Sunday, June 28, 2015

Gays Should Be Allowed to Marry

For anyone reading this far enough into the future, the National Conversation is currently focused on the Supreme Court's decision on Friday making gay marriage legal in all 50 states, which seems to be an appropriate time to share my view on the matter. For what it's worth, I've believed essentially the same thing since some time in college, so at least three years, but since I only started posting regularly on this blog a few months ago, I hadn't gotten the chance to write it out in detail until now.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Was this a miracle?

I'd like to share a story with you from my life this week. Yes, as the title suggests, there were a couple moments that seemed a bit miraculous, in both senses of the word. But you'll have to hold tight, because the context matters and I also want you to get a glimpse into my life through the story.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

How Not To Lead, Part One: How Not to Delegate

Since high school, I've found myself taking on volunteer leadership positions in pretty much everything I've been involved in. I thought I'd share some of my thoughts on leadership from those experiences from time to time. While I'm calling this post "Part One", I don't have future parts planned yet, so it's a bit of an ambitious title.

Volunteer leadership, like many things in life, tends to be a bit of a convex problem: There's a sweet spot in the middle, and there are a lot of different failure modes around the edges. Organizations vary in terms of where exactly that sweet spot is, so I don't want to focus on that side of the problem. Instead, in this series, I'll focus on the failure modes, how not to lead. Being aware of what the edges are will help you stay near the sweet spot as a leader.

(By contrast, for instance, some organizations seem to find a lot of value in the edges, by approaching problems in an unusual fashion to generate something new. Some of them can even ride roughshod over the failure modes that I mention because it's more compelling to live on that edge. If there's a large amount of competition and/or novelty in your field, this might be the case.)

This lesson in particular has to do with the failure modes around delegation, allowing or assigning other people to do tasks.

Friday, May 29, 2015

How Grace and I Met

My girlfriend Grace Goon and I are celebrating our six-month dating anniversary today. We thought this would be an appropriate time to share how we met and started dating. We've color-coded who was writing at the time; it should be easy to figure out. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

What Are You Building?

I'm currently visiting Caltech right now, my sixth visit since graduating almost 3 years ago. One of the nice things about this pattern of visiting twice a year is the opportunity to take a step outside of the daily grind and see how things have changed (or not changed) on a larger timescale.

Friday, May 15, 2015

What I've learned from time auditing myself

For a two-week period recently (April 27 to May 11), I time-audited myself. That is, I recorded everything that I spent time on, in 5-minute increments. I'm happy to share with you what I learned from both the resulting data and the process.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Posts 1-10 Summaries and Updates

Since restarting my blog 76 days ago, I've written 10 new blog posts, one per week except for Spring Break. At this point, I'd like to take a short moment to provide some updates on those posts.

I also realize that my writing style is definitely rather long-winded, and you might not feel you have time to read everything in full detail. So I'm also taking this opportunity to write down paragraph-long summaries of each of my posts. If the paragraph intrigues you, read the full thing!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Veritas Forum Lessons, Part 2: Dialogue is Hard

A couple weeks ago, I coordinated the planning for the Veritas Forum at MIT, "Does Science Point to Atheism?". I've already written about one of the lessons I learned from coordinating the forum, and this post is another. I have at least one more post planned, relating more to the content that was discussed, which I'll wait to post until the recording is available online. (When it is, it'll be posted on the event website.)

Ultimately, much of how the forum goes comes down to the speakers we invite. The single biggest complaint we got in the feedback afterwards, particularly from the atheists, was that the secular speaker we selected was an agnostic. While everyone agreed that both speakers were very agreeable, the atheists were particularly disappointed that their own viewpoint wasn't represented.

Friday, April 24, 2015

How to Predict Recent Disney Movie Plot Twists

One of my many roles at MIT is as a Hall Councilor in my graduate dorm, Sidney-Pacific. The role mostly means that I hold small events for my hallmates, often with free food. For the last event of my tenure, they voted unanimously to watch Big Hero 6, which seemed to be Disney's best impression of what grad school is like.

SPOILER WARNING: As you can probably tell from the title, I'm spoiling a bunch of recent Disney movies: Along with Big Hero 6, I also talk about Frozen, Wreck It Ralph, and Toy Story 3 in detail, and mix in Tangled a bunch as well. If you still want to see any of these movies, I'd suggest you bookmark this post and come back to it after you do so.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Veritas Forum Lessons, Part 1: Stop Optimizing Everything

As many of you know (from my Facebook event invitation or previous blog post), I coordinated the Veritas Forum at MIT for the second year in a row Monday night. Since everyone asks, it was recorded and will be on some time in the next 3-6 weeks. I'll be reflecting on the event over two or more blog posts, and this is the first.

What was it about? Well, you can read the super long title on the Facebook page to see how we advertised it. To get feedback on the forum, we ask all of the participants what their biggest takeaway from the forum was. Here are some random examples to give you a flavor of the discussion.
the motives of actions are important. In other words, it's not just actions, it's the truth behind the actions that matter. True belief matters, and belief is valuable because provable absolutes don't exist. Even "cogito ergosum" is doubtable
There are very smart people on both sides of this issue
Religion shapes how people act and is important in that way
Respect more important than convincing
MIT professors are not philosophers (mostly)
The limits of science and proving God's existence should be considered.
The presence of God cannot be proven nor disproven, though this fact should not deter belief.
I need to do my taxes in the next two days!
Okay, so that last one was fake, but it did come up in Professor Formaggio's presentation. If you weren't there, I guess you'll have to wait for the video to see how he tied that in to his agnostic beliefs, because you'll never guess.

Anyways, as the organizer, I was already familiar with the content that they presented, and my biggest takeaway was not generated from the discussion itself. Instead, it was through this event that I learned the value in letting go of my perfectionism.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Insufficiently Updating Thomas and the True Nature of Faith

Yesterday was Easter, which as I wrote last week provides an excellent window into the core of Christianity. Christmas might be more widely celebrated in our culture today, but Jesus' virgin birth is far less important than his resurrection to the existence, progress, and veracity of Christianity.

The centrality of the resurrection to Christianity could really not be understated. In text frequently read at Easter, Paul claims that Christians are really all-in on the resurrection: "And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:14). Historically, the ideas of Christianity would not have gotten off the ground if all it was spreading was the message preached by a dead messiah-claimant. At the very least, Jesus's followers would have needed to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead.

But one famously didn't...

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Thermodynamics of Religious Conversion

Back in November, I wrote an answer on Quora (which I'll link to later) that made me think even more about the subject afterwards. An outspoken atheist there had posed the following challenge:
Can anyone offer one serious, credible reason why I should consider a belief in your god? I'm not asking for empirical evidence. Just one credible reason we should discuss this further.
Even though the OP had a vanishing chance of changing his mind about anything because of this question, I found a certain elegance and importance to how it was posed. So much conversation about beliefs hinges on whether this particular piece of evidence or line of argument is convincing or not convincing, but only rarely do you ask why you should be taking up the case in the court of your mind in the first place.

And it's an important question. The vast majority of our lives, we don't make significant changes to our mindset, thought processes, worldview. We might pick up a habit from a friend, find the wisdom in our parents' advice, or learn another useful lifehack from Buzzfeed here and there. But it's only in rare moments that we take a moment to step back and reexamine whether we want to entertain a much more dramatic shift.

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Best of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality

This weekend, the wildly popular fanfiction Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, written by Eliezer Yudkowsky, finally completed. With 122 chapters and around 650,000 words or 2,000 pages (over half as long as all seven of the original Harry Potter books combined), it's no walk in the park.

While I've encouraged many of my friends to pick up the series, the time involved should not be taken lightly. With that in mind, I thought I'd put together a highlight reel containing, in my opinion, the best stand-alone chapters and/or passages, without spoiling too much of the plot.

Thanks to my friends and fellow readers Ben Gunby, Megan Jackson and Timothy Johnson for some of the recommendations, as well as countless conversations about the chapters as we read them.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Feeling intimidated by math

If you knew me in high school or undergrad, this wouldn't have been something you’d expect that I’d talk about. You might even have tried to explain to me how you had felt intimidated in some math class, and thought that I couldn't possibly understand. Well, I think I've met my match here in grad school, at the research level.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Mindless Replicators

In thinking about my discussion last week based on the movie Selma, one question struck me later as obviously the natural question that I didn't ask:

Why is activism dead?

In fact, the movie gives a striking example of activism working as it's supposed to, and it isn't far off from reality, insofar as the Selma marches did change the national consciousness and put political pressure on President Johnson.

And yet, as I wrote about last week, it doesn't seem to be accomplishing as much today. This should be a bit puzzling: Surely it would be even more possible to organize protests with today's social media. It's easier than ever for great orators to put out content to attract others to their cause. In another part of the world, ISIS is literally taking over territory with recruits from all over the world. Take a moment to think about it, to notice your confusion (at least, if you're as confused as I was): Why is protesting so ineffective?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Selma, protest tactics, and the false hope of moderation

I watched the Academy Awards (yes, the whole thing) with my church community group last night, and one of the most moving moments was when Common and John Legend performed the song Glory from Selma, right before they won the award for Best Original Song. As they pointed out in their acceptance speech, Selma is a timely movie, because its spirit exists today in movements from the US to France to Hong Kong.

I came across one of the best discussions of the movie on a website I normally peruse for its excellent sports analysis. Mark Harris of Grantland primarily responds to some of the criticism of the movie's portrayal of President Lyndon B. Johnson, but has many interesting things to say along the way. His defense of the genre of historical fiction as providing value beyond mere recitations of facts is stirring, but I want to focus on another point of his.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Soylent, ~60 meals in

Growing up, we occasionally would have tacos for dinner. We would carefully assemble each taco with a layer of meat, possibly some beans, then top it with cheese, lettuce and tomato. And then after one bite it would all fall apart on me so I'd end up eating taco salad. Eventually, I ended up just getting a bowl and making the taco salad from the beginning.

I asked my mom, “Why don't we go one step further? Why not just blend all of the ingredients into a smoothie? Then you could take it with you in the car to soccer practice and it wouldn't make as much of a mess? Plus, then maybe we could open up a drive-thru restaurant where other busy people could buy our taco paste!”

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Attempting to become a regular blogger


In case it isn't obvious, it's been over half a year since I posted anything here. That didn't exactly match my original vision for the blog, and I'm now attempting to revive it.

"But wait," you think, "is this just going to be one of those typical second-to-last blog posts promising a certain level of content, before the blog goes dormant forever? The internet is littered with those sorts of blogs!"

No, that's not how this is going to go. In fact, to prepare for this return, I already have six posts drafted (to varying levels of completion), with a handful of other ideas on the table after those are used up. I'm aiming to spend more of my idle time thinking and writing and less of it on mindless activities.

I estimate that I can sustainably post about once a week, so I'm going to plan to do so every Monday morning from here on out. Come back tomorrow to hear what I think about Soylent, the meal replacement I've been trying out for the last few months!


PS While I'm pretty excited and confident that this will happen, if any of you has experience regularly blogging like this (writing on the order of a thousand words a week for a personal blog), I'd appreciate hearing what helped you keep going!