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Randomizing live w/ Max Hawkins (Part 2)

Published 5/2/2018

What is your plan for today? Where are you going to go and what people are you going to interact with? A lot of the decisions we make become automatic. That's what we're talking about today with Max Hawkins.

Max was also on NPR's Invisibilia podcast and we reference his episode a few times in this part 2 of our conversation with Max as well as the part 1 episode.

Today's episode is sponsored by Linode.

In 2018, Linode is joining forces with Developer Tea listeners by offering you $20 of credit - that's 4 months of FREE service on the 1GB tier - for free! Head over to https://spec.fm/linode and use the code DEVELOPERTEA2018 at checkout.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
What does it mean to develop your own preferences? This is a question that's not only relevant to us as developers, but also to the people that we create software for, because they have preferences. And the things that we create, well they might actually change those people's lives in some way. And that change can be small or it can be pretty big. But even the smallest things can create big changes. So this is something that Max Hawkins, today's guest, has worked to eliminate all of the things that have been imposed on him. In other words, the things that are not random, even the smallest things like ordering food at a restaurant, he's tried to create a random way of doing those things. Now why does Max choose to do this? That's what we're talking about in today's episode, and we started talking about it in the previous episode of Developer Tea. This is part 2 of my interview with Max. If you haven't listened to part 1, I encourage you to go back and listen to that before you listen to part 2. Again, you are listening to Developer Tea. My name is Jonathan Kertrel and my goal on the show is to help driven developers connect to their career purpose so they can do better work and have a positive influence on the people around them. So Max is doing this for himself. He's connecting to a purpose. He's actually taking this purpose and crafting his own things using the same ideologies that he's applied to himself. He's applying those to products that he creates as a freelancer. So we're going to talk about some of that stuff in today's episode as well. Let's jump into the interview with Max Hawkins. At a personal level for you, obviously you've found a way to configure this and put the right boundaries or the correct parameters into the system such that it is uniform, but it's also practical. I feel like, have you ever felt like you were living kind of a second identity or that you kind of departed the old Max at some point while you were bubble hopping? Because it seems like it seems to me that if I were to go hardcore bubble hopping, Max style, that I would feel like I was on a vacation for my normal life or that I'm kind of voyeuristically living in someone else's shoes seeing life through their eyes. So does it ever feel like that piece of identity that was Max? Is that changing or do you feel like you've left it behind and you've adopted a new kind of personality vision identity? I think it would be probably pretty foolish to say that I've changed a tremendous amount. The larger contours of who I am and what I'm thinking about are largely the same and I don't know that just exposing yourself to different stuff is going to do that much to change it. Sure. I do feel like what following this sort of idiosyncratic path has allowed me to do is to have more room in my idea of the world for things that don't fit together. What happens when whenever you travel or you go try something new is that you encounter the world as it actually is and it doesn't fit your mental model and then you have to reconfigure it and figure out some way to fit all of these pieces that don't fit together together. I guess I've just gotten an appreciation for how complex the world is, the biggest thing that's changed. A lot of the blind spots that you previously probably had not necessarily elected but that were just a result of where you were and your perspective at the time have probably been changed pretty significantly. Yeah, it makes you humble because things are always more complicated than they seem. Yeah. That's something that I think comes with experience. I think you mentioned this idea that just changing your activity doesn't necessarily make you more brave. Do you feel like this opportunity of facing really what you're giving yourself the opportunity to do is face novelty but sometimes that means facing fear, sometimes it means facing uncomfortability. Do you feel like that can develop bravery for you? Oh yeah. I think once you've been in an uncomfortable position in a random place you're not familiar with a couple of times, you start to get a sense for what that feels like. I think that there are some skills that you can develop to be more comfortable in unfamiliar situations. Yeah, I don't know. I think that there are some skills there that are important. Yeah, because it kind of takes the fear out of that unknown strangeness that you. I think truly fear is probably the driver while a lot of people who are listening to this right now, myself included, we do follow a very similar path partially because we haven't been presented what we think to be better path, but also because fear of changing, changing is dangerous. Our instincts tell us to maintain homeostasis and to continue doing that. I lived through yesterday, so whatever I did was right. I shouldn't veer far away from that. This is what my instinct tells me. So change is something that we're very uncomfortable with. But I think that as you're saying, once you make change or novelty, the norm that you develop bravery not in a heroic sense necessarily, but more in an experiential sense. I think I've gotten appreciation for even when you do make changes in your life, just how much the societal impulse towards making things normal pushes everything back into line. I mean, we're all really used to doing things the way that we did it the day before. And I don't know. I feel like there's more leeway for us to push on that routine than we would give it credit for. I agree entirely. I think the comfortability of the routine is something that we just come to expect. And the unexpected becomes a driver for anxiety. I have kind of a shifting questions here for you. And this is kind of about recent events. Talk about dramatic things on the show because things come and they go. But I do want to talk about this concept of bubble hopping and for you, what you've experienced in terms of how this shifts your perspective on privacy, on your personal privacy. Do you feel like, this is partially for me, I feel like in some ways that I'm liberated if I were to go to a completely new place and that I'm even more private, even though I kind of feel more exposed in that new place. I'm actually more private because in a way, I can kind of choose my new presentation. Does that make sense? So when I'm in this new place, nobody knows a predetermined version of me. And so that gives me an opportunity to reinvent constantly. Yeah, there is sort of an anonymity with this that you could become someone else. That was never really an idea that was super alluring to me, like being a different person when I'm in a new group of people. I'm really fascinated by like realizing how small my world is and being exposed to new stuff. Be yes about privacy. Yeah, it's something I think about a lot. It's why I only go to public events. Because I think that like it's super important to have a private life to like experiment, like to have a space apart from your public presentation of yourself that you can, you can mess around with and not be exposed to all the societal feedback that you get when you're in a public place. Because why am I not super in line with the kind of social media vision of everyone's sharing openly and freely everything? Sure. And I think that's exactly the kind of perspective that helps us understand why privacy is important or at least a perspective on why privacy is important. Because it's very often is, you know, the arguments around why why we would let it go or, you know, maybe more applicably to this, why it's valuable to give it up. Very often misses that concept that, you know, everything that we perform in groups and we reflect on our own. And those two things are very important. The performance is not necessarily a bad thing unless it is the only thing. In the same way that the reflection is not a bad thing, but it could be bad if it was the only thing. Yeah, it's good to have like different worlds where you can try on different identities. And the nice thing about having everything not be in the same space, like, in that there's some vision of the world where like your entire life is on Facebook and you just share everything you do. And that's terrifying to me because it means that I can only be one version of my weird self and I've got all these other identities that I exercise in different zones of my life. So yeah, it's important to have that. What seems like totally in line with the idea that you don't want your experience to be compressed, right? So you don't want your identity to be compressed. You also don't want your options to be predetermined or otherwise compressed. Yeah, absolutely. So we know that that randomness for you is kind of a way of life in many ways or at least the idea of uniform option and actively seeking to eliminate or counteract bias in your own life. I wonder, what do you think about, you know, for a person like me who doesn't have this full suite, first of all, full suite of tools that you've developed, but also, you know, doesn't have the ability, the practical ability to flip a switch overnight. Do you think that there are ways that individuals like myself can introduce randomness and benefit from it, even if it's in a much more scaled down way? I think the most important thing to do is to focus on your preference and where your preference is leading you because oftentimes the thing that's holding you back from randomizing small aspects of your life or, you know, getting outside of that bubble is that you feel uncomfortable not following your preference. And so I think any way that you can sort of loosen that grip of your preference on your choices is pretty beneficial. And then like once you have that sort of mindset, I think it's important to build serendipity into your life in small ways, you know, just throw a dart at the map, hold school style and go there and see what happens, you know. If you have the time for that and if you don't have the time for that, then like within your work or within wherever you spend your day, like look for opportunities to do things slightly differently. Yeah, I think I was thinking about another very simple thing. I shopped for my groceries online very often and, you know, I know how to use the console. And so what I may do is open up the full list of all the available groceries and have it randomly choose five things and see what happens, right? Like see what comes to my house as a result of that kind of randomized selection and throw in the cart kind of thing. I like that idea, but I don't know that it's totally capturing the whole picture there. And I think that really what this is about is for me, at least for my perception, it's about accepting that my preference or my preconceived notion of the world that there's going to be something about it that is inaccurate or that could lead to an unhealthy outcome for me or a limited perspective that could be damaging. And so finding ways to break it, right? Just thinking through about chaos, ways to do things to myself that require me to face the novelty. Yeah, I'm a big believer in sort of daily experimentation with different aspects of your life and just, you know, putting up different kind of arbitrary barriers to see how that affects the way that you do things. Because often constraints are the things that provoke creativity. And food is actually a really great place to start because food is so central to our culture and it's something that everybody shares. Everybody is always eating and choosing the things that they eat. And so it's super powerful to start there. But previously with a friend of mine made this group called the Random Diet Club, which is a randomized elimination diet. So it would take this big list of ingredients from a recipe book and choose one at random and send out an email to everyone saying, this food is now banned for the week and everyone had to stop eating it. And then we had like a Facebook group where we could just talk about how hard it was to, you know, not eat bananas or whatever. And then every week a new ingredient would be added to the list and the previous one would not be taken away. So you have this increasingly complicated and weird overlapping set of restrictions. And this worked for a couple of months. Yeah, we ended up eliminating the people that were there the whole time, a couple dozen foods. And it was fascinating how it changed our behavior. On Christmas Day, the computer decided to eliminate coffee. How did this... I think most people is a pretty significant change. And for me, especially, I thought I was going to die. And it made me realize that I had all these rituals built around coffee in the morning and I had to change all those. And so I ended up waking up at a different time and making green tea and eating my breakfast in a different place. And just having that constraint was super helpful and shifting the way that I lived my day. And the rain of dye has ended up kind of exploding because my co-founder, my partner on the project, we were going along with this for a couple of weeks and then I got a text from a friend of his that said, I just saw Will at a party and he was eating a baguette. And a baguette had been eliminated the previous week. And so I sent him a text and just like, what is going on? And he told me, you can't take it anymore. He started eating all of the eliminated foods one after another and sending me pictures of it. And that was the end of the random diet club. So it's too much pressure. But it was interesting. That is great. And you know, it's funny how even though you still have this very wide variety of available foods, right? That's, you can still, you can eliminate a dozen things. Although coffee is a pretty big one to eliminate. That's a whole food group for some people. But when you eliminate this, there's still a lot of options. It's kind of this interesting focus effect that that seems to create that, yeah, okay, baguettes are eliminated. But can you go and just eat bread like a different type of bread, maybe? The whole group has a lot about the difference between baguettes and other types of bread. And you had to do quite a bit of research. Yeah, it really makes you understand your food. You'd get to say like, is this vegetable roasted or is it boiled? Well, how's it prepared? So it's an education process too. So interesting. It's interesting that our brains form these pictures and then we build them up and build them up. And then anything that compromises the picture kind of requires a full reanalysis of the picture. Yeah, it's throwing a wrench in the process, it kind of makes you have to rethink things in a productive way. Yeah, learn from a new angle. In today's episode, we've been talking about the things that you do every day, but perhaps equally importantly are the things that you don't do every day. And today's sponsor has taken care to help eliminate some of the things that you may be doing every day that really you shouldn't have to do. For example, with a load, you can get up and running with a Linux server in the cloud and just a few clicks. You pick your distribution, you pick the location of your server of that node, and then you pick your resources. How much power you want that server to have and then you launch it. It's very simple and it's extremely affordable. In fact, you can get started with a Linux with only $5 a day. Another example of eliminating unnecessary actions. If you are comfortable in a terminal like a lot of developers are, then you can eliminate and streamline the management of your servers by staying in your terminal. They have a CLI that will allow you to manage your servers from the comfort of that terminal screen. A beyond tooling and automation, Linode also provides professional services. For example, if you are not a DevOps engineer and that's something that you never aspire to become, then you can actually hire Linode's professionally managed services as DevOps. So you don't have to focus on that. You can focus on your business. You can focus on the code, on building the product. Go and check out the other things that Linode has to offer. To get a set of respect out of M slash Linode, use the code Developer Tea2018 at checkout to get $20 worth of credit today. Respect out of M slash Linode. Thank you again to Linode for sponsoring today's episode of Developer Tea. So I love this concept. I think everyone can benefit from it. I think there's some practical, simple ways that we've discussed already. But what I would love to hear from you is three things that you do every day that are the same. Interesting. Is it alright if I write these down? I have to think about it. Yeah, absolutely. Because I try to eliminate these things for most part. I think one thing that I keep the same is my support group in my community. It's something that I have found it's really bad to mess with. If you have to have in order to even think about randomizing or sort of shaking up a part of your life, you have to have a core support that you can fall back on. And so I've gotten an appreciation for how important it is to have like a core group of friends to talk to, to do things that your family, like these very basic structural parts of life are important. Yeah, yeah, it's just the same about my life. I write a bicycle everywhere I go. That's a constant. I find it's like the perfect balance between giving you mobility and not feeling trapped in a car. So I write my bicycle everywhere. Yeah. And the third, this is tough. Can I just end it too? Is that alright? Yeah, that's totally fine. The thing that actually prompted this question was right before we started the recording, you said that water is important for your health. And so I assume that some of these most basic things like you drink water every day. You probably sleep relatively the same amount of time every day. But that may not be true. Maybe you experiment even to that degree. Well, I've been messing with sleep a little bit. That's kind of interesting. And I'm fascinated with what happens if you wake up at a different point in your circadian rhythm. Like, how does that affect the rest of your day? So I have been looking into randomized schedules. I had a program a couple of years ago that completely randomized my schedule. And the problem with it was that it didn't know about sleep. And so it had me sleeping for 15 minute increments throughout the day, which added up to the right amount, but didn't really work, obviously. Sure. I'm still curious about that. Like, if the computer is deciding when I sleep and the structure of the events in my day, how will that change my experience of it? Yeah, I can only imagine it would be relatively drastic. Maybe. Yeah. I mean, like, it's not so bad if you have a GPS, right? Like, if you have something that's telling you the steps in between. So sure. Yeah, that makes total sense. So that's such an interesting concept. Again, wrapping all this together, we could talk for a very long time about all of the various experiences that you've had as a result of this. One thing to note here is that, if you're listening to this and you're like me, listener out there. And you probably would like to have more notable experiences in your life. I think that's a pretty common desire. And it seems to be a misalignment for us to want the notable experiences to increase, but also to continue doing the same things, just expecting for those experiences to kind of shoehorn their way in rather than seeking them out. And I think what you've done is such a profound example of that seeking, Max. I appreciate the work that you do. Just with your own life, you know, this concept being somewhat of an art project that seems, but also a very practical human experience project. Yeah. Well, thanks so much for paying attention to my weird experiments. Well, yeah. I have two questions that I like to ask everyone who comes on the show. These are questions that I've told you about previously before we started recording. And then we'll wrap up. So first, the first question is, what do you wish more people would ask you about? You told me this question in advance, and I've already kind of blanked on it. You know, I think what I wish more people would ask me about is the more complicated aspects of this project. The places where choosing a random thing isn't beneficial, where it pushes you into a bad place. I think there's a tendency when encountering a new idea just to say, like, oh, this is a new, exciting way of doing things. So I'm curious about both the good and the bad of this new idea. And I wish I had more people I could talk with about just the complexities of handing over control to a computer, because I think it's a future that we're heading towards in a lot of ways with the way that technology is moving. So yeah, more complication, more bad with the good. Yeah. And we can follow down that pathway a little bit if you'd like. And I'd love to know, you know, maybe in the last week or two, have you encountered something that you felt was, you know, in some way over a line for you? Last week or so? Or within the last window of time, month or two months, whatever. Yeah. Well, there's like this question that's pretty complicated with this project, which is like, what are the politics of going to a place that you're not welcome that I got a lot of pushback after the podcast that has made me thinking a lot about like, when is it not OK to go to a random event? I was when I went to Facebook events, made sure I went to public ones, but I worry that like someone that I went to, I wasn't welcome and like, where's that line? So that's like one thing I think a lot about. Yeah, that's very interesting. You kind of change the people who are already there. You change their experience by just being there. Yeah. Yeah. And that's complicated. Yeah. Whereas the line on, you know, how much influence you're allowed to, you know, you're not just an observer, you're not viewing this through a lens, you are actually present and your presence can change the experience of the people in the room. Yeah, that's something I'm thinking a lot about. That's very interesting. So would you expect that as this, you know, you mentioned this is going to be something that's happening in the near future? Do you expect, you know, to me, it sounds like this old story of the people who allow and adopt all of the normal and, I say normal, I mean, societally normal kind of mass adoption of these algorithms and they're okay with it. And then there's the opposing side, which has typically been kind of this picture of anti-tech, right? The luddite, the people who smash their computers and they go off the grid and they go live in a cabin in the woods that doesn't have an address. And then there's this third picture, which is kind of the antithesis, the people who view tech not as the enemy, but rather what you do with it as, and not even necessarily an enemy, but rather a different shape, right? And what you do with it as the thing that gives it its shape. And so what do you see, do you see that area of technology, this idea of fighting against bias or fighting against this normalization and compression? Do you see that growing? And if so, how? Yeah, I think that there is a real understanding developing about the ways that algorithms can control people. And I think that there's a way to read my project as fighting against that. So it's deliberately going in a shuffle step so that these optimization algorithms can't target you. And I think that's a good thing. But always with this sort of stuff, it's a question of who is in control, right? And so I think it's important when you think about automation to always question who has their hand at the dial. And to fight for ways that people that are using this technology can have more control over it, to steer the shit, you know? Yeah, because it is having an influence over their experience. Yeah, and the only reason why I'm willing to follow this computer is because I, in some sense, setting the parameters for it. Like it's an extension of some piece of my brain encoded into a program and then I'm just following the instructions from that. I don't know if I'd feel comfortable turning it over to someone else. And to that point, you know, should we use your application, like it does it make sense for me to go and take my time and do this for myself? You know, how can I trust you? Like what is your system of accountability? How do I know that your parameters are my priority? Yeah, as a, you know, a person who's selling things for the app store, I probably shouldn't go down this path. Yeah, yes, please use my randomness. It's good randomness. I don't know. I think like with the sort of stuff that I'm doing, like it's pretty low scale or small scale. So the upside for you is not really significant to point us in a bad direction, right? But I think like the way that this sort of stuff should go is that people who are developing these algorithms should give people more direct control over how they shift. That's something that I haven't like with my apps had the time to implement because it's hard. But I think that's what people should demand. Yeah, that makes total sense. And I think that even having transparent algorithms is a step in that direction. So at least then we have agency to understand how we are interacting with what the shape is so we can interact with it in a new way. And for people who are building these things, you know, this kind of concept, how these things are selected, for example, or how your recommendations are generated. You know, where is that information coming from? That level of transparency goes a long way to providing agency to your users. Yeah. And I think it's important to have conversations like this. When we're entering an age where these algorithms, it seems, are going to be, you know, controlling a lot more aspects for a life. Yeah. It's important to think through this stuff. And that's maybe one reason why it's important, I think, to experiment with letting these things run your life every once in a while in a small way. Just to see how different or what the kind of the delta is between those, right? How different would my life be if I wasn't following these recommendations? Well, I just feel like for me, since I've been following these instructions for two and a half years or whatever, I have maybe a better understanding of what are the trade-offs. And it'd be beneficial for more people to like, rock that. Yeah. That makes sense. That's a, that is the first question of the two. And then the next one is a little bit more straightforward. And it seems that we've given quite a bit of advice on this episode. But I'd love to know if you only had 30 seconds to give any developer a bit of advice, what would you tell them? I would tell them to be less theoretical and more practical in the things that they think about. So instead of like thinking in an abstract sense about a philosophy or something abstract, actually implement it in your life and see how it feels. Because I think there's a lot of power in taking ideas and living them out day to day. It sort of gives you a sense of how it's going to, how it affects you and how it will affect other people. And I think that's a good teacher is to live out ideas in your daily, daily routine. That's a huge challenge to developers. We love thinking theoretically, but I love this challenge because of all the people that I've talked to about this kind of thing, about anything philosophy driven. Max, you may be one of the most theoretical people that I know. And simultaneously one of the most practical, implementing people that I know as well. Yeah, get out there in the real world. I think that developers are too often, you know, just in front of their computer and don't get a sense for how the things that they build are actually affecting the world around them. Yeah, it takes a lot of advice. Max, thank you so much for taking the time to be on this show with me and for sharing your experience and, you know, for urging, also for being so humble about it and not trying to, you know, ward it over everyone else, but just a sharing your experience and allowing other people to come and be a part of that world. Yeah, thank you so much, Jonathan, for the invitation and the conversation. It's been really great to chat about this stuff. All right. So last question for you. Where can people find applications that you've built that can help them start looking at this kind of thing for their life? The best place to go is my personal website. It's maxhocons.me, M-A-X-H-A-W-K-I-N-S. I've got me and all of my work is there. I have a couple apps over there and you'll find them in the project section. Excellent. Thank you again, Max. Thanks. Thank you again for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. And I assume that you listen to both parts of the interview with Maxhocons. If you haven't listened to the first part, then maybe you should go back and listen to that first part. You might have been a little bit confused in part two without some of that context. And I encourage you to listen to his interview on Invisibility as well. Thank you so much for listening. Thank you again to Linode for sponsoring both episodes, actually, of this interview. Linode provides industry-leading options for Linux and the Cloud. Go and check it out, expect out of him slash Linode. They're giving you $20 worth of credit. Just for being a Developer Tea listener, use the code Developer Tea 2018 at checkout. If you're new to Developer Tea, then you might notice that we have a lot of episodes. That's because we release three episodes per week. Now, it's easy to get behind. And I know that sinking gut feeling that you feel like you've kind of jumped off the bandwagon if you've missed a lot of episodes. But the good thing about Developer Tea is that missing an episode is okay, because we're always releasing new ones. So I encourage you to subscribe in whatever podcasting app you use if you don't want to miss out. And even if you have missed out, go ahead and subscribe so that you can get alerts whenever these episodes come out. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode. And until next time, enjoy your tea.