Max's Inaugural Very Occasional Newsletter

An introduction. A look at recently published posts, what's to come, and a smattering of recent favorite odds and ends.

Hello my newsletterees, and welcome to my first Very Occasional Newsletter.

June saw me complete Lambda School, a nine-month software development and data science bootcamp. The job search has already been a few months ongoing. I made it to the final round for an applied machine learning scientist role at Amazon—two days of interviewing and an hour-long presentation on a technical machine learning subject—and it was among my prouder moments to make it so far and do so well. Alas, no offer, despite the good feedback I received.

Can’t say that it wasn’t a setback. But it reminds me of another time I was not made a full-time offer after a vaguely prestigious college internship: I was devastated. To borrow a concept from machine learning, I felt like I missed reaching a global maxima on the landscape of accomplishment, whereas it was merely a local maxima that my inexperience prevented me from fully apprehending. Looking back, I’m deeply grateful that the complacent path was foreclosed to me, as it opened me up to exploring technical work that’s much more to my liking. I decided to follow in the footsteps of my heros Patrick and John Collison and take up software development and engineering in the hopes of one day starting a company.

It occurs to me that living in the “uncertainty soup”—meeting the universe halfway, not knowing what will come, but still showing up—is the human condition. Coping adequately with that uncertainty is a skill that I’m getting good practice with now.

In the meantime, I’ve been exercising, fasting, and keeping busy with projects. I’ll highlight a few things I’ve recently published, outline some things on the near-horizon for me, and provide some odds and ends I’ve been chewing on.

(The straddle planche progress. “Soon” it’ll be at complete parallel with the ground.)

Recently Published

A Snapshot of my Influences. This is a great starting point for anyone interested in evergreen essays, books, and more; the content within has given me serious edification, inspiration, and stimulation.

My interview with Alexey Guzey. Alexey is a writer and researcher. He’s the reason I started a website, and his approach to writing, productivity, and documented thought process has yielded much fruit for me. One of the most consistently interesting people I know and follow.

My interview with Tyson Edwards. Tyson is a hilarious, inspiring YouTuber. His domain is gymnastics strength and athleticism of all kinds. I finally got to explore something I’m curious about: the interplay between successful content creation as a “fitness influencer” (even though Tyson would hate that moniker) and the fitness pursuits themselves—and the virtuous cycle it may or may not create of self-discipline.

Our Parts in Exile. A review of the popular introduction to a form of therapy known as Internal Family Systems, an outgrowth the attachment theory literature.

On the Burner

1) I’d love to continue interviewing people and posting transcripts and podcasts. The criterion for guests is folks doing things I find interesting, which spans the gamut: rationality, economics, gymnastics strength training, therapy and emotional wellness, and content creation.

2) Enable comments on the website. Having technical difficulties but hope to have this done soon. I’m sustained by (positive) feedback—the handful of emails and Twitter DMs I’ve received have been very encouraging—and I’d love to facilitate a conversation instead of a monologue. Say what you will of social media, but reaction buttons are great for motivation.

3) Given that all work would likely be remote for many months, I have been contemplating traveling and writing during the search and ever after landing a job. The pandemic adds a layer of complexity, but maybe a prolonged trip, a stay at a cabin somewhere. (The fall and winter I spent in the Colorado Rockies without cell phone service or internet rank among the most serene and memorable times of my life.)

4) Ross Douthat’s The Decadent Society was interesting throughout, tying together many disparate lines of evidence I’ve seen elsewhere but never so combined, to make the case that we are in a period of stagnation and repetition, cultural exhaustion—the recent culture wars, flashy internet startups, and Trump notwithstanding. The book invites thinking, and I hope to provide some highlights and a review.

Odds and Ends

  • The New Yorker published an extraordinary piece about Scott Alexander deleting his blog Slate Star Codex in response to a forthcoming New York Times piece that would potentially de-anonymize him (and risk his personal safety and the wellbeing of the clients of his psychiatry practice). Since I consider his blog to literally be the best blog on the internet, this was upsetting to say the least. The New Yorker piece is an explanation of not just that episode, but as Jacob Falkovich tweeted: “It covers the history of Rationality and Scott Alexander's writing, the escalating skirmish between legacy media and Silicon Valley, and how the two fit together on both the level of ideas and of tribes.”

  • Update on this tweet: I have been writing and sharing ~500 words every Monday with two close friends for the last 10 weeks. The habit keeps me on a writing schedule, keeps the good ideas flowing, and nicely fills in the most important part of writing: a pleased reader.

“One simple fact. And that is that everything around you that you call Life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it. You can influence it. You can build your own things that other people can use. And the minute that you understand that you can poke life—if you push in, something will pop out the other side, that you can change it, you can mold it… That’s maybe the most important thing. To shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you’re just gonna live in it, versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it. I think that’s very important. And however you learn that, once you learn it, you’ll want to change life and make it better, because it’s kinda messed up in a lot of ways! Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”

(Related to this, and a ripe topic for a post of its own, is Yudkowsky’s idea at the heart of Inadequate Equilibria: When should we be satisfied with civilization’s knowledge—its products, its prices, its institutions, its solutions and answers—and when should we take confidence that maybe we know better?)