information for you to consume

continuation of my 9-5 grind but it’s the summer. so some work but not a lot. lots of ideas coming along, none of them really substantial or anything.

9-6 grind
9-6, the staple of the 40 hour week that most Americans work. but it’s actually a lot of time if you think about it. 1) 9-6, that’s 9 hours, 1 hour lunch break in between. 2) 1 hour of commute to get back home, 0 if you live close. in my case, i live 10 mins away from work. 3)  6-11, that’s 5 hours to cook/eat/clean dishes/watch tv/call people/handle family matters/ 4) 11-9. Suppose i sleep 12-8, and give myself 1 hour on each end to wind down or get ready for bed. the killer is the 5 hours to do EVERYTHING ELSE. that five hours pass by so much shorter than you would think. I guess this is why they call a full time job. It’s my fourth time holding a full time job and i still can’t get used to working for so long. the thing that bums me out the most is the amount of time i just sit in front of the computer.

the constant press of money
honestly, i haven’t lived in poverty, but i know that pressure of having only so much money in your account to make it to the end of the month. It must be horrible for people make minimum wage but also have families to take care of. It would be better if you only had to take care of yourself but you also have your parents, your wife and your kid to take care of. you can’t afford to leave, you can’t afford to get fired. so what can you do? and you spend so much cognitive effort trying to save a few dollars at every opportunity and it makes life so much more painful than if you had a couple hundred more dollars to just have a peace of mind.

internet and knowledge
the thing about the internet is it increased the transfer of information/knowledge absurdly. and google, internet search gave us the tools to navigate through this huge sprawling mess. before search, we had libraries. knowledge had to be painstakingly meticulously curated and organized. you had to put a cap on knowledge just to organize it. but the internet allows knowledge to interact and reference each other and grow organically. Sure, we have the deep dark web where knowledge is hidden and can’t be seen, but the size of the internet is so astronomically large now that everything we had have every thought of trying to find has already been indexed by google. but i have a deep respect for books and authors. because the process of transferring knowledge into book form requires much more concentrated effort than simply converting it into notes/journal/blog form. the process of writing a book in itself is already a curation of knowledge.

knowledge representation
the representation of knowledge as text, symbols, graphics is also very fascinating. because cs majors love so much to use text files to represent everything.  how much can you represent with specific types of language? is there ones more suitable than others? there’s a whole study dedicated to this: information theory.
knowledge is compression, compression of long algorithms, messy proofs into short, terse easily explainable things. and that takes generations of improved pedagogy to achieve.

i also wonder how much of learning is memory. after we learn something and then promptly forget it, does that mean we just wasted our time learning it? how much that we learn must we also remember for it to be worth our time? i personally think it’s just getting the big picture (similar as below “understand enough of it to hold an opinion on it.”)

information is not equal to knowledge
being productive is so important. i think this blog post has it spot on. reading a lot of “interesting” articles and click on links and learning this and that is a lie. it doesn’t actually teach you that much and you quickly forget all of it anyway because it’s not relevant to your work. it’s all just distraction that we think we need but don’t actually. it does make a good point though in that it’s very useful to get a good grasp of the basics when you are first exposed to something. i.e. going to Switzerland for vacation so you spend a few hours looking at what to do. but as i’ve realized and have now forced myself to do is to curate it. write a blog post or some notes about what you’ve learnt. That’s very least you have to do, but it’s better to do more. if you spend time to learn something, learn enough until you understand enough of it to hold an opinion on it. cal newport outlines a good way to curate his research. but the important thing is to learn things that are relevant. you need the relevancy to help you remember it so that it comes back over and over again and so that you can strengthen those neural networks that memory is stored as in the brain.

the goal of knowledge gathering is to be so good they can’t ignore you. this way they have to compensate you, and handsomely too because they need your services. Be so good that you can demand the lifestyle and the method you want to work in. but being good requires an obsessive concern towards the perfection of your craft. there will always be other people who’ve spent their whole life doing that one thing i.e. the prodigies, the athletes, the musicians and unless you have that single minded passion, you can’t beat them.

our addictive information consumption habits
a few words about our consumption habits. we used to live in a material consumption world. we still do but we have now become so adept at acquiring what is needed for our physical survival, that some people can basically live and die without ever needing to know how some of these things happen. it used to be that only the aristocracy could enjoy this. everyone else had to grow their own food. and after the industrial revolution, our next focus became the machines that made our lives easier: the fridge, the sewing machine, the car, the washing machine. but now we seem to have satisfied that need too. today, most of us don’t really need to spend time on making food or machines anymore. so the human race needed a new task to consume their time. humans now have more leisure time that they’ve ever had before so what now? information. we are now in the age of information consumption. our internet surfing, blog reading, social network addiction is a clear indication of that. and i suppose the one good thing about information consumption is that it can never really be satiated. our addiction towards social networks can never really be satisfied unless we stop it. i suppose the only thing which can possibly satisfy it for good is if we developed a way to automatically load information into our head without cognitive effort. automatic learning i suppose you could call it.

our need to preoccupy ourselves and fast internet is destroying our concentration span.  i really do think fast internet is a large part of it (as evidenced by my time in china with slow internet). the constant notifications, pops, red colored alerts,  (1) on your tab really distracts us, renders us almost completely unavailable to have long uninterrupted concentrated periods of work

future of cs
i’m very interested in the future of software engineering or software in general. what are we trying to achieve with it and what are we trying to do with it? are we hoping to write a magic function that will just do the right thing when we give it a piece of input? (in that way, i suppose weak type languages are more advanced that strong type languages) what are the limitations of software engineering? alan kay has the following quote “in programming there is a wide-spread 1st order theory that one shouldn’t build one’s own tools, languages, and especially operating systems. This is true—an incredible amount of time and energy has gone down these ratholes. On the 2nd hand, if you can build your own tools, languages and operating systems, then you absolutely should because the leverage that can be obtained (and often the time not wasted in trying to fix other people’s not quite right tools) can be incredible” fred brooks, who coined the term “no silver bullet”, thinks the only tasks we have left are those of essential complexity. there are not that many orders of magnitude left we can improve on. higher level languages was the last major improvement we had. on the purpose of software engineering or why all of us are trying to write code that does the same thing. i can’t just say people want to occupy their time. but i think it has to do with people having different insights on the same piece of data, or goals with data, so we need different software to take advantage of it.

the age of big data
data anlysis is actually really hard. we have all these data but as you know and i know, data isn’t perfect. so to make sense of this data or utilize it to show something, we need to have substantial subject-specific knowledge. we need very in-depth knowledge to be able to take advantage of insight into machinery, experimental details, bias, facts, tendencies.

and i feel like cs is basically de novo discovery. you present an algorithm that works and give input to the black box and hope for results. you don’t have to do it by hand, just wait for it to give you the right results.

thoughts on research. you need a mentor, one to answer all your questions when you have them. and it’s hard to find good mentors because labs are often so small and everyone is too busy with their own work. on a similar note, being good at research is about being extremely self can’t expect someone to give you the right experiment to perform in order to make a discovery. it’s about learning incessantly.

so that’s us in this world. we can either acquire knowledge, and then be very good at technical analysis (science) . or we can think a lot about our place in the universe (humanities)

and then there’s always our children, who are just continuation of our dreams, us trying to live voraciously through them.


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