Monday, July 11, 2016

A long, sad marriage

The husband is not a bad person. The wife is not a bad person. But it's a bad marriage. The husband and the wife have very different values. Sometimes the wife thinks that the husband, indeed, is a bad person, but regarding this she is not always sure. But even when she does not think so, she does believe the wedding was a farce, a deceit; an imposition from her adoptive guardian whose decision she now sees no reason why she has to comply with. The wife wants a divorce, and the apartment she lives in. Make no mistake about that. The husband is always disappointed in her. He wonders to himself sometimes how disloyal she is. He reminds her of the copious amounts of money he has spent on her over the years. She is tired of hearing that, and just says she feels suffocated. He tells her she would be nothing without him, that she does not appreciate how good she has it, so stop being such an ungrateful wife. Sometimes in worse language than I just used. She is sick of the condescending tone. In the past, this has led to some domestic violence on both sides, some would say the point of no return to a past life of camaraderie has been reached. Even if you don't know whether it was due to the husband's actions or the wife's, it's hard not to see that irreparable damage has been done to the trust between the two. The husband's kins call her names, and tell her she's welcome to go away, but dare not think of the apartment! The wife throws similar expletives at them. The husband has reacted to all this by monitoring her with a heavy hand - something that is only worsening the wife's sense of dismay. And the more she gets fed up, she resorts to more extreme displays of spite, every couple of years trying to stir some serious harm in the husband's otherwise largely harmonious life, which includes his work life, on which, by the way, he's been focussing a lot more the last couple of years and has actually been making great strides; and although it's not all a bed of roses elsewhere on his large estate, it's this apartment with the missus in particular that most often leaves him sleepless. The wife, on the other hand, lacks this 'other' life of relative peace and progress - for her, it's all about the divorce.

All this has been going on for many, many, many years. Ask yourself: if you were asked to opine on their marriage, would you advocate that they separate amicably, or would you still argue for sticking it out. Oh, a possibly important piece of information while you make your mind, this apartment is one she already had before she got married.

And know that the conclusion you offer, is also what you think should happen about the Kashmir problem. Let there be no incongruity.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Good day

I had the most satisfying day at work today. Since this blog is also a bit of a diary, I have to note this down. Made breakthroughs in a couple of different statistical research projects I was working on, and in addition had a great day, exposition wise, on a third macroeconomic stress model I had worked on last week. Days like this are so rare, and I'm pretty thrilled with how everything went today, especially as all three were the more creative and thoughtful of my projects. I also work on several other, more regular and tedious ones, and success on them does not quite make my day in quite the same way. Hooray!

Enough self-congratulations for now, I suppose. Must start reviewing Khan Academy Linear Algebra lessons in a few minutes now.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Half-formed things - 2

Why I stop:

1. Unrealistically ambitious goals (e.g. my plans often include 15 hours a day work sessions) which, at some point, I can't deal with anymore, and put the thing aside, to start another, temporarily more intrinsically rewarding and less tedious and freedom-restricting thing.

2. Often, I just want to escape the drudgery of the implementation part.

3. I work on multiple time-consuming projects at the same time, each of which, it is quite plausible, demand sustained and exclusive attention. By the very nature of setting my goals in this way, I set myself up for failure, because at some point many of the other things will necessarily need to be put aside for some time, to focus on one particular thing. The danger is that often I fail to return to those things later.

What are NOT the reasons I stop:

1. Perfectionism - That is not why I stop. I do understand whatever I'll do will be immensely imperfect, even before I set out to start it.

* * *

From a neuro-scientific perspective, it seems to be true that I entertain the autonomous right hemisphere a little too much at the cost of the order-following left hemisphere.

Might expand on this part, later.*

* * *

Hacks to try and fix things:

1. Set precise process-based (as opposed to goals-based) targets. For example, "I will work on the XYZ project for an hour a day", as opposed to "I will write 5 pages a day".

2. Give those targets less autonomy. For example "I will work on the XYZ project for an hour everyday, at 8 PM"

3. Don't clutter. Don't have projects XYZ, ABC and PQR all vying for attention, at 8 PM, 9 PM and 10 PM respectively. It's hard to say what the sweet spot is, but intuitively it seems that having only 2 main projects has some advantages. It avoids the possible monotony with having just one, and avoids the clutter that may come with having 3 or more.

4. Expect that things can still take a lot longer than you initially imagined, and accept that. At the outset itself, ask yourself, if this took 4 times as long as I think it will take, would I still want to do it? If the answer is yes, start.

5. Start today with something (not very ambitious one, but still, something which is not trivially small - ideally at least a 4-5 day effort) and make sure that no matter what, this one project you will most certainly finish.

* * *

So, today, I choose to complete reading "The Master and His Emissary" as the first project, not too small nor too big, and one which will also help me hopefully finish the neuro-scientific perspective part just before the hacks in this post that I said I might expand on later. I will read this book for an hour a day, every day, at 10:30 PM. Not setting any restrictions on how many days I have to finish the book. My very rough estimate is 15-16 days, but let's see.

Since I, as of today, believe that having 2 projects hits the sweet spot, I will also be completing the Linear Algebra courses on Khan Academy, one that I've been putting off for a long, long time. Again, without committing to a time for finishing it, I'll just say I'll spend 2 hours on it, every day, at 7:30 PM. My rough estimate is it should take me 8-10 days, but let's see.

Most importantly, I will NOT take up any other things while I'm still at these two.

I'll come back in a couple of weeks to report my progress on these two mini projects.

Half formed things - 1

Perhaps my biggest weakness is not seeing ideas or projects to completion. Invariably, I take a lot of interest in the problem formation, in understanding everything about the thing in great, minute detail, chalking out an algorithm for the problem, at which point, one would think, or at least I end up thinking, that all the challenging parts are taken care of, and what remains is a mechanical implementation of all the hard work done so far. And then I start on this often tedious but rather critical second part, and almost always lose interest mid-way during this part, and divert my attention to another problem, with which, too, I similarly lose interest while I'm mid-way in the implementation part, and so on.

The result is that I have a lot of incomplete things. Incomplete data science projects, incomplete essays on economics, half-read books, quit training regimens, incomplete short stories. 

Recently in a conversation of some sort I was asked what I thought my big weaknesses were, and I had replied that in the trade-off between exploitation (of acquired skills) and exploration (for learning new things), I tend to veer towards exploration more than what I think is ideal. I was asked, then, if I felt that adversely affected my precision or throughput. Now since I was asked the question in a way that gave me two options, I think it restricted me to thinking only in within the bounds of these two consequences, and after some musing, I found that it did not affect my precision as much as it did my throughput. I now think that what I was reflecting upon when I said that was a rather sugar-coated, roundabout way of saying what I'm saying in this post: that I leave stuff incomplete, except that the bounded way of thinking I had been set into prevented me from getting to it with quite this clarity. It is not the throughput, either, that suffers per se, since I'm actually making decent progress per unit time, between any two points of time, only it never feels as such, because the said progress is predominantly lopsided in the first part, and has very little in the implementation part, which actually produces tangible, touchable output.

If there is one thing I find should be my topmost priority at this stage in terms of improving in a work-ethic sense, it is to start to make sure to finish things. I will write some more on this as I get any lucky insights on how to bring about this change, but for now, a diagnosis is all I have.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

In praise of satire

Loved both of these:

Awesome stuff.

Friday, July 1, 2016

On the state of Eastern Philosophy today

One of my abiding interests is Eastern Philosophy. To be more specific, the Upanishads, which after years of study and deliberation, I'm fairly convinced had outlined in minute detail millenia ago whatever western philosophy converged to towards the mid 19th century, plus more that western philosophy will probably some day converge to, if it is able to circumvent some roadblocks it has built in to its approach. On the other hand, the problem with eastern philosophy is that little progress has been made since the days of the vedantic school and Upanishads, and whatever progress has been made has come after gaps of centuries. Patanjali made some significant inroads; and then centuries later Buddha made a bit of incremental progress; a millenia after that Adi Sankara made some strides, and the progress since then has been very muted, although some incremental advances in recent history have been made by the yogic school. But even their most powerful contribution is not a recent addition: the idea that the process of learning, or of attaining truth for lack a better English translation, is clearly not an exercise to be carried out using only your intellect, a fundamental idea that western Philosophy is yet to even conceive, and chances are slim it ever will. Still, it must be admitted that a spirit of active debate is missing from eastern philosophy when you compare it to its western counterpart - the focus is instead on disseminating what is already out there, on eulogizing its past achievements - and is inhibiting futher progress in the field. Alternately, I'm also open to the idea that progress must diminish asymptotically the closer you inch to the truth, and some of that may be at work here.