Sunday Selection 2019-09-08

I was looking back to see when the last time I made one of these posts, and I saw that it was almost 6 months ago. How time flies. In the meanwhile, both spring and summer seem to have whizzed, and the mercury is definitely heading in the downward direction in this part of the world. For me, these last few seasons have been largely a time of rest, recovery and re-alignment. I’ve been getting a lot of therapy (physical and mental), changing up my exercise routine, experimenting with new recipes, and letting go of some old goals, and charting courses for new ones.

Anyway, you didn’t come here for my vague and disjointed ramblings of my life, you came for a sprinkling of interesting things around the web. So here goes:

On Keeping a Notebook: A Reading List

Admittedly, I’m cheating with this first one. I’ve been using pen and paper more over the last year, having re-discovered the joys of writing with modern fountain pens. I keep multiple notebooks now (a journal, a literal pocket notebook, a research notebook and a meeting notebook, among others). So of course when I this dropped into my inbox a couple weeks ago I couldn’t resist going through them all.

Toni Morrison Transformed the Texture of English

Part of the afore-mentioned charting courses for new goals has been a renewed desire to read and write more and carefully (carrying my Kindle Voyage with me on the subway has been a great help in this regard). Toni Morrison is one such writer that I want to read all of one today, Ursula K LeGuin being the other.

We should all be reading more Ursula LeGuin

Talking of which, multiple people have recommended Ursula LeGuin to me, and this article reinforces that idea. I have always believed that fictional writing should explore ways we can live in our life. I would not be where I am in life, and the sort of person that I am, were it not for liberal amounts of science fiction in my formative years. It seems that LeGuin’s writing would provide good fodder for future imaginings of my life, and in different ways from what I’m used to.

Altered Carbon

And while we’re on the topic of fiction and re-imagining lives, Altered Carbon is one of the best science fiction shows I have seen in recent years. On the surface, it is reminiscent of Blade Runner-style science fiction noir, but it is also an exploration of what happens to society when immortality is practical and commonplace. Season 1 is on Netflix and Season 2 is in the works.

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Thirty-One

Long time, no post. I’ve been mostly busy with the various details of day-to-day life. In the meantime, I have somehow managed to turn 31. The one good thing about aging is that it happens without any effort on one’s part. Most years, I like to celebrate my birthday with friends, and if I’m near them, family. This year, I decided to take a page out of Matt Mullenweg’s book and write a few words about the previous year and what I’m looking forward to in the year ahead.

The last year has been full of a lot of changes for me. I moved to a new city (Boston), started some new lines of work, brought others to comfortable milestones, enjoyed the benefits of having a comfortable income. I indulged in some lifestyle inflation by using said income to pay for comfortable living and commuting conditions, while trying to stay wary of conspicuous consumption (with limited success). Though life as an Indian expatriate living in the US can be tenuous sometimes, I think I better appreciate the immense amount of privilege, benefits and advantages of sheer luck that I have over many people in the world.

I tried (mostly unsuccessfully) to build a new network of friends and acquaintances, and in the process got to know myself much better than I have in a long time. I (re-)learned to appreciate having time and space to myself (albeit slowly and grudgingly). Learning to actually put this time and space to good use remains a challenge for the future. But it is worth remembering that not all things need to have a use, not all time and space and energy need to be invested in production.

After a minor health scare, I’ve been better about diet and exercise, especially in the last few months. I started studying and practicing Buddhism more seriously, especially the Zen branch, and have been building a regular meditation practice with the help of the Calm meditation app and the Cambridge Zen Center. Alongside a return to therapy, and a consideration of my information consumption habits, this year is the largest and most consistent investment in my own mental and physical health that I have ever made. The return on this investment has been both wonderful and terrifying. On one hand, it is really good to feel comfortable in my own skin, to like what I see in the mirror, to feel my body getting stronger and feeling more confident that my body can do what I ask of it. It also good to know first hand that my physical self is at least malleable, if not fluid. On the other hand, it is terrifying to know that both Descarte and Yoda were wrong. Our minds are not separate from our bodies, in fact they are deeply and tightly connected and small variations in one greatly affect the other. We are not luminous beings, we are only crude matter, and if we are to have any hope of liberation or salvation, it lies in the direction of accepting and embracing this fact. I do not know what this means on a large scale, but personally it means I now exercise most days, and try to have breakfast every morning.

As for the rest of the world, or at least my thoughts about it, I stumbled on a newsletter by musician Nick Cave some days ago. This excerpt from a recent post sums up all I have learned and understood in the past year:

Is this world cruel? I don’t think so. I think this world is indifferent and indifference is not cruelty. What connects me to you, and you to every other sentient being in the universe, is that the universe, simply does not care about us; it does not act with malice or desire to harm us – it is simply unaffected by our condition. If one acknowledges this state of affairs, then it sets up a situation that allows us to make a simple choice – either we respond to the indifference of the universe with self-pity and narcissism – as if the world has in some way personally betrayed us – and live our lives in a cynical, pessimistic and self-serving manner; or we stand tall, set our eyes clearly upon this unfeeling universe and love it all the same – even though, or especially because, it doesn’t love us. This act of cosmic defiance, of subversive optimism, of unconditional and insubordinate love, is the greatest act of human beauty we can perform. To stand before this great, blank, heartless cosmic event and say: ‘We believe in you’. ‘We love you’. ‘We care for you’. This is the definition of grace, and this is the epiphany you speak of. We create our own divinity, our own Godliness, through our ferocious need. We yearn the heavens awake, and if we are quiet, in prayer or in meditation, sometimes we can feel the heavens stirring, breathing our fragile and reckless love back through us.

It is very tempting to want to see the world as we want it to be, or as it should or could be. Seeing the world as it could be is perhaps the definition of hope. But to make that more than just a dream, we must first see the world as it actually is, no matter how terrible or disappointing or depressing that might be. The same goes for the people in it. That is a fine line to walk, and if there is anything I want for the year ahead, it is to get better at walking that line.

 

Sunday Selection 2019-03-24

I’m trying to write more and regularly, and have been doing well this past week. I also have plans for the continued development of this blog (more on that tomorrow). Time will tell how long I manage to keep this up. For now, I’m doing away with the categories I had for my Sunday Selection posts and just presenting a bunch of interesting things.

Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman

I spent a more than usual amount of time on public transport last week and I decided to use that time to read a book rather than just people-watching, or reading random things on my phone. I’m about half way through this one, and it’s already changed some of my perspectives on life and how I deal with challenges and changes (and there have been a lot of those recently).

The only metric of success that really matters is the one we ignore

I mildly hate the absolute tone of this clickbait-y headline (as we all know, only a Sith deals in absolutes), and it’s not the best written piece on the matter, but it highlights important points we often forget. I’ve been lucky to have lots of friends and a healthy amount of socialization for most of my life, but I don’t think I’ve done a very good job at building or being part of a community. Building and becoming a part of a strong, stable, and welcoming community is something I want to focus on in my thirties, though I’m still figuring out how.

Why is reading in the pub so enjoyable?

I’m a big fan of reading, and of reading in public places. I usually prefer classy bars or cozy cafes rather than pubs, but the general idea of reading in a pub definitely appeals to me. On the other hand, these days I find myself preferring quiet places for reading and working, so I’ve been doing more of my reading at home (though as noted above I did a lot of reading on public transport last week).

My Alpine Linux Desktop

And now for something completely different. I’ve been reconsidering my computing needs and environment over the last few days (more on that too tomorrow). I’m considering moving over to Alpine Linux, especially for anything that is public-facing, like my websites. Alpine is a very low overhead, minimal distribution that includes a bunch of security-enhancing patches and development techniques.

Captain Marvel

I went to see Captain Marvel last weekend and really enjoyed it. I wouldn’t say it’s great, but it’s definitely good. It’s very well made with the now-standard Marvel approach of blending a timely political theme with fun characters and beautiful visuals. Brie Larsen does a great job and the CGI de-aging on Samuel L. Jackson is really well done. I would watch it again.

Sunday Selection 2018-08-12

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek on Apple, Facebook, Netflix and the future

This is probably the most balanced interview I’ve ever read from a software company executive. Daniel Ek’s perspective on technology and his company’s place in the world shows much more humility and a more nuanced understanding than we’ve come to expect from technology companies. It’s a refreshing read and offers a lot to learn, for anyone interested in understanding how to manage people, lead companies and leverage technology for effective social change.

Why Writing Matters in the Age of Despair

One of my goals for post-PhD life is to write more, on both technical and non-technical topics. So far I’ve been managing to keep a more or less regular habit of writing privately, but been publishing very infrequently, but am hoping to change that. As the author notes: the limits of our stories are the limits of our lives. Our words should open up the world, not close it off. Our words should include all, not trap them in cages. I see every story, every word as a struggle of memory against forgetting.

Nick Offerman’s New Definition of Manliness

I’ve been a big fan of Nick Offerman ever since watching Parks & Recreation. This article seems to sum up his view on life and manliness, which in turn is summed up by his line about whiskey: my advice is to craft your life in such a way that your whiskey drinking can be for enjoyment, which means that it’s delicious and in moderation, rather than for escapism, or to obliterate your consciousness.

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.