Musings on technology and business

  • Context, understanding, and memory

    A couple years ago, I read On the Shortness of Life, a letter by the Stoic philosopher Seneca the Younger1.

    While the gist of Seneca’s writing was clear, many references he made were lost on me and I found the whole thing to be quite dry. What I didn’t realize at the time is that if I had the context of a Roman in 49 A.D., Seneca’s writing would be more dynamic and his arguments would be more compelling.

    I recently read through On the Shortness of Life again. Coincidentally, I happened to be listening to the excellent History of Rome podcast in the weeks leading up to my re-read. Seneca seemed more captivating somehow, and I realized why after reading a few sentences toward the end of his letter. Seneca wrote:

    “So, when you see a man repeatedly wearing the robe of office, or one whose name is often spoken in the Forum, do not envy him: these things are won at the cost of life. In order that one year may be dated from their names, they will waste all their own years.”

    A lightbulb went off in my head! From the History of Rome podcast, I knew that the Roman Republic used to reference years by the names of the two consuls2 who served in office each year. In that last sentence, Seneca cleverly connected his arguments to a custom familiar to all Romans. This was lost on me at first, but having more context about Roman life gave me the information I needed to use these references to anchor Seneca’s points.

    If I were to rewrite this today for a modern audience, it could be:

    “In order that buildings may feature their names, they will waste all their own years.”

    The argument is the same, but the context shapes how we relate the argument to the world around us.

    Context helps us relate information to things we already know, strengthening our understanding and memory. While I stumbled into the History of Rome podcast and Seneca, I plan to intentionally read multiple contemporary works, listen to podcasts, and watch documentaries that provide a broader context on whatever I’m learning.

    1. Seneca was born in 5 B.C. and died in 65 A.D. He’s a fascinating individual who amassed a huge fortune and tutored the Roman Emperor Nero, who, in a strange twist, ultimately forced Seneca to take his own life. 

    2. A consul was the highest Roman public office during the Roman Republic, and two consuls served jointly for one-year terms. 

    Read more ☕
  • Throwing darts with a Monte Carlo simulation

    Nassim Nicholas Taleb recently tweeted out an interesting problem. I didn’t know how to solve it mathematically, so I wanted to build a simulation in R.

    Here’s the problem:

    I like to visualize things, so I decided to simulate throwing 8 darts on a board first, then simulate the dart throwing model many times using the Monte Carlo method.

    Read more ☕
  • Doing the right things in the wrong order

    What happens if you do the right things in the wrong order?

    In his upcoming book, Tribe of Mentors, Tim Ferriss highlights how proper sequencing enables you to be more effective:

    I spent weeks testing the order of questions for optimal responses. To me, proper sequencing is the secret sauce, whether you’re trying to learn a new language in 8 to 12 weeks, overcome a lifelong fear of swimming, or pick the brain of a potential mentor over coffee. Good questions in the wrong order get bad responses. Conversely, you can punch well above your weight class by thinking about sequencing, as most people don’t.

    Read more ☕
  • Forming an opinion on artificial intelligence and the labor force

    I recently listened to the latest Exponent podcast episode where Ben Thompson and James Allworth discussed artificial intelligence and where we need to focus our collective attention as a society to address the coming changes this technological shift will bring about.

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  • Equality in uncertainty

    Nassim Nicholas Taleb is writing a new book, Skin In the Game. Taleb discusses the concept of equality in uncertainty in one of the book’s excerpts, and I have some thoughts on how the internet is making equality in uncertainty possible in a way that could not have previously existed.

    Information asymmetry in a sale isn’t fair. Taleb shares a few punchy anecdotes that drive this point home. But to what extent must we level the informational playing field?

    Read more ☕
  • Hello again, world

    I prioritized putting together a new website as an excuse to brush up on my understanding of web technology and to create a centralized place for me to write.

    I’ll be writing more frequently in 2017 and will be experimenting with different types of posts and content.

    Please be patient with me while I settle in.

    Read more ☕
  • How I calculated breaks in a choropleth map

    I created a map of the cost of crime in Philadelphia's neighborhoods and needed a way to create groupings of a variable for the visualization. Here's what I learned. Read more ☕
  • Some thoughts on Eye in the Sky

    This episode of Radiolab discusses the contentious use of aerial surveillance to solve crimes in cities like Dayton, Ohio and Juarez, Mexico. Shoutout to Shilpi Kumar for sharing this with me.

    Two things jumped out at me during this episode.

    First is the distinction that the advantages of such a system are easy to quantify - reducing certain crimes in Dayton by 30% was one such advantage - but the disadvantages are much more difficult to quantify.

    This thought wasn’t expanded upon, but I think it’s worth exploring in greater depth. In this specific case, the disadvantages are unknown, but likely very real. How can you quantify the value of privacy? That said, refusing to make a decision due to an externality being unquantifiable seems foolish. There needs to be some attempt to quantify the previously unquantifiable to make a more informed decision possible.

    Read more ☕
  • Deep work leads to results and satisfaction

    I’ve been thinking a lot about how I can become better at what I do. Cal Newport has great insights into a concept he calls deep work, which is compared against shallow work.

    “Knowledge workers dedicate too much time to shallow work — tasks that almost anyone, with a minimum of training, could accomplish (e-mail replies, logistical planning, tinkering with social media, and so on).”

    So what is deep work?

    “I argue that we need to spend more time engaged in deep work — cognitively demanding activities that leverage our training to generate rare and valuable results, and that push our abilities to continually improve.”

    So why should we concern ourselves with deep work, especially when it sounds difficult?

    Read more ☕
  • On ideation and feasibility

    Learning how to let ideas flow before filtering them based on feasibility is key to breakthroughs. Too often I've found myself shooting down ideas before they have been given a fair chance to take root and develop. I need to work on this. Read more ☕
  • A denser Detroit

    I wrote an essay about how Detroit's development is hindered by its massive geographic footprint. I proposed densifying the city as a means to foster growth. Read more ☕
  • Verizon Has A Funny Definition Of Global

    Verizon has a policy that's confusing and not consumer friendly. This shouldn't be surprising. Read more ☕

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