Apr 072015
 

The other day my manager asked me to do a certain analysis for him. And me being a helpful little worker-bee, I set off to do it immediately. After about an hour of some programming and combining spreadsheet, I realized that I was tackling the problem in a less-than-efficient way.

Sure, you can think first, but just think of all the awesome stories you wouldn't have!

Sure, you can think first, but just think of all the awesome stories you wouldn’t have!

When I started, I had just jumped on the first idea to cross my mind on how I might be able to get what was required. And though the idea in itself was sound, it certainly wasn’t the quickest or most elegant solution. If I’d taken five minutes to think it through before I started, I would have realized that.

In the end I started over using the better method and got the results with another hour of work.

The lesson I might take away from this is: “Think before you do something.”

But that would be wrong.

Or better, it would be wrong in many cases.

First, taking the time to think about something can mean an opportunity is passing you by. Sometimes you need to make a decision in a split second, or have the choice made for you. And though this won’t happen often, the decisions that need to be made this was tend to be far-reaching. The choice to snatch a child from in front of an on-rushing train needs to be made now! Or a bit less far-fetched, saying hi to that cute girl (m/v) that just smiled to you now instead of after a minute is the difference between coming across as self-confident and a bit awkward.

More importantly though, there are decisions where deliberation will actually produce worse results. We have finely honed intuitions, through which a lot of mental processing has been automated. Thinking about how to ride your bike gives a much higher chance of crashing into something than simply doing it. Or when you start thinking about what you’re going to say to that cute girl (m/v), you can be sure that you will sound contrived instead of natural.

Don’t think before you speak, drink before you speak!
Thinking about something is good when you’re new to it, when you don’t have an intuition to fall back on. Of course that’s no guarantee that you’ll get the best result; I have done a lot of analyses and I do have an intuition on what the best way is to proceed and still I chose an inferior option.

Finally, you don’t know in advance whether the current choice you have to make is one that’s better to think about for a bit or whether it’s best to jump right in. And once you start analyzing that, you’ve basically committed yourself to the path of “let’s think about it”.

So, less thinking, more jumping right in! Even if the results are sub-optimal, at least you have a new subject for a blog post! :-)


Bastiaan ReininkI’m Bastiaan. This blog is meant to give you some insight into the things I run into and perhaps to inspire you to go in search of your own life extraordinaire.

If you enjoyed this (or another) post, if you have something to add or to ask, I would really appreciate it if you would leave a comment!

Apr 032015
 

Time equals money. And there are few places where this becomes as obvious as in London.

I still expected money to be heavier than time though...

I still expected money to be heavier than time though…

Every major bank has an office here (many minor ones do as well). Those banks hire lots of people and pay them a very decent salary indeed. In return, all that is asked that some time be spent at the office. Considerable amounts of time actually, with working days of 10 hours being quite normal and staying longer not being much of an exception. And weekends, well, they’re sortoff the buffer for the week anyway, right? Someone once remarked to me: “My most important skill here is going without sleep for long periods” (that didn’t last by the way…).

Time at the office = (lots of) money.

Time spent at the office also means there less time to do marginally important stuff like cooking. That however need not be a problem, as London also has a very good selection of supermarkets selling instant meals and of restaurants catering to anyone’s taste. And luckily, all you need to make use of those is a bit (or a lot…) of money!

Now, the good thing about making a lot of money of course is that you can buy a nice place. Something close to work and not too far from all the cool things that London has to offer. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people with money and they all want to live in the same location. The result is (as a good bank employee should know!) a drastic increase in house (sorry, flat) prices. And then the choice becomes spending a very large percentage of that big pay-check on your 2 bedroom apartment, or living slightly further away. As in, an hour or two commute further away. And you’ll still be paying enough to buy a small villa somewhere in the country side.

Money doesn’t buy happiness, but having more money than your neighbor at least allows you to feel smug. Another reason why it’s bad to live in a place where a lot of people are affluent…
So you make long hours to live in the margins of a city that has a million things to offer. Unfortunately, after the long day followed by a longer-feeling commute all you have energy for is shoveling a microwave meal into your mouth and watching the telly before going to sleep, to do it all over again the next day.

Time equals money. Money unfortunately does not seem to equal time… And in the end, which is more important?


Bastiaan ReininkI’m Bastiaan. This blog is meant to give you some insight into the things I run into and perhaps to inspire you to go in search of your own life extraordinaire.

If you enjoyed this (or another) post, if you have something to add or to ask, I would really appreciate it if you would leave a comment!

Mar 282015
 

Facebook, the Google products, LinkedIn, candy crush, a myriad of other things on the internet can be used without paying for them.

Paying attention to real life is heavily overrated anyway!

Paying attention to real life is heavily overrated anyway!

Still, it takes a lot of time, effort and money to program something that makes three similar pieces of candy disappear when they line up. That money has to come from somewhere and it’s not from the users.

Those search results or that cat video are a means to an end, a way of getting you to look in the direction the company wants you. So that next to the cat falling off of the table, they can put advertisement. And the more information you give them (by liking stuff, by doing more searches), the better they can profile you (they used to do that to serial killers…) and give you advertisements that have a higher chance of you actually clicking on them.

The way these businesses work is that they sell your attention to the highest bidder.

I don’t like it, but it’s reality. And I don’t dislike it enough to actually pay for my e-mail client or anything like that (instead I have a good add-blocker). Also, it’s not the main point of this post.

The main point is that they are in a continuous struggle to get as much of your attention as possible. This means funnier cat movies, more controversial stories, more addictive games. And with so much money riding on it you can be sure that they’ll find new an innovative ways of hijacking our attention centers. I know, because they most certainly got to me…

I wrote about this in two previous posts, the first on doing away with (internet) television series, the second about stopping myself from doing mindless surfing and checking my messages / mail a million times per day.

This behavior created short-term contentment, but it was the contentment of a heroine addict that just got his shot. It’s not that you feel good per-se, it’s that you stop feeling bad. And it most certainly doesn’t bring long-term happiness.

It’s been a month since I stopped watching series, a bit less since I put a serious clamp on my internet. The result so far: I’ve been bored!

I’m well aware of the irony: This blog is just one more of the things only seeking to grab your attention!
But actually, it’s a very good kind of bored. If there’s nothing to do, I’ll go to bed a lot earlier. As a result I get up earlier as well, meaning a slightly earlier tube which is less crowded, letting me arrive at work a bit more relaxed, which stays with me for most of the day (yes, that’s a lot of steps…).

Instead of random “entertainment”, I’ve been reading more (in the bed I get into early). Books can still be addictive, but they are much much easier to put away; books happen in the mind and don’t have the constant bombardment of moving images which our brains are primed to pay attention to. The result, I get tired and go to sleep.

Finally, I’ve been planning my evenings a lot more, making time to go to the gym and setting up time to hang out with friends. Things that really do make me happier.

Attention is the current economy’s scarce resource. Don’t spend it all in one place!


Bastiaan ReininkI’m Bastiaan. This blog is meant to give you some insight into the things I run into and perhaps to inspire you to go in search of your own life extraordinaire.

I love to connect, so if you have thoughts, ideas or questions based on this (or another) post, please leave me a comment!

Mar 232015
 

When I first moved to London I absolutely loved it! Everything was new and there was always something to go see, do, experience!

I can resist anything but temptation! (Red apples are easy!)

I can resist anything but temptation! (Red apples are easy!)

As time wore on, the sense of joy dampened a bit, as I realized that, yes, there is always something to do, but you still have to travel there. And stuff is just less fun if you don’t have friends around to share it with. This became even more apparent when my girlfriend got an assignment in Edinburgh and I really was alone during most of the week.

The result is that I’ve been cocooning more and more, staying at home, not getting a lot of new input. And though at the moment that felt like what I wanted, I noticed that in the long run it made me feel worse. It wasn’t really what I wanted, but it was the easiest option.

Because instead of going out and doing something, I would binge-watch stupid television series (see this post on me saying goodbye to that). But even though I don’t sit staring at my laptop screen like a zombie anymore, I still spend a lot of time staring at a screen, mindlessly browsing, playing games on my laptop or telephone, incessantly checking whether I have new messages.

“Lead me not into temptation, for I know the way!”
I want to go out, or I want to do something that feels like a more sane way to entertain myself: Meeting with friends, going to the gym, going for a walk, cooking a good meal, reading, writing. Lots of things to do.

Yet, temptation lurks!

There are two ways of dealing with temptation. The first is willpower, the second is removing the temptation. Willpower unfortunately is a finite resource and so I’d rather not use it up on something trivial like not checking my mail. Removing temptation entirely would be difficult as well, as doing without e-mail entirely would make life a whole lot more difficult. So, instead I’ve decided to make things as hard as possible for myself:

  • Long ago I already switched off all forms of notification from my phone (if I’m slow to reply to your message, this might be why).
  • Removing all games from my phone.
  • Generally removing unused apps from my phone
  • Moving all apps that are in any way non-constructive further away from the starting page (what is left is the clock (for a wake-up alarm, though I want to get rid of this as well, in The Netherlands I already have an old-fashioned radio-alarm…), Google maps (I do get lost a lot), a memo writer (I have a poor memory) and the calendar (see previous).
  • Unfortunately it seems that removing GMail from my phone entirely might mean I lose all my contacts as well and it might make my phone misbehave. Instead I’ve had to settle for switching off the “syncing”, so that I actively have to make a choice to get my e-mail.
  • Removing all games from my laptop.
  • Installing an internet blocker on my laptop; I now actively have to chose to turn on the internet and I can do that for a limited amount of time (say 5 minutes)

I’m not sure how bad the withdrawal symptoms are going to be and whether this will actually work, but it’ll be an interesting experiment…


Bastiaan ReininkI’m Bastiaan. This blog is meant to give you some insight into the things I run into and perhaps to inspire you to go in search of your own life extraordinaire.

I love to connect, so if you have thoughts, ideas or questions based on this (or another) post, please leave me a comment!

Mar 202015
 

One of the things that comes by in my work with some regularity is that something needs to be optimized: “Draw a straight line through these points so that the summed distance of the points to the line is minimal”. In some cases you can use an explicit formula, but more often you have to set the computer to “trying” many different options.

I can see a higher happiness, but it's going to be a long climb up!

I can see a higher happiness, but it’s going to be a long climb up!

Of course this trying is done in a relatively smart way: “If the latest try is better than your previous try, push the line a bit further in the same direction and see if it improves even more. If not, move a bit backwards.”

Life is in some ways similar, except that minimizing some distance, we try to maximize happiness. And the formula is comparable as well: “If what you just did improves your happiness, do more of it. If it didn’t improve your happiness, do less of it.”

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately?), the mathematical optimization process is much simpler than life; I have a starting point and the slope of my line and those are the only two things I can change. Reality in comparison would be trying to do the same when the points are moving, have different weights and your line is wiggling on its own accord. Because though happiness is just a single value, it’s influenced by such different inputs as the amount of ice-cream you eat, whether your boss respects you and how many days you still need to work before you can buy a new television that is bigger than your neighbor’s.

One more insight: Optimal is not the same as perfect. You want to find something that is “good enough” within a reasonable amount of time; further work may find a better solution, but the time that takes could perhaps be used in a better way…
One thing you can observe when having the computer do optimization, is that it gets “stuck” in a “local optimum”. If you change the line just a little bit in any direction, the result gets worse. But if you take a step back and you move it by a lot, you suddenly do end up with something better.

People get stuck too. A job that is no more than “ok”, or a relationship that is well past its prime. A small change isn’t going to make things better, only a big (bold) step can get you out of the rut and into a better place.

A few things to take away from this:

  • Happiness is a moving target; to stay on target you have to move (change) at the same pace as the world. To become happier, you have to change a bit faster.
  • Optimization is generally done in small steps. Change something a bit and see if it gets better. If the steps are small then making one in the wrong direction isn’t a problem, in fact it gives you valuable information on which way not to move.
  • Sometimes you do need to make a big step, to get out of your rut and to really get to a better place.
  • If you leap, don’t expect to land in the sweet spot immediately. You’ll need a lot more small steps to transform the new-found freedom into genuine happiness.

Bastiaan ReininkI’m Bastiaan. This blog is meant to give you some insight into the things I run into and perhaps to inspire you to go in search of your own life extraordinaire.

I love to connect, so if you have thoughts, ideas or questions based on this (or another) post, please leave me a comment!