Category Archives: ideas

A great introduction to Bayes’ Theorem and how it relates to COVID-19

You may have heard references to Bayes’ Theorem in light of the pandemic and wondered how it is relevant. Well I am here to help. First off, here’s a great guide to Bayes’ Theorem from the website MathIsFun.com. Even if you are math phobic, I think you will be able to read that piece and understand it. Secondly, check out the site Varsity and how it explains how Bayes’ Theorem and COVID-19 testing are related. Both are well worth a read.

Learn Bayes’ Theorem. It’s good to help you understand many things in life, including what is happening during the pandemic.

P.S. This related piece at FT.com  explains why you should expect to see vaccinated people in the hospital with covid despite high vaccination rates.

On prisons and prisoners and how things can be improved

Here are three pieces on prison and incarceration that I thought were worth reading:

  1. Here’s some technology to help identify discrepancies in prison sentencing based on race.
  2. Here’s how California jails take a kinder and better approach.
  3. Here’s how artists teamed with prisoners to transform their prison.

(Image linked to in the third piece)

On progress: may you live in average times that are getting better in many ways


Matthew Yglesias wrote this piece here and it did not go over too well: The case against crisis-mongering. I mainly agree with him, that our world problems, dire as they are, aren’t as exceptional as we may think. Or as Dan G put it on twitter:

What Dan states is my worldview as well. There are still many bad things in the world, but there is progress and things are getting better.  We have overcome problems in the past and we have the ability to fix things in the future. Plus the past was terrible in many ways and so much worse than now (and our times will look terrible to people in the future).

If you disagree with this, I strongly recommend two books:

  1. Factfulness
  2. Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future

They make the case stronger than I can for how the world is getting better and how we should be optimistic despite our difficulties.

People will say: what about global warming? The pandemic? Nuclear weapons? All I can say is read Matt’s piece and then read those books. I think that will help alot.

(Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash )

 

 

 

On the rise and fall and unlikely rise of QR codes


I’ve been a fan of QR codes for a decade. Back then I wrote about how they could be used to tag everything from trees and medic alert bracelets to IOT devices. I thought the sky was the limit for them. I was wrong.

Until this year. As Clive Thompson writes here, the pandemic has been a game changer in causing the resurgence of QR codes. I am glad to see that.

I’d still like to see QR codes everywhere. It would be a way of connecting the virtual world to the real world. Cities could tag streets and neighborhood with QR codes to allow you to get a glimpse of context into where you are standing. If a new building is being built, put a QR code on a sign out front that links to a web site providing greater detail on it. As for historic buildings, why not put a QR code on them that links to their wikipedia page describing the historical significance. Anyway, lots of ways QR codes could enhance our understanding of the world.

Here’s hoping they are here to stay, providing us a way to better navigate our world.

(Photo by Rebecca Hausner on Unsplash )

Some food for thought on a Saturday


Often I find links that are interesting but I don’t have anything especially interesting to say about them, other than I thought they were worthwhile reading.  Here are 30 of them for this month. As the image says, you may get lots of your own ideas from reading the ideas of others:

  1. Philosophy by Susan Rigetti
  2. Moral grandstanding in public discourse: Status-seeking motives as a potential explanatory mechanism in predicting conflic
  3. The Five Types of Personal Boundaries (and How to Set Them)
  4. One simple way to build someone’sconfidence: Ask for their advice
  5. Are We Trading Our Happiness for Modern Comforts?
  6. The Stoic Antidote to Frustration: Marcus Aurelius on How to Keep Your Mental Composure and Emotional Equanimity When People Let You Down
  7. Imagination is the sixth sense. Be careful how you use it
  8. Jeff Bezos Faces Down The Overview EffectIn Space
  9. Joseph Landry sentenced to seven years in jail for death of Dartmouth friend in 2018
  10. We‚are Learning the Wrong Lessons From the World’s Happiest Countries
  11. Even if You Think Discussing Aliens Is Ridiculous Just Hear Me Out
  12. Years You Have Left to Live Probably
  13. Desire paths: the illicit trails that defy the urban planners
  14. Other People’s Despair – Mending the Social Fabric Won’t Fix the Suicide Crisis
  15. Stop Doomscrolling and Grab a Game Controller Instead
  16. How to Separate Your Identity From Your Behavior (and Why You Should)
  17. The Blackfoot Wisdom that Inspired Maslow’sHierarchy
  18. I Miss My Bar – Recreate Your Favorite Bar’s Atmosphere
  19. At Talkspace Start-Up Culture Collides With Mental Health Concerns
  20. Emotional labor
  21. Biblical and Greek Ambivalence Towards Child Sacrifice – TheTorah.com
  22. Cream of the Crop: 8 Architecture Firms Leading the Urban Farming Revolution
  23. The necessity of Kripke
  24. Why Emotionally Intelligent People Embrace the 2-Way Door Rule to Make Better Faster Decisions
  25. How does Google’s monopoly hurt you? Try these searches.
  26. Effective altruism is logical but too unnatural to catch on
  27. Darkness is the absence of recognition
  28. A Checklist Before Dying
  29. Empires pandemics and the economic future of the West
  30. The Bus Ticket Theory of Genius

(Photo by CJ Dayrit on Unsplash)

Two good pieces for those of us getting older (with some additional thoughts from me).

People runningHere’s two worthwhile pieces on growing old:

This, Fighting against ageism and this, Aging is inevitable, so why not do it joyfully? Here’s how.

How we see growing old is a cultural thing. When I first went to pick out a photo, I decided on the first one of the man running. Because I am a product of my culture, as they say. I see being fit and young and productive as valuable.  Especially in our culture, being able to produce is highly valued. That’s why ageism occurs. If you show signs of age, people assume you will produce less. So your value decreases to them.

Then I saw the picture below. In other cultures, being able to sit and converse with your friends is valuable. These people are not being productive. They are not trying to look young. They are being social. They are being human.

Old people talking

I think we have problems in our society because for many the chief purpose of humans is to produce, to be productive. As long as that is true, we will have problems with ageism. True, we need times of our life to be productive, but we also need times for growth, times for rest and reflection. To combine all those times effectively is to live a good life. A life where all humans at all times of their lives are valued.

(First Photo by Lisa Wall on Unsplash. Second Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash )

Haiti and the Dominican Republic: a case study as to why results are never monocausal

Dominoes

People like to think outcomes, especially political or social outcomes, are monocausal. They’ll say: Y happened because X occurred.

I think that is rarely true. At best, X could be the main contributor as to why Y occurred. But it is never the only contributor. Often it is not even possible to determine which cause made the most difference. Most outcomes are not monocausal.

A good case study for this can be found in this essay on Haiti vs. the Dominican Republic – by Noah Smith.People will often say the main contributor to Haiti’s poverty was French colonialism or American intervention. Smith makes the case there are many factors that contributed to the significant differences between the two nations and it is not easy or even possible to single out one cause.

The next time someone tries to argue for single causes, look deeper. You’ll like find at least a half different other factors that contributed. People who can highlight multiple causes for an event understand the event better.

(Photo by Tamara Gak on Unsplash )

The lie within resilience

There is a lie within resilience. Not just the letters themselves: there is a falsehood included in the concept.

The lie is that if you are resilient, you snap back. You recover. You regain what you lost. This is what I have thought. I believed that.

After every one of the many setbacks I have suffered over the last decade I have told myself that I am resilient. Even my doctor told me that I was the most resilient people she had ever met. Every time I thought that, I thought: I will come back. I will recover. I will be who I was.

I don’t believe that any more. I don’t think resilient people recover. You may not break, but you can no longer come back to what you were. You turn into something else. Something misshapen. You become like a piece of paper than is crumpled up and then flattened out: you are never the same as you were before the crumpling. Never as good.

I am sure some people can comeback from setbacks. But if you get enough of them, even when the thing that crumpled your life goes away, you can never go back to the way you once were. You’re ruined.

A brilliantly visual way to learn philosophy

This site, www.denizcemonduygu.com/philo/browse,  is a fantastic way to learn more about philosophy. It lists out the major world philosophers, several of their key ideas, and how these ideas link to ideas of other philosophers.

It is a brilliant use of visualization software, too.

One thing: it can be hard to navigate at first. To make it easier, go to the Menu in the top right and then you can browse and search more easily.

(Photo by Alex Block on Unsplash )

Four pieces on Mary Oliver

You could do worse on a Sunday than read about Mary Oliver. Here’s four pieces on her from various parts of the Web:

I don’t have much to add other than that Mary Oliver is a fine person and her poetry is great and reading her and reading about her may make your life better. That’s all.

On fonts, old and new, and other design choices of St. JOHN

I’ve been thinking about fonts recently. Mainly I’ve been thinking why I love the font used by the restaurant St. JOHN so much.  I came to a conclusion after I read this piece, 60 free sans serif fonts to give your designs a modern touch, and came across this opening:

It is universally acknowledged that most contemporary designs require a versatile sans serif font. Sans serif fonts, as you might already know, are the fonts with no projecting lines at the ends. While serif fonts are known to be more traditional, sans serif fonts bring that much needed modernistic touch to the design.

That was it! When I think of modern and new, I think of thin sans serif fonts. And I am tired of modern and new for everything. Sometimes I want substantial, classic, traditional. The font for St. JOHN embodies that. It’s a chunky fat Serif font. The name itself is almost all capital letters. It is very different than the modern in that regard.

While their font is very traditional, in other ways, St. JOHN is very modern. There is a minimalism to the rest of their design, a minimalism of their design and decor is very modern indeed. To see what I mean, visit their web site (or better still, their establishments) and you will see what I mean.

And that’s perhaps what I love best about them: they mix in the best of what is old and traditional with what is new and modern and stride both worlds. It’s no easy feat, and yet they do it so well.

Ponoko: a great site for entrepreneurs and other makers wishing to implement physical designs

If you’ve ever thought of starting a business making physical objects, then you should check out thePonoko site. They can take your designs and transform them into physical materials from plastic to metal. Sure 3D printing is great for some things, but if you want to work with a great range of materials, check them out.

Click here to see some of the success stories of makers who have used their services. One of them is this very appropriate story in these pandemic times: Redesigning The Intubation Box To Better Protect First Responders

(Image above is of the intubation box and is a link to an image on their site.)

On the physical representation of the world in one object

The ball you see above is a time ball. As this Kotttke post explains:

Women from the Yakama Native American tribe used strings of hemp as personal diaries. Each major event in their life was represented by a knot, a bead or a shell. This mnemonic device is called an Ititamat, or counting-the-days ball, or simply time ball.

In these days where more and more is digital, I love that an object like the time ball can represent a life so well.

Perhaps you have something like this in your life. A diary, perhaps. Or a photo album. Or a collection of small objects that represent your life. Whatever it is, it is something worth treasuring, just like our lives are worth treasuring.

If you don’t have something like this, perhaps it’s time you do. Your life has value and is worth representing.

For more on this, see his post.

The best form of government, according to Branko Milanović

This is an interesting view of government, and I recommend you read it:
Branko Milanović – Governments of limited vice | Brave New Europe

When I first read it, I found it fascinating. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that what he is partially arguing for is moderate government. If governments get extreme one way or another, terrible things happen to their citizens.

The other benefit of this approach is that governments can adjust to what is a vice they have to crack down on, because the citizenry’s view of vice changes. Sometimes people stop considering certain acts vices. Or they downplay the harm such vices do. When this happens, governments of limited vice can back off and permit people the freedom to act a certain way.  For much of the 20th century the province of Ontario had a film censor board, and they cut out scenes they thought were offensive.  Now it’s been scraped. Once people were arrested for buying marijuana in Ontario: now the government provides guidance on how to purchase it. Governments of limited vice are moving the boundaries all the times, often due to the effort of the people who do not agree with the boundaries, and think society would be better with different boundaries.

There will always be a form of government. Governments of limited vice may be the best of them all.

(Photo by Rythik on Unsplash )

Making your organization more inclusive


I’ve always been a fan of Chatelaine magazine for its content. Now I am also a fan of them for working to build a more inclusive Chatelaine. That link shows the many ways they aim for and measure their inclusiveness. Any organization wanting to be more  inclusive should look to them for ideas and approaches.

The link also shows the limits or obstacles any one organization has in becoming more inclusive. A smaller organization can only scale out so far, and there is always more to include than is sometimes possible. But by aiming high, they have achieved much. I’m hopeful that they will try and do more, and other organizations following their example can do more too. Inclusivity spread over more organizations leads to greater inclusion for all.  That’s a great thing.

(Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash)

What solitary confinement teaches us


Solitary confinement is terrible. Most people confined this way for a stretch are badly affected by it. A few manage to come out of it better. It’s their stories that are told in this piece: How to Survive Solitary Confinement

The people that managed ok tend to have grit and the ability to make their minds work in a way to defeat being alone and confined. To see what I mean, read the piece. It can help you in some way if you are feeling alone and confined, as we all do from time to time.

(Photo by Marco Chilese on Unsplash)

On how you are in terrible times

I’ve been thinking about the terrible times we live in a how it affects us. When life is easy /not difficult, it is relative easy to be good. That’s normal, and by normal I mean like the vast majority of people. However as life gets more and more difficult, some people don’t change their behaviour and manage to stay the same. Those people are saints (1a). What about the rest of us: does that mean we are monsters? I’d argue that as life becomes much harder (1b) our behaviour tends to become terrible too. That doesn’t make us monsters: that makes us….normal still. Most of use are fairly elastic and as things become easier we slide back (2b) to being good. A few though end up staying terrible (2a). The hard times affect them in a way that doesn’t allow them to behave the way most people do when times are good and easy. We end up as seeing them more like monsters. We may avoid them but we should also have pity.

It’s hard to tell the saints in good times: they seem normal too. It’s only when difficult times occur do they stand out. Likewise it’s hard to know if people are monsters in difficult times because everyone seems to be not their best. It’s also hard to know if monstrous people have always been that way or if the times shaped them so.

Have some pity and understanding on all during difficult times: saints, monsters and the rest. We are all struggling to deal with what life throws at us.

Let’s play the game of Five Nice Things

Tulips for sale
This is a game you can play any time, but it’s especially good to play it in a pandemic. What is the game you say? Here’s Siobhan O’Connor to explain in this piece, An Easy Way to Practice Gratitude | Forge. Key quote:

At our dinners, we sometimes played a game we called Five Nice Things. It is what it sounds like: You take turns naming things that are nice. Five is the number. It can be a thing that makes you happy, a compliment for the other person, a win at work, “This broccoli is tasty,” whatever. It’s a bit sappy, but it’s not the sappiest, and the rules were: Don’t overthink it, and be specific. We’d roll it out in other settings: group hangs, work, whatnot. It was, generally speaking, a hit. Even Eeyores can get into it if you bring to the game your Tigger energy. But it was most meaningful when it was just the two of us.

I think the way to make it easy to play is to avoid trying to find the five NICEST things. Five low key nice things are fine. For example five low key nice things for me are:

  1. Waking up in the morning and feeling good and energetic
  2. A bright sunny day after days of overcast skies
  3. Walking by a store with lots of tulips for sale in buckets on the sidewalk
  4. Buying a hot mocha on a cold winter day and sipping it as I walk
  5. Late at night, looking at a yard filled with new fallen snow and seeing how uniform it is and how it sparkles

Just thinking about them makes my brain feel better. I think once you come up with some, your brain will feel better too.

(Photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash)

On letting go of garbage

garbage bag

If you had a bag of garbage, would you continue to keep it? Likely not. Once you had the opportunity to get rid of it, you would. You don’t need it any more. You are under no obligation to keep it. So you’d get rid of it.

The same is true for other things in your life. For example, garbage thoughts. Or garbage people.

Speaking of garbage people, I see the crew from Trump’s regime are still trying to keep people paying attention to them. Hanging on to them and giving them attention is like hanging on to garbage. Don’t do it. Put them to the curb and let them get hauled away.

Your life and the lives of others improve when you get rid of the trash. The sooner the better. Say goodbye and walk away.

P.S. I hesitate to use the phrase garbage people. People are complicated, and simple characterizations can harm your ability to see others clearly. That said, metaphors like garbage can help you constructively modify your behaviors and thoughts. Just be careful with them.

(Images from by Markus Spiske and Sven Brandsma on Unsplash)

The arc of every long project and what you need to keep it mind

 

This chart came from John Hendrix.  It is much like the Gartner Hype Cycle but with some key differentiators.

At the beginning of John’s curve you get an idea and as you imagine it more and more, the idea may get better and better.  You get excited about it. By the time you are about to start, you can imagine how great it will turn out. But it is only an idea still.

Then you start the project. As you progress, the idea goes from being Great to Good to Ok to Horrid. At some point you enter The Pit of Despair (or as Gartner calls it, The Trough of Disillusionment). This is the low point of the project. Like John says: a) you want to give up b) this is normal. Think of it as the first draft of something.

How do you get out of the pit? By applying yourself. By sticking to it. Slowly it gets better. It goes from Horrid to Ok to Good. It may even get to Great.  What will happen for sure is that it will Suck Less. (A concept I learned from Austin Kleon.)

When you have finished the project,  you may notice two things. One, it is different than how you imagined it. Two there is still a gap between what you had hoped for or imagined and what you had accomplished. It’s important here to acknowledge that and also acknowledge how far you’ve come and how good it is.

John’s chart is for art projects, but it can be applied to fitness projects, IT projects, home improvement projects….you name it.

On friendship, it’s importance and limits

 I have been thinking a lot about friendships over the pandemic. I have wondered how many friendships will dissolve due to the distance imposed on us by this disease. I have wondered how many will strengthen afterwards when we have a chance to reunite. This crazy time has distorted our lives in so many ways, and our friendships will be one of those things that gets distorted.

If I have you thinking about friendship now, here’s more food for thought:

  1. The People Who Prioritize a Friendship Over Romance – The Atlantic
  2. Why You Need a Network of Low-Stakes, Casual Friendships – The New York Times
  3. The Limits of Friendship | The New Yorker

The pandemic will be over. When that happens, make sure you value the people who were your friends during this difficult time. Best friends are best. But go out and make more friends, too.

(Photo by Kimson Doan on Unsplash)

On the paths you get to choose in life


There are two sets of paths you take in life: those you choose, and those chosen for you. We comfort ourselves by thinking we have many opportunities to choose the right path, but often the right path is taken away from us, either directly by others, or indirectly through our circumstances. We also comfort ourselves by thinking we can influence others to take the right path by pointing out what is obviously the right way to go. Then we are surprised and saddened when they chose the wrong path.

All of that is a way of introducing these two articles on Terry Naugle. The first one is about him being sentenced to 15 years in jail at the age of 62. The next one is about him dying in prison a year later.

I don’t have anything more to add to this man’s life and death. It seems from a The paths available to him from a very early ages were the wrong ones. Later on he could have chose better paths, but it seems he could not make it over to them. His story made me think about how a good life can move away from us given the paths before us.

(Photo by Tim Umphreys on Unsplash)

Illness mindset, pandemic mindset

This is a stark and great piece on how one woman found that her cancer from a previous time is helping her now:  I spent eight months in the hospital as a teenager. Here’s how it prepared me for the pandemic – The Globe and Mail.

It’s really worth reading. This part struck me in particular:

People have a tendency to believe that “everything happens for a reason”; that bad things happen to transform us into individuals who are more grateful, or open, or happy, or strong. So many well-wishers said this, or some version of it, while I was sick, and I hear it so often now, during the pandemic. But I think the real chance for something you could call transformation comes from accepting that there is no reason, and learning how to live with that.

I agree with this. As I argued earlier, many people will not be affected by the pandemic and will go back to their old ways. Those affected may become better people. Or not.

Something to consider as we slog through the days, waiting and hoping the vaccines take this all away.

(Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash)

Guyub and other untranslatable words that show different ways of living


Reading through this, 7 Concepts That Celebrate The Importance Of Simplicity, I started thinking we don’t have these words in English perhaps because we don’t value what they represent. But then I came across guyub. According to the piece:

The Indonesian idea of guyub (pronounced guy-oob) celebrates the importance of social connection. This concept entails bringing individuals together to share life’s ups and downs as a community, offering support and ultimately creating a happier, healthier lifestyle.

Now we do have words like that in English: family, community, home. They are simple words: so simple we don’t give them a lot of focus. So perhaps we don’t a Swedish word like döstädning but we do have our own words that represent a range of feelings for what we value. Words like Christmastime or Thanksgiving, which represent much more than a date on the calendar. Perhaps in other languages those are untranslatable too.

(Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash)

Some low cost last minute gift ideas for you…

Are here: Best Gifts from West Elm for $50 or Less | Apartment Therapy.

Even if you can’t get them from West Elm, try and use the ideas and get your last minute items crossed off your list.

(Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash)

On being moderately gifted, and the pain and pleasure that brings


This piece by Austin Kleon on being moderately gifted got me re-thinking this idea he discusses.

I say re-thinking because it is something I have thought about since I was a young man. Back then I was getting into  jazz (as one does) and someone told me: the problem with being a jazz musician is your new album is always competing with the albums of Armstrong and Fitzgerald and Davis and Coltrane and Simone. People putting out pop music don’t have to worry about that. It’s tough to be moderately gifted in jazz, I thought, for you are always competing with the best. But in pop music, you are usually competing with the now. There’s more room to get by being moderately gifted. (Especially in the era I grew up when three chords was all you needed.)

If you have a creative spirit but moderate talents, it is easy to get dispirited and put your tools away. You will never be great you say, why bother? But I think the answer comes from looking at pop music. You may never be great, but you can enjoy putting in play whatever talent you do have. Maybe you can only paint flowers, or knit scarfs, or bake brownies. Do it with gusto! Do it like a punk rocker pounding away on his guitar with the 3 chords he knows! You might never be great, but in the moment, you are living large and the audience at the time is loving it. That’s enough. And enough is as good as a feast.

Perhaps you will go on to greatness. Whether you do or not, shine on as brightly as you can. Not all of us can be the sun, but sometimes being a campfire is fine.

On starting your own Orangery this winter


Ok, ok, maybe that is a bit ambitious. But as the winter settles in, you might want a bit of summer in your home. If just to help you get through the days when it seems like winter will never end and summer will never come. (Collapse face first on the bed after you say that. :))

If you like that idea, read this: The Plant That’ll Make it Feel Like Summer in Your Home All Year Long. 

Then go get one and get started on making your own orangery.

Need more encouragement: read this from Bon Appetit.

P.S. if you are asking, “what the heck is an orangery”, then go here: Orangery – Wikipedia. It’s a fascinating idea and history.

Image above of the Belvedere Orangery in Vienna, via Wikipedia.

Thinking about Fun (something good for you to do)

kid playing in leaves

Are you having fun? That’s a question often asked of us as kids. Then we get older and get more responsibilities and that question dies off. You might only hear yourself saying: I am not having fun.

That’s a great loss. Our lives are enriched by fun. If you can’t even imagine fun anymore, here are too good pieces for your serious self to read:

I really recommend you read them and challenge yourself to make time to have fun. Remember make your own fun. For some people it is being goofy, other people it’s making something, and still others find fun in doing things no one else would consider “fun”. Never mind. Find your fun wherever you can and cherish it.

(Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash)

If you are slogging through your laundry this weekend

Then read this: Laundry is a never-ending chore – Vox

It’s about the social, historical, and economic aspects of laundry. It will make you think of laundry in a whole new light.

P.S. It’s the pandemic. I hope you are giving the ironing a pause in this difficult and wrinkly time. 🙂

(Photo by Filip Mroz on Unsplash)

Programming is on a spectrum, or how programming is like running

Programming is on a spectrum.  I have felt for some time. That said, I liked this article by Paul Ford, one of the best writers on IT that I know: ‘Real’ Programming Is an Elitist Myth | WIRED.  His and my thoughts overlap. First, yes you can do real programming/coding with simple tools. Anyone who writes their own HTML, Javascript, simple bash scripts or basic Python scripts is really programming. Heck, I argue that what people do in Microsoft Excel is a form of programming.

If you wanted to step up from small pieces of code, you could get a book like this and write all sorts of useful code. 

 

(That’s a great book, by the way.)

However there is a very wide spectrum for programming, and some people are very advanced in the form of programming they do. That should also be acknowledged. The work I do automating tasks by writing Python scripts is very different than the work done by people writing operating systems or other difficult tasks.

I like to think of it like running. If you run, you are a runner. End of story. If you work at running, you can enter a big race like the New York City Marathon and you will be with a range of runners from the very best in the world to people who will finish many hours later. The first and the last are all marathon runners, and the last are as real a runner as the first.

Same with programming. If you program, you are a programmer. You are as real a programmer as the person writing new code for the Linux operating system. Just like you can always get better as a runner, you can always get better as a programmer. It just depends on what you want to put into it and what you want to get out of it.

If you are feeling bad about reading fewer books, then read this

I’ve been reading less since the pandemic hit. For many reasons. It started to bother me, since the last few years I have been reading dozens of books each year. I felt I was failing. Then I read this: How to Read Fewer Books, from The School of Life.

I whole piece is good, but this part nailed it for me:

In order to ease and simplify our lives, we might dare to ask a very old-fashioned question: what am I reading for? And this time, rather than answering ‘in order to know everything,’ we might parcel off a much more limited, focused and useful goal. We might – for example – decide that while society as a whole may be on a search for total knowledge, all that we really need and want to do is gather knowledge that is going to be useful to us as we lead our own lives. We might decide on a new mantra to guide our reading henceforth: we want to read in order to learn to be content. Nothing less – and nothing more. With this new, far more targeted ambition in mind, much of the pressure to read constantly, copiously and randomly starts to fade. We suddenly have the same option that was once open to St Jerome; we might have only a dozen books on our shelves – and yet feel in no way intellectually undernourished or deprived.

What am I reading for: it’s a great question. I think there are many answers to that. To be content, as that suggests. Or to become an expert in an area. Or to pass the time. All are good answers, depending on your need for reading. If you are feeling bad about reading fewer books, step back and decide what you are reading for. It may help you read in a new and improved way.

(Photo by matthew Feeney on Unsplash)

Online Privacy Should Be Modeled on Real-World Privacy (or, Stop Following Us Around Constantly!)

I’ve been saying that for some time — years — so I am glad to see someone like  Daring Fireball come out and say it too. I don’t know about you, but I am sick of the degree of tracking that occurs. I was talking to someone about Birkenstock shoes last night and the next day, Instagram/Facebook put a Birkenstock ad in my IG Stories. It is likely a coincidence, or the fact that the person I was talking to may have been searching on info about them and IG put 2 and 2 together, but it is freaky. 

Needless to say, there is a whole INDUSTRY of companies that track the hell out of us, and it has to stop. Here’s to Apple and others giving us more control over this.

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On policing and lack thereof


With the situation in the US concerning police and the use of deadly force, there is much discussion of defunding the police. One argument is that the police can be replaced with other social service workers, as this town did here. Then there is the story of Camden and how they fired all their police, though they did replace them. Some believe that police are unaccountable, and when you try to hold them accountable, they do thinks like this (What Can We Learn From the Chicago Police Department’s API Shutdown?). Or they do pullbacks like this How to Stop a Police Pullback – The Atlantic.

My thoughts, which don’t amount to much, is there is not one answer to deal with problems in police forces. They clearly need to be accountable. They may need to shift some of their responsibilities to other services. This has been done in the past (e.g. the officers who give out parking tickets are different than the ones that make arrests). They also should be paid well: nothing encourage corruption like poorly paid police officers.

Societies need public police forces. I don’t believe the lack of police means things automatically get better. There needs to be some form of organized force that keeps the peace and enforces laws. Otherwise, you will get individuals taking advantage, gangs of organized crime, and private police forces. An unaccountable police force is bad, but no police force is worse.

Finally, here are two good links. This one, which eviscerates the idea that looting is acceptable: There Is No Defense of Looting – The Atlantic. And this one, which highlights the failure in parts of the world to control the criminal organizations forming: El Salvador’s president Bukele cut deals with MS-13 gang in bid to reduce killings, report says – The Washington Post. Mexico has similar problems. Any member of a society that thinks they are immune to this need to ask why they think that.

(Photo by Esri Esri on Unsplash)

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Brush up on philosophical ideas at The Stone

Keeping up with contemporary philosophy can be difficult for people who are not dedicated to it. Which is why I am happy to share news about The Stone over at the New York Times. As they describe it:

(The Stone is) A forum for contemporary philosophers and other thinkers on issues both timely and timeless. The series moderator is Simon Critchley, who teaches philosophy at The New School for Social Research.

I read a number of good essays there. The ideas can be challenging, but the language used is not. Well worth checking out.

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Fifty ideas and concepts to ponder


I am not sure if these will change your life, but this piece is full of interesting ideas and concepts to consider: 50 Ideas That Changed My Life — David Perell

I like the circle of competence one. It’s worthwhile to consider and remember when you hear someone smart in one area making claims in other areas. Chances are they are not any more competent in all areas than anyone else, and you should take their claims with a grain of salt.

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Some random thoughts on bullet journals


There’s merit to be had in having a bullet journal. It lets you capture the things you have to do and track and quickly capture them. If this appeals to you and you want to learn more, I found this use helpful:  Learn – Bullet Journal

That used to be my impression of how they worked, and they looked very minimal.

It seems though that bullet journals have transformed into these amazingly detailed books filled with calligraphy and they started to look like this:

Now there is nothing bad about that, and for some that is an impressive way of capturing information. But as the person who made that wrote, it may not be the best way to be productive, and she switched to a simpler mode of documentation.

I can’t say which is the better way of doing things: it’s a personal preference in my opinion.

I do want to say that there is this person who has come up with a smart way to visually represent the things she has to do. For example, here’s her todo list for decluttering her house. It’s a much better visual representation of what she has to do.

Likewise this is a smart way to plan a big meal:

If I were to do a bullet journal, I think I’d stick with the minimal approach. But even that is a lot of work. Perhaps if I were more artistically inclined I’d go with the more graphic approach.

Like I said, random thoughts.

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You need more than a room of your own. Virginia Woolf said so herself

As Austin Kleon highlights in this post:

It is curious to me how often, when people quote Woolf, they quote the room part and leave out the money part — especially when you consider that money buys you both the time and the space

I’m not sure why people leave that out, but it’s an essential part of the freedom required to create fiction or any other artistic endeavour. The money frees you from the basic needs, just like the room gives you the social freedom you need. You can still create art if you are weighed down by poverty and responsibilities, but it’s harder.

I recommend that post by Kleon, and Kleon’s blog in general.

 

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If you are feeling blah, set up an inspiration board

For some people, the first response is going to be: “great idea, but I need some bootstrap inspiration”.  Totally understandable response. So here are seven boards to get you going on making your own: Peek at the Inspiration Boards of These 7 Female Designers

If you first response was something the opposite of “great idea”, then all I would say is try to find 3 or 4 items that represent things you value and have them in a space that you can see often. Maybe they are awards, or pictures of people you love, or items from trips you’ve been on. A cluster of things to remind you of what you have and what you accomplished. They may sit on a shelf instead of a board, but they will inspire you nonetheless. Whatever works.

One thing I would recommend is set the board up so you can change it often. I find if the board is inflexible, you end up not seeing it any more. If you have a dozen images or items you want to post, perhaps post a fraction of them, then switch them around with the unposted ones. It will keep it fresh that way.

It is a slog being locked down during this pandemic. Anything that lifts your spirits help. Inspiration boards can be one of those things. Make yours today.

 

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Some thoughts on the pandemic and plasticity

Will people be largely changed by the pandemic, or will they revert to the way they were? My initial thought was that people would all be changed to some degree by the pandemic. I am now leaning towards thinking that it will depend on two things: the degree it impacts them and the plasticity of the individual.

By plasticity, I mean malleability but in a way that once reshaped, you likely do not go back to your original shape. Some plastics are very easy to reshape and some are not. I think some individuals are like thin plastic bottles that crumble with the least pressure, while other individuals are more like thick plastic bottles that revert more or less to their original form once you release the pressure on them.

Plasticity is one thing. The other thing to consider is the impact the pandemic has on a person. A person that lost a loved one or their job or their business suffers a big impact. If your biggest impact is missing going out or to the gym or getting a haircut then the impact is little.

Given that, I think the pandemic will change people in the following ways:

Impact vs plasticity Easily shaped Hard to shape
Little Impact Some change No change
Big impact Big change Some change

People easily shaped that experience a big impact  will be seriously changed by the pandemic. Most others will experience some change, and a certain class of person will not change at all.

 

 

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Is it time for Frank Ramsey to get his due?

In some ways, that question is ridiculous. Ramsey and his ideas are embedded in so many fields of thought, from mathematics to economics to philosophy. However, I had never heard of him before. Or I should say, I had heard of him, but I never thought of him the way I thought of Russell or Wittgenstein or other contemporaries he had.

That might change now. There are two good pieces I recently found, here on CBC Radio and here in The New Yorker. I really enjoyed both. If you do too, you can get a recent book on him called, Frank Ramsey: A Sheer Excess of Powers
by Cheryl Misak
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Recommended.