Book Notes – Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers

Pretty interesting read that goes into the details on how stress affects us as we’re generally in situations that generate chronic stress (as opposed to wildlife, that deals with acute stress). The big takeaways:

  • Stress-related sickness comes from the basic fact that we have our stress-response (response to stressor to return to homeostatis) turned on continually, as opposed to in the appropriate fight-or-flight situations.
  • Provides an aversion to Hans Seyle’s 3 part of stress, General Adaptation Principle:
    • Alarm – stressor, initial reaction, flight or flight
    • Resistance – stress-response, attempted recovery to homeostatis
    • Exhaustion – the point where the stress-response becomes more harmful than the stressor (as opposed to the stressor causing exhaustion)
  • The opposite of love is not hate – it’s indifference.
  • Having less social relationships is correlated to shorter lifespan and worse health.
  • Type-A personalities generally associated with higher levels of stress-related disease.
  • Addiction:
    • Turning point of addiction – when issue comes not from good feeling of drug, but bad feeling from it’s absence.
    • “No such thing as an ex-addict, just an addict not in the context that triggers use”
  • Subset of healthy population in old age traits:
    • No smoking
    • Minimal alcohol use
    • Lots of exercise
    • Normal body weight
    • No depression
    • Stable and happy marriage
    • Mature, resilient coping style (extroversion, social connectedness, low neuroticism)

Building Blocks of Physiological Stressors

  • Having outlets for frustration
  • Social support
  • Predictability
  • Control (belief of control, not necessarily actual control)
  • A perception of things worsening

Effect of Poverty on Stress

Poverty in general provides an environment of high stress and plenty of issues. Includes:

  • Lack of capability to think ahead (constantly putting out fires).
  • Lack of outlets (unable to get away due to lack of funds/resources)
  • Experiencing poverty early in life makes one sensitive to stressors (even if they rise above poverty)

Book Notes – Deep Work by Cal Newport

Pretty good read overall – a lot of this is speaking to the choir with me in terms of the idea of working deeply on things, and applying focus. For someone not familiar with the benefits of something like deep work, it makes for a good explanation, and for someone already familiar, it provides some exercises and things to figure out the important things to work on.

By the time I read this, I was already doing a few of these things, like scheduling all of my time on a calendar, and weighing everything on a pro/con list. Some of the exercises (memorizing a deck of cards) seems extreme, and I think you can get a lot of this benefit with the calendar scheduling tactic alone.

I think the main theme I get from this book is the concept of deliberation, or being specific on how you use your time, alongside how you design your lifestyle.

The main thing I’m going to try is to cut down on social media even more than I already do. I already don’t use a lot of social media, but I’m going to try removing it completely for a month or two and see how I feel after.

Importance of Deep Work

We’re in a society that is grabbing shallow attention, and being able to work deeply will become a defining trait that will help make one valuable in the economy.

More focus on high-skilled workers being valuable (especially with automation on the horizon), and talents pools increasing with remote work capabilities.

Learning complex systems quickly is a deep work trait, which will become valuable over time.

Deliberation in Activity Selection

The book describes two approaches when selecting a new tool/process:

  • Any-Benefit – use the tool if any benefit can be found in use. Generally applies in cases where negatives of a behavior outweigh a smaller positive.
  • Craftsman – carefully deciding whether to incorporate a tool based on pros and cons.

To work with this, an exercise is provided to determine those activities:

  1. Identify the main high-level goals in life (family, career, friendships, etc.)
  2. Identify 2-3 most important activities for achieving said goals.

The important activities tend to provide in the 80/20 sense, in that they are much more productive uses of time, and should be focused on. Since your time and energy is a zero-sum game, it makes more sense to put as much time and effort as possible into those activities.

Planning Ahead

The book promotes a methodology of planning ahead, or scheduling every minute of your day (including leisure time) on your calendar which looks something like:

Schedule in blocks

This reinforces the zero-sum idea above, that you can really only do one thing at a time, and doing things bring an opportunity cost for other activities. It’s also recommended to do this with leisure time, meaning you choose ahead of time how you’ll spend your off-time.

Other Points of Interest

  • Attention residue – when switching between tasks, your mind will linger on the original task for some time. Optimize this by having a “shut-down” process and giving as long as possible uninterrupted blocks of time.
  • Deep work generally involves getting into the “flow” state, or losing track of time and feeling effortless in efforts put towards a task. The human mind thrives in this state.
  • Good intentions to work deeply are not enough – it’s important to set yourself up for success. “It’s not the will to win that matters-everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters.”
  • Important to expose yourself to hubs to gain new information, but then have spokes to be able to perform deep work as required.
  • To be able to perform deep work well, you’ll need to also have moments of disconnection – when you’re working, work. when you’re done, be done completely.
    • This issue with heightened with our ability to access stimuli at any moment, to make sure we never get bored. Put away your phone and just sit during moments of idleness.
  • Productive meditation – A period where you’re occupied physically but not mentally (walking), giving the opportunity to focus on a single problem.

Notes on Asperger Syndrome and Long-Term Relationships

This is an old read, decided to go through and skim it again to see if any of my thoughts have changed over time – I found that a lot of the things I highlighted from before, no longer apply. Maybe over time, things have just improved.

As I read this, I think about how a lot of the things mentioned about those with mild autism exhibit traits like:

  • Preference for structure
  • Depth over variety
  • Difficulty in social situations

A lot of these things sound like something an introverted person would prefer. Maybe just a correlation there.

The book mostly focuses on marriages between an Aspie and Neurotypical, and reads to the neurotypical. The variation is major, showing scenarios where the AS partner is pretty reasonable, and then having them be very hard to deal with.

Some other takeaways:

  • Aspies tend to stick with their first impression (I find this accurate)
  • Having a home is important for an Aspie, as it serves as a place of comfort.
  • The focusing tendencies of an Aspie makes for a double edged sword – easy to choose a single direction and move forward, but can cause tunnel vision.
  • Aspies don’t have a strong drive for socialization – which leads to a drive for less social activities.

Book Notes – Predictably Irrational

Pretty good and interesting read overall – mostly touches on some of the repeatable unusual things in human behavior. Definitely worth the read. Some of the notes:

  • We judge value on things based on the context of other things around it – making it difficult to judge the value of something absolutely.
  • Question your repeated behaviors – and make sure they aren’t just happening out of habit (ex. getting a regular coffee, do you need to get it)?
  • Things being free gives the image of not having a loss associated to it, although there is always a cost of owning things.
  • Between market (cash) and social (gift) norms, try to keep social norms as long as possible. Gifts make for a good social lubricant.
  • Avoiding temptation is easier than trying to overcome it.
  • Running around and trying to keep everything open as an option ends up making for a shallow experience. Better to pick a few focuses and stick with them (I’ve read this in a few places).
  • Expectations affect experience (if you are told something will be good/bad before experiencing, you will be biased).

Book Notes – The Total Money Makeover

Over the last few days, I decided to re-read Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover just to skim it and go through anything I might have missed. I read this book about 8 years ago when finances were more tight, and a lot of the information is pretty helpful.

The takeaway I got after reading a second time was that this book works well for someone that doesn’t have much of an idea on how to handle finances. For someone without any opinion on how to manage their money, this provides a pretty simple workflow to get yourself on the right track.

However, if you’re someone who has more experience, you’ll probably find this book doesn’t teach anything new. Re-reading it the second time, nothing notable came out to me as something I was missing in my financial management. Another issue is that there are a few somewhat controversial ideas that don’t apply if you have decent discipline (avoiding credit use, paying down a house 100%, or only using 15 year mortgages come to mind) that can end up hurting you in the long run.

A couple major points:

  • The snowball method of paying down debt (paying down lowest balance first) I do think has some merit – although you lose out on some interest paid, I think in the long run you end up more motivated to keep on track.
  • Staying debt-free is promoted as the best way to build wealth, which I think makes sense – avoiding regular payments and using the income provided to build wealth.
  • Valuable to think long term as possible, especially with overall cost of items (think “how much”, not “how much a month?”)
  • Important types of insurance to have:
    • Auto & Home – high deductibles for lower premiums
    • Life – 20 year term equal to about 10x income, don’t place savings in life insurance here
    • Disability – purchase through work if possible
    • Health – high deductibles for lower premiums, alongside use of HSA
    • Long-Term Care Insurance – if >60 years old
  • Large tax return? You need to adjust your withholding to allow use of that money throughout the year.

Book Notes – Hackers & Painters

This is a book written almost 15 years ago that makes some comparison to the workstyle painters has and how it correlates to programming. A case study is shown about Viacom, one of the first pieces of software to be served via server side code.

A lot of the ideas presented in this book talks about the perks of serving applications via the web, which is common today. Also, a lot of promotion towards using Lisp.

A lot of this seems obvious to me now, but it definitely wasn’t at this time. Some of the points including:

  • Programming is more painting or gardening then it is engineering (software is constant work in progress)
  • Outsourcing IT might be a good idea (kind of what happens when using a vendor as opposed to being in house).
  • Get version 1.0 out ASAP, improve in iterative steps, and use your own software.
  • Software is best written in small teams (<10)
  • Always work to have working code.
  • Many new trends fade away – don’t always need to try and adopt everything

Lastly, the book makes a point of promotion dynamic typing, and as someone that prefers static typing, it makes an interesting point. Dynamic typing allows for more flexibility and using tools in ways they may not have been intended.

That makes for someone like TypeScript having a certain appeal. I still think having specific types makes for cleaning up APIs and such, but an interesting viewpoint.

Another interesting idea is the fact that wealth is no longer a zero-sum game. Making software that makes loves better is a form of “creating wealth” per say. Wealth isn’t just money, so there’s definitely some value in that. I think with software, a lot of that comes in automation and saved time.

Book Notes – Squat Every Day by Matt Perryman

Wanted to try writing some notes to recap some of the books I’ve been reading as a means to rehash the knowledge and have a means to understand what I read, as well as have a reference if I need to look back later.

Squat Every Day by Matt Perryman provides a training philosophy around frequent training over the standard minimalist high intensity training used by many strength athletes.

His approach looks closer to what I’ve seen in high level weightlifting as opposed to powerlifting.

History

Daily training has been used in the past – lifters such as Bob Peoples on record saying his training was “daily training with a few exercises and working up to limit poundages of 3-5 reps.”

In addition, there are ties to the Bulgarian style of training, which incorporates minimal assistance exercises and used the snatch, clean and jerk, and squat to maximal levels on a daily basis.

Ego Depletion (Finite Willpower)

A section of the book talks about the idea of finite willpower, and how it can affect training. Ego depletion is the idea there is a certain pool of willpower, and making conscious decisions regularly will “tired” one out. For instance, having to work hard on a challenging mental task throughout the day can make a workout feel more challenging. Within time, effects of ego depletion can be minimized with regular training (regular exposure to stressful events, if managed correctly, make the events less stressful).

Reading Wikipedia above makes this premise seem uncertain, but it’s worth considering in trying to make sure one optimizes themselves and considers the mental aspect of their training.

A takeaway from this is that training combines both the mental and physical.

Temperament, Reactiveness, and Training

When considering the general temperament of an individual (introversion/extroversion), this can show up in how training stimulus affects the individual:

  • Introverts
    • Tend to be high reactors, respond highly to external and training stimulus.
    • Not naturally active.
    • May be better with more frequent training with less intensity.
  • Extroverts
    • Tend to be low reactors, needing more stimulus to feel a response.
    • Naturally active.
    • May be better with higher intensity and longer rest training, as they prefer and need higher intensities.

Training Structure

Base Structure:

  • 5-6 workouts a week (flexible, can be anywhere for 3-7 days a week)
  • 1 hour each
  • 1-2 main lifts (generally structured as squat and press, or press and pull)
  • 1-3 assistance lifts (core, arms)

Hit a benchmark “minimum” for each lift, and work past that. Focus on smooth movement over grindy and slow.

When jumping up in lifts, two general styles:

  • Big jumps – good for exercises frequently done (squats)
  • Smaller jumps – provides extra practice at cost of energy & time (generally more useful for pressing movements)

Start using 2-3 back off sets when feeling ready (if in doubt, say no).

Advice

  • Reductionism (act of breaking things down and simplifying) doesn’t always apply in all systems. Too many things going on to explain each detail.
  • Willpower is ultimately finite but can be trained over time.
  • Goal is to reduce emotional intensity – lifting should be level, not up and down. Relaxation is a skill since it conserves emotional energy.
  • Body is a garden, not a factory (use a bottom-up approach for experimentation, not top-down approach (highly planned)). Guiding a process as opposed to managing.
  • Do your best not to have total stoppage in training (better to go very light than to completely take time off). Hurts motivation much more, and falling out of habit is hard to recover from.
  • Focus on the process, not the achievement.
  • Think practice, not working out. The focus is to build lots of “work” over a large amount of working sessions as opposed to working yourself hard in one session. Regular training promotes treating training as a “skill”.