Category Archives: Miscellaneous

Time Management

Another outstanding post from Shane Parrish at Farnam Street Blog:

A manager’s day is, as a rule, sliced up into tiny slots, each with a specific purpose decided in advance. Many of those slots are used for meetings, calls, or emails. The manager’s schedule may be planned for them by a secretary or assistant.

Managers spend a lot of time “putting out fires” and doing reactive work. An important call or email comes in, so it gets answered. An employee makes a mistake or needs advice, so the manager races to sort it out. To focus on one task for a substantial block of time, managers need to make an effort to prevent other people from distracting them.

Managers don’t necessarily need the capacity for deep focus — they primarily need the ability to make fast, smart decisions. In a three-minute meeting, they have the potential to generate (or destroy) enormous value through their decisions and expertise.

A maker’s schedule is different. It is made up of long blocks of time reserved for focusing on particular tasks, or the entire day might be devoted to one activity. Breaking their day up into slots of a few minutes each would be the equivalent of doing nothing.

A maker could be the stereotypical reclusive novelist, locked away in a cabin in the woods with a typewriter, no internet, and a bottle of whiskey to hand. Or they could be a Red Bull–drinking Silicon Valley software developer working in an open-plan office with their headphones on. Although interdisciplinary knowledge is valuable, makers do not always need a wide circle of competence. They need to do one thing well and can leave the rest to the managers.

Meetings are pricey for makers, restricting the time available for their real work, so they avoid them, batch them together, or schedule them at times of day when their energy levels are low. As Paul Graham writes:

When you’re operating on the maker’s schedule, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in. Plus you have to remember to go to the meeting. That’s no problem for someone on the manager’s schedule. There’s always something coming on the next hour; the only question is what. But when someone on the maker’s schedule has a meeting, they have to think about it.

It makes sense. The two work styles could not be more different.

Where it gets tricky is when you have to do both.

The important point to note is that people who successfully combine both schedules do so by making a clear distinction, setting boundaries for those around them, and adjusting their environment in accordance. They don’t design for an hour, have meetings for an hour, then return to designing, and so on. In his role as an investor and adviser to startups, Paul Graham sets boundaries between his two types of work:

How do we manage to advise so many startups on the maker’s schedule? By using the classic device for simulating the manager’s schedule within the maker’s: office hours. Several times a week I set aside a chunk of time to meet founders we’ve funded. These chunks of time are at the end of my working day, and I wrote a signup program that ensures [that] all the appointments within a given set of office hours are clustered at the end. Because they come at the end of my day these meetings are never an interruption. (Unless their working day ends at the same time as mine, the meeting presumably interrupts theirs, but since they made the appointment it must be worth it to them.) During busy periods, office hours sometimes get long enough that they compress the day, but they never interrupt it.

Likewise, during his time working on his own startup, Graham figured out how to partition his day and get both categories of work done without sacrificing his sanity:

When we were working on our own startup, back in the ’90s, I evolved another trick for partitioning the day. I used to program from dinner till about 3am every day, because at night no one could interrupt me. Then, I’d sleep till about 11am, and come in and work until dinner on what I called “business stuff.” I never thought of it in these terms, but in effect I had two workdays each day, one on the manager’s schedule and one on the maker’s.


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Vertical Farming

This is really cool, and great news in a lot of ways.  From

Bowery Farming raises $20 million for vertical farm expansion. Indoor farming is still small but investors think it’s poised for growth with rising global food need and the environmental strain of traditional agriculture. Bowery Farming, based in Kearny, N.J., calls itself a tech venture focused on the future of food and claims its approach grows 100 times more produce than a similarly-sized outdoor farm. It has raised $27.5 million to date for its approach to growing greens indoors. The process uses LED lighting, robotics and specially-developed software. The latest funding round was backed by Google’s venture fund, GV; General Catalyst; and GGV Capital—a venture capital firm focused on the U.S. and China. Vertical farming “is no longer just a pie-in-the-sky theory,” says GGV’s Hans Tung. “It has the chance to scale in the next five years.” Earlier this month, AeroFarms, another New Jersey indoor farming operation, raised $34 million from Emirati investors interested in bringing the technology to the desert-covered Gulf region.

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Harambe and Parenting

Apparently now, the Cincinnati police are going to actually investigate the “family” of the boy involved.  By “family,” of course, they mean “mother.”  Every bad thing every kid does is always mom’s fault.  Directly or indirectly.

This is beyond infuriating.  Did the police investigate mothers of the miners who died in a 2010 mine explosion, or just tell them, well, you went in there, dummies?  No, they put the CEO of the company that purposely did not provide safe working conditions in jail.

There are a couple of issues here.

One is the American fallback position of blame the mom.   I’ve actually had to sit and listen to the mom of two very meek children explain how her outstanding parenting resulted in their unwaveringly compliant behavior.  All I can say about that is, well, bless your heart.

The other issue, and this is the real problem to be solved, is how did this happen?  How many close calls have their been?  I don’t believe for a minute that no other kid has ever gotten inside the barrier.  Anyone who has worked in any kind of safety capacity, even just being on a safety team, knows that usually close calls happen a bunch of times before a tragic “accident.”  And how the hell could it be so quick and easy for a 4 year old to do that?  The mom was right there, not 2 exhibits away.  He didn’t have half an hour to do it, he did it in seconds to a minute or two, by all reported accounts.

People should and do have some expectation of safety standards when they go to a zoo with active young children.  By its nature, a zoo is a place you take small children to observe large, unusual, and frequently dangerous animals.  The zoo has to be able to withstand the most bright and active kids’ attempts to break into the exhibits.  This is not like having every plastic bag marked “not a toy.”  This incident shows why.

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Blockchain for decentralized energy

From New Scientist:

Something odd is happening on President Street in Brooklyn. While solar panels on the roofs of terraced houses soak up sun, a pair of computers connected to the panels quietly crunch numbers. First, they count how many electrons are being generated. Then, they write that number to a blockchain. Welcome to the future of energy exchange.

This project, run by a startup called Transactive Grid, is the first version of a new kind of energy market, operated by consumers, which will change the way we generate and consume electricity.

Transactive Grid aims to enable people to buy and sell renewable energy to their neighbours. To deal in energy at the moment, you have to go through a central company like Duke Energy in the US or National Grid in the UK, or one of their resellers.

Transactive can skip this central authority because its energy market is built on a technology called blockchain. First used to underpin the bitcoin currency, a blockchain is a cryptographically secure list of transactions. The list is stored on every computer in the system, and is continuously updated as each transaction is completed. The list for President Street is built using blockchain software called Ethereum. It deals with buying and selling electrons generated by solar panels. No central authority is in control: the computers monitor each other to stop fraud.

Buy and sell

The first devices were installed on President Street a few weeks ago. On one side of the street are five homes that produce some of their own energy through solar power. On the other side are five consumers interested in buying excess energy from their neighbours.

Lawrence Orsini, co-founder of Transactive explains that the blockchain makes it easy for anyone to set up and enforce contracts, with the transaction following automatically.

“You don’t have the billing components around it, you don’t have the infrastructure losses or the accounting losses in the system,” he says. Down the line, the company plans to build an app which lets residents set personal preferences for the distribution of the energy they produce. One homeowner might decide to sell all their excess energy for maximum profit, for example, while another could choose to donate a portion to a low-income area.

This is the first example I have seen of use of blockchain that I would be willing to try out.   Call me old fashioned, but I am having a hard time buying Bitcoin.  I just can’t put my hands on it and I’m not sure I can really count on its security or availability.  Call me old fashioned.

But then they say this:

Community benefits

Either way, the energy and the money goes to benefit the community, says Orsini, not the large centralised power company. “When you buy energy from the community, the money goes back to the community.”

“Every kilowatt you buy, you pay for network. If you can cut out the middle man and do the trade directly, you don’t have to pay for the wires,” says Philipp Grunewald of the University of Oxford.

I don’t get it.  What wires are transmitting the electricity back and forth across President Street?  The article talks about a localized microgrid.  So did they put in new wires?  How does that get paid for?  I think the utilities will still need to be included in these transactions somehow, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.  Do we really want to eliminate the entire electricity network?

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7 Books That Will Change the Way You See the World

ConsciousnessJun 1, 2015

Gary ‘Z’ McGee, Waking Times
“You want weapons? Go to a library. Books are the best weapons in the world.” –Doctor Who
Books have a way of capturing us that movies and documentaries simply cannot compare to. The worst thing you can do is limit yourself to reading only a few books. The best thing you can do is find out what you’re interested in and get out there and read up on the subject. You’ll find that your interests will grow along with your knowledge, to the point that you’ll discover the deliciously heavy weight of knowing that you know nothing. If you’re looking for books that will challenge you mind body and soul, and cause you to see the world in new ways, look no further than the following seven books (just kidding, look further).
1.) Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche
“With this book I have given mankind the greatest present that has ever been made to it so far. This book, with a voice bridging centuries, is not only the highest book there is, the book that is truly characterized by the air of the heights—the whole fact of man lies beneath it at a tremendous distance—it is also the deepest, born out of the innermost wealth of truth, an inexhaustible well to which no pail descends without coming up again filled with gold and goodness.” –Friedrich Nietzsche
Thus Spoke Zarathustra has something terribly well-crafted about it, and indeed – sit venia verbo – it is Nietzsche’s magnum opus. The books single task and raison d’etre consists in turning the human soul inside out. And it succeeds, but only if the reader is open enough to receive it. It has everything from the death of God to the overcoming of man through the prophecy of the Übermensch to the “eternal recurrence of the same.” It possesses a unique experimental style, sang in “dithyrambs” narrated by Zarathustra. It is neither prose nor poetry but it is both somehow, breaking all literary rules but coming out smelling like a rose someone laid on God’s own grave. Nietzsche’s elegant and far-reaching conclusion is that while autonomy and self-overcoming are not easily attained, their absence proves catastrophic to both the individual and culture, as the embittered conformists seek new victims on whom to psychologically pillage with their ideals and avenge their psychic wounds born out of the fear of being an insecure being in an unforgiving universe.
2.) The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker
“Danger: real probability of the awakening of terror and dread, from which there will be no turning back.” –Ernest Becker

Awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Non-Fiction in 1974, The Denial of Death builds on the works of Søren Kierkegaard, Sigmund Freud, and Otto Rank. Throughout the book Becker’s voice is a chokehold of higher reason. He grabs us by the throat and brings us back down to earth, where he reveals how we are nothing more than insecure, fallible creatures “who need continued affirmation of our powers.” But it is through this continued affirmation where we discover our “symbolic self,” which we use to transcend the limits of our insignificance. This leads to our embarking on an “immortality project,” in which we become part of something we feel will last forever, beyond death. It is at this point that we transcend the dilemma of mortality through heroism. Becker speaks like his own tongue was a hero of a thousand faces itself, lashing like existential whips at the heart of the human condition. He forces our head over the edge of the abyss, challenging us to be heroically creative and responsible with bringing meaning, purpose, and significance to the grand scheme of our lives.

3.) Nature and the Human Soul by Bill Plotkin
“Remember that self-doubt is as self-centered as self-inflation. Your obligation is to reach as deeply as you can and offer your unique and authentic gifts as bravely and beautifully as you’re able.” –Bill Plotkin
In this book Bill Plotkin introduces The Eight Soul-centric/Eco-centric Stages of Human Development. He takes us on an epic journey of healthy human development, beginning with The Innocent in the Nest, The Explorer in the Garden, and The Thespian at the Oasis. These three stages round out the lower ego-centered stages of human development. The majority of people in Western societies never get beyond this stage, and so true adulthood, or psychological maturity, has become an uncommon achievement, and genuine elder-hood nearly nonexistent. Arguably the most critical stage is the fourth: The Wanderer in the Cocoon, where we learn how to stretch comfort zones, break mental paradigms, and pass through existential thresholds. Our ego is fully formed, and we become a creature that has the capacity for “soul initiation.” The stages continue with The Soul Apprentice at the Wellspring, The Artisan in the Wild Orchard, The Master in the Grove of Elders, and end with The Sage in the Mountain Cave.
4.) Finite and Infinite Games by James P. Carse
“What will undo any boundary is the awareness that it is our vision, and not what we are viewing, that is limited.” –James P. Carse
This book is a pithy yet gripping exploration of the human condition through the concept of game theory. Carse introduces two contrasting game players: the Finite Player and the Infinite Player. He explains how “a boundary is a phenomenon of opposition (finite). A horizon is a phenomenon of vision (infinite).” The Finite Player plays within boundaries, while the Infinite Player plays with boundaries. The Finite Player plays in all seriousness, while the Infinite Player plays in jest. The Finite Player plays for power, while the Infinite Player plays with power. The Finite Player consumes time, while the Infinite Player generates time. The Finite Player aims for eternal life, while the Infinite Player aims for eternal birth. For the Finite Player the rules of the game always stay the same, while for the Infinite Player the rules of the game always change. For the Finite Player the game inevitably ends, while for the Infinite Player the game phenomenally continues. The only infinite game is the game of life.

5.) The Rebel by Albert Camus
“I rebel; therefore we exist.” –Albert Camus

This 1951 book-length essay by Albert Camus is a tour de force on rebellion and revolution in societies. It is an existential portrait of man in revolt. Riding on a steady stream of transcendental moral values, Camus integrates such writers as Marquis de Sade, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel,Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Friedrich Nietzsche. He weaves between the concept of the “absurd” and the concept of “lucidity” while explaining how rebellion stems from our being disenchanted with outdated and parochial applications of justice, and a seeming contradiction between the human mind’s unceasing quest for meaning and clarification and the apparently meaningless unclear nature of the world. He also discusses the rebel’s dilemma of seeking to fight injustice without losing transcendental values, and how some rebels can get carried away, losing touch with the original basis of their rebellion. Deeply entertaining and subtly satirical, this book should be the cornerstone of any revolutionary’s education.
6.) Ishmael by Daniel Quinn
“There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with people. Given a story to enact that puts them in accord with the world, they will live in accord with the world. But given a story to enact that puts them at odds with the world, as yours does, they will live at odds with the world. Given a story to enact in which they are the lords of the world, they will act as the lords of the world. And, given a story to enact in which the world is a foe to be conquered, they will conquer it like a foe, and one day, inevitably, their foe will lie bleeding to death at their feet, as the world is now.” –Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael
Awarded the Turner Tomorrow Fellowship Award, Ishmael is a novel using a type of Socratic dialectic to deconstruct the notion that human beings are the pinnacle of creation on earth. Ishmael is a Gorilla who can communicate telepathically. He takes on a nameless human student and proceeds to teach him his philosophy using the Socratic method of dialogue. He teaches his student about “Taker” societies and “Leaver” societies, and how Takers are always breaking the immutable laws of nature. Ishmael explains, “The premise of the Takers’ story is ‘The world belongs to man.’ …The premise of the Leavers’ story is ‘Man belongs to the world.’” Ishmael argues that civilized societies (takers) are failing the world, and that human supremacy is nothing more than a cultural myth, asserting that Takers are enacting that myth with dangerous consequences, such as endangered or extinct species, global warming, and modern mental health illnesses. This novel is truly an adventure of the mind and spirit.
7.) The Fabric of Reality by David Deutsche
“The whole scientific process resembles biological evolution. A problem is like an ecological niche, and a theory is like a gene or a species which is being tested for viability in that niche.” –David Deutsch
This book encompasses everything from how evolution affects the universe as a whole to time travel to the very nature of a “theory,” and how quantum computing could affect our future. The multiverse hypothesis, according to Deutsch, turns out to be the key to achieving a new worldview, one which synthesizes the theories of evolution, computation, and knowledge with quantum physics. He uses a four-strand Theory of Everything (TOE) to explain emergent phenomenon. The four strands are Hugh Everett’s many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics, Karl Popper’s epistemology, Alan Turing’s theory of computation, and Richard Dawkins’s refinement of Darwinian evolutionary theory. He writes about universal Turing machines, replicators, memes, free will, the Grand Father Paradox, and time travel machines, weaving it all together with a Popperian problem-solving epistemology. A delicious read for the scientifically minded who are looking to shatter their mental paradigms and think outside of the box of mere simplistic reductive reasoning.
Read more articles from Gary ‘Z’ McGee.
About the Author
Gary ‘Z’ McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide awake view of the modern world.

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Microbes on Seeds

This is fascinating.  From Scientific American.

Microbes Added to Seeds Could Boost Crop Production

Researchers are testing more than 2,000 different microbial seed coatings on half a million test plots in the U.S.

Agribusiness firms Novozymes and Monsanto are leading the way by coating seeds with microbes, planting them on farms across the U.S. and harvesting the crops to see how they fared. The two companies, through their BioAg Alliance, have just concluded the world’s biggest field-test program of seeds laced with promising microbes. This past autumn they harvested a variety of crops, planted using seeds with more than 2,000 different microbial coatings, grown in some 500,000 test plots from Louisiana to Minnesota, and they have been busily analyzing the outcomes.

Ultimately, such microbial agricultural products could significantly reduce fertilizer and pesticide use, easing the burden farming imposes on the environment and potentially helping a farmer’s bottom line by reducing costs or increasing crop yields. The research is the beginning of an ambitious movement to replace chemistry in agriculture with microbiology.

This will require a LOT of statistically rigorous testing, I would think.  Specific microbes might work in one soil or climate better than another.  This could generate a whole new business of soil specific or even field specific bioengineered seed coatings.  Think of the patents and the $$$$ for Monsanto.  Plus no need to worry about someone “stealing” their product, like the GMO seeds.  A whole new way to monopolize the world’s food supply.

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Light Vehicle Sales

From Doug Short:

Light Vehicle Sales Per Capita: Another Look at the Long-Term Trend

One interpretation of this graph might be that people can’t afford to replace their cars as often.  To me, it says that cars are made much better than they used to be.  It used to cost more to maintain and repair an older car with more miles than it did to just buy a new one.  Today I drive an 8 year old car with 160,000 miles on it.  I would never have considered doing that 20 years ago, because I would have been afraid to be stranded in a broken down car with my kids.  Today, I’m not worried about it breaking down.


This graph is referenced in the above article but not shown.  I think this is more a reflection (in the long term) of demographic changes than economic struggles:



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Big Fish

Here are some cool photos courtesy of Ray Szalewicz.  This is on the Allegheny River, prior to the construction of the Kinzua Dam (completed 1965).

img008 img012 img014 img015 img016 img017 img007


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Feminism, again

This is in response to Chris Bodenner’s post at the Atlantic (this quote is from a reader):

The reason that a lot of people like myself don’t self-identify as “feminist” is because a lot of feminists (not all) self-identify as skeptics of the notion that there are any essential differences between men and women. Given the way these differences have been exploited by men to subjugate women, I have a lot of sympathy for these feminists and their mode of feminism. But my sympathies don’t mean that men and women are not different. They are—not totally different, not fundamentally different, but essentially different—in their essence.

Caitlin Jenner reminds us of this truth.

To me, as a hell-yeah feminist, Caitlyn Jenner is the exact reason for feminism, and a perfect justification of it.  Biological women and men are obviously different, so any argument that does not account for that fact is fundamentally flawed.  To me, transgender women actually strengthen the feminist argument.  Because the point is this:  everything that humans are or do that can be measured has a probability distribution which can be separated by male and female (and lots of other ways), and in all cases those distributions overlap.  Even the case of childbirth has overlapping distributions.  Since the outcome is binary, it is not the classic bell curve, but all men fall in the “cannot” category, while not all women fall in the “can” category.
It’s not meaningful to say that women and men are or should be indistinguishable by whatever measure, or that there is or is not some fundamental or essential difference.  That just doesn’t matter.  Each one of us is different from the average human as well as the average man or woman.  It’s all about the individual.  As a feminist, I don’t care what sex a person was born, and I don’t care what sex they identify with.  The point is that as far as economic and other opportunities go, Feminism should seek to protect each and every individual; the average is irrelevant.
Celebrating (or decrying) differences between the sexes is really just an intellectually lazy way of celebrating/decrying differences between individuals, by grouping those individuals by sex as the easiest and often most common and obvious distinguishing characteristic.
And how can a person make the argument that men and women are indistinguishable, and at the same time make the argument that women and men should be separated to protect the women?  What?  I’m not even going to click the links to get to the bottom of that one.  My own personal intellectual sloth, I guess.
I wrote a blog post about the whole math thing, and it has data about the overlapping distributions in the specific case of math aptitude:


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Chris Stapleton + JT = magic

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