The rebirth of expertise

By now everyone knows, and it’s potentially become a true-ism that experts are not relevant anymore. TED talks((Too lazy to find the best ones)), books, think pieces, etc all tout the distribution of knowledge, the wisdom of the crowds as having vanquished the experts.

Everyone knows you should look at the amazon review to see if it’s good or not. I mean review sites online can be bought or sold or etc.

The problem is that, like most things, once everyone thinks it’s true, it probably no longer is.

Every Amazon seller is gaming the review system. Both boosting themselves and also trying to take down the competition with fake reviews and fake returns.

The pandemic, and the US election has also proven how, let’s say sub-optimal, the wisdom of the crowd is. Recently I basically put more trust into Wirecutter reviews than anything else. I suspect the pendulum has already started to swing back and trust and expertise will be once again prioritized.

Or at least I hope.

Death has a way of putting things in perspective

In the last few years 3 people I knew who were my age died. Twice of cancer and one suicide. I’m still at an age where any death is tragic and death has a way of putting things in perspective.

I remember having a close call with someone very close to me who was suicidal. Those times really helped me put things in perspective.

I’ve always been good under pressure (which confuses folks because of the anxiety) and I remember a time working at VIP when some site went down and we may of caused data loss. I remember telling a coworker who felt anxious that they didn’t need to worry because no one died and no one will die from pageviews missing, even if it goes into the 100s of thousands of pageviews. I’m lucky in that I’m in a field where the chance of my mistake causing death is minimal and I feel for those who day in and day out have to accept that the consequences of their actions may be death.

Death also minimizes everything else. Being frustrated with a friend, a lover, a relationships (of any type) that broke down, all these things seem, unimportant. Why hold on to that pain? Why hold on to that resentment and anger when things are so fragile? Why choose to stay hurt and to not move forward when we’re a heartbeat away from nothingness?

I’ve been guilty of this, In the past and even now. So why is it that it’s so hard to let go and to make amends? Not only with others but with ourselves.

To radically accept what happened and see it for what it is. A lifeless memory from the past that shouldn’t take precedence on the living moment.

I know some folks will, rightfully, point out that there is a reason for this pain, that it’s purpose is to teach us a lesson. It’s there so we don’t just keep putting our hand on a hot stove or keep engaging in patterns that harm us. I think that’s distinct from accepting the past (or the present) and to make amends with it. It’s not that you forget what happened. It’s that you accept what happened and become at peace with it and the people involved.

Luck, the Butterfly Effect, Capitalism, & Taxes

It’s always strange to realize how much a small instant can change our lives.
I think of many famous actors, and they probably don’t know the junior casting agent that advocated for them to be auditioned which lead to super stardom.

So many people’s life have been incredibly influenced by small actions of someone they may not even know.

I remember applying to Shopify in 2011. I was working in politics at the time so my LinkedIn was as plain and boring as possible. You don’t want to attract the attention of the other party’s “Opposition research” team. (Most “scandals” or most weird news you hear about a politicians past on the news was most likely fed to the media by someone’s Opposition research group).

At the time in my application I told them how they needed to integrate shopify with WordPress. I got an email back telling me they looked at my Linkedin and didn’t think I was a good fit. I hadn’t even thought of my LinkedIn when I applied. I focused on my cover letter and answering their questions. I didn’t even reply back challenging that either. A year later I was at WordPress VIP and was tasked with reviewing the new Shopify WordPress plugin for security and performance concerns. The very one I had essentially been told I was not good enough to write.

It’s strange because that tiny thing, my linkedIn profile has in a way had a huge impact. If I had been a Shopify employee at that time, I would have had stock options that would be worth millions. It’s interesting how tiny decisions can have huge impact. I know it’s the butterfly effect and it’s been “proven”, but still, thinking about it in actions in ourselves and for others makes it so mesmerizing. And just so we’re clear, I’m not hung up about not having gone to Shopify. I have had a great career and I’m financially comfortable.

Now, let’s imagine the flip side of this. A small action by someone else, or by ourselves could have incredibly negative impacts on our lives or the lives of others.

The wheel of chance is not just one of fortune. A chance encounter at a store can catch you COVID no matter how diligent you may try to be. A missed appointment for sickness can cause a spiral of debt.

This is something I’ve mentioned often, what chance has made yours is not really yours. But also, it’s all just chance. Sure the actions we do can help us spin the wheel more or fewer times. But it’s still chance.

As much as we as a society see folks like Gates, Bezos, Buffet, as smart folks. They aren’t really. There are thousands, if not millions of people who are smarter. What those people were was lucky.

You perhaps don’t believe me, so read this article. tl ;dr if 90% of an outcome is skill and 10% chance. If you have 10 000 people applying for 10 positions, on average only 8 of the 10 most skilled people will make it. If something is, more realistically ratio of 75%-25% then, the top 10 in terms of skill only have a 50-50 chance of getting picked. That’a not to say they aren’t skilled, just that their luck is what tipped the scale.

The ramifications of this are wide and should lead to far less inequity in the world. I’m not saying everyone should have exactly the same things and work shouldn’t be rewarded. But let’s face it, after 100 million in the bank….. you’ve received more than enough for your skills. The rest was just chance, OR, even more likely chance, skill, and taking advantage of others.

Now that I’m not in gov I can say random things like, The tax rate on capital gains should be the same as work income (I know I probably could of said stuff like this because of the way the policies are written, but I’d rather not).

It’s insane to be that someone making $500 000 from investments gets taxed only 1.5% more than someone making $45 000 from working (Federally [15% vs 33% / 2]).((Okay, it’s slightly more complex than that because it’s the income that is calculated at 1/2 and not the tax rate, but that should mean that it’s usually less than 1.5%. But again individual situations will vary.

The investment is really just a bonus for having money. It’s a luxury of having been able to have early lucky breaks. I know all the alleged economics thinking behind this, but if there’s something that’s been proven true in the last 100 years is that economists don’t really know what’s going on.

Now after raising capital gains taxes and instituting a wealth tax for fortunes over 10 million ((Yes yes, I know all about the alleged risks of people just moving money offshore, etc etc, we should just do something similar to the Americans and if you want a Canadian citizenship, you need to file Canadian taxes and you’ll pay a certain minimum % (over a certain amount, let’s say 250 000 a year) to keep that Canadian citizenship))
If you don’t want to pay those taxes, you’re welcome to renounce your citizenship.

Of course, this wouldn’t be one of my blog posts with a sort of tie in to basic income. A guaranteed basic income (not universal) would enable people to weather those bumps and would help make it so people can keep spinning that wheel of chance. We need to decide what our values are as a country. I think the Pandemic has made it clear that not everyone starts on the same footing and not everyone has the same privileges, and we should greatly question the reasons behind that while still rewarding top talent.((Also, yes I know I only have enough Economics knowledge to be dangerous and just like folks who have no background in Computer Science shouldn’t opine on the future of AI I should probably stfu. But you know…. I’m human))

Disconnected from the Internet

The last time I wrote many blog posts in a row was on a plane, in a time that seems far away where you could shake people’s hands. It seems there’s a certain something about being disconnected from the internet, from the distractions of the world that helps focus.

It’s fitting in a sense given that I’ve come to learn / realize that I have some((okay, many)) ADD traits. At first I really didn’t want to believe it. People had made comments in the past and I’d always brushed it off.
Many of the manifestations of ADD can also be attributed to depression or anxiety. A telling sign that one of the characteristics is allegedly people who have both depression and anxiety.

I think there’s a few reasons why I didn’t want to accept it.
Firstly I didn’t feel like I met the “classical” criteria, especially in childhood. The logic then goes that if I didn’t have it growing up then why would I have it now? Of course, the fact that I developed allergies and migraines later on in life pretty effectively puts that way of thinking in doubt.

Secondly, I thought that this was actually just in response with the notification economy and how we’re always attached to our phones and get pings all the time. The fact that it happens often when outside without a phone does cast doubt on that. I realize it’s still possible that it’s a learned societal behaviour that just bleeds over to things like gardening but, I can remember a time before smart phones and I don’t think it was much different.((Memory being so trustworthy and all))

The third is a knee jerk reaction to over-medicalization. The fear that we “perceive” and attribute all kinds of medical things to “normal” human behaviour. I think there is some truth to it, but only in the sometimes overly pharmaceutical approach to the solutions, the problem is not in the diagnosis themselves. We didn’t know people died of cancer 200 years ago, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. People were diabetic, asthmatic, depressed, on the spectrum, etc. We just didn’t have words for it except general “they aren’t well” / Aren’t normal.

Lastly is my identity, my sense of self. “I” am “not someone” who has ADD. ((picture those quotes as air quotes)) I had this same reaction when I was first told I had anxiety. I rejected it. I didn’t have anxiety, I was just smarter and more aware of all the terrible things happening in the world. I just had a knack for understanding the true meaning of things. If people were as aware as me, they too would be bloody concerned about everything.

The thing is, in retrospect, this has been going on for a long time. I’ve had many times in my life where I wasn’t able to “motivate” myself to do things. That I wasn’t able to just “get it done”. When I do projects outdoors, I rarely finish the project I started and intended on completing, jumping from project to project, randomly getting distracted by another task along the way. The same with trying to accomplish tasks on my personal todo list.

I developed many coping mechanisms for this. Focusing on lists and sets of tasks that I can cut into bite size pieces. Partnering with someone else on a project to get that accountability. Even one of my meds that I’ve felt has really helped my depression is one who’s off label usage is for ADD. Heck I even tried (and failed) to read and implement the book indistractable earlier this year. And promptly got distracted.

After a bit of time, awareness and knowledge of family history I’ve come to the conclusion I have many of those tendencies. I’m reading a book right now (Driven to Distraction) that I’ve heard from many people with adult ADD that has helped them get a better understanding of themselves.

I guess we’ll see how it goes. If you have ADD/ADHD feel free to reach out. I’d love to know what helped you.

Since death is the only certainty…

Editor’s note: I actually wrote this in like March or something and somehow never posted it

I’m currently reading Buddhism without beliefs which is basically what mindfullness has become. There is one difference, while mindfullness usually only incorporates the practices of meditation under a different name, Buddhism without beliefs advocates for a bit more introspection added. But it does this without any of the dubious religion-y aspects of Buddhism.

One of the things they recommend to meditate on was this question:

“Since death alone is certain, and the time of death uncertain, what should I do?”.

At first, it feels quite Nihilistic. But it’s in a way just a re-framing of “Will it matter in 3 months”. Where as anything that won’t matter in 3 months isn’t worth ruminating about. (TED talk)

After a while, this sense of liberation comes in. In that, So many things become trivialities that we don’t need to bother with or worry about.

Accept and Affirm When Things are Bad. Only Then Can You Truly Make Them Better

A former colleague talked about his experience applying for jobs:

I wrote a bit about this on Twitter, but thought it could be a useful post. You can see my original reply and the conversation on Twitter.

I think that this forced universal positivity will kill your ability to reflect and improve. Too many leaders (and I have been guilty of this in the past) believe that we can fix all problems with encouragement. I myself haven’t fully moved past this.

I think it relates to accepting things for what they are and to the Buddhist Noble Truths. It’s much easier to diagnose overly optimistic / forced positivity in others. Once in a while, when I’m doing it I catch myself. But most often it’s in retrospect or it’s when I see someone else do it. When I catch it in myself or in others I try to refocus the conversation. Step back and re-read our shared goals. What’s our vision and mission? If that’s the case, are we truly achieving it? Am I, or are we deluding ourselves with vanity or proxy metrics?

“The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their true names.”

Maybe Confucius or something

Lying to yourself and others that things are great seems like a good strategy. I mean, if we’re positive about it, it’ll be easier to climb over this actual obstacle. We won’t despair, we’ll keep marching on and eventually we’ll get there, right?

But if we don’t see things for what they are, if we don’t find the truth and tell the truth, we’re postponing the pain and suffering. And not just postponing but increasing it. When we’re finally forced to come to terms with the outcomes we’ve helped create, the pain of having wasted all this time and energy in the wrong path is crushing.

We can only build good relationships with neighbours by calling things by their name.

Paraphrased from Angela Merkel

That being said, that’s not a free pass to just shit on everything you see. Some use radical candour as radical honesty, but the key part is to care. Radical candour, the book, talks about caring personally and challenging directly. I think, in many cases, you can’t care personally. You can care about the mission of your organization, if you deeply care about a mission and challenge directly…. You can perhaps shorten the amount of time spent lost in the wilderness.

I say and write all these things like I know what I’m doing. that I’m able to at all times act in the way I wish I could, as some sort of Aristotle or Buddha, asking questions to people and helping them come to the realization of the truth themselves.

But as a human, I exist in the real world, I’m right at times, wrong at times. The real world is messy and unclear. We don’t have a scorecard at the end that tells us if we optimized for the outcomes we aimed to achieve.

“For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”


The First Noble Truth

In Buddhism, the first noble truth is that “all existence is dukkha” with dukkha usually being translated to suffering. But can also be understood as being incapable of being satisfied. That while there is the “common” suffering of old age, illness and death, there’s also this yearning or craving for more that we can’t satisfy.

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”

Albert Einstein

We keep having these expectations and these hopes. We expect that this new shiny thing will bring us happiness, a new game, a new car, a new “thing”, a new relationship, a promotion, a bigger house, a vacation, etc…

But it never does. We’re always wandering and craving for these impermanent things and transitory states that are ephemeral. We continually grasp at the shadow of happiness, and are left disappointed.

Success is Mostly Luck

I mentioned that there’s a belief we hold dearly in western society and that is that the world is a meritocracy.

But most success is luck. There’s a great video by Veritasium (You should watch all his videos) that explains that more deeply. But basically, even if luck is only 5% and the rest is 95% skill. The people with the most luck with out. And it’s a bit easy to see if you think about it. There are millions((if not billions)) of people who work their butts off. Only a few are really successful. The reason is luck, and the ramifications of the Egocentric Bias.

I know 12 minute seems like a long time, but it’s really good.

Or if you want to read a too long version of it there’s a whole book on it((or just read a few quotes on it that’ll give you the gist of it)).

Also, turns out I already wrote about this

“What chance has made yours, is not really yours”


How Much is a Headache / Migraine Worth to You?

I get migraines, regularly. I have one right now since mid-morning and I’m just now feeling better enough to use a screen((as in it’s now more like a headache than a migraine. Still painful but I can read stuff)) Recently the Botox has been working pretty well at keeping them more in the “headache” range in terms of pain and greatly reducing the frequency as well, often down to less than one a week((From 3-4 a week)).

COVID has thrown many things up in the air and has made getting Botox from my Neurologist more challenging to schedule. I’m currently about 6 weeks past due for my most recent treatment and the last 2 weeks have been painful. I thankfully have an appointment in 9 days, but I suspect the next 14 days will be challenging.

Apart from Botox I also have meds for my migraines. After a lot of trial and error and many many rebound headaches(( A shitty side-effect of many 5-HT meds (triptans) is that it’ll cure your headache, but cause another in ~24h)) I use Frova. I only get about a 50% success rate when using Frova, but it’s the only one of the Triptans that didn’t consistently create rebound headaches.

Frovatriptan((the generic name of Frova)) costs just under 20CAD a pill in Canada, in the US, a quick google seems to indicate that it should cost about $30USD without insurance.

So on average, it costs $40 to stop a migraine. Thankfully my insurance covers 80% of this((As much as people say the benefits at the government are good, the health plan isn’t that great, my previous plan covered 100%)), but that means it’s still $8 per migraine.

As I’m sure you can guess, Botox ain’t cheap either. It’s basically $900CAD for the medication itself, and then another $150CAD injection fee. 80% of the 900 is covered, but no part of the injection fee is covered.((Now there’s some fun stuff that happens here where sometimes you can qualify for a rebate from the manufacturer of the name brand, where they pay part of your portion. I’m not sure how they position this, but basically they get the insurance to pay more than the generic would cost but re-imburse part of it to the patient. All that to say, it’s usually around $100 that I pay instead of the $180 that would be the 20%)) So basically it’s 250$((see calculations in previous footnotes for why it’s not $330) every 3 months.

Again, this is with insurance. I also take 2 other medications for the migraines as daily preventative, but those cost less((“Only” about $60 a month)).

For some reason we still don’t have a national pharmacare plan.

I don’t know how much is should cost to fix a migraine, but it probably shouldn’t be close to $8 000 a year. There should never be a $8 000 barrier stopping you from being able to participate in society.

Canada is the only country in the world with a universal health care system that excludes prescription drugs. It’s time to fix that.

Books are too damn long (Seeing Like a State)

I’m reading (actually listening) to Seeing like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed because everyone keeps raving about it, and while it is an interesting book and it does a good job at setting the premise, and is great at showing the hubris behind believing one can mast complex systems (as opposed to complicated systems) it has the same problem most books have, which is that it’s needlessly long.

Now, of course, this was exacerbated by the fact that I was listening to it in the car and it’s not really easy to skip ahead.

But still it has the same problems I find in many books, it takes a chapter to repeat over and over the same point. Yes with varying anecdotes and the like, but it’s the same thing. And it’s not like there is more “proof” in the extra pages in each chapter, it’s just repetition of data points and examples.

I feel like most books could be cut by 80% but then have links to supporting evidence and supporting examples.

I loved the part about the architecture disasters of trying to instill order by Le Corbusier vs the embracing of complex systems of interdependence by Jane Jacobs.

But it just belaboured the point. It went on and on about the visuals from the sky metaphors and just kept repeating itself. I got it, your premise is that this is bad and this is why. Giving me 3 more anecdotes about how it was bad in other circumstances is not actually giving me real evidence of this, so I’m not going to change my perception of the truthiness of what you’re saying based on you repeating it 4 times with 4 different examples. That’s not actually giving me real evidence, it’s just showing me more cherry-picked examples to prove your point.

What it should do, it give the premise, give an example to understand context and get a sense of the ramifications of the premise and then, if you have any, link to supporting evidence in the annexes. No one needs to read the same thing 4 times.

I suspect part of the problem is that, if this was a 50 page book instead of a 500 page book, people wouldn’t pay $15 for it. One thing I like about Sam Harris((note that this is not an endorsement of Sam Harris, I disagree with some of his opinions)) is that his books are “short”((relatively speaking)), around 100 pages for Lying (Which is an interesting read about how you should just tell the truth) and Free Will((I’d suggest also reading the critical review by Daniel Dennett and Harris response). Taking away your thoughts on the content and the arguments in the book, I much prefer this method of reading and understanding someone’s thoughts vs the traditional model of a book.

I suspect there are reasons (be it just that the system is set out that way, that people won’t pay for content in different forms, this is a proven form, etc) But I feel like there needs to be something that’s a bit longer than Blinkist, but shorter than a 16 hour audio book / 500 pages of repetitive text.