Old posts are being manually restored

During an update to the server in September and an issue with the backup system, the site was corrupted. Some posts have been totally lost. All previous comments have been totally lost.

I have been running this blog regularly since 2013. I am manually restoring the posts one by one. If you have a post you’d like to reference in particular, email me and I will prioritize putting that up.

The contents are somewhat available on the wayback machine in the meantime.

A Researcher’s Research Experiment

My default mode of research consists of many projects at once, spanning multiple disciplines.

As an experiment, I’ve decided to take:

  • 2 weeks to clear most of my mental cache
    • tying up loose ends on current projects
    • posting a few project ideas
  • 2-3 weeks to focus on one subject

I hypothesize that I will gain an understanding of my optimal work style.

Edit from the future (2022): I ended up picking up pure math as this aforementioned 2 to 3-week project and fell so deeply in love I decided to devote myself to mathematics professionally.

My Todo System

I used to overcomplicate my todo system.

My todos were scattered across workflowy, email, various plain text files, a weekly planner, my white boards, and Dropbox. This doesn’t include the post it notes covering my desk, reminding me to check whichever planner, and notes to self on various topics. I would then write down my immediate todos (4 items) on a post-it-note to begin working, I would inevitably lose that post it and write another one with the same content.

My weekly planner is located on my tablet, and I would keep this open always. I’ve since begun using my tablet for project design and documentation*, and can no longer keep my todos continuously visible (which led to the aforementioned mess).

I find it is useful to have my todos to be immediately visible, this frees up my mental cache to focus on brainstorming by eliminating the need to actively keep in mind the mundanities of everyday life. Thus, without structure to organize them spatially, post it notes grew colonies and conquered my desk.

Finally, I realized that considering self-betterment an ongoing project is a productive perspective. It allows for more focus, and less guilt maintaining your physical and mental health when you could be working on a project.

With this mental freedom, I sat down and unified my todo system. I’ve finally settled upon a simple routine that works wonderfully for me.

The board is broken up into (annotated below)
0. Self improvement & documentation
1. Development of math & physics intuition
2. Low priority
3. Today (indexed 0,1,2,3 by order of planned completion — indexes adjusted throughout day)
4. Done

If I’m not at home, I email myself todos to add to the board.

*I maintain a writeup for each one of my active projects (linked to relevant files in Dropbox) in One Note. These writeups include an “in progress” tab for detailed, longer term, project specific goals.

Todos requiring temporal synchrony with another party are listed on Google Calendar (i.e., calls to professors, doctor’s appointments)

How to: Learn a New Discipline

tl;dr In order to build your knowledge base, start with a question you want answered and work back from it.

Competence in many skills > the mastery of only 1 skill.

Competency in a skill leads you to recognize beautiful executions of the skill; this gives you the power to appreciate the beauty hidden in the world around you.

Example: If you study the art of trombone playing, you are more likely to appreciate the talent of a street musician that is playing high notes with rich timbre.

Wide-spread knowledge in both art and STEM reveals connections between seemingly unrelated concepts; connections that others do not see. These connections often lead to valuable and creative solutions. Overspecialization is dangerous.

Fostering your competency in many fields
\(\rightarrow\) wide-spread aesthetic appreciation
\(\rightarrow\) being a connoisseur of life.

Complement mere competency by studying a few select topics in enough depth to appreciate their deeper beauty and underlying simplicity.

How, you might ask, do you achieve competency in many disciplines?
Would you like to learn [physics||maths||…], but have no idea where to start?

0. Start with a question that you want answered and work back from it.

This is an effective way to enjoyably learn any field!

Once you have an interesting question to motivate you and esoteric terms to guide your reverse-engineering, you have the motivation and a plan to build your knowledge base.

1. Get excited.

After your burning curiosity pushes you past the give-a-damn point, you give a damn about the basics of the fields that hold the answer to your question.

Having this excitement transforms the drudgery of simply-worded beginner books into a treasure hunt for the missing puzzle pieces you need to understand your interesting question!

2. Explain what you’ve learned.

Explain concepts to yourself &| to those willing to listen

Understanding of a concept and the ability to explain the concept well go hand in hand. Explaining what you’ve learned will reveal the holes in your knowledge base that might otherwise go undetected! Fill these holes.

Thank you, Matthew Lynn, for leading our interesting discussion to cover this topic!

Too Many Ideas: Avoiding “Ooh Shiny” Syndrome

It is often the affliction of creative people that we have too many ideas and think of time as our most precious resource.

The solution?

0. Mission-Based Motivation

Reframing your situation is the key to making work play. Convincing yourself that your current project is “shiny” can be done by finding the one answer to Why are you doing what you do? [Ryan Lelek].

This must be one answer: what’s yours?

{Some examples to get you started: To make an impact? To learn? To innovate? To solve an unsolved puzzle?}

1. Write It Down

Leaving half-finished unconnected ideas in your mental cache detracts from your usable RAM. The fear that your new idea will be lost will pollute your focus on completing your current project.

I personally keep 4 notebooks:

  1. Main composition book for brainstorming.
  2. Personal journal in a plain text document.
  3. Pocket sized Field Notes book for ideas that occur at inconvenient times.
  4. Todos in workflowy.com

Free yourself from fear, and add to cached ideas when you have improvements. It is an amazing feeling to search through an old notebook and find that you’ve already worked out the answer to a current problem!

2. Set False Deadlines

We feel the need to autograph our work with excellence, which leads us to waste our time on insignificant details and feeling like our work is never fully completed (even if it is by other’s standards).

As Donald Knuth says, “The root of all evil is premature optimization.”

For drawing, I set a time limit of 2.5 hours. I set a time limit of May 3rd to submit my nonprovisional patent on my latest wheelchair modules.

These artificial deadlines allow you to feel like you’ve “finished” a project to the best of your ability, and move on to fully devote yourself to the next project.

Worry not, my friends. These 3 large changes may take time to become integrated into the busy lifestyle of an active creative.

However, that hard work is worth it! I’ve found that implementing these 3 changes allows me to satisfy my obsessive drive to finish what I’ve started whilst laying the groundwork for my future projects.

Hopefully, they will also help you!

Finding Routine in Freedom

I’ve just recently taken on a contract project. Adding that project onto my wheelchair and protein detector projects is a fun exercise in multi-threading that contributed to a recent realization.

After graduating and moving out to the Bay Area, I found myself missing the soft structure imposed by university. Two weeks ago, I finally developed an improved soft structure (independent from academia) to govern my time-expenditure.

It’s exciting to find a routine that works for me in an environment with many more degrees of freedom than I am accustomed to!

The schedule I’ve found is approximately:

08-09 Wake (Coffee)
09-10 Stretch, read papers, and sort todos 
10-11 Check email
11-12 Ab workout/Jog
12-18 Research
18-20 Climb/Bike
20-22 Blog/Research/Draw
22-24 Socialize and reflect on day (lessons learned, significant events and time allotment)

The lovely thing about this schedule is that I have no issue adjusting the time frames to suit my priorities that day. Life is a dynamic environment, but I’ve found most of my days fall into (at least) a permutation of this pattern. Having this structure to reflect on and shape my choices has noticeably increased my productivity and focus.

I hope you have a similar flexible schedule! It is a beautiful feeling to find routine in freedom.

The Utility of Art vs. STEM

I was recently asked an interesting question in an interview:

You stated in a previous article that you believe math and science are “toolkits” to solving problems in ways that writing and the arts cannot. Can you elaborate on that?

I think science and art are two sides of the same coin. The distinction is quite fuzzy for the fields overlap in a variety of ways that depend on the perception of the viewer. For example, mathematicians find aesthetic beauty in eloquent proofs and concise equations. The main difference between the terms lies in what they contribute to the to the world. Art provides inspiration and science provides understanding and explicit utility. I specify “explicit utility” for implicitly, inspiration provides the driving force for scientific advancement.

Art enables us to describe every emotion and experience known to man, but mathematics enables us to understand the laws that govern everything. Art cannot show us something that is not a human experience, for it is limited by the person who uses it. Mathematics, on the other hand, can show as absolute truth realities too grand to be fully understood by the human mind while science allows us to precisely and repeatedly implement these truths in the physical world.

College, Would You Like Fries With That?

I enjoy songwriting and have recently gotten into playing Third-Wave ska on my trombone. The basic premise of ska is to play an incredibly upbeat tune with shocking/macabre lyrics.

Here are the lyrics to a silly ska song I wrote in class. Note that I’m happy with my university experience; this song presents the point that university isn’t for everyone.

College? Would you like fries with that? by Catherine Ray

You’ll struggle through your classes, and they’ll let you out of school
Clutching a degree you’ve wasted your life to get, you fool
Up next, the corporate overlords will laugh and watch you squirm
They’ll lead you on in interviews, in the end you’ll just be spurned
Run with your tail between your legs,
maybe McDonald’s will accept your unskilled naivete.
Life has revealed its disguise
Yell, “I wish I’d Realized!”

Writing insightful term papers on the Third Reich,
you never thought you’d be one of those guys who quit their work on strike
First you paid thousands just to go to lectures and to class
All of that money and time, for 9 to 5, for a chair and a cubicle, to sit on your ass
The next 20 years consist of watching TV and arduous jobs, paying off your student loans
Working over time for mortgage, so you can pay for your worthless home
After work, go to the mirror.
Just look yourself in the eyes,
Yell. “I wish I’d realized!”

The goal of college isn’t to simply earn a scroll and a title
Get something concrete from it – a job, a pay raise, a promotion
Look back now – Clearly you’ll see, your only profit was debt and negative emotion.
Listen up, my friend Getting some degree
won’t cement your name in most minds, surroundings, nor history
Education is awesome for your outlook on life, real life experience is the fastest way.
The assumption that education must be IRL – Get used to living in meatspace
Be an autodidact, it can’t be all that hard.
Get out your laptop, a pen and some flashcards
Learn a language, free eBooks, a chapter, or if you’re lazy, a word a day
All along there was Wikipedia, free online courses, to your dismay
It’s too late for you – unless, you’re a chrononaut
Life ain’t something you can revise.
Yell. “I wish I’d realized!”