Showing all posts tagged #tools-for-thought:


The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species - Lightspeed Magazine clipping

Posted on November 13th, 2018

by Ken LiuAuthor spotlight Published in Aug. 2012 (Issue 27) | 2735 words © 2012 Ken Liu There is no definitive census of all the intelligent species in the universe. Not only are there perennial arguments about what qualifies as intelligence, but each moment and everywhere, civilizations rise and fall, much as the stars are born and die. Time devours all. Yet every species has its unique way of passing on its wisdom through the ages, its way...

Ekistic lexicon: call for proposals

Posted on September 12th, 2018

In a recent conversation, Sebastián pointed out that there is a dearth of words to talk about cities. I gestured to a building while walking around the Fillmore and said "That's some nice urbanism!", and he grumbled that that's equivalent to pointing to a shop and saying "That's some nice economics!". His point was that the word "urbanism" is overloaded, and he's right. We use it to describe everything in the lexical space: concrete physical...

Comparison of text editing methods

Posted on September 1st, 2018

Given how much time I spend producing text, I've spent shockingly little of it considering the tradeoffs of various modes to input it. I had a vague sense that typing is faster than handwriting and that, despite this fact, I still prefer writing drafts by hand in my notebook. Recording audio notes while walking and using Otter's automatic voice-to-text transcription is fantastic for getting thoughts down in a steady flow, but the result is ne...

Productivity is like a heat engine

Posted on August 28th, 2018

When I started learning about thermodynamics, I was shocked to learn that the typical engine converts only about 35% of its energy into useful work. Just the theoretical maximum efficiency for a typical car is ~73%*—converting all of its input heat into work would violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states that the total entropy of an isolated system can never decrease over time. And in practice engines operate at an actual efficie...

Tools & Craft: An interview with Stu Card

Posted on August 24th, 2018

Excited to announce the second episode of Tools & Craft! In this video I interviewed Stu Card, who began work in Human Computer Interaction before it even had a name. His was the first PhD in the discipline, and Stu has made fundamental contributions to HCI including the design of Engelbart's mouse and Information Foraging Theory. In his work at Xerox PARC and beyond, Stu has always emphasized "theories with a purpose", the idea that academi...

Twitter backup

Posted on August 22nd, 2018

I gave in to my paranoid tendencies today and wrote a little backup script for Twitter, which I figured I'd share here. Two requirements: github.com/sferik/t: A command-line power tool for Twittergithub.com/wireservice/csvkit: A suite of utilities for converting to and working with CSV, the king of tabular file formats To install these from the terminal: Here's the script to do the backup itself (which I plan to run ~1/mo): For some rea...

Advice on writing

Posted on August 5th, 2018

Sergey Zavadski emailed me today asking for advice on how to start writing, and I figured I'd share my response here and open an invitation for suggestions from others! The biggest advice I'll give is to find ways to hold back from self-censoring. There are three key tools I use to do this myself, though there are probably other clever ways I haven't considered. One is called The Most Dangerous Writing App, which deletes your writing if you ...

Thoughts on spaced repetition

Posted on July 24th, 2018

A common argument against spaced repetition goes something like this: If an idea or fact is useful enough to memorize, your brain will retain it anyway. If it's important, it'll just stick, because you'll use it enough times.There's some validity to this. If you find it is really difficult to remember something, you may want to examine whether it's really worth expending that memorization effort. Maybe you just don't need to know it that badly...

Tools & Craft: An interview with Andy Hertzfeld 

Posted on June 19th, 2018

I am so excited to announce Tools & Craft, an interview series I've been working on with Notion for the past few months! In this first episode, I spoke with Andy Hertzfeld, who designed the operating system of the original Macintosh. I've always been fascinated by the process of creating new tools and interfaces, especially those that amplify our thought and communication. We’ve all seen the legendary Apple keynotes and how personal comput...

A steelman for tradition

Posted on June 3rd, 2018

Epistemic status: High confidence about the pros/cons discussed regarding my own experience, fairly low confidence about the parts I heard secondhand. Epistemic effort: Low-to-medium effort. I realized these things were connected while I was in the shower last night, then I spent two hours stream-of-consciousness writing to get them onto the page. I then read it over once for minor editing and shared it with a friend to sanity check. 1. "Bik...

Memex: My personal knowledge base

Posted on May 16th, 2018

Epistemic status: This is a quick write up of my personal experience using Evernote as a PKB. The ideas/processes mentioned in here might work for others too, but I'm not prescribing them! There may be something that would work even better for you, and perhaps for me for that matter. (If you have suggestions please do tell me 🙂) Epistemic effort: I wrote up an email response to Nick quickly, and then I went back through it once to make sure n...

Strategically ignorant

Posted on April 1st, 2018

Effective software developers know how to manage their ignorance. Studying the inner workings of each dependency and every layer of your stack is a luxury you often can't afford, so it's important to know how and when to make leaps of faith. More than any explicit technical knowledge, this intuition is perhaps the biggest thing that differentiates experienced programmers from inexperienced ones. When I first started coding, painful awareness ...

Building a personal map

Posted on March 17th, 2018

I love the feeling of building up a mental map of a once-unfamiliar place. Last week I traveled to several cities that I’d never visited before (Beijing, Saigon, Singapore, Jakarta, and Bangalore), so March has been full of this sensation. I joked with friends that I was “training my neural net". I’d read a lot about two of the cities (Beijing, Singapore), knew a bit about one (Saigon), and knew close to nothing about the others (Jakarta,...

Special snowflakes and canonical examples

Posted on February 9th, 2018

I’m proud to be a beginner! But when it comes to the concrete steps of learning something new, I often feel undue shame about my approach. At first, I thought it was a fear of not knowing things or, more likely, a fear of other people seeing of me as a beginner. This doesn’t add up though. I don’t hesitate to ask questions when I’m stuck, and I pride myself on my love of picking up new skills and learning new things. In fact, going from zero ...

What's in a name?

Posted on February 6th, 2018

I often use a thesaurus while coding, and I mentioned this fact to a non-programmer friend today. He was shocked, and he said that he thought that programming was mathematical, not lexical. But it’s not so easy to separate out—naming is one of the most important parts of programming (and math!), because it’s how you reduce complexity down to something that you can understand, explain, and maneuver. The conversation reminded me of a post I rea...

Teach a girl to fish

Posted on February 5th, 2018

My favorite aphorism might be "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime". It's a useful idea to incorporate into your life philosophy, both for yourself and others. It's nice to offer help to someone with a problem that you can solve, but far better to teach them how to do it.* On the flip side, when there's something you don't know how to do, I encourage you to find someone who will bot...

Unambiguous Webpack config with Typescript

Posted on June 19th, 2017

You can write your Webpack config in Typescript, and it’ll save you a huge amount of pain. Webpack’s docs would lead you to believe that using Typescript requires a hacky customized set up, but in fact it’s as simple as installing a single module and changing your extensions from .js to .ts! You can find the rest of the post at the Webpack blog.

Ode to Audio: Why You Should Give Podcasts and Audiobooks a Chance

Posted on August 25th, 2016

I love doing chores. The more time-consuming they are, the better. I jump at opportunities to empty the dishwasher, and grocery shopping is a highlight of my week. I don’t even mind sorting the trash, as long as I have my phone and some earbuds handy. I used to dread housework as much as the next person. But that all changed when John introduced me to podcasts and audiobooks two years ago. Mundane tasks have become opportunities to learn, to...

Podcast & Audiobook Starter Kit

Posted on August 24th, 2016

In my previous post, I compiled a list of reasons why on-demand audio is great. Evangelism works best when you make it easy to hit the ground running, so here are a few tips and recommendations. Hopefully this will lower the activation energy for getting started. Podcasts You can download my complete list of subscriptions as an opml file or as more readable json.You should be able to load the opml into most podcast apps by going into Settings ...

Google Maps Convinced Me to Ditch My Car

Posted on June 30th, 2016

I am always a little embarrassed when people find out that I had a car in college. I'm a transit geek after all, and I always encourage friends to take public and on-demand transit rather than generate congestion and consume parking spots. Despite all this, I drove multiple times each week last year, because I felt like it was my only real option to get to places I needed to go around the Bay Area. Now, I rarely drive anymore, and I've become ...