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Weekly I/O: What does the Earth get from the Sun, Algorithms and heuristics, Don't do A/B testing
#67: Entropy and Sun, Algorithms and Heuristics, No A/B testing, Drop Exclamation Mark, Dessert Eating Tips
Greetings from Sunnyvale!
Here's your late weekly dose of I/O. I hope you enjoy it!
Here's a list of what I'm exploring and pondering on this week.
1. What does the Earth get from the Sun? While the total energy remains constant, we get low entropy energy that fuels life and natural processes before radiating it back into space as high entropy energy.
What does the Earth get from the Sun? If your answer is energy, how much energy does the Earth radiate out? According to the first law of thermodynamics, the energy of a closed system (the universe) is constant. Therefore, the Earth will radiate 100% energy back because, otherwise, our Earth will get heated up.
But if the Earth emitted all the energy back, then what does the Earth actually get? The answer is: A steady stream of low-entropy energy. We can think of energy with low entropy as a more easy-to-use, concentrated power source, such as the flame from a lighter. On the other hand, energy with high entropy is a less useful, spread-out form of energy, like the heated air circulating around the lighter's flame. While the amount of energy transferred from the flame to the air remains constant, the flame's energy is more useful because it's concentrated (lower entropy).
The concept of entropy increase can be illustrated by comparing the quantity of photons that Earth receives from the Sun to the quantity it emits back into space. For every single photon that arrives from the Sun, Earth emits 20 photons back.
The energy we get from the Sun is more useful than the energy we give back. Ultimately, all of the solar energy that Earth absorbs is transformed into thermal energy and released back into space. And everything that occurs on Earth is part of this process, where fewer high-energy photons are converted into 20 times as many lower-energy photons.
2. Algorithms and heuristics are two sides of the same coin in product development, with algorithms providing objective measurements and heuristics offering subjective judgment.
Book: Creative Selection
At Apple, product development aims to orchestrate algorithms and heuristics to create great products. They use the word "heuristics" to describe aspects of software development that tip toward the liberal arts. Its counterpart, "algorithms," was its alter ego on the technical side. Heuristics and algorithms are like two sides of the same coin but with different purposes.
Algorithms are specific procedures that follow a predetermined logic, producing quantifiable results with clear goals. For example, in the case of improving Safari's performance, the average time to load a web page was the measurable result, and the goal was to reduce this number. Algorithms provide objective measurements.
Heuristics also involve measurements such as the animation duration or color value choices, but there isn't a similar "arrow of improvement" that always points the same way as algorithms. Heuristics are harder to define and lack a clear improvement direction. Therefore, they require demos to explore and time to evaluate. For example, determining the animation duration involves building demos to explore how it feels and providing feedback to improve. Heuristics offer subjective judgment.
In certain cases, algorithms and heuristics are combined and chained together. The output of one heuristic may become the input for an algorithm, which then feeds into the next heuristic. For instance, consider the action of swiping left to view the next image in the Photos app. The first step involves detecting your finger movement to determine whether the swipe should go to the next photo or remain on the current one (a heuristic). The software code then uses this information to shift the photo display to a specific position to center the next image (an algorithm).
3. A/B testing cannot substitute for taste in creating appealing products. Relying solely on A/B testing is abdicating your responsibility to the users.
Book: Creative Selection
Douglas Bowman, a designer formerly at Google, justified why he left the company:
"Without a person at (or near) the helm who thoroughly understands the principles and elements of Design, a company eventually runs out of reasons for design decisions … Without conviction, doubt creeps in. Instincts fail … When a company is filled with engineers, it turns to engineering to solve problems. Reduce each decision to a simple logic problem. Remove all subjectivity and just look at the data. Data in your favor? Ok, launch it. Data shows negative effects? Back to the drawing board. And that data eventually becomes a crutch for every decision … Yes, it's true that a team at Google couldn't decide between two blues, so they're testing 41 shades between each blue to see which one performs better."
Google used A/B tests to make color choices. This is an algorithm approach where the best kind of blue is defined as the one people click the most. In contrast, Apple never considered the notion of an algorithmically correct color. They used demos and taste to pick colors.
While A/B tests can help determine colors that will get people to click something more often, they can't produce cohesive and pleasing products. They lack refined responses and fail to recognize the importance of balancing choices. Compared to Google, Apple values taste more in design and never staged A/B tests for iPhone software. Instead, they put faith in their sense of taste. They use heuristics (subjective judgment) over algorithms (objective measurement) when making design decisions like picking colors.
Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb, shared a similar perspective on A/B testing at the Config Conference. He stated that A/B testing is like giving up your accountability to the users. At Airbnb, they only use A/B testing if they have a clear hypothesis and know why one option might be superior to another.
4. If you want to use an exclamation mark while writing, it means your words aren't strong enough on their own. Strengthen your sentences instead of compensating with a mark.
From David Perell:
"If you’re writing and feel the need to use an exclamation point, you subconsciously know your words aren’t vivid enough. Don’t compensate. Drop the exclamation point and rewrite the sentence."
5. Most of the pleasure in a dessert comes in the first three bites. After that, you should stop eating it. As a reward, you can eat dessert more often because you don’t binge it.
The first three bites of dessert are usually the best. After that, you should stop eating. This way, you can have dessert more often without overeating at once.
I hate wasting food, so I cannot follow this advice in practice. But a workaround to avoid getting hit by the diminishing marginal returns can be to share every dessert with others (or swallow every dessert in three bites).
Photo of the Week
That's it. Thanks for reading. I'd appreciate it if you could share which input you found the most helpful or intriguing. Just reply to this email with a number—it's quick and easy!
And as always, feel free to send me any interesting ideas you came across recently!
Looking forward to learning from you.