Way of the Duck

by Buster Benson

Product manager on analytics.twitter.com. Amateur behavior change fanatic/skeptic. I tweet 10.4 times/day, retweet 1.4 times/day, and get 2.1 faves/tweet.

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Lift coaching experiment: Batch 1

These are notes on my coaching experiment that’s taking place on Lift. The program is called Look before you Lift and Batch 2 will be opening up soon.

Batch 1 date: 11/13/2014 - 11/19/2014
Number of coachees: 9

Program description:

This is a 1-week guided self-reflection program that can be used before you get started on your other Lift goals or after you’ve lapsed from something that worked for a while. I hope to help you reveal the hidden obstacles that trip you up whenever you attempt to change your behavior in a way that sticks.

With a short casual semi-structured chat every day, we’ll talk and learn about old and new obstacles in your life, understand what keeps them there, what they’re blocking, and how they’re connected together.

By the end of a week I hope to help you have at least one new idea for a new Lift goal that has a high chance of succeeding and improving the...

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Smarter than smart

There are 2 ways to be “smart”, and one way is better than the other.

Smart Version 1: Know the answer to question X.

Smart Version 2: Know how to find the answer to question X.

If someone were to build 2 giant computers, one that was Smart Version 1 (SV1) and one that was Smart Version 2 (SV2), what differences would they have?

Computer 1 (C1) would need a database of answers to all questions X. For every question it received, it would parse it, interpret it, look up the corresponding answer, and return the answer.

Computer 2 (C2) would need a set of programs that could answer all questions X. For every question it received it would need to parse it, interpret it, look up the corresponding program that can answer that type of question, run the program, get the answer, and return the answer.

Subtle difference but important.

The benefit of C2 over C1 is that the there are probably...

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The concept of a person

“The concept of a person is arguably the most important interface ever developed.” — a key line in an amazing post by Kevin Simler about etiquette and design.

What is the concept of a person?

Until reading the sentence above by Kevin, I wasn’t even aware of the fact that “the concept of a person” was a thing, much less an interface, and of course I had never considered that it might be the most important interface. But as soon as I read it, it resonated with me — it felt true, or at least it felt worthy of further consideration. It seemed important, too. Truth is, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it for the last few weeks.

Rather than attempt to dissect the whole thought at once, I broke it up into pieces. Are concepts interfaces? How do interfaces become important? How is the concept of a person different from other concepts?

Are concepts interfaces?

Let’s take the...

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Make your own @horse_ebooks

Today, @horse_ebooks sorta died. Long live @horse_ebooks!

I remember playing around with Markov chains back in the day, and thought that it would be fun to see what that looked like when fed all 15,000 of my Tweets.

How do Markov chains work?

They are pretty neat. There are a couple different ways to do them, but the general idea is that they take some corpus of text and keep track of how often various words appear before and after each other. Using some amount of randomness they then construct sentences based on these percentages that have most likely never been put together before, but, in some strange alternate grammatical universe, might have been put together.

The result? Frankensentences that have a bit of the personality...

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What’s your life change score?

How many of the following things have happened to you in the last 6 months?

  1. Death of a close family member or friend
  2. Major personal injury or illness
  3. Major personal injury or illness of family member
  4. Got divorced or broke up with long-term partner
  5. Got married
  6. New child
  7. New sibling
  8. Child left home
  9. Started a new serious relationship
  10. Imprisoned
  11. Retired
  12. Lost job
  13. Financial state changed
  14. Took out a major mortgage
  15. Foreclosed on a mortgage or loan
  16. Got a new job
  17. Began or finished school
  18. Moved to a new place
  19. Changed schools
  20. Took a long vacation
  21. Multiple disappointments around big personal goal
  22. Completed a big personal goal

Reply with your number, and any other big things that have happened to you recently that you think are about equal in impact:

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Want to work at Twitter? I can help you!

As of today, I’ve now been at Twitter for 10 months. Time for a check in. I gotta say I’m still sort of amazed that I get a back stage pass to be at the company building the Global Brain. There are days when I’m sitting with various higher-ups and we’re talking very seriously about strategy and vision and I squint my eyes a little and I see both the amazingly unique future-changing thing we’re building at a huge scale while also seeing the little dinky playful innocent idea behind it all. Those are my favorite moments.

I’m of course obsessed with data and with living publicly and with platforms and behavior change and therefore it’s pretty much the perfect place for me. Twitter is still small enough that they give everyone pretty much free reign to think about things at a visionary, strategic, or tactical level, wherever you feel comfortable.

I personally like to think about how this...

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Know thy umwelt

Rambling notes on a Sunday afternoon after a sunny bike ride.

Neocortex

Our brains have roughly one hundred billion (100,000,000,000) neurons.

About thirty billion of them 30,000,000,000 belong in our neocortex, the part of our brain that’s unique to mammals, and that are responsible for our ability to recognize, remember, and predict patterns in the world.

A single pattern recognizer in the brain is hypothesized by Ray Kurzweil to be made up of about 100 neurons, which means we have the potential to store roughly three hundred million 300,000,000 patterns in our brain.

A pattern could be something very low level (for example, a pattern that can detect edges), mid-level (a pattern that can detect words), or high level (a pattern that can detect meaning). There are a lot more levels than that obviously, but the interesting thing is that each level is a new pattern made out of simpler patterns...

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Experimenting with subjectivity

After going to the Quantified Self conference last month and thinking about it for a few weeks, I’ve decided to start a new self-tracking experiment… or rather to adapt my existing one to new thoughts on what’s worth tracking.

So, tonight I made a list of my four top interests, and I made a list of the four people that matter most to me in the world. “Quality time” with these interests and people is what I plan to track.

I started a new spreadsheet with a column for each interest and each person.

I put “6/4/2013” in the first available row, and for the cells that corresponded to interest columns I asked myself, “Did I spent any quality time focused on this interest today?”

I gave myself a zero if I didn’t. I gave myself a one if I spent time but didn’t feel like it was very high quality. And I gave myself a two if I spent at least some high quality time.

I did the same thing for...

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37

Every year of my 30s has had some kind of birthday reflection and a motto. Here are the ones from the past:

  • 36: Talk it out
  • 35: Love the struggle
  • 34: Cultivating the core
  • 33: Frugal to the max
  • 32: No problem
  • 31: Double down
  • 30: Higher highs and lower lows

I was really impressed with my coworker Kevin Weil who ran 30 miles on his 30th birthday this last weekend.

I definitely could not run 37 miles today. I wonder actually if there was ever a year that I could run the number of miles that matched my age. I think 17 or 18 was probably my best bet, but that’s pretty lame… if I can get back on my running wagon maybe I could aspire to run 40 miles on my 40th.

My primary personal goal this year is to do...

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Celebrate your next deathday

Your birthday is the number of years you’ve been alive (obviously).

But what if we also celebrated the number of years we estimate to have left?

I created a quick script to calculate your next deathday (when your years remaining hits a round number). Because your years remaining go down a little slower than your years so far, presuming you don’t die, it’s going to be different every year. The data comes from the CDC’s latest death report.

If you want me to tell you what your next deathday is, just tweet me your birthday (you have to include the year, month, and day) by replying to the tweet below. I’ll try to respond to most within the next day or so.

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