Review: You and Your Research

You and Your Research
You and Your Research by Richard Hamming
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I happened onto this by a chance link from Mr Tyler Cowen, and I have to say I’m very happy I did.

This little gem of a text is littered with worthwhile thoughts and good suggestions on how to improve on one’s research — but there is absolutely no reason why the same cannot be applied in any other fields. It’s the meaning behind Mr Hamming’s words here rather than the topical application of them which is more important. He also highlights a number of very good practices along with a lot of (fun) anecdotal history that illustrates his points so much better than a drier delivery might have.

I would absolutely recommend this to everyone.

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Of Fate

Why do we think that everything matters?

What do I mean there? Well, inasmuch as I think of the rotation of planets and where our lives end up, I cannot help thinking that there is a predestined version of it all somewhere. That certainly sounds like a possibility. But, if there is, then nothing we do actually matters — so why bother with anything because surely that decision has been foreseen and already accounted for so nothing we can do would be able to change it.

That results from two issues:

a) if anything we did were able to change what was already set in stone, then the variables would be changing too fast due to seven billion people constantly moving them around, and the “system of fate” would collapse on its own complexity

b) if things we did were not going to change anything because they had been accounted for in the plan, then literally the shortest of thoughts in our minds would have to have been recorded *before it happened* in some database for it to not affect the course of life

Why do I say the last thing I did? My own view is that if I tried to model life without accounting for absolutely all of the variables, the things I missed would mean that my model deviated almost immediately after the beginning due to the intrinsic complexity of what is happening. If not even the shortest of thoughts of every one of us seven billion (due to be nine, I hear) is recorded then that could cause a necessary change in the plan.

But then the very amount of changes would be the undoing of the plan! Assuming that a third of us are awake we would still receive approximately two and a third billion thoughts a second (somewhat less), and of these if the plan accounted for even 75% the other 25% would eventually overwhelm the plan with the changes prescribed.

So, it would not be a plan that could be followed.

And if there is a plan created that cannot absolutely be followed, it is a waste of effort. And why indulge in a waste of effort…


Now, mind you… all of this is effective only if humanity is not an experiment of “free will” with some small set parameters that are supposed to be effected whenever any other target/goal takes place in which instance a partial plan would make sense. But that is far too much into guessing the fabric of universe for a late hour such as this.


Friends change, and yet they remain the same. It is somehow so very simple to think of the past that was and to remember how things were — maybe it is such an easy thing to do for the very reason that it can never be again. Never? Yes, never, for even if it were to repeat itself in the future, the people would have evolved. Hopefully. No, not hopefully — certainly evolved. Time changes everything (an Arab adds, “but the pyramids”).

I had been certain of who my friends were for such a long time. And then a few days can change so much — when one sees what is happening instead of a guess or idea.

And that made me realise I had seen some things from what used to be, as if time were fixed. But it is not — time moves constantly; and my mind had yet to accept that people move with time and in time as much as they do. But now I know. 🙂

And I am likely to be a better person due to the knowledge.

A Vision

It would seem that all a person needs to succeed is a vision — of what, where, and when. Images can easily blend into one, but it is most difficult to do something if there is no idea of what is wanted.

Therefore, having an image of the place and time — and situation — would probably be a helpful and beneficial factor.

But, what is there to stop us then ? What of the inherent limitations in our minds ? What are we actually capable of imagining ?

All questions of possibilities are difficult to answer, but I would dare say that everything will happen — sooner or later.

And when we imagine — is it a dream of grandeur, or happiness ? Or, are the two even mutually exclusive ?

What if the situation a person manages to conceive in their mind is mistakenly considered the one where he (or she) wishes to be ?

I guess it all comes down to acceptance.

Narrowsightedness on Democracy

The case for democracy is a moral one, not an economic one; but if democracies can’t handle responsible governance, either on economic or more general policy issues, then governance will gradually become less democratic, and the moral case will make little difference.

The above quote is from a The Economist blog post and illustrates what I believe to be an extreme case of narrowsightedness. A quick Google search on “the case for democracy” brought up the following quote: “The moral case for democracy is based on the apparent degree of fairness that it offers…”

I would very much like to hear what the author of that blog post has to say on such apparent democracies like the United Kingdom, Spain, or similar countries, which are decried not to be democracies by their republican fanatics but which offer a degree of fairness that is comparable to “the greatest democracies” on Earth (or in a singular form, “the greatest democracy/country”, as the US politicians love to call their land). Comparable, I say, though it would not be wrong to call them fairer than the United States.

So, does the author actually mean something more in line with the so-to-say republican fanatics that we see all around the place these days, or does he also accept the possibility of a fair monarchy/autocracy (Singapore anyone?) which does provide an “apparent degree of fairness” and a far more effective political governance (though it would be fair to say that no democracy can or should be effectively governed given that means that debate is being smothered somewhere along the line)?

What is the worst about this approach, however, is that the author has refused to accept that the same moral values might exist in a non-democratic society if the tradition and principles for it were there. Fairness of people does not need to mean governance by people.

Languages: Japanese, Part IV

A few calculated days later so that I could make my post on a overdue time that’s not too long when I get back to the UK in April.

Previous “time-interval” goals:

  • カタカナ reading improvement : Yes.
  • ひらがな reading improvement : Yes.
  • one Cpt. per week from Heisig’s book on 漢字 (this means, Cpt’s 4, 5, 6 and 7) : Yes.
  • reading through that story which began so promisingly with “こんな夢を見た。” [Author: Natsume Soseki, Title: The First Night] : First two paragraphs.
  • listening to that same thing a few times over : A few, quite literally.
  • more music : Yes.

I can’t say I did too well, but it’s something. Demands too much concentration and I’ve started to use my other languages more for some odd reason (:P) so effort has been rather divided.

In any case, excuses are mere excuses (still useful).

Next “time-interval”:

  • Read [Author: Natsume Soseki, Title: The First Night]
  • Listen [Author: Natsume Soseki, Title: The First Night]
  • Re-check some chapters in that good book which I’ve temporarily lost sight of (grammar and usage)
  • More music//New artists

And let us continue!

Languages: Japanese, Part III

Continuing from where I left off last month.

So, this is what I set out to do:

  • improving usage of katakana //very limited success//
  • familiarizing myself with hiragana //rather well done, though not as well as I’d have hoped for//
  • learning at least one word-list per week, preferably two //done as part of another bit of reading/studying//
  • processing one chapter of Heisig’s masterpiece on kanji a week as a minimum //done for weeks 2, 3 and 4. missed one, but today’s not over yet, so it’s a so-so thing//
  • listening to more Japanese-language music (== less Capsule 🙁 ) //mmm, should be done//
  • finding at least one audiobook to listen to even though I’ll understand very little at first//found several audiobooks, and listened to them a few times as well//

That’s basically the beginning of that one story I’ve concentrated on most. A direct translation would be along the lines of “I saw such/this [kind that I am about to tell you of] a dream.” I liked it very much, for rather obvious reasons (beginning a story for such a sentence being one of them).

Besides that, I’ve managed to start making some rather interesting connection. They are quite useless right now, but they are interesting to me in principle.

Also, I’ve taken notice that when I concentrate well enough, my level of (unfortunately, written) Japanese is on par with my French skills. This does mean that my French has fallen to an awful low level, but also that given enough time (very much time) and a dictionary and a grammar book, I can write some rather sensible things (with less mistakes in the Japanese version due to the French employing a rather non-comprehensible /for me/ way with prepositions). That being said, my written Russian is likely to be even worse, though I’ve not put that claim to the test. Spoken being a completely different tune, I’m still rather sure in myself if I’d line my spoken skills right now as follows:

Estonian > English > Russian = Japanese = French

Which really isn’t saying much, but I still found it interesting.

In any case, for the next month… something has to be set down in writing:

  • カタカナ reading improvement
  • ひらがな reading improvement
  • one Cpt. per week from Heisig’s book on 漢字 (this means, Cpt’s 4, 5, 6 and 7)
  • reading through that story which began so promisingly with “こんな夢を見た。” [Author: Natsume Soseki, Title: The First Night]
  • listening to that same thing a few times over
  • more music 

That should sum it up rather well.

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