Media Summary: December 2016

  • This may only be interesting from a curation/archival point of view, but still: the folks at the “Long Now Foundation” (responsible for that big clock) have a “Manual for Civilization”, which is their canonical list of fundamental books as per various Science Fiction authors, artists, etc.
  • I still think people should care about handwriting, so I’m happy when someone agrees with me
  • This is a fertile period for political theories, and one source of explanations is to go all the way back to the mid-century Frankfurt School.
  • You may have never heard of Terence McKenna, but you might still enjoy this selection of quotes by him.

“The syntactical nature of reality, the real secret of magic, is that the world is made of words. And if you know the words that the world is made of, you can make of it whatever you wish.”

“Culture is the effort to hold back the mystery, and replace it with a mythology.”

  • I got to know about “Christmas Tree Worms” after seeing the photos someone took on a coral reef dive (there’s no end to weird stuff in the sea).
  • I don’t have time to really play console games any more (sigh!), but I can still drool. Though now I care less about “Call of Duty”, and more about stuff that has a compelling narrative. A leading contender here is “No Man’s Sky”, and here is NPR’s literary perspective on it.
  • Hypertext and interactive fiction is a recent fad of mine, so I found this article interesting, since it asks why we don’t have more hypertexts around (my own explanation is that this branch of fiction migrated from books, to video gaming instead).
  • Finally, I wasn’t sure whether to file this under the ‘science’ or ‘art’ category, and I chose the latter because it just looked so freaking gorgeous: a renaissance-era geometry book! Here is an example:

Notes:

  • List is somewhat in flux because my, um, note-taking system was badly used the last several weeks. There was a lot of other interesting stuff, which is just … lost.
  • A reminder that none of this means anything, it’s a rough catalogue of “some stuff I came across over a month”, that’s all.

Annual recap: 2016

(being a digest of all the monthly recap posts this year)

  • Started running again this year, did the San Francisco Half-Marathon
  • India (New Delhi, Bekal) trip in March
  • Wrote a trippy mini-novel
  • Tara grows up (toys, Duplo, play-doh, chalk)
  • Not a lot of movies/tv (some Midsomer Murders), but some audiobooks
  • Mexico (Puerta Vallarta) trip in June
  • Saw “Finding Nemo” with Tara
  • Weekend staycation in San Francisco in July
  • Started a “write 750 words daily” habit
  • Moved to a new house and sold the old one
  • New York trip in September
  • Fractured left leg in October
  • Did most of a 1000-piece puzzle
  • Recovery and physiotherapy in November and December

Monthly recap: December 2016

Sunset over Dumbarton bridge
Sunset seen while driving along the Dumbarton Bridge

I guess the theme of this month is “recovery”.

I’ve slowly started using my leg more and more, going from 0 to 25 to 75 to 100 percent of body weight allowed on it. This meant a bunch of small milestones, such as climbing the stairs, carrying something in my hand while I walk, etc.

We had some plans for Christmas, but we all fell sick with a stomach infection in the last week, which was bad for morale. Luckily, we recovered in time to enjoy the last few days of vacation time, and played a lot with Tara at home.

Miscellaneous stuff:

  • both Tara and I got a haircut on the same day
  • had whisky for the first time in two and a half months
  • visited the new location of BookBuyers in Gilroy

Media summary: November 2016

  • Someone made a list of the 25 best films of the century so far (the number one spot goes to David Lynch, so I won’t argue with it)
  • A new aircraft carrier, quite fancy, but with a hefty price tag too ($13 billion)
  • I’m not a fan of Jacobin mag’s political stuff, but this article has some humorous criticism of “anti-stuff” (so … more power to the hoarders? 🙂 )
  • Archaeologists struck gold with a large number of well-preserved (thanks to the lack of oxygen) ships at the bottom of the Black Sea, dating from ancient Greece to the Ottoman empire.
  • An article in Lapham’s Quarterly correlates the introduction of mirrors to the rise of individuals
  • Soviet Sci-Fi. Utopia. Dystopia. Everything in between.
  • Speaking of which … lost gems of Soviet design (too little, too late, which is always how the best stuff is; perhaps later a whole blog post on this, or a whole book), see cover image for an example.
  • The Economist (finally?!) admitted that the simplistic models pushed in macroeconomic textbooks need to be upgraded to account for “institutional strength”.
  • Finally, Harvard research shows that (shockingly!) “an entire global generation has lost faith in democracy”.

(yes, I eschewed footnotes for inline links this time)

Brainstorming digital tool chaos

I used to think that I alone struggled with various tools and apps to manage, track and digest all the things I want to keep track of, but I now suspect this is a pretty common source of discontent.

Every few years I go through a phase of ‘churn where I signup for something new, with the hope that now, at long last, my cognitive load will lessen, ideas will be remembered, snippets and quotes will be stored and retrieved, and so on. Yet inevitably, after some initial enthusiasm, the experiment ends in deadlock and decay.

In the best case, the tool or app becomes inconvenient and sluggish, while in the worst case everything laboriously entered in is los forever. So after about a decade and half of this ridiculous waste of time, I thought I’d try to think through to figure out what exactly it is that I’m looking for.

There’s no point pretending that the one true, great tool out there will solve these problems. So this post isn’t about finding solutions, but just listing problems.

  • I need away to remind me to do something on a one-off basis
  • I need to be able to track a small group of related tasks
  • I need to be able to make lists of things, sometimes collaboratively
  • I need to be able to write medium size posts, like this one, with minimum fuss
  • I want to be able to save bookmarks (lots of them!) and find them later, by date and ‘tag’
  • I want to be able to save quotes or extracts from web pages
  • I want to be able to save pdfs and later search within them
  • I need an easy way to make short notes without making an official ‘doc’ about something with a title, etc.
  • I want to be able to quickly snap a photo of something, annotate it, and file it away, sometimes with a reminder
  • I need to make notes about a certain topic as I go along, sometimes sigh snippets of text or code, and retrieve his later by date or by ‘tag’
  • Sometimes emails have to be be turned into tasks
  • I have to be able to quickly capture thoughts and ideas for future retrieval
  • I don’t want to be locked in to proprietary formats or hidden libraries, as far as possible
  • It should be possible to ‘sync’ between devices
  • I don’t necessarily want to keep everything ‘in the cloud’
  • I want a lot of photos around, forever, accessible from everywhere
  • I need to be able to search across text, images, pdfs, but without always doing a huge amount of tagging up front
  • I want to be able to create small ‘projects’ with tasks, but without having to fight some rigid ‘true way’ of defining them (fluid due dates, deferred dates, priorities, easy capture and editing)
  • I need recurring reminders too (sometimes weekly, sometimes monthly, sometimes quarterly, sometimes biannually, etc)
  • I don’t want to think too much about where to file a given snippet, all I care about is being able to look for it later as if I had filed it correctly to begin with
  • I want to avoid the risk of some one going out of business and taking my data with them (stick to regular files and plain text as far as possible)

Yeah, a lot to ask for, but also … it’s not all that much, there has to be a way to get all this to work somehow.

Monthly recap: November 2016

driving-in-the-rain

This month was mostly about healing, with a lot of help from my wife and dad.

Resumed a bit of normalcy, in terms of eating out and driving around, etc (and this was a rainy month, see the photo above).

The big event was Tara turning two. So there was decor, and gifts, but I couldn’t help out much 😦

I was gifted a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle, which is really too much (did quite a bit while I was on leave, deferred the rest for some time next year when I’m more mobile and can do this at nights), will post a pic when I’m done.

Started physiotherapy and it’s going well, the major milestone at the end of the month was being able to stand on two feet!

Personal Media Summary: October 2016

Meta: This is delayed by a few weeks, and I’m ending the short experiment of cross-posting to Medium.

A few things I saw or read the last month and half:

  • Watched a lot of episodes of Midsomer Murders (I’m surprised at how many seasons this show has!). Slight dip in quality around season 8, and we stopped around season 9 for now.
  • Watched five episodes of Miss Marple (would’ve watched more, but they were really long, and last one was really silly)
  • Re-watched Interstellar. Just as awesome as the first time round, and the “five-dimensional beings” stuff felt just as gratuitous.
  • Saw a few episodes of The Daily Show (after a gap of several years)

(all of this TV watching happened because my dad was visiting, and I was bed-ridden, all through November)

  • Atlas Obscura is my current favorite for amazing trivia, such as this series1 of “fore-edge paintings” on old books.
  • My “tune of the month” is a track2 from Bladerunner.
  • A bizarre, freaky or tragic animal activity: the offspring of a certain spider species3 eat their mother (!)
  • This is a pre-election piece of reading that shouldn’t be too surprising post-election either, a publication4 by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston titled ”Where have all the workers gone?”. Depressing overall, but page 20 has the money quotes on “the prevalence of pain and pain medication”. Also, it points out how the labor force participation rate has been declining from 67.3% in 2000 to 62.4% in 2015, a 40-year low (!)
  • Some pre-election musings5 on Democracy, that turn out to be prescient.

But what if, in our moment, democracy, as we understand it, isn’t worth defending? Hacker and Pierson’s fellow political scientists Christopher H. Achen and Larry M. Bartels take up this question in their new book, Democracy for Realists.

The pair take this question into consideration by setting their sights on what they call the “folk theory” of democracy: the idea that democracy is a system for translating the people’s will into government policy. They describe this belief as a 21st-century “divine right of kings” and consider it just as deluded as its medieval predecessor. For them, American democracy is not the embodiment of a popular will but the endless struggle between warring tribes motivated by cultural, political, and religious alle­giances, plus a hefty dose of self-interest. All politics, by this reasoning, is identity politics.

And that’s when voters know what they’re doing. Drawing on more than half a century of scholarship, Achen and Bartels conclude that “the political ‘belief systems’ of ordinary citizens are generally thin, disorganized, and ideologically incoherent.” These citizens routinely fail simple tests of political knowledge and base their votes on a sloppy mixture of group loyalties and shortsighted assessments of their own well-being—assuming they bother to vote at all, which in the United States, most of the time, they don’t.

That assessment provides a shaky foundation for would-be defenders of democracy. In Achen and Bartels’s telling, politicians win office by appealing to primal instincts within the electorate, while the work of governing is done by elites who know how to organize, build coalitions, and pressure the right legislators. “Policy-making,” they write, “is a job for specialists.” Voters don’t set the agenda; they merely help to elect those who do.

  • The idea6 of another, unseen planet in the solar system just won’t go away.
  • A compilation7 of all the movies that should have won the Oscar for ‘Best Picture’, but didn’t.
  • A really old washing machine advertisement8! Essentially, it’s the same, even after a century: someone using a machine and looking really, really happy doing it.
  • Take this as a bit of comfort if you like to write but you’re worried if you should write in a particular way or for a particular audience: Umberto Eco believes that ”… “I think an author should write what the reader does not expect. The problem is not to ask what they need, but to change them … to produce the kind of reader you want for each story.”

More choice quotes from that interview9:

“Because that’s literature,” said Eco. “Dostoevsky was writing about losers. The main character of The Iliad, Hector, is a loser. It’s very boring to talk about winners. The real literature always talks about losers. Madame Bovary is a loser. Julien Sorel is a loser. I am doing only the same job. Losers are more fascinating.

“Winners are stupid … because usually they win by chance.”

  • This link10 is a bit for fans of Soviet Sci-Fi.
  • Finally, the “long read” recommendation11 of the month:

Where, in short, are the flying cars? Where are the force fields, tractor beams, teleportation pods, antigravity sleds, tricorders, immortality drugs, colonies on Mars, and all the other technological wonders any child growing up in the mid-to-late twentieth century assumed would exist by now? Even those inventions that seemed ready to emerge—like cloning or cryogenics—ended up betraying their lofty promises. What happened to them?

Recalling the clumsy special effects typical of fifties sci-fi films, I kept thinking how impressed a fifties audience would have been if they’d known what we could do by now—only to realize, “Actually, no. They wouldn’t be impressed at all, would they? They thought we’d be doing this kind of thing by now. Not just figuring out more sophisticated ways to simulate it.