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Describes the approach of taking computational algorithms and applying those in our own lives for guidance. A bit hard to get through at some pieces with meaty math equations to consider. But for the most part; stunningly enlightening and it generates a lot of philosophical advice taken from computer science.

My Notes

  • Smart scheduling theory called "sum of completion times."
  • Shortest Processing Time: always do the quickest task you can.
  • Switching between tasks is known in computer science as the context switch. Every context switch is wasted time. It's metawork.
  • There are two types distribution laws. The normal distribution law which states the average of any thing. For instance average life span for a specific country. Then there is the power law distribution where there is an average, but everything below the number is far below and anything higher is far higher. For instance, average income in a specific country.
  • Watch out for overfitting. Trying to perfect what you don't know. The greater the uncertainty, the more you should prefer simplicity, and the earlier you should stop.

    • This is exactly why an agile way of working in our field is the right way to go. We can't know everything beforehand. The best-laid plans are the simplest. Paint with a broad brush, think in broad strokes.
  • Computational kindness as a meaning of thoughtful design. It takes the computational overload from the user and puts it in the process instead.
  • Imagine finding a space in a parking lot. A conventional one would make you drive toward your destination. You find a free parking space but hope that there could be another one closer to your goal. This puts the cognitive load on you; the user. You will have to decide whether to take the parking space or not.

    • Then imagine a parking lot where you're driving away from your destination as you proceed. You would take the first one available to you. That's why it's much easier to choose a parking space in a parking house where you've got a design of a helix spiraling you upward, away from your destination.


Algorithms have been a part of human technology ever since the Stone Age.

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But in house selling and job hunting, even if it’s possible to reconsider an earlier offer, and even if that offer is guaranteed to still be on the table, you should nonetheless never do so. If it wasn’t above your threshold then, it won’t be above your threshold now. What you’ve paid to keep searching is a sunk cost. Don’t compromise, don’t second-guess. And don’t look back.

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Some problems are better avoided than solved.

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So explore when you will have time to use the resulting knowledge, exploit when you’re ready to cash in. The interval makes the strategy.

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“To try and fail is at least to learn; to fail to try is to suffer the inestimable loss of what might have been.

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In the long run, optimism is the best prevention for regret.

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In general, it seems that people tend to over-explore—to favor the new disproportionately over the best.

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To live in a restless world requires a certain restlessness in oneself. So long as things continue to change, you must never fully cease exploring.

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Recognizing that old age is a time of exploitation helps provide new perspectives on some of the classic phenomena of aging. For example, while going to college—a new social environment filled with people you haven’t met—is typically a positive, exciting time, going to a retirement home—a new social environment filled with people you haven’t met—can be painful. And that difference is partly the result of where we are on the explore/exploit continuum at those stages of our lives.

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We refer to things like Google and Bing as “search engines,” but that is something of a misnomer: they’re really sort engines.

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The truncated top of an immense, sorted list is in many ways the universal user interface.

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This is the first and most fundamental insight of sorting theory. Scale hurts.

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From this we might infer that minimizing our pain and suffering when it comes to sorting is all about minimizing the number of things we have to sort.

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Filing electronic messages by hand into folders takes about the same amount of time as filing physical papers in the real world, but emails can be searched much more efficiently than their physical counterparts. As the cost of searching drops, sorting becomes less valuable.

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Much as we bemoan the daily rat race, the fact that it’s a race rather than a fight is a key part of what sets us apart from the monkeys, the chickens—and, for that matter, the rats.

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On what to keep, Martha Stewart says to ask yourself a few questions: “How long have I had it? Does it still function? Is it a duplicate of something I already own? When was the last time I wore it or used it?

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Caching plays a critical role in the architecture of memory, and it underlies everything from the layout of processor chips at the millimeter scale to the geography of the global Internet. It offers a new perspective on all the various storage systems and memory banks of human life—not only our machines, but also our closets, our offices, our libraries. And our heads.

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Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.

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The nearest thing to clairvoyance is to assume that history repeats itself—backward.

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Amazon, like any technology company, would love to have that kind of Bélády-like clairvoyance—but for the next best thing, it turns to caching. Their patent is actually for shipping items that have been recently popular in a given region to a staging warehouse in that region—like having their own CDN for physical goods.

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While caching began as a scheme for organizing digital information inside computers, it’s clear that it is just as applicable to organizing physical objects in human environments.

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A natural way to think about forgetting is that our minds simply run out of space.

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The key idea behind Anderson’s new account of human memory is that the problem might be not one of storage, but of organization.

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Minimizing the sum of completion times leads to a very simple optimal algorithm called Shortest Processing Time: always do the quickest task you can.

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It’s said that “a man with one watch knows what time it is; a man with two watches is never sure.

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Computer scientists would call this a “ping attack” or a “denial of service” attack: give a system an overwhelming number of trivial things to do, and the important things get lost in the chaos.

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Every time you switch tasks, you pay a price, known in computer science as a context switch.

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None of this switching back and forth is “real work”—that is, none of it actually advances the state of any of the various programs the computer is switching between. It’s metawork. Every context switch is wasted time.

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Psychologists have shown that for us, the effects of switching tasks can include both delays and errors—at the scale of minutes rather than microseconds. To put that figure in perspective, anyone you interrupt more than a few times an hour is in danger of doing no work at all.

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Brian, for his part, thinks of writing as a kind of blacksmithing, where it takes a while just to heat up the metal before it’s malleable. He finds it somewhat useless to b lock out anything less than ninety minutes for writing, as nothing much happens in the first half hour except loading a giant b lock of “Now, where was I?” into his head.

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Likewise, if none of your email correspondents require you to respond in less than twenty-four hours, you can limit yourself to checking your messages once a day.

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“Email is a wonderful thing for people whose role in life is to be on top of things. But not for me; my role is to be on the bottom of things. What I do takes long hours of studying and uninterruptible concentration.

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Our beeping and buzzing devices have “Do Not Disturb” modes, which we could manually toggle on and off throughout the day, but that is too blunt an instrument. Instead, we might agitate for settings that would provide an explicit option for interrupt coalescing—the same thing at a human timescale that the devices are doing internally. Alert me only once every ten minutes, say; then tell me everything.

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Want to calculate the chance your bus is late? The chance your softball team will win? Count the number of times it has happened in the past plus one, then divide by the number of opportunities plus two. And the beauty of Laplace’s Law is that it works equally well whether we have a single data point or millions of them.

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More generally, unless we know better we can expect to have shown up precisely halfway into the duration of any given phenomenon.

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Something normally distributed that’s gone on seemingly too long is bound to end shortly; but the longer something in a power-law distribution has gone on, the longer you can expect it to keep going.

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Learning self-control is important, but it’s equally important to grow up in an environment where adults are consistently present and trustworthy.

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If you want to be a good intuitive Bayesian—if you want to naturally make good predictions, without having to think about what kind of prediction rule is appropriate—you need to protect your priors. Counterintuitively, that might mean turning off the news.

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Fundamentally, overfitting is a kind of idolatry of data, a consequence of focusing on what we’ve been able to measure rather than what matters.

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Overfitting, for instance, explains the irony of our palates. How can it be that the foods that taste best to us are broadly considered to be bad for our health, when the entire function of taste buds, evolutionarily speaking, is to prevent us from eating things that are bad?

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When it comes to portfolio management, it turns out that unless you’re highly confident in the information you have about the markets, you may actually be better off ignoring that information altogether.

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As a species, being constrained by the past makes us less perfectly adjusted to the present we know but helps keep us robust for the future we don’t.

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The effectiveness of regularization in all kinds of machine-learning tasks suggests that we can make better decisions by deliberately thinking and doing less.

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If the factors we come up with first are likely to be the most important ones, then beyond a certain point thinking more about a problem is not only going to be a waste of time and effort—it will lead us to worse solutions.

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The greater the uncertainty, the bigger the gap between what you can measure and what matters, the more you should watch out for overfitting—that is, the more you should prefer simplicity, and the earlier you should stop.

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“What would happen if we started from the premise that we can’t measure what matters and go from there? Then instead of measurement we’d have to use something very scary: it’s called judgment.

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If you can’t solve the problem in front of you, solve an easier version of it—and then see if that solution offers you a starting point, or a beacon, in the full-blown problem. Maybe it does.

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Unless we’re willing to spend eons striving for perfection every time we encounter a hitch, hard problems demand that instead of spinning our tires we imagine easier versions and tackle those first. When applied correctly, this is not just wishful thinking, not fantasy or idle daydreaming. It’s one of our best ways of making progress.

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Likewise, book-, wine-, and chocolate-of-the-month clubs are a way to get exposed to intellectual, oenophilic, and gustatory possibilities that you might never have encountered otherwise.

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“Once you got somewhere you were happy,” he told the Guardian, “you’d be stupid to shake it up any further.

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The foundation of human connection is protocol—a shared convention of procedures and expectations, from handshakes and hellos to etiquette, politesse, and the full gamut of social norms. Machine connection is no different.

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Communication is one of those delightful things that work only in practice; in theory it’s impossible.

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The first question is how long a period of nonresponsiveness we should take to constitute a breakdown. Partly this depends on the nature of the network: we start to worry in a matter of seconds over the phone, days over email, and weeks over postal mail. The longer the round-trip time between sender and receiver, the longer it takes a silence to be significant—and the more information can be potentially “in flight” before the sender realizes there’s a problem.

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The satirical “Peter Principle,” articulated in the 1960s by education professor Laurence J. Peter, states that “every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.” The idea is that in a hierarchical organization, anyone doing a job proficiently will be rewarded with a promotion into a new job that may involve more complex and/or different challenges. When the employee finally reaches a role in which they don’t perform well, their march up the ranks will stall, and they will remain in that role for the rest of their career. Thus it stands to reason, goes the ominous logic of the Peter Principle, that eventually every spot in an organization will come to be filled by someone doing that job badly.

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We’ve all had the experience of talking to someone whose eyes drifted away—to their phone, perhaps—making us wonder whether our lackluster storytelling was to blame. In fact, it’s now clear that the cause and effect are often the reverse: a poor listener destroys the tale.

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As the saying goes, “the most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ but ‘That’s funny.

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The most prevalent critique of modern communications is that we are “always connected.” But the problem isn’t that we’re always connected; we’re not. The problem is that we’re always buffered. The difference is enormous.

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The feeling that one needs to look at everything on the Internet, or read all possible books, or see all possible shows, is bufferbloat.

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We used to reject; now we defer.

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In this way, the value of a stock isn’t what people think it’s worth but what people think people think it’s worth.

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“People will hesitate to take a vacation as they don’t want to seem like that person who’s taking the most vacation days. It’s a race to the bottom.

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What’s worse, the assumption that other people’s actions are a useful guide can lead to the sort of herd-following that precipitates economic disaster.

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It’s easy to imagine a bunch of people all going over a cliff together because “everyone else” was acting as though it’d all be fine—when in reality each person had qualms, but suppressed them because of the apparent confidence of everyone else in the group.

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“Something very important happens once somebody decides to follow blindly his predecessors independently of his own information signal, and that is that his action becomes uninformative to all later decision makers. Now the public pool of information is no longer growing. That welfare benefit of having public information … has ceased.

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When you’re mostly looking to others to set a course, they may well be looking right back at you to do the same.

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And if you’re the kind of person who always does what you think is right, no matter how crazy others think it is, take heart. The bad news is that you will be wrong more often than the herd followers. The good news is that sticking to your convictions creates a positive externality, letting people make accurate inferences from your behavior. There may come a time when you will save the entire herd from disaster.

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In the hard cases, the best algorithms are all about doing what makes the most sense in the least amount of time, which by no means involves giving careful consideration to every factor and pursuing every computation to the end. Life is just too complicated for that.

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Books I’ve read.

Johannes Holmberg

Tiny summaries on books I’ve read. Sorted by latest read. But you can also sort on top recommendations. Highlights and covers are copyright to their respective authors.