Notes from Yoda of the Science Geek council

If there was a Jedi-esque Science Geek council, Bill Gates would have my vote for Master Yoda.

Steven Levy shared a great interview with Gates on Wired magazine. Separately, Gates also wrote a powerful post on his blog titled “COVID-19 is awful. Climate change could be worse.”

3 important notes from these posts –

1. COVID-19 timeline: “And that makes me feel like, for the rich world, we should largely be able to end this thing by the end of 2021, and for the world at large by the end of 2022.” 

A few weeks back, I thought end of 2021 would be the optimist’s timeline. But, given the information Gates has, this optimism is perhaps warranted.

2. On anti-science and social media: Well, strangely, I’m involved in almost everything that anti-science is fighting. I’m involved with climate change, GMOs, and vaccines. The irony is that it’s digital social media that allows this kind of titillating, oversimplistic explanation of, “OK, there’s just an evil person, and that explains all of this.” And when you have [posts] encrypted, there is no way to know what it is. I personally believe government should not allow those types of lies or fraud or child pornography [to be hidden with encryption like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger].

He makes an important point on encryption. Facebook has been in a hurry to encrypt posts. But, the more encryption, the more impossible it becomes to catch child pornography, hate crime, or, in this case, fake news that costs lives.

3. On the effect of COVID-19 on emissionsAnalysts disagree about how much emissions will go down this year, but the International Energy Agency puts the reduction around 8 percent. In real terms, that means we will release the equivalent of around 47 billion tons of carbon, instead of 51 billion.

That’s a meaningful reduction, and we would be in great shape if we could continue that rate of decrease every year. Unfortunately, we can’t.

Consider what it’s taking to achieve this 8 percent reduction. More than 600,000 people have died, and tens of millions are out of work. This April, car traffic was half what it was in April 2019. For months, air traffic virtually came to a halt.

It is amazing (and scary) to think that global lockdowns have only reduced emissions by 8%. There is no running away from the reality of the climate crisis. And, the COVID-19 crisis, in many ways, points to just how much work lies ahead.

It also serves as an important reminder that we can’t fight physical realities by wishing they go away. Hope and denial is not an effective strategy. We need to let science lead the way.

Water and thirst

Water tastes wonderful when we’re thirsty.

Food tastes incredible when we’re hungry.

A good bed feels amazing when we’re tired.

So many of us have access to good water, food, and a good bed on a daily basis.

And, yet, our ability to appreciate them for the luxuries they are depends entirely on how often we push beyond our comfort zone to feel thirsty, hungry, and tired.

The sinusoidal nature of events

Every few weeks, I find myself marveling at the sinusoidal nature of events.

If last week ended poorly, the probability that this week ended better is high.

If two weeks went unexpectedly well, I can bet that there’ll be a regression to the mean in the following week. And vice versa.

This consistent flow of ups and downs is powerful in its ability to inspire growth, humility, and equanimity once we notice it.

It teaches us that ups and downs are a part of life. That joy wouldn’t be good if it wasn’t for the pain and frustration. And that there’s no point getting high or low about any particular day’s events.

Feelings come and go. Change is constant. And, in the long run, our ability to show up, expect problems, stay centered, and keep plugging away amidst all the change and uncertainty is about the only thing that counts.

3 career perspectives

A friend recently asked about the most impactful pieces of advice/perspectives I’ve received on careers. My top 3 were –

(1) Spend as much time thinking about who you want to be as you do thinking about what you want to do: Our career is a sub-system within our life – as are other sub-systems like health and relationships. There is no balance, only trade-offs. Make those trade-offs consciously.

(2) In the long run, the kind of work you do and exposure you get outside of your work will shape how you do your work: The books we read, the conversations we have, and the side projects we build all matter more than we often realize.

(3) Macro patience, micro speed: Replace setting goals with moving toward a direction, being “macro patient”/keeping a long term perspective, and doing everything we can to move as quickly as we can to learn and grow right now.

This one is especially powerful because of another powerful life idea – you never know if a good day is a good day in the moment. All we can do is keep plugging away and keep faith that good processes lead to good outcomes in the long run.

And they generally do.

Welcoming feedback – a new quest

Years of writing about and reflecting on feedback have taught me to be grateful for feedback.

I think I’ve done a better job reacting to feedback in the moment over the years.  That means being defensive 20% of the time vs. being 80% of the time. :-)

And, I think I’ve done a far better job responding to it after the fact – typically after processing it/writing about it.

While there’s much more work to be done, I’ve been thinking about moving further upstream.

What if, for example, I learnt to welcome it?

I still find myself cringe a little when I know it is coming. The magnitude of the cringe is much smaller than in years past. But, it is still there.

I’d love to change this.

So, this is going to be a new quest – to replace that cringe with curiosity and gratitude.

Let’s see how it goes.

People who are not going to love you

“You come to understand that most people are neither for you nor against you, they are thinking about themselves. You learn that no matter how hard you try to please, some people in this world are not going to love you, a lesson that is at first troubling and then really quite relaxing.” | John Gardener

It resonated.

Useful feedback

Useful feedback has one or both of two characteristics –

(1) The giver hones into the exact trade-offs that the presenter/receiver is struggling with and adds insightful perspective that helps them navigate it

(2) The giver adds a new dimension that the receiver didn’t consider and thus changes how the receiver views the problem

And, generalized truths/”principles” (often misused – more on this another day) tend to fall into the true-but-useless category.

Rare health conditions

Every once in a while, I hear the story of someone with a rare health condition that prevents them from having a regular life.

Some of these require regular hospital visits, others involve allergies to foods whose availability and consumption we take for granted, and others mean dealing with life threatening situations frighteningly often.

Every time I hear such a story, I’m reminded of the impact dumb luck has in our lives. Being able to worry about things outside of our health – our careers, our hobbies, and the like – is a luxury that is only made possible by good health.

And, if we’re blessed with that luxury, we have much to be grateful for.

The Hymn of Hate

I read about a poem that was taught in German schools at the turn of the century. It was called “The Hymn of Hate.”

Here’s the last the paragraph of the (translated) poem:

Take you the folk of the Earth in pay,
With bars of gold your ramparts lay,
Bedeck the ocean with bow on bow,
Ye reckon well, but not well enough now.

French and Russian, they matter not,
A blow for a blow, a shot for a shot,
We fight the battle with bronze and steel,
And the time that is coming Peace will seal.

You we will hate with a lasting hate,
We will never forego our hate,
Hate by water and hate by land,
Hate of the head and hate of the hand,

Hate of the hammer and hate of the crown,
Hate of seventy millions choking down.
We love as one, we hate as one,
We have one foe and one alone–
(Here’s a blog post from Connie Ruzich with the full poem)

German school students used to recite this hymn in school – that in turn helped the government recruit students for World War I.

The writer of the poem Ernst Lissauer, a German Jewish poet, went on to regret writing it as the effects of the poem lasted well beyond the war.

As Connie details in her post, the story took another tragic turn in the years following World War I. Germany, the country he so loved, rejected him as a Jew and accused him of “fanatical hatred” that was “utterly un-German” and “characteristic of nothing so much as the Jewish race.”

Poignant. Sad. Pointless.

Lessons about the futility of war and hate are lessons we don’t seem to want to learn from the past.

Intermittent fasting update – 7 months in

I started intermittent fasting in the new year. I shared an update 2 weeks in – it was looking positive.

7 months in, I think intermittent fasting (or IF) is here to stay. I have fallen in love the simplicity of eating one fewer meal and feeling healthier.

3 weeks ago, we made a slight change that resulted in a large improvement to an already great experience.

For the first 6 months, we ate roughly in the 8 or so hours between 1 and 9. I say roughly because there some variability in the evening depending on when our kids went to bed. As they’ve been gradually staying up well past 8pm, our dinners gradually got later too.

So, we decided to test eating between 830am-430pm instead.

This has turned out to be a masterstroke as it accomplishes a few things at once. First, it ensures we finish our last meal well before we sleep. We’d attempted to do this by doing our dinners with our kids. With a 3.5 year old and a 2 year old, those experiments turned out to be a bit of a farce. :-) So, after a few attempts, we concluded that we’ll have to wait a couple years before family dinners become a reality.

Second, we get a nicer variety of food as breakfast becomes one of the two major meals. That somehow changes the equation vs. lunch and dinner.

And, finally, we’ve unlocked an extra hour of sleep.

It is amazing how tiny habit changes can unlock so much daily happiness (and productivity). This is definitely one of them – a keeper.