Doing pomodoros is changing my life

For people who don’t know what pomodoros are, they’re basically alternating periods of work + break (usually 25 min working / 5 min break), and there are a bunch of desktop and mobile pomodoro apps that you can get. I’ve known about pomodoros for a pretty long time but only started doing them after learning more about them when I took the Learning How to Learn online course while I was at RC. Even then, I never fully incorporate them into my work until this past month.

I feel like doing pomodoros has changed my life in a big time way, by making me more aware of both the passage of time and my own mental state. For instance, now I can set daily goals for myself like “work on cos pset for 3 pomodoros,” which allows me not only to break down big (and undesirable) tasks into manageable daily chunks, but also to become more aware of how long it takes me to do certain parts. Not only that, but I’m now also more aware of how many things I can actually do during the 5 minute breaks (like go to the bathroom, make tea, fold a few shirts, dance to a song, etc.), which feels pretty good. Also, doing pomodoros feels like a more sustainable way for me to work, because now I know that when I can’t get through a whole pomodoro, I’m mentally tired and should either take a long break or stop working for the day.

It’s not a perfect system, and writing this post actually makes me feel bad that I’m at a place in my life where I have to think about how to be super productive, but pomodoros have definitely helped with that! And doing pomodoros with friends is even better.

What it means to be a nice girl

Basically, putting the needs of others before your own. For instance:

  • Doing the “right thing” even if you don’t want to
  • Letting other people encroach on your personal space and boundaries, and not standing up for yourself and your needs until they’ve egregiously overstepped 
  • Second-guessing yourself and your intuitions while giving others the benefit of the doubt
  • Comforting others (and taking on their emotional/etc. burdens!) even when you’re not in the right/best mental state to do so
  • Doing things that are inconvenient, annoying, or downright bad to you because they make someone else’s life (even slightly) better

 

Fuck being a nice girl.

[Video] Link to me talking about mono no aware + other things

Hi all! I figured I would post the link to this “video” on my blog since it basically is just an unedited oral blog post. I recorded the audio around two weeks ago and just posted it. I enjoyed making it, and I will probably continue to use this media format for topics that are more difficult to write about concisely. Maybe I can live out my dream of making a podcast/radio program? 😊

I feel that I am in a period of many changes in my life.

(click on the video for some more context + helpful links in the description!)

Why I stopped identifying as a rationalist

I’ve told this story to a few people in person, but I wanted to write it out because honestly I just wanted to challenge myself to say something that many people I know may disagree with.

Some background on how I got into rationality and my experience being a rationalist: Michael introduced me to LessWrong and Slate Star Codex when we “met” in October 2014. I became more interested in rationality because I wasn’t happy with myself and was getting more into self improvement around this time (during my freshman year). I attended a CFAR workshop during the summer of 2015 (the summer after freshman year). I became friends with a few rationalists and came to know quite a few others through Facebook, mutual friends, and various other random things (posting on the Princeton class pages looking for other rationalists, attending EAG in 2016).

I don’t want to pretend that I’m a super complicated person or try to construct a narrative that might be more compelling to others — the one “event” that made me stop identifying as a rationalist was my experience volunteering at a CFAR workshop in March 2017. I hadn’t been really involved in the rationalist community since getting into rationality, but I wanted to become more connected to the community, so one of my goals for my gap year was to volunteer at a CFAR workshop, as a stepping stone into the community.

The general thing I felt that really hurt me during the workshop was how many of the people in the community (mostly the instructors and mentors, maybe some of the participants) seemed to not treat me and others as human beings. I felt that I wasn’t valued or respected in many ways, whereas people who had more obvious things to offer to AI risk/etc. were. I can understand why this is true and why they would treat some people more preferentially, but the fact is that I need a community where I feel valued and respected.

One thing that made me feel really unappreciated was that one of the instructors didn’t know my name after several days, and didn’t provide a reason, apologize, or even make an excuse for not knowing my name. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but I felt hurt because I was already feeling debased to an extent as a result of the ops/logistics work I was doing, and it just felt like this person wasn’t even acknowledging let alone appreciating my help. I felt so upset about this that I went to the bathroom and cried after this happened (and after trying to rationalize it to myself for a few moments). I feel like this incident tapped into my insecurities about not being competent. In particular, the fact that I wasn’t perceived as being able to provide skills to further rationalist causes meant to me that I wasn’t even important enough for someone to learn my name. And the fact that I had looked up to this person and it felt like I was just…nothing to them.

Another thing that I remember was some of the mentors (? I think) discussing how to basically win over one of the participants (who they saw as potentially “high value”). Again, it makes sense from their perspective why they would want to do this (which…of course it does), but it just felt inappropriate and honestly just unfair to the other participants. And hearing this helped me put some of my negative experiences from the CFAR workshop I attended (that I initially wrote off because my self confidence was not good) into perspective.

There were probably some other things along these lines that colored my opinion, but these are two that stick out. But I do want to mention that I have some positive memories (and one really positive memory) from the workshop, and I know that not everyone in the rationalist community views people in those kinds of terms, but since volunteering for this workshop, I’ve no longer felt a desire to become a part of the rationalist community.

I think another factor in my mental shift was having just experienced some deep human connections during my time at the Recurse Center (thank you Glen and SJ in particular!) a few months prior, and both strongly preferring that type of interaction and feeling that I could find a community where I could fit in and feel appreciated and respected.

My first Glossier experience

This post has been in my drafts for awhile… Last month, I visited New York and took a trip to the Glossier showroom, the first (out of two, now) Glossier store in the world! I had never purchased any Glossier products before, and I was not super familiar with their product line, so this was a very new experience for me.

The showroom is located in the penthouse of a building that is actually pretty close to RC. When I arrived, there was a line of about 10-ish people waiting to get in. It was somewhat deterring, but the woman in front of me told me that the line moved quickly. We were probably waiting for less than 5 minutes, and then we got ushered into an elevator and went up to the showroom together.

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The place was fairly crowded and smelled like roses. There was music playing. The interior decoration was spot on, and very on-brand, like the graphic design of the website in real life. Even though the place was crowded, the product layout made it pretty easy to try things on.

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Lots of products laid out (and multiples of many products), with adequate mirror space and sink space (not pictured) for trying on skincare.

I ended up purchasing the one item I went with the intention of trying, the Boy Brow. The checkout process is similar to the one at MAC, if I recall correctly (it’s been a long time since I’ve purchased something at a MAC store), where you go to the register and tell them what you’d like to purchase. I was surprised because I was told to wait a bit while my “purchase was being prepared,” even though I only bought one thing. But when I received my bag shortly afterwards, I found that my Boy Brow was packaged nicely in a pink makeup bag, along with a couple of samples and Glossier stickers, and I was no longer disturbed/put off by the fact that my purchase needed to be prepared.

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Beautiful (and recognizable) packaging. While walking outside afterwards, we heard someone comment, “I’ve been seeing a lot of Glossier bags!”

I feel that the most exciting part of the whole experience for me was not the actual experience of being in the store, but realizing that I had been “marketed to.” Even though I had previously read about the company and its founder (h/t Sonia ☺️) and watched videos of people applying and reviewing Glossier products, I didn’t really get the brand. But after visiting the showroom and making a purchase, I totally understood and bought into the brand’s appeal.

Unlike most other makeup companies which either seem to brand themselves as aspirational (e.g., Fenty Beauty, luxury beauty brands), more artistic (e.g., Kat Von D, MAC), or role-specific (e.g., Bobbi Brown for the professional woman, Huda Beauty for the Instagram baddie), Glossier advertises its products as bringing out the real you, but enhanced and cooler. Cool is the one word that always stays cool (I forget where I read this). Also, since Glossier is a makeup and skincare brand, their message is not only more believable, but they can also get consumers to buy in to the entire ecosystem, which is genius. The only makeup brand that I can think of that is as cool as Glossier is Pat McGrath’s line, but it’s more artistry-focused and isn’t geared towards everyday wear.

For me, someone who pretty much wears a full face of makeup whenever they wear makeup and is relatively high maintenance (people have commented on how frequently I wash my makeup brushes), the idea of becoming a “Glossier girl” was enticing. Since I’ll be traveling this summer and mostly living out of my suitcase, I knew that I didn’t want to pack a lot of brushes, and especially not my makeup sponge. If I embraced the your-beauty-but-slightly-enhanced Glossier look, then I wouldn’t have to pack any makeup brushes.

This idea was so compelling to me that I almost immediately changed my daily makeup routine, and honestly I don’t see myself changing it back even after the summer. I think the fact that the brand (which I only purchased one product from!) already made such an impact on my mindset and daily life goes to show how powerful—and craved—its message is. Glossier is definitely doing a lot of things right.

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The elevator everyone enters from. And notice the employee on the left wearing the cute pink jumpsuit that is a uniform option.
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People trying out skincare. Note the large promotional image, several of which are scattered throughout the store. This one was probably advertising their new Lidstar eyeshadow.
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Waiting/sitting area.

Honest reflections on my junior year at Princeton

Junior year was really not what I expected it to be. Coming back from my gap year, I had all these ideas about what I wanted to do differently, and how I would make the most of my time and get a lot out of being back at Princeton. In some ways, that did happen. I took some great classes that I was actually interested in and tried things that I wouldn’t have otherwise tried. But after my first semester back, I felt that I had lost a lot of the personal and mental growth that I had made during my time off, and I felt incredibly lonely. It seemed unthinkable that I would end up feeling more lonely in a school full of 5000 people my own age, than in the cities full of strangers that I lived in during my time off.

In January, I felt really lonely. I felt like I did my first semester all wrong, and I should have focused more on socializing and making friends and strengthening friendships. When I opened up to other people about this, I found out that I wasn’t alone in feeling this way. That’s a common thing that happened, by the way. When I opened up to people about various challenges that I thought were idiosyncratic, I almost always found that they were tacitly present in everyone’s Princeton experience. For instance, the feeling of intense loneliness. I’m remembering the time I was walking back to the hotel when I visited Hakone last year. The streets were deserted, and it was so eerily quiet. Even though I was with Michael, I felt incredibly alone, because there was a feeling that we could have been the only two humans there! That was a different kind of lonely, though. To be surrounded by people and a message/5 minutes away from friends, and still feel lonely… And I think being at Princeton in particular doesn’t help the situation. One explanation that someone posited to me, and that I believe, is that because all the dormitory doors at Princeton are closed by default (and to leave them open would be a fire hazard!), it’s incredibly difficult for an environment of openness to exist. And because of that, it’s also difficult to be open with each other in social contexts, and it’s easy to feel alone in feeling alone. I went to visit CPS, and found out that they see 50% of the students on campus in any given year. Isn’t that crazy?

And even though my classes were rewarding, my academics took a lot more time, as a result of actually attending (most) classes regularly, taking more interesting/difficult classes, and wanting to understand the material. I want to talk about the positive aspects first. The Beginning Studies in Acting course I took in the fall was a really great introduction to acting for me, and it motivated me to pursue a theater certificate and become more involved with the theater department. And that was the first department I felt at home in on campus, despite having only been a part of it for a short period of time. Taking 1st-year Japanese both semesters was really time-consuming, but also rewarding because I got to know the professors and my classmates pretty well, which just never happens in a large C(O)S lecture. And taking East Asian History after 1800 in the spring was just so enriching; I felt more connected to my heritage, and felt that I could understand my parents better. It was definitely a class that I would never have taken if I didn’t go on my gap year.

Most of my negative experiences were actually within my major, in the COS department. I became pretty jaded about the department and CS in general after this year. It’s a large department, so I don’t really expect much, but I feel like I’ve only had neutral or negative experiences, with nothing really positive to redeem them. For instance, even when academic support is provided in COS courses, I’ve come to perceive that I can’t ask for help without being judged for not knowing something. I don’t feel a sense that the teachers are putting the needs of their students above their own mental laziness. For instance, in the Piazza (the online Q&A system) for one of my COS courses, I found that instructors would frequently give almost the answer that the question was looking for. A student would be confused about how to run a program, and the instructor would answer telling them to make the program executable with a certain command (chmod), but they could have easily instead just written the exact shell command to do the thing the question was asking about. The justification is that CS is a discipline where you have to Google things a lot, and they’re giving you that training. I see where that sentiment is coming from, but it just doesn’t make sense for a one-off command that someone just ends up memorizing. And for me, all these small questions really served to do is to make me feel frustrated at myself, and break down the confidence I built up while coding at the Recurse Center. And it’s difficult to admit that you’re having trouble with these things, because you feel like you’re going to get a non-answer or feel even more belittled. I never wanted to believe the stereotype that technical people were less capable of emotional connection before, but now I really see truth in that. In this entire year, I felt empathy from a COS instructor/the department once, and lack of empathy countless times. I do feel regret about my major.

This wasn’t really the blog post I imagined writing, but it’s what came out today. I feel that it’s selfish in many ways to complain about my Princeton experience, when to even have the experience is an incredible privilege. While I am so grateful to be at Princeton, I think to deny myself the ability to criticize this experience would be to invalidate my real experience, and by extension, myself.

I would love to hear about what other people have to say about their time at Princeton! Let’s talk about the things that are difficult to talk about.

My first Amazon Books store experience

This past weekend, I visited the Amazon Books store on 34th Street in NYC. According to Wikipedia, it’s one of the 13 Amazon Books stores in existence!

First, let me show you some of the pictures I took of the store, and then I’ll tell you why I dislike the entire concept of the store (and why I’ll never go there to buy books). 🙂 Btw, hope the scroll-down gallery is fine! The slideshow view doesn’t seem to display long captions.

 

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A screenshot of a Yelp review for the Stumptown inside the store (which is definitely a plus for Stumptown lovers like Michael!). “Slightly dystopian vibes” is definitely a phrase I would use to describe the store!
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The storefront. I saw a bunch of people taking this picture as I drank my chai latte inside the street-facing window of Stumptown.
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A sign you see when you walk into the store. This was kind of confusing to me! I’ll get back to the pricing in a later picture.
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One of the ways the Amazon Books store is different from many other bookstores: it sells more non-bookstore-type merchandise. For instance, coffee and juicing machines, and blenders, to go along with books on the same topic…
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…and fitness accessories to go along with fitness books. One thing to notice though (and this continues in other ways throughout the store) is the weird specificity of the merchandise displays. I know other stores do New Year’s themed marketing in stores, but this felt weirdly more intrusive, probably largely in part due to the context of the rest of the store.
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Along with those non-book products, they also sell Amazon devices, including Amazon Fire TV and Echo Dot (next pic). From the Amazon Books site: “For customers who aren’t Prime members, Amazon devices are the same price as from Amazon.com; books and other items are sold at list price.” As a side note, I’ve heard that they’ve also begun selling e.g., the Amazon Echo at Whole Foods, but I didn’t see any when I last visited a Whole Foods in Charlotte last month.
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For some reason, this kind of stuff really bothers me. I get that you’re primarily an online retailer, but that doesn’t mean you have to bring web practices/jargon/etc. to the physical world! Let me know if this bothers you too and we can have a conversation shitting on it.
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A picture to help you get a sense of the store’s layout. To describe it in more detail, Stumptown is on the left when you first walk in, and takes up the entire left third-ish of the store. Random electronics (like the various drink makers) are directly in front of the entrance, other electronics are in the middle left of the store, checkout is on the middle right, and everything else is books.
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I guess this is one of the reasons someone might choose to go to the Amazon Books store instead of another one? If you primarily base your purchases off of online reviews (which, yeah, I do too), then this is probably supposed to be a differentiating feature. But I’ll go into detail after the photos about why this kind of thing actually has the opposite effect on me.
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More of the same.
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This is another example of the weird specificity. I’m guessing this is their attempt at physicalizing targeted marketing, but it really doesn’t do it for me. Like, maybe? But no. And it makes me feel weird.
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Using not-Amazon reviews, but still an “online”-type metric for one of the displays! (I notice myself getting saltier and saltier as I write these captions.)
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Similar to the last picture, but this shelf was curated just using Goodreads.
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A sad (in the context of everything else) attempt at humanizing the store. Cute, but still too little, too late.
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An attempt at physicalizing Amazon’s recommendation system. It kind of works (?) because I’m guessing the books on the left are widely read. But this still doesn’t make me want to come here.
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Similar to the last picture, an attempt at physicalizing the “sort by top sellers in this category” online feature.
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The pricing in this store was really strange. If you’ll notice in the previous images, the labels under all the books didn’t have prices. Maybe I’m missing something, but the only ways to check the prices were to either scan the barcode on the label in your Amazon app (quite tedious!), or to scan the book in this price scanner (also tedious, because there were only a few of these in the store). As you can see on the screen, if you’re a Prime member, you get a better deal on the books. This would be the same price you would pay if you were to buy the book on Amazon.com. One small confusion I have about this is: if you don’t have Amazon Prime, why would you get the book in stores (if it’s not urgent)? I get that Amazon’s probably trying to convince a different demographic to try out Amazon Prime with this scheme, but people who want to resist can still resist at a pretty low cost (for instance, they could just buy the book on Amazon.com without Prime shipping instead).
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You can checkout with your Amazon app. I feel like this is a novelty more than anything else – I can’t imagine actually repeatedly checking out this way and being happy about it. Probably (hopefully) a temporary solution…
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…but you can also pay with a credit card linked to your Prime account, so not sure why the troublesome QR code method is advertised/utilized at all. Maybe for the small number of people who don’t have all their credit cards with them, or share a joint Prime account, but even then, I don’t understand why the QR code method was advertised more prominently.
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This is an image of a small sign on the checkout counter of Stumptown. I wonder who fills out these surveys… Surprised that they didn’t include a QR code linking to the url! 😏
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Last photo: the arch separating the coffee shop from the bookstore. The design is still cohesive across the boundary. In general, the store gave me major airport bookstore (e.g., Hudson Booksellers) vibes, but with a bit less wood and more white. But still depersonalized af.

 

Now…onto why I don’t like the store and could never see myself choosing it over any (reasonably) normal bookstore – barring fundamental changes.

Let’s think about buying books and visiting bookstores. For me, those two are actually very different things. If I’m buying a physical book (not an e-book), there are only a few different scenarios. Either a) it’s a textbook I need for school, in which case I would go to my university bookstore which is conveniently located and gives us a 30% discount on textbooks, b) it’s a book that I want a physical copy of (like if I want to gift a book, or if I want a book for reference or to add to my physical collection that I can lend to people), in which case I would just order it online, or c) I’ve received a gift card to a local bookstore (very rare). For the last point, I should also mention that it looks like there is no Amazon Books-specific gift card, you could just use your Amazon account, which could be loaded with an Amazon.com gift card, to pay, or use a physical Amazon.com gift card. (I could be mistaken about this.)

I don’t think there’s ever been a case where I’ve urgently needed to buy a physical book other than for school, but if I did, their feature that allows you to search product availability in your local store would certainly be helpful (and I’ll admit, is more convenient than calling in to ask the same thing from a smaller bookstore). Otherwise, I would just buy the e-book, go without it for a few days, or read the summary online. 😅

The Amazon Books website describes itself:

As a physical extension of Amazon.com, Amazon Books integrates the benefits of offline and online shopping to help you find books and devices you’ll love. We select books based on Amazon.com customer ratings, pre-orders, sales, popularity on Goodreads, and our curators’ assessments. We place books face-out on the shelves, so each can communicate its own essence. Under each book is a review card with the Amazon.com customer rating and a review. Most have been rated 4 stars or above and many are award winners.

They say all of that as if they’re good things. What I appreciate about other bookstores is the curation, the ambience, the spontaneity! I want to have the experience of discovering a new read, or to just be able to sit down and take in the bookstore environment (similar to what I look for in a coffee shop). When I lived in the Mission in San Francisco, I loved (and cherished!) passing by Adobe Books and Alley Cat and checking out the discounted selection of used books in front of the store.

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Even though you couldn’t replicate that kind of experience with a store selling new books, there overall is a sense of wonder and calmness that I look for in a bookstore that just cannot be replaced by Amazon Books’s curation by the online masses and attempts at translating their targeted marketing strategies into the physical world. Furthermore, the aspects that are supposed to be selling points of the store make me feel uncomfortable. The store is “personalized,” yet very depersonalized at the same time, and seems to be quite explicitly focused on getting me to buy buy buy, which is annoying enough to resist online, and almost antithetical to what I look for in other bookstores.

PSA: stores/corporations/etc. do not act in your best interests – they act in theirs! Sometimes the two are aligned – in which case, great! But that is very much not true for me and this Amazon Books store.

Overall, the only reasons I see for me returning to this store would be to either get some Stumptown (most likely), or maybe to try out one of the Amazon electronics (very unlikely). I think it’s worth checking the store out once if you’re interested in this kind of thing, but mainly, writing this blog post really made me realize that I really should support my local bookstores, lest Amazon Books stores become the new norm.