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What I learned last week

What I learned last week (#62)

Visited another new place in Scotland and spent much of the week there:

Islay and Jura are two isles (islands) off the west coast of Scotland known for being remote, sparsely populated, wild, beautiful and full of some of the best whisky in the world. My Dad and I ventured out to find all of this to be very true indeed.


Favorite new music: The latest from Makaya McCraven, We’re New Again: A Reimagining has been a great companion to lunches and sketching.

The Chicago drummer and producer transforms Gil-Scott Heron’s final album into a masterpiece of dirty blues, spiritual jazz, and deep yearning.

https://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/gil-scott-heron-makaya-mccraven-were-new-again-a-reimagining-by-makaya-mccraven/


Quote that made me think:

Don’t allow your rituals to become ruts.

Todd Henry

George Leonard and The Power of the Mind: this reference came up from a previous book note, and I read the Esquire article that provided the seed for his later book, Mastery.

This frontier thinking has venerable roots, especially in the Eastern martial arts, all of which share a common faith in an energy source called ki in Japanese, ch’i in Chinese, pneuma in Greek, and prana in Sanskrit. In the ancient tradition, ki is the fundamental energy of the universe that connects and relates all things. By controlling the flow of this energy in one’s own body or projecting it toward external objects, the martial artist can supposedly achieve extraordinary powers. Legends abound of masters who can stop an opponent in his tracks from halfway across the room or even throw him head over heels. Karate practitioners generally claim that ki, even more than muscular strength, makes it possible for them to break bbards or concrete blocks.

Thus far, ki has proved difficult to measure, and skeptics tend to attribute its powers to suggestion, a sort of dynamic placebo effect. To the pragmatist, this distinction is unimportant. As a practitioner of aikido, an art in which ki plays an especially important role, I’ve generally found a strong correlation between my perception of personal ki and the power of my techniques. The idea of ki can offer the untrained person an effective way of gaining a sensation of increased energy along with relaxation, especially during times of fatigue and stress. Here’s an exercise designed to demonstrate the power that can come from visualizing ki.

https://classic.esquire.com/article/1988/5/1/the-power-of-the-mind

I didn’t know much about George Leonard and his book prior, but based on a brief scan of notes from James Clear’s blog, I plan to pick it up.


Sir William Osler and the power of work: Osler was one of the most important figures in the founding of modern medicine, and said the following in one of his books:

Let each hour of the day have its allotted duty, and cultivate that power of concentration which grows with its exercise, so that the attention neither flags nor wavers, but settles with bull-dog tenacity on the subject before you. Constant repetition makes a good habit fit easily in your mind, and by the end of the session you may have gained that most precious of all knowledge—the power of work.

From Cal Newport:

We don’t teach this any more.

Modern educational institutions care a lot about content: what theories we teach, what ideas students are exposed to, what skills they come away knowing. But we rarely address the more general question of how one transforms their mind into a tool well-honed for elite-level cognitive work.


Book excerpt that I loved:

Although the strategy of gaining happiness by working to get whatever it is we find ourselves wanting is obvious and has been used by most people throughout recorded history and across cultures, it has an important defect, as thoughtful people throughout recorded history and across cultures have realized: For each desire we fulfill in accordance with this strategy, a new desire will pop into our head to take its place. This means that no matter how hard we work to satisfy our desires, we will be no closer to satisfaction than if we had fulfilled none of them. We will, in other words, remain dissatisfied.” (William B. Irvine, A Guide to the Good Life)


How to be perfect: A poem by Ron Padgett that’s got some brilliant advice and a subtle power. I’m adding it to my regular re-read list. Here’s just a small sampling (it’s much longer):

Look at that bird over there.

After dinner, wash the dishes.

Calm down.

Visit foreign countries, except those whose inhabitants have expressed a desire to kill you.

Don’t expect your children to love you, so they can, if they want to.

Meditate on the spiritual. Then go a little further, if you feel like it.

What is out (in) there?

HT to Austin Kleon

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/57243/how-to-be-perfect


What made me grateful last week:

  • Re-discovering cribbage and playing cards. Can’t think of a better way to end a day.
  • Working from home meant more time with my Dad during his visit.
  • Doing blind self-portraits with Vivian:

Lastly, check out what we’re up to now.

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What I learned last week

What I learned last week (#61)

Favorite quote from the week:

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it’s time to pause and reflect.”

Mark Twain

We all get started by pretending:

Aside from the huge smiles that we all get and how much fun it is to play with Sam and his helmet, it’s gotten me thinking about the connection between the playing dress-up and pretending to be something versus actually being it. What’s the difference? We all start as pretenders and we all feel like fakes at first. What you wear (and how it fits) can make you feel invincible or invisible. You have to start somewhere.


More from An Astronauts Guide to Life on Earth:

I loved this book. I read it awhile ago and think about it often, so seeing Chris Hadfield’s mental models in space come up last week again was a welcome site:

At NASA, we’re not just expected to respond positively to criticism, but to go one step further and draw attention to our own missteps and miscalculations. It’s not easy for hyper-competitive people to talk openly about screw-ups that make them look foolish or incompetent. Management has to create a climate where owning up to mistakes is permissible and colleagues have to agree, collectively, to cut each other some slack.” (friction and viscosity)

That is something I’ve been thinking about a lot as a way to be better at my work. The other is the following, which I feel like I’ve been doing a good job of:

The best way to contribute to a brand-new environment is not by trying to prove what a wonderful addition you are. It’s by trying to have a neutral impact, to observe and learn from those who are already there, and to pitch in with grunt work wherever possible.

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.”


Universities are adopting the subscription model:

Makes a lot of sense, sign me up!

In 2020, academic institutions will start to offer lifelong admittance, paid for on a subscription basis. Rather than simply provide students with an on-ramp to a career and the occasional professional pitstop, universities will find ways to build ongoing relationships with workers.

https://www.wired.co.uk/article/university-lifelong-learning


The Blue Bananna is:

WHAT!?!?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Banana


The joys of sitting in a pub on your own:

100% agree. I love time alone in the pub and/or brewery.


The difference between Great Britain, the United Kingdom and England:

Short view and taught me a few things I hadn’t realized.


How the internet is changing chess:

“It’s OK if you make mistakes,” she said. “Just move on in and have some fun with it.” And that’s a feeling that isn’t confined to the new guard. Finegold said he’s looking forward to where streaming is going. “Chess could be fun, too,” Finegold said. “It doesn’t have to be super serious all the time.”

https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/video-games/fast-loose-culture-esports-upending-once-staid-world-chess-n1137111


New music I’ve been listening to in the office:

Yppah – Sunset in the Deep End


Something I’m grateful for this week:

  • The fact that Vivi is still into silly little toys, pretending to be a cheetah, and reading children’s books below her age and reading level
  • Art projects. Sometimes it’s best to just make a mess.

Lastly, check out what we’re up to now.

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What I learned last week

What I learned last week (#59)

I’ve been listening to a lot of country music this week: Here are some new ones I’ve been enjoying, courtesy of Greg Vandy’s 2019 best albums list:

Daniel Norgren – Wooh Dang

Jake Xerxes Fussell – Out of Sight


No one can explain why airplanes stay in the air:

I had no idea that there were competing theories that attempt to explain how flying works. Even Einstein has had a go at it to no avail:

In 1917, on the basis of his theory, Einstein designed an airfoil that later came to be known as a cat’s-back wing because of its resemblance to the humped back of a stretching cat. He brought the design to aircraft manufacturer LVG (Luftverkehrsgesellschaft) in Berlin, which built a new flying machine around it. A test pilot reported that the craft waddled around in the air like “a pregnant duck.” Much later, in 1954, Einstein himself called his excursion into aeronautics a “youthful folly.” The individual who gave us radically new theories that penetrated both the smallest and the largest components of the universe nonetheless failed to make a positive contribution to the understanding of lift or to come up with a practical airfoil design.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/no-one-can-explain-why-planes-stay-in-the-air/


Favorite book excerpts this week:

Related to the article about flight above:

“…what exists within the area of “not knowing” is so much greater and more exciting than anything any one of us knows.” (Ray Dalio, Principles)

Potential explantation for why I don’t have a lot of close friendships at the moment 😉:

“You must have a good time meeting people if you expect them to have a good time meeting you.” (Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People)


How to not take things personally:


Cal Newport on the differentiation of YouTube as a platform for creatives:

YouTube, unlike its peers in the pantheon of social media giants, really can act like a platform. Though it still offers a purposefully addictive and creepily-surveilled user experience at YouTube.com (few rabbit holes run deeper than those excavated by their algorithmically-enhanced autoplay suggestions), the service also allows its videos to be embedded in third-party websites, enabling it to behave like an actual platform that can support a wide array of non-affiliated communities.

I was thinking about this the other day when visiting Tested.com, a technology-oriented web site, primarily built around original videos hosted on YouTube.

Tested.com is a cool site and an example of how smaller websites (even personal ones like this) can make a big impact by leveraging other platforms.


A reminder that we should treat our elders, and anyone else for that matter, well:


Five of the world’s weirdest auroras:

I had no idea that there were so many different types of nothing lights.


Handy list of icebreaker questions: From Rob Walker’s Art of Noticing newsletter.

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1j4rj883slFvh1zZLGedqQFM0wqCrHlIEPE62K0LkKak/mobilebasic


Something I’m grateful for:

The way Kav always includes the kids in decision making. She’s always seemingly able to use deft judgement on how and when to include the kids in decisions large and small that we have to make that effect them. They learn by example.


Lastly, check out what we’re up to now.

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What I learned last week

What I learned last week (#58)

What happens to Google Maps when tectonic plates shift:

Things obviously get more interesting during earthquakes. “What the earthquake would do is the equivalent of what you do with a pair of scissors, if you cut diagonally across a map along a fault line and then slid one side of the map with respect to the other,” Hudnut said. For instance, in Google Earth, go to the following coordinates north of Palm Springs, near the epicenter of the 1992 Landers quake: 34.189838 degrees, –116.433842 degrees. Bring up the historical imagery, compare the July 1989 and May 1994 images, and you’ll see a lateral shift along the fault that runs from the top left to the bottom right of the frame. The alignment of Aberdeen Road, which crosses the fault, shifts noticeably. The quake displaced the land near the fault by several meters.

PS networks can even see earthquakes in real time. A dramatic video of the 2011 Tohoko quake, made by Ronni Grapenthin at the University of California, Berkeley based on data from the Japanese Geospatial Information Authority, shows the coastline near the quake site move horizontally by as much as 4 meters. The video also shows the waves that rippled outward over Japan (and indeed the world).

http://nautil.us/issue/81/maps/what-happens-to-google-maps-when-tectonic-plates-move


On having a personal website:

Personal websites are the backbone of the independent Web of creators. Even after all those years, they remain a vital part of what makes the web the most remarkable and open medium to date. We shouldn’t take this for granted, though. If we don’t pay enough attention and care about the open web enough, we might lose this valuable asset. So let us protect the Web as a source of inspiration, diversity, creativity, and community. Let us maintain what we have and work together to make this little part of the magic of the Web sparkle even brighter. Let us help new members of the community to start their journey. Let us build, prototype, publish, and connect.

This obviously hits close to home and a big reason why I’m happy about doing the work I’m doing now.

https://matthiasott.com/articles/into-the-personal-website-verse


Quote I was thinking about:

Success isn’t about being the best. It’s about always getting better.

Behance 99U

Book excerpt I like for its simplicity

“You always have three options. You can change it, you can accept it, or you can leave it.” (Naval Ravkant in Tools of Titans)


The history of Prince’s Super Bowl Halftime show:

https://www.theringer.com/music/2020/1/29/21112539/prince-halftime-show-oral-history-super-bowl-xli


I am trying to pay attention to signs of life in front of me:


Notes from a first trip to Amsterdam:


Percentages are reversible:

Maybe this shouldn’t of surprised me the way it did but ¯\(ツ)


The oh-so-useful immediacy filter:

One of the most useful bits of advice I ever got, came from the writer Anne Herbert who said that whenever she got an invitation to do something months away or even a week away, she asked herself whether she would accept the gig/meeting/task if it was tomorrow. The answer was often no. I use that immediacy trick all the time, and it has served me very well.

from Recomendo

Zooming in:

Both the message of this post and the image of stars that you can zoom in and out of is amazing.


Something I’m grateful for last week:

My time with my friend in a foreign city for two night, even though it was short and I was anxious to get home, it was better than good


Lastly, check out what we’re up to now.

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What I learned last week

What I learned last week (#55)

Two book excerpts I’ve been thinking about:

“Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets… it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.” (Cal Newport, Deep Work)

Very apt for the holidays this week and next.

“I happen to be in a very tough business where there are no alibis. It is good or it is bad and the thousand reasons that interfere with a book being as good as possible are no excuses if it is not. You have to make it good and a man is a fool if he adds or takes hindrance after hindrance after hindrance to being a writer when that is what he cares about. Taking refuge in domestic successes, being good to your broke friends etc. is merely a form of quitting.” (Larry W. Phillips, Ernest Hemingway on Writing)

Those are some tough words and also got me thinking about this post on how Tyler Cowen practices to be better at his work. To extreme for me but I agree that you have to practice deliberately anything you want to be better at.


New music is such a great gift: The KEXP DJs top albums of the year, along with the listeners top 99.3 albums, offers an annual avalanche of good tunes that carries me into the next year on a high. Here are some new albums I have discovered already from these lists:

The Black Tones – Cobain & Cornbread – blues mixed with hard/grunge rock

Preservation Hall Jazz Band – A Tuba to Cuba – upbeat latin-inspired jazz

Nicola Cruz – Siku – instrumental album with a tribal, ancient feel

Rudy Willingham – Dunk Reactions – really fresh mix of instrumental beats and samples


My favorite music of 2019: This year was full of change, here is the music that kept me company throughout.


A beautiful poem and thoughts on marriage: From Margaret Atwood on Marriage, really liked this poem and lots more in the link.

HABITATION by Margaret Atwood

Marriage is not

a house or even a tent
it is before that, and colder:
the edge of the forest, the edge

of the desert

the unpainted stairs

at the back where we squat

outside, eating popcorn
the edge of the receding glacier
where painfully and with wonder

at having survived even

this far
we are learning to make fire


Common sense that’s often ignored: The seven sins of meetings with remote participants


The crazy surveilled reality we now live in: One Nation Tracked is a fantastic exploration of the tracking devices we all carry with us each day.

Within America’s own representative democracy, citizens would surely rise up in outrage if the government attempted to mandate that every person above the age of 12 carry a tracking device that revealed their location 24 hours a day. Yet, in the decade since Apple’s App Store was created, Americans have, app by app, consented to just such a system run by private companies. Now, as the decade ends, tens of millions of Americans, including many children, find themselves carrying spies in their pockets during the day and leaving them beside their beds at night — even though the corporations that control their data are far less accountable than the government would be.


The dark world of online murder markets: Click Here to Kill. Woah, great read.


Quote for the new year:

No matter how big and tough a problem may be, get rid of confusion by taking one little step toward solution. Do something.

George F. Nordenholt

Free tools for images and illustrations for your site, docs, presentations, and more:


This is the last post of the year for me and I’m going to explore a new destination, read a bit, and play. See you next year!

In the meantime, check out what we’re up to now.