The Newsletter That Tickles Our Brains — issue 032|2022-05-04

Hello! I am Paolo Belcastro. You are reading this because you subscribed to Morfternight, the weekly newsletter about leadership, product management, distributed teams, life, and anything that tickles our brains. Thank you for being a Morfternighter! If you like it, please forward it to your friends. Also, if someone forwarded this to you, subscribe to receive your own.


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👋 Hello Friend, and welcome to Morfternight, the newsletter that likes numbers!
🔢 Throughout history, we got used to larger and larger numbers.

The Romans used 'M' to indicate a thousand and didn't have good tools to express much larger numbers.

Here's a quote from Six Easy Pieces, Richard Feynman's Caltech Physics lectures, that I highly recommend:

There are 10^11 stars in the galaxy. That used to be a huge number. But it's only a hundred billion. It's less than the national deficit! We used to call them astronomical numbers. Now we should call them economical numbers.

The classes took place in the early '60s.

The biggest companies in the world now have market caps in the trillions.

The problem with such large numbers is that most of us think we understand them, but really, we don't.

I encountered a great example illustrating the difference between a million and a billion:

If I tell you, "let's meet in a million seconds," when will we meet?
  • We'll meet in 11 days, 13 hours, and 40 minutes.
But if I tell you, "let's meet in a billion seconds," when will we meet now?
  • We'll meet in 31 years, 8 months, and 5 days.
Some difference, huh?
🧠 Explaining how large, huge numbers are is hard. It's an art more than a science.

Yesterday I randomly found a video where Tim Urban of Wait but why fame attempts an explanation of the number 52!

52! is 52 factorial, as in 52x51x50x49x...x4x3x2x1

It's an exciting number, as Tim mentions, because it represents the number of possible different orders in which a deck of 52 cards can be stacked. He underlines how big it is to explain why it is virtually impossible for any deck of cards to ever be randomly ordered like another one.

52! by the way, is:


That's 68 digits. It is a very, very large number.

I recommend watching Tim Urban's explanation of how big 52! is.

Once you are done with it, remember that should you put the two jokers back in the deck, bringing it to 54 cards, the number of permutations would be 2,862 times bigger!
👽 Let's change subjects before these numbers give us all a headache.

(I try very hard to never think about the infinite, as I systematically end up feeling nauseous.)

Here's an aspect of my personal story I recently shared somewhere else that I feel compelled to share here too.
👀 I have struggled with my weight for 30 years. I succeeded in losing lots of weight twice, then eventually failed and put on more. Along the way, I learned a bit about goals, systems, and addiction.

11 months into my 3rd attempt, I am optimistic.

Here's my story and what I learned.

20y ago, I decided to start a strict diet with an ambitious goal: lose 30kg

For 6 months, I measured and weighed everything for every meal. It wasn't fun, but I reached my goal. Then I stopped, and over the following 10y went back where I started (and a bit further).

10y ago, I decided to start training with an ambitious goal: lose 30kg

For 2 years, I went to the gym 3x a week with a personal trainer. On off days I'd ride my bike. It wasn't fun, and I got very close to my goal. I lost 25kg. Then I stopped, and... you know the song.

I learned that goals were only getting me so far. I learned that forcing behaviors I hate doesn't last. I was trying to cure the symptoms without fixing the root cause.

So last year, I took a step back, knowing I had one last shot.

I looked at my eating patterns to identify bugs. I realized that my problem wasn't fixable with a diet or a gym. I was addicted to bread, pizza, and all their derivatives.

Like, for real.

I never experienced that with anything else, not drugs, not alcohol, nothing, but I had to accept that my behavior with that type of food was that of an addict.

I'd start eating and not stop until there was none left. I knew it was terrible for me, and I'd feel mortified. But moderation wasn't an option. So I decided to treat it as an addiction:
  1. Cut bread off entirely.
  2. Seek professional help.
Since then, I cut bread and all carbs, just in case. Some would call it keto. I don't name it.

  • I don't measure anything.
  • I don't really pay attention.
I do not touch the stuff I know hurts me.

11 months later, I lost 20kg. I know the journey is still long.

But I am optimistic, and I have also gained a few things:

  • I feel much better physically.
  • I feel much better mentally.
I am sharp, happy, and never feel mortified again.

Goals failed me:

• Because once I had reached them, they left me hanging.
• Because to reach them, I adopted unsustainable behaviors.

Understanding the root cause allowed me to implement a straightforward system.

Which resonates with James Clear's

You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.

That's it for today! You can find more of my stuff on, and if you think that someone you know could enjoy Morfternight, the newsletter to share, please forward it to them or send them this link to subscribe. Cheers! Paolo

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