Nick, looking unnecessarily stern, as generated by OpenAI

Hi, I'm Nick. This is where I write about things.

It's been a very long time — way more than a decade I think — since I had a personal website that actually got maintained with any sort of regularity.

This means I am really out of practice.

In the intervening years, I've posted a few times at these places:

... but having my own site sounds fun for the first time in a long time. So here I am.

The Mystery of the Bloomfield Bridge

Animated Knots: Learn how to tie knots with step-by-step animation

We Might Have Accidentally Killed the Only Life We Ever Found on Mars Nearly 50 Years Ago

JWST Spots Giant Black Holes All Over the Early Universe (there are so many amazing observations from JWST already)

George Pólya's steps for "How to Solve It"

Heinlein on Progress

This is true in many fields:

Robert Heinlein: Progress isn’t made by early risers. It’s made by lazy men trying to find easier ways to do something.

… software engineering in particular.

Memex is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed

Microbial odor profile of polyester and cotton clothes after a fitness session (Summary: Your athleisure clothes really do smell awful)

Read along with the Feynman Lectures

There are more levels of expertise than there are types of incompetence

I like the first two paragraphs of this article from Cedric Chin:

One of the inconvenient facts of expertise is that experts can see more gradients of expertise than novices can. A friend once described it to me as: “there are more levels of expertise than there are types of incompetence”, and I think about that framing a lot.

Why is this inconvenient? The obvious way this is inconvenient is that — as a novice, you often can’t tell why an expert is good at what they do, or how one expert is better than another. This in turn means that you can’t easily break down how or why experts are able to do the things that they do, so that you may learn from them. This applies as much to business and management as it does to music and chess.

… but I can’t vouch for the rest where he makes his case for using “seeing expertise” as a self-improvement goal. (That could be because I for better or worse have an aversion to self-help texts.) Read for yourself, it’s interesting and your mileage certainly may vary.

The idea itself, that the resolution — the raw number of bits one can bring to bear on a problem — is something that distinguishes knowledgeable individuals from novices is useful. Certainly it has something to do with why novices often believe in something is “easy” or “hard.”

I feel like there’s a connection here to the famous Bruce Lee quote:

Before I learned the art, a punch was just a punch, and a kick, just a kick. After I learned the art, a punch was no longer a punch, a kick, no longer a kick. Now that I understand the art, a punch is just a punch and a kick is just a kick.

What the “levels of expertise” piece misses in my opinion is that it implies “seeing the levels” is “expertise.” I would argue that falls short. Bruce Lee’s version of an expert has moved past the levels-seeing, and is fully in the mode of understanding. He or she has transcended those different levels. For my money this is a much more worthwhile goal.