Archive for the ‘Practical Advice’ Category

Survivorship bias

May 5, 2017

Source: xkcd

Click on XKCD for more cartoons and drawings by Randall Munroe.

How to be antifragile

April 18, 2017

Ian Welsh on happiness

February 12, 2017

Blogger Ian Welsh says the first step to being happy is to stop making yourself unhappy.

I live in a single room, in a downscale neighborhood.  I sleep on some pads on the floor.  I am in debt, and I have a couple of serious health problems.

Yukon raven by gavatronI am also happy most of the time.

I’ll be sitting in my garret and thinking, “God, life is amazing.  This is wonderful.”

And I’ll laugh and mock myself, “What’s good about this?  You’re poor, sick, overweight, and broke.”  All that is true, but I’m happy (and my health is improving, no worries, I don’t expect to die soon, though who knows).

So I’m going to give some unsolicited advice on how to be happy even though your life sucks, because, well, I’m pretty good at it.

The first step is to not be unhappy.

(Insert head smacking motion from readers.)

Seriously, though, start there. Or, as I like to say: “The whole of the path is not giving a fuck.”

Run out of fucks.  Do not restock.  Life will seem a lot better.

Please don’t mistake Welsh’s philosophy for indifference to the world or other people.   He is engaged with the world through his excellent political blog.   He is concerned about world events.  He just doesn’t let world events make him miserable.

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A king’s commandments to his son

June 19, 2016
  • Don’t build your life on illusions,
  • Don’t build your opinion on hypotheses,
  • Don’t build your style on imitation,
  • Don’t build your image on lies,
  • Don’t build your respect on fear,
  • Don’t build your dreams on others’ nightmares,
  • Don’t build your friendships on benefits,
  • Don’t build your heroism on foolish acts,
  • Don’t build your kingdom on the backs of the poor,
  • Don’t build your palace on the soft sands of injustice.

Source: Nusaireyat.

If I were a prepper … …

October 2, 2015

doomsday-preppers-expect-the-worstSource: Doomsday Preppers.

Two of my favorite bloggers are Dmitry Orlov, who thinks industrial civilization may collapse at any moment, and John Michael Greer, who thinks industrial civilization is doomed to slow decline.

I’m nearly 79 years old, and, at worst, expect to collapse before civilization does.  But suppose I was young, and suppose I took seriously the possibility of collapse of government authority and of the energy, communications and transportation grids.  What would be the best way to prepare?

Stockpile gold?  Stockpile guns and ammunition and practice marksmanship?  Stockpile canned goods?   I don’t think any of these things, in and of themselves, would assure long-term survival.

A 50-dollar gold piece in such circumstances would have less value than a peanut butter sandwich.  Ammunition and canned goods are non-renewable resources.  My chances of survival as a lone individual would be nil.

Much better to learn useful skills, and to treat my family and neighbors in such a way that they would want to keep me alive.

I would learn gardening and keep heirloom seeds.

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My motto as a blogger

September 21, 2015

I AM AN OLD NOBODY AND I LOVE WHAT I DO

hat tip to kottke.org

Tips for first-time wheelchair pushers

July 25, 2015
  1. Communicate.  Ask if there’s anything you need to know first.  NEVER touch or move a wheelchair without permission.
  2. Don’t overshoot checkouts and reception desks.  If you are level, your passenger has gone too far past it.
  3. Don’t bump your passenger’s feet into people, objects or walls.  Particularly in lifts.
  4. Don’t follow anyone too closely. … … Your passenger is closer to them than you are, and seeing backsides that close gets tedious.
  5. Watch out for oddly sloping pavements, especially near dropped curbs.  The wheelchair WILL veer sideways into traffic if you are not careful.
  6. Look ahead for bumps.  Dropped curbs are often not dropped very much.  Be prepared to walk a long way around via the road.
  7. Always approach bumps straight on.  If you are not straight, stop and turn first.
  8. It can be easier to go backwards over bumps if the wheelchair has large wheels.
  9. Pay attention to the surface you travel over and take the smoother path.  Cobbles can be painful or tiring for someone in a wheelchair.
  10. Don’t let the wheelchair run out of control.  Consider taking slopes backwards so you can hold back the wheelchair.  CHECK FIRST!
  11. If your passenger says stop, STOP immediately. … …
  12. Try going through heavy doors backwards so you can push the door with your body.
  13. Some wheelchairs have brakes operated by the passenger.  Never assume that those brakes are on or off, always check.
  14. If someone speaks to you when they should speak to your passenger, tell them so.
  15. Be forgiving of your passenger.  They have no control and that may make them grumpy.  Wheelchair users: be aware that you might be shouting at your assistant more than you realise.
  16. If you’re pushing a wheelchair very far then you’ll probably want to get some gloves.

via A Latent Existence.

Hat tip to MARGINAL Revolution.

Marilyn vos Savant on how not to be interesting

May 24, 2015

avoid-using-cigrettes-alcohol-and-drugs-as-alternatives-to-being-an-interesting-person-drugs-quoteMarilyn vos Savant home page.

Marilyn vos Savant Wikipedia article.

How to feed a U.S. family on $30 a week

April 20, 2015

groceriesCould you feed an American family of three, plus a dog, on $30 a week?  I couldn’t.  Joseph Cannon could, and did, but it took effort and ingenuity.  He told how on a post on his web log.

One tip: Hispanic groceries (in California).  Another: Food in bins, not in bags.  A third: Whole chickens on sale.  But read the whole thing.

LINK

The SNAP Challenge: Here’s the Real Way by Joseph Cannon for Cannonfire.

I would like to believe coffee is good for me

March 4, 2015

health-benefits-of-coffeeSource: Sky Dancing

As an addicted coffee drinker, I am pleased to think that coffee in the amounts I drink is good for me.  Of course addiction is bad even if the addictive substance is harmless.  If I were the survivor of a wilderness airplane crash, I probably would be unable to function because I need a certain amount of caffeine each day to be able to function.

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The three pillars of self-improvement

January 6, 2015

pillars

These words of wisdom were written by a young man called Atticus C for his journal, and then posted on BlogTruth.  For his full post, click on Pillars of Self-Improvement.

The passing scene: Links & comments 9/28/14

September 28, 2014

Emotion Is Not the Enemy of Reason by Virginia Hughes for National Geographic.

All normal human beings are both rational beings and emotional beings.  Someone who claims to be rational and above emotion is simply being dishonest, either with themselves or others, about their feelings.  Someone who claims to be intuitive and above reason is being dishonest, either with themselves or others, about their thought processes.

Rational people direct their feelings toward appropriate objects.  They fear that which is truly dangerous, admire that which is worthy of respect and yearn for that which will make them happy.

This is your brain on narcissism: The truth about a disorder that nobody understands by Sarah Gray for Salon.

Someone who suffers from narcissistic personality disorder has, on the one hand, an enormous sense of self-importance and entitlement and, on the other hand, an ego too fragile to accept criticism or recognize unwelcome facts.

Nations as well as individuals can be narcissistic.  Patriots are willing to defend their native lands.  Narcissistic patriots insist that their native lands are the greatest countries that ever were and any criticism or doubt is by definition disloyal.

Simplifiers and Optimizers by Scott Adams for boingboing.

Do you try to do things the best way, and never get done?  Or do you do things the easy way, and never get an excellent result.  Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic strip, advises striving for excellence on the few things that are important to you, and looking for the simplest way to get through everything else.

 

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. on taking a moment

September 28, 2014

2012-03-21-KURT-VONNEGUTSource: Zen Pencils

Time management tips for writers (and others)

September 20, 2014

Tyler Cowen wrote the following on his Marginal Revolution web log in 2004.

1.  There is always time to do more.  Most people, even the productive, have a day that is at least forty percent slack.

2.  Do the most important things first in the day and don’t let anybody stop you.  Estimate “most important” using a zero discount rate. Don’t make exceptions.  The hours from 7 to 12 are your time to build for the future before the world descends on you.

3.  Some tasks (drawing up outlines?) expand or contract to fill the time you give them.  Shove all these into times when you are pressed to do something else very soon.

4.  Each day stop writing just a bit before you have said everything you want to.  Better to approach your next writing day “hungry” than to feel “written out.”   Your biggest enemy is a day spent not writing, not a day spent writing too little.

5.  Blogging builds up good work habits; the deadline is always “now.”

Cowen was asked recently if he would like to revise the list.  He added these.

6.  Don’t drink alcohol. Don’t take drugs.

7.  At any point in your life, do not be watching more than one television show on a regular basis.

8.  Don’t feel you have to finish a book or movie if you don’t want to.  I cover that point at length in my book Discover Your Inner Economist.

I think I would take back my old #5, since I observe some bloggers who have gone years, ten years in fact, without being so productive.

via Do I wish to revise my time management tips?.

Forgetful mutual fund investors perform best

September 15, 2014

c-75Proponents of Social Security privatization say that the average investor will do better investing the money that goes to Social Security taxes in the stock market.  The chart above, which is from Business Insider, shows the problem with this.

It is true enough that, over a long period of time, stock market averages, such as the Russell 2000 or the Standard & Poor’s 500, do better than Treasury bonds.  But most of us don’t do that.

We get overoptimistic when stock prices are going up and panic when stock prices are going down.  So we buy high and sell low—the opposite of what a smart investor should do.

The following is from an exchange between Barry Rithotz, a financial adviser and blogger, and James O’Shaughessy, of O’Shaughessy Asset Management, on Bloomberg Radio.

O’Shaughnessy: “Fidelity had done a study as to which accounts had done the best at Fidelity.  And what they found was…”

Ritholtz: “They were dead.”

O’Shaughnessy: “…No, that’s close though! They were the accounts of people who forgot they had an account at Fidelity.”

via Business Insider.

Ritholtz told about some of his experiences in estate planning, where a family fought over inherited assets for 10 or 20 years, didn’t touch them in the meantime and found those 10 or 20 years were the best period of performance.

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Good advice

September 14, 2014

A simple exercise to improve your writing by Dan Wang of the University of Rochester.

Type out passages by your favorite writer.  You’ll gain an appreciation of their word choices, their structuring of sentences and paragraphs and all the other characteristics that make their writing good.  Or if you can’t do that, I myself lip-read the works of my favorite writers or read them aloud

A simple rule for making every restaurant meal better by Tyler Cowen for Marginal Revolution.

Have your restaurant dinner at 5 or 5:30 p.m., before the crowds, when the food is fresh off the stove and the wait staff can concentrate on serving you.

Draw up your task list the evening before, not in the morning by Tim Harford, the Undercover Economist.  (via Marginal Revolution)

If you plan your chores before (but not too long before) you have to do them, you’ll be less likely to put off what needs to be done.

Five Things Every Local Bookstore Should Do by Gracy Olmstead for The American Conservative.

A successful bookstore owner will embrace smallness, cultivate quirks and personality, join the localists, sell old and rare books and foster “browsability.”

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Politeness as a life strategy

August 24, 2014

One of the secrets of what success I had in 40 years as a newspaper reporter was this:  Trying to be as pleasant and helpful as I conveniently could to everyone I met.

ALittlePolitenessGoesALongWay-23618This was not altruism or even compassion, but enlightened self-interest.   I never knew when I might encounter that person again, and might need them for information or even for a handy quote.

If I did favors for people, however minor, they might remember if I ever asked them for something.  And if I built up a backlog of goodwill, this would give me a buffer when I wrote something that offended someone.

This was in keeping with the Gospel injunction to cast your bread upon the waters, in hope they will be returned to you.

Even if there wasn’t a payoff, being pleasant to people did not involve any sacrifice of anything of vital importance, and led to a more pleasant life for me than being quarrelsome or contentious would have.

I was reminded of this when I read an on-line essay, How to Be Polite, by a writer named Paul Ford who follows the same life strategy.

Sometimes I’ll get a call or email from someone five years after the last contact and I’ll think, oh right, I hated that person.  But they would never have known, of course.  Let’s see if I still hate them.  Very often I find that I don’t.  Or that I hated them for a dumb reason.  Or that they were having a bad day.  Or much more likely, that I had been having a bad day.

People silently struggle from all kinds of terrible things.  They suffer from depression, ambition, substance abuse, and pretension.  They suffer from family tragedy, Ivy-League educations, and self-loathing.  They suffer from failing marriages, physical pain, and publishing.

The good thing about politeness is that you can treat these people exactly the same.  And then wait to see what happens. You don’t have to have an opinion. You don’t need to make a judgment.  I know that doesn’t sound like liberation, because we live and work in an opinion-based economy.  But it is.  Not having an opinion means not having an obligation.  And not being obligated is one of the sweetest of life’s riches.

via Medium.

I have a good friend who says that good luck comes to those who strike up conversations while standing in line.  What he meant was that the more you make connections with people, the more opportunities you are likely to hear about.   I think that’s true.

Unlike my friend, I still find it difficult to make small talk.  I wish I had known the following rule of thumb.

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Paul Graham’s greatest hits

August 17, 2014
Paul Graham

Paul Graham

PAUL GRAHAM is a computer programmer, venture capitalist and essayist in the Boston area, who publishes his writings on his web site.

Most of his writing is about start-up companies and why they succeed or fail, but occasionally he writes on subjects of general interest, and I find these essays both interesting and wise.  Here are my favorites.

Why Nerds Are Unpopular

What You Can’t Say

Made in USA

What You’ll Wish You’d Known

How to Do What You Love

Is It Worth Being Wise?

Two Types of Judgment

You Weren’t Meant to Have a Boss

Lies We Tell Kids

The Top Idea in Your Mind

The Acceleration of Addictiveness

How much is an adequate tip?

July 19, 2014
tips-TABLE-final-3

Double click to enlarge

I found this interesting and useful chart in an interesting and useful article entitled Everything You Don’t Know About Tipping on the Wait But Why web log.

Should I be preparing for collapse? Should you?

June 3, 2014

I’ve been following a blogger named Dmitry Orlov for some years now. His ClubOrlov blog is listed among my Favorites on my Blogs I Like page, and some of my favorites from his writings are on my Archive of Good Stuff page.

A Russian-born American citizen who witnessed the collapse of the Soviet Union, Orlov became known for a slide show called “The Collapse Gap

,” in which he compared the USSR just prior to its collapse with the contemporary USA. Both countries, as he noted, were in industrial decline, militarily over-extended and dependent on foreign credit to maintain their material standard of living. Both had economic systems that did not serve the public need, and both had governments in which the public had lost confidence.

Paradoxically, Orlov wrote, the Soviet people were better prepared for collapse than Americans. Russians were accustomed to not being able to buy things in stores and having to fend for themselves. Russian families with many generations crowded into small apartments were better able to face crises than American families, scattered across the country, isolated in suburbs and dependent on availability of cheap gasoline.

global-warming-record-temperatures-2012-537x442This all makes sense to me, but Orlov in the meantime has moved on. He no longer limits his prediction to an American political and economic crisis. Now he predicts a global collapse of civilization, based on exhaustion of fossil fuels, climate change and the inability of established institutions to respond.

In a blog post sometime back, he reviewed a book, American Exodus, by a Canadian author, Gilles Slade, about where to live in North America in 2050 after global climate change has set in.

Slade thinks that Mexico will burn up and that the U.S. Great Plains will dry up. The Ogallala Aquifer, which provides drinking water for much of a region stretching from Texas to Nebraska, will disappear. Irrigation water will no longer be available for places such as California’s Central Valley.

northwestterritoriesThe East Coast will be destroyed by rising oceans and increasingly frequent and intense hurricanes. Drought refugees from Mexico will invade the United States, and drought refugees from the U.S. will invade Canada.

Taking all these things into consideration, Slade thinks the safest place to be in North America will be Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.

I haven’t read Slade’s book and don’t know the specifics of his research, but this doesn’t sound impossible to me. I can’t guess how bad things will get, or when the worst will be, but the consequences of human-made global warming are already being felt and can only get worse.

So in the light of all this, why do I continue to live my accustomed life as if nothing is wrong?

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Carl Sagan’s baloney detection checklist

May 29, 2014
  1. Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the “facts.”
  2. Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.
  3. Arguments from authority carry little weight — “authorities” have made mistakes in the past.  They will do so again in the future.  Perhaps a better way to say it is that in science there are no authorities; at most, there are experts.
  4. Carl_Sagan_by_Takes2ToTricycleSpin more than one hypothesis.  If there’s something to be explained, think of all the different ways in which it could be explained.  Then think of tests by which you might systematically disprove each of the alternatives.  What survives, the hypothesis that resists disproof in this Darwinian selection among “multiple working hypotheses,” has a much better chance of being the right answer than if you had simply run with the first idea that caught your fancy.
  5. Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours.  It’s only a way station in the pursuit of knowledge.  Ask yourself why you like the idea.  Compare it fairly with the alternatives.  See if you can find reasons for rejecting it.  If you don’t, others will.
  6. Quantify.  If whatever it is you’re explaining has some measure, some numerical quantity attached to it, you’ll be much better able to discriminate among competing hypotheses.  What is vague and qualitative is open to many explanations.  Of course there are truths to be sought in the many qualitative issues we are obliged to confront, but finding them is more challenging.
  7. If there’s a chain of argument, every link in the chain must work (including the premise) — not just most of them.
  8. Occam’s Razor.  This convenient rule-of-thumb urges us when faced with two hypotheses that explain the data equally well to choose the simpler.
  9. Always ask whether the hypothesis can be, at least in principle, falsified.  Propositions that are untestable, unfalsifiable are not worth much.  Consider the grand idea that our Universe and everything in it is just an elementary particle — an electron, say — in a much bigger Cosmos.  But if we can never acquire information from outside our Universe, is not the idea incapable of disproof?   You must be able to check assertions out.
  10. Inveterate skeptics must be given the chance to follow your reasoning, to duplicate your experiments and see if they get the same result.

via Brain Pickings.   Hat tip to Barry Ritholtz.

Click on Who Was Carl Sagan? for more about him.

Richard Sherman on the art of success

May 12, 2014

No matter what your field, you’ll benefit from research, analysis, strategic planning, careful preparation and self-discipline.

How to peel a head of garlic in minus 10 seconds

February 15, 2014

Hat tip to Avedon’s Sideshow.

How to open a can without an opener or a tool

December 28, 2013

Hat tip to Ordinary Times.

What is a knish?

November 13, 2013

I’ve eaten knishes, but I never knew exactly what one was until I saw this video.

Hat tip to Don Montana and Rick Hastings.