Inverse Boiling a Frog (2017 Q4 Review)

Q4 hasn’t ended yet, but this will probably be the last post I write before doing a more general overall review for the year.

There’s a part of me that looks back at Q4 and complains that there hasn’t been much growth or development at all; stacking this with the opening thesis of the Q3 review, it’s very easy for me to be harsh on myself for all this.

Some of this is because much of the improvement has probably been gradual – there weren’t large one-shot spurts and/or reminders that progress was being made, unlike in Q2 (which had a strong hackweek project and a paper acceptance at IJCAI, for instance). I can find it easy to discount growth as I don’t always remember difficulties experienced in the past that clearly. Nonetheless, it’s well known that the aggregation of marginal gains can and often does deliver big wins over time. Although the period does not feel like it was a high-growth period, looking back 4 or 6 months does reveal several larger differences in terms of knowledge about AtlasDB, Java and other projects at Palantir too. It’s kind of an inverse to the often told story of a frog being boiled alive.

The GitHub pull-request count for this quarter is 21, which is a significant drop from previous quarters (we were at 30 in Q3). Some of this is because I’ve spent more time reviewing others’ code; some of this has been looking at development work elsewhere too. Other professional goals have been going reasonably well too, and usefully I now have concrete things to think about as far as growth is concerned.

On the academic front things have quietened down a little. We’ve written and submitted another paper, but after this the next target would probably be a journal paper (there isn’t really that much more material in the thesis, unfortunately!). This was probably the hardest paper to write, mainly because it was based on the last part of the thesis and I waved my hands a lot in the original proofs I wrote – these needed to be formalised, and some of this formalisation was difficult!

Financially, at least up to this point in the year, things seem to have gone well, maybe even too well. The REITs (even though global) and expectedly the bonds have been slowing things down a bit, but I guess that’s the price one pays for diversification. I remember reading an article on the Permanent Portfolio on Monevator that claimed that many investors fail to diversify into assets that actually have negative correlations.

(N.B. I hold the JK portfolio, of course, and also the Fidelity world index, LS80, iShares property fund, BTC and GBP.)

There is a more complete visualisation of the performance of varying asset classes called the Callan periodic table – I think what spooks me somewhat is seeing everything in the black (well, at least in nominal terms; in the UK at least cash in large quantities would probably fail to deliver above the roughly 3 percent inflation we’re dealing with, and the 1.8 percent from the property fund is clearly below that too).

Spending this quarter was fairly normal. It was higher than a real base-line level, though mainly because I decided to splurge a little to exploit some Black Friday deals when I was visiting Palo Alto. Food expenses – specifically eating out with friends went up significantly this quarter too. December also always tends to be spendy, for various reasons (birthday, Christmas…)

Looking at comms, things have gone pretty well this time around. As always, there are a couple of lapses, but I’ve been able to dedicate time to coordinating meetups, and done this quite a few times.

Last quarter I mentioned that I find that I have an inner voice that tends to berate me for underperformance, though the standards said voice sets are often too high. I’ve started thinking a bit more around the rationale behind said high standards, though. Think of it as moving from “why are you failing to save 70 percent of your income?”, or “why aren’t you working a 65 hour work week?”, say, to “why do you want to save 70 percent of your income?” or “why do you want to work a 65 hour work week?”. Back in university, these targets were often natural consequences of regular work for me – I like to do things well, generally – and so I’d easily accept “because it’s hard” and because it was in general alignment with my goals at the time. In the long run, however, it’s probably a bad idea; the cost is real. It’s a powerful tool, and I do recognise the drive it provides as far as improvement is concerned, though.

In a sense, while I still seek relief and mercy from the criticism of said inner voice (as in the Q3 review), I’ve also started questioning its purpose while still trying to appreciate its importance as far as overall personal development is concerned. Killing this perpetual hunger for continuous improvement would be a bad idea, so…

I love it, I hate it, and I can’t take it
But I keep on coming back to you

(Yes, another alternative interpretation – this time of this song though substantially more creative liberty has been taken this time around. I’m… pleasantly surprised; I think of the members of One Direction I was probably only expecting material from Zayn Malik and Harry Styles post-breakup, but the others have put out good work, and I’d say more in line with my tastes than those two.)

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