Now reading: WTF?: What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us

Tim O’Reilly, WTF?: What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us (2017)


(Posting notes here.)

I feel like everyone that knows how to make something with a computer ought to know who Tim O’Reilly is because of the wealth of computer books his company has published over the years. Honestly that’s about the extent of what I know about him, although what I know was augmented recently by listening to a podcast that interviewed him. (Danny Fortson, Tim O’Reilly: “It’s our brains that are being hacked”, Danny in the Valley, 2018-01-25.) He struck me as a kind of Silicon Valley Kurt Vonnegut: optimistic in the possibility of humans to do the right thing, but a bit skeptical of the probability of it. Since much of the ground covered there was related to this book—and because they had a copy of it at the nearest STL County Library—I went for it.


From the podcast interview (notes):

[38:32] Just imagining the things that you can imagine, you will always miss things that, in retrospect, seem quite obvious. There’ll be some breakthrough, and then all of a sudden a set of people will go, “Holy shit, this is what we can do with that.” There’s so much that’s happening around us. The future happens, as I like to say, gradually and then suddenly.

Finished reading: When

I just finished reading When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel Pink. It was pretty good—a popular science book that doesn’t get too heavy, that covers a lot of ground and digests it for you. However, he does put citations to the various scientific journal papers that he derived the content from in the back—notes here, if you’d like to see the bibliography. (Fairly certain I’m the only one who’s interested in that sort of thing. Party Animal.)

There were two ideas from the book that stuck with me.

One was the idea of chronotypes: the idea that some people are naturally late risers and late peakers, or early risers and early peakers, or more likely something in the big middle of that distribution. That’s fairly obvious, sure—but it does give some basis for not hassling people who are late starters for being lazy. It might just be how they’re tuned. And never mind other people—I’ve been using this insight for letting go of some kinds of heavy work during the middle of the day when gross unproductivity sets in instead of fighting it. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. Best to recognize it and plan for drudge work that needs to be done anyway.


The second idea that stuck is the U-shaped performance curve that you see from the beginning to the end of a task. You see it in running also: the fast start, the lag in the middle, the kick at the end. Again: pretty obvious. But: with citations that explain the extent and some of the psychological mechanisms behind it. This was my secret weapon in running. In high school, in the 800m run, you know that other runners tend to slow down from 400m to 600m. Since I wasn’t all that fast at 800m, I could still do well by pushing that segment of the race, knowing intuitively that many other competitors weren’t. Similarly, in endurance racing, the middle third or the third quarter was a lag for most people after a strong start—my secret weapon there was to start near the back, let the others burn off their adrenaline at a too-fast pace at the beginning, and eat them up over the second half of the race. So I didn’t know about the U-curve, but I knew about it.


Six books suggestion by Dan Pink as further reading: