Weekend Reading

  • The True Purpose of Microsoft Solitaire, Minesweeper, and FreeCell
    If you haven’t ever played Solitaire, Minesweeper, Hearts or FreeCell, it’s safe to say you’re in the minority. These simple Windows games have probably caused more lost worker hours than anything short of a worldwide coffee shortage.
    We’ve all been played! (geddit, played… ohh COME ON!)

  • The mild glory in being second best
    In a recent and quite gloriously camp interview with RuPaul, Graham Norton attempted to explain the Eurovision Song Contest. Ru is madly curious: does Britain ever win? What do you get when you win? “Oh, no,” says Norton, knowingly. “No one actually wants to win.”
    I’m competitive by nature but as I age, I mellow, like a fine wine that WANTS TO WIN AT EVERYTHING!! Mild glory? Pah!

  • A philosophy professor explains why you’re not entitled to your opinion
    Mike Pence has a tough job working for Donald Trump. When the president-elect lies, it often falls to his vice president-elect to defend him. For some, his defense can test the limits of logic.
    This is the type of article I wish I could get everyone to read and understand. Hey, I can dream.

  • What if we thought of monogamy as a spectrum?
    During my exploratory college years, I was often confused about my sexuality. I knew I had loved women, but found myself, drunkenly, in the arms of various men. I wasn’t sure why I was doing it.
    Interesting view on relationship fluidity, something that is becoming increasingly common.

  • A User’s Guide to Zadie Smith
    I recently joked on Twitter that I have a strict no-idols policy save for three people: Selena, Prince and Zadie Smith, though deep down I know this policy is less of a joke than I’d like to tell myself. The idol suspicion is straightforward enough.
    If you are a fan of her in any way, go read this now! If you aren’t, it’s still worth a look as she has some interesting viewpoints that more people need to hear.

  • “Tsundoku,” the Japanese Word for the New Books That Pile Up on Our Shelves, Should Enter the English Language
    There are some words out there that are brilliantly evocative and at the same time impossible to fully translate. Yiddish has the word shlimazl, which basically means a perpetually unlucky person. German has the word Backpfeifengesicht, which roughly means a face that is badly in need of a fist.
    *looks at shelves* SHUT UP!

  • 25 Short Books to Help You Meet Your 2016 Reading Challenge Goal
    Panic may be setting in for those of us racing toward the end of our 2016 Reading Challenge and falling a little short. Thankfully, there’s no need to fear or fail. Here’s a quick sampling of some fantastic speedy reads—all under 200 pages long.
    Posting for a friend…

  • San Francisco airport’s new therapy pig totally shows up all those therapy dogs at other airports
    That’s it. Air travel is just too stressful. Pre-Check is for the birds. Even a brigade of cute therapy airport dogs won’t cut it anymore. San Francisco International Airport thinks it has a solution: LiLou, a Juliana-breed therapy pig, who’s just shy of her second birthday.
    Offered without comment.

  • Going Bare Down There May Boost The Risk Of STDs
    Frequent removal of pubic hair is associated with an increased risk for herpes, syphilis and human papillomavirus, doctors at the University of California, San Francisco, reported Monday in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections.
    Offered without comment (for different reasons).

  • Self-Control Is Just Empathy With Your Future Self
    The same part of the brain that allows us to step into the shoes of others also helps us restrain ourselves. You’ve likely seen the video before: a stream of kids, confronted with a single, alluring marshmallow. If they can resist eating it for 15 minutes, they’ll get two. Some do.
    This ‘clicked’ in my brain for sure. So much of what we are is wrapped up in who we (think) we are it’s scary.

  • ‘They Are Slaughtering Us Like Animals’
    You hear a murder scene before you see it: The desperate cries of a new widow. The piercing sirens of approaching police cars. The thud, thud, thud of the rain drumming on the pavement of a Manila alleyway — and on the back of Romeo Torres Fontanilla.
    This still doesn’t seem to be in the news, awful, terrifying, very graphic. Read with caution.

  • The Tina Fey Interview, by David Letterman
    THR’s Sherry Lansing Leadership Award honoree confesses to a fellow late-night pioneer her fear of bombing onstage (his response: “It’s like I have a twin”) as two comedy greats talk Trump’s feud with Alec Baldwin (“dignity of a seventh-grader”), the “endless anxiety” of parenting and more.
    Tina Fey for President anyone? David Letterman as VP?

  • The 100 Greatest Innovations Of 2016
    Each year, Popular Science picks the 100 greatest new innovations in science and technology to feature in our Best Of What’s New issue. These are the breakthroughs that will shape the future—and some may even make great Christmas presents.
    One for us geeks! I want ALL OF THEM!!!

Nosce te ipsum

I hate myself. I just ‘verbed a noun’ and I can’t un-see it and now I’ll have to admit it and tell you that the original title for this post was ‘Do you journal?’ … I KNOW!! So there you go. Please don’t judge me (too harshly).

(Who am I kidding, I know all of you are judging me… and when I say ‘all’, I mean ‘both of you’ dearest readers)

And yes, clearly the only route to salvation was to go for a latin title instead. Honestly, sometimes I despair.

I digress.

I wanted to ask if anyone else keeps a journal? Or a diary? If you do, why? What got you started, and what benefits are you seeing because of it?

Diaries

The first diary I remember was my Mum’s five-year diary. It was maybe A5 sized, quite thick, and covered in a bright red faux leather. It came with a little lockable tab to hold it closed and keep prying eyes out. I think it was the lock that piqued my interest, a small sign that important things lay inside. To this day I’ve no idea what she wrote in it (or if she wrote anything at all) but once I understood what it was for it must have stuck in my head; the idea that something personal, the words that someone would write in a diary, were important enough to be under lock and key was probably when I first started taking ‘words’ seriously.

During a recent clear-out I came across some items my parents had saved from when I was a child. One of them was, I think, a diary written at school. In it were page after page of memories that leap off the page in front of me – I’ve written about these before – and which mark my first venture into keeping a diary.

It wasn’t something I stuck with, and it was many years before the notion of writing up what had happened during a day came back around.

Journals

Writing a journal is something that was recommended to me many years ago by a counsellor. Out of that came my … ‘journalling’ habit (seriously, I’m about to punch myself in the face) and it’s something I’ve turned to on and off since then and, whilst sometimes the entries I’ve written have ended up being published here, the overwhelming majority remain private. Safe and sound, under (virtual) lock and key.

I use an app (cos I’m a geek) called Day One for my journal. It runs on my phone so sometimes I’ll use it to capture fleeting thoughts, and sometimes I sit down deliberately to write as a way to analyse my mood at a given time or before/after an event.

It’s equally as important, and this is something my counsellor pushed me to do regularly, to look back over previous entries, as painful as that can be. Although I do have to be careful to make sure I don’t skew the events, and thoughts and emotions from the past, as it can be easy to (re)shape them after the fact to how I want my world view to be reflected, rather than the reality I was capturing at the time.

I’ve always found writing cathartic – do you think I’d still be publishing this nonsense here if I didn’t? – but some of the things I write are for me and me only. My journal gives me a place to store the musings, the random scribbles, the illicit thoughts, the deepest of my desires and dreams, and the most friviolous and fanciful of my ponderings (a lot of my journal is ‘what if’ scenarios, none of which are ever likely to come to fruition, although I have learned that writing them down can make acting on them a little less scary if the situation arises).

More recently it’s a habit I’ve returned to with some gusto. It’s not quite daily but as good as, and most entries are longer than the few rambling paragraphs that I have a tendency to dump in there towards the end of the day. However I also realised that whilst I was writing more, the process didn’t feel as fulfilling. Was I writing in it just to keep a habit going? If so why is the habit so important? What value is this giving me?

So I took a step back to figure out why I was still journalling writing in a journal (ahhh that’s better) and realised I was largely going over and over the same thought patterns, with little variation. It seemed like the benefits I was used to getting were no longer working.

I felt stuck.

Prompted

Around the same time, in one of those lovely moments that seem to occur too often to be a coincidence, the ever wonderful Swiss Miss posted a link to these Know Yourself prompt cards.

As the name suggests, it’s a series of prompts, with one prompt per card. On the front of each card is a prompt, a topic to ponder. Once you’ve written your thoughts you flip the card over and on the back there is a perspective or associated thought which, so far, has been far more revealing than I imagined it could be. Re-reading what I’ve written in light of these has been enlightening.

Since I started to use the cards, I’ve found myself writing more considered pieces of introspection, slowly chipping away at some fundamental beliefs, analysing some statements some friends and family have made in the wake of my recent break ups, and processing the world as I now see it, all to help me better understand my place in it.

Ultimately it feels like my journal has returned to where it started. It’s helping me revisit my id, helping me challenge my own self-perception, and most recently I think it’s helped me figure out some fundamentals about my own needs and desires that had escaped me for many years (the why of them, not the what).

Know thyself, a wise person once said, and they were right. It’s not easy though, but one thing I have learned over the past few years is that, more often than not, the easy road is the least fulfilling.

And how do I know I know that? Because I read it in my journal.


In case you aren’t sure: What is the difference between a journal and a diary?

Weekend Reading

  • Typography + Language + Writing Systems = Afrikan Alphabets
    I am quick to confess that I am an easy sell-out to a top piece of print, yet at times this has been thwarted by unresolved issues that I hold with the graphic design profession. As an individual who mediates between art and design, I am careful not to shoot myself in the foot here.
    Geektastic stuff, if you aren’t excited by the title, probably best to move on…

  • The making of a cinematic linguist’s office
    Ever since the first trailer for the upcoming science-fiction movie “Arrival” came out back in August, we here at Language Log Plaza have been anxiously awaiting more glimpses of Amy Adams.
    Arrival is fast becoming a favourite of mine, so capturing a few links about it here too.

  • Rescue Goat With Anxiety Only Calms Down In Her Duck Costume
    It all started when Leanne Lauricella went shopping at Marshalls before Halloween. She was browsing the aisles when something caught her eye — a child’s duck costume, complete with a big orange bill and two webbed feet.
    I dies of teh cutez.

  • Take This Spreadsheet & Save the World: A Tool for Unsure Activists
    In times of fear and crisis, we all turn to our own sources of consolation — some have faith, some have hard liquor. I have spreadsheets.
    More substance than it suggests, there are many ways to ‘be active’ I hadn’t even considered. Like this one.

  • As a gender we men are in crisis and feminism is our only way out
    Let’s just get one thing straight: feminism is not anti-men. Feminism is not about women receiving preferential rights, it isn’t about taking away the rights of men, or what is rightfully theirs.
    There are some things in this article I take issue with but, on the whole, I agree with the premise.

  • People who swear all the time are actually really fucking smart, says science
    Pottymouths are persecuted. Even in your twenties, your censorious mother will still clutch you, aghast, for dropping a curse word; at school, you were dealt detentions and playground duties and extra homework for exclaiming “shit” when you forgot your folder, or something.
    FUCK YEAH!!!

  • Watching “Arrival” After the Election
    “Arrival,” the new movie from Denis Villeneuve (“Sicario,” “Prisoners”), which Anthony Lane reviewed in last week’s issue of the magazine—and which, this past weekend, earned twenty-four million dollars at the box office, more than people were expecting.
    Maybe this is why the movie resonated so strongly with me?.

  • Fighting authoritarianism: 20 lessons from the 20th century
    Yale history professor Timothy Snyder took to Facebook to share some lessons from 20th century about how to protect our liberal democracy from fascism and authoritarianism.
    History repeats. We can act, we must act.

  • Canada police to punish drink-drivers with Nickelback
    A Canadian police force is threatening festive drink-drivers with a cruel and unusual punishment: forcing them to listen to local band Nickelback. Kensington Police Service, which looks after the residents of Prince Edward Island, will be handing out fines and criminal charges as usual.
    This is for everyone saying they are moving to Canada because they have an inclusive (cute) Prime Minister… THIS IS HORRIFIC!!

  • Thriving on raw eggs, world’s oldest person marks 117th birthday in Italy
    Emma Morano, thought to be the world’s oldest person and the last to be born in the 1800s, celebrated her 117th birthday on Tuesday, still swearing by her diet of two raw eggs a day. Morano was born in November 1899, four years before the Wright brothers first took to the air.
    I’ve never even had one raw egg. I’ll be dead by 60!

  • The true story of Nintendo’s most wanted game
    None of this would’ve happened had Jennifer Thompson not gone thriftin’. This was in April 2013, and she was browsing clothes and $1 DVDs at the Steele Creek Goodwill in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, when she noticed it behind the glass counter.
    Ahhhh I do love a nice story of geekery.

  • How Stable Are Democracies? ‘Warning Signs Are Flashing Red’
    Yascha Mounk is used to being the most pessimistic person in the room. Mr. Mounk, a lecturer in government at Harvard, has spent the past few years challenging one of the bedrock assumptions of Western politics: that once a country becomes a liberal democracy, it will stay that way.
    Depressing reading, but all the more vital because of it.

  • Wildlife Photographer of the Year – People’s Choice
    25 shortlisted for the People’s Choice Award in the latest Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition – on show now at the Natural History Museum in London.
    Hooray for nature! (not linked, the article that more young adults watch Planet Earth II than watch X-Fucktor!)

  • More than a quarter of Europeans believe rape is sometimes justified, study finds
    The figures have been published in a report commissioned by the European Union into gender-based violence.
    Breaking out of ‘my bubble’, this kind of thing is shocking and terrifying.

  • Who is the Genius Behind Merriam-Webster’s Social Media?
    In case you hadn’t noticed, Merriam-Webster’s Twitter game is strong—topical, funny, smart, and informative while also being relentlessly irreverent. Not what you’d necessarily expect from the social media account of a dictionary.
    If you are on Twitter, it’s well worth a follow!

  • Cognitive bias cheat sheet
    I’ve spent many years referencing Wikipedia’s list of cognitive biases whenever I have a hunch that a certain type of thinking is an official bias but I can’t recall the name or details. It’s been an invaluable reference for helping me identify the hidden flaws in my own thinking.
    I’ve been kinda aware of cognitive bias in the past but always presumed it was something that would take care of itself. So far it has…

  • How to Make Easy Sushi at Home
    Making sushi is more complicated than it seems, but it doesn’t have to be. One problem is that most people expect sushi to be nigiri-zushi—that is, made with pressed rice and mostly fish—a skill, ude, often judged by the degree, kagen, by which the chef seasons and presses the rice.
    I don’t make sushi often, even though I’ve been on a course. God, I love sushi.

  • 50 Iconic Indie Album Covers: The Fascinating Stories Behind The Sleeves
    They’re images you’ve seen a thousand times, but what do they mean, and how did they end up on the cover of your favourite ever albums?
    Not much else to say. Fascinating. Stories. Album. Covers.

  • Nobody is home
    The tiny home is one of the many oxymorons of our strange times. Thousands of people, mainly on the west coast of North America, have built small homes, little bigger than a garden shed, that they tow around on trailers.
    Whilst I continue to declutter, this is a step further than I think I’m comfortable with.

  • How Stanley Kubrick Made His Masterpieces: An Introduction to His Obsessive Approach to Filmmaking
    As each semester in my film course rolls around, it’s more and more apparent how time depletes the pop culture currency of those directors who did not make it into the 21st Century.
    I really should keep a tally of the topics I post here, Kubrick must be up there near the top.

  • I Was Friends with a Serial Killer
    It is 1981 and I am working the summer at a twenty-four-hour truck stop on the Trans-Canada at Lutes Mountain, just outside of Moncton. During the day it’s insanely busy.
    Read this and try NOT to side eye whoever you are sitting next to….

  • The Best Stephen King Book You Haven’t Read
    I always considered myself something of a King fan, I’d gorged on the horrors of It and The Tommyknockers and ‘Salem’s Lot as a teenager, and then loyally grabbed all his new releases as they arrived in bookshops every year or so. I’d even watched Kingdom Hospital, for goodness sakes.
    I read this before I knew it was Stephen King, I think I was 13 at the time? Re-read it last year, still a fantastic read.

  • The Life-Changing Magic of Mushrooms
    A single dose of magic mushrooms can make people with severe anxiety and depression better for months, according to a landmark pair of new studies. The doom hung like an anvil over her head.
    But can you get them on prescription?!

Kate Tempest

Head slightly bowed, Kate Tempest casts a slightly shy, almost apologetic figure as she walks on stage to a huge roar. After thanking us for being there, and some heartfelt indications of how much she likes the ‘people and soul’ of Glasgow, she pauses and says she has something to ask us.

She’s there to play through her latest album (Let Them Eat Chaos) from start to finish. The tracks will take us through the lives and stories of random strangers living on the same street. She talks of connection, of pushing aside prejudice and hate, and how we need to learn to love more. She asks if we are up for the journey this evening, and if so, ‘let’s leave those phones in pockets, be connected with the people in this space, right here and now’.

And so we did. Phones remained in pockets as she launched into the opening lines of the album and the journey began.

“Picture a vacuum,
an endless and unmoving blackness.
Peace,
or the absence at least,
of terror.”

Backed by stripped down, bass heavy electronica, at times she whispers, at times she howls and rants against the injustices of the world. Her lyrics are clever when they need to be, quiet and simple when they should be, and bombastically rhythmic when she hits her stride to deliver her strongest words. She is much more powerful on stage than via recording, her passions laid bare, honest and open, inviting you to join her in the revelations.

I was transfixed, veering from admiration of her wordplay, the dexterity of her delivery, and lost in the throbbing pulse of the music. It was only at the end of the hour long set that I realised I had half-full pint of beer still warming in my hand.

Sure, at times her lyrics were a little lost in the larger sound, and sometimes I found myself more lost in the music than the words, but it’s been a long time since I was at a gig and didn’t even realise an hour had passed.

Maybe it was because I wasn’t distracted by anaemic flashes from mobile phones, maybe it’s because everyone around me was similarly taken with what was happening, a collective slow build of joy in a shared experience.

Maybe it’s the sensibility she lays bare that tells us love will see us through, that shared experiences can bring mankind together, that at some point humanity will find a way to rise above the current mood, that we will fight to recover our sanity, and must fight to rid ourselves of fear and self-loathing.

Or maybe it was all of that and more, a perfect overlap of audience desire and artist delivery. Regardless of the why, if you have tickets for her tour I really hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Why I love films

I recently saw the movie Arrival at the cinema. I was sitting about four rows from the front, dead centre, and was soon immersed in the story that was playing out.

From the opening scene, that long fade from dark to light, the framing of the shot out across the lake, to the first hint at the doorways the main character will need to navigate (figuratively and literally) I was hooked. I’ve always been drawn to beautiful cinematography, to the point where movies like Road to Perdition stick in my mind more for that long shot of the car driving through the rain with the fields beyond disappearing over a low clouded horizon, than it does for the story itself.

It probably started with 2001: A Space Odyssey. I loved the books as a child, and can remember the first time I saw it on TV (advert breaks and all). There is no doubt it is a slow movie, those now famous scenes of spacecrafts gently waltzing in space, all a prelude to the long build towards the climatic scenes with HAL (and that’s before you get to the wonderful weirdness of latter part of the movie). I watch it every few years, and recently saw it in a cinema for the first time. I was sat in the front row and realised I had completely zoned out at times, just letting myself be taken away by the imagery on screen. Immersed. It was wonderful.

The same day I saw Arrival I also saw Fantastic Beasts (the latest from the Harry Potter world) and whilst it was fun it didn’t grab me and hold my attention. As it veered off into CGI land (which was all very impressive) I did leave knowing it was a nice bit of fun but it didn’t sit with me long. I was aware of being in a cinema, with other people laughing and gasping (or exclaiming ‘Ohhh that’s Colin Farrell’), but I can barely remember anyone who was sitting near me when I watched Arrival.

Perhaps this comparison isn’t all that fair. Arrival is not only beautifully shot, the story is smart, well handled by the director and the performance by the lead actor, Amy Adams, was nuanced and controlled and utterly entrancing. Meanwhile the Fantastic Beasts storyline is pretty standard fare (which isn’t a bad thing) and the pacing is good, but for me Eddie Redmayne wasn’t particularly noteworthy. Perhaps because I only recently watched him play Stephen Hawking with a similar awkardness (which worked well for that character), or perhaps because I was able to focus more on the acting and direction because I wasn’t pulled into the world of the movie.

I’ve always been able to suspend my disbelief when watching movies. I am the guy who doesn’t see plot twists coming (think Usual Suspects, Sixth Sense, Primal Fear) but I need to be enticed into the world of a movie, so whilst I enjoy all the big silly blockbusters, and I’ve already booked my tickets for Rogue One, they are simply a distracting entertainment.

But it’s movies like Arrival that help me step into their world are the ones that ‘stick’ in my brain; The Lobster, Slow West, Shawshank Redemption, and Rear Window are all movies the pull me gently, that let my brain do the work and don’t force their worlds on me. I will happily step into them because of that, and more and more I am drawn to intelligent and beautiful movies. Think Cohen Brothers and Wes Anderson. Think Christopher Nolan. Think Kubrick. Think Hitchcock.

All of their movies involve imagery as a means of communicating. They don’t rely on dialogue, or voiceovers, to explain what’s happening. They trust that the viewer can fill (enough of) the blanks to enjoy the story that is being shown to them, and because they trust us, they know they can show us things without having them explained. They let us interpret the worlds they have created and allow us to layer our own experience and knowledge and filters atop them.

Those are the movies that I return to, each viewing revealing more and more nuances as I discover more about the world in which the movie is set, just as I learn more about mine. And more and more I find myself looking for movies that will deliver that kind of viewing experience, rather than a couple of hours of mindless entertainment.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the distraction a well executed blockbuster can bring, but more and more I find myself seeking out movies that are a little smarter and that focus a lot more on beauty in all it’s weird and wonderful forms.

Bonus link – a big part of creating a movie like Arrival is in the sound, check out this podcast on Song Exploder http://songexploder.net/arrival
“In the film Arrival, Amy Adams plays a linguist trying to decode an alien language. The score was composed by Jóhann Jóhannsson, his third film collaborating with director Denis Villeneuve. In this episode, Johann breaks down a piece from the score called “Heptapod B,” and how, like the film, it revolves around the concept of language.”

Weekend Reading

  • Noisli – Improve Focus and Boost Productivity with Background Noise
    Now, put your headphones on and start boosting your productivity.
    I’m a bit of a sucker for these things but this one is a good one, calming too if you get the right combo.

  • Productivity Is Really About What You Don’t Do
    The best productivity tip I ever got was the idea of a “stop-doing list” from Jim Collins. In this Age of Distraction, we’re all dodging and weaving between so much incoming information that what you don’t do on a daily basis has become as important—if not more—as what you do execute on.
    Can you tell I’m on a bit of a ‘get stuff done’ kick at the moment? No? Damn…

  • British Man Bungee Jumps With A Biscuit In Hand And Dunks It In A Cup Of Tea Below
    Nothing stands between a Brit and their cuppa tea… unless they need to queue up in order to get one. Then they shall wait patiently.
    I’m not a tea fan, nor much of a dunker but this is EPIC.

  • The Man Who Fell To Earth
    I kept waking up at night, thinking about it. How could you do it? Can you do it? I fully admit it’s a totally risky and partially crazy thing to do. But I thought you could mitigate the risk. That’s when I had the idea for the net.
    Parachutes? When I grew up all we had was… etc etc. More proof that mankind is still wonderfully, scarily, bonkers.

  • Watch This Futuristic Vat Of Water Paint A Cat
    Dunking a statue into a bucket of paint usually won’t give you anything other than a monochromatic result. But dunk a statue into this vat of water coated with a layer of painted film, and the results are pretty incredible.
    GEEK ALERT: This is CAF!

  • Quit Social Media. Your Career May Depend on It.
    I’m a millennial computer scientist who also writes books and runs a blog. Demographically speaking I should be a heavy social media user, but that is not the case. I’ve never had a social media account.
    Couldn’t agree with this more. And by agree, I do mean agree (and then wilfully ignore because life is too damn short).

  • The Speculative Dread of “Black Mirror”
    In 1999, at the age of twenty-eight, Charlie Brooker, the British satirist who is now a television auteur, was at a low ebb. He’d spent most of his twenties freelancing for PC Zone, a little-read gaming magazine, where he was able to indulge his obscene and misanthropic sense of humor.
    Love him or hate him, Brooker has a voice that we NEED right now.

  • The Last Unknown Man
    Early one summer morning, Son Yo Auer, a Burger King employee in Richmond Hill, Georgia, found a naked man lying unconscious in front of the restaurant’s dumpsters. It was before dawn, but the man was sweating and sunburned. Fire ants crawled across his body, and a hot red rash flecked his skin.
    We know so little about the human mind that, especially things like this, are scary to comprehend.

  • Our brains want us to keep calm. But to make a change, we need to keep angry
    These days, a lot of people are thinking about how best to make a change in the world. Some might imagine that it’s best to try to rise above emotions like anger and fear and focus on taking action. But science suggests that embracing feelings of frustration can actually help you make an impact.
    FUCK YEAH! REVOLUTION!! (does being in a constant state of ‘grump’ count?)

  • It’s official: NASA’s peer-reviewed EM Drive paper has finally been published
    After months of speculation and leaked documents, NASA’s long-awaited EM Drive paper has finally been peer-reviewed and published. And it shows that the ‘impossible’ propulsion system really does appear to work.
    Still more evidence needed but if this is true, this is a fundamental change to… almost everything.

  • Use the “SBNRR” Technique to Handle Stressful Moments Mindfully
    When your stress is building into an exasperating moment, emotions can easily get the best of you. And that can be detrimental if you’re in a professional environment. The next time you’re about to explode with stress, try this instead.
    Just throwing this one out there as I believe some recent world events may have gotten some people stressed? Maybe? Lil bit?

  • How Casinos Enable Gambling Addicts
    Regardless of the machine—slots, video poker—casinos’ ultimate goal is to maximize players’ “time on device.” This is crucial for casinos, because given enough time, the house always wins.
    Fascinating. Horrible. Compelling.

  • ‘None of the old rules apply’: Dave Eggers travels through post-election America
    The word surreal is overused and often wrongly used, but in the case of the Washington Post Election Night Live party, the word was apt. First of all, it was a disco.
    One US Election article, that’s it for this week (and NO MORE after this, probably)

  • David Chang’s secret code to unleashing the most amazing flavors on Earth
    A few years ago I got really into experimenting with fermentation. Miso is made by fermenting soybeans, but I wanted to see what happens when you ferment nuts, seeds, and other legumes. It turns out you can get some really delicious flavors.
    What makes a great dish, great? What do we really experience when we taste food? Intriguing article about a chef challenging the way we experience taste.

  • The latest earthquake in Japan was an aftershock of the one five years ago
    Early on Nov. 22, the residents of Fukushima, Japan were woken by loud sirens. At 6am local time, a magnitude 6.9 earthquake had struck off the coast.
    To be honest, you don’t need to click through, the headline says it all. WTAF?!

  • Researchers have figured out how to spot a self-loathing person by how they speak
    We communicate in many ways, not just with our words. But nonverbal signals are often missed in conversation. Now, social scientists have found a way to train machines to spot the linguistic tics that show psychological distress.
    I (hate) don’t know how they figure this stuff (myself) out… clever.

  • The 100 most influential images of all time
    Time Magazine has selected the 100 most influential photos of all time, from the first permanent photograph taken (in 1826) to the heartbreaking photo of the body of a 3-year-old refugee washed up on a beach from last year.
    CN: These photos are at times graphic, and will bring many feels. But you SHOULD look at them.

  • Don’t Give Up on the Guitar. Fender Is Begging You
    Each holiday season, thousands of teenagers tear gift wrap off shiny, new guitars. They giddily pluck at the detuned strings, thinking how cool they’ll be once they’re rock stars—even if almost all will give up before they ever get to jam out to “Sweet Child o’ Mine.”
    Part of me just thinks this means fewer crap guitar players to listen to?

  • Watch the Evolution of Ringo Starr, Dave Grohl, Tré Cool & 19 Other Drummers in Short 5-Minute Videos Open Culture
    I’ve always been more than happy to admit that I think Ringo Starr is a fantastic drummer and don’t find it much worth arguing over. Then again, more and more people seem to have come around to that point of view. Or at least that’s been my experience.
    Don’t let the focus on drumming put you off, these 5 minute videos are fascinating. Apparently drummers have skill!

  • Five ways to damage autistic children without even knowing
    Yep, uncomfortable title. But sadly, these are subjects that I feel we have a responsibility to talk about.
    Share, repeat, share. You never know when this will come in handy (and to be honest, a lot of it applies to EVERY child).

  • How the 24-hour society is stealing time from the night
    Burmese monks know that it is time to get up when it is light enough to see the veins in their hands. Muslims base their getting up on the passage in the Quran that defines daybreak as the time when it is possible to distinguish between a dark and a light thread.
    I’ve been focussing more and more on my sleep patterns, making sure I get ‘enough’. I’m not much more aware of when I need to have an early night (which isn’t easy for a night owl like me).

  • Made-up man comes second in list of best-known MEPs in Wales
    He also came ahead of his real-life elected colleagues Jill Evans, Derek Vaughan and Kay Swinburne. They were given only 30 seconds to answer and were given the choices of four entirely made-up names and real MEPs.
    A slightly skewed survey I’d say, but still, a telling indictment of how disengaged we are from the people who serve us.

  • The Running Conversation in Your Head
    Beck: People are not very good generally at reporting the specifics of what’s going on in their minds, right?
    Fascinating look at something we all do, even if we don’t always realise we are doing it.

Tomorrow is always a new day

I’m posting this because, having wrote it a few days ago (mostly to clear my own head), I thought it might be helpful for others.

Mental health issues can be violent, invasive and debilitating illnesses, chasing you around and demanding your full attention to the detriment of others. They can also be a gentle inhibitor, a subtle manipulator that sits quietly in the background influencing everything, all day, every day, even if we aren’t fully aware of it because we can’t see it. The black dog versus the dark cloud.

The black dog hasn’t been around me for a long time, but the dark cloud is never that far away as it floats around in the far corners of my brain, dust particles captured in thin spots of sunlight.

The dark cloud is one of the reasons I keep busy and push push push to do better, do more, keep my brain active as to stop and pause is to let that dust settle, to let the fine black residue taint the things I’ve nurtured and created.

I’m also storing up a protective layer, a buffer, for the days when it’s a wee bit too hard to fight, a wee bit too hard to push myself. Those days are thankfully few and far between, and the reality is that they are rarely days at all, much more likely to be a few hours of melancholy, a dose of the sads, which passes by once acknowledged.

I’m lucky, I know that, but sometimes the world seems to be transpiring to pull me down, everywhere you turn there is terror, pain, horrible acts committed by people I don’t fully understand. I know that, despite the noise the media makes, the world is largely full of kind people, or at least people who aren’t too threatening. I know that the skewed view of the world that is painted large in newspaper headlines, or captioned and bannered in hi-def on my TV is not wholly representative of humanity.

But when it comes at me from all angles, mainstream and social streams bombarding me, at those times I feel small and weak, a pointless dot on the face of a spinning mass, a nothing in the spec of human history.

It can be overwhelming, the scale of it, and it’s all I can do to ‘switch off’ and lose myself in music, or a book, or just an aimless wander in the fresh air.

And then it passes, I’ve made it through to the other side again.

I know it will continue in this vein, this is an ever repeating cycle. I can extend the time before the next repeat by learning how to better control my reactions, better monitor my emotions and awarenesses, but I know it will eventually return, just as I know that it will pass once more. I will take comfort from the love in my life, I will reach out if I need to, but above all I know it will pass. It always does.

In the early days I didn’t believe that, and when the fog of distance remained for days, then weeks, then months, it became the norm, it became who I was, it defined me, it owned me. Ohhh if only I’d known then what I know now.

It will pass.

You don’t need to stay strong, you can lie down, hide if you must, but it will always pass. That is why you have to keep on keeping on, even if that’s the only thing you do, the only thing you can manage. Don’t give up. Don’t let it win. Don’t let it define you. Acknowledge it but know it is not you. You are not it. Depression is not who you are, it’s what you have.

Fight when you can, every battle helps in the long run, even the ones you lose.

If you can’t fight anymore, rest, survive, but don’t give up. Your place in the world may not seem important to you, but it is more important to others than you realise, even if they don’t tell you, you mean something, you ARE something.

And at some point, it may start to fade away. The black dog will run off to fetch something else to drop at your feet to remind you why you are worthless, as it has countless times before, but next time it will take a little longer to come back. Then a little longer again. It goes on and on until one day you realise you’ve stopped watching the horizon for its return.

It will come back from time to time, sometimes with something familiar, but you’ve faced that before. Sometimes it will bring something new, or something unexpected, and you will face that too.

And slowly those moments will pass. The clouds overhead lighten and rays of light filter down from the sky. You will marvel in those at first, amazed they exist, amazed you can see them, touch them, feel them. And over time you will realise that, some days, there is more light than dark.

At least I hope it is that way. That’s how it is for me.

It always passes. Even the worst of it.

It always passes.

Tomorrow is always a new day.

Weekend Reading

  • “It’s an exercise in seeing”: An artist’s mind-opening ritual of doodling on Sundays
    Sundays used to be sacred, reserved for prayer, family or sightseeing. Today, a third of busy Americans let work seep into their weekends, according to a 2014 National Bureau of Economic Research study.
    There is a lot to be said for switching off. That reminds me, must buy more Lego..

  • The average Netflix subscriber watches almost twice as much Netflix as they did 5 years ago
    Netflix says it will produce a whopping 1,000 hours of original TV shows and movies in 2017, and that’s a good thing since people keep watching more and more Netflix. The number of hours of Netflix the average subscriber watches has gone up steadily since 2011, at an average of 16.4% per year.
    No surprise, streaming services let me watch quality content, not the crap pushed out during most primetime (I’m a Celebrity, X-Factor etc…)

  • How Two Trailblazing Psychologists Turned the World of Decision Science Upside Down
    Back in 2003, I published a book called Moneyball, about the Oakland Athletics’ quest to find new and better ways to value baseball players and evaluate baseball strategies.
    If you’ve seen the movie, this is a must read. If you haven’t seen the movie, it’s still an interesting read on the REAL history of ‘decision science’.

  • Strobe-light training: From Michael Jordan to Kawhi Leonard
    With 20 seconds left in the third quarter of the young season’s biggest game, Gregg Popovich screams. He wants everyone out of the way so that Kawhi Leonard can go to work against Andre Iguodala. Leonard waits near half court as his teammates shuffle to the corners.
    I was tempted to offer a ‘strobe-light’ version of this post…

  • Who Can Be A Dancer?
    How do I responsibly raise a young white boy in today’s world of dangerously heightened white supremacy? How do I teach him to be self-confident and empowered by his choices, but still show him he isn’t the center of the universe, without creating a core of self-doubt?
    This. All day this.

  • The most relaxing song in the world
    According to a marketing study conducted by Dr. David Lewis-Hodgson, the most relaxing song in the world is Weightless, by ambient band Marconi Union. The song was produced by the band in collaboration with the British Academy of Sound Therapy.
    They aren’t wrong, it’s very relaxing. I’m listening to it now, it’s soo relaaazzzzzzzz

  • Reframe “Negative” Emotions as “Difficult” Emotions
    Nobody likes being sad, angry, or heartbroken. If you want to give yourself a leg up on getting through troubling times, a simple mental reframe can help you see the light at the end of the tunnel.
    I am emotion driven, I react and don’t always like the negative reactions I leap to. Definitely trying this the next time a random person doesn’t even bother to look back before breezing through the door and letting it swing IN MY GODDAMN FACE!!! Ahem…

  • Maths zeroes in on perfect cup of coffee
    Mathematicians are a step closer to understanding what makes a perfect cup of coffee. Through some complex calculations, they have shone a light on the processes governing how coffee is extracted from grains in a filter machine.
    Maths? Come to my kitchen, my coffee is always perfect! (for me)

  • The Big Thing About Little Things
    Back in 2013, George Saunders gave a speech to the graduating class at Syracuse. I’ve been thinking about that speech a lot over the past week. I’ll skip the platitudes about why it’s important, and I’ll leave the matter of politics entirely out of it.
    I’m going to write more about this elsewhere but it’s an interesting speech.

  • Can we just f***ing stop asking couples when they’re going to have a baby?
    Society dictates that our adult lives follow a specific formula. Move out, get a job, settle down with a partner, get married, have a baby, retire then die.
    I’d go further and stop after ‘get a job’, life is too short for all these damn rules and expectations!

  • The Difference Between “Being” and “Doing”
    The activities of the mind are related to patterns of brain activity. Different mental activities, such as reading a book, painting a picture, or talking to a loved one, each involve different patterns of interaction between networks of nerve cells in the brain.
    As per the Sunday doodling article, there is a lot more to the impact of the activities you partake in than just the activity themselves.

  • This Is How Facebook Is Radicalizing You
    On December 17, 2013, Facebook announced that videos on your News Feed would start autoplaying. They would mute on default and, at the end of the video, it’d have a carousel featuring related videos you might want to watch.
    Headline news stuff, I swither on Facebook on a weekly basis. It has a LOT of good points, but the bad ones are starting to appear to be a lot worse than we realised.

  • If You Want to Be Happy, Quit Facebook?
    What makes this study so interesting is that it was a randomized controlled trial (RCT) and so was able, at least in theory, to determine whether quitting Facebook actually causes changes in well-being.
    The articles I link to are usually posted here in the order I ‘find/read’ them. But sometimes it’s worth shuffling them around…

  • Bad sex award 2016: the contenders in quotes
    Games of tennis, muddy fields, knocking knees – it’s time to get intimate with the challengers for the Literary Review’s 2016 Bad sex in fiction prize A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin The act itself was fervent.
    Some lighter news, I challenge you not to giggle reading some of these. P.S. if any of these make you horny, get some help!

  • This 22-Year-Old Draws The Most Brutally Honest Cartoons About Mental Health
    Ruby Elliot, aka rubyetc, is a London-based illustrator who began sharing cartoons and illustrations about mental health and everyday life four years ago. Trapeze When Elliot was 17 she dropped out of school but managed to find solace in her love of drawing.
    Been following her on Twitter for a while, funny, self-effacing, honest and never shies away from mental health issues (and why should she). I’m ordering my copy today!

  • This temporary tattoo-like device doubles up as 24/7 stethoscope for your heart
    Researchers have developed an electronic sensor that can stick to the skin like a temporary tattoo and give you round-the-clock feedback on your heart health.
    Dear scientists, you are bloody amazing, please don’t ever stop.

Weekend Reading

Trump warning: Skip the first two links if you want to avoid Trump related links (I know, I’m feeling very fatigued by the whole thing too).

  • President Trump’s First Term
    On the morning of January 20, 2017, the President-elect is to visit Barack Obama at the White House for coffee, before they share a limousine—Obama seated on the right, his successor on the left—for the ride to the Capitol, where the Inauguration will take place, on the west front terrace…
    Between now and then we will have a much better understanding of what President Trump will do. I have the fear.
  • Motherhood: A letter to my girl
    The man we were talking about in the bath on Monday night won the competition to be the Big Boss. The man whose name we laughed at. He got fewer votes than the lady, but we don’t make the rules, darling, they do. ‘They’ will become so significant to you as you grow up.
    How do you explain what Trump embodies to an innocent mind?
  • Google’s former happiness guru developed a three-second brain exercise for finding joy
    Chade-Meng Tan, a former engineer, joined Google in 2000 as employee number 107. Though he played an instrumental role in building Google’s mobile search function, among other technological feats, he’s better known for the mindfulness classes he later led for employees.
    Mindfulness? Finding joy? Yeah, easy to scoff at but right now, I’ll grasp these straws!
  • Nick Denton, Peter Thiel, and the Plot to Murder Gawker
    One day in September 2014 the publisher of Gawker Media, Nick Denton, sent an e-mail to Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley venture capitalist and billionaire.
    In depth article on this story which I’ve been aware of but not massively bothered by (I don’t read Gawker, and this felt all ‘boys with toys’ nonsense to me…
  • A 20-Year-Old Dutch Man Just Set The New World Rubik’s Cube Record
    Don’t blink, or you’ll miss the entire 4.74 seconds it takes Mats Valk of the Netherlands to completely destroy both this Rubik’s cube and the world speed record.
    Since this was posted, a robot did it in 0.637 seconds. The rise of the machines continues…
  • The End of Relaxation
    We live in the golden age of wellness vacations, where taking time off is all about becoming a better person. When I was 22, I used to have a fantasy about going away to a sanitarium.
    When I was 22 I used to worry about being taken away to a sanitarium, my my, times change!
  • You Can Have Emotions You Don’t Feel
    What does it mean to have an emotion? It seems obvious that having one means feeling it. If you’re happy but don’t know it, in what sense could you actually be happy? Such reasoning seemed sound to William James.
    Reason #349 in the series: Humans are complicated and also awesome.
  • Carl Sagan on Moving Beyond Us vs. Them, Bridging Conviction with Compassion, and Meeting Ignorance with Kindness
    “Unless we are very, very careful,” wrote psychologist-turned-artist Anne Truitt in contemplating compassion and the cure for our chronic self-righteousness, “we doom each other by holding onto images of one another based on preconceptions that are in turn based on indifference…”
    Deep thought article that seems timely. Abridged version: Be nice to everyone.
  • The Art of the Blurb
    Few Canadian writers have been more deliriously blurbed than Anne Carson. “[T]he most exciting poet writing in English today,” declared Michael Ondaatje. “ . . . I would read anything she wrote,” proclaimed Susan Sontag.
    All writing takes skill (as you’ll have seen from my examples here, it also can be performed by idiots)
  • Be Unfailingly Kind
    DJ and I play Destiny. I’ve never met DJ, but each week he and I and a dozen or so other regulars are sitting on our respective couches, chairs, and bean bags tackling the various parts of this gorgeous first person shooter. You can play much of Destiny by yourself.
    How to be a good leader = how to be a good person. Abridged version: Be nice (kind) to everyone.
  • Eavesdrop on Ultrasonic Rat Giggles
    A tickle can send a rat into a fit of ultrasonic giggles. New research reveals what goes on in a rat’s brain during a tickle attack. Scientists knew rats loved to be tickled, especially on their backs and bellies. A tickled rat lets out tiny giggles, too high for us to hear.
    Cute little ratsies!

Dark is the light

This post is an attempt to process my own thoughts about recent news and my reaction which has been to shy away from any mention of ‘Trump’. Perhaps it’s just fatigue, but perhaps that fatigue is partly my own doing?

Read the news, pick your flavour.

Trouble is what news? And are you getting the differing flavours and view points you need?

Social media pulls us towards people who share our viewpoints, sure we all have a few dissenting voices here and there but those are largely filtered by our choices at the outset. Because of that the opposing views that seep into my social media bubble are far removed from what I believe and all the more shocking for it, yet to others the very views that shock me are the norm, and my liberal leanings are as shocking, bemusing, and downright offensive to them.

Today, with the spectre of Brexit waiting in the wings, America has a man viewed by many (and myself) as wholly unfit to hold the position of President Elect of the United States of America. Was Hillary a better option? Perhaps not, but democracy always comes down to a choice; Trump or Clinton, Europe or not. To the Democrats who didn’t vote because Hillary wasn’t ‘popular’, shame on you (notable stats from those who did vote, Trump won because of white, middle-class votes).

Social media also makes things like the US election much more vivid for those of us not involved. Step back in time and ask was Reagan a good president? When Bill Clinton was elected, did he say things that were questionable? You’d only find answers to those questions if the facts were filtered to you through your news outlet of choice; pick your broadcaster or foldable media (newspaper), either way there was a professional journalist acting as a filter somewhere in that stream of information.

Such filters have always existed but as we now control our own we are free to seek out the truth, however we want to perceive it, regardless of how it is framed we can extract what we choose. That’s all well and good but what seems to be missing, the obvious next step, is any accountability (hell, even a realisation) that we, as global citizens*, have to take some responsibility for how we react to the news we choose to receive.

Outrage can be a powerful force if it is considered and qualified.

For example, I don’t react well when I read about shootings in America. We don’t have a gun culture here in the UK, and I just don’t understand how you can defend gun ownership at all. It would be easy to wade in, spouting hatred at all gun owners, and ridiculing all of the USA for their perceived stupidity for not having dealt with this issue. I could start tweeting the victims saying that they must’ve deserved it, and perhaps they are lucky that they got a quick death. I could fall into the mob led chants and actions that seem to make so much noise, regardless of how many are involved. The hate filled bile that bubbles up in some newspapers.

But I’m aware that my culture and social history isn’t that of an American, so whilst I have an opinion, I’m not going to wade in and add another angry voice (and one that is white and male) to the cacophony. I’m also aware that I am well educated and have enough life experience to have calmed my teenage anger and angst. So I avoid adding to the hate and turn to understanding and, if I can, I look for a compassionate view or a way to find a balance between the opposing views, no matter how far apart they are.

Unfortunately before a balance can be found there needs to be a common ground, a platform within which it is safe to have heated discussions on opposing viewpoints, to share opinions without fear, and from which everyone can leave with a greater understanding and, hopefully, a better solution.

This is all sounding very utopian because right now that platform feels very far away. But if we don’t fight for it idea of it, we will never take one step towards it. We need to be active, we need to be vocal and oppose and act on our beliefs accordingly, with respect, and with an open mind.

And it’s here that I falter. How? How do I make a difference?

Well a few things spring to mind. Attend protest rallies/walks, peacefully. Amplify the voices who SHOULD be speaking on topics, get out of their way and support them. My demographic gives me power in todays society, and I am starting to see the ways I can let others use that. My voice is not important (he says, spouting forth in a blog post), and I should not be speaking to matters of race, gender classification, disability, misogyny, and all other prejudiced minorities.

The past year has made me realise I’m much more politicly minded that I previously thought. Although perhaps it isn’t so much politics that has me pondering my place in the world but the way so many people have been reacting to political events.

From the Scottish Referendum to Brexit to the US Election, there is an undercurrent of hate. It manifests itself in different ways but the effect is the same.

Of course, as you’ll rightly note, my perception of these events might be colouring my view. Things might not be as bad as they seem, or they might be worse. My social media bubble is pointing towards the latter but who knows what future lies ahead of us? A decade from now, will we look back with disbelief at the volume of ire and hatred that was generated, given the impact Trump had as a President, or will we be looking back from a world we don’t recognise, a dark and scared place.

Regardless of the views I absorb, the facts around Trump speak for themselves. How a man who has committed the crimes he has, and holds the views he does, is now the ‘most powerful man in the world’ is beyond my ken. But the fact remains, he is President Elect.

The world feels very dark, but that’s all the more reason to fight, to not stand idly by, and to hold up a light for others.

* Not a great term but my premise is, if you are on social media you are a global citizen, even if your own bubble doesn’t extend that far.