Zoom fatigue, Manatees, and Twitter AI

For the last week, I have been on Zoom non-stop for 4 hours a day.

Since everybody on my team works in a different country, it’s hard for us to hang out under the 2020 world order. Usually, we’d fly to some exotic location to eat on the company dime work hard, but that is not possible. So we elected to meet over Zoom during a Remote Meetup.

It was quite a ride, but I have to tell you – Zoom Fatigue is real. I was exhausted. Meetup, however, was a stellar success. I promise to share a playbook so you can have a peek on how professionals (just joking, there are no adults here) do it or even repeat our mistakes.

For now, I’m gonna try to limit my screen time. Here is a picture of Manatees eating sweet potatoes – their favorite autumn snack:

Image

A few years ago I got to meet the “Cows of the Sea” (this is how Manatee translates to Polish) during my travels in Florida. Oh, I miss real meetups.

Three surprising consequences of the Internet

  • Last week, a “game” on Twitter exemplified the biases of Artificial Intelligence models in a hilarious way.
    When you post a really tall image on Twitter, the “Artificial Intelligence” (really a machine learning model, but I’m simplifying) tries to crop an image to space it has available. It tries to detect the “most valuable” place in the pic. Somebody had an idea to put 2 images at the ends of a very long “empty” canvas, to see which one would it choose, thus uncovering the bias.
    Predictably, white men were picked more often than any other group, with some… quirks.
    Search for “Testing Something” on Twitter, to see for yourself.

  • Build Personal Moats
    A lot of successful businesses have “moats” – a barrier that is hard to cross by a competitor. In the article, Eric Torenberg advises finding a “personal” moat – a unique quality that will differentiate you from other people. You don’t have to be “super good” at it – it’s better to aim at a unique intersection than will bring you joy. I dug up a question from there that I stored in my Question’s vault:
    “If you were magically given 10,000 hours to be amazing at something, what would it be?”
  • The Attack of the Civilization-State
    This fantastic article about the cultural expansion of China made me realize, that we have a different concept of a “state” in the west. And we – of course – use that framework to judge all the other countries in the world. But it’s not the only yardstick around.
    It is remarkable, when one thinks about it, that every controversial issue being decided in a successful democracy such as India should be subject to a final determination of its legitimacy by Western political and intellectual authorities. No one seems to take seriously the possibility that an editorial in The Hindu could settle the issue, but the leading newspapers in New York, Washington or London gladly take up the task. Cultural assimilation meant political dependence.

Mental atlas and corporate promises

Continuing the thread of focusing my curiosity, I am experimenting with different approaches to filter my “inputs”.

My primary responsibility, of course, is to deliver YOU the best and more interesting insights about the social and economic consequences of the Internet and thriving in the global consciousness. But that’s only a subset of my reading habits and I want an easy way to filter OUT the articles and books that I’m not interested in so that I can devote more attention to those that will matter to me (and you).

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, Richard Feynman had his 12 favorite problems and Patrick Collison has a question list.

Mental Atlas

Anne-Laure LeCunff has a mental atlas, further extending the metaphor of notes database as a “mental maps”. Atlas is – after all THE book of maps.

While it may be possible to go through life without ever paying attention to these patterns across various mental and cognitive maps, being aware of the inherent interconnectedness of our thoughts will help guide your daily and long-term decision-making process.

In order to compile my own version, I:

  • Browsed the books I tend to pick and noted common topics,
  • Had a look at my blog to see where my attention gravitates,
  • Of course, scoured my notes for insights

Here is what I ended up with. This is and will continue to be, work in progress.

What should you do when a bird hits your window?

I had to figure that out on Saturday. A poor yellowhammer has crashlanded on my balcony and stopped moving. Quick Googling led me to put her in a cardboard box, safe from the hungry eyes of my dog.

Apparently, you should close the box. After a few hours, when the bird is flapping inside the box – it means it recovered. If the bird won’t regain energy, you should contact wildlife rehabbers – more insights in here.

My little friend escaped her box after 2 hours – I hope the incident is now only a distant memory. Glass skyscrapers are death traps for unexpecting birds, but I was surprised to learn that my balcony is part of the problem.

3 Surprising Effects of the Internet

  • Beware of Corporate Promises covers a fascinating natural experiment in company ethics.
    Less than a year ago, nearly 200 CEOs signed a solemn pledge, issued by the Business Roundtable, to stop caring primarily about their shareholders and to serve the needs of their workers, communities, and country too. After the pandemic hit, signers were almost 20 percent more prone to announce layoffs or furloughs Behavioral psychologists have observed an effect they call “moral self-licensing”: If people are allowed to make a token gesture of moral behavior—or simply imagine they’ve done something good—they then feel freer to do something morally dubious, because they’ve reassured themselves that they’re on the side of the angels.
  • Decomplication: How to Find Simple Solutions to “Hard” Problems by Nat Eliason touches one of my favorite topics – how basics are at the same time undervalued and overcomplicated.
    The core solutions to many problems, maybe most problems, are extremely simple. In one paragraph each, you can explain how to lose weight, how to gain muscle, how to save money, how to be productive, how to sleep better, how to grow a website, and just about any other popular problem. (…) We’ve been sold complexity our entire lives, and that’s made us undervalue the simple. As a result of the “monetization through complexity” problem, we no longer trust that simple solutions could be valid.
  • There is a kind of rock that can grow, move, and even multiply. Trovants produce bulbous “growths” from minerals in the rainwater – at a rate of 5cm every 1000 years. Since they accumulate new material on the inside – their shapes approach that of the Michelin man.

Roam Research Alfred workflow

If you are a Roam user – have a look at my Alfred workflow that lets you search your notes blazingly fast, use Roam as a snippet manager and a bookmark DB.

Watch out for assigned identities

Remote Work is quite different from sitting in an office: It’s not just changing your work chair for the couch at home. With Remote Work, there is no assigned seating at all.

  • Nobody walks you to your desk
  • Nobody tells you how to live
  • Nobody tells you who you are

The transition from Office to Remote is a tricky one. You will have to answer many questions for yourself:

  • How do I get coffee?
    • Obviously, it’s Aeropress
  • What is the best desk?
    • IKEA Bekant
  • How do I structure my day? Do I keep 9-to-5?
  • When do I exercise if not on the way to work?
  • Do I see my kids more often?

When you don’t answer these questions for yourself – you will get pulled into a new identity, where you don’t have to think. Watch out, the gravity of ‘popular‘ identities is strong!

Paul Millerd is an expert on the Future of Work – and more importantly – advocates for more “life” in the work-life balance.
My new piece about Remote Worker identities is in issue 105 of his splendid “Boundless” newsletter

Three Surprising Effects of the Internet

  • Success Addicts Choose Being Special Over Being Happy underscores our obsession with being special and how people sacrifice their happiness for a feeling of superiority. The piece highly resonates with my feelings about Social Media.
    Many scholars, such as the psychologist Barbara Killinger, have shown that people willingly sacrifice their own well-being through overwork to keep getting hits of success. I know a thing or two about this: As I once found myself confessing to a close friend, “I would prefer to be special than happy.”
    “the physician Robert Goldman famously found that more than half of aspiring athletes would be willing to take a drug that would kill them in five years in exchange for winning every competition they entered today, “from the Olympic decathlon to the Mr. Universe.”
  • Where did this tower come from?
    Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 is a duct tape marvel. Microsoft wizards grabbed freely-available map data from the Internet and generated realistic vistas you can fly over in your aircraft.
    What they didn’t count on are human errors resulting in some funny glitches explored in this thread.
  • We live in a post-scarcity world of ideas.
    So much so, that it’s a bigger problem to manage brilliant insights than to stumble upon them. I use Evernote and Roam as my note-taking tools, Twitter and Pocket for consuming articles, and Kindle for books. To manage this deluge of apps, I previously used a hodge-podge of custom scripts, but now I’ve switched to Readwise.
    Readwise syncs all these apps (and much more) and helps with recollection implementing spaced repetition. The team behind the app is coming up with creative integrations that I never knew I needed.

A thing I learned this week:

I just finished my week-long Windsurfing lesson – I’ll definitely repeat that. During my ‘commute’ I was listening to David Perell’s podcast with technologist Balaji S. Srinivasan – they chatted a lot about learning by doing, future of media, genomics and a roster of other topics. It occurred to me, that practicing sports is more like applied engineering than watching sports:

  • Building stuff = Practicing
  • Theorizing = Watching

Nassim Taleb calls the transition from theory into practice the “Platonic Fold”. But I’d go even further: doing stuff in the real-world and mastering these feedback loops is more different from theory than the branches of the theory are from each other.

The theory of windsurfing was lost on me, but I quickly levelled up while falling from my board.

Education, the Umbrella Academy, and Wealth Creation

„Artur, your opinions always seem a bit extreme” – my friend, when we were discussing the public education last week. Education is one of my hot topics, and you can expect a related essay from me soon.

I enjoy people having strong opinions, people experimenting with their way of thinking, and trying out something new. That appreciation of experimentation extends to culture. I consider all four Avengers movies to be quite average, but Thor Ragnarok (trailer) is one of the best ones out there. Rise of Skywalker is disappointing, but The Mandalorian is excellent.
Popular franchises suffer from the curse of their own popularity. They have to appeal to everyone and thus cater to the lowest common denominator.

Less-popular offshoots, like Mandalorian, Guardians of the Galaxy, or The Umbrella Academy, are not scrutinized as strongly by studio executives. Not every plotline has to be sanitized, and not every single thing has to be optimized to death.

That leaves room for creativity, exploration, and pure fun. Education could be the same way if we stopped trying to extract production value out of the kids.

3 Interesting effects of the Internet

[Deliberate Internet] – Comet, overprotecting the digital content, and meritocracy

The comet expedition

My wife (whose handle everywhere is Made In Cosmos) is predictably very interested in seeing the Neowise comet before it leaves the sky. The comet will be visible over the next few days and disappear for another 6000 years of its solitary journey.

On a comet-hunting mission, we have couped up in our summer house and have been hunting for comet sights. Yesterday, the sky was perfect and we were trying to aim our telescope and powerful binocular into that elusive tail of a comet. To no avail.

Sometime after I was getting frustrated  – I looked upward and saw a beautiful, clear sky with the Milky Way spread before our eyes – a sight much better than a thousand comets.

What is it that an event like a comet or a deadline gets us all excited and motivated, but we neglect to enjoy what we already have? Humans are such suckers for scarcity.

The Neowise shot by Tony Hallas. Here is another good one.

Overprotecting the digital content

The creators I help to sell put much effort into their work, and they deserve to be paid. They worry about not having a sales copy compelling enough, or their customers copying and sharing the creations, cutting them out of their rightful compensation. They turn to the protection mechanism – password-protected PDFs or locked-down video players to ensure that it doesn’t happen.

Yesterday, I published an article with 10 reasons why that kind of overprotection is hurting your sales, annoys your customer, and is hurting the relationship with them.

3 Surprising Things on the Internet

  • Did you know there is a special shortcut to display a random Wikipedia article? By going to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Random, you will be taken on a random journey, but be forewarned – Wikipedia has MANY articles about random villages and 7th-grade celebrities. Me being me, I immediately thought, „Wait, what if I built a WikiRoulette with this?„. It turns out somebody already thought of that! Check out http://wikiroulette.co/. Today I learned about Forest Nightshade, Fencing at the 1956 Olympics, and the “List of places in Aberdeenshire”, wherever that is.
  • A belief in meritocracy is not only false: it’s bad for you [Princeton Press] enumerates the reasons why the world is not meritocratic, and the „meritocracy fallacy” is an easy excuse for the lucky. The online world revels the idea of meritocracy. Everything is democratized (setting free publishing and commerce is something I contribute to), everyone can participate and, anyone can start something new – they only need a laptop and grit. However, like in any human industry, connections, and lucky breaks people have gotten in the past matter a great deal. The world is getting meritocratic (with initiatives like Starlink and Remote work), but we are not there yet.
  • Mario takes a flight in the days of the Coronavirus is an artistic rendition of what would Super Mario first level look like, if the pandemic hit „World 1-1″

The optimal human performance formula: the basics

Good news: Scientists have discovered a simple, effective trick to reach your optimal performance and be the smartest human you can be.

Bad news: You’re not gonna do it.

Here is the trick:

  • Breathe deep,
  • Drink more water,
  • Sleep 8 hours every night
  • Eat more vegetables,
  • Move your ass
  • Go outside

For optimal results, do it every day.

I am sure I am not blowing your mind with novel insight.

You probably are aware that air, water, sleep, and exercise are important. But because these are such basics, we tend to discount them. They are not newsworthy, they won’t make the headlines, and they don’t help you delude yourself that „this time will be different, because you have one more magic trick up your sleeve.”

You probably have heard those points before, but you have a list of concerns and cannot deal with a yet-another morning routine that will take your precious time away from you.

But there is more good news: taking care of these basics seriously will have an immediate effect on your to-do list.

“Energy, not time, is the fundamental currency of high performance.”

Power of Full Engagement

In a best-selling book „Power of Full Engagement”, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz have listed 4 sources of energy that can fuel your attention, performance, and productivity:

  • physical
  • emotional
  • mental
  • spiritual

And your „Biggest Bang for the Buck” is the physical level by far – it is the cornerstone of the other ones. Unfortunately, Humanity has a fascinating ability to forget important lessons.

Breathing

Physical energy is derived from the interaction between oxygen and glucose.
„Surely I know how to breathe!” You may think to yourself.
If you feel constant anxiety or are low-key stressed all the time, here me out: you may be breathing incorrectly. Shallow breathing can very often influence your mood, focus and energy levels. Throughout our evolution, we would shallow breathe only when there is danger, or we have to chase after prey.
So guess what? Your body is releasing cortisol based on your crappy breathing.
But you are sitting in front of your laptop, doing none of those things and yet getting stressed like your life depends on it.
Proper breathing:

  • Your arms are back
  • Your belly sticks out while you are breathing (that is the diaphragm)
  • Air goes in through your nose
  • Inhale is at least 3-4 seconds

Watch this video of two navy seals explaining how to breathe:

A sidenote about your laptop/smartphone:

When you are sitting in front of a laptop or holding your smartphone with two hands, you are constricting your lungs.

  • Your arms get close together, closing your chest and lungs
  • Your head is down, constricting the air canals
  • This position is similar to how you would hide from a predator, prompting your body to release cortisol

Homework:

  1. Watch the navy seal video
  2. Set a timer in your phone for every 3 hours that says “breathe”
  3. If you work on your laptop, buy a keyboard and a monitor.

Drinking Water

Drinking water, we have found, is perhaps the most undervalued source of physical energy renewal.

Power of Full Engagement

Your body has lots of water, chances are you know that. But if you are like me, you probably keep putting other stuff in it, like:

  • Coke
  • Coffee
  • Tea

Even though they contain it, none of those things ARE water.

They have much lower PH (they are acidic), which means your body has to work hard to filter them before the water content can be used in metabolic processes.

On top of that, beverages tend to flush out the essential salts ( Magnesium, Calcium, Potassium ) out of the body. All of these elements are needed to keep your brain spinning to ingest my insightful blog posts.

A study published in “Frontiers in Human Neuroscience” has found evidence that drinking water improves cognitive performance in both children and adults. Hydration for health is collecting empirical evidence for the many benefits of just drinking water.

Homework:

  1. Buy a water bottle and put it by your computer
  2. Put a post-it on it that says „Drink Me.”
  3. Drink whenever you feel foggy

Sleeping

Loss of sleep hurts attention, executive function, working memory, mood, quantitative skills, logical reasoning, and even motor dexterity.

Brain rules

I am writing this for you as much as I do it for my own benefit. Every once in a while, I will get deep into a fun automation project – a book, or a new Netflix series and realize that it’s 3 am already.

The next day is totally wasted and I promise to never repeat that mistake until the next time. Goddamnit, Artur!!

  • Yes, you need 8 hours of sleep.
  • You are not as productive at 10 pm as you thought
  • Go to bed

Arianna Huffington, the founder of HuffPost has decided to devote her entire career to promoting sleep and in this TED Talk, she explains why:

Homework:

  1. Set an alarm that says „Go to sleep” at, say 21:45
  2. Go to sleep when the alarm rings

Moving your Ass

Physical activity is cognitive candy. Civilization, while giving us such seemingly forward advances as modern medicine and spatulas, also has had a nasty side effect. It gives us more opportunities to sit on our butts.

Brain rules

Apart from the countless evidence that exercising keeps your body healthy, it also helps you think.
Read more about Ass-Shaking here
Exercise gets blood to your brain, bringing it glucose for energy and oxygen to soak up the toxic electrons that are left over. It also stimulates the protein that keeps neurons connecting.

Homework:

  1. When you wake up, go for a fast walk, every day for a week. Just try it.
  2. Report back

Basics are your key to success

We search for “advanced tricks” and “pro tips” in a vain effort to save ourselves time and effort on the basics.

The harsh reality is that mastering the basics is the real “trick”. We gloss over them, because they are intellectually simple. Yet simple is not easy and it takes practice to engrain proper habits and foundations.

Maybe someday I will. Until them, I’ll keep having to remind myself to drink more water and move once in a while.