March 2016

A wonderful letter on censorship from Charles Bukowski that I found on the Farnam Street Blog. Bukowski had one of his books removed from a library and this was his response to the person warning him about it. The emphases are mine. It was written in 1985:

The thing that I fear discriminating against is humor and truth.

Censorship is the tool of those who have the need to hide actualities from themselves and from others. Their fear is only their inability to face what is real, and I can’t vent any anger against them. I only feel this appalling sadness. Somewhere, in their upbringing, they were shielded against the total facts of our existence. They were only taught to look one way when many ways exist.

I am not dismayed that one of my books has been hunted down and dislodged from the shelves of a local library. In a sense, I am honored that I have written something that has awakened these from their non-ponderous depths. But I am hurt, yes, when somebody else’s book is censored, for that book, usually is a great book and there are few of those, and throughout the ages that type of book has often generated into a classic, and what was once thought shocking and immoral is now required reading at many of our universities.

I am not saying that my book is one of those, but I am saying thatin our time, at this moment when any moment may be the last for many of us, it’s damned galling and impossibly sad that we still have among us the small, bitter people, the witch-hunters and the declaimers against reality. Yet, these too belong with us, they are part of the whole, and if I haven’t written about them, I should, maybe have here, and that’s enough.

may we all get better together,”

Absolutely wonderful.



Communication is Failure

by Limbic on March 26, 2016

An interesting discussion last week over on the Pickax retailers episode of the Exponent podcast . Ben and James were discussing Ben’s hugely popular Amazon article The Amazon Tax.

It is a great discussion and well worth the listen, especially about how in many ways Apple and Amazon resemble their org charts. Apple has a single P&L – and they go all in for perfectly integrated appliances that fit perfectly into their ecosystem. Amazon is like AWS, an assembly of modular “primitives” (storage, compute, DB) all interacting through very well defined protocols and interfaces. So much for Steve Sinofsky’s “don’t ship the org chart” !

One thing I learned is that Amazon’s Jeff Bezos considers communications to be a sign of failure. Increased communications signals issues a failure to define interfaces. At Amazon they do not use PowerPoint because Bezo’s says “the details get lost between the bulletpoints”. Instead they use Word documents for meeting briefings. Maximum 6 pages . No powerpoint in Amazon meetings only maximum 6 page Word doc because if you cannot explain it in writing you have not thought about it enough to justify a meeting.

Love that.

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Trend is Not Destiny

by Limbic on March 26, 2016



Stop and just go read the superb Farnam Street Blog on “The Central Mistake of Historicism: Karl Popper on Why Trend is Not Destiny“.


The Four Elements of Leadership

by Limbic on March 26, 2016

Michael Lombardi, former General Manager of the Cleveland Browns and current member of the coaching staff on the New England Patriots enumerated four elements of leadership:

  • Management of attention, aka plan. Systems and processes are offshoots of management of attention.
  • Management of meaning, aka communication – explain the plan.
  • Management of trust – consistency and no double standards.
  • Management of self – self-criticism and humility. Honesty. Admit mistakes and correct course.

He also quoted Bobby Kennedy – “Guide your life by principle not ambition”. Not sure if its accurate but I like the quote.

From The Knowledge Project podcast


Michael Mauboussin

by Limbic on March 26, 2016

Just heard an interview with Michael Mauboussin on The Knowledge Project podcast (a Farnum Street blog production) and he was super interesting.

A few quotes form the podcast. These are paraphrased:

  • “An expert is someone who has a predictive model that works.”
  • “When it comes to decision making, Daniel Kahneman advises us to use the statistical baseline first (system 2) then Overlay your intuition (system 1), not the other way around or you have confirmation bias.”
  • Evaluate your decision making – track your results. The objective is to make quality decisions over time (like Munger and value investing which is more about avoiding loss than making huge gains).
  • Lessons from Colonel Blotto – if you are dominant player you want to keep It as simple as possible – fewest possible battlefields.    Also for weaker then dilute the power Of the powerful opponent.  Create more complexity, more battlefields.
  • Advice for Parents: Instill Growth Mindset (praise for effort not characteristics) , consider opposite viewpoints and learn how to bet ( decision tracking). Teach kids that even though they win a bet, if it was an irrational/reckless bet, they will lose in the long run. Offer them recommendations, not orders. If you are right, they will learn to respect your recommendations.

He recommended these books:


Visions of the Future [NASA Posters]

by Limbic on March 20, 2016

Visions of the Future

Visions of the Future by NASA


  • Easy Linux tips project – Very nice guide to setting up Linux Mint and Ubuntu systems
  • Alex de Betak’s dream home in Spain [PDF] – Absolutely stunning place.
  • Information cascade – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia – "An information (or informational) cascade occurs when a person observes the actions of others and then—despite possible contradictions in his/her own private information signals—engages in the same acts. A cascade develops, then, when people “abandon their own information in favor of inferences based on earlier people’s actions”.[1] Information cascades provide an explanation for how such situations can occur, how likely they are to cascade incorrect information or actions, how such behavior may arise and desist rapidly, and how effective attempts to originate a cascade tend to be under different conditions. By explaining all of these things, the original Independent Cascade model sought to improve on previous models that were unable to explain cascades of irrational behavior, a cascade's fragility, or the short-lived nature of certain cascades."
  • Information cascade – Lesswrongwiki – An information cascade occurs when people signal that they have information about something, but actually based their judgment on other people's signals, resulting in a self-reinforcing community opinion that does not necessarily reflect reality.
  • Blockspring – A spreadsheet or Excel for web services. Also see Guestimate.


The Distinct, Positive Impact of a Good Dad

by LimbicNutrition Shorts on March 19, 2016

The Distinct, Positive Impact of a Good Dad:

Solid article on an important topics.


Great newsletter this week from Ribbonfarm, this time expounding on the neuropsychological underpinnings of the great populist revolt.

What both sides share with each other, but not with cognitive elites, is a fixed mindset.

A fixed mindset is about having a sense of dignity based on a fixed sense of who you are, whether based on wealth, or prowess at a type of work presumed to be of eternal significance.

A growth mindset, on the other hand, is about having a malleable, adaptive sense of identity that is subject to constant renegotiation with the universe. To some extent, this is an unearned privilege, but one perhaps more democratically distributed than other sorts of privilege.

This constant renegotiation is achieved through steady experimentation with your own life. This means skills never harden into ossified habits, or turn into hardened identities, or into anchors for patterns of social affiliation.

This also means wealth, or any other form of accumulated gains, cannot become a source of hardened identity or social affiliation.

Real experiments can surprise you with their outcomes. To experiment on yourself is to be open to changing yourself in unscripted ways. This inevitably means your social milieu is also subject to change. You may come to despise old friends, and learn to admire those you formerly despised.

This also means things you may have accumulated, be it wealth, degrees, or awards, may suddenly seem worthless to you, while things you ignored as worthless and not worth accumulating may suddenly become priceless and leave you feeling impoverished.

Fixed mindset people also have a fixed sense of their place in the society. The only sort of social mobility considered acceptable is scripted mobility that does not betray the values of “where you came from.”

This stricture is particularly strong in America. You will not be punished for starting from the wrong side of the tracks and making millions. You will, however, be punished for abandoning an interest in football for an interest in French poetry, and making new friends.

Industrial age psychology reflects these norms. As William Whyte noted in The Organization Man, psychology in the industrial age was about producing “well adjusted” individuals, not mentally healthy ones.

Being “well-adjusted” with respect to a disappearing class is a sort of insanity. At the same time, “betraying” obsolete class loyalties to adapt to new realities is sanity that makes you externally maladjusted.

One consequence of this well-adjustedness bias in industrial psychology is that you’re mostly on your own if you choose to adopt a growth mindset. Society is by definition not designed to provide support to transgressors of its own, class-segmented norms.

If you are living in an experimental way — self-learning skills for which there are no schools, making the “wrong” sorts of friends, living in the “wrong” places, and cultivating the “wrong” tastes — you are part of the cognitive elite.

There are no core textbooks, maps, or scripts for this path. You are a lifelong ongoing experiment. You may sometimes find co-conspirators for some experiments, but your default sample size is n=1. The only expert authority you can appeal to is you.

You may spend a few years in one community, move on to another, or spend some years pursuing solitary personal challenges. Experimental living can take many forms.

You may be attracted to experimental (and experiential) living communities devoted to particular kinds of exploration, but your primary loyalty will be to the deepest truths about yourself.

Quantified Self, the rationality community, hipsterdom, lifestyle design in Bali: ultimately, these are just chapter headings. Not the text, let alone the whole novel.

Some friendships may endure for a lifetime. Others may be restricted to one or the other chapter of your life. Still others may turn into enmity despite your best efforts.

Experimental living isn’t about living in San Francisco and going to Burning Man every year. Many “burners” are very colorful people but creatures of habit living highly non-experimental lives.

It isn’t even about that well-studied psychological trait (part of the Big 5) called “openness to experience” because you can be safely “open” in very risk-limited ways.

Experimental living is about being willing to pay the emotional and social costs of truly experimenting on yourself, with your entire self being open to radical reconstruction. For the rest of your life.

…crowds are good for going insane with, but regaining and maintaining your sanity is by default a solitary, lifelong struggle.

You are a being at the intersection of two worlds: one is the shared external world. The other is your private internal world, which ultimately only you can truly access.

The cognitive science of you, like any other science, is a path of accepting pain in order to discover novel truths about yourself. And like it or not, on some parts of this path you will be alone.

You will have to repeatedly overcome the fear of being an outcast, and resist the seduction of false promises of communal belonging. You will inevitably hurt others, despite your best efforts to be gentle. You will inevitably be hurt, despite your best efforts to be stoic.

If you rise to all those challenges, congrats, you will be part of the cognitive elite, and live a life under constant, unpleasant siege by the fixed-mindset world.

But I’ll guarantee you this: whatever the outcomes of your experiments, you will never regret choosing growth and change over the comforting stasis of a fixed identity.

From The Cognitive Psychology of You