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Time is the only real currency we have (theboringtech.io)
595 points by hackeryogi 12 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 300 comments



I hate this framing. It is pressuring, dehumanizing as it contextualizes human endeavor in transactional terms, usually in a market.

I know this goes against the ethos of high-tech, but humans don't have an imperative to be as productive as possible. They don't have to make the most use of their time. They don't have to get as efficient as they could. These are metrics that work fine for our machines, our code. But humans are not machines. Sure, we shepherd the machines, and sure sometimes we are in rivalrous dynamics that increasing efficiency has a payoff, but it is never the goal in itself.

The real "currency" we have, if we are using the term in the sense of denoting essentialness, is our humanness, our mortality, our psyches, our connection with other people and seemingly mundane but meaningful parts of our lives. I mean, look how many of us started baking their breads and enjoying it. It is not a wise use of the "currency of time", but it is part of life very well spent, as our internal reward mechanisms have been telling us.


Yep. This attitude of being your own little manager of your own life and treating it like an incremental game is horrible.

In James P. Carse's Finite and Infinite Games there one chapter on how the use of machines works both ways. It doesn't only shape the machine but it makes the person more 'machine-like'. In an attempt to operate a machine the person has itself to act mechanical and to comply with the interface of the machine rather than the other way around.

It's I think very evident in the way we communicate today or how everything becomes 'gamified' or even how dating works. Success today has to be defined in formal or quantifiable terms not because anyone actually consciously chose to do it, but because it's the only way you can put it in a computer, which actually was supposed to exist to empower people. It's pretty sad honestly.


> In an attempt to operate a machine the person has itself to act mechanical and to comply with the interface of the machine rather than the other way around.

I remember an article a while back where archaeologists examined the bones of pre-Columbian women in America. The bones showed the signs of long term debilitating, repetitive work from kneeling and grinding, by hand, corn into flour.

Just last night I watched an American Experience episode on the guy who revolutionized wheat farming. He spent his youth on a farm, harvesting corn by hand, estimating that he'd harvested 1 million ears per season by himself. He was amazed at how wonderful it was to get a machine that mechanized corn harvesting.

I'd much rather mow my lawn with a mower than a pair of scissors.

In the 1960s, my dad was writing a book. My mom would type up the drafts for him. Every new draft meant my mom would spend hours banging it out on the typewriter. Think how much easier that is today with our "dehumanizing" computers. Can you imagine today typing the whole thing over again because you made a misteak?

Machines have largely free'd us from dehumanizing labor, not caused it.


>I'd much rather mow my lawn with a mower than a pair of scissors.

I think you didn't go far enough with the implications of Carse's statement. It's not just that a machine mows your lawn quicker, it's that you have a homogenous lawn in the first place because it is a thing that can mechanically mowed.

For example, why instead of a lawn do more people not have a wild garden, with uneven terrain? Why did everyone feel compelled to put a green square, empty plot of land in front of their houses? is there anything interesting or alive in it, or does it exist because it can be mechanically operated? Given that mowing the lawn is something 'you want to get over with', is it not more accurate to say the lawnmower needs you shoving it around in a system that efficiently maximises lawn-mower production?

To understand the implication of what Carse is saying is to understand that machines don't just enter your environment, they shape your entire perception in a way that makes it conducive to be further operated by machines.

Is living in estranged suburbs with lawns really positive for human flourishing, or is it in a sense the logic of the car and the lawnmower operating on people rather than the other way around?

Is all the corn really part of a diverse diet and ecosystem, or have we adopted the diet because it is the thing that can be mass-produced?


We went to agriculture because otherwise we'd starve. Mechanized agriculture has virtually eliminated starvation. I don't want to live like medieval people did. If you think their lives were better because of no machines, I frankly cannot understand that.

My lawn is mostly wild, I just mow it once a month or so to keep it from being an impenetrable tangle of blackberry pushes about 8 feet high. Cutting those bushes by hand is an exhausting process. I finally got a weed whacker and replaced the string on it with a blade, which knocks them down to a size where the mower can finish them off.

Much as I dislike gardening, I dislike being buried in blackberry bushes even more. I also keep the brush down around the house because it's a fire hazard, and it gives cover for mice to get in the house, and provides avenues for insects to get in the house.

Grass also does a good job of keeping the erosion of the hill I'm on down - blackberries don't. Keeping the grass from going to seed reduces my problems with being allergic to grass pollen.

So yes, there are reasons other than impressing the neighbors.

If I ever do sell the joint, however, I'll have to have it properly landscaped, as I'm sure that'll increase the value of the property far more than it would cost.


Nitpick section:

> We went to agriculture because otherwise we'd starve. (...) If you think their lives were better because of no machines, I frankly cannot understand that.

It's not like that. We were forced to start doing agriculture by competitive pressure; the people who did could conquer the people who didn't. Agriculture essentially gave us everything we consider achievements and civilization, so I'm glad that it happened, but there is a point made by some historians that the transition from hunter-gathering to agriculture marked a significant quality-of-life decrease for individuals, and we've only rebounded from that in the last few centuries.

> Mechanized agriculture has virtually eliminated starvation.

+/- supply chains. As we're about to see with COVID-19, just because we can sow and reap efficiently, doesn't mean people won't starve.

--

Anyway, GP's point here isn't that cutting bushes by hand is somehow better - but that the reason most people worry about those bushes, or have a lawn in the first place, is technology. The point may not apply to houses on the countryside, which have to fight off the wilderness for practical reasons. But there's a curious co-dependency between lawnmowers and suburbs. The reason you need a lawnmower is to maintain your lawn. The reason you need to maintain your lawn as a flat sheet of grass is because your HOA wants to make the area look nice (to some standard of aesthetics). The reason they want that is because they can. The reason they can demand that is because cheap and available lawnmowers exist.

If I'm to believe Wikipedia[0], lawnmowers were created to help maintain sports grounds and large gardens. It seems reasonable to call the homogenized looks of modern suburbs to be in big part a side effect of that invention.

--

[0] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawn_mower#History


Hunter-gatherers regularly starve, because food resources are inconsistent. When you get too old to follow the herd with the tribe, you get left behind to die. You get a crippling injury, you get left behind to die. Hunting and killing game is always a high risk activity for injury and death.

Starvation greatly limited the number of humans.

Me, I like consistent, varied, cheap food. I like living in a heated dwelling in winter. I like cotton undies. I like being dry in the rain. I like having teeth that last. I like having corrective lenses. I like disco music. I like my office. I like playing with my hot rod. I like knowing that the doc can likely patch me up if I get injured. I don't want to deal with horses. I like glass windows.

All this complaining about modern technology "dehumanizing" people makes me laugh. It's like complaining about a door ding in your Ferrari.


The way I see it, those are orthogonal concerns. I love the modern world, there isn't a time and place in past history I'd prefer to live in to where and when I'm now. But at the same time, the way how new technology modifies the environment[0] is very interesting and worth a separate consideration. It sometimes does go too far - technology can be dehumanizing, if we're forced to lose some cherished values to accommodate a simpler/cheaper design of a machine / process.

--

[0] - As it must. Technology that doesn't modify its surrounding context is just too hard. Humans have built roads since forever, so that they didn't have to build off-road vehicles. Bureaucracy has to fit everything into its square holes, because otherwise it would be impossible.


I think the point is that if the people agitating about productivity being evil had their way we'd all still be hunter gatherers.

Yes, it may well be that pausing development where we are would be more comfortable for those of us currently alive. But some people find meaning in the advancement of the human condition. That takes real effort, and causes a lot of people short term pain. But permanently making the world a better place for all future generations is a goal worth achieving, IMO.


You reminded me about Jared Diamond’s lamentation on the agricultural revolution [1]. My jaw was dragging on the floor for a full week after reading it!

Cultivating human potential necessitates the leisure that technology gives us. And when actualized, human potential gives not just the world but the cosmos greater beauty. This makes it self-evidently worthwhile.

[1] http://www.zo.utexas.edu/courses/Thoc/Readings/Diamond_Worst...


It's no surprise that you like what you have; people like whatever it is that they have, whether they originally wanted it or not: https://www.ted.com/talks/dan_gilbert_the_surprising_science...


Tell that to anyone who is poor in an economic depression. Or anyone who has a serious illness. I once spent three months bedridden from an autoimmune illness. I never once "liked" what I had.


And yet "wartime spirit" is a thing. "We were poor but happy" is a cliche'd phrase for a reason. I'm not going to tell you that you enjoyed your serious illness, but it's not a claim that everyone feels happy all the time (clearly false) or that people wouldn't always change things if they could, it's about what studies repeatedly find from people's self-reported happiness.

That we vastly over estimate how happy success will make us, and how miserable illness and failure will make us. That 6 months after winning the lottery or becoming paraplegic people self-report being equally happy with their lives compared to before. That people become happier when stuck with a thing they can't change, than they do with a thing they feel they can change. That we don't know this about ourselves makes us make choices that make us less happy overall. And that these are surprising results is the reason the talk is worth watching.


I think this is important nuance that I did not address in my comment above this one. It is very true that the problem space of choosing things to maximise happiness is filled with unknowns and hazards.

Thanks, I take no offence and I understand your intention here. It is important to understand that suffering and happiness are not mutually exclusive, and for some people the intersection might be larger for where happiness intersects with suffering than for happiness or suffering by themselves.


> It's no surprise that you like what you have

Of course, as I've gotten rid of stuff I don't like and replaced it with stuff I do.

As a hunter-gatherer, though, I wouldn't have such options.


In the scale of internet discussions, this isn't responding to the strongest form of the claim; yes getting rid of things you dislike and replacing them with things you like feels good, but the claim from Prof. Gilbert is that if you can't get rid of things you dislike, then you change to like them more, is so much more significant.

The idea that, if you were a hunter gatherer and didn't have options you would be less happy is the what the talk and the described research is calling false; instead we demonstrably adjust to become happy when faced with no options, which means people like what they have more than they predicted they would not just because they got to choose it, but even if they couldn't choose it.


[flagged]


> farms in Africa shipping cheap crop to us at the expense

farms are not shipping cheap crops to us at their expense. They are trading.

> reap the rewards of sweatshop labor in China

These "sweatshops" brought them out of poverty in rural areas - they would've been a subsistence farmer and had less wealth. It feels unfair for them to only be paid pennies for an object that retail for over 50-60 bucks, but that's still better than not having those pennies.

And eventually, as their wealth accrue and they invest it wisely, their productivity and standards of living grows, and they will no longer accept pennies. I don't see why that's so wrong, and the people complaining about this problem just conveniently ignores that almost all of their wealth of products and services comes from this process.


> farms are not shipping cheap crops to us at their expense. They are trading.

I misplaced a word - at the expense of more local options in need of food. Either way I'd hope that'd be assumed, but I fixed it to not leave it to chance.

> These "sweatshops" brought them out of poverty in rural areas - they would've been a subsistence farmer and had less wealth. It feels unfair for them to only be paid pennies for an object that retail for over 50-60 bucks, but that's still better than not having those pennies.

Make no mistake, they're still in poverty. Go ahead, trade with them. I doubt you would. Your life is almost guaranteed to be far better. It wasn't the sweatshops that brought them out of poverty. What brought workers out of poverty in the 1st world was unions and workers rights - not the jobs themselves.

> And eventually, as their wealth accrue and they invest it wisely, their productivity and standards of living grows, and they will no longer accept pennies. I don't see why that's so wrong, and the people complaining about this problem just conveniently ignores that almost all of their wealth of products and services comes from this process.

This assumes endless growth - an ideal, and assumes that everyone shares in that wealth equally. We know that is definitely not true. Eventually if everyone says "we shall all be paid as our 1st world counterparts", the cost of goods increases, less people buy, and the wealth vanishes, largely because it has been centralized.

This attitude also ignores the impending doom of climate change. People think everything is fine until it's not. It's foolish to think there will not be war, disease, famine in the 21st century. And technology will make it deadlier than ever.


Thinking it's technology doing that is a mistake. It's people doing that. Like the folks who ruined their Easter Island environment.

Technology has also saved us from environmental disasters. Whaling was stopped when oil was found. The denuding of trees from the landscape stopped when coal was discovered. (It's still going on in the Amazon, sadly.)


That's why in my OP I said:

> Technology can be dehumanizing, or very humanizing. It's up to us to curate it properly. Endless advancement in the name of technology will simply destroy the human race.

Whaling largely stopped because of regulation and social factors, not technology, just like cutting down trees - it can be sustainable if you simply do not cut down all the trees in an area, replant, etc. This is an example of curation of technology.


I think I'll have to disagree with you here. The way I understood history, "regulation and social factors" only happened because an alternative to whale oil was found. To an arguably large degree, social progress is a consequence of technological breakthroughs.

In general, and simplifying the dynamics a bit, I'd say this: what happens in a society is constrained to what makes economic sense. You can attempt change (e.g. get whaling banned), but you will not succeed when the economic pressures go strongly against you (e.g. there's no substitute for whale oil and demand is large, so regulations will not happen because of a combination of lobbying and international competition). Your society is always limited to what economics allow, and the way you reshape that economic landscape is through technology. You find substitute for whaling oil. Or a better fuel than wood. Or (upcoming invention) develop lab-grown meat that's competitive to regular one - I bet that vegans will think it was their activism that achieved a future without factory farming, but the way I see it, once we crack lab-grown meat, factory farming will be gone in a blink of an eye.

Another example I like: there were many attempts at reforming the Catholic church in the past, but the one that succeeded happened after the printing press was invented, which let reformatist ideas spread far and wide before the church could contain them.


> It seems reasonable to call the homogenized looks of modern suburbs to be in big part a side effect of that invention.

Europe has lawn mowers too, but people still don't live in soulless unwalkable dystopian suburbs as Americans. It has to do with a lot more than automation. It's partially crimes, partially race relations, inequality, crime, a cultural desire for large living space deriving from manifest destiny and the dream of the wild west, extreme individualism, sparse population etc.


> is there anything interesting or alive in it

I watch the robins foraging for worms on mine. I can look out the window and see fat bumblebees lazily weave among the patches of clover in the late morning. In the afternoon, I get to see my child scrambling across it looking for dandelion flowers to make a bouquet.

If it were a wild garden, we'd have none of that, and I'd have much worse insect (ticks, mosquitoes) and deer problems.

I enjoy the sight of my small mini-field. The wilderness brings me disease and pestilence, which I'd prefer to keep at a distance from where my family rests their heads.

I'll take the mower, thank you.


Yeah, I forgot to mention that mowing gets rid of the lyme disease ticks, too.


That may be true, man-made global warming is linked to a large increase in tick populations and disease is rapidly increasing from them.

> The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the number of tick-borne diseases is increasing at a record pace while the geographic range of ticks continues to expand. Lyme disease is the most commonly known tick-borne disease, but other diseases, such as ehrlichiosis and STARI, have been discovered and the list of tick-related illnesses continues to grow.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2019/05/22/tick-popul...


> I think you didn't go far enough with the implications of Carse's statement. It's not just that a machine mows your lawn quicker, it's that you have a homogenous lawn in the first place because it is a thing that can mechanically mowed.

This is a bit like Fussell's observation that glass or mirrored surfaces signal wealth because they imply you don't clean your own house.


Not everything is a dichotomy. Technology has certainly massively improved our lives, but that doesn't mean one cannot point out that there are also drawbacks.


That's why I wrote "largely free'd us", not "absolutely 100% in every case free'd us".


Well, every situation could be seen as an advance considering the precedent conditions: Tolstoi's wife had to copy in handwriting "War and Peace". Three times. Corollary: It's easy to be a writer when you have a wife.


> Success today has to be defined in formal or quantifiable terms not because anyone actually consciously chose to do it, but because it's the only way you can put it in a computer, which actually was supposed to exist to empower people. It's pretty sad honestly.

Solution: make the computer better. On another note, what do we as a society want?

A. Society wants to survive for as long as it can.

Many decisions don't make much sense. Shouldn't reproduction be considered a crime as optimal population stands at 2-4 billion. If climate change progresses, we would all be dead sooner than later. And more people means more need for energy and construction and everything that accelerates climate change. We defy natural selection as well which we shouldn't given we don't need many people to begin with. Unemployment and automation - you wouldn't have to face that if there were only productive people. Only like 1% of people produce content on the internet, 99% are consumers. If we have less baggage, we would be able to do much more research and don't worry about trivial problems as those are solved through automation. There will be no need for UBI as low skilled folks don't exist. If someone doesn't want to help society survive for longer, they aren't needed.

That's not how the current world works so I am guessing A is partially false.

B. Society wants to survive as long as it can while enjoying hedonism to the fullest.

Might be true. I can't quantify the balance.

C. Survival is a zero sum game and there are many smaller societies coexisting like a network. Competition results in opposite ends for everyone.

This would explain the irrational wars.


Counter-point:

Kobe(RIP) on having time for friends:

“I have "like minds." You know, I've been fortunate to play in Los Angeles, where there are a lot of people like me. Actors. Musicians. Businessmen. Obsessives. People who feel like God put them on earth to do whatever it is that they do. Now, do we have time to build great relationships? Do we have time to build great friendships? No. Do we have time to socialize and to hangout aimlessly? No. Do we want to do that? No. We want to work. I enjoy working.”


A popular basketball player is hardly an authority in giving out wisdom on this matter. Not because of their profession, but because whatever wisdom they gathered through their exceptionally unique life situation is not going to be transferable to the life of 99.999..% of the world. This is not sound advice for how most of us should orient ourselves in life.

He was the top or close to the top of a zero-sum system. There can only be a limited number of hyper-popular NBA players deified in our collective consciousness. Of course he is going to be biased on his work/life satisfaction. The relevant bit is, we are not Kobe. I am not Kobe. You are not Kobe. We never will be Kobe. Now, what is meaningful for us to do?


You're doing essentially the opposite of appeal to authority.

Imagine being a bright, capable mind, and a hard worker. You've decided to focus on a particular career which makes use of some of your skills, allows you a platform for recognition, and pays the bills. Say programming, or a dancer, or a top-tier professional athlete.

Imagine that you still spend your free time satiating your intellectual curiosity in other ways, learning about all the things you didn't have time to devote your life to.

Now imagine that you decide to share your own thoughts and opinions about say, cooking, or politics, or whatever, and you get shot down because a programmer's unique life skills isn't transferable to cooking or politics.

> whatever wisdom they gathered through their exceptionally unique life situation is not going to be transferable to the life of 99.999..% of the world

You can say this about literally any profession when you include the scope of the entire world and the people in it. And this is why we share our knowledge and wisdom with others, because we each only have a few pieces of the puzzle. Kobe shared his point of view so that others might gain some insight into the mind of a hard-working athlete, not so that someone might dismiss his thoughts based on his career (even though you try to claim it's not about his career, you start with the phrase "A popular basketball player", so it's fairly transparent what your meaning is).


My choosing of phrase “A popular basketball player” is not to dismiss him on the basis of his profession but to contextualize his authority; that his authority comes from being good at sports but most importantly being enormously famous. This should not create undue relevance for him in this particular topic. But halo effects and whatnot, our stone age brains have the tendency to attribute importance to what he might say no matter what the subject matter is. If this is anti-appeal to authority, I believe it is appropriate.

Also, it is not the uniqueness of his skills that makes his wisdom questionably applicable on this matter. It is the totality of his life circumstances being radically different. Having enormous financial, social and athletic capital makes his situation very very divergent from practically everyone else’s. And it is not his wisdom about romantic relationships, how to be a father etc we’re questioning, it is about working at the expense of a balanced life, from a person who has a very special kind of work.


> My choosing of phrase “A popular basketball player” is not to dismiss him on the basis of his profession but to contextualize his authority

So you admit, you're making an appeal to (lack of) authority. And it is based on his profession, or you wouldn't have brought up his profession while attempting to discredit his thoughts.


Discrediting him based on his profession would be saying "don't listen to a basketball player about work". That's not what I'm saying. I'm saying "don't give much credence to an immensely popular and powerful basketball player about work, because he is an outlier of outliers". He could have been an immensely popular and rich plumber for all I care, I still wouldn't put much weight to the fact that he "liked work".

If you feel like you can identify with Kobe Bryant to the point of finding his work/life advice useful, go ahead. I don't. I find it misleading. I find it harmful. He is far from being the top thinker on this matter. He is not Bertrand Russel talking "In Praise of Idleness". He is irrelevant.


I'm sorry, but I can't understand why you don't see the utility in listening to what a highly successful person has to say about their personal work ethic.

Reread the quote again. He wasn't giving advice. He was explaining his own mentality. You jumped the gun and started criticizing him as if he is proselytizing on the streets.

If there are any criticisms to be had about what Kobe said, they could be made in good faith without an unnecessary mention of his career as a limiting factor of his experience.


You're not thinking broadly enough about the utility maximization framework. What's wrong with just including bread baking, hanging out with friends, etc. as things you find valuable, and then try and maximize those jointly with the value you find in productivity and working?


Because humans are complex emergent systems with inherent information asymmetry. We are not transparent to ourselves in that what will make us satisfied in life. Worse yet, our reward mechanisms have evolved as best-guess proximal reinforcers. For example we find food tasty (proximal force) because nutrition makes us survive (ultimate force). But our taste can be and is hijacked by hyperpalatable food that now we are divorced from our ultimate goal of survival, in fact working against it if we’re obese. This makes it incredibly hard to come up with an objective utility maximization framework, that maximizes your lifetime utility.

This is the core of any addictive processes. Hyperstimulus (e.g. cocaine) will wreak havoc on your utility function to the point one narrows and narrows on that one local goal maximization at the expense of total life satisfaction.

But the problem is bigger than the reward mechanisms. People were not able to say “I bet bread baking will make me satisfied” and go ahead and do it. Only after necessity pushed them to participate in doing it, they were able to realize its value. They had to gather this participatory knowledge before making any prediction on its utility. This inherent information asymmetry makes broadening the utility maximization framework very very hard for an individual.

This is not true for the market; market optimizes the shit out of what they will take out of the worker and the consumer, because market’s objective function is clear. And by them I mean us because it is us who made the market and who treat that objective function of the market is good enough to be objective function of all humanness. It is not, and that is why I’m against using the language of market (currency, utility, productivity etc) in general for all human activity and why I find it inherently dehumanizing; it simply cannot capture all that is human and that is valuable.


I sympathize with your views in that a formalisation of meaning in life would seem to take away from it somewhat. However, your response also comes across as putting a stake in the ground and thereby closing your mind as to what the utility framework has to offer.

These are some of the problems with utility I took away from your comment:

1. Short term utility maximisation does not necessarily align with long term utility maximisation. 2. The utility is difficult to define because we don't know what can contribute to it and how much those components would contribute. 3. The utility, even if defined, can only be partially observed.

While these are certainly valid and interesting observations, that doesn't mean there isn't a latent utility that describes your lifetime's value. If you live a thousand lives and had access to a device to measure the (latent) utility, surely you could it to rank lives as more meaningful or valuable than others.

Looking at it this way, the problems you raise could be seen as opportunities: how should we align short term utility with long term utility? How can we find out which utility components there are and how much they would contribute? And how can we make the utility observable, so that it can be maximised?

Interestingly, attempting to maximise the utility may itself lower the utility as a result of spending time on the maximisation task and the dehumanisation of life as a result of its formalisation.


Thanks for the engaging response, it helps me think more clearly. I actually agree with all of your points.

I would actually love to have a formalized utility framework. I think cognitive science is attempting at this from first principles.

I also think the sense of your use of the word utility here sufficiently encapsulates what I want it to mean. And I think we as humanity have been actually working on these problems for such a long time, though without the formalization as we aspire to. Fairy tales, myths, religions, other wisdom traditions, philosophy schools, states, nations, they’ve been all trying to formulate some part of this utility maximization problem, albeit with abstract, indirect, symbolical etc language, and many many digressions in between.

The name of the game is wisdom; what is meaningful, what should we be doing in life, how not to get stuck in local maxima of our meaning making (i.e. bullshit ourselves).

But right now we have a discontinuity; we have long lost authority of religion, after WWII we’ve lost trust in power of the state, now we are only left with the market to make sense of our lives. For all the fantastic attributes it has, market can’t solve our general utility maximization problem, and that is why I was aversive to use it as a tool anymore.

As for your point on latent utility, I had dreamed about this too, but maximizing with imperfect information is an inseparable part of the game. Like you allude, there needs to be regularization to our maximization endeavors, simply because there might be inherent limits to its computability. There is certain information you will have only after participated in a situation e.g. choosing to be a parent, having a terminal illness etc, which also drastically changes your utility function. Or there are very weird components of the function like the nature of consciousness, problem of free-will etc. that again drastically changes the computation. Or mini-enlightenments after mystical experiences (e.g. psychedelic use) seem to change the utility function itself to approximate reality “better”, which would make that person’s prior computations faulty. In other words, what are trying to do is to actually approximate to that ideal latent utility function by getting more and more wise. And we might have exhausted what market can offer in this regard anymore.


This is great if you will never have an economic rival or military enemy.

There's a strong argument that not aiming at immediate productivity produces better productivity long-term (e.g. fundamental science, pure mathematics), but that still holds productivity as the primary value.

But what value survival if we lose our humanity?

A resolution is that our intuitions of morality support probabilitistic long-term survival, even if it doesn't seem so in the short-term, shaped as they are by evolution.


Work has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I’ve always been obsessed with building stuff. Really, exploring, building, & optimizing things is a vital part of my humanity.

I’m sorry if others have tried to force their version of humanity on you, but what’s de-humanizing to one is the humanity of another.


"All these consequences are implied in the statement that the worker is related to the product of labor as to an alien object. For on this premise it is clear that the more the worker spends himself, the more powerful becomes the alien world of objects which he creates over and against himself, the poorer he himself – his inner world – becomes, the less belongs to him as his own.

The alienation of the worker in his product means not only that his labor becomes an object, an external existence, but that it exists outside him, independently, as something alien to him, and that it becomes a power on its own confronting him. It means that the life which he has conferred on the object confronts him as something hostile and alien."


Yes! Please track down this book "This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom" it examines time and the value of it in the way your seeing it. Long but great write up on it here: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/05/20/if-god-is-dead...


I don't think this "time saving" argument is only applicable to productivity. It works when applied to happiness as well.

You can't deny that there are many things we have to do in modern society that we would rather not do (e.g., taxes). If we can minimize or remove doing these things, then we can spend more time doing the things we enjoy.


Thanks for saying, and more eloquently than I likely could, exactly what I wanted to.


Slow down. Life is to be savoured.


Like my favorite counter quote: "Live slow, die whenever."


I’ve often wondered what society would look like if optimized for saving people time. Just some quick thoughts:

- Crosswalks and traffic lights would become non-existent and replaced with more pedestrian overpasses, turning/merging lanes, and other designs. Waiting for the light to change is a huge waste of time for both pedestrians and drivers. It seems like we might get this eventually with self-driving cars.

- Minimization of waiting rooms. If your appointment will be delayed, you’ll be informed of it ahead of time via SMS. Time slots are strictly enforced to avoid overlap.

- Purchase and checkout items while you shop, rather than waiting in line at a cash register. Or just skip shopping in person and order everything via delivery.

- Adoption of remote work and minimization of unnecessary commutes. Plus faster public transit in general. Japan is pretty good with this (the Shinkansen is impressive.)


> replaced with more pedestrian overpasses,

vegas has pedestrian overpasses and they are a tremendous waste of time - much worse than crosswalks. A better approach would be to keep the pedestrians at grade-level and have car under-passes


Vegas has built them to waste time rather then be efficient. The overpassed there make you loop around casinos and stores, purposely causing you to walk further and take longer


If you're talking about overpasses in general, I can see how car underpasses are more time efficient. I assume pedestrian over/under passes are cheaper to build.

Regarding Vegas, it doesnt seem like crosswalks are more efficient, especially from the perspective of the driver. 1) Large intersections with crosswalks tends to have people linger in the middle of the street. This delays the flow of traffic. 2) Right turns are much slower. 3) People who jaywalk. This can be easily observed in Vegas at major hotels. Cars are always struggling to turn into the hotel with large crowds of people trying to cross regardless of the color of the light.

That said, I agree with another poster that crosswalks are optimized to force you into hotels/shops and are subpar.


The problem here is actually twofold;

- Crosswalks don't do well in overly large intersections

- Vegas over-concentrates traffic into large arterials that require large intersections in the first place.

A traditional American street grid, while requiring more stopping time, in general allows traffic to diffuse across many different routes, making large intersections with two ten lane roads unnecessary.


Yeah, kind of like the utilidor system. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disney_utilidor_system


There's always the barbican approach: move grade 6 meters up


There’s other ways to do it them having gigantic concrete bridges like Vegas.

In downtown SF, you could put lower diagonal street bridges which would save an infinite amount of time for people driving.


Several large cities in China that I've been to tend to use pedestrian tunnels at many large intersections. It works pretty well - subway-like staircases at each corner, and nice wide hallway/tunnels going around the whole intersection. Occasionally with some shops.

It has the advantage of being easy on the eyes above-ground. I can imagine in places with serious homelessness issues there could be problems, but the ones I experienced were fairly nice - some more plain than others, but generally graffiti free, well lit, and well used.


These are fine if you're perfectly abled.

If you are disabled (permanently or temporarily), old, have strollers or luggage, then level-changes add quite some time in the best case or are completely unusable in the worst case.

In my experiences traveling with Asia, usually these systems were not outfitted with elevators.


yes, I didn't see elevators, but I did see escalators on the busier ones.


Harvard Square has this, by happenstance. There are entrances to the T on both sides of Mass Ave. and you don't have to go through the turnstile to cross from one to the other.


> - Purchase and checkout items while you shop, rather than waiting in line at a cash register.

In Sweden, this has been a thing in most larger grocery stores for more than 10 years, e.g. https://translate.google.com/translate?sl=auto&tl=en&u=https...


This has also been a thing at many US grocery stores for many years now, but inexplicably, many people don't use them.


The barrier is the mental cost of context switching. You find your item, scan it, and then have to go check your list to remember which item it was you needed. You also need to find the barcode while the regular checkout has both a bottom and side scanner, so you just pass the item over and most of the time it will catch the item.


I don’t use them because I just assume it’s going to be a personal information harvest fest, and it won’t work as advertised anyway. Like most other software-driven things these days.


It's basically the same technology that's used at the register. You pick up a barcode scanner, you scan your items, and the scanner produces a hash of your items that can be scanned at checkout to reproduce the list. Super simple technology.

The store could gather how much time it took you to scan between items and in which order, but you can pay with cash if you're worried about personal privacy.


Personal information is a fair point, though that goes for any loyalty program (which I presume you also don't use), but what do you mean by "won't work as advertised"? The function that's advertised is that you can scan items as you walk through the store and once you get to the checkout the only thing you do is pay, which is exactly the function that's provided.


There are versions that even allow paying with cash. It is basically the same experience as usual, you just tag all the stuff yourself.


Unless you pay with cash at the grocery store, they are already harvesting it. I’m surprised they are not selling it to the health insurance companies to monitor your habits.


Believe it or not; that type of behavior was not always deemed acceptable, and has largely been an artifact of the tech boom making mass information processing and transfer easy to do. Besides which, if they did, it isn't that big a leap to realize a second coming of HIPAA would soon follow, as people are quite understandably very sensitive to the nature of what inputs are allowed in terms of actuarial processes. Remember, your insurance provider having more information is almost always strictly worse for you in the long run. They are out to maximize float. Even of they can't try to dissuade individuals to drop out of the risk pool anymore through individual medical underwriting, they just bumped the actual filtering up a level of abstraction.


How? Where? Would love to know how to get access to this.


At least some of the Ahold Delhaize subsidiaries (Food Lion, Hannaford, Giant, Stop&Shop) have handheld scanner kiosks you can checkout when you enter. I know Giant and Stop&Shop also offer a smartphone app that operates the same way as the kiosk units using your smartphone camera to scan.

I've seen the kiosk system at Kroger in the midwest.

Sam's Club offers a mobile app scanner.

Perhaps it's just the places I frequent, but I've gotten to the point where I take them for granted. Keep an eye out for a kiosk that seems to be a kind of fnord. Check if your nearby groceries have a smartphone app that offers scanning via your phone if you're comfortable with that. The ones I've used worked fine, but I tend not to use the phone apps because I have a chronically low smartphone battery and storage space.


The Kroger stores I go to always have that, but they always seem to shut it down around 6pm, and I get off work at 7pm, so it's kinda useless to me haha.


Thanks!


I've seen this at one Ralphs (Kroger) location near me.


They introduced these at the grocery store my wife and I frequent. We used them just once. As long as the lines aren't long, it seems just as quick to have the 2 checkout people (1 cashier, 1 bagger) do the work in a batch at the end, as opposed to fiddling around with bagging as you go.


There are no baggers in Sweden though.


As a Swede the mere concept of a bagger boggles my mind. Talk about wasteful.


As a Brazilian the idea of not having baggers makes me immediately concerned about unemployment...


Thats one thing the pandemic has made clear - how many jobs are unnecessary.


Depends on your criteria for necessity. I’d argue that if a job is required to give a person a living wage, than it is necessary.


really? A job is necessary insofar as the value it provides in it's context. If bagging is not providing value, then the job isn't necessary.

Jobs (unfulfilled value) don't exist to provide a living wage.

A living wage is earned by doing something of value (a job).


You write as if your point of view is not only universal but absolute. I don’t think that is the case.


I'd love to hear another logical perspective on this.

I'm struggling to fathom another reason for a job existing (perhaps I'm closed-minded about it).

Jobs are gaps, unfulfilled value -- why would jobs exist otherwise?

I've really like to hear your perspective on this.


Jobs are also a mean to provide opportunity and distribute wealth.


That's generally not that person's only job in the market though. These same people generally have mild janitorial duties, keeping the front-end stocked with supplies, and act as general go-fers (helping people find things, putting things back on shelves, price checks, etc.) This sort of role can make things way more efficient.


In my area of the US most stores don’t have baggers. But in those that do I’ve found they are often either very young (likely a first paid job) or have some form of mild mental disability. It kinda seems like stores having baggers is kind of a jobs program/public benefit, making the inefficiency less of a problem.


there are many pedestrian overpasses in some big cities (like the one I live in)

but it's not so simple, because then you have to climb up stairs, which takes more time... you walk more steps

add some heavy duty sun and people rather wait in the shade down below rather than climb up.

Also pedestrian overpasses tend to be really narrow (read: uncomfortable)

Also, why should we be so stingy with time? it's better (IMHO) to lived relaxed, otherwise we will end up under conditions similar (they say) to amazon warehouse workers which have their bathroom breaks measured in seconds.


Ideally, the road would be at a lower level than the sidewalk. Then you wouldn’t need to spend time climbing up the bridge, and it wouldn’t be a big deal to have multiple wide bridges. Think Venice, except roads instead of canals.

Presumably engineering tech will also get better and cheaper and some sort of rapid outdoor escalator or elevator could also solve the problem.

Regarding stinginess: I understand where you’re coming from, but I also feel like there are time-intensive aspects of modern life which have little-or-no value, like waiting in traffic.


The problem to solve is not how to make traffic faster, but how to reduce the need for traffic. Many books on the subject but the basic gist is we've designed our cities incorrectly and suburbs are inefficient for many reasons - time, energy, land use and even self reported happiness and satisfaction.


> why should we be so stingy with time?

Because it's fungible. If I save 10 seconds, maybe I get to keep those for myself.


The idea that time is fungible is misleading. I can only drink coffee using my before noon time, or else I take away from the utility of my night time. I’m less productive in the time immediately after a big meal. I can only smell the roses for 30 or so consecutive seconds, and then need a break.


As human beings, time isn't really fungible. I can't wake up at 3am, choose to be productive for 45 minutes, go back to sleep, and then take a 45 minute nap later on in the day. If I stop myself from watching an hour of TV, it doesn't mean that I'll gain an extra hour of productive time tomorrow.


to each their own, I guess...

I am just (strangely) reminded of Charles Dickens' classic a christmas story: "bah! humbug!".


I think an interesting question is whether we are respectively good judges on the "real" value of those ten saved seconds vs more abstract quality of life issues such as mental health or reductions in stress.


That sounds stressful...


uncovered bridges and people being lazy... compared to saving lives and time, these sound like bad excuses.


> I’ve often wondered what society would look like if optimized for saving people time.

It would look like what it is today. Sure, there are still inefficiencies, but we have a high standard of living because it is optimized for time. For example, it used to be that 95% of people worked on the farm to raise enough food. Now it's like 2%. Nobody spends time anymore making cloth, which used to be the bulk of "women's work".

> Or just skip shopping in person and order everything via delivery

Isn't that what we do now? I've been doing nearly all my shopping online since long before this quarantine, exactly because it's a huge time saver. I think I visited the mall once in the last year, and that was for a social reason, not shopping.


> Waiting for the light to change is a huge waste of time for both pedestrians and drivers

That's because it's designed and run by the government, which has no interest in saving time.

How many hours do we all waste waiting for a light to change when there's no cross traffic? having a "platoon" of cars come to a halt to let one car cross? having a light turn yellow at the last moment to slam on the brakes? How much gas has this cost, too?

By mounting cameras on the lights and a little AI programming, and an optimization algorithm, I bet the lights could be a major factor in reducing gas consumption, smoothing traffic flow, reducing accidents, and saving time.

In fact, the AI could be self-learning, like the fuel injection systems on cars.


This. Instead of obsessing on level 5 autonomous car that we probably will never achieve in our lifetime, why not optimized the AI for level 5 equivalent of traffic lights and control. Imagine having Waze like system integrated with city wide dynamic and intelligent traffic lights for seamless urban travel.


Roundabouts could replace most, although not all, instances of traffic lights. They're so pleasant to use.


I used to think so, then I married a gal who gets car-sick anytime we go through more than one round-about in a row. I suppose it could have to do with the design of the roundabouts in our area. They are quite small.


- Most of the regulation of prior permission paperwork submit is abolished. Whether somebody meets the regulation standard will be evaluated after it was done.

- Customer service is not free of charge after used the up free quota.

- Telephone, video/voice chat are deprecated because these communication require people to use time at specific point rather than in the convenient time they choose.


> - Customer service is not free of charge after used the up free quota.

Oh yeah, that definitely won't make companies just wait until you're in the paid period before giving you service.


> Most of the regulation of prior permission paperwork submit is abolished. Whether somebody meets the regulation standard will be evaluated after it was done.

I’m not convinced this one would optimize for time unless it’s also optimizing for items falling through the cracks. If non-conformity is actually being caught it means the work has to be done twice to bring it in line with regulation after the fact.

Recent example: Boeing Starliner was not meeting requirements but oversight seemed inadequate ultimately requiring a multi-million dollar re-do once the gaps were caught after it was supposedly finished

Edit: down votes are fine but please extend the courtesy of explaining so as to add to the conversation


The pedestrian signal is a time set aside to meditate on one's humility and patience.


Whereas the car signal is time set aside to check one's texts and notifications.


Why these things don’t (always) happen is more related to the top sibling comment: there is a trade off in space or energy with each of the things you described, and the value in time saved must be less than the space and energy cost of the alternatives, or else they would happen.


> Purchase and checkout items while you shop, rather than waiting in line at a cash register. Or just skip shopping in person and order everything via delivery.

I believe this is starting to happen in some places, example (and an interesting video on RFID tags in general)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0QKrHi-G9WQ


More examples (Kroger handheld checkout scanners): - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BcAZPh9nuA

And of course Amazon Go - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rPZdWuOPaHY


We could optimize (probably we will) lot of things like you mentioned.

But then, we will still waste 20 times more looking at stupid things on internet.


Probably. But at least I try and spend some of my phone time doing Anki cards.


It could be an interesting experiment. I cannot stop but see time wasted everywhere, people using things that actually slow them down..

Also I believe our brain is very very much tailored to enjoy rapid resolutions.

Yet I still worry about overuse of the idea leading to more stress (faster faster faster).


This is pretty much my life to the extent of how much I can control it in society.

I never do any singular thing with the exception of work.

I won’t leave the house unless I can divide and group that time into multiple objectives thus spreading the overhead of time lost against many achievements.

If not in a meeting I have my pleasureable conversations via car phone when I commute some where. If I’m not in a meeting when commuting or talking to friend / family I’m streaming a new pluralsight tutorial over Bluetooth.

I work through any meeting that doesn’t maximize my output to 100%. (I’m remote most of the time)

I listen to self growth audio books when I shower.

When I head to the bar if I’m not killing two birds with one stone networking or meeting a client I’ll bring my laptop to get work done.

Tasks that I cannot streamline and time intensive I pay for.

Blah blah I can go on and on.

Ironically the one thing I haven’t mastered is how to delegate to achieve bigger goals leveraging employees.


Make sure to stop and smell the roses. Research shows people on their death bed always regret working too much and not enough time with loved ones (if you’re a data driven sort of person).


Thanks for the comment. I do have a large family I take care of them as single source of income. I found I have to make a conscious effort to ensure I spend time with them. Since I have done that my quality of life improved greatly while still maintaining a hefty work schedule. A couple years back I audited how much time I was spending with my family/kids. It was embarrassing. Besides our normal routines I made the effort to take them to each of their extra curricular activities. 6 days a week 3 kids. I spend individual time with them each week and we go on vacation 3-5 times a year. I’m learning to have my cake and eat it too. But the family life is a conscious effort I have to make to avoid the (I wish I slowed down). Not a day that goes by I don’t love what I do and my life. Given the above I hope I don’t regret it. Time will tell.


Don't forget about art. That and human connections are what make life worth living.


I think you’re doing great, for what it’s worth.


thank you!


A poor life this if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare


Leisure

--

What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass, Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight, Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance, And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare.

- W.H.Davies (1871-1940)


How did you justify writing this comment? No snark intended, I’m just actually curious how one justifies time wasted commenting on this site.


Great question - if I feel like taking leisure time I take it. Easy as that. I justify it by kicking ass and optimizing everything else as best as I can. That is what brings me peace. Knowing I do my best. It's a good balance for me, I naturally found a circle of successful people that do the same(birds of a feather). I don't think one should try to be this way if you are not and I do realize its a bit different. But for me its worked great and truly feel like I'm living a better life every day.


> I never do any singular thing with the exception of work.

This is the part that misled me. It sounds like that blanket statement doesn’t include deliberate leisure time.


Quite frankly, this all sounds pretty sad.

Being able to stop and just do nothing once in a while is important. And I do mean "nothing". Not play on one's phone or be idle in front of the TV. Nothing, as in sit down and just be left alone with your thoughts.


I think I came off wrong. I group together things and hyper-organize them to maximize my output and minimize the time I spend on doing things for growth/maintenance. I meditate daily, find room for some reading, picked up gardening recently. Anything I can streamline I do that to maximize my return as time is a valuable commodity.


Interesting thought. The GDP would be replaced by GDTS, gross domestic time saved and the country with the highest GDTS would have the most flourishing economy. An ounce of gold would be worthless.


GDP is an input measure by definition. The corresponding output measure is GNC (Gross National Consumption), so is GDTS/GNTS.


I wonder if it would be more fruitful to optimize not for saving time but for patience capacity. Somehow I was more accepting of having to wait 20 years ago than I am now.


broadly speaking, you could argue waiting (in lines or other queues) in many instances is an externalized cost placed on consumers to the benefit of commerce/bureacracy. it allows the business/agency to optimize its operations at the expense of the customer. this isn't generally considered when making productivity and efficient allocation arugments in politics/economics.


Removal of adverts


> Minimization of waiting rooms. If your appointment will be delayed, you’ll be informed of it ahead of time via SMS.

That would be great! Then I can keep working until the last minute and, if no SMS was received, teleport myself directly into the doctor’s office.

> Time slots are strictly enforced to avoid overlap.

Then everyone will be scheduled, and charged, much more time than the expected duration of a consultation.


> I’ve often wondered what society would look like if optimized for saving people time.

No TV, entertainment etc, which basically exist only because we have more time than we know what to do with, so we pay people to kill time.


all of the above currently exists in some form.

I'm sure more of it will come.


I agree with the sentiment of this article, but strongly disagree with the title, and the advice to learn to type fast.

The title is abuse (or misunderstanding) of the word "currency". Currency is an accounting mechanism. Time is, well, something else. It's an incredibly valuable commodity, a necessary (but not sufficient) ingredient for any activity and hence any kind of progress, and one which you cannot make more of and so is worth using wisely. But comparing it to currency is a category error.

Which brings me to my second point: it seems intuitively obvious that if you want to use time wisely you should use it efficiently, and typing faster is more efficient than typing slower. But this overlooks a crucial point: typing faster can only produce a linear improvement in your efficiency. If you type twice as fast, you will be able to type twice as many characters in the same amount of time. But there is another dynamic in play: if you type slowly, then the cost of typing will become more painfully evident to you, and that can motivate you to think about ways to type less, and that can lead to exponential improvements in typing efficiency.

I have been coding for forty-one years. I never learned proper touch-typing, and so my typing has always been quite slow by coder standards. As a result, typing boilerplate is extremely painful for me, and I try to avoid it at all costs. That drove me to learn Lisp, and that has led me to a coding style where I only need a tiny fraction of the code that, say, a Java programmer needs to do the same job. So yes, I type 2x slower, but I only have to type 0.1x the amount of code for a net win of 5x. And the techniques that lead me to that win can be applied recursively. There are domains in which I can get 100x or 1000x improvements (i.e. 1 line of Lisp code is the equivalent of 1000 lines of Java or C). I never would have been motivated to learn those techniques if I were able to type fast.


> I never learned proper touch-typing

That's kind of sad. The most productive 2 week class I ever took was a touch typing class in 8th grade. We learned on mechanical typewriters where you really had to hammer the keys. This has paid off for me enormously.

> quite slow by coder standards

I spend very little time typing code in, that's not where my typing time is spent. For example, I am typing this while looking at the screen, not the keyboard. I catch and fix mistaeks much faster. When I'm transcribing text, touch typing doubles the speed because I read the original while typing.

I also try and optimize my code for readability, not minimal keystrokes.


> There are domains in which I can get 100x or 1000x improvements (i.e. 1 line of Lisp code is the equivalent of 1000 lines of Java or C)

That's quite an extraordinary claim. Would you mind sharing some examples of that?


It's very hard to give short examples because for any short example you can find another language that does the same thing with similar effort. For example, this:

https://edicl.github.io/cl-who/

is basically PHP embedded in Common Lisp. So any example I give you to show how cool CL-WHO is you could render it in PHP and conclude that PHP is similarly cool.

The Big Win only happens if you want to combine a feature that is best served by language X with some other feature that is best served by language Y. In the non-Lisp world, you now have to start gluing together code from entirely different ecosystems, whereas in Common Lisp everything lives together in the CL ecosystem (including nowadays the ability to call C code). So I can combine CL-WHO seamlessly with other programs written in CL (and C). That turns out to be a huge win in the long run.

It pretty much comes down to Greenspun's tenth rule [1]. Macros and the ability to embed DSLs are a huge win in certain domains. Two which I have personally worked in are autonomous spacecraft control and chip design. You can do things in Lisp that you could not even conceive of doing in C short of, as Greenspun's tenth observes, basically re-inventing Lisp.

---

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenspun%27s_tenth_rule


No, it's actually very hard to give large examples. You're not going to replace a million lines of C with a 1000 lines of Lisp, unless something crazy is going on, like most of that million lines is completely the wrong code for the requirements at hand. Or it solves a huge problem X, which includes small subproblem Y; and in the Lisp program we only care about Y.

Small examples are easy: for instance, some one-liner in Lisp based on hashing, compared to a five-liner in C, plus 1000 lines of infrastructure: hash implementation, dynamic strings, ...

Big C programs that have the Greenspunned architecture don't need a lot of additional lines to add new functionality.


> You're not going to replace a million lines of C with a 1000 lines of Lisp

Maybe not, but it's quite plausible to replace a million lines of VHDL with 1000 lines of a DSL embedded in Lisp.

But 1000x win is unusual. Usually it's closer to 10x. But that's still a bigger win than you're going to get by learning to type faster.


Hmm, I am not particular convinced by the example.

How is this different from developing on say JVM, using Kotlin and finding a library providing DSL for HTML?

I was hoping for practical things that fundamentally impossible to describe concisely in non-lisp languages.

I wouldn't dare to challenge that lisps tend to produce concise code but being able to write 10x less code as basis and 100-1000x less on any regular basis seems too good to be true.


> 100-1000x less on any regular basis

I didn't say I could get 100-1000x on a regular basis. What I said was:

> There are domains in which I can get 100x or 1000x improvements

Domains like that exist, but they are outliers. Normal improvement is 10x.

> I was hoping for practical things that fundamentally impossible to describe concisely in non-lisp languages.

Most programming languages are Turing-complete so nothing is "fundamentally impossible" to express in any of them. The thing that is fundamentally impossible in most non-Lisp languages is to extend the language with new syntax and control constructs within the language itself.

It is of course trivial to embed a Lisp interpreter within any language, and that will let you do Lisp-y things within that language. But then your performance will suck, which is why no one does that despite the fact that it is theoretically possible. It is not so much about what is possible as it is about the ways in which your language molds your thought processes. For a C programmer, embedding a DSL is an esoteric advanced technique. For a Lisp programmer, it's as easy and therefore as common as writing a function.


> I didn't say I could get 100-1000x on a regular basis. What I said was:

I know, sorry for misrepresenting that. I just assumed that this happens often enough for you to mention it.

I would be happy with any random 1000x improvement or two you've encountered over the years (imagine something like Java/Kotlin baseline for comparison).

I don't really buy the regular 10x improvement either though (as in something achieved by other means than different form of formatting). Happy to be proven wrong though, my lisp experience is limited to some clojure.

> Most programming languages are Turing-complete so nothing is "fundamentally impossible" to express in any of them

Sure, that's why I said "fundamentally impossible to describe concisely", as in something you can only express concisely in lisp (because of prefix notation? macros? I don't know) and it is bound to be 10x verbose mess in a c-like lang.


> I would be happy with any random 1000x improvement or two you've encountered over the years

I already provided two examples. See: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22980487

"Two which I have personally worked in are autonomous spacecraft control and chip design."

> I don't really buy the regular 10x improvement either though (as in something achieved by other means than different form of formatting).

Why exclude a "different form of formatting"? That phrase is sufficiently vague that it could potentially refer to just about anything.

> something you can only express concisely in lisp (because of prefix notation? macros? I don't know) and it is bound to be 10x verbose mess in a c-like lang.

You are still fundamentally misunderstanding the claim. It is not that there is anything that can be done in Lisp that could not in principle be done in a c-like language with a comparable number of keystrokes. The history of c-like languages is one of continual refinement and adding features that do precisely this.

The difference is that in Lisp if you need a feature that isn't already there you don't need to wait 30 years for standards committees and compiler writers to catch up. All you need to do is take ten minutes to write a macro.


The very first time I typed in a C program to accomplish a specific task and it worked without defects was over a 300 baud dialup connection.

Name the part of the car that enables it to go fast: the brakes.


The typing advice seems out of place in the post, but I would encourage everyone to learn touch typing purely for the enjoyment of it. I find it really satisfying. I also think there are ergonomic benefits that outweigh any increased efficiency. Like the author concludes, though, nothing is "absolutely wrong" and to each their own :)


There is nothing wrong with pursing touch typing (or any other skill for that matter) for its own sake, and all else being equal typing fast is better than typing slow. My point is just that all else is not equal. The benefit of typing fast in terms of time savings is linear at best but there are ancillary effects to typing slow that can accrue non-linear benefits.


Parameters of the universe are currency. Time is one of them, space (or area on earth’s surface) is another, and energy is a third. How these three things are used is what generates value to human beings. Each of the fundamental items can be traded individually, but money is used as a proxy for value. The most common trade is when a person can trade their time and their body’s energy. They produce some level of value using those two inputs, and receive money (a proxy for that value) in exchange. A person who can generate more value with the same amount of time and energy should be receiving more money than someone who generates less value, as money is only a proxy for value.

People can also secure space. We’re used to thinking in terms of real estate, which always prices in the value of a structure or natural resources or potential on top of the raw spatial resource. But the raw three dimensional space can be traded as well, just like time or energy, as it is finite for humans.

Money is just a tangible abstraction later on top of these fundamental parameters of the universe we trade. Providing lots of energy in a small space in a short period of time is incredibly valuable to humans, and so money reflects that. Using energy and time and space in a more efficient way to produce something in a factory is valuable, so money reflects that.

It’s not that money isn’t real currency, it’s just an abstraction layer for tradable natural commodities like time, and energy, and space.


Yeah, and the exchange rates are terrible.

Time goes as 1/(1-V^2)^0.5 in this market. Everything is pretty good until you really want time to stop, then, blammo! The Energy goes to infinity and the Space pretty much looses a dimension. It's especially bad, because it the dimension you're walking along!

Trust me, fella, stick with dollars, at least you can print new ones.

What a racket!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lorentz_factor


The only currency you're born with is time. The rest are acquired by the application of time.


Really though? During that time, you occupy a space, and the spaces afforded you by the society you are born into define the constraints within which you can apply your time. That is, all of your "currency you are born with" is really "futures".

Even the time on Earth you are allotted at birth is constrained by the environment you are born into.


You also consume space to gain energy.


Lots of people are born with wealth. In fact that biggest factor in how much wealth you have is how much you are born with.


It’s certainly the most valuable natural resource a person is born with, by far, but I’d argue there’s also technically space and energy there, too. The space a baby consumes is almost valueless, and the energy output is also (though thoughts of babies being harvested in The Matrix come to mind).


You haven’t seen a baby consume space in your significant others life? Guessing not a woman? That actually sacrifices personal space (breasts) for baby? They consume and change boobies, and mommies time! Man mommy rant </>


Good point!


Energy - or rather, the ability to convert it between various forms, like food > kinetic energy - is also a currency that we are born with. If you have grown very old, even having a week on hand will not help you lift a sledge hammer.


Well, even that is not quite right. The amount of energy we can actually use is small relative to the total amount of available energy.

We're born with a relative lack of entropy, which is the only thing that allows us to do anything. Eventually we inevitably return to equilibrium.


I'd say you're also born with energy if you're born with time.


People are born with significant variance in other "currencies".


Spacetime is a better description, and it’s full of real estate. Mammals at least are born with a deed or a need for a boobie, or in big trouble. It’s all linked!


that’s kind of (not as eloquently) how i came to land on the labor theory of value needing to be more prominent in economic policy.

our application of energy (both physical and mental) transforms matter and collects/redirects ambient energy to productive use. that’s what generates value—gold in the ground is essentially worthless until we use labor to extract it. that it’s rare and has other interesting properties that make people trade more for it should be reflected in the labor value rather than some coercive capital value.


Time is easily wasted, though. The labor theory of value ignores this, and ignores the value of cleverness as a result.

If I need to grind wheat for bread every day, I could spend hours a day working hard to grind it by hand, or I could spend a month or so to build a very basic water wheel/grindstone and free up all that time.

The resultant bread is still bread either way. If someone chooses to spend all their time doing the old/inefficient type of grinding, by the labor theory of value, they should be able to demand more money for the result. But why pay more money for something that took more time to make than an equivalent product made with automation? We value bread for being tasty and filling, not by how much time went into making it that way.

Some level of labor is almost always required to get raw material into a valuable state, but the amount of labor does not determine the value. Labor just regulates supply; if something takes a lot of work to make, the supply will be lower than if it were easy to make, which affects value.


That’s the paradox of productivity. You create a machine to make bread and all that happens is that bread gets cheaper in time terms once you strip away the money abstraction.

You can see this by comparing production relative to something that can’t be automated away but is still valued over time - like a violin player.

The machine forces people in the same business down to your level, but people in a less automated arena go up in value relative to your bread.



sorry, but no AI can come close to any decent composer


"No computer can beat a chess grandmaster"


It's not that. I can easily believe a good DNN could today generate better (by any kind of objective standard) music than one created by top composers.

But here is where we discover another component of value that exists in arts: the connection to human mind. Given a piece of music you like that you don't know the provenance of, you'll probably value it different after learning it was composed by a human vs. generated by an algorithm on the spot. It's irrational, but that's how things are with people.

A similar case would be of story generation in games. I don't know about you, but for me, learning that a story or a quest line was procedurally generated essentially destroys my suspension of disbelief on the spot.


It's like a defense mechanism. You value the work less because it was computer made rather than to admit to your flawed value assignment and vanity or human supremacism.


It's the difference between a friend giving you a note with words written on it, and finding a bunch of sticks arranged to the words by chance while strolling through the woods. There is nothing "flawed" about that valuing those things differently, how I judge things as valuable is entirely arbitrary, and entirely up to me.

And with AI it's not even by chance, even mediocre results are produced only after processing the input of countless humans. It's infinitely less cool of a coincidence than something that is actually random, like sticks forming a sentence where the wind blew them, and a complete NOP when it comes to human self-expression.


you're presuming the value and price are static in that example.

once the capital investment has been made, the price of the bread will go down because less labor will be used to make it, as the marginal cost of the bread goes down. the labor in the capital investment will be amortized over time in the price. the capital investment itself should only capture the riskiness portion of the project, not the majority of the resultant productivity gains.

and in many cases, people do pay more for a product made using more labor--i pay more for my manually-roasted beans than i would for mass-roasted ones. the higher price reflects the added labor in the value chain.

that's what i mean by the labor theory of value being more prominent, not to the exclusion of other theories of value.


I’m not making any statements about current practices or what value is typically assigned to labor vs initial capital investments, just to be clear.

And I know prices go down due to less labor being needed, meaning more supply results from less investment, but my point is that it’s wrong to assume labor is the underlying source of value. Labor has no intrinsic value. It’s only valuable in relation to output.

For some people, the “image” of a product and the amount of time and care put into it is an important part of that output. So they value products that have high labor costs even when comparable but less labor intensive products exist.

But to take an extreme example, if I banged two rocks together from 9-5 every day for the rest of my life, I wouldn’t expect a paycheck because there isn’t any useful output there, despite the labor.


> "...it’s wrong to assume labor is the underlying source of value. Labor has no intrinsic value."

primarily a value judgment stated axiomatically, rather than proof.

you could also argue that labor is the only intrinsic value, with all other value being projected onto the output as fashion.


The proof was in the counter example I provided, which is one of many. There are clearly instances where labor is present, but there isn't any value being generated. If labor had intrinsic value, that would not be the case.

I'm not discounting the value of labor relative to output, and it's clearly related to how we assign value to that output, but I think the labor theory of value is too simplistic and places too much value on labor and not enough value on utility.


Imagine that a craftsman value of his manufacture is the time and the necessary skill applied.


> Time is one of them, space (or area on earth’s surface) is another, and energy is a third

I would combine the last two and call them "mass" and that currency is just an abstraction for how much mass you "own".

> The most common trade is when a person can trade their time and their body’s energy.

With this example I would say they are trading time and sometimes mass. They are trading time by the duration they work for and in certain jobs taking time off the years of their life. They may also move somewhere for a job even though they don't like the place and they spend their time in an non-ideal location.

They mass comes into effect when they are using their own car and gas to get to work, if they have to pay for their own work clothes, etc.


Although a bit of a tangent, The British Museum created this well-crafted 4:36 video about the short-lived concept of a time-based currency from the early 1800s. This is currency based on the notion that wages and prices are measured in hours instead of units of precious metal.

https://youtu.be/0Q3qcutiIwo


Thanks for the great summary, you made the whole point so easy Thanks


Was going to make the point about energy, but you made the point way better than me and added space which I didn't think about!


You're using "energy" as a pseudoscientific gloss. A human being provides an extremely meager amount of energy in the physics sense of the word. That energy could be purchased much more cheaply. The economic value of human labor is more closely tied to human intelligence/dexterity.

More reasons to think your comment is more about making the reader feel the insight is deep: there are other important conserved quantities in physics like charge; shouldn't that play a foundational role in economics if your analysis was correct? Will you next say that business leadership is really about "taking charge"?


Please edit acerbic swipes out of your posts to HN. Your comment would be just fine without the swipey bits at the start of each paragraph.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


I can't edit my comment any longer, and I appreciate the rope of moderators in maintaining civil discourse, but for the record I stand behind my use of the term "pseudoscientific". The comment I critiqued uses the trappings of science but not the content.

I also purposefully did not insult the commenter's character, but restricted my reply to the comment itself.


> You're using "energy" as a pseudoscientific gloss. A human being provides an extremely meager amount of energy in the physics sense of the word. That energy could be purchased much more cheaply. The economic value of human labor is more closely tied to human intelligence/dexterity.

Indeed humans provide very little energy. I've always used this to understand the value of oil to our society. Value, not the current price! :)

A barrel of oil fed into a machine can replace the work of hundreds of laborers. In this perspective, oil is ridiculously cheap, alternatively viewed, it provides us with a lifestyle that is luxiurious and some feats that are otherwise impossible (transoceanic flight).


No I’m not. I’m talking about energy quite literally. The chemical energy in food is converted into work output. Of course there are more efficient ways to harness energy, but not to power a human body. We use those more efficient method where we can, hence automation and machinery and tools. This is all reflected in the abstraction layer of money.


You are. You said

> The most common trade is when a person can trade their time and their body’s energy.

They are not "trading their body's energy". They a performing a task which requires innumerable inputs, among them energy, vitamins, oxygen, correct ambient temperatures, training, tools, etc. Energy has a preferred fundamental status in physics but it does not have such a status in this economic transaction. There is no reason to emphasize over any of the other inputs. You are bringing it up because of the aura attached to it in in physics.


> You are bringing it up because of the aura attached to it in in physics.

I didn't get that out of the original comment, and wouldn't presume to apply intent. I think most learned professionals here understand what is meant when they hear or say (for example) "that task took a lot of energy" or "I spent a lot of energy doing xyz..." without having to spell it out in academic terms.


Huh? First, look at the context. He's starts with "time", "space", and "energy", and discusses them in the context of the "parameters of the universe". Second, he specifically says in his reply to me he intended to mean the physics concept of ”energy", not the everyday notion as you suggest.


I like to think that the human work is to minimize entropy. So the currency would be entropy minimization.


You're relying your intuitive concept of entropy ("disorder"....of things people care about) rather than the actual definition of the thermodynamic concept. Entropy can not be reduced, only produced, and the work people do does not look anything like what you'd do if you were trying to minimize entropy production.


Hah. You must be new to humans. Ordered destruction is a thing. (Alas, so is chaotic creation. Hail Eris!)


Usually it performed to add the concept of risk to scenarios where people think there is no consequence for squandering said currencies.


Interesting premise and article.

I do disagree with a lot of it since I believe more in maximizing human potential through mindfulness and tuning ourselves instead of our tools.

re: “ You don’t want to be the person who thinks their problem through on a piece of paper,...” For difficult problems I think you do want to be this kind of person. Walking away from your laptop, sitting outside or anywhere relaxing with a pad of paper and a pen, and really thinking is a super power.

The author’s good advice on spending a few minutes a day learning about your IDE/tools can also be applied to the idea of sitting quietly a few times a day with paper and pen and just thinking. If you don’t have this habit, how about trying it for just ten minutes a day to see if it pays off for your work style?


This sounds like a good idea, and I’m planning to try it out. Thanks for sharing!

I find that a lot of the time when I’m figuring out how to solve a problem, I need to read a lot of code. Is that something you do before you sit down with pen and paper?


I used to have the habit of printing out other people's code to read, and read it like I would a book. I stopped doing that a long time ago, but I used to get real value from doing that. I still like to read other people's code, but I am more likely to do it by browsing github on my iPad.


> You don’t want to be the person who thinks their problem through on a piece of paper, has all the ‘structure ready in the head’ but gets bored halfway through implementing it since it’s a lot to type out and it’s taking a lot of time.

Wow. I hope there aren't many people that think this way, as it sounds like a great recipe for crappy software.

Thinking things through is definitely a super power. And "typing really fast" is usually an anti-pattern.


I think you can apply this by journaling or keeping a personal diary as well. Just sit before bed and recount the thoughts of the day and put them on paper, maybe intending to read over them later to find out when some event happened or in 20 years to see what you were doing during the quarantine.

The act of reflection and organization itself is meditative.


> I do disagree with a lot of it since I believe more in maximizing human potential through mindfulness and tuning ourselves instead of our tools.

Cannot one do both?


I find myself discovering solutions to problems before falling asleep at night. Usually in some state of half awake and half asleep.


The movie "in time" (2011) kind of explores this. At the time, I wrote:

> it gets you thinking. What prevents time from being used as currency? Or are we really doing the same by paying people an hourly rate instead of based on their accomplishments? Not to mention how many lives that million years capsule must have cost.


This explores it in a rather poor way. Once you and all your friends have a hundred year on your accounts, why not just stop working in this society and just go build a new civilization using bottle caps as means of exchange? Why being slaves to people who fix prices for everything all the time?

Also. Economy there had no sense. Every person is passively using 24h worth of 'money' every day by simply existing. That means, to make ends meet they must earn 24h + some surpus to make a living, but the dude earned something like 5 hours in a shift (he had ~23:55 before shift, and 1:04:50 after. If shift lasted 8 hours, he was making just 13 hours per day - totally unsustainable.

The idea was nice, but I feel it was a somewhat wasted potential.


Yes sure, it's a mainstream movie and meant as entertainment rather than educatively. But for being a mainstream movie, I liked that it made me think about this.


Titanic was a mainstream movie, but the attention to detail is on another level entirely. They just didnt develop the concept enough and think though the consequences. There is a great plot in there somewhere


I hated that movie, it showed only the very poor and the very rich, while showing that they don't make up the whole world. I couldn't empathize with anyone.



I have a hard time empathizing with people’s desire for saving time or being efficient. I feel like all I have is time and I don’t mind helping others out when they need help, filling out useless forms, or waiting in line. Everything sort of have its own beauty. I’m not sure how I got here, but to me time just feels infinite.


I really would love to believe that this mindset is possible, but I run into the following problem:

If time really seems infinite to you, and you see the beauty in every "overly time-consuming" procedure, you must draw the line somewhere.

If you wait in line, and every minute, the next in line is served, and you are standing in 5th place, you might think "ok, we've got to wait..give or take 5mins"

Now imagine that every 50 seconds, someone cuts into the line ahead of you, with some plausible excuse (health-related, or "in a rush" or whatever else you'd accept).

How many people do you allow to push you back before you decide to no longer allow people to cut ahead of you? I think that's where you draw the value of your time.


Not the one you asked, but I have a similar attitude, and some sense of trust and fairness is necessary to maintain this attitude.

If I'm in urgent care for a relatively non-serious problem, and people who much more urgently need care keep getting served ahead of me, that just seems like the right way to do things, and I'll be happy to wait my turn, or eventually give up and go home.

On the other hand, in line to pay for purchases I would not like for someone to cut in front of me. It's rude, and there is an established norm that they would be selfishly breaking.


This article is a real failure in the rule of Profile Before Optimizing. Changing your editor or whatever is a micro-optimization. Among professions where typing is involved, programmers type the least number of keystrokes. Secretaries and data entry clerks type much more and often much faster than programmers. Also, a lot of typing is not even characters into the editor but keyboard shortcuts.

The real time killers are mental--fatigue, boredom, procrastination, anxiety, and so on. How many hours do you spend a week on HN or social media? How long are you going to take to do that big refactor you've been putting off? How long do you spend in useless meetings or chats you're not persuasive enough to get out of? At what point is RTFMing too long procrastination? How long do you spend watching N*tflix at home if you really want to get that side project done?

The bottleneck is never your typing speed or your editor commands. That is snake oil by script kiddies trying to sell you something.


That's a great and underappreciated point. I'm really fond of my endless tinkering in Emacs, to optimize and automate away all kinds of repetition and tedium. But when I do a honest accounting I realize that, even though my newest tweak that took 30 minutes to make will probably save me a hundred hours in the long run, I'll blow more than a hundred hours over the next month procrastinating on HN because of anxiety about starting tasks. Like I'm doing right now - I was supposed to take an hour off for some personal "me and my thoughts time" an hour ago. But HN is just more immediately gratifying.

It's true for me and I guess for many (most?) programmers: the limiting factor is inadequate capacity to control my own emotional state.


> I'm really fond of my endless tinkering in Emacs, to optimize and automate away all kinds of repetition and tedium

Me too, my .emacs.d directory has thousands of commits. It's fun. All procrastination is fun. It feels mischievous and therefore exhilarating.


When comparing careers, I'm amazed how little people mention free time. You see people saying things like "I did blah to move from $X thousand a year to $Y thousand a year" but it's rare anyone mentions how much free time they have like "I earn $X thousand a year and have Y days off".

I understand more money now could mean you'll have more free time later, but earning a lot with no time for your own personal growth doesn't sound great to me. I'd rather take a pay cut for substantially more time off.


Over a forty year career, I only worked full time for perhaps 30% of that time. Sure, I left a lot of money on the table but my wife and I are still financially secure and working 25 to 32 hours a week on average gave me more time with friends and family, and time to write (which I enjoy doing).

Spend effort on career and job skill development, but treat jobs as transactions of time for money, and I suggest devaluing the value of money once basic needs and saving for future needs are met.


> Over a forty year career, I only worked full time for perhaps 30% of that time. Sure, I left a lot of money on the table but my wife and I are still financially secure and working 25 to 32 hours a week on average gave me more time with friends and family, and time to write (which I enjoy doing).

Exactly, that sounds amazing! I'd love to hear more people talk this way when they mention their earnings.


If you want to stop wasting your time, and want to learn something thoroughly and once, I would recommend learning how to use Anki effectively. It has reduced the amount of time it takes to learn new things, while simultaneously allowing me to remember them for far longer periods of time. I can currently stop an online course for months, and return to the same point when I come back, with far more knowledge of the subject than I had when I left.

Anki, like using a calendar and communication tools effectively, is just pushing the burden of organization, memory and attention out of your head, and into your environment. This will not only save you time, but it will also, if set up right, give you that sense of peace of knowing that whatever you are doing is exactly where you should be.

It's solid. I learned about it in "Learning How to Learn", but the mental concept stuff is from "The Organized Mind".


Thank you for this - and the references to how you came across the concept. I was personally only recently introduced to anki [1] & [2]

However, I tried it out but I couldn't end up using it to 'remember books' or broader concepts that the books convey indirectly. I've started summarising books and using a manual form of spaced repetition to remember them better.

Do you have any advice on organising such knowledge better?

[1] https://ncase.me/remember/ [2] https://superorganizers.substack.com/p/how-to-build-a-learni...


I just take handwritten notes, then convert them into carefully designed and tagged cards in Anki. Even if I forget something, searching my Anki deck will usually not just tell me the information, but what book it came from, and often which page. I'm pretty diligent about careful note collation. I've definitely gotten better since I read "The Organized Mind", a book which was so enlightening for my persona that I built more than 1000 cards to remember as many of its concepts as I could.

Regardless, I'm reading my previous comment and should admit that I'm quite intense about efficiency in learning. Less so about money. I've spent a lot of time tutoring, making this an important subject to me and I get.... emotional. I apologize if my original comment seems rude. It certainly feels that way to me.


I have the same system going, and i started it right after reading The Organized Mind also. What a great book! - that never really gets hyped up.


> learning how to use Anki effectively.

I made this exact comment about two weeks ago, you might find it useful:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22855046


In response to that previous comment, it should be noted that by using Anki daily, you will increase blood flow and connectivity in the hippocampus region. In turn, this will increase the amount of things that you can learn in a time period. I've been able to increase my new card count and review count over time without too much drain, and I answer questions far more quickly than I did when I started.

It's my daily gym activity for my brain.


I actually do Anki cards while at the gym, so I combine my physical and mental workouts ;)


Somehow the idea that time is our only currency is conflated with efficiency. Yes, time is the most limited resources we have, and therefore the most precious, but does this mean we have to squeeze every last bit of productivity from our time? Do we really have to keep running all the time, always optimising for more efficiency?

I would say the exact opposite. If time is our most precious asset, let's rather spend it on what's really important: family, friends, community, environment, happiness, harmony. Let's pass our time doing things we love just the pleasure of doing it, rather than chasing after money, success of whatever. Let's live in the moment, for the moment.


I don’t think these are separate things at all. Being efficient with your work time is great because it lets you spend more time with family, friends, and so on.

Long commutes are really the killer here: it’s super difficult to cook a family dinner if you get off work at 6:00, spend 30-60 minutes commuting home, 30 minutes buying groceries, another 30 minutes cooking, etc. Working from home and then cooking dinner with delivered groceries gives you an extra hour+ with your family.


> Long commutes are really the killer here

They are, but you are on HN so it's safe to assume you have other options, so why do you commute?


I meant in general, for society. Personally I have a 10 minute bike commute to a private office because I prefer to have a little bit of space between work and home.


I think many people have that issue; they cannot actually stay at home doing what they want. It is a restricting factor actually creating the commuting issue you mention. Many people need to go to the office. I think it would be better to educate the kids to not have that mental hangup. Personally I never had that feeling (and never worked in an office for 25+ years; I am at my kitchen table and so is my wife); I was expecting to hear either of a) I have no other choice, because job/money b) I need space between work & home. Over the years I had business partners trying the same thing and getting divorced (like now with the virus; people simply cannot sit at home or endure their spouse and kids); maybe it wasn't too solid to begin with?


> people simply cannot sit at home or endure their spouse and kids); maybe it wasn't too solid to begin with?

Eh, I think this is a symptom of what I’ll call “Modern Excess Syndrome”: the idea that if unlimited amounts of something aren’t beneficial, then the thing itself is broken. I.e., if ‘more = better’ isn’t true for X, then X is undesirable or broken. It just illustrates the lack of nuance we have in contemporary western society.

You see this play out in lots of ways. Helicopter parenting is a good example: the prevailing assumption is that a good parent is one who spends as much time and resources as humanly possibly with their kids. Yet as a consequence the children have worse outcomes, are less independent, etc. And people are less likely to become parents as they perceive parenthood as an end to their own life as individuals.

The truth is: it is in the nature of some things to be focused, or sporadic, or limited in some way. Chocolate cake is a delicious treat, but eating it for every meal is both unhealthy and destroys much of its uniqueness.


That could indeed be the case. I have, however, another explanation; most people just do stuff without thinking, planning or any forethought whatsoever just because 'it is normal'. You get married, you have kids, you buy a house, you get a job, you go to an office 9-5, you mingle with your colleagues (and you like it!) etc and everything else is weird or not for them. When confronted with major change, like this virus and as a result, working from home (getting laid off, health issues etc), they are forced from the path and realise that they do not like it. I 'zoom' with friends in my home country who have kids because 'it is something you do'; they love them when they see them 1-2 hours/day, but now they hate (big word, probably not true, but that's what they use, and not jokingly; they are getting burnt out) them, quite openly. They didn't think it through and that works because normally the kids are in school, sportclub, piano lessons, sleeping etc so you don't have to think too much.

A big issue is that people are not taught and don't teach their kids to enjoy things without outside stimulants. If I have a computer that works (it can be, and actually I prefer, one from the 70s or 80s) and a manual, I can be alone for years. Now with internet it is even easier. But I was taught by my parents to enjoy myself with minimal 'stuff'; books, pen & paper and just my own thoughts. Many people seem to lack that resulting in decisions that are unwise and don't work long term.


I agree in priciple but it's only by having money through success that we're able to enjoy those more meaningful aspects of life.

The only group of people that have the luxury of prioritizing those more meaningful things are those with enough assets that they can do whatever they want. Everyone else has to try to keep up.


Check out the work of Carlo Rovelli and start considering time as a human construct. It is not needed to explain the world and physics around us. Isn't framing time as a currency while proposing it as part of the universe just an attempt of fraud? It feels like getting offered shiny glass beads while taking things of real value.


> It feels like getting offered shiny glass beads while taking things of real value

It indeed is if you consider majority of work is not time sensetive even if the person explicitly telling you so, absolutely convinces you that's the case.

This becomes clearer when you move on from an employee to a business owner and the only person you answer to is your customer.

Unless there's a literal environmental disaster, like when my community went up in flames during the California fires - everything else can wait.

Even during the flames burning, houses that were almost on fire were in a waiting line behind houses on fire.

The only reason why "it was due yesterday" works is because the employee believes their value is worth less than what the employer values them at.


>My Language is the best (Or, your language sucks)

>No, it is not. Both Church and Turing proved that.

This is not true, a simple check - are you writing in assembler/C? Why not? They are the fastest languages and both are perfectly complete from Church and Turing standpoint. But of course, there are thousands of other criteria that make the difference.


Theoretical vs practical expressivity.

You can always insist you were arguing for theoretical expressivity when people start throwing counter-examples at you.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Expressive_power_(computer_sci... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turing_tarpit


> Figure how/where your application code runs.

Most important advise to become a useful software engineer. I did not want to believe how many developers just did not give a damn about what exactly makes their code execute and when that happens.


Unfortunately, in essentially all big corporations, the incentives encourage developers to waste as much time as possible - Mostly by focusing their attention on creating elaborate and ever-changing development processes and constantly adding unnecessary software complexity at the same time. This doesn't work well at all when you also allow individuals to detach themselves from any responsibility over the code that they produce.

The culture of wasting time is so pervasive that the vast majority of developers who practice it don't even realize that they're doing it - Ironically, they're often the same people who write long articles about how to be productive and who brag about how organized and full their schedule is and how they're using all the latest productivity tools and how high their test coverage % is and how good their workflow and CI pipeline is... I call BS on all this.

People who spend most of their time explicitly thinking about processes are bureaucrats. Truly productive people don't need to think about processes, they evolve naturally through sweat and tears; good processes are the byproduct (emphasis on the word 'byproduct') of a focused mindset of desperately wanting to achieve specific goals, not the mindset of ticking-off boxes from a static checklist where you don't even understand the underlying purpose of the work.

You cannot be productive without a clear sense of purpose and goals. Unfortunately most software jobs today lack purpose - In this case it makes no sense to even talk about productivity. How can you know how productive (how fast you're moving towards your goal) you are if you don't even know what the end goal is. Finishing something is not a goal, it's a task. A goal is about a deeper purpose.

Also if your goal is to help your company earn more money, this is only a worthy goal if you have a way to check your personal progress towards that goal. Usually this is not possible to do in a big company because there are too many people working towards different goals within the same company (sometimes even conflicting goals); the reality is that your work probably doesn't matter so there is no such thing as productivity in a corporate environment because it's not possible to measure the impact of your work in relation to achieving a real company goal... However, if your goal is to maximize your personal ranking or salary within the company, this is a goal against which it is easy to measure progress; that's why personal goals trump company goals every time.

KPIs are a ridiculous, completely futile attempt to fix this problem.


This. I've been thinking about this for last few sleepless nights. I am at a start-up which has grown to 61 person. The tight connection of everybody's everyday contributions to company survival has declined. A rigourous accountability and incentives framework is still missing and there's no time and resources to build it now. Most of employees don't know what is more or less important and by how exactly much.

I found interesting the concept of Internal Market. This book appears to be describing exactly what I got in my mind: "Internal Markets: Bringing the Power of Free Enterprise Inside Your Organization ".


True. Having worked at many startups as well as big corporations, I definitely think that the environment inside big companies feels more like some twisted form of socialism than capitalism. The idea of internal markets sounds good. Having small teams which have a strong sense of ownership over different projects is a good strategy in my experience as a developer.


Organizations (I mean the power structures made of people called managers) are machines that sit between (a) people selling their time and (b) people who buy stuff/service.

If you are either kind of people and the big organization sucks for you, use a smaller one maybe? Or find another big one that works acceptably? Talk about one differs slightly from another?

You can rant about the deficiencies of big organizations or you can observe a well known fact that it is a very hard civilization-wide problem. Fortunes are made even from minuscule optimizations in this area and there is no shortage of execs experimenting with these. And here enter you with "the reality is that [employee's] work probably doesn't matter".


While I understand and agree that a lot of time is wasted on purpose in large organisations, I don't think that argument can serve as a basis for what is effectively "it's difficult/impossible to measure, therefore its value doesn't exist".


I was with you up until this point:

"Usually ... it's not possible to measure the impact of your work in relation to achieving a real company goal"

You say a few things here: 1. Earning money is a worthy goal if you can measure your personal contribution towards it

2. It's not possible to measure that way in a big company

3. Too many people working towards different and even conflicting goals at big companies to do so

4. Because you cannot practically do so, your work's use value is not objectively measurable or provably useful

I don't think this is wrong in a statistically significant number of cases. But I also don't think it's helpful for thinking about the bottlenecks, release hatches and self regulation systems that tend to dominate a corporation's behavior. Your day to day experience being an engineer at a company has everything to do with:

1) how customers buy what makes the company money

2) how the company's continuing operation is funded

3) how executives and founders have structured leadership and management

In some companies, the customers are other businesses. In others, they're directly consumers. In still others, they're imaginary, or planned to exist in the future. In some companies, the continuing operation of a company is funded by present and future sales. In others, the continuing operation is funded by successive rounds of seed and growth stage dilutive fundraising. In some companies, leadership and management is structured around loose confederations of business units, lines of revenue, and product subdivisions. In others, it's structured around research domains, manufacturing pipeline stages, geographical market regions, or intellectual property holdings.

In any case, that's a far cry from "it's not possible to measure the impact of your work in relation to achieving a real company goal" -- just because it's not possible for _you_ to measure or argue the impact of your work doesn't mean that it's generally not possible. In fact, I would argue that learning how to credibly and objectively plan, measure and articulate the impact of your work is a huge part of what makes for a senior individual contributor. You will obviously come across challenges and inaccuracies in the exercise, but it doesn't invalidate the use value of it for both you and the firm. If personal goals are trumping company goals every time, then you work at a company with weak executive leadership and vision and should find one stronger at those areas if you can.


This is why a fixed currency makes sense.

You work and convert your time into currency which can be traded for other goods or services.

When currency is manipulated, it allows the manipulator to make your currency worth more or less. effectively theft.


I've often wondered what the world would look like if languages were actually theoretically different not just practically.

I.e. what if you actually needed Fortran to write a program designed for scientific computation, or Prolog for GOFAI etc. Maybe some cases would fit into several languages ("I showed that SimCity is a special kind of database so you can write it in SQL") but you would have proven gaps in capabilities.

Language disputes would be way more fun.

P.S. After you finished thinking about this, think about what model theory would look like if Lindström's theorems were false.


If you really want to take the "Learn to type fast" advice to heart you can get a Georgi keyboard [1] and spend a few months learning stenography [2]. That can get you typing at above 200 WPM! (but it does require a significant amount of time to learn)

[1] https://www.gboards.ca/product/georgi

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wpv-Qb-dB6g


For a book author this seems a good thing, but for a developer?

We use so many special chars, i cant imagine that it is faster.


You can make custom chords for special chars and type them just as quickly as any other "word".

Here's an example of someone writing some javascript code with a steno keyboard: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RBBiri3CD6w

I don't use it myself but I assume that it would be faster than regular QWERTY typing, but only once you've used it for several years.


This is only true in the Western industrialized world. Monochronic time orientation is not the only orientation.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chronemics

Time is only money if you think of it that way. If your typing speed is holding you back from things then sure learn to type faster. But I don't type nonstop for hours at a time. A sentence here or there and then reflection.


The only real currency should be energy.

Joules. MJs for sake of unit sanity.

Energies are cheap where they're produced, but you have to spend extra MJs to send them to where you need it.

Having a few thousands MJs in Pluto bank will make you rich there. But it requires millions of Earth MJ to send energy to Pluto. The exchange rate of course fluctuates with space infrastructure and flattens out when better technology of sending and storing energy becomes available.


Isn’t it ironic that in the “young dev” section he tells stories of how he “set them straight” on their design choices, and then the next section is about the naivety of “your way is wrong”...

The conversation on queues especially; I can absolutely side with the new dev there. Queues have guarantees, database writes have guarantees, you just pick the ones you care about, not decide based on irrational fear of losing data.


Money is technically just a proxy of other people time when you think about it.


> TurboCharge your Dev Environment

This section feels like a stub where the author forgot to finish it. Was really hoping for some good ideas.


Thanks for the feedback. It does have a short write up on things to do. I have a lot more opinions on that, but was trying to balance out the overall length of the post. Will try having one out just on the dev environment :)


Looking at it again I didn’t realize the following sections were actually part of that header because the headers were the same size and style. I thought it was only that one paragraph about Jedi. That was my fault.


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