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How my genius roommate changed my perspective (farhadg.com)
549 points by FarhadG on Nov 11, 2021 | hide | past | favorite | 235 comments

There is something very fulfilling (at least to me) about working this way. Not solving the problem in the best way, but solving it in the way you can _right now_. When I was younger this was how I solved most problems, but in my professional life I can't really do that (and for mostly good reasons).

I follow someone on YouTube who moved to a small island in Panama, built his house, many boats, and lots of other items by hand using what he has. He is definitely crazy but he personifies this get it done attitude. A few years ago I travelled to Africa to volunteer at a hospital and was tasked with fixing an oxygen machine. I had to channel this YouTuber because there definitely was not the right tools and I definitely needed to get it done. I honestly surprised myself in how I was able to fix it and it was quite fulfilling.

When I worked as a bike mechanic in my late teens, we referred to this approach as 'shade tree mechanic work'. I loved it, because of the creativity involved. However, I grew to have a great respect for the work of other mechanics, who were more interested in taking more pains, ordering the right tool or part if it wasn't around, and typically having a somewhat better outcome.

I think there is room for both. Definitely during the prototype phase of a project, or on projects where there are very hard time constraints (epoxy is drying, etc.), or when you're out in the woods or whatever, working fast and creatively can be most beneficial. However as you transition into the finished product, it's often better to do use fresh and appropriate materials, do more QA/QC, write a robust test suite, and put a bit of polish on it (especially if it's for public consumption).

I hadn't really thought about it in these terms before, but your comment made me realize this mindset is probably a big part of why I like spending time in wilderness areas. Being without cell service miles from another group of people very much forces a "figure it out" attitude. Solving a tricky situation, with some consequence at stake and using a hodgepodge of resources, is deeply satisfying for me.

(Author here) Do you think that "figure it out" attitude helps make you become more present and alive? The moments I come out of my numb and autonomous ways of operating, I feel "alive," and it's often associated with that "figure it out" feeling.

I enjoy what I refer to as 'bodge DIY' especially when working in my garden, using whatever is available to complete little projects without buying new stuff (materials and also sometimes tools). I certainly get satisfaction when an idea pans out, and in that sense feel more alive than if I'd just followed some instructions using the correct stuff.

One good example occurred during our first COVID lockdown (in the UK) in 2019. DIY stores weren't open at all for a while. I'd decided to paint the roof of my summer house and while prepping it discovered that a couple of places had got completely rotten. We had rain storms forecast for a few days hence, so I had to make and attach a waterproof / windproof 'nosecone' for the roof using only the stuff available in my shed / garage. Very enjoyable, once I figured it out.

This is how I feel about cooking. I get more satisfaction out of cooking with limited ingredients or with limited tools available, than I do when cooking with more serious foodie friends who have custom made kitchens and fully stocked exotic pantries.

If I may presume to be able to translate to dev-speak:

"Have no fear in accruing technical debt before your first major refactor, but when it comes time to 'do things right', you better do just that"

Jamie's channel is one of my all time favorites. I love watching him work exactly because of his general attitude toward problem solving and how different it is from mine.

Can you suggest one as an 'entrypoint'? I watched a couple after Matthias Wandel mentioned him, but they were a bit.. well, even the comments were saying things like 'that's it he's really fallen off the deep end now'.

Not sure how far back his YT channel goes, but I used to follow Jamie way back when he was based in a crappy flat in Southern England, developing some kind of hexapod toy, and thereafter when he was in [somewhere in North America] building a crazy place in a forest somewhere.

I've not been able to get into his Southern American adventures so much.

> When I was younger this was how I solved most problems, but in my professional life I can't really do that

I find the same, mostly because my motivation to solve problems has changed significantly.

(Author here) I share your perspective. As you can tell, it was eye opening and it really started to shape how I approach problems. I'd love to check out those YouTube channels.

I'd highly recommend Jeremy Fielding's channel to people looking for workshop projects without the odd eccentricity, but still using scavenged and repurposed materials.


Could you share a link to the Panama guy? (Asking for a friend.)

Edit: Got it, this one as per the other comments: https://youtube.com/user/JMEMantzel/videos

I agree. I think that's why I love roguelike games. Each time you play you get different situations and are equipped with different things, so you need to solve different problems eachtime.

This reminds me of an 80s tv show called MacGyver which impressed on me as a kid that you can use what you got to get out of tricky situations. I've done loads of different things as a result of this attitude. The only time I stopped to think about the show's wider influence was when I was at University (some time ago) in the Engineering building with my best friend (an Engineering student) and a phone went off with the MacGyver theme. When I told my friend I thought that was cool (these were the days when you had to pay for novelty ringtones) he casually remarked that a lot of the Engineering student body had the MacGyver ringtone and MacGyver had a huge influence on students enrolling for Engineering.

After reading this article I wonder if there are MacGyver-esque influences on younger generations? I haven't come across any YouTube channels or shows on Netflix, Prime or Disney Plus that would interest my 7 year old son and capture his imagination like MacGyver did for me as a kid.

Having said that, in true MacGyver fashion I started teaching my son Chemistry last weekend using a whiteboard, YouTube and some Minecraft analogies.

>After reading this article I wonder if there are MacGyver-esque influences on younger generations?

Just type "Lifehack" into youtube and search. Extremely low signal to noise ratio in videos made with monetization above all else. It's quite tragic.

A counterexample would be colinfurze[0] who makes very entertaining and inspiring videos. Apart from being a two legged OSHA violation his content is top notch. [0]: https://www.youtube.com/user/colinfurze

One of the few genres of YouTube videos I can stand is "old man dismantles electronics". It's a very peaceful and educational genre.

Here are some channels I like:



The latter channel is perhaps not great for children because of his somewhat relaxed attitude toward mains voltage, but it's great for me.

>The latter channel is perhaps not great for children because of his somewhat relaxed attitude toward mains voltage, but it's great for me.

PhotonicInduction is the extreme version of this, he's an electrical engineer / "mad scientist" who builds ridiculous things such as enormous capacitor banks for blowing things up, power supplies that deliver many kV for feeding to various household appliances, record players that spin at 10,000 RPM and that kind of thing. He also demos old tech you wouldn't see in other places like mercury arc rectifiers. Definitely "don't try this at home" but it's usually really interesting to watch.


For those ever so slightly more lazy than me and beyond :P

There are certainly plenty of counterexamples. But there are also probably an unhealthy number of examples of things that people would have considered hobbies or just clever improvisation of one sort or another that are now, in many cases, about monetization/"side hustles"--with a lot of the negative baggage that can come from that when it becomes the primary goal.

One of my favorites in this vein is the channel below. This guy really knows how to "do what you can with what you have available".


Thank you very much! I think my son will love the 'real life' Minecraft digging a secret tunnel series colinfurze has made.

We're all just trying to be good little capitalists, extracting value from someone/something as cheaply as possible and selling it to someone else for profit. See ya at the bottom! ;)

People like the lockpicking lawyer come to mind - https://youtube.com/c/lockpickinglawyer

It's as tho there's nothing he can't figure out a hack for, and sometimes it's a matter of simply getting a nail gun to do the work.

Depends - on YouTube, there's definitely a lot of channels that encourage engineering and science of some kind, though not always in a safe way. We had Shitty Robots into just general engineering with Simone Giertz, William Osman and Michael Reeves with their dumb robots.

I would definitely include some of Simone's builds in the super serious club especially now, but Mark Rober and Build Stuff Better definitely have a more engineering focus to their videos.

I would say that some of AvE's stuff falls into that but he does not filter his language/attitude at times so he is off putting to some people.


I feel like he isn't producing as much of that content any more. I liked it better when it was more watch me make a milling machine from a cheap chinesium drill press and less watch me press go on the $200,000 Haas CNC. I feel like he is a bit of a victim of his own success. I still love the BOLTR content.

(Author here) Thank you for the reminder. I've heard of this show in so many different contexts and I've yet to come watch any of the episodes.

If you start a channel, I'd follow along, btw.

The entertainment industry has a lot of influence over young minds, I often thought that could be the way to get more students into STEM subjects.

Mark Rober comes to mind.

Lots of my friends were watching myth busters, which I think would qualify for this.

s/genius/resourceful and creative/g

That's not a slight. But being resourceful (and creative, of course) is what was displayed. There was no evidence of genius. Being resourceful and creative means using what you have on hand to achieve a goal.

For example, I wanted to make a gift for a friend who loves dinosaurs. I used old bicycle parts and various bits of metal I had left over from other projects and made her a 3 foot tall T-Rex. She loved it! Money spent = $0. Am I a genius? Probably not. Was I resourceful and creative? Definitely.

Perhaps for people who don't have a "hack the world!" mindset, it does appear as genius I suppose.

> Perhaps for people who don't have a "hack the world!" mindset, it does appear as genius I suppose.

I think this is it. I've realized that as an engineer, I look at the local environment around me as a construct. If I don't like something or think it can be improved, I can redesign it better. Hell, I once got the traffic markings on an entire street changed by sending a single email to the right person pointing out something that annoyed me whenever I drove through that area.

I've realized that not everyone has this mindset though. So many people write things off as "just the way it is" without considering that they can be changed. Sure, YMMV. As an average Joe, I really don't have much power to change the tax code. But I do have a lot of control over my local environment.

I'm reminded of When I was teaching, I would occasionally hear students grumbling about the way their homework was being graded. But with enough time, you'll hear students grumbling about nearly everything, so I never paid it too much attention. I'd just check that the grader had followed the rubric, and then either make a grade correction if needed, or just tell the student that it had been graded accurately. After several years, I got a long-winded email from a student expressing their dissatisfaction with the way their assignments were being graded. But instead of solely complaining, this student explained _why_ they were upset and politely requested that I consider changing my rubric. After some discussion, I did just that. I didn't concede all their "demands", but I did make changes that made the students happy.

This was a student that understood that the class policies were a construct, and that a sincere discussion can be sufficient to incite change.

(Author here) I absolutely love this story and your student's approach. Thank you for sharing.

When I've learned some things in my time is that most engineers don't have this mindset because they are not allowed to have it. If you mean software engineer you might be right but not in the general regulated engineering jobs.

The way you get a lot of "this is the right way to do it" talk on Stack Overflow from people who don't actually answer the poster's question and know nothing of their constraints suggests that software engineers aren't inherently more likely to think this way.

I think you might be operating with a romanticized definition of what a genius is.

In fact a common definition of (higher) intelligence is the ability to see patterns (abstractions, properties, laws) in an otherwise random looking world.

Think of Darwin looking at birds, animals, vegetation, and being able to come up with something like the Laws of Natural Selection. Even today 99.999% of people would not see those patterns.

Think of Kepler looking at random movement of stars and planets on the sky and being able to come up with the Laws of Planetary Motion. Same thing, today 99.999% of people would not see those patterns.

On a much lower scale, the character in this text displayed a similar ability to see in otherwise random looking objects new properties, arrangements, and applications.

I think you are judging here based on the small scale of his achievement (rolling table, who cares, $50 at Home Depot could make better, right?) but you are failing to consider for the absolute-zero (or close to it) in resources that the guy had at his disposal.

For example an achievement like this: https://www.economist.com/science-and-technology/2018/09/06/... , in my opinion, has to be amplified in our eyes to compensate for the difference in resources availability in a typical bio-tech-lab in say US, and what was available here.

I think the author was adding a little sensational flair to the title, not trying to make a definitive attestation of their roommate's genius

I never once thought that I was clicking on this post to behold a tale of True Genius. Nor did I expect that OP believed that.

I think the title reflects that semantic sentiment.

(Author here) Thank you for the thoughtful post and rigor. I've really taken time to reflect on this term and what it means. I still come back to `genius` being associated with attitude/approach/decision-making that may yield certain results. In this case, `resourcefulness` applies to his approach while sharp/smart/genius applies to his attitude and approach.

In another way, I find it difficult to deem someone a genius by the results of their actions (i.e. resulting). It's much more about their mindset and decision making process.

Thanks for the reply, FarhadG! I do see how you are applying the term. I get it :) I suppose my reply was a bit pedantic (taking the term "genius" literally) but I do have another thought: I think the word 'ingenious' is a better fit. Check it out:

   ingenious : having or showing an unusual aptitude for discovering, inventing, or contriving an ingenious detective. 2 : marked by originality, resourcefulness, and cleverness in conception or execution an ingenious contraption.
At any rate, I loved the article and I got your point, and I think at the end of the day that's all that matters. I take pride in having people take the time to dissect my writing, it means they read it and that they cared enough to analyze it even if it was just enough to call me a moron, which has happened on occasion!

(Author here) Love that point. Never considered the term `ingenious`

I'm adding a note (as we speak) in the blog post to reflect this.

Oh. Wow. Well, I'm glad I could give you something to ponder on, and thank you for the credit, although not necessary.

On another note, this interaction just made it to my Top 3 Internet Things of The Year :)

I wouldn't even apply the term "creative", honestly. I don't think creativity is necessary to say "I want A, I have B and C, how can A be accomplished with B and C?".

> Perhaps for people who don't have a "hack the world!" mindset, it does appear as genius I suppose.

I'm not sure that's right either. I wonder if instead it might just be a matter of culture, possibly even class. If you grew up always just buying the "right" things and only doing things the "right" way, then maybe you just never learn that a thing's "purpose" is just what it was designed to do, not all that it can do.

> I used old bicycle parts and various bits of metal I had left over from other projects and made her a 3 foot tall T-Rex.

See now this is actually what I'd call "creative", since something was actually created.

It’s called divergent thinking. Creativity is a form of intelligence. RSA Animate on education and changing the paradigm: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U

> Perhaps for people who don't have a "hack the world!" mindset, it does appear as genius I suppose.

That's just a turn of style.

With that being said perhaps there's something in common between the stereotypes of hackers and genius, and that's not flattering I suppose.

This is the first thing I thought of. This is a very creative and resourceful individual.

To be fair I would be one of those people (am fairly young too) who thinks the word genius/brilliant is thrown around for way too many cases that it isn't accurate to the point that it is losing its impact. People are diluting language through hyperbole or lack of intentional use imho.

It could also be that too many people this kind of thinking is so foreign that it seems like genius/brilliance. I guess it could all be relative. A genius to the general public might be different from say a genius to a group of nuclear physicists.

Better example might would be with LEGO, not everyone who plays LEGO is genius, but you can definitely be creative with what you have

I think 'genius' is a relative term.

Indeed, relativity is paramount.

In my house I was considered a 'genius' for putting Cheetos inside a Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich.

Reminds me of the story of Zhuangzi, the Chinese philosopher, on how one thing can be used in very different ways:

There was once a man from Song who was skilled at making ointment for chapped hands. For generations, his family had made their living by washing raw silk. A traveler happened to hear of it and offered to purchase the formula for a hundred catties of gold. The man called his family into conference and said, ‘For generations we’ve made our living washing silk and never earned more than a few pieces gold. Now we can sell our formula and earn a hundred catties of gold in an instant. Let’s give it to him!’ Once the traveler had the formula, he went to the court of Wu to persuade the king to use it in dealing with his troublesome neighbor state of Yue. The king put him in command of his forces to engage Yue’s navy in a midwinter river battle and the forces of Yue were routed. The King of Wu carved a slice from his newly gained territory and rewarded the traveler with a fief. The traveler and the silk washer were alike in possessing the formula of preventing chapped hands; one used it to gain a fief, the other to wash silk – it was in the use of the thing that they differed." [1]

[1] https://factsanddetails.com/china/cat3/sub10/entry-5581.html

I may be a bit slow today, but how did the traveler use a formula for chapped hands ointment to persuade the king of Wu to use it in dealing with troublesome neighbor state of Yue?

It's probably a story to move the argument forward. But I can explain as the original Chinese version needs a bit of interpretation.

Basically the formula can help soldiers fight during winter so whoever has it has an advantage over the other side.

BTW the Chinese version if anyone is interested:


Also to answer the other question why a traveller may have the skills to lead an army. So first I think this is just a story because I can't anything recorded in history regarding this battle. Secondly, many "travellers" during that time were strategists who were either of aristocratic origin or very rich. They made their livelihood to persuade kings to follow their advices and make profit (in money, fame and land) from it. Some of them probably were rich enough to own small armies so technically they could lead armies for kings.

But again this is probably a story Zhuangzi made up to "prove" his point.

> They made their livelihood to persuade kings to follow their advices and make profit (in money, fame and land) from it.

Early consultants?

Yeah, and mercenaries too, but more of a strategic one, not tactical as a modern one.

Some of them worked as "客卿" (persons who came from a foreign kingdom/principality but listed as a high-ranking official in the host kingdom/principality) and helped the king/prince with reforms. Local aristocracies were usually the target of reforms (in that sense, very much like a consultant of today) so someone from outside needs to move it forward. Some can serve as generals who own a small number of elite soldiers and can lead armies for the king/prince of the host kingdom/principality.

I'm pretty sure you can find similar examples in Medieval Europe.


BTW, great example why machine translation still doesn't work for quite different languages. Google Translate outputs the following given the Chinese input:

> The people of Song Dynasty have good medicines for not tortoises, and they have always used 洴澼絖 as their business. If you hear it, please buy one hundred gold. Gathering together and seeking out the family, said: "My life is a 紴澼絖, but I only count gold; now I have a hundred gold skills, please go with it. "The guest got it, so as to talk about the king of Wu." The more difficult it was, the King Wu made him to fight with the Yueren in winter, defeat the Yueren, and seal the ground.


Haha I guess it's extremely difficult to translate ancient Chinese into English. TBH there are a few words I don't recognize.

I'm not sure the issues is that it's ancient.

I've just recently learned that Chinese is a very "analytical" language: The meaning of something is apparently to a large degree determined by how words are combined and isn't contained so much in the separate words by themself (at least that's my uninformed understanding of that subject, as I don't speak Chinese).

So without actually understanding the context it's likely hard to translate something. But a machine does not understand things. It doesn't have world knowledge so it can't interpret things in context. (An ancient context doesn't make things simpler either of course).

You would likely need AGI with a lot of world knowledge to translate such an things. But at that point machine translation for any language would be a solved problem anyway I guess.

The other thing is: How do you look up words you don't know having a writing system based on pictures? Without a computer this seems almost impossible to me. That's a big issue with such a writing system imho.

I would be keen on trying to learn a little bit Chinese as it's for sure interesting to learn to think in a very analytical language—if the writing system wouldn't be. I have already a hard time with the German orthography, even it's my main language…

Ointment is very important in the sea, specially on the winter cold rain, and those old boats that need much more manual labour.

I remember seeing ads on some hands ointment that basically said "this is the number one choice by norway's fisherman"

The ointment gave them a tactical advantage against the Yue, who couldn’t fight with chapped hands

Yue was a naval power. It’s logistics like prevention of seasickness or tropical diseases. Here’s an example. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Red_Cliffs >Cao Cao had chained his ships from stem to stern, possibly with the aim of reducing seasickness in his navy, which was composed mostly of northerners who were not used to living on ships. Observing that, the divisional commander Huang Gai sent Cao Cao a letter feigning surrender and prepared a squadron of capital ships described as mengchong doujian (蒙衝鬥艦). The ships had been converted into fire ships by filling them with bundles of kindling, dry reeds, and fatty oil. As Huang Gai's "defecting" squadron approached the midpoint of the river, the sailors applied fire to the ships before they took to small boats. The unmanned fire ships, carried by the southeastern wind, sped towards Cao Cao's fleet and set it ablaze. Many men and horses either burned to death or drowned.

Mongolians did not like the weather of the south in China as well so their forces an DNA are much less common in the south.

The use of optics in Europe also allowed them to see and prepare for ambushes, invasion and spying from far distances. The best modern example is keyhole: a Hubble space telescope designed for high resolution worldwide orbital scanning.

Africa was also not colonized without the aid of vaccines that killed Europeans and genetic mutations like sickle cell prevented the local populations from malaria.

This story seems really weird by modern standards. The silk washer gets a great deal. The traveler could likely have offered far, far less because the value he saw wasn't obvious at all to the silk washer.

Traditional storytelling would probably have suggested that the silk washer was naive and suffered for it, but he comes out great in this story. The traveler takes a huge risk in assuming this will prove to be a hugely important military asset, and I guess comes out ahead, but he was already in a position to pay this dude hundreds of catties of gold so... did it really make a difference?

i have a feeling something got lost in translation; i got the same impression

i think we're just used to these 'fables' having some sort of downside for the person who accepted the quick buck, like the gold turned out to be worthless because the person that bought the formula became poor from mis-using it or whatever

maybe the lesson is "sometimes payday does come" ;)

haha yeah. It's definitely the quote. The guy exclaims how he is going to get rich quick and how great it is... and then that's the last we hear of him, so I guess it all worked out

personally i would love to hear more stories like that haha

Simple. Think big.

He valued it enough to know about naval problems to know its huge value, and wasn’t unfair and left the silk washer whole. The silk seller’s motivation out of poverty was noted, solved by the traveler and not unfairly so he was “bought” and cooperated fully with what was a great deal for him, which lubricates away resentment, half effort, and unhappiness because giving a good deal to someone is similar to “buy once, cry once”. Negotiating costs time, energy, and paying less might not yield the full secret especially if the seller feels taken advantage of so he also will do his best not to cooperate.

Imagine if Steve Jobs paid Woz half the profits with what he knew.

That's not my point. My point is that the story element has no purpose. The entire transaction is entirely irrelevant. The wisdom of thinking of alternative use cases could have been conveyed with the traveler simply being clever and identifying the use case thinking outside the box without the part where he buys it for an outrageous amount of gold.

The silk washer has no ability to even make use of the knowledge that the ointment has other potential applications or that it could be very valuable. It seems like a distracting element of the story.

If the dynamic of "don't try to rip people off when you have an informational advantage" was the point, it should have shown a consequence for doing so. As it stands, I see no reason why he shouldn't have offered 1 cattie of gold instead of 100.

Normal western storytelling would either

* Show the consequences of an action

* Have the character recall specific advice on the right thing to do; or reason through it; and then benefit

In this case a choice was made and it was fine-ish. But given we don't know how wealthy the traveler was, we're left to wonder if he was either:

* banking his entire net worth on this ointment

* saying "it's one ointment, silk guy. What could it cost, 100 catties of gold?" with a certain opulent flair.

I think you should consider that your position might be interpreted as racist or implying western superiority in storytelling, it’s an old story that might not be succinct enough to you but you’re not familiar or xenophobic against foreign ideas and presentation, he’s known for poetry and wordplay. If you don’t like it, consider it’s age and why it’s still relevant and referenced today. I have no idea what a cattie is but 100 pieces of gold sounds like a lot.

Remember the South Park animation of Allan Watts? Why bother with a story? It’s also entertaining especially in that era to hear epics like Gilgamesh with what you might consider too much irrelevance. You’re thinking of a subset of western storytelling, they’re not all styled like Marcus Aurelius, Shakespeare is more widely read despite it being a play, being unclear enough to need translations on the margins, and footnotes at the end.

This is the similar to comparing the Old Testament with the 10 commandments and explaining why we should really change it because it didn’t conform to our personal sensibilities.

There's nothing racist or supremacist about observing how an old chinese story differs from western storytelling norms. I did not say it's worse. Nor do I have any reason to believe its representative of its peers. I said there's a lot of emphasis on a tangent that doesn't lead anywhere, which is particularly unusual for a short tale like this, which was presumably intended to carry a lesson to impart. I've no interest in debating whether you perceive my perception to be perceivable as racist though.

>how an old chinese story differs from western storytelling norms

What norms? Who set them if anyone has at all? Is the Bible not the bedrock of Westen civilization? Is it perfectly clear in its ideas and lack emphasis on tangents that doesn't lead anywhere?

> The king put him in command of his forces to engage Yue’s navy in a midwinter river battle and the forces of Yue were routed

The story is nice but some details ruin it IMO.. How would a salesman know how to command an army ?

Also, the success of an army depends on a huge number of factors, not only dryness of hands.. Military strategy seems more important than hands

This is essentially a parable nested in another story to make a very specific point. The story this appears in shows Huizi complaining to Zhuangzi about some extremely massive gourds that he couldn't use as one might use as e.g. a ladle, so he get frustrated and smashes them. Zhuangzi comments that obviously they would be better as floating vessels, and Huizi could have floated down the river in them.

All that to make a more general point: if you have the wrong expectations for the way something is, you're going to suffer because of those expectations. The silk-washing family was frustrated because they believed the balm could only be used in one way which kept them very poor and worn out. Huizi suffered because he was gifted seeds for some very large gourds, but expected to use them like normal-sized gourds, and eventually destroyed the gift after expending much time and effort on them.

> if you have the wrong expectations for the way something is, you're going to suffer because of those expectations.

OTOH: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” -- George Bernard Shaw

During that time, travelers are people have knowledge and skills, are looking for opportunity to serve a king. One would travel country to country and find a king who value his knowledge.

> Military strategy seems more important than hands

Can't wield weapons without hands.

Not with that attitude.

Dry socks win battles

(Author Here) Thank you for sharing. Very strange that I've heard of Zhuangzi from various interesting folks but have rarely found much info on him.

His philosophical fingerprints are everywhere. He is the originator of the ideas thought to be modern such as the matrix. https://www.philosophy-foundation.org/enquiries/view/the-but...

> Chuang Tzu was a philosopher in ancient China, who, one night went to sleep and dreamed that he was a butterfly. He dreamt that he was flying around from flower to flower and while he was dreaming he felt free, blown about by the breeze hither and thither. He was quite sure that he was a butterfly. But when he awoke he realised that he had just been dreaming, and that he was really Chuang Tzu dreaming he was a butterfly. But then Chuang Tzu asked himself the following question: "was I Chuang Tzu dreaming I was a butterfly or am I now really a butterfly dreaming that I am Chuang Tzu?"

The book that bears his name is very old and its origins are mysterious. There very well could have been a philosopher named Zhuangzi who wrote down (or had his pupils write down) his dialogues and stories, or he could have been a fictitious character that formed the nucleus of an oral tradition, it's really hard to say.

(Author here) I recall a very close (and successful) friend that was deeply inspired by his works. She used to tell me how so many of the most powerful men in Chinese history were either tutored or influenced by Zhuangzi but it's kept secret within the Chinese history.

Today the traveller would buy regulatory capture so that himself only could produce the ointment.

This is the kind of story that people use in strong support of Capitalism as a system, and it falls flat for me because it just reads like 'rich man with connections uses his wealth and connections to become richer by exploiting the labor of a poorer man without wealth and connections.'

It could fall flatter if he had stolen the formula. That's what I'd expect from movie version, wouldn't you?

As a dad I can tell you I often have to use a bowl for a cup or the handle of a wide handled for for a spoon. For some reason that always drove my partner nuts. Guess her solution was to wash the dishes lol.

That doesn't sound fair. I don't think the army would have been successful with the ointment alone. Ointment doesn't make you a competent army commander. You can make the same argument with most things - food, a warm cloak, knowledge about the weather.. all those things that make survival and even comfort possible.

That's all true, but given that both parties were evenly matched before picking winter to do battle required something to tip the advantage to the attacker who picked that time because they had a solution to the problem of dealing with chapped hands, which in the age of manual combat may well have been of such importance that the outcome was all but certain.

Asterix joke: "The Romans, upon learning that the English requested a daily ceasefire from 2pm to 4pm because they were having tea decided to attack only between 2pm and 4pm". Obviously, that's fictional but you get the idea.

somebody is wrong on the internet and IT'S YOU!!!

In Asterix in Britain https://asterix.fandom.com/wiki/Asterix_in_Britain the Romans attack during the time the British are having their hot water - with maybe a little bit of milk in it.

Before the final battle when all seems to be lost because the barrel of magic potion was sunk in the river Asterix announces that they have the makings of the magic potion (pulling some herbs out of his pocket) - synopsis from link above:

"Finally reaching the independent village, Asterix eases the Britons' disappointment by claiming he carries herbs to remake the potion; these are later revealed to be tea. With a psychological boost, the village prevails against the Romans. Asterix and Obelix return home to the inevitable feast. The Britons like the tea so much, they proclaim it shall be their national drink."

Ah yes, of course! The tea was revealed on the last page only. My memory isn't entirely bit-rot proof and it's been a good 47 years since I last read that particular story.

Wait, there's an ongoing alternate history French comic that's been published since 1959 about warriors from Gaul fighting the Roman Republic under Caesar?

I admit, retconning your arch-foe's national non-alcoholic drink of choice is fairly grand, but I feel like you buried the lede there.


I mean the top poster was aware of Asterix

Small technical innovations have won wars in the past. In the first Punic war the Roman Republic (who had no significant naval strength at the start of the war) defeated Carthage, the dominant naval force of the Mediterranean. One of the most significant factors in their victory (they certainly would have lost without it at least) was inventing a plank with a spike on the end of it[0].

The Romans at this time were so incompetent at naval warfare that their only significant defeats in the war were losing their entire fleet to bad weather (more than once).

[0]: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corvus_(boarding_device)

One used it for personal gain, the other used it in service of his country.

one used it to relieve his neighbors, the other used it to relieve professional killers

one had the knowledge, the other had the vision

I had to laugh out loud at the unrelenting darkness of that response

well done

For anyone else who is unfamiliar with old Chinese measurement systems, Wikipedia specifies the catty at around 600g.

This means that the family received about 60kg of gold, or around US$3.6m at today's spot prices - a handsome reward for their valuable formula.

Even in the ancient proverbs, capitalism is the optimal way to allocate resources, and this efficient allocation benefits all. Someone should let Xi know about this. ;)

Yes, very efficient. Meanwhile nearly all of the peasantry subsisted on rice and suffered from malnutrition and frequent birth defects.

Also, this has nothing to do with capitalism. It's just exchange of money which had existed long before that system first developed in the city states of Italy.


Plot twist: thé travelled was Bill Gates.

This is amazing. My dad is like this, very resourceful with very less and creative with the limited resources he has as hand, and has lived/survived through life like this.

But there is a problem now. As a family, thanks to the incomes of the kids, have enough to survive (and thrive), but he continues with his efficiency-only approach, instead of the just-buy-it approach.

- So, we see plastic bottle based plant pots all over our house, instead of normal clay or terracotta plant pots, which look a bit better.

- We see DIY style visible piping and hosing to achieve drainage around the house where required, instead of hiring a professional plumber to have hidden piping (which would cost more)

- You come home one day and there is spray paint smell everywhere because of yet another (although very useful) project, and that paint causing asthma related problems to the kids (his grandkids) - Etc.

And now I am confused. I am not sure to tell him to stop (and kill one of his interests in living life) or to etl him continue (while the rest of the family continues being majorly inconvenienced).

Note that, we are a subcontinental family, and living in a joint-family is very common, and moving out is not an option for me (it will kill him more than asking him to stop).

(Also, while writing this it was very helpful. I think while writing this, I have decided that I will let him continue, as my inconveniences are much slight compared to the damage it will do him and his, I guess its called "agency")

I'd say let him be. After all, it got him this far and it clearly satisfies him, those factors may well weigh higher than having a better or prettier solution, and there really isn't anything wrong with being frugal.

I'm a lot like your dad, but maybe a bit wealthier and yet, the number of one-off tinkering solutions around the house is rather higher than you would probably expect in a normal household and yet apart from some frustration when things are a bit messy for a while due to some project on the whole it is a net positive. If my ability to do this would be circumscribed a lot of the joy would go out of my life.

You sound really reasonable, so I recommend talking to him, maybe in less absolute terms if he'll still get it, and tell him things like "please spray paint outside" and "please design for aesthetics as well as functionality if the object will not be temporary", or whatever other types of solutions make sense to you. Some kind of compromise.

Or, my real recommendation--search for a new perspective, because you're so close already. Enjoy his objects, celebrate those that work well, and let him keep contributing to his family.

Good luck!

My family and I moved into a new house a few months ago, after we lost our previous home in a fire.

I've always been a tinkerer and a builder, but not professionally, and would always make functional but ugly items. Consequence of a poor, rural upbringing, I suppose. But in the new house, I resolved to put in the extra effort (and expense, but mainly labor) to build esthetically pleasing, high-quality repairs.

Staining and finishing the wood, sinking and covering the screws, squaring corners _exactly_, buying the proper tools for the job, that sort of thing. And it has been really rewarding. It doesn't feel like a bother or needless expense; it feels like growth, a new layer of expertise.

Seeing the wife posting pictures on Facebook saying "my husband built this!" was also a nice reward.

Anyway, I think that one strategy with that sort of person is to encourage them. Don't try to stop them, challenge them to learn drywall repair so they can hide the plumbing like a pro.

I went through the same experiences! I have a 40 acres homestead and that means plenty of custom projects.

After a while I was tired of ugly solutions, so I've been forcing myself to make them pleasing to the eye.

I was largely inspired by a youtuber, channel name Pask Makes. Everything the guy makes is highly functional and also so, so good looking. Better than I can achieve, but I'm working on it.

Highly recommend checking him out for inspiration, although most of what he builds are shop projects (tools etc).

I think this is a lot more common than we realize. I've noticed some men as they age seem to prefer DIY solutions over pre-bought solutions. I think it might be a mix of enjoyment, or self-satisfaction from coming up with a new solution, or remnants of an old habit they developed out of necessity when younger.

I live in a rural area myself and it's not unusual to see a pick up truck with DIY elements on them such as a wood bed rack, or wood bed cap. Usually this is a dead give away of an older gentlemen driving it. My parents own a pick up truck that had an older gentleman as a previous owner and it has a DIY wooden center console in it as it did not come with one from the factory. Ford sells a center console as an option for some of them but I guess he preferred to build his own.

I fear this will be me in 40 years.

embrace it. it is very empowering to be able to control/enhance your environment without driving to the hardware store or worse yet sorting through thousands of objects on amazon.

if you start early enough you can actually make/repurpose things out of scrap that are really nice...much nicer that what you can easily buy (without engaging a custom fabricator).

edit: you can also get access to nicer materials. mahogany from discarded dining tables, nice heavy alum/iron castings, really beautiful old antique appliances etc. (sadly copper alloys are worth to much to be left on the street)

Tough to say, I can see how some of that can be bothersome. But once it impacts others health there has to be a limit in my opinion. Maybe he can do the spraypainting outside or in a garage?

>But there is a problem now. As a family, thanks to the incomes of the kids, have enough to survive (and thrive), but he continues with his efficiency-only approach, instead of the just-buy-it approach.


>(Also, while writing this it was very helpful. I think while writing this, I have decided that I will let him continue, as my inconveniences are much slight compared to the damage it will do him and his, I guess its called "agency")

You've distilled some thoughts on living with tinkers in my life, many of them has enough income later in life to just buy it, but finds joy in being resourceful. That said, it is very annoying to live with "ghetto" rigged contraption that means a lot to them but is just unsightly to you. It's an admirable and annoying combination of being resourceful and miserly vs DIYers who are willing to spend a little extra cash to buy new materials to put together a custom solution that both satisfy needs and general aesthetics for everyone. That said, I think the zero-waste repurpose aesthetic is what many fallout scavenger workshoppers enjoy about their handiwork, but don't realize others aren't deriving the same level of joy from living with their creations.

(Author here) While it can be frustrating, I think there is something about encouraging someone to lean in on their creative skillsets. You never know what's to follow when a creative person is backing with inspiration, support, and a little guidance :)

Thank you for sharing. He sounds like a very interesting indiviual.

Don't try to change other people. It never works. Let him be and accept the inconvenience as a gift.

Looking at ugly plant pots and visible plumbing are a small sacrifice for his satisfaction. How about helping him use his DIY skills for more, like building & repairing bicycles for charity?

It's good to tell him what you need, especially around health. Encourage him to do his projects without making indoor air pollution. He can make his own fume hood for spray painting.

I think feeling like you are useful and have purpose are critical parts of aging well and living a life well lived. Seems like your dad gets a lot of satisfaction from these products.

I think a little more communication on your part for getting stuff you need done (or having him teach your kids these amazing skills) could make this a huge win for your family instead of a burden you have to tolerate.

In India, we have a word for this type of "engineering" - jugaad. A great tool to use at an individual level. A terrible mindset to have as a society.

(Author here) First time I've heard about this. Care to share more?

In India, you will find all kinds of homemade vehicles on the streets and similar ingenious use of existing materials, although it seems to be mostly applied toward providing a service or making street food (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2rnG91loNzk).

Nice post. I have nothing in particular to add to this post except that several moons ago I worked with the author for a brief time. So it was surprising to see this name pop up here again. He's an interesting fellow who does some interesting dev work, last I checked was with WebGL, and I believe was writing a book at the time too.

At that time, and due to the circumstances, I was kind of cranky and probably not terribly fun to be around. But I enjoyed getting to know @FarhadG through that time though. So if you happen to see this, hope all is well!

(Author here) Just did a quick search and I'm so delighted to hear from you. Strange that you considered yourself as "cranky." Really? I mean, really? I genuinely thought you were THE most helpful and approachable dev. You were always receptive and open to problem solving.

Thank you for reaching out. You made my day. Hope our paths cross again.

Maybe it was more in my head than I realized, but I was in a bad place at the time. So it feels that way looking back on it. I appreciate the kind words!

A lot of the commenters here are the embodiment of the “Actually” meme, critiquing the least important parts of the story, like an editor looking for a typo, rather than engaging with the spirit of the story.

This isn’t a code base waiting for review.

And if it were, stop anyway! Humanities classes are sposed to help us engage with content like this, but stem students often don't take them seriously (

Am I the only one thinking of a hoseless washing machine and a wide open wardrobe that will be rather complicated to sell?

(Author here) I should make this point more clear in my article. Once you realize how much extra materials are sold (e.g. hose length) to ensure it meets a wide range of customers, you realize you can do much to tailor the final result to your needs.

sounds like they were students at the time - put the parts back before you move out and no one that cares will even notice

There are no regular inspections in a place like that?

The pictures clearly show a drill and saw dust. Which is what I would expect from repurposing closet doors. You couldn't put that together without significant damage to the furniture.

In most western countries you just lost your bond. No idea how permissible they are in China.

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

-George Bernard Shaw

Edit: proper attribution



Game Maker Studio???

It's George, Man, and Superman, but I don't put esoterica past you.

It was just a silly joke.

(Author here) I've heard this before and it's a good reminder.

Wouldn't call it genius, but certainly resourceful. In many cultures, this resourcefulness is not uncommon. Interesting how it is such a novel concept to the author, but second-nature to others.

I'm ashamed to admit to the number of times I am impressed by someone from a third-world country not only being resourceful but being able to create much more than I could from much less.

I think of William Kamkwamba creating windmills from car parts.

We need to remember that "education" is not the only way to achieve, some people are just wired up well and education comes from many more places than school! (I also believe in schools btw)

Reminds me of a story when a friend was moving places in China. Now this is a second order account so the details are hazy.

He had arranged for the movers to come in and take his stuff. When the time came the bell rang and the person on the other side said "I'm here". My friend was puzzled as he had quite a bit of stuff, weren't there supposed to be more of them? Turns out it was indeed just one mover on a scooter. But he was still able to move everything in a couple of trips by tricks like carrying the fridge on his back with aid of some straps and bundling and hanging everything.

When I was in China I saw people transporting all kinds of stuff on scooters and some were really impressive. One time I thought a lorry was coming and it was just somebody carrying really _a lot_ of empty plastic bottles strapped onto them.

We really are constrained by having so much. The Einstein quote in the article 'The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.' is a good one - but it's resources too, having so much interferes with us putting things together.

Related I suppose is 'analysis paralysis' - becoming so bogged down in working out the ideal way to do something, which parts shall I buy (I have access to all of them and the means for many of them after all!), how shall I do it, should I use my computer and education to model and parameterise it first, determine the properties I need from my materials to operate under the conditions I want, etc.

My wife is also from South Asia and I think she has the same resourcefulness. I have seen her rearrange various couch cushions, oddball pillows, and blankets to form a perfect bed to watch TV on. I had to document the step by step process on my phone in photos so that I’d know how she got there. It seems like genius to me but she says anyone would know how.

Very creative approach!

I'm curious whether they got the deposit on their apartment back, given that apartments in Beijing are usually furnished, so probably the furniture was the landlord's. Could go either way: the landlord might be impressed at the added utility, or upset at the changes.

(Author here) I am deeply humbled by your engagement, comments, critiques, and insights. Needless to say, this inspires me to write and share more. Thank you Hacker News. You are truly one of a kind.

Thank you! I'm curious about what that guy is doing now?

(Author here) Zhang's experimenting a ton with 3D printers, making short films, and conducting music. The way I see it, there's much more to come from him...

keep on hacking brother :)

Did you not make a Youtube video about this like a decade ago?

edit: Don't get me wrong I am happy you re-posted this. I just want to know if I have seen this before.

He disassembled the video and turned it into a blog post

(Author here) I wanted to start writing again and decided to make this my first post on my site. Much more to follow on math, philosophy, etc. Thank you for the kind words.

Yeah I read this blog post about 5 years ago I think - So glad I've found it again though!

Funny it's been re-posted as new though, I wonder if the author is the original one ....

Same submitter posted it at a different URL on the same domain in 2013 - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6838299.

I bet the whole post is an ad for the wim hof nonsense.

(Author here) However wish I was true, that would've been nice to make an affiliate link :) jking.

Glad someone else noticed. I knew I read this many years ago. Not complaining though.

2013 (link 404s, page moved presumably, but seems to be the same thing) - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6838299

reminds me of my old roommate in college, we had to fit 5 guys in a two bedroom apartment. He found/stole/bought (not sure which) some old scaffolding. He painted it and then got some 2x6's and made two queen sized bunk bed frames. So we had two decent sized beds in each room. Then, the last guy was on the couch (he was only there for the summer then back to the dorm).

TIL https://www.wimhofmethod.com/ Does this have any real, proven by data reliability? or is it just self help-like material focused on alpha-males?

doctors opinion: https://youtu.be/D6EPuUdIC1E

personal anecdote: just do the breathing once or twice and youll feel it doing something. i find the effect very useful for eliminating brain fog and impulse control, also relieves my tired eyes, and makes me want to crack my knuckles. to me its like a rapid meditation but more potent.

its def not self help focused on alpha males. the breathing imo is the most effective single thing you can do from his 3 things (meditation, breathing exercises, cold exposure). This isnt new btw. the breathing is based on pranayama and people have experimented with blood oxygen/CO2 levels for performance forever. see: apnea training & freedivers.

Yes, sorta. Just like boxers train themselves not to flinch when punched, you can teach yourself to tolerate cold better. As to boosting your immune system and the other claims, no one can prove that at home and is probably due to other changes in their personal lives. But I will say I did the Wim Hot method for 1000 days straight, and considering the cost of admission (free), my resistance to cold increased. I am that weirdo that walks around barefooted in the winter anyways, and it just allowed me to go a bit longer in colder conditions.

I used to teach people to survive extreme situations, and only used the WHM to teach them how to endure cold a bit better, but some people are just wired to be able to do so or not. It is no magic bullet.

can confirm the breathing can help you when in cold OR hot scenarios i used to do in in the sauna to bear the heat and its an interesting experience. (not recommending huffing on hot air though)

Did you actually hear him talk? There is no need to be insecure about your body’s abilities. Not only “alfa” males can do things. “He can do it you can (potentially) do it” sounds quite proven to me, do you disagree? So the only question (for me) is “can he do what he says he can”.

wim had world records in ice diving and has worked with researchers on studying his breathing technique. that said, HE IS AN ANOMALY. Hes been shown to have higher brown fat percentage then the average male (including his own twin).

so no, just because he can do crazy things like dive into a frozen lake for X minutes doesnt mean the average person can.

That said. the breathing exercises and cold showers DO have a positive physiological effect and they are worth doing, even if you dont become superhuman overnight.

do his breathing technique every morning when you wake up, its like a very potent meditation that makes you feel good. im about to do mine now.

> Hes been shown to have higher brown fat percentage then the average male

Cause, or effect? I think you are implying he was born an anomaly, rather than that he has become special using his techniques.

Definitely self-help quackery.. 'focus on breathing, expose to cold, commit to both' ok fine whatever, scroll down, 'travel with Wim, EUR 2499'.. uh-huh.

I'd say Wim is more of a sigma male than an alpha. The breathing techniques allow the practitioner to traverse space time without death, in cold and low oxygen environments. Check out the highlights from David Blaines "Ascension"

Oh this sounds like Macgyvering. The Real Life section in the TV tropes article on it has some interesting examples and lists some other cultural takes on it: desenrascanço, débrouillard, Jugaad. It's a skill clever poor people are more likely to have opportunities to hone.


Good article. I feel very comfortable doing this with code and not so much with physical material, where the constraints are much more imposing and the risk of screwing something up is much higher.

Based on my experiences with programming, I imagine part of being able to think this way is also having experience building things physically. The fact that I can think about connecting pieces of backend infrastructure, or bits of reusable code, or a wiring up a handy library to solve a problem is from experience solving problems with the tools at hand.

Probably the best way to get started with this mindset in any problem domain is to just start making things, getting a feel for the capabilities of tools, the strengths of various materials.

In other words, the attitude adjustment is just one part of being able to solve problems this way - you've got to be very comfortable with your tools and materials, or have little to lose so you can experiment safely.

(Author here) As a software engineer, I'd love to know more on how you apply this.

Two principles I see at play here are fluency (a mapping between a desired action and the physical action of using a tool) and parsimony (building something in the simplest or cleverest way to achieve the goal). You get fluency through practice and the parsimony comes through experience, a kind of wisdom - similar but I different concepts.

With software engineering, I think when you're comfortable with the syntax and capabilities of the language you're working with, you get fluency. And then once you have experience using the standard library and some common external libs, you learn parsimony.

Thanks for the article. I didn’t know the French had a term for it. Did he come from an impoverished background? The raw ingenuity and creativity from locally sourced or owned parts for free material is most commonly found in weed smokers making smoking tools, but I love and use what your roommate did all the time.

I’m pretty biased against the raspberry pi and nearly every project I saw was achievable with old computers that would be free, but there’s not much glory in talking about using a netbook for ad blocking or a server over a shiny SBC that’s a real computer (like the real ones you probably already own, have better specs, negligibly more power usage, and are collecting dust).

My grandfather would collect garbage for building material and build things with it like a bench, a raised platform in the basement because it flooded, and old fan motors to make kitchen ventilation. He loved watching this old house.

I love stories like these. In college, I slept on a futon in a filthy studio apartment.

My desk was a piece of wood I put on the arms of a chair, while sitting on the edge of my futon.

It worked OK.

I don't lionize this state of being. My more comfortable peers had better grades and had more fun.

Hope he puts the wardrobe back together, otherwise landlord won't be happy.

Random question: how does that "book bench" work in the first image of the blog? I can't figure out why the suspended books on the "bench seat" aren't just sliding down, given the lack of lateral force pushing them together.

My best guess right now is that compressing the spine of the books inwards, naturally creates a moment force on the covers that pushes the page-side of the book outward. So the whole thing works like a truss bridge, with compression on the top, and tension on the bottom.

I may be overthinking this though...

You definitely can't get tension from books that are simply pressed together. I think more likely the books are glued together, and possibly reinforced with a cable or rod threaded through the center.

Probably lots of glue and maybe resin, though it doesn’t look like it’s coated in resin… maybe some screws/nails that are artfully places. It doesn’t look free/standing to me though.

You're right, screws and nails make sense. Glue, I think, would shear as soon someone sat on it.

This book bench is awful. What a devaluation. Saw the picture, immediately came to the comments and searched for "books" to vent about it.

Now I am able give that article a second chance.

Very weird coincidence. This morning before I read this post, as I was trying to respond to a comment from a friend about "rubber band, bailing wire and bubblegum solutions," I began searching google for a reference to a related French word I had read about many years ago but couldn't remember.

That word, which I eventually found in a google books excerpt, is bricolage.

I was very surprised to read this post only a few minutes later.

good bader meinhoff

Side note, wasn't the genius roommate afraid of getting a huge fine for repurposing furniture?

(Author here) Landlord found it amusing. She had much bigger problems in ensuring the unit was completed.

This painfully reminded me of my dad, who passed away earlier this year. We grew up as a family of 5, in small, 3 rooms flat in the block-of-flats from communist era. The way he made use of every single centimeter including the walls and ceiling still amazes me to this day. He was working with computers his whole life, but I haven't met anyone as handy as him. He built custom closets, cupboards, bunk beds, shelves, tables, perfctly designed for the dimensions of our flat, all without fancy tools and materials. My parents had their beds in our living room, but when we had event for our extended family, the whole room could be turned into something entirely different in 30 minutes, everything served multiple purposes. Whenever something needed to be done, or fixed, he disappeared into the "pile of useless junk" he kept in our basement and always came back with the right wire, pipe, or plank that did the job perfectly. Although I think I can be quite creative in some areas, unfortunately when it comes to manual work I am nowhere as gifted as him and am happy when I manage to change a lightbulb or hammer a nile.

I love you. Thank you for telling me about your father. I carry his light having been shown from my father. It comes easier with practice and many mistakes are made to make it appear effortless. Most of the work happens in the imagination with eyes closed.

(Author here) Thank you for sharing a deep part about yourself and your family. If you ever decide to share more about what your father built and how he did it, I'd love to also learn from his wisdom and approach.

This is why Hacker News is my homepage. Thank you for sharing.

tl;dr a creative roommate refits a bed frame as a multi purpose table and workbench and opens the eyes and the heart of the author to "hack the physical world" to fit his needs.

Some other people started by seeing that they could modify pre-existing compiled code to better fit their needs.

after the bed part I wanted to quit reading, it was so simple and the bed looked modern not like "we were poor as dirt!"

workbench was cool though

(Author here) Although we were not rich, the group wasn't that poor either. We were fortunate as a group to have fun with what we had...

Reminds me of the main character from the movie 3 Idiots (https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/3_idiots).

(Author here) Great movie and I see the reference.

I did similar things many times, though not as sophisticated. Using a chair on a table as a standing desk, etc. It's fine but at some point becomes an eyesore and makes you want some proper things.

I am like Zhang.

I directly blame watching a lot of MacGyver and A-Team as a kid.

Those shows really got me thinking obtusely, combined with being poor and not being able to go out and just buy what I needed.

Now it just comes naturally.

(Author here) I'd love to hear more on how you think about problems and what motivates you in doing so...

Industrious, yes! Genius, I'd say no.

And that's a good thing.

No amount of genius can convert ideas into results if you don't have the 'put the work in' perspective of a hard worker.


I mean, when I am allowed to just take the seats out of my neighbours Porsche I can get myself a nice chair. That doesnt make it genius o.O

(Author here) Depends on which model Porsche ;)

Wow - that guy would make an awesome engineer.

(Author here) As a composer, he was able to put together music beautifully. It extended to all aspects of his life.

My thoughts exactly

My day to day experience with this is cooking with what happens to be available in the kitchen

The landlord is going to kill them.

(Author here) On the contrary, the landlord was was flexible with our group since our apartment was promised to be ready in 2 weeks but we didn't have hot water for 8 months—including Beijing's winter

I feel like author was never before in a frugal situation. These kind of things were common in student dorms (may be not to the scale of putting in hard work on making a table have wheels to move). I love the situations that surrounds with limitations to test your creativity in fulfilling your needs.

You assume everyone is innately inclined to improve his/her living space in this way in frugal situation? That's not true. There are plenty of poor families which don't do that (for various reasons such as WAF explained in this forum).

It's common in student dorms because it's kind of tradition, students learn to do it from one another. Still it can be surprising to freshmen if they haven't encountered it before.

(Author here) While I can understand your perspective, the way and approach he took in solving these problems was very different. It wasn't because we didn't have the means, it was just his way of expressing himself in solving the problem at hand.

I can definitely agree that close friends also affects on how you think.

(Author here) Over time, I've found that my environment affects me much more than I had ever thought.

Thanks for sharing this impressive story.

What happened to your room mate professionally?

(Author here) I'm glad you enjoyed it. Zhang continues to exercise his creativity in composing music, making short films, and building with 3D printers.

Bricolage, a collage of bricks (or building blocks) isn't it?

It just means do-it-yourself, it comes from the verb bricoler. Nothing to do with the collage of bricks.

Or, My Life With A Motie

Nice article. Unfortunately there is a limitation to this way of thinking in my daily business - the WAF ;-)


Luckily the articles' principle doesn't only apply to building furniture.

Edit - Clarification:

This comment describes only my personal situation and should in no way harm anyone. It is a satiric way of stating out that if you are not alone in your apartment you have to

  1. Respect others feelings when rearranging your stuff or putting new things in
  2. Regard the importance to build something aesthetical / beautiful rather than only useful
I would love to see the author having emphasized these two aspects.

I like that you shortened it to WAF. Now I will always imagine Web Application Firewalls to be the wife of the application. And she denies all strange requests entry.

Fun image, though some overly sensitive people might decry it as sexism somehow, so probably not something i can joke about at work.

The WAF is not incompatible with this way of thinking - it just requires you to extend your creative reach to come up with solutions that are also aesthetically pleasing.

Me, I like to work with negative space when I’m making furniture - take stuff away to create something, add as little as necessary.

I also have my fair share of Heath Robinson contraptions, but as long as I keep them invisible (i.e. tucked away in a shed or a hutch quietly fulfilling its function) the WAF is fulfilled - and I have a stringent set of controls and policies set out by the SWAMBO.

Our bed is made out of leftover construction lumber and OSBs, but it’s very pretty, as it’s also made out of a bunch of walnut veneer doors I found by the roadside. Our kitchen is built from scrap wood from a skip, and the countertops are upside down concrete pavers with a tadelakt topcoat. The sink is a rock I took an angle grinder to. The faucets came from a “5 bits for €1” box of junk. People keep asking me who designed it, where did I buy X, Y, Z.

So, yeah. There’s no incompatibility - I started with the kind of quick and dirty hacks the roommate does as a student - but now that I’m pushing 40, I prefer to execute my stingy projects with quality.

Side note: angle grinders are vastly underappreciated

Maybe it's because I didn't grow up (completely) on a farm, but between circular saw (regular blade), angle grinder, and circular saw (diamond blade) you can cut and shape just about everything with enough care.

This is an appropriate time to share a story about a co-worker. We went to Kroger for lunch (grocery store, like Publix, sells pre-packaged sandwiches). Every time we went, he would do $5-10 in cashback. I asked why. He said so he has spending money that his wife doesn't know about. Minor, but always struck me as an epitome of deception and lengths people will go to in order to avoid honesty in their marriage.

Maybe he saved it up and used to it buy her an anniversary gift. There needs to be a little mystery.

Ha you got us there - there is also WHF (Wife Hiding Factor).

What is the new thing on your desk (splurged on a Mac Pro) - no my dear I always had it - got it from Craigslist/gumtree for a steal.

Finally there's the WCF - Wife Compensation Factor;

"Here, I bought you one too."

I complained to my GF yesterday that the apple TV remote always gets lost in the sofa cushions, and opined that a bright fluoro yellow remote would be much better.

She said it was a terrible idea and would be a complete eyesore (which was exactly my point!)

It doesn't have to be an eyesore, we use one of these [0]. Now we never lose that darn remote.

[0]: https://smile.amazon.com/Remote-Generation-Silicone-Controll...

(Author here) To be fair, he asked our roommates about using materials from our shared living space.

I'll be using WAF in the future, however :)

I think the word genius is a bit click-baity in this title. Genius is Einstein's year 1905, it's Beethoven writing profoundly inspirational, timeless works while fully deaf. If we cheapen the term genius down to creative maker, or PhD level mathematics, or moving some planks of wood around, I feel we cheapen the greatest insights of historys bonafide geniuses.

(Author here) I share your sentiment and it's something I often reflect upon. However, I'm also cautious of not attributing `genius` to events based on results. I feel that would limit my ability to look at situations and judge intelligent (and perhaps genius) [decision making] because I would have to wait for results and—only then—dictate whether the person was intelligent (or a genius).

I'd love to know how you think about this term and how you use it.

Where does this value of only a few can be genius’ come from? Anyone with an exceptional gift, be it intelligence or creativity, is a genius. Using your genius to make a great lasting impact is something only a few will accomplish, but it doesn’t cheapen their accomplishments to call others genius.

It's the word's definition, it's language that matters here. If I say every musician is a virtuoso, it cheapens the playing of Hiromi, Chick Corea, and Coltrane. If I say every athlete is a superstar, it cheapens the label for Lebron and Giannis. If we say someone who repurposes wooden furniture is a genius, it cheapens the monumental feat of Einstein publishing multiple Nobel-worthy articles while writing in evenings after getting home from clerking at a patent office.

The definition of genius is not "resourceful" or "creative", it must indicate a profound mind who greatly improved human society through their intellect.

We shouldn't use terms like genius to drive content to our blogs, unless the word is warranted. That is why I believe it's click bait.

I've checked multiple sources and I can't find a single definition of genius that requires the person be notable or "who greatly improved human society through their intellect." Only that they be exceptionally intelligent or gifted in a certain field.

“Genius” comes from genus meaning source/give birth/produce, a genius is a prolific source of original work. If you are only prolific, or only original, or neither, you may be a clever person or highly skilled, but a genius you are not.


I think that people who "cringe" at regular stuff are projecting their own neuroses.

Yes, it's almost a bit like people parroting TikTok memes.

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