Making software and software development teams. Mostly the people parts.

The Best Things I Read In 2023

Anyway, after all that, I played with two big ideas in 2023: Complacency + me, and the question of how to use my time more effectively. And most of my favorite readings this year either inspired or referenced those ideas. And chess acted as the classroom for several lessons. Oh and Charlie Munger died, so I had to come back there. And poetry.

Of note is that listing a post here does NOT mean I agree with or endorse all of the content in the post. 

Also, there are plenty of rereads and older stuff on here.

Notes on Puzzles by Nabeel S. Qureshi

My favorite thing I read this year, and the piece I spent the most time thinking about and making connections to (see below). 

Like anything we spend serious time with, we make it personal with our own threads, and then we forget which bits of context originated from the piece itself and which were added by us. Sort of a personal Mandela Effect - which for some reason had a moment this year - and maybe an insight into how we think and know things. So I had to read this once again to get down what I got out of it that's actually in it:

The difference between a decent chess player and a great chess player is that while both players can avoid blunders and identify good moves, the great chess player isn't satisfied finding one good move. Great players' processes are to find another half-dozen to a dozen moves in a given position, and then to select the best one. That pushing on once you've found a good enough move is hard, really hard, it goes against conservation of energy principles, and it makes the difference between good work and great work.

Or as World Chess Champion Emanuel Lasker once said,“When you see a good move, look for a better one”.

That idea, generalized and applied to any aspect of life that requires skill to succeed at, and the personal insights that generated, was what kept me coming back to this piece again and again in 2023 to reread and rethink.

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Thinking about Notes On Puzzles led to me to reread Kahneman's now classic book. Which I realized on this pass was about, amongst other things, the kind of default mode complacency that you see if you observe yourself playing chess and settling on the first good move you find rather than pushing on and looking for more good moves. One of which might just be a great move. And then finally how knowing when to run that full, expensive process versus just going with the your best thought right now is the trick and maybe THE trick.

How to Become a 1000 Year Old Vampire (posted anonymously)

I came back to this now decade+ old piece this year because of this: "Another big angle on this idea is that every hour is an opportunity, and you want to make the best of them. This seems totally obvious but I definitely "get it" a lot more having thought about it in terms of becoming a 1000 year old vampire." - well, I didn't grok that the first half dozen times I read this, but this year something clicked and I decided to do something I've resisted for decades now: I'm dividing the power hours of every day except Sunday into twenty two half-hour blocks, and being intentional about what I'm doing in those half hours.

On Trucking by Richard Kong

I've been fascinated by long-haul trucking since I was kiddo riding in the backseat of my parents Ford Pinto, spending long trips trying to get truckers to blow their horn using the universal signal. My dad would get so mad when one of them would comply - inevitably as the truck was passing us (trucks used to drive faster than many passenger cars, at least Ford Pintos) - which would cause him to leap out of the drivers seat in surprise, left hand gripping the wheel, right hand already reaching back to give me a gentle but firm whack. 

This piece is a great tour of how the trucking industry works. It inspired me to draft up a similar piece on what I'd learned about the health industry(ies), a project I unfortunately I got sidetracked on, but fortunately someone wrote a much better piece on the same subject anyway (see below).

The Most Precious Resource is Agency by Simon Sarris

As I wrote above, Notes On Puzzles caused me to realize that complacency and being satisfied with the first correct-ish answer I come up with is a weakness. And then I came back to this gem from a couple years ago after wondering, where did this come from, and realizing how with a public school education I was able to get by on horsepower rather than having to work. IOW instead of cultivating beneficial habits, I throttled up the engines for a moment when called on with a problem, and then went back to daydreaming. This piece piles on with "It seems that the more you ask of [young] people, and the more you have them do, the more they are able to later do on their own" which totally resonates.

Lex Friedman interviews Jeff Bezos

For some reason I've listened to and read a fair amount from or about Elon, Zuck, Jobs, Tim Cook, but other than his letters to shareholders I've never read anything about or from Bezos before. I have to admit that everything I thought I knew about him comes from Steve Yegge's infamous (and fantastic) Platforms Rant which if you've never read and you're in tech, you totally should.

The bits about Amazon are interesting, but I really appreciated the focus on Blue Origin and what his vision is there and why. A second space race is heating up, and that's super exciting.

Bolero by Gerald Stern

I started reading Stern's poems just after mom died last year. And then the poet himself died. And I've been reading his work all year, but Bolero is the poem I keep coming back to the most.

The pharma industry from Paul Janssen to today: why drugs got harder to develop and what we can do about it by

Late entry but this is gold if you want to understand how pharma works. As I mentioned above, I started to write a piece like this as my time at AllStripes came to an end up February but I got distracted. This is much better.

The Revised Psychology of Human Misjudgment, by Charlie Munger via Shane Parish

Charlie Munger and Jimmy Carter each got their 99 years. This is such a classic. "The brain of man conserves programming space by being reluctant to change, which is a form of inconsistency avoidance" is mostly closely related to my general theme of complacency. There's gold all over this piece though, and it pays dividends if read slowly and consistently for years.

Jim Harrison's 13 Rules For Drinking

This is on the list every year, and hopefully will be into the future, because it means I'm still in the fight. Harrison intended it to be about drinking, but really it's wisdom in how to manage any and all of the pleasures that threatens to overmaster us and steal our life. Drinking, overeating, video games, TV, Tik Tok, etc:

"The ability to check yourself moment by moment has been discussed at length by wise folks from the old Ch’an master of China all the way down to Ouspensky. This assumes a willingness to be conscious... we don’t have much freedom in this life, and it is self-cruelty to surrender a piece of what we have because we can’t control our craving."
posted in Reading List