After being burned by a book with an extremely similar premise, I gave Upgrade a chance as I remember enjoying Blake Crouch’s 2019 novel, Recursion.
To it’s credit, the first third of Upgrade kept my interest but my enthusiasm quickly waned with the formulaic second and third parts. Any emotional resonance in the book was undermined by schlocky writing and over-explanation of the protagonist’s feelings. By the time the main character described a database query he was writing to advance the plot I was ready to be done.
Twenty minutes, then gravity came down on him like a great soft hand with bones of ancient stone
When I started this book I had no idea just how unintelligible I would find it. Nothing prepared me for the onslaught of unbridled, hold-onto-your-butts cyberpunk vibes. I’m smitten by Gibson’s writing but I’m not certain I could recall the plot to any degree of accuracy.
One I’m going to have to come back to, for sure.
Lonny Zone stepped forward, tall and cadaverous, moving with the slow undersea grace of his addiction.
If I hadn’t read the back of the book I suspect I would have twigged that this author had a thing for language. A published author in both Japanese and German, Yoko Tawada excels at dreamy sequences interspersed with lucid discussions of the words we use how they make us feel.
The Emissary is a short novel set in a future where Japan has isolated itself from the world as a result of an unnamed catastrophe. Only the elderly, the octogenarians and older, are healthy. Their younger friends and family are poisoned by the land and unable to imagine a future for themselves.
It’s not clear what didn’t click with me and this book: in principle it overlaps with many of my interests. It focuses on self reflection through an eco-environmental awareness. It also achieves much of the feel I aim for with the more narrative-driven source/target editions. I was close to giving up on it and likely would have if it wasn’t an audiobook.
I couldn’t shake the feeling of a condescending tone illustrated by unremarkable anecdotes, along with inconsequential nature observation passages that rarely transcended their pat delivery. Lots of mourning what we may have lost in nature with limited calls to action.
The last few years haven’t been kind to the then-topical sections. Breathless anti-Trump passages are beyond weary at this point and date the well-meaning sentiment.
One upside was learning more about Oakland, a place I’ve visited a few times but never digested in full.
I suspect I acquired too much of the media surrounding this book via osmosis back in 2019. The core conceit was unremarkable and covered better elsewhere.
Written in the early 1900s, this was a short, thoughtful book of three distinct parts. The first introduces the protagonist and his relationship with an elderly man identified throughout the book as Sensei. In the middle part, the protagonist returns home to look after his ailing father and rejects opportunities to move his life forward. The final and longest part is a letter from Sensei explaining his experiences as a young man that lead him to be the man he is today.
I enjoyed the book and found the allusions to progress and depiction of male relationships to be quite revealing. The inner dialogue of the protagonist (and, later, Sensei) was a realistic portrayal of the dissonance faced when navigating complex social dynamics. Some of the tale remains mysterious and open to interpretation – it’s a book that will reward a repeat visit.
A fascinating first-hand account of living and working at logging camps after the Second World War.
Hans Knapp moved from Austria in 1951 and began work as a logger at the North end of Vancouver Island. The glossary of logging terms at the back of the book is a required reference for some of the more dense sections covering the older logging roles and terms.
Working in extreme weather conditions and faced with the drudgery of working long days in the wilderness, quirky personalities clash and tensions fray. Much of the book describes a range of characters with memorable names such as “Slippery”, “Jolly Good”, “Terrible Ted” and “The Garlic Twins.”
There are countless depictions of various accidents that befall the loggers. These include freak events, near misses and depressing fatalities.
In one tonal shift, Knapp recounts stumbling upon an old abandoned prospector’s cabin on a Sunday afternoon hike. The eerily preserved home sits hidden amongst a lush wilderness tamed by the long-absent owners. The gold rush has been and gone but Knapp belongs to a new breed of opportunists extracting from the land.
Just under 10 minutes into the 2017 upload of the “Mother of all Demos” on YouTube in 2017, a wave of irritation flickers across Douglas Engelbert’s face. “What the hell happened to that?” he mutters, almost inaudibly, as a thin smile and nervous giggle betray a moment of mild panic. It’s 1968 and he’s just started a presentation showcasing countless technological techniques that will echo for a half a century and beyond.
Engelbert is one of many characters covered in this fantastic book from Cliff Kuang – individuals obsessed with reorienting the world with visionary ideas of how technology should aid rather than abrade. The book avoids oblivious hero worship in favour of a global collection of stories.
With various stutters and beeps Engelbert finally wrangles his list into a quiet order. A breeze of relief leads way to a soft apology before he forges ahead to reveal the future.
Don Norman is probably most famous among designers for popularizing the idea of an affordance—physical details, designed in products, that tell us how they’re to be used, such at the subtle curve of a door handle that tells you which way to pull, to the indentation on a button that tells you where to push.
Navigate, browser, hyperlink, search engine.
It was explained to us all so slowly, over time. We learned what the web was by using it. Eventually, we didn’t didn’t the metaphors at all.
(As the design theorist Klaus Krippendorff writes, "Metaphors die in repeated use but leave behind the reality that they had languaged into being.)
But to those women in GP Block Pitampura, the internet had simply arrived one day, devoid of any explanation at all. No wonder it was baffling at best, even terrifying.
In the user-friendly world, beauty is a tool that transforms something that’s easy to use into something we want to use.
Beneath every product you see, there is a designer, sometimes a good one, whose fodder is an intuition about what you’ve seen before, what you might admire. “Beauty” is the word we use when a designer’s vision overlaps with our own.
In 2018, the consulting firm McKinsey & Company analyzed more than 100,000 executive-level design decisions across three hundred publicly held companies those with robust design-thinking processes had 32 percent higher revenues than their peers over a five-year period, and 56 percent higher shareholder returns.
Disability as an Engine of Innovation
Perhaps you’re reading this book with your phone by your side, checking your email whenever your attention drifts, tapping text messages to a friend. You sit at the end of a long line of inventions that might never have existed but for people with disabilities: the keyboard on your phone, the telecommunications lines it connects with, the inner workings of email. In 1808, Pellegrino Turri built the first typewriter so that his blind lover, Countess Carolina Fantoni da Fivizzano, could write letters more legibly. In 1872, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone to support his work helping the deaf. And in 1972, Vint Cerf programmed the first email protocols for the nascent internet. He believed fervently in the power of electronic letters, because electronic messaging was the best way to communicate with his wife, who was deaf, while he was at work.
Perhaps one day someone will write a history of the internet in which that great series of tubes will emerge not as some miracle of technical progress meant to connect people faster and easier but rather a chain of inventions each meant to help more and more types of people to better communicate. But the most critical piece of the history will be this: Disability is so often an engine of innovation simple because humans will invent ways to satisfy their needs, no matter their limitations.
In setting the Imagineers on a pedestal apart from operations, Walt had created a model common across countless companies today, in which innovation is viewed as a function owned by an anointed few, rather than an emergent property of the system.
As cognitive psychologists and human-factor researchers began inventing better and better solutions to hand off control between pilot and machine, they noticed a worrying dynamic: As planes became more automated, the pilots themselves were less and less practised in flying their planes …
The automation paradox suggests that as machines make things easier for us—as they take more friction from our daily life— they leave us less able to do things we once took for granted.
Rosenstein brought up the idea of a Hegelian dialectic— the idea that society creates a thesis that’s met with a reaction, then an antithesis that amends that prior paradigm, and finally a synthesis, which resolves the tension between the two.
As Michael Margolis, a user-experience partner at Google Ventures is fond of saying, “Treat your competitors as your first prototypes.” Take advantage of all the effort that some designers have put into their work and learn from it.
Jakob’s Law: “Users spend most of their time on other sites. This means that users prefer your site to work the same way as all the other sites they already know.”
In the 1920s, the Soviet psychiatrist Bluma Wulfovna Zeigarnik conducted a study in which she found that uncompleted tasks are easier to remember than successful ones, a discovery known as the Zeigarnik effect.
After reading Bob Odenkirk’s memoir I wanted to try another, reportedly better, one. It didn’t disappoint. Short and funny with the right amount of detail. I recognised a range of comedy setups that I now realise must have been inspired by Steve’s act in the 70s.
A dense book filled largely with the dull daily activities of a once-prestigious family in pre-war Japan. I found it realistic and captivating at times, especially when tracking the formal matchmaking process and protocols of the time. There’s a thread of disease and illness throughout the book that seeps into the characters existence in ways I didn’t appreciate until the end. Glad I stuck with it but it was a slog at times.
I checked a few reviews before I started this short story collection by William Gibson and a few noted that the final, eponymous, story was the best of the bunch. Reading it I was a little underwhelmed. But reading around it I learned that it was the first use of the word cyberspace back in 1982. This put the whole collection in perspective – forty years later what was once novel is now routine.
My select favourites from this collection include:
The Belonging Kind: a pseudo-noir tale of sleuthing and cybernetics.
Hinterlands: an unsettling space exploration story
An interesting complement to The Candy House with dovetailing characters introduced in each chapter adding to the main party of protagonists. In this thinly-described pseudo-dystopia the idea of nationality is almost foreign. Language is a gloopy tool for expression and nothing and nobody are quite as they appear.
This short novel was dreamlike, lyrical and captivating.
I enjoyed this although it didn’t have the same impact as Goon Squad. The core conceit of wildly overlapping characters was satisfying and the email thread chapter was a gleeful highlight. I found a few of the individual character chapters reminded me of Douglas Coupland short stories where things fizzle out with either mild unease or surprising resolution.
A bit of comfort audio whilst recovering from the dreaded Coronavirus. Michael Palin is eternally affable, unflappable and overwhelmingly amiable. It’s strange reading a travelogue from over 20 years ago, a strange snapshot from a distant place and time.
Okay, okay this is the first and last time management/productivity book I’ll read this year. But it’s pretty good! An antidote to the others, Burkeman describes the sheer finite nature of our time on this planet and makes recommendations to overcome the fatigue of overflowing todo lists.
Decline to clear the decks
Make it a conscious decision to “tolerate the discomfort” of less important tasks building up while you focus on the most important things.
The measure of any time management technique is: “Does it help you neglect the right things?” To take a phrase from financial planning you should pay yourself first and prioritise the things you want to do over the less important things you feel you should be doing.
Pitfalls of convenience
We have a dependence on technology that makes it convenient to eat, travel and live. Silicon Valley builds products to remove pain points but it’s the brokenness of everyday processes that make us human. By relying on technology to make every process smooth we remove the delicate social threads binding a network together, binding a neighbourhood together.
David Cain on happenstance
I happen to be alive, and there’s no cosmic law entitling me to that status. Being alive is just happenstance, and not one more day of it is guaranteed.
Make a list of the top twenty-five things that are most important to you. Top five are the crucial use of your time, discard the rest as they are just a distraction.
“Core ingredient of the modern soul.”
Develop a taste for having problems
Embrace radical incrementalism; focus on brief, regular actions over trying to do too much at once
Originality lies on the far side of unoriginality, “stay on the fucking bus!”
Time is a “network good”
Value is derived from how many others have access to it too. Same for phones and social media networks.
Chain of centennial lifespans
35 to Egyptians
20 to Jesus
5 to Henry VIII
60 for all humans
We look after ourselves to give the best chances of staying alive. This is in contrast to our sheer insignificance.
Five questions to consider
Where are you pursuing comfort when you should pursue discomfort? Choose uncomfortable enlargement over comfortable diminishment.
Are you holding yourself to standards of productivity and performance that are impossible to meet?
In what ways have you accepted who you are, not who you think you ought to be?
What areas are you holding back until you feel like you know what you’re doing?
Without worrying about actions reaching fruition, how would you spend your days? Do the next and most necessary thing.
Use open/closed todo lists
Set pre-determined time boundaries
Focus on one big project at a time
Strategic underachievement (decide what to fail at)
This book was fantastic. A deep dive into how people self-justify their actions and the cognitive dissonance they are comfortable living with.
The guiding metaphor of this book has been the pyramid of choice: As soon as people make a decision, whether reasoned or impulsive, they will change their attitudes to conform to that choice and start minimizing or dismissing any information suggesting they chose the wrong option.
more you imagine something, the more confident you become that it really happened—and the more likely you are to inflate it into an actual memory, adding details as you go
Benevolent Dolphin Problem
A fun shorthand example for confirmation bias.
There are stories of dolphins helping nudge shipwrecked humans to safety. To accept this as evidence they like humans we would need to know about cases where dolphins have caused harm and, ultimately, have killed humans. But
We don’t know about those cases because the swimmers don’t live to tell us about their evil-dolphin experiences.
At its core, therefore, science is a form of arrogance control.
We can all understand why victims would want to retaliate. But retaliation often makes the original perpetrators minimize the severity and harm of their side’s actions and claim the mantle of victim themselves, thereby setting in motion a cycle of oppression and revenge. “Every successful revolution,” observed the historian Barbara Tuchman, “puts on in time the robes of the tyrant it has deposed.” Why not? The victors, former victims, feel justified.
Short and sweet, the core few concepts in this book resonated with me and have clear applications in sales. The title and main conceit is a touch misogynistic, sure, but the author isn’t the first to recommend speaking to someone unfamiliar with a topic to gauge quality.
A recent New York Magazine article about the late “anarchic anthropologist” David Graeber, notes the use of his mother Ruth as an influence on his work:
Ruth herself never went to college. She was a constant reader, however, and years later, she was the audience her son kept in mind when he wrote. Graeber, Leve recalls, used to say that “if he understood something, he should be able to write it in a way that would be accessible and interesting to her.”
My main takeaway is that it’s easy to lead people to say the things they think you want to hear.
The Mom Test
Rules of The Mom Test:
Talk about their life instead of your idea
Ask about specifics in the past instead of generics or opinions about the future
Talk less and listen more
It’s easy to get someone emotional about a problem if you lead them there.
Good questions about them:
“Who else should I talk to?”
“Where does the money come from?”
Avoiding bad data
Anchor fluff - “tell me about the last time this happened”
Dig beneath opinions, ideas, requests, and emotions
“Venture capitalists are described as professional judges of the future” – I like that.
Sometimes people will discuss a problem that irritates them but they would have no intent of buying a solution to that problem.
that person is a complainer, not a customer. They’re stuck in the la-la-land of imagining they’re the sort of person who finds clever ways to solve the petty annoyances of their day.
It’s recommended to cut off pitches as early as possible:
Being pitchy is the dark side of the “seeking approval” coin. Instead of inviting compliments by being vulnerable, you’re demanding them by being annoying. It’s when you hold someone hostage and won’t let them leave until they’ve said they like your idea. Normally, compliments are well-intentioned. In this case, they’re just trying to get you out of their office. “Won’t-take-no-for-an-answer” is generally a good quality for a founder to have. But when it creeps into a conversation that’s meant to be about learning, it works against you.
Asking important questions
Avoid prematurely zooming – that is getting into the weeds hearing what you want to hear.
When you fall into a premature zoom, you can waste a ton of time figuring out the minutia of a trivial problem. Even if you learn everything there is to know about that particular problem, you still haven’t got a business
If you ask When he talked to farmers, he asked questions like, “Would you switch trackers if something cheaper and more effective was available?” That’s the same as asking someone whether they would like more money.
Commitment and advancement
It’s on you to get a commitment. This can take many forms:
Clear next meeting with known goals
Sitting down to give feedback on wireframes
Using a trial of the product for a non-trivial period
Reputation risk commitments:
Intro to peers or team
Intro to a decision maker (boss, spouse, lawyer)
Giving a public testimonial or case study
Letter of intent (non-legal but gentlemanly agreement to purchase)
Good rule of thumb:
It’s not a real lead until you’ve given them a concrete chance to reject you.
The author discusses some strategies to talk to potential customers about your idea.
Unless your plan is to sell your app via cold calls, the rejection rate is irrelevant.
Strategy for conversations is summarised as Vision / Framing / Weakness / Pedestal / Ask
Don’t mention your product, just your vision:
You’re an entrepreneur trying to solve horrible problem X, usher in wonderful vision Y, or fix stagnant industry Z.
mention what stage you’re at and, if it’s true, that you don’t have anything to sell.
give them a chance to help by mentioning the specific problem that you’re looking for answers on. This will also clarify that you’re not a time waster.
Put them on a pedestal:
show how much they, in particular, can help. Explicitly ask for help.
In terms of mindset, don’t go into these discussions looking for customers. It creates a needy vibe and forfeits the position of power. Instead, go in search of industry and customer advisors. You are just trying to find helpful, knowledgable people who are excited about your idea.
Running the process
When all the customer learning is stuck in someone’s head instead of being disseminated to the rest of the team, you’ve got a learning bottleneck. Avoid creating (or being) the bottleneck. To do that, the learning must be shared with the entire founding team promptly and faithfully, which depends on good notes plus a bit of pre- and post-meeting work.
You’re never going to be perfect, but it always helps to be better.
I’ve been picking this up every other week since I was gifted it last Christmas and I finally finished it with a burst of completionism. It’s a beautiful curation of Japanese short stories from between 1898 and 2014 translated to English. I enjoyed all of them with the exception of the gory “Patriotism” by Mishima Yukio.
It was so rewarding to read each short story before flipping back to the commentary from Murakami. I now have a much deeper appreciation for Japanese literature and will definitely seek out some of the further reading.
Here are my favourite short stories in this collection:
Kono Taeko – In the Box
This is a story of a petty grudge and sheer irrational behaviour. I loved it for the lack of explanation and the domestic yet unpredictable setting.
Natsume Soseki – Sanshiro, Chapter 1
A strangely nostalgic tale of transition to a big city.
Tanizaki Jun’ichiro – The Story of Tomoda and Matsunaga
The book starts with this novella of sorts: a mildly unbelievable but alluring mystery that slowly unravels.
Genji Keita – Mr English
I enjoyed just how mundane this story was. A tale of work politics and salarymen.
Betsuyaku Minoru – Factory Town
An allegory with a plausible backbone. Written in 1973 but could have been published in the last decade.
Uchida Hyakken – Kudan
This short story was from the section entitled “Dread” and describes a Kafka-esque world of transfiguration and misunderstanding. Haunting.
Sawanishi Yuten – Filling Up with Sugar
An unsettling depiction of the decline of a relative to a fantastical disease. Pay close attention!
Seirai Yuichi – Insects
A heartbreaking account of the fallout from atomic warfare, wonderfully crafted and deeply evocative.
I was pretty cynical about this at first as I thought I’d heard it all before. I think this should be required reading for anyone working with data. I can’t shake that the injustices created by the use of data as described in this book are just the tip of the iceberg.
Just like with Humankind’s homo puppy I winced at the use of the WMD acronym, a purposefully overloaded term.
Three factors to systems deemed “Weapons of Math Destruction”
Opacity: Are the rules of the system transparent to those that are being judged and analysed?
Scale: Does the model have the capability to grow exponentially?
Damage: Is the model unfair? Does it have a “pernicious” feedback loop that only makes it more unfair?
Clopening is when a worker is scheduled to both close a location at night and then re-open it in the morning. This can be stressful and result in an erratic schedule for workers balancing a number of responsibilities.
A large amount of Facebook users believe the algorithm behind the scenes is just presenting factual information and isn’t tailored to them.
In 2013, when a University of Illinois researcher named Karrie Karahalios carried out a survey on Facebook’s algorithm, she found that 62 percent of the people were unaware that the company tinkered with the news feed. They believed that the system instantly shared everything they posted with all of their friends.
I wonder if this is still the case eight years later?
O’Neill uses the phrase “birds of a feather” a few times to discuss how members of the same social network will often behave in similar ways. One example is that they may click on the same ads on Facebook.
Some recidivism analyses use this concept and inadvertently encode bias by taking acquaintances, jobs and credit rating to predict behavior. This sort of data would be inadmissible in court.
Interesting dataset alert:
A few years ago, MIT researchers analyzed the behavior of call center employees for Bank of America to find out why some teams were more productive than others. They hung a so-called sociometric badge around each employee’s neck. The electronics in these badges tracked the employees’ location and also measured, every sixteen milliseconds, their tone of voice and gestures. It recorded when people were looking at each other and how much each person talked, listened, and interrupted. Four teams of call center employees—eighty people in total—wore these badges for six weeks.
The dialogue is a little clunky and I need to do some reading around Adlerism but there were quite a few “aha” moments for me in this book. It was a library loan but I picked up a copy to give myself more time with it.
Etiology is the study of causation while teleology is the story of the purpose of a given phenomenon, rather than it’s cause. In Adlerism we don’t think about past “causes” but instead about present “goals.”
Lifestyle is the tendencies of thought and action in life.
No matter what has occurred in your life up to this point, it should have no bearing at all on how you live from now on.
A life-lie is the state of coming up with all manner of pretexts in order to avoid life tasks. e.g. “I’m busy at work so I don’t have enough time to think about my family.”
Separation of Tasks
All problems are interpersonal relationship problems.
Adlerism denies the need to be recognized by others, one must not seek recognition. You are not living to satisfy other people’s expectations. Do not behave without regard for others – separation of tasks. All interpersional relationship troubles are caused by intruding on other people’s tasks, or having one’s own taks intruded on.
The life tasks of interpersonal relationships are:
“Tasks of work”
“Tasks of friendship”
“Tasks of love”
We need to think with the perspective of “Whose task is this?” and continually separate one’s own tasks from other people’s tasks.
Who ultimately is going to receive the result brought about by the choice that is made?
Intervening in other people’s tasks and taking on other people’s tasks turns one’s life into something heavy and full of hardship.
All you can do with regard to your own life is choose the best path that you believe in. On the other hand, what kind of judgment do other people pass on that choice? That is the task of other people, and is not a matter you can do anything about.
Horizontal and Vertical relationships
Horizontal relationships are relationships where members have equal standing whereas vertical relationships are those where one member has greater power, authority, knowledge or wisdom over the other.
Don’t praise or rebuke: praise is passing judgement from someone with ability to someone with no ability. By praising we are making vertical relationships, not horizontal ones. All healthy relationships should be horizontal.
The more one is praised by another person, the more one believes they have no ability.
Go from praise to gratitude.
When Adler refers to community, he goes beyond the household, school, workplace, and local society, and treats it as all inclusive, covering not only nations and all of humanity but also the entire axis of time from the past to the future.
The scope of community is infinite! People are never truly alone or separated from community and cannot be.
You must consider yourself part of the community rather than the centre of the world. The goal of personal interpersonal relationships is a feeling of community. Use separation of tasks to “unravel the threads of the complex entanglement of one’s interpersonal relations.”
When running into difficulties in interpersonal relationships, one should zoom out and “listen to the voice of the larger community.”
Life is a series of moments called now, not a linear map from birth to the top of the mountain.
Think of this as a line drawn with pencil, if you magnify enough it’s made up of tiny dots. These are the now.
A very readable, refreshing look at human nature. I didn’t expect to enjoy this quite so much. The author covers a fascinating array of studies and historical examples to show that, contrary to popular belief, people tend towards being good.
I cringe a little at the repeated reference to homo puppy – the moniker given to the empathetic humans we evolved to be.
Availability Bias: if we can easily recall examples of a given thing, we assume that thing is relatively common.
It’s suspected that, across history, the vast majority of soldiers never actually fire their weapons.
There are many examples of studies that were skewed by the researchers to be more divisive and shocking. This includes the Stanford Prison Experiment and Milgram’s shock machine.
Nocebo: Tell someone that they may experience symptoms from a harmless substance and they likely will feel those symptoms. Self-fulfilling diagnosis.
Pygmalion Effect: beliefs we’re devoted to – whether they’re true or imagined – can likewise come to life, effecting very real change in the world.
Golem Effect: when we have negative expectations around someone we distance ourselves from them. This will lead to poorer performance by that person. Negative expectation can result in negative results.
Participatory budgets are used by some governments to allow citizens to have a direct input into the budget process for their municipality. These have been shown to improve engagement, inclusion, trust and transparency.
Alaska has a “Permanent Fund Dividend” – unconditional money for citizens that fosters trust and ultimately reduces poverty.
The author takes a dim view on the Broken Windows theory and highlights many criticisms and negative impacts of the application of the theory in policing.
Ten Rules to Live by
When in doubt, assume the best
Think in win-win scenarios
Ask more questions
Temper your empathy, train your compassion
Try to understand the other, even if you don’t get where they’re coming from
Love your own as others love their own
Avoid the news
Don’t punch Nazis
Come out of the closet: don’t be ashamed to do good
Reading them in quick succession it’s hard not to blend the worlds of Project Hail Mary, Three-Body Problem and Ministry for the Future into one. Speculative near-future fiction with climate overtones, spaceships and a hope for cooperation between the entire human race.
The main character in this jarred on me at first but reading around I appreciate that Weir’s “gee-whiz” schoolteacher is a tongue-in-cheek inversion of the sweary protagonists of his previous books.
Really enjoyed this, appreciated the thorough science, twists and dedication to an idea.
The best translations into English do not, in fact, read as if they were originally written in English. The English words are arranged in such a way that the reader sees a glimpse of another culture’s patterns of thinking, hears an echo of another language’s rhythms and cadences, and feels a tremor of other people’s gestures and movements.
A book of two halves. I loved the first part as Newport described how email overtook as the dominant communication method for businesses, despite being inferior to traditional methods.
A misjudged reference to The Tragedy of the Commons marked the beginning of the book’s decline. The author describes common Kanban tools, provides some introspection on writing the book and finishes by rattles off a few productivity life hacks.
The bits I liked the most echoed Newport’s advice in Deep Work and Digital Minimalism.
Technological Determinism happens when we allow technology to control how we act and behave
I wasn’t sure at first but this turned out to be a good listen. Lots of helpful considerations for successful transactional conversations. One undercurrent in the book was that a strong negotiation strategy is simply to buy time and extract information from your “counterpart” to aid the process of reaching an agreement.
Labelling is an interesting idea. Effectively calling out something for what it is without ascribing blame.
It seems that …
I think you …
Harks back to non-violent communication with the aim of being as non-judgemental as possible.
Similarly I liked the example Voss gave of showing contrition early if you’ve done something wrong. Getting ahead of the situation and keeping in control.
Mirroring is a remarkable active listening device with a clear benefit.
Voss recommends leaning into the conflict that’s at the core of any negotiation and to see it as a collaborative process to reach agreement.
Calibrated questions should be used early and often in negotiations. Voss’s favorite is the oft-repeated
How am I supposed to do that?
but any open question that draws information out of your counterpart is worth using. Questions starting with “how” or “what” will spark a cooperation for both sides to agree.
I had high hopes for this book at the start but my enthusiasm waned towards the end. The optimism of the spunky, tech-savvy protagonist and ease in which he could achieve his goals soon grew weary as the mystery slotted into place.
I was surprised how much the book aligned with my interests, in particular data visualization, typography and cryptography. It reminds me there are many people interested in the intersection of these topics.
The fawning Google-worship proved too much. The undeserved, magic code-breaking scene betrayed what is otherwise a reasonable “hard” science fiction fantasy book. The fantasy-novel-in-a-novel failed to escape it’s use as a plot device and a vehicle for some cringe-worthy geekery. Oblique references to Harry Potter were apt considering the author’s fondness for Dumbledore-adjacent names.
All that being said I did enjoy this and I’m not sure why I’m being so harsh. The book just seemed to go off-the-rails a third of the way through and never recovered.
My recent reading list tracks Tom Macwright’s closely, mainly because I see he’s rated something with five stars so I go to the library website to add it to my holds. But I forget to pause the hold until some reasonable date in the future, the book arrives at the library and – bam – I start it in earnest.
This book hooked me. The sharp character observations along with the grey areas of intent and purpose made it a magnetic read. I respect the ending but it felt a little unresolved.
This was really good. A very clear, cogent take on the craft of writing. It almost made me want to start writing a novel.
… I’m sure all writers feel pretty much the same, no matter what their skill and success level: God, if only I were in the right writing environment, with the right understanding people, I just KNOW I could be penning my masterpiece
In truth, I’ve found that any day’s routine interruptions and distractions don’t much hurt a work in progress and may actually help it in some ways. It is, after all, the dab of grit that seeps into an oyster’s shell that makes the pearl, not pearl-making seminars with other oysters. And the larger the work looms in my day—the more it seems like an I hafta instead of just an I wanna—the more problematic it can become.
I don’t have any plans to interview anyone but this was a good read on the things to consider if I ever do. The tone was a touch smug at times but it was a breezy read with plenty of anecdotes to help it flow.
Finding a way in
Nelson suggests finding something unusual that proves you have done your research and shows the interviewee that they are in safe hands. One example digs into the craft – Nelson asked about a particularly long sentence in something Gay Talese had written. Looks like it’s reproduced in this article.
Heat and Like
Heat for heat’s sake or heat for light’s sake
This is referenced a few times, the first time as quoted from Chris Wallace. I really like it. “Heat for heat’s sake” is something that’s pleases an audience. I liken it to virality online and pushing for controversy. “Heat for light’s sake,” however, is the process of “making things a little bit difficult for the object of your scrutiny in order to really try to help the audience understand.”
In my comparison to online discourse this would be drawing attention to something in a non-confrontational way for the purposes of greater awareness.
Unsurprisingly open questions are lauded as important devices for getting good answers from interviewers.
What kind of father were you?
What do you think?
There are also lots of examples of asking questions that you already know the answer to in order to keep in control of the interview. This is a powerful technique when combined with the knowledge you’ve learned “on backround.” But if you don’t know then stick to open questions:
Did it change you in some way? How so?
Always end an interview in this way
“Can you tell me the exact spelling of your name”
This is a surprising question to most and even if someone has a “conventional” name confirming regardless will ensure that the printed result won’t upset them in some way. At the least you will prove that you’re thorough.
“Is there anything I should have asked you that I didn’t ask?”
Give your source a chance to tell you something that they were hesitating to bring up.
“Who else should I talk to?”
I love this because it’s all about referrals and loops. “There’s always someone who knows more, someone behind the scenes, someone who isn’t quoted or sought out very often.”
“May I contact you later once I write this in case I need some more information or clarification?”
Leaving the door open with a source is likely to pay off in the future.
As per Anne Lamott,
each of us has a hundred dollars of creativity to spend each day. How will we spend that hundred dollars? If we just have two hours available to write today, we could spend some of that time on the internet […] Then we can focus on getting our work done—wisely spending the remaining dollars.
You can’t bank this money, “You get a hundred dollars today”
The interview is not about you
Above all a good interviewer leaves their ego at the door. An interview is not about the interviewer. In the same vein one should learn to be comfortable with silence if it helps draw out interesting details from a source.
An audience with…
When interviewing and unsure about your source you should consider your audience and try and focus on one person in particular. Consider what they would want to know from this source and take away from the interview. This holds for all writing.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It opened my eyes to the new realities of climate change but matched those realities with some thought-provoking, optimistic steps we could take in the future.
I found myself marking lots of pages with interesting ideas and collated them below.
The Gini coefficient is a measure of income or wealth disparity in a population, typically given as a fraction between 0 and 1.
0 is the coefficient if everyone owned an equal amount, 1 is for if one person owned everything and everyone else nothing.
The Gini coefficient for the whole world’s population is higher than for any individual countries as there are so many more poor people in the world. It’s roughly 0.7 for the world.
Monocausotaxophilia is the love of single ideas that explain everything – “one of humanity’s most common cognitive errors.” The Gini coefficient is a good example of this, some countries have the same coefficient despite a large difference in the average annual income. We should consider the spread between the richest and the poor.
Foreshortening is a common perceptual distortion.
When standing under a cliff in the mountains and looking up at it, the cliff always appears to be about the same height—say a thousand feet or so. … Only when you get miles away […] can you actually see the immense height …
Other cognitive errors include “anchor bias (you want to stick to your first estimate or what you have been told) and ease of representation (you think an explanation you can understand is more likely to be true than one you can’t).”
The book mentions an “excellent circular graphic display of cognitive errors” – it could be this graphic but it doesn’t quite match the description.
Another one from later in the book is the “availability heuristic,” in which you feel that what is real is what you know.
Hebrew tradition speaks of those hidden good people who keep the world from falling apart, the Tzadikim Nistarium, the hidden righteous ones. In some versions they are thirty-six in number, and thus are called the Lamed-Vav Tzadikim, the thirty-six righteous ones.
They emerge and act when needed to save their people before sinking back into anonymity. They are exemplars of humility, if someone were to proclaim himself to be one of the Lamed-Vav, this would be proof that actually he was not. The Lamed-Vav are generally too modest to believe they could be one of these special actors.
The stories of secret actors are the secret action
The Jevons paradox is that increases in efficiency in the use of a resource lead to an overall increase in the use of that resource, not a decrease. Originally written in reference to the history of the use of coal.
At this point it is naïve to expect that technological improvements alone will slow the impacts of growth and reduce the burden on the biosphere.
2,000 Watt Society
The 2000-watt society is an environmental vision, first introduced in 1998 by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich (ETH Zurich), which pictures the average First World citizen reducing their overall average primary energy usage rate to no more than 2,000 watts (i.e. 2 kWh per hour or 48 kWh per day) by the year 2050, without lowering their standard of living.
The book posits a carbon coin, or carboni, a cryptocurrency backed by central banks to reward and promote ecological actions. I’d like to learn more about this potential for cryptocurrencies, it sounds fascinating.
Some of us talked about the bathtub graph. People doing dangerous things make mistakes when they’re first learning it, and then when they’ve known it forever. Theses were the two periods with higher rates of accidents, while the in-between was a stretch of low accidents.
One pathologicial reaction, a form of avoidance, has been called The Masque of the Red Death Syndrome, after the story by Edgar Allan Poe. In the story, a group of privileged aristocrats, isolated in a castle on a peak above a countryside devastated by a plague, stage a masquerade to distract themselves, or to display indifference or defiance to their eventual fate.
A silent masked stranger then appears and stalks through the party, and few readers are surprised when this stranger turns out to be death itself.
Even more extreme pathological responses to biosphere collapse are possible and have been observed. Some who feel the end is near work to hasten it, or worsen it.
Götterdämmerung Syndrome ~ the Goddamning of the world or “twilight of the gods.”
Shorting civilization & assorted quotes
Yes. You can short civilization if you want. Not a bad bet really. But no one to pay you if you win. Whereas if you go long on civilization and civilization (therefore) survives, you win big. So the smart move is to go long.
You could literally fill a medium-sized encylopedia with the good new projects already invented and waiting to scale.
Are your machines learning?
Data mining tells us things we wouldn’t have known unless we did it. That could be called artificial intelligence but it’s what we used to call science. What we have really is computer-assisted science. Best to call it that. It’s getting stronger. But we have to figure out what to do with it.
Mail delivered by Lions
Charles Fourier was a French utopian with followers in France and America. There were communes based on his ideas. For him the animals were very important—they were going to join us and become a big part of civilization.
So at one point he says, The mail will be delivered by lions.
After a cursory look online I can’t find anything about this but it’s a nice idea.
I listened to this on audiobook and loved the thinly-veiled contempt throughout. Lamott had a world-weary, bitter outlook on many aspects of writing so it was remarkable how inspiring I found the book in it’s totality.
Writing is labour, any other idea is romantic
I need to bring up radio station KFKD, or K-Fucked, here….If you are not careful, station KFKD will play in your head twenty-four hours a day, nonstop, in stereo.
Out of the right speaker in your inner ear will come the endless stream of self-aggrandizement, the recitation of one’s specialness, of how much more open, and gifted and brilliant and knowing and misunderstood and humble one is.
Out of the left speaker will be the rap songs of self-loathing, the lists of all the things one doesn’t do well, of all the mistakes one has made today and over an entire lifetime, the doubt, the assertion that everything one touches turns to shit, that one doesn’t do relationships well, that one is in every way a fraud, incapable of selfless love, that one has no talent or insight, and on and on and on.
My friend Carpenter talks about the unconscious as the cellar where the little boy sits who creates the characters, and he hands them up to you through the cellar door. He might as well be cutting out paper dolls. He’s peaceful; he’s just playing.