A purpose finding exercise

Part 1: Exploration-Exploitation
Part 2: Bargaining Trade-offs to your brain.
Part 2a: Empirical time management
Part 3: The time that you have
Part 3a: A purpose finding exercise
Part 4: What does that look like in practice?
Part 4a: Lost purposes – Doing what’s easy or what’s important
Part 4b.1 In support of yak shaving
Part 4b.2 Yak shaving 2
Part 4c Filter on the way in, Filter on the way out…
Part 4d.1 Scientific method
Part 4d.2 Quantified self
Part 5: Call to action


I had a friend confused and come to me asking for suggestions on how to find her purpose.  I love these questions because it’s a journey I have also been on.  There is no solid answer to that but there are often clues.  Here is an exercise that helps:

0: sit down with pen and paper and remove distractions for 30mins.

  1. make a list of your biggest accomplishments over the past 5 years.
  2. make a list of other achievements that you have seen other people achieve that you liked in the past 5 years.
    1. If this seems hard; make a list of people who you like, and write out some of the things that those people achieved that you cared about or that matter to you or mattered to them.
  3. decide which ones you are interested in for the future, or similar things for the future.
  4. Make a list of idea of which of those to pursue for the future.
  5. Make a list (or several) of how to go about doing those things, then start implementing!  for example – putting reminders in your diary, doing research and generally doing the things you want to do!

Q: I’m stuck?

Great! contact me for help!


Meta: Thank you Anna for the request, now I hope that more people can benefit from this exercise.

Meta: this took 30mins to write.


Part 1: Exploration-Exploitation
Part 2: Bargaining Trade-offs to your brain.
Part 2a: Empirical time management
Part 3: The time that you have
Part 3a: A purpose finding exercise
Part 4: What does that look like in practice?
Part 4a: Lost purposes – Doing what’s easy or what’s important
Part 4b.1 In support of yak shaving
Part 4b.2 Yak shaving 2
Part 4c Filter on the way in, Filter on the way out…
Part 4d.1 Scientific method
Part 4d.2 Quantified self
Part 5: Call to action

Posted in life maintenance, self-improvement | Leave a comment

Lost purposes – Doing what’s easy or what’s important

Part 1: Exploration-Exploitation
Part 2: Bargaining Trade-offs to your brain.
Part 2a: Empirical time management
Part 3: The time that you have
Part 3a: A purpose finding exercise
Part 4: What does that look like in practice?
Part 4a: Lost purposes – Doing what’s easy or what’s important
Part 4b.1 In support of yak shaving
Part 4b.2 Yak shaving 2
Part 4c Filter on the way in, Filter on the way out…
Part 4d.1 Scientific method
Part 4d.2 Quantified self
Part 5: Call to action


A friend came to me with a startup as her main goal.  I am keen on my coaching skills so I would from time to time ask her what the top 3 most important things she could be doing today would be.  She would proceed to come back with a list.  A few days later I would check back and ask her what she got done.  She would very excitedly tell me all about the other things she was doing that weren’t the top 3 things.

I watched this behaviour for a while before commenting.  Eventually I asked her about it and she conceded she was doing tasks that seem easier than the important things because they feel like progress, say by doing four small 15 minute tasks you got four things done right?  Whereas if you work on an important task for an hour you only got one thing done.


Our brains like to use Rule of thumb type judgements to know what pathways to follow.  In this case, Am I making progress towards my goal was replaced by, have I completed things which was easily gamified by, How do I do the most little things I can.

The same thing happens when people pay attention to their health.  Get healthy turns into, Lose weight, which turns into unhealthy body images and great confusion.  Although this is probably more related to us not being clear and specific on what the health goal was in the first place.

So what say you have a lost purpose.  You want to do X but you find yourself doing the remarkably similar Y.  How do you fix that?

1. Be specific

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

It’s not going to work 100% of the time, but it does help.

Imagine you told a monkey to go collect coconuts, every coconut the monkey brings back you will give him one reward.  You mean the large useful ones that you might find in a supermarket.  Knowing how important coconuts are but not really understanding the task, while collecting large coconuts he finds some smaller ones, realising he can carry two half-size coconuts instead of one large one, he goes to find more smaller coconuts, until he is collecting teeny coconuts about the size of a coin.  Strictly speaking he is collecting coconuts, but you can easily say that’s not the coconut you want.

We don’t actually work with monkeys (despite what you might think).  Your own brain as well as the brain of other people will get a good return on specific instructions.

2. Goal factoring (CFAR technique)

Goal factoring is about working out the purpose of a task that you do.  For example I used to attend a group that was often hit and miss about whether I liked it.  I broke down my intentions of going to the group as:

  • meet new people
  • learn cool things
  • hang out with friends

I didn’t notice so easily, but as soon as I had this list it was easy to see that the group was waxing and waning in such a way that there were (for a more than 6month period) no new people.  Along with this I had been there long enough that learning new things was hard simply because I knew everything that everyone else knew, so there was less “new” to learn.  The third thing that happened is that a culture shift happened and the friends I liked hanging out with were less often there than the friends I was not super thrilled about hanging with.

Consequently I left that group and rescued my weeknight.

3. Applause lights in the territory

The concept of Applause lights were not invented by me:

“…it means that you have said the word “democracy”, so the audience is supposed to cheer.  It’s not so much a propositional statement, as the equivalent of the “Applause” light that tells a studio audience when to clap.”

Applause lights are often things that sound good but are not of any substance.  We need these because sometimes we need to climb ladders of abstraction and very quickly explain what we mean without being specific.

But we also need to climb back down those ladders and get specific if we ever want to make progress towards the goal.  What is actually going to lead us to Health, or Coconuts or A successful startup or Progress towards that goal?

And how can we pursue it with the ferocity of someone who knows exactly how much time they have left.


Meta: this post is a true story.  Thanks to Sarah for the inspiration and I hope she moves swiftly towards the important tasks from here on.

Meta: this took 1.5hrs to write

Cross posted to lesswrong: http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/oep/


Part 1: Exploration-Exploitation
Part 2: Bargaining Trade-offs to your brain.
Part 2a: Empirical time management
Part 3: The time that you have
Part 3a: A purpose finding exercise
Part 4: What does that look like in practice?
Part 4a: Lost purposes – Doing what’s easy or what’s important
Part 4b.1 In support of yak shaving
Part 4b.2 Yak shaving 2
Part 4c Filter on the way in, Filter on the way out…
Part 4d.1 Scientific method
Part 4d.2 Quantified self
Part 5: Call to action

Posted in life maintenance, models of thinking | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bargaining trade-offs in your brain

Core knowledge: List of common human goals
Part 1: Exploration-Exploitation
Part 1a: The application of the secretary problem to real life dating
Part 1b: adding and removing complexity from models
Part 2: Bargaining Trade-offs to your brain.
Part 2a.1: A strategy against the call of the void.
Part 2a.2: The call of the void
Part 2b.1: Empirical time management
Part 2b.2: Memory and notepads
Part 3: The time that you have
Part 3a: A purpose finding exercise
Part 3b: Schelling points, trajectories and iteration cycles
Part 4: What does that look like in practice?
Part 4a: Lost purposes – Doing what’s easy or what’s important
Part 4b.1: In support of yak shaving
Part 4b.2: Yak shaving 2
Part 4c: Filter on the way in, Filter on the way out…
Part 4d.1: Scientific method
Part 4d.2: Quantified self
Part 5: Skin in the game
Part 6
Call to action

A note about the contents list; you can find the list in the main parts, the a,b,c parts are linked to from the main posts.  If you understand them in the context they are mentioned you can probably skip them, but if you need the explanation, click through.


So you are now at the point where you are thinking about your exploration and exploitation behaviours.  Exploration and exploitation is a trade off between the value of what you know and the value of what you might know if you find out.

Remember the heuristic: You want to explore as much as to increase your information with regard to both the quality of the rest of the exploration and possible results and the expected returns on the existing knowledge.

You know they are trade-offs between different types of things you want to do, specifically I want to address this:

  1. You probably make the most measurable and ongoing gains in the Exploitation phase.  I mean – lets face it, these are long running goal-seeking behaviours like sticking to an exercise routine.
  2. The exploration might be seem more fun (find exciting and new hobbies) but are you sure that’s what you want to be doing in regard to 1?

What’s going on here?  If you know you know where to get the most reward, say exercising but you don’t find yourself doing the action you seem to know is the right thing, what’s going on?

I covered increasing complexity of models, and in aid of that I propose the idea of Bargaining trade-offs to your own brain.

As long as you take it with a grain of All models are wrong.

“The most that can be expected from any model is that it can supply a useful approximation to reality: All models are wrong; some models are useful” – George Box


Bargaining with your own brain

We take the model of Daniel Kanemann, in Thinking, fast and slow, that the brain is made of up System 1 and System 2.  System 1 feels like the automatic intuitive process, the process that can catch things thrown at it, or know what an apple looks like, just as  *it is this thing*.  System 2 is the part of you that can do complicated stepwise tasks, like multiplication of long numbers, following a recipe.

Going back to our example, it seems like we have an intellectual understanding that exercise is a good thing.  Yea; pretty important for health and long term well-being.  But why is that not automatically an easy thing to do.

I propose that the understanding of exercise being good is a System 2 activity, where the motivation to actually do exercise (or in this case – not do exercise), can be in System 1.  Of course you can still use system 2 to force yourself to get up and go exercise, but if you can make your System 1 believe that exercise is a good idea, life will be so much easier.

Intellectually understanding the importance of exercise is one step.  Negotiating it to System 1 is a lot less intuitive.

I want to cover a major bug in just trying to commit to exploration and exploitation automatically.  And that is where you feel like you want to exploit more but your system 1 still wants to explore.  It’s that voice in your head that sometimes says, “maybe I should go to the bar with my friends” or maybe it’s the other way around, all you want to do is go home, but you feel like you have to stay at the bar with your friends.


What do?

It’s an internal disagreement, (CFAR calls it a double crux.) and it has a solution.  While I can’t objectively solve every single internal disagreement you have ever; I have a few pieces of machinery to offer.

“How could I resolve this disagreement in my head?”
Or more specifically:
“what information could I use as evidence to make my decision of what to do next?”

Obviously there are reasons on each side.  To continue the bar example; we are trading off social friend opportunity with going home and doing other things.  However social friend opportunity comes only at opportune times for other people.  It’s not something that guarantee-ably happens on your schedule.  In weighing up these options we find ourselves sitting in the middle both not able to go home right away and not able to stay in the bar with our friends (kind of like a Buridan’s ass situation, except you probably won’t starve to death and have powers to resolve the puzzle).

It’s an all too common pattern to get in this position.  The process of solving the bug is a matter of signalling to either system (the one that disagrees with your choice) that you are doing some disagreeing with it for reasons that it supports.

Example 1:
In an internal dialog you can say okay System 1.  I am going to stay in the bar.  I feel the urge to “go do work”  that you are giving me (I clearly acknowledge the stimuli, including focusing on the other option for a moment), and this isn’t the most productive thing I could be doing right now, yes.  I know I also like to enjoy the company of my friends.  And tomorrow when I do want to enjoy their company more after I have done my two hours of work, I will be unable to, so to best take advantage of the company of my friends while they are available, I am going to stay in the bar.

Example 2:
In an internal dialog you can say, okay I know on a System 2 level that I should be working but being here in the bar is worthwhile to my system 1, because it likes my friends.  I value my friends as important right now compared to my other goals.

Some creative example of a discussion between s1 and s2 doesn’t need to be sensical, it just needs to be acceptable to you at the time so that you can finish deliberating and continue on with the task at hand.

Part 1: <a href=”http://bearlamp.com.au/exploration-exploitation-problems/”>Exploration-Exploitation
</a>Part 2: <a href=”http://bearlamp.com.au/bargaining-trade-offs-in-your-brain/”>Bargaining Trade-offs to your brain.
</a>Part 2a: <a href=”http://bearlamp.com.au/empirically-assess-your-time-use/”>Empirical time management
</a>Part 3: <a href=”http://bearlamp.com.au/the-time-you-have/”>The time that you have
</a>Part 3a: <a href=”http://bearlamp.com.au/a-purpose-finding-exercise/”>A purpose finding exercise
</a>Part 4: <a href=”http://bearlamp.com.au/what-does-that-look-like-in-practice/”>What does that look like in practice?
</a>Part 4a: <a href=”http://bearlamp.com.au/lost-purposes-doing-whats-easy-or-whats-important/”>Lost purposes – Doing what’s easy or what’s important
</a>Part 4b.1 <a href=”http://bearlamp.com.au/in-support-of-yak-shaving/”>In support of yak shaving
</a>Part 4b.2 <a href=”http://bearlamp.com.au/yak-shaving-2/”>Yak shaving 2
</a>Part 4c <a href=”http://bearlamp.com.au/filter-on-the-way-in-filter-on-the-way-out/”>Filter on the way in, Filter on the way out…
</a>Part 4d.1 <a href=”http://bearlamp.com.au/experiments-iterations-and-the-scientific-method/”>Scientific method
</a>Part 4d.2 <a href=”http://bearlamp.com.au/quantified-self-tracking-with-a-form/”>Quantified self
</a>Part 5: Call to actionThe meta question being:

How will I resolve my indecision at this time?

It’s important to note that this is not, “how do I decide?” but what should be the easier version of, “what would inform my decision?”, “how can I help myself decide?”

Which is really – “what evidence do I need to convince my other indecision of my choice in this decision?” Or, “How do I go about gathering evidence for better making this decision?”  (You may notice this is becoming a lot like the VoI process from Exploration exploitation.

Noticing

One big part of this process is noticing that you are indecisive.  That’s a really important and exciting event!

Oh great!  The opportunity to resolves an indecision, I always feel better after my indecision is resolved.

If you are the kind of person who is with limited anxieties; the positive reinforcement of the correct attitude may be irrelevant, but if you are in need of the affirmation this is a step that cannot be left out.  Leaving it out will give you ugh fields, and holding plenty of stress and confusion of indecision.

Communication and being honest with yourself

Emirically assessing your time use is a process I designed to help defeat a s1/s2 incongruity.  You can System2!know that these are all the tasks you spend your time on, so in order to System1!change your mind on what you want to do in your time you need to inform/convince/bargain/wrangle the monkey of your system 1 that there is no time that has sneakily “escaped” your view, fallen down the back of the couch, or somehow there is “more time” other than what you already have.  This is what I consider the most powerful insight of this process.

What this whole meta-process of asking yourself questions and untangling really entails is establishing strong and confident pathways of communication between different parts of yourself.  And that really comes down to being honest amongst those different parts.  People take actions based on their desires and goals.  That’s fine.  Sometimes we do things for bad, dumb, silly, irrational, frustrating, self-defeating, or irrelevant reasons.  That’s okay.  As long as you are okay with it.  If you are not okay with it, that’s when you have the choice to do something else.

Humans are complicated, they have many motivations and goals and reasons why they may or may not do any given action.  That’s fine.  Sometimes the possible actions in front of us take competing paths.  Whichever path you end up going down you need to be okay with that.


Meta: this took 2 hours to write.

Cross posted to lesswrong: http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/odr/


Core knowledge: List of common human goals
Part 1: Exploration-Exploitation
Part 1a: The application of the secretary problem to real life dating
Part 1b: adding and removing complexity from models
Part 2: Bargaining Trade-offs to your brain.
Part 2a.1: A strategy against the call of the void.
Part 2a.2: The call of the void
Part 2b.1: Empirical time management
Part 2b.2: Memory and notepads
Part 3: The time that you have
Part 3a: A purpose finding exercise
Part 3b: Schelling points, trajectories and iteration cycles
Part 4: What does that look like in practice?
Part 4a: Lost purposes – Doing what’s easy or what’s important
Part 4b.1: In support of yak shaving
Part 4b.2: Yak shaving 2
Part 4c: Filter on the way in, Filter on the way out…
Part 4d.1: Scientific method
Part 4d.2: Quantified self
Part 5: Skin in the game
Part 6
Call to action

A note about the contents list; you can find the list in the main parts, the a,b,c parts are linked to from the main posts.  If you understand them in the context they are mentioned you can probably skip them, but if you need the explanation, click through.

Next: Part 3: The time that you have

Posted in exercise, lesswrong, models of thinking, self-improvement | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Turning the dial to eleven

I have a local lesswronger, he likes to use the phrase, “turning the dial to eleven”.

I think XKCD emphasises it well:

There’s something sweetly satisfying about turning the dial TO THE MAX just to see what it does. The really beautiful thing about this idea is that you can apply it to any goal seeking, more specifically any behaviour that can be done can be done in an extremely studious way.

Do all the things!


This is not always applicable, we know things like, working yourself ragged is not a virtue, as well as Systems not goals which preaches framing plans in terms of systems, not in terms of the finish line.

There are also some domains where this is a really bad idea.  For example: exercise – if you decide to exercise constantly you will discover that you can’t actually do that;  or if you decide that exercising every 3-4 days is not enough, and you want to cut out the rest days, and instead exercise every day, you will have made a beginners mistake and not realised that exercise is a process of using muscles and days off repair the damage caused by the use of muscles on the active days.  So simply turning the dial up to 11 on exercise without doing your research first will be a detrimental idea.

Nevertheless there is still some satisfaction to be gained from turning the dial to 11.  Specifically, the question:

“If I were to go all out on this goal, what would that look like?”

Followed by

“What is stopping me?”


There is a certain joy that comes from trying to turn the dial up to eleven just to see what happens.  Pursue your goal with all means necessary just to see what comes of it.  This ties into Nate Soares’ half assing it with everything you’ve got.

If you are still reading;  put this down on the list of experiments (post coming soon) to try “next time I have a goal” to test it on.

Try turn the dial up to eleven you won’t believe what happens next.


meta: This took 1.5hrs to write.

Written as a tribute to Tim.

Posted in exercise, life maintenance, self-improvement | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Exploration-Exploitation problems

Core knowledge: List of common human goals
Part 1: Exploration-Exploitation
Part 1a: The application of the secretary problem to real life dating
Part 1b: adding and removing complexity from models
Part 2: Bargaining Trade-offs to your brain.
Part 2a.1: A strategy against the call of the void.
Part 2a.2: The call of the void
Part 2b.1: Empirical time management
Part 2b.2: Memory and notepads
Part 3: The time that you have
Part 3a: A purpose finding exercise
Part 3b: Schelling points, trajectories and iteration cycles
Part 4: What does that look like in practice?
Part 4a: Lost purposes – Doing what’s easy or what’s important
Part 4b.1: In support of yak shaving
Part 4b.2: Yak shaving 2
Part 4c: Filter on the way in, Filter on the way out…
Part 4d.1: Scientific method
Part 4d.2: Quantified self
Part 5: Skin in the game
Part 6
Call to action

A note about the contents list; you can find the list in the main parts, the a,b,c parts are linked to from the main posts.  If you understand them in the context they are mentioned you can probably skip them, but if you need the explanation, click through.


I have been working on the assumption that exploration-exploitation knowledge was just common.  Unfortunately I did the smart thing of learning about them from a mathematician at a dojo in Melbourne, which means that no.  Not everyone knows about it.  I discovered that again today when I searched for a good quick explanation of the puzzle.  With that in mind this is about Exploration Exploitation.


The classic Exploration-Exploitation problem in mathematics is the multi-armed bandit.  Which is a slang term for a bank of slot machines.  Where the player knows that each machine has a variable payoff and you have a limit number of attempts before you run out of money.  You want to balance trying out new machines with unknown payoffs against exploiting the knowledge you already have from the earlier machines you tried.

When you first start on new bandits, you really don’t know which will pay out and at what rates.  So some exploration is necessary to know what your reward ratio in the territory will be.  As your knowledge grows, you get to know which bandits are likely to pay, and which are not, and this later informs your choices as to where to place your dollars.

Mathematicians love a well specified problem like this because it allows us to make algorithm models of patterns that will return rewards or guarantee rewards given certain circumstances.  (see also – the secretary problem which does similar.  Where I showed how it applied to real life dating)

Some of the mathematical solutions to this problem look like:

Epsilon greedy – The best lever is selected for a proportion 1-ε of the trials, and a lever is selected at random (with uniform probability) for a proportion ε. A typical parameter value might be ε =0.1 but this can vary widely depending on circumstances.

Epsilon-decreasing strategy: Similar to the epsilon-greedy strategy, except that the value of ε decreases as the experiment progresses, resulting in highly exploratory behaviour at the start and highly exploitative behaviour at the finish.

Of course there are more strategies, and the context and nature of the problem matters.  If the machines suddenly one day in the future all change, you might have a strategy that would prepare for potential scenarios like that.  As you start shifting away from the hypothetical and towards real life your models need to increase complexity to cater to the details of the real world.

If this problem is more like real life (where we live and breathe), the possible variability of reality starts coming in to play more and more.  In talking about this – I want to emphasise not the problem as interesting, but the solution of <sometimes explore> and <sometimes exploit> in specific ratios or for specific reasons.  The mathematical solutions the the multi-armed bandit problem are used in such a way to take advantage of the balance between not knowing enough and taking advantage of what you do know.

What supercharges this solution and how it can be applied to real life is value of information.

Value of Information says that in relation to making a decision, what informs that decision is worth something.  With expensive decisions, risky decisions, dangerous decisions, highly lucrative decisions, or particularly unknown decisions being more sure is important to think about.

VoI suggests that any decision that is worth money (or worth something) can have information that informs that decision.  The value of information can add up to the value of the reward on correctly making the decision.  Of course if you spend all the potential gains from the decision on getting the perfect information you lose the chance to make a profit.  However usually a cheap (relative to the decision) piece of information exists that will inform the decision and assist.

How does this apply to exploration-exploitation?

The idea of VoI is well covered in the book, how to measure anything.  While the book goes into detail and is really really excellent for applying to big decisions, the ideas can also be applied to our simple every day problems as well.  With this in mind I propose a heuristic:

You want to explore as much as to increase your information with regard to both the quality of the rest of the exploration and possible results and the expected returns on the existing knowledge.


The next thing to supercharge our exploration-exploitation and VoI knowledge is Diminishing returns.

Diminishing returns on VoI is when you start out not knowing anything at all, and adding a little bit of knowledge goes a long way.  As you keep adding more and more information the return on the extra knowledge has a diminishing value.

Worked example:  Knowing the colour of the sky.

So you are blind and no one has ever told you what colour the sky is.  You can’t really be sure what colour the sky is but generally if you ask enough people the consensus should be a good enough way to conclude the answer.

So one guy gave you your first inkling of what the answer is.  But can you really trust him?

Yea cool.  Ten people.  Probably getting sure of yourself now.

Really, what good is Two Thousand people after the first fifty?  Especially if they all agree.  There’s got to be less value of the 2001st person telling you than there was the 3rd person telling you.


Going back to VoI, how valuable was the knowledge that the sky is blue?  Probably not very valuable, and this isn’t a great way to gather knowledge in the long run.

The great flaw with this is also if I asked you the question – “what colour is the sky?” you could probably hint as to a confident guess.  If you are a well calibrated human, you already know a little bit of everything and the good news is that calibration is trainable.

With that in mind; if you want to play a calibration game there are plenty available on google.

The great thing about calibration is that it seems to apply across all your life, and all things that you estimate.  Which is to say that once you are calibrated, you are calibrated across domains.  This means that if you become good at it in one area, you become better at it in other areas.  We’re not quite talking about hitting the bullseye every time, but we are talking about being confident that the bullseye is over there in that direction.  Which is essentially the ability to predict the future within a reasonable set of likelihoods.


Once you are calibrated, you can take calibration, use it to apply diminishing returns through VoI to supercharge your exploration exploitation.  But we’re not done.  What if we add in Bayesian statistics?  What if we can shape our predicted future and gradually update our beliefs based on tiny snippits of data that we gather over time and purposefully by thinking about VoI, and the diminishing returns of information.

I don’t want to cover Bayes because people far smarter than me have covered it very well.  If you are interested in learning bayes I would suggest heading to Arbital for their excellent guides.

But we’re not done at bayes.  This all comes down to the idea of trade-offs.  Exploration VS exploitation is a trade off of {time/energy} vs expected reward.


A classic example of a trade-off is a story of Sharpening the Saw (from the book 7 habits of highly effective people)

A woodcutter strained to saw down a tree.  A young man who was watching asked “What are you doing?”

“Are you blind?” the woodcutter replied. “I’m cutting down this tree.”

The young man was unabashed. “You look exhausted! Take a break. Sharpen your saw.”

The woodcutter explained to the young man that he had been sawing for hours and did not have time to take a break.

The young man pushed back… “If you sharpen the saw, you would cut down the tree much faster.”

The woodcutter said “I don’t have time to sharpen the saw. Don’t you see I’m too busy?”

The thing about life and trade offs is that all of life is trade-offs between things you want to do and other things you want to do.

Exploration and exploitation is a trade off between the value of what you know and the value of what you might know if you find out.


Try this:

  • Make a list of all the things you have done over the last 7 days.  (Use your diary and rough time chunking)
  • Sort them into exploration activities and exploitation activities.
    Answer this:
  • Am I exploring enough? (on a scale of 1-10)
    • Is this all there is to life?  I already know enough?
  • Am I exploiting enough? (on a scale of 1-10)
    • Have I banked on the gains I have already made?
  • Have I turned down any exploring opportunities recently?
  • Have I turned down any exploitation opportunities recently?
  • How could I expand any exploring I am already doing?
  • How could I expand any exploiting I am already doing?
  • How could I do more exploring?  How could I do less exploring?
  • How could I do more exploiting?  How could I do less exploiting?

There are two really important things to take away from the Exploration-Exploitation dichotomy:

  1. You probably make the most measurable and ongoing gains in the Exploitation phase.  I mean – lets face it, these are long running goal-seeking behaviours like sticking to an exercise routine.
  2. The exploration might be seem more fun (find exciting and new hobbies) but are you sure that’s what you want to be doing in regard to 1?

Meta: This is part 1 of a 4 part series.

This took in the order of 10-15 hours to finish because I was doing silly things like trying to fit 4 posts into 1 and stumbling over myself.

Cross posted to lesswrong: http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/odg/

Core knowledge: List of common human goals
Part 1: Exploration-Exploitation
Part 1a: The application of the secretary problem to real life dating
Part 1b: adding and removing complexity from models
Part 2: Bargaining Trade-offs to your brain.
Part 2a.1: A strategy against the call of the void.
Part 2a.2: The call of the void
Part 2b.1: Empirical time management
Part 2b.2: Memory and notepads
Part 3: The time that you have
Part 3a: A purpose finding exercise
Part 3b: Schelling points, trajectories and iteration cycles
Part 4: What does that look like in practice?
Part 4a: Lost purposes – Doing what’s easy or what’s important
Part 4b.1: In support of yak shaving
Part 4b.2: Yak shaving 2
Part 4c: Filter on the way in, Filter on the way out…
Part 4d.1: Scientific method
Part 4d.2: Quantified self
Part 5: Skin in the game
Part 6
Call to action

A note about the contents list; you can find the list in the main parts, the a,b,c parts are linked to from the main posts.  If you understand them in the context they are mentioned you can probably skip them, but if you need the explanation, click through.

Next: Part 2: Bargaining Trade-offs to your brain.

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Empirically assess your time use

Core knowledge: List of common human goals
Part 1: Exploration-Exploitation
Part 1a: The application of the secretary problem to real life dating
Part 1b: adding and removing complexity from models
Part 2: Bargaining Trade-offs to your brain.
Part 2a.1: A strategy against the call of the void.
Part 2a.2: The call of the void
Part 2b.1: Empirical time management
Part 2b.2: Memory and notepads
Part 3: The time that you have
Part 3a: A purpose finding exercise
Part 3b: Schelling points, trajectories and iteration cycles
Part 4: What does that look like in practice?
Part 4a: Lost purposes – Doing what’s easy or what’s important
Part 4b.1: In support of yak shaving
Part 4b.2: Yak shaving 2
Part 4c: Filter on the way in, Filter on the way out…
Part 4d.1: Scientific method
Part 4d.2: Quantified self
Part 5: Skin in the game
Part 6
Call to action

A note about the contents list; you can find the list in the main parts, the a,b,c parts are linked to from the main posts.  If you understand them in the context they are mentioned you can probably skip them, but if you need the explanation, click through.


168 hours in a week

You and me both buddy.  We both have equal access to our 168 hours.  We have different demands on our hours like the need for sleep or how demanding our job is, but fundamentally we all start with the same 168 hours (24*7=168).  That means we all have an opportunity to look at these hours and figure out how to get the most out of them by doing the things we want to do in the limited hours we have.

This process is about looking at your hours and discovering where they go.


Make a list of all the things you have done over the last 7 days.  As a time management technique, this is a procedure to follow that will be useful for other times.

This might take 30 minutes to do, and might take 10 minutes.

  1. Acquire writing implements
  2. Write down the day and time.
  3. Subtract 7 days from now, and figure out where you were at the beginning of that day.
  4. Go through your diary, your phone call log, your sms history, your messenger histories and work out what you did, in rough chunks, from when you woke up on that day until now.
  5. Start with sleep – You probably have a regular enough wake up time, and a regular enough time that you go to sleep.  This will put upper bounds on the number of hours in your life.
  6. Identify Routines and how long they take – regular meals, lunch breaks, shower processes.
  7. Identify regular commitments – meetings, clubs, events.
  8. Identify any social time.
  9. Identify time spent deeply working, studying, reading, planning
  10. Identify exercise.
  11. Identify dual purpose time, i.e. I play on facebook on the bus.

Here is an example

Monday
7 wake up
7-7:30 shower and get ready (30mins)
7:30-8 drive to work (30mins)
8-10 check emails and respond to people (1hour)
10-10:20 coffee break (20mins)
10:20-1 work meeting (1hr40mins)
1-1:30 lunch (30mins)
1:30-3:30 computer work (2hrs)
3:30-3:40 distraction food break (10mins)
3:40-4:30 work (50mins)
4:30-5 drive home (30mins)
5-6 make and eat dinner (1hr)
6-7:30 netflix (1.5hrs)
7:30-11:30 play on computer (3.5hrs)
11:30-11:45 get ready and head to bed. (15mins)

Another option might be to simplify this to:

Monday
7am wake up
7-7:30 shower and breakfast (30mins)
7:30-8 drive to work (30mins)
8-1 work(5hrs)
1-1:30 lunch (30mins)
1:30-4:30 work (3hrs)
4:30-5 drive home (30mins)
5-6 dinner (1hr)
6-11:30 relax and entertain myself (5.5hrs)
11:30-11:45 get ready and go to bed (15mins)

Now repeat for the rest of the days.


Why?

Time management is about knowing where your time is going.  it might be interesting to know that you spend an hour commuting, or 8 hours working or two hours dealing with food each day.  Or maybe that’s just Mondays.  And when you go out for dinner you spend more time with food.

If you are trying to work out the value of your time it helps to know what you do with your time.  Doing this exercise for 2-4 weeks in a row can help you establish a baseline of your 168 hours.  And where efficiency or inefficiencies lie.  If you want to grow; it starts with evidence and observation.

Yea but why did I do that? And what comes next?

Nothing, just think about what you uncovered.  Do as I do and revel in the joy of the merely real, knowing what you actually do with your time.  This is your life.  Do with it what you will.  Know that how you spend your time are your revealed preferences (post coming soon).


Meta: This took 45mins to write.  This is an exercise that I invented for myself years ago, this is the first time I have written it up.  You can’t get the most out of the exercise without trying it out to see what it’s like.  Good luck!

Cross posted to lesswrong: http://lesswrong.com/r/lw/odd/empirically_assess_your_time_use/


Core knowledge: List of common human goals
Part 1: Exploration-Exploitation
Part 1a: The application of the secretary problem to real life dating
Part 1b: adding and removing complexity from models
Part 2: Bargaining Trade-offs to your brain.
Part 2a.1: A strategy against the call of the void.
Part 2a.2: The call of the void
Part 2b.1: Empirical time management
Part 2b.2: Memory and notepads
Part 3: The time that you have
Part 3a: A purpose finding exercise
Part 3b: Schelling points, trajectories and iteration cycles
Part 4: What does that look like in practice?
Part 4a: Lost purposes – Doing what’s easy or what’s important
Part 4b.1: In support of yak shaving
Part 4b.2: Yak shaving 2
Part 4c: Filter on the way in, Filter on the way out…
Part 4d.1: Scientific method
Part 4d.2: Quantified self
Part 5: Skin in the game
Part 6
Call to action

A note about the contents list; you can find the list in the main parts, the a,b,c parts are linked to from the main posts.  If you understand them in the context they are mentioned you can probably skip them, but if you need the explanation, click through.

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book me!

I finally set this up!

https://bearlamp.youcanbook.me/

I think I would still prefer that you get in touch with me to plan something, but in lieu of that I am provisioning for my future where I need to book people like this.

anyway, it’s going on my contact page here too.  This is just a post to say – I am excited and keen to have this thing going.  Also you should set one up because it’s easy.

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Should you share your goals?

It’s complicated. And depends on the environment in which you share your goals.


Scenario 1: you post on facebook “This month I want to lose 1kg, I am worried I can’t do it – you guys should show me support”. Your friends; being the best of aspiring rationalist friends; believe your instructions are thought out and planned, After all your goal is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely (SMART). In the interest of complying with your request you get 17 likes and 10 comments of “wow awesome” and “you go man” and “that’s the way to do it”. Even longer ones of, “good planning will help you achieve your goals”, and some guy saying how he lost 2 kilos in a month, so 1kg should be easy as cake.

When you read all the posts your brain goes “wow, lost weight like that”, “earn’t the adoration of my friends for doing the thing”, and rewards you dopamine for your social support.  I feel great! So you have a party, eat what you like, relax and enjoy that feeling. One month later you managed to gain a kilo not lose one.


Scenario 2: You post on facebook, “This month I want to lose 2kg (since last month wasn’t so great). So all of you better hold me to that, and help me get there”. In the interest of complying with you, all your aspiring rationalist friends post things like, “Yea right”, “I’ll believe it when I see it”. “you couldn’t do 1kg last month, what makes you think you can do it now?”, “I predict he will lose one kilo but then put it back on again. haha”, “you’re so full of it. You want to lose weight; I expect to see you running with me at 8am 3 times a week”. two weeks later someone posts to your wall, “hows the weight loss going? I think you failed already”, and two people comment, “I bet he did”, and “actually he did come running in the morning”.

When you read all the posts your brain goes; “looks like I gotta prove it to them that I can do this, and hey this could be easy if they help me exercise”, no dopamine reward because I didn’t get the acclaim. After two weeks you are starting to lose track of the initial momentum, the chocolate is starting to move to the front of the cupboard again. When you see the post on your wall you double down; throw out the chocolate so it’s not in your temptation, and message the runner that you will be there tomorrow. After a month you actually did it, reporting back to your friends they actually congratulate you for your work; “my predictions were wrong; updating my beliefs”, “congratulations”, “teach me how you did it”..


Those scenarios were made up, but its designed to show that it depends entirely on the circumstances of your sharing your goals and the atmosphere in which you do it as well as how you treat the events surrounding sharing your goals.

Given that in scenario 2 asking for help yielded an exercise partner, and scenario 1 only yielded encouragement – there is a clear distinction between useful goal-sharing and less-useful goal sharing.

Yes; some goal sharing is ineffective; but some can be effective. Up to you whether you take the effective pathways or not.


Addendum: Treat people’s goals the right way; not the wrong way. Make a prediction on what you think will happen then ask them critical questions. If something sounds unrealistic – gently prod them in the direction of being more realistic (emphasis on gentle). (relevant example) “what happens over the xmas silly season when there is going to be lots of food around – how will you avoid putting on weight?”, “do you plan to exercise?”, “what do you plan to do differently from last month?”. DO NOT reward people for not achieving their goals.


Meta: this is a repost from when I wrote it here. Because I otherwise have difficulty finding it.

Also posted on lesswrong

related on lesswrong: http://lesswrong.com/lw/l5y/link_the_problem_with_positive_thinking/

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2016: a year in review in science

As another year comes around, and our solstice plans come to a head I want to review this year’s great progress in science to follow on from last year’s great review.

The general criteria is: World changing science, not politics.  That means a lot of space discoveries, a lot of technology, some groundbreaking biology, and sometimes new chemical materials.  There really are too many to list briefly.

With that in mind, below is the list:


Things that spring to mind when you ask people:

  • T3d printing organs and skin tissue http://www.bbc.com/news/health-35581454
  • Baby born with 3 parents. link
  • AlphaGo VS Lee Sedol
  • Cryopreservation of a rabbit brain – Link
  • Majorana fermions discovered (possibly quantum computing applications)
  • SpaceX landed Falcon 9 at sea – Link
  • Gravitational waves deteced by LIGO
  • Quantum logic gate with 99% accuracy at Oxford
  • TensorFlow has been out just over a year now.  An open source neural net project.

From: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2016_in_science

Note: the whole thing is worth reading – I cherry picked a few really cool ones.

  • Astronomers identify IDCS 1426 as the most distant massive galaxy cluster yet discovered, at 10 billion light years from Earth.[4]
  • Mathematicians, as part of the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search, report the discovery of a new prime number: “274,207,281 − 1”
  • The world’s first 13 TB solid state drive (SSD) is announced, doubling the previous record for a commercially available SSD. link
  • A successful head transplant on a monkey by scientists in China is reported.
  • The University of New South Wales announces that it will begin human trials of the Phoenix99, a fully implantable bionic eye. Link
  • Scientists in the United Kingdom are given the go-ahead by regulators to genetically modify human embryos by using CRISPR-Cas9 and related techniques. Link
  • Scientists announce Breakthrough Starshot, a Breakthrough Initiatives program, to develop a proof-of-concept fleet of small centimeter-sized light sail spacecraft, named StarChip, capable of making the journey to Alpha Centauri, the nearest extrasolar star system, at speeds of 20% and 15% of the speed of light, taking between 20 and 30 years to reach the star system, respectively, and about 4 years to notify Earth of a successful arrival. Link
  • A new paper in Astrobiology suggests there could be a way to simplify the Drake equation, based on observations of exoplanets discovered in the last two decades. link
  • A detailed report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine finds no risk to human health from genetic modifications of food. Link
  • Researchers from Queensland’s Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, and the University of Queensland jointly report that the Bramble Cay melomys is likely extinct, adding: “Significantly, this probably represents the first recorded mammalian extinction due to anthropogenic climate change.” Link
  • Scientists announce detecting a second gravitational wave event (GW151226) resulting from the collision of black holes.   Link
  • The first known death caused by a self-driving car is disclosed by Tesla Motors. Link
  • A team at the University of Oxford achieves a quantum logic gate with record-breaking 99.9% precision, reaching the benchmark required to build a quantum computer. Link
  • The world’s first baby born through a controversial new “three parent” technique is reported. Link
  • A team at Australia’s University of New South Wales create a new quantum bit that remains in a stable superposition for 10 times longer than previously achieved. Link
  • Scientists at the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry officially recognizes names for four new chemical elements: Nihonium, Nh, 113; Moscovium, Mc, 115; Tennessine, Ts, 117 and Oganesson, Og, 118. Link

from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2016:


Notable deaths:


Nobel prizes:

  • The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2016 was awarded jointly to Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Sir J. Fraser Stoddart and Bernard L. Feringa “for the design and synthesis of molecular machines”
  • The Nobel Prize in Physics 2016 was divided, one half awarded to David J. Thouless, the other half jointly to F. Duncan M. Haldane and J. Michael Kosterlitz “for theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter”.
  • The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2016 was awarded to Yoshinori Ohsumi “for his discoveries of mechanisms for autophagy”.
  • The Nobel Prize in Literature 2016 was awarded to Bob Dylan “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”.
  • The Nobel Peace Prize 2016 was awarded to Juan Manuel Santos “for his resolute efforts to bring the country’s more than 50-year-long civil war to an end”.
  • The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel 2016 was awarded jointly to Oliver Hart and Bengt Holmström “for their contributions to contract theory”

100 years ago (1916):

Nobel Prizes in 1916:

  • Physics – not awarded
  • Chemistry – not awarded
  • Medicine – not awarded
  • Literature – Carl Gustaf Verner von Heidenstam
  • Peace – not awarded

Other:

  • Pokemon go
  • Brexit – Britain secedes from the EU
  • Donald trump US president
  • SpaceX making more launches, and had a major explosion setback
  • Internet.org project delayed by SpaceX expolosion.

Meta: this took in the order of 3+ hours to write over several weeks.

Cross posted to Lesswrong here.

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Cholesterol in the body

I measured my cholesterol.  It’s a bit high at 5.5mmol/L.  But I was wondering what that means…

So I figured I would run the numbers.

I weigh 73.2kg today.  If you make the assumption that humans are a homogeneous blob and have uniform cholesterol through the body… (which is wrong because we are made up of lots of bones and organs and bits that really don’t have cholesterol) BUT.  If you make that assumption.

And assume that we can just multiply 5.5*73.2 = 402.6mmol of cholesterol in my body.

A quick google, and making some assumptions about the uniformity of the cholesterol molecules in my body; the molecular weight of cholesterol is 386.65 g/mol

A mmol is a millimol or a thousandth of a mol.  So I have 0.4026mols of cholesterol, and simply:

386.65grams per 1 mol, and we have 0.4026 mols, we do some simple rearranging and

386.65/1= X/0.4026  —->  386.65/1  * 0.4026 = X

X = 155.66529g of cholesterol in my body.


The density of cholesterol is 1.05g/cm^3 which means that this amount of cholesterol could fit into…  (155.6529/1.05 = 148.24cm^3)

5^3 = 125 so a 5cm cube, or say – two eggs in size, or maybe a bar of soap.


This also means that if my cholesterol were an ordinary (and probably more healthy) 3mmol/L

3*73.2 = 219.600mmol/1000=0.2196mol *386.65 = 84.908g of cholesterol, or probably a bit closer to one large chicken egg instead of two.


It’s interesting to keep this in mind, in wanting to make progress on chipping away at the bar of soap until I am carrying around a healthy amount of cholesterol.

This also means that an unhealthily high cholesterol.  Of say 13.9mmol/L and a chance of more than 1/5 of a heart attack over the next 10 years, is equivalent to (depending on your body weight – for me – (13.9*73.2 = 1017.48mmol/1000 = 1.01745*386.65 = 393.39g of cholesterol, or the equivalent of a not tiny but also not large sized bible.  Or maybe a large steak.  Maybe two sticks or one tub of butter (depending on the brand).  more than a can of soft drink but less than two cans.


Meta: this took 1.5 hours to write.  I didn’t realise how hard heuristics for certain weights are to find.  No one has ever written a table of them up.  I might get on that shortly.

 

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