April 2013

One of the last books I read before starting to work full time was Atule Gawande’s Checklist Manifesto, on the recommendation of my friend Joe Dillon. It was really good and I’ll pass the recommendation on to you. He argues that across many disciplines we no longer live in a very very complicated world; we live in a truly complex world. Part of what that means is that our brains, our intuitions, are no longer up to the task of flying modern airliners, constructing modern buildings, or performing modern surgery. To do these things well, we need well-constructed checklists to keep from killing people.

One particularly frustrating, inefficient day in grad school, I realized that my brain/intuition wasn’t up to the task of leaving the house with everything I needed for the day. I put some serious thought into a checklist, wrote the list on a note card and taped it to the inside my front door, at eye level:




It was very helpful. I started singing it after a week and have ever since, eventually abandoning the note. I sing it before I go anywhere and check my pockets for each item as I do. It sounds like this:

"Keys Money Phone"(Tempo varies with mood, but usually 120+ bpm)

Matt Miller has started a new podcast called This Is Interesting. I just listened to the first one and it’s good. I’m a big fan of his political conversation podcast Left, Right and Center, where he moderates as the political centrist between a liberal and conservative pundit. I’ve listened to him do that show hundreds of times, so I am very familiar with where he’s coming from and interesting in his take on things. (I’ve written about LR&C here.)

I think this show will stand on its own, though. So far it’s a bit like a “deep read” episode of Planet Money, talking in some depth to authors about their topic. In the first This Is Interesting–“The Robots are Coming!”–Matt talks to Martin Ford of The Lights in the Tunnel and Erik Brynjolfsson of Race Against the Machine.

A couple of the ideas I’m left with:

Outsourcing jobs is just a stage in the direction of mechanizing them, so countries like China and India stand to be hit the hardest by the rise of robots.

What a job pays is not a great indicator of whether it is in danger of robot-takeover. Radiologists will be robots pretty soon, but housekeeping staff will not. Auto mechanics are safe for a while too, combining the physical dexterity and cognitive flexibility that is difficult for now to mechanize. (I’m guessing I’m safe as a therapist (though they’re working on it) for the time being. I hope we get some county-approved-paperwork robots, though.)

If education is about creating the ability to add value to the economy (i.e., have a paying job) then we need to be focusing education on what machines can’t yet do. This may be tough–a quickly receding horizon.

There is no reason to believe that market forces will create as many jobs as there are people, and this is likely to happen less and less. If we lose the massive wealth redistribution system that is jobs-with-mechanizable-routines, we will end up having to massively expand our welfare system.


Bayless cover

I bought Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking From the Heart of Mexico because it was the highest-rated Mexican cookbook on Amazon. It was part of an effort to build a great cookbook library and to create a food culture for my family. It was also to turn my wife, Reanna, on to Mexican food. I grew up in southern California and love Mexican food. She grew up in Vancouver, BC, and never developed a taste for it. My limited sampling of Canadian Mexican food made it clear why: It was not very good.

Because I imagined referring to this book for several decades, I almost bought the second-highest rated book because the cover was so much better, but I realized that both images were probably on dust covers, which I hate and throw away immediately. I stuck with the Bayless’s book.

I am so glad I did. Everything I’ve cooked out of this book so far has been very, very good. Surprisingly good. This food tastes like fine dining–nothing fast-food about it. My wife has had “food-gasms” on several occasions and agreed that we would have been happy to have paid top dollar at a restaurant for what we just ate.

I’m a good prep cook, an OK cook cook, and not much of a real chef. I love that I can follow these recipes exactly and produce inspiring food. I also believe that going through this book is teaching me how to cook. I’m learning the architecture of the cuisine–the staples, the flavors, the dishes, the variations. I can imagine eventually being able to stock our fridge intuitively and improvise great food from whatever we have. What more can you ask for in a cookbook?