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Peter Kaufman on The Multidisciplinary Approach to Thinking

Peter Kaufman, editor of Poor Charlie’s Almanack, on why is it important to be a multidisciplinary thinker.

Because as the Japanese proverb says, ‘The frog in the well, knows nothing of the mighty ocean.’
You may know everything there is to know about your specialty, your silo, your “well”, but how are you going to make any good decisions in life …
the complex systems of life, the dynamic system of life …
if all you know, is one well?

He then, talks about a sneaky shortcut on how he did it.

So I tried to learn what Munger calls, ‘the big ideas’ from all the different disciplines.
Right up front I want to tell you what my trick was, because if you try to do it the way he did it, you don’t have enough time in your life to do it. It’s impossible. Because the fields are too big and the books are too thick. So my trick to learn the big ideas of science, biology, etc., was I found this science magazine called Discover Magazine. […]
I found that this magazine every month had a really good interview with somebody from some aspect of science. Every month. And it was six or seven pages long. It was all in layperson’s terms. The person who was trying to get their ideas across would do so using good stories, clear language, and they would never fail to get all their big ideas into the interview. […]
So I discovered that on the Internet there were 12 years of Discover Magazine articles available in the archives. So I printed out 12 years times 12 months of these interviews. I had 144 of these interviews. And I put them in these big three ring binders. Filled up three big binders.
And for the next six months I went to the coffee shop for an hour or two every morning and I read these. And I read them index fund style, which means I read them all. I didn’t pick and choose. This is the universe and I’m going to own the whole universe. I read every single one.
Now I will tell you that out of 144 articles, if I’d have been selecting my reading material, I probably would have read about 14 of them. And the other 130? I would never in a million years read six pages on nanoparticles.
Guess what I had at the end of six months? I had inside my head every single big idea from every single domain of science and biology. It only took me 6 months. And it wasn’t that hard because it was written in layperson’s terms.
And really, what did I really get? Just like an index fund, I captured all the parabolic ideas that no one else has. And why doesn’t anybody else have these ideas? Because who in the world would read an interview on nanoparticles? And yet that’s where I got my best ideas. I would read some arcane subject and, oh my god, I saw, ‘That’s exactly how this works over here in biology.’ or ‘That’s exactly how this works over here in human nature.’ You have to know all these big ideas.

And then in an extraordinary step of generous giving, he spends the rest of the talk, summing all he has learnt into the next 40 or so minutes.

You should go read the talk at Latticework Investing.

Even better, you should go listen. Kaufman is a really engaging speaker.

I hope you listen to this, every once in a while like I do.

Shane Parrish also merges Peter’s ideas with the Durants for an amazing post on the lessons of history.

P.S. Subscribe to my mailing list!
P.P.S. Feed my insatiable reading habit.


Notes from Jocelyn K Glei’s Podcast Episode on Creativity & Efficiency

My dad was a carpenter.
Well everyone called him that, but I know him for what he truly was.
A craftsman.
Be it his work with wood, or the little works of art and craft he made for us or his drawings in my book; everything he did, was slow, and measured, and full of deliberation and intention.

Which is why this episode struck such a chord with me.
Jocelyn articulates beautifully, exactly what my father did.
I still remember his slight rankle, followed by this expression of sorrow, whenever I would rush him, tell him this much was good enough.
Thank God, he never listened to me.
He may not be here now, but everything he built, makes it like he is.

It’s a short delightful episode. Go listen.
Definitely worth your time and attention.
Everything below the break are my paraphrased notes.


Creativity and Efficiency, have absolutely nothing to do with each other.
The creative process actively resists efficiency.

Creativity is messy and organic and full of (as it looks from the outside) friction, which is a little bit frustrating, because everything else in our lives keeps getting faster, easier, smoother, more efficient, more frictionless.

We have become more accustomed to a kind of effortless convenience.
Ask and ye shall receive.

So there’s a really interesting tension here.
Between the pace of technology and the pace of creativity.

Work is what we do by the hour. It begins and, if possible, we do it for money. Welding car bodies on an assembly line is work; washing dishes, computing taxes, walking the rounds in a psychiatric ward, picking asparagus–these are work.

Labor, on the other hand, sets its own pace. We may get paid for it, but it’s harder to quantify… Writing a poem, raising a child, developing a new calculus, resolving a neurosis, invention in all forms — these are labors.

Work is an intended activity that is accomplished through the will. A labor can be intended but only to the extent of doing the groundwork, or of not doing things that would clearly prevent the labor. Beyond that, labor has its own schedule.

[…]

There is no technology, no time-saving device that can alter the rhythms of creative labor. When the worth of labor is expressed in terms of exchange value, therefore, creativity is automatically devalued every time there is an advance in the technology of work.

The Gift, Lewis Hyde

As technology makes everything more efficient, we tend to think that creativity should also become more efficient, that there must be a way to do creative work, that’s better, faster, more scalable … but is there?

What’s more important?
Doing all the things?
Or enjoying all the things that you’re doing?

Creativity resists efficiency.
No one can tell you how much time something should take, because creativity is not measurable on a time clock.
It’s not practical or efficient or objectively quantifiable.
What it is, is deeply personal.

No one knows, how long it takes to make anything.
Which means, no one knows what pace your creative process should unfold at, except for you.
And no one knows, what boundaries you need to setup to protect that process, but you.
And no one knows, how much you should obsess about the details, or how far you should go, and when you should say, “This is enough!”‚ but you.

Remarkable creative projects don’t come from efficiency.
If anything, they come from inefficiency.
From doggedly ignoring all the rules, and saying,

“I am going to devote an ungodly amount of time to this thing, that no one else thinks is important, but that I think is important.”

Great creative work comes from slowing down, when every one else is rushing around and saying,

“I’m going to take my time and notice this thing, that everyone else is missing and really sit with it, and contemplate it and craft it to create something remarkable.
Actually, something that’s even more remarkable, because no one else would have taken the time.”

So the next time you feel stuck or rushed or judged for your “inefficiencies”, remember that they’re also your strength.
Because greater comes from working at your own pace.
Remember to take your time.

P.S. Also, remember to subscribe to the mailing list, if you haven’t already! :)


Learning Python

Did I need to read a fifteen hundred page book to learn Python?
At the end of fourteen hundred pages, I can safely assure you, I did not.

If you want to just solve your pressing issues or scratch your itch, or just plain get started with programming (and programming in Python specifically), I’d recommend starting with a simple, fast paced book, like Python for you and me, and then doing tons of practice.1

Mark Lutz, as he closes the book, himself laments that Python has gotten too big to hold in your head. And by doing so, has lost some of the simplicity and the joy and fun and the magic, Python held for the early adopters of the language.

And yet, having said all this, boy, am I glad, I read the book.

This is a master class from a master.

I may not have understood everything. I may have skimmed a chapter or two (Lutz assures me, it’s ok :P), but what this book has done to my mind, the furrows it has ploughed, will be with me forever.

I have been trying to get into the book, multiple times since I bought it.
It took me a long time, before, as Mortimer Adler puts it, I could come to terms with the author.
The only reason I kept coming back, was because, Mark’s earnest teaching voice shines through, and I loved it, even if I did not quite get what he was saying in the beginning.
And the reason I could get through it (and enjoy it) this time, because I decided to follow his advice and follow along on the computer.
To actually type in the code, and see what happens.

Yes, the book is big, yes, the concepts are repeated a couple of times, but as I progressed, I could feel him sweating the small stuff over and over, just so that I could understand things, so that I would not get scared away.

Time and again, the book reassured me, that what was said, was not as complicated or hard as it read on the page.
And that turned out to be true as I kept trying the examples out.

While I still have a long way to go, before I can remotely be called fluent, I know this book will have a been a big reason, I will be.2

This book was last updated, oh, some six years ago, and yet unless Python decides to change radically, I dare say, the principles in here will stand the test of time.

This was a great read and will serve as an awesome reference on my Python journey.
If you are slightly kooky like me, and you want to know, why things are the way they are as you learn to program in Python, get this book.


  1. Which is actually, what I am doing. 

  2. Besides the practice, that is. 

Write More

via Neil Gaiman

chaot1k-daydreams asked: Hey, Mr. Gaiman, sorry to bother you. I just had a couple questions? I’m trying to become a better writer and write more, but I feel like I’m falling out of my own style when I write. I either write too much or too little, over-embellish or make it feel bland, and I’m not quite sure what I’m doing wrong by I feel like it’s both wrong and not what I want to write. I was hoping you might have some advice?

Write more.
It sounds a bit silly but that’s how you eventually find out what you sound like.


French, Week 16

The words to study are getting overwhelming now.
Just hope this is temporary.

[Last week’s] mnemonic tip is working wonders though.
I am learning and remembering more words faster.

And now I see why the app is not yet giving me lots of sentences.
It wants me to build up a core vocabulary.

And the time I give it is not much.
So it will all come with time.
(The way the words flow, in my head, is a bit easier now)
I just need to be patient and keep at it.

Generating Markdown from HTML

2019-08-21

Started with the problem,
Need to take in an md file and then generate an html file.

Hint given, use a package from PyPI.

Decided to use the Markdown package from PyPI.
Looks good to me.

Was advised to work off a branch while developing.
Thank God for friends who teach you good habits.
Looking up how to do that in git now.

Watched Git videos for about an hour.
Learnt lots about branches. Giving up for today. it’s 8 in the eve and i am tired.

2019-08-22

Captain’s Log, Stardate something, something :P
Let’s see what the day holds.

  • Figured out how to read in a file.
  • Figured out how to convert it.
  • Figured out how to write to a file safely.
  • Now gotta figure out how to write the same file name as the one i feed it.
  • 11:44:24, went on a little rabbit hunt for how to type times in here :)
  • 11:45:21, first time ever, that I’ve hit a flow state, doing Python
  • 12:18:03, got it working, yea baby!
  • 12:40:55, Kushal suggested corrections and improvements. getting to work on those later.

2018-08-23

Captain’s Log, stardate, weekend on terra begins XD

  • 09:04, beginning with Kushal’s suggestions
  • 09:38, beginning now. :) had a power cut
    End day. Nothing done.