Learning New Things

Julia Evans writes about the steps required to learn something new on her blog:

Having a positive attitude is really important, but IMO by itself it’s not enough to learn hard things. Learning is a skill which takes a lot of work to get better at. So this blog post is about specific learning skills that I’ve worked on over time. They are:

  1. Identify what you don’t understand (maybe the most important one)
  2. Have confidence in your knowledge
  3. Ask questions
  4. Do research

The post specifically talks about programming, but it’s applicable to so much more. (h/t John)

Storylines at Chicago

While I don’t run much outside of CrossFit workouts nowadays, running played a pretty huge role in my life throughout high school and college. I still like to keep tabs on the sport even though I’m not actively involved at the moment.

The Chicago Marathon coming up this Sunday has some interesting storylines to follow.

  • UK distance running legend Mo Farah will face off against US star Galen Rupp. This is getting painted as a rivalry because the pair used to train together as part of the Nike Oregon Project. I’m calling Rupp for the win between the pair.
  • Reigning Olympic Triathlon champ, Gwen Jorgensen, will be running in her first marathon since announcing she’s leaving the sport of triathlon to pursue the marathon full time. It will be interesting to see how fast she can go. I’m predicting 2:27-28, which would be a significant PR from her only other marathon of 2:41.
  • Legendary Joan Benoit Samuelson returns to Chicago hoping to break the women’s 60-64 marathon record of 3:01:30. I bet she does it and runs sub 2:58.
  • I think it’s pretty neat that Goose Island made a special beer just for the finishers. Nice touch and a great marketing angle.

Talking About Tipping

If you couldn’t tell by my pool shot from yesterday, we’re currently on vacation in Florida. On our trip out from Denver, I had two instances where I was asked to tip for service.

Once when I was picking up two breakfast sandwiches and coffee at a quick restaurant prior to boarding. The sandwiches took maybe 30 seconds to make, and the coffees took less than that.

Again when we bought lunch at Crispers. I was presented with the option to tip when I initially ordered.

I have absolutely no problem with tipping for great service at a restaurant. I’ll tip 20% as a base and then more if the service is particularly awesome. In these instances, a few things struck me as odd:

  • I had no idea where my tip was going. In a restaurant setting, I assume it goes to the person that served me. In both of the cases above, I have no clue.
  • In the second instance, I had to tip before I even got my food. I’m not exactly sure what my tip should be based on? The most interaction I’d received was someone taking my order.
  • In a restaurant, I assume that at least part of the staff’s salary is coming from my tip. In less traditional restaurants (think cafes and such), I’m not sure how it’s setup. Is this just icing on the cake or an essential part of their wage?

These thoughts reminded me of restaurateur Danny Meyer and his efforts to remove tipping at his restaurants. Tipping definitely feels like a weird practice. I often wish the tip was just baked into the price (like it is in other countries outside the US), and the whole awkward practice was removed.

Diabetes and the Case Against Sugar

Diabetes, though a discrete diagnosis by our doctors, is not a discrete phenomenon in which bad things suddenly start happening that didn’t happen before. It’s part of a continuum from health to disease that is defined in large part by the worsening of the metabolic abnormalities—the homeostatic disruption in regulatory systems—that we’ve been discussing and that are associated with insulin resistance, if not caused by it, and so part and parcel of metabolic syndrome.

I read The Case Against Sugar by Gary Taubes recently and walked away with a new appreciation of sugar and the role it plays in the modern diet. I also learned a ton about big corporations (aka a Coca-Cola) and how they lobby for the safety of sugar.

AI and the Future of Work

I’m only part way through Yuval Noah Harari’s Book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, but it has been fantastic so far just like his other books Sapiens and Homo Deus. In his latest book, he dives into the near future and discusses challenges we’re facing right now like the future of work alongside AI, robots, and machine learning.

One of the most interesting threads in the book thus far has been around potential shifts in the job market and the emergence of what Harari refers to as a “useless class” (term feels a bit harsh).

When machines replaced jobs in past market transitions, humans were able to adapt and adjust because we were largely competing for physical, low skill jobs. Machines, for example, would replace assembly lines, but there were always other opportunities that were fairly easy to learn and transition into. While machines could compete in the physical arena, humans maintained a cognitive advantage.

Harari contrasts these previous transitions against the impending shift in the job market. This shift is different for two main reasons. First, machines are increasingly able to compete in the cognitive arena, not just the physical one. Second, instead of the shift being from low skill job to low skill job, it will be from high skill to high skill. The challenge might not be in creating new jobs for humans to fill but instead in training humans to fill them.

Out of this transition might emerge a “useless class” to borrow a term from the book. Humans that have been displaced by machines with a seemingly insurmountable hurdle to overcome before moving into a new, valued role in society. We might find ourselves facing two problems – high unemployment combined with a shortage of skilled labor.

Interesting thoughts to consider.

Fixing Social Networks

I just recently discovered this post by Manton Reece, creator of Micro.blog. The post is titled “The Way Out” and details four parts to fixing the mess we’re in with existing social networks.

One piece he mentions around content ownership is something I care and think about often working for Automattic/WordPress.com. As much as I would like to believe they do, I doubt the general public cares as much about this kind of ownership. They’re comfortable sharing their content on platforms like Facebook or Instagram without considering what would happen if the service shutdown.

I do think his ideas around smaller social networks are interesting:

Many people are looking for “the next Twitter”, but it’s not enough to replace Twitter with a new platform and new leadership. Some problems are inevitable when power is concentrated in only 2-3 huge social networks — ad-based businesses at odds with user needs and an overwhelming curation challenge.

Large, free social networks like Facebook and Twitter are in an interesting spot. On one hand, users want (or, at least, claim to want) privacy. On the other hand, these services are largely free, and the companies need to make money somehow. I often wonder how many of privacy-conscious users would volunteer to pay $5/year to keep their data completely private. In the absence of paying users, ads/monetizing user data is the obvious path to profit.

Back in 2014, I wrote a post titled “Buy the Internet You Want to Read.” If you want quality publishing and you don’t want an ad-filled reading experience, you should be willing to pay for it. In thinking about social networks, the same might be true. If you want an ad-free Twitter experience, are you willing to pay $10/year to support the service instead?

Farnam Street Podcast with Shopify Founder

I really enjoyed this episode of the Farnam Street podcast with Tobi Lütke, founder and CEO of Shopify:

I especially appreciated his insights around building a company in a primary (like SF) and secondary (like Ottawa) market. In a primary market, competition is high and the chance team members will stick with a company for 5-10 years is low. In a secondary market, the chance team members will stay for a decade or more is high, which influences a lot:

That doesn’t sound like a big change, but it changes absolutely everything for the company. It means that it’s a much better idea to hire for future potential rather than for current skill. These basic ideas all start having way more dividends because the people, after you make them better, they stay with you longer, you get to benefit.

I also appreciated how Shopify internally refers to failures as “discovery of things that did not work.”