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Readings: 17 Jun 2016

Sarah Jane Coffey, on the experience of working in start-ups as a sober alcoholic:

We began placing orders for the family style meal, when my boss suddenly announced to the room that I wouldn’t be eating meat. People began to chuckle, saying things like, “How can you be in Argentina and not try the meat!?” “You’re not going to try the beef? You don’t know what you’re missing!” Then, my boss added, “Yeah, she doesn’t drink either. I mean, what the fuck is wrong with her?” Several people laughed alongside my boss.

This is fucked up, but unfortunately not very surprising. I hope one day to live in a culture where people just get to make their choices about how they want or need to live and it’s just their business, without remark. But it seems that software development culture – more than most fields – tolerates and expects high-school level behavior.

After listening to the excellent interview with Venkatesh Rao on the Long Form Podcast, I’ve been working back through the Ribbonfarm archives. In “Fools and their Money Metaphors”, he runs through a list of speculative money metaphors (and the contexts in which they likely operate). For example:

Money as a lever: I can’t even begin to imagine the level of wealth where you get used to thinking of your money as a way to move more money. At the level we are familiar with (home equity) it tends to be a dicey business. But at a sufficiently high level, it is dumb NOT to think of it in terms of leverage. I suspect a lot of people use leverage mindsets when they play musical chairs with credit cards. Leverage is a bad metaphor to apply if you are using it to consume beyond your paycheck means, but a good one if you want to influence what money plants get fertilized.

Someone who is rightly entrusted with the authority to choose among such options is not a technocrat under any reasonable definition of the term. Instead, he or she is an enlightened autocrat - ideally a three thousand year old human-sandworm hybrid with untrammelled power, who is both wise and disinterested enough to find a solution that is to the collectivity’s long term benefit, and cruel enough to impose it, regardless of how it hurts specific people.

I enjoy reading Crooked Timber.

Tiago Forte defends N=1 experiments and the Quantified Self movement, in part three of his series on habit formation.

Anne’s analysis of our medical system is something many of us can relate to: it is like a giant pinball machine, bouncing you around trying to fit you into a predetermined slot. If you don’t fit anywhere, you end up at the bottom with no answers and a stack of medical bills. You are then subtly (or not so subtly) persuaded that it is “just in your head” or otherwise unworthy of serious consideration. If you are extremely tall, you know you are an outlier, and can take measures to compensate for a world designed for the median. But for many things, medical and otherwise, you don’t know where on the distribution you fall.

In January 2015, my wife and I cut out all sugar and all grains. I lost a fair amount of stubborn weight and felt amazing after two weeks. But since then, there’s been article after article about how “gluten-free” is a myth, how it’s a fad, etc. Maybe so, but adopting the Paleo Diet or going gluten-free may just be an easy to remember heuristic that boxes us into a corner where we have to eat healthier in the ways that mainstream nutrition recommends: more vegetables!

Science (and academic journals) are all about pursuit of truth. But day to day, we have to make decisions about how to live. If self-experimentation with elimination diets or similar make a qualitative difference in your experience, who cares whether it is backed up by studies on larger populations?