Sunday, February 28, 2010

First Past the Post, the world of the best of two evils

Is there any wonder that, as noted in Wikipedia, the "lesser of two evils" principle is closely associated to electoral politics? How could anyone consider this unrelated the first past the post system, in which one is only really allowed to make an affirmative statement about one candidate among the many? In a show of ideology (the ideology being that too many people are stupid), popular Austrianish economists did just that.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The worst word: notwithstanding

Working in a legal environment with no law degree, I'm frequently confused. Notwithstanding is of the words that continues to bother me.

This is a terrible word that I suspect was used historically in a different way than it is used today. Think about it.

Breaking it into two words gets: not withstanding. That it, something does not withstand some contrary contrary statement. Under this reasoning, if I say that "you'll get a bunch of money, notwithstanding some other person's asserting a more legitimate claim for that money", you would get money but if some other person had a more legitimate right, you wouldn't get money.

In fact, the word means the exact opposite. It means "regardless". So if I said the above statement in a legal context, I would be saying that "you'll get a bunch of money even if someone else asserts a more legitimate claim for that money". Thus, it is very easy to confuse those who don't speak legalese.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Change your life

In between procrastinating as I work on a database which would revolutionize my job and enormously increase the efficiency of a certain area of the financial industry, I have been reading Oliver Burkeman's This column will change your life. Written in the spirit of Getting Things Done, it is damn good.

The best post so far is the only one which has the same title as the column itself (link). Key advice:
1) Just pick three things. Don't make a list of everything you plan to do each day - that way lies failure. Instead, choose the three most important things you'd like to get done, preferably including one that's meaningful-but-not-urgent (or you risk spending the whole day putting out fires, which is fulfilling only if you're a firefighter). On a good day, you'll do plenty more, but you get to count as a success any day that you do your three.

2) Do the least enjoyable task first. Otherwise known as the eat-the-frog principle: if you eat a live frog each morning, you have the satisfaction of knowing that nothing else that day can possibly be as unpleasant.

3) Think quantity, not quality. If your life is unstructured, or you often worry about whether you're doing things well enough, return to the rigidities of the factory production line. Decide how many hours you'll dedicate each day or each week to a project, and the reverse of Parkinson's Law often kicks in: the work gets done in the time available.

4) Do one thing every day that scares you - a heuristic from Eleanor Roosevelt with good sense behind it, so long as you don't apply it to how you cross the road or under what circumstances you eat puffer fish. Risk-taking is how everything significant gets achieved, but it's much more comfortable to act according to habit than to take risks - ergo, turn risk-taking into a habit.

Of course, this has been said many times before, by many others. Reading it doesn't make the application any less easy. I have one more thing to add: switching tasks, as I often do, seems rather inefficient. If you can focus for at least one hour, preferably two, on a single task, you'll increase efficiency.