Chesterton’s Fence

As simple as Chesterton’s Fence is as a principle, it teaches us an important lesson. Many of the problems we face in life occur when we intervene with systems without an awareness of what the consequences could be. We can easily forget that this applies to subtraction as much as to addition.

~ Shane Parrish from, https://fs.blog/2020/03/chestertons-fence/

I’m going to ‘fess up and say that I don’t recall ever hearing of “Chesterton’s Fence.” If you too just went, “who’s what?” then do check out that article.

That said, I’m nervously thinking everything about it—his fence, that article—seems obvious to me. Not simple, but obvious. Any time I find myself with such thinking, rather than stand on my megalomaniac soap box and yell at “those kids”, I instead begin searching for a clear reason for why I know, what I am claiming seems obvious.

In this case, the knowledge comes from learning systems thinking. Somewhere along my way I learned to think about everything as systems of things. I’m always trying to see how this thing is related to, dependent on, and causative of, some other things. Somewhere along my way I found Chesterton’s fence, (but the fence system didn’t include long-term planning for owner identification and so the fence I apparently found wasn’t labeled.)

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A random proof

Here’s how I do things.

GIVEN…

  • I have a book that has 2,000 pages. (Curiously, it is exactly 2,000 pages.)
  • Life is finite, (and probably also “short.”)
  • It’s unlikely I can get through it front-to-back; I’d like to read as many pages as I can.
  • I’m a systems guy; I want to figure something out once and then never think about that same problem again.
  • I have a personal task management system; It can easily remind me to do things however I’d prefer.

I WISH, that I had an easy way to get a random page number. This strikes me as very easy to build. Therefore, because it is easy, because Internet, and because humans are awesome…

THEN, such a thing must already exist.

THEREFORE, I guessed, “!random”, would exist in my favorite search engine—here, you’re welcome—and quickly found my way to this: https://www.random.org/clients/http/

QED (Quite easily done, yes; But, no.)

All that remains is to skim their simple API docs, and then type this simple URL: https://www.random.org/integers/?num=1&min=1&max=2000&base=10&format=html&col=1

This enables me to create a repeating task which has that URL. I click the link, and flip to that page. You’re thinking, “holy shit no.” And I’m thinking, “tiny building blocks, well placed, get shit done.”

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