Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process

I was about to purchase Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process by John McPhee, but then I read Who Can Afford to Write Like John McPhee?. Apparently most of the book has already been published in The New Yorker. So I might just settle for the audiobook, and/or read the articles in Instapaper (probably both; to listen to it in transit, with the ability to highlight notes in the articles).

First, I needed a table of contents. Then I found pretty much all his work at his author page. Now the articles, presented in order:

Rest by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

I listened to Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang and I quite enjoyed it. Its clear you need to rest for success.

Some key takeaways: rest, take regular vacations (maybe coupled with a think week), have focused mornings (when the alarm goes off, don’t read social media or your email; have a plan for what you want to achieve before being interrupted – consider this your leader time), allow your mind to wander, and exercise regularly.

Some quick notes:

  • Rest is not the adversary of work. Rest is the partner of work. They complement and complete each other.
  • A stoic would say, no good life without good work. One provided means to live, while one gave meaning to life.
  • If you want rest you have to take it
  • Learn to breathe (I think this is something the Apple Watch helps with as well; it reminds you from time to time to take a breather for a minute, and then it quantifies it for you as well).
  • Rest in ways that are challenging or rewarding
  • Long creative lives tend to be lives rich in work and rest. Don’t worry about age
  • Don’t say labor rather than contemplation is what gives you success – this is why you have workaholics
  • Do you have convergent or divergent thinking? Wikipedia has some good reading on this: Convergent thinking, Divergent thinking.
  • Brief periods of mind wandering boosts creativity
  • Associative thinking – maybe this is why people like working in cafes
  • Deliberate practice
  • Have focused mornings
  • Inspiration must find you working
  • Awake and aware or asleep and cleaning up – our brain can only do one not the other (our brains don’t multitask)
  • There’s a link between lack of sleep and dementia as well as sleep disturbance and dementia
  • Vacations are like sleep. Take them regularly.
  • Build rest into your schedule
  • Use recovery activities to help with creativity (why exercise is useful)
  • Exercise regularly. Otherwise strenuous exercise will tire you out!
  • Finishing an entire book is close to manual labor according to Murakami (quote from: Haruki Murakami: Writing Novels Is an Endurance Sport)
  • Exercise in your mid life (40–50s) will really help you later in life
  • To stay ahead, it’s necessary sometimes to step back
  • Bill Gates think week – he spent a week away from everyone including family to read and figure out new things. Very interesting concept, WSJ In Secret Hideaway, Bill Gates Ponders Microsoft’s Future reports its a twice yearly ritual for him.
  • The Samsung Electronics sabbatical plan is quite interesting; you go around the world, immerse in local culture, and it helps the company overall. Read Why Samsung pays its stars to goof off.
  • Depth of experience abroad is important. More important than breadth, i.e. just travel abroad. Working in 2 countries a year is good but 8 will be too much (I personally like this idea tremendously; it also makes for diverse networks).
  • Detachment is important during a sabbatical
  • Annie Dillard: “who would call a day reading a good day? But a life spent reading, that is a good life” (full quote)
  • From a book in 1895, titled The Use of Life by John Lubbock, he makes a distinction between idleness and leisure: “Leisure is one of the grandest blessings, idleness one of the greatest curses. One is the source of happiness, the other of misery.” People sometimes mistake rest for idleness but this is obviously a mistake.

MariaDB Developer’s unconference & M|18

Been a while since I wrote anything MySQL/MariaDB related here, but there’s the column on the Percona blog, that has weekly updates.

Anyway, I’ll be at the developer’s unconference this weekend in NYC. Even managed to snag a session on the schedule, MySQL features missing in MariaDB Server (Sunday, 12.15–13.00). Signup on meetup?

Due to the prevalence of “VIP tickets”, I too signed up for M|18. If you need a discount code, I’ll happily offer them up to you to see if they still work (though I’m sure a quick Google will solve this problem for you). I’ll publish notes, probably in my weekly column.

If you’re in New York and want to say hi, talk shop, etc. don’t hesitate to drop me a line.

Roaming data, revisited

I’m reminded about roaming data as we’re now in 2018.

For me, in the last few years, it has already become common to turn on roaming data at the RM36/day rate for unlimited Internet access. I of course plan/optimise this (since it follows a midnight-midnight regime). I tend not to have roaming data turned on when it is RM56/day (so in the USA, UK, I actually have local SIM cards; I have them in a few other places too, but the reality is they’re for other things like local banks, etc.).

Lately, it’s becoming more common to get for RM25, a 3-day pass, with roaming data. It’s not unlimited, but maybe capped at 2–4GB. 2GB in 3 days is pretty generous. Sure I don’t download podcasts over the 4G connection. But it suffices for all my mobile and tethering needs generally.

This to me has recently become somewhat of a new window, because in a country like China where you almost definitely need to turn on your VPN, you’re still getting a Malaysian IP while roaming and still enjoying access to all websites as per normal (so its great for Google products; still no Medium access though).

I have still not bothered to try a service like Flexiroam.

It’s never really about the product

From an excellent Medium post: The 3 Most Important Things I Know About Consumers I Learned From Bartending:

  1. It’s never really about the product – people drink to feel (or to stop feeling) something. True again about buying clothes. “Understanding these needs goes a long way. You almost never want to speak or market directly in terms of these needs, because it freaks people out and breaks the “magic” of what they’re doing, but understanding the deeper motivations goes a long way in building rapport.”
  2. People want to be guided – so true, I always do say, “what do you recommend?” For me, it makes or breaks my visit to the place; a passionate person would give me a recommendation they themselves consume, rather than what they think I would like to consume. Interesting to also see that people care about what others do… “Social proof is a powerful thing. And with great power comes great responsibility.”
  3. Consistency vs. Novelty – Customers want rapport with you (and themselves). “People love new. They love novelty.”

Giving stuff away gets people engaged (well yes, who doesn’t love a free lunch?).

Perhaps the biggest takeaway is also that people want to like you, and they do want others to like them (and they also want to like themselves).

So when making products, think about fulfilling all these needs.

Reading more, writing more

People around me say I’m well read, or consume a lot of reading materials. That may be true, but lately I feel like I’m in a bit of a constant cycle of going through my subscriptions, and reading shorter form stuff, with a lot more context switching than I expected.

So it was kind of a great surprise that I managed to sit thru and polish off one book on my Kindle in the last day: What Men Say, What Women Hear: Briding the Communication Gap One Conversation At A Time by Linda Papadopoulos. In hindsight, all I can say is I wish I read this book much earlier. I highly recommend it, and maybe will export my notes later, but this quick 240 page read released in 2011 is what I consider “life changing reading”. You really can bridge the he-says/she-says gap.

But back to my point of reading more. It’s probably worth consuming, and then also having some output. Which is why I aim to blog more (I mean I have thousands of notes in Evernote; but that isn’t shared, is it? Current count: 21,457).

Last year started off like this, but I lost momentum as the year progressed; in the first week, I finished reading Choose Yourself by James Altucher. It’s kind of a good book to read once, around the time of the New Year’s, I would reckon.

I don’t know if my thoughts or commentary are worthwhile on issues that I don’t directly involve myself in, but if I’m going to read and even have a one liner comment, I’m thinking it makes sense to blog it. Sure it can also be federated to Twitter. Importantly though is I have my searchable archive on the Web. And I think this is what the crux of blogging is all about – I don’t only have to produce signal all the time, sometimes noise can be good too. (after all, isn’t that the premise of social media? We create a lot of noise, and it seems to work too.)

A blog I once thought was extremely popular in its space, I finally came to realise has quite a pathetic readership on a per article basis. Maybe this is because while RSS isn’t dead, you can’t help people trying to not extend its use (Google Reader’s demise was really an issue).

Anyway, back to my thoughts on consumption. Consumption has to be coupled with some kind of action, beyond it being all in my head. I’m using this process to expose my brain, and clear it up for other more important things.

I also think that there’s plenty of insights one can gain from reading all those news subscriptions I have. One more thing: trying to get reading more stuff, faster. No point going below Instapaper 500, only to see it bloom to 780 again. I’m going to make it more manageable again.

Time is something you can’t get back again which is why I liberally zap thru podcasts these days. I prefer audiobooks.

So while I don’t think I can read 52 books this year, I should feel good if I finish 20 books this year? And remain on top of all my subscriptions: NYT, WSJ, FT, The Economist, Nikkei Asian Review, The New Yorker, The Guardian, Atlantic Monthly (thanks to a friend’s kind gift!), and Monocle. The rule of going thru the item the moment you get it, is very important. I also have a habit of picking up Bloomberg Businessweek in airport lounges; a great resource, but if I’m to stick to my plan of seeing the airports less, I may eventually think of getting a subscription to that (or at least ensuring the Club’s library has a copy). I occasionally also enjoy Harvard Business Review (at the Club and online). Needing to “re-integrate” to Malaysia again, I think I might have to start consuming The Edge daily/weekly, because that’s probably the only sensible newspaper that exists in the country.

So, let’s see how much I can read, how much I can write, and how all this consumption (and output) helps me get great stuff done on a daily basis (connecting the dots, strategy, outreach, ideation, etc.)

P/S: a timely tweet that seems to be going around:


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