Yesterday, I went down to the Institute for the Future for a workshop on "extreme learning". There were many diverse people in there, and we spent the day talking about learning, education, and school, and how we as futuristic learners could see things going in 2023.
I had some good conversations, but the thing that struck me the most was how much I felt like I was back in school for a day. There were large- and small-group discussions, presentations, brainstorming assignments--and the young people were taking tons of notes! It was funny to me, because I had come to talk about how bad school had ended up being for my attitude towards learning.
They asked what extreme learning meant to me. It's a bit sad, but to me, it's just learning, but where you remember it later. Naturally I talked about spaced repetition as the antidote for the in-one-semester-and-out-the-other paradigm of education, but I was surprised to be the only one talking about it.
The highlight of the day was playing Throw Trucks With Your Mind during lunch, since one of the extreme learners, Lat Ware, had brought two laptops and Neuroskies to demo it. I was surprised by how well it worked compared to some of the other bio-control stuff I'd tried. Lat has done his math well.
Starting Monday morning at 04:00, and ending the next Monday at 03:59, I'm going to see how many hours of CodeCombat development I can do in one week. Not "hours at the office" (I work from home), not "hours on the computer doing productive things", but "hours on the computer developing CodeCombat". So I'll count things like writing code, building levels, writing documentation for said code and levels, etc., but not things like responding to CodeCombat emails or planning the business or meetings. I just won't do those things this week.
I spontaneously did a how-much-can-I-work week last year when I was deep into the Skritter iOS app and got 87.3 hours of general Skritter work. It was extremely fun, so I thought I'd do it again, but this time I've prepared for it. I've planned my meals, laid out my clothes, started waking up early, blocked email, bought an adjustable height sitting/standing desk, and readied other ridiculous preparations such as a stack of twenty bars of 90% dark chocolate.
I'm going to make a time lapse video of the whole week with no post-processing except for adding a music track. So if you're at all interested in seeing what it looks like to code this much, look for the video next Monday (or maybe Tuesday if I'm that tired afterward.) I adapted some open-source self-tracking software I wrote to serve as a time lapse heads-up-display dashboard thing that'll be more interesting to look at during the video than just my screen.
The time lapse will be fun for me and help keep me honest, since presumably at least a few people will watch the whole six minutes and would heckle me if I counted beastskills.com as work. I find it exhilarating to think about focusing deeply on code for a week with no distractions and overdosing on motivation to push deeper into the zone than I've ever gone before. (I hope that's what will happen.)
What a crazy weekend! We launched our beta on Friday morning by posting to a few subreddits hoping to pick up a few more interested users who could play through our levels as we started to release new ones with the level editor we just finished. But we were not prepared for how many people would come check it out. We stayed #1 on all three subreddits for over a day, amassing 1466 points, 384 comments, and far too many players for our real-time multiplayer server to handle (forcing us to shut off the multiplayer and all server code synchronization). And that's all before we were crushed the next day by what appeared to our beleaguered Scott as all of Brazil, or at least every Brazilian on Facebook. (Olá!)
With all the chaos trying to keep the server up and the bugs down, we slept little and prepared for the next day's Startup School even less. We had been tapped for on-stage Y Combinator office hours with Paul Graham and Sam Altman. We watched a video of previous on-stage YC office hours and concluded that "office hours" really meant "eight minutes of two of the smartest startup guys in the world demolishing your idea in front of 1700 entrepreneurs and a live video stream".
Fortunately for us, they liked our startup and were much nicer than we expected. In fact, as we were walking off stage thinking, "Hey, that went well--maybe we'll get an interview!"--then Paul whispered something to Sam, who nodded, and they called us back.
Reader Raj Bapna has formatted The Motivation Hacker into a paperback, so you can now get one and do your normal booky things to it:
What is The Motivation Hacker? It's my book about getting yourself to want to do all the things you've always wanted to want to do. Most people like it, so I think you will, too.
You can grab a copy here for $7.99.
For a few months in the beginning of 2012, the only exercise I got was doing 10-20 sets of pull-ups a day. I was hacking nonstop on the Skritter iOS app, and I decided to save gym time and just see how many I could do. I had tried sporadically forever (included weighted pull-ups and other silly things) to increase my max pull-ups, but from my untrained max of 13, I could never get past 15. Then Yoni suggested greasing the groove: do lots of easy sets throughout the day.
I tried doing 20 sets of 10 for 8 days, then rested 5 days and tested my max. Twenty! Well, all that other training must have sucked if it only takes a week to up one's max that much. I figured I was getting weaker at all my other lifts, but I didn't care, because over the next couple months at ten sets a day (eventually growing to sets of 16), I raised my max to 26.
Then I didn't do any exercise for six weeks, since I got busy with moving to the Human Hacker House. I tested my max pull-ups, and they had gone back down to around 20. Okay, lost some short-term gains there, I thought; let's see what else I lost, since I haven't done any other exercises for six months.
But my one-mile run was somehow 14 seconds faster than my previous plateau, and my bench press was 15 lbs higher than ever before, and my other lifts were about as good as they had been. Huh?
Why did my fitness and strength go up when all I was doing was pull-ups? I still don't know. (Do you?) But I just realized that even though I can't install a pull-up bar in this apartment, I can hang towels from door railing and do towel pull-ups!
My head obsesses. I get songs stuck in my head so badly that I have to leave the room when "I'm On A Boat" comes on, and anyone who tries to troll me by singing "Party in the USA" gets warned and then ferociously tickled. (It's self-defense.) I don't like watching TV shows and have to limit movies because the scenes and plots continue to play in my head for days afterward, displacing the top idea in my mind.
The most interesting case of this is the Tetris effect. This where you do a repetitive activity so much that it takes over your subconscious, visually superimposing its patterns over your life. It's most noticeable when you're falling asleep. Tetris addicts would turn things they see into tetrominos, and their brains would be playing Tetris as they slept.
I have it bad. I've had the Tetris effect not only with all sorts of video games, but with things like coding, typing Dvorak, fixing grammar mistakes, responding to emails, hiking, tweaking CSS, and designing particle effects. Up until this week, though, it had only been visual, perhaps with some motor component.
It turns out I can get auditory Tetris effect, too. I had just spent the entire day strategizing about CodeCombat with George and Scott, talking startups with other Y Combinator companies, and listening to the YC partners dispense wisdom. As I was falling asleep, I heard a perfect Markov chain generator produce a conversation between Paul Graham, George, and Generic Startup Founder, complete with voices and appropriate verbal mannerisms, that went something like this:
Emacs wizards will tell you that it is not merely a text editor, but an operating system; not just a way to work, but a way of life; not only a thing they use, but a thing they are. After having used Emacs for nearly ten years now, I see that it's all true.
More often than not, when someone asks me how I do something, like generating percentile feedback work graphs, making epic time-lapse videos, and figuring out what's important in life (see the Experiential Sampling section)–I have to say something like, "Well, it's pretty straightforward, I just have an Emacs post-save hook in my org-mode buffer that runs a Python script to parse my Emacs timestamps and POST the JSON to App Engine where it's graphed by Highcharts and also sends an NSDistributedNotification so that my Telepath heads-up display can update its embedded UIView pulling the same graph from my website. The only thing missing is authenticating to the Beeminder API, heh heh! Come to think of it–"
No. What? No, they say, I mean, like an app. For my phone. What?
Oh, right. I've inadvertently become an arcane Emacs techno-amoeba to them.
04:06. The wake light has gradually brightened to 20% brightness, but I cut it off early. It's time to rise, silently and in darkness, cook some runny eggs, get on my longboard, ride through the empty streets to the CodeCombat command center, and begin hacking.
It's not actually that intense–Rocky gets up slightly earlier with a more annoying alarm, drinks raw eggs instead of runny ones, and then, you know, has to punch meat instead of keys. But I still feel kind of badass doing it–if I remind myself to.
Most of the time, stress just feels like stress. It feels bad. It's something to fight against. The pressure of trying to get everything done during Y Combinator weighs on me, my bug list is like overdue homework, and I'm not having fun, oh no.
But when I remember, I remind myself that this is actually pretty badass. Getting up when only ghosts and warlocks are awake? That's fierce. I approve. My weak human avatar wants to sleep, but it doesn't know what makes it happy. Longboarding through the grime to meet my destiny? I want that for myself. Hacking to the max until Demo Day and going to sleep at 20:00 for maximum productivity? Yes, this is the mission I accepted.
I used to be uncomfortable with maintaining eye contact. Then I did an exercise where I looked into a stranger's eyes for fifteen minutes, and we'd call each other out every time the other person looked away. It cured me of all eye contact anxiety and now it's no big deal.
I did a similar exercise in rejection therapy to get over the fear of approaching strangers and asking for things, and that worked eerily well--after one hour of concentrated asks and rejections, I got over it.
Like many people, I'm often uncomfortable when hugging someone, especially if it's another guy or I don't know the person well. This is something I want to get over, too. I've heard that if you arrange to hug someone you don't (hardly) know for fifteen minutes, then you're good to go from then on, no matter how awkward a bro hug you're faced with.
Does anyone in the SF Bay Area want to meet up and undertake the scary, useful mission of hugging a stranger (me) and build some hug confidence? We could do the eye contact one, too, if that's useful to you.
Chloe and I dated for six years. For three years*, we were long-distance. For five years, starting five months in, I was spelling out W-I-L-L-Y-O-U-U-M-A-R-R-R-Y-M-E* encoded in the love letters I was writing her for use in my Surprise Ultimate Romantic Proposal Resulting In Sobbing Engagement. On June 22, we wedded, and it went better-than-perfectly. The wedding site Chloe and I built together has details and some photos. The two-week honeymoon in China was not for the faint of heart, weak of stomach, or narrow of eye, so we had a great time.
I am even happier than expected to be married. Chloe and I keep clinking our rings together as if activating some marriage superpower. I am all over the parenting books reading about optimal lifestyle and nutrition before pregnancy in preparation for producing experimental super-infants. Book, parenting, and marriage recommendations are all welcome.
I don't know which things I will put on this blog. Usually I just make new pages on nickwinter.net for everything I want to either share or record for myself. We'll see how the SETT approach of presenting content compares.