Don't feel lucky, and choose the right way

Today I learned a lesson, seemingly trivial but profound.

After finishing code changes, programmers usually need to test their changes in datasets of different sizes. There are a small dataset and a large one for testing, and I confidently chose the large one, though I should have tested with the small one before the large one. The problem is, I didn’t know how long the job would run on the large one but still kept going with it. The unfortunate situation happened when the large test set isn’t working as expected, because data is too large and froze my computer. Worse yet, I didn’t have the large test set saved before changes! Fortunately, I finally retrieved the data and fixed the frozen computer with a colleague’s help. The punchline of the story is not only to avoid testing with super large dataset and watch for out of memory issue, but not to feel lucky! If I were not to feel lucky with the large dataset and just went back a step and chose the small one to test first, I would not have wasted hours of my time solving for the stupid Windows freezing problem.

A few seconds saved actually introduce more time spent trying to fix the quick but ill-conceived decision. A good way to make a good decision is to do a mental experiment, going through every possible path of all ensuing events due to the decision could lead to, and prepare for a solution. This may seem troublesome at first glance, but actually may save more efforts as time progresses. Paradoxically, if this truth is easy to understand, why don’t we go the right way, instead of the easy way? What is wrong with us when most of us choose the easy way at the moment, feel lucky that we spend less efforts but feel more pleasure, while at the end we are more regretful than happy? Why can’t we just choose the right way? The hard truth is: it is hard to do the right thing. When I was learning the basics of quantum mechanics, I learned that electrons would stay at low-energy orbit(al)s until excited. Same analogy applies to humans: it is simply NATURAL for us the lazy animals to choose the easy way that induces lowest energy.

Thus, learning is not natural, cheating is; reading books is not natural, playing games is; discussing the latest advancements of human knowledge with great minds is not natural, chatting mumble jumble is. I hope the moment we die and look back at what we have done in our lives, we do not feel we wasted our talents doing random shit, but a complacency that we have spent enough time with the right people, doing the right things, and helped bettering the world become a better place. This may sound cliché but I mean every word. The everlasting thing to do is to choose the right rather than the easy way.

I hope to finish this essay before I digress too much. To summarize my points, I will end with a short poem, The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Now, my friend, out of the right but hard road travelled by few or the easy but wrong road travelled by many, which one will you take then?

Created on Mar 7, 2019