On Problem Solving

I caught myself today acting a bit strange. [Ed: you finally noticed?]

Ok ok I mean stranger than usual. [Ed: how could you tell?]

Conversations with imaginary editors [Ed: oi] aside, I found myself sitting in my car, having returned from a busy day at work, playing a game I found yesterday called Really Bad Chess. It’s an interesting little game where, in order to level the playing field for people who kinda know enough to play chess but are – frankly – really bad at it, the playing pieces are mixed up. You still play by the same rules, but instead of having an AI that plays dumb – because a grandmaster-beating AI is easily available in your pocket these days – you get different proportions of pieces to make the game interesting.

It’s a fascinating game, and especially so for me, because I’m… pretty bad at chess. I tend to think far too reactively or tactically, or I recklessly lose patience and try to slam home an advantage that usually quickly evaporates.

So here I was, on my way home, a hundred little things to do, and instead I’m sitting in my car, trying to solve this particular iteration of the game. I’m solving this game dammit before I go home.

And that’s when it hit me: I spent the whole day solving problems at work, and then during my zone-out time on the train home, I chose to spend my time solving a problem – a virtual one, entirely of my own making and inconsequential as I chose to make it – because I’m addicted to the hit of solving an intellectual problem.

It’s not just this particular game – I’ve done it with games like Threes or Alto’s Oddessey recently. These are defined problem spaces where I can largely figure out the rules and get to the solution in a reasonable amount of time, and it fascinates me and holds my attention way longer than you’d expect.

I wonder if there’s more productive ways to spend my time than getting dopamine hits from solving games. Anyone else experience the same?

Sonder through public meditation

If you’ve not experienced sonder 1 before, or not done so in a while, here’s a neat public meditation exercise that you can do that’ll open up new worlds:

Pick any person sitting, or standing, across from you. Someone you can stare at without seeming creepy. Focus on that person and get a good feel for their energy and who they are.

Shift to a soft focus on that person and picture them in their happiest moments — Hugging a friend, picking up their kids from school, reuniting with someone they love, celebrating after some good news.

Now, picture them in their saddest moments and imagine what they would look like when feeling low. Feel their sadness and despair with them.

Channel your most loving energy, and thoughts, and put it on that person. Make them feel the love and happiness you’re projecting onto them. Imagine their remaining life feeling fulfilled, whole, and finding peace within themselves.

Ok maybe the “make them feel the love and happiness you’re projecting” bit might go over the creepy-random-stranger line. But y’know, boundaries. (via)


  1. “The profound feeling of realizing that everyone, including strangers passed in the street, has a life as complex as one’s own, which they are constantly living despite one’s personal lack of awareness of it.” (wiktionary)

Jury Duty: As It Happened

Back in April this year, I got a letter in the mail from the Office of the Sheriff for NSW. For a minute there I thought this had to be a fake, but who fakes a letter in the year 2017? For that matter in the year 2017, how do we have a sheriff? Isn’t that one of those anachronisms that disappeared somewhere in the 19th century? But no, here was a real letter…

Opening it up, I discovered I’d been put on the shortlist for jury duty this year.

Ah.

I’m reasonably civic minded, and jury duty has certainly been something I’d previously been keen to see how it worked. Seeing the inner workings of the justice system was always something of interest, and I’d have been happy to do so under any ordinary circumstances… but the 12 month period to come was looking like a busy one, and I’m not sure I would be able to juggle everything. At that point it was just a notification, so it would be fine.

Three days later I got another letter, informing me I had been selected, and would be required at the Supreme Court shortly. So much for that theory.

It just happened to be that the summons date was when I was going to be out of town on a mini-holiday – and I’d only booked it literally the day that I had received the summons, so I went online and applied to be excused on that basis with some mixed feelings. I thought maybe that was that for the year, that I’d be put back in the process and who knew if I would get chosen again.

Of course, just when you most don’t want it, the universe conspires against you. It’s like getting randomly selected at the airport, the days when you just most don’t need the delay are the days that you get chosen and look most uncomfortable.

So come July, I received another notice. And… it happened to clash with a day that I was going to be out of the state again (thank you NSW for the August bank holiday), and I was once more excused prior to the day.

You know what’s coming next right?

Continue reading Jury Duty: As It Happened

The Super-aggregators

Ben Thompson of Stratechery writes of Facebook & to a lesser extent Google’s model here:

What makes Facebook and Google unique is that not only do they have zero transaction costs when it comes to serving end users, they also have zero transaction costs when it comes to both suppliers and advertisers.

An interesting way to think about it; Facebook’s suppliers are its users, since they produce the content; this attracts and retains other “suppliers” – you and me, the friends of those on Facebook, and in turn that gives Facebook its “product” that it sells to its market, the advertisers.

Facebook doesn’t really do much work in between – sure, yes, they host the site, and make it possible to share thousands of photos and videos and whatnot – but they don’t need to make that happen on a personally-involved scale; they don’t call you to post on your profile to pull in other people who are also simultaneously shown ads.

Facebook and Google seem to be unique in this position – other networks don’t seem to have scaled in that same way, which is what makes Facebook & Google the “super aggregators”, and chances are their combined power wil eventually swamp the other also-rans that didn’t make it to that level of power.

(Note also: Facebook et al make the best attempt to steal the sole resource you have that is non-renewble, your time.)

Winter’s over

Winter’s over before it got cold. I mean, like, really properly cold. I think went out of my way this year to get exposed to something resembling the winter of old – biting cold that makes you happy to be inside. I went to Melbourne and to the mountains and to the valleys outside Sydney because it felt like autumn never ended at home, like a cold snap was just around the corner, like I’d need to take out my blanket next week, but now the calendar tells me winter is over for another year.

If I were to describe in detail the way things have been busy, I’d be here until summer, I suspect. This month, I travelled away for the weekend twice, both pleasant occasions, and spent the other two weekends up to my ears in attempting to be a junior economist, creating two papers I’d actually be proud of. Turns out that I really, really like studying economics, and even if I get an average mark, I’ll be pleased to have been exposed to it, and I could spend hours debating it and the implications.

Unfortunately, between that and work, I ended up with such free time as I attempted to fill with a show that told me winter was coming, and with a series of books that enthralled me like few have in years. The Expanse is a universe I’m struggling not to devour, knowing my pace of consumption far outweighs the scope of the content produced to date. Reading for pleasure was an itch I’ve been trying to scratch for well over a year since I ploughed through The Dresden Files, and finally something stuck, and now I’m almost afraid to finish it for fear of having nothing to go on to.

I also during this month discovered Apple’s Reading List feature – and I guess I mean discovered in the Captain Cook sense, in that there were a bunch of people who have been using this for years – and I marvel at the way things are so easy now, bookmarks magically synchronised across devices at a wonderous speed. I’ve been stacking up things to read and things to share there for some time, and it looks like this weekend may be it, with little else to do in all honesty, so the chance to unwind mentally and unpack the things I thought worth squirrelling away for future will come out with the end of winter as the hibernation ends.

(I say that, but it sure doesn’t look like things will ease up at all in the coming months – it’ll be Feburary before I can well and truly relax.)

(oh and I’ve realised I’m planning to head to the US again at the end of the year, against perhaps some better judgement considering the political scene, so I’ll be getting all the dose of winter I could ever ask for over there.)

(for a post that started with mentioning how winter’s done, I sure did end up focusing on it a lot huh.)

Here’s to unwinding with the longer days, and cracking open this year’s supply of antihistamines.

Then it was Ma- Jun- July. 

A draft starts in April, and then it was May. And despite the fact that May feels like the longest month ever – did you realise it’s 31 days? Does anything actually happen in May after May Day? A day so boring they couldn’t even come up with a more interesting name for it? Is it even a month that counts given the uncertainty expressed in its name? – it ended up being a rather wholly busy month, and so it was June, and you know what June is like. Honestly, May should trade its 31st day to June so we can have a chance to get some things done before the middle of the year arrives all in a huff. It shouldn’t be surprising when 30th June shows up and all of a sudden you’re in the back half of Twenty bloody Seventeen and 2018 is just around the corner. Remember when it was still 2016 and you thought “how can this year get any shittier?” and then 2017 arrived and the conclusion was “oh, yes, this is how,”? Well, we’re now further away than ever from the utopia that was 2016, and it’s now under six months to go until 2018. If you conceived a child today, it wouldn’t be born until March 2018. The end of March 2018. That’s where we are now. Or will be in 9 months time, you get my point.

Phew. A breather.

How the hell is it July already?

Oh that’s right, I’ve decided I didn’t really need free time after all, and am now completely occppied in entirely planned and unplanned ways. I opened a book yesterday for the first time in about 4 months because I finally found myself with a half hour of time I hadn’t allocated out or somehow spent on productive and unproductive activities that choose to occupy my brain. While that moment felt good, it was also tinged with “but I should be doing x, y or d instead…”

Let me tell you now, doing an MBA while working full time on an intensive project and also trying to keep a long distance relationship going is a… challenging idea. Any one of the above by itself would’ve been enough to keep the ordinary person occupied, which is what I had last year, but I’ve somehow stumbled into all three at the same time and it’s been an adventure in time management. I had the value of being bored and pursuing interests in new areas gets sacrificed, and at times I’m quite willing to skip out on social events entirely just to give myself a couple of hours to catch up on everything that’s been going on.

When it comes to events of the year, it has been relentless, and with each day that passes I’m more convinced that I need to be more politically engaged. Some of that comes from the frustration of seeing the government navel gazing; some of that comes from the sheer absurdity that is the USA right now. I know a large driving factor is seeing my local representative completely failing to represent me as he happens to be an arch conservative that carries the flag for everything that is wrong with the conservative side of politics in this country (like, every single bone-headed policy. He cheers for Trump completely unnecessarily!). And then I remember everything I’ve already got on my plate, and I wonder what I could realistically do without sacrificing something.

That kind of feeling and motivation seems to tie in with an increased self-awareness and maturity that I didn’t consciously come to, but rather has welled up with time and experience – it is something along the age lines that really starts to become obvious. Where the twenties were about my personal growth and – frankly – somewhat selfish in many measures, it appears the thirty mark being passed does make a difference in how the world feels like it’s impacting my life. A sense of agency appears – that I can, and should, need to do something to make a change, make the place a better one.

And now I suspect I’m rambling. It’s useful to use this platform to explore thoughts and process, but I do occasionally need an editor to go “right mate, wrap it up, you’re wandering in a way that someone outside your head can’t follow.” And so I will.

Though! One more thing before I go, a media endorsement: go watch The Expanse. That’s some damn good scifi, and I’ve been only to happy to escape to that universe for 40 minutes or so at a time.

That Special Someone

There’s an instinct that seems to drive people to want to be with a specific other person; “pair bonding” as the scientific term might go. It’s a natural instinct that you can explain away as pure biology, but of course humans have coopted this notion into something else entirely and put our own complicated spin on things.

Finding “that special someone” is therefore a fairly uniquely human thing to do – the idea that there’s one person that’s specifically right for you, someone that meets the criteria of an ideal partner – sufficiently similar, yet sufficiently different to keep things interesting; sufficiently near, speaking the same or a similar language, of the same age… on a rational level, that’s a fools game.

And yet…

And yet we still play it, because we’re fools blinded by emotion and this idea of an ideal romantic love which would be sufficient to surmount these challenges. We pay token attention to the probabilities and realities in an effort to satisfy a different drive, a desire for mental and emotional fulfilment, beyond the purely physical.

But… it requires patience, and persistence. It requires keeping at it, trying again and again, until you do find the one that sticks for whatever reason, because that person will be worthwhile. That person will match you mentally, challenge you to do better, to be bettter; that person will love you back and adore you, that person will have something in them that you recognise at a deeper level, and you will trust them, and want to make them happy, and they will make you happy, and you will share a lifetime of stories, and you’ll dream of the rest of your lives together when you’ve only just met, because something in this person will sing to you on a level that you don’t even realise but is within you, like a tuning fork suddenly in resonance with another, and you’ll want that person there all the time.

Some may compromise sooner, accept shortcomings and think rationally that someone happens to tick enough boxes to make it a good deal. No doubt I’ve also contemplated that for myself, more than a couple of times, more recently than I’d care to admit. The bonding instinct doesn’t necessarily require a specific person, even when the emotional side does.

And sometimes, persisting, you get lucky… :)

Happy Valentines Day, friends, lovers, countrymen.

Ideas from HBR

I’ve started listening to podcasts recently, and one that seems to work really well for me is the Harvard Business Review Ideacast. Ok, it’s a little bit B-School, a little bit world-of-work, but it’s surprisingly interesting despite the apparently staid context in which it exists. Here’s some interesting episodes I’ve listened to recently, along with ideas in them:

  1. The “Jobs to be Done” theory of innovation

    It’s an idea that’s come up on my radar recently, but I had assumed it was a new spin on the Getting Things Done productivity method. Turns out, it’s a different way of looking at how people interact with things and companies. In brief, when you’re buying a product (or a service) from a company, it’s not because you want the product, it’s because there’s a proverbial “job” to be done – whether that “job” is satisfying your hunger, or getting to a place; framing it that way rather than buying a burger or jumping in a cab lets you identify better what the actual activity being performed is, and this helps identify areas and ideas for innovation.

    The podcast isn’t necessarily enough to re-orient you towards this way of thinking all on its own, but it serves as an interesting introduction.

  2. How Work Changed Love

    A strange topic for HBR, but interesting insight into where “dating” and modern relationships have emerged from… a quick run down:
    – Until the 19th century, courtship was supervised – the interactions between unmarried men and women was mostly in family or community situations, possibly arranged by someone. This gives me a different perspective on the oft-complained about arranged marriage thing in Indian culture – it’s not that far removed!
    – As women entered the workforce, the context changed with more people away from home and meeting in “unsupervised” ways – so dating as it’s known today didn’t really kick off until the 1910s and 1920s. That’s really recent as far as relationships amongst humans comes from – just three generations removed from where we are today, and yet it’s such an integral part of the youth experience today.
    – Economic mobility has reduced since the 1960s – and one of the reasons for this is that with women becoming more equal, particularly with higher education, there’s less reason for men to look across class lines for relationships.
    – The median age for women at first childbirth is 25, while the median age for women at first marrage is 27. That’s a big swing in how marriage is perceived.
    – Marriage is being looked at as a “capstone” instead of a “cornerstone” – it’s what you get to at the end of your growth as an adult, rather than a foundation.

    I’m genuinely interested in how these things have played out.

  3. The connection between Speed and Charisma

    A few hundred milliseconds are the difference between someone being perceived as charismatic and those perceived as far less so. This is interesting to me because there’s definitely a difference in the speed of my response driven by my comfort and ease with some people, so I wonder if the perceptions of these people are entirely different to those closer to me simply based on the speed of my responses.

  4. Bonus, from the Ezra Klein Show – “We have locked in centuries of climate change”

    Because it’s depressing as shit, but everyone needs to hear it. The world is not in a happy place when it comes to climate change. Be aware, be active, be deliberate in your actions.

Google now tracking more personally

Google’s relaxing a previous barrier between DoubleClick, their online ad division that controls 75% of the market, and the rest of Google’s data that can track you directly tied to your Google account, as reported by ProPublica.

What does this mean? Well, up until now, you could have a DoubleClick tracking cookie and it would make ads follow you around the web – those creepy ads on random sites that somehow knew what you searched for on eBay 15 minutes ago – but it wouldn’t necessarily be tied into browsing activity elsewhere.

Now, if you’ve got a Google account that you’ve signed into, Google reserves the right to tie those two together – and not just on the same browser or device, because hell, Google knows who you are on your phone as well as your PC or iPad.

So: Google knows who you are, they know who you get in touch with, they know what you’re searching for, and they know where you’re touching the web because any page with ads by Google or their DoubleClick subsidiary are now tied in together.

How long until any page with Google Analytics is tied into the same thing?

This is the price we’re paying for everything being “free” on the web – increasingly trading privacy, increasingly exposing ourselves to more and more specific advertising. Some might say good, irrelevant ads are useless, but at what point does it get to the “creepy” side of the coin?