What I learned last week (#17)

Learned last week: Lego keeps getting cooler, the backstory of The Matrix, the vulnerable world hypothesis, and music for creativity.

  • Lego keeps getting cooler: Just saw this full Lego build of a McLaren Senna. It’s drive-able!

    Like the Bugatti Chiron, this is noted as the first interactive McLaren LEGO model which you can drive since it boasts a working V8 engine. The impressive feat took nearly 5,000 hours to complete with the assistance of 42 workers, while the supercar is composed of 467,854 blocks and weighs 3,748 pounds.

    The video at the end of the designers talking about design is fascinating. (Hat tip to Scott for this)
  • I love considering mysteries of the unknown: I heard about the vulnerable world hypothesis by Nick Bostrom, which asks us to consider the “urn of invention”.

    One way of looking at human creativity is as a process of pulling balls out of a giant urn. The balls represent possible ideas, discoveries, technological inventions. Over the course of history, we have extracted a great many balls—mostly white (beneficial) but also various shades of grey(moderately harmful ones and mixed blessings). The cumulative effect on the human condition has so far been overwhelmingly positive, and may be much better still in the future. The global population has grown about three orders of magnitude over the last ten thousand years, and in the last two centuries per capita income, standards of living, and life expectancy have also risen. What we haven’t extracted, so far, is a black ball: a technology that invariably or by default destroys the civilization that invents it.  The reason is not that we have been particularly careful or wise in our technology policy. We have just been lucky.

    Here’s a video of Sam Harris’s discussion with Nick on the topic: Sam Harris and Nick Bostrom – Pulling a Black Ball from the Urn of Invention. Similar to the great barrier in the Fermi paradox.
  • Some new music for creative work: I recently discovered Makaya McKraven, and his (double) album Universal Beings is my jam right now for writing or working sessions. From his site:

    Makaya McCraven is a beat scientist. The bleeding edge drummer, producer, and sonic collagist is one of Chicago’s savviest cultural players and a multi-talented force whose inventive process & intuitive, cinematic style defy categorization.

    Check out Suite Haus for a taste of what I’m talking about (the transitions over the course of that track are mwwwaah!). Your mileage may vary but for me it does the trick.
  • One of the my favorite films turns 20: Like many, I was blown away by the Matrix when it came out. This is an interesting story about how it came to be: How the Matrix Built a Bullet-Proof Legacy.

    One of the great misunderstandings about Keanu is that people don’t think he’s smart,” says di Bonaventura. “Maybe it’s because of the Bill & Ted movies. But Keanu gives me books I cannot make heads nor tails of. And in Keanu, the Wachowskis found somebody who was an intellectual searcher.”

    The famous bullet time shot on the rooftop with agent smith:

    That single shot would take nearly two years to complete and run an estimated $750,000 in computer costs. It quickly proved to be a worthwhile investment. Libreri remembers one internal screening of Matrix footage during which Reeves—seated in the front row—began lying back in his chair, excitedly re-creating his rooftop bends. At that same session, the team previewed another key effects sequence, in which a camera swirls around Trinity as she leaps up and kicks a cop. According to Libreri,”Joel Silver got up and said, ‘That’s it! This is where everybody’s going to get up and scream!'”
  • A quote that captures what I’ve been trying to focus on: “What you get will never make you happy; who you become will make you very happy or very sad.” – Jim Rohn

What I learned last week (#16)

Learned last week: you have a duty to be happy, the future is a mirrorworld, coldbrew makes everything better, and lots of new music.

  • A quote I shared: “There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy. By being happy we sow anonymous benefits upon the world.” – Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Some new music for work: “I have lots of ideas, how do I pick the best one? Execute on as many as possible, the right one idea will pick you.” I heard this on Choose Yourself by Star Slinger. I don’t know if this is his originally, but based on all the advice in this song (including many I recognize from other sources) I’m guessing it’s not. Regardless, a lot of the bits in this track have stuck with me. His instrumental albums are right my alley for music to have on when I’m working. If you’re interested, I recommend starting with Volume 1.
  • A great essay on the future: I picked up a (physical!) copy of Wired before a flight last week as I had heard about Kevin Kelly’s Mirrorworld essay. It was a really fun read. Wired has been putting out so much good content recently that I thought about subscribing, just because I felt like I should support it, but their site wouldn’t do anything when I tried to give them money and support has been horrendous. I tried!
  • My new afternoon snack: Last week I spotted a tub of overnight oats with coldbrew, cacao and dates in an airport grab-and-go market. I make overnight oats frequently but had never thought of combining my afternoon caffeine needs with this snack! It’s now in my fridge as a regular go-to. Here’s a rough guideline for making (you can experiment freely and not go wrong): mix 1 cup oats, 1/2 cup almond, coconut or other nut milk, 1/2 cup cold brew (change the ratio of liquid according to your caffeine needs), 1 cup gluten-free rolled oats, a tablespoon of cacao, and finely chopped dates. Let sit overnight. I like to also add some combination of walnuts, granola, or fresh fruit in the morning when I grab a bit to take to work.
  • Something new to play when I don’t know what to play: KEXP listener’s favorite songs of all time was published as part of their spring fundraising drive. It’s one of those lists I put on when I’m hanging out with the kids or friends and/or not really sure what to go for. Listening to it inevitably leads to something great. Here’s a playlist with the top part of the list, it’s 600 songs deep so I’ll keep adding to it.

What I learned last week (#11)

New music for focusing, a person worth following, and geeking out on urban sketching.

  • Memento mori: Translated as “remember that someday you will die”, and otherwise referring to an object that serves as a reminder of death. Aside from being useful short-hand in conversations, having a reminder like this visible is useful in keeping perspective, prioritizing and staying present.
  • New music to focus with: Midnight Marker by Shy Layers has been on my album list for a while but recently I gave it a spin while working and it was great for focusing.
  • An informative source of thoughts and ideas: I’ve been following Nicholas Thompson, editor-in-chief of Wired, for the past few weeks on LinkedIn and Twitter. I’ve found all of his reading recommendations and short videos have been well worth the time.
  • A simple new essential for the car in the winter: A friend pulled this out last week during a particularly snowy evening and I was shocked I hadn’t seen it before. The Frostblocker keeps your windshield ice free and frees you from having to scrape the window after a long stretch in the cold. Brilliant.
  • An approach to capturing people and movement: I loved these simple-yet-complex sketches and I’m inspired to try the same technique (quick figure gestures, layering on top of one another, the use of different line color for figures vs environment). Here’s one from the blog Mostly Drawing, which is fantastic (I love the info on the kit being used):
From See-through city on the blog Mostly Drawing

What I Learned Last Week (#5)

This week: a new approach to resumes, the art of tidying up, some geography fun, and more.

  • A new way to approach resumes: I’m officially on the hunt for work now, either with a company located in Scotland (or, ideally, in a role where I can work from anywhere), so I’m brushing up my resume and noticed pics of this service making it’s way around LinkedIn. It looks awesome and I think I’ll be giving it a go: http://enhancv.com
  • Marie Kondo, the KonMari method, and the art of “tidying up”: I heard about this method of keeping only things that spark joy before, and as we prepare to downsize significantly and have to decide what to keep, I was trying to find out more. Looks like there is also a Netflix show on it now.
  • I’m liking and listening to Mick Jenkins more and more: I’ve been digging his album from last year, Pieces of a Man, recently and came across this interview. I especially like this portion:

I think that my sanity is the most important thing to my art, and I feel that my relationships are the most important thing to my sanity. My relationship with God, my relationship with my girlfriend, my relationships with the people that are close to me, you know? The people that keep me grounded. And if you focus on all of the many things that you could be focused on to advance your career, while you could be “successful”, I’ve watched people close to me suffer before I was successful, because of that, and that was something I was not going to do.

But like I say, it’s hard work. Because it’s such a self-centered thing, it’s easier to do the other shit, honestly… even though that shit’s hard too. But making sure that you foster, and cater to, and water those relationships, and keep them strong. I think that people are only able to keep you in check if they’re at a certain level with you. If that level starts to fade, then their ability to do that becomes less strong, and I need people to do that for me.

So like I say, you gotta water that, it’s a plant. You gotta keep it growing. It’s something to be spoken about, it’s definitely something that I do a lot of. It’s not an easy thing to break up the environment and put focus into growing your communication and your perspective with the people that are close to you. It takes a lot of work. 

  • Some wisdom I came across while looking back at my notes: I noted this passage from the interview with Soman Chainani in Tribe of Mentors, as it rang true for me:

Meditation has taught me that most of the ideas, opinions, rules, and fixed systems I have in my mind aren’t the real truth. They’re the residues of past experiences that I haven’t let go of. What I’ve learned is that my soul doesn’t speak in thoughts at all—it speaks in feelings, images, and clues.

I had about geography: This article, and particularly the story map, was

Soman Chainani
  • I had some misconceptions about geography: This article from National Geographic, in particular this story map, was eye-opening. Did you know Venice, Italy is as far north as Minneapellos, Minnesota? London is in parallel with Calgary? The map is worth checking out.

What I Learned Last Week (#3)

  • The art and philosophy of kintsugi: Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise. A healthy perspective to apply to the story you tell yourself and how you relate to others.
  • A good reminder that the body is just as important (maybe more so?) as the mind:I’ve wasted a lot of time journaling on problems when I just needed to eat breakfast sooner, do 10 push-ups, or get an extra hour of sleep. Sometimes, you think you have to figure out your life’s purpose, when you really just need some macadamia nuts and a cold fucking shower.” – Tim Ferriss in Tools of Titans.

    Here’s a perspective on this from a powerful article in Outside from Christopher Solomon. The way he speaks about running really struck me on Sunday morning (right before I went on a run):
    Thoughts from the day—­current arguments, past heartaches, the sentences that resisted being pinned to the page—drifted past as if on a conveyor belt. I reached out and picked up each in turn, considering it from different angles.
    These runs rarely produced thunderbolts of insight. But by the time I got home, with streetlamps flickering to life, my brainpan had been rinsed. The world felt possible again. For me, these runs were almost like dreaming.

  • This quote is going to be important for the new year: Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.” – Winston Churchill. We have a sketch of a plan for the next 6 months leading up to moving to the UK, but it’s certain to not go the way we think it is.
  • New music I’m listening to: Slow Machete – Ola Mala. This is the biggest surprise of all the new albums I’ve been going through last week. The backstory on it is mysterious and it’s hard to find info on the project. From SoundCloud:

    Slow Machete is a collaboration that came to life as Pittsburgh native Joseph Shaffer was recording Haitian choirs in 2009 and found himself with dozens of practice recordings and outtakes. These outtakes would be woven with downtempo and Cuban rhythms into what eventually became the debut LP Evening Dust Choir as well as the new EP Mango Tree.

A festive brute in my office lobby. Happy holidays!

What I learned last week (#2)

  • There’s lots of music I’ve been sleeping on, as evident by KEXP’s Top 90.3 Albums of 2018: I’ve been swimming in new music since last week. Combing through all of the “best of 2018” lists made me realize how much I’ve been missing out on some great stuff this year. My favorite lists are KEXP’s Top 90.3 Albums, and the lists from their DJs, namely Troy Nelson, John Richards, DJ Alex as well as many others. My top albums of the year right are:
    • Kasamai Washington- Heaven and Earth
    • Against All Odds – 2012 – 2017
    • DJ Kose- Knock Knock
    • Curtis Harding – Face Your Fear
    • Black Milk – Fever
    • Pusha T – Daytona
    • Black Panther OST
    • TiRon & Ayomari- WET
    • Plus a few new albums I’m now all about as a result of this past week:
      • IDLES – Joy As An Act of Resistance
      • Children of Zeus – Travel Light
      • Mick Jenkins – Pieces of a Man
      • Car Seat Headrest – Twin Fantasy
      • Confidence Man – Confident Music for Confident People
  • A new book for the kids called The Day Louis Got Eaten by John Fardell: Our latest discovery in kids books has been John Fardell and his two picture books “The Day Louis Got Eaten” and “Jeremiah the Jellyfish”. The illustrations are incredible and the stories are great. We change the names of the main characters to our names and pretend my daughter is saving her brother from the monsters. It’s fantastic. I’m now on the hunt for the first picture book he did, “Manfred the Baddie”.
  • How to cook my new favorite food, coconut bacon: I’ve never heard of this until last week, but apparently you can not only make it but buy it in grocery stores as well. It’s amazing. My wife and I experimented with a month of eating vegetarian this past September, and it’s continued through October, November and now December. Eliminating meat has been eye-opening as a way to expand our horizons of what’s possible in the kitchen, and we’ve loved it. Coconut bacon is a great example of why. I originally found it in the book Protein Ninja by Terry Hope Romero. It’s so simple, and so good, I don’t know whether I’d ever go back. Here is a similar version of the recipe from the book.
  • My son, Sam, telling Santa what he wants for Christmas: TRUCK TRUCK!
IMG_0008
My son, Sam, telling Santa what he wants for Christmas: TRUCK TRUCK!