Recommended reading: Ultralearning

I just finished Ultralearning: Master Hard Skills, Outsmart the Competition, and Accelerate Your Career by Scott H. Young.

It’s a good book. I think it would be particularly interesting to my brother, who of course won’t read it because he imagines that its implicit pedagogical underpinnings would not accord with his own. In fact, to the extent that I understand either one, I think it accords almost perfectly. (In particular, that learning is an activity of the learner.)

Even if he were to spend five minutes looking at the table of contents, he’d still be inclined to reject the book, because three of the nine principles are about drilling, testing, and memory retention. Since he won’t read past that he’ll never see the nuanced discussion on these topics.

What kinds of things should you invest the time in to remember in the first place? Retrieval may take less time than review to get the same learning impact, but not learning something is faster still . . . .

One way to answer this question is simply to do direct practice. Directness sidesteps this question by forcing you to retrieve the things that come up often in the course of using the skill. If you’re learning a language and need to recall a word, you’ll practice it. If you never need a word, you won’t memorize it. . . . Things that are rarely used or that are easier to look up than to memorize won’t be retrieved.

Young, Scott H. Ultralearning, pp. 127–128.

Still, it’s an excellent book for anyone who is interested in undertaking any sort of learning project. There are good, practical tips how to start such a project (how to decide what to learn, how to decide how to learn it and find resources, how to manage the project once you get going).

The book works especially to normalize the behavior of undertaking a learning project that might be considered extreme in terms of its size, scope or speed.

Ultralearning: Master Hard Skills, Outsmart the Competition, and Accelerate Your Career by Scott H. Young. Highly recommended.

2019-07-01 15:28

I have lost actual physical paper books many times over the years—loaned and never returned, accidentally left somewhere, dropped in the tub, left on a windowsill and rained on, literally worn out from re-reading. Many were lost when my house fell down. One was confiscated by a teacher. I’ve not yet lost an ebook.

Book Review: Happy Money

Does money come with new-agey energy flows or emotions attached? For most of my life, I’d have said no (or more likely just rolled my eyes at the question). As you might expect from an economics major, I bought into a free-market model of how money worked.

Experiences over the course of my career, gradually convinced me that those ideas were . . . Well, not wrong exactly, but incomplete. I came to understand that money isn’t the kind of neutral object that it is in economic theory.

Ken Honda’s new book will let you skip over the 25 years of first-hand experience it took me to figure this out.

If you think money is a neutral, transactional artifact, then it just makes sense to earn as much as you can in the easiest ways possible. Because I was a software engineer whose career started in the early 1980s, it was pretty easy to find a job that paid well, and salaries grew rapidly, so I was doing just fine as an employee. There are certain things that come along with being an employee, the main one being that you’re supposed to do what your boss tells you to do.

I was okay with that. More okay than a lot of my coworkers, who objected when the boss wanted them to do something stupid or pointless.

My own attitude was always, “Yes, attending this pointless training class is a waste of time that I could be spending making our products better. But it’s easier than doing my regular work, and if my boss is willing to pay me a software engineer’s salary to do something easier than write software, I’m fine with that.”

The idea that I was fine with that turned out to be wrong. In fact, putting time and effort into doing the wrong thing is a soul-destroying activity. Getting paid a bunch of money for it doesn’t help. That money is, in Ken Honda’s terms, Unhappy Money.

Money that flows into (or out of) your life in a positive way is Happy Money—money that you receive (or give) as a gift, money that you earn by doing something useful (or spend to get something that you want or need). Unhappy Money is money lost or gained by theft or deceit, paid grudgingly by someone who feels cheated or taken advantage of—or, as in my own case, paid willingly, but paid to someone who doesn’t think what he’s doing to earn it is worth doing.

Honda’s thesis is that if you adjust your life around this idea—so that your own money flows are all Happy Money (and that you refrain from receiving or spending Unhappy Money)—your life will improve. My experience is that this is true.

If that insight is the key to the book, probably next most important is understanding that “There’s no peace to be found in always wanting more,” which is one of the points I tried to make when I was writing for Wise Bread.

To be honest, probably one reason I like the book so much is that a lot of the practical advice sounds a lot like what I talked about for years at Wise Bread. (For example that the strategy of just saving more quickly reaches limits in terms of its utility for making your family more secure.)

Much of the book is on the details of how to shift all aspects of your financial life toward Happy Money. There’s a long discourse on what he calls your “money blueprint”: The attitudes and practices passed down from parent to child (or rejections of those attitudes and practices), people’s basic personalities, and simple ignorance about how money works. A crappy money blueprint will predictably lead to people into cycles of Unhappy Money flows.

I’ve been interested in money for a long time, at least since sixth grade. Between studying economics in college, and embarking on an enduring interest in investing, I’m sure I’ve read hundreds of books on money. Among them, Happy Money: The Japanese Art of Making Peace with Your Money stands out.

Adulting my to-read pile

For some time now I’ve found myself in the middle of an unusually large number of books. Actually, that’s not quite true—I’ve forever gotten myself in the middle of multiple books; what’s different lately is that I’ve found it difficult to crank on through to the end of them.

I recently figured out why, which led to me telling Jackie, “I used to be able to just sit down for four or six hours and finish a book or two or three, but I don’t seem to be able to do that any more.”

Jackie of course immediately spotted the issue, which was why I put it that way. “With your new focus on movement,” she said, “you’re much less willing to just sit down for four or six hours to do anything.”

I actually have data showing this. My new Oura ring has a feature to alert me if I spend 50 minutes sitting (or standing) still, but that nagging function is going virtually unused—I’ve gotten exactly one ding for a “long period of inactivity” in the past month. I just don’t sit still for as long as fifty minutes any more.

Getting in plenty of movement is great, and I certainly feel better for doing it, but until recently has had an unfortunate side-effect: I’ve found it very easy to waste those less-than-fifty-minute blocks of time.

In fifty minutes I can check my email, scroll through my twitter feed and my facebook feed, read a couple of articles people have shared links to, and check my RSS feeds. And then after going for a walk or a workout (or just making a cup of coffee), I can waste another fifty minutes.

But fifty minutes is plenty of time to get something useful done, such as reading a chunk of a book. Just lately, finally, I’ve been using those blocks of time that way. (Like a grownup!)

By applying myself to reading books, I am making good progress. I just finished Eliot Peper’s Borderless, which was excellent, and I’m more than halfway through Mathew Walker’s Why We Sleep, which is absolutely fascinating. I hesitate to start Sean B. Carroll’s Endless Forms Most Beautiful until I finish the sleep book. But, having made some progress, I feel like . . . . Well, not like I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. More like I figured out how to go spelunking in the book-reading caverns without bonking my head, scraping my knees, and getting a crick in my back.

It’s not like the old days, when I could curl up in a chair (or sprawl out on the floor) and read for hours. But it’s probably better.

Currently reading: I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong, ISBN: 9780062368607

Currently reading: I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong, ISBN: 9780062368607

IndieBookClub

I’ve been an avid reader since I was a little kid, but very much not a tracker of things I read. In 6th grade I could have gotten some little prizes for reading a lot, if I’d been willing to go to the trouble of documenting the things I read, but I seriously could not be bothered to do so.

Very occasionally though, I miss having a record of things I’ve read, such as when somebody asks me, “Read any good books lately?”

I never signed up for Goodreads, and was glad I had not when they got bought. (Letting large corporations use my data to improve their bottom line bugs me on principle.) But just now I learned about IndieBookClub, which (like micro.blog) provides an interface for posting—in this case your reading activity—to your own website.

As a non-tracker from way back, I’m probably not likely to become a tracker just because there’s a new cool tool for tracking, but you never know.

Edited to add: I have posted my first book.

Losing a job

My friend Mart lost her job this week.

I know all about losing a job. Over the years I was fired or laid off four times.

Getting laid off is humiliating and insulting. The process is stressful and and unpleasant. The aftermath, where you have to deal with your feelings about the fact that other people kept their jobs while you lost yours, at the same time that you deal with having a sharply lower income, layers more stress and unpleasantness on top of that.

Losing a job is also frightening. It fills your future with unknowns.

The middle time I was laid off, my former employer hired an expensive outplacement firm to help us make the transition. We had a series of meetings at an off-site location where a counselor gave us advice on dealing with the emotional and practical issues. Although the somewhat simplistic advice was another layer of insult piled on top of the insult of being let go, it was actually pretty well done. I used what I learned there for pep talks that I’d give former coworkers when they were let go. I used it as the basis for part 1 (losing a job) of the Wise Bread series I wrote on getting by without a job.

These last few decades—as the whole economy has adjusted to eliminate the working-class jobs that used to provide a middle-class standard of living—losing a job has become even worse than it was back when I lost mine.  And yet, while losing a job is a pretty bad thing, but it’s not always purely bad. Even people who love their job don’t love everything about it. (Mart in particular, I think, loved books a lot more than she loved her job at a bookstore.)

Still, losing a job sucks, even if things go as well as possible after that.

Visit Mart’s website! Consider buying her book!

Toby’s books on the shelf

We went to Undercover Books in Christensted on St. Croix so my dad could look for Birds of the West Indies (which they had, and which Dad did get a copy of). While we were there, Steve noticed that they had copies of Tobias Buckell‘s books on the shelf, including this signed copy of Xenowealth. (Sorry, Toby, for carelessly covering part of your name in the photo!)

A great bookstore, by the way. Excellent SF section, excellent selection for tourists (books on local history, pirates, etc.), great selection of books for locals, books by local writers prominently displayed. I also really like their tortoise-under-a-book logo.

 

A short dialog

“I have finished my book,” I said, closing my library book.

“I have finished my book,” Jackie said, closing her library book at the exact same moment I closed mine.

“How syncronisical,” I said.

“Yes,” Jackie said. “Syncronisical is exactly what it was.”

“It’s a good word,” I said.

“Yes,” Jackie agreed. “It doesn’t get used often enough.”

Lift by Daniel Kunitz

My brother shared this comic with me a while back. I think it captures something—something about CrossFit, but also about how people react to anyone who’s “really into” anything.I’m not a crossfitter, but my expanding interests in fitness and movement have produced similarly horrified reactions to the prospect of having to engage with me on the topic—less frantic only because people are not literally trapped in an elevator with me.

I bring this up because the recent book Lift, by Daniel Kunitz, can be read as a love song to CrossFit (although he has done a pretty good job of discreetly tucking away most of the CrossFit stuff near the end of the book).

The book is more than just one thing, and even more than a love song to CrossFit it’s a fascinating cultural history of fitness.

Kunitz uses the term New Frontier Fitness to refer to the whole emerging cluster of practices centered around the idea of “functional” fitness: CrossFit, MovNat, Parkour, AcroYoga, obstacle course racing, and any number of gymnastic and calisthenic exercise practices. Kunitz doesn’t mention Katy Bowman’s work, but it obviously fits in as well.

Doryphoros MAN Napoli Inv6011-2A key thesis of the book is that the motivating genius of New Frontier Fitness is not without precedent: It springs directly from ancient Greek ideals of fitness, and he references both ancient Greek representations of a fit body (such as the Doryphoros sculpture) and statements by ancient Greeks not unlike Georges Hébert’s admonition “Be strong to be useful.”

This cluster of ideas—in particular that fitness was a moral and social obligation, but also that functional fitness produces a beautiful body as a side-effect (rather than as a goal)—largely disappeared after the Greeks, except in tiny subcultures such as the military. It has only reemerged in the past few years as the various things that Kunitz refers to as New Frontier Fitness.

In between—and the 2000-year history of this makes up of the center of Kunitz’s book—there were many things that were not this particular tradition of functional fitness, but instead were aimed at producing a particular type of body (body-building, aerobics, etc.)

It’s impossible for me to talk about Daniel Kunitz’s Lift without comparing it to another book—Christopher McDougall’s Natural Born Heroes. They are similar in at least two ways. First, they both compare modern fitness culture to that of the ancient Greeks. Second, they both appear to have been written just for me.

A third book that I read recently but haven’t written about is Spark, by John J. Ratey, which overlaps in the sense that all talk about intensity as a key aspect of exercise to produce functional fitness. (If all you’re interested in is appearance and body composition, you can get most of the way there with a diligent application of low-intensity exercise, but some amount of intensity is highly beneficial for functionality and brain health.)

All three books are worth reading.

Image credits: CrossFit Elevator comic by Ryan Kramer from ToonHole. Doryphoros photo by Ricardo André Frantz.