Search Tricks

One effect of all the great content creation is the long-tail effect. Most of what’s created, from business breakdowns to that seventies show, will only be consumed by a small number of people. The long-tail idea is also true for an individual. Any given day my consumption is family news, then local and regional, then a national service or two, my favorite feeds (related: The Three Ways to Spend Your Day) and then the long tail stuff.

I used to feel bad when good episodes appeared in my feed and I skipped them. That’s fine, it’s just a query away. Which brings us to today’s point: a few of my favorite internet tricks.

Twitter search is not great, but with a few search operators it gets better. Mostly this is from:@mikedariano “jobs”, which returns tweets mostly about jobs-to-be-done. This is especially helpful to do before tweeting at someone to see if it’s been addressed already.

Wikipedia. Google (IMO) has suffered due to the incentives. It’s not a big deal, but rather than having a higher trust threshold I now go right to Wikipedia for Wikipedia-style searches.

Reddit. In 1994 I was twelve and one of the best feelings was visiting a video rental store. There were super-interesting sections I could plumb all day, there were areas I had no interest (at that time), and a restricted section I did not investigate for fear of what was behind the beaded curtain and whether or not I could unsee what I saw. That’s Reddit. The best Reddit communities might be the best places on the internet.

Listen Notes. Nowhere is the long-tail evident more than Listen Notes, a podcast search engine. Recent deep dives into Sears, DTC, MTV, and behavioral science all yielded results I could not have Googled. After creating an account, add your query results to the Listen Later playlist and add that RSS to your podcast app. If that sounds complicated it was a bad explanation rather than a difficult process.

Crudely the future of work will be some dichotomy of I give computers instructions or Computers give me instructions. During the Sears research (via Listen Notes) I found out that their first mail-order system was terribly bad. One customer wrote to Sears asking for the sewing machine she’d ordered, she’d received four wrong ones. It was only when Sears centralized their operation in Chicago that the mail order businesses succeeded. In 2021 there are companies like Locus Robotics.

In the future Cal-Newport-Style-Work will be doing things computers don’t do. Computers solve predefined problems really well.

But computers aren’t creative. Computers can’t handle a bunch of conditionals. Computers can’t frame things. Computers don’t in Bob Pittman’s words, understand when this is another one of those. Using the internet well is using computers to do non-computer work.

There is a 70’s show, The Long Seventies Podcast, that’s pretty darn good. I listened to the oil crisis and MPAA episodes.

Creativity, Conflict, and Choice

One skill rising in importance is choosing when to use technology. Circa June 2021, it’s pretty clear that technology does two things really well: repeated calculations and reductions in space. Rory Sutherland credits the Covid pandemic with normalizing video calls, a service wrongly pitched as the poor man’s travel rather than the rich man’s call.

Covid has also highlighted scientific accomplishments. What used to take a graduate student (or twos) career, now takes minutes. Via the BBC:

“When I was a young scientist we did this manually and it was very laborious. To get the sequence of a Coronavirus it would have taken at least a full graduate student’s career and maybe more. Now we can do it in a few minutes.” – Marilyn J Roossinck

But just because we can use tehcnolgoy to reduce distance or make calculations doesn’t mean we should.

In the room or zoom we noted Jason Blum’s opinion that to support creative things it helps to be in the room. That’s true for movies-creative but also for technology-creative. Ben Horowitz said:

“One of the things that has become clear is that remote work is more efficient than in-person work. But, there’s kinda a couple of things it’s probably not as good at. One is creativity and the other is tough conflict resolution.”

Work from home is different.

When explaining the idea of jobs-to-be-done, JTBD, Bob Moesta asks his interviewer if they like steak or pizza. ‘Well I like both’ they respond. ‘Right!’ Moesta says. Sometimes the situation calls for pizza and sometimes it calls for steak. That’s the kind of mindset good technology use calls for. What about a situation makes it better for the room or using Zoom?

What is cheating in chess is winning in life.

Roland Walker (BBC) talking with David Edmonds. The context is how monitors cheating.

“We can’t overstress this enough, humans and computers play utterly differently. Humans play by planning and recognizing patterns. Computers play in unusual ways, it forgets everything that it knew in between every move. A computer doesn’t really have a plan.
“An engine will take back a previous move if it realizes that in the context of the following moves it wasn’t good. A human has a kind of sticky feeling about their plan.”

Chess engines make people better at chess and good players use them to practice, if not to play. It’s the Cowen idea of meta-rationality (more here). The idea of using the right resources.

Computers are good because they compute without bias (kinda) and avoid human mistakes like sunk cost. As Mohnish Pabrai pointed out, “when we spend a lot of time on something, we feel we should get something in return for that time, it’s a danger if you say, I’m going to research a company and decide if I want to invest or not. I think you’re better off researching a company with no such preconceived notion.”

This week my daughters (12, 10) and I watched both Sherlock (also BBC) and Enola Holmes (Netflix, we loved it). In both the episode and the movie, the characters had to be more objective to solve the crime.

However, it’s going full-Sherlock as much as moving in that direction. Like someone training to gain/lose weight, the goal isn’t to become extremely skinny/strong but to be more than the current state.

Meta-rationality then is under indexed, unless of course, it’s outlawed like chess.

h/t Cowen-kinda-queue, a podcast feed of Marginal Revolution mentions.