Question from a reader -
One thing that I'm wondering, and figured that I should send before I go to sleep and forget it... For certain kinds of tasks (having discussions about more abstract goal things, writing emails to friends, commenting on LW, etc.) I'm really motivated, and need to be restrained from doing them.
With other tasks, I'm nowhere near as motivated, and have trouble starting them. Since I'm still a student, not doing this kind of work just isn't an option.
In the long term, I'm hoping to just do more of the things I'm motivated for, and fewer of the ones I'm not. I'm willing to buckle down and do work in subjects that I'm less motivated for if I see how it clearly relates to my goals (last year I spent a few hours trying to work out the geometry kinks for a robot part -- it was a mess).
Right now, I'm just reminding myself that its really not hard once I start it, and that it goes quickly if I just do it.
If you want to get better prices on things when you travel, look for shops that have cheaper real estate. As a traveler or tourist, you're very likely to spend most of your time on the major streets and roads.
These places have the highest prices.
One example that really struck me was in Saigon, Vietnam. On one of the main roads is a nice little restaurant. Next to it is a different shop, and then there's an alley.
If you walked down the alleyway a little bit, there's another restaurant - with the exact same menu, except the prices are 20-30% cheaper.
At the restaurant on the main road, there'd only be foreigners, mostly tourists. The one set back in the alleyway had more Vietnamese people and expatriates and savvy travelers.
What's the mental burden of trying to do something? What's it cost? What price are you going to pay if you try to do something out in the world?
I think that by figuring out what the usual costs to doing things are, we can reduce the costs and otherwise structure our lives so that it's easier to reach our goals.
When I sat down to identify cognitive costs, I found seven. There might be more. Let's get started -
Activation Energy - As covered in more detail in this post, starting an activity seems to take a larger of willpower and other resources than keeping going with it. Required activation energy can be adjusted over time - making something into a routine lowers the activation energy to do it. Things like having poorly defined next steps increases activation energy required to get started. This is a major hurdle for a lot of people in a lot of disciplines - just getting started.
Opportunity cost - We're all familiar with general opportunity cost. When you're doing one thing, you're not doing something else. You have limited time. But there also seems to be a cognitive cost to this - a natural second guessing of choices by taking one path and not another. This is the sort of thing covered by Barry Schwartz in his Paradox of Choice work (there's some faulty thought/omissions in PoC, but it's overall valuable). It's also why basically every significant military work ever has said you don't want to put the enemy in a position where their only way out is through you - Sun Tzu argued always leaving a way for the enemy to escape, which splits their focus and options. Hernan Cortes famously burned the boats behind him. When you're doing something, your mind is subtly aware and bothered by the other things you're not doing. This is a significant cost.
A while back, I wrote in "Six Steps to Getting Honest Critical Feedback" -
I think that’s true, but I still try to almost never give negative criticism to anyone, ever.
“As a general rule…people ask for advice only in order not to follow it; or if they do follow it, in order to have someone to blame for giving it.” — From Alexandre Dumas’s “The Three Musketeers”
I’ve found the vast majority of people will never take any criticism you give them, will be upset at you for criticizing them, and will dislike you even more if you were right.
I guess it was a little impulsive, but I got an apartment in Mongolia yesterday.
I've only been here eight days, but I like it enough. And I felt like I needed some grounding to get all my work done. Worst case scenario, I just eat the security deposit if I move on early.
500,000 tugruk a month. $400. It's a nice place. Furnished. Near Sukhbaatar Square.
Then a funny thing happens - my inclination after moving in is to think about all stuff I could buy to fill the place up. I think, ah, I could get some really nice soaps. And some of this, and some of that.
And it strikes me - that's kind of absurd. Don't mistake me for anti-consumerist, because I'm not. I think mass production has done so much for the world in terms of getting a reasonably high quality of goods to people at a good price.
Rob Lund dropped me a line recently about his cool app AgileTask.
Here's a screenshot -
So, I like the product overall. It works as advertised - it's super lightweight and you can start using it really quickly. There's humorous achievements you can unlock that keeps it light. I reckon this is useful and usable for people.
I like the product. It's fast. Very responsive. Elegant, intuitive interface.
For Want of a Nail
For want of a nail, the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe, the horse was lost. For want of a horse, the rider was lost. For want of a rider, the battle was lost. For want of a battle, the kingdom was lost. And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
The proverb - "For Want of a Nail" - is about preparation and maintenance. It says that by being unprepared and not taking care of your things, there can be a disastrous chain of cause and effect.
This is true in general affairs and I do strongly recommend preparation and maintenance, but that's not what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about customer service.
Your good customers are super important. I mean, all your customers are super important, but especially your good customers.
Zachary Burt dropped me a line a few days ago and asked if I'd look at his posting for a cofounder. I said sure, and we worked on it a little bit.
This is normally the kind of thing I'd keep to private correspondence, but Zack told me to put to put it up if I'd like to. Maybe it's useful to learn from -
Here's the original, unedited version -
Headline: Badass technical business-savvy dude looking for fellow programmer and business partner to hack with all day.
Patri Friedman left this very smart comment on the convincing arguments post -
I’m pretty skeptical of whether researching investments is a good idea for non-professionals. Financial speculation is fun, but you are competing against specialists who have spent their whole lives studying the subject, have teams of researchers, and are betting so much that they can afford to buy the best computers, data, etc. I think almost everyone should just buy the Vanguard Target Retirement 20X0 fund.
The exception is if you’re in the startup world & you know people who you trust & respect who are doing startups, angel investing in them w/ 10%-20% of your income makes sense to me. At worst you’ll lose a little money & learn a lot about who to trust & how startups work. Another is if you know a city/region/country very well and want to own property there – ownership has advantages (ie we have done extensive customization of our cohousing community here in Mountain View) and since it’s such a big asset it’s definitely worth researching.
This is a great point.
I've been studying a lot of finance lately. One that I've really enjoyed is "The Intelligent Investor" by Ben Graham.
Things have been going well lately, and I now have a surplus of cash for the first time in a while. Err, rather, I have both a surplus of cash and some high consistency predictable future income. That's nice! I envy all you salaried people when I think about predictable future income. Having a decent chunk of cash, but no predictable future income means you don't really have a surplus of cash.
Anyways, I was thinking of what to invest a small bit of money in, and reading some papers and analyses and such. I'm reading a mix of finance, investment, politics, diplomacy, and history lately, which makes for a nice mix. It also has me interested in the topic.
Today, I read a really fantastically convincing argument, enough so that I was immediately ready to go buy a small amount of what the author was advocating.
Then I stopped myself! Wait, the author isn't necessarily correct - he's merely convincing.
I went back through the piece I was reading, which was quite a long piece. I started counting the number of premises the author had, and it went something like this: