on august

brief notes on summer walks

August has always been hostile. The place that I’ve come to know as the last pocket of pure beauty possible in an American city morphs into a sick, sweltering maze of tangled sidewalks drowning in stagnant, hot air.

There’s a walk I like to do on these days, when leaving anytime but at dusk is impossible. I leave the AC whirl of my apartment and wander a few miles out along the river. Even as the sun drops, the air is still unbearably hot and the river breeze putrid from the summer algae blooms.

The walk is miserable. The bench that marks the end of the loop is hardly a destination worthy of the effort. A small grove of trees behind a rowing club provides almost total silence save for the splashing of oars, and enough distance from the river to not fill your lungs with its stench. It’s an imperfect, but tolerable spot to sit down with a book for a few hours.

Once the light has fully faded, the walk home begins. Which is, in whole, the only reason why leaving my icebox during this month at all is worth it. None of Boston’s streets can be described as anything close to a line. A drunken stumble, a zig-zag— sure, but not a line line. And it is impossible to not backtrace many of them as I wander home. It is staggeringly silent.

On these nights it’s rare to run into a single person, a particular blessing in a year like the one we’ve had. These blocks seem to swell even tighter with homes on every walk. There are no street lights, not that you need them anyway. The lives being lived within, diffused through curtains blown out of open windows is enough to light the entire way back.

The walk back doesn’t last long. But there is something close to perfection about it. An almost total disembodiment from the month that makes our bodies almost unavoidably real. Even as the air is still thick and hangs low as to make your skin feel much more like skin— all of these pieces assemble into the most fleeting of joys. The ability to escape the too hot, too loud, too busy life lived in a city for something that feels just a little closer to a home.

It is nearly October now, and the with the brutal chill setting in early this year and dark coming earlier and earlier these nights are all but gone. To mourn it is foolish, the months ahead are the most beautiful here, but I can’t help but be thankful for what I will soon have and lose again.

My infrequent writing here has never intended to serve as a life update. The 30 or so you that hung onto these over the past year have almost all been folks that I am lucky enough to have present in my life.

However, after the last newsletter fiasco, the first I ironically didn’t write— we’re now at a couple orders of magnitude more than that so a life update might be in order. Cascade, now nearly two years old, has grown to a point where its existence will soon see daylight. This is as thrilling as it is terrifying, and will make for a busy fall.

Outside of this, I’ve been finally getting back into a daily practice of bookbinding. I hope to return to write about this in a few months, but in the mean time, there’s much too much to do.

longevity, and resets.

cheating husbands and informational suicide

Many friends have taken a serious interest in longevity.

I get it. But I've always been more interested in the other lever; resets.

There's little reason identity should persist across 80 (or 200) years. French Foreign Legionnaires and cheating husbands have always presumed new identities. Identity persistence has only recently happened as a result strong government record keeping and centralization.

If we are going to pursue biological longevity-- we should allow a diversity of lives to be lived. Many folks achieve this with an 'alt'-- see LARPing and trail names. But if life is to be radically extended, information resets seem almost necessary. That is to allow total amnesia as a choice. Total reset.

I see it as an extension of what we do online. We can have different avatars/profiles/etc in different spaces, and there are also different spaces for different purposes. Online games are not necessarily meant to be a place where you live your entire life (although it does happen), but they are meant to be places where you can explore different parts of yourself or engage in different types of play.

Not taking this seriously feels like the same type of failure the anti-longevity often traffics in. That is to refuse to believe that the way we are living life now could not be better because it lack's biological precedent. Sometimes all you need is to reset the game.

So maybe it's just that I don't see why our first lives should be the only ones that we can explore. Maybe we can have lives for different spaces in our limited time. Or maybe this is just wishful thinking on my part?

This entire post was written by GPT-3 without editing, primed with a post from Nadia Eghbal.

a pandemic of confirmation bias

COVID-19 proves you right-- and this isn't a good thing.

It's time to admit you were right. Every single one of you.

COVID-19 represents the end of offices and neoliberalism. The final fall of the deep state, and both the ascension and decline of the West.

If you thought about pandemics at any point in the last decade ― while reading an article about bacteria-resistant superbugs, or as you checked off that gen bio requirement ― you were right.

Your entire worldview and theory of history is, undeniably, correct.

The irony here is that none of this is ironic. COVID is about the furthest thing from a black swan imaginable ― a veritable buffet of confirmation bias for whoever cares to sit down and dig in.

Any theory of history, given a weak enough epistemic spine and a margin of error, saw this coming. So as folks take victory laps celebrating their perceptivity, let us remember that predicting the past by no means indicates they’ll be any better at seeing what comes next. In fact, likely the opposite.

What next? That’s the only question that matters now, and the past isn't helping us. So let us be careful of mask-wearing charlatans, no matter how early they put those masks on.

we were promised flying cars and all we got were apps

thoughts on Big Sky Health's recent raise, and what it means to me

It's easy to be cynical about Big Sky Health's recent funding announcement. The narrative writes itself: another Silicon Valley health trend catches favor with the Tim Ferris crowd and scores a few million in funding.

I'm not in the business of litigating if this reaction is correct. I don't know the company, its founders, or anyone doing the financing. But I do know that Zero, Big Sky Health’s fasting app, is the single most important piece of software I've used in a decade.

When I began working on the company that has dominated the last few years of my life, I was sitting at 300 pounds. Calorie restriction, running, and exercise had made little impact on that. I was on a one-way train to a health disaster.

I started using Zero in January of that first year. I was skeptical of intermittent fasting, but the increased focus it promised seemed worth chasing.

Within weeks, the added focus was clear in my day-to-day work. Within a year, I was down 100 pounds with only limited lifestyle change. I was also feeling better than I ever had.

Now two years later, that figure is closer to 120 pounds, with 438 fasts completed. My resting heart rate is half of what it was.

Just occasionally, an app is enough to make a major change in someone’s life. This one sure made a change in mine. Congrats to the Big Sky Health team, and hopefully this new funding allows many more stories like these.

the hard thing about choosing hard things

alchemy, chemistry, and how to prioritize

How do you decide where your work will have the greatest effect?

If your goal is to maximize personal impact, look for fields where alchemy is becoming chemistry. Let me explain what I mean, because I've found this to be critical in prioritizing my own work over the past few years.

As we build knowledge around a field, there are three typical phases:

  1. Early stumbling to understand what a project to map the territory would look like. We can call this alchemy phase, where the science is new and anything seems possible. Most of the theories formed in this phase will fall away over time.

  2. The actual mapping of the territory. Here the dream of alchemy gives way to chemistry, to the heavy lifting of practical reality. This is where a single individual can do huge amounts of meaningful work in areas that will form the basis of the field for years to come.

  3. Risky expeditions to the edges of the territory, trying to find its exact bounds. Many fields are now stuck in this phase; it's the classic terrain of the modern PhD.

Phases 1 and 3 seem like the sexiest endeavors, which is why so many smart young people get pulled into them.

Phase 3 is quite attractive in particular. It offers clear status hierarchies, certified experts, and a sense of actual ground truth. Most of modern medicine comes from these kinds of expeditions, so of course they can be very useful. Yet if your goal is to maximize your personal impact, the odds of your expedition being valuable are low.

Phase 1 means working on something that has never been done before. Exciting! Yet, again, the odds are low that any of those grand new theories will stick. You have a much greater chance of being Ptolemaeus than Copernicus.

From this everything else seems to fall into place.

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