When I walk in the club, all eyes on me I'm with the party rock crew, all drinks are free We like Ciroc, we love mRNA, lipids ((4-hydroxybutyl)azanediyl)bis(hexane-6,1-diyl)bis(2-hexyldecanoate), 2 [(polyethylene glycol)-2000]-N,N-ditetradecylacetamide, 1,2-Distearoyl-sn-glycero-3- phosphocholine, and cholesterol), potassium chloride, monobasic potassium phosphate, sodium chloride, dibasic sodium phosphate dihydrate, and sucrose. We came to party rock, everybody it's on
I've been reading Fernando Pessoa's The Book of Disquiet (Richard Zenith translation) off and on for a few months. I'm not sure what to think of it.
I feel like it ought to be a fine book to read while cooped up during the pandemic. Or a horrible one to read. I could conclude either way at this point a third of the way through. (A third of the way through the book, not the pandemic, I hope.) Nothing... happens in the book. Each chapter (fragment) is just a line or a postcard worth of inwardly-directed observation of some kind, often a description of some tedium or dream detail. It's the most thorough treatment of ennui I've ever encountered, for good or ill.
I don't recommend reading through it from front to back, although that is what I'm doing. I'm only reading like this because it's the only convenient way to approach an ebook. And I feel a compulsion to read although the way through each book that I start. I feel like it should be flipped to a chapter at random, have a few chapters consumed, and then be put down for a while.
The entire life of the human soul is mere motions in the shadows. We live in a twilight of consciousness, never in accord with whom we are or think we are.
A final thought about the book. It's not that nothing happens, it's that what does happens—what is described, at least, because really nothing happens—is all very local, very compressed. Most of the book is in the narrator's head. Most of the rest occurs in his apartment or office—again, nothing happening in those places, just a location for the inward walkabouts to be set. This many pages with such a small (external) geography— that is some feat, I suppose.
I need help understanding what I'm reading. (A side note, it has taken me this long in my life to believe that I need help reading.) A few links found along the way:
Nine hours later—nothing. Maybe I felt a little tired earlier, but it's hard to tell the difference between that and post-work week tiredness. No fever. No soreness—maybe a little if I chickenwing my arm, but you can't have it all, I guess.
No euphoria. No crying. No ecstasy. No relief. No desire to praise science. No feelings, really. No release. Just this undercurrent of frustration—of riding in a boat called Earth with enough lunatics aboard to make the passage interesting in good times and destructive in bad times. Now we wait and see if the lunatics get the shot and help bring the pandemic to a close. I'm not betting on it. But I'm hoping for it all the same.
Listen. I will not belabor this point. (I would love to belabor this point, and I have, but I have also exercised the DEL button liberally so here we are.) The point is: optimizing your learning for an exam is trash.
But that's what much of your grades are based on, so you're kind of stuck, eh?
I'm not qualified to talk about grades anymore, anyway. When you're an undergraduate, grades have Meaning. They have outsized influence on the job you get or the graduate school you get into. Even if you think grades are trash, the odds are in favor of good grades. I think grades are often trash, but the odds—can't deny it, gotta have 'em.
But in my own life: I don't have much time for grades or performance management scores or any of the pseudo-objective measurements that we're regularly subjected to. It's not a tough stance I'm taking, it's just that I'm not interested. You can optimize your performance ("performance") for what gets the grade, and still not know how the thing you're doing works. An exam tests knowledge that can be easily packaged in an exam; performance management does the same, but for things that can be packaged in a PM form.
It's an incomplete model. There's more to life and work than what gets measured on an exam. Those scores are useful, and successful people can score high, but it's those with enough resilience to solve the problem—whatever the problem at hand happens to be—who are most valuable.
Don't confuse what's on the exam with what you need to know.
Pay no attention to Caesar. Caesar doesn't have the slightest idea what's really going on.
There are three dimensions to knowledge when talking to someone. (Obviously it's just a simple model.)
Actual knowledge: don't know—know
Expected knowledge: ambivalent—should know
Projected knowledge: projects lack of knowledge—projects knowledge
I don't have a complete model in my head, just a few thoughts about what to watch out for—good and bad.
Someone who rates high on all three—has knowledge, should have knowledge, and projects knowledge—is solid. Is not an interesting case, but this is the kind of person you want to talk to, no?
Someone who projects knowledge but doesn't have it is dangerous—especially when is expected that they should have that knowledge, because the others are more likely to believe them.
Being low on the expectations angle isn't bad—as long as projection is low.
Someone who knows but doesn't project is either the secret weapon—people who know will know that this is someone who knows—or a wasted opportunity, because more people ought to know this is someone worth talking to.
My heuristic for improvement is: six weeks, six months.
Need to get in shape? (Whatever "in shape" might mean, but that's another topic.) It's going to take six weeks before you notice any changes, before any benefits are apparent. It's going to take six months before you're really building strength or endurance.
Six months or six weeks aren't real, scientific numbers—they're just heuristics. When you start some habit, it takes a solid starting chunk of time to lay the groundwork for improvement. When the habit is solid, it takes another, larger chunk of time to get the results of the habit to some satisfyingly high level. Six weeks and six months are close enough to capture that.
I am relatively out of running shape now (at least compared to past exploits). I was building it up this year, but the last few weeks didn't leave much time to maintain that. OK. Let's pretend it's a start from zero. How long is it going to take to solidify the habit? Six weeks. How long is it going to take to get in competition shape? Six months.
They're both daunting numbers. There aren't any shortcuts. You just have to keep doing it until you're better at doing it. There are matters of technique, coaching, learning, each of which have their place in improvement. But the real magic is buying into maintenance —relentlessly keeping at it until you get to the threshold where you can take on something more and learn to do it better and better.
I've really, really been looking forward to this flight. Up and down. That's all. But so far away... and autonomously... and in so little air. What JPL does—and makes look so routine—is indistinguishable from magic.
Every week in the newsletter post here I seem to write some strange filler garbage. I don't know why. I guess it's the release of another newsletter, accompanied by the release of tension from having put something out into the world, however modest it is. Not today. I offer you a peaceful and bland post. Read the newsletter and/or subscribe, champ.
As systems engineers, a fair amount of our job is making the vague specific.
The customer wants something. OK. Customers want things. They want you to make it a little like this [holds hands apart], maybe with a little... I don't know... [fills cheeks with air like a balloon]... yes, and not too expensive. Of course this exaggerated, but not by as much as we wish it was exaggerated.
It's not a problem, though. It's a game. How do you figure out—elicit is the fancy term of choice—exactly what the hell the customer wants? Underlying the game is a deeper question: How do you help the customer figure out what the customer wants? Suffice it to say that there are a lot of questions, and a lot of assumptions fished from the depths and put on display because, honestly, no one really understands how many ideas they've assumed into a design until someone shows them. And then there are the things that affect other things (and vice versa). And the technology that may or may not be ready on time. And on and on.
Suffice it to say that there a a lot of questions to piece together what a customer is thinking.
This gets me into trouble at home. My wife has an idea of something for the yard—maybe just a design element like a trellis, or something general like how the yard should be shaped. I know that this is going to fall into my job jar. (I'm not the best at landscape construction, merely the best one within a ten-foot radius.) I know how to figure out how much wood to buy, how many blocks and rocks, how to get the materials to the backyard, how to prepare the construction, how to cut things, etc. To do that I need to figure out where the design element should go, what it should be made out of, how big, what color, etc. I know roughly what to ask to turn the dream idea into something real.
"Roughly" is probably the key word there. At work, whaddyawant questions are an all-the-time occurrence. That's how things get done. We expect to give and receive those questions all the time. At home those questions go over... poorly. Sometimes the ideas aren't supposed to be specific. Sometimes they're ideas that will go somewhere and will eventually turn into something real—those will need specification. Sometimes ideas are just seed ideas and need to be planted out loud, then eventually they'll grow into an idea that will be ready to harvest—let those early ideas be as they are. Some ideas are just idle thoughts. Idle thoughts are just that. Not every idea needs to be specific—enjoy the casual thoughts that help the day go by, then let them go.
There are two aspects of this newsletter topic that came to mind: (1) how unnecessary it is to act busy at your job as a means of justification for having the job; (2) the sad strange yet admirable who are highly skilled at making it look like they are working when the results say otherwise.
At heart, this is a manifestation of a general undervaluing of our own work: we still navigate the workplace as if getting paid to produce knowledge means we’re getting away with something, and have to do everything possible to make sure no one realizes they’ve made a massive mistake.
It is admirable when you discover someone who has made a steady career out of looking like they do steady work. If it works, then obviously a good performance they're putting on. It's not something I would aspire to--I am somewhat militantly anti-performance, for good or ill--but I recognize in that behavior someone who has discovered what The Game is really about, and is playing it the way it was designed, if not the way it was intended.