Category Archives: Visualizations

Draw a LARGE Diagram

Draw a LARGE diagram. When you start, you have no idea which part you’ll be focusing on, so draw it large to start.

In undergrad, we had a Structures and Materials course with Prof. Collins. I owe a lot to that class. It was first year, first term, and it was our first experience with ‘real Engineering’ (with a capital ‘E’).

Collins talked about (along with how to build bridges and other structures) a number of things which you would actually use every day, no matter what types of things you were designing or calculating or planning.

The biggest[1] one is indubitably ‘draw a Large diagram’. Every time I do this, whether it’s on a whiteboard at work, or in my journal[2] at home, it helps far more often than I expect, especially when you’re drawing a teaching diagram, and people are asking questions.

It helps when you’re drawing a semicircle intersected by many lines, with some angles known, some angles not known, and you need to do a bunch of fancy figuring to get the answer[3].

Next time, we’ll talk about some other useful tidbits I learned in that class. Stay tuned!


[2]I use notebooks with blank pages. It helps me draw diagrams without extraneous lines, feels freer for thinking.

[3]I think this was a GRE question.

Brain Structure vs. Brain Thoughts vs. Hash Functions

So, I was doing a knowledge transfer session[1] last week, and I was struck by the way that my brain seemed to be answering the questions. It felt almost like there was a structure inside that was taking the input from the questions, and outputting the answers in a different part of the brain.

It felt different from the hash functions that I mentioned before. Those felt like they were hash functions[2] implemented in software, the structure above felt more like inflexible hardware, like you put a problem in, it or something upstream abstracts the problem to a useable form, it spits the answer out automatically and gives you that answer before you know it.

Hardware can be fun sometimes.

But this was the first time that I really felt that thoughts and reactions I was having were completely the result of brain hardware rather than software. It was a most interesting feeling.

It felt more like channels or a Pachinko/Peggle game.

It’s interesting the contrast here. When you’re trying to get something creative out of your brain, it’s like fish jumping out of water, and you’re trying to relax to allow yourself to see them and express them. When you’re answering a question, you’re taking the words in, and passing them through a filter and hash function. When you’re solving a problem, sometimes it’s all processed through some kind of a hardware structure.

Some might use the analogy of sound waves traveling through a Crystalline Entity, but I like the analogy of a collagen structure with the cells removed that concepts can travel through to and from specific places, so you could have a graph in many directions or dimensions, perhaps simultaneously[3]

Your brain structure can be dictating your answers to questions, perhaps not always your thoughts. Fascinating.

[1]PM me if you want to know more!

[2]They felt like hash functions both because they were in software, but more importantly because they each worked in one direction only, or with a specific ‘twig’ not the same as others'[4].

[3]Do these thoughts ever collide?

[4](Other people or other twigs)

If a Taco Wore Pants…

If a taco wore pants, would it wear them like this:

None taco with left pants.
None taco with left pants[1].

or like this?

None taco with all pants.
None taco with all pants.

This arose out of a lunchtime conversation about the amazing idea of lasagna tacos! Which naturally spawned the the question “if you were making a lasagna taco, which direction would you layer it?”

At which point J asked the question above[2].

[1]Note that the description text is a reference to ‘none pizza with left beef’.

[2]Thanks J!

Four Colours

Today, I wanted to share with you an ‘organizing things to do’ method that Y showed me a long time ago.

This method is from a podcast by a talented individual known as Chris Westra[1].

I also love ASCII 4-quadrant diagrams, so we’ll start with one[2]:

  Spend 80%       Spend 20%
  of your time    of your time
  on this         on this
  column          column

  DEEDS           TASKS
| Red:          | Black:          |
| Things which  | Required, but   | 
| Move your     | Not Important   |  TODAY
| Project       | in and of       | 
| Forward       | themselves      |
| in a Big Way  |                 |
| Green:        | Blue:           |
| Things to     | Maybe important |  TOMORROW
| Automate or   | in the Future,  |
| Delegate      | but Not Now     |

The upper left corner (Red) is ‘Things which move your project forward in a ‘Big Way’. This is the writing that important post, writing that module[3], calling that important new client, building that thing. Basically, anything that is a deed, not a task. Done once, will move your project forward.

The upper right corner (Black) is ‘Things which are required, but not important in and of themselves’. Chris uses the example of ‘changing the printer ink’, to mean anything that needs to be done, but you really shouldn’t take more time than you need to. Anything which is a task, something that you do repeatedly is in this category. You should be constantly looking for ways to automate or delegate things in this category (we’ll cover that later). This category contains tasks which may feel somewhat satisfying to perform in the moment, but ultimately are meaningless in the grand scheme. The tasks here tend to be easier and require less decision making than red tasks, so it’s easy to get distracted here.

The lower right corner (Blue) is ‘Things which are maybe important in the future, but not now’. All of your undirected R&D is in this category, Chris mentions reading trade publications, lots of random browsing can be in this category.

The lower left corner (Green) is (for me) where this method really shines. In this category is ‘Things which you can automate or delegate’. Something where you spend an hour today which saves you a minute a day for the rest of your life[4]. Chris says (and I agree) that it’s important to do one or two of these every day. You will thank yourself later.

In my first phase after discovering this way of thinking, I rotated from Black/Blue to Blue/Green. Through considerable work, and some life coaching, I feel like I’m finally making the rotation from Blue/Green to Green/Red. This takes considerable self-discipline, and can feel emotionally difficult as you give up spending time on things which give short-term accomplishment feelings, but don’t really help you towards your goals.

Comments? Put them below!

Note: I added the column and row labels above. They’re not quite accurate. If you have better suggestions, comment!

[1]I can’t seem to find him online any more. If I do, or if someone points me to him, I’ll put it in the comments below. EDIT: I added above. He also has a site at which is…a little…on the strange side of new age. But the mental model above is still very useful.

[2]Some people have said that it reminds them of ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

[3]This would be true for any of the 3+ meanings of ‘module’.

[4]A handy chart from XKCD on when this is worth it. This may understate how worth it is, if it also reduces your ‘open loops‘.

Less Conventional 4-Quadrant Diagrams: The Horsemen of the Elements

So, 4-Quadrant diagrams are very common in the ‘make-something-two-dimensional-from-something-one-dimensional-and-name-it-after-yourself-and-sell-a-million-business-books’ field.

This series will cover some less commonly used 4-Quadrant diagrams.

First, the Elements:

  Gas   Condensed
|       |       |
| Fire  | Earth |  'Dry'
|       |       |
|       |       |
| Air   | Water |  'Wet'
|       |       |

Now for the Four Horsemen:

Activity Level:
 Human    Biological
|        |            |
| War    |Pestilence/ | Abundance
|        |Plague      |
|        |            |
| Death  | Famine     |  Lack
|        |            |

And as a special treat for those watching my Gold Box series:

 Includes     Does not
  'Pool'      include 
  in the     'Pool' in
  Title:     the Title:
| Pool     | Curse of   |
| of       | the Azure  | No Teleporters
| Radiance | Bonds      |
| Pools    | Secret of  |
| of       | the Silver | Teleporters! 
| Darkness | Blades     |