Email schmemail...

Dave Long dl at
Mon Sep 22 09:03:07 PDT 2003

> Email is a wonderful thing for people whose role in life is to be on top of
> things. But not for me; my role is to be on the bottom of things. What I do
> takes long hours of studying and uninterruptible concentration. I try to
> learn certain areas of computer science exhaustively; then I try to digest
> that knowledge into a form that is accessible to people who don't have time
> for such study.

There are two basic strategies for coming
up with the response to a problem.  On the
one hand, one can reduce the problem to a
familiar situation with familiar variables,
and then make the correct response (making 
an adjustment for the variables).  On the
other hand, one can pull apart the problem
into several smaller pieces, and then form
a response by reducing the many (one hopes
simpler) responses into an overall one.

Using the former strategy is best for the
active life: that initial reduction means
that one doesn't have too much context to
switch during interruptions, but since it
is only possible to replace bits that one
has thrown away by reading out the stored
bits from canned responses, it isn't very
effective for dealing with the unfamiliar.

Using the latter strategy is a luxury of
the contemplative life: the bookkeeping
needed to keep one's place in a clutter
of subproblems means that if interrupts
divide one's time too finely, it is all
too easy to be conquered by the mass of
detail--to blow one's stack.  There is,
however, a reward for taking that risk:
because one doesn't discard information
until the very end, it is far easier to
find novel responses to novel problems.


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