This is a blog series devoted to a footnote in an essay by Paul Graham. I started writing these down three months ago in a now inactive blog. I figured it belongs here rather than there.
In "How to Have Startup Ideas" Paul Graham writes
The best plan may be just to keep a background process running, looking for things that seem to be missing. Work on hard problems, driven mainly by curiousity, but have a second self watching over your shoulder, taking note of gaps and anomalies.In a footnote we can read
Maybe it would work to have this second self keep a journal, and each night to make a brief entry listing the gaps and anomalies you'd noticed that day. Not startup ideas, just the raw gaps and anomalies.
2. I go to the same coffee shop multiple times a week. I know many of the people working there. Why am I paying every time? Why can't I have a running bill or a subscription?
3. The internet is so big and chaotic, temptations everywhere, yet I need it for my work. The distance used to be bigger between, say, the market square and a library. Now it is just a click. I don't want to be a click away from everything.
4. Conversations can happen in so many mediums nowadays, but the spectrum from asynchronous to synchronous is constantly misused. I get emails about things requiring action right this second, and texts about a play in two weeks time. For the reasonable person, the only answer is to be available everywhere all the time, which is unreasonable in itself, or to retort to ignoring things in a passive aggressive manner. What does it take for the reasonable to become reasonable?
5. Right now I am sitting. I don't particularly want to sit, I don't need to sit, and I don't believe it's good for me to sit. I do it out of habit and because it's the easy choice. No immediate pain is incurred from this, unlike being too lazy to light a fire in the past. What is the characteristic of these types of (modern) situations? How can we design around them?
That's it for today. I am checking my email one last time to make sure I haven't missed anything which would be better answered tonight than in 12 hours. Out of habit, I alt-tab to Twitter and Hacker News and end up skimming a short news article about something which has very little effect on my life, before alt-tabbing back to this window and finishing this sentence.
6. There are only so many different types of things we spend money. Why is it so hard to get a rough overview of what you are spending money on? I don't want to pay everything using one card and I don't want to jot down every purchase I make. A ballpark figure.
7. Memento mori is (or used to be) a symbolic reminder that we are all going to die. There are stories of slaves whispering "Memento mori, memento mori" in a general's ear when he was being celebrated for a military victory, and the likes. This is a useful way to protect ourselves from hubris and similar "in-the-moment" diseases. There is a parallel here to modern phenomenas like procrastination, lack of empathy and lack of imagination. Words of wisdoms we would do well to listen to in the right moment, but are apt to forget otherwise. Perhaps there is something here? With computers as our new slaves (with an ethical stamp of approval).
8. We love the new. Most of our attention goes to new things. Yet the most interesting things that exists are, in some sense, probably old. Aside from creating things, the new is vastly overrated. News is 99.9% noise. News have a syncing effect which allows us to connect with people. Can we make old things more "respectable" in proportion to their worth? Can we achieve a similar syncing effect (seems unlikely given the nature of time, but there are a lot of counterexamples)? This love for the new is not only a collective problem, but also a individual one. Not spending the time on fundamentals, gossiping instead. Is this largely a modern (i.e. "the era of progress") phenomena or a human one?
9. Why is our data everywhere and in such weird formats? For example, this blog contains lots of lists. Why is it so difficult for me to access this implicit structure? I don't believe data is that random - it seems more to be a matter of lack of good abstractions and tools.
10. Good default metrics. We do a lot of things and a lot share a common thread. Metrics help us quantify progress, and chosen wisely they are very useful. If we want to get good at something, we know deliberate practice is a useful metric in most domains. Paul Graham has had a lot of success advocating a constant weekly growth goal for startups, a metric which seems surprisingly useful (see Startups = Growth). Most metrics though are horrible - hours working, lines of code, grades. Maybe this is not so much a matter of bad metrics but bad hygiene - there are sane constraints for when metrics are useful, but they are often systematically and culturally abused (see: overtime, cramming for tests). So we have two questions: why aren't there more default sane metrics that people can "jack into"? and why aren't we more explicit about a second-order effect like metric hygiene?