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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.

Reading one paper a week is 520 papers a decade, and there's your "Oh wait, I've seen a solution to this problem before..." superpower as a senior dev. Not your only one, but one that's easy to acquire.

Based on my experience reading academic papers, I would suggest that you would often be better off skimming 3 papers in a week than reading one closely.

I would often do this in grad school:

* Go search for papers that broadly had to do with some structure or other mathematical gadget I was interested in at the time,

* Read the abstracts of those papers to find the ones that looked most interesting,

* Take the most interesting papers, and read the statements of the theorems,

* Finally, devote a little more attention to those papers that had interesting theorems that seemed to fall within the domain of what I was working on.

I did this with math papers, but there's no particular reason you can't generalize this to other fields. CS in particular can use almost the exact same methods. For less mathematical fields, you'd need to make some substitutions, such as "section headers and key topic sentences" for "statements of theorems," but you can make it work there, too.

Doing this, in a decade, you end up reading 1560 abstracts, which is probably more useful in terms of "Oh, wait, I've seen this before" type insights than reading 520 entire papers.

I absolutely agree with this. A lot of what’s in papers is boilerplate - stuff to say “yes, I’ve read the other relevant works. Yes, I understand how qualitative research works. No, my study is not based on the opinions of my four closest friends”. In my field I’d usually skim the abstract, and maybe from there read the description of the apparatus, conclusions, and further work if the study looked particularly interesting. But you can get 60-90% of a paper’s value from the abstract.

I mostly agree with this sentiment - with the added note that there is significant value in 'going deep' on a small subset of those papers. In my opinion, best bang for the buck there is to focus on the well known and impactful papers in that domain. I think there are big benefits to really digging into what makes a particular solution work, and how the authors really 'prove out' the full idea in the paper.

Right. That's why there are 3 steps to the process. The more interesting the paper is, the deeper you go with it.

Honestly I don't think I could keep up one paper a day. I had a reading course which as 3 per week (in detail) and that was enough work for me. It could take 45 minutes to read a paper

Agreed. The links between papers are arguably more important than the details of any given paper.

Knowing the shape and direction of research into big topics is just so critical to choosing the right topics yourself.

Whats the best place to search for and read papers?

The Usenix conference proceedings and other publications are usually very good: https://www.usenix.org/publications

I was an on-and-off-again ACM member for 40 years, and one of the better publications was ACM Computing Surveys: https://dl.acm.org/journal/csur -- even older issues are pretty high value, and there are tons of references to follow.

[edit: update Usenix link to something much more current]

You can go to Semantic Sanity and set up feeds of papers which you can seed with example papers. I’ve found some great (I.e. highly relevant to my projects) ML papers this way


I have a few interests that I randomly search for on arXiv.org and try to stay on top of.

Sometimes I will just randomly see what has been posted to one of the areas I am interested in as well on arxiv.

Then often I end up just googling references in the paper to other papers.

It can depend on your research interests, but Google Scholar is my go to first dip into any topic. Then its a bit of rabbit-holing by looking at cited sources and reading them or reading other papers that were a part of the same journal/conference.

Duolingo taught me this. I started doing ten minutes of Duolingo a day... 959 days ago. It showed me the enormous power of doing something small every day.

Since then I've tried setting myself other streak targets. My most successful has been publishing weeknotes (just published number 92) since that forces me to focus on what I've got done - and through that incentivizes me to get stuff done, so I can put it in my weeknotes.

What results do you find you get from using Duolingo every day for 959 days? Do you find that it's working for you, in terms of gaining better language proficiency?

I ask because I personally became disillusioned with Duolingo's streaks and leaderboards. I found that I was forcing myself to use it every day but I lost the love of learning the language. Ultimately, I stopped using it because I had a lot of extrinsic motivation to hit targets in the app but little intrinsic motivation to keep learning.

It sounds like your experiences were different from mine and I'm curious to learn what made them so.

I've tried learning Spanish theee different times - a course at university, a course at an employer and now with Duolingo.

The results I've got from Duolingo have been by far the best - a little very day works way better for me than a larger commitment of time in shorter bursts.

I can now read tweets from Spanish language Twitter accounts and understand them 90% of the time (CNN and BBC News in Spanish are great).

I took some in-person lessons via video chat to practice conversational Spanish which was also useful, and I'm hoping to spend a few months fully embedded in a Spanish speaking country some time in the future - but I don't feel the need to rush things. I'll be happy getting incrementally more vocabulary and grammar in 10-15 minutes a day for a long time to come.

Duolingo is great, because learning a language (and many other skills) is a matter of doing it consistently. If you have a 4 hour class once a week but don't study or read anything in Spanish outside of the class, you will forget things before the next class.

Of course, Duolingo is not magical, but it gives you enough vocabulary and understanding that you can start following people on twitter/instagram and know what's happening. Then you start trying to reply and interact, and then at some point try a book, then a TV show..

Also, many people plan on starting something (like learning a language) later on, when they have more time. Many people I know that wanted to learn English (Im Brazilian) didn't start years ago because they `didn't have time`, so now, after a few years, they still need to start from 0

Hey I made leerly.io for people exactly like you! Check it out and see if you get any utility out of it. We are in the early days so your feedback would mean a lot; you're our target demographic :)

That's really fantastic - good work. I'm glad to hear that my experiences with Duolingo aren't the only ones possible.

I'm currently on 890 day streak learning Spanish, i can read tweets getting ~90% and understand slow Spanish speech.

I think i can have a basic conversation with a Spanish speaker and understand him, if he'll make some effort for us to understand each other.

Duolingo gamification stopped working around day 150..200 but by that time spending 10-15 minutes per day with it became a habit. If I have to wait for someone or I'm drinking tea in an idle mood, i just pop up Duolingo and do a lesson.

Me too, about half that. But I'm painfully aware it's no longer getting me anywhere (I completed the 'tree' hundreds of days ago) - what I really need to do is sit down with my textbook in order to progress further with the grammar, and widen my vocabulary beyond what's in Duolingo. But that requires more time commitment, so I do it much less often, and do Duolingo instead.. fairly pointlessly - sure it probably helps stop me slipping backwards.

Depends what your goals are - but if you wanna be very capable at talking you’d be better off listening to a lot of native content intended for natives (as well as talking with live people). I recommend Language Learning with Netflix, or the more heavy duty/Anki driven Migaku family of tools (can use with Netflix, YouTube or any video with subtitle files), for studying in that form; plus language teachers through something like iTalki (encourage the teacher to not dumb down their speaking for you even if you get lost); as well as talking with random people on services like HelloTalk/immersing in the place that speaks your language/finding a native speaker to befriend and talk to in the language. Duolingo is a beginner tool in my opinion (there are far more beginners to sell to and the barrier to entry is low).

Absolutely agree it's a beginner tool, and through studying a textbook/Wiktionary, films, talking to a bilingual speaker I've surpassed it. But just as you say the barrier to entry is low, so is the barrier to practice.

Thanks for the tips though, I will give them a go. Especially the Netflix one I keep meaning to; I watch a fair bit in target language (Hindi) but always with (only) English subtitles. Keep meaning to give it a go. (I do sometimes go back and put Hindi subtitles on if there was something I was particularly interested in / wanted to check, but it's a pain to do often.)

Did you complete the first level of the three, or have you got to purple status on every lesson?

I find that getting all the way it purple on every lesson has been massively more effective for me than just doing the lower level lessons.

The three? Purple? Maybe it's different for different languages. Each lesson (as in topic badge type button) done through 5/5 crowns (1-7 stages per crown iirc), I just go through fixing the broken ones or practicing ones I know I'm rusty on now.

Yup that's what I'm talking about - the Spanish track added a concept of "purple" which is an advance on the broken ones - you can now take an additional set of lessons for one that shows up broken and it will never break for you again.

I think the Spanish track is likely one of the most advanced in terms of number of lessons and quality of teaching - though I expect the "learn English" tracks are equivalent or more advanced, I've just never looked at those.

Spanish track recently was updated... So my nearly complete to 7th milestone tree (had just 4 circles left at 3/5) turned into a tree with 9 milestones and all progress beyond milestone 5 was wiped.

I was pretty mad! It'll take a lot of time to complete it all, it hurt my achiever feelings pretty hard. Of course, more content is more learning, but with later milestones it gets very repetitive.

Oh nice. Mine (Hindi) definitely doesn't have that, it's also shorter than a lot of other older/more mature ones I think. (I've dabbled in the French one.) I'll certainly do it if it becomes available, but for now I've done all that is.

Likely what you need is an immersion experience, the best way to learn a language.

Yes.. I've wanted to for years, even before learning the language. The pandemic is a solid excuse at the moment, but I only have myself to blame really.

One day I'll go, एक दिन जाऊंँगा!

I'm taking a course on how to build and grow a YouTube channel. The main advice they give is "just commit to making a video once a week, every week, for 2 years, and you're life will change." It's a tautology, no guarantees on how well your channel will do, but it's such a simple idea, and nice motivator to build momentum and keep going.

Tom Scott's 3-part series (on YouTube) a few years back on "How to be popular on the Internet"[0] has similar advice. There are higher-cost and lower-cost ideas, but given the amount of randomness inherent to getting popular, quantity tends to be the more important factor. He of course says it much better than I can.

[0] URL of first part here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h0AMaW4XRCI

It can also be really hard to judge quality (or at least popularity) a priori. I write for various publications that track traffic. Invariably I'll have posts I think are unique and interesting, which I really like. And they get middling views.

So it often makes sense to not tilt too far into finely-crafting a low volume of work. Then I'll slap something together a "5 things people get wrong when doing $X." It's not bad but it's pretty cookie cutter. And it will blow up.

Agreed. It's incredibly difficult to know what the audience wants, at least until you have a loyal community following (fans). Even then it's not perfect.

> "just commit to making a video once a week, every week, for 2 years, and you're life will change."

That's probably the best advice. These courses can't do anything about Youtube's algorithm changes, which is ultimately what will determine virality.

If your channel is not about toys, makeup tutorials or culture war commentary, it's unlikely your content will ever break through. So you might as well just go for a "good enough" video instead of a perfectly manicured one, because the algorithm doesn't seem to care either way.

The Matt D’Avella course?

Ali Abdaal's Part Time Youtuber academy course.


20 minutes a day is over 100 hours a year. 0 minutes a day is 0 hours a year.

To add meat to these bones, I've played piano on average 20 minutes a day for 22 years. That means ~2700 hours of piano practice. Probably an underestimate but it does match my intuition of thousands of hours.

I’ve lately been playing through the “real book”, sketching out each song quickly and doing a run through, maybe 8 songs per day.

In just three months I’m on my third time through and have discovered probably 100 songs I just love to play that I’d never heard before (Ellington is a genius songwriter. “Cottontail” is one that I get excited to see when I flip to it, and I just have to play at least three times).

Not actually a big jazz fan. I like simple consonant sounds and cute melodies, so I skip the bop, Mingus etc. My absolute favorite is when the whole song is cute and tidy except for one accentuated bit of dissonance that comes smashing in when you’re not expecting it, then waltzes right back out, transitioning perfectly into the next section and leaving you shaking your head in awe. The Beatles were masters at this.

My sight chording/inverting and rhythm reading has gone through the roof. It’s like an endless jigsaw puzzle.

Are you using the leadsheets to improvise accompaniments on each pass or, just enjoy the melodies as written?

On a song like cottontail, I still can’t play it perfectly at speed, so I’ll stick to what’s written until I can.

I fudge together a metronomic base line in the left hand and voice all chords with the right hand so the melody note is at the top (I don’t play the root in the right hand unless it’s the melody note).

Once I can do that easily without any halting or mistakes, I’ll start to improvise.

Wouldn’t dare to play with “real” players as I often haven’t heard the recording and am blissfully unaware of the missing comping, licks, etc. Most of the time when I finally listen to the recording of a song I love, I don’t even like it. No one plays the melody and everyone’s showing off. It’s fun to experience live, but often sounds too busy and aggressive as a recording.

I guess that’s a matter of taste. I enjoy sparse music unless it’s rigorously orchestrated (eg I love listening to Cuban music, which is quite busy, but everything fits together perfectly)

There seem to be lots of Real Books. Which one do you mean?

I made a similar decision nearly two years ago when I bought a fixer-upper of a condo: just do a bit of work every day, doesn't matter if it's half an hour of sweeping, make sure you show up every day. Time will pass and work will progress.

It's been a massive project (fully gutted, subfloors removed and joists levelled, whole new floor plan, the works), it's still ongoing, but what kept it moving was that simple commitment. An hour or two in the evening, each god damn evening, for 682 days in a row. New drywall is up in a few places already, and the end is in sight.

I am a firm believer in this approach now. The march of time is ruthless and inevitable, the little effort that you regularly weave into it will pay off big in the end.

This is a terrific model but it's not the only model - another highly effective model is to develop useful skills+resources, then strike with full force at the perfect time.


I hope your (really good) point gets more visible as this thread matures. I wanted to add that these are not mutually exclusive strategies: a project/business/startup can go from single focus to part-time and back multiple times.

Two other strategies I'm a fan of:

- Quitting before you overcommit. Sometimes it's just not worth it any more.

- Taking a step back or time off. At minimum can give you perspective.

Couldn't agree more. Tangentially, this article came to mind: http://johnsalvatier.org/blog/2017/reality-has-a-surprising-...

You don't fully appreciate the details for what you're solving until you naively take it all on and show up everyday. Slowly uncovering every nook – solving an annoying bug over the course of a week, while implementing core pieces of your product you thought would take months within a day.

That was a great and thoughtful post. Thanks for sharing!

I learned this lesson in a completely unrelated domain. I started lifting weights seriously about two years ago. Since then, I've averaged at least 5 days of training per week and now my physique is that of a completely different person. The lesson is if you do something everyday for years, whether it's body building, learning a skill, or bootstrapping a company, after several years you will see outstanding results.

It's good to point out that it works with bad habits too - if you repeat behaviours that you don't want every day, you're making your life worse in a very reliable way.

They used to say "you are what you eat". That's still true, but I think it's even more true that you are what you give your attention to.

"If you want to know what's important to you, pay attention to what you pay attention to."

Everyone always writes these and yet I've seen very few ever talk about how to decide what's worth showing up for or how to get a working hypothesis of an animating principle for your own existence. It'd be remarkably useful to have a working framework for how to figure out what to want, especially targeted at smart people with top level talents in several areas.

If you love multiple things totally equally as a total novice(aka haven’t put a ton of time yet into it but shows initial talent), pick one (with rng if needed) and stick with it for an hour a day or so for a while. If you like it and it works for you keep doing it.

And FOMO can be paid off with a therapist ;)

"What's worth it" varies so much by person that you can't generalize. Tons of people have written about that, but they all write different things, because they're different people.

That said, I've noticed that there is a pretty big split between short term success vs. long term success, with this site skewing toward the latter. (Primary short term example: work hard at a safe, high-paying career)

If you're reading this site, PG (original author of it) has written extensively on these things:

http://paulgraham.com/startupideas.html Live in the future; build what's missing

I think this is a great slogan because there seems to be an implicit myth that everyone has access to the same viewpoints and knowledge (or should), e.g. media narratives. In reality knowledge is very unevenly distributed, and the viewpoints of people and communities are more diverse than you can imagine (traveling and/or listening to random people is a good way to see this). If you're not living in "the future", your idea of "new" or "good" might be skewed or simply pedestrian.

http://paulgraham.com/genius.html Have a disinterested obsession with something that matters

http://paulgraham.com/worked.html -- some "implicit" advice, a great read

The advice in this article is good too:

> Pick an idea in a large market that will always be in demand and work on a product that caters to a subset of use cases exceedingly well.

I think it depends on your appetite for drama. To me, startups have a lot of drama and often fail spectacularly. They have good characters and bad characters. So if I just want to enjoy my life, then I'll work on something steadily, learn, improve my skills. After working on a bunch of things close to the state of the art, it's hard not to think of ways the world could be better.

I liked munificent's statement in this thread that "humans are incredible generalizers". That is, just do things and you'll get ideas. Certain work smells good and other work smells bad. (IMO the biggest bad smell is prestige: http://www.paulgraham.com/love.html If it didn't suck, they wouldn't have had to make it prestigious.)

I learned this with my email forwarding app (https://hanami.run) as well. I have tried to bootstrap a few ideas, and just like the ops, I got married, I got kid, family problem, change jobs.

Then COVID happens and I promise myself to wake up at 3-4AM everyday to write code and ship https://hanami.run during that period.

I don't even worry about competitors, I just want to build a platform that I enjoyed to use and iterate every single day. Many small features were take for granted.

Such as we auto refresh DNS constantly so users with like 100 domains don't have to check DNS one by one to activate domain. I then supported cloudflare auto config dns to make thing even easiser. And auto refresh DNS means we're easily to got block by CloudFlare DNS servers, but I put the cost on me to make our user's life easiser.

Another effects of this showing up everyday is you are allowed an unlimited time budget and can try out cool thing.

Such as I recently expriment with OpenResty autossl to make our URL redirection work with HTTPS. Other day I experiment with leaky bucket rate limiting.

With a time budget, I'm probably won't work on that, but sometime I feel down, and knowing I have tomorrow I can use today's time on something that make me happy.

I'd recommend getting someone to review your site a bit - obviously not sure if English-speaking countries are your target market, but some small mistakes here and there catch my eye (great supports are our norm over great support, never "lost" your emails over lose). Sounds very cool :)

I think the worst part about being clinically depressed is how it feels impossible to do a little bit for a few days at a time, and then all my context/momentum/enthusiasm burns up by the time I come back to a project.

Been there. Luckily my mother managed to drag me kicking and screaming to a psychiatrist as I didn't have the energy. If you can, try to call a parent or a friend and ask for help and be very clear to them that you can't do it alone (I know it's painful to admit).

Turns out I had ADHD and Vyvanse changed my life. I did stop medicating after one year because it wasn't easy on the body (accelerated hearth rate) but medication gave the kickstart necessary to drag my ass through dark times and have impetus. Understanding my problem allowed me to manage it.

I feel like this notion is complete trash if you want to be anything but mediocre.

In IT, I constantly have to work OT and take on challenging projects to advance and improve. This has NOTHING in common with showing up and closing tickets, which I can easily do with existing knowledge.

Same with the gym - I constantly have to change up the routine, adjust to injuries, think about diet, etc.

That's not even talking about doing something significant like learning a language outside of work.

It's also the reason things like "atomic habits" are complete bs - you aren't going to get anything significant done in a minute OR an hour a day.


"It feels like a superpower when you see it start compounding."

Lie / marketing gimmick. There is start up time and cooldown time that people who have never done anything completely neglect. There is also the fact that one big chunk of time is far more efficient than little chunk of times.

Aka you can shoot a bow for 10 mins a day or for an hour once a week and you will see zero improvement, let alone "compounding" improvement.

You are suggesting that working a little bit at something everyday is 'complete trash'. Do you really believe that?

I do. I have accomplished a lot of petty things (at risk of humble brag, which this is not) - decent lift numbers, few skills at competitive level, new things like GCP/AWS/Azure/K8S certs at work, etc. None of them are achievable through anything other than hours a days for months. Even things that seem basic like "do a handstand" or "drive a stick".

I also have friends who have accomplished petty things - none got results until they started sitting down with it for 3+ hours a day.

I will be more concrete - if you sit down to learn a language for 20 mins a day, it will fade before you get anywhere (without constant repetition, the amount of material for which builds up). If you workout, you need warm up, cool down, travel time, shower, nutrition - it can't be a micro-habit. Even if you WALK for fitness, that's 40 minutes right there. Coding? No one here is going to tell me you will learn all the search algos and such without sitting down for 40 minutes a day. Hell, it takes 40 minutes to do a difficult hackerrank/codewars problem that you don't really understand. Not talking FizzBuzz here.

A failed example? I spent an hour a day for several months learning ML. Passed that famous Andrew Ng Machine Learning course. Because I don't apply it, I barely remember anything other than a general understanding of the overall process.

edit: Another obvious example that comes to mind - working on cars. If you don't dedicate an hour to it, you won't even have the time to get your tools out. It takes something like a day to just change out calipers, pads, and rotors on all 4 wheels, and it's about as basic as it gets in terms of repairs, other than an oil change, which is maintenance.

So you’re saying putting 40 minutes to things every day works wonders.

I am saying 40 minutes a day is an absolute minimum sufficient for simple maintenance tasks (aka walking, cooking healthy meals, etc) and a far greater amount of time is required to actually accomplish anything meaningful, let alone novel or groundbreaking.

You're just being obtuse

I am just speaking from experience. I can go on about these for days. I do exercises that keep my posture decent despite sitting all day. Takes a minimum of 15 minutes (3 sets of glute briges, 3 sets of planks, 3 sets of stretches, neck stretches, etc). There is NOTHING that "atomic habits" works for.

Sorry to break it to you, but just because you decided something doesn't work for you, doesn't mean it doesnt work for ANYTHING for ANYONE

I'd say the manner in which you use the time is as important as the habit itself. It's not "practice makes perfect", but "perfect practice makes perfect" etc.

All your comment seems rather contradicted by the article, doesn't it?

I did make assumptions about the article which are invalid and replied too generally, admitted.

This is great advice and has made me think how I can squeeze out 30-60 minutes every day to do something similar. I think one area might be just making my setup more portable - instead of having a fully built out development environment that is on my desktop tethered to my desk, it may make sense to move to a laptop that I can move around the house, take with me on trips, etc. so as to not break the streak. Or even using one of the browser-based code editors or IDEs so that it's available anywhere, even from a tablet.

I ended up setting up a "development server" on a Raspberry Pi 4, and then using VS Code's remote tools to connect to it from anywhere (you can use tailscale etc if you fancy it to make it easy to connect remotely when not at home).

I've found this to be really convenient - even just whipping out a chromebook you can turn on the chromebook and be coding in literally seconds. Makes the barrier to entry pretty low.

This is one of the reasons why investing in learning a terminal "IDE" / editor like vim / emacs can pay off. You can ssh from anywhere and have your development environment waiting for you.

Would a portable VR computer be useful here? https://simulavr.com/

This is excellent advice. Just by doing something, the habit gets created and the longer it gets, the easier it is to get started.

This has literally never worked for me with any habits I've tried intentionally cultivating. I'll pick something and do it every day for several weeks. Then I stop.

Am I doing it wrong? Am I just weird that I can't seem to form good habits? I sincerely think I wouldn't remember to brush my teeth in the morning if my mouth didn't feel so gross, and I've been doing that every morning for over 30 years!

i think if you truly hate doing something, it can almost never become a habit, unless you can somehow shove tiny things you really love into it to dilute your hatred for said thing. for instance, i love the act of going outside to buy a cup of coffee. little prep rituals like that can help.

but the main question is: if you truly hate something, why are you trying to make it a habit in the first place? listen to your mind/body. i HATE working out, specifically i despise HIIT workouts like those one hour classes of nonstop go go go go go. but turns out that i love strength training (i.e lifting weights). both sort of get the job done in terms of getting your body into healthier shape, so i just choose what actually brings me more joy. no need to force yourself to go through miserable situations just because society and everyone else says "you have to do this to be smart, or fit, or more productive, etc"

I will second this with my own "I hate working out" example.

In my case, I've figured out that what I actually "hate" about working out is the fact that I'm doing physical activity that seems to have no immediate purpose. I've often said you probably won't catch me running, unless I'm actually running away from something.

I didn't actively seek to accomplish this, but getting a dog is what's lead me to start enjoying a moderate amount of physical activity. She needs to go outside every day, rain or shine, about 3 times a day, and, ideally, needs some time to literally just run around. Walks take up the first need, and trips to the park take up the second. And, when I'm at the park, you can bet you'll see me running around with her, loving every minute of it. :-)

Sure if we are talking about doing the dishes or organizing my desk or whatever.

But I like running, yet do it infrequently. Those 30-60 minute HIIT workouts? A blast. My gym offers a 30 minute one every weekday during lunch and is a 5 minute walk from work.

There's a 3rd category of things I don't particularly like doing (but don't hate) and I'm always happy to have done them afterwards. Journaling would be one example. I'm actually worse at these than the necessary things that I hate (the sink eventually gets full of dishes, preventing me from avoiding it).

Depends what it is. If it's something creative, this can become pretty much like writer's block. Ie. you know there's something you want or need to write, but it's such a huge task, it's hard to get down to it. This can lead to overindulgence in research and distractions.

One solution is to set yourself a goal to just do this one thing, to get started, and do that thing. No matter how bad, just make that draft, POC, whatever. Start breaking up things into smaller pieces, and set yourself to accomplish one piece at the time, no matter the state of results. Iterate on this to improve quality and scope, and keep your focus on the smaller, managable things, while getting more clear about the whole over time. If something is too much, just break it up.

Another take is how to manage your expectations and associations. If every time you visit the dog is to give it medicine, it'll become suspicious of you. So every time you visit your projects, make sure to leave room for some cuddle time, while making sure it's also supporting progress on that same thing. For very difficult goals, transform it into a spike and celebrate it no matter what the results. No matter what, you learned something new. You want to associate with progress.

Another thing is to expect a mess. A weeklong streak feels good but then pressure builds up to not miss and inevitably we miss and it makes us feel terrible and we throw it all out. The streaks thing seems really popular but it amounts to negative pressure for me and it’s not sustainable.

So expect a mess. It’s ok if you go off the deep end for a week so long as you try again eventually. I wouldn’t say “daily” habits so much as I’d say consistent habits. over a bigger time span, the idea is to feel better and better about more and more frequency.

Virtuous cycle vs stress cycle imo

For me, doing something literally every day (often) doesn't seem necessary. Rather, for something like various work-related writing I do, it's more about keeping some sort of cadence so that I don't wake up some morning, realize it's been a month, and go "well, one more day won't make a difference."

Meh I don't think you're doing anything wrong unless you suffer some kind of condition or attention deficit.

One thing about these motivational speeches or techniques is that sometimes we just think we'd like doing something new, but deep inside our mind we really do not want to have that new habit. In those cases what we typically really want instead is to be the person who had already cultivated the habit for a long time. Thus if you think about your objectives and realize this description matches how you feel, that's a signal that you don't really want to do that, it maybe just feels cool to imagine yourself doing it.

A practical example. Not sure if here on HN or where, but I heard once this principle applied to playing the guitar, which I've always wanted to do. After asking myself I realized that I don't want to learn how to play the guitar... what I really want is to be the guy who already knows!! :-) And that explains why I tried learning guitar... like 5 times already in my life. And always ended up stopping practice after some time. I was just misguided by the cool imagination of me taking out a guitar and playing a song, but in the real world that takes practicing regularly, which I'm not willing to do (even though when I'm at it, it feels fun, but clearly not enough to keep me persevering).

I know exactly what this feels like. I have been making digital mini-magazines about music subgenres for years. I have never finished a single one. Shoegaze, Garage Rock, Post-Punk ... I always move on to a new issue before I'm even done with the first.

I want to already be the guy with a boring 9-5 by day, and a 'cool' punk historian by night. But I'm not, and the older I get the more I'm sure I won't ever be.

And yet I've been doing this for several years. Maybe I never finish them because I'm scared I'll feel the exact same way I did before I embarked on this hobby.

I know nothing about music genres... but such organized "mini-magazines" in PDFs that cover the outlines and basics seems quite appealing and interesting.

Appreciate that, I actually did not know if there would be any appetite for what I was talking about. Certainly not among my social circle!

I can't form habits of any kind either. There are days when "brush teeth" has to be a checklist item as I can easily go to bed without doing it. Same with eating even.

+1 from me, but also add on "go to bed at a reasonable hour."

I recommend checking out Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg. He runs the Stanford Behavior Design Lab (previously known as persuasive tech lab). One takeaway from that book that might be relevant to you is that we tend to repeat actions that are rewarding in some way, so if you can think of ways to engineer reward into whatever activities you want to repeat, you have a higher likelihood of doing them.

I think that just means that your subconscious cost benefit analysis concluded that it wasn't worth it. I think that's normal. You'll probably try out a bunch of hobbies/habits in a lifetime, and only choose to stick with a couple.

Have you considered you might have some disorder that affects your executive function capacity like ADHD and therefore requires alternative strategies to organize and cultivate habits?

I am, in fact, diagnosed with ADHD, and my previous therapist says I'm a fairly extreme case. I do have alternative strategies for organization, but have not heard anything about problems with cultivating habits (indeed, many people have recommend cultivating habits as a coping mechanism).

A lot of advice I hear is that it takes about 30 days of doing something daily to form a habit. Perhaps you are stopping just short of the necessary number of days?

Also, given that you have been diagnosed with ADHD, maybe it would take you longer than others to form the habit. I don't have any outside info to support that -- it's just a possibility that came to mind.

It may be difficult to cultivate habits with ADHD because of the need to do it consistently, and the struggle to perform something consistently while getting consistent necessary associative dopamine if I understand it.

try something like ticking off/writing down your successfull tries eg in a calendar or a (bullet) journal. helps to keep yourself committed to it, as you probably do not want to break your already created streak.

I use a giant sheet of graph paper on my desk with days of the month marked off horizontally at the top and a column of daily habits on the left. I put a big fat X in the grid for each day I accomplish a given task. It's incredibly satisfying and very obvious when I've missed a few days. Also the paper acts as a nice desk protector.

I think often it takes longer than a few weeks for it to really become automatic.

I've gone 6-8 weeks without missing a day. People have said "don't beat yourself up if you miss one day here or there" and I've gone up to 6 months without missing 2 days in a row. It has never become automatic.

The only thing that works for me, at all, is putting things directly in my way so they're practically unavoidable, and physically removing distractions in advance. Modifying my environment to make the things I want to do extremely easy to do, and the things I don't want to impossible or difficult, is the only thing that works.

That is effective, though I found that ramping up the amount of work being done is even more effective, provided that it can be sustained.

I got a government job about 10 years ago by simply showing up to work every day, even though I didn't yet formally work there. It was incredibly awkward, but I'd just find people to have coffee with each day. Many of them would ask, 'So...I'm sorry to ask, but do you work here?' and I would just hit them with brutal honesty: 'No, but I would like to.' After about 5 weeks of this, a department head had a vacancy and I naturally came to mind and was offered the job. I'm not typing this out as life advice for anyone, but more as a case study that supports the argument that showing up can be an extremely effective way of producing results.

Nit pick: I think they mean "every day", not "everyday" which is a synonym for commonplace. See this person pushing back against inane Coca Cola slogan :

Treat The English Language Well. Everyday. http://www.happyrobot.net/words/thewayiseeit.asp?r=3385

I highly recommend this same approach for schoolwork/studying. Just simply doing something, everyday, keeps topics fresh in your mind. It's so much better than forcing activity into giant chunks. I feel it reduces stress as well.

It keeps feeding your brain to subconsciously churn over topics during downtime like showers and sleeping.

This type of sentiment generally makes me feel that literally nobody understands why business work or don't.

I remember pitching the idea of a fantasy financial league to a friend who is a teacher, as a way of teaching kids about the stock market and finance. His reply instantly gelled with me and let me know they actually understood much more than I about both teaching and finance: He said it will teach exactly the wrong lesson. Even if you do it for an entire school year, there can be really only one type of winner: the investor that stuck all their money into a stock that happened to blow up, the opposite of a solid investment strategy.

I bring up this example to point out that feedback can be a poisoned apple. Start-ups are basically this exact scenario. The only optimum strategy is to go "all in". Either in the short term by quitting your job and warming up your pitch deck, or in the long term by have some multi-year side project draining all available free time.

So that's the bar, the vast majority of start-up likely had founders that went all in, it's table stakes. So what's the secret sauce? It is the equivalent to the fantasy financial league of picking an overperforming stock, it's not going all in.

I really like this analogy, especially while WSB-style "YOLO" has become a life philosophy over the last 5 years.

That said, I wonder if the "fantasy financial league" game can become a lesson by selectively choosing a handful of stocks over a 30 year period. Tell the kids about the economics of the period (let's say the 1960s - 1990s) and provide a few companies with the tickers, names, and descriptions replaced. Watch as the "blown up" stock subsides, but the conservative investor wins in the long-run.

EDIT: I cannot stop thinking about how ubiquitous YOLO as a philosophy has become in the last decade. Everything about life has become a binary of win or lose. Your stock market plays "won" if you are in the green, your tweet "lost" if you did not get effective engagement, your latest commit "won" if the established metrics succeeded after deployment. And then there are the implications in machine learning, where everything becomes a binary "correct or incorrect" assessment...

"EDIT: I cannot stop thinking about how ubiquitous YOLO as a philosophy has become in the last decade. Everything about life has become a binary of win or lose. Your stock market plays "won" if you are in the green, your tweet "lost" if you did not get effective engagement, your latest commit "won" if the established metrics succeeded after deployment. And then there are the implications in machine learning, where everything becomes a binary "correct or incorrect" assessment..."

Much of this is reinforced through perceived and real rampant income inequality. If people think they can't advance without taking disproportionate risks - and they're mostly correct here - you'll start to see that action, and then it gets amplified in the social media atmosphere that we live in today.

I think it is a great idea, but if you want to reward a more sane investing strategy (ie low-cost broad index funds) you could maybe accelerate historical or simulated data and anonymize the ticker IDs?

Obviously there will probably be one lucky YOLO player but you could rank everyone and also factor in risk-adjusted returns.

If you want to end up with the normal retirement strategy you probably want to simulate regular contributions and occasional emergency withdrawals.

If you just have a simulated pile of money and want it to go up, but don't actually need it in the meantime, then the risk isn't important and diversifying too much will just guarantee you lose. The usual math in MPT makes strange assumptions like a normal distribution anyway, so it thinks an asset is bad if it has too much upside risk.

My class did almost this exact exercise in junior high back in the early 90's. Teacher gave us a menu of stock tickers of companies that have been around since 1960, complete with some rudimentary financial info as of 1960. Told us to research the companies and come up with a list of stocks to pretend we bought and held for 30 years. This was before the Internet so we couldn't just sneak a peek at the current prices. The goal of the exercise was to learn about research and ultimately diversification, but our team "won" by simply guessing the stock that was most well-known today, and YOLOing the entire fake money investment into it. Taught entirely the wrong lesson.

It would've been so easy to avoid this, even in the internet age, by just replacing the actual tickers with made up names...

I understand at Bloomberg they’ll do an internal “fantasy financial league”, but they rank by sharpe ratio, which adjusts based on the volatility/risk (something like that).

But that’s such a good point about stock competitions generally showing kids that the reckless gambler wins the most - never thought about that.

I actually had this exact experience in a civics class in junior high school -- in 1979! We pored through the stock listings in a physical newspaper every day for several weeks and recorded our buy and sell decisions. The "winner" bought a penny stock which went from 1/8 to 1/4 in a day (or something like that). And I did in fact learn exactly the wrong lesson from that because 20 years later I lost a fair bit of money in the dotcom boom trying to replicate that strategy.

It is very hard to come up with a teaching strategy that can overcome survivorship bias.

I don't think that is the "wrong" lesson. It's a lesson in risk. But it's not a viable strategy long term for most. I think if you teach the concept of ruin, the chance of going bust, you can help develop a healthy relationship with the concept of risk and investing. It's also pretty easy to show real examples of what risk can cause... "guh"

It was the wrong lesson because the focus was entirely on who made the most money. And because it was funny money, the losers didn't actually suffer any real consequences other than the psychological pain of not being the winner. It flattened the risk-reward curve to the point where there was no real difference between losing 90% and simply coming in second. IMHO that is the wrong lesson (though I also note in passing that it is a philosophy that many Americans seem to subscribe to).

I’ve had two bosses/mentors who aspired to write project management books. Then they would tell me the thesis and I would think, “What? No, that’s not why we are effective.”

Nobody sees the times you didn’t fall down. Someone swooped in and fixed something before it broke. Maybe just in the nick of time, maybe far ahead. The forward thinking person is important to that process. If your management skills may keep that person around or drive them away, then that’s material to your discussion. If it’s neutral, then there’s a whole lot of iceberg below the surface that you’re not seeing.

People can copy your theory and totally fail because they can’t motivate the people who keep the wheels on.

A lot of things work like this. Call it "the lucky chancer game." The winner is likely to be a fortunate risk taker, with a side effect of survivorship bias... the "wrong lesson."

Two thoughts...

First, it's not necessarily the wrong lesson. It teaches a real reality, and results could be interesting... especially if real money was involved. I can see why an accelerated game of "play the market" isn't what a schoolteacher wants to teach. But... if you did want to teach it, I would make the game high repetition. High risk-reward strategies and games are a real thing in the world. I don't think it's bad to learn how to play them.

From the POV of playing such strategies/games, it's a short path to internalizing that "secret sauce" is generally an ingredient in a sequence, and therefore not really one thing.

Second thought... One relevant way to teach kids about compound interest & saving is via "subsidized" interest rates. You might start with 10% per week with very young kids and recalibrate before financial meltdowns happen. This might be the way of getting your teacher friend's "right lesson" across.

Anyway... That "just showing up" is surprisingly often the missing ingredient is also often true, and worth remembering. It just often isn't the ingredient for regular work/school life. We do "show up" for our school and work careers. That's the baseline. The reason, IMO, "just show up" is effective, where it is effective, is that most people don't show up. Everyone is showing up for work, for class. We do have something to show for it, it's not something that's an outlier.

While of course doing a startup is very hard and subject to a lot of unknowable, uncontrollable factors I don’t think it’s quite as dire as a retail investor picking stocks. There’s no “efficient markets” for software products; it’s much more likely that you can spot and exploit an unmet business need near your domain expertise than that you have unique insight into Walmart’s quarterly earnings.

As a sofware engieer I disagree: most software engineers have an edge over dumb analysts in analyzing companies, like Amazon / Apple / Tesla / Google / Walmart / Bitcoin / Ethereum / Goldman Sachs. We may not have a deep understanding in the balance sheet, but being able to read the code, APIs, and protocols (SWIFT vs BIPs, lightning protocol, cryptography books, testing infrastructure for example) we can see and understand how well products will work years in advance. The trick is to go deep into technical details.

Engineers may have an edge in analyzing company products. But that's not the same as analyzing the company. Not understanding the difference has burned a lot of investors in the past.

Can you give recent examples of investors overestimating public tech companies with great tech?

In the private market we had Theranos, which was completely opaque, but most of the big public failures were business innovations with unimpressive tech, like Groupon and WeWork.

You should not underappreciate the subject area expertise of people who analyze stocks in a particular business area. Many of them learn the subject area at a serious depth, exactly for the reasons you state: the balance sheet does not tell the whole story.

Being a serious researcher is only good for stock picking if everyone else is going to come to the same conclusion, just more slowly. This is not true recently, what does meme stock performance have to do with serious peoples' opinion on Tesla?

Actually, value investing hasn't worked for a lot longer than that, and it's probably because everyone else can see what you can for a public stock.

Knowing the meme environment is a part of the subject area knowledge :)

I mean, understanding a bit about CPU architectures and chip production processes is needed to e.g. choose between INTC and AMD, and some knowledge about cell structures and mRNA is needed to decide whether to invest in MRNA. This knowledge is important, on top of understanding the balance sheet.

Is it necessarily the wrong lesson?

Stanley Druckenmiller: my risk management strategy is to put all of my eggs into one basket and watch it very closely.

It is the wrong lesson, but to prove that to the students, you have to rejig the experiment where their picks are compared to those of a primate picking stocks at random.

For those who don't know: Druck compounded capital at over 30% for 30 years. Never had a down year.

The point is that for the purposes of the lesson the time horizon is too short to know if a student got lucky or made a good decision based on research and the like.

Anecdotally I won one of these leagues in school by picking penny stocks and moving in and out of them a lot. Not the lesson in long term investing the teacher wanted to convey…

I’m no business expert, but this approach seems like a huge gamble to me. Why spend years building a project before the usefulness and public reception is quantified? I’d rather spend a hard few months building something that fails rather than an easy 6 years.

That's not the dichotomy though. Most businesses start with one or a few people making someting useful and building a larger business around it. Like a plumber who learns to specialize in new urban construction and makes enough connections as clients that he decides to hire two people to help with his work.

I don't disagree with you, and which is why I qualified my thoughts with a filter of a "large and growing market". Impossible to fail in such a market if your goal is not to be a billion dollar company.

There is a lot of luck in starting a successful company, but the ideas are NOT all equivalent and don't have equal probability of success. One thing that may be easier than picking winners is avoiding losers. Ever read the book F'd Companies? Most of those are absurd on their face, yet people invested a lot of time and money into them.

I think you may be over-defining what 'work' means.

The OP is a clear example of something that actually works, s/he even mentions some money being made.

If you set the bar for success at 'only an unicorn' - I can see how these can be considered failures. But that's a self-fulfilling prophecy by itself considering the tag unicorn :)

In the statewide stock market challenge I did in HS, my team was second in state because I'm a gamer and convinced them to go all in on Nvidia right as they blew up.

We would have gotten first except the person on who was supposed to sell everything in the last week shorted it instead and it went up 10 more points in that week knocking us down to 2nd.

There is an alternate strategy and it's what V persue: rather than going all-in on single bets, they diversify their portfolios.

That, combined with stop-losses and favourable terms tend to assure winning-on-average.

Individual founders face vastly greater risks, and poorer average returns (in part due to those stop-losses and favourable-to-VC terms).

The OP's advice is reasonable for pre product-market fit startups/businesses. You're adding a lot of risk for very little benefit if you go all in on a product that doesn't exist yet or that customers don't want.

Plus most people never ship anything, which this advice helps to fix.

No idea what you’re trying to explain here. A business works when revenue exceeds expenses, not whatever you’re trying to talk about here.

I’m pretty sure “literally everyone” understands that, and not “literally nobody.”

If it were so simple.

A pizza place may generate more revenue than it consumes in expenses all the time, and barely provide enough for the owners to get by.

A unicorn startup can have its expenses exceed revenue all the time (see Uber) and make its owners very rich in the process.

It is that simple.

Neither a pizza place nor a startup exist in for very long without revenue exceeding expenses.

Even in your own examples, both businesses work. It doesn’t matter whether it’s from low revenue and low expenses or high expenses and high capital injection.

Show me a business where revenue was ahead of expenses, had no debt, and it went out of business because it couldn’t pay its bills.

There’s no amount of surprise gotcha clever but-actuallys that can argue with you’re either making money or you aren’t.

I really am out of words to describe this article. The title should be made the first commandment in the laws of programming (or any field).

It is so effective that you don’t need to read the article the title says it all.

Most people fail at keeping this rule because their mind perceives it to be too simple to keep and falls prey to overconfidence.

I sometimes tell people this idea as a the good news and bad news of learning.

The good news is that you don't need to "try" to learn. Just do something, pretty much anything, for a while and the learning/remembering/synthesising happens automatically. The bad news is that there's no shortcut, it will take time no matter what you actually do.

Even quicker. Bad news, it takes time. Good news, it only takes time.

These kind of stories should be on the front page more often!

It's always about hypergrowth, hyper-everyhing, billion dollar exits, and seems like everyone chasing those dreams.

To me personally, this way is much more appealing!

I like the advice but it always seems to backfire for me.

I started jogging everyday. Maybe 2 or 3km. But recently I struggle to do 500m a day.

Same with programming. I'll start with a few good days but then it devolves to opening an editor, writing a comment or one line then closing it straight after.

You can try to convince yourself that the activity you want to perform is a given, just like eating and showering... you don't think whether you should do it, you just do it.

It works for me. I can go to gym religiously 3 days a week, and been doing it for years. Sometimes there's a company online after-hours or something... sorry, can't go , it's my gym day. If you start allowing certain things to stop you from doing what you want, then anything starts becoming a good excuse to not do it. Don't let that happen.

Regarding programming: I can keep up for months but sometimes I run into a problem that is really annoying to fix... I know I can fix it given enough determination, but then I think I am not getting paid for this, so what the heck... which results in me starting a new project and leaving that one aside until I actually need it (which happens every now and then).

> You can try to convince yourself that the activity you want to perform is a given, just like eating and showering...

I wish these activities were a given. It’s 5pm and I’ve not eaten since breakfast at 8am. I had to force myself to shower.

Note: showering wasn’t a problem pre-pandemic and perma-WFH hermit life. Eating, however, still was difficult to remember unless food was brought to me. And even then, sometimes, it just sat going cold on my desk

It can help to set more strict 'triggers' for yourself.

ie: - When it is 12, I will take a break for lunch. - At 3 o'clock, I will take a break for a snack and stretch

I get what you are saying, in that once you are in a flow, you don't want to stop. But, you need to be strict about it, like the user you are replying to is saying. Don't let yourself off the hook.

Also, it helps me to realize there is value in stopping and stepping away from something. It helps me recharge, and step away from any problems I am trying to solve.

It's important to self-motivation to not beat yourself up over these "bad days." For example, without these bad days, you have nothing to contrast with the "good days," so it's possible it makes you appreciate those times more. It can also give you insight into what produces a good or bad day for you, personally, if you start to monitor the circumstances around good and bad days in terms of how much sleep you get, your diet, general mood/feelings, etc.

I found that I tend to get backlash if I start with too ambitious of a goal. Instead, I'll aim for something stupidly easy and just focus on getting started at all. I've found that works much better.

At first I aimed for 1 hour of exercise a day. That failed within a week. So then I aimed for 10 minutes a day, which barely felt like exercise, but it got me to the starting line consistently! The trick for me was treating anything past 10 minutes as beating expectations, rather than treating anything under 1 hour as falling short. In practice it means I'm able to get about 20 minutes per day consistently, which is still much better than 1 hour never.

The key for me was making it so I could consistently feel good about a reasonable goal instead of constantly feeling like I was falling short of my own expectations.

Now if only I could apply that to flossing.

Physical exercise is an exception because the body needs rest. The "just show up" goal with exercise is to begin with 3x a week and then gradually increase that as your body grows stronger.

Why is non-physical activity any different? To me 3x a week sounds like a good idea for starting mental exercise as well.

The related alternative that has worked wonders for me is to commit to getting something done every day, that is all the way to completion. This may be a well defined partial bit of work like defining a data structure or implementing one part of the CRUD code that will be needed. Targeting some level of completion doesn't always work out but has an effect on goal setting and chunk size of work parceled out which improves the hit rate for every short working session.

I feel like HN should have a special flag called "survivorship bias" that we can use to tag posts like this. For every project like this one, there are 1000 others where someone spent 15 hrs/week for 5 years, built something really cool, but never got any funding or traction.

Now, that time was probably better spent on a cool project than on playing video games or watching TV. But you shouldn't think that consistent engineering effort alone will have any payoff bigger than personal intellectual satisfaction.

I agree, but IMO that is missing the point of the post. For me, this lesson transcends software engineering and applies to nearly every quadrant of life.

Yes, progress does not guarantee success, but progress for its own sake is still worthwhile.

And even if your ultimate goal is to succeed, applying these principles makes the success more likely, which is most of what matters in any kind of entrepreneurial enterprise.

There's a great quote: "The harder I work, the luckier I get." Showing up every day is another way to create this luck, and if you do it consistently, you accrue a kind of compound interest on your work.

I agree, he barely talked about his startup at all.

The focus was on the habit that has nothing to do with the fact that he did well.

It helps to have several tiers of success. It doesn't have to be a boolean condition

> I feel like HN should have a special flag called "survivorship bias" that we can use to tag posts like this

Pointing out the possibility of survivorship bias doesn't add anything to the conversation on articles like this. The author never claimed that everyone who works consistently will have a successful startup. The article is barely about startups at all.

We get it - Startup success isn't guaranteed and following someone else's actions isn't a guarantee that you'll get the exact same results. Startups fail and advice isn't one size fits all. I really don't want warnings that "results may vary" appended to every article about someone's success when we all already know that success is variable.

It's also missing the point of the article. The founded startup was just an example of something that was accomplished by consistent daily effort, but it's obviously not the only thing that can be accomplished with consistent daily effort.

The core idea of doing a little bit of work every day adding up into something bigger over time applies to more than just building startups, survivorship bias or not.

Let’s stop assuming that everybody here has been here for a long time and knows all the recurrent posts and culture of HN

I think it's still worthwhile even if you don't have "success". I spent about two years steadily cranking away on a side project almost every day. At a certain point I realized, "Whoops, this isn't going to work," and just stopped. I had hit a dead end. Was that two years wasted? Nope. I taught myself a huge amount of stuff about data structures, functional programming and application architecture in the process that I wouldn't have had the freedom to try in my real job. I learned a lot from the mistakes that lead to me coding into a dead end, about how to validate ideas more quickly and cheaply. It was a "failure", but the lessons learned have proved to be hugely beneficial in other projects. The payoff was far greater than just personal intellectual satisfaction.

>For every project like this one, there are 1000 others where someone spent 15 hrs/week for 5 years, built something really cool, but never got any funding or traction.

You're probably right, but care to name some examples? I can't think of a single blog or article about failed companies or projects.I think they would be interesting to read and dissect.

It seems that people who have that sort of persistence and choose to do something are quite rare, making the survivorship bias of posting successes even harder to balance out.

Someone I follow on Mastodon just posted this interesting look back on hist first ten years as a software developers, with a couple of technically-failed (though still educational and fun) endeavours: https://noeldemartin.com/blog/10-years-as-a-software-develop...

Ted Nelson's Xanadu is what comes to mind immediately for me:


The Bulletball guy is a close second:


Aha! But had the Xanadu folks showed up every day, they might have created something more than vaporware, and people might've used their software!

From the linked Wikipedia article:

> Wired magazine published an article called "The Curse of Xanadu", calling Project Xanadu "the longest-running vaporware story in the history of the computer industry".[3] The first attempt at implementation began in 1960, but it was not until 1998 that an incomplete implementation was released. A version described as "a working deliverable", OpenXanadu, was made available in 2014.


Ted Nelson is pretty consistent here and has put thousands of hours into it.

Lisp? Smalltalk? One Laptop Per Child? Maybe not exactly the things you are looking for?

Sure, but there's also tons of people who worked full-time for years without anything to show for it, I'm not sure that short-term intense focus is any less subject to survivorship bias than long-term regular focus. I do believe that at least one of them is necessary but not sufficient for most types of "success".

At the end of the day, I think outliers (across all axes) is what makes for interesting articles that get upvoted, and so if you squint hard enough probably every article is subject to some kind of survivorship bias.

> where someone spent 15 hrs/week for 5 years, built something really cool, but never got any funding or traction.

I just created an "Ask HN" to try to gather any anecdata about projects that ended that way: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=27838479

I'm really curious to see what people say.

(I just started my own 15+ hours/week project last month.)

Welp I posted. I am the poster boy for this. 10+ years of consistent failure.

How does survivorship bias relate to this post?

> Looking back, I cannot believe how much I’ve been able to ship over the past 6 years by just following this one rule.

This seems to be his only conclusion about the effect of working a little bit every day. And I don't think survivorship bias applies here. If you work a little bit on a product every day and don't ship a lot over six years, then you're probably in the minority.

I don't think it's just about successful startups or successful projects.

Personal example: growing up I practiced the piano for about a decade, 30 minutes at a time, usually 4-ish days each week. I got more disciplined about it as I got older. After 10 years, I went from not being able to play at all to being able to play genuinely impressive stuff. I'm not especially talented, but the consistent application of 30 minutes at a time really did add up to something wonderful.

No survivorship bias needed here. Anyone with access to a keyboard or piano could have done the same thing. Yes, you would've needed to want to learn to play at least a little, and yes, you would've needed to practice at least a little intentionally, but given those things, just showing up consistently over a long period of time can do wonders.

Not all hardworking people are successful, but all successful people are hardworking. Success is not guaranteed, it has an element of randomness. Attempting to be successful involves risk, and "survivorship bias" should be accounted as part of that risk. But still success is not entirely random, because only playing video games or watching TV will not result in it.

It's not that you should think that consistent engineering effort alone will have any payoff, it's that you should think consistent engineering effort might have any payoff.

> all successful people are hardworking

That really depends on your definition of "successful".

Yes in this sense we would define it as "professionally high-achieving and or rich" rather than in an ascetic sense of "coming to peace with the existence of suffering."

> or rich

With that definition, your assertion that "all successful people are hardworking" is clearly false. Lots of people become rich without hard work. Inheriting a fortune, winning the lottery, etc.

I think that sentiment is a function of the HN startup/hustle culture, where anything less than becoming a unicorn is seen as abject failure.

The only time we even listen to stories about failure is when they're told by people who are outsized successes.

I had a tool I worked on a little bit every day for over a decade and for a while it was pretty popular with a large following. Persistence is what got me from nowhere to somewhere, but after a while persistence offers a diminishing return.

Persistence is necessary to build something from nothing to establishment. That is more than just working. It means you have pushed through into something that works well enough that other people will use it and strongly recommend it.

That is the point where a trickle becomes a flood, but the flood analogy is a bad analogy. Actual flooding, with water, is an explosive phenomenon where a large area achieves maximum saturation in unison and so the trickle becomes a serious concern almost instantly. When all water over a large area has nowhere to go suddenly at the same time there is an immediate change like the flip of a switch.

Growth and adoption don't work like that. It takes time to build adoption. By the time a product reaches critical mass many early users may have already moved on. The very thing that made your product special or unique may be gone and you probably don't know it. This means the thing that cause adoption could be code while you are still building traffic because of a lag between network effects and incentives. That means adoption could be dying while you are building traffic and you won't know and until the future once traffic catches up and begins to decline at which point you are having to catch up.

If you are passionate enough, beyond mere persistence, you will figure the traffic/adoption cycle out to keep forward momentum, but only if you are properly incentivized. It takes tremendous effort to reach a large critical mass, especially for a small team (in my case a single developer). To want to pivot past your personal motivates to keep your product alive takes something more, something different. Persistence won't buy you that.

I used to think like this. At it's core, it's a variation of "never give up", mixed with "the power of habit".

I agree with "the power of habit" part.

From the "never give up" point of view, I've changed my mind, thanks to books like The Lean Startup, Blitzscaling, and my own experience.

The bottom line message seems to be "keep insisting and you'll be successful". I spent 3+ years working in a game that never took off as a side project. In hindsight, I should have taken the hint of the lack of traction early on and dropped the whole thing. Instead I sank countless hours into a project that never worked out. How many prototypes could I have produced in the same time?

Bottom line, habits are good, so long as we don't mix it up with the concept of "don't give up and you'll be successful".

There is a difference between tenacity and doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results when there are no signs of progress.

Ideas like "never give up" and "the power of habit" are not universally true, they are heuristics you can apply to your daily life.

In complex systems there are no absolutes. If you have an idea that can be applied to all things equally you're in a cult.

> From the "never give up" point of view, I've changed my mind, thanks to books like The Lean Startup, Blitzscaling, and my own experience.

It depends on whether you're giving up on the process or the goal. Startups "give up" or pivot on their original and subsequent ideas so often that's it's considered a best practice. This is different from founders giving up on starting a business.

Like you mentioned, the habit is what matters.

If you don't strongly believe in the work that you do, I doubt that any amount of discipline and punctiliousness will give you satisfaction at the end.

I don't believe it's enough just having "taking off" as an incentive. You should be trying to either improve yourself, or the "world" at large with what you're doing.

Also apologies if this sounds too preachy, I can't find a better way to express what I mean in the moment.

Shout out sleep, bc that ~33% of our lives is actually not wasted time in any way.

This crosses into many aspects of life:

I train Brazilian jiu jitsu and MMA. In our gym, we have a giant sign that says:

"A black belt is a white belt who refused to give up"

Basic translation: You can achieve the highest possible rank [Black belt] if you just keep showing up and enjoy the process.

They started in 2015 and wrote their first blog post in 2021.

My unreasonable admiration of remaining focused and get stuff done instead of social media bragging.

Is it generally easy for people to get permission from their day job to code on the side, without assigning all rights to the employer?

This definitely depends on the employer and your geographical location; for example, in California, clauses like this are not legal except under certain conditions: https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySectio...

Of course, what you've said is true as far as it goes. But, consider this: if your employer has a product with any sort of search capability, your hobby/side project search engine then falls under the heading of things "relat(ing)... to the employer's business."

If you work for a big enough tech company, like, say, Google or Facebook, it's likely that a lot of things will "relate...to their business." And, note, too, that there's no requirement that you actually know that it relates to a part of your employer's business.

But they are fairly wide conditions it has to be "unrelated" to your day job.

OK if your a semi pro musician but a generic developer sie gig not so much.

Generally, your company only has rights to that if you've signed away your rights in your employment agreement. People have found success negotiating that out of the agreement by bringing it up.

Haven't tried it, but I'd be interested to try the argument that the company doesn't want to own my side projects, because liability. If I infringe someone else's copyrights on accident, but the company owns the work, then the company is liable, not me. Sweet protections of corporatization. :)

Or if I make a decisions on a side project that others want to "cancel" on twitter - that'll look bad to the company because legally theyre the owners, right? Wouldn't want the company being to blame for something I did.

Could you please explain to someone who is not from the US what is the justification behind this? It seems that it is not uncommon in the US that the employer has some rights to stuff you do in your free time - to me that seems as "reasonable" as "you sold me your house so your car is also mine now". What I do in my free time is none of my employer's business, why would they have any right to any of it?

It's because in the US the theory is that by hiring you salaried, they hire your mind and creative output, not a set labor. This means they pay you for anything your mind produces and then try to claim ownership for anything your mind produces whether you were in-office or not.

(this is usually not enforcable unless you actively build competing services)

That is the point of salaried jobs

It happens in Europe too. The rationale is that the employer gives you a lot of knowledge and tools which you could use to your own benefit... there are clear cases of abuse, some leading to litigation. I guess the employers want to defend themselves against IP theft basically.

What I normally do is ask for an agreement that projects unrelated to my employer's business is ok for me to work on, which I have always been able to get (sometimes they ask for authorization on a case-by-case basis, but usually it's just common sense).

> The rationale is that the employer gives you a lot of knowledge and tools which you could use to your own benefit

You also bring experience and knowledge to your employer that may benefit them while you're on holiday, or off sick, or even after you leave the company. Maybe we should send them a bill for these incidental benefits?

> It happens in Europe too.

Does it really? I am from Europe and I have lived and worked in 3 EU countries, many of my friends have experience from other countries and I have never heard anyone mention this is. Obviously, my personal experience is limited. In what country do you live if I might ask?

Its very common the work normally has to be related.

Because employment laws are based on old laws relating to "Masters and servants"

And European law is just the same.

Side note: It is depressing that the question winds up being asked this way (EDIT: while ignoring how depressing it is that it is an existing question in the first place) !

Instead it should be: "Is it generally easy for employers to get permission from their employees to be assigned all rights for code they write in private?"

This is just as depressing. Employers should have zero rights to code their employees write on their own time unless the employee is using employer specific IP / resources or creating a direct competitor. Needing to get permission should not even be a thing.

You're absolutely right, I had left this out for simplicity.

I read my contract and ensure you know what you are signing. If possible make them add a line about side projects off work hours.

Much harder to win in court when they knowingly added a line that lets you work on your own projects.

Most employers couldn't care less whether you cease exist once you leave the company, let alone track what you're up to.

As long as you're not competing directly with them just leave your day job just as your side project ramps up commercially, and it'll likely never be an issue.

Most are only worried you'll leverage their IP, insider knowledge, steal employers, or somehow cause reputational damage to them - they don't actually want your IP.

This is dangerous advice. Depending on your contract and jurisdiction, your code could belong to your employer.

Depends on the state. You definitely shouldn't use work computers or do it on work time.

These days, many companies are cool with it as long as you use your personal machine, on your own time, avoid using any work resources, etc. Usually it's baked into your employment contract.

Depends on jurisdiction. In places with reasonable copyright laws, you'd have to do weird things to end up in the “employer takes rights” situation in the first place.

I live and work in NY. It was standard in my contract with my former employer.

Copyright isnt really important here this is labor law

Code something they would have zero interest in (or would even actively avoid being associated with.)

Depends on your specific contract. Mine just bans me from machine learning related work.

Don't ask for permission if you can get away with begging for forgiveness ;)

I'm not sure if that's good advise in this case. The case where you don't get forgiveness in this case might mean that you put a ton of work into something and now much of it is owned by someone else.

This is one of those times that this adage applies. In the worst case, "begging for forgiveness" does not mean asking your manager for an exception. It means losing an expensive court case with your former employer about who owns your IP.

I intended to say "This is not one of those times that this adage applies."

i've never had a problem. but i'm not working for huge companies where the contract change would have to go through a legal department.

Move to California and stop worrying.

One thing not discussed much here is time of day -- I have a few daily practices (exercise, meditation, painting) I do every single day, and I try to do them all before work. Occasionally something comes up and I have to do them in the evening, but my focus is usually diminished then.

Of the people featured in the Daily Habits [edit: Daily Rituals] book mentioned elsewhere in this thread, many described doing their most important work in the morning, though there were notable exceptions (night owls, no consistent pattern, etc.).

What works best for you?

Joel Spolsky said something similar. Paraphrasing: You find motivation by just committing a little bit every day: 10 minutes, 30 minutes. Once you get into it, you'll most likely do more.

This works for me with workout. I commit to workout 10min everyday. Sometimes I and up doing more like 40m, sometimes only 10m, and it's ok. And of course, I reduced the start energy for it. If it's only 10m, probably I will do it at home with some equipment.

I heard this advice in relation to doing chores-- don't think about the pile of dishes you need to do, then you'll never do the dishes. Just motivate yourself to do a single dish. Once you are in the context of doing dishes, the second dish comes much easier, then the third, and before you know it the dishes are done.

I take some dishes out of the dishwasher and put them on the table. Then I feel compelled to take out the rest and then put them all away, so it's easy.

You are referring to Fire and Motion.


Reminds me of these equations:

1.01 ^ 365 = 37.78

0.99 ^ 365 = 0.03

Yup, and the difference between putting your 401K in a fund charging 1% instead of 0.25% a year, over 30 years, is having about 20% less in retirement.

If the funds have equal performance*

This is my life in unemployment.

I really do start doing all those things I didn't have time for.

But each day I get 1% lazier...

Lesson: Never take more than 6 months off.

I voluntarily quit my job once and had the 8 most productive months of my life working on side projects. But, I can see being laid off as doing the opposite. Depression can be a real bitch

Just showing up everyday to work on a side project on top of a day job and your other life commitments is no small feat, and personally that kind of consistency and perseverance is not something I find easy to do.

On the other hand, procrastinating from a task by overly planning and reading/thinking about the best way to get it done, now that is much more natural

Seriously though, this is a hard thing to keep up, so congrats to them. Most people fail to even consistently show up each day to brush their teeth.

The musical instrument practice app Melodics has a streak mechanic that extends your streak if you play at least 5 minutes that day. The interval is NOT adjustable. At first I thought this inability to change the minimum practice time required to continue the streak was a UX bug, but as I started racking up long streaks and finding myself practicing for longer than the minimum five minutes on many days, I realized it was a brilliant feature

Life kept throwing various curve balls at me: I got married, had a daughter, lost a loved one after a prolonged battle, underwent major health issues, battled COVID…

^this made me cringe a bit. personally, it makes me sad when i hear someone describe family or commitments as obstacles to work.

i'm sure i've done it in the past, but personally, i think it warrants examination.

This is great advice and one that I'm using in my own side project.

I have a macOS/iOS app out in the App Store and spent several months of my spare time working on it. Once it was released, I've pulled back a bit on how much time I spend on it, but I do manage to spend a few hours here and there during the week to add more features to it and to fix up bugs. I don't have specific goals, like "must release new feature X by 7/20". I just tend to ship a new version every 2-4 weeks depending on how I'm feeling and how much work I've actually done.

I've been amazed at the steady progress of improvements I've made on it. This pace feels a lot better than when I was working hard just to ship the darn thing. I'm not burnt out on the project, and the lack of pressure gives me time and space to reflect on what to do next and how best to achieve it.

Reminds me of a bo-jack horseman quote: "everyday it gets easier but you have to do it everyday".

AKA the war of art[0] and I'm sure there's many, many other books in the same vein.

To dichotomize: those that show up every day anyway are likely doing something they love (even if the thing they're doing is showing up itself[1]). Those that don't likely perceive the way fwd as something they don't like. We can change that perception but it's hard.

Likely, it's best to think in a continuum of interest and that we need to move the perception or act into a realm that is self-reinforcing.

[0] https://stevenpressfield.com/books/the-war-of-art/ [1] This is an illness; a life without refuge.

Once I was taking a weekend trip down to San Diego with my now wife, and we decided to look at some open houses. It started raining - not super hard, but a fair bit. Most of the open houses we showed up to ended up not happening as a result.

One of them did, though, and I spoke to the agent showing the house for a while about San Diego real estate. When I moved down to San Diego, he helped me buy a home and find a space to lease for my new business. I'm almost certainly going to have him help me find some real estate investments in the future as well.

Unlike everybody else, he showed up that day, and it's made him tens of thousands of dollars with more to come.

Counterpoint to this: a lot of the programmers I admire all have an uncanny ability to just sit and work for long periods of time. Like, sit down and hardly move for 10 straight hours. They achieve a huge amount in that time - much more in a single 10 hour stretch than they would in 10x1 hour sessions.

And that applies to other things they do: playing video games, reading a book...when they do something they go 'all in'.

I feel like this level of focus is much more of a superpower than small amounts every day (although that too is powerful, and both approaches are infinitely better than what most of us do, which is very little)

I certainly agree. However, many people don't have that dedicated focused time. I wanted to give an alternative perspective on what one can do when you can't find such long stretches of time.

I agree this is the way to do something, keep at it consistently. But at the same time the story tells me it took a long time, many YEARS, from 2015 to 2020.

It takes a long time and but it also helps that you don't use the whole day for it every day. That means you have time to think about what you're doing while riding on a bus or doing something else.

The end-produce is beautiful and simple, but it took a lot of effort to make it simple, to know what exactly it should be.

Now had there been a clear spec to start with I assume it could have been done much faster. But then again creating the spec takes its own time.

Working from home, I discovered that my evening commute was part of my shutting off the work at the end of the day. I have a set of about four things I do when I lock my computer at the end of the day. Early dinner with the family, watch entertainment, engage in a hobby, play computer games.

Before it got hot out I was at about 50% for hobby stuff, and I made so much progress over the last year that it’s difficult to look at, in the sense that when something stops being a struggle you can experience feelings of loss for the past. Why didn’t I figure this out before?

That piece reminds me of my doctoral thesis and its creation. It took me quite some time as I had a full-time job during the day, but in the evenings, on the weekends, I worked on my research. It was long, it was tedious, and I had my share of detours and fuck-ups, but I managed to finish it, defend it and graduate.

Please note: this approach is not for the faint of heart - working on one topic for years means that you can never really relax. There is always something to think about. So you should really consider if that's your cup of tea.

It’s a way better mindset to just expect to work on something a few hours each day than to try to set milestones and deadlines because you won’t burn yourself out moonlighting

Reminds me of our attempts to get various contractors to come and do tasks. Sometimes they keep promising to come and don't show up repeatedly. Other times they show up, write down our requirements, plan the work, and then vanish. My builder friends who are actual general contractors also complain of this about their subs. Makes me think if I wasn't already doing well in software I would kill it in the trades just by showing up when I say I will!

One weird trick for techies nonsense. "I just showed up everyday and built this company, so can you!" All of what, 500 words of content, too.

> Pick an idea in a large market that will always be in demand and work on a product that caters to a subset of use cases exceedingly well.

Apparently, software is similar to soft drinks :) That is, the soft drink market is massive. So massive that even a small slice - and you most often have to start looking to "corner" a small slice - can be fairly lucrative.

SEO tactic: The Unreasonable Effectiveness of using the phrase "unreasonable effectiveness" in a blog post. ;)

2 Questions:

1. I see you're on v.0.21 - how stable is this? I know the point of the article is that you don't set deadlines, but I'm anxious to implement something that may have breaking changes.

2. How can I pay you? I'm implementing search now, considering Algolia or PG_Search. I want to give you a shot, but I also want to pay you.

1. Typesense is pretty stable and we are really careful about retaining backward compatibility. Our release cycles are slow (we give RC builds for people wanting a feature urgently) and we test a lot. The version number is just a number: Terraform just hit 1.0 last month :)

2. We've a hosted cloud version: https://cloud.typesense.org/ -- and we also added a Sponsor button on Github because so many people have been asking us for it.

I love how you work, how you communicate, and I fully expect to love your product

I'm using Typesense on https://www.jobsort.com and haven't had a single crash; it's quite stable.

Inspiring post! I am sitting here right now working on my side project, which I try to do for an hour or two before work every day. It really is amazing how much I get done in this tiny block of time vs. the 8 hours I spend at my full-time job. Just "plugging away", hoping to go from 1 user to 10 to 100.

I'm not sure what all this pedantic nonsense is regarding the grand canyon and flooding. But I can tell you from personal experience that this indeed works beautifully well. And the more progress you accumulate, the more velocity you experience. It is a virtuous cycle.

Drops of water falling, if they fall consistently, will bore through iron and stone. -- Chinese Martial Arts saying.

Nice and pithy on the importance of daily practice. The key is to not be competitive, set a time limit and focus only on the "doing" with no judgement.

I don't have a side project, but this is basically the approach I take at work. Try to do one useful thing each day. Doesn't even have to be a big useful thing. It adds up.

I guess that's really the whole point of the tortoise and the hare, now that I think of it.

I think probably it's better to think of this as 'reasonable effectiveness'.

Unreasonable effectiveness would be better communicated with a success metric that isn't also highly dependant on luck.

As in grinding vocabulary in a foreign language every day.

Reminds me of the book atomic habits. It emphasizes the compounding gains of small wins.

If you liked that book, Power of Habits is the 10x better version.

It's less of a 20 year olds book of lifehacks and more of a science based approach.

Power of Habit book changed my life, quit all drugs and video games. Now I just read nonfiction books.

Other books in a similar vein that I liked:

_One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way_ by Robert Maurer

_Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results_ by Stephen Guise

Both are short reads, and the Kaizen book is also in a nice small form factor that you can stick in your back pocket. These books emphasize the importance of making even the smallest change possible.

I don't know about that. I have the book here in front of me (Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit), and it seems like the whole thing can be summarized as:

Cue - Routine - Reward

With an additional 300 pages of weak, mostly theory-driven anecdotes about how corporations apply this at scale.

I'd be really interested to know how you applied this to your personal life.

Why don't you like video games or fiction anymore?

Waste of time. At least comparatively speaking.

Plus these get boring, I climb up the hedonic treadmill. Movies and video games get boring.

I can understand somebody not enjoying video games, but movies is a tough one for me. Does the same go for plays? If so, is there any narrative media you enjoy?

"History is crazier than fiction"

This year I read/listened to 30 nonfiction books in philosophy, History, and science. It's been extremely enjoyable and rewarding.

My best advice is to put down bad books after 20 or 30 pages.

Personally, I think John Lennon was on to something when he said "time you enjoy wasting was not wasted".

That said, I agree 100% about giving up on books early and often.

What author?

Charles Duhigg

Sorry to be a downer, but at this rate of speed isn't it possible that their tech will become outdated before it becomes widely used? Maybe they're 5-10 years away from being widely used? Machine learning is advancing rapidly.

True, but when we started we bet on certain trends that are just getting mainstream now. Having said that, large markets tend to have a lot of niches. You can certainly carve your own. It might not be a billion dollar niche, but that was never the point :)

True that. Also we all plateau at it. That is where time and effort stops yielding satisfaction or usefulness. Unless, unless, you are really in love with yourself and thing that everything you know is amazing...just kidding.

Picasso said this, "Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working"

People hate this because it’s not the all-in-one all-nighter over-the-weekend hacker stereotype I think we all want to be; rather it’s a slow movement towards success over a much much longer period of time.

"Don't break the chain" is an urban myth, Seinfeld himself said in a Reddit AMA he did not follow that method, it was just attributed to him [0]

The top search results on the topic are unfortunately full of links all repeating the same myth.

[0] https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/1ujvrg/jerry_seinfeld...

Consistency is a super power if applied right.

Most people don't do things consistently and of those who do only a few do the right things.

In the long run, you outrun everyone who doesn't keep doing the right things.

I just wish people on the internet would discover the difference between "everyday" and "every day."

(Bonus points for "setup" vs. "set up" - a common foulup.)

How about "login" vs. "log in?" :)

I wouldn't call the effectiveness unreasonable. I would instead say that incorporating something into your routine is the most reliable way to make sure it gets done.

I also had a failed HN launch, glad to see that pushing through pays off. I’m not giving up, that’s for sure :) Happy for typesense founders!

The unreasonable effectiveness of 'The unreasonable effectiveness of "The unreasonable effectiveness..."' title.

2 crappy pages a day is the Tim Ferris standard

The trick is to aggressively dive headfirst into a project, such that it becomes unconscionable for you to give up :)

But what to do later with that dozens of unfinished projects I dove headfirst into over the last two decades?

I wonder if this is an argument in favor of the five-day workweek - at least from management's point of view.

What does a "Hacker News launch" refer to? Is that simply announcing it in a Hacker News submission?

See "Turning Pro" and "War of Art" by Steven Pressfield. Good books on this topic.

I really disliked the War of Art. I found nothing actionable in it. I only made it to the end because so many people recommend it and I expected some enlightenment. Unfortunately there was none.

The power of consistent effort over time is staggering. Small choices compound into dramatic gains.

I didn’t see James Clear’s Atomic Habits book mentioned — what’s the opinion of HN on that book?

For me this habit is going to hackernews every day for sometime and it is working great!

I love this post and the approach. It’s worked for me during my life on lots of things.

It's all fun and games until they take your red Swingline stapler, though.

Very helpful learnings, looking forward to seeing TypeSense grow!

Good stuff! How many hours per week did you put in on average?

I used to code for an hour every week day and maybe 3-4 hours on weekend. But there was also a lot of "background processing" of what I plan to work on next and how to implement it. The more background processing I did, the faster I was in the actual implementation. So those hours I actually spent on the keyboard were really productive.

Absolutely this works. I've been doing it for decades.

This site triggered an XSS warning from noscript for me.

Every TIL runner: "See. This is the result."

It's necessary, but not sufficient.

Interesting and inspiring story.

I don’t see others mentioning it so I thought I should. This reminds me of DHH and the creation of Rails. He followed essentially the same method: chipped away at it over a long period of time, little by little, day by day, with no specific deadline in mind. Works like this can have a huge impact on a person’s life and the world around him.


But why is it unreasonable?

that's how I graduated college

thus, consistency is a key

This reminds me of what I heard of buses on Madagascar. A bus leaves not at specific time, but when it's full.

Maybe we attach too much importance to the saying "time is money"? It can be money, but there are other approaches.

Excellent advice.

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