Life

Maybe it matters how slow you go

Let’s have a look at this quote from ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius:

“It does not matter how slowly you go, so long as you don’t stop.” — Confucius

I’ve been thinking recently about these mechanics, about what is needed to not stop.

Of course, Confucius’ point is that you can, and have to, keep going—instead of quitting, cashing in or getting distracted.

The way he framed it, is as if slowing down is the road to stopping.

But going slowly is exactly the point. Making progress, making your dreams come true, building a legacy—it’s all about being patient, about improving 1% every day, about playing the long game. Usually, people stop because they’re trying to go too quickly. Going slow is a tactic to keep going. Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.

So maybe it does matter how slow you go. Maybe it matters because you have to go slow. Maybe it’s time to swap this guy around:

“It does not matter how quickly you go, so long as you don’t stop.”

Standard
Life, Studies

Why You Should Make 5 Minutes Your Fundamental Time Unit

I wrote this article in less than 2 units of 5 minutes. You can definitely read it in less than 1 minute.

You force yourself to make tasks actionable

My biggest struggle with my task management is that tasks often times feel too daunting to start on them. If I ask myself “what can I do in 5 minutes?” I’m sure that I’ve broken down the task enough.

Damn you, Parkinson

Believe me, you can do a lot more than read an article in 5 minutes. Let me present you Parkinson’s Law:

“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

By forcing yourself to complete a task in 5 minutes, suddenly you can do a lot more, since you’re forced to focus to an extreme amount, cut off all distractions and do just enough instead of being your perfectionist self. You simply have no choice, it’s awesome!

You’ll learn to estimate time

Within 1 minute and 22 seconds my timer will ring. That’s what we call immediate feedback, every 5 minutes.

You can squeeze in more stuff everywhere

Who doesn’t have 5 minutes? In Scrum (software development methodology) we work in sprints. The goal is to produce one or more useful features and send them to the client in a short amount of time—usually 2 weeks.

 

So why not do sprints of 5 minutes, in your personal life? Here’s my challenge to you: for the next week, do your tasks in increments of 5 minutes. Every unit, think what can I do in the next 5 minutes?, set a timer and go! Doesn’t matter if you need another round, just keep sprinting like a madman and you’ll get a shitload done, while having loads of fun. And did I mention the free time to rest, meditate or read, that you can claim now?

Standard
Rights

Personal information: what is collected, how it is used and why you want to protect it

The internet is beautiful because of its democratizing value: anyone has the possibility to create it and publish it for the whole world to see, immediately.

That publishing, however, is not free. Most of the stuff you see online is paid for by advertising. Advertisers want to influence you so that you buy certain products, vote for certain people or take some other action and publishers provide a place for them to do that.

Publishers want to make more money to fund their website(s) but they also know that placing more ads on a website will drive people away from their site (too much ads is just too much). So they need to make their advertising space more valuable. This is done by giving the advertisers more specific information about the people that will see their ads. In the case of Google and Facebook, for example, this also goes the other way around in that advertisers can choose which kinds of people should see which kinds of ads.

What do we mean by “kind of person”?

Remember that the goal of advertising is to influence your behavior, most often to convince you to buy a certain product. Thus, any information that can be used to modify an ad in a way that would make it more likely that you follow through, is useful.

Examples of this are your interests (e.g., I like cars), the things you’re doing (e.g., I’m currently renovating my house), your psychological profile (e.g., I’m concerned with my safety) and your environment (e.g., I live in a villa and have two kids).

How do they know which kind of person I am?

Companies like Facebook and Google collect as much data as possible about your behavior, the things they can observe you doing, to infer the kind of things an advertiser would like to know about you. For example, if you often search for “Ferrari”, there’s a good chance you’re interested in sports cars.

That’s a very straightforward example but a lot more information is used and processed, increasingly by machine learning algorithms that try to find these relations between your behavior and your personality (because it’s really hard for humans to process this huge pile of information). Here are a couple of examples:

  • Which web pages you visit
  • Your behavior on web sites: how long you stay, how your mouse moves, how often you scroll, the things you click on
  • The things you talk about, either by sharing them on your feed or by having “personal” conversations with your friends
  • The photos you share: who is in the photo, what is the photo of?
  • Your location (Facebook, for example, can also compare the locations of multiple people and know when you were with your friends, where you were and for how long)
  • The apps you use and your behavior on them, analogous to web sites

For tracking along the internet, they convince website owners to add small pieces of software in order to be able to continue tracking on web sites (and apps) they don’t control. For example, when a Facebook Like-button is present on a website, Facebook can continue tracking. When a website owner uses the free Google Analytics to get information about the people that visit his or her site, that information is used by Google as well.

That was the kind of information that’s being collected by these companies themselves. They also buy information from so-called data brokers, companies that specialize in collecting all kinds of personal information and selling it. This means your web browsing behavior can be combined with the things you bought yesterday at the grocery store (collected via loyalty cards) or what kind of education you got and where you went to school.

Why could this be a problem?

First of all, you have no control at all over the content of this data. With all the information these companies have about you, they effectively create a “virtual you” to predict your thoughts and behaviors. Currently there is no way for you to check, verify and correct this data. They do not ask you whether there’s anything you consider personal and would like to keep private.

Second, you have no control over who can access this data. Data brokers freely buy and sell personal information without your consent (in the terms of service, you agreed that it’s their data).

Your insurance company, for example, might get a hold of this information and decide you won’t be able to pay insurance because people who like big booty bitches have 20% less chance of paying their invoice on time.

Even if a company decides to not sell your data, they might be compelled by a government to hand it over (as we’ve seen happen multiple times). More often than not, these governments are as secretive about what they do with this data as companies but they can exert a lot more power over you with it.

Why should I care?

You need to be able to make a choice. You should have the ability to say “okay, this is something I’d like to keep for myself right now.” Even if you want everyone to see everything you do, you should give others the freedom to make their own choice.

They might be wrong. What if the police arrests you because a black person living alone in an apartment in between two white people living alone, has a 32% bigger chance of committing a crime, even though you’re the nicest person on the planet?

You have something to hide. Why do you have curtains in your bathroom? Why do you wear clothes? Why do you wait until that woman left the room before you start gossiping about her?

Saying “I don’t care about privacy because I have nothing to hide” is like saying “I don’t care about freedom of speech because I have nothing to say.” – Edward Snowden

People important to society have something to hide. In a democracy, laws change. But in order to change the law, you first have to break the law. If no gay people would ever want to marry, nobody would want a law that allows gay people to marry. If no women would have stood up to fight for their rights to vote, well, they wouldn’t be voting today. To a certain extent, allowing people to break the law is necessary in a democracy. This doesn’t work if everything you do is being tracked, collected and analyzed.

You might not trust the next person taking responsibility of your personal information. The next leader or the next CEO might decide to use your personal information for purposes completely different from what you deem acceptable. You need to have control now so that you can use it later.

Standard
Life

The Automators’ Manifesto

Author’s note: I wrote this little manifesto while thinking about the impact of technology on our lives. Since then my view has refined but these points will stay valid as our lives become more and more connected. Hopefully this guides you throughout your own journey of finding the balance between connected social media frenzy and deep lonely calm.

We are humans, and humans are destined to do great things. We laugh, play, dance, create, invent, explore and love.

We are not machines. We are not made to do the same thing over and over again.

Let the machines be machines and let us be humans.

This is what we stand for.

We Embrace Technology and Make It Work for Us

Technology is beautiful. It grows exponentially and using it makes us grow just as fast.

The phones in our pockets and computers on our desk carry an immense power. We use that power to enrich our lives and do more meaningful things.

We do not let machines control us. We are in full control and make them work for us.

It’s All About Focus

It used to be that “knowledge is power,” but this isn’t true anymore: now, focus is power. The biggest corporations in this world earn their billions from distracting you and the ability to single-task is the most important skill you can have.

We eliminate ruthlessly what we don’t need or doesn’t fulfill us and pour everything we’ve got in what matters to us. We invest in ourselves, the people we love and unforgettable experiences.

Every Repetition Is an Opportunity

Every time we find ourselves doing the same thing twice, we stop and find a way to do this faster and more efficiently next time—or even make it automatic.

Everything we do over and over, every copy-paste, is a chance to eliminate time we spend being machines and an opportunity to spend more time being human.

We realize that putting in a bit more effort in the beginning can and will give us things we can reap the benefits from forever.

Creation and Contribution Drive Us

We are makers, not consumers. We create new ways to make technology work for us. But we don’t just do this for ourselves—we share our creations and insights with the world, so everyone benefits from what we do.

We Use Our Tools to Their Full Power

We master the few tools we use. We don’t fuss about finding the best tool, but instead make the best use of what we have. Chase Jarvis, award-winning photographer, said “The best camera is the one you have with you.” We apply this principle everywhere.

Further reading

Check out Cal Newport’s On Digital Minimalism for more thoughts on this topic.

Standard
Studies

Three Simple Ideas for Radically Improved Studying

Programming and studying engineering is awesome, but it gives you one nasty habit you’re probably going to have for the rest of your life: you spend way too much time on finding the most effective and efficient ways to get things done. So why not do something useful with it and share it on the internets? Here’s the three principles that form the foundation of all my studying:

Disclaimer: I’m studying engineering, so these ideas are developed for math and other engineering related subjects (physics, computer programming, anything with ‘problems’, really). I don’t know how well this works for, say, languages.

Fail

If you made an error, never just scrap the whole thing and try again. Find out where you went wrong — how can you avoid making that mistake again?

Here’s a harsh truth: if you’re frolicking trough your exercises, solving every problem with a couple of elegant pen strokes, you’re not learning anything. Your task is to find things you don’t know the answer to. And then find that answer. That’s learning.

Reflect

Whenever you’ve successfully solved a problem (or not; see above), re-read it. What were the high-level steps that got you to the solution? Were there any exceptions, any special cases you have to remember next time?

Seriously, don’t skimp on this: after every exercise, I write down a little evaluation, where I note what mistakes I made, how I can make sure I don’t make them again and whether there may be a simpler, faster or more elegant solution (after reading the model solution, if provided).

Repeat

I’m not saying you should study all the time. Definitely not. But taking a couple of minutes to go over your notes, summarize what’s been told (even if just in your head) and clarify your notes will make you understand all those new concepts in no time.

So there you have it! Three simple ideas for radically improved learning. Fail, reflect and repeat.

 

What are the things that have helped you the most, regarding better learning? I’m curious!

Standard
Sit down and have a coffee ;)
Life

The Power of Doing Nothing

About two weeks ago I decided to deactivate my Facebook account, and there’s one big thing I’ve learned so far: the power of doing nothing. With the internet being in our hands and pockets continuously, we’re on a constant highway of tweets, posts and notifications being thrown at us, which we attempt to take all in. Obviously, our brains aren’t capable of process this huge flow of information, so what happens is that we basically remember nothing.

You see, our memory is ‘divided’ in two parts: the short-term and the long-term memory. What we read, see or hear enters in the short-term memory. But it needs time to settle, to process, to be moulded and brought in relation with other information, in order for it to enter the long-term memory. See the long-term memory as a spider web, with all the dots of our knowledge connected by strings. If we want to add a new dot do this web, we need to create strings to and from this new piece of information, and that takes time.

Remember that feeling you had when your mind was blown the last time? You can kind of feel what you’ve just learned ringing around inside your brain. You need to give it time to settle, so it can become a part of your permanent knowledge. If you just go on in your stream of uninterrupted notifications, it gets kicked right out of your short-term memory and is replaced by something else.

So take your time. Learn something, then make a walk in the park, or just sit down and think about it for a while. Let these new ideas find a comfortable spot to settle. Give them a home inside the city of your brain.

Standard