Inspired by several newsletters I follow and read regularly, like Brain Food by Farnam Street, I decided to start my own little experiment in sharing some of the things I learn during the month in a newsletter. Just in time before the end of the year, the first issue of Reading Notes is out! Talking about software development gone bad, gone good, entrepreneurship and parenting, ageing and genetics and a system of taking notes. It's “hot off the press” and now on the Internet closest to you!
The Unicorn Project: A Novel about Developers, Digital Disruption, and Thriving in the Age of Data by Gene Kim
I found The Unicorn Project by Gene Kim to be a captivating book which I enjoyed reading. I felt like cringing at times because of the situations described, but that is more of a quality of the book than something to criticise on. It is full of great learnings which could be useful to many technical and non-technical people.
I'm sure that there are many companies like Parts Unlimited “in real life”, very toxic workplaces which focus on stakeholder share value on top of anything else, regardless of anything else. Without revealing too much from the book, I felt that how the story evolved and timeline were quite forced, but I assume that was done this way to make a point. Maxine and the other Rebellion members are true superheroes, anyone who would've tried to do what they did IRL would've been burned out several times, their families gone and left sick and all on their own. And I hope that most readers are aware of this, before seeing them as some sort of idols and try do something similar in their own Parts Unlimited environments.
An interview with Dmitry Buterin, a serial tech entrepreneur originating in Russia and currently established with his family in Canada. His son, Vitalik Buterin is the co-founder of Ethereum and of the Bitcoin Magazine.
“The best tools for personal growth are your kids, your business and your relationship”.
“Building a business for some expectation of an exit and making money is not that fun.”
“Reality is neutral.”
“Smart people, you cannot motivate them with money.”
“Parent yourself first, parent your own inner child, build your own awareness, heal yourself and from that position you can be an awesome parent, a great entrepreneur”
A very interesting discussion with David Sinclair, Ph.D., a Professor at Harvard Medical School, whose research is focused on ageing. He recently released a fascinating book called Lifespan, where he goes into more detail about his theory of ageing. Kevin and David go into details about all kind of aspects of what works and what doesn't, but in order to not make these notes very long I chose to not include many of those.
David and his colleagues found that Resveratrol, a chemical found in red wine, is an activator of the “longevity” gene SRT1, at least in yeast and mice. Resveratrol was used to treat and prevent psoriasis. It is not easy to be absorbed, being a “brick dust” like molecule.
David talks about a new version of the theory of why we age that came out of 20 years of his research in yeast ageing and he believes that the same rules apply to human cells ageing. In his view, ageing is a loss of information. “There are 2 types of information in the body, one is genetic, that's our digital information, it is very robust”. “But there is another type of information that is more fragile, because this type of information is encoded in, mostly, analog format”. This information “works much better in analog because it has to adapt in seconds to changes in its environment”. This analog information is the “epigenome, the system in cells that reads the right genes at the right time”.
“Our cells, even though they have largely intact information at the genetic level, even when we're old, the cells just fail to read that information correctly, so that cells that are supposed to be nerves start to lose their identity and behave more like a skin cell and skin cells start behaving more like a liver cell and essentially you become more of a bland mess of cells that don't know their true function, and that I believe is what we call ageing.”
David believes there is a way to restore this analog information in the body and that whoever finds that backup copy will get a Nobel price for it.
David and his team managed to restore vision on mice with glaucoma or other affections in the eye and he's expecting to have human trials in less than two years.
“Only 20% of our longevity is predetermined by our genome and the rest is up to us, because as I mentioned, the epigenome, this analogue information, you can change that, it responds to how you live”
Some of the things one can do to extend life is skipping meals (intermittent fasting) and exercise and this doesn't require taking any pills.
David invested in a company called Inside Tracker and uses it for over 11 years to keep track of his biomarkers. You can input your genetic data as well and the platform takes into consideration. It's more important to focus on how you live your life and the impact on the epigenome than on your genome. Keeping track of your biomarkers helps you adjust your life based on what works for you individually. Nowadays, you can use a continuous glucose monitor to see your glucose levels on your phone in an app. Each of us react differently to different food and all these tools give you information of what is best for you and your body.
David's lab was the first one to show that NAD manipulation extends life span in yeast cells. David and his family are taking a combination of NAD, metformin and resveratrol which seemed to be very beneficial for his father who is 80 years old and feels revitalised. Metformin is a common medicine for diabetes type 2, but have been discovered to have anti-ageing effects. David doesn't encourage anyone to take these without consulting a doctor. He is doing these experiments with himself as a scientist and he monitors his health very closely.
The ability to express understanding in one’s own words is a fundamental competency for everyone who writes – and only by doing it with the chance of realizing our lack of understanding can we become better at it. But the better we become, the easier and quicker we can make notes, which again increases the number of learning experiences. The same applies to the crucial ability to distinguish the important bits of a text from the less important ones: the better we become at it, the more effective our reading will become, the more we can read, the more we will learn. We will enter a beautiful, virtuous circle of competency. You cannot help but feel motivated by it. - Sönke Ahrens
How to take smart notes is inspired by the story and experience of Niklas Luhmann, a sociologist, philosopher and a very prolific writer. I tried keeping a commonplace book using index cards, but I further on stopped writing the notes as it was too time consuming. When I found out about this book, it got me curious about Luhmann's approach and decided to read it and give it a try.
Luhmann would gather notes from different sources on small pieces of paper in a box, a slip-box. The box should contain three types of notes:
- Fleeting or temporary notes, that are there just as reminders and should be processed and thrown away in a day or two
- Permanent notes, “which will never be thrown away and contain the necessary information in themselves in a permanently understandable way.”
- Project notes, which live in the box as much as the project they are part of last. When that is done, they would be thrown away
The box would have two sections, or two different boxes could be used: one for bibliographic/reference notes, taken as is from the literary work, with references to the precise location and the second one for the non-bibliographic content. For each bibliographic or reference note, Luhmann would write a permanent note where he distills the information through his own thoughts and perspective. By processing the information through his own thinking and perspective and then writing it down, he already prepares it to be introduced in a future draft of a book or writing.
Whenever a permanent note would be introduced, Luhmann would try to connect it to one or more notes already present in the box. If he sees it as a part of a larger topic, then he would put it “under” that topic, which is also a note. Luhmann gave a unique id to each note, starting with simple numbers
3, and so on. If a new note would be the first note that fits in the topic of the note
1, then he would give it the id
1a and continue further with letters under that level, then with numbers and letters and so on and so forth.
The slip-box forces us to be selective in reading and note-taking, but the only criterion is the question of whether something adds to a discussion in the slip-box. The only thing that matters is that it connects or is open to connections. Everything can contribute to the development of thoughts within the slip-box: an addition as well as a contradiction, the questioning of a seemingly obvious idea as well as the differentiation of an argument. What we are looking for are facts and information that can add something and therefore enrich the slip-box. One of the most important habitual changes when starting to work with the slip-box is moving the attention from the individual project with our preconceived ideas towards the open connections within the slip-box. - Sönke Ahrens
That wraps it up for this first issue. Hope you enjoyed it. Do let me know how did you find it. Was it too long or too short? I find it hard sometimes to decide which details to include and which to leave out, some sources are very rich in interesting content!
Until next year, wish you an amazing end of the year, full of rest and joy and whatever else you wish for!