September 2020 Book Retrospective

In September I managend to read five books, and restrained myself to only buy an additional five books. So it was one of those rare moments when I broke even!

Completed Books

Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker

Every night I lay in bed with this book past midnight agreeing with all the points it was making about how I should have been sleeping instead of staying awake reading…

If you read my previous post you will see that this book really had an effect on me, I have know that sleeping is important for years, and that I dont get enough. But reading this book has spurred me into action for the first time in order to try and address the problem.

I had heard a bunch about this book since it was released a few years back, and even though there was some concern about some of the science in it, most sources agree that the overall thrust of the book is worth listening to.

If you have ever been interested in sleep, or want that extra push to start tackling your own sleep problems, I highly recommend the read.

Falcon Helen by MacDonald

My late night reading buddy.

Everyone was raving about Helen Macdonald’s book ‘H is For Hawk’ a few years ago. I read it and was impressed, so when I saw this on sale I figured I would give it a go. Whereas H is For Hawk was a blend of a person dealing with grief, mixed with a history of hawking, this book deals simply with the subject of falcons. It gives an overview of the animals themselves, but then also analyses how they fit into human myths, society, and the world we have created. A quick read, but a satisfying one.

Plus it reminded me about this livened, which I frankly just love:

https://www.367collinsfalcons.com.au

The Body by Bill Bryson

A beer and a book; a winning combination!

I had only ever read a short Bill Bryson book about Shakespeare a year ago, but have always heard people rave about his more in-depth books. Amazon and Google’s algorithms were hammering me with ads for this book when it came out, but I managed to resist for ages because the Hardcover was frankly just too much for my wallet ($45!).

I was pretty proud of myself for not giving in, and subsequently went on my merry way.

Then the paperback was released for $16 from Big W….

I loved this book. It was chock full of facts and interesting stories, each chapter delving into a different part of the body and giving you a greater appreciation for the vessel that carries you through this life of ours. I would highly recommend this for anyone who is even remotely curious about the world. It isn’t overly technical, and is amazingly easy to read (I chewed through the 521 pages in one week).

The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli

More books, and more beer. You can’t quite tell, but it is The Prince I am reading.

This is one of those books that you always want to read, but never really get around to it. The word Machiavellian is well with popular realm, but where does it all come from. I wanted to know.

I bought this book for my son at the start of the year after a character in his book mentioned it. Whenever my son shows any interest in a book that I am interested in, I instantly use this as the best excuse ever to buy a new book.

Its for my son dammnit; I have to buy it!

He hasn’t read it yet (his pile of books to read is almost as big as mine), but I was amused when I asked to borrow it from him and he said something along the lines of, “Ah, wanting to learn how to manipulate people hey?”.

Brilliant!

As for the book itself, it was quite interesting. Surprisingly modern in the way it is written (though this may be the work of the translator, I dont know), and yet also gives you a nice understanding of the world it was written in. It reminds me of when I read Sun Tzu’s Art of War; you get a good understanding of some of the unchanging laws of strategy that transcend time and culture, but then you also get a bunch of irrelevant information, like how many goats to ransom people for, or what certain regions of Italy are talented in.

One of my mates also brought to my attention the interesting question of whether this book is a how to guide for a Prince, as it is presented, or whether it is written for the population, so they can understand how their leaders control them. This is part can explain why the language is so approachable; it was written in the common Italian of the day, not the more traditional Latin.

An interesting read, and definitely worth taking a look at, if only so you can add it to your list of classic texts.

Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi

I love a good Scalzi. My only criticism of them is that I read through them so damn quick! Two days is not long enough with these characters, in these worlds. I want more!

This book is a strange blend of court procedural, and alien first contact. A very approachable read, keeps you entertained, with enough to make you think, like any good science fiction should.

Started/In Progress:

  • Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
  • Talking to My Country by Stan Grant

Purchased:

  • The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland
  • The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu
  • The Lives of Stoics by Ryan Holiday
  • Planetes by Makoto Yukimura
  • The Bird Way by Jennifer Ackerman

On the Horizon:

  • The Ministry of the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • The Two Lost Mountains by Matthew Reilly

Holy crap; this month my two favourite authors release new books, on the same god damn day!

I can’t imagine a better problem to have these days, than the issue of deciding which new book to read; one by Australia’s best action author, or one by the best creator of hard science fiction currently plying the trade….

A lovely dilemma to have.

Not sure what else I will focus on, but I dont care; these two will keep me satisfied.

Peace out.

30 Days

I have done a bunch of 30 day, or month long really, challenges and have found them a useful way of testing things out. Yes it doesn’t always form a lasting habit, or lasting change in my life; but it offers new perspectives and gives me a bit more understanding about myself.

My wife and I have quit added sugar for a month, done 30 days alcohol free (which we extended to 50 days), started meditating (for maybe 30 days??)… More recently I have experimented with intermittent fasting, which has found an ongoing place in my life.

I find the best part about these challenges is that they are small, and that they have an end date. It allows me to make decisions easier, because I don’t have to make them. I dont have to wonder whether I should have that snack; its past 7 o’clock, and that’s my cut off time. I don’t have to ponder whether I buy that Mars bar at work, because I know I am having no added sugar that month. I don’t have to agnonise about the decision, and how it affects my life ongoing, because for the time being I know it is just a small challenge, and I can focus my willpower elsewhere.

So I have a bunch of goals I want to attempt this month, and I will go over them in detail in the coming days. But I want to start with sleep, as this is the driving force behind this challenge. Changing my sleep patterns is a big deal for me, and so committing to do it for 30 days has given me an opportunity to chuck in a few other things in the hope that such a significant upheaval will let me anchor in a few more positive habits.

But for now, the main goal is simple; I want to give myself 30 days of at least 8 hours of sleep. For me this means get to bed at 10:30, and getting up at 6:30.

What prompted this? I recently finished Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker:

I realise the irony of reading this book at 1:00 a.m.

It was a really eye opening read, giving an explanation of what sleep is, how it fits into our lives, and how it can be impacted. Whats more important, it gives a litany of the many ways not getting enough sleep can affect you. It makes you sick more often, can lead to weight gain, negatively impact your moods, make it harder to interact with and understand others, ruins your memory, makes it harder to learn new things. This list goes on an on.

But the strange thing is, we all know sleep is good for you and less sleep is bad. Yet knowing isn’t enough.

I find that I can know something, but really not internalise it. I know I am not sleeping well, and yet I still do it; I still stay away past midnight knowing I will get up tired in six hours. I know I shouldn’t eat that doughnut, but I enjoy every last bite. I know these things as simple axioms, but sometimes I find it useful to read a whole book on the subject, to really get in deeper and go over the complexities. I may know the arguments, but it is useful to get the background. Even if I don’t remember everything from a book, I think I find the sustained immersion in a topic helps my mind to get the overall ‘gist’ of things.

[Indeed the idea of getting the ‘gist’ is covered in the book, and apparently part of your sleep cycle is great at taking these big overarching ideas, drawn from manifold memories, learnings, and neural pathways in your mind, and stitching them together into greater knowledge. This is apparently how young children are able to pick up on bigger overarching grammatical rules when learning language, without us parents having to explain it to them (or without them even understanding that they are learning it)]

So I read this book on sleep and yes, it was convincing. It reaffirmed what I already knew; sleep is important. The fact that pretty much every animal on earth does it should have been a pretty convincing clue; especially given evolutions propensity for ruthlessly removing pointless things from the gene pool.

But the next step is doing something about it.

The simplest thing is to simply make sure I get the sleep I need. The book recommends 8 hours, so that’s the goal I set.

I have always struggled with how to fit sleep into my way of living. I am a night owl, this is what I have always told myself, and the book did somewhat support the idea that some people simply have a different sleep pattern.

I find myself most active mentally at nights and I struggle in the morning. This might sound normal to a lot of people, but I have been assured that there truly are people out there who function well in the morning. Who knew?

Anyway, this has always been the relationship I have had with sleep.

When I was at university, I structured my week to avoid as many morning classes as possible, and would sleep in until lunchtime if I could, I would stay up well past midnight, studying, and generally living my life. This went on for years, but eventually I had to join the workforce, and what’s more I also became a father. Then all of a sudden my usual wake time of well past 10 a.m. got pulled forward to around 6 a.m., so I could catch my commuter train. But I never adjusted the time I would go to bed accordingly. I went from an abundance of sleep (probably around 8 hours now that I think of it), to a sleep deficit (usually around 5 hours).

I wasn’t willing to give up my awake time. I dont like conforming to things, and the idea of my work forcing me to lose my personal time did not sit well with me. So I have never really compromised, and instead have just gone on bearing the brunt of a lack of sleep.

It isn’t helpful, but I never really was able to see what impact it had on my life. This all happened when I was going through massive changes anyway; moving out of home, getting my first job, becoming a father, getting married. I did all of this in pretty much one year.

So as a result, any negative impact that sleep deprivation has had on my life was lost in the din. I have felt exhausted for years, but society loves to tell us parents that this is the norm. As if it is a heroic sacrifice. My moods have changed, I have put on weight, I have lost motivation in areas of my life that once gave me energy (writing?). I feel like I have bad self-esteem, and this makes me question and doubt myself; am I a good friend, a good father, a good husband? I feel like my ability to make judgements on these things is clouded; but that in itself could be a result of a lack of sleep.

And I know this might seem like I am blaming all my troubles on one thing, and I don’t really think that is the case, but given that the research I have done into a lack of adequate sleep has suggested that it can impact all of these disparate areas, I can’t help but feel that tackling my lack of sleep is a good place to start.

Do I think it will solve all of these problems? No. But hopefully it can eliminate some of these, and allow me to then focus on other areas of my life that I want to improve.

I feel like there is a haze that has been holding me back, and I need to see if I can clear it up.

So I am using the 30 days challenge template to see what I can do. I still dont like the idea of going to bed earlier than I want to, but for 30 days I can sacrifice some hours of personal time.

I dont know if the improvements I will see will offset this ‘lost’ time, but I am willing to give it a go. One of the arguments put forth in the book was concerning work, and how lack of sleep impacts your productivity. It pointed out that yes, sleeping less and working more means more work hours put in; but what you are getting aren’t the full hours. You aren’t being as productive as you could in those hours. So the question is; can I get more out of the hours for which I am awake by ‘sacrificing’ more hours to sleep?

I hope I can.

September:
Week Day – Average 6 hours sleep
Weekend – Average 7.5 hours sleep
Total sleep hours = (22 x 6) + (8 x 7.5) = 132 + 60 = 192 hours
Therefore, awake time = 528 hours
October:
Week Day & Weekend – Average 8 hours sleep
Total sleep hours = (30(ish) x 8) = 240 hours
Therefore, awake time = 480 hours
Some quick mathematics, because I love mathematics. Mathematical!

I hope that come November, I look back and see that I got more out of the 480 hours I spent awake in October, than I did the 528 hours of September.

And looking at the numbers, it really is only around a loss of 10% of my time. So if I can get anywhere near the number of benefits extolled in Matthew Walkers book, then surely it will be worth it.

Anyhow, the challenge starts tomorrow, and its already past my impending bedtime.

Sleep tight!

Don’t tell me how to feel, Gmail

When it was announced that Gmail was getting some sort of AI addition that would scan you email text, and provide some quick possible responses, I thought it was a bit weird, but never imagined I would use it, and promptly forgot about it.

When it arrived, it was pretty innocuous, and I generally ignore the bold blue words, write my own reply, and go on my merry way. Sure I have clicked on one here or there, but they never really seem that much of a time saver in my opinion.

But when I was writing a reply today, it started looking too much like the suggested result, and gave me pause.

I mean, sure, I am happy for it to suggest answers to a quick question asking for permission to do something. It makes sense that it can understand the context of the question, and know that a quick reply giving assent might be warranted. I am happy with an AI doing that.

What I dont like, is the added exclamation point.

I don’t know why. But I don’t like the AI suggesting excitement. I don’t like it telling me how to feel. I am a contrarian by nature, so perhaps this is just my usual reaction when I am told to act in a certain way, or think a certain thought.

Maybe it also bugs me, because it seems like it would be more fake to send something that presents some kind of emotional response, which wasn’t directly written by me. Passing on a simple ‘Sure’ doesnt have any extra connotations, ‘Sure!’ does.

But maybe, like so many things, I am overthinking it.

Random though over.

Take a breath, take a deep breath now

Disclaimer: This post isn’t about the efficacy of masks during the pandemic, and I fully understand that not everyone is able, or required, to wear a mask. Its just some thoughts I had about the experience of wearing a mask.

I remember last year I had a bout of asthma. I have been lucky since becoming an adult, as this condition had pretty much settled down, and was kept under control. I still can’t engage in heaps of vigorous physical activity without getting ‘wheezy’, but I can jog, I can climb mountains, and I can engage in Nerf battle with my family; so I have the essentials covered.

But every now and then, it flares up. Nothing major, no attacks that send me to the hospital like when I was a kid. But still enough to knock me out of work, and rob me of a night’s sleep here and there.

It is a feeling that I am still used to; struggling to breath, building up the energy to get up and source my medication. It sucks, but things could be much worse.

You take the time, fight through the breathlessness, find your inhaler, take a few doses, and then sit back waiting for it to take effect. Then you get the glorious feeling of your breath coming back to you. Each breath becomes deeper. The panic leaves your body, and you calm down. After a few minutes, you realise that being able to take deep breaths feels amazing. It’s something that I think those not afflicted with asthma don’t truly appreciate.

Breathing is actually an enjoyable sensation, but as we do it all the time, you lose sight of that. Like chewing gum that has lost its flavour, or the lumpy wallet you no longer feel in your back pocket; it’s always there, you just forget about it.

So when I hear all these people complaining about wearing facemasks because it makes it harder to breath, I can’t help but roll my eyes. 

Really?

I don’t know about all you able-lunged people, but yes when I wear a mask for an extended period of time I do start feeling somewhat short of breath (perhaps exacerbated by the fact that I breathe shallower in a vain attempt to stop my glasses from fogging up). But trust me, it pales in comparison to what asthmatics have to put up with, and I don’t even want to think about those suffering from coronavirus.

What’s more, I still get that exhilarating feeling when I take off the mask, and take those first deep breaths. It makes me feel good, it reminds me of how things could be much worse. Hell I even get to feel that smug feeling of ‘doing my bit’, and making a small (very small) sacrifice for the greater good.

(Don’t blame me; it’s how evolution wired our brain).

So next time you are out there in the world, masked up and getting on with life, remember to make a note for when you take off that mask. Take the time to really be in the moment, take off your mask, breath long, and breath deep. Be in the moment and enjoy it. Think about how that little sacrifice can give you a window into what other people are experiencing, and be grateful that the majority of us in society are doing the right thing, and that with any luck this is the worst impact your breathing will have during this pandemic.

Cake Cutting and Hofstadter’s Law

Hofstadter’s Law: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hofstadter%27s_law

This applies with me and cake. I always have this problem: when I cut a piece of cake I always wish I had cut it a bit larger, even when I take that into account that at the beginning. No matter how much I think “Better cut it a bit bigger because I always end up wanting more”, I still look at the final piece of cake and find it wanting.

And yes I suppose you could instead say that this is an example of how our brains evolved to never be satisfied, or that this is exemplified by the Buddhist concept of Taṇhā. But for me, I think it is just the two sides in me that instinctual want cake, but intellectually know I shouldn’t have too much.

But is it enough????

But hey, this is Orange and Poppy seed cake. Oranges are good for you, so I think I’ll grab another slice…..

July 2020 Book Retrospective

Last year I discovered the joy of audiobooks, this year I discovered the uncertainty of a global pandemic, and as a result lost my daily walks to and from work, and thus most of my time for audiobooking. This month however I somewhat got back on the horse and discovered Amazon’s Whispersync for Voice, which allows me to listen to a book on my drives to and from my son’s school, and then pick up where I left off on my Kindle for the nights read. So this months ‘reads’ also includes a book I half read, half listened to.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also created a new reading habit I have really embraced this month. Waiting outside businesses, whether it be our vets, or takeaway venues, is now a part of how we do things. In the past if I was waiting somewhere for a short period of time, I did what most people in my generation do; stare at my phone. When it became apparent that sometimes I would be stuck waiting outside for over half an hour, I realised that mindlessly scrolling through feeds wasn’t the best use of my time.

Early last year I bought a copy of Haruki Murakami’s short memoir “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running”. The edition I got was a small pocket-sized book, which actually fits snuggly in most of my regular pockets (think penguin pocket book size). So now when I am heading out I chuck this book in my pocket, and read a few pages here and there.

I definitely prefer using this time for something enlightening, rather than just falling down a screen hole. One of the books I read last month (Digital Minimalism) extolled the virtues of developing quality leisure time, and I feel this somewhat fits the bill. Plus I have now found a bunch of similarly sized books ready to fill the gap when this one is done:

Let me know which one I should start with

July’s Reads

So, all in all this month I managed to read six books, three physical, and two eBooks. Below is a quick ruin down of what I consumed:

Not pictured: digital books…

Zero Sum Game S. L. Huang

I always like to have a fiction book on the go so that if I want to read, but don’t want to be actively trying to learn something, I can delve into some make-believe world and just enjoy the ride (see below for why Murakami is so good for this).

And when I read a short interview with Huang on John Scalzi’s website, I knew I wanted to read this book. Huang is an awesome sounding person; she was the first woman to be a professional armourer in Hollywood, worked as a stunt-woman and firearms expert in films, and got a degree in Mathematics. And when i heard her novels were centred around a character who uses her supernaturally good maths skills to kick-ass and solve crimes, I was hooked.

And it pretty much delivered. While I may prefer more in depth science fiction, the harder stuff like Kim Stanley Robinson, I still really appreciated the world that Huang created, and the imaginative and fresh take on introducing a scientifically plausible physic/mind-reader.

I shall be reading more.

White Fragility Robin DiAngelo

I have written so man blog posts regarding Black Lives Matters, but have never managed to get my thoughts to a point where I was happy putting them out there. Even though realistically the ‘out there’ that I am talking about is this personal blog on a website visited by people numbering in the tens, rather than thousands. But even so, I haven’t felt qualified, or informed enough, to feel like i was making a worthwhile contribution.

So in order to get a bit more educated, did a quick bit of research on what boos might be able to provide me with the information and points of view I was lacking, and settled on starting with White Fragility, mainly because the concept was something that rang true with what I was seeing in the world.

It was a very interesting read, though I am now more interested in finding something more focused on Australia, and its racial issues, as I felt a lot of this was not only centred on American racism, but also acted as if everywhere else was just a reflection of this.

Don’t get me wrong I am not saying that Australia never had the racial problems that America did, I am just saying that we have a different history, that needs addressing specifically, rather than just applying one way of thinking, which doesn’t take into account the points of view of the people directly affected in Australia.

Any suggestions of what I might read next would be appreciated.

Humankind Rutger Bregman

This is my selection bias, or confirmation bias, in full effect. But considering the fact that we are living through a global pandemic which the media loves to sensationalise, I wanted to escape into something more positive, and this is exactly what I needed.

I have always maintained that humans are inherently good creatures. To me it seems obvious; if we were the selfish, depraved, immoral animals that we are so often are told we are, then society simply wouldn’t work. To me the law of average tells me that most people out there must be inherently good. And while people may think it naive, I want to be able to show that there is actually a bunch of evidence and theory backing up this view.

Its the same with COVID. Sure you can look at the non-mask wearers, the people who are willing to write off the elderly as collateral damage, or any other number of conspiracy theories or worst examples of people, and say that we are a lost cause. But always remember that the majority of people out there are not just looking out for number one. The majority are willing to do the right thing, to help out, and to try and make things better. Sure its hard when there is misinformation going on, and a lot of people are being misinformed about what they should be doing. But where the messaging is clear, and it is within their power, you see people banding together and being good.

This book looks at that flawed view of humans, and seeks to counter it with not only real life counter-examples, but also with the scientific theories which underpin a kinder view of humanity.

I highly reccomend it for those who want a better view of our species.

Additionally, one thing I like about this book is that the author is roughly my age, and discusses how his early thinking was guided by books that I myself read at a formative time in my life (e.g. Guns Germs and Steel). They go on to talk about how their thinking grew beyond these simple impressions, as new information entered the discussion, and older views had to be reassessed. It covers things like the Milligram Experiment, The Stanford Prison Experiment, and the Murder of Kitty Genovese, and is able to show how tough many people are aware of the original narrative provided, we now have a clearer picture of what happened, why it happened, and why it might not mean what you think it means.

It is great to see people being open to change, and reassessment, rather than digging in and fighting every point till the bitter end.

A Wild Sheep Chase Haruki Murakami

I chucked my thoughts up here recently, so I wont delve too deep here. But to quickly sum up, I found this book gave me clarity on how I can read and enjoy books, even if I don’t understand why I enjoy them, or to be frank, even what the point of the whole story was. This book allowed me to just turn of my brain, and go along for the ride, and I loved it.

Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue Ryan Holiday

I never used to read any Gawker articles, but I was aware of what it was. So when in 2014 I started seeing stories in the news of the Gawker media group being sued, and then effectively destroyed, by Hulk Hogan, it really caught me by surprise. I remember having a quick look at the news headlines, wondering what would happen to the likes of Gizmodo and io9, and then leaving it at that.

Later on I knew that they had linked Peter Thiel to the whole thing, and that people were wary of the interference of billionaires in media companies, but I never really paid much attention to the story.

Then when Ryan Holiday announced that this event would be the subject of his next book, I was puzzled. I had read The Obstacle is the Way, and Ego is the Enemy, and thoroughly enjoyed them both. I knew Ryan had written other books based around his former career as a marketeer, but for me he was all about stoic philosophy. So for a book seemingly based on celebrity scandal and so forth to be his next endeavour seemed strange.

So when it came on sale for my Kindle/Audible, I figured I would give it a go.

It was a fascinating read/listen.

I don’t know why, perhaps it is linked to my childhood love of comics and superheroes, but I have always had a soft spot for the idea of the super-intelligent person scheming in the background to get their way. The idea that you could achieve your goals through the simple application of intelligence appealed to me as while I coudlnt hoppe to achioeve any superpowers, in theory I could work hard enough to educate myself and prevail somehow that way.

While you may question a lot of Peter Theil’s actions (his support of Trump, briefly covered in this book, was hard for me to swallow), there is no doubt that in this instance he was able to set a goal for himself, and then go about achieving it in a methodical, and disciplined manner.

Ryan Holiday sprinkles enough philosophy and history throughout the book to keep you entertained, and does a great job of ruminating on the subject of conspiracies and how they form a part of our world, so that even if you don’t care about Hulk Hogan, or the sanctity of the medias role in society, you can still get a lot out of the book.

The Call of Cthulu – H. P. Lovecraft

I got this one from the Aussie Project Gutenberg, check it out here for free!

My son wanted to buy a collection of H. P. Lovecraft’s works last month, but as he hadn’t read any of his stories before, and it was quite a pricey book, we instead suggested he try a short story first. As the text of The Call of Cthulu is freely available on the internet, I was able to print off and bind (cf. gaffer tape) his very own copy of the short story.

I decided to give it a go myself, especially as the term ‘Lovecraftian’ is something I understand intellectually through its sheer impact on culture, but I have never really delved into it, beyond the occasional late night spelunking down the Wikipedia hole.

It was definitely a different kind of read; I have never read a horror book on purpose (yes I have accidentally, thats another story), but I did enjoy the imagery, and psychological nature of the terror that the story sought to impart.

Whats more it gave me an appreciation for the way a short story can flesh out a world.

In Progress

Some books I am currently reading, but didn’t get a chance to finish:

Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work Chip Heath

Recommended by Wheezy Waiter as a way of making better decisions. I feel like I have lost the framework to make bigger decisions in my life, partly because I have hit a comfortable point in my life where I can just keep cruising along in my rut, and stay the course.

When decisions come my way, I often get stuck with the status quo, or overanalysing and not making a choice, or any number of things. Wheezy made a good case in a few of his videos that came from this book; things like not looking at decisions as an either/or kind of thing, or broadening your spotlight, etcetera, and they have all sounded good. So I hope to enact these kinds of things in the coming month (if I can finish this in August). After all we are living through what has to be the biggest ‘crisitunity’ of the past few decades, so being able to take advantage of this moment to reassess what I am doing sounds like a good idea.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running Haruki Murakami

My current pocket book, I am really enjoying Murakami’s reflections on his life as a runner, and how this has influenced his writing. Or more how this has influenced his whole way of life. It makes me wish I had a central facet of my life that I could draw things from, and utilise to drive my own career and way of living.

Stillness is the Key Ryan Holiday

Finishing off the triptych of stoic style philosophical life improvement books, Ryan Holiday returns from Conspiracy to look at the various ways that thinkers and leaders from history have capitalise don the concept of ‘stillness’ to make the best of their lives.

I have just started listening/reading this, and while I enjoy it, I am still waiting to see how I can fit the goal of stillness into my current life. Ore indeed understanding exactly what stillness means…

Some books I hope to look at next month:

Why We Sleep Matthew Walker

I want to sleep better, but I also dont want to go to sleep. Ever since university, I have found that I function best at night, and stayed up accordingly. When I was doing my degree, this was easy. I scheduled my classes in the afternoon, and slept in until lunch. Then in a matter of months in 2006, I went from being a lazy uni student, to full-time working father. So my getting up time changed, but I never altered my going to bed time. My sleep schedule went from go to bed at 2a.m. and wake up at 11a.m to go to bed at 2a.m. and wake up at 6a.m. Four hours of sleep: not tenable.

So as with many problems in my life, I am starting my journey of solving it by reading a book. I have heard some of the science in this might be exaggerated, but that either way it is still a good read.

Deep Work Cal Newport

Following on from Digital Minimalism in June, I hope to get some tips from Newport’s work to aid my general worklife.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich Alexander Solzhenitsyn

My next pocket book for the month. I have literally no idea what this book is about, but I know the author is a Nobel laureate, and that he wrote the gulag archipelago. Looking forward to going into this blind.

Wish me luck!

A Rant on Not Simplifying the Complex

Behold: My sketch attempting to simplify the concepts of simplicity and complexity.

I have been seeing people throwing around the statement “Defund the Police” in response to the Black Lives Matter protests lately. And without getting into the actual arguments for this, or whether this kind of response is what should be undertaken in response to systematic racism, or the assertion of systematic racism; instead it brought home for me the inherent problem we have in today’s society where people try and simplify complex issues. Especially when they try and distil them to slogans, or tweets.

This is especially relevant when Trump is insisting that Biden wants to defund the police, and his republican base start hearing this, and taking it as fact.

But this is a complex issue, and we need to ensure that complex issues, aren’t oversimplified. After all, what do we mean by defund the police? Without going to deep into it, you can imagine the two extremes here, the simple, or the complex. The simple explanation is that it means take all of the money away from the police. The police are the problem, stop funding them. Simple.

Then there is the more complex meaning. The police forces are being over-funded and relied upon to perform tasks, and enter situations, where they are not the best application of societal controls. Instead of throwing all this money at a bloated and semi-militarised police force, we should be taking some of the funds away, and focusing them in other more effectual areas. Better mental health support is one suggestion. In this sense defunding isn’t a total removal of funds but a reallocation of what is seen as the excessive and inappropriate funding of police forces. Complex.

If you put these arguments to people, they will respond differently to two different proposals. Yet when they are reduced to simple slogans and chants, opposing sides don’t understand which point they are either supporting, or opposing, without taking the time to really get involved.

They don’t agree with the other sides point of view, but they also wouldn’t agree with the other sides description of the problem. They are fighting two separate arguments.

I believe that many people who oppose ‘Defund the Police’ would actually support a lot of the initiatives it represents. But the opposition to defunding the police does not benefit from looking at this nuance, and discussing the problems, so they simplify it, and polarise it.

You can see a similar simplification and obfuscation with Trump’s announcement that he was going to build a wall, and Mexico would pay for it. Some people heard this to mean that Mexico would pay for the wall, as in literally be made to provide funding for the wall. Others insist that Mexico are paying for the wall through some other transnational or retributive terms, whether it be through favourable trade deals with the United States, or internal costs as Mexico has to change the way it deals with the United States. Either way there is the complex, and the simple.

Was Trump being purposefully obfuscatory when he said that Mexico would pay for the wall? Was he thinking complexly and meaning that they would pay in some other transactional way, but wanted the public to think that they would literally pay for it? I don’t think so. I don’t think Trump was thinking ahead, or thinking strategically. He was saying that Mexico would pay because he thought it could happen, and that people liked to hear this simplistic plan.

Trump is all surface, there is no deeper vane to try and unearth.

But at risk of spiralling into a Trump rant, I’ll leave that there.

So people can look at these things (Defund the Police, Mexico Will Pay) either way and say that Trump or Biden are lying, or telling the truth. Really what we need to take from this whole thing is that we need to speak clearer, and accept that things are complex.

Mexico isn’t paying for the wall, Biden won’t defund the police.

Mexico is no doubt feeling the effects of the Trump presidency, and simultaneously some wall is being built. Joe Biden does hope to address issues related top policing by changing he way the police force functions, and likely utilising current funding for other institutions.

The Simple, and the Complex.

I would argue that unlike in mathematics, the only way we are going to make these problems easier to solve is to avoid simplifying them, and focus on understanding the complexity.

Rant over.

Book 26 for 2020: A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami

A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami

Murakami’s books were always of interest to me but in reading the blurbs I never really knew what I would be in for, so shied away from delving in. That changed in 2018 when I picked up a copy of 1Q84 on sale in the Kindle store.

I read the book, I enjoyed the book, but afterwards I wasn’t exactly sure why.

I feel the same with this book. It is hard to put a finger on it, but I think what I enjoy when I read these books is simply being in the moment. I enjoy the reading, the words, the experience. I enjoy the act of reading the book, less so the remembering, or the lasting things I get from it.

Maybe this is a new kind of purpose in books for me. In the past I read books and found enjoyment in them for more explicit reasons. I read Matthew Reilly when I want non-stop action. I like Kim Stanley Robinson’s books for the grounded, realistic hard science fiction worlds he crafts, and the believable utopian ideals he espouses.

Additionally I like reading non-fiction books because I love to learn. I want to know about Einstein’s life, or why sleep is important. I want to try and square the circle of my meat-eating, with my love of animals. I want to understand humanity’s place in the anthropocene. I have agendas behind a lot of my reading, but with Murakami’s books I feel like there is a different purpose in mind.

I like being able to throw this to the wind, and just lose myself in the strange worlds he creates.

For instance this book is ostensibly about a man’s search for a mysterious sheep, but as we delve deeper into the journey, and the character, the story turns into a more surreal tale where the chase for the sheep has existential bearing on reality. Or maybe it doesn’t.

I honestly don’t know, and can fully understand how academics can make a living analysing these kinds of fiction.

But for me I am starting to learn that I don’t need to ‘understand’ all fiction in this way. I can simply let the experience happen, and enjoy it for what it is.

Not that that has stopped me Googling theories, and explanations mind you….

#2020inBooks #Murakami #ReadingforReadingssake #AWildSheepChase

Anyone Can Paint

So one of my challenges for 2020 was to produce a decent piece of art by the end of June. Some of you may have seen my initial posts where I was practising sketching etcetera, but then a little thing got in the way (global pandemic), and I really left this challenge by the wayside.

Such is 2020 I suppose.

But with the deadline approaching, I took the time on the weekend to stop by Officerworks and grab myself some painting supplies to see if I could salvage the whole thing.

To give a bit more background, this challenge wasn’t just an instance of me wanting to better myself, it was actually spurred on by a discussion I was having with a colleague about painting. He was showing me some work by a favourite artist (Ben Quilty), and I commented that ‘anyone can paint’, so he ended up challenging me to produce something in six months.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to belittle or trivialise artistic skill here. My sister is an amazing artist and she works hard to perfect her craft. What I meant by the comment ‘anyone can paint’ is that I see this kind of thing is a skill, and if you are willing to put in the time and effort, anyone can develop their artistic abilities. We won’t all be Monet’s, or Quilty’s; but I think you can show massive improvement in the initial stages of picking up any new skill. 

I think the same thing when I see bodybuilders and super-fit people. Yes it is impressive, but again it is something anyone can do. I think the same thing about a lot in life. I don’t like the idea that some people are naturally talented, and believe a lot of what we can achieve is down to hard work and perseverance. We might have some inclination towards certain skills, but if you want to do something (develop painting skills, earn a muscular physique, play an instrument, write a novel, etcetera), you have the ability to make it happen.

So perhaps taking my claim to the extreme, I waited around for the majority of my six month deadline, and then chose the last two days to actually attempt to paint anything. I think the last time I painted was likely in 1997 in secondary school, so it is fitting that I used the same methodology of waiting until the last moment to complete my homework that I applied throughout my schooling.

I initially tried a portrait of Tony, then a printed off paint by numbers template, but ultimately decided to paint his VW as people are tough subjects to paint (with minimal practise).

So this is the ultimate result. A few hours work, and I am pretty happy with the result. Sure it isn’t really comparable to what professional artists can do, or even hobbyists, or simple enthusiasts; but I really enjoyed the process, and think I did a reasonably impressive attempt.

MM

Fourteen

Fourteen years ago, for the briefest of moments, my son was the newest member of humanity. It is weird to think that at one point, we were all the youngest humans on earth, but back in 2006, for approximately 233 milliseconds, that title was held by my son.

And while he may have quickly faded from world importance soon after, for the past fourteen years he has never strayed from being the central point for my wife and I.

I was a relatively young father, and I cannot recommend highly enough the experience of being a parent not only for the happiness it will directly bring into your life, or for the love and fulfilment that you will feel every day. But also because it helps you grow, and find direction in your own life.

Being a part of Harrison’s life is the greatest privilege. Being able to watch him grow, to guide him through life, and then watch as he develops into his own person, following his own path; it fills me with pride every day.

Today he is fourteen years old. He is at the point in his life where he is starting to choose the electives in school which will allow him to take agency of his own education like never before.  He is also training for his next black belt (that will be his 4th by the way), and the fact that he has been training as a martial artist for over a decade blows my mind!

He is a compassionate young man, always concerned about others. His creativity, curiosity, and passion for reading knows no bounds. If you give him the chance he will talk your ear off on any number of things, but he is also considerate, and takes the time to listen.

He has emerged from our recent COVID19 isolation more resilient than before, and perhaps even a millimeter or two taller than his mum (almost)!

Put simply he is my son, and while I think fatherhood is simultaneously the hardest and easiest thing I have ever done, I wouldn’t change anything.

So Happy Birthday Harrison!

Dad rant complete.