Sunday Selection 2018-06-17

It’s summer, it’s bright, sunny and getting unreasonably hot, the students are off on vacation or internships, and Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain passed away recently. After a few weeks of traveling, I’ve been spending the last few days reading about Anthony Bourdain, Buddhism and meditation (not necessarily in that order). Along those lines:

Around the Web

The Omnivore’s Agenda

An interview with Bourdain from several years ago. It’s a good summary and glimpse into his life, work and views on cooking, food and living. If you don’t know much about Bourdain, or haven’t seen his shows, this is a good place to start.

Let’s Talk About Someone Who Could Appreciate a Waffle House

Fun fact: I occasionally get a junk food craving, and on road trips I give myself a pass to eat whatever probably-unhealthy-probably-carcinogenic food I might stumble upon. On one of these recent road trips I learned that my mother apparently likes unglazed donuts from Dunkin Donuts. Go figure. Anyways, Bourdain appreciating a Waffle House should come as no surprise, but also makes me realize that appreciating both foie gras and Waffle House maybe takes a certain kind of person, or at least a certain spirit and openness, that hopefully can be cultivated.

Why Should I Meditate?

Why indeed. Maybe it will make you 10% Happier. Personally I’m coming around to the idea that meditation is essential for mental health in the same way that cardio and weightlifting is essential for physical health.

The Onion Declares War on Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook

It was bound to happen eventually, but still…

From the Bookshelf

Why Buddhism is True

I’m only about half way through this, but it’s one of the better examples of explaining why Buddhist practices, specifically meditation, “work”. To my pleasant surprise, it also does a good job of explaining certain tricky Buddhist concepts in clear terms (better than a lot of articles I’ve read written about Buddhism by Buddhists). It’s a long read, but definitely worth it.

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Sunday Selection 2018-05-06

I promise that one day there will actually be another proper post on this site. Until that time, here’s another issue of interesting things from around the Web.

Around the Web

Reconsidering the Hardware Kindle Interface

The Kindle is probably my favorite single-purpose electronic device. I’m currently using the Voyage and generally love the acceptable high resolution and contrast, the fast page automatic backlight adjustment, and the flat, clean design. That being said, I agree with Craig Mod’s opinion in this article: moving a few key interface elements to dedicated physical buttons would make the whole experience much smoother.

Why Local Newspaper Websites are So Terrible

It’s no big secret that newspaper are having a rough time in this age of ad-driven everything, and free content. This article summarizes the contending issues and priorities that drive newspaper websites to be, by and large, terrible. While I continue to hold out hope for an online newspaper that is as clean and easy to read as Longreads or Instapaper, there are deep economic problems that need to be solved first and I have no idea how to go about tackling them.

From the Bookshelf

Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology

I remember having a book of Norse mythology as a child and reading it many times over. Neil Gaiman’s version reminds of those readings often, but with Neil Gaiman’s signature style that brings out the quirky, whimsical, and often just plain weird details of Norse mythology. If you’re a Neil Gaiman fan, or interested in old-fashioned mythologies, or just like fun, slightly silly stories, this is worth picking up.

Video

Avengers: Infinity War

Enjoyable and worth watching once. Fitting together so many characters with their intertwining stories and motivations is no mean feat and this version manages to do so quite well. I liked some of the details and the storylines of some characters, but overall there was a lot happening in not a lot of time, leading to things feeling rushed at times.

Sunday Selection 2018-04-29

Albert Camus, by Cecil Beaton.
Albert Camus, by Cecil Beaton.

Neither Victims Nor Executioners: Albert Camus on the Antidote to Violence

Another excellent Brain Pickings piece, this time on Albert Camus who offers a pragmatic balance between idealism and reality. Popova summarizes this piece (as she does so well) with the excerpt: If he who bases his hopes on human nature is a fool, he who gives up in the face of circumstance is a coward.”

So Two Stoics Walk Into a Bar

I’ve previously noted my interest in Stoicism and Buddhism which share various philosophical similarities. This is a modern take on classic Stoic dialogue where we see two speakers (ostensible Epictetus and Seneca) discuss the intricacies of wanting, desire and acceptance. Without giving much away, I can say that it ends on the interesting note: The more understanding and acceptance you have of the reality of living, the less you are impacted when circumstances knock you down.

 Japan’s Rent-a-Family Industry

An intriguing, slightly unbelievable and at times heart-breaking look at the Japanese industry of “renting” family members for both major occasions and day-to-day life. Told from multiple perspectives, peppered with historical details and finalized by the author’s own unique observations and reactions, this is may be the best piece of non-political non-fiction I’ve read so far this year.

On Using Field Notebooks

I’ve started using a physical field notebook more often in the last few months. As a computer scientist, I don’t exactly go out into the field, but I have found the process of getting away from the computer and writing things out on paper (especially if I can do it outdoors in the sun), to be a good way to get my mind into a state of deep work. This a good piece on the practice on science in different areas, and different times.

Sunday Selection 2018-03-25

Around the Web

The Calculus of Grit

An interesting piece from a few years. The events of the last few decades seem to have plunged us into an age of anomie. A lot of the social and economic certainties that have held in the latter half of the twentieth century seems to have been washed away leaving many of us wondering just what we’re supposed to be doing with our lives. This article is not antidote by any means, but it does provide a guideline for one part of the puzzle: how to develop a career and professional arc in this age.

The Classics Scholar Redefining what Twitter Can Do

Over the last few years, it seems like Twitter has degenerated into a cesspool of hate and people shouting past each other. In the midst of that, this is an interesting counter-point. Emily Wilson is a classicist and author of a new translation of Homer’s Odyssey. This article talks about how Prof. Wilson used Twitter to explain various choices she made during translation, interacting with both potential readers and other classicists.

Craig Mod’s Offscreen Magazine Interview

Craig Mod is one of my favorite bloggers who has written at length about books, meditation, photography and recovering our attention in an age of distraction (or rather, continual partial attention). I love reading all his writing (which is, thankfully, both sporadic and deep) and I loved reading this in-depth interview where he talks broadly about his work and experiences, as well as strategies for choosing what work is worth doing and then to go about doing it.

Video

Earth: Final Conflict

This an old, and I suspect mostly unknown, TV show from the late nineties “created” by Gene Roddenberry. I use the quotes because I’m unsure how much involvement he had in this, as opposed to this creation of Star Trek. Instead of dealing with themes of humanity exploring new life and civilization among the stars, this show deals with what happens when new life and civilization comes to earth. All five seasons are now streaming on Amazon Prime.

From the Bookshelf

The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca translated by Moses Hadas

Over the last few months I’ve become interested in Buddhism and Stoicism, which share a striking number of similarities. After reading some modern summaries and interpretations of Stoicism, I decided to go straight with to the source, starting with Seneca. It makes for interesting reading, though a lot of the references and particular examples used will not be applicable for most people. Still, it is a source of practical wisdom, and many of the lessons can be translated to modern life.

 

Sunday Selection 2018-01-28

Around the Web

Field Notes Shenandoah Edition
Field Notes Shenandoah Edition

Why Field Notes Have Remained Curiously Addictive for a Decade

In the last few years, I’ve become a big fan of pen (and pencil) and paper for taking notes, journaling and sketching out ideas. More recently, I started carrying around a Field Notes pocket notebook all the time and using it to write down and keep track of all kinds of things about my day-to-day life. This is a wide-ranging and very interesting article about how Field Notes got started and kept going, along with a healthy dose of context to understand the why paper notebooks seem to making a comeback.

From inboxing to thought showers: how business bullshit took over

I’m very grateful to work in a field and environment where I have to deal with very little “business bullshit” on a regular basis. But this is an interesting look at how differences in language can shape the way we think and act and can spread unchecked through society at large. Pair this with an older article on the phenomenon of bullshit jobs.

Human Values and Science, Art and Mathematics

I am a big fan of Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings blog and this is, in my opinion, the best article she’s written so far this year. It contain’s excerpts from an out-of-print by Lilian Lieber of the above name interspersed with Popova’s commentary. The book starts off using the discovery of non-Euclidean geometry to explain how science progresses, and then extends that line of reasoning to understanding the human condition, ending with a set of postulates that I think deserves to sit right beside Utilitarianism and Kant’s Categorical Imperative as foundational moral principles. A long, interesting and inspiring read. I hope to get my hands on a copy of the book itself someday.

From the Bookshelf

The Rise and Fall of DODO by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland

I started this year wanting to read one book a week, but it looks like I might end up at one book a month instead. Oh well, I think I picked a good one to start with. Without going into details, this book blends together magic, time travel, politics, and a wide range of curious characters into a gripping and hard-to-put-down read. This book has made me stay up past my bedtime reading for the first time in a long while.

Video

Pacific Rim: Uprising 2nd trailer

The original Pacific Rim is one of my favorite movies. As far as movies go, I would it’s very good, but not excellent, but it is a whole lot of fun with a lot of great and unconventional characters. I’m really looking forward to the second installment, and to seeing more of Guillermo del Toro’s excellent work.

Books I read in 2017

A quick post about books I’ve read in 2017 to ring in the New Year. There weren’t many (something to change in 2018), but I’m very happy with the ones I did read.

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

This was the first book I read in 2017. I don’t remember much about it, other than being impressed by how hard working Mindy Kaling was. Goodreads tells me I gave it 5 stars, so I must have really liked it at the time.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl

I read this in one sitting during a cross-country flight. Reading about what victims of the Holocaust endured in Nazi concentration camps has a way of putting your life’s problems in perspective. The first part of the book focuses on how the average person survives and reacts to life in the brutality and extreme cruelty of a concentration camp. The second part of the book introduces Frankl’s theories of meaning as expressed in his approach to psychology: logotherapy. In essence, the meaning of life is found in every moment of living, even in the midst of suffering and death. 5 stars and highly recommended for everyone.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Very enjoyable and signature Neil Gaiman. I loved the themes, the concepts, the writing style and especially how Gaiman weaves together so many different characters and ideas into a single coherent narrative. I was a little disappointed by what felt like a anti-climactic resolution, but the rest of the book is good enough to warrant 4 stars.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

I was really looking forward to reading this and comparing it to all the modern portrayals of Frankenstein (both the doctor and his monster). But full confession: Dr. Frankenstein comes off as a complete jerk and I got tired of his whining about two thirds through the book and couldn’t finish. The monster’s parts, by comparison, were captivating and very enjoyable. Maybe I’ll manage to get through it this year.

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

The only self-help book I read this year and it was definitely a good choice. It’s a dense book and I haven’t implemented all the suggestions, but it has certainly helped me think more about how I go about my work and made me reconsider and pay more attention to things like how many distractions I tolerate. Consider this required reading for anyone working in an intellectual or creative field. My only complaint is that some of the chapters are really long with lots of information, some restructuring into smaller segments would have helped.

Binti and Binti:Home by Nnedi Okorafor

Great example of Afrofuturism and modern science fiction. I wouldn’t call it “hard” science fiction, but they are chock full of interesting concepts and ideas, and the characters and their perspectives are refreshingly different from standard science fiction tropes. I’m looking forward to the final book in the series that’s due out soon.

What if the Singularity already happened?

I’ve been re-reading one of my favorite science fiction books, Accelerando by British author Charlie Stross. In one of my favorite passages, some of the characters are sitting around talking about their belief in the Singularity. One of the characters makes the following claim (about when the Singularity happened):

“Au contraire. It happened on June 6, 1969, at 1100 hours, Eastern Seaboard Time,” Pierre counters. “That was when the first network control protocol packets were sent from the data port of one IMP to another — the first ever Internet connection. That’s the Singularity. Since then we’ve all been living in a universe that was impossible to predict from events prior to that time.”

While it’s typical to equate the Singularity with the future advent of superhuman artificial intelligences, I think this definition makes a lot of more sense. The Internet has had more impact on our world in the recent past than any other technology (especially after the advent to mobile pocket-sized connected computing devices), and furthermore, it came almost completely out of left field. Few of the “classic” science fiction stories I remember reading (particularly by Isaac Asimov) prominently feature networked computers, even though they have faster-than-light spaceflight, aliens, robots and the like. Perhaps we should take that as a warning: the most disruptive technologies are the ones we’re least cognizant of, until the disruption is well under way.