Mystical Conversations

I just published another the 12th issue of Myth & Matter, here it is in case you haven’t subscribed yet.

Derek Sivers has published more of his “directives.” Short, often controversial, statements on how to live. It’s unsourced, unexplained and distilled advice. For example “Do not be the starving artist, working on things that have great personal value to you, but little market value. Follow the money. It tells you where you’re most valuable.” I hope this type of list becomes a trend. It’s what inspired me to post my list of values and he links to this list by Cheryl Engelhardt of her directives.

How can you review a rap album so exclusive almost no one will ever hear it? Dan Cohen has a fascinating take on Wu-Tang Clan’s “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin” and, more generally, on the mystery and beauty of the secret and ephemeral. He compares it to Ai Weiwei and his broken urn.

urn

Science has problems. Paper after paper is being retracted after results can’t be reproduced. FiveThirtyEight writes about how this might actually be moving science forward. Andrew Gelman, a statistician at Columbia University, is more pessimistic and says it’s time to basically declare bankruptcy; that “Everything published before 2016 is provisional.” It’s a big, embarrassing problem that’s not going away any time soon.

I recently read Magicians of the Gods by journalist and amateur-of-many-years archeologist Graham Hancock. He proposes the existence of a civilization with advanced science and agriculture that existed before 9200 BC. He theorizes that this civilization was destroyed, but managed to pass along some of its knowledge via messengers or “magicians,” to help jump-start future civilizations. His work is controversial but mostly level-headed and, without a doubt, very interesting.

Slate Star Codex is one of those sites where you can lose yourself for hours in a fantastic rabbit hole of everythingness. Not to be missed. The author, Scott Alexander, is also writing a serial novel called Unsung. It’s about what happens after an Apollo rocket crashes in to the ceiling of space and cracks it open. It’s first-rate science fiction.

A couple IQ related links: Dogs have their own test now. Tall people are more likely to have a higher IQ

With the recent confirmation of their existence by LIGO, gravitational waves are back in the news. I’m looking forward to reading Black Hole Blues to understand the significance of the discovery a bit more.

It had been awhile since I read Roald Dahl. I read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator to my son and rediscovered how refreshing his writing and how bizarre his plots are.

I’ve been reading, and really enjoying, Altruism by Matthieu Ricard. It’s a good answer to proponents of selfishness ranging from Dawkins to Ayn Rand. And, as with most things, the Internet has taken altruism and made it weird.

At work we’ve had a lively discussion of the guaranteed minimum income. It’s an idea that has been loved and hated by people on all points of the political spectrum. Some think it could bring about another creative or entrepreneurial renaissance. The idea has been seriously explored in the UK, Canada, Switzerland, New Zealand and now in the USA. Others think it would only increase global poverty.

The painting in the header is Mystical Conversations by Odilon Redon.

Hasta la Proxima

Please forward this, visit my website or Twitter. Thanks for reading!

isis

ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror Book Review

ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror is a very well researched history combined with first-hand accounts of the rise ISIS, its relationships with other states and groups in the region and throughout the world, along with insights into its motives, actions, and agendas.

If you’re like me and not already particularly knowledgeable of Middle Eastern news and geography of the past 10+ years, you’ll probably have some of the same struggles I did to keep up with all the names and places. If you can allow for some ambiguity though, the second half and final third of the book in particular are very well worth it. If you don’t want the history, get the book just for the epilogue. The conclusions are harrowing.

Weiss concludes in part, that despite losing ground in places like Ramadi, ISIS is gaining ground elsewhere, even if it is not completely controlling the cities in a more traditional sense:

“ISIS continues to rule more or less uncontested in al-Bab, Minbij, Jarablous, Raqqa, southern Hasaka, Tal Afar, Qa’im, and outside the city center of Ramadi.” … “ISIS has compensated for its 10 percent territorial losses in Iraq by gaining 4 percent in Syria, though you wouldn’t know it to listen to US officials.”

“What’s amazing is how we keep making the same mistakes over and over again, in Iraq but also in the broader Middle East,” Ali Khedery told us. “I’ve seen senior American officials waste time tweeting about the number of air strikes. Who cares about these tactical developments? Sunnis are being radicalized at record proportions. A counterterrorism approach isn’t going to work with ISIS. We saw that in Iraq, and we’ll see it in Syria.”

It’s easy to think of ISIS as just a bunch of extreme Islamist fundamentalists, because on the surface that’s pretty accurate. The more nuanced view is that ISIS members arrive with diverse motives and backgrounds. Some were displaced Ba’athist Iraqi’s, others prison converts brought in by fellow charismatic Syrian inmates, and there are many who seem to have joined ISIS out of some type of expediency, hopelessness, or hopefulness. The resulting diversity has strengthened ISIS by bringing expert statesmen (of sorts), computer and weapons experts, PR and media manipulators, and not a few people with proper military backgrounds. Because of this diversity, ISIS often acts more as a state than a typical terrorist organization.

Despite this facade of legitimacy, ISIS is reprehensible in every way. It’s an organization led by heartless murderers, torturers, and rapists as they so brazenly exhibit in their own propaganda. They are well-organized manipulators and terrorists in every sense of the word. They should be stopped. How to do this is unclear, but pacifism isn’t an option. Understanding ISIS is not pleasant or rewarding but it is necessary, especially for those with political or military influence. This book should not be missed.

Protoss Getting Wrecked by Zerg

We Require More Minerals

Lately I’ve been somewhat obsessed by Starcraft. It’s a computer game that’s comparable to chess, except played at insane speeds and with a greater range of strategies available. I’m not much of a gamer, but this game has my attention.

  • Speed of play is measured by Actions Per Minute (APM). One player controls an economy, building construction and an army. Professionals are capable of performing well over 200 discreet game movements per minute. That’s really fast. Games usually last from 3 to 15 minutes.
  • In Korea, Starcraft is taken very seriously. Top players make very good livings off the game and there are TV stations that only show Starcraft games.
  • Fun fact: in 2011 I went to Korea to watch a Starcraft tournament. Weird, I know.
  • Scientific American has reported on scientists studying Starcraft to learn more about human performance.
  • At any given time you can watch Starcraft being played online on Twitch. Good, personable players make several hundred dollars a day from subscriptions and donations.
  • The story of the rise of Starcraft and the creation of Starcraft II and its storyline and art is a great read. It’s a small empire of interesting characters and huge sums of money.
Book Pairings

Better Together – 2 Pairs of Books

These book pairings are a couple examples of when 1 + 1 = much more than 2.

book dates

The Marginalia Time Machine

A few years ago I started writing the date in the margins of books when I underlined or took notes. When I revisit books it’s been fun to see when I was there last and to get some context for notes in the margins.

Give it a try! It’s a an easy tip that adds just a bit more enjoyment to reading.

The Slow Death of Digital Books

In 2007 Amazon released the Kindle. It was never a beautiful device, but it solved a problem with reading on screens–the discomfort that some people feel after looking at a lit screen for a long time. Still, it is a very flawed device. Browsing a Kindle book is tedious. Page refreshes are jerky, and just like in the old days of TV, everything is black and white.

In 2010, Apple released iBooks. At the time, the realistic page curl animation was pretty hot stuff. Apple wasn’t the first to do it, but iBooks popularized it the effect. It felt like the beginning of a digital book renaissance. It was a small step, but surely the innovation would continue with Apple at the lead of the pack?

Buy Bridesmaid dresses NZ at discount price at Topbridal.co.nz

Something happened though. Since the introduction of the Kindle and iBooks there have been only incremental improvements.  A lot of similar software and hardware has come out, but almost no real innovation has made its way from prototype to production.

Maybe the halting pace of innovation is why we are now seeing a resurgence of paper books. Innovation in robotics, virtual reality, and AI are announced almost daily. Yet the technology around something as prevalent and important as books has almost completely stagnated.

A Light in the Dark

There are however, some good examples of people trying to make digital books better.

Check out this concept video from a Korean company called Kaist back in 2012. It’s far better than anything available today but years later, hasn’t made it to market.

Or, this prototype of a phone that turns pages when you bend it:

Why Can’t We Have Nice Things?

I’m not really sure why things are this way. The closest parallel to the stagnation in ebook technology I can think of is PC laptops. Despite the enormous market, there are very few PC laptops that approach the quality of Mac laptops. This might finally be changing over the last couple years, but it’s been a very slow change.

I don’t think we can dismiss digital books by saying that people are happy with the state things are in now. Look at all the attention that the Kindle gets every time they release an update. If it’s a sign of consumer interest, it seems to indicate that a company who came in and really shook up the ebook hardware and software market would potentially do very, very well.

An Aspirational List on How to Live

This is an aspirational list of things I’d like to do or be but am not now. It’s heavily inspired by Derek Sivers and his idea of “directives,” short statements on how to live. I wrote this saying “I am” rather than “I’d like to be,”  so that by telling myself I’m this way, I’ll begin to act the part.

  • I associate with people I admire. The people in my life expand my horizons and open the world to me.
  • Love is the most important part of my life. My primary focus is on relationships.
  • I find ways to serve people and improve the world. I am generous with my time and money.
  • I have a bias for action. When I recognize something is good, I act on it immediately, or as soon as possible.
  • I embrace the strenuous life. I welcome challenges to my mental and physical endurance.
  • I take smart risks. If there’s a reasonable advantage, a smart angle or black swan-like ratio, I take the risk.
  • I project strength and warmth. I am someone people trust, follow, and want to be around.
  • Mastery is my way of life. I have a beginners mind that seeks perfection in everything I do.
  • I use writing, reading, storytelling, music, and art to understand and connect with humanity.
  • I am a spiritual person. I take time to meditate, reflect, feel gratitude, and to heal myself and others.
  • I am completely honest.
  • Now is the time that matters most to me. Life is short and precious so I seize the moment.
  • I bring solutions, not problems.

Chiffon Bridesmaid Dresses uk

Musings on The Amazon Book Store

I recently visited the Amazon book store, currently the only one in existence. I came away with mixed feelings. The best part is that the prices are the same in the store as online. Other than that though, there’s not much good to say about it. It’s small, the shelves are much too close together making the entire store feel uncomfortably crowded. The worst part is that it’s stocked only with the best selling and highest rated books on Amazon. This results in a very shallow selection picked purely by popularity. Your chances of discovering a forgotten treasure are next to nothing. We left and went from there to Third Place Books. It was a breath of fresh air. As nice is it is to pay less, I’ll stick bookstores like Third Place or El Ateneo when I’m shopping IRL.

The Melting Pot

A few good links to get your wheels spinning:

The Simplified World of The Thing Explainer

The hottest Christmas book around our house this year has been The Thing Explainer by Randall Munroe. It explains complicated stuff using only the thousand most common words in the English language. A helicopter becomes a “Sky Boat with Turning Wings” and a dishwasher is a “Box that Cleans Food Holders.” This has had the kids cracking up every time they open the book. If that’s not a good enough recommendation, maybe Bill Gates can convince you that it’s worth checking out. If you want to try your hand at writing with only the 1000 most common words, Munroe has created a tool to help you do it.

And, if you haven’t encountered Munroe before, you’re in for a treat. His comic XKCD is a gem. Here’s a good place to start.