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Weak Links III

I did a third post. If you do something three times does it finally count as a habit?

I’ve been getting on fine with using bare URLs for the headers for links until this post, where I had a long link. Why haven’t I noticed this before? Is there a correlation between short URLs and quality of posts? Shorter URLs usually imply the posts are from a personal website which usually, in my opinion, are higher quality than posts on social media websites which usually have long URLs full of tracking information. The long URL post here is from Medium, technically someone’s Medium backup on their personal site, and although Medium isn’t a social media website, it is usually a sign of low quality clickbait articles.

I also changed the script to automatically convert the posts from Markdown to HTML, so I can specify which Markdown files to convert. Having it run for every single one every time was getting annoying.

Halt and Catch Fire Syllabus

I really enjoyed the Halt and Catch Fire TV show. The first season was OK, but the show took off in season two and stay consistently great. I went to re-watch it recently and found that even though it’s listed as a Prime Exclusive it’s not available to stream with a Prime membership. They want £17.49 per season! Except for season three which is £15.99 for some reason.

Computers are humanity’s defining invention and the history of them should be studied more. The fact that you are now able to use a computer (including a phone which is basically a small computer) with zero knowledge of how it works under the hood is amazing, and goes to show how well abstracted computers are.

If you enjoy Halt and Catch Fire, or are interested in the history of computers then I’d also recommend The Soul of a New Machine.

Thinking about software engineering

I didn’t learn to program until late, and didn’t write my first line of code until I was 21. There are people out there that are half my age and can write code twice as well as I can, does it matter? Unless I’m competing for the same job as them, not really. I enjoy problem-solving and thinking abstractly, which is basically all software engineering is. One of the things I most enjoy is being able to get near instantaneous feedback if something doesn’t work, impossible with most of the engineering disciplines. I enjoy being able to do everything at a laptop, it means I can work wherever and whenever I want. Software engineering is fun, and if I have to do something eight hours a day, five days a week until I retire, then I’m glad it’s something I find fun.

Silicon Valley hasn’t innovated since 1978

Is software innovative? Or is it all just software? If we ignore compute, are we actually doing things in software we couldn’t do before? Hardware innovation is definitely happening, it’s just less visible. Your laptop is significantly more powerful than any high-end computer from twenty years ago. Is that innovation? Or is that just incremental improvement?

Why I’m losing faith in UX

UX does suck. Most of the major websites are terribly designed and completely unintuitive. Everything has flat icons, so you can no longer tell what’s a button and what isn’t without putting your mouse over it. How does this work for phones? You have to use their app. Why do I need to use an app for everything? Can’t I just navigate to it on my phone’s browser and have it just work? Of course not, because everywhere wants to lock me in to their own app, so they can take all of my data and sell it. Sure, they’re offering me services that really shouldn’t be free, but how much of these services would I actually pay for? Would I pay for a social media account? No, and I’m sure only a small minority would. Would I pay for Google search? Yes, but I’d expect it to be a lot better than it is now. A subscription based Google search could finally give me good search results instead of the top results being SEO junk.

The architecture of my life

How much automation is too much automation? I feel like with these type of automation and productivity system that they’re designed for procrastination. You begin to procrastinate, so you feel anxious about the amount you procrastinate. Then, you procrastinate by looking up ways to stop procrastinating. Next, you procrastinate by setting up a productivity system that will reduce the amount you procrastinate. Finally, you procrastinate by constant micromanagement of this productivity system. All that time you spend setting up and managing the productivity system makes you feel like you’re being productive, but you’re not. You’re still procrastinating. When you actually need to sit down and do the work, no productivity system is going to help you.

Saying that, I do like and use a variant the GTD system. I wouldn’t call this a productivity system though, it’s an organization system. I have a pretty awful memory and I need to write everything down or else I’ll forget it. GTD views the brain as a processor, not as a storage unit. Therefore, all of your tasks should be written down as soon as possible. Later in the week you organize them into actions and then break these actions down into steps. If an action requires multiple steps, it’s then a project. Then, when you go to work you check your steps and just start doing them. There’s some extra bits, like each step should be tagged with time/place/context, so you can group up steps and do them all together, i.e. send all e-mails at once, but I don’t bother with these. I like this system because it doesn’t require anything except a few folders full of Markdown files.

For actually doing the steps there’s two opposing views: the Pomodoro Technique and Deep Work. The pomodoro technique is pretty well known, work in 25 minute chunks with a 5-minute break after each chunk. After four chunks, take a longer break. In Deep Work, the author, Cal Newport argues that most of the work involved in an eight-hour work day can actually be in substantially less time, and that most of us just work to fill up the required time. Newport argues that we should do two to three chunks of deep focused work, each at least two hours long. I don’t think either of the two is better, and I flip between them. Sometimes I start a pomodoro and when the 25 minutes is up I’m halfway through a task which I then work on for another solid hour. Sometimes I can’t get started on a task and the thought of working on it for two hours non-stop is so daunting that I never start.

Does this mean all the productivity literature is a scam? No, it just means that no single productivity system actually works all the time. We are just apes with ancestors that learned to pick up a rock and beat someone over the head with it, and now we have to sit here for eight hours a day for years on end doing something that we most probably don’t want to be doing. We have to find ways to trick our ape brain into doing work. Sometimes one trick works, sometimes it doesn’t. There’s no rhyme or reason why. All that matters is having enough discipline to power through things, and the only way to build discipline is to do something over and over until it becomes a habit. This is where I’d start talking about Atomic Habits, but I have yet to read it.


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