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Readings: 27 May 2016

Duretti Hirpa, on using pull requests to structure time and progress:

I connect present and future by scribbling notes to myself, and constructing narratives for others – which intersects beautifully as changesets, and, in particular, as a fleshed-out pull request description.

I believe coherent pull requests are an act of empathy, for the person reviewing my changes, for the me in the just now – the me trying to get a quality review – and for the me in the what’s next?

This feels like a great example of the extended mind hypothesis: writing doesn’t just capture what’s in your head to share with someone else, it structures your experience and changes how you think.

This is the story I tell myself when I open a pull request. I use the same structure each time and try to keep my changes small. I tweak and adjust so that, over time, I might master this skill. I will learn what’s important now, I think. I will discern what is next.

I love her idea that commit messages and pull requests are an opportunity to practice problem formulation. Software developers always have new languages, technologies, and techniques they could learn – the field moves fast – but knowing how to break a problem into the right-sized steps is evergreen. In the same way that test-driven development provides the fastest feedback loop on implementation, writing a good commit message provides fast feedback for problem scoping. Asking “Can I write a coherent description of what I did here?” will help you see whether or not you split the problem well.

At Don’t Eat the Pseudoscience, Kathryn Haydon breaks down the hidden costs of villifying processed food. From her perspective, it’s misleading to conflate processing (the steps required to make a raw food edible) with adding sugar, salt, etc. to make a hyper-palatable convenience food.

Before most food processing was done in factories in the developed world, all of this food processing was done by someone – mostly women – in home kitchens. This is really important to remember, because the more you base your diet on minimally processed foods, the more processing you have to do yourself before the food is ready to eat.

No one I know would consider “avoid processed food” a hard and fast rule – it’s just a fancy way of saying “don’t eat junk food”. Vermont is proud of its farm and food culture – and rightly so – but it’s good to remember that a hand-made, artisanal doughnut is still a doughnut. Like every other choice in life, deciding what to eat is entangled with all of our needs: sleeping, playing with our children, exercise, spiritual practice, and intellectual fulfillment. If making your own yogurt or baking your own bread help you relax, great. But if buying yogurt from Trader Joe’s frees up time and attention to read more or go out on a run: also great.

Scott Alexander reviewed (and summarized) David Fischer’s Albion’s Seed:

If America is best explained as a Puritan-Quaker culture locked in a death-match with a Cavalier-Borderer culture, with all of the appeals to freedom and equality and order and justice being just so many epiphenomena – well, I’m not sure what to do with that information.

After reading the descriptions of the Puritan, Quaker, Cavalier, and Border folkways, I can’t help but wonder if reading Albion’s Seed inspired Neal Stephenson to create the Waterhouse / Shaftoe families of Cryptonomicon and The Baroque Cycle.