The Magnificent Archive

Every Sunday, I send out an email with seven magnificent things from the past week. Books, articles, blog posts, projects, graphics, ideas, excerpts, videos, songs, tools, artists, art, creators, software, hardware—things that elicit a “Whoa!”, a “Wow!”, a “Huh?” or a “Hmmm.”

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Or check out this master-list of content from the previous issues…


The Magnificent Seven #13: How Gödel’s Proof Works – 18/10/20

  1. How Gödel’s Proof Works by Natalie Wolchover: My ongoing stack entry (read; learning about computing) has revealed a huge and monstrous gap in my knowledge: mathematics. I suspect I’ll have to plug the gap in a more systematic manner in the near-future. But for now I’ll supplement by info-diet with pieces like this.
    Quote for the uninitiated (like me): “We’ve learned that if a set of axioms is consistent, then it is incomplete. That’s Gödel’s first incompleteness theorem. The second — that no set of axioms can prove its own consistency — easily follows.” 
    Gödel’s incompleteness theorems seems like a quantitative version of the Münchhausen trilemma; both are comments on the fundamental limits of human understanding.
  2. Evolving Floorplans by Joel Simon: Quote: “Evolving Floor Plans is an experimental research project exploring speculative, optimized floor plan layouts. The rooms and expected flow of people are given to a genetic algorithm which attempts to optimize the layout to minimize walking time, the use of hallways, etc. The creative goal is to approach floor plan design solely from the perspective of optimization and without regard for convention, constructability, etc. The research goal is to see how a combination of explicit, implicit and emergent methods allow floor plans of high complexity to evolve.”
    The floorpans themselves have a strange beauty to them. They also seem to correlate with the ideas of Léon Krier and other scholars/actors of the New Urbanism movement.
  3. Let’s hire people randomly by Paul Millerd: Quote: “I want to make a proposal that companies experiment with using lotteries to select entry-level employees at their company. I picked entry-level hiring because the potential perceived cost is lower and companies might be interested in re-allocating large recruiting budgets elsewhere in the company.”
    I like this idea, even though the company’s that can most benefit from it will never implement it. First: Sonya Mann suggests that hiring processes are actually optimised for “hoop-jumping inclination and skill” instead of talent or potential. Second: even if hiring processes are demonstrated to yield an outcome no better than random selection, they’ll still be clutched tightly because humans need a narrative to intertwine with their perceptual and decision-making processes.
  4. Stalin, Putin and the Nature of Power by Lex Fridman/Stephen Kotkin: I’ve read the first volume and half the second volume of Kotkin’s biographical trilogy about Stalin. Fascinating works. This interview is good, too. Some standout ideas/moments… Marx wasn’t a theorist of inequality, he was a theorist of alienation; the use of the nuclear bomb as an analogy for Communism; incremental changes in the current (US) political system are better than attempting to break and rebuild the system as a whole.
  5. Geneva adopts what’s believed to be the highest minimum wage in the world: Interesting stuff, and part of an emerging trend in the most civilised parts of the world: raising the floor. These pair well with a Slate Star Codex post titled, Basic Income, Not Basic Jobs. The article argues against a now outdated policy proposal but actually provides a good summary of the many benefits of a universal basic income. FYI, I totally support the idea of basic income. The veil of ignorance is the key to understanding why.
  6. The Playbook: My second favourite sport, behind Brazilian jiu-jitsu, is basketball. That’s why I watched episode one of this series, featuring coach Doc Rivers. The segment that most resonated concerned how “pressure is a privilege”; playing for high stakes is an opportunity to be embraced, not shied away from.
  7. China Sells Minorities Into ‘Forced Labor’ to Benefit Apple, Foxconn, Others by Joel Hruska: Harrowing reading. Quote: “The report details how this massive system of relocation and forced labor has been built up under the guise of an aid program known as “Xinjiang Aid.” What appears superficially as a targeted aid program for the poor and undereducated people in the province is a relocation and reeducation program meant to destroy their culture and religious practices. Companies all over China have been encouraged to provide “industrial Xianjing aid” by building factories in the province to absorb what China terms “surplus labor capacity” or to hire Uighurs for other tasks in factories across the rest of China.”

The Magnificent Seven #12: The Fremen Mirage – 11/10/20

  1. The Fremen Mirage Series by Bret Deveraux: Frank Herbert’s Dune is experiencing a resurgence. Likely because of the recent movie trailer drop. This series by Deveraux offers a counter-point to one (amongst many) of Dune’s (and other cultural artefact’s) background assumptions; that, “Hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times. Good times create weak men. And weak men create hard times.”
  2. An enabling act could happen here by David Allen Green: Green received A LOT of flak for posting this. The opposition he faced was totally unwarranted. This is a calm, collected discussion of an actual possibility. And I am not overstating the case. The UK is a country whose Home Secretary and Prime Minister publicly claim to oppose “do-gooders and lefty lawyers”. That is, the highest levels of UK government are opposed to those who assert the right of all people, EVERYONE, to be treated according to established human rights conventions. This is 2020: an enabling act could indeed happen here.
  3. Crime Ops: The Operational Art of Cyber Crime by The Grugq: This is exactly the sort of document I could’ve made use of while working on Barker. The Voice and the Hand of the Silent are clandestine groups of cultural activists/terrorists, respectively, and they share some of the characteristics of FIN7.
  4. The Duhem-Quine Thesis: “The Duhem–Quine thesis argues that no scientific hypothesis is by itself capable of making predictions. Instead, deriving predictions from the hypothesis typically requires background assumptions that several other hypotheses are correct — that an experiment works as predicted, or that previous scientific theory is accurate. For instance, as evidence against the idea that the Earth is in motion, some people objected that birds did not get thrown off into the sky whenever they let go of a tree branch. Later theories of physics and astronomy, such as classical and relativistic mechanics could account for such observations without positing a fixed Earth, and in due course they replaced the static-Earth auxiliary hypotheses and initial conditions.”
    I was reminded of this during the Slate Star Codex review of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions–specifically the section starting with: “Can we separate the fact around which a paradigm is based (like “the Earth orbits the sun”) from the paradigm itself (being a collection of definitions of eg “planet” and “orbit”, ways of thinking, mathematical methods, and rules for what kind of science will and won’t be accepted)?” 
    I’m also wondering whether these “paradigm bases” are analogous to hyperpriors (or conjugate priors)?
  5. “Why We Sleep” is Riddled with Scientific and Factual Errors by Alexey Guzey: I read this a while back and found myself revisiting it. Quote (absent some links and formatting): “In the process of reading the book and encountering some extraordinary claims about sleep, I decided to compare the facts it presented with the scientific literature. I found that the book consistently overstates the problem of lack of sleep, sometimes egregiously so. It misrepresents basic sleep research and contradicts its own sources. … Walker’s book has likely wasted thousands of hours of life and worsened the health of people who read it and took its recommendations at face value (Section 7).”
  6. State of GORUCK 2020 by Jason McCarthy: I keep an infrequent eye on GoRuck because I like their products (despite not having sufficient justification to buy much from them… Yet…). And I like their ethos. The latter is encapsulated in this post, which touches on the meta and the minutiae of GoRuck as a company. In general, I’m a fan of annual round-ups and addresses. WordPress does one each year. Ribbonfarm does one. Others obviously do them too. But GoRuck’s seems particularly open and honest.
    From a competitive standpoint, this appears nonsensical. Aren’t objectives, stratagems and trajectories meant to remain obscure to one’s competitors? Not necessarily. Enter Josh Waitzkin explaining Marcelo Garcia’s tendency to upload videos of his BJJ sparring: “[Marcelo] was visually showing these competitors what he was about to use against them at 2 weeks, 3 weeks, 4 weeks [away from competition], and his attitude about this was just completely unique: ‘If you’re studying my game, you’re entering my game, and I’ll be better at it than you.'”
  7. NBD: I tend to read multiple books simultaneously. This means that, when new book day comes around, I purchase multiple books simultaneously. This short post lists my most recent acquisitions (all of which I am so far enjoying).

The Magnificent Seven #11: Quarantine Fitness – 04/10/20

  1. Quarantine Fitness by Victor: To me, this is normative fitness–a mode of being that I aspire to yet am unlikely to reach. If I had to distil this article to a sentence it would be: Do what you can, where you are, with what you have*. The asterisk: You always have more, and can do more, than you think. 
  2. The Business of SaaS by Patrick McKenzie: I found my way to the Stripe guides via Slava Akhmechet’s Go-to-market strategy for engineers. I’m glad I did; I suspect the guides will come in useful in the near-future.
  3. Seeking the Productive Life by Stephen Wolfram: This came up in an email convo with a friend. I ref’d it because of the Full Nerd Mode images. On a more serious (less jackass-y) note, though; it’s fascinating to look into how different people approach their work. In this case, Wolfram is typically comprehensive.
  4. Red Team Rules: I find myself referencing these, or returning to them, every now and then. It’s no so much the letter of the law that I enjoy. It’s the spirit; it aligns with multiple instances of how I choose to perceive and try to act within the world. Example: “Simple and light equals freedom, agility and mobility.”
  5. Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden: I can see why my partner recommended this Russian fairy-slash-folk-tale trilogy. I finished it a few weeks ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s possible to read deeper into the book’s themes–gender roles, paganism, and so on–but it’s also enjoyable as a good ol’ fantastical romp.
  6. The Cartel Trilogy by Don Winslow: I’ve read a few books about the drug troubles in Mexico–Saviano, Grillo etc.–but none drove home the heart-rending nature of this particular slice of reality like Winslow’s Cartel trilogy.
  7. Bikepacking vs Cycle Touring by Tom Allen: I am no hardcore cyclist. But as we transition into the darker and colder half of the year, I find myself reading about two-wheeled expeditions, odysseys and overnighters, as well as the difference between bikepacking and cycle touring. Hint: the difference is what’s emphasised by the two “tribes”. 

The Magnificent Seven #10: The Nature of Reality – 27/09/20

  1. Joscha Bach: Artificial Consciousness and the Nature of Reality with Lex Fridman: An IMMENSELY enjoyable conversation. So much ground is covered here and Joscha is an eminently wonderful guest and thinker. The transcript for the interview is available here. I also listened to Fridman’s talk with Daphne Koller (co-founder of Coursera who’s now getting into machine learning x biomedicine) and I’m making way through Ryan Hall’s appearance too. Hall is a BJJ maestro and an interesting guy in his own right.
  2. The Magnificent Archive by me: I finally got around to compiling the content from all previous editions of Mag7 and dropping it in an archive. In other news, I’ve entered a definite “cut” phase in my life. Certain constraints have re-imposed themselves (aka I’ve gone back to work) which means less time and energy to share around. As a consequence, expect to see a little less surface output (blogs etc.).
  3. Olight i3T: Yes, this is a torch. Back when I worked in security, I wielded a trusty LED Lenser T7. It was my companion as I crawled around perimeter fences in an attempt to ambush fence hoppers and as I searched a hilly woodland for a naked body hanging upside down from a tree–fortunately, I stumbled upon no fence hoppers and no bodies. Since then, I’ve had a Lenser P3 on my person most of the time. It died recently, however, and I made the switch to an Olight. I’m impressed thus far.
  4. The Prophet of the Revolt by Antonio Garcia Martinez: A Q&A with Martinez, author of Chaos Monkeys (which I have just added to my reading pipeline) and Martin Gurri, author of The Revolt of the Public. My favourite excerpt (among a few): “We are fractured creatures, trapped in a subjective perspective, but we are also symbolic animals, viscerally craving a meaning for our individual lives that is universally acknowledged and so transcends individuality. The purpose of the stories I mentioned before is to meld personal experience with social existence, and in this way make possible the production of shared meaning. The obvious question is why anyone should believe such stories. Well, William James, one of my favorite thinkers, and a psychologist, spoke of a “will to believe.” We are programmed to accept those stories that connect us, and our society, with the cosmic order. If you visit Jerusalem, you’ll find large crowds by the Wailing Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and the Mosque of the Dome. That’s 2,500 years of belief guiding billions of individuals. And if you ask most Americans, myself included, they will tell you they believe all persons are created equal. Jefferson found that proposition “self-evident,” but really it’s a powerful act of faith in the face of a lot of contradictory evidence.”
  5. History of Philosophy, Summarised & Visualised: Crafted by Denis Cem OnduyguHüseyin Kuşçu and Eser Aygün, this is a remarkable overview of the history of philosophy. REMARKABLE. From the project’s About page: “I like to think that this is not just a historical project, useful for people specifically interested in the history of the field; what is also valuable here is the ability to see, by clicking on a sentence and displaying its connections, what different things can be said on a subject (how many perspectives there can be, which are hard to be all dreamed up by a single person) independently of who said them and when – independently of a direct interest in the history of philosophy (or “the history of ideas” in Bernard Williams’s sense).”
  6. Sky Ladder: The Art of Cat Guo-Qiang: Usually, I never manage to actually CHOOSE anything on Netflix. Several weeks ago, I did the unexpected; I selected this doc AND watched it all. Not only were that some remarkable visuals, there was also quite the collection of poignant moments. 
  7. Brutality of Life Reading List by Sonya Mann: If you’re in doubt regarding the first of the Four Noble Truths, check out one of the texts picked out by Sonya. The only one of the list I’ve read is Rory Miller’s Meditations on Violence. The highest praise I can give a book is that it changed my mind; Miller’s book did that.

The Magnificent Seven #9: Strange Loop – 20/09/20

  1. The strange loop of super active omittance: I wrote about an idea that’s been noodling me for a few days and riffed about SPOLFs and single wringable necks for Yak Talk.
  2. Scarcity as an API by Mario Gabriele: Note: I find the article interesting, but I don’t agree. Quote: “As tech and culture further co-mingle, we should expect more startups to follow MSCHF’s lead, using drops to win attention. In the process, programmatic methods may rise to contrive scarcity reliably, at scale, online. … We may live in an age of abundance, but with our sense of self tied to the proprietorship of rivalrous assets, scarcity will need to exist. Even if we must code it ourselves.”
  3. Terror and Technology From Dynamite to Drones by T.X. Hammes: A brief introduction to technological innovation’s impact on terrorism. The linked books look intriguing. John Robb’s Global Guerillas explores a similar track and is also worthy of inspection by the interested.
  4. Introduction to Strategy Mapping by Mike Baxter: I encountered Mike via the Yak Collective. Speaking about ideas related to my survey of business analysis, he sent me the linked video. He also has a new book out: The Strategy Manual.
  5. Dynamic at Home (Pt 2 and Pt 3) by Katy Bowman: I’m in the process of considering an attic/study redesign, so I’ve returned to Katy’s series on building a life around movement, instead of just squeezing it in. For those who struggle with major or minor movement-related issues, Katy is a great resource. In the same vein, she has a gear-guide to going furniture-free, and a post explaining why she did it.
  6. The Story Diamond by Stanley Williams: Any even remotely aspiring story crafter will look at this diagram and swoon. Not out of excitement but out of fear. “I have to figure all this out?” Fortunately not. My stance in regards to this diagram can be intuited from two successive lines of the Zen of PythonSimple is better than complex. / Complex is better than complicated.
  7. Fake Law by The Secret Barrister: I preordered this a while back. Reading it now is giving me a despair-induced stomach ache and a rage-induced headache. Chase this bitter brew with The Secret Barrister’s recent assertion that now is a better time than ever to be a criminal in the UK, Charles Stross showing us a German press’ caricature of the UK right now, a Level 2 media freedom alert issued to the UK by the Council of Europe, just one of many instances where the current UK government has leveraged pandemic panic to purchase faulty PPE from companies of chummy companions and The Atlantic’s explanation of Britain’s imminent humbling.

The Magnificent Seven #8: Fat Tails and Boring Edges – 06/09/20

  1. Fat tails and boring edges: I riffed on “focusing on the fat tails” in the context of tech stack entry and I contributed a piece called Emergent Infrastructure to this week’s Yak Talk. In Elements & Components of Product Management I completed the shortlist of business analysis ideas; now I’m shortlisting ideas from UI/UX. I’m also making my way through the second of Katherine Arden’s Winternight trilogy; it’s good.
  2. The CIA and MI6’s Secret War in Kenya (and Part 2): A few things jumped out. The use of language to dehumanise is one. A “capture” mission becomes a “law enforcement end-state” mission; a “kill” mission becomes a “military end-state” mission. The second is the tried-and-true tactic of provoking (or claiming) a threat in order to justify the use of lethal force. This seems to be a basic play in both foreign and domestic US operations. The third was this section: “There are US laws governing which foreign security services US government bodies can partner with. These include the Leahy Law, which requires human rights vetting of units slated for assistance, training or equipment. But the law only applies to the US military, the State Department and law enforcement agencies, former Washington director at Human Rights Watch, Sarah Margon, said. … Robert Etinger, former deputy general counsel at the CIA, told Declassified in an email that the law does not apply to the intelligence community.”
  3. Guido von Rossum: Python: A 1.5 hour interview with the Python programming language creator, Guido. Lex Fridman wanted to steer the conversation onto more philosophical, metaphysical tracks. Guido, who comes across as a toolmaker and craftsman interested mostly in those things alone, handled it well. I listened to this because I’m making my way through the Python tutorial and wanted some additional context. I got it. 
  4. Preparing for the end of the world as we know it: I don’t really know what to do with this article. It raises a lot of questions, most of them uncomfortable. For example: “Education, in its different modalities (formal, non-formal, informal, higher, alternative, etc.), has historically been tasked with steering learning towards objectives that secure human survival as well as the reproduction of cultural norms and ideals. However, this double mandate becomes paradoxical when the reproduction of dominant cultural ideals poses a threat to human survival. This paradox is illustrated by Luis Prádanos, who asked in a recent piece about the future of education: ‘[I]s it really smart to educate people to technologically and theoretically refine a system that operates by undermining the conditions of possibility for our biophysical survival?'”
  5. When engagement backfired: “It is easy for cosmopolitans like myself to plant themselves on the other side of the Pacific and have a grand time. Early connections with an opening China were sustained on the back of just those sorts of cosmopolitans: diplomats, journalists, exchange students, and adventurers would head to China from the West, and graduate students, the majority of whom were liberal in their sentiments, came to the West from China. But the sort of easy friendships cosmopolitan Chinese formed with cosmopolitans Westerners were poor guideposts for what would happen when more ‘normal’ people from inside and outside of China’s borders were mixed together.”
  6. Kurt Godel’s Brilliant Madness: I don’t know much about mathematics but I like reading about mathematicians. The Man Who Loved Only Numbers, a biography of Paul Erdos, is one of my favourites. The linked article is a long overview of Kurt Godel’s life. My favourite part: “Famously, prior to the examination — which generally regards the American system of government, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights — Gödel claimed to have found an inconsistency in the constitution. Worried that expounding on his idea might jeopardize Gödel’s application, Morgenstern and Einstein tried to distract Gödel from his discovery until the hearing began. According to Morgenstern, it did come up during the hearing…” Much of the article is sourced from Logical Dilemmas.
  7. Digital pregnancy test teardown: A terrific teardown thread by Foone. Favourite tweet: “This thing is probably faster at number crunching and basic I/O than the CPU used in the original IBM PC, and this one is in something you pee on and throw away.” There’s some interesting dynamics in later tweets as a result of the thread going rather viral. 

The Magnificent Seven #7: Plain English – 30/08/20

  1. Plain English: There are lots of how-tos and do-don’t lists for writing. This one is about as simple and as short as they come. I like it. I agree with it. That said, I won’t always comply with it.
  2. The End of Secularism is Nigh: This article recounts some of the ideas in Tom Holland’s DominionThe book itself was significant to me. I’d never considered the fact that, though I’m an atheist, I’m Christian by default. Much of the values and beliefs I hold dear are derived from Christianity. The article also got me wondering about the Overton window and how some beliefs constrain action while others un-limit it. 
  3. Cull and craft: This blog post describes a milestone in my Element & Components project as well as my assumption of another project related to agent-based modelling. Using the hash.ai toolstack, I’m going to attempt to build a simulation which will allow me to fool around with the dynamics of trust (de)generation. I say “attempt” because I’ve never coded before and to program the agents requires competence with Javascript or Python. Say a prayer for me as I slowly walk this road…
  4. Excessive standardisation of form: Following my entry into coding, questions about tools have arisen. But I viewed this observation (and the embedded thread) through the frame of writing. Personally, my writing turns out better when I begin with a handwritten outline or diagram/sketch. As a consequence, I’m making an effort to use my notebook more frequently. Bonus thread on physical workspaces and bonus article on upfront design in Agile software development.
  5. Would you try this? Humans are capable of some amazing things. Whether they should do them or not is an entirely different question. Watch the video. You’ll see what I mean.
  6. David Blaine on the Joe Rogan Experience: When it comes to podcasts, I tend to listen to none for a while and then watch / listen to multiple. This week, I watched David Blaine’s appearance on the Joe Rogan Experience. It’s probably one of the most fascinating interviews I’ve ever seen. Blaine’s enthusiasm, insight and awe; how he guides conversations and relays anecdotes; Rogan’s reactions; utterly absorbing. I also listened to James Nestor’s appearance, just to see if he talks about breath-related stuff that didn’t make it into his book. He did: turns out that stress from chewing/masticating doesn’t have the same effect on the nervous system compared to straight-up jaw clenching. 
  7. Books with unusual but brilliant structures: Need something to read? The blog post itself has a tonne of reccs, as does the Twitter thread linked within. 

The Magnificent Seven #6: Genius and Collaboration – 23/08/20

  1. Richard Feynman’s Advice to a Young Stephen Wolfram: I’m citing this because it has me thinking about a genius’ (in)ability to genius in the absence of collaboration. It seems that, no matter how other-worldly a person’s abilities are, we are better together than we are alone. 
  2. Half a House: The pictures got me, as did the concept: building half a house is an innovative way to do affordable housing. I found the conclusion saddening, however: “The biggest hurdle to an incremental building project working in the U.S. isn’t a matter of safety or legality, however. Stoloff believes the U.S. would view it as ‘an embarrassment.’ Even though we might end up providing more people with adequate housing, ‘we couldn’t do it—we’d lose face,’ says Stoloff.”
  3. Tolkien and the True History of Europe by Robert Kearney: I’ve read LOTR more times than I can count. It’s a work that’s been instrumental in my desire to write at all, and to write fiction in particular. And when I read that Tolkien’s magnum opus may be based on obscure historical literature? I fell in love with Tolkien’s work just a little bit more.
  4. Strength: This is the afterword to Ss, which I published just because. I wrote about the root of disagreement and I’ve progressed onto the project management section of my latest project. This week’s Yak Talk lays out some approaches to decarbonisation. I also gave my “about” page a much required spruce-up.
  5. 10 Years and 100 Reads: I’ve read Meditations myself, a fair number of times. Recently, I’ve come back to this passage. “…there are plenty of other things you can show: honesty, gravity, endurance, austerity, resignation, abstinence, patience, sincerity, moderation, seriousness, high-mindedness. Don’t you see how much you have to offer–beyond excuses like “can’t”? And yet you still settle for less.”
  6. Slate Star Codex Abridged: I’ve read very little SSC. But with the Abridged version being available as a PDF and the Kindle “convert” trick, I can now get around to it.
  7. The Last of the Hedgehogs: A piece about Rene Girard, inspired by the release of Cynthia Haven’s latest, The Prophet of Envy. I find Girard himself, let alone his ideas, fascinating. He’s a small giant of the last half-century. 

The Magnificent Seven #5: abc xyz (I forgot to title this one…) – 16/08/20

  1. Wrong vs Right Enemies: I came across a diagram from Nassim Taleb’s Principia Politica, a work-in-progress. It says that demonising “the rich” is incorrect; demonising predators, cronies and rent-seekers both rich and poor (as opposed to earners, entrepreneurs and protectors) is a better stance. I’m inclined to agree. I’m also inclined to believe that all of us need to define our enemies and, more mildly, our out-group. Just as Seneca advised us to have a positive model to measure ourselves against, it’s useful to have a negative model to measure up to.
  2. Surviving Autocracy by Masha Gessen: I’m halfway through this and it’s already painted a stark picture of the Anglosphere. It confirms that common sense tactics for refuting untruth, exposing incompetence and calling out immorality do not work in the context of 2020. I’m hoping a remedy is introduced later on… If one is not, however, I’ve found a more general approach in James Clavell’s Noble House. Faced with uncertainty, challenge and insider sabotage, tai-pan Ian Dunross decides upon a response: “Laugh and fight.”
  3. Simple Sabotage Field Manual by The CIA: Pay attention to the final section, titled General Interference with Organisations and Production. In an ideal world, you’ll read it and realise that neither yourself nor anyone you interact with does any of the things listed. Also, in line with the theme of sabotage, here’s a list of 17 disinformation techniques.
  4. Assumptions About Hunter-Gatherers by Manvir Singh: I’m one of those who assumed that hunter-gatherers lived in small, roaming bands with only basic hierarchies and minimal infrastructure. As Manvir explains, that’s not necessarily true.
  5. A Simple Plan for Repairing Our Society by Vinay Gupta: Incentivising the long-term over the short-term is perhaps the biggest issue when it comes to politics. As David Roberts has pointed out, the problem is never lack of resources; it’s lack of political will. And perhaps one way to aggregate the will required to begin solving global problems is to adopt Vinay’s suggestion: “You can look, situation by situation, rule by rule, law by law, and ask ‘am I harming these children?’ If the answer is yes, you don’t do that. The kids are profoundly collateral damage in the power struggles of the adults, and we’re using them like hostages all the time. But a cease fire could be arranged.”
  6. By me: In this week’s Yak Talk newsletter I wrote a speculative what-if that considered a more harmful version of a recent Twitter hack. I’ve also progressed in my Elements & Components of Product Management project. I’m now considering the big ideas associated with the software development life-cycle. Say hi if you can help me out.
  7. Scholar’s Stage: I haven’t read much of the material on this site (there’s a lot) but I’m plugging it for anyone interested in “the intersections of history, behavioral science, and strategic thought, with an emphasis on East and Southeast Asian affairs.” I’ll also plug two books I read a while ago: The Unspoken Way by Michihiro Matsumoto and Chinese Looking Glass by Dennis Bloodworth. Both provided Young Me with some basic ideas about these respective non-Western cultures.

The Magnificent Seven #4: Movement Matters – 09/08/20

  1. Waterrower: Someone on Twitter pointed me to these as a replacement for the world famous Concept2s. And oh boy, do I want one. 
  2. Intervention by Dan John: Since the pandemic, I’ve been training at home. But even when I wasn’t this book (and its ideas) have been at the heart of how I approach movement. Breaking movements down into push, pull, squat, hinge, carry and other is a gamechanger. So is the idea of quadrants. And I use that expression lightly when it comes to health and fitness. 
  3. Original Strength: More recently, I’ve rebuilt parts of my movement practice. Specifically, the warm up (prep) and everything that comes after the meat of a session (play). OS has a ridiculous repertoire to mine and combine to make movement fun again. 
  4. Kettlebells: Generic plug here. One of the best investments I’ve ever made is in my own set of ‘bells. I have eight or nine, from 8kg up to 36kg, but having even one or two knocking around is transformative, provided you can make using them a habit…
  5. Local / Global Maxima: A hint I read concerning meditation; play the game at a level you can win. In meditation, that often means taking it breath by breath. In health, fitness and movement, that means focusing on local instead of global maxima. Terrifically hard to do of course, but it mitigates most of the downside associated with fitness and allows you to access way more of the upside. 
  6. Breath by James Nestor: One of those books which gives me ideas I immediately want to try. Thus far, I’ve tried nasal breathing whilst swinging kettlebells and on a recent cycle. The latter was hard. I’m considering taping my mouth overnight to see if it stops me snoring, too. I’m sure I’ll try other things before the book is over. 
  7. The shape of a story: A snapshot of where I’m at with a current novella project. I’m also continuing to traipse the disciplines of UI and UX for critical ideas related to product management. 

The Magnificent Seven #3: Little Books, Feet and Slaveholders – 02/08/20

  1. Little Black Classics (01-80): A present from my nearest and dearest to celebrate the completion of Ss, my first short story collection. I read the first on Friday (an excerpt from Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron) and thoroughly enjoyed it. My intention is to read each of Classic cold, with no advance research of the context, and then do some digging before reading it once more. 
  2. Wild Toes + Lacrosse Ball: I spent years wearing various trainers whilst playing sports as a kid. I spent more years wearing smart, pointy shoes shift after shift in bars and restaurants. I now wear boots for 12+ hours at a time during my day job. Somewhere in the middle of all this I spent a year or so working in a gym, barefoot, and training Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Now there’s no going back. If I could, I’d be barefoot (or wear Vivo’s) all the time. I can’t so I use toe spreaders and a lacrosse ball to look after my foot health. (P.s. get a lacrosse ball for a quid on Amazon and instead of buying a beam from TFC, repurpose a scaffolding pole; that’s my plan.)  
  3. How slaveholders in the Caribbean maintained control: H/t to Michael Duda for sending this over. It’s a nice introduction to the tools of control and manipulation in society, but more importantly it reminded me of other locales in time and space. Soviet Gulags; Nazi concentration camps and Jewish ghettos; (aspiring) authoritarian regimes; countless offices and endless factories. Facilitating division, undermining trust, poisoning critical seams of community and connection. The context changes but the content of the playbook remains the same. Fortunately, so do the tools of resistance, rebellion and recovery. 
  4. The Münchhausen trilemma: This is the suggestion that the attempt to prove any truth comes up against one of three impediments–I won’t spoil them here, though. I’m thinking about this in combination with the idea of diminishing returns and in two separate contexts: introspection and decision making. No matter how deep I dig, I’ll never get to the bottom of my self. And even if I do, I’ll run into the munchy-tri. This means that, when it comes to decisions I have to make–and the inputs I have to consider, one of which is me–I will always have to act with faith. I cannot know yet I must still commit; thus I need faith. 
  5. The trauma floor: I remember a quip on Twitter (I can’t find it now, though). It was something like, Do you believe that the mind is separate from the body? Then hadn’t you better work out? A worthy shot at mind-body dualism. Similarly, after reading Zeynep Tufekci’s Twitter and Tear Gas, I thought of this article as an example that dissolves the persistent myth of cyber dualism (e.g. the “online” world isn’t “real”). 
  6. By me: I co-wrote the first instalment of a series called Chasing Tails for the Yak Collective’s weekly newsletter and I started populating the long-lists of my latest product-management-related project. I put out a public call for contributions here.
  7. Bel far niente: I’m reading Eat, Pray, Love and I came across this segment: “Bel far niente means ‘the beauty of doing nothing.’ Now listen–Italians have traditionally always been hard workers, especially those long-suffering laborers known as braccianti (so called because they had nothing but the brute strength of their arms–braccie–to help them survive in this world). But even against that backdrop of hard work, bel far niente has always been a cherished Italian ideal. The beauty of doing nothing is the goal of all your work, the final accomplishment for which you are most highly congratulated. The more exquisitely and delightfully you can do nothing, the higher your life’s achievement. You don’t necessarily need to be rich in order to experience this, either. There’s another wonderful Italian expression: l’arte d’arrangiarsi–the art of making something out of nothing. The art of turning a few simple ingredients into a feast, or a few gathered friends into a festival. Anyone with a talent for happiness can do this, not only the rich.”

The Magnificent Seven #2: Tech Effects – 26/07/20

  1. Last Chance U (Part 1): There was much above and beyond this series’ entertainment value. It reminded me of the effects of poverty at the molecular level. It got me thinking about the collapse of the middle class and how it’ll make “getting out” even harder. And it reminded me not to assign individuals the responsibility for structural defects of a system.
  2. By me: In response to a surprise package, I wrote about tolerating BS. As part of the ongoing pivot into product management, I compared PM’s components to the elements of writing fiction. I also co-wrote a piece about “the democratisation of simulation” for the Yak Talk newsletter.
  3. India, Jio and the Four Internets: It’s easy to think of the internet as one huge monolithic block. It isn’t. As this post demonstrated, it’s a series of competing ecosystems, a few of which make up the dominant majority. The reason I ended up reading this post was because I asked a friend how much software development traditions differ in the US in comparison to China. If anyone has insight on that question, let me know…
  4. Dostoevsky’s Notes: I’ve read a few novels by the Great Russian, so I’m not too surprised that his notetakings were bizarre and psychotic. It’s still beautiful to see, though. And it caused me to wonder whether I should move more of my workflow (particularly charting the elements of fiction) back to pen and paper. Not because I think it’ll be as good as Dostoevsky’s notes, but because thinking on paper is strangely satisfying.
  5. Growing Without Schooling: Austin Kleon’s a good dude and his continued interest in homeschooling (and educational methods in general) isn’t just beneficial to parents. In this post, he talks about the work of John Holt, links to his own favourite excerpts and includes the fully online back catalog of Growing Without Schooling mags. 
  6. Mouthbreathing Machiavellis Dream of a Silicon Reich: Not long after coming across NRx / dark enlightenment I read this somewhat old piece by Corey Pein. It has me conflicted. True, “visionaries” can just be re-upholstering the ideas and stances of historic dictators. But I’m also not cynical about technology and the developments it can bring (though I wouldn’t class myself as an optimist, either). Additionally, I read this Atlantic piece, supplemented it with a reminder from Vinay Gupta about what matters and explored the links in TV Tropes’ Ubermensch page.
  7. Be Impatient: Generally, I believe operating at a greater tempo is a good thing. That’s why I like indie publishing. It’s why I like blogging. It’s part of the fun of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Respond fast; act faster. This post has arguments in favour of speed in different contexts. However, there’s also arguments for incredible slowness. Perhaps it’s best to cultivate competence at both extremes.

The Magnificent Seven #1: Beginnings – 19/07/20

  1. James Clavell’s Asian Saga: due to a self-imposed book-buying embargo, I picked up The Asian Saga once more. I’d already read Shogun and Tai-Pan. I restarted Gai-Jin and finished it a few days ago. King Rat has started strong. The Saga is epic in scope and impressive in its detail. A discussion about it with my father also inspired the title of this newsletter project thing.
  2. Zeynep Tufecki’s Twitter and Tear Gas: We’re all trying to navigate a post-truth world. And a critical component of this world is the emergent movements enabled by technological advances. This book is about that. Zeynep is also a good Twitter follow.
  3. The Yak Collective’s The New Old Home Report: I found this report full of ideas and possibilities for reimagining work-home life. I was satisfied to find that I’d already adopted a few in my own life but more satisfied to find additional ideas to experiment with. I particularly enjoyed the segment on “How Homes Work”.
  4. From Payments to Armaments: this free-to-read article from the Financial Times is about Jan Marsalek, a COO who belongs in a gritty geo-strategic thriller novel. I didn’t read this because I’m interested in the hoo-ha about Wirecard (and cryptocurrencies in general). I read it because, in the theme of this War Dogs article, I was intrigued by just how far sheer audacity can take a person.
  5. Daniel Sinclair on the Uhgyur deportation video: Three things here. First, the video is terrifying. Second, Daniel’s investigation into the why and how of the video is cool to see unfold. Third, it raised a lot of questions in my mind concerning the dominant “it can’t happen here” sentiment and reminded me of a book called States of Denial.
  6. Vivo Barefoot’s Ultra III: I’m on to my third pair of these things. They’re great and have made every pair of “normal” shoes virtually unwearable in comparison. Once the toes spread it’s impossible not to notice them being squished together by traditional shoes…
  7. Paweł Czerwiński: Whilst trawling Unsplash for abstract artwork for Ss, I came across this fellow’s work. It’s mesmerising and beautiful and kind of haunting.