All of matto's Comments + Replies

Seconding "Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace". Amazing explanation of effective written communication.

I would only add this, for the original poster: when you read what the book suggests, reflect on why it's doing so.

When I read "Style" the second time around, it occurred to me how hard reading really is, and that all this advice is really for building a sturdy boat to launch your ideas at the distant shores of other minds.

Like, you can have some really bright people working for you, but if you add even a little more nuance, like an "and" and a secon... (read more)

I felt a jolt of excitement when I overheard a non-Rat (at least looking) person casually drop "Slack" during a conversation.

I work at a mid-sized software company based in the SF Bay area. The person talking was a director in my organization. The context was about setting aside time for chewing over problems--not trying to solve them, but just looking at them to see the broader context in which the problem exists.

I experienced it firsthand not too long ago at the NYC Megameetup: dialogues where both (or more) parties actively tried to explore each others' maps, seeking points where there was overlap and where there were gaps. More concretely, everyone was asking a lot more questions then usual. These questions were relevant and clarifying. They helped make the discussion feel speedy, as in, like we were running from room to room, trying to find interesting bits of knowledge, especially where views diverged.

The best way I can describe it is that it felt like thinkin... (read more)

Somewhat. But I wonder how much of your NYC meetup example is explained by the participants just being high quality, and diverse enough, that you could always sort yourself into having great conversational partners.
It’s an interesting point, what’s meant by “productive” dialogue. I like the “less…arguments-as-soldiers” characterization. I asked ChatGPT4 what productive dialogue is and part of its answer was: “The aim is not necessarily to reach an agreement but to understand different perspectives and possibly learn from them.” For me, productive dialogue basically means the same thing as “honorable discourse,” which I define as discourse, or conversation, that ultimately supports love and value building over hate and value destruction. For more, see here:

I’m still hopeful that there’s some way to make progress if we get enough good minds churning out ideas on how to enroll people into their own personal development.

Me too! I hope my comment didn't come through as cynical or thought-stopping. I think this is one of the highest goods people can produce. It just seems like this is one of those problems where even defining the problem is a wicked problem in the first place--but falling into analysis-paralysis is bad too.

Please do write more on this topic. Ill try to make a post around the same themes this weekend :)

I look forward to your post. One thing I'll add at this point is that The Dignity Index group is working on rating politicians' speech using machine learning, in hopes that this could help shift political dialogue. I've done something similar with a bit more complicated rating system I developed independently. If you're interested, check out some ratings of politicians' tweets here: I don't feel that ratings systems by themselves will have a large impact on shifting behaviors, but seeing that some people put out actually non-partisan ratings may give others a tiny bit more hope in humanity.  

The ending hints at the true problem: how do we go about implementing such change?

We already have more than enough tools: de Bono's thinking hats, 5-whys, CBT & a dozen other forms of therapy (+ drugs!), CFAR, gratitude journaling, meditation, anger management, post-mortems, pre-mortems, legitimate self-help, etc.

But the problem in deploying them are legion:

  • Can we truly make "the Masses" do anything? Doesn't that defeat the spirit of such an undertaking?
  • How do we know which tools to deploy to whom? In my own experience, people and even skilled pract
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I appreciate the comment, you keyed me in to a bunch of things I wasn’t aware of (The Guild of the Rose, NYC Megameetup, and more). I definitely agree that setting a good example in one’s own life is a great place to start. And yes, several established power structures do stand to lose if people become less easy to manipulate. I’m still hopeful that there’s some way to make progress if we get enough good minds churning out ideas on how to enroll people into their own personal development. This makes me wonder, though - which is more difficult, human alignment or AI alignment?

My own version of this is over-trying to introduce a topic. I'll zoom out until I hit a generally relatable idea like, "one day I was at a bookstore and...", then I'll retrace my steps until I finally introduce what I originally wanted to talk about. That makes for a lot of confusing filler.

The opposite of this l, and what I use to correct myself, is how Scott Alexander starts his posts with the specific question or statement he wants to talk about.

Very much! Apart from enjoying it myself, I usually pick some things out and share them with friends and family as a way to offset some of the unagentic doom and gloom present in mainstream media :)

Thanks! It seems I've been practicing most of these, but:

  • "why do we care" - this has always been implied. I found it valuable to actually state this explicitly.
  • "5 whys" - I've done this before, but something prompted me to revisit my understanding, so I ended up on a LessWrong post about Five Whys, where I bumped into Ben Pace's comment about how it's valuable to solve the problem(s) at each level of Why, not just the root cause.

I came here to say exactly this! It's one thing to build an app, but quite another to built the institution that makes it work.

So apart from having members exchange physical goods, and someone to take care of the technical machine, someone has to invest time to tackle all the moderation work to limit bad actors' effects on the series of trades.

There was a flourishing of apps like this around the '10s with stuff like couch surfing and tool trading apps etc but most have died off, leaving bigger players like Facebook marketplace or Craigslist precisely because, as I believe, they didn't have a plan to tackle the institutional work--instead just believing strangers will sort things out between themselves.

Two years ago I downsized from a house to an RV, which meant selling, giving away, or tossing most of what I owned. Most items I posted online went through multiple instances of someone saying they wanted it, then not showing up (without even a message to say so) at the agreed upon time.

Some really good stuff here.

I've been reading these digests for about a year now. I look forward to each one. Thanks Jason!

Thank you! That means a lot to me, especially since these posts are never the ones that go viral, so it's good to know that someone appreciates them.

Excellent post. I wholeheartedly agree that progress should be driven by humanistic values as that appears to be the only viable way of steering it toward a future in which humanity can flourish.

I'm somewhat confused though. The techno-optimist space seems to be largely and strongly already permeated with humanist values. For example, Jason Crawford's Roots of Progress regularly posts/links things like a startup using technology to decrease the costs of beautiful sculpture, a venture to use bacteria to eradicate cavities, or a newsletter about producing hi... (read more)

What's different there compared to the first book?

I read the first one and found it to resonate strongly, but also found my mental models to not fit well with the general thrust. Since then I've been studying stats and thinking more about measurement with the intent to reread the first book. Curious if the cybersecurity one adds something more though

In terms of the parts where the books overlap, I didn't notice anything substantial. If anything the sequel is less, cuz there wasn't enough detail to get into tricks like the equivalent bet test.

Thank you for sharing that. Parts of it resonate very strongly, like being unable to know how much fuel I have left, or practicing making choices, or the need for strategy (which is just dawning on me). It's helpful to know that someone else has walked this path, at least the common part of it, and made it farther along.

Funny/uncanny to read this. This is something I've just started working on (+improving sleep) maybe two weeks ago.

How does this work for you if you don't mind me asking?

I spent a long time simplifying my life so that the number of things I needed to do really was manageable (which included limiting my freelance work to things that were either short or didn't have deadlines. This required strategy and sacrifice on my end, but I also feel like I should own that I had other gifts that made it easier, like a set of skills people will sometimes pay a lot for even when I won't do tight deadlines).  It was often hard for me to know what I was capable of because it fluctuates and because I sometimes won't realize I'm spending down reserves until they're gone, so it was really important not just that the overall workload be low, but that I be able to suddenly peace out without it being a disaster.  I also had to give up doing The Most Important Thing, in favor of Something That Will Actually Get Done. I think EA/rationality memes are paralyzing to a certain type of person, and what I really needed at the time was to do small things, for lots of reasons. the cumulative finishing of small things freed up energy in my life,  it built a sense of efficacy, and it gave me information that was eventually useful in doing bigger things. I talk about this some here,    An intermediate point was, when choosing what to do for a day or week, forcing myself to think of one or two alternatives and choose between them. I didn't have to pick the absolute best choice (which was I probably right was impossible, and was parayzling even if i was wrong), but I did have to think about my choice at all. This naturally built up the skill of identifying and choosing between options. After things had been going well for several years, I started to get a sense that I really wanted  more continuity and long term investment in my projects. This was different than the previous big-thinking, which was mostly about making other people happy (see the post I linked above). It was more like an itch, or a nutrient I needed. That started a little under two years ago. I spen

The pots theory reminded of this bit about creativity:

In the mid-1960s, researchers Jacob Getzels and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi studied students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago to discover what led to successful creative careers. Giving them a variety of objects and asking them to compose a still life drawing, two distinct groups emerged: those who hastily chose an object and proceeded straight to drawing, and those that took much more time, carefully considering different arrangements.

In their view, the first group was trying to solv

... (read more)
Some other advice for getting started with the object level might be "start small and repeatable". The worst case scenario is if you run out of energy before getting the reward for finishing, and can't pick it back up. Plus you're probably doing a new thing without expertise, so you'll learn a lot from repetition with variation.  Projects that are technically object level but are too big or require too much learning to be practical are another meta trap for me. 

I can see how this can look like procrastination from the outside. But I think in my case, it really is some weird jedi trickery where meta-level replaced the object-level (at much less energy cost--so why would I ever do object level?)

I've written more this week than in a long time just by clearly asking myself whether I'm doing something meta (fun, leisure) or object-level (building stuff) and there's no ugh-field at all!

Thank you for writing this out. It resonates with what's happening in my head on a deeper, emotional level ("if I study enough meta, I will become a fearsome champion in my first match, ha ha").

The meta element of anything is a necessary evil

This is going on a post-it on my desk.

Thanks! Your comment made me realize I built sort of trap for myself: I would go for meta when I would be tired, telling myself "hey, maybe I'm not pushing on The Thing, but at least I'm pushing on it indirectly." But that slowly moved me farther and farther away from The Thing because if I can keeping pushing on it with less energy by going meta, why would I ever push on the object-level which costs more energy for the same effect?

But the effect is not the same of course. I just tricked myself.

Also, from your other comment, the pots theory really resonated because it sounds so much like play--making 50 pots creates so much space for experimentation and silliness!

This makes me think maybe there's more to explore about rest for you? Like, maybe you're not doing more object level because you're out of energy, and with more energy you'd automatically do more. Maybe a bottleneck is learning how to properly rest instead of spending down whatever energy you have (an issue I struggle with too). Maybe you're doing a perfectly reasonable amount of actual work, but are holding yourself to an unrealistic standard.  I'm not confident in any of the specifics but if fatigue is what pushes you from object level to meta it seems worth exploring. 

I'm a big fan of the Replacing Guilt series. But I've always found the "guilt" part troubling because it always felt there was something more behind, something even more primitive.

Perhaps it's just me or people like me but now I believe that thing is fear. Completely subjectively I had an experience recently while watching my thoughts (inspired by and noticed that certain chains if thoughts terminated as if at a wall made up of this panicky feeling, the one where you feel ... (read more)

Thanks, this is incredibly useful.

I think I understand enough to put together a curriculum to delve into this topic. Starting with the harvard course you recommended.

I'm reminded of a post from not too long ago:

I haven't run through the exercise that it suggests, but I've borrowed an idea that seems in line with the framework in this post. Internally, I call it a brain debugger.

Basically, from time to time I ask myself what am I thinking and what was I thinking before. To better illustrate what I mean in the context of this post, here's an example:

  • trying to solve problem at work
  • trying to solve problem at work
  • BREAK: I'm thinking about
... (read more)

This is good advice that I've seen work very well, both for myself and others.

There is, however, a related problem, or rather a metaproblem: how do you choose what to whitebox?

Going with the programming example, the field is huge. Do you invest time into ML? Linux? Rust? Data engineering? SRE?

Then, within each of those categories you can find vast categories: as an SRE do you focus on observability or CI/CD or orchestration or...? Each is a 1-3+ year subfield in itself.

You can use a heuristic like "what's useful for my job" but even then, unless you're alr... (read more)

3Ulisse Mini10mo
I think the gold standard is getting advice from someone more experienced. I can easily point out the most valuable things to white-box for people less experienced then me. Perhaps the 80/20 is posting recordings of you programming online and asking publicly for tips? Haven't tried this yet but seems potentially valuable.
General principles of OSes and Networks is invaluable to basically everyone. How programming languages, compilers, and interpreters work will help you master specific programming languages.

Thanks! I'll look this over.

Out of curiosity,

Most people with a strong intuition for statistics have taken courses in probability. It is foundational material for the discipline.

Do some people learn statistics without learning probability? Or, what's different for someone who learns only stats and not probability?

(I'm trying to grasp what shape/boundaries are at play between these two bodies of knowledge)

Statistics is trying to "invert" what probability does.  Probability starts with a model, and then describes what will happen given the model's assumptions. Statistics goes the opposite direction: it is about using data to put limits on the set of reasonable/plausible models.  The logic is something like: "if the model had property X, then probability theory says I should have seen Y. But, NOT Y.  Therefore, NOT X." It's invoking probability to get the job done. Applying statistical techniques without understanding the probability models involved is like having a toolbox, without understanding why any of the tools work. It all goes fine until the tools fail (which happens often, and often silently) and then you're hosed.  You may fail to notice the problems entirely, or may have to outsource judgments to others with more experience.

Thanks! This is really helpful--I think this is exactly what I'm trying to do.

Are these texts part of a specific academic track/degree or field of study? It sounds like something someone in engineering would spend a semester on. But also like something someone could spend a career on studying.

You raise a good question, but it still relies on following the (historical) authority of the Academy. Perhaps the Academy has changed? Perhaps the environment the Academy is operating has changed, forcing the Academy to adjust?

Of course, this would apply to the non-Academy, ie. broader society, as well--but at different rates, and also different directions.

A stab at answering your question: you should only apply an update based on the Academy if the Academy is an important entity for you. This isn't binary. Awards factor into my perception of movies, but only play a minor role.

As someone who's experienced this, I've found that Slack is a helpful idea to bring to bear.

Sometimes, trying to utilize the small segments of free time leads to scheduling so much work that one small interruption snowballs into a huge failure. So I've often asked myself, "What can I do to create more slack so that I do have the required bigger chunks of time to truly focus on work that matters?"

Wish I had heard this sooner. Coming from a place where every purchase had to be planned out weeks in advance, and after finding financial stability, it took me some years to realize I shouldn't be trying to optimize the purchase of chopsticks or closet hanger.

Thanks for sharing your perspective. I remember you describing your experience in a little more depth some time ago and it makes me doubt my experience. Perhaps I've been in less healthy orgs. But more likely there are knobs/patterns I can't see, so org change work like this feels out of reach for me. I've got some thinking to do.

It's definitely the case that I've gotten lucky with the orgs I've worked in, because I've found the levers for change more often than I've missed them (well, more often than I've found none; I still miss a lot).  You may have gotten unlucky and the levers just don't exist for you.  But also, it matters a LOT what changes you're looking to make.  It's hard-mode to start with performance reviews or other non-technical topics; only look at those after you've had some success in other areas and built up a lot of credibility.  Be willing to try different domains where you can improve things AND exercise the influence muscles.  Look for things like code-review practices or deployment/change management behaviors where you can add or improve structure that makes both employee and customer lives a bit better.  These topics are both easier to convince people, AND usually easier for you to know what is important about the changes, and what's OK to bend on as you discuss and convince people.

I've been thinking about AllAmericanBreakfast's recent shortform posts about mentition. It's because I've been teaching myself three new things and I noticed that one practice I engage in regularly is playing with problems in my head. But this practice seems to largely depend on how good I am at something.

Anecdotal examples:

  • Teaching myself TLA+. It's a programming language used to specify models, which helps verify whether an algorithm behaves like it should, especially concurrent algorithms.
    • I have a few examples that I've looked at (from the course).
... (read more)

I've seen this happen too, along with same end result.

It appears that a common failure mode here is that the middle management layer fails to translate the values into system updates. No one updates performance reviews, no one updates quarterly/half goals, etc. So things just continue as they were before.

Ultimately, it's the responsibility of leadership to fix this. Whether it's by direct intervention or a huddle with middle management, they must do something.

(My experience as an individual contributor that attempted to change how performance reviews are d... (read more)

My experience as a senior IC in very large and in smaller companies is that it's NOT impossible to drive this change as an IC, any more than it is as a manager.  It IS impossible to do alone.  "Friends with the CEO" is useful, but only required if it's shorthand for "talk to everyone and be verbose about your intent, including occasional skip-skip level 1:1s with the SVP/CEO".  My successes at large-scale changes in a company (or division of a very large company) have been when I understand and agree with the strategy (sometimes because I helped develop it), and I can get it reverberating up and down management chains.  It doesn't work if it's only top-down or only bottom-up.  It has to get reinforced from all directions. My failures or more challenging changes have come when the change is too complicated or too far removed from current expectations for it to resonate among the middle layers of ICs and managers who do the actual work.

Thanks for posting this. I'll add it to my collection of "thinking tools."

These techniques feel like they have the same spirit as some of de Bono's work, for example, his idea of PO:

PO implies, 'That may be the best way of looking at things or putting the information together. That may even turn out to be the only way. But let us look around for other ways.

The two main functions of PO are first to protect an arrangement of information from judgement and to indicate that it is being used provocatively and second to challenge a particular arrangement of

... (read more)
1Joe Rocca1y
Thanks for sharing, matto - I'll look into those two authors 👍

In my experience with doing something similar, this practice also helps memorize adjacent concepts.

For example, I was recently explaining to myself Hubbard's technique that uses Student's t-stat to figure out the 90% CI of a range of possible values of a population using a small sample.

Having little memory of statistics from school, I had to refresh my understanding of variance and the standard deviation, which are required to use the t-stat table. So now, whenever I need to "access" variance or stdev, I mentally "reach" for the t-stat table and pick up variance and stdev.

Thirding this. Would love more detail or threads to pull on. Going into the constructivism rabbit hole now.

I'll continue fleshing it out over time! Mostly using the shortform as a place to get my thoughts together in legible form prior to making a main post (or several). By the way, contrast "constructivism" with "transmissionism," the latter being the (wrong) idea that students are basically just sponges that passively absorb the information their teacher spews at them. I got both terms from Andy Matuschak.

That was my idealism/naivete: that the league of liberal democracies is so mature and strong that they could flip a switch and the war would cease. Maybe they would just tell Putin to stop and he would have to. Because for me, democracy was always a guarantee of peace. But the war made me realize my map was way off from the territory, and Popper's book, in turn, helped to replace my fantasy with something closer to the territory.

I see, thanks for clarifying

This echos an excellent post by Dan Luu that touches on problems you face when you build larger, less legible systems that force you to deal with normalization of deviance:

The action items he recommends are:

Pay attention to weak signals

Resist the urge to be unreasonably optimistic

Teach employees how to conduct emotionally uncomfortable conversations

System operators need to feel safe in speaking up

Realize that oversight and monitoring are never-ending

Most of these go against what is considered normal or comfortable though:

  1. It's diffic
... (read more)
This gives me an idea... I wonder if there might be some way to use prediction markets to make safety, maintenance, monitoring etc short-term profitable for corporations (and maybe even governments), thereby incentivizing them to do it more and not cut costs? The reason stuff like that gets cut when nothing is going on, is that it seems to be, in the short term, nothing but a drain of money, even though in the long term it's saving money - so is there some way to make those long term gains available now so that they can be optimized for?

Enjoy Portland! Btw, if you want to hang out with some cool people, there's a rationalist space in Seattle called The Territory full of cool people. 

While I don't disagree that The Territory is full of cool people, there is also rationalist stuff in Portland! Which is probably more convenient (ETA: Whoops, Adam beat me to it!) (Adam, congratulations on getting out of Vegas! :P)
2Adam Zerner2y
Cool! There's also the Portland Effective Altruism and Rationality group here in Portland. I haven't had the chance to attend yet though, I always seem to be too busy, but I plan on it! And I forgot to mention it in the post, but I like how Seattle is only a two hour drive away. Which would mean for us either a ~$20 bus ride or renting a car. Similar with the coast being two hours away if you want the ocean, but that I think you'd need to rent a car for.

Some people seem to do this automatically. They notice which things make code harder to work with and avoid them. Occasionally, they notice things that make working with code easier and make sure to include those bits in. I guess that's how you get beautiful code like redis or Django.

But I've never seen any formal approach to this. I've gone down the software craftsmanship rabbit hole for a few years and learned a lot thanks to it, but none of it was based on any research--just people like Beck, Uncle Bob, Fowler, etc. distilling their experience into blog... (read more)

2Adam Zerner2y
Yeah I agree, there are definitely people who do this automatically. Well, it's probably more like a spectrum. Some people do it a lot by default, some a medium amount, some a little. One of the claims I'm making is that that the spectrum leans too much towards "too little". Haha right, those debates can definitely tend to devolve and be unproductive. It's a shame.
2Said Achmiz2y
Attempting to set up a Django install was one of my worst and most frustrating experiences with any software, ever. I haven’t looked at Django’s code. It might be beautiful—I wouldn’t know. But this goes to the point I made in my other comments on this post: “easy for whom?” is a critical question in such cases.
Answer by mattoJul 05, 202244

Disclaimer: I spent about 2 months diving into the crypto space this past December-January. Read a bunch of stuff (here's a shortened list), got an ENS domain, and wrote some Solidity code (w/o deploying any of it, even to a testchain though).

I seems to me that blockchain tech has a lot of potential for building newer, better coordination tools that integrate with an increasingly online lifestyle and culture.

Currently, most of the community's energy seems to be going into financial solutions, which also produces many, many highly suspicious projects--eithe... (read more)

The Web3 industry and crypto space is so large that I have been working in the sector as a Project Manager for over 3 years and my knowledge still just scratches the surface. As for “1 or 2 killer DApps” I do know that the blockchain we have been building on, offers utility. Users own their social media accounts through a Master Key similar to Bitcoin holders owning their BTC through a wallet address and key. * The usernames on Hive are the wallet addresses. Social media DApps on Hive are also open source with more on the way, increasing accountability for platforms since the walled gardens have been destroyed (within ecosystems like this)or at least significantly reduced.
Thanks for the feedback -- particularly your view on where things are in the timeline.

Another technique is to compare yourself to your past self.

I'm often dissatisfied with my writing. But when I look back at stuff that I wrote six months ago, I can't help but notice how much better I've become.

The caveat here is that comparing myself to people like Scott Alexander gives me some direction. Comparing myself to an earlier version of myself doesn't give me that direction. Instead, it gives me a sort of energy/courage to keep on going.

I analyze essays: I'll find an essay I really like and then go through it paragraph by paragraph, trying to figure out what makes it so good. I have no formal training in composition above English 101 and 102, so it's been a long journey of finding out things that people have been talking about for centuries. Above all, it has been slowly changing the way I see written texts because now I'm able to discern parts that I couldn't see before.

For some time, I also analyzed my daily work ([wrote about it here](, but I've put that on hold because things became too hectic at work (and I'm also changing jobs).

Thanks for sharing this. I often catch myself thinking this way, about how, for example, the outlet in the very room you're sitting in is connected to another strand of wire, and another, and another, until the very generator in some powerplant somewhere. And since other outlets in other buildings and cities are connected to the same state, you could say that there is almost a complete circuit between your room and every other room connected to the same grid.

Or go up a level: consider that all this infrastructure is being operated by humans, and that conne... (read more)

My impression is that this movie is to older teenagers/early 20-somethings what The Matrix/The Big Lebowski/Fight Club were to me and my age group: grappling with nihilism by taking a long, hard look at all the completely arbitrary social hierarchies that our society is composed of. All of these movies highlight how flimsy social customs are. All of them also give voice to a certain kind of deep anger with the status quo through the violence they portray.

It was a solid movie, though I wouldn't place it in the top 100. I enjoyed it for giving me a window into the thoughts of a group of people I don't normally get to talk with. 

The Academy now officially disagrees. Ok, seriously speaking: it is quite rare for a movie to win everything at once at least 7 Academy Awards including best picture (Wikipedia tells me that the last one was Slumdog Millionaire in 2008). I am reopening this discussion mostly to ask: what kind of update should I apply in these situations? Praising a movie just because it won a lot of awards sounds like an argument from authority, but on the other hand I don't recall a lot of terrible movies with multiple awards...

This is a trap that software engineers appear to be especially susceptible to. If you hang out in places where they congregate, like Silicon Valley, you'll eventually hear about solutions to all sorts of problems, from homelessness to the opioid crisis.

Being one myself, I attribute this to solving problems every day and getting rewarded for that, then falling under curse of thinking that since you just solved Very Complicated Problem X, you can probably solve Very Complicated Problem Y, except that Y is in a domain you have so little context in that it see... (read more)

Yes, this is exactly what I'm trying to convey, well put. Thank you for linking this, very interesting.

Strong upvote too. Thank you for sharing this.

There are innumerable resources with techniques like "avoid passive voice", but very few about the writing process itself, which I think becomes a crucial point to focus on if a person wants to advance beyond a "good enough" level of writing ability. Reading about Duncan's process gave me a few ideas on how to improve my own.

I suspect that this why writers' workshops help people improve--they allow writers to debug each others' writing processes. 

build a rich mental model of how software engineering orgs work and be able to use this to change the organization


Are there ways to do this apart from direct experience?

After a little over a year at the startup I switched to from a Large Company, I realized that the engineering org is broken in a way that is not just "growing pains." Levels are hazy and promotions are unclear, which makes it impossible to work towards greater responsibility / bigger problem areas. Hiring is owned by HR, so engineering has no say in this apart from conducting the actu... (read more)

3Gordon Seidoh Worley2y
Yes! There's a bunch of great books out there that are helpful. The Managers Path is probably the best in some sense, but I find it's kind of dry and easy to miss its points because of the way it's presented. I highly recommend the blog and books of Michael Lopp. These won't tell you everything you need to know, some of it you'll have to figure out for yourself (even if it's not through direct experience but thinking seriously about how to make an org that functions better), but you can learn a lot from these. Harvard Business Review is also useful. Not because it's going to necessarily give you a bunch of good ideas, but because it's the equivalent of ACM Queue for managers, so you'll get a sense of how managers think about things and that will be valuable in building up your model.

I'm confused by what we mean by bureaucracy. Is is a governenment-run agency, like the DMV for example? Or is it a low-feedback cost center inside of a for-profit company?

To me it seems that a bureaucracy is any organization, including a suborganization, where incentives and feedback loops weaken or become unaligned, making the whole thing more extractive toward those people it was supposed to benefit. Eg. the DMV still provides a useful service for citizens, but it does so inefficiently at a high cost. Or an IT department might not be run well, leading to... (read more)

Postman is a great writer and this is one my favorite books.

What's changed between 1985 and today is that human attention has become the scarcest (ie. most valuable) resource. Because of this, the Web is under immense market pressure to turn into a perfected form of cable TV as described by Postman. This is what's driving platform centralization (ie. Facebook, TikTok, etc.) as well as the one-to-many model where a handful of users (influencers) produce while a great majority merely consume.

We're not there yet, but we've swung strongly in that direction in ... (read more)

My trick is to focus on bodily sensations and move this focus around.

For example, I will focus on how my arm feels again the pillow. Then I'll start probing details, like how does my palm feel? How does my elbow feel? How does the skin on my knuckles feel? And then I'll zoom out and shift to another major body part. It's kind of like shining a flashlight and refocusing the beam. 

Funny, I just started reading The Open Society and Its Enemies to find some answers or at least threads to pull on.

One point that struct me, right in the introduction, is Popper saying that totalitarianism appeals to people because it absolves them of individual responsibility, a responsibility that we, humans, gained (became burdened by) because civilizational progress pull us out of tribes.

I understand your suggestion as being in line with this theme of personal responsibility--you cannot become any sort of -Bot and instead you have to evaluate every int... (read more)

If no one had to suffer the consequences of other people's bad decisions, there would be less need to worry about other people's stupidity. Like, you could still feel sorry for them, but usually you would just shrug and tell them that if it starts hurting too much, they are free to change their minds.
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