What I learned last week (#41)

Learned last week: How stupid things become smart together, what would I tell my grandma, and more.

Seasons change: Last week you could feel fall setting in here. The leaves are turning color. It feels like even the calendar is starting to settle in for winter. I was out for a scooter ride with Sam on my Friday off and I remembered how much I love the fall (sorry Scots, autumn). As of last week we’ve been in Scotland for two months and it felt like a new stage was beginning along with the season.

Practicing our double tailspin jumps.

Book excerpt I loved:

“The reality of your life is always now. And to realize this, we will see, is liberating. In fact, I think there is nothing more important to understand if you want to be happy in this world.” (Sam Harris, Waking Up)


Thought exercise that I learned from a co-worker: What will I tell my grandmother? Next time you are explaining something or writing about something, even if just as an exercise, try writing about this.

I always like to think about how I would break down my experience to my 93 year old grandma who does not understand the internet or how technology has evolved over the last decade since she stopped using the internet and email about 10 years ago. When she asks about my [next/new anything], what will I tell her?


Music I enjoyed: I went on a music thread one day last week starting with The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Jim Hendrix, then veered to Sex Pistols, and ended up at The Buzzcoks – Singles Going Steady. So good.


Misc things I’ve learned about Scotland:

  • Boxed mac and cheese is basically non-existent. It’s both good and bad.
  • It’s more rural than I realized. Most of what people would say are “suburbs” here would be considered rural to someone from Seattle.
  • There are no Mexican restaurants, and judging from the ready-to-cook food section, people love making food that I put in the Mexican-type genre like fajitas, tacos and the like. Go figure.
  • Police Called To Stop Massive Game Of Hide And Seek At IkeaIkea in Glasgow to be clear.

How Stupid Things Become Smart Together: I’ve been watching One Strange Rock and reading the recent Wait But Why stuff and in the middle watched this video (from A Game of Giants) and thought it was all pretty crazy to think about.


Scotland and WordPress: a peek into the variety of work and world I’ve been working with over the past month.

What I learned last week (#40)

Learned last week: The prison economy, we’ve ruined childhood, being a zero, and more.

Playing tourist last week: Family in town meant we got to play tourist! The city bus tour, the museums, eating out, it was all in play this week. Also received my first bottle of Scotch (how was this the first?), in a bottle of Balblair 12 year. Next week will mark two months in Scotland!


Quote I’ve been thinking about:

“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”

John Wooden

How the Prison Economy Works:

To make a large cash payment, a prisoner asks a friend on the outside to buy a MoneyPak and to pass on the dots once they have done so. These 14 digits can then be exchanged with a guard or another prisoner for something in the prison, including drugs. By exchanging dots instead of cash, the prisoners keep their hands clean. The free people on the outside – one buying the MoneyPak, the other receiving its value on a Green Dot card – do not need to meet each other, know each other or link bank accounts. Using prepaid cards in this way creates an informal currency that is durable, divisible into payments as small as the MoneyPak minimum of $20, and is accepted everywhere.


How I Wrote Shape Up: I shared the Shape Up e-book before and this is the story of how it was written.

“I didn’t know how to write a book. But I knew how to give a workshop.”

It’s an inspiring read from a process and tools perspective. But I love the idea that it’s OK to not know how to do something and still trying anyway. A good place to start is with the closest thing that you do know how to do. Build from there. You can do it.


Something from the fs.blog newsletter that I made me think: We Have Ruined Childhood.

…kids today “have fewer opportunities to practice social-emotional skills, whether it’s because they live in a violent community where they can’t go outside, or whether it’s because there’s overprotection of kids and they don’t get the independence to walk down to the corner store.” They don’t learn “how to start a friendship, how to start a relationship, what to do when someone’s bothering you, how to solve a problem.”

Many parents and pediatricians speculate about the role that screen time and social media might play in this social deficit. But it’s important to acknowledge that simply taking away or limiting screens is not enough. Children turn to screens because opportunities for real-life human interaction have vanished; the public places and spaces where kids used to learn to be people have been decimated or deemed too dangerous for those under 18.


Favorite book excerpt:

“Over the years, I’ve realized that in any new situation, whether it involves an elevator or a rocket ship, you will almost certainly be viewed in one of three ways. As a minus one: actively harmful, someone who creates problems. Or as a zero: your impact is neutral and doesn’t tip the balance one way or the other. Or you’ll be seen as a plus one: someone who actively adds value.

Everyone wants to be a plus one, of course. But proclaiming your plus-oneness at the outset almost guarantees you’ll be perceived as a minus one, regardless of the skills you bring to the table. This might seem self evident, but it can’t be, because so many people do it.”

Chris Hadfield, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth

You have to be a zero before you can be a plus one.

What I learned last week (#39)

Learned last week: More reasons to minimize email, being a one issue voter and the creator vs victim mindset.

New life continued: First week on the full time work train and overall I’m loving it, but it is an adjustment to be working from home all day every day. I’ve been doing daily walks but let’s just say I’m going to need to have a system for getting out more. Otherwise life now is moving quickly as the days are full of work and full of beauty. It’s hard to go anywhere and not run into a castle or a long winding trail inevitably leading past one. Hard to beat that!


Book excerpt that resonated last week:

“…people rarely succeed at anything unless they have fun doing it.”

Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

Loved this New Yorker article from Cal Newport, Was Email A Mistake?

Something to give us all pause:

Last year, the software company RescueTime gathered and aggregated anonymized computer-usage logs from tens of thousands of people. When its data scientists crunched the numbers, they found that, on average, users were checking e-mail or instant-messenger services like Slack once every six minutes. Not long before, a team led by Gloria Mark, the U.C. Irvine professor, had installed similar logging software on the computers of employees at a large corporation; the study found that the employees checked their in-boxes an average of seventy-seven times a day. Although we shifted toward asynchronous communication so that we could stop wasting time playing phone tag or arranging meetings, communicating in the workplace had become more onerous than it used to be. Work has become something we do in the small slivers of time that remain amid our Sisyphean skirmishes with our in-boxes.

Plenty have figured it out though, there is hope:

…the software-development firm Basecamp now allows employees to set professor-style office hours: if you need to talk to an expert on a given subject, you can sign up for her office hours instead of shooting her an e-mail. “You get that person’s full, undivided attention,” Jason Fried, the company’s co-founder and C.E.O., said, on the podcast Curious Minds. “It’s such a calmer way of doing this.” If something is urgent and the expert’s office hours aren’t for another few days, then, Fried explained, “that’s just how it goes.”


I was looking for some new books and referenced Derek Siver’s book list (who BTW has three new books coming out). I’m reading The Lessons of History and A Guide to the Good Life at the moment.


Speaking of new books, Ultralearning caught my attention


But who needs a book when there is a new Wait But Why series? If you haven’t read Wait But Why Year 1 you should.


Why Austin Kleon is a one issue voter and after reading that I think I am to.


Quote I have been thinking about:

“There is only one person who could ever make you happy, and that person is you.”

David Burns

Podcast I enjoyed that’s related to that quote: Jim Dethmer on the Knowledge Project. Some gems in here, for example:

“Be impeccable with your agreements.”

“Are you living in a victim mindset or a creator mindset?”

For example, when you get upset or annoyed because of someone’s actions are not what you wanted them to be, do you think “That is making me really angry…” or do you say “I am making myself angry over/because of…”. It’s a subtle shift, but has been helping me recently. Subject or object. Are you subject to something (like the weather) or is something object to you (it’s raining, who cares)?


Something that stuck out as strange but is normal in the UK/Scotland: Driving like a bat out of hell. I mean, I like driving fast, but there is no reason to be going 50 MPH on a twisty lane barely wide enough for two cars in the rain when it’s pitch black. People here love their cars (“motors”) and take driving more seriously than we do in the US (a plus for sure!) but it can be a little extreme at times. Oh, and if you are a pedestrian you are taking your life into your own hands by the roads here.

Wish me luck.

What I learned last week (#37 & #38)

Learned last week: The secret behind baseball mud, debit cards are the worst financial tool, downtime is essential to creativity, and a lot more.

Week of Aug 12 – Aug 18 and Aug 19 – 25
Note: So much has been going on and I took too long to post so here is a special edition covering the last two weeks instead of the usual one.


I thought things were slowing down (obviously I am easy to fool): Big things happening over the past couple weeks: my daughter started school in Scotland, my son started peeing in Scotland (clarification: he is using the potty now and did his first pee in the woods, yes!), and I started a (trial) for a new job. Who said anything about “getting settled”? My reading and listening time have suffered a bit as I focus on building some career capital skills, but nonetheless there is no end of interesting things to share and learn about. Onward!


Book excerpts I enjoyed:

“The good news is that every mistake you make can teach you something, so there’s no end to learning. You’ll soon realize that excuses like “that’s not easy” or “it doesn’t seem fair” or even “I can’t do that” are of no value and that it pays to push through.” (Ray Dalio, Principles)

“The goal of personal growth should be to gain that deathbed clarity while your life is still happening so you can actually do something about it.” (Tim Urban, Wait but Why Year One)


The secret behind Major League Baseball’s mud: What? I had no idea that mud was such a big deal: Mud Maker: The Man Behind MLB’s Essential Secret Sauce


Some new “tools” I am exploring: MUD\WTR caught my attention and I’m giving it a try. Also need to get my Four Sigmatic mushrooms back in the cupboard again. I’m not interested in stopping my coffee habit, but always looking for other boosts.

Also, I started playing with TextExpander and it is is so helpful. I’m only scratching the surface.


There’s more to know about Frank Abagnale: Turns out the subject of ‘Catch Me If You Can’ is a pretty good speaker and his past has given him a unique, sharp perspective. This is worth a watch. His answer towards the end about not using debit cards and setting his kids up with credit was surprising but genius.


A great TED talk: The comedian behind the Nanette Netflix special did a great TED talk on why she made it.


On taking breaks and having downtime: Darwin Was a Slacker and You Should Be Too is a great longread and I found the stories really good. It’s also linked with my recent reading of Deep Work.


More new music, this time old but new: The music of Franz Liszt, specifically this album of his compositions, has been a great accompaniment to work sessions.


Quote I’ve been thinking about:

“Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

Ian Maclaren

What I learned last week (#36)

Learned last week: Kids learn fast, habits need to be formed before they can be optimized, you don’t need a rarefied job, and more.

Practical application for my recent focus on habits: We just started to tackle a big habit (/skill?) with Sam: using the toilet and getting used to no diapers anymore (yessss!). It started out horribly on Monday, and it seemed he was doing more pee and poos on one day than in the last month combined, all of them directly in his pants, on the floor, or on us. But that lasted only one day and then he has, incredibly, been on point for over a week now. We’ve also been tackling a big skill (/habit?) with Vivian as well: riding a bike by herself, no training wheels or hand-holding. She’s on point now to. How’d we do it? We didn’t, they did, we just provided plenty of space, encouragement and positivity. These kids learn fast!


Podcast that I enjoyed: Sticking to the habit theme, I listened to James Clear on 10% Happier where he was discussing his book, Atomic Habits. There was so much to like and here are a few notes that stuck with me (my paraphrasing and thoughts mostly):

  • Habits need to be formed before they can be optimized. Don’t try to make them perfect at the start. Keep the bar low, get a chain going, and then don’t break the chain.
  • We shouldn’t vilify addictions as we often do. The process of living a healthy lifestyle, one that’s right for you, is really the process of finding the healthiest addictions.
  • “The heaviest weight at the gym is the front door.”
  • “Every action you take is a vote for who you want to be.”
  • Pay attention to the story you are telling yourself and others, the words you use matter. Instead of saying “I have to pick up my kid from practice (so I can’t do X)” or “I have to go to work on Saturday (which I don’t want to do)”, swap “have to” with “get to” and suddenly the whole thing shifts from a focus on some set of expectations not being met to a focus on appreciating the reality of what you have.
  • Think about your life as a series of seasons. Be honest with yourself about what types of habits and focus are right for the current season you are in (i.e. you aren’t going to be meditating for 1-2 hours a day if you have young kids, but it doesn’t mean you never will).

Idea I am thinking about:

“You don’t need a rarefied job, you need a rarefied approach to your work.”

From Deep Work by Cal Newport

A few references from Deep Work: I’ve been really enjoying this one. Although the concepts are straightforward (and have been covered in many forms since this came out) they are still profound and the examples, arguments and resources are fascinating. Here are three things I am checking out from last week’s reading:

  1. Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey
  2. Art of Focus by David Brooks
  3. The Eudaimonia Machine by David Dewane

New music: The latest from Moodymann, Sinner, was on repeat during trips to Edinburgh and Glasgow this week, and is equally well suited to long car rides or work sessions. (Note: It’s almost exactly 45 minutes which makes it a decent timer listening front-to-back.)


New beer, this time from Estonia: Got my hands on a couple of bottles of imperial stout from Põhjala the week before last. The Vahtra, one from their cellar series, was one of my favorite BA stouts in recent memory. The inclusion of blueberries gave it a slightly tart finish and was a welcome compliment to the expected choc/coffee notes and addition of maple syrup.

What I learned last week (#35)

Learned last week: The power of perseverance, being disconnected is hard, St Andrews is more than a golf course, and more.

Nope, we’ve not settled yet: Most of the last week was spent partially connected, having no internet service at home yet (along with somewhat spotty plumping service). That’s made for lots of reading and traveling around local spots, which is mostly great despite being spiked with the frequent unnerving feeling of not being able to do something that requires a connection. It’s been a good lesson in accepting and appreciating reality instead of worrying about expectations…hard to do consistently.

Other proof of our settling is the fact that I’ve amassed the following set of Allen keys as a full-time builder of basic home furnishings.

But a few of the tools I’ve amassed from furniture boxes.

Quote I am thinking about:

“Whatever you hold in your mind on a consistent basis is exactly what you will experience in your life.”

Tony Robbins

Book excerpt(s) that I loved:
Here are a couple from last week’s read, Born Standing Up by Steve Martin.

At age eighteen, I had absolutely no gifts. I could not sing or dance, and the only acting I did was really just shouting. Thankfully, perseverance is a great substitute for talent.

I related to this to how I’ve been successful in certain areas of my life and career, which I think has been through sheer persistence in doing what I’m interested in rather than any given talent.

Consistent work enhanced my act. I learned a lesson: It was easy to be great. Every entertainer has a night when everything is clicking. These nights are accidental and statistical: Like lucky cards in poker, you can count on them occurring over time. What was hard was to be good, consistently good, night after night, no matter what the abominable circumstances.

The sheer amount of work (we talkin’ about practice) that Steve Martin did being a musician/magician/comedian prior to becoming known for it is both reassuring and intimidating. He spent years doing 2-3 shows a day when he was working, in every kind of condition imaginable. Talk about becoming bulletproof (an leaving a lot of lessons to learn from).

As I finished So Good They Can’t Ignore You and think more about my habits and attitudes towards what I do next in terms of work, the underlying ethos of consistent work, deliberate practice, and (as everyone from Seth Godin to Steven Pressfield writes about), being a professional and a craftsman are what I’m most reading and thinking about at the moment.


Purchase I’m most enjoying since moving: Having a place to write at in the morning, and having the Jarivs adjustable height desk, has had a big impact on my daily routine. Even though I have little structured time to work there (and no internet), having the space primed for standing and writing in quiet is something I didn’t have in our old home and am surprised how much I value it.


New music: The Circle Remains Unbroken by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, picked up from a reference in Born Standing Up, is, I learned, a heralded country blues (triple!!) album from the seventies and superb with morning coffee, evening dinners, and setting up life in another country.


Thing I learned about Scotland: St Andrews is more than a golf course. My wife took us all for a day trip last week and it was spectacular. The cooperative weather certainly played it’s part by providing full sun, but the combination of the bustling restaurants and shops, the castle, the beaches, the university (founded in 1413!) and the golf courses made for one of the most memorable outings since we’ve arrived.

The view of St Andrews castle from one of the beaches.

What I learned last week (#33)

Learned last week: life is a dance, the power of one push-up, Spielberg wasn’t good at school, and creativity is a lifestyle, not a skill.

Life is not a journey, it’s a dance: The point of a dance is to enjoy it, not to get to the end as quickly as possible, or even to finish. Getting everything set-up in the UK has felt like a race at times, and it’s hard not to feel like I should be constantly working on something that is helping us to progress towards being self-sufficient here. I’m trying not to though, I realize that most things are yet to be done and I hope that will be the case for a long time to come.


Quote I was thinking about:

You are who you pretend to be.

Kurt Vonnegut

What I was listening to: Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen has been great for waking up early with Sam (thanks Scott).


The power of intention: The Power of One Push-Up is about health measurement, but more broadly, it speaks to how those who do (any variety of) activities with intention are more healthy.

The speed at which you walk, for example, can be eerily predictive of health status. In a study of nearly 35,000 people aged 65 years or older in the Journal of the American Medical Association, those who walked at about 2.6 feet per second over a short distance—which would amount to a mile in about 33 minutes—were likely to hit their average life expectancy. With every speed increase of around 4 inches per second, the chance of dying in the next decade fell by about 12 percent. (Whenever I think about this study, I start walking faster.)

Another part:

Doing things that produce tangible, short-term results can lead to a domino effect of health behaviors. “If someone reads this article and starts doing push-ups, it would be a statement about their general conscientiousness and motivation,” says Joyner, “and that speaks to so many other health behaviors. People who follow guidelines, eat well, get their kids vaccinated—they tend to engage in other healthy behaviors.”


Spielberg wasn’t “good at school”: From the short The Education of Steven Spielberg Didn’t Involve Ivy. This connects with my recent read of So Good They Can’t Ignore You in that Spielberg built up a huge amount of career capital in film that he was able to cash in for a shot at the movies without a traditional education pedigree.

Spielberg’s grades were just too bad. He had a lot of C’s at Arcadia High School in Phoenix and then at Saratoga High School near San Jose. He hated school. He had dyslexia, then undiagnosed. He only wanted to make films.

His mother, a free spirit with artistic talent, gave him free rein. She “was so tolerant of her son’s lack of interest in school that she often let him stay home, feigning illness, so he could edit his movies,” McBride wrote. His father, although bothered by Steven’s grades, often did his science homework for him. Their impending divorce upset their son.


Favorite book excerpt:

Where you take [your creativity] is completely up to you but know that seizing it requires no specialized education or skills. It only requires the willingness to lay aside the bad habits you gained in school and at work and rethink your own learning processes and nurture your creative biorhythms so that you can start living a more creative life.

From The 7 Stages of Creativity by James Whittaker

What I learned last week (#32)

Learned last week: big change can be done, downsizing is hard, practice alone is not enough, and more.

Big changes are possible with small incremental steps: Last week we (finally!) closed up shop in the US and started our Scotland experiment. By midweek, all of our belongings fit into the back of an SUV and a small crate sitting somewhere in the port of Seattle. Amazing to get to this point. There were countless small decisions that were made moot by making the one big decision to move, and executing that big decision was a matter of one day and step at a time.


Getting rid of things is harder than I thought: We’ve sold and given away a lot of stuff as part of our move, and we’ve invited many friends and strangers alike to go through our stuff to pick out things they might like or find useful. During this process my feelings have swung all the way from gratitude to ambivalence to resentment and back again, sometimes very rapidly, and it’s surprised me how hard this was to moderate. I often felt like someone “owed” me for something they were given, or even bought. Or I felt they didn’t “deserve” these things that I valued so much, etc, etc. I think I navigated this ok, but it was harder to keep my mindset on the right things throughout the process of shedding stuff than I thought.


Documentary I finally got a chance to watch: I’ve been waiting to watch Free Solo, and finally snuck it in while Sam slept on me in the flight to Scotland. One part that stuck with me was when Alex Honnold was reflecting on the difference between himself and his girlfriend, and he says something to the effect of “her goal is happiness, having a comfortable life. Nothing great has ever been accomplished by being happy and comfortable. My goal is performance.” It’s incredible what he has achieved by being so laser focused on performance. It is a mindset I admire, and strikes me as very similar to that of another person I hold in high regard, Josh Waitzkin.


Tips on how to become a craftsman: In the midst of everything last week I was somehow able to sneak in some reading, this time it was So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport. I love how the book is structured, how it provides summaries at the end of each section and the conclusion where he brings it together and applies the rules. The part that I’m thinking a lot about, a core idea to the book, is the section on how to become a craftsman and build valuable skills. Of particular interest is the one-two punch of putting both a structure in place that allows you to spend the time on practicing a skill, as well as being very deliberate about having that practice be stretching oneself through challenging and uncomfortable work.

In his 2007 interview with Charlie Rose, here’s how Steve Martin explained his strategy for learning the banjo: “[I thouhgt], if I stayed with it, then one day I will have been playing for forty years, and anyone who sticks with something for forty years will be pretty good at it.”

The image of Martin returning to his banjo, day after day, for forty years is poignant. It captures well the feel of how career capital is actually acquired: You stretch yourself, day after day, month after month, before finally looking up and realizing, “Hey, I’ve become pretty good, and people are starting to notice.”


Quote that relates to what I was watching and reading:

“What you do everyday matters more than what you do once in a while.”

Gretchen Rubin

Book excerpt I loved:

We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.

From Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

What I learned last week (#31)

Learning last week: Managing stress, work is non-linear, practicing to express who you are, and more.

The difference between knowing something and understanding it: This past couple of weeks we’ve sold virtually everything we owned, slept in different places every couple of nights, and have had endlessly busy days going nonstop. We new it would be stressful to quit work and move country, but now we understand it! It’s been super challenging, but the next time we move (and when we do more extended travel), it’ll be easier as a result. We couldn’t be more to be more excited to get started on this next experiment.


My mind is controlled by my body, not the other way around: The best antidote to the stresses of moving have been a 5 mile run and a few sets of pushups. I’ve been trying to do “100s”, which is code for 100 pushups, sit-ups and seconds of plank position each day. I haven’t been very consistent with much of anything during the last week, but whenever I have stuck to this, I’m always better off.


Thinking about work in a non-linear way: The following thought from the excellent Joe Rogan podcast with Naval Ravikant made me think my desire to work differently in what I do next. Here is a paraphrase:

We tend to think of work as linear. We work a certain number of hours (9-5) and get a set amount of output consistently for those hours. But that’s not how we work. We’re not cows grazing, we’re more like lions. We train. We work best in intense bursts. Then we get feedback, we train to get better, and then go again.

This also seemed to be related to an idea from The One Thing that goes against the idea of “work-life balance”. The idea being that you will have bursts where you will want to be focusing on a work goal, but it’s best done in intervals. Instead of work-life balance, seek counter-balance:

Counter-balance is the process of focusing exclusively on the important task at hand, whether it’s work, teaching our kids something or working out. We have to choose what’s critical and give it as much time as it needs before switching to the next most important thing.

The hard thing here is to do what’s critical.

Also, fuck hard work (which very much aligns with work hard is not good advice). 


A little shop of things: I’ve enjoyed following Austin Kleon’s writing more closely recently, and his shop on Amazon list seems like it has some gems on it. I’m excited to check out the pencils and a few of the books on it.


Book excerpt I liked:

Zen Mind, Beginners Mind by Shunryu Suzuki greatly influenced my life. There is a line in there something like, “We practice (meditation) not to attain Buddahood but to express it.” Even though I first read it over 40 years ago, I still feel a thrill move through my body as I think about that line. I’ve often thought the best kind of teaching is an articulation of what we already know, but don’t know how to put into words or, most crucially, how to live. From the first time I read it, I sensed the vital difference between practicing to get something you think you lack, and practicing to express the fullness of who you are.

From Sharon Saltzberg in Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferriss

What I learned last week (#28)

Learned last week: A giant of journalism, the beauty of The Alchemist, WeChat the operating system, and more.

Book excerpt I loved, very relevant to fatherhood and my parenting philosophy:

Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

From Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

Author I learned about: I had never heard of A. A. Gill before last week, but after a recommendation I looked him up and the collection Lines in the Sand: Collected Journalism is on my reading list.

“The act of feeding someone,” he says as he shares a scavenged dinner in a King’s Cross homeless shelter, “is the most basic transubstantiation”, a rite central to all religions.

Such glimpses of a loftier truth are the glory of Gill’s essays, and they open metaphysical vistas in journalistic junkets or stunts contrived for the sake of a feature article. On safari in Botswana with his well-travelled twins, huddled around a sparky blaze in the bush, he hears a tribal elder call the pricks of light in the black sky “the campfires of my ancestors”. Gill takes this to mean that “Earth and heaven mirror each other, the countless generations stretching back to the first men” and extending forward, in a tiny appendix, to “me and my kids”.

Elsewhere, he tries his hand at life drawing, and while studying the nude model he’s reminded of our fumbling search for “an empathy with the human condition and the spirit that makes us sparks of the divine”. Not by chance, that image rekindles the Botswana campfire: at their finest, Gill’s essays are what he calls “votive art”, an offering of gratitude as devout as a lighted candle.

From The Guardian’s review of Lines in the Sand

I had never read The Alchemist and was surprised and delighted to discover it: Until last week I didn’t realize I had never read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, mistaking it in my head for another book. I finally read it while on a trip last week and it was one of the most enjoyable experiences in recent memory. While my reaction is certainly due in part to big decisions and changes happening in my life right now, it is, without-a-doubt, a beautiful and moving book.

“If a person is living out his Personal Legend, he knows everything he needs to know. There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.”


WeChat is not a messaging app, it’s the operating system for 1 billion people: Think Facebook has a lot of power? WeChat is watching is a fascinating look at the creation of a deeply centralized ecosystem with interesting, convenient and scary implications.

Hyper-centralization makes life convenient. It also presents a worrying potential for fraud. On a typical day I’ve paid my phone bill, sent money to people, bought groceries, and even sent authorized documents to the bank, all through one app, protected by one password and kept intentionally unencrypted to comply with government data-sharing regulations.

Moreover, the data centralization that has enabled WeChat to map itself neatly onto users’ personal and commercial lives, has now created an opportunity for the government to step in and invite it into their political lives. Beyond sharing data with the government, WeChat is now rolling out a digital ID card. Every Chinese citizen is issued an ID card. It functions like a domestic passport and is needed for any interaction with the state—at hospitals, booking trains, flying domestically, or making bank transactions. In Guangzhou, the provincial government has already debuted a WeChat ID card and there are plans for it to be rolled out across the whole of China. Hijiacking WeChat in the future could grant a hacker everything from a user’s government-approved identity to his or her bank details, address, and coffee preferences.

WeChat’s role in the social-credit system (!?) that is being rolled out is pretty wild:

WeChat’s data centralization makes it a cornerstone of the government’s social-credit system that is feted to appear nationwide in 2020. Mooted in 2014 in a document entitled “Planning Outline for the Construction of a Social Credit System,” the plan is to build a system that incentivizes good behavior and punishes that deemed unconducive to the construction of a harmonious society or, as the document itself dictates, a system that will “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.”12 Under the pilot scheme, people with outstanding court orders or who have defaulted on loans can’t book high-speed rail tickets and can’t fly in planes.

The nationwide social credit system will be compiled by combining government records with commercial profiles. At present, Ant Financial, the finance-arm of Alibaba, China’s Internet conglomerate, has rolled out “sesame credit,” which gives people a score out of 950 based on their punctuality paying back loans, their purchase history, their social networks (having friends with high scores boosts your own score), and data shared from the government such as court-orders and fines. People with high-scores get preferential loans, can rent cars without deposits and are even guaranteed visas for countries like Luxemburg and Singapore, among other perks. China Rapid Finance, which is partnered with Tencent, is responsible for creating a similar scheme off the back of WeChat data.


Favorite quote was from Sam (as written by his teachers on a father’s day card):

“Thank you for taking me to coffee store and playing trucks!

Love Sam”