Exercise for people like me

I have a history of failing to exercise, and as a consequence am a bit out of shape.

A few years ago I managed to get in shape through means of a personal trainer. After about a year and a half of that I was feeling much better about myself – both in the sense of how I looked and how I felt.

The whole experience was awful. It was expensive, it was painful, and in the long run it just convinced me that I hated exercise even more than I’d previously thought I did. So when I moved away from the company that put me in the area of that personal trainer I lost all motivation to go to the gym. I then spent the next two years losing all that fitness I’d managed to build up at great pain and expense.

I’m now trying again, and this time I’m reasonably committed to not back-sliding. I’ve been tinkering with how this works and I think I’ve hit on an approach that works for me. I thought I’d share some of it in case others have similar problems.

It’s all centred around the basic principle that the single most important thing of an exercise program is that you keep doing it. A minimally effective exercise program that you’re doing can be turned into a more effective one. An exercise program that you’re not doing probably won’t be. Moreover, an exercise program that is great for you but you stop doing after 6 months is much worse than one that is pretty good for you but you’ll keep doing for the rest of your life.

I’m hoping that in the long run I’ll manage both of course, but if I can stick to pretty good for the rest of my life I’ll be OK with that.

Basic principles

You’re going to arrange this as if you’re going to be doing it for the rest of your life. This involves making it into a habit.

Obviously for me “make it into a habit” means “put it into Beeminder”. I recommend this as an approach, but it’s not necessary. A diary, or a recurring calendar event, probably work just as well if you don’t need the kick from Beeminder to help you stick to it.

My current goal is to try to get in about 3 sessions of 40 minutes each on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. This seems to be a good schedule, but I’m not really sticking to it yet – I mostly manage to make it Monday, Wednesday and Friday, but I’m not really up to 40 minutes. I seem to be averaging more like 30. That’s OK though – I started at much less than that and was struggling to make it to two half hour sessions a week. The idea is to work up to it. Don’t try to do more time than you can really bring yourself to do – start with something you can fit in, when that becomes normal and habitual increase it slightly.

The second stage is to prevent a rapid burn out. I don’t know about you, but I get… enthusiasms. If I start doing a thing I’ll basically go “Woo, I’m doing a thing. I must do the thing more. Let me do lots of the thing”. In exercise this manifests as my pushing myself way too hard, making some good initial progress and then hitting a wall. I then get dispirited and stop doing it.

So, step 1 is to not do that. I know I can make progress. Partly because I’ve done it before, and partly because well bodies are basically designed to be able to make progress at this. I’m not so uniquely bad at exercise that I won’t make any improvements. So, secure in that knowledge, the trick is to make steady progress.

What does that involve? It involves doing things that are easier than you think you can do. The exercise program should be pitched at basically one tiny notch above “too easy”. Sure you can do that level of weight? OK. Cool. Now take 5 kilos off it. Sure you can do that number of pushups? OK. Do about 2/3rds that (actually for me this manifests in the fact that I’m doing the 100 pushups program. I’m confident I can easily do 10-15 pushups, but instead I’m starting myself on the easiest version of the program and repeating each week. I have a history of trying this program and hitting walls). Once this level has gone from “I can totally do more than this” to “this is embarrassingly painfully easy” you can make it harder.

There are a couple reasons for this.

The first is that if you constantly push yourself, it will hurt. Especially the next day. You might be OK with that, but I’m not. Pain is rubbish, and if I’m going to the gym often enough this will mean that I’m spending about half my life in pain. If anything is going to convince me I hate exercise, that will.

(I know you’ve heard no pain no gain. It’s macho bullshit that has no useful grounding in biology. Your muscles will improve fine without constant agony).

The second is that it stops you hitting a wall. What I’ve found in the past is that the degree to which I can push myself does not improve as fast as my baseline strength. If I’m constantly pushing myself to my limit then my strength will improve, but each time I increase my strength the rate at which I can increase my strength will drop significantly. This will cause frustration

Finally, we’ve already established that you’re here for the long haul. It doesn’t matter if your progress is a bit slow because you’ll get there in the end, and when you do you’re much more likely to stay there.

Getting started

Step one is to find a gym to go to. You can do this at home if you like, but I’ve found having a place which puts me into exercise mode really does help.

You’ll need a program design. For this you probably do want a personal trainer, but only for a session or so, to design a custom program for you which will be exactly like all the other custom programs that they’ve designed for everyone else. They can show you some good exercises, give you a basic framework to fit everything into, etc. Make sure to ask them what exercises are actually for.

Now you’ve got that program you can basically throw it away.

Well, not throw it away, but basically redesign it to actually fit your needs.

First, take all the exercises you hate, and replace them with something vaguely similar you don’t hate. You don’t need a good reason for hating the exercise, there are just going to be some you don’t like. That’s OK. Replace them. Do some searching online to try to find equivalent exercises that you’re less likely to hate (Example: I really hate situps. Turns out I think leg raises are perfectly fine. I don’t really know why. I also hate plank and have no problem with push ups).

Will this result in a sub-optimal program? In one sense, yes: You’ll probably hate some really good exercises and lose out a bit by not doing them.

In another, more important sense, no: If you hate your workout you’ll resent doing it, you’ll do it less, and then you’ll stop. A slightly sub-optimal workout that you do is infinitely better than a great work-out you don’t.

Also figure out which bits of the program you want to skip at first. Chances are your personal trainer will have over designed for you. Personal trainers are like estate agents for exercise: “I’d like a half hour session design” “OK here’s one that will take you 45 minutes. It’s got a really nice view of the lake”. They’re probably right about how much time you should be doing, but you’re almost certainly going to want to work up with that.

So now you’ve got a gym, you’ve got a plan. Go to that gym.

While you’re going to that gym… Figure out everything that makes it annoying for you to go there. Try and find the best way to fit it into your schedule, try and find all the other things that get in your way (e.g. for me it was bringing the gym kit to work, so I changed things around to just have enough clothing in there for several visits to the gym and only do a wash when they’d all been used. The whole process became much more pleasant).

My program

You shouldn’t follow my advice here. I can figure out the bits about motivation, and some of the bits about biology, but exercise design there are probably way more competent people than me and if you can find them let me know. There are lots of people who say they know what they’re doing but I struggle to take the “BECOME RIPPED IN JUST SIX MONTHS” posturing seriously.

But, for the sake of illustrating what this looks like in practice, here’s my current program:

  1. 3 minutes on the exercise bike to warm up. I tried replacing this with skipping today and it basically destroyed me. Skipping is hard. I’m going to try to figure out how to integrate that into my workout, but I haven’t yet.
  2. Do the current week of the hundred pushups program (I’m currently on my fourth week, which is actually the second week for the second time)
  3. Do a super-set of 3 sets of 10 barbell squats (no weights on the barbell right now, it’s just the bar. I think the bar is about 10kg but I’m not really sure. It might be more than that) with 10 bent leg-raises.
  4. Do a super-set of 3 sets of 15x 10kg barbell bench press with 15x35kg underhand pull-downs.
  5. Do about 15 minutes on the exercise bike.

To be clear again: I don’t know what I’m doing and you probably shouldn’t follow the same program as me. I mean, eh, if you want to you can, it’s probably not awful, but don’t take this section as advice.

Also, does this program sound too easy? Do you feel like making fun of me for my puny bench press? If so, I don’t think you’ve been paying attention to this post…

What next?

What next is simple: You keep this up forever, because nothing else is going to work.

Keep increasing the amount of time you spend in the gym until it hits the point you want to achieve. When exercises get too easy, make them a bit harder. Keep practising until they get easy again and repeat the process.

Does it work? I don’t know. By all rights it should, and based on initial results it seems to be putting me in the right mindset and I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to stick with it, but ultimately I’ve only been doing it for about a month and a half and I intend the rest of my life to be a lot longer than that. I’ll keep you posted as to how it goes.

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Backpressure 2: Backpressure harder

You might remember that I implemented a thing for beeminder that I’m calling backpressure. If a goal has less than a week to derailing it generates a datapoint each day. There’s then a “do less of that” goal.

It required a bit of tinkering at first: My initial rate was really low compared to what I actually generated on this front, so I had a few days of scrambling panic to get it under control. Additionally I realised it only worked well for “do more” goals where I can actively work towards making things better as opposed to just not doing anything to make that goal worse for a few days.

Once I got things under control I also decided that my intended rate was too generous, and dialled it down to one which didn’t allow me a full week of leniency: If I have a permanent rate of about one a day being inside the backpressure window than I will derail.

The result is pretty great. I no longer have eep days, I have “oh dear” several day periods (needs a catchier name). When something enters the backpressure window I tend to immediately bat it out again by doing some extra work on it, but it’s no big deal if I need to leave it a day or two. It’s an altogether much calmer experience.

But there is one slight case where it fails to be calmer: Because most of my goals tend to hover a bit outside the one week window now, I still suffer from the correlated eeping problem where multiple things enter the backpressure window at once and I have to deal with both of them because several things in backpressure will cause me to derail much faster. It’s still not nearly as bad as having multiple simultaneous eep days, but it could be better.

I have a couple ideas for how to deal with this, but the easiest one involves me going “Hmm… I’ve got this hammer in my hand. I wonder if I can solve this problem by hitting things?”

So the solution to backpressure’s problems? MORE BACKPRESSURE.

I’ve created a second goal, backpressureharder, which tracks how many goals I have with less than two weeks of grace period left. The idea is that this will be different because it will have a much laxer rate. My current plan is to keep it to just under 2/day, so that I can safely let a single goal slide into the full blown backpressure window, but if two are in there at once I need to deal with it or I’ll derail (or at least burn through my bufffer) – it shouldn’t derail fast. I don’t want to be frantic about it, but at some point in the week I should do something about it.

My initial goal setting on it is not anything close to that because I want to avoid the frantic scrambling around of last time, so I’ve actually got it set to 10 a day. My plan is to clear things out of it gradually, adjust the road dial downwards and retroratchet aggressively to keep myself honest.

P.S. No I’m not just writing this blog post to get my blogging goal closer to being outside the two week window. Why do you ask?

I should edit more

As may be obvious, my blog is only very lightly edited. The normal course of writing a blog post is that I sit down, spew out one or two thousand words that I’ve mostly already vaguely sorted in my head, do a quick once over for anything that is obviously terrible and click publish.

I’m going to experiment with holding back drafts a bit longer and editing them some more, but there’s still this large backlog of pieces that I’ve written that could really use some more love.

So I’m starting a parallel project to this blog: The book of DRMacIver (It will almost certainly never become an actual book).

It’s basically a collection of essays from this blog that I like which I’ll be editing over time to try to raise them to a higher standard of quality. Some of them will be verbatim copies of blog posts, some of them will be essays I’ve extracted (there are a few blog posts which are clearly several smaller blog posts trying to get out), some might be mergers of various posts. We’ll see. New content will continue to be published to this blog first, but updated versions will start to appear over there.

Apologies for the styling. Visual design and CSS are not numbered amongst my skills. I may make an attempt at improving that too, but no promises.

Also, if you want to follow along with the edits, it’s just a publicly available git repository.

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You should write more

Note: There is an updated version of this piece here. It’s probably not very different, but has had some more editing done to it.

This is an advocacy piece. I would like you to write more because I would selfishly like to read what you have to say – if you don’t have a blog, create one. If you do, update it more often.

Based on conversations with friends I’ve had, I know there are a lot of people with really interesting opinions and viewpoints who never flesh them out into the great long form piece that I know is  in there. I would like them to flesh them out because I want more interesting essays to read.

So, yeah, that’s my purely selfish motivation for writing this piece, but everything I’m saying in it is something I 100% believe, so please ignore my ulterior motives and instead listen to what I have to say: I think you should write more.

Why?

I firmly believe that this blog is the best thing I do.

In two senses really: Firstly, it arguably has the most positive impact on the world of anything I do, but also it’s the most self-improving thing I do.

The first one is debatable and hard to measure. There are a few charities I give money to (not enough. Fixing that is on my should-do-but-probably-won’t list, and will probably remain there until I get my act together) that could arguably count. Work sometimes counts, but it tends to be either a large chunk of a company that isn’t making a major positive difference (or possibly is but in a niche I don’t care that much about) or a tiny fraction of something making a modest positive difference. I’ve written a bit in the past about the positive impact I try to have with this blog, but honestly if this blog disappeared from the earth a few people would be sad but I doubt the world would become a drastically worse place.

But the second one? Hands down. Reading a lot probably comes second, but it’s not a close second (I think writing a lot would not be nearly so useful if I didn’t also read a lot, but I still think that if I had to choose between doing only one of writing and reading, writing is the more beneficial one).

It feels like I’ve got this magic make everything better tool which no one else has cottoned on to, and that’s a shame. So that’s the main reason you should write more: Not so that I (or anyone else) can hear what you have to say, but because it will make your life better.

Why will writing make your life better?

There are a lot of reasons, but here are what I think are the big ones (in order of least to most important):

Writing makes you better at writing

This is obvious, right? You practice something and you get better at it.

But why should you care? Getting better at writing is only important if you actually care about writing.

It’s because writing is not just something you do for yourself: It’s an incredibly valuable professional skill.

People make a big deal these days about how computer skills are important for every job, but it seems much less commonly observed that writing skills are important for every job. An extremely large proportion of business communication is written: Think how much time you spend in email.

Wouldn’t it be nice to be better at that?

And it’s not just nice: it’s super useful. Consider how many unclear or incoherent emails you’ve been on the receiving end of. Wouldn’t you like it if those were clearer, better thought out and generally held to a higher quality of writing. I don’t mean spelling and grammar here. I’m talking about conveying the point in a way that is easy to understand.

Your coworkers would like that too. By raising the quality of your writing you will make their lives better, and if making their lives better isn’t enough motivation for you, note that by making their lives better you are making them more likely to respond usefully to the email you’ve sent them (and making them like you more so more likely to respond usefully to you in general).

You can and probably do get better at writing email just by writing email, but anecdotally at least this seems not to happen all that much. I think it’s a mix of people not thinking of email in those terms and not getting the right feedback from it. Fortunately, by learning to write in other contexts you can just transplant those skills wholesale to when you’re writing email.

It’s also useful for the rare occasions where you need to really craft that perfect email. I’ve sent a couple work emails in my life where people who have read them have basically gone “This is an amazing piece. Can I forward this to several people I know who should read it?”. This is a good reaction to have (though I must admit these emails haven’t been super-effective, but that’s mostly because they’ve been “Here are these structural problems with the company” and the structural problems with the company have prevented the email from being acted upon. Writing is useful but not always enough).

So,  yeah. By writing more you will make your work life better.

Writing helps you learn things

One of the single best ways to learn something is to explain it to other people. Writing gives you an opportunity to do that: By writing about something you are forced to think of it in a way that you can explain to other people, which forces you to structure it in a way that you can understand.

I saw a great dialogue on twittter recently (I forget who between I’m afraid) which went something to the tune of “I don’t understand half the thing she writes about” to which the author in question responded “Confession: I don’t understand half the things I write about until I’ve written about them”. This also corresponds to my experience: Quite a lot of my blog posts are me writing about things so that I can understand them.

There is in fact an entire book on this subject (“Writing to Learn” by William Zinsser) which is still on my to read pile, so I won’t say too much more about this for now.

Writing teaches you to think

A piece of feedback I often get from people is that I think things through pretty thoroughly.

This is not a natural trait for me.

Oh, I naturally think about things a lot, but my native thought process is “Here’s a thing and here’s a thing and oh have you thought about that other thing and hey kittens are cute oh god why are things so terrible what were we thinking about again oh yeah stuff which is related to this other stuff is…” etc you get the idea. It’s not exactly thorough so much as scattershot.

The mechanism by which I turn this chaos into thinking things through thoroughly is that I write blog posts about it.

I don’t necessarily publish blog posts about it, but a lot of my blogging happens inside my head – I draft posts by teasing out a chain of thought and forcing structure onto it until something that starts to resemble a blog post emerges which I then later turn into a post. You can do this and then not actually sit down and write the blog post, and it’s still just as useful for structuring your thoughts, butit’s very hard to learn to do this without occasionally actually sitting down and writing the blog post.

This discipline of learning to structure my thoughts has been amazingly helpful. If this is something you have difficulty with or would like to improve, you should write more because it will literally make you better at thinking.

But I can’t write more because…

So that’s a bit about why to write more. But you can’t, because reasons. I think most of those reasons are excuses, and where they’re not excuses they are surmountable. Here are some common ones.

I don’t have the time

You probably do. I mean, some people genuinely don’t have the time, but for the most part people don’t find time they make time and “I don’t have the time” means “I’m not making this a priority”. Somehow every november hundreds of thousands of people find the time to write 50,000 words (note: I blog a lot and 50,000 words is more than my annual output).

Try setting aside a half hour block a week to write. See how it goes. You won’t write a lot in that time, but it’s a good point to start from. If it turns out to be easy to find that time, see if you can find some more time.

I think it’s also worth noting that you don’t actually have to be fully awake to write. Think about the thing you want to write over the course of your day, then either when you get home and want to veg out or in the morning before work or whenever you can just splurge out some words. A bunch of my blog posts are written in this state and so far no-one has called me on the difference (this may not reflect well on the rest of my blogging).

I don’t have anywhere to write

There are lots of free blogging platforms. Try tumblr, or medium, or wordpress.com.

If you really don’t want to write in public, fire up a text editor or MS word and write in there. Or fire up your email client and send yourself an email.

If you want to write with an audience but not in public, maybe try Facebook and see if it annoys your friends too much. Or I hear livejournal is still a thing, and it has good privacy controls for this.

No one would want to read what I write

I think you’re probably wrong, and what you have to say is likely to be more interesting than you think it is. I’ve found I’m a terrible judge of which of my posts people will actually interest people.

But if you’re not wrong, that’s OK. Almost none of the above relies on anyone reading it. The process of external feedback is helpful, but it’s in no way essential. You should start with the principle that you’re writing for yourself and other people are welcome to come along for the ride if they feel like it.

I’m terrible at writing

If only there were some sort of way to get better at that…

It’s dangerous for me to have a public presence due to race/gender/sexuality/etc.

This is a completely legit concern unfortunately. It’s also one I have no personal experience with dealing with, so I’m hesitant to offer too much advice on this one. If you’re comfortable doing so, try writing in public with a pseudonym. If not, I’d strongly encourage you to still try writing even if you feel you have to do it in private. Other people may have better advice than me here.

I don’t know what to write

So I’ve convinced you that you should write, and I’ve convinced you that you can write.

What do you do now? How do you decide what to write about?

Here are some suggested starting points. Pick one. If you can’t decide on one amongst several, pick the easiest one.

  • This is a thing that happened to me recently that was amusing.
  • This is a thing that happened to me recently that was annoying.
  • I disagreed with someone over a thing. Here is a persuasive piece for my side of the disagreement.
  • Here is a thing people often fail to understand.
  • Here is a thing people do that is annoying.
  • This is a thing people new to my job often get wrong.
  • This is a thing people who interact with people who do my job often get wrong.
  • This is a thing I am trying to learn
  • This is a review of a book I read recently
  • This is a review of a film I watched recently
  • Here is a cool thing about the place I live
  • Here is a thing that makes my life better when people do it
  • Here is a thing that makes my life worse when people do it
  • This is a thing I know that you might not have heard about
  • This is a thing I learned recently that I was surprised I had not heard about

If none of those grab you, allow me to offer my services as a muse: If you still can’t think of anything to write, email me. I’ll try to help you out.

Also, if you do write more as a result of this, I’m happy to offer my services as a publicist and tweet about it if you want people to read what you’ve written (things that are obviously spam need not apply, but I’ll otherwise do this even if I don’t agree with what you’ve written).

So, go and write something already.

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Why mathematics makes you better at programming (and so does everything else)

There’s been a bunch of discussion on whether mathematics is programming, whether you need to learn mathematics to program, etc. on Twitter recently. Some of it has been quite heated. So naturally I thought I’d wade right into the hornet’s nest because I’ve got no sense of self-preservation.

There are essentially 4 levels of question going on here:

  1. Is programming basically mathematics?
  2. Do you need mathematics to be a good programmer?
  3. Is there a useful mathematics of programming?
  4. Can learning mathematics make you a better programmer?

The answers to these questions are respectively no, no, yes but you probably don’t care most of the time and yes.

Cool, well, that was easy. Are we done?

Not just yet. I’m going to spend some time unpacking the last of these because it’s the most interesting: Does learning mathematics make you a better programmer?

Well, yes. Of course it does.

So does learning to write. So does learning to cook. So does learning about philosophy of ethics, or about feminism. Learning another human language almost certainly helps you to be a better programmer. Your programming will probably improve if you learn Judo, or knitting, or tap dancing.

I’d go as far as to say that it is unusual to find a pair of skills where learning one will not in some way improve your ability in the other.

Part of this is just that whenever you learn a thing, you’re also learning about learning. You learn what works for you and what doesn’t, and the next time you need to learn something you’ll be that much better at it.

But there’s more to it than that, right? Surely mathematics teaches you more about how to program than just about how to learn things.

Well, yes, but it’s not because by learning mathematics you’re necessarily learning anything directly applicable to programming. Sure, you might be, and you might even be doing the sort of programming to which that maths is directly applicable. But if even if you’re not, learning maths will still make you a better programmer than say, reading Derrida (probably. I haven’t read Derrida so I might be wrong) or learning to cook (Almost certainly. I have learned to cook, and mathematics was way more useful. Your brain might work differently than mine).

Why?

Well, in much the same way that there is a sort of generalised skill of learning that you can improve just by learning things, there are all sorts of other generalised skills. For want of a better word (if you have a better word, do tell) I call them “microskills”. They’re mostly not things that people think of as skills – it’s things like breaking a problem down into parts, abstract thinking, learning to ask the right questions, perseverance when stuck, learning when not to persevere when stuck, and thousands upon thousands of others.

People tend not to think of these as skills because they think of them as innate abilities. Stuff you’re just good at or bad at and you’ve got to cope with that. And I mean, it’s certainly possible that you can be innately good or bad at these (and I may be foolish enough to touch this debate but I’m not touching that one with a barge pole), but regardless of innate ability they all share a characteristic that makes them skills: they get better if you practice them.

Almost every skill you learn will depend on some of these microskills. Which ones is not at all fixed: People compensate by trading off one for the other all the time. You might be less good at working memory, so you practice your organisation skills and keep meticulous notes. You might be easily distractable and lack the ability to methodically push through a problem but make up for it by creative flashes of insight (yes you can learn to have creative flashes of insight, no creativity is not a fixed thing that you can never get any better at).

But it is at least biased. Different skills will encourage you to draw on different microskills. Mathematics will draw heavily on analytical ones – abstract problem solving, hypothesis generation, breaking down a problem into smaller parts, etc. All of these are things that are super useful in programming. So by learning mathematics you’ve developed all these microskills that will later come in super handy while programming.

But, of course, you can develop the same microskills when programming, right?

Wellll….

OK, no. I’m going to go with yes. You will absolutely develop all of the relevant microskills in programming. Learning to be good at programming by doing programming is 100% a viable strategy and lots of people successfully follow it.

The thing is, you won’t necessarily develop them to the same degree. Some you will develop more, some you will develop less. And this isn’t necessarily because the ones you would develop less in programming wouldn’t be useful to be better at.

There is essentially one key thing required for learning to get better at something (HORRIBLE OVERSIMPLIFICATION ALERT): Feedback

Feedback is how clearly and strongly you discover whether you did well or badly at a thing. If you can just try something and immediately find out if it worked or failed, that’s great feedback. If you try something and 3 months later you get a positive result that might be the result of that something (or it might be the result of something else that happened in the intervening 3 months), well… not so much.

Feedback is essentially how you get better because it lets you know that you are getting better, and that’s how you direct your learning. As you get better at a thing, the amount of feedback you tend to get degrades - and this isn’t necessarily because the benefit you’re getting from improving is decreasing (though it often does) it’s often because the benefit is moving further down the line, or into things that are harder to quantify (for example, the benefits of “a sense of good taste” in programming beyond a basic avoidance of complete spaghetti code are often not immediately apparent until you’ve sat atop a mountain of technical debt).

And this is where learning other skills can be super useful, because they provide different feedback loops. Sometimes they even let you develop microskills that appeared completely irrelevant and then once you had them turned out to be super useful (silly example: Strength training to develop core strength. Totally inapplicable to programming, right? Well, yeah, except that it turns out that actually not being distracted by lower back pain while you program is quite handy), but most of the time it’s just that the feedback cycle on them is different and the incentive structure for developing that skill is different – mathematics will lean more on some microskills than programming does and less on others. Similarly it will provide better feedback for some, worse for others.

I could provide some specific examples of which things I think mathematics will help you develop better, but I won’t. It’s very hard to judge these things, and people can argue endlessly about which is better for what. But the specifics don’t matter: Basically all forms of abstract thinking are useful for programming, and the only way that we could reasonably believe that mathematics and programming could provide exactly the same set of feedback loops and incentive structures as each other would be if we believed that they were the same thing.

And that would be silly.

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