First Peek at My Sleep Data

Last night I attended the New York Quantified Self Meetup.  It was nice to finally meet a bunch of my kind of nerds.

Inspired by the sleep talk, I downloaded my Jawbone Up data and tried to replicate the speaker's finding that deep sleep % is correlated to previous night's sleep duration.  In my case there does not appear to be such a correlation:

Also interesting, the amount of deep sleep seems somewhat unrelated to the amount of total sleep — ~4 hours of deep sleep regardless of whether I'm sleeping 6, 7 or 8 hours:

To put it another way, % Deep Sleep declines somewhat as my # of hours of Total Sleep increases:

Next step is to correlate my sleep to my performance in StarCraft and Chess.  :)

Also, I'm now highly motivated to do a better job of recording my sleep data accurately.  Some of the really short sleep durations are not accurate, and are due to me forgetting to hit the button on the Jawbone UP before going to sleep, or to me forgetting to keep it charged.


Thoughts on "The Riddle of the Gun"

My friend Matthew read about my exercise wager where the penalty is an NRA donation.

He wrote:

On the topic of firearms, however, I've become an unlikely late-in-life convert.  Flies in the face of my positions on virtually everything else, on which I've become increasingly liberal with age.
I think the best summation of my thoughts on the subject is this Sam Harris article.   Sam Harris continues to annoy me by being able to describe my own thoughts more completely and eloquently than me in a number of realms: 

So go read the Sam Harris piece!  It is super interesting.

Then come back and let me know what you think.

Here's my take.

First of all, it's very refreshing to engage with a rational mind on an issue that seems only to attract the crazies.

I suppose the good news is that gun deaths are such a small part of preventable death in Amerika.  I wish Sam had tried to grapple with the puzzle of why American gun deaths are so much higher than in other places.

He's an excellent writer, so it was only on the second reading that I noticed him sneaking back and forth between the ideal and the practical as it suited his argument.  It was most noticeable when he pointed out that it's impossible to prevent bad guys from doing bad things by taking their guns away, because there are just so many guns in America.  On the other hand, the only thing keeping us from putting an armed guard in front of every school is "entirely a question of money".

Is it not likewise a question of money (and political will, as with armed guards) to reduce the level of gun ownership among bad guys to whatever level we deem desirable?

However, my interest in achieving a satisfactory resolution to the gun debate pales in comparison to my interest in putting the gun debate in proper perspective among the other national debates.  It ranks about #100 on the list, well below another strong libertarian concern that happens to enjoy strong agreement among anti-fascist citizens of both the red and blue variety: namely, the extent to which our government should be allowed to unaccountably spy on us.

In other news, my buddy failed to exercise enough last week, so I've made my first-ever contribution to the NRA, in his honor, $25.

A Symbol of My Commitment to Personal Excellence

TypeRacer.com scorecard for user dsjoerg


Three Big Mistakes That Make Your Accounts Insecure, and one easy way to fix it

My childhood friend Betsy asked me about how to keep accounts secure on the Internet:
I ask because I believe it's way too easy for anyone who has access to a few basic sites to crack passwords based on finding common password patterns for the user. If you've thought about this, I wonder if you'd share with me what you do to ensure your own password security... I'd like to learn to be a better fortress.
She's right!  Here are the mistakes I see friends making:

1. Using the same password for all their accounts, including important ones like banking and email.
2. Writing down their passwords in a place everyone can see, like on a post-it note stuck to their monitor
3. Choosing short passwords that are easily guessed by a bad guy with a computer.  Most people's intuition about which passwords are good is exactly backwards.

To fix all three problems at once, I use LastPass.  My hacker buddy Marian turned me on to it.  LastPass makes it easy enough to have a different password for every account.  It keeps track of all your passwords on all the different sites you use.  So you only have to remember one master password  - the password to your LastPass account.  Their software can be installed on your computer, into your browser, and on your phone -- I do all three.

LastPass has a neat "generate password" feature that will generate a super-crazy strong password for you and keep a record of it.  They also will keep track of your credit card details if you like, and fill in forms for you on the web.  I use both of these a lot and it's a time saver.

I was a little scared at first about the idea of entrusting all my passwords to LastPass.  After researching them a bit and thinking about it, I realized that all the reasonable alternatives to LastPass are considerably less secure.  What other ways are there?

  • keep your own file with all your passwords - how are you securing that file?
  • use the same password on every site - hope none of those sites are run by crooks
  • remember all your different passwords - good luck!
  • keep your passwords on paper - what could possibly go wrong?

What do you think?  Do you have a password system you like?

ps. I should have mentioned one other thing you can do to lock down your important accounts.  It's a simple neat trick with a stupid name -- "two factor authentication".  What it means is that to get into your account, you need two things, for example both your password and your phone may be needed to log in to your email account.  That way, if the bad guy gets your password but not your phone, he's out of luck!  Gmail offers two-factor authentication, as do many banking sites.  Do it!


A Fitness Regimen That Works

I used to be fit enough that when I was applying for a new job with some old colleagues, one of them remarked "You look really fit!"  Of course my first thought was "can you say something like that in a job interview?!"  And then later I thought "wow I guess I'm really fit".

Back then, my workout was simple.  Every morning before my shower, I'd do a bunch of push-ups and sit-ups.  That was it!

Now that I'm 40 (argh) and now that one of our Fire Island neighbors is a ridiculously fit and good-looking man, and now that several of my friends of similar age have health problems related to their lack of exercise, it's time to GET FIT.

But how?  As with sleep discipline, the main thing is finding designing a routine that is especially chosen to be attractive to you, habit-forming, and easier to do than to avoid.

That means:
  • I do some form of exercise every day.  This rule is important because then my day feels incomplete unless I've done some exercise.  It is designed to trigger my mild OCD - a day without exercise ain't right!
  • The day's exercise always comes before the day's shower.  Taking two showers a day is a waste of time that horrifies me to the point that I'd avoid exercise with the rationalization that the second shower consumes time I can't afford to lose.  It's a stupid rationalization but I've done it plenty of times.  So exercise must precede the day's shower.
  • To complement the previous rule, it's completely good and acceptable if that exercise is the 7-minute workout.  Usually, anything I learn from the New York Times is considered false until proven otherwise by other sources.  But in this case, the content of the workout closely resembles what my expensive NYSC trainer used to do with me for two years of workouts, so I consider it quite likely to be good.
  • There is a wonderful interactive guide/timer for the 7-minute workout: http://7-min.com.  Check it out!  With this guide, it's easier to do it right than to do it wrong.  Just follow the damn instructions.
  • I must get at least 90 minutes of exercise per week.  I log all my exercise using the RunKeeper app.  I love to run, which is how I found the app in the first place.  With two 30-minute runs and five 7-minute workouts, I get over the 90 minute mark.  I can easily track how I'm doing towards my 90 minutes on my RunKeeper report page here (I had to upgrade to Elite to get this, $20/year).
The final component of the system involves a horrifying penalty that raises the specter of mass armed anarchy, an endless cycle of escalating gun violence, children running armed through the street.  It's really quite neat.

My friend Todd and I have an ongoing bet.  If either one of us gets less than 90 minutes of exercise in a given week, then a donation is made to the National Rifle Association in the name of the person who didn't get enough exercise.  The first donation will be $25, and it will double each time.  If sending $25 to Wayne isn't enough to make you exercise, how about $50?  Or $100 or $200?

That's an anti-charity, a concept I first heard about from a wonderful site called Stickk, which was founded by the brilliant Prof Dean Karlan who does groundbreaking work in behavioral economics.

(For those of you who think the NRA does good work, please don't be offended but rather be pleased that your cause can only stand to gain from this setup.)

So, do you think it will work?  Care to take a bet?  :)  How do you enforce exercise discipline?


Sleep Discipline

As I noted two and a half years ago, I often find myself awake at 1:00am for no good reason.  I don't want to go to sleep, because sleep is death and I'd rather be reading reddit or playing chess online.

My new plan for a better life goes like this.  I will trick myself into heading towards bed!

At 10pm, it's time to plan my next day.  Preferably on paper, so that I'm not looking at a screen.  The planning is done totally from memory.  The point is to identify things I want to accomplish, which will be a useful reference for tomorrow.  It will get any worries or concerns out of my head and onto the paper.  It also will create an awareness of things I would like to get done, which of course I can't get done very well if I go without the sleep I need.

Next step is to get into bed and read a book.  Arek recommended REAMDE recently.  It's huge and interesting but not so interesting that I won't set it aside and pass out once I'm warm, and in bed, and my sleepiness takes over.

Objectively, I like this going-to-sleep plan way better than my previous one.  My previous one was, in retrospect, a little naive.  Every night at 11pm, my calendar is programmed to put a pop-up onto my screen that say "You MUST go to sleep now, or read this!"  There was some attached hellfire-and-brimstone text I was supposed to read if I thought I should stay up later.

In practice, I would just dismiss the warning and rumble on into stay-up-late disaster.

I expect this plan has better chances because it is intrinsically interesting to me to plan my next day.  There is great leverage in planning what someone else will do, even your future self.  I get a dopamine shot from the power of planning.

Enough theorizing.  I'll let you know how it went.


No really, how am I going to learn to program?

Here is one very good way: JFDI.



What (Programming) Language Should I Learn?

People who want to learn programming often ask me what programming language they should learn.

Great question!  Check out this answer from the Programming Is Terrible blog.

The right answer is usually Javascript or Python.

Javascript is great because you can make interactive web pages using Javascript.  You can make really simple and even useful things and share them with your friends and family.

Another good choice would be Python.  Python has an attractive mix of qualities:

  • it's easy to get started
  • it's easy to build big, powerful, well-structured pieces of software with it
  • there is a big, growing community around it with a positive attitude
  • it's well-documented
  • it's clear and consistent

Ruby is fine.  The Ruby community is full of self-important weenies who think that making a video is a good form of documentation.  But there's nothing wrong with Ruby itself.

Definitely not PHP.  Why not?  It's not because PHP is an inherently bad language.  PHP has a bad reputation that it no longer deserves.  The reason not to learn PHP is the same reason that you shouldn't learn Russian.  Don't get me wrong!  Russian is a wonderful language; I studied it in high school.  There is some fantastic literature written in Russian, and millions of people speak it.

There's nothing wrong with learning Russian.  But you would be better off learning English, Mandarin, or Spanish instead.  Those languages are growing in terms of the number of people who speak them, and the places in the world they give you access to.

PHP programmers are unfairly seen as second-class citizens in the programming world.  Why mark yourself as a second-class citizen if you don't have to?  There's no advantage in PHP that makes up for that disadvantage.  So unless you have some other compelling reason to choose PHP, you shouldn't.

Definitely not C or Objective-C or Java.  They are fine languages, and are the right choice for certain projects, but it's harder to get started; learn them later.


Hey, I hope this is helpful.  Let me know what you think!  Questions are great too.


I Read Some Books

I decided that in order to attain Thought Leadership, I must Read Books.  So I read Moneyball and The Art of Learning.

I will summarize each of these books in 140 characters, in my own private shorthand.

Moneyball: Ideas can take a long time to find an effective vessel. It took 10-15 years for Bill James' ideas to be picked up by a baseball GM.

The Art of Learning: Mental <-> emotional health, discipline, insight and resilience are first-order determinants in chess, tai chi and probably everything else.

Of course there's so much more to these books, but the above lines summarize what I found most surprising and unique about them that can be concisely put.  If I had another 140 for Moneyball I would try and express what a great writer Bill James was.  Lewis is generous to quote James at all, because the bits of James he quotes are so much better than anything Lewis can string together.

James speaks of numbers "taking on the power of language" and I wish I had a better gut feeling for what he means by that.  I understand the concept in some abstract way but I don't grok it.