The value of working on projects which might not work

‘Use a Molecular Biologist with programming experience to advertise for your Bioinformatics Specialization, not just a youtuber!!’

That’s the tail end of one of the comments on one of my recent YouTube videos.

It also mentioned the work I was doing wasn’t biologically or scientifically sound.

He was right. But it didn’t take the comment to make me aware. The video has a disclaimer at the start. The description has one too.

Maybe Reza didn’t see it. That’s okay, sometimes people miss disclaimers and no one ever reads the terms & conditions.

Not all projects you start are going to work.

But that doesn’t mean they’re a waste of time.

In my latest video, I use what I’ve been learning in the Coursera Bioinformatics Specialization plus the help of a genetic algorithm to mutate a DNA sequence until it changes into the right one. When it changes into the right sequence, a YouTube video loads of my best friend’s son hearing him speak for the first time.

The project works, the code runs. However, it’s not scientifically significant nor will it push the field of biology forward.

But I did learn a whole bunch about DNA, different genes, cell replication, computer science, algorithm design, hearing loss and how to research along the way. And now I know where I could improve, plus, I have a story. A story of how I built something.

When people reach out to me asking how they should learn machine learning (or anything else), I often recommend getting a foundation of knowledge and then starting to work on some projects of your own.

The next question is usually, ‘What project should I work on?’

To which my reply is usually, ‘Something which might not work.’

Why?

You’ve seen the reasons above from my personal project. But I’ve put together a few points on the benefits of working on things which might not work.

Getting comfortable with the unknown

Loss aversion is one of the main drivers of all decision making.

Losing something has six times the psychological effect as gaining something. Which means you'd have to win $600 to compensate losing $100.

This is hardwired into us. And it's a good thing. In the past, when we were hunter-gatherers and resources were scarce, losing something could mean the end.

But now, if you're reading this, you likely have more resources available to you than most people in history.

Yeah, you've heard this before. But what's the point?

Loss aversion keeps you in the known.

'I know this works so I'm going to keep doing it.'

Doing this over and over risks stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline.

All the best work comes from projects which might not work. The ones where the outcome isn't clear to begin with but instead is refined and found over time.

The next time you're avoiding the unknown, rather than think about what you're missing out on gaining, what are you afraid of losing?

The fear of loss is a far bigger driver of your decision making.

Get comfortable with the unknown.

Figuring out where you’re wrong

My bioinformatics project doesn't mean anything biologically.

The genetic algorithm I used wasn't as computationally efficient as it could be.

These are two areas I could improve on if I wanted to take it further.

Even if the project you're working on doesn't turn out to be as expected (they hardly do), at a bare minimum you'll figure out where you're wrong.

Now you know what doesn't work, you can use it as direction for what's next.

If everyone else is doing it, avoid

Projects don’t have to be what you see everywhere else.

Imagine you're in a job interview.

The other candidates have all worked on Project X.

The interviewer has heard the same story 6 times.

It's your turn. They ask you.

'What have you been working on?'

You reply.

'I've been working Project Y. It hasn't quite worked out yet but I think I know what I'm going to do next.'

'Oooo, Project Y, tell me more.'

This scenario is made up. But you get the point.

Having a project you've worked on is better than no project.

And having a project you've worked on that's different to what you easily find elsewhere is better than what everyone else has.

What can you do?

If someone has done it before, remix it with your own vibe. Combine one project with another and see what comes out.

The worst case?

You'll have a story about how you tried to mix X with Y. And it didn't work out. So you tried to add Z into the mix and then W was born. I ran out of letters.

Do the thing you've always done and you'll get the same results you've always got.

A chance to share your work

It's the story. The process. The thought process. The why behind each step.

Even if what you're working on doesn't turn out to be great. You'll still have this.

The process is as important as the outcome. The process is what will follow you to the next project.

Being able to describe your process to someone is teaching them to fish rather than giving them a fish.

The benefit of sharing your work, even if it doesn't work?

Someone else might be working on the same thing. They might want to come along and join forces.

‘Hey, I’m working on this too.’

The internet allows this kind of interaction.

Plus, people online are really quick to tell you where you're wrong.

‘Yeah, but where’s the practicality?’

If you're thinking about this, you're on the right path.

It's well and good to not be afraid of working on things which might not work.

But when does it turn into something really useful?

It's an iterative process. Ask, test, reflect, refine, repeat. There's no one answer.

It starts with making. Making something you're proud of. And then sharing it with others.

This post is an excerpt of the newsletter I send out once a month or so. If you’re interested in reading more posts like this, you can sign up for updates.

4 Things Every Ideal Diet Should Be Based On

Too much nutrition advice contains information like 64mg of Sodium Potassium Chloride twice every 6.5 hours with still water out of a recycled cup.

The focus of my ideal diet is performance. Mental performance and physical performance.

Foods these days have been over-engineered for taste, sacrificing performance. Short-term mouth pleasures to keep you eating more.

My whole diet can be summed up in seven words. Eat food, mostly plants, not too much.

I stole this from Michael Pollan. His book Food Rules is the best book I’ve ever read on food.

We’ll treat these as the pillars.

A) Eat Food

This sounds trivial.

But the key is the definition of food.

Food, in this case, is whole foods. Foods which your great great grandparents would recognise as food.

This rules out most of the refined food sources you find the Standard American Diet (aptly abbreviated as S.A.D because it will make you sad).

This colourless combination of carbohydrates and fats has only been introduced to our diets in the last few decades. And it’s causing havoc to our health.

This colourless combination of carbohydrates and fats has only been introduced to our diets in the last few decades. And it’s causing havoc to our health.

Processed carbohydrates, sugars, vegetable/seed oils, fried foods. All the things you see at stores in the bright packaging or at the restaurants with the neon lights. Gone.

This isn’t to say carbohydrates, sugars and oils are completely avoided.

My ideal diet still contains these things but in the form of fruits, vegetables and non-vegetable/seed oils (olive, coconut).

Meat is there too. Preferably from animals who also don’t eat these kinds of foods. Grass-fed & free range where possible.

Why these?

My primary goals are mental and physical performance.

The body works very efficiently off of these kinds of foods.

Have you ever ate a heavy meal of burger and fries and felt sluggish after? I’m avoiding this feeling at all cost. Plus, add up enough of these feelings and you’ve got yourself a longer-term health problem worse than just feeling sluggish.

The best foods don’t require packaging.

B) Mostly plants

Vegetarian diets and vegan diets work great. All diet trends work great.

Why?

All the diet trends you’ve heard of work because they follow a common trend. They avoid the S.A.D (Standard American Diet).

Whether it be completely plant-based, a combination of plants and animals or completely meat-based, they focus on whole foods.

Mostly plants is me trying to take care of my microbiome.

What’s the microbiome?

It’s the colony of bacteria which live in your gut. There are more of them than us, 10 times more. 10 times more bacteria cells in your whole body than your own cells.

We still don’t know the exact role the microbiome plays in day to day life but more and more research is pointing towards it being considered as the second brain.

Even if you based the significance of importance on cell numbers alone, your microbiome is something you should be concerned about.

There was an experiment done on sets of twins. Genetically, twins are the same. They have the same DNA. Except for these sets of twins, one of them was overweight and the other wasn’t. If their DNA is the same, what was the difference?

The twin which was overweight had a less diverse microbiome.  Outtake from The Royal Institution Talk:    What Role Does our Microbiome Play in a Healthy Diet?

The twin which was overweight had a less diverse microbiome. Outtake from The Royal Institution Talk: What Role Does our Microbiome Play in a Healthy Diet?

Their microbiome. The twin who was overweight had a less diverse microbiome than the other. This is was the case for all the twins in the study.

Less diverse means there were fewer species of bacteria. The overweight twins microbiome was like walking through a garden with only one type of plant. And the other twin had a microbiome like a rich English Garden.

Keep your microbiome looking like a rich English garden.  Outtake from The Royal Institution Talk:    What Role Does our Microbiome Play in a Healthy Diet?

Keep your microbiome looking like a rich English garden. Outtake from The Royal Institution Talk: What Role Does our Microbiome Play in a Healthy Diet?

How would you improve the garden with only one kind of plant?

You’d add more plants.

This is the same as the microbiome. Adding more plants, more fruits and vegetables, diverse kinds of leaves, fermented foods (foods with bacteria already in them) help to diversify the microbiome.

My ideal diet takes care of my bacteria cells and my own cells.

C) Not too much

Have you ever seen a person walking through an airport trying to carry too many bags?

It doesn’t look like a good time.

Eating too much is the same as trying to carry around more bags than you need.

If I’m trying to balance all those extra bags and perform physically and mentally at the same time, it isn’t going to end well.

How do you know how much?

One way is to meticulously plan out what you’re going to do.

Like planning a trip day by day, hour by hour and packing every single thing you need.

Eating like this works but it’s hard work. Tracking every calorie, adding food here, removing it there.

I won’t be able to perform physically and mentally if all I’m doing is trying to calculate the perfect amount to eat.

What then?

D) Not too often

Eat when it’s required.

Imagine your body is a car tunnel. Except the car tunnel has a smaller exit than entrance. What happens to the car tunnel when cars keep coming in faster than they go out?

It gets clogged.

It’s hard for the car tunnel to do what it’s meant to do when it’s clogged.

The same goes for the body. If I’m always in the state of trying to process food, eating every couple of hours, I won’t be able to perform how I want to perform.

How does a car tunnel get cleaned?

It shuts off for half a day. Maybe a whole day sometimes.

The same goes for the body. Eating when you’re hungry instead of in between lets it get on with the other things it has to do.

My car tunnel shuts down for maintenance from 8 pm - 12 pm every day.

Like packing for the airport. I only pack what’s required.

E) The perpetual experiment

Biology is funky.

What works for one person might not work for someone else.

But when it comes to health, don’t look for the overcomplicated solution. Try a few things and see what works for you.

My ideal diet is a perpetual experiment with the goal of finding what helps me perform better physically and mentally over the long term.

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Not too often.

Source: https://qr.ae/TW1hSV

Watching the fire

The ones who should be in your tribe will be happy to watch the fire with you. 

They’ll be happy to keep it alight. 

They’ll recognize it inside you and want it to keep burning. 

And you’ll want to keep the fire burning in them.

The ones who don’t?  Don’t worry. They’re not in the tribe.

Peace of mind

Some choose to follow the cash.

Money is necessary but only to a point. 

Some choose to pursue the big business.

Business is great, especially when it helps others.

Some choose to pursue less.

Less but better. 

Some make art for the sake of making art.

Art gives meaning.

But eventually everyone chooses peace of mind.  

Because in the end, that’s where all the other paths go.

Those who don’t know this are still lost. 

Some simple food heuristics

  • If it requires a packet, avoid
  • If it needs an advertisement, avoid
  • If it has more than 3 ingredients and those ingredients aren’t plants or something you can’t understand, avoid
  • Shop at the perimeters of the shopmarket (all the junk is in the middle) 
  • Learn to cook your own food, heating up frozen dishes doesn’t count
  • Eat when you’re hungry and not otherwise

Of course, there will be times where you go against these. But since nutrition matters for everyone, they’re worth thinking about.

Superman was born perfect

We all love Superman. He’s the person everyone wants to be.

But Batman is more relatable. Batman struggled for his abilities.

Superman may be able to fly at the speed of light but Batman can tell us about how he trained hard and studied his way to become who he was.

Those are the stories we like to hear.

It makes us think, ‘Oh, I could do that too.’

​100 points

Every week you have 100 points of energy.

You get to choose where to spend those points.

Watching TV is 10-points.

Exercising is 10-points.

Studying is 10-points.

Studying even more is another 10-points.

Browsing social media is 10-points.

Working on the project you want to work on is 10-points.

Spending time with your family is 10-points.

You’ve got 30 points left. Have you spent them wisely?

Maybe you use another 20 on your project. 

10 left. 

Some people try and cheat to get 130 points. But you can’t. You get 100.

100 is enough if you remove the things that aren’t worth it.

​What kind of man?

Are you one who takes on challenges or one who says no?

Be both. Have the bravery to take on challenges and have the intellect to deny an unnecessary one.

It takes a brave man to take on the unknown.

But it takes a smart man to avoid what he does not need to take on.

Looking up

One way to feel insignificant is to look up at the stars.

To realise how much is out there and how little you are in comparison to the rest of the universe.

What you do today likely has zero influence on the billions of galaxies out there.

That’s the grim version.

Now flip it.

You’re made of the same atoms as the most distant stars.

Once a great big ball of heat which exploded and spread its energy.

Then somehow little pieces of this and that started to come together.

All of a sudden you appeared. Out of all of the possible combinations. You.

The you who can look back at the stars and reflect on being part of it. Part of it all.

You’re not lost. You’re here.

Now that’s significant.

Look up.



Your biggest competition

Before the internet your competition was what you saw in the mirror as well as everyone else trying to do similar things to you. 

Now the internet is here your biggest competition is only what you see in the mirror.

The barrier to entry to create the things you’ve wanted to create is lower than ever.

And the best thing? 

There’s no criteria except one. Quality.

Make things you’re proud of. That’s enough.

The only competition you have to worry about is you. Stop holding yourself back. 

No one can out you, you. 

Fresh out of ideas

Sometimes you’ll be into something. And you’ll have no ideas.

None at all.

You’ll be working on what you need to work on but the thoughts aren’t flowing and you’re stuck at a crossroads and you want to figure it out but you can’t so you keep going and then there’s nothing and keep going and then still nothing.

What do you do?

You could keep going. Sometimes good code takes 100 lines of bad code.

Sometimes one good page takes 9 pages of bad writing.

Or you could take a break.

Sometimes 1 hour of good work takes 15-minutes of sitting down looking at nothing. Staring into the sky. Letting your thoughts come together.

If man could sit in a room and think for 20-minutes without doing anything else, no twitching, no looking at a phone, no watching TV, you know the rest, many more problems would be solved.

Anger is fear clothed

Angry at someone else?

Is it because you’re scared of losing them?

Or you’re afraid they’re better than you at something else?

Maybe your point of view differs from theirs but you haven’t had the courage to express it.

Anger arises from an underlying fear. Realise this and instead of being angry you can use the energy to figure the fear out.

I read a Buddhist saying once.

“Anger is a hot coal you hold in your hand while waiting to throw it at someone else.”

Better to use the coal to cook a meal for yourself. Or better yet, for the both of you.

Moon in the sky

I walk outside, toothbrush buzzing

It's electric so it runs out every few days or so

Then I charge it and brush my teeth

The grass is a little wet from the evening dew

There's been rain lately so it's soft under foot

It feels good

real good

My teeth feel cleaner too

If you've got an electric toothbrush

You've got nothing to complain about

I look up at the moon and keep brushing

It's bright and full

Looking back down at me

only me

It's not only me but it seems like it

I want my teeth to be bright and clean like the moon

The sky is clear but my mind is full

Full of the buzzing of the toothbrush

My eyes dissolve into the sound

I adjust my pants and look into the yard

The timer will go off soon

I look back up and the moon is still there

One of those sights you could never get tired of

That girl you see from time to time

Beauty, real beauty

Just like the moon

The timer goes off

I rinse my mouth out and go to bed

Moon on my mind