The Highest Form of Disagreement

The Atlantic has a good read on being charitable with the people we disagree with. In a nutshell, leaving behind the straw man and weak man versions of an argument we often construct. Instead, building up a steel man version of that argument. 

It reminds me of investor Charlie Munger’s advice on “having an opinion.”

I’m not entitled to have an opinion unless I can state the arguments against my position better than the people who are in opposition. I think that I am qualified to speak only when I’ve reached that state.

—   Charlie Munger

It’s good advice.

What I learned about building habits from 30 days of exercise

As of this morning, I’ve done some sort of bodyweight exercise for 30 days straight. It’s been mostly push-ups, with some chin-up training, dips, and squats, mixing it up with lighter and heavier days so I don’t over exert myself.



I use the Todoist app to remind myself to do this (and some other fundamental things) every morning. It’s one of a very limited set of Q2 activities I have set as a top priority. After I check off the activity in Todoist I then mark the chain in a calendar using a “chain” app. There’s tons of these. I like the Your Chain! app and that’s where I grabbed the screenshot above.

What have I learned? Probably the first thing to note is that this milestone of 30 straight days of exercise — one I haven’t hit before — is the result of literal decades of failure to do something like this. So, I haven’t actually learned anything in 30 days. It’s been more like, I’ve learned a lot of things just by living, trying, failing, and trying again.

Which brings me to the second thing I’ve learned from trying to build good habits, something that seems really obvious but I don’t think it really sinks home until you face it: you can always try again. Miss a day? A week? A year? A decade? You can just try again.

When you’re trying again, start small. Like, really small. My 30 days of exercise was preceded by another month of haphazard exercise but I started small. With one push-up a day. The next day I took it to two push-ups. And so on. I knew I could do more than that but I also know that I have a tendency to want to ramp up too quickly, get hurt or discouraged, and then stop. So I started small. I missed a few days and then came back to it.

And I was lucky enough to remember why I started. Remember why you started is one of the little inspirational sayings that’ll pop up in the Your Chain! app as you progress. I’ve tried to recall it when I’m tired or rushed with other habits I’m trying to build and it’s helped me press on.

Lastly, I’ve learned that everyone is different. You have to figure out what works for you. What worked for other people in building habits hasn’t always worked for me. And what works for me might or might not work for you. One book that really takes this idea to heart is Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives. I recommend checking it out. Also good but, in my opinion, more entertaining than informative, is The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles DuhiggRubin has read The Power of Habit so if you read Better Than Before you get the best of Duhigg’s book too. 

Good luck with whatever you’re trying to do. 🙂


The Checklist Manifesto

I’ve been catching up with Shane Parrish’s Knowledge Project Podcast recently. It’s really good. I was happy to hear his guest for February’s edition, Naval Ravikant, mention The Checklist Manifesto as an example of book with a great idea that should have been just a blog post. Why? Because it already is a blog post. Or, well, a magazine article, at least.

Check out the excellent New Yorker article that pre-dates the book: The Checklist.  I assume it was the base for the book. The gist is that checklists save lives, most dramatically with people like your doctor or nurse, and could have an impact in your own life.

In December, 2006, the Keystone Initiative published its findings in a landmark article in The New England Journal of Medicine. Within the first three months of [rolling out checklists to combat their higher than national average I.C.U. infection rates], the infection rate in Michigan’s I.C.U.s decreased by sixty-six per cent. The typical I.C.U.—including the ones at Sinai-Grace Hospital—cut its quarterly infection rate to zero. Michigan’s infection rates fell so low that its average I.C.U. outperformed ninety per cent of I.C.U.s nationwide. In the Keystone Initiative’s first eighteen months, the hospitals saved an estimated hundred and seventy-five million dollars in costs and more than fifteen hundred lives. The successes have been sustained for almost four years—all because of a stupid little checklist.

The “Golden Age” Fallacy

This is an easy fallacy to find oneself falling into: looking at the evils or wrongs of the day and thinking to yourself, “things are getting worse! It used to be better!” I think it’s especially easy to fall into if you’re a parent, or if you follow politics, or you follow the news in general, or, well, if you’re human. RationalWiki has a good explanation of it in their Good old days entry. Remember the good ol’ days? Then there’s a good chance you could be making this mistake.

“Good old days” is a term that is often used in when engaging in nostalgia, remembering only the positive aspects of times past while sweeping concomitant negatives under the rug. It has also been called the Golden Age Fallacy.

It is important to note a distinction between this fallacy and legitimate comparisons: not every positive appraisal of the past is wrongheaded, because the world really has changed. It’s just that it’s also always been complex and uneven, and no period or people have ever had a monopoly on virtue.

The empathy of Sherlock Holmes?

This older article in Aeon looks at the science of empathy with Sherlock Holmes as a guide.

The ability to see the world from another set of eyes, to experience things vicariously, at multiple levels, is training ground for such feats of imagination and reason that allow a Holmes to solve almost any crime, an Einstein to imagine a reality unlike any that we’ve experienced before (in keeping with laws unlike any we’ve come up with before), and a Picasso to make art that differs from any prior conception of what art can be.

To empathize well can be powerful stuff.

Bob Dylan’s 2016 Nobel Prize Lecture

This lecture starts out a little stiff but it takes off when Dylan begins to share his understanding of three “grammar school” texts — Moby Dick, All Quiet on the Western Front, and The Odyssey — that have influenced his work. His voice becomes almost sing song at times. A few phrases and words from his own work pop up. His rambling scattershot intertwining of his personality with this great tradition becomes like its own example of how he might see himself as an artist. Like I said, it starts out stiff but really takes off — if you’re a Dylan fan. Worth a listen.

Marcella Hazan’s The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking

I’ve made three recipes from here so far and they’ve all been amazing. I wish I’d bought my copy new instead of used — this copy is kind of dingy — but at the same time I like that I have a battle tested edition. Looking forward to putting it to further tests.

The science of compassion

Here’s an article from 2012 in the New York Times on how compassion affects our behavior and what behaviors might make us more compassionate: Compassion Made Easy. It’s a quick read with a small trick at the end that could make you more compassionate.

Chicken with two lemons

I made Marcella Hazan’s chicken with two lemons for dinner this evening. It was ridiculously moist. I’ll definitely make it again though next time I think I’ll be a little more careful about getting it completely dry before roasting. Perhaps even throwing the chicken in the freezer for five or ten minutes beforehand to wick away the last of the moisture on the skin. Her description suggests that it will “puff up” in a remarkable fashion. Mine didn’t and I suspect the dryness of the skin plays a part. Either way it’s a great recipe. Recommended.

Reading the news in 2017

Is advertising getting more pervasive on the web? It’s hard to tell without data at hand but I’ve been seeing more and more things like the following screenshot.

Three ads for one paragraph of content on my screen. Never mind the two persistent banners I don’t want to interact with. As a bonus, when I dismiss the pop up ad I get …

… a sponsored link. The Independent might be a bad example — maybe it’s always been like this? I don’t read it regularly. Regardless, it’s not really a fun or endearing experience as a reader.