13,490 words

A perfect day - 50

What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?

I'd be great to say something like, the day I won the lottery, or I invent a patent that secures financial independence for me and the people that I care about most. But much more generally speaking I'd say a good day is a day where nothing particularly bad happens to anyone I care about, a better day is when the same can be said for the world at large, not that there isn't any bad news but hopefully nothing catastrophic. So a perfect day would be a day where something good happens to me and the people I love. Someone gets a job they were after, or finishes a project, or takes a first or next step in a relationship, or gets a clean bill of health.

Phone call - 49

Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?

It depends on the nature of the conversation. Most of the time, no. I'm fairly quick witted and have a decent vocabulary so have confidence, more often than not, in just being able to have an honest conversation with someone. But there are circumstances, say for a phone interview, where I'll review information, practice responses to common questions, and try and think scenarios out and how I might handle them. These aren't frequent circumstances though.

Famous - 48

Would you like to be famous? In what way?

No, not particularly. I'd rather be privately well-off than famous but if it was some kind of fame or nothing at all, and I got to choose the kind of fame in question, then I'd choose to be upper-crust famous. Not the kind of person you'd worry about following on instagram, but the kind of person that's "in the know" about who's who and what's what. Not to be a socialite, but it would be interested to be able to converse with some of the wealthiest and most influential people in the world, to whatever end.

Dinner guest - 47

Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?

Nikola Tesla. It isn't a very original answer but the challenge isn't to be original, just authentic, and Tesla is one of the most fascinating people I've read about. In addition to probing his mind about everything even slightly cryptic he's said, as well as to clarify some things like "did you really say that to Marconi?", I'd like to get his take on modern technology and what he'd do different.

I'd also like to ask him about the odd event early in his life where he had some near-death experience, after which is apparently when the genius really opened up inside of him. I'd want to see how much truth to that there is, and what he feels about it.

46 - 33 habits for corporate productivity

  1. Speak up
  2. Be polite
  3. Invite others to schedule their interactions with you
  4. Schedule all the time you need for yourself
  5. Set your calendar view default setting to private
  6. Set your calendar appointment default to 15 minutes
  7. Put your out-of-office times on your calendar
  8. Learn and use people's names
  9. Use titles (such as sir or ms. where appropriate)
  10. Make plans - structure your time
  11. "Disagree and commit" - execute reliably
  12. Be willing to ask questions
  13. Acknowledge others before speaking
  14. Say thank you - acknowledge someone else's contributions
  15. Say you're welcome - acknowledge your own contributions
  16. Separate emails for separate functions - work or personal
  17. Use email labels and filters
  18. Set reminders
  19. Have more than one phone number - work or personal
  20. Let people save face, and leave escape routes for them
  21. Share credit
  22. Notice and share when others do well
  23. Stay in demand
  24. Have other options
  25. Keep a work diary - accomplishments, ideas, etc
  26. Anticipate and guide
  27. Share proactively
  28. Dress up (slightly)
  29. Give good feedback
  30. Negotiate - don't take the first offer in anything that matters
  31. Say no sometimes - set boundaries and abide by them
  32. Admit when you don't know
  33. Be willing to move on

The Wailing - a review - 45

Genre: Horror; mystery; thriller
Rating: 8/10

I enjoyed this movie a lot, and one of the marks of a good movie for me is the fact that I find myself still thinking about some of the moments in the movie weeks and weeks later.

It's generally well-regarded, but I think that it may hold a special place in my heart, and do the same for my cultural bedfellows, because the cultural boundary presents a new take on something that I've become very familiar with due to the religious perspective around here - possessions.

In the Christian mythos, I know pretty much how an exorcism goes, and while a few movies have done a few different things in this vein, they fit inside of a general framework that I know enough about to undercut some of the novelty of what a creator may be aiming for. The Wailing has something new for me. It's exorcism ritual is bright and powerful, and nearly festive, almost diametrically opposed to the gloomy and somber exorcisms I'm accustomed to seeing in media over here.

Some of the symbolism is a little on the nose. The stranger presents an almost existential threat to the villagers he lives near, which is an apparent exploration of the racist attitudes that Koreans hold towards the Japanese. But the twists that the creator throws out, for this character, for the demon and its capabilities, for the priest, and for other supernatural entities, and in particular for some of the relationships that all of these characters have with one another, is intriguing and refreshing. It's a level of complexity that the Christian mythos for these same kinds of movies don't have, regardless of whether or not they have that potential.

What goes around - 44

There's an almost elegant irony in the fact that the best, as in most economical as well as being fairly effective, way to combat climate change is to essentially do the opposite of the things that brought everything to a tipping point. Reduction in emissions are essential, but a lot of the conversation right now is around planting trees (I posted about this in July), restoring green spaces in urban environments, and skewing more along technology lines, an algae-based bio-reactor that captures as much carbon as an acre of forest [1]

I'm very excited for more trees in humanity's future, not just because it appeals to my personal sense of aesthetic and love of nature, but because of the very real cognitive benefits that tall vegetation has on the human mind and, unarguably, the contribution in the fight towards a stable and sustainable ecosystem.

1: https://futurism.com/the-byte/bioreactor-captures-carbon-acre-trees

Parental longevity - 43

One of the key findings recently about how we experience time is that time seems to speed up as we get older because we have more experiential knowledge. Things are more novel when we're younger so they make more lasting, striking impressions. As you settle into a familiar routine, with school or work or with social relationships (romantic, platonic, familial, so on), the novelty fades and things stand out less, so time seems to pass by more quickly.

It's my pet theory that one of the unusual benefits of having a child is that you get a little bit of the novelty of experience that they can't escape. The whole world is new to them, and they force you to re-examine your surroundings, your circumstances, your self, in addition to adding to experiences because you can't (or at least shouldn't) escape the responsibility of rearing your child.

I'm in no way saying that everyone needs to have a child to get the most out of life or that a life is incomplete without having a child, but I do think it's at least in small part an evolutionary advantage that homo sapiens, and very likely other relatively long-lived and intelligent species, adapted so as to have more significant experiences through longer periods of life. Especially in modern times, with the lifespan of a human being outstripping by decades what it used to be in ancient times.

The problem of celebrity - 42

There's a lot of problems that can come about as a function of celebrity. It's almost a trope that child stars end up abusing drugs and spiraling into depression, so far removed from the realities of reality that they have no context for when people are taking advantage of them or they find themselves in abnormal situations, or just have no sense of moderation or self-awareness as to what may be good for them or bad for them.

Narcissism is another one. Cue Kanye West's current foray into starting his own religion, or maybe his own service to an existing religion. It's too obscure for me to tell right now which is which or what his overall intentions are, but if Scientology is any kind of template, then the religious movements that spring out of celebrity aren't great. Not that the orthodox ones that come about by more traditional means are any better.

But perhaps the most glaring and unavoidable problem with celebrity is that if you become famous, especially as a performer, performance is now your life. You perform for money. Your skills, or talents, or presence, snippets of what you say online or in life, actions that you take in the spotlight or out of it, can all be construed as a part of your performance. Accurate or not, for better and for worse. I imagine it can give one a deep sense of loss of personal agency, which may actually be true in a lot of cases.

Gut microbiomes - 41

It was easier to be skinnier a few decades ago[1].

This makes immediate sense to me at a surface level. In the nearly 40 years since the 80s, there's been an explosion of food choice, availability, and changes to the type - more meat in the diet, more fast food, more junk food, more processed foods, so on. This should come as no surprise.

But the interesting takeaway here is that the because of all of these dietary choices, many of which were and continue to be more about availability than about conscious decision even though the latter has increased as well, they affect the gut microbiome. And the gut micribiome affects the rest of the body.

It affects brain health. The bacteria in the gut produce approximately 90% of the body's serotonin, used in regulating emotions, and can send signal to the GI system to stimulate or suppress digestion[2]. What you put into your stomach affects your emotion and your stomach can make you crave certain foods, reinforcing the diet that you're feeding it.

Good bacteria in the gut flora feed off fiber; bad bacteria feed off sugar. A few decades ago, and probably trending backwards all through human history, it was easier to be hit and maintain a target weight because the reinforcing feedback loop of gut flora to diet to body health only had a few specific kinds of fuel to choose from, and as the gut flora is changed both by selection in diet and by the changes to the quality of food (which have less mineral content due to intensive farming, for example), makes the feedback loop negative, and harder to break.

1: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/09/why-it-was-easier-to-be-skinny-in-the-1980s/407974/

2: http://depts.washington.edu/mbwc/news/article/the-gut-microbiome-and-brain-health

Working backwards - 40

There is apparently a mechanism by which human beings, and presumably all biological organisms which leverages this technology, can reverse their biological age[1]. Chronological age is how old you actually are and biological age is how old you seem, or present, based on epigenetic markers indicative of chemical changes in the DNA.

By using a combination of growth hormone, which spikes insulin levels, and then countering those spikes with two different types of medicine used to treat diabetes, the researcher who tested this on himself was able to 'reverse' his biological age by 2.5 years.

This is early days, but still very exciting. In a sci-fi novel called Ringworld that I enjoyed when I read and still think about warmly after years, the protagonist had extended his love through the use of something called "boosterspice". In another scifi novel, Time Enough for Love, a character extended his life by centuries through the use of techniques like filtering out old, toxin-riddled blood and pumping in fresh blood[2]. It's exciting to think about the fact that people alive today, perhaps even people in my generational cohort, will be able to easily pass a century in age - and more importantly, to spend those years in reasonably healthy bodies, rather than anchored to life support.

1: https://www.inverse.com/article/59096-humans-reverse-epigenetic-clock

2: https://nypost.com/2018/09/10/young-blood-could-be-the-secret-to-long-lasting-health-study/

Compromised - 39

Kompromat, short for "compromising material" in the Russian culture, is damaging information about someone which can be used to blackmail, extort, or put them away. Kompromat can be legitimate, acquerid through security services like spying on someone, or it could be completely forged and used for purely political reasons of getting someone out of the way and putting them in prison or even executing them.

Early on in this practice it used to be planted drugs, grainy videos of prostitutes hired by the KGB, and other entrapment techniques. More recently kompromat appears in the form of cybercrime. The information in either case is often sexual in nature, such as when a civil servant was the victim of a gay honey trap during a time in Britain when homosexuality was against the law.

Some enemies of Russia say the government plants child porn on them[1]. What a tactic, what a world.

1: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/09/world/europe/vladimir-putin-russia-fake-news-hacking-cybersecurity.html

A shot to the heart - 38

In Yemeni, 3 men who were convicted of raping and killing a 10 year old were shot in the heart 5 times and then suspended from a crane in the public square[1].

I have mixed feelings about the death penalty. I don't necessarily dislike it on the principle of the state's monopoly of violence, which is to say I think that certain crimes or actions can be punishable by it if we could arrive at an ineffable conviction. In most cases this doesn't happen. Political motivations and individual biases skew arrests and convictions. Over 100 people have been exonerated from death row since the 1970s[2], people found guilty, sentenced to death, and then found innocent. So clearly the penal system needs some work still.

But assuming this was one of those irrefutable circumstances? I'm not conflicted about it.

1: https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/1001264/yemen-news-execution-paedophiles-shot-hung-crane-killed-boy-ten-pictures
2: http://www.ncadp.org/pages/innocence

Rocko's Modern Life - a review - 37

Genre: Animation; short; action
Rating: 6/10

Not for the series, but for the new short Static Cling. For me, this short was something which I could call entertainment, which I would say if you ended up watching you wouldn't turn off in the middle of it or regret the time that you spent consuming it, but that if you came to Static Cling because you liked the series a lot, your nostalgia may find itself disappointed.

It was a fun walk down memory lane but the short was more concerned with that, with some light satire overtones lampooning modern society, than it was with an engaging story. There was a lot of references to old characters and old stories, which used time I think would have been better spent on the "A" story. Taking Ralph Bighead as an analog for the show creator it seems like the creation of another Rocko was something the creator wasn't totally interested in and had to be essentially pulled into the studio to make (money was no doubt the bait) and, if this is true, then it kind of shows.

If you have a Netflix subscription already you might enjoy watching it, but not something I'd say you should go out of your way for.

Building worlds and interactions - 36

I wrote this for a casual discussion on game design in shared virtual spaces, and wanted to capture it here.

Make your lore[1] accessible and changeable

Ideas are cheap. Execution is expensive because that is where costs of time and energy tend to concentrate. The brain is engaged in an almost constant stream of ideation, so much so that practices have grown out of learning to silence the chatter[2].

What does this mean to me in the context of worldbuilding and making your lore interactive and engaging? In particular for a collaborative community that engages through forum media?

To me it means that it's very easy to make something "cool", something which on the surface appeals but which further probing reveals has little substance. Because execution is what makes the substance; it comes later, after ideation.

In the digital age with countless generators to use as starting points or for inspiration and unparalleled accessibility to information, from the full text of public domain and open source works, to samples or snippets of commercial products, to analyses of texts and shared knowledge on YouTube, Wikipedia, news websites, etc. Ideas as germs are in hyper-abundance. Having a cool idea is not enough to make it popular because cool ideas are actually very common. On its own a cool idea is just a pitch. A pitch needs to be developed into a full work before it can hope to actually compete.

So in this context, what makes an idea valuable? How accessible it is to players and how much it can be transformed via that interaction. In terms of following paths of least resistance, I speculate that more players are more drawn to lore they can easily change or adopt[2], and that they can see the realization of this change as a result of their character's actions.

1: Essentially "intellectual property"

2: Meditation

3: In video games this translates to the open world and sandbox games steadily gaining in popularity; in the analog world we see this with TTRPGs like D&D and Pathfinder. Another more recent and more direct example is Gloomhaven, where character actions physically alter the board game equipment.

A change in tune - 35

You know about the Equifax breach[1]?

Did you know about the settlement[2]?

If you knew about both of these things, see item number 5 for an update. After promising a settlement to refund people 125 per person that filed a claim, Equifax received so many claims that they can no longer promise that settlement and anyone opting into it is likely going to get far less than they expect. So they recommend going with the free monitoring instead.

They knew how many accounts got leaked. When arriving at a fine and settlement offering, how did this take them by surprise?

1: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2017/09/equifax-data-breach-what-do

2: https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/cases-proceedings/refunds/equifax-data-breach-settlement

Food for Trash - 34

Places like this already have a presence in some parts of the US and Europe, but what puts this one ahead of the pack in terms of intrigue is that the program then plans to repurpose the plastic waste to build more durable roads[1] in the city of Ambikapur.

If you've never gone really, truly hungry for an extended period of time, you may not know what it's like to be so desperate to food that you're willing to do almost anything. It's literally a matter of life and death, and people pushed to the edge of their limits by starvation isn't good for anyone. Although this isn't a panacea for all of the world's ills, and there will remain plenty which require attention and solutions, I think a program like this is beneficial for all parties involved at lower and higher levels.

On the lower level you have someone being able to easily earn themselves food they can live on, and not just cheap junk food. On the higher levels you have a crowd-sourced initiative to clean up the streets. Littering is so serious a social offense in some countries that in Germany it moves the needle of empathy nearly a dozen percentage points when it comes to helping out a perceived outsider. The study is really showing the power of social norms and littering was chosen because of it being race and culture neutral, but I think it still sends a strong signal.

And plastic in particular is an issue for the human animal, so putting it to task on improving infrastructure, which improves transportation not just of people but of goods and of services, is one of the best things we could be doing with our plastic waste, if it has to be produced at all.

1: https://www.vice.com/en_in/article/xwnb3j/people-can-exchange-trash-for-free-food-at-indias-first-garbage-cafe

2: https://www.inverse.com/article/58124-discrimination-against-immigrant-study

Ethiopia leads the charge - 33

By planting 350 million trees in 12 hours[1]. Back in July I wrote about[2] how planting trees could be the "game changer" for how we approach the fight for climate change - just one pillar of many but an important one that's both cheap and effective.

Ethiopia is 67th when ranked by GDP[3], and they are leading the charge for the rally against climate changes and the apocalyptic disaster that climate change promises to visit on the human species and the global ecosystem.

According to the world happiness report4, Ethiopia is 127th in ranking. I'll be curious to see how this effort affects Ethiopia's GDP, as it courts positive attention on what I hope is an international scale, maybe leading to some extended good will, maybe leading to some commercial interests, but am also curious how the country will rise in happiness index with the mounting evidence that shows that trees, and not just low lying vegetation, provide a mental boost to the human animal[5].

1: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/ethiopia-plants-350-million-trees-12-hours-breaking-world-record-2019-07-30/

2: https://listed.to/@brainbuffet/6787/plant-trees-to-fight-climage-change-26

3: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(nominal)

4: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Happiness_Report

5: https://www.sciencealert.com/increasing-urban-tree-cover-gives-community-mental-health-a-boost-says-new-study

Active vs passive consumption

Passive consumption - mindless entertainment. Reality TV often falls into this category since it is often a scripted simulation of reality whose events and interactions are engineered, to various degrees, to provide entertainment. Sort of like the junk food version of media. You can find this version in any medium. There's junk food magazines, websites, books, movies, and even activities, like games; there's a big divide between a game like scrabble and a game like farmville.

Active consumption - Unlike food, at least part of how much value can be squeezed from a piece of content is how you're actively digesting it, but it starts with making a conscientious effort to seek out high quality content. Shows that challenge perspectives, that give you new information, whether in the non-fiction arena or just an insight into human behavior (improved theory of mind applies to fictional content the most). It isn't enough to just sit in front of good content being thrown at you, you have to engage your mind into noticing and doing things with that content. This is where you get improved retention and fodder for creative inspiration later on in life.

Aquaman - a review - 31

Genre: Action; adventure; fantasy
Rating: 6/10

Minor spoilers - just assume this is the case every time.

In short - it was fine. Mediocre might be an equally suitable word.

Things that I liked were the fight choreography. I'm not very familiar with what trident combat would look like in the hands of superhumans or in the more buoyant environment of the underwater kingdoms, but it looked good and was exciting to watch.

Things that I didn't like were that the movie felt very busy, trying to cram too many plot points into an already over-extended and puffy movie. I didn't like how much of it backgrounds and set pieces were CGI. I especially didn't like how many times clunky and exposition heavy dialogues were interrupted by conveniently timed/placed explosions. On that note the Black Manta antagonist was too quickly introduced and shuffled off, and the alleged moral crisis / wound which should have been afflciting our hero was only touched on here and there.

It was fine. If you found yourself watching it by happy accident or convenience you'd live but I don't think this is something a movie-goer should seek out.