The fallacy of greener bananas

row of bananas mostly yellow with one green
Photo by Lotte Löhr on Unsplash

For the first time yesterday, my long time friend Kegan joined my wife and I on a quick grocery run. Since we’ve been married, Charlane and I have been buying groceries once every 2-3 weeks, so this trip to Fairprice felt familiar, almost habitual. That’s why when Kegan remarked at something I said to Charlane about the bananas she chose off the rack, it was a moment of revelation.

“Those look too yellow,” I said. “You should grab a greener bunch. They’ll last longer.”

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Why you should blog as a programmer

Sal's 4 tips for writing blog posts as a developer
Sal’s 4 tips for writing blog posts as a developer

It’s Christmas Eve and I find myself itching to read and learn more about programming, so naturally, I went to Three posts in from scrolling I came across a post from John Saddington, an “indie” developer who has built and released multiple WordPress and writing-related apps all by himself. He’s someone I respect, both as a person with humility and as a skilled developer, so I clicked.

His post was short. Like 2 paragraphs short, and an embedded video. This video:

It’s a talk given by another developer Sal Farrarello, who declared “blogging” as the best habit he has as a developer. With that kind of a pitch, I watched the video (even though we were supposed to leave for a Christmas eve party five minutes ago).

I really have to go now, but I need to mention one thing from his talk that really stuck with me: recall.

Sal sees his blog as a repository of his knowledge. One of the examples he gave was about the time he faced a problem developing something on WordPress. Solving problems is what we’re always doing as developers, from the macro “this app will solve this problem in your life” to the micro “why is this helper function not working?”, we’re always working on solutions. So Sal worked on his problem and wrote a blog post after that, and he says that he’s returned to it a few times since because he’d forgotten how to solve the exact (but esoteric) problem.

Other than my brain with limited storage, I keep a log of what I learn as well, mostly in the format of notes and quickly formed paragraphs. But the big difference is that I’ve always been doing that privately, in my Evernote account. A quick examination was enough to make me realise that that is wasted resources; very little of what I keep as notes actually need to be private, so why not share them? Besides, a webpage is much more accessible than an Evernote note.

So starting today, every time I face a programming problem, be it implementing CSRF tokens the “right” way or how to happily work with a team of developers, I will publish a post instead of publishing a note in Evernote. Not much more effort for potentially more gain. After all, it’s true what Sal said about progress: there’s always going to be some people who are at the level you were at yesterday.

A thing every day

Show up.

That’s the most important thing. Or so says a bunch of successful people^.

Why is it important to show up every day to create something using the skills and knowledge you have? Why can’t we just be write and publish when we are inspired, create and launch a game when we get an epiphany, or shoot and edit and publish a vlog only when it’s a day packed full of interesting activities?

I’m not sure, so I’ll venture a guess. It has to do with the law of big numbers.

I may be butchering the law, but what I think it means is,

“With a large enough number of experiments, the results will converge on the real value.”

The example I found from Googling is the coin flip. If someone pointed a gun to your head and forced you to flip a coin 1,000 times and to record every outcome, the number of heads and tails should be roughly 50:50. If instead the number of flips is 10 or even 100, that ratio might appear skewed towards heads or tails, even though logic tells us that each flip is independent from the previous flip.

Likewise, if someone held a gun to your head to make you work on your craft–be it designing video games, writing an article or computer programme or shooting a video–every day, and you recorded the number of games/articles/videos/drawings/etc that are well received, the real value of your work will begin to reveal itself.

Publish 10 articles and people might catch on to none, and you might feel like you’re not helping anyone with your writing and falsely conclude that you’re a terrible writer and should stop wasting your time.

Publish 100 articles and 5 might have at least some form of recognition among a small group of people. Do 365 and you might just find 30 of them to be generally well received.

The point is, you won’t know what the real value of your work is until you’ve showed up to create and share something with people every day for a while.

And while you’re busy showing up, your skills are busy levelling up.

If you don’t know me and don’t trust me, or if you do and still don’t, take it from Ira Glass. He’s some famous radio guy who sounds convincing talking about creative work.

“Do a lot work. Do a huge amount of work. Put yourself on a deadline. Every week or every month. It’s only by going through a volume of work that you’re actually going to catch up and close that gap, and the work you’re making is going to be as good as your ambitions. It takes a while. You just have to fight your way through that, ok?” (Ira Glass)

Here’s a nice video made by someone who showed up with Ira Glass narrating those elegant words.

^ Casey Neistat, Ira Glass, Gary Vaynerchuk, DHH, Maria Popova, Jiro… the list keeps growing.

Wait less do more

After doing the work–to follow up on a lead or apply for a job–it easily feels like we deserve an answer. That we have cast the net and now we should expect some fishes to swim right in…

But the truth is, those fish may never come.

Life has a rhythm and from what I know, regardless of what that rhythm really is, one thing is certain – it moves forward. The best strategy then is to cast that net and just keep swimming. Don’t waste time waiting.

Whenever you feel like that email from the prospective client or employer should be in your inbox this time when you check, resist checking your email. Do something that actually propels you forward instead, and you might just catch the next wave (and a big fish).

Two healthy ways to look at exercise

remote work under the block in singapore
Laptop work is inherently unhealthy (yup that’s Ruby on Rails)

Recently I’ve been finding myself lethargic quite a lot and I think it’s even starting to affect my mood and attention span, and my performance in class is deteriorating because of it. In other words, shit is getting real, and it’s time to do something about it.

As if by design, my web development instructor is a pretty fit guy. He works out often and is in good shape. Great if you remember that he’s actually a programmer. How many fit programmers do you know? Almost all my friends who work mainly off their computers have a bulging belly, not washboard abs. (Fact check: I don’t know if Jeremiah has above-described abs, but let’s assume he does.)

At a party two days ago while we celebrated the end of our second project week (when I made Spidey), I fatefully sat beside Jeremiah. At about midway through the night—I don’t know why, but I’d chalk it up to the dizzying mix of a rapidly growing beer belly and beer—I asked him about his motivations for sticking to an exercise regime. His answer, after contemplating for a while, was both concise and compelling.

Exercising is defying convention

As we age, the tendency is to wither less-than-gracefully, to grow fat and unhealthy. By 30, our energy levels would have dwindled significantly from the highs of our late teens and early twenties, and health issues start to creep up on us.

That is, if you don’t exercise (enough). And eat (relatively) healthy. (Brackets) are deliberate, to make it clear that I’m not about to declare what would look like unrealistic New Year’s resolutions in the next sentence.

That was the prelude to Jeremiah’s answer to my poking question of “What is motivating you to exercise regularly?” I really like what comes next.

His basic argument is that knowing that we all age and naturally tend towards the state of un-health, by exercising, you are defying convention. Apparently he likes going in the face of what is “supposed” to happen. Isn’t that such a fantastic way of creating self-motivation?

I love going against the grain in many situations too, and this is one of them. The fitter I am as I age, the greater the defiance. I’m supposed to be obese and sickly, but I’m not. Sounds like the perfect humble brag to me!

Strong body, sharp mind

It’s been said many times by scientists that our mental and physical states are linked. They are in fact inextricably wound together, but of all the things our mind typically drones on about, its own relation to our body’s physical state isn’t one of it. The result is an fat body and a lacking mind, like mine has been of late.

My instructor (friend) Jeremiah recognises it though, and he has taken action to keep his mind at peak performance. In an unspeakably distracting world, I believe it’s the sharp minds that stay above and make progress. And if that is accurate, everyone should start to spend more time exercising now.

Don’t wait, because tomorrow never comes. All we really have is today. So what are you waiting for? I’m already at the gym. See you there!

How writing daily is helping me learn

Image: Mike Wilson

A cool advantage of being in the habit of writing everyday is that you will become inclined to ask, every single day, “What did I learn today?”

Having written every day for almost one and a half months now, I never accept “nothing” as an answer anymore. It’s just impossible to not learn something new in a 24-hour day – even noticing that the colour of the paint on the door you always walk through is something new and interesting.

This habit has also made me more inquisitive. Now I find myself walking around with my eyes wide open, observing what’s going on around me, near and far, with the intent of discovering something else that is interesting that I might write about. Every night when I write, I am wrung like a sponge, and my thoughts drip onto the page.

The result is a wonderful freshness the next day, where my mind is light and I’m able to make new observations with confidence, knowing that yesterday’s thoughts have dried up on a page and logged here, for eternity. (Or until my webserver crashes or a widespread internet virus wipes out my data.)

Momentum of coding

When a programmer writes code it usually starts out slow (especially when the programmer in question is new to being one), but like in the physical realm, once she overcomes the inertia of writing the first few HTML ‘div’s and JavaScript functions, momentum builds.

If the first function that does something a particular way works, and we need a second function that does something similar, it becomes a light matter of copying and pasting and a few minor tweaks.

Over time, we learn to recognise patterns, and that accelerates our problem-solving even further.

The start is always the toughest. Get over the molehill and the mountain behind becomes your playground.