Sunday, August 31, 2014

Aphorisms

One of the most unfortunate truisms is that life lends itself to aphorisms.

I think it's baked right into the fabric of the universe. Michio Kaku once wrote (and I think he was quoting somebody else but I'm too freaking lazy to look up who, exactly, he was quoting) that the difference between a fundamental law of the universe and an incomplete model is that you can put a fundamental law on the front of a t-shirt, using a legible font.

E = mc2, for example. Or Boyle's Law: PV = k.

Paraphrasing loosely, it's a good sign we haven't worked our way completely through a problem if something fills up a blackboard to overflowing. Fundamental laws tend to be elegant and to the point. Newton's laws still hold up fine after all these years, in spite of being simple enough that a six grade grasp of math will let you use them.

If your description of a phenomena takes up several notebooks and half a building's worth of chalkboards, then you're probably missing something obvious. Part of the popularity of string theory, for example, is the fact that many physics problems which are staggeringly complex under traditional math collapse into beautiful elegance when expressed in ten dimensions.

Aphorisms are like that. Maddeningly simple and easy to remember. They not only cross the line into cliche, they charge across it with reckless abandon. And that's something that drives people of a certain frame of mind crazy.

I had a friend once who was going through a lot of shit in his life. I told him "when it rains it pours." I probably could have put it some way more fresh and less eye-gougingly trite, but it's demonstrably true: random bad shit happens all the time. If said random bad shit occurs within a given frequency vis-a-vis other random bad shit, you get a compounding effect that makes the random bad shit worse. I could probably even draw you a chart, come up with some kind of formula to that effect. Or I could pull out the cliche instead and save us all time.

He took the comment poorly and justifiably so. Hell, I want to slap myself for it and it's been a good sixteen years.

I've been thinking about this recently, how most worthwhile advice tends to lend itself to kitschy little blurbs.

One of my friends is famously bad with money. The sort of person they use to illustrate points in personal finance books. Great person, hard-working, well-meaning and all that, but they're the financial equivalent of someone trying to play baseball with their thumbs surgically removed. We were talking at one point, and the topic of financial literacy came up, and they made the comment that they really wanted to learn to "do that thing I do with money" some time, heavily implying that it's some crazy-complex system involving fields of mathematics which haven't been recognized by mainstream science yet.

I believe my friend was referring to automated savings or something. They weren't making much sense. Alcohol may have been a factor in this conversation. Anyhow.

To be perfectly clear, it's not like I'm rich or anything. I just make a point of being responsible with cash. So I said that the secret to making money is that there is no secret. Because there really isn't. Work hard, keep learning to do new shit, avoid debt, spend less than you earn and do something useful with whatever's left over. That's it. The rest is just fiddly complication that you don't really need to know about unless you're really into optimizations.

Most everything you do in life comes down to something like that, where about 80% of it can be summed up in a few simple words. "You get a sixpack in the kitchen, not in the gym", for example. Writers write. If you want to lift more, then lift more. Damn near anything Bruce Lee ever said. There are millions of them.

For the most part, that 80% is all you really need to be good at something or at least make a good start of it.

If you're planning on mastering a subject and you can't explain it in a paragraph or two, then you probably don't understand it well enough yet.

You run across this sort of thing in finance, IT or physical fitness all the time. Usually if someone can't give you a good answer about something in a paragraph or two, it's a sign of that they're either a) trying to scam you, b) don't understand their own subject material or are c) trying to be excessively fiddly in such a way that'll eventually bite them in the ass.

Progress on the book is great. I feel like a steam locomotive with a full tank. I doubt I'll be done this weekend, but I'm very, very close. Next week, I'm taking a week's hiatus from posting because of my annual one-week long pilgrimage to Denver to hang out with family and be a drunken jackass across half of Colorado's breweries. Which will be an interesting dynamic, I guess, because I am still holding to my drink-less-rather-than-more resolution. I intend to be a moderate-drinking drunken jackass because hangovers suck at high altitudes.

Words:  601, 739, 858, 786, 793, 883, and 846.

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