Alberto's weekly email: running, concentration, and more! 🚀

Hi All,

What I am reading 📚

Last year I read online about how one person, by committing himself to run at least 2 miles every day, managed to build his stamina and mental strength over the years, so much so that he was able to pass the 1000 days of consecutive running not long ago. This inspired me so much that I decided to try to incorporate daily runs into my routine.

As part of this, the first book I picked from my 2020 reading list, was "What I talk about when I talk about running" By Haruki Murakami. The book is a memoir of Murakami's running life. In it, he describes how he decided to start running and what impact the routine has had throughout his career as a writer. And, for someone who has never run competitively before, Murakami's accounts of the efforts and struggles and the emotions that one feels during endurance races (marathons and ultra-marathons) are very enlightening and interesting. I couldn't have chosen a better book to start off the year!


Also, as promised, here are my notes and thoughts about "The Control of Nature".

Nerd Corner 🤓(Concentrate Like a Roman)

You can also read this section like a post on my website.

As a software engineer, my job requires me to be able to concentrate for long periods of time and think hard about the programs and algorithms I want to implement. But, it is all too easy to get distracted when sitting in front of a computer: not only are there meetings and calls, there are also direct messages, emails, and the normal distractions from the Internet: Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, etc.

I am not the first one to struggle with this. The problem is so widespread that there are entire books (Digital Minimalism and Deep Work come to mind) devoted to uncovering practices for deep work and avoid distraction. I've tried many of these.

Over the years I've experimented with keeping track and trying to maximize my productive hours using RescueTime, a service that, once installed, tracks everything you do on your computer and helps you understand where and when you are wasting your time or focusing on the wrong things. I've also tried to block all my social media accounts, going as far as deleting or suspending accounts, removing the apps from my phone and blocking the sites from my laptop (using apps like Freedom, etc.).

All these things work, but only for a limited time. After a while, my brain seems to find ways to get around these limitations. And to make matters worse, I end up being distracted tweaking and changing the settings of the services that are supposed to block the distractions.

A few weeks ago, with work ramping up after the Christmas break, I was about to stop all my concentration efforts when I read an old note I had saved:

“Concentrate every minute like a Roman— like a man—on doing what’s in front of you with precise and genuine seriousness, tenderly, willingly, with justice.” - Marcus Aurelius

This gave me the idea of going old school. I printed the quote and glued it next to my computer monitor. Now, this quote is in front of my eyes most of the day and every time I'm about to get distracted it reminds me to concentrate, to do my work and to choose "alive time over dead time".

Cool Finds 🤯

The Magic Roundabout
During my recent trip to the U.K., I was reminded about how many roundabouts there are on British roads. Roundabouts, in most cases, should be the preferred way of routing traffic through intersections, but they shouldn't be the only way. Take Swindon's "Magic Roundabout":

This is an example of "domain dependence" or "thinking inside the box", I wonder if the designers of one of the scariest junctions in the U.K thought about using traffic lights or other mechanisms when building this ring of 5 roundabouts in one!

Facial Recognition
In past editions, we've talked about how big companies like Google, Facebook, and others invade our privacy by tracking and capturing every interaction we have on the Internet. While that is scary and doesn't paint a very nice future, the facial recognition tech developed and offered by Clearview AI is even scarier. This startup, used by government agencies in the US, claims to have built an extremely accurate facial recognition software by harvesting their training data from images publicly available on the web.
The NYT has an in-depth article about it.

Modern Farming
If you ever wondered how the future of farming looks like, and how we might be able to feed our exploding population in the coming decades, just have a look at The Netherlands: it is the second-largest exporter of produce after the U.S. but it is more than 200 times smaller.

Source: @lucalocatelliphoto

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Until next week,