Writing Maketh a Man
The covid-19 situation has given all of us a hard time - both for our physical and mental health. We have been forced to lose a part of our identities. I used to be an avid hiker - especially in the monsoon. This season, I could go only for one trekHere in India, we call hiking trekking. It was a short and beautiful hike near Mumbai.
I am forced to lose my hiker identity this season. I’m also forced off my gym identity. Now I have to find a new identity to fill the void. I think I’ve subconsciously decided that writing will be that identity. I started writing long mails, tutorials in our internal wiki and in general more text. I think blogging is one place where I can put my thoughts down and create an identity.
I am not alone in this desire to fill the identity void. My friend, Bhargava, started vlogging and created a new identity for himself. Here’s his vlog where he went trekking to a place 100 km North of Mumbai.
One random day, I have read this tweet by James Clear. Subconsciously, it gave me a voice and articulation on why I (should?) like writing:
Many people assume they are bad at writing because it is hard. This is like assuming you are bad at weightlifting because the weight is heavy.
Writing is useful because it is hard. It’s the effort that goes into writing a clear sentence that leads to better thinking.
What makes me like writing is the fact that I’m forced to organize my thoughts in a sequential and coherent manner. It’s the intellectual challenge that makes it interesting. Another reason to write is the same one why people like to take notes - to preserve ideas and state of mind. Therefore, I write for myself - to organize, archive and chronicle my thoughts and learnings.
I am inspired by the scientists who produced copious amounts of notes and papers. I’ve been reading about Edsger W. Dijkstra and how he wrote “technical notes, trip reports, insightful observations, and pungent commentaries, known collectively as EWDs”. I loved how Leslie Lamport have written down his scientific autobiography by annotating his works with their genesis. Both of them have won Turing AwardAlso known as Nobel Prize for Computer Science. So writing can’t be a bad thing.
Writing, especially if public, makes me vulnerable. It opens my ideas and thoughts to criticism. I can’t be alone in this - stereotype of a tortured artist is probably an evidence. However, I realized that people don’t give a damn - certainly not about my writing. So I might as well keep on doing what I like.
What do I write?
Now that I’ve decided to write, next question is what exactly do I write about. I think I should consider my blog as
journal++. These days, I’ve ramped up my learning curve. So, I probably should write about all the cool stuff I’ve been learning. So what am I learning?
I always loved science and was fascinated by the process of discovery. I’ve figured that the best, but not the easiest way to learn new science is to read textbooks! An alternative I’ve found is Very Short Introductions series by Oxford University Press. These are accessible <200 page introductions written by the experts of the field.
Main themes of my learning, outside my work, is a philosophical How are we?. I’ve read a textbook on geology to know the origins of our home, Earth. It was fun learning about volcanoes, tectonic plates and geological history. I read a textbook on biology and was fascinated by how much we know about life and its machinery! Next book I picked up was on zoology and animal diversity. I always thought evolution is figured out and was surprised by how we much do not know about life’s machinations!
I’ve been reading more papers/books about systems biology, evolution and neuroscience. I will write accessible notes about my learnings for my future self and my readers. One consideration for me is the accuracy of my notes in terms of the current known science. But I learntSee my above thoughts on writing as vulnerability that I need not to be too hard on myself :).
Thanks to the pandemic and the following recession, my friends and I are big into investing! We’ve started to decrease our share of mutual funds and increased our direct equity exposure. In the process, I’ve learnt a lot about companies and how they grow. I’m now able to read and understand annual reports.
I am starting to see patterns in the tech industry I work in and the technologies I use. My post on Nvidia, ARM and AI is in this direction. I thoroughly enjoyed writing it. I want to continue to hone my skills by analyzing more companies/technologies.
My interests in life are not just science and technology! I love travelling and hiking. Thanks to Bhargava, I’m now a pretty decent alpine snowboarder! Recently I am beginning to appreciate photography. Inspired by Dijkstra, I want to maintain ‘trip reports’ of all the cool trips I make. Of course, the current covid situation has limited by travelling. May be I can write about my travels retrospectively and relive those moments in my mind!
I was hanging out with my friend Ankit the other day and he was telling me how he writes for entertainment. He is right: writing and creation is more fun than just reading or discussion i.e. consumption. It’s certainly not easy but that’s what makes it so awesome - just like hiking. I will end this note with a quote from English Philosopher Francis Bacon, who developed scientific method:
Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man.