Anyone paying attention to the new movies released this summer might notice something. Seemingly everything coming out is either a sequel or a remake. Some critics take it as a lack of creativity—as if all the idea makers of the world just took the year off. That’s not really it though. The surface cause is not so interesting, it's is a simple matter of market forces—people keep buying tickets for these movies, so they keep making them. What’s interesting is: why? In our hyperconnected world, there are an absurd number of ways we could occupy ourselves in any given moment; apps, phones, friends, websites, etc. It’s not even a logical fallacy to accept that anytime you stop to do something for whatever reward (profit, fun, learning, etc.), you are likely missing out on something that is even more rewarding. We live in a constant state of reward expectatious flux. That this ostensibly logical conclusion is a cataract to our true happiness is not the thesis. The thesis is that, when there is a continuation of a familiar story, we are given brief respite from the technologically programmed urge to seek out the optimal choice. A story we already know, characters we understand, and actors whose familiar faces have accompanied us on past journeys (even many times, if we don’t really like them, a la Zac Efron in Baywatch and also everything else he’s in). At its core, this is simply the desire for more depth. A desire to become better friends with those we already know, rather than awkward networking at a conference. From an evolutionary perspective, this is not surprising. Harkening back to the primeval days of our hunter-gatherer-employed ancestry, new meant unfamiliar and unfamiliar meant danger. So, transitively, our anathema for getting eaten by lions is why we prefer the familiar comfort of Vin Diesel in Fast and the Furious 23.
There are few things in this world that make me as angry as alarms. I don’t use an alarm, I don’t think anyone should use one, at least on a regular basis.
Alarms give the false perception that we are in control of how much sleep we need. Believe me, I wish that were the case. I have searched unceasingly for ways to limit how much sleep I need. But at this point, I’ve accepted that I can do no more than acquiesce to the demands of nature — until there is a breakthrough in sleep science, we just have to accept that we need a lot of sleep.
We all have a biological clock — finely tuned over hundreds of millions of years — to maximize the amount of productive hours we have . This means that for evolutionary reasons, our bodies will wake us up when we’ve had enough sleep . If we wake up before that time, we will begin accruing sleep debt. And debt is bad. You wouldn’t put something on credit with no intent of paying it back, right? So why would you do the same with sleep? It’s a rhetorical question obviously — I know why you do it — you have stuff to do. I get it — I have stuff to do too. But the first thing you have to accept is that spending your life sleep deprived is not going to help you in the long run. Productivity, focus, mood, and health can and will all suffer from longterm sleep deprivation. I don’t deny that there are times when getting a little less sleep can help in one-off instances, but if you’ve reached the point where that is the case, it’s probably because of a past mistake coming back to haunt you i.e. procrastination. In short, you can score some quick life-points occasionally by shirking a night of sleep, but your total accumulated life-points will suffer if it happens too regularly.
The whole concept of an alarm clock is flawed: it’s a tool designed to wake us up before we’ve gotten enough sleep. Unfortunately, that’s really the only time it can go off while maintaining any semblance of purpose. It would be pretty silly for it to go off after we’ve had enough sleep, because we’d already be awake .
The good news is that cure for our societal alarm clock addiction is simple, two-step program:
Step 1) Pick up your alarm clock in one hand, and with the other hand, open that one super messy drawer you throw stuff into when you don’t know where it should go. Bury the alarm in that drawer. You will never see the alarm again because of the that drawer’s blackhole-like features.
Step 2) Go to sleep earlier. If you have a certain time in mind that you want to get up by, calculate how much sleep you really need (probably 8–9 hours), subtract that time from when you want to wake up, and congratulations, you have have your new bed-time.
I know what you’re thinking, If I don’t use my alarm, I won’t make it to work on time. I have great news for you. Alarm clocks and getting to work on time do not have a causal relationship unless you force them to. The fact that you need your alarm to wake you up at 6am means that your body is not getting enough sleep that it thinks it’s okay for you to wake up at 6am. However, it’s important to note that without something as strict as an alarm clock, there may be some slight variability in your wake up time. Setting your wakeup time goal to be a little earlier than it needs to be, will give you some buffer on the days when your body needs more sleep. And as an added benefit for days when you wake up without dipping into your buffer, you will have some additional time in the morning to get done some of those things you’re always putting off. In my personal schedule, I have set up a buffer of 1–1.5 hours. The latest I can stay in bed is 7:30am, so I aim to get up between 6 and 6:30.
You might find, at first, that when you go to sleep earlier, you’re still tired at the time you’re supposed to be getting up. That’s to be expected for a couple reasons. For one, it can be hard to fall asleep when you move your bed time up. That will take a couple weeks to adjust to. Some people suggest moving up your bedtime incrementally, 15 minutes every week until you reach your goal. The other thing making your new sleep habit difficult is that there’s a good chances that you’re already deep in the throes of sleep debt, in which case, it may take a couple weeks of full rest to let your body catch up to where it should be. Give it some time, your body will thank you.
During the first few weeks of your transition, it might be wise to have a backup alarm in place (I don’t want to be responsible for you being late!). In fact, when I transitioned to this lifestyle, I kept that backup alarm on for several months. But at some point, it became clear that it was no longer necessary.
You’ll also find that those extra hours you used to spend sleeping in on the weekends are now hours you can be awake for. At 6am Saturday morning, you’re sleep ledger will be balanced. And in fact, continuing to wake up at the same time on the weekends will make it easier to hold yourself to the same bedtime and wakeup time during the week. And on top of that you’ll finally have some of those extra hours to do the stuff you want to do.
So throw away your alarm! Cast off the shackles of sleep deprivation! And start building a longterm, sustainable lifestyle. If you don’t pay back your sleep debt now, you’ll pay it back later — with interest.
 Although, some scientists believe that the reason sleep even exists is because hunting and gathering were so hard at night that looking for food ended up draining more resources than were actually found in the food. Meaning that turning down your metabolic systems in the hard-to-hunt-or-forage hours was the most energy efficient way for pre-historic humans to live.
 If you subscribe to the theory in note , the same effect is still true, just for a different reason. If that is the actual reason for sleep, our bodies would still wake us up at the earliest possible time after getting enough sleep, because laying asleep — even in a slow metabolic state — is not a sustainable lifestyle. We need to continually gather new forms of energy to burn. And not just a sufficient amount of energy to exist, but enough to give us the greatest evolutionary advantage possible to increase the likelihood of passing on our genes. Spending the most number of hours awake as possible is how our bodies lead us to that goal.
 Though, there are several potential reasons why you might not be awake after you’ve gotten enough sleep — maybe your bed is warm and fuzzy and the rest of house is making your fridge shiver, or maybe you’re going through a rough patch in life, perhaps a depression-type thing, etc. You’re alarm clock isn’t really going to fix any of those though.
One of the greatest assets of the American democratic machine is the freedom for individual voters to cast their respective votes based on whatever criteria they deem salient. This is also the system's greatest detriment, because people are unpredictable and in many cases are not willing to be critical of their own familiar thought patterns. That being said, what criteria are important? The fact that we have campaigns at all suggests that this is not an easy question to answer. Put differently: if we all agreed that a certain criterion was the only one that mattered, everyone would only discuss that criterion; we would do our best to quantify that criterion, and by the time of the election, whoever ranked more highly according to that quantification would be elected in a landslide. Assuming you have not had your head buried in the sand for the last three centuries, you no doubt realize that this is not how it works.
Of all the possible ways to choose one's vote, there are three criteria, in particular, that inform the most votes. This is not an exhaustive list, only a few chosen according to ubiquity. They are: party affiliation, issue evaluation, and character analysis.
A Poor Criterion
Party affiliation, the most pernicious of the three is discussed first. Those who have sworn an allegiance to a party have often done so with religious fervor. These are the people who have placed their unwavering trust in the hands of the elected. Parties change and people change and it is irresponsible to assume that the specific politics of your chosen party are set in stone. Benjamin Franklin said, on the matter "It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority." In an ideal world, a party would be denigrated most by it's own electorate. But, of course, we do not live an an ideal world. Those who vote based on this criterion are the hardest minds to change. A task which I do not wish to undertake.
An Okay Criterion
The evaluation of issues is the touted promise of modern political campaigns. There is an important distinction to be made, however, between designing a campaign that puts issues at the forefront, and actually discussing those issues. This is a nuanced point, but it is of the utmost importance. In a system where politicians are only encouraged to scratch the surface, most people agree on most of the points raised. The reason for this is that wanting the best for America is a non-partisan viewpoint. Things like keeping Americans safe, reducing the national deficit, protecting our interests abroad, do not fall on only one side of the isle. But in The Age of Instant Gratification, Smart Phones, and the Internet, the depth, meaning, and intent which could inform our decisions are lost. There are many possible solutions for this issue, one of which is a total restructuring of the largely pointless debates. Solutions such as this, however, would require an overhaul on a grand scale, necessarily driven by those who benefit least from it. Which is why I would not expect it to happen anytime soon...
A Pretty Good Criterion
All of the above kept in mind, I strongly support the third criterion: character based voting. The truth is, even if our politicians were given the opportunity to show us the depth and intent of their proposals, there is no simulation we could run to see if such a change would operate as expected, and without costly side effects. The laws of sociology and economics are subject to the tenets of Chaos Theory, and as such are profoundly sensitivity to initial conditions (all of which we can never know for certain, and most of which have no reliable metrics). All of this is to say that lofty changes often do not work out as planned. So, then, if we cannot trust anything a politician says, what does analyzing character even mean? It means that the President of the United States, for a minimum of four years, will be making decisions on a daily basis that we, The Electorate, must stand behind as our own. Are you willing to stand behind someone perceived as dishonest or racist, or worse, just because they promised you something they have exceedingly little control over?
The President, in the end, is a human being, limited by physiology, memory, and conscience. We can only reasonably expect, that when an unforeseen situation arises, they will make the choice seen by them to be in the best interest of our country. The voters are choosing someone to make decisions for them, and after four or eight years, the decisions made on a daily basis will heavily outweigh the handful of policies promised during the campaign.
It is not the party or the platform that makes the candidate; it is a career of individual decisions made while subject to the crucibles and tribulations of life, in short: the evidence of character, that we truly cast our vote for.
Failings of the New Years Resolution
The holiday season, per se, is not the only time that groundbreaking self-realization occurs, but it is, perhaps, the time at which most actionable plans for improvement are instantiated. This is the case for two reasons: opportunity and peer pressure. Opportunity is born from ample holiday time off, and the internal quietude it often induces is a proverbial garden for the fruits of self-reflection. The latter, ironically, is the result of the New Years Resolution (NYR) meme itself. It’s a hot topic in December, and often brought up in conversation. If asked a question enough times, the trial (and error) of various responses and the feedback received can do significant work to inform our responses in the future. From that, follows this conclusion:
The strategically evolved NYR is not necessary reflective of what we actually want to fix, but rather what is cool to fix (and what is a cool way to fix it).
To be sure, I’m not criticizing those who seek self-improvement, nor those who know the power of good feedback. I’m merely remarking on the serendipity with which NYRs are frequently born, rather than the brutal forging that is truly necessary for lasting self-improvement.
However, Impure origins are unfortunately not the worst ailment of the NYR. The crux of the problem is that the beginning of the new year is an arbitrary line in the sand—not necessarily a good time to create lasting effects. It is the tendency of many a person to collect NYRs, only deciding upon which one to go through with when the decision is forced (around December 31st). This causes the enthusiasm that might have been felt at the moment of idea conception to decay with time. The equally despicable flip side of this argument bears the NYR that was grew from societal necessity—from the deadline induced need to feel like you can only be a mature adult if you have a goal chosen on December 31st.
A Better Way to Resolute
Insofar as resolutions are concerned, there are three questions that must be answered: What, How, and When. The first is often exceedingly complex and should be individually personalized, and the second, while interesting, is already a well discussed topic. As such, these will not be the focus of this post. For deeper insight on the mechanics of habits, I highly recommend the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.
There are two important factors that must be considered in deciding when to start a new resolution:
The date of ideation is important only in terms of the enthusiasm felt towards an idea. As with anything, an idea born but not acted upon will gradually deflate in its likelihood of creating lasting value. To echo E.T. Bell in Men of Mathematics:
“Hell is paved with half-baked ideas”.
Enthusiasm is not something easily measured, but my experience has been that the enthusiasm towards an idea in hibernation will decrease at a rate proportional to the time passed i.e. if several months go by, the idea in question will almost certainly find its way to wherever ideas go to die. The only preemptive measure against this fate is to make actionable change as soon as possible.
There are instances however, in which it may be beneficial to wait a short period before taking action. This is factor #2. Daily life is essentially a 24-hour string of habits. Whatever you do on a given day is likely to be quite similar to what you did yesterday (or perhaps this day last week). With these habits so deeply ingrained, I’ve found that returning to the natural flow of your day from an irregular state is a great time to make a change. Two specific instances that I have found useful are A) returning from vacation, and B) changing jobs. In both situations, some change is acting as an instigator of flow disruption, both with the expectation that normalcy will be returned to in the short term. As the dust settles, you’ll find that your new habit will be deeply inculcated into your life.
To be totally clear, I’m not philosophically against the New Years Resolution. I am however, a strict pragmatist, and as such I advise that if there is any type of change that you want to make in your life, don’t specifically wait for the New Year. Do it while it’s fresh, do it when you’re most likely to succeed, but most importantly—do it.
The purpose of this piece is to provide justification for a useful organizational tool. At first blush, this piece of stratagem seems to risk tearing the Organized Ideal down from its lofty pedestal, however, significant proof is offered to the contrary.
I call this method: Dorian Gray Organization, and the definition follows as such:
A space, either physical or virtual, having been organized with the purpose of reducing clutter, can include, without ethical contradiction, a sub-compartment of that space, in which no further organization is effectively possible or necessary.
Put succinctly: after you’ve organized your living space, sorting possessions by purpose, frequency of use, etc. It’s okay to leave one drawer for miscellany, or items of questionable utility. This ugliness of this drawer is what allows Dorian to stay beautiful; it is a sacrifice for the greater good.
Any pragmatic organizational scheme has to balance two things: the optimal number of storage compartments, and the optimal capacity of each compartment. Consider this equality: a separate compartment for each individual item is functionally equivalent (in search time) to one compartment storing all items. In both cases, the time saving abstraction of item batches is lost, and each item needs to inspected individually. It follows from this that compartments whose contents fall under an arbitrarily defined critical minimum size, should be avoided, in which case, the best option is to group those items with other possessions falling under the threshold.
This may seem like a contradiction threatening the sanctity of the organizational process. The reason for this apparent contradiction is likely a case of not seeing the forest through the trees. When people create organizational schemes, they tend to do so in an enthusiastic frenzy (perhaps putting it off for months, and then completing the whole task over the course of a weekend). Schemes of this genesis often overlook the end goal of organization: to reduce clutter, and decrease search time in the future. This frenetic, label-making, container-store-shopping craze leads to space being dedicated to items under the aforementioned critical minimum size, sheerly out of momentum.
The contents of the Dorian Gray drawer are dynamic and vary with time. Just as the picture of Dorian Gray grew ugly, left unmonitored, the drawer’s contents will swell, committing it to the same fate. It should be noted that gradual increase in size is acceptable and expected, as one’s possessions will naturally accumulate. A keen eye, however, should be kept alert for logical clusters of items increasing past the critical minimum size. Items of such a categorization should be reallocated to outside of the Dorian Gray drawer.
The last point I wish to make is that like many things, the organizational process will follow the 80/20 rule. The last small bit of organization will take a disproportionately large amount of time. It is in the best interest of time to refrain from this last, insignificant bit, and focus your attention on more urgent matters.
As personal possessions grow in unbounded fashion, Dorian Gray Organization offers a method of minimizing the effort:reward ratio by introducing a stochastically structured buffer space, eponymously named: a Dorian Gray drawer. This drawer will decrease the frequency and need of future reorganizations by an amount proportional to the critical minimum size.
In a 2013 interview, Musk was asked how he learned rocket science, and his response was incredulously simple: "I read a lot and talked to people. The same way anyone learns anything". According to Kimbal Musk, his brother Elon sometimes reads as many as two books a day . Is there any question how he was able to become one of the worlds foremost rocket experts after founding SpaceX thirteen years ago.
Simple as it may be, I want to reify some of the subtleties of this remark.
Whether learning a new subject or digging into the depths of a familiar area, it is of paramount importance to determine (as early as possible) the resources that are most likely to contribute to your long term goals. I've found it useful to distribute my goals into three broad categories: personal, professional, and technical growth. At any given time I'm usually reading a book from two of the three categories. This strategy is a recent adoption for me. I'm hoping it will allow me to keep my interest peeked in more than one topic at at a time. I've tried reading as many as five books simultaneously, but I've found that it fractures my attention too much. I end up either not absorbing any of the books, or just picking one to move forward with. If anyone out there has opinions on this matter, I would be interested to hear them.
Sustained Incremental Growth
The part of reading that many find subconsciously discouraging, is that a given reading session is unlikely to yield any tangible results. I could easily tell you what I read about this morning, but I doubt I would be able to tell you what kind of impact it will have on my life. Reading is an investment, but unlike many investments the fruitions are often subversive. In general, the best we can hope to accomplish by reading is what I call Sustained Incremental Growth.
Bottom line, if you want to keep up with Elon Musk, you better hit the books.
First Place Doesn't Always Win the Race
In 1973, a British mathematician and cryptographer by the name of Clifford Cocks devised a brilliant algorithm. This algorithm forms the basis for modern internet security. Today it's primarily known as RSA, an initialization of the surnames of three MIT researchers (Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir, and Len Adleman), who discovered the algorithm independently three years later.
If you're pondering the disparity between the namesake and the first inventor, you've come to the crux of the issue.
Making a Splash in the Valley
I was recently on the market for a new job, and, in my search, I spent a significant amount of time gathering advice from an uncle of mine. He's a smart man with a wealth of experience in the business world, but what really caught my attention was his general knowledge about careers. The detail and certainty with which he was able to describe a successful career development made it seem as though it's more than just "part of life", it's a craft. And like all crafts, it can be reworked, over and over, to asymptotically approach perfection. While I can't say there was one particular piece of advice that I found most useful, there was a nugget that has been stuck in my head for the last few weeks. To quote my uncle directly, "You have to ship sh**".
Rephrased, you might say: a product on the shelves is worth infinitely more than one in the closet. It is not often that a consumer will make a purchase sight unseen. An idea has little value until it has an interface to the world. Proof of concept is the unofficial seal of approval in the valley.
Back in 1973, Mr. Cocks was under the employ of the British government. His earth shattering cryptosystem, classified*. Meanwhile, at MIT, the three young researchers were able to release their intractable Hydra out into the world, garnering the fame and fortune it warranted.
In the world of technology, the only accomplishments that matter are the ones that bear the burden of proof. If a tree falls in the woods...
*Nearly twenty-five years after his breakthrough, in 1997, the British government declassified Cocks' work, hopefully giving him a modicum of the respect he deserves.