All posts by pipik1199

Thinking outside the box about the Equifax breach

Gus Hurwitz had a thoughtful post about the Equifax breach on the American Enterprise Institute blog.

(Full disclosure: Like most techies, I flirt with Libertarianism but basically don’t think much of it.  Living in Washington DC, which effectively has no government, has taught me a lot about the limitations of the philosophy)

Instead of piling on to Equifax, and pummeling them for not having had better security practices, he instead points out that breaches are quite mundane, and that the vectors whereby breaches occur are quite mundane.  In this case, it sounds as if yet another contractor allowed yet another intrusion because of yet another failure to apply known patches.

What Hurwitz points out, in essence is that the occurrence of these “outlying” events is almost certain in systems of enough size and complexity.  Your one server will almost never go down.  Your 10,000-server farm is certain to have numerous servers down at any point in time.

To put it another way, the attackers on a system like Equifax’ don’t have to coordinate.  They can all try at various times and in various ways, and eventually they will succeed.

The defenders, on the other hand, being a centralized group with a castle and a moat, have to be perfect in their defense or the enemy will get in.  Centralized systems have a very hard time fighting decentralized systems.

So Hurwitz asks an interesting question: how can we make the defense of a system like Equifax’ be more decentralized?

One answer is: notify a consumer when their credit data gets pinged, and require the consumer to affirm that the ping was genuine.

I just signed up, in the wake of the breach, for a service that does just that.  Unfortunately, the service is only alive for 90 days and doesn’t auto-renew.  So I have to remember to do so.  Yet another attack surface.  But better than nothing.

Why not have such a service be the default?

Feeling Better

OK, I’m a slow learner.

But it’s only dawned on me slowly that at least half my problems come from not feeling better.

I don’t mean “feeling better” in the sense of “feeling good.”  I would love to feed good all of the time, but it’s probably not in the cards.

I mean “feeling better” in the sense of “get better at feeling.”  I learned from Jung years ago that you either get absorbed in your feeling — bad! — or you remain mindful while a feeling passes through you — good!

So the aim is to remain mindful even while the feeling is taking place.

So far so good.  So how do you get better at something?  Well, I’ve been reading a lot about Deep Work and deliberate practice, so it was only natural to google about “deliberate practice for feelings.”

Well, pretty thin gruel: there’s a lot about getting better at expressing your feelings (not that there’s anything wrong with that, I suppose) and a lot about deep feelings, but nothing to speak of about using the “deliberate practice” technique for improving your ability to feel.

So I’m reviewing what I know about deep practice:

  • It’s systematically identifying weaknesses in the area and correcting them by repeated practice
  • It’s unpleasant, because you’re always doing stuff you’re not very good at
  • It benefits enormously from having a teacher or coach, although some people (Ben Franklin, e.g.,) seem to have done OK without one.

As I’m toting up this info, all of a sudden it dawns on me: deliberate practice of feelings is nothing but psychotherapy.

In psychotherapy, you are essentially going over feelingful situations again and again, minutely re-rehearsing what you could have done, or what you were really doing, or what you wanted to do.  You are doing this under the watchful ear of a coach — your therapist — who is correcting your self-delusions and forcing you to look straight at what happened internally and externally.

It’s deliberate practice of feelings.

OK, so I’ve been a huge lifetime consumer of psychotherapy services.  And I’ve also been a lifelong skeptic that you needed the therapist (although it’s proven itself time and again: I’m just a cheapskate, in part, and in part a non-joiner of things; I joined plenty in my youth).

So I’ve got to ask: is there any Ben Franklin-style hacks you can do to get the benefits of deliberate practice with feelings without the expense and, yes, cultishness of psychotherapy?

An ongoing question.

Themes for Study and Learning in May

Themes for April, with my self-assessment:

 I was pretty bogged down with my new course and the associated learning stuff, like Intellectual Property and different kinds of startup strategy.  I learned a lot — as I always do — by teaching the material in the course, but I didn’t accomplish much on study and learning themes 1 and 2 below.

  1. Read about plot and suspense.  I basically didn’t get to this at all.   It would get on the goals list for a week and then get shoved to the back by almost anything else.  Maybe just a classic case of “important but not urgent,” but I did some mulling about writing fiction in general during April and it was not especially fruitful or favorable to working away at the fiction-oriented Deliberate Practice.  So, net result: nothing.
  2. Read about Phenomenology and Existentialism .  I had intended to try Heidegger’s “Being and Time” this month, but didn’t get there.  Ditto the remarks above, with the additional observation that, pleasant and interesting as this stuff is, it’s really not essential to my life going forward.  I spent some energy this month reading about focusing on main things (“Essentialism”, by Greg McKeown, which was terrific, and The 80/20 Principle, by Richard Koch, which was OK but not as good.  And, frankly, Phenomenology and Existentialism are not as essential as one might wish.
  3. Learn more about DIY (“do it yourself”).  I did a fair amount of digging about DIY, mostly YouTube videos and Googling, trying to find out more about mudding and interior patching generally.  More on this this month, I think, although not one of the Big Three.

So, the May themes will be:

  1. Pathways to Entrepreneurs.  This theme re-emerges because I’m trying to dust off and get traction on my EBE Project from last fall.  The idea here is to figure out how to get academic research into the hands of entrepreneurs (and useful to them!).
  2. Retirement Jobs.  I’ve been selling the idea of actual jobs  in retirement short (as opposed to projects or little gigs).  I want to find out if there’s actually a possibility of a) getting a real job in retirement and b) getting satisfaction from it.
  3. Better Investments.  I’ve been asset allocating and rebalancing for years and want to find out if I could get better returns by investing more actively.

Themes for Study and Learning in April

Themes for March, with my self-assessment:

  1. Continue with Fascism and Totalitarianism.  Will be helpful to an essay I’m trying to write this month, as well as inherently useful.  I didn’t write the essay in March, and probably won’t in April, so the theme is a little moot for my immediate needs.  It continues to be an important issue for America, but so far kleptocracy and incompetence seem like worse threats than fascism (although it’s waiting in the wings).
  2. Read about Intellectual Property.  I have to teach the topic at the end of month, and I’ve always — as a self-respecting software guy — kind of hated and dissed the subject.  Time to know more.  I read a few things, somewhat thin gruel, and had a couple of great conversations.  Probably not on the docket for April.
  3. Read about plot and suspense.  I’m trying to get better at this in my own writing through “deliberate practice”, so I’ll be actively researching the topic as well.  I’ll continue this one in April.  I had a hard time doing this deliberate practice (as all the shills for deliberate practice say one will), but it’s very helpful.  I’m going to keep it up and try to notch it up.

So the April themes will be:

  1. Read about plot and suspense, per above.
  2. Read about Phenomenology and Existentialism .  I got halfway through “At the Existensialist Cafe” this month, with great pleasure, and it inspired me to have a go at Heidegger’s “Being and Time” this month.  Wish me luck.
  3. Learn more about DIY (“do it yourself”).  I’m a moderate DIY-er around the home, but want to learn more, especially about woodworking and plumbing.

Themes for Study and Learning in March

Well, February flew by “study and learning”-wise.  Hmm.  I’ve heard and repeated many times that the perception of time is logarithmic: proportional to how much time has passed for one.  So a month now — and especially a shortie like February — is nothing like a month when I was 8.  Sigh.

Anyhow, here were the themes for February, with my self-assessment:

  1. Continue with Fascism and Totalitarianism.  Hopefully Arendt will become available soon at the library (or I may just have to spring for it).  Open to other suggestions.  Progress: Not much.  I gave up on the original Arendt and purchased “The Portable Hannah Arendt” at some point in Feb.  I read most of the Preface, but still have to get to Ms. Arendt.  See below, carried forward.
  2. PowerPoint innards.  I have a scheme to code a web app which will check your PowerPoint deck for “5 common Intelligent Pitching flaws” per my work on Intelligent Pitching over the last couple of years.  See back posts for more.  Progress: I read two days about ppt innards, and made some progress with “deliberate practice” on the python open-source ppt parsing lib (grok-ing all the makefile commands, for example).  To be continued, but not in March
  3. Poker.  I’m in a regular poker game but not getting any better at it.  Time to buckle down and do some reading and deliberate practice.  Progress: I started “Education of a Poker Player”, by Herbert Yardley.  Read the first chapter, which was all about “tells”.  Great stuff, and great for serious poker, but doesn’t help me with my group, where we play whatever game the dealer wants and they’re usually glitzy and whacky, so tells don’t help much.

And, looking forward for March:

  1. Continue with Fascism and Totalitarianism.  Will be helpful to an essay I’m trying to write this month, as well as inherently useful.
  2. Read about Intellectual Property.  I have to teach the topic at the end of month, and I’ve always — as a self-respecting software guy — kind of hated and dissed the subject.  Time to know more.
  3. Read about plot and suspense.  I’m trying to get better at this in my own writing through “deliberate practice”, so I’ll be actively researching the topic as well.

Comments always welcome.

Themes for study and learning in February

The themes I wanted to work on  for January were:

  1. Continue with Presence and Deep Work.   I got a lot of reading done on this and some good work in January.  Going forward I’ll be experimenting with strategy and tactics for increasing my Deep Work time (and my presence with respect to Deep Work and, really, everything).
  2. Fascism and Totalitarianism.   Didn’t get far with this, since I wanted to start with Hanna Arendt and (surprise surprise!) it’s in great demand at my libary, so I haven’t risen to the top of the queue.  I’ll continue this thread in February
  3. The Body.   4HB was a bit disappointing on second reading.  Tim Ferriss is a great showman and he has all kinds of cool hacks, but for my Body scheme I’m moving forward with more classic approaches: Weight Watchers, YAYOG (You Are Your Own Gym), and the “Younger Next Year” approach to working (back) up to fitness. 

Themes for February

  1. Continue with Fascism and Totalitarianism.  Hopefully Arendt will become available soon at the library (or I may just have to spring for it).  Open to other suggestions
  2. PowerPoint innards.  I have a scheme to code a web app which will check your PowerPoint deck for “5 common Intelligent Pitching flaws” per my work on Intelligent Pitching over the last couple of years.  See back posts for more.
  3. Poker.  I’m in a regular poker game but not getting any better at it.  Time to buckle down and do some reading and deliberate practice.

Welcome your thoughts…

“Talent is Overrated” and Deliberate Practice

Just finished reading “Talent is Overrated”, by Geoff Colvin, which Ii read on the advice of Cal Newport.  It’s a great book for anyone who doesn’t have the stomach for turgid academic writing but wants to understand what the buzzphrase “deliberate practice” breaks down to.

SPOILER ALERT: For Colvin, deliberate practice, not talent or genes, is the secret to success in any field.  And deliberate practice is:

  1. Activity specifically designed to improve performance, often with a teacher’s help
  2. It can be repeated a lot (and must be!)
  3. Feedback on results needs to be continuously available
  4. It’s highly demanding of the mind and the body
  5. It isn’t much fun

The last one is kind of interesting, and answers the question of why so few people become amazingly good at anything.  But it raises a question of its own: if deliberate practice is so un-fun, why do people do it?

Colvin has an interesting answer to this, related to flow.  “Flow” (of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi fame is a rather pleasant state in which you are just buy enough to be not-bored but not so busy that you’re stressed.

Colvin’s thesis is that when you relax from a bout of deliberate practice you are in flow, and your ability to flow gets better and better the more deliberate practice you do, because deliberate practice makes you (slowly!) better and better at doing your stuff, which feels good.

In other words, Colvin believes that deliberate practice, like hitting yourself over the head with a hammer, feels good once you stop.

Themes for study and learning in January

The three themes I wanted to work on for December were:

  1. World of the Adjunct: I gave this one some thought and a little bit of study; I was able to clarify my feelings about being an Adjunct if nothing else
  2. Reaching Entrepreneurs: Just got started with this one, and most of the work so far has been practical: talking to people who work with entrepreneurs, finding out what “channels” entrepreneurs use and trust (to the extent this can be generalized about).  I’ll continue with this work in January, but doesn’t need explicit study
  3. Presence and Deep Work.  I’m still working on some of the readings I found for December, and will report on these as appropriate.

New themes for January:

  1. Continue with Presence and Deep Work (as above).  The greater my capacity to focus on Deep Work, the better things will go, and I need to augment my toolkit for engaging in Deep Work, well, Deeply.
  2. Fascism and Totalitarianism.  I had intended in any case to learn more about “Modern European Thinking” in 2017: Heidegger, Freud, Judt, etc.  But I’ll want to start with some reading on Fascism, Totalitarianism, and other forms of tyrrany.  Begin with Hannah Arendt “On Totalitarianism” and see where that takes us.
  3. The Body.  I kick off New Years (like most folks) with resolutions to have a better body in 2017, so I’ll want to read some more about this area, establish tentative comm with my body, etc.  I’ll start here by re-reading “The 4-hour body”, by Tim Ferriss.

Welcome your thoughts and comments…  Happy New Year.

The EBE Project

As I mentioned at the beginning of the month, I’m working on a project with the Dingman Center at University of Maryland to bring academic research to entrepreneurs.

The thesis is pretty simple:

  1. There exists academic research (on business strategy, entrepreneurship, governance, management) which is of potential use to entrepreneurs
  2. Frequently this research is in a form where entrepreneurs can’t use it.  It’s “academic”, as we say, which means it’s a) couched in jargon b) written in that inimitable academic style c) geared toward research objectives such as gaining prestige or getting tenure rather than business objectives such as improving decision-making.
  3. This information is also hidden from entrepreneurs.  It is published in peer-review journals which are vital for researchers but way off the beaten track for entrepreneurs.

So the thesis of the project is that if we can 1) identify useful research and 2) translate/transform it into a form where it is business-useful and 3) find a channel which entrepreneurs trust to make this information available, then we can do a service for entrepreneurs and do a service for the research community.

Like most ideas, this is not an utterly new one, and sometimes parades under the rubric of “evidence-based entrepreneurship”.  So I’ve taken to calling this the “EBE Project.”

Of the various problems to be solved in the EBE Project, 1) seems the least problematic.  There is a good volume of research that is interesting and potentially applicable to entrepreneurs and their organizations.  Hardly a surprise: researchers are attracted to interesting problems by and large, despite the corrosive effect of scholarly timidity and conservatism.  I’ve sat in on a number of research-in-progress seminars at the Smith School during the fall, and there are more topics than we can easily deal with now or even soon.

The second problem, transforming the material into a form useful for entrepreneurs, is more vexing.  My few conversations with entrepreneurs about potentially-useful academic research have produced glazed eyes and what one might call “protective distraction”, where a difficult thought causes the listener to tune out rather than try to grapple with something that might be difficult.

The sad thing about this is not that entrepreneurs are skeptical about useful stuff from the Academy, but that it’s going to be hard to recruit any entrepreneurs to be “customer discovery” resources for helping the Project to understand how best to speak to them.

The third problem, finding “trusted channels” that will help entrepreneurs to filter the useful material from the chaff, is not as vexatious as #2 but still not simple.  My thesis is that most entrepreneurs have a circle of trusted advisers, and that getting these advisers — attorneys, financial professionals, investors — to recommend the EBE Project materials will go a long ways toward assuring at least a reading/viewing of the materials.

I’ve spoken with a couple of startup-oriented attorneys in DC and I’m teeing up conversations with incubator execs and investors over the next couple of months.  These will tell me a lot about which of these trusted advisers will be most useful.

More on these topics in coming days.

Your thoughts?

Deliberate Practice is Unnatural

I’m continuing to read Cal Newport’s book on skills and passion.

He has some relevant remarks about “deliberate practice” in his Conclusion:

Here was my first lesson: This type of skill development is hard.  When I got to the first tricky gap in the [paper he was studying] I faced immediate internal resistance.  It was if my mind realized the effort I was about to ask it to expend and in response it unleashed a wave of neuronal protest…

To combat this resistance, I deployed two types of structure.

  1. …[T]ime structure: “I am going to work on this for one hour.”
  2. …[I]nformation structure: a way of capturing the results of my hard focus in a useful form

I’ve done similar things when reading a text that’s challenging: 1) split the reading up into “Pomodoros” (cf. the Pomodoro method I’ve spoken about previously) and 2) challenge the text by writing notes that actively dispute, wrestle with, work with the concepts in the text in order to make them mine.

It’s not easy; it still takes lot of chutzpah to hold yourself steady against the psychic pain.  But it’s worth it.