiguous.

I think this article does a very good job on how to evaluate scientific articles about health, which need to be very rigorous, because they can literally result in life-or-death decisions. A lot of the principles in it can be carried over to other scientific disciplines:

This is a cool resource, but I don’t think it’s useful unless you already understand the point of journals and peer review:

@hamilton RT @publius hay guyz i think ppl voting in democracy 4 d uniting states FTW whatchoo think LMK

I got into a small debate/discussion about direct versus representative democracy. Via Twitter. While drinking. Not really the place for significant exposition. I thought of the founders of the US discussing the Federalist Papers. And I thought, “what if?” Not “what if the founders were drunk?” but “what if they were limited to tweets?”

I went to Project Gutenberg and grabbed a plain text file of the Federalist Papers. I stripped off the Gutenberg header and footer so that I was left with the main text, and the headings that were part of the original text.

I wrote a quick script to split the text on periods, question marks, and exclamation points. I filtered out sentences under 15 characters (since there are titles and non-sentence cases). Seems like a comfortable threshold for “smallest possible sentence” — at least 15 characters between “end of sentence marks”, excluding newline characters.

There are 6190 sentences in the text. Of those, 2528 are less than or equal to 140 characters in length (but larger than 15). There are 3662 sentences greater than 140 characters in length. 59% of the sentences wouldn’t fit in a single tweet.

The longest sentence in the Federalist Papers is

The recommendatory act of Congress is in the words following:“WHEREAS, There is provision in the articles of Confederation and perpetual Union, for making alterations therein, by the assent of a Congress of the United States, and of the legislatures of the several States; and whereas experience hath evinced, that there are defects in the present Confederation; as a mean to remedy which, several of the States, and PARTICULARLY THE STATE OF NEW YORK, by express instructions to their delegates in Congress, have suggested a convention for the purposes expressed in the following resolution; and such convention appearing to be the most probable mean of establishing in these States A FIRM NATIONAL GOVERNMENT:“Resolved, That in the opinion of Congress it is expedient, that on the second Monday of May next a convention of delegates, who shall have been appointed by the several States, be held at Philadelphia, for the sole and express purpose OF REVISING THE ARTICLES OF CONFEDERATION, and reporting to Congress and the several legislatures such ALTERATIONS AND PROVISIONS THEREIN, as shall, when agreed to in Congress, and confirmed by the States, render the federal Constitution ADEQUATE TO THE EXIGENCIES OF GOVERNMENT AND THE PRESERVATION OF THE UNION

I’m not sure where to go with this. I could filter down easy abbreviations like “for” => “4”, “people” => “ppl”, etc, but there’s a limit on the information content of a single tweet. Possibly we’ve invented new words in the past 200 years that would allow for a higher idea/characters ratio, but there’s even a limit on the complexity of sentence structures that can be conveyed in short messages. Franklin and Douglas would debate for hours on end using enormous grammatical structures that most people can now barely read. Does this make us dumber?

I’ve got no evidence to back this up, but it does seem easier to communicate things orally instead of in writing. I think the parts of the brain that process language have been around longer than the parts that process writing, so our brains might be better equipped for insanely long spoken sentences instead of written sentences.

Fun for brainstormin.

Old people, Sweeden, and Dollars.

As I mentioned, I was at this investment meeting last week. They gave us a bunch of papers, and being a giant nerd, I actually read the stuff. (Hey, I do want to retire, and sooner rather than later)

There were a few things I read that I think are interesting for the long term.

According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute and the US Bureau of the Census, we’re gonna have a lot of old people soon. Yeah, big surprise. Well, let’s put some numbers to it. Here’s the number of people over 65.

  • 1990 – 31.2 million
  • 2000 – 35.0 million
  • 2010 – 40.2 million
  • 2020 – 54.6 million
  • 2030 – 71.5 million

We’re going to nearly double the number of old people in the next 20 years. Buy stock in Ensure. No, really. Buy stock in companies that make stuff for old people. That’s one of the big reasons people are freaking out about health-care. We’re going to need lots more doctors & medical technology, and the price is going up. Apparently, health-care costs are currently increasing 3x faster than the Consumer Price Index.

Oh also, old people? Thanks for taking care of Social Security. And by “taking care”, I mean “can we get some health-care to replace Social Security’s kneecaps after that cool thing you did with the crowbar?” You people just can’t handle credit, can you?

In the early 90s, Sweden had a financial crisis. In the 80s, they had a credit boom which produced high consumer spending and real estate prices. They had a currency crisis, in the 90s, and the boom was reversed. Sounds a bit like now. I think this is what the US is looking to as a model for our current crisis, because Sweden was able to solve their problem in only a few years. They nationalized 22% of banking assets, and then created some private companies to help come  up with values for, and sell off the bad assets. I hope it works in our case.

New Pi Day, June 28?

Check it, bitches. Pi is wrong! Since pi is so often used as 2pi, this guy argues that it should be redefined as 6.28! (PDF link). It’s a short read, non

Thanks to Emil Gilliam for the link, and for his very cool looking service, Noted. I’m checking it out as a replacement for Sandy. Ah, Twitter, you sure fucked that one up, didn’t you? Even if you’re going to roll out a replacement, leave it running for the meantime so you don’t lose the momentum!

Voxeo, Tropo, & ORUG

I went out to ORUG tonight. Voxeo was presenting a thing they’re working on, Tropo. Disclosure: they bought us dinner. Full disclosure: I think this thing is really tight.

I used to help set up phone systems in high school, and phone trees have always seemed like kind of a mystery. Tropo lets you build whole phone apps, and it’s ridiculously easy. It’s basically a phone system DSL. They handle text-to-speech, speech-to-text, playing recorded sound files; there’s lots of convenience things for capturing different types of inputs, handling error cases, recording calls, transferring calls, etc. They give local phone numbers in different area codes, they’ve also got Skype integration, and a few other ways to connect to the system. The very cool part is that it’s all free to play around with, but once you start using it for commercial reasons, then you have to pay.

Ever hear of Google’s Grand Central? With this, you could easily make your own. I’ve been playing around with a few things using Tropo’s Ruby setup, and I’ve put the demo code on GitHub. Very cool stuff.

You can write apps in Ruby, PHP, Python, Javascript, and Groovy (“Java++”). There’s a bunch of example code on their site, and development is really easy to do. For example:


digits = $currentCall.callerID.to_s.split('')

area_code = digits[0..2]
city_code = digits[3..5]
subscriber_number = digits[6..9]

# single dashes get spoken as 'dash', use doubles for a pause.
# Double commas don't work, neither do extra spaces
say "-- -- -- S-up. Your phone number is -- #{area_code.join(',')}--#{city_code.join(',')}--#{subscriber_number.join(',')}"


There is a debugger that you can print messages to. Right now there’s a *ton* of output to it, but you’ll find your messages in there.

One thing: I was getting a message that the caller was “not accepting calls at this time”. I realized this was a parse/compile error in my script. So, if you can’t get something to load, check it. The debugger doesn’t seem really helpful with this, I got a generic seeming Java Exception for a variable name typo. They use Java under the hood for tons of stuff, so even though I’m writing Ruby code, it gets interpreted in Java.

I did learn a cool fact about these phone trees. You know how a lot of phone trees suck when you try and talk to them? Well, for speech-to-text conversion, you can only get around an 80% success rate. The reason is that phones are only around 64kbps of data. There’s too much loss for the algorithms to work well. That’s why apps that run on the local computer/phone are able to do better — they embed part of the recognition algorithm in the client.

And, on a final note: skateboarding through downtown is awesome.