Sunday, March 05, 2017

Technology, antifragile businesses, and workflow

I have been enjoying Nassim Taleb's book 'Antifragile' in which I have learned (or better understood) how difficult to impossible it is to predict the future, especially events with a low probability. Taleb does convince that it is possible and desirable to rate personal habits, health issues, business, governments, etc. as to how fragile <--> robust <--> antifragile they are. Robust is good, antifragile is even better.

It is fragile, for example, to depend on the salary from one company to support your family while investing heavily in that company's stock. It is more robust having a side business to earn extra money and to broadly distribute long term investments. It is antifragile to own multiple businesses. Taleb argues, and I agree, that it is better to earn less but have safer more distributed income streams. Personally, I have three businesses: software development consulting, writing books, and I am a landlord for income properties. I am in the process of opening a fourth business, iOS and macOS apps for two very different use cases.

I read a lot, both books and long essay format things on the web. For years I have categorized and collected useful articles and snippets of text and relied on text search to find what I need later. Since most of my reading is done on my iPad Pro, I have changed the way I manage research materials: I use the iOS app Notability to quickly markup what I am reading with ideas for business, application ideas, etc. I then export what I am reading into one of a hierarchy of folders on Google Drive. I favor Google Drive over iCloud or DropBox because all PDFs on Google Drive are easily searchable. Using an Apple Pencil makes the Notability app more convenient. In any case, it is much more useful to capture my own thoughts along with research materials.

This setup replaces a custom 'Evernote like' system I wrote a few years ago that by using a Firefox plugin I wrote I could capture snippets of what I am reading on the web to a custom web app I wrote. It was a pain to maintain this system for my own use, and it was in no state to develop into a product. Relying on a commercial product and Google Drive for storage is much better.

I have drastically reduced the complexity of my working tools. I have shelved the multitude of Linux systems I have (it would embarrass me to admit how many I have), and now I just use an iPad Pro, a MacBook with and external Retina display, and I have a 60 GB RAM, 16 core VPS I can spin up and down as I need it. Almost all of my development work is now in Ruby (using RubyMine), Java (using IntelliJ), and Haskell (using Emacs and Intero). Having a much simpler work environment cuts my overhead. I have also simplified publishing to the web, favoring using Heroku, Google AppEngine, and serving static sites using Google cloud storage.


Don Ross said...

good to know, thanx for sharing

DanielV said...

Are you sure that having multiple jobs is better than having one?, in one of Tim harford books the author claims that devoting all this time to the thing he do best is the best way of gaining money, and there are multiples examples about this.

Perhaps with the advances in machine learning all those small jobs are going to be taken by robots or machines, and the only jobs for humans are those that requires creativity, so perhaps one should think about the future changes, you should improve your mind seems to be a good advice.

Mark Watson, author and consultant said...

Hello Daniel, I said it was better to have multiple businesses. In his book Nassim Taleb repeatedly makes the point that owning your own businesses is more robust than being an employee. This is a generalization but I accept it to usually be true.

DanielV said...

Thanks for the quick reply. In the Taleb book he suggests maximum effort exercises, he lifts 130 kg to keep fit and he doesn't seem to be very young, in my humble opinion that solution to get antifragile or robust has a downside, you can get injured, in which case instead of becoming antifragile you become more fragile or, in case of bad luck, seriously damaged for life. So perhaps of Taleb thinking or advices should be taken with a grain of salt. Taleb says that he eats his own food, but not everybody can follow his diet or one size don't fit all.

What I think is a good advice is: learn from your errors. Intelligence allow us to improve our condition and protect from dangerous conditions.

This year I was learning java and I programmed a maze program with intelligent agents to compete with humans, my goal was to design special boards so as to measure the spatial intelligence or how human players get oriented in mazes. Curiusly, I find it easy to program in Lisp, python or ruby, but learning to program in java with gedit and stackoverflow was a difficult task.

I enjoy reading your blog.