Links of the week

Close-up of a gall on oak leaf.Close-up of a gall on oak leaf.

The Attention Paradox: Winning By Slowing Down – Unlimited
Time and attention are limited resources that most cognitive workers waste in unnecessary behaviour. Some useful advice on how to think about cognitive resources and plan your working day accordingly.

The Problem of Happiness – Scott Young
Have we evolved to be unhappy? What are the pros and cons of some of the proposed solutions to be happier? Read this concise summary to know more.

The Dark Secret at the Heart of AI – MIT Technology Review
Machine learning and, in particular deep learning, are notoriously inscrutable. This may be an issue in deploying them to mission critical applications, such as health care and military. But are humans much more transparent? Or are they just capable of providing ad-hoc a-posteriori explanations?

Academia to Data Science – Airbnb
Some insights on how to shift from academia to industry from the perspective of Airbnb.

Scaling Knowledge at Airbnb – Airbnb
How does a company effectively disseminate new knowledge across their teams. Airbnb proposes and open-sources the Knowledge Repository to facilitate this process across their data teams.


On Information Minimalism

Cal Newport, author of Deep Work and So Good They Can’t Ignore You, has written a must-read mini-series on digital minimalism on his blog, see 1 2 3 4.

I also advocate a more comprehensive information minimalist approach, which in essence consists in continuously assessing and selecting sources of information very carefully.

I do not read newspapers, nor magazines, believing that high-frequency news writing is bound to bring a lot of noise with the signal (see also Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Taleb, where he makes a similar point, especially with financial time-series, but not only).

The important news always reach me, one way or another, so it’s not so crucial to actively look for them, since by doing so, I might be exposed to too much noise, therefore wasting time, and precious attention (which, by the way, has been proved to be a very limited resource. See Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. And think hard about how much effort is put in trying to grab Your attention.)

Regarding the digital world, I follow few blogs, which I read via Feedly.
From time to time, if I see that I spend more time discarding posts than actually reading them, I prune a source or two. If a blog I really like often links to another blog or source, I might add it to my feeds.
I use Whatsapp and Facebook’s Messenger to keep in touch with friends, and I am very happy I can access the latter from a browser without having to go through the main website. The few times I do, I feel like drowning.
No Twitter either. I had tried few years back, but tweets are too superficial and noisy. I gave up and don’t miss it. Same story with Instagram.

In order to avoid unwanted, and very disruptive, interruptions, I turned off all notifications from my smartphone. If you want to contact me immediately, you truly have to call me (or walk to my desk, if you happen to be a colleague).
Indeed, the cost of even a very brief cognitive switch can be up to 20 minutes of lost concentration [1,2]
Furthermore, I use a 5-year old smartphone, that by the golden rule of planned obsolescence, is getting slower day after day. Its slowness helps me be even more selective of when using it and what I do with it.

That leaves me with ample time to read proper books, mostly non-fiction.
Given this selective approach, I manage to read 15 to 20 books per year, with high satisfaction and retention. Check out my 2016 list.

What is your strategy to keep your attention under control?