Why Learn Math

From at least one, if not many more, perspective, I’m an old man, a somewhat established scholar. What could be more bizarre than wanting to quit everything else and spend six months learning all the math you wish you already knew? Apparently, I am not alone. Warren Henning, a software engineer, is doing much the same, and he explains his motives as follows in an essay on Medium:

To me, math is raw, untapped power. Statistics is helpful in computer programming, period. My dream is to learn the statistics, probability, and linear algebra needed to really understand machine learning and computer vision, which has had a major spurt of activity in the past 5–7 years. To realize this goal, I need a solid foundation so that I can truly understand what’s going on: why something works, when it won’t work, and what to do differently if it doesn’t.

Orange Textable

There’s a new visual programming interface (language?) for text analysis in town and it’s Orange Textable: “Orange Textable is an open-source add-on bringing advanced text-analytical functionalities to the Orange Canvas visual programming environment (itself open-source). It essentially enables users to build data tables on the basis of text data, by means of a flexible and intuitive interface.” Looking through the documentation, it reminds me of something like the MEANDRE/SEASR infrastructure/application setup from the NCSA (National Center for Supercomputing Applications) a few years ago. (The project has disappeared from both the NCSA and the I-CHASS sites.)

Google on Material Design

Google has a really thoughtful specification for the design of smart objects with which people interact. It is mostly focused, of course, in the nature of representing virtual objects on screens, especially touch screens, but along the way it takes into consideration the fact that the virtual objects are on real screens that people hold in various ways. I take it that this is their version of Apple’s infamous HIG, Human Interface Guidelines, which I assume not only still exist but must have greatly expanded since I last looked at them and they only had to treat the Mac UI.

Unsticking Things

Sometimes you need to get unstuck. Here are a few techniques known to work:

  1. Invert the problem: what are the concrete things you could do to make the opposite result happen? Want to finish that book or article? What are the necessary steps to make sure you don’t finish it? (How many of those steps are you already undertaking?) Even if you end up with a depressing list of things you are already doing to undermine yourself, you can then begin to undo each of those things. Instead of whipping yourself for not getting the big thing done, focus on not doing one of the corrosive things. When you’ve stopped doing one, stop doing another. (It’s the opposite of creating a good habit: it’s eliminating bad habits. It seems silly, but what happens is you start finding yourself with time. If nothing else, maybe you’ll stare at the clouds more.)
  2. Eliminate the inessential: there is, perhaps apocryphal, story of Warren Buffett guiding his pilot through three steps. In the first, he tells the pilot to write down his top 25 career goals. In the second step, he tells him to circle his top 5. Then he asks, in the third step, about the remaining 20. When the pilot says those are important, too, and he’ll try to get to them, Buffett responds that those 20 are to be avoided at all costs. The logic here is that we spread ourselves too thin, we either want to do more than we can or we want to please more people than we can. The result is that we end up paralyzed by too much. Don’t be paralyzed. Focus on the most important things and get them done. Who knows, once they’re done, you can re-assess things and maybe some of those top 20 contenders will be in the next five. (Honestly, five things may be too many.)
  3. Use Eisenhower’s Box: Stephen Covey, so far as I can tell, adapted and refined the same box that Eisenhower used throughout his long and distinguished career. I’m guessing someone taught it to Ike, so it’s got some years on it. I could draw a diagram, but, honestly, you’ve seen this particular 2-by-2 grid so many times, you can imagine it for yourself — and that’s probably for the better:
    • IMPORTANT & URGENT: Do it now.
    • IMPORTANT BUT NOT URGENT: Schedule a time to do it.
    • NOT IMPORTANT BUT URGENT: Delegate it.
    • NOT IMPORTANT & NOT URGENT: Delete it.

The effectiveness is when you recognize that things like watching television or checking social media are probably in that last category. So, yeah, sorry about that.

James Clear is a big fan of the two-minute rule, which he divides into two parts. The first is taken from David Allen’s GTD methodology which dictates that anything that can be done in two minutes, that needs to get done, should get done right away. The second one is good: new habits should take less than two minutes to do. It’s one way to get them to stick.