Favorite Quotes

Allegedly Einstein (but there is no substantive evidence connecting Einstein to the quotation):

Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.

Jacob Harris, NYT:

“…we strongly believe that visualization is reporting, with many of the same elements that would make a traditional story effective: a narrative that pares away extraneous information to find a story in the data; context to help the reader understand the basics of the subject; interviewing the data to find its flaws and be sure of our conclusions. Prettiness is a bonus; if it obliterates the ability to read the story of the visualization, it’s not worth adding some wild new visualization style or strange interface.”

Dave Eggers, What is the What:

“I will not wait to love as best as I can. We thought we were young and that there would be time to love well sometime in the future. This is a terrible way to think. It is no way to live, to wait to love.”

Spencer Kornhaber, The Atlantic:

“…music journalists working online have come to understand that championing little-known artists commands far less traffic—and therefore less job security—than does exegesis of the latest Taylor Swift video or Beatles anniversary….”

“‘An engaged relationship’ – what’s that? Well, you know: Active listening. Open listening. The kind of listening that happened more often when switching from an unfamiliar song back to an old favorite wasn’t so frictionless—when the unfamiliar song had cost you $16.99 and a trip to Tower Records to acquire, and the old CD was gathering dust somewhere under your bed.”

Dan Luu, Microsoft:

When I was at Google, we had really bad communication problems between the two halves of our team that were in different locations. My fix was brain-dead simple: I started typing up meeting notes for all of our local meetings and discussions and taking questions from the remote team about things that surprised them in our notes. That’s something anyone could have done, and it was a huge productivity improvement for the entire team. I’ve literally never found an environment where you can’t massively improve productivity with something that trivial.

John Von Neumann to Felix Smith in response to fear about the method of characteristics:

Young man, in mathematics you don’t understand things. You just get used to them.”

Mary Rose Cook to Recurse Center attendees:

There are four skills that have paid great dividends for me.

Dive deep. You’re using a framework, library or language and you realise you don’t understand something about it. Take the time to understand by reading the source, playing around in a REPL or reading the documentation. This will cement your mental model and help make you a sure-footed programmer.

Debug systematically. When you’re stuck on a bug, don’t just type in things you think might fix the problem. Form a hypothesis about what the problem is, then run experiments. If the results support the hypothesis, the problem is now clear and that is most of the battle. Otherwise, use the observations from your experiments to form a new hypothesis.

Learn your tools. Fix those nagging problems in your config. Learn more keyboard shortcuts. Automate processes you do regularly. Don’t lose days on this. Fix one thing, then get back to work.

Learn one programming language really well. This takes months or years. But it has two big advantages. First, you now have a language you can think in. You can express an algorithm or a thought fluently without looking up syntax or APIs. Second, you will learn about the deep ideas in programming. You could learn these deep ideas by learning new languages. Programming in Erlang teaches you about concurrency. Programming in C teaches you about memory management. But sticking with one language keeps you in familiar surroundings. This lets you appreciate the subtleties of these fundamental ideas. You, know: space, time, shit like that.

Katrina Owen at GopherCon 2016:

It turns out the initial decision is not the most important variable. Once you decide to learn something, you have to actually start. And once you’ve started, unless you have some really powerful habits in place, you have to keep deciding not to stop. Your reasons to keep putting in the effort have to be stronger than your reasons to quit.

Richard Feynman (not a feminist and pretty problematic unfortunately):

What I cannot create, I do not understand. Know how to solve every problem that has been solved.

Francois Chollet via Twitter (4/2018):

  • make it possible
  • make it work
  • make it efficient
  • make it dependable and invisible
  • move on to the next layer and never think about it again

Egill Bjarnason in “The Rolling, Lurching, Vomit-Inducing Road to a Seasickness Cure”

If Noah indeed had an ark, he likely had a hold full of queasy monkeys, lions, and elephants. Most animals have the backup poison detector, vomiting when unbalanced, and suffer badly from motion sickness—my cat tells me his carsickness is reason number one for lack of employment and general motivation. In fact, the inner ear’s influence on motion sickness was first confirmed when researchers surgically removed the vestibular systems of monkeys and dogs. Without a functioning inner ear, the animals could not be made motion sick.

Tim Dettmers in a post about how to pick your grad school:

A different perspective that might seem unintuitive at first is that a long streak of privilege can have harmful long-term consequences for you. Failure and adversity are great tools for personal growth and growth as a researcher. This is a well-established finding in psychology: To succeed in life, you need to fail sometimes but not too often. The intuition is that the extremes of privilege or adversity lead to poor mental models of perfectionism and learned helplessness, respectively, while occasional failures lead to a mindset of learned industriousness. This means, too much privilege will make you afraid to take risks and fail because you never failed before. Occasional failure will make you resilient because you know adversity is normal and temporary — a mindset that enables the pursuit of creative but risky ideas.

Michael Chabon about having kids:

If I had followed the great man’s advice and never burdened myself with the gift of my children, or if I had never written any novels at all, in the long run the result would have been the same as the result will be for me here, having made the choice I made: I will die; and the world in its violence and serenity will roll on, through the endless indifference of space, and it will take only 100 of its circuits around the sun to turn the six of us, who loved each other, to dust, and consign to oblivion all but a scant few of the thousands upon thousands of novels and short stories written and published during our lifetimes.

If none of my books turns out to be among that bright remnant because I allowed my children to steal my time, narrow my compass, and curtail my freedom, I’m all right with that.

Once they’re written, my books, unlike my children, hold no wonder for me; no mystery resides in them.

Unlike my children, my books are cruelly unforgiving of my weaknesses, failings, and flaws of character.

Most of all, my books, unlike my children, do not love me back.

Anyway, if, 100 years hence, those books lie moldering and forgotten, I’ll never know. That’s the problem, in the end, with putting all your chips on posterity: You never stick around long enough to enjoy it.

From patio11:

it is in that employee’s personal interest to stop selling hours of labor and start renting access to his accumulated capital as soon as humanly possible.

I don’t mean just monetary capital – having $100,000 in your 401k is awesome but that’s not the type which is really interesting to me, simply because rates of return on that sort of capital are so low. There are many types of capital that are no less real just because you can’t conveniently reduce them to a number.

Human capital – the skills you’ve built up over time and the value you’re able to create as a result of them.

Social capital – the ability to call on someone who trusts you and have them do something in your interest, like e.g. recommend you to a job.

Reputational capital – the way your name rings out in rooms you aren’t even in, simply when your topic of expertise comes up. (Hopefully in a good way!)

A lot of day jobs structurally inhibit capital formation.

From Ava:

Even if you don’t want to live a completely unstoried life, it’s important to able to separate identity and narrative: you’re more resilient if you realize you have value separate of your story. Going back to Didion—telling stories to cope with chaos works up to a certain point, but there are things that will happen in your life that render every story redundant.

From The Jazz Piano Site but applies to CS/Programming:

Theory is easier than practice and thus always runs ahead of practice – so practice a lot. Unless you’re a theoretician, there’s no use knowing what a secundal voicing is if you don’t know how to play it.

From Terrence Tao:

One final note: there is an important distinction between “working hard” and “maximising the number of hours during which one works”. In particular, forcing oneself to work even when one is tired, unmotivated, unprepared, or distracted with other tasks can end up being counterproductive to one’s long-term work productivity, and there is a saturation point beyond which pushing oneself to work even longer will actually reduce the total amount of work you get done in the long run (due to the additional fatigue, loss of motivation, or increasingly urgent need to attend to non-work tasks that this can cause). Generally speaking, it is better to try to arrange a few hours of high-quality working time, when one is motivated, energetic, prepared, and free from distraction, than to try to cram into one’s schedule a large number of hours of low-quality working time when one or more of the above four factors are not present.

From are.na’s instagram

People are curious, and that’s a virtue. There’s a lot to learn out there, and realistically, most of what you learn comes from the hard work of obsessives. Whenever you decide a subject is pretty interesting, you free ride on the energy of strangers who think it’s The Most Fascinating Thing of All Time.

From the essay “Shitty First Drafts” in the collection Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott:

Very few writers really know what they are doing until they’ve done it. Nor do they go about their business feeling dewy and thrilled. They do not type a few stiff warm-up sentences and then find themselves bounding along like huskies across the snow. One writer I know tells me that he sits down every morning and says to himself nicely, “It’s not like you don’t have a choice, because you do—you can either type or kill yourself.” We all often feel like we are pulling teeth, even those writers whose prose ends up being the most natural and fluid. The right words and sentences just do not come pouring out like ticker tape most of the time. Now, Muriel Spark is said to have felt that she was taking dictation from God every morning—sitting there, one supposes, plugged into a Dictaphone, typing away, humming. But this is a very hostile and aggressive position. One might hope for bad things to rain down on a person like this.

From Bill Waterson’s commencement speech at Kenyon College, 1990:

Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential-as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.

You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you’ll hear about them.

To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.

From a 2008 article about SuperMemo’s founder:

His advice was straightforward yet strangely terrible: You must clarify your goals, gain knowledge through spaced repetition, preserve health, work steadily, minimize stress, refuse interruption, and never resist sleep when tired. This should lead to radically improved intelligence and creativity. The only cost: turning your back on every convention of social life. It is a severe prescription. And yet now, as I grin broadly and wave to the gawkers, it occurs to me that the cold rationality of his approach may be only a surface feature and that, when linked to genuine rewards, even the chilliest of systems can have a certain visceral appeal.