What I learned last week (#26)

Learned last week: A framework for apologies, digital minimalism, and good advice on how to build a career.

Good way to think about apologies (and relating to others in general): I thought Seth Godin’s Defective apologies post was spot on and I think the model of Empathy -> Connection -> Trust is very simple and powerful.

Consider that an effective apology has a few elements to it:

1. You know what sort of apology you’re offering.

2. You share your story with the aggrieved as well as hearing their story, thus becoming human, and then taking the time to help them feel seen by you.

3. You engage with the person who was harmed and find out, beyond being seen, what would help them move forward, noting that it’s impossible to make complete amends.

Thinking about digital minimalism and parenting: I recently listened to a 10% happier podcast with Cal Newport (a lot of it was about his new book, Digital Minimalism). On a recommendation I also checked out his blog, which is fantastic, and this article on how The Arizona Cardinals Now Give Their Players Phone Breaks every 20-30 minutes during team events caught my eye.

Many concerned readers sent me this article, and with good reason. It’s an extreme case of a techno-philosophy that I facetiously call the kids these days mindset, in which parents, educators, bosses and (it now seems) coaches shrug their shoulders when confronted with the impacts of highly addictive technology on young people.

Yeah, we can’t just shrug…

Most coaches would never tolerate a habit that was clearly harming their players’ physical fitness, regardless of how popular it was in the general public. The same standards should hold for their players’ cognitive fitness.

The broader point here, however, is that these standards should also extend to less obvious applications of this mindset, such as when a teacher concedes to student demands to replace written book reports with YouTube videos, or a parent shrugs off a child’s Fortnite addiction.

Reinforcement for wanting to follow a creators path: Following the Cal Newport-tip above, I read this piece from the great Derek Sivers on How to change or build your career. In it he links to So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport, which is going on my list along with Deep Work.

Looking for your passion, purpose, or calling is an example of the fixed mindset. You’re assuming that this is an inherent and unchanging thing inside of you, like trying to read your DNA or blood type. But you won’t find passion and purpose there, because that’s not where those feelings come from.

Passion and purpose are emotions that come after expertise and experience. The way to get them is to commit to the path of mastery, get great at something, and do great work.

A great career isn’t something you find — it’s something you earn when you’ve got rare and valuable skills to offer in return.

The new album from Flying Lotus is on point: This album has been my close companion for a bunch of work over the past week: Flying Lotus – Flamagra.
 

Favorite quote from the week:

The great aim of education is not knowledge but action.

Herbert Spencer

What I learned last week (#23)

Learned last week: The best advice on how to set goals, how to be happy, and my idea of a good trip.

Some profound advice on the meaning of life: I’ve read and re-read and shared Hunter S. Thompson’s Letter on Finding Your Purpose and Living a Meaningful Life a bunch over the past week. It’s worth reading the whole thing (not long), but here’s the main message:

As I see it then, the formula runs something like this: a man must choose a path which will let his ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of his DESIRES. In doing this, he is fulfilling a need (giving himself identity by functioning in a set pattern toward a set goal), he avoids frustrating his potential (choosing a path which puts no limit on his self-development), and he avoids the terror of seeing his goal wilt or lose its charm as he draws closer to it (rather than bending himself to meet the demands of that which he seeks, he has bent his goal to conform to his own abilities and desires).
 
In short, he has not dedicated his life to reaching a pre-defined goal, but he has rather chosen a way of life he KNOWS he will enjoy. The goal is absolutely secondary: it is the functioning toward the goal which is important. And it seems almost ridiculous to say that a man MUST function in a pattern of his own choosing; for to let another man define your own goals is to give up one of the most meaningful aspects of life— the definitive act of will which makes a man an individual.

Filing that away in the stuff I want to tell my kids folder…

Book I started reading: Picked up Keep Going by Austin Kleon by chance at a bookstore last week and it’s a potent little book. Here’s my favorite pic so far that about sums it up:

Speaking of keeping going and of finding a chosen way of life: Check out To Spain… and …then to France. This is my idea of a good trip and one I hope to emulate.

From https://mostlydrawing.com/2019/05/04/to-spain/
From https://mostlydrawing.com/2019/05/10/and-then-to-france/

Favorite book excerpt:

In the end it all comes down to this: you have a choice (or more accurately a rolling tangle of choices) between giving your work your best shot and risking that it will not make you happy, or not giving it your best shot — and thereby guaranteeing that it will not make you happy. It becomes a choice between certainty and uncertainty. And curiously, uncertainty is the comforting choice.

From Art & Fear by David Bayles, Ted Orland

New music for work: The artist djblesOne and his Soundcloud and Bboys Bboy Forever (on Spotify). It’s all break beat mixes, all flying jump kick-type energy, and it’s super conducive to getting shit done.

What I learned last week (#22)

Learned last week: The right to repair, the limitations of maps, and doing something kind for yourself.

The right to repair movement: I wasn’t tracking this until recently, but Right to Repair is a National Issue.

All that unfixable stuff doesn’t disappear when we are forced to replace it. It piles up. Electronic waste is the fastest growing part of our waste stream. It is often toxic and poses grave health risks. The increase in this kind of waste is fed both by the growing number of products with electronics in them and the shrinking lifespan of those products. A 2015 study found that “the proportion of all units sold to replace a defective appliance grew from 3.5% in 2004 to 8.3% in 2012, in what [researchers] deemed a ‘remarkable’ increase.”

I love the idea of making our devices serviceable, up-gradable and longer-lasting. I wonder if we’ll look back at the last decade or so as an era of lazy design, manufacturing and business practices as a result.

New blog that I’m reading: I heard about Shane Parrish and the Farnam Street blog (https://fs.blog) from a recent Making Sense podcast and it’s like discovering Wait But Why all over again, I can’t stop reading it. One idea/model that caught my attention was Understanding the Limitations of Maps.

Bill Bryson explains in A Short History of Nearly Everything, “such are the distances, in fact, that it isn’t possible, in any practical terms, to draw the solar system to scale. … On a diagram of the solar system to scale, with the Earth reduced to about the diameter of a pea, Jupiter would be over a thousand feet away, and Pluto would be a mile and half distant (and about the size of a bacterium, so you wouldn’t be able to see it anyway).”

Maps are furthermore a single visual perspective chosen because you believe it the best one for what you are trying to communicate. This perspective is both literal — what I actually see from my eyes, and figurative — the bias that guides the choices I make

Favorite book excerpt of last week:

“…having the intention to meditate is itself a meditation. This practice encourages you to arise an intention to do something kind and beneficial for yourself daily, and over time, that self-directed kindness becomes a valuable mental habit.”

from Chade-Meng “Meng” Tan’s section titled Three Tips from a Google Engineer in Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss

Quote I’m pondering:

“Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience.”

Paul Coelho

New music I’m listening too while working: GoGo Penguin – A Humdrum Star. Artist info below.

GoGo Penguin are a band from Manchester, UK, featuring pianist Chris Illingworth, bassist Nick Blacka, and drummer Rob Turner. The band’s music features break-beats, minimalist piano melodies, powerful basslines, drums inspired from electronica and anthemic riffs. They compose and perform as a unit. Their music incorporates elements of electronica, trip-hop, jazz, rock and classical music.

What I learned last week (#21)

Learned last week: Many of us are late bloomers, mindfulness has pitfalls, and podcasts haven’t killed music (at least for me).

The later in life bloom: I feel like I’m just getting started now, and am about to reach 40. This week I came across The Art of Blooming Late and it definitely struck a chord. First, the set-up:

Rich Karlgaard, the publisher of Forbes magazine and author of Late Bloomers, argues that our culture’s obsession with early achievement dissuades us from pursuing our passions. Instead of having varied interests, studying widely, and taking our time—essentials for self-discovery—we’re encouraged to ace tests, become specialists right away, and pursue safe, stable, and lucrative careers. As a result, most of us end up choosing professional excellence over personal fulfillment, and often we lose ourselves in the process.

Then, my favorite part:

The authors of Dark Horse, Todd Rose and Ogi Ogas of Harvard’s School of Education, noticed the negative effects of early specialization in a study of people who came out of nowhere to achieve great success. “Despite feeling bored or frustrated, underutilized or overwhelmed,” the two write, “most dark horses reluctantly plodded along for years before finally coming to the realization that they were not living a fulfilling life.” Then, after a period of restless, quiet ambition, these seemingly average people—administrative assistants, engineers, IT managers—were able to transform their “cravings, predilections, and fascinations” into successful careers as master sommeliers, lifestyle entrepreneurs, and celebrated craftsmen.

I was also reminded this week that the legendary management author Peter Drucker wrote 35 books in his life, two-thirds of them after the age of 65

An interesting perspective on meditation as its popularity grows: The Problem with Mindfulness gives some perspective that mindfulness is a big term and certain aspects of practices put under this umbrella aren’t for everyone.

In a 2014 study, for example, Tim Lomas, a lecturer in positive psychology at the University of East London, and colleagues, found that a quarter of the 30 male meditators they interviewed had troubling episodes—some encountered hard-to-manage thoughts and feelings; some exacerbated their depression and anxiety; and some became psychotic. One guy, a beginner, tried out an advanced method of deconstructing the self. “I crashed, lying on the floor sobbing,” he said. “I had a really strong sense of impermanence without the context, without the positivity. The crushing experience of despair was very strong…You just feel like you don’t exist, you’re nothing. It’s nihilistic, pretty terrifying.” Some negative experiences were less intense. “Doing mindfulness, you don’t like yourself sometimes,” another man said. “You just become aware, ‘Actually, I’m a bit of a shit.’” Lomas and his colleagues concluded, “Our paper raises important issues around safeguarding those who practice meditation, both within therapeutic settings and in the community.”

I love music AND podcasts, but: Are podcasts killing music or just wasting our time? While many of my commutes these days are done with a podcast playing, I still often opt for music and sometimes even 10 mins of silence.

Quote that resonated with me last week: “Music is the space between the notes” – Claude Debussy

New music I’m listening to: Chemical Brothers – No Geography. Great album for doing work or a weekend afternoon with the kids.

What I learned last week (#20)

Learned last week: Thoughts on what drives us, the power of name-your-price, umpires are wrong a lot, and more.

Quote I’ve been pondering: “It’s not how well you play the game. It’s deciding what game you want to play.” – Kwame Appiah

Favorite book excerpt of the week: From Gabor Mate’s  section in Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferriss: “don’t confuse being driven with being authentically animated by an inner calling. One state leaves you depleted and unfulfilled; the other fuels your soul and makes your heart sing.”

A simple way to win customers and make a fair wage: We spent our Saturday morning out with the kids at Seattle Center, and grandma got the kids balloon animals after being lured by a particularly funny and gregarious vendor in one of the main public spaces. When she went to pay and asked how much, he said there is no set price, you can pay us what you feel like.

Shocked, she ended up paying 10 dollars for 3 minutes of this guy’s time, a pretty good hourly rate. I bet he gets more than that more often than he gets less. This made me think of other areas where I would pay more than the set price because the product is so enjoyable (just like the 3 minutes spent with this vendor). I would do this with more music and art if it was convenient (I guess this is what Patreon is for).

Umpires in baseball are wrong (a lot): This is a long-read but as a fan of baseball I found it super interesting. The video near the beginning showing the worst calls is golden

New music for focus time at work: Etudes for Piano Vol 1. No. 1 – 10 by Philip Glass has been great for focus time at work or writing. I’m going to check out more of his stuff. (Hat tip to Scott)

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!