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i made a few mistakes, but maybe that's okay
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“I always want to have a big idea to leave you with, as a small token in return for the time of yours that I'm wasting. I believe that I have a lot of neat ideas, but once I'm too conscious of it, I realise that to make up for the colossal price you're paying, it has to be a really, really, really neat idea. And it would still fall short. So I lose faith in my ability to make it right.” - Egg Report
If I’m going to make BeWrong a personal newsletter (more on that later), I guess I need to do the occasional life update/housekeeping/explanation post. This is the first one.
It’s hard for me to put into words why I find putting pieces of myself onto the internet distasteful. There’s something about it that feels like grandstanding. Posturing. Cringe.
And I like the part of me that cringes. It has taste. It has a fairly good idea of what is worth doing and what is not. So I refuse to kill it, but maybe I can stuff it into a sack for a while now and then.
Every time I go back to lifting, I like to get myself extremely sore during the first week. This gets the inevitable pain out of the way on purpose, so I don’t have to worry about when it will eventually happen. Consider this post an attempt to switch my writing muscles from a detached, over-edited style to a looser, unpolished approach to essays.
1. Poor estimation
I think over-optimistic estimations are often good thing, much better than aiming too low and living with your foot perennially off the gas. But sometimes they border on delusional, and that’s when things get messy.
My default mode of existence includes having a to-do list that never ends. Most of the items on it are not things that I need to do, I usually get those done by default. But they’re things I want to do enough that there’s nearly no difference in practice. And that leads to a lifestyle that’s…not the most stable one out there.
This way of life is both surprisingly rare (most people I know do not have a list of things they’re actively excited about) and…really common.
I choose to believe my list of to-dos is the superior one. Mostly because I like to think I’m good at seeing past hype. If there’s something in the zeitgeist that I’m supposed to know about, I do my best to actively avoid it. I’m sure some people find the topics in the original tweet incredibly fascinating, but I also suspect that there’s more than a few who experience them as “ought-to-do”s disguised as desires.
And so my list is one of things I truly intend to, and often do, improve at. But I am less in control of my external circumstances than I like to believe.
2. Poor adaptability
College is a real thing now. It involves 4 hours of commute each day. It means I have to spend 5 hours a day in an environment that is less than ideal for work, focused or otherwise. It means I have to give up cognitive bandwidth to things like mid-terms and project submissions.
And I can no longer write the way I used to. Not on 5 hours of sleep. Which is funny, because my ability to program or read seems to have stayed relatively stable. But my ideas dry up faster, and I can’t hold a train of thought long enough to feel out all it’s ends and branches.
I’ve given up on six drafts and two almost-posts over this past month. Something needs to change, and it’s going to have to be my standards.
The quote at the start of this post accurately sums up my approach to publishing. I care enough about the marginal value of the reader’s time that I prefer an essay stay unpublished than say the obvious, or be just a small excursion into idea land with no real “substance” to it. There are many other things you could be reading (I link to a whole list of stuff further down), and that fact is never lost on me while I edit.
But to get things out the door, quality (or at least my ideas of it) must necessarily suffer. Fewer of my posts will be as good as Form is Fake, and even fewer as comprehensive as Human-Complete Problems. They will be shorter, less-detailed explorations, but worth reading nonetheless.
And this could very well be a good thing. Maybe 4000-word pieces aren’t the best way to transfer ideas across the internet. Maybe a more modular approach works better for everyone involved. 8 minute reading times instead of 20; meat and bones instead of garnishing.
Maybe I should just make essays fun again. Instead of what I did over the last couple of months.
3. I made essays a chore
I like writing, most of the time. I enjoy pinning ideas down onto a page like the noospeheric butterflies that they are. I think ideas are good. I believe that there are some ways of thinking that are strictly better than other ways. That there are good models and bad models. I think the best models are the ones that help you win.
All of this is extremely obvious and so, naturally, is often forgotten.
“The benefit of a framework based thinking is that you’re able to come up with cool new hypotheses and new lenses to see problems with. ... The downside of framework-based thinking is that you start to believe the buckets you created represent truth.” - Rohit Krishnan
I try to be as honest as possible about the fallibility of ideas that "sound" right. (Heck, “wrong” is in the newsletter name!) And in general, there really are very few of truly good models out there. The odds are that your particular narrative is pretty flimsy when you take a close look at it. But hey, the idea economy runs on perceived interestingness, not accuracy. It’s only occasionally that the two go together.
But interesting ideas have a lot of reach. They generalise (albeit naively) across domains and have a fair amount of evidence backing them up. In the effort to go over all the exciting connections that accompany each idea, my essays spill over into thousands of words, and dozens of examples and implications.
Occasionally, an essay deserves this kind of detail. But most don’t, and I would do well to remember this.
So the next iteration of BeWrong posts will be writing that doesn’t cross into forced, over-edited posts. This upsets my general ideas around the whole format, I feel like essays should be more; a labour of love, with an emphasis on labour. But this like, not true at all lol.
I built and launched the site over the first week on July. The response to the my announcement tweet was…unexpectedly amazing. What started out as a minimalistic MVP proved to be something that people loved + enjoy using. This is…good.
The website will remain free to use, but you can always buy me a book if you want to. I hope to continue to build for the web; as a creative outlet, if nothing else. There’s a long list of tiny, but useful, projects I intend to work through, but (hopefully!) only once I have my main responsibilities taken care of.
2. Hypertext as Literature
I’ve also put the first version of my essay recommendations site online to anyone who’s looking for a few week’s worth of blog rabbit-holes. I intend to add to it over time, maybe even with a list of one-hit wonders.
3. Feather Grants
The problem with grant funding is the same problem as the one that plagues hiring, dating apps, producers and consumers. It is, fundamentally, a matching problem.
On one side, you have people who want to deploy capital to people/places that can use it well. On the other, you have people who need that money to unlock new areas of personal and creative possibilities.
I care enough about this problem of capital deployment to keep Feather Grants running for as long as I have the financial capabilities to give out at least one Light Grant a month. This is the Feather Grants MVP, the most lean version of what a niche micro-grant program can be.
The other, more ambitious vision is of an entire platform for grant funding. There are people who would like to fund people doing things, but are too busy to go around searching/paying them. There are people who would like small amounts of money to fund projects and personal goals. Can Feather Grants be the place that matches both parties effectively?
I don’t know yet. But it’s probably worth trying. Maybe. We’ll see. Wish me luck.
I find it to be simultaneously really easy, and annoyingly difficult, to describe my life to people. Too much depends on who’s listening.
I can fit most of it into a sentence. I write (both words and code), I sprint, I lift, I read (intermittently), and I make (mediocre) music. This is normal, perhaps even ideal.
But to say “I make more money than I strictly need from work I do for people I’ve met on Twitter (where I’m a niche poster’s poster). Which means I also work on giving away that (and other people’s) money to people who can use it well.” is…kinda weird.
Mostly because I have no right to be doing this. The ideal person to attempt something like this would be both significantly wealthier, and way, way more reliable.
But they aren’t doing it, so I’m making an attempt at it. Among other things.
For example, I’m currently revisiting the fundamentals in probability and statistics. I continue to find new gaps in my knowledge there, turns out my intuition was not built for binomial distributions. But the amount of low-hanging fruit in even the most “basic” of math here is kinda crazy. Outside of that, linear algebra remains a personal favourite and I plan to return to it eventually.
I’m not sure where the music thing is going. I still play, and record riffs and song ideas. Yet I rarely have the time to sit around with someone to finish off a whole song, let alone the currently-on-pause album. But I’m fine with this, for the most part. Sure, I hate tradeoffs, but being able to make them is a skill worth developing. (And I’m counting this one as hardcore practice.)
Being the last year of university, I get one more shot at breaking the 50-foot (15m) barrier in the triple jump. It doesn’t help that it will be my busiest year yet, but it’s also the year when I’m the strongest I’ve ever been. And am finally eating well. Mostly. I was at a consistent 14 metres last year. I just need more speed and more reps.
If all goes well (and it won’t), this will be the most unreasonably incredible year I’ve ever had.
It things go wrong (and they will), this will be the most unreasonably incredible year I’ve ever had. Sorry, I intend to win either way.
I wish you good luck, and hope that you use it well.
You can give me your email address, if you want to.