Noise and working from home

    I’ve worked from home for the last eleven years. For the last nine years, I’ve lived near the middle of a market town in the north east of England. You wouldn’t believe the amount of noise.

    As respondents in this Hacker News thread comment, you kind of get used to it, and also work around particularly loud noise. However, the struggle is real and now that my wife and I both work from home it’s a factor in us moving.

    I’d second the opinion of the commenter I’ve quoted below about getting headphones with at least two levels of noise cancellation. I bought some Sony WH-CH720N cans when they started building behind my home office and they’ve been a godsend.

    Noise cancelling headphones hanging on a hook
    My personal experience as a big-city dweller who has also worked for prolonged stints in suburban and very rural places is that the suburban version of this problem can really be the worst of both worlds.

    When I’m vising my parents in the suburbs… its generally quiet, but that one leaf blower 4 doors down or the one garbage truck crawling down the block suddenly becomes the only thing I can focus on. The noises are infrequent and jarring when they occur.

    When I’m at home in my city apartment, the background noise is truly constant - it forms a canvas, nothing really jumps out and therefore the level of what it takes to make a distraction is a lot higher.

    My practical advice is to explore headphones with passive noise isolation instead of active noise cancelling. The passive isolation is pretty foolproof, even with sudden or extreme changes in background noise content that the active noise cancelling sometimes takes a moment to adjust to (or perhaps try something like working in a coffee shop for an hour to get the other extreme and reset: write emails where distraction is more OK, come home to the relative quiet of the home office for focus time. I’ve also found even a change of scenery can get me into the zone regardless of what is going on environmentally)

    Source: Ask HN: How do you deal with never ending noise and distraction WFH? | Hacker News

    Image: Pexels

    AI writing, thinking, and human laziness

    In a Twitter thread by Paul Graham that I came across via Hacker News he discusses how it’s always safe to bet on human laziness. Ergo, most writing will be AI-generated in a year’s time.

    However, as he says, to write is to think. So while it’s important to learn how to use AI tools, it’s also important to learn how to write.

    In this post by Alan Levine, he complains about ChatGPT’s inability to write good code. But the most interesting paragraph (cited below) is the last one in which we, consciously or unconsciously, put the machine on the pedestal and try and cajole it into doing something we can already do.

    I’m reading Humanly Possible by Sarah Bakewell at the moment, so I feel like all of this links to humanism in some way. But I’ll save those thoughts until later and I’ve finished the book.

    ChatGPT is not lying or really hallucinating, it is just statistically wrong.

    And the thing I am worried about is that in this process, knowing I was likely getting wrong results, I clung to hope it would work. I also found myself skipping my own reasoning and thinking, in the rush to refine my prompts.

    Source: Lying, Hallucinating? I, MuddGPT | CogDogBlog

    Second-order effects of widespread AI

    Sometimes ‘Ask HN’ threads on Hacker News are inane or full of people just wanting to show off their technical knowledge. Occasionally, though, there’s a thread that’s just fascinating, such as this one about what might happen once artificial intelligence is widespread.

    Other than the usual ones about deepfakes, porn, and advertising (all which should concern us) I thought this comment by user ‘htlion’ was insightful:

    AI will become the first publisher of contents on any platform that exists. Will it be texts, images, videos or any other interactions. No banning mechanisms will really help because any user will be able to copy-paste generated content. On top of that, the content will be generated specifically for you based on "what you like". I expect a backlash effect where people will feel like becoming cattle which is fed AI-generated content to which you can't relate. It will be even worse in the professional life where any admin related interaction will be handled by an AI, unless you are a VIP member for this particular situation. This will strengthen the split between non-VIP and VIP customers. As a consequence, I expect people to come back to localilty, be it associations, sports clubs or neighborhood related, because that will be the only place where they will be able to experience humanity.
    Source: What will be the second order effects widespread AI? | Hacker News

    A weird tip for weight loss

    Hacker News isn’t just a great resource for tech-related news. The ‘Ask HN’ threads can also be a wonderful source of information or just provide different ways of thinking about the world.

    In this example, the top-voted answer to a question about weight loss had me thinking about gut bacteria ‘craving’ sugar. Weird, but a useful framing.

    This is a weird tip I think I could only share with the hacker news crowd. Once I learned about gut bacteria I started thinking of my cravings as something external to me. Like instead of saying "I'm hungry and I'm in the mood for something sweet" I would realize "the hormone ghrelin is sending hunger signals to my brain and the gut bacteria in my body is asking for something that's not actually in my best interest." Being able to emotionally distance myself from my feelings let me make decisions that I knew were better for me.
    Source: Ask HN: Any weird tips for weight loss? | Hacker News

    How to recover from burnout

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines occupational burnout as "feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and reduced professional efficacy."

    Based on that definition, I've experienced burnout twice, once in my twenties and once in my thirties. But what to do about it? And how can we prevent it?

    I read a lot of Hacker News, including some of the 'Ask HN' threads. This one soliciting advice about burnout received what I considered to be a great response from one user.

    Around August last year I just couldn't continue. I wasn't sleeping, I was frequently run down, and I was self-medicating more and more with drugs and alcohol. It eventually got to the point where simply opening my laptop would elicit a fight or flight response.

    I was lucky enough to be in a secure enough financial situation to largely take 6 months off. If you're in a position to do this, I highly recommend it.

    I uninstalled gmail, slack, etc. from my phone. I considered getting a dumb phone, but settled for turning off push notifications for everything instead. I went away with my girlfriend for a week and left all my tech at home except for my kindle (literally the first time I've been disconnected for more than a couple of days in probably 20 years). I exercised as much as possible and spent time in nature going for walks, etc.

    I've been back at it part time for the last few months. Gradually I felt the feelings of burnout being replaced with feelings of boredom, which is hopefully my brain's way of saying that it's starting to repair itself and ready to slowly return to work.

    I'm still nowhere near back to peak productivity, but I'm starting to come to terms with the fact that I may never get back there. I'm 36 and probably would have dropped dead of overwork by 50 if I kept up the tempo of the last 10 years anyway.

    I'm not 'cured' by any means, but I believe things are slowly getting better.

    My advice to you is to be kind and patient with yourself. Try not to stress about not having a side-project, and instead just focus on self-care for a while. Someone posted this on HN a few weeks back and it really hit close to home for me: http://www.robinhobb.com/blog/posts/38429

    Source: Ask HN: Post Burnout Ideas | Hacker News

    Hiring is broken, but not in the ways you assume

    Hacker News is a link aggregator for people who work in tech. There's a lot of very technical information on there, but also stuff interesting to the curious mind more generally.

    As so many people visit the site every day, it can be very influential, especially given the threaded discussion about shared links.

    There can be a bit of a 'hive mind' sometimes, with certain things being sacred cows or implicit assumptions held by those who post (and lurk) there.

    In this blog post focusing on hiring practices there's a critique of four 'myths' that seem to be prevalent in Hacker News discussions. Some of it is almost exclusively focused on tech roles in Silicon Valley, but I wanted to pull out this nugget which outlines what is really wrong with hiring:

    Diversity. We really, really suck at diversity. We’re getting better, but we have a long way to go. Most of the industry chases the same candidates and assesses them in the same way.

    Generally unfair practices. In cases where companies have power and candidates don’t, things can get really unfair. Lack of diversity is just one side-effect of this, others include poor candidate experiences, unfair compensation, and many others.

    Short-termism. Recruiters and hiring managers that just want to fill a role at any cost, without thinking about whether there really is a fit or not. Many recruiters work on contingency, and most of them suck. The really good ones are awesome, but most of the well is poison. Hiring managers can be the same, too, when they’re under pressure to hire.

    General ineptitude. Sometimes companies don’t knowing what they’re looking for, or are not internally aligned on it. Sometimes they just have broken processes, where they can’t keep track of who they’re talking to and what stage they’re at. Sometimes the engineers doing the interviews couldn’t care two shits about the interview or the company they work at. And often, companies are just tremendously indecisive, which makes them really slow to decide, or to just reject candidates because they can’t make up their minds.

    Ozzie, 4 Hiring Myths Common in HackerNews Discussions

    I've hired people and, even with the lastest talent management workflow software, it's not easy. It sucks up your time, and anything/everything you do can and will be criticised.

    But that doesn't mean that we can't strive to make the whole process better, more equitable, and more enjoyable for all involved.

    What did the web used to be like?

    One of the things it’s easy to forget when you’ve been online for the last 20-plus years is that not everyone is in the same boat. Not only are there adults who never experienced the last millennium, but varying internet adoption rates mean that, for some people, centralised services like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter are synonymous with the web.

    Stories are important. That’s why I appreciated this Hacker News thread with the perfect title and sub-title:

    Ask HN: What was the Internet like before corporations got their hands on it? What was the Internet like in its purest form? Was it mainly information sharing, and if so, how reliable was the information?
    There's lots to unpack here: corporate takeover of online spaces, veracity of information provided, and what the 'purest form' of the internet actually is/was.

    Inevitably, given the readership of Hacker News, the top-voted post is technical (and slightly boastful):

    1990. Not very many people had even heard of it. Some of us who'd gotten tired of wardialing and Telenet/Tymnet might have had friends in local universities who clued us in with our first hacked accounts, usually accessed by first dialing into university DECServers or X.25 networks. Overseas links from NSFNet could be as slow as 128kbit and you were encouraged to curtail your anonymous FTP use accordingly. Yes you could chat and play MUDs, but you could also hack so many different things. And admins were often relatively cool as long as you didn't use their machines as staging points to hack more things. If you got your hands on an outdial modem or x.25 gateway, you were sitting pretty sweet (until someone examined the bill and kicked you out). It really helped to be conversant in not just Unix, but also VMS, IBM VM/CMS, and maybe even Primenet. When Phrack came out, you immediately read it and removed it from your mail spool, not just because it was enormous, but because admins would see it and label you a troublemaker.

    We knew what the future was, but it was largely a secret. We learned Unix from library books and honed skills on hacked accounts, without any ethical issue because we honestly felt we were preparing ourselves and others for a future where this kind of thing should be available to everyone.

    We just didn’t foresee it being wirelessly available at McDonalds, for free. That part still surprises me.

    I’ve already detailed my early computing history (up to 2009) for a project that asked for my input. I’ll not rehash it here, but the summary is that I got my first PC when I was 15 for Christmas 1995, and (because my parents wouldn’t let me) secretly started going online soon after.

    My memory of this from an information-sharing point of view was that you had to be very careful about what you read. Because the web was smaller, and it was only the people who were really interested in getting their stuff out there who had websites, there was a lot of crazy conspiracy theories. I’m kind of glad that I went on as a reasonably-mature teenager rather than a tween.

    Although I’ve very happy to be able to make my living primarily online, I suppose I feel a bit like this commenter:

    This will probably come across as Get Of My Lawn type of comment. What I remember most about internet pre Facebook in particular and maybe Pre-smart phones. It was mostly a place for geeks. Geeks wrote blogs or had personal websites. Non geek stuff was more limited. It felt like a place where the geeks that were semi socially outcast kind of ran the place.

    Today the internet feels like the real world where the popular people in the real world are the most popular people online. Where all the things that I felt like I escaped from on the net before I can no longer avoid.

    I’m not saying that’s bad. I think it’s awesome that my non tech friends and family can connect and or share their lives and thoughts easily where as before there was a barrier to entry. I’m only pointing out that, at least for me, it changed. It was a place I liked or felt connected to or something, maybe like I was “in the know” or I can’t put my finger on it. To now where I have no such feelings.

    Maybe it’s the same feeling as liking something before it’s popular and it loses that feeling of specialness once everyone else is into it. (which is probably a bad feeling to begin with)

    Another commenter pointed to a short blog post he wrote on the subject, where he talks about how things were better when everyone was anonymous:

    When it was anonymous, your name wasn’t attached to everything you did online. Everyone went by a handle. This means you could start a Geocities site and carve out your own niche space online, people could befriend and follow you who normally wouldn’t, and even the strangest of us found a home. All sorts of whacky, impossible things were possible because we weren’t bound by societal norms that plague our daily existence.
    I get that, but I think that things that make sense and are sustainable for the few, aren't necessarily so for the many. There's nothing wrong with nostalgia and telling stories about how things used to be, but as someone who used to teach the American West, there is (for better or worse) a parallel there with the evolution of the web.

    The closest place to how the web was that I currently experience is Mastodon. It’s fully of geeks, marginalised groups, and weird/wacky ideas. You’d love it.

    Source: Hacker News


    Old web screenshot compilation image via Vice

    Keeping track of articles you want to read

    One of the things I like about Hacker News is that, as well as providing useful links to technically-minded stuff, there are also ‘Ask HN’ threads where a user asks a question of the rest of the community.

    Ask HN: How do you keep track of articles you want to read?

    When I browse HN, I usually pick out a few articles I want to read from the front page, then email the links to myself to read later.

    This method works out pretty well for me. I’m wondering if people have other strategies that work better?

    I don’t like the ‘inbox as to-do list’ method. Other HN users suggested alternatives, with the top-voted comment at the time of writing this being:

    I used Instapaper (https://www.instapaper.com/), then moved to Pocket (https://getpocket.com/) to take advantage of the social features, then moved back to Instapaper for no really good reason. Pocket still looks nicer and the apps are more reliable, in my experience.

    They both allow you to save the full text of an article to read later, as well as archiving and organizing articles you’ve already read. They sync to phones, so most of my reading actually happens on public transit. Pocket can also sync to a Kobo ebook reader; not sure about Kindle, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it worked with them, too.

    Pocket is great, but I used IFTTT to automatically send RSS feeds there at one point, and now it seems to be in an endless sync loop.

    Other HN users said that they pin bookmarks, and so have many, many tabs open at one time. I think that’s a hugely inefficient and resource-intensive approach.

    Some kept it super-simple:

    I use Org Mode so I have a plain text file called todo-bookmarks.org with a list of links to the articles I want to read.
    This caused me to think about what I do. If I want to read something, I actually add the link as a draft post here, on Thought Shrapnel. The best way to ensure I gain value from a potentially-interesting article is to write about it.

    I’d rather write about a few links rather than bookmark lots. I’ve all but given up on bookmarking, as it’s almost as quick to search the web for something I’m looking for as it is to search my bookmarks…

    Source: Hacker News