personal security audit cover image

Getting Hacked and Getting Hard

CLEARANCE SALE! VANS SHOES CHEAP! I was as surprised as anyone to hear that I’d pivoted from blogging to hawking knock-off footwear on Facebook. After pulling down the scam posts and changing my password, I checked my activity log. At least three interlopers had somehow managed to access my account, one of them several years ago. Creepy, but unimaginative: they didn’t lock me out, or steal my identity, or use my password to access other sites. As far as I know, my nudes are still between me and Zuckerberg.

Then there was the second incident: I changed my Google password, immediately forgot it, and couldn’t get back in. I filled in the account recovery forms over and over, and sat there silently panicking as each robotic form rejection destroyed a tiny piece of my soul. There was no way to get in touch with a human being. With one moment of carelessness, I was sure I’d lost all my work, and years of treasured memories.

On both occasions I got lucky: it could have been much, much worse. Screwing up for a third time was probably tempting fate, so I decided it was time to actually sit down and sort out my online security…

the perfect daily routine cover image: rise and grind

It’s Such a Perfect Day

One of the immutable laws of the Internet is that it’s impossible to write a LinkedIn morning routine parody so ridiculous that it couldn’t be mistaken for the real thing.

This genre of hustle-porn sucks, but not because the hustlers are wrong. I’m annoyed because they’re right—at least, in theory—but they spray so much fluorescent orange Cheez over everything that any sensible person is immediately repulsed. If we dismiss the ‘morning routine’ trope as the performative humblebragging of grifters and Silicon Valley narcissists, we’re throwing the baby out with the (essential oil-infused) bathwater…

The modern commonplace book cover image (Roam Research graph view)

The Commonplace Book: How to Get Compound Interest on Your Ideas

Everything compounds. Momentum is an underappreciated force of nature: not only in finance, but waistlines, populations, popularity, curiosity, and information.

Ideas want to propagate themselves. When two ideas have sex, most of the offspring are hideous mutants: the shower thoughts, the drunken 3am kitchen ‘creations’. Ramen pizza is probably not going to catch on. But very occasionally, you get something beautiful.

The last post was about collecting and curating the best ideas. This post is about earning compound interest on your collection. The magic happens in the nooks where ideas collide and fuse, but we have to create the right conditions for recombination—the equivalent of turning down the lights and piping Barry Manilow through the speakers.

To earn compound interest on your money, you need somewhere to put it, like a bank account, and a practice for making it grow—an investing strategy. Same goes for information. I suggest the ‘somewhere to put it’ should be a Commonplace Book, and the ‘practice for making it grow’ should be the Zettelkasten Method.

If this is all German to you, no fear. Here’s what we’re going to cover…

Notes on Note Taking: How to Read a Book

Notes on Note Taking: How to Read a Book

Note taking is overrated. Underlining key passages, scribbling insightful observations in the margin of library books to amuse a future stranger—we get it, you read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince—the colour-coded set of highlighters, etc. This kind of thing is very cute, and at the risk of offending my favourite productivity pornographers, almost certainly misses the point…

the futility of giving universally good advice

A Repository of Cool Stuff For People Who Are Somewhat Like Us

No-one is ever forcing you to act on a recommendation, this is just another data point to factor into your decision, and more information is always better. Right?

…no. Search costs are a thing that exists. Bad information is worse than no information, so we have a responsibility to find and boost genuine signals, rather than spray out more noise. As Tyler Cowen says, giving someone your favourite book imposes an obligation on them: now they have to read it, or skim enough to convincingly pretend they read it, or at least feel guilty about not having read it.

Format, context, preference, timing: unless all these factors happen to line up, specific recommendations sound a lot like random monkey noises.

I say all of this as a prelude to the fact that I’m about to…lay a bunch of recommendations on you.

Roam Research for Getting Things Done (GTD) Cover Image

Roam Research for Getting Things Done (GTD)

This is a GTD guide I wrote for the Roam Research team. I’ve since developed a much smoother workflow, so I’ll update this guide soon. In the meantime, this should give you a decent intro to both GTD and Roam.

The central idea of GDT is to capture and close ‘open loops’—to get stray thoughts, to-dos, and concerns out of your head, and pin them to the page for future processing.

This frees up mental bandwidth so you’re not feeling guilty or overwhelmed, and means you don’t have to rely on the memory of your leaky meat-computer. As David Allen says: “Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.”

There are dozens of approaches to implementing GTD, each tailored to a different set of tools and preferences. Here’s how you can set up a simple GTD-style system in Roam…

Kindly Stop Saying The Efficient Market Hypothesis is Dead

There are whispers that the Efficient-Market Hypothesis (EMH) is dead.

Smart people say the EMH may have been the real victim of the coronavirus. These people, or their friends, were able to get ahead of the recent market crash. They sold stocks before the market reacted, or shorted them, or bought ‘put’ options, and made handsome profits.

They beat the market without having any special information! They were reading the same news and reports as everyone else. They made a profit by acting on public information that was right there for anyone to see. And so, the EMH is dead, or dying, or at the very least, has a very nasty cough.

I say this is wishful thinking: rumours of the death of efficient markets are greatly exaggerated.

All life is an experiment cover: Einstein beakers illusio

The Self-Experimentation Guide

I started this blog with a vague premise that there was something valuable about trying weird things, and taking a few steps off the beaten path. I didn’t have any actual justification for this at the time, so I borrowed an impressive-sounding quote from some famous sage or other: ‘All life is an experiment.’

Emerson’s non-conformity schtick was enough to get me started. But now I have a much better model for why this is important, and how to make experiments.

Over the last five years, I’ve done something like 100 lifestyle experiments great and small.

Generally these have ended well; occasionally not so well. When I say I have a ‘much better’ model of how to run experiments, that’s a relative term. I have at least managed to avoid doing really dumb shit, although this was initially as much by accident as by design.

Here’s my rough guide to self-experimentation:

Minimalist Fitness: Lost Art of Calisthenics

Minimalist Fitness: The Lost Art of Calisthenics

Calisthenics is—in my totally unbiased opinion—the king of all exercises.

This ancient artform has been practiced and refined by soldiers and athletes for thousands of years. It builds a foundation of strength, kinesthetic awareness, and mobility that carries over to any other physical activity: fighting, climbing, lifting, sex, dancing, sports, yoga, gymnastics.

It costs next to nothing, gives a maximum of results with a minimum of time and effort, and crucially to our current situation, is about as minimalist as it gets…

how to profit from coronavirus: investing through the pandemic

How to Profit From Coronavirus

There are a couple of cheap/free options you can to take out to limit the near-bottomless downside risk of COVID-19. I mentioned them in the last post, but they’re time-sensitive; hopefully you took those steps before the panic-buying began.

Now it’s time to think about the upside. When a black swan flaps its wings, great risks and opportunities swirl out of the same chaos.

So: what would it take to not just weather this situation, but profit from it?

Inevitable Coronavirus Post

The truly horrifying part of becoming an adult is the realisation that other adults don’t know what they’re doing. Remember the feeling of falling asleep in the back seat while your parents drove you home? You will never, ever experience that level of security again. Growing up is the constant disappointment in discovering that no-one is infallible: not your parents, not your teachers, not your personal heroes, certainly not your politicians.

It’s dangerous to rely on the judgement of ‘grown-ups’, or to wait until someone gives you permission to act. Sometimes you have to take the initiative, even if it means doing slightly goofy stuff…

premature exploitation: popping the bubbles a little too soon

The Embarrassing Problem of Premature Exploitation

Babies love putting things in their mouths: dirt, insects, bits of grass, their own poo. They have no sense of fear or self-preservation, and come up with endlessly creative ways to place themselves in mortal peril. Once they learn to talk, their constant experimentation with the world transcends the physical to the philosophical. They want to know everything. They are bottomless pits of curiosity, with very little in the way of attention span or self-discipline. Your typical two-year-old can only concentrate on a task for six minutes at a time. Young children are not self-aware enough to feel much in the way of shame, or embarrassment. Nothing is off-limits. In a word, very young people spend almost all of their time exploring.

The elderly are set in their ways. The only foreign objects they put in their mouths are dentures and hard caramels; occasionally followed by a fork to extricate said caramels from said dentures. They tend to have stable routines, rituals, hobbies, and social circles. They rarely try new things or experiment with new identities. They’ve lived long enough to know what they’re about, and they intend to wring out every ounce of enjoyment before the curtains come down. In a word, very old people spend almost all of their time exploiting.

The ‘explore-exploit’ constraint is one of the most useful ideas I’ve come across…

Life of Paisa: The Cost of Living in Medellín, Colombia

Shortly after arriving in Medellín, I got The Fear. I barricaded myself in my tiny, claustrophobic Airbnb, binge-watching Narcos and compulsively reading up on the lurid crimes that still plague the former murder capital of the world. Every backfiring engine was a gunshot. Every taxi driver was scheming to deliver me into the hands of the paramilitaries lurking in the jungle. At the calisthenics park, I carefully guarded my water bottle, in case someone slipped in the scopolamine drops that would turn me into a zombie.

My salvation came, as it often does, through a basic grasp of statistics…

the art and science of mental time-travel: cover image

Time Travel for Pleasure and Profit

Our meatsack bodies slavishly plod along at the precise rate of one second per second. But our minds are unbounded by the constraints of time or space, free to wander the past at will, and poke into the distant corners of the future.

The ability to create vast, hyper-detailed simulations of the past and future is the closest thing we have to a superpower, because it lets us do the following…

2019 spending report: the year of becoming a fancy bitch

2019 Spending Breakdown: The Year of Becoming a Fancy Bitch

Well, time to hand in my frugality card. In 2019, my expenses jumped 38 per cent!

…or perhaps not just yet. I spent most of the year in the Americas, including three of the most expensive cities in the world, which was a shock to the system after so much time in Asia.

It’s only fair to separate this out. After doing some very technical analysis, I calculate that my lifestyle has inflated by 1.25x this year.

Not quite as bad, but still a big leap. This was the year of becoming a Fancy Bitch. Honestly… I’m kind of into it.