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The unreasonable effectiveness of just showing up everyday (typesense.org)
2075 points by karterk on July 14, 2021 | hide | past | favorite | 579 comments

If you haven't read or listened to this book yet, I highly recommend it: Daily Rituals: How Artists Work[1]

It's a collection of daily routines of many famous and prolific artists. The surprising thing about so many of the artists is that they only work 2 or 3 hours per day, then spend the rest of the day walking around, socializing, etc. But they consistently show up and put in the work and it adds up to some amazing things over time.

This reminds me of another great book about beating procrastination: The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play[2]

In that book, the author talks about his extensive work helping graduate students complete their dissertations. I can't cover all the great points here, but when working with these students he has them create an "unschedule" where they have to schedule guilt-free play activities as the top priority. Then he actually limits the amount of work they are allowed to do on their dissertation to only a couple of hours per day. The effect is quite amazing at turning students around from dreading and avoiding their dissertation to really trying to maximize the limited time they have to work on it. And having guilt-free play lets them really disconnect from the work and have true recovery so that they have the motivation and energy to hit the project again and again every day. Seems counter-intuitive at first, but as I've applied this to different projects, it's amazing how much more I'm able to accomplish.

[1] https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15799151-daily-rituals

[2] https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/95708.The_Now_Habit

Someone mentioned a book called War of Art [1] here on Hacker News which I went out to buy and read.

The author, Steven Pressfield, describes it as some metaphorical "Muse" (God of Art) that helps inspire your imagination when you set aside some time to do work.

I loved that line of thinking since work can't happen if you don't show up. It motivated me, as indie dev that works from home, to make a concerted effort to show up ready code. Doing it consistently (whether or not it's a long time) will eventually lead to new and improved versions of software.

"This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don’t. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete."

[1] https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1319.The_War_of_Art

Steven Pressfield is an amazing writer. I think he's the one who wrote about the Spartans and how ridiculously tough they were. I encountered the book as a paperback left in a bin for soldiers to take and read during some dumb deployment. Not that one, but a small one to Poland. This was 2002.

Yes I think it was called "Gates Of Fire". There is another book of his called "The Afghan Campaign" that I liked. It is about a greek soldier passing through Afghanistan for Alexander's campaign to reach India.

Bret Deveraux is a PHD historian and a critic of Pressfield. He picks apart his argument for "universal warrior" and concludes it has an ideology behind it. The ideology is fascism.


edit: the earlier version of my post used the word "agenda" instead of "ideology", but that was a bit unfair given Bret himself gives Pressfield benefit of doubt.

This article specifically mentions Gates of Fire.

What a tiring rant.

For anyone that hasn’t read gates of fire I highly recommend it. It is historical fiction and a thrilling journey.

You can make up your own mind about supposed hidden agendas, or …just enjoy a great story.


This reminds me a bit of the etymology of genius, which at first was something you had, a protective/tutoring spirit. Over time the meaning changed more to something someone is, like naturally intelligent and driven.[1] Stroke of genius is still one of those phrases using the old definition, and in the modest amount of situations were it happened to me, it did feel like something coming from outside of me.

[1] https://www.etymonline.com/word/genius

Plus one on this book. Even if you are not an artist it's a great read.

> The surprising thing about so many of the artists is that they only work 2 or 3 hours per day, then spend the rest of the day walking around, socializing, etc. But they consistently show up and put in the work and it adds up to some amazing things over time.

Artists don't have stand ups, team meetings, planning sessions, one-on-ones, commutes and whatever other office distractions to deal with though. I suppose figuring out how to survive as an artist is distraction enough.

Someone blew my mind describing why some artists are not appreciated until they are dead.

The theory as it went is that most artists aren’t “ahead of their time”, it’s that they see Now in a way that nobody else will understand for years. Eventually, with the aid of the lens of nostalgia we see that they really “get us”, as we now understand ourselves.

Being out in the world is how they “get” us. It’s material, not faffing about.

Yeah, I think that's exactly right. Any artistic people I've worked/associated with have a certain "clarity" about the world around them, that I think most people don't. Artists delve into culture and social things that are not easily recognized by people who aren't paying particular attention, I guess you could say. Not in all cases, and I think it depends on the type of creativity, but yeah... That's my simplistic way of describing it, anyway.

IMO, artistic people often see the "true nature" of things and ingest/interpret them in a way that is pretty judgement-free and quite "open". It allows them to be inspired and influenced by those things, and grow their understanding of the world around them, and thus interact with it and contribute back to it in an organic way. Again, all my subjective opinion from many years of being creative myself and collaborating with creative people. :)

I have a theory that each artist finds a window into another dimension, then attempts to communicate what they saw.

But I love your theory too.

I see these as one in the same actually.

Clarity I think comes from being “part” of the world or some specific part of it. While many and most “live” through it, the Artist sees the inverse of a sorts of it - the “big picture within some lens”. Then, tries to process and communicate the unseen truths in whatever medium they are accustomed.

These statements could leave more room for lousy artists.

Lousy lenses?

Another thing about this is that artists permit themselves to not fully understand the technology of things, so they just use it, in a way that maybe the ones who understand how it works doesn't because they are already fascinated with how it works

Of course, but then you have living examples like Bob Dylan. Some people have incredible pattern matching abilities and most artists I’ve met consume as much human culture as possible and great ones manage to conjure up something of their own.

It is also much safer to praise a dead artist. Famous alive writer might suddenly turn out to be big fan of some genocidal world leader, embarrassing everyone who loves his earlier work.

Dead people are mostly safe from this, though not completely - some dirty laundry might surface years after death, forever tarnishing the image, but such occurrences are rather rare.

I get your point but I don’t think that’s historically been any concern for people. Just in the past decade or so, and only for some people.

If you are talking about alive people, then no. It was akways the case. The obvious example is Nobel prize laureate Knut Hamsun, who publically praised Hitler. In the soviet Union it was even more pronounced: the government was regularly doing mythbuilding around dead figures, like polar aviator Tchkalov and cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin: they were famous while alive, but became demigods after deaths. You see, you never have to worry that this famous person would do. What if you build up a hero's image, and then he defects to the west?

Also, with artists, only after death you can have his 'complete' works, not having to worry about increasing supply of them, which would push the price down.

Why even go to the past when you have Peter Handke?


Do you know this to be true? Most artists that I know, which is most people I know, struggle with as many work-related distractions as I do. My sanctioned office distractions at least "count" to my employer (I get paid for that time).

yeah, there someone still needs to sell the art. I'd imagine it's the artist until you're a massive success.

No amount of success insulates you from tons of annoying and tasks and interactions.

The only way to insulate yourself from that would be to be completely unsuccessful.

But then you would have to be either extremely poor, which is exhausting, or make/have money another way, which is likely to be a huge distraction.

There is really no solving for this.

DonKnuth comes to mind.

No, generally that's the gallerist's job. They take 50% of the revenue.

But first the artist has to get a gallery to show his work.

exactly, I'd imagine artists spend a good bit of their time schlepping around convincing galleries to display their work.

There's a big difference between "massive success" and having a gallery show. Once you have a decent relationship with a gallery, if you don't care so much about money you can just let the gallery handle that side of things.

A friend of mine has been a professional painter for the last 50-ish years. He makes a couple trips a year to the gallery to deliver paintings. The gallerist tries to take that chance to suggest a few motifs that seem to sell better, but doesn't get too pushy.

Well, that depends. Be an illustrator for someplace like Disney, and you'll have all that. Illustrate comics, though? 10 hour workdays, and your arm will probably give out at some point - mostly meeting deadlines. Graphic designer? You have it.

Most folks that sell have to arrange meetings with clients, take time to mail art, organize prints, either deal with a printer or printing their own stuff, answer customers, interact on social media... and so on. You might not be creating anything creative, but reproductions of wedding photos and pets.

The non-art parts of being an artist add up, and few folks can survive being an artist. At best, most folks have a full time job (or other income) and selling art is, at best, a side hustle.

A gallery helps with some of this. Of course, it is pretty common for the gallery to take 40-50% of the selling price, plus whatever they charge to frame the piece. You then have meetings with them, and they'll drop you in a heartbeat if you don't produce enough or don't sell well. A few will let you rent space, but you generally need to care for it.

Jeff Tweedy of Wilco fame has a nice new book on a strategy similar to this. Haven't read it, but looks pretty good. He talks about how everyone should try one artistic thing and be willing to fail. That gets the Jitters out the way, then they can focus and do something interesting.

A piece of trivia I loved learning was that in the context of "Roger Wilco", Wilco means "will comply".

What's more surprising (I would say, crazy) is that anyone expects more. Nobody works at their top level for more than 2-3 hours a day. Maaaaaybe 3-4 tops. Doesn't mean you can't be productive for many more hours, but you are not gonna be able to work effectively on tasks that are anywhere near the limit of your ability. You just can't and nobody does it....not athletes, not artists, not writers, not philosophers, not mathematicians, ..- not anyone doing hard creative work

Also, for anyone doing that kind of work, things like walking around and socializing is both vitally recuperative and indirectly productive in its own right

It also depends on prioritizing high quality work. Plenty of places would be happy to have you at below optimal efficiency for twice the time to make up for communication inefficiency.

I agree. I think you cheat this some - depending on the medium - by separating time spent creating with time spent editing. In myself, I've noticed that editing can reinvigorate the creative process, but if I'd been creative earlier, the burst of creativity spurred by editing is short-lived, and I'm often ready for a nap when I'm done.

You have to do it every day - creativity comes in bursts and you don't know when it's going to show up so you need to be the one showing up every day to work on it.

Hemingway would write (sober) every morning and then be drunk by lunch and for the rest of the day and early evening. But he worked every day for a few hours. People like to focus on his appetite for drinking but he got his work done first.

> creativity comes in bursts and you don't know when it's going to show up so you need to be the one showing up every day to work on it.

This comment right here adds alot of clarity for me. When worded this way, it makes total sense why this is so effective.

“I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o'clock sharp.” — W. Somerset Maugham

Frank Herbert was quoted in "Shoptalk: Learning to Write with Writers" saying something similar:

"A man is a fool not to put everything he has, at any given moment, into what he is creating. You're there now doing the thing on paper. You're not killing the goose, you're just producing an egg. So I don't worry about inspiration, or anything like that. It's a matter of just sitting down and working. I have never had the problem of a writing block. I've heard about it. I've felt reluctant to write on some days, for whole weeks, or sometimes even longer. I'd much rather go fishing, for example, or go sharpen pencils, or go swimming, or what not. But, later, coming back and reading what I have produced, I am unable to detect the difference between what came easily and when I had to sit down and say, 'Well, now it's writing time and now I'll write.' There's no difference on paper between the two."

I'm in formation for ordained ministry in a Christian tradition, and something that's really emphasised is the need to say the 'Daily office' – two short services at the beginning and end of the day. Ideally with other people, but in the end you often being alone.

It felt like busy work at the start, but it's a surprisingly powerful way of focussing the day upon a particular intention – in my case, putting everything I do in the day into the context of my religious tradition.

Personally I've always struggled with habits and routine, but I've now got quite a powerful experience of what persistence can do, with a fairly small commitment in time.

Thank you so much for these recommendations.

I'm better now, but these procrastination problems have plagued me my whole life. To the point that I was suicidal while writing my Thesis, I'd spend 10-12 hours in the library every day and accomplish almost nothing except self torture.

I can't imagine how helpful this "un-scheduling" would have been to me at that time.

The Now Habit was a book I liked. Good descriptions of experiments and their insights.

However, the Daily Rituals book I didn't find as compelling. The information sources are not first-hand, because most of these artists are long dead. Their routines as laid out in the book is at best only partially accurate. It's far more likely that these profiles are mostly apocryphal.

Like the Jogging Baboon from Bojack Horseman says: "Every day it gets a little easier… But you gotta do it every day — that’s the hard part. But it does get easier."


I recently watched a video made by an indy game dev (a field I'm currently also trying out). He spoke about his day, but then dropped a comment that some days he only worked 2-3 hours.

But currently here in South Africa things are a little dicey, it's the middle of winter and I'm probably sleeping more than I should.

Even so I'm trying to work as many hours as possible on my own project, but some days that turns out to be only 2-3. At the very least I'm tracking my hours and expected release dates, so I have some idea of the scope involved.

You are under the impression that art sells itself?

Most artists I know - the ones that sell, anyway - need to socialize. They spend more time trying to sell art than they do making it because the work bits are the selling. So much of this is "soft sells": Engaging a community, curating one's image, and so on. But most folks have a day job, which is generally true of dead artists as well (so many weren't rich in life).

Socializing is part of the work.

Yes, if you go to little known artists' exhibitions you'll soon notice the partner playing the role of sales assistant, watching, identifying, approaching...

One of the more interesting sayings I have come across lately is: People overestimate how much they can get done in the short term but they underestimate how much they can get done in the long term.

I see this all the time with friends who pick up the guitar as a hobby. Often someone practices intensely for one week or one month and then gets frustrated at their progress. That frustration often causes people to give up. Now I see it as a mismatch between short-term estimation/expectations. The frustration is caused by overestimating how much progress they think they should make in the short-term. The quitting is caused by underestimating the progress they could make in the long term.

Bill Gates: Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.


Also related is how effective walking away is.

20 minutes + a good night's sleep + 20 minutes is often more effective than an hour of practice in one go. Possibly even 2 hours.

20min x 2, and a night's sleep being around 8hrs, means a total of 8hr40mins

so, is the above more effective than practising for 8hrs40min straight?


If you do the 20 min sessions, you’ll be refreshed and on top of your game.

If you do the 8hr sessions, you’ll die of sleep deprivation in a week or two.

That is an absurd comparison, the sleep would be happening regardless

Your brains processes stuff in your sleep.

After some time off, I play much better the next day after practice than if I were to play immediately after practice.

I've had the same experience with code. I bang my head against my desk trying to do something, go to bed, and do the thing in the first hour of my day. It's like magic.

This is actually one of the reasons I like academia so much. You are effectively paying for a scheduled practice session (ignoring discussions on tuition or the other negatives of college for the moment). Six months isn't enough to master any topic, but it is a organized timeframe in which you focus on X topic for an extended amount of time.

The days are long, but the years are short

People overestimate how much they can do in a day. They underestimate how much they can do in a year.

I heard this saying attributed to Larry Page.

This was exactly how we built OwnLocal before we quit our day jobs. In a sense, it was very easy because when you don't know how big the problem is, everything feels like progress.

Now I see 40 barreling towards me and it's hard to just do a little bit every day. Because I have experience, I can form a much bigger picture of an idea in my head and it's hard to peel off a tiny bit and make that feel like a success.

This curses me in my startup attempts but it also curses me in my work. It's hard to think like a founder anymore. I always overspec projects because I can easily guess what demons lie on the horizon.

I miss my early startup days when I could just write some code every day and feel successful. I want that back.

On the other side of 40 here, I definitely know what you mean, but I also think you can cultivate a beginner's mind and openness to ambitious ideas while still leveraging your experience to see around corners and avoid dead ends. Two ideas:

First, remind yourself that software is malleable. You don't need to build it perfectly the first time, and in fact you will always need to modify it as you go, so don't get stuck in analysis paralysis. You're good at writing code, so leverage that skill to iterate quickly.

Second, don't equate growth with chasing more and more powerful abstractions. Remember, "all abstractions are leaky" in the same way that "all models are wrong, but some are useful". IMHO valuable software comes from concrete use cases. So as you get more experienced you should be able to write simpler code that provides more value. Let the abstractions emerge from practice and experience rather than obsessing over them before you understand the problem.

When starting to lead a team I was shocked at the amount of times I had to redirect from overcomplicated ideas and over optimization. Even more than that, I had to constantly remind the team that we needed to get something working before we got something perfect. Pragmatism came slowly for me but learning it early would, I think, serve anyone well.

> I always overspec projects because I can easily guess what demons lie on the horizon.

What opened my eyes was stories on HN about projects that were little more than a glorified webform that sent an email at first. User volume was so low that it was more cost-effective to have a form send the email and have an actual human do the task manually.

When the project picked up (proving the concept had actual clients), they started automating the process at certain pain points, eventually ending in a fully automated system, which did exactly what it needed and nothing more.

Few things are impossible to get back once you loose them: naivety is one of them.

the industry may have changed too - in my early days I remember more fantastical failures where the whole website would be down for an evening or other tragic mistakes.

As more and more ppl got involved and things started to be worth more and more money we were more or less forced to put in more safe guards as there is less tolerance for failure/mistakes. I think the trade off between speed and safety will always be there and business folks will always want both despite them being at direct odds w/ one another.

This is a very accurate description of the situation, and with good culture it's usually possible to coach the business folks to be a little more patient in return for a little more safety.

Over the last 18 months I have been working to get that back. I remind myself at the end of the day that what I did was productive and useful and so far that has worked well.

I realized that it is really easy to fall into the "but what if..." trap but doing so is not spending enough time in the present moment.

Adding a little bit of extra productivity to every day is great advice. The challenge can be finding the time, which means you need to subtract time from some other activities.

Trading sleep for extra productivity is a losing game in the long run. It’s much better to swap out some time waster activities like watching TV or, yes, browsing HN. It can be tough to reduce time spent on vices, but after the habit is established it’s much more satisfying to do something productive with that time.

I found it helps to streamline other parts of my life to recoup free time. Simple things like meal planning, using flex schedules to commute during low-traffic hours, working out at home instead of the gym, and doing grocery shopping in bulk only once per week have been great ways for me to recapture 30-60 minutes every day.

A few weeks ago I started unplugging my internet when I go to bed, so it's off when I wake up. Then I work for 2 or 3 hours before plugging it back in. I use DevDocs.io, which has an offline feature, to look up standard library stuff.

I actually delay going online for as long as possible because I know productivity will drop off a cliff once I reconnect.

This is the most productive I've been in my life, by quite a wide margin.

For offline documentation, I use these in order of preference:

• Info¹ documentation, which I read directly in Emacs. (If you have ever used the terminal-based standalone “info” program, please try to forget all about it. Use Emacs to read Info documentation, and preferably use a graphical Emacs instead of a terminal-based one; Info documentation occasionally has images.)

• Gnome Devhelp².

• Zeal³, using up-to-date documentation dumps provided by Dash⁴.

• RFC archive⁵ dumps provided by the Debian “doc-rfc“ package⁶.

1. https://www.gnu.org/software/emacs/manual/html_node/info/

2. https://wiki.gnome.org/Apps/Devhelp

3. https://zealdocs.org/

4. https://kapeli.com/dash

5. https://www.rfc-editor.org/

6. https://tracker.debian.org/pkg/doc-rfc

I found devdocs years ago but lost the link. THANK YOU for bringing it back to me

It's the top result on DDG and Google for [offline developer documentation].

The site preferences allow you to enable tracking which is disabled by default.

This checkbox is the single coolest thing I've ever seen on the Internet.

If you really work hard at your day job you just don’t have enough energy at the end of the day if you have also a family to care about. It’s a great advice for when you are young, it’s pretty much useless when you value the time that you spend with the people that you love much more than any amount of money.

If you have no energy at the end of the day, the answer is to find time in the morning. Get up earlier, go to bed earlier.

If you find your time in the afternoon isn't productive but you find it fulfilling to be around the people you love and that's enough for you, then you don't need productivity advice and this kind of reading isn't for you.

You're basically saying that somehow by waking up earlier you create energy out of nothing. Waking up earlier only does 1 thing: shifts everything earlier. I could also advise the exact opposite: wake up later. That way the time when the lack of energy is felt also comes later. But neither one solves the problem which is either: 1- lack of energy 2- spending too much energy on things we'd rather not spend.

I don’t say that waking up early ‘’creates energy out of nothing’’, I’m saying you wake up with a certain amount of energy to spend and it depletes over the day, so it makes sense that the earlier hours (or at least not the LATE hours) would be better for you.

If you are tired from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to bed again, you’re suffering from depression or an incredibly bad diet, go see a nutritionist.

And I said the opposite of ‘’[we] spend too much energy on things we’d rather not spend’’ - if you’re already spending time on things you love to do like being with your family and you just want to do more in the limited time you have, either carve the time out of one of those things you love to focus on something else, or learn to accept there’s only so many hours in the day.

The things they point out can be useful even if you have kids. Especially if you have kids, an extra 30-60 minutes every day is damn precious. Could easily double the spare time you have. Or you could spend that extra time with your family if you prefer.

This worked wonderfully for me when prepping for interviews the last time I searched for a job. I just committed to 3 months of doing the Leetcode monthly challenge at a minimum. Some days I did more, yes, but only when I felt like it.

By the end of the experiment, I'd seen the majority of algorithms and data structures problem classes that I'd likely ever see in an actual interview. Just doing the daily practice was enough to keep my muscle memory sharp, and in an interview setting, being quick to bang out an algorithm almost always gives you good marks.

To test it out further, after I did my first interview (and felt I aced it), I did not do any daily practice for about 3 weeks between that and my next one. The difference was shocking. I was noticeably slower at answering very similar questions, and occasionally got stuck on things I knew I should know.

This is pretty much exactly how my experience was. I did the leetcode monthly challenge for about 4 months and did pretty well on my interviews. I got a job but I still had some more interviews scheduled. I stopped practicing after that for about two weeks and the interviews were much worse.

Effectiveness of just showing up works wonderfully for fitness as well.

How much ever unfit one is, just showing up for a long period of time changes oneself. All one has to do drag oneself to the class, day in and day out, and then universe takes over..

If you can't manage it every day, a less frequent habit will still have benefits.

I've been doing strength training once a week since the pandemic startet, and it has been great. Obviously I could have made much more progress with more frequent training, but I still look much better naked and more importantly, I feel much better. So many random aches and pains have just disappeared.

Getting to the gym and getting changed into gym gear counts as 'going to the gym'. Once Im there and changed, i've only ever once turned around and said fuck it. And it turned out i was pretty ill that day

Even if you don't feel like it, drag yourself in and do a couple of things. Chances are once you get going you'll do a bit more, but regardless it all adds up.

This works amazingly well with a home weightlifting gym. Even 15 minutes before a meeting on a busy day can be gold.

Also learning a new language

I'm doing this right now, and at about Month Four I was happy to find myself "talking" in the new language, although the conversations would probably be cringeworthy to anyone but my teachers.

This is without much immersion (due to lockdown then traveling), and the instruction is online, and I've been a lazy bum about additional study.

It's made me pretty optimistic about learning new languages in general, and I'm 50 so the brain isn't exactly a sponge anymore. More like a sieve.

You probably already know this, but Anki (or other spaced repetition methods) is amazing for retaining what you have learned efficiently.

I haven't used Anki yet but I want to try -- any idea which of the many mobile apps is best?

I just use the desktop app to create/manage the cards, and then on mobile use ankiweb in a browser. That seems to work very well for me.

The best thing is that even if some weeks or even months I do not feel like studying at all, I can just continue with the Anki decks for 5-10 minutes a day to make sure I continue to retain what I had already learned. It has not become my bedtime routine/habit.

I've written two books over the past decade as well as learning some other skills and hobbies and this is absolutely the most vital lesson I've learned. There is an incredible power in simply pouring a little time into something every day over a long period of time. It feels like a superpower when you see it start compounding.

The Grand Canyon was created by little drops of water bouncing off rocks for millenia. Consistent effort over time is one of the greatest forces in the world. Persistence beats focus, inspiration, and genius 90% of the time.

> There is an incredible power in simply pouring a little time into something every day over a long period of time. It feels like a superpower when you see it start compounding.

There is an amazing book called The Slight Edge which is based on this very principal and it can really change your life. Here is a small excerpt from it that really resonated with me:

It sure would be nice if, somehow, you could do something dramatic. If you just wake up tomorrow and have it all turned around—snap your fingers and change it. That might happen, in a movie.

But this is your life. What can you do? What happens if you add one small, simple, positive action to the success side?

Nothing you can see. What happens if you add one more? Nothing you can see. What happens if you keep adding one more, and one more, and one more, and one more ... Before too long, you see the scales shift, ever so slightly. And then again. And eventually, that heavy - failure side starts to lift, and lift, and lift ... and the scales start swinging your way.

No matter how much negative weight from the past is on the other side, just by adding those little grams of success, one at a time (and by not adding more weight to the failure side), you will eventually and inevitably begin to shift the scales in your favor.

The Slight Edge is about your awareness. It is about you making the right choices, the choices that serve you and empower you, starting right now and continuing for the rest of your life, and learning to make them effortlessly.

It's not a question of your mood or your feelings. And it's not a question of will power. It's a question of simply knowing.

Simple things you do every day, in fact. Or, as the case may be, don't do every day. Time will be your friend or your enemy; it will promote you or expose you. It's entirely up to you. If you're doing the simple disciplines, time will promote you. If you're doing the few simple errors in judgment, time will expose you, no matter how well you appear to be doing right now.

Scott Adams book "How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big" touches on a similar theme, "systems vs goals". Have a system that takes willpower out of the equation - so you can do simple repetitive tasks everyday, to achieve big things over time.

A goal might be - lose weight! But a system might be - batch cook steamed veg with some healthy condiments, and eat that only during the day by having it always within reach.

By having a system for preparing easy, health food, you compound the effect instead of having a seemingly impossible intimidating goal that you keep putting off.

Other stuff that resonated with me were doing things that keep your personal energy as high as possible, stacking skills (be in the top 25 percentile at multiple things), and the idea that your brain is a moist computer that you can actually program in a desirable direction. The book really resonated with me.

This is definitely not the right comment but as a vegetarian… steam vegetables are disgusting! Grill/bake is so much more delicious.

And, after committing the sin of telling you that I’m a vegetarian in my first sentence, I hope it can be useful for someone :)

> steam vegetables are disgusting!

Gee. Steamed veges (potatoes, corn, broccoli, beans, carrots, brussel sprouts etc) with a lil vegan butter, salt, and herbs or minced garlic on top is one of my favourite things in the world.

Lightly steamed (retaining crunch, flavour and nutrients), plus melted butter (in moderation) and salt is my go-to as well. For instant pots, there is even a table on how many minutes each type of vegetable should be correctly steamed. That makes all the difference.

:) oops… should had put the disclaimer that it’s a personal opinion.

I just hear some people saying “I don’t like vegetables” and often my question is “how have you had them?”

You probably mean steamed to death. if you blanch them, they mostly taste really good. of course, don't blanch potatos or something like that - but broccoli is a good example. Most people cook them until they are soft, but a short blanch is usually enough.

They certainly meant steamed to something. Blanching isn't steaming.

> But this is your life. What can you do? What happens if you add one small, simple, positive action to the success side?

> Nothing you can see. What happens if you add one more? Nothing you can see

Having been on a journey to change the direction of my life for a few months now this perfectly sums up how I've been feeling about it.

I'm gonna give the book a read because I think it's what I need to hear right now. Thank you for making me aware of it.

James Clear writes in his book Atomic Habits, that making one small change and performing that change consistently every day is the compound interest of life. I like how James’ description and the one from your book suggestion are so similar.

Losing weight, there's never been a day I felt perceptibly different from the day before, but looking back a year some things are certainly easier or more comfortable already after about 80lbs. Slow by most measures but that has its own benefits.

I started lifting weights two years ago. First time I've ever really succeeded in developing an exercise habit in 50+ years. Progress is slow. Every few weeks I can add maybe 5 lbs to a particular lift. Or maybe not. I have no specific goals. But the accumulated progress is remarkable to me. I have a better body now than I did in high school. It's still not "fun" but I do it every other day and rarely miss, and it does give me a sense of satisfaction to complete a workout.

I also enjoy lifting weights and I recently started doing high-frequency, low/moderate intensity training throughout my workday. I'll just choose an exercise for that day and do it many times per day. It's always around 50-70% effort so pretty easy (eg. if I can do 10 pullups I'll only ever do a set of 5 max). That way I have perfect technique for each rep and set and I never get close to failure. I always feel refreshed and never beaten down and I don't have to set aside specific time to lift (I'm currently trying to just maintain while I do technique work). Yesterday I did it with front squats for 10x3 of very high quality reps. I plan to increase the reps/weight slightly once it gets super easy and repeat.

> If you're doing the few simple errors in judgment, time will expose you, no matter how well you appear to be doing right now.

Like smoking pot. I love smoking pot, but wow can it cascade errors in judgment (only realized upon looking back)

I've been smoking daily for past 5 years, it cascaded into smoking from morning until I fall asleep. Decided to stop on my 25th birthday 3 days ago. It's really hard and even though I love this devil's lettuce I wish I never started smoking it. Any tips for a fellow smoker ?

I don’t smoke but have been involved in some programs to (hopefully) help people quit smoking. One of the things that seem to work was replacing the habit.

Just being bored doing nothing on the time that you used to be smoking will drive you mad and use a huge amount of will power.

Doing something that you enjoy on that time, even better if it’s something that uses your hands (as opposed to Netflix) could not only help you get rid of the habit you doing, but also add something that quality to your life. To my mind comes woodworking, gardening, sports, RC Cars, model airplanes building… just something that you enjoy. Good luck!!

Cardio seems to be key to a healthy relationship with the plant. I think it has something to do with it accumulating in fat cells but I don't know the mechanism, that's just based on my observation of the difference between healthy and unhealthy tokers.

Wish you all the best!

I'm curious, because I sometimes worry of stepping into this trap, as well: what kind of error cascades?

For me, mostly work issues. While I find pot is great for interpersonal relationship building, I've struggled with the following while smoking and running a startup:

* I can't prioritize tasks properly (both within work and outside e.g. fitness)

* I become passive as a leader, which isn't good leadership

* I evaluate situations based on emotional resonance rather than factual data

There are more, but those are the ones that immediately come to mind. These led to bad decisions, poor productivity, and ultimately hurting my trust with the team.

For me it cascaded to smoking daily and doing 0 health related activities. I could still code tho..

The Slight Edge is an amazing book about an amazing concept. Dramatic change happens one percent at a time at a consistent cadence.

Also great chapter in The Psychology of Money about Warren Buffet. He's been investing since he was a child and is now in his 90s -- He's been compounding returns on a longer timeframe then anyone else alive.

> Warren Buffet

That is selection bias at its worst: he really is an outlier. There are plenty of investors that beaver away every day and do not get his returns. I suspect you could pick one of his decades and only find a few people that exceed his ability.

> There are plenty of investors that beaver away every day and do not get his returns.

There are very few investors who consistently manage to exceed average market returns. It doesn't negate the importance of consistently investing.

Yeah. And he also hasn't beaten the market in over a decade.

> And he also hasn't beaten the market in over a decade.

You say that like it's an accurate condemnation of Buffett's investment skill.

A 30% - or higher - average annual return like the old days means Berkshire would have to go from a $636 billion market cap to a $8.7 trillion market cap in one decade. Yeah right.

Berkshire no longer competes with the market. It is the market. The larger you get, the harder it is to keep high returns going; Berkshire got really, really large. In terms of value it's also overwhelmingly an operating holding company, not an investment portfolio. The investment side of the business is not what drives Berkshire's stock higher, and hasn't been the primary driver for decades, operating results are.

Hey! I got the book after reading your comment. Great book, exactly what I was looking for.

This passage strikes me as meaningless self-help dreck.

Every accomplished musician in the world would disagree.

Yup. Knowledge usually works like this.

When I first got into home cooking a few years ago, the learning process was painfully slow. It must've taken several attempts spread across a week just to learn how to make basic scrambled eggs the "proper" way. Now after a few years of experience, every ingredient I learn to work with seemingly unlocks a dozen more dishes that I can easily assemble. The rate of learning accelerates evermore.

Software is very much the same. And the cool thing about software is that the domain of knowledge is effectively infinite. No one person can ever run out of things to know in this field. You can only learn more and get even better.

The number of domains of knowledge that are effectively infinite are compounding...this thought tends to make me hyperventilate if I think about it too much.

It was very important to me to be smart so that people looked positively at me, now that I'm getting older, I'm having a hard time letting that go as I know more and more about less and less.

And yet, “smart” is less about how much you know and more about how quickly you can become competent in something new. You can feel confident in the knowledge that when you need to know something you can learn it, just-in-time.

Yeah, but at the same time, I'm getting tired of learning about Yet Another SIEM...or Web Server...or Message Queue

Wisdom is knowing how little you actually know

This is perhaps a root cause of the Dunning–Kruger effect.

Would you mind sharing what you used to learn cooking? My main struggle is recipe books that teach you the recipe rather than cooking. But I'd love to learn HOW to cook, not WHAT to cook.

I actually think starting with recipes and following them semi-blindly is a great way to learn to cook. For a couple of reasons:

* It gives you successful experiences early in the process. It can be really disheartening to spend hours making a mess of your kitchen and end up with something unpalatable. Following tried and true recipes gets you to that amazing feeling of "I created something delicious" as quickly as possible, and I think you need that to keep motivation up.

* There are definitely many systematic aspects to cooking. Things like the French mother sauces, the role of acid, Maillard reaction, etc. But also, a lot of cooking really is just "we put these ingredients together because we've always put them together". When you think of food you love, part of the reason you love it simply is history and cultural association. Rote learning of that lore is an important part of the process and recipes are good for that.

* Much of cooking is technique—literal physical and low-level skills. Knowing how much salt to add to meat based on how the salt feels in your fingers and eyeballing the size of the cut. Knowing whether your onions are a little smaller than usual so you need 1 1/2 of them instead of just 1. Developing good knife technique so you can cut veggies efficiently and safely, which makes all cooking easier. How quickly to stir a sauce to prevent it from burning. How much to mix a batter to get it smooth but not tough. Recipes give you a safe space while you learn all of those important fundamentals. We tech nerds tend to assume all knowledge is discrete and encodable in words and concepts, but so much of cooking is not that. The nonverbal intuitive techniques are a huge aspect.

* Humans are incredible generalizers. Trust that as you "blindly" follow a few recipes, your brain is hard at work spotting patterns and commonalities. Without even realizing it, before long, you'll start seeing connections. Once that happens you'll begin tweaking recipes, and then making bigger changes, and before too long you won't need them at all.

Don't feel that you need to reinvent the entire culinary arts from first principles. There's a reason that generations of cooks have used recipes and watching each other cook as the primary ways of passing down that knowledge.

Agreed- I learned to cook at first by just doing some recipes, and also just making some basic dishes like pasta with sauce (from a jar) but then jazzing it up by adding additional freshly chopped garlic, or oregano, basil, whatever.

If you start making enough dishes, you will start to see the similarities. You start realizing that making something like chicken marsala is just like cooking almost any other protein and making a "pan sauce"- First you brown the meat with some oil (causing Maillard reactions) in a pan, then take the protein out and brown some onions, and maybe soften some garlic, then throw some liquid in the pan, typically chicken stock and/or wine, to get all the brown bits stuck to the pan up and unlock that flavor (called deglazing), then throw in other things to make it flavorful, whether it be herbs, mushrooms, veggies, whatever, and then you let that reduce down to a much thicker consistency, and then thicken with a fat like butter or cream, or maybe even mustard or roux- butter and flour mixed together and cooked briefly (finishing).

This is the basic process for making a pan sauce, and you can start experimenting from there.

For more specific advice, after cooking a bit, you can read a book like How to Cook Everything by Mark Bitman or Ratio by Michael Ruhlman that goes over some of the fundamental ideas of cooking. One interesting thing I have learned as I have gotten more adventurous is that many ingredients are often thrown together because of climate, geography and history- Tomato and Basil are like peas and carrots because they thrive in the same climates and are naturally harvested at the same time. Thyme rosemary and tarragon are heavily used in French cooking because they grow like weeds there, particularly in the south. With our modern supermarkets, you can get a lot more creative. But that's for later and you have to prepare yourself for a lot of failure in that process :)

There's a ton of great content on YouTube to learn the basics. There's a channel called "Pro Home Cooks" that's definitely more focused on teaching you the basics as well as techniques, tips and tricks, etc. That's what I watched to get me started.

They have a couple of "Basic tips & tricks everyone should know" type videos and I definitely recommend those. It's stuff like, "pat down your chicken before cooking it or the water will make it steam instead of sear", "tenderize your meat so that it cooks evenly", "salt your veggies to reduce the water content, it will cook better and faster", "adding salt to boiling water doesn't just season it, it makes it boil faster too".

Lots of good stuff that you definitely won't get from recipes.

Some of this might be great advice and the reasoning sound. Some of it I can't tell but the thing about water and salt makes me suspicious.

I suppose you mean to add salt after the water boils instead of at the start? Why would the water boil faster without salt with any significance to cooking?

I looked it up again and apparently

    The temperature needed to boil will increase about 0.5 C for every 58 grams of dissolved salt per kilogram of water
One teaspoon of salt is about 6 grams. So let's say 10 teaspoons of salt to increase the boiling point by 0.5C for a liter of water. I guess you will boil about 4 liters or so for your pasta? So 40 teaspoons or about 240g of salt to raise the boiling point by 0.5C.

How long does it take a regular stovetop to heat 4l of 100C water to 100.5C?

The good enough answer to that is that it's not noticeable for you even if you had wasted this much salt on your pasta or potatoes or rice or whatever. Never mind that nobody would/should eat this food any longer as you've just cooked your food in saltier than ocean salinity level water. With the proper amount of salt it would be even less noticeable of a difference. Less time than it takes you to get the salt and put it in.

I suspect this is more about giving that almost-boiling water more points where it can break tension and start forming bubbles. So it doesn't make the water reach 100° faster but makes it more visible.

I'm not entirely sure how you mean. Would you care to elaborate your point?

Just to make it more clear, in case I wasn't, the 'common wisdom' as also perpetuated in the parent's statement is indeed about the faster boiling time. It's all over the internet too (and youtube).

The 'problem' with it is that it it is actually factually true. That water will definitely boil faster without salt added to it at the start. It can be calculated to the T if you know all the input parameters, like initial temperature, power output of your heating element, amount of water and salt. The fact remains that it's only by maybe milliseconds for common water and salt amounts used in cooking. So pedantically, whoever mentions it, is right, but it doesn't matter and is not how it's commonly referred to. It's more used to throw around your knowledge about cooking, giving 'tips' etc. I don't doubt that many of the other 'common wisdoms' of cookery are similarly unfounded if pedantically true. Not all of them probably.

Hands down the best cooking channel on YouTube for me at least.

The thing I most appreciate about Mike's work with Pro Home Cooks is that he shows what _doesn't_ work and what he would do different next time. I find that's the most important skill to hone when learning to cook.

He also does a ton of improvisation during his videos. Things like, "I was going to put broccoli in this but all I had was kale, but I still want a little more substance so maybe I'll make kale chips and roast some cashews too." Creativity in the kitchen is a huge part of the fun, and I haven't seen other cooking education sources that demonstrate it effectively.

I would recommend "Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking". It has a great focus on the fundamentals rather than specific recipes.

There’s also a 4 part Netflix series of the same name featuring the author, each show tackling one of the four elements in the title. It’s not a replacement for the book but it’s a good visual companion.

I was in the exact same position, and I can't recommend Ruhlman's Twenty enough. It goes through 20 techniques/ingredients, from ‘Water’ and ‘Onions’ to ‘Roast’ and ‘Boil’, giving you all the information you might possibly need, and then provides a handful of recipes to explore all the avenues of each. The only downside is that a lot of the recipes include meat and the book never really touches on how to make sensible substitutes, which depending on your dietary preferences might be more or less of an oversight, but I didn't find it too difficult to sub things out.

I've not read Salt, Acid, Fire, Heat so I can't comment, but I assume it takes a similar approach.

Seconding Ruhlman's Twenty, it's the book that really taught me how to cook. By focusing on techniques, it allows you to understand that when a recipe says "saute onions on medium-high heat", it really means to sweat them, and what that looks like. So rather than mechanically doing what the recipe says, you understand how the ingredients respond to different treatments, and how to get the results you want based on your equipment. And when watching a cooking show, you can see what the ingredients are doing and understand why, so that you can fill in the inevitable gaps.

Thirding Ruhlman’s twenty, mentioned here:


I haven’t read Salt, Acid, Fire, Heat but I doubt it can match Salt, Coal, Fire, Heat, let alone Smoke, Coal, Fire, Heat.

...or Guns, Germs and Steel.

The food lab by j Kenji Lopez alt is another cooking book (with lots of recipes) that really helps you understand why and what you are doing rather than just telling you a process to follow.

Highly recommend anything Kenji does (previously he was the main force behind seriouseats.com) and also does a lot of first person point of view cooking videos on YouTube where he explains why he is doing things while he is doing them.

Second that! He has a very scientific approach, sampling various ways (cooking dishes in six different ways, comparing them), which makes it far easier to understand why something is done that way.

The Joy of Cooking is a bit old but describes the practicalities of cooking fairly well. It's full of recipes yes but there's essentially an entire chapter at the start of each section that outlines different techniques and even how to select cuts of meat, etc. It's fairly basic advice but that + Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat will basically cover "intro to cooking" and give you a good set of the basic recipes to cover off.

I love the Joy of Cooking because it teaches cooking in layers. So it will start off teaching you how to make a simple dish, then the next pages are all permutations of that dish where you add a few ingredients, or slightly change the cooking technique.

In addition to Twenty and Food Lab already recommended, I'll mention Niki Segnit's books: Lateral Cooking and the Flavor Thesaurus. Lateral connects "adjacent" dishes -- you know of dish X, but Y is almost the same but from another food culture but everyone agrees on these basic things with just these slight pivots.

The Flavor Thesaurus does the same for ingredients -- you want to do something with figs, what dishes have figs in them, what complements them? The books cover the Western world, and Niki is the most witty writer among the dozens of culinary books I have.

Outside of that I like the "Perfect" columns by Felicity Cloak in the Guardian. Felicity takes a well-known dish and analyses all the differences in recipes, e.g. 6 cookbook authors have 6 different takes on coq au vin, what works best and how do they end up differently to each other? Like on Serious Eats, there's always well-spirited discussion.

"How to cook everything" by Mark Bittman was a book I found very useful. It has a whole bunch of recipes but it also does a great job of explaining the logic and overall structure behind each recipe. So you learn not just how to make a specific soup, but what the basic concepts behind making a soup are, as well as tons of alternatives for each recipe. It helped me quickly move from following recipes to being able to look at what I have in my kitchen and whip something up.

I think in this quantity is important, you’ll learn how long to boil/cook/bake/sauté/season to perfection with trial and error. You’ll also learn what you like, it’s pretty personal. I liked Jamie Oliver’s “in 15 minutes” book, I never finished any in 15 minutes and I changed the recipes a lot but there are a lot of simple tasteful things in there. Also on his website. And you learn techniques that make you faster/more efficient.

I think cooking is very similar to programming. You need to basically do it with your hands otherwise you won’t “get” it. The ingredients are one thing. The chemistry behind it is another thing. Both probably easily to teach through a book. Knowing how to hold the knife and how to dice onions fast is something you can only learn by practicing. Even better someone showing it first (eg through a video), but it won’t work without practice.

watch J. Kenji López-Alt on youtube. does the full recipe from start to finish while telling you the whys. he started doing that kind of thing semi-frequently at the start of the pandemic and now has a pretty large catalog of videos.


The best part is that he does very little editing, so you see him screw up and make modifications on the fly - nearly all other cooking shows/videos don't show that and so you feel like everyone can cook perfectly. Kenji will forget to add things, or burn things, or do things out of order, but he keeps rolling with it. To add to the videos, he has the best articles on seriouseats.com that explain how and why everything is done in the recipe.

indeed... that and not following the recipe by the book and substituting or paring down the recipes for a more accurate representation of what cooks do at home. also suggests what you could add or omit all the time.

A lot of people recommend videos to get started. A lot of (as in most) recipes assume you know enough to tell when the stove is at an appropriate temperature, when a texture is "right," etc. Video isn't a panacea but written directions for many things tend to assume you kinda know at least the basics.

ATK's best recipes and maybe some of Alton Brown's books (though I'm less enthusiastic than some are) are probably better than most at breaking down the steps and the reason for doing certain things.

Two recommendations that I think will be especially suited to the personality type that’s already matched to software development:

1) The Professional Chef - This is the textbook used in culinary schools. It’s advanced but it starts out from first principles assuming no prior knowledge and just methodically walks through literally every concept one could ever encounter. Not for everyone but if you’re the type that likes to just RTFM this is it.

2) Cooked by Michael Pollan - This is basically the opposite of the textbook I recommended, it’s all high level and narrative and conceptual but as someone who was just starting to cook seriously I found it life changing, it did so much to contextualize what I was doing, so it wasn’t just procedural recipies. This helped me a lot in learning how to open up the fridge pick some ingredients and just know what to do next. Also it’s a breezy read.

> The Professional Chef

It's a great book. Most of the recipes do need to be scaled for home purposes (eg. soup recipes are one US gallon, mains are "makes 10 servings").

One of the neat things about the book is that many of the techniques illustrated end with "evaluate the quality of the finished product," which serves as a reminder to check what was done and how it can be improved.

Maybe the book "Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking" [1] is what you are looking for:

[1] https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3931154-ratio

I also favour Felicity Cloake; there's very little introductory fluff, it's straight into the food.

In the "How To Cook The Perfect"..., series, she tackles standards. She gathers the opinions and recipes of various authors and chefs, and tests them against a tasting panel. She then settles on her chosen recipe; but you get to decide whether you prefer to go with chef X or author Y, in respect of (e.g.) the capers.

I've learned a lot from Cloake. And her writing suits my cooking style - I don't like to be tied to a recipe past the first attempt.

I'm just a hobbyist but I routinely get compliments. This is what I did/do:

1. Cook what you love

2. Continuously sample stuff before/after adding spices so you get a feel for what each spice does

3. Follow the recipe closely the first time. Make the same thing again several times and make small tweaks that you think will be better

After a while I gained a really good intuition for what worked and what didn't, how things would be affected by stuff, etc. 3.

Have a look at Alton Brown's "I'm Just Here for the Food." It teaches the different cooking methods - braising, grilling, roasting, frying etc. It teaches you why how these methods work and what foods benefit from them. It's a fun a book and you will cook a bunch of good stuff and there's a healthy bit of science in there as well. It will get you on your way to cooking without recipes.


The other recommendation I could make would be to "Cooks Illustrated" magazine. It's a monthly magazine but they're the kind of thing you could keep around for years as a reference. Besides the usual recipes also lots of "how to" and they usually have a seasonal focus so you can learn to cook things in season.


Delia Smith has done many series of cooking programmes; "How To Cook" addresses your question directly. It starts with the very most fundamental basics: how to boil an egg.

I'd be surprised if these programmes can't be found on e.g. Youtube.

I strongly suspect there is a book or two in print with the same title.

Delia's recipes work. She's not a purist; she does shortcuts (but always from-scratch - no tinned Cambell's Soup).

If "How To Cook" is too basic for you, her website is full of well-explained recipes for all kinds of standards.

[Aside: One of the things that pisses me off about online recipes is the fifteen paragraphs of gush that seems to be required if you want to be a paid food "influencer"; Delia doesn't do that.]

There's a good chrome extension for that problem


The book "Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat" is fairly modern still but also considered a classic by many. The entire goal of the book is to break cooking down to these aspects.

Another person in this thread mentioned the Master Classes with Gordon Ramsey and Thomas Keller and I can concur that both of those are really great in teaching technique that is reusable across just about anything you cook.

Cooking is pretty easy once you get enough of it under your belt and are confident with different techniques. It's also quite liberating as many things go with each other and it isn't a mystery if something will work. You can begin to target "profiles" you want your food to take on.

Nothing wrong with just following a bunch of recipes. If you do it enough you'll start to internalize common things and techniques, also play around with modifying them and substituting similar ingredients.

I would recommend The Professional Chef - it provides techniques and how do them, and follows this with recipes that apply them after. As might be expected though, this is a fairly serious book.


I highly recommend Masterclass to get into cooking. The Gordon Ramsey and Thomas Keller videos jumpstarted me into serious cooking last year. 10/10 would recommend.

is it worth the price. seems a overpriced for the content.

I think it's an incredible bargain to be honest. Everything is really well produced and the content is top notch.

Thomas Keller explaining his techniques is more than worth the entire price.

Those courses are in my opinion.

YouTube! My YouTube recommendations are always full of food stuff, so I just passively learn new foods/techniques as I browse the website.

I recommend you check out Ethan Chlebowsk's channel in particular. His recipes are pretty damn tasty, while remaining approachable to the average joe.


I learned to cook in a restaurant setting (a nice restaurant, not Applebees or something), but the skills used to train line cooks apply to home cooks as well. You just have to be more deliberate with practice since you don't get the opportunity to cook 200 dishes a night.

Essentially, you learn one dish really well. To the point where I'd understand every action perfectly. Say it was a dish with chicken breast fried with some veggies, sauce, then tossed with pasta. They'd show you what the chicken should look like before you add the veggies, then how the veggies should be cooked before the sauce is added. Then the rest would be adding the sauce, pasta, and plating.

Once you had one dish down, you'd then learn the dishes which are permutations on that one dish. So chicken with peppers and onions in a garlic butter sauce, chicken with onions and mushrooms in a red wine sauce, chicken with tomatoes and peppers in a spicy sauce, etc. You get the picture. So every night for a week or so, whenever those four dishes would be called, I'd take them, that's all I did.

Most proteins pan fry about the same, the biggest difference will have to do with thickness and appropriate doneness determines how much heat you use. But for the most part, food is forgiving, especially when served with a sauce.

Veggies are tough. Cooking a veggie correctly is mostly in the prep and cutting, with moisture being the other big consideration (wet veggies macerate initially when fried). The good news is, you probably eat like five veggies regularly, so focus on learning how to cook your Big Five veggies first and you'll be good. You can use frozen steam veggies to supplement your diet while you learn.

Baking dishes is fairly straightforward. Generally small things require lots of heat and short cooking times, while large things like casseroles require lower heat for a long time.

Grilling is easy-ish. Commercial gas grills are hot up front, cool in the back. So you'll generally first oil the grates with an oil rag, then put a protein on the grill for 4 minutes, after which you turn it 90 degrees for another 4 min. This will produce grill marks you get in nice restaurants. Then flip it over and move it to the cool side of the grill until it temps out. Very large proteins (like pork tenderloins or thick cut chops) will be finished in a hot oven or covered with a cloche to get to temp without burning.

Pastries, breads, cakes, etc are their own specialized domain. If line cooks were JS devs, pastry chefs would be doing C++. My advice is to buy Duncan Hines and focus on decorating.

Learning to cook is not that different than learning most other skills. Start with simple things to develop fundamentals, then slowly add more fundamentals to your repertoire.

It is 100% okay to follow recipes. In fact, i highly recommend it because most recipes will use fundamentals. America's Test Kitchen is great. As is Serious Eats (the website), especially for foreign/fusion cuisine. I do a lot of cooking out of the Better Homes and Gardening cookbook as well, especially backed goods. If you're an American mid-westerner whose mom/grandma was a great cook, there's a good chance she was making dishes from that cookbook.

Edit: oh yeah, buy a probe thermometer! Seriously, it's the best cooking investment you'll make. 90% of the compliments I get on my cooking are because I'm cooking meat to the appropriate temperature.

A friend of mine (who couldn't cook) learnt by buying the delivered raw food packages that have say four evenings dishes with recipes.

The recipes are designed and written so that they are hard to screw up.

It was a least effort path that worked for him: no videos or books (so a different option than the majority of answers so far!). Mostly I believe it is just the desire to cook - even if just making one _favourite_ dish. Good luck!

I think they're interesting if (in most cases) you're part of a couple, you're fine with spending a fair bit of time multiple times a week to prepare, and you don't have much of a pantry at ho,e.

Most of those don't really describe me, especially pre-pandemic, and the one time I tried Blue Apron it just didn't work for me. About half of three recipes were OK. Another one was incredibly fussy for a burger.

I know there are a million services out there and some probably better align with my preferences though they're all pricy.

I disagree with the J. Kenji Lopez-Alt suggestions. He is too extreme/OCD for beginners.

A much more accessible source is Harold McGee who wrote "On Food and Cooking - The Science and Lore of the Kitchen". McGee reviews the science but also some history. He also reviews some of the cooking tips your mom gave you and why they work or don't work.

> I disagree with the J. Kenji Lopez-Alt suggestions. He is too extreme/OCD for beginners.

He's good for sous vide. You don't need much to do it at home (just an instant pot) and he's basically just telling you how to program it and leave it sitting for two hours. Not hard.

Most other cooking is imprecise and you have to learn to read the spirit and not the text of the recipe, or something. (Not baking though. You have to actually get that right.)

McGee's On Food and Cooking is a wonderful book, but I'm not sure I'd call it accessible. :)

For beginners I'd instead recommend his book Keys to Good Cooking. It takes all the information in On Food and Cooking and distills it down to the practical lessons a cook will need to improve their cooking.

I learned a lot by watching way too much food network. After a while your brain starts picking up on the design patterns.

I learned a lot from Usborne Beginner's Cookbook, which is still in print: https://usborne.com/gb/beginner-s-cookbook-9780746085387#

My favorite for teaching cooking, not just recipes, is 'How to Cook,' Julia Child. We have our own and keep a copy at the in-laws for ready reference. We are also big fans of Alton Brown's 'I'm Just Here for the Food.'

Alton browns good eats gives you some light hearted science and basic methodology for cooking things.

Things like don’t put things into cold oil/pan, don’t over mix dough, here is basics for gravy etc

Another vote for Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat as well as The Food Lab

One of the greatest lessons I took from formerly subscribing to a high demand religion was exactly this. "By small and simple things are great things brought to pass."

I started doing this with side projects a little while ago. The revelation for me was to create a monorepo out on GitHub and actually keep my hackaround projects under some reasonable form of source control and all in the same bucket.

What I started doing was rewriting my projects over and over trying to chase down the core first principles. I would take my previous iteration - MyProject12 - and create a fresh one - MyProject13. The idea would be to use the prior copy as a reference point for the new one, and to only use it for the little nuggets of value I think I still want to carry forward. I have VS solutions with every iteration of that project in it so I can quickly do a sln-wide search for something I discovered previously.

I repeated this process about 40-50 times for an application framework. Fast forward 3-4 years and we are now talking about setting up a license agreement between myself and my employer for purposes of using this IP in next generation products. It is incredibly nice to have permissive employment contracts so that I can freely explore my interests without fear of reproach. Seems this has very powerful win-win mechanics.

It may sound strange that this is what someone would do in their free time after work, but I actually do derive pleasure from indulging the fantasy of being allowed to rewrite code piles. If I were to take this tendency into my professional work, everyone would have quit by now. It seems to be a good outlet for me.

I wish more employers realized this. If the contract says they own every piece of code you write, you are not likely to put your best ideas forward.

This is inspiring, thanks! I'm on a similar path and am about a year in. I now have a blog, app, and infra stack each in their own repos, each with their own deployment automations. I run a solo kanban board on Trello to help me prioritize what to work on next.

I don't know if the current project will turn into anything useful to others or not. But it feels satisfying to look at the list of little "done" cards and see how each of them has contributed to something tangible, while both the product and my skills are improving with each deployment.

When I'm ready for the next project, this year of work is reusable to launch something new super quickly. And the infra cost is close to zero while I work on it thanks to static site hosting and serverless tech. If it ever gets enough traffic to bill me I'll be happy to pay it because that will validate something useful is there.

My next step is to make it "good enough" to share it in the wild. That part is still scary. I'm almost there though.

Agree, this is how I somehow ended up using bash/vim for all my needs. I realized it wasn't "normal" when I saw my boss' face as he watched me typing. And it keeps compounding :)

I wrote a novel-shaped object (OK, it was never printed, so "object" is perhaps a bit bold) over about 6 months, by the simple expedient of making sure I spent at least 15 minutes every morning with the NSO editor open. Target was "Minimum one word", but (apart from a long stretch in the middle), more like 500-1500 words per day.

The long stretch in the middle was when I had to figure out how to deal with the main character dying half-way through, due to the logic of the story. That took a fair bit of revising previously written prose and setting things up for a sequel character, as it were (the main "protagonist" of what was intended as a series was an organisation, not an individual; as it turns out, there's a reason that is not a common format).

For what it's worth, Isaac Asimov's Foundation series was written this way with the Foundation or the concept of it being an "organization" spanning hundreds of years. It might provide some useful ways to handle this though in general I think his solution was "jump forward 20yrs and introduce a new character while brining up the former's legacy".

Yes, sort of. I think one of the early Foundation books was essentially composed of two or three shorter works and had both a time gap and a change of protagonists.

But having a change of protagonists in "continuous time" actually was not easy to pull off, and I am not sufficiently happy with the result to consider it worth distributing wildly.

Nonetheless, actually keeping at something means it's surprisingly easy to amass results over time.

Put another way, people overestimate how much they can do in one day, but underestimate how much they can do in a year.

"The days are long but the years are short".

Having the wisdom and patience to see something through to the completion is difficult.

Wow, never heard that one, but I love it.

I've had a solid green GH activity log[0] for years. I try to write some Swift every day.

Most folks seem to think it's fake. I have learned not to give a damn.

Some of the days with the fewest commits are actually the ones where I worked hardest.

[0] https://github.com/ChrisMarshallNY#github-stuff

Do you explicitly try to keep it all green, like a "Don't break the chain" habit tracker?

I can imagine committing code nearly every day, but what with the occasional travel day, sickness, etc, there would always be some holes, unless keeping it green and making at least one commit was explicitly important to me.

There are some holes; not many. I work at home, so it's easy to be consistent.

It's not about keeping the activity graph green; it's about constantly coding, so it is as natural as breathing.

Best if you turn off Dark Mode on GH to see the empties. They look like faint greenies in Dark Mode.

0.99^365 = 0.02551796445

1.01^365 = 37.7834343328

I find writing to be like this. Write something, go away for awhile and do other things. Come back and refine what you wrote. Once you do that several times, you'll have something worth reading. But it takes time.

There's a Japanese term called kaizen, which perfectly describes this effect - small continual changes eventually result in huge ones over time.

Hey munificent, big fan of your work. Eagerly waiting for the paperback version.

ME TOO. It's getting close but, wow, what a pile of work it's been.

The grand canyon was likely not the result of little drops but rather huge deluges - over time.

Do you have a source for that? Would love to understand this better.

Isn't there some chinese 4 character saying about water cutting stone?

There might be a reverse principle that our natural tendency is to forget what a problem is or how hard it is unless we warm up back into it. Doing thing regularly gives us that.

I can think of some counter examples. Golf is a big one. I have friends that play every weekend and never get better.

I don't think just doing an activity is enough - there has to be conscious effort at improvement.

A person doing a drunken Saturday 18 isn't going to improve. A person going to the range and focusing on technique 20 minutes a day will improve, with far less net time spent.

I think of it in terms of the "10,000 hours to mastery" - how many masters of driving do you see on the road? Most people are just barely not crashing from place to place, not focusing on skill.

Also in dating.

Not to take away from your point, but from what I have read, the Grand Canyon was most likely not formed by little drops of water, but instead by occasional torrents of water. There is ~70 feet of boulders and detritus at the bottom of the Colorado River. Only a flood powerful enough to get all that material moving at once will erode the bottom of the river bed and carve the canyon deeper. The slopes and walls probably erode more continually though.

And in geological time, an every-10,000-year event may as well be like every day to us.

OP's comment is a vast simplification of what's happening underneath, but nonetheless still tremendously valid as a useful heuristic.

Valuable work, like many things in the real world, is not normally distributed, but skewed or following alternate distributions, such as power-law. This is likely what occurs within "torrents" of work: work that is has significantly more leverage than other work.

Nonetheless, the implicit bedrock of the just-showing-up heuristic is that the valuable work cannot get done without the consistency of simply showing up; indeed, expert performance is often a function of deliberate practice plus persistence (time); one without the other rarely nets positive results.

That's not true. You might be thinking of the Missoula floods that carved out the channeled scablands of Eastern Washington. But the Grand Canyon's river is generally the same size it always has been, and slow erosion forces created it.

Why not both?! It's not ridiculous to allow for constant, steady erosion and the occasional 10,000 year flood shenanigans!

Example from in our great-grandparents lifetimes. There's a cool place called the Bridge to Nowhere in Southern California => https://goo.gl/maps/XMerBpT3J2caLJ696 / https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bridge_to_Nowhere_(San_Gabriel.... The bridge was built as part of a massive project to build roads through the San Gabriel Mountains in the mid 1930s. Only a couple years after the bridge was completed, there was a massive rainstorm washed away most of the newly built roads. The bridge stand about 120 feet, roughly 36 meters, above the river below. I was talking to a park ranger who said there were reports that the flooding nearly reached the bridge. While this bridge stands over a river that's been slowly eroding the valley below for (millions of?) years, every now and then Mother Nature says "I'm bored, let's hit the biblical flood button and see what happens!" What kind of boulders could a violent rush of 20m-30m+ flooding move? Big ones I'm sure! Who the heck knows what kind of freakish rain storms or natural damn bursts have happened in the time that the Grand Canyon has been forming!

For anyone in the SoCal area, the Bridge to Nowhere is a fun day hike. It's about 5 miles (8km) one way from the trailhead. It's a very cool hike. If you're going in summer time, bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and some head protection. It gets toasty in that canyon.

Sure, there are certainly big floods now and again. But the point stands that the grand canyon's formation was primarily from slow erosion, not from big floods doing the bulk of the work.

Missoula floods were probably more like a 1:100,000 year event since they were caused by the ice age subsiding

Do you have a source? Would love to understand this better

Not sure about the Grand Canyon, but at least around the Alps, lots of wide, deep river valleys were carved into close to their current form at the end of the last ice age, when rivers carried hundreds of times their usual water for quite a while as the ice shield was melting away.

The deeper the canyon gets, the larger its watershed and the more likely flash floods, etc. The answer is both, and it has changed over time. Trickle and torrents.

As a proportion of Earth’s water it is ‘tiny drops.’

As a metaphor it is reasonable as ‘tiny drops’ is not a scientific unit. And a boulder is any non-monolith greater than 256mm…seventy feet is not particularly large in a scientific sense just in an ordinary tourist talk one.

Well, I think you will find most fluid dynamics researchers will agree that a "drop" is a body of fluid where surface tension is non-negligible. We might argue over whether that limit is 25 mm or 5 mm or whatever for a given fluid, but we all agree it's a lot less than 1 meter for water.

How do fluid dynamics researchers measure metaphors…or Hoffstedlierian fluid analogies?

Well, in this case the concept is that a drop-like thing has relatively large surface area compared to volume. Translating e.g. to people, it could mean many/all of the people in a group have ties to outside the group. Maybe "drop" is a neighbourhood and "sea" is a country.

Colloquially, no one would interpret "tiny drops" as "relative to the size of the Earth".

Unless of course they were trying to defend an incorrect comment on HN.

Wouldn't the torrents be composed of drops of water, just descending in large quantities. And would not the little drops of water evaporate at some point forming clouds that may come down in torrents at some point?

You're right. I think we should start referring to all phenomenon that include water as "tiny drops of water" just to be safe!

E.g.: Did you hear about the tiny drops of water that washed away that small coastal town?

Like every problem, it depends on the resolution of the scale you examine it! How much did you zoom? Looks like drops to me!

And so maybe true effectiveness would be achieved by having a torrent of work once a week instead of a few minutes a day.

Both. I am naturally a very "torrent of work" kind of person, but I've learned that one approach isn't enough. Some problems require a bit every day, some torrents.

Also the torrent maybe only comes, if prepared through little drops here and there.

I think it depends on the activity. It's impossible to build any medium to high complexity software by working on it for 5 mins a day. But you can make a lot of progress by practising every day for very little time. For example, I've improved on my tucked planche progression by just leaning forward while holding a plank for 5 seconds every day.

> It's impossible to build any medium to high complexity software by working on it for 5 mins a day.

Both of the books I wrote, one of which includes two complete implementations of a programming language, were mostly written in sessions of less than an hour. Occassionally I get longer ones and very often they are much shorter.

Learning to task switch and suspend efficiently is also a really valuable skill that improves with practice. I have kids, so if I couldn't make progress while being interrupted, I'd never be able to do anything.

Do you count only writing time, or also the time you spent constructing the book and associated programs in your head?

All of it.

That's very impressive. I envy you.

And I wonder how you do it. How are you able to suspend and resume work on a complex project like this? How are you able to stop thinking about it when scheduled time is up, and then pick it up the next day, without paying a huge time cost of loading yesterday's state back into your head?

Could you elaborate on this? I'm asking seriously - I myself wish I could do that. The way I work today, in irregular but long bursts of high focus, is somewhat effective, but doesn't lend itself to having a balance in life (work-life balance, but also "personal interests - life balance").

My experience has been that a small amount of work each day builds mental momentum which can snowball into something bigger when my schedule opens up and I have some free time & an idea that excites me.

Yes, working on a problem daily means your subconscious is daily prodded to "think about the problem". As you do other things, your brain is 'working on it' so when you do get those few minutes or maybe an hour to work on it, you almost always know what to do - you've been thinking about it all day!

There is an apocryphal story of what Newton said when he was asked, "How did you come up with the theory of gravity?" replying: "By thinking about it all the time."

Yeah I agree. For software I find the major infrastructure laying and overhauling should be done in "torrent" blocks of several hours to a full day, while incremental bugfixes and feature add-ons can be done by daily short amounts of time.

I think at this point we're reading too much into specific units to compare very distinct things. The point of the analogy either way is the compounding effect of seemingly small things repeated.

Right, even a day or suncycle is kinda arbitrary and human-scale. Point is just that consistent repeatable practice rewards compoundingly over time.

I think the problem with humans is that, other than with falling rain, the throughput is limited.

So you cannot really do a torrent of work on grand canyon scale.

to follow the example closer, you need to put in work every day, however small (continuous river flow), and that will carve the channels in your life (eh?) to enable the torrent of work that might come when conditions allow.

Couldn't the boulders have come from the side walls collapsing?

This is the quintessential example of a pedantic Hacker News comment.

I don't know, I appreciated the correction and additional information. There was also an acknowledgment that it doesn't change ops point. Seemed like a useful comment to me.

It was pedantic but that doesn't make it a bad comment, I definitely appreciated the information

Since this comment got some attention, my source for this was [0] Ranney, Wayne. “How Rivers Carve Canyons.” Carving Grand Canyon - Evidence, Theories, and Mystery, 2nd ed., Grand Canyon Association, 2012.

Also appreciated by those who prefer to work in torrents, rather than consistently. ;)

We should have a Bay where we can store all these torrents! We should call all those who create these torrents Pirates! because pirates are cool.

Well, pedantry is quite popular around here.

Writing code w/o a pedantic frame ~= buggy code.

Writing code with pedantic frame makes you ship slower which makes bug discovery slower

I was listening to a podcast recently with a PHD scientist, and she was saying that she was a terrible programmer and that she would go back to her code after !6months and it didnt make sense to her, but that she was good at adding comments to the code, but they were useless because she was commenting on her emotional state while she was writing the code (her thesis was on the way stars evolve and devour solar systems and planets etc) ((dope premise btw))

but the fact that her code comments were all about how she was feeling at the time, and were completely unhelpful with discerning what the code meant/does...

But writing code while being pedantic doesn't save you from bugs. Maybe writing code ~= buggy code.

To be precise, it occurs a lot around here.


What you're saying is the OP is missing the torrent through the raindrops?

And to expand on what I would like to hope your point is, comments like the GP are exactly why I and many others come here :)

And this is the great thing about threaded comments — everyone who wants to follow the pedantic branch of conversation can do so without derailing the others (though this ideal is frequently thwarted by bad UX).

Of course, it's nice when the pedants are self-aware, as is the case here, and acknowledge the pedantry of their tangent.

Normalize polite pedantry!

I don't think it's pedantic though. If what makes your argument powerful is tying it back to a natural phenomenon, then it should be right, otherwise you're using a bad example.

Also, to the degree it's wrong, you can try to take that error back and see where the argument flows.

Like, compounding is magic, except realistically, one or more of the following typically happens:

- Interest rate is so small that it doesn't add up to a meaningful difference over your lifetime. See e.g. most people and regular savings accounts.

- You aren't able to keep systematically saving / learning / etching a canyon for long enough for the compounding to matter.

- There's a natural decay process that is stronger than compounding.

Whether it's digging a canyon, learning new skills, or amassing wealth, it seems that concentrated but unfrequent actions are much more effective than a steady but weak trickle.

Yes. With unsteady and infrequent but purposeful action, move the very bowels of the earth.

I mean, accomplish a lot, politely, eh hem.

Excessive steady and consistent work has rendered me delirious, clearly. I’ll see myself out.

Ah! When it comes to arguments, yes, I do agree that their supporting examples really ought to be true-to-life.

But I don't think that's quite what was going on here.

munificent was using a metaphor in service of his plea, his encouragement, his advice that you really ought to consider making regular efforts at what you care about. To me, that feels a lot less technical and a lot more human than an argument does.

The difference between metaphors and examples might be that the important part of a metaphor is how it functions in context, how it adds to the metaphrand[1], and the important part of an example is how it functions out of context.

To give an example of metaphor: many Native American tribes besides the Lemhi Shoshone have stories that claim Sacagawea as one of their own. The stories—themselves metaphors for tribal values—are, of course, wrong, but they serve an important instructional purpose, nonetheless, transmitting values and custom in a narrative that inspires. In that case, it seems less important that the children of these tribes are hearing something factually incorrect, and more important that they are inspired by and identify with the story.

To give an example of example: if you're making an argument in court, you have to reference examples of past rulings that support your position. The strength of your argument depends completely on the validity of your examples, as they occurred outside the current context.

If you think I'm full of hot air, you're right, but anyway here is a list of famous authors explaining how fiction is truer than the truth itself: https://www.brainpickings.org/2012/01/27/famous-authors-on-t...

Thanks for coming to my TEDxHN talk.

1) Julian Jaynes, in the beginning of "The Origins of Consciousness and the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind", does a lovely segment on how we only learn via metaphor, and in which he develops the terms metaphier (commonly, the metaphor itself) and metaphrand (the thing being described by the metaphor).

Using bad logic is building a house on sand. One might get lucky and the house might stand their lifetime but they're also likely to get swallowed by a sinkhole.

How about cities by the coast?

Also torrents of activity might be better or at least as valid as drops of water.

Huh... Suddenly I want “comment code folding” up in here. I mean generally speaking, of course.

> Suddenly I want “comment code folding” up in here

I'm probably misunderstanding but if you mean you want to collapse comment threads, click the [-] next to the timestamp of a comment.

I don't think it's pedantic - it's an instructional example for how oversimplifications can be misleading, and have subtle flaws.

I’d much rather see pedantic comments that are technically correct than people just nodding along and perpetuating meme-like garbage facts. Too often when I scroll through social media I read quotes and posts that make me roll my eyes at how people will avoid critical thinking and reasoning as long as the words sound good and tell a good stereotypical story in their minds. In this case, the idea that vast canyons are formed by little drops of rain over time.

What I get from it is that occasional cram sessions is the way to move boulders.

For some people this is what's most effective. Many ways to approach life.

Science thinks that a bumblebee shouldn't be able to fly. The parable is used anyways because woo teachers don't care what humans think is illogical.

> This is the quintessential example of a pedantic Hacker News comment.

Everyday mistakes that people make every day.

It isn't pedantic if torrents turn out to be an equally effective means of creating change.

Did the torrent create it or the boundary layer of droplets?

The irony considering your comment itself is an example of. A useless comment while OP made a valuable correction while respecting the original point made

Isn’t it great? Lol.

Let me help, you are suppose to say the torrents of water are made up out of many single drops on their journey around the world.

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