Weekly Learning: Alcohol, Learning, Principles, and Good Design


The Surprising Reason Why Alcohol Stores Are Considered Essential Services reveals what, perhaps, many have suspected:

“Though research shows that alcohol abuse may worsen individual Covid-19 symptoms and other issues like depression, suicidality, and domestic abuse, even those adverse outcomes may not outweigh the pressure that a vast wave of alcohol withdrawal would have on the health care system. Unfortunately, the truth is that limiting alcohol use would provoke more visits to the ER — something most hospitals can’t cope with in a pandemic atmosphere.”


The Simple Principles of Good Management quotes Herbert Simon:

“The principles of good management are simple, even trivial. They are not widely practiced for the same reason that Christianity is not widely practiced. It is not enough to know what the principles are; you must acquire deeply ingrained habits of carrying them out, in the face of all sorts of strong urges to stray onto more comfortable and pleasant paths, to respond without inhibition to provocations, and just to goof off. “

So, “[p]atience is one of those things that’s easy to understand and hard to practice,” and that “deciding to commit in a meaningful way is hard.”

And here’s the ultimate advice:

“The most important things can’t be taught, they must be learned. Just because you can’t be taught what you need doesn’t mean you can absolve yourself from learning. You can learn the principles but you can’t learn the patience. You can copy the answer but not the understanding and confidence. These you need to learn on your own.”

Perhaps, not unlike this:

“When you get far enough along the spectrum that you really know the difference between bad and good, and how much there is to know, and that you will always be surprised, and are convinced you’re nothing more than mediocre— that’s when you’re at your best. That’s when you get the best results. You’ve put in your 10,000 hours. You’ve become the person everyone considers a master. Conversely, you wake up knowing there is no such thing. You’re only a master because you never stop learning.”

—Robert Hoekman Jr., Experience Required: How to Become a UX Leader Regardless of Your Role


Taste for Makers, an old post by Paul Graham, argues that:

“Saying that taste is just personal preference is a good way to prevent disputes. The trouble is, it’s not true. You feel this when you start to design things.”


“…if your job is to design things, and there is no such thing as beauty, then there is no way to get better at your job. If taste is just personal preference, then everyone’s is already perfect: you like whatever you like, and that’s it.”

An important piece of advice:

“Relativism is fashionable at the moment, and that may hamper you from thinking about taste, even as yours grows. But if you come out of the closet and admit, at least to yourself, that there is such a thing as good and bad design, then you can start to study good design in detail. How has your taste changed? When you made mistakes, what caused you to make them? What have other people learned about design?”

According to the author:

  • Good design is simple
  • Good design is timeless
  • Good design solves the right problem
  • Good design is suggestive
  • Good design is often slightly funny
  • Good design is hard
  • Good design looks easy
  • Good design uses symmetry
  • Good design resembles nature
  • Good design is redesign
  • Good design can copy
  • Good design is often strange
  • Good design happens in chunks
  • Good design is often daring

It’s a long read into that exploration of good design, but it’s TL;WR — too long, worth reading, with tiny bits of wisdom here and there:

“Jane Austen’s novels contain almost no description; instead of telling you how everything looks, she tells her story so well that you envision the scene for yourself.”

“The danger of symmetry, and repetition especially, is that it can be used as a substitute for thought.”

“Nothing is more powerful than a community of talented people working on related problems. Genes count for little by comparison…”

“…it’s easier to see ugliness than to imagine beauty. Most of the people who’ve made beautiful things seem to have done it by fixing something that they thought ugly.”

And the most important piece of advice:

“Intolerance for ugliness is not in itself enough. You have to understand a field well before you develop a good nose for what needs fixing. You have to do your homework. But as you become expert in a field, you’ll start to hear little voices saying, What a hack! There must be a better way. Don’t ignore those voices. Cultivate them. The recipe for great work is: very exacting taste, plus the ability to gratify it.”

Interactive Principles

A super nice website about learning science principles.

The Pragmatic Programmers

The whole catalog of books by The Pragmatic Programmers are on Medium, accessible through a Medium membership.

That brings back memories, joy and pain, of my years at a major publishing house. I edited some of the translations from that catalog.

So that’s a bit of nostalgic value, especially if, like me, you were programmer before.


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