We need people who know what they are talking about

Let’s face it, you usually hear advice from people who don’t know what they are talking about.

Do you see Elon Musk listing 10 plants he’d like to see on Mars, or Tim Cook raving about his favorite apps of the week? No, this is preposterous. Their time is better applied elsewhere – solving actual problems.

The same principles reverberate down to less busy people. Real experts and doers typically have more leverage doing stuff than writing articles. Where does it leave the professional advice-givers? Their core competence is giving advice, but the advice they give is not backed by real-world experience – how could they be experts in all they write about?

Hola, hola Artur! I am hearing a lot of advice from you. Does it mean that you don’t know what you are talking about?

This principle applies also to fields other than advice-giving. For example, programmers usually have no idea what the thing they are building is supposed to be doing. They get requirements, but the people who write those requirements have no idea how to write requirements. They can sometimes hire experts in writing requirements, but those, in turn, have no idea about the problem domain AND have no idea how to program.

Most software is unfortunately terrible, and it’s a perfectly implementing programmers’ understanding of how it should look like.

What’s the solution then?

Do you ever wonder how is that small startups with few people can compete with behemoths like Google or Microsoft? Even when their products are direct alternatives?

One explanation is of course the tremendous inefficiency of the corporate world. The other is that a person who knows and cares about the problem space AND can translate this into code is unstoppable.

We need more people who know what they are talking about:

  • We need programmers with experience in what they are coding.
  • We need writers with experience in what they are writing about.
  • We need teachers with experience in how the knowledge can be applied, not talked about.

Democratizing access to publishing has enabled an entire class of bloggers who can write in addition to (and about) things they do. You can read essays by scientists, farmers, construction engineers, and other professionals. Even if they are not experts, they know how to make things happen, which is not the case for career advice-givers.

In my previous email about Monism, I pointed out the perils of a world where everybody is narrowly focused on their fields and this feels like a continuation. The best software is by people with experience from outside programming and the best writing is by people who have something to say about the real world. If that’s you – write about it.

Deliberate Work

In an essay scarily titled “How to Work Hard”, Paul Graham explains why it’s valuable to apply your time effectively, how to do so, and how to enjoy it.

One thing I know is that if you want to do great things, you’ll have to work very hard. I wasn’t sure of that as a kid. Schoolwork varied in difficulty; one didn’t always have to work super hard to do well. And some of the things famous adults did, they seemed to do almost effortlessly. Was there, perhaps, some way to evade hard work through sheer brilliance? Now I know the answer to that question. There isn’t.

Strangely enough, the biggest obstacle to getting serious about work was probably school, which made work (what they called work) seem boring and pointless.

Subjects get distorted when they’re adapted to be taught to kids — often so distorted that they’re nothing like the work done by actual practitioners

Hard Work may sound like something to avoid at all costs, but strategic bursts may be the laziest way to do great things. Check out my previous essay “The lazy way to being outstanding: go after hard things.”

the hard work I am urging you to tackle is the task that is unknown, complex, and emotionally challenging. Your Ego can be hurt, you can be ridiculed, and you can fail. That is the hard part. Copy-pasting spreadsheets or tackling something that should never be done in the first place is safe but tedious and time-consuming. This is dead-end, laborious, and unfulfilling work. Avoid that. Or Automate

Climate tales to inspire

Stripe Climate is an initiative of the payment provider Stripe to help remove CO2 from the atmosphere.

There is a lot to admire about their particular approach, but what caught my eye is that they are using capitalism effectively to enact a real change instead of rolling out another corporate responsibility effort.

  1. Stripe’s mission is to grow the GDP of the Internet, and they recognize climate change as a direct threat. By tying the climate efforts into their main objective, they commit.
  2. Instead of funding companies directly removing CO2 from the air, they act as early purchasers of their carbon removal services (aka offsets). The goal is to help the companies reinvest proceeds into cheaper unit costs and push technology down the innovation curve for next customers. Stripe may purchase removal of a ton of CO2 for $2000, but that purchase will help lower the cost to $200 for future customers.
  3. By purchasing instead of donating, they ensure the economic viability of the technology. When the cost of removing a ton of CO2 from the air drops under $100, then it makes sense to involve government subsidies.
  4. Stripe has committed $11 million to the effort. If you are using Stripe as your payment provider, you can set aside a portion of your earnings to pitch in.

Weird stuff

Scientists have found a way to build logic gates from soldier crabs. So, technically, you could build a whole computer that is powered not by electricity, but by crabs. Read more here.

The interconnected mess of it all

Monism

“The Heart of the Andes” by Frederic Edwin Church aimed to present the interconnectedness of the ecosystem, with everything interacting with everything else.

While reading “The Invention of Nature” (a book I’ll definitely reference later), I stumbled upon the concept of Monism.

In a Monistic worldview, there is no difference between organic and inorganic life because they are deeply connected. There is no hard boundary between humans and animals because we’re all part of nature. There is no division into different drawers of sciences just because of some obscure taxonomy. Monism stands in opposition to Dualism, first popularized by Plato, and later embedded in the western culture.

The perils of dismantling the world into even smaller parts and declaring them separate sciences seems to underline many of my talking points. While studying Computer Science and Psychology simultaneously, I couldn’t help but notice how interconnected and similar those seemingly disparate areas can be, but how ignorant experts are to anything outside their precious labels.

The last 2 years (!) of the pandemic have shown how dangerous this mindset can be. Organizations like CDC, FDA, WHO, US Army, and countless other acronym holders did everything according to their own procedures. Still, it ended as an utter fiasco costing millions of lives because everyone focused on their own little slice of reality and missed the big picture.

Samuel Coleridge (a British poet) called the early 1800s an ‘epoch of division and separation,’ of fragmentation and the loss of unity. He was lamenting the loss of what he called the ‘connective powers of the understanding.’ He had no idea.

I’ll read up on Monism some more and report back the findings to you.

Deliberate work

In “Your lifestyle has already been designed,” David takes a closer look at the default workforce lifestyle, observing that it definitely is not aimed at helping the little guy:

For the economy to be “healthy”, America has to remain unhealthy. Healthy, happy people don’t feel like they need much they don’t already have, and that means they don’t buy a lot of junk, don’t need to be entertained as much, and they don’t end up watching a lot of commercials.

He also makes an excellent point about the 8-hour workdays:

But the 8-hour workday is too profitable for big business, not because of the amount of work people get done in eight hours (the average office worker gets less than three hours of actual work done in 8 hours) but because it makes for such a purchase-happy public. Keeping free time scarce means people pay a lot more for convenience, gratification, and any other relief they can buy. It keeps them watching television, and its commercials. It keeps them unambitious outside of work.

But it all has to be worth it in the end, right? Few decades of slogging through, and you’ll be able to retire happily! Philip, who has reached the Nirvana of early retirement, is documenting his “struggles”:

Americans cannot imagine stopping work before they’ve either (1) purchased everything that they could conceivably want, or (2) collapsed from physical exhaustion

He recommends shifting the mindset before retirement because jumping from worker mentality straight to empty days can be more than a little disorienting:

Suppose that you are retired. At this point, your one job is the pursuit of happiness. If you are not happy, therefore you are a failure at your job and in your life. But how can you be happy 24/7?

Retirement forces you to stop thinking that it is your job that holds you back. For most people the depressing truth is that they aren’t that organized, disciplined, or motivated.

“Worried Denizen” argues that Leisure is the end in itself, and we have to learn to “waste it”:

In the long run, wasted time is indistinguishable from time well spent.

The only viable strategy to make the most out of your time is to make sure that it’s fun

Climate Tales to inspire

Companies like Heimdal are working carbon-negative cement – it means that they suck out CO2 to produce the material, in opposition to the traditional manner, which is a huge contributor to climate change.

Concrete is responsible for 8% of global CO2 emissions. Cement is usually made from mined limestone, which is one of the largest natural stores of carbon dioxide. Using that to make cement is a bit like burning oil. The world is addicted to concrete, so this problem is not going away. We make synthetic limestone using atmospheric CO2, such that when it is used to make cement, the process is carbon neutral.

This essay is a fantastic resource on the economics and chemistry of carbon-negative concrete.

PS: Yes, this issue of my newsletter is sent late. We are finally on the road, giving our RV a spin, and so far – so good!

Modne Problemy (Paul Graham)

Poniższy tekst jest tłumaczeniem “Fashionable Problems” Paula Grahama.

Grudzień 2019

Zauważyłem to w wielu różnych dziedzinach: mimo, że wiele osób ciężko pracowało w danym polu, tylko ułamek przestrzeni możliwości został zbadany ponieważ wszyscy pracowali nad tym samym.

Nawet najmądrzejsi, najbardziej pomysłowi ludzie są zaskakująco konserwatywni w decydowaniu czemu się poświęcić. Osoby, którym nawet by przez myśl nie przeszło być modnymi w jakikolwiek inny sposób, zostają wciągnięci w modne problemy.

Jeśli chcesz spróbować pracy nad niemodnymi problemami, jednym z najlepszych sposobów jest przyjrzenie się dziedzinom, które mają opinię w pełni zbadanych: eseje, Lisp, finansowanie startupów – możesz zauważyć tu pewną prawidłowość (przyp tłumacza: autor zajmuje się głównie tymi polami). Jeśli znajdziesz nowe podejście w dużym, widocznie przebrzmiałym polu, wartość tego co odkryjesz będzie zwielokrotniona przez gigantyczną powierzchnię obecnej wiedzy.

Najlepszym zabezpieczeniem przeciwko byciu wciągniętym w pracę nad tymi samymi rzeczami co wszyscy może być szczery entuzjazm do tego co robisz. Wtedy będziesz kontynuować pracę, nawet jeśli popełnisz ten sam błąd co inni i będzie Ci się wydawało, że to zbyt marginalna rzecz by miała jakieś znaczenie.

Forest rebouncing, modern farmers, and LinkedIn psychopaths

Happy Monday! Today’s issue is going to be a medley of things.

Climate tales to inspire

In line with my previous rant in Deliberate 53 – Tales to inspire, not tales to condemn, I want to share good news from the climate front. Despite all Doom, Gloom, and Drama we are assaulted with every day – there is hope and inspiring initiatives are blooming in the Climate “industry”.

Forests are bouncing back

The world is literally a greener place than it was twenty years ago, and data from NASA satellites has revealed a counterintuitive source for much of this new foliage. A new study shows that China and India—the world’s most populous countries—are leading the increase in greening on land. The effect comes mostly from ambitious tree-planting programs in China and intensive agriculture in both countries.

The research team found that global green leaf area has increased by 5 percent since the early 2000s, an area equivalent to all of the Amazon rainforests.

You can read more in this NASA study.

I wrote a few things this week

In Oldschool Internet and the Blockchain I took a look at how big corporations are cannibalizing open standards the Internet is built upon, and how blockchain tech can help protect what’s left.

If you are using Roam, I have a treat for you (and if you’re not, this paragraph is going to be very confusing). In order to introduce a little more serendipity into my Zettelkasten, I wrote a plugin that will surface old blocks of my choosing into my daily pages. Every day, I enjoy a random block with a “Review” or “Grateful” tag. The plugin is called Troamback.

Using the precious few moments I can scavenge for myself while caring for my toddler, I am frantically typing up my long-overdue book reviews. The Scientist in the Crib is a deep dive into the cognitive framework of children exploring the world and how they closely match the scientific method. Of Wolves and Men is an account of the relations between the titular species.

Deliberate 52 – Farmers always Worked From Home ended up on the front page of Hacker News (New Yorker has a good intro on the social network if you’re not familiar). This is always exciting, but in a predictable Hacker News fashion, it sparked an unrelated and detailed discussion about the state of modern farming. Here are my favorite comments:

This commenter makes a great point how chores are now significally less laborious than in the past. It echoes the sentiment from my favourite TED Talk – Hans Rosling’s “The Magical Washing Machine”:

I think the problem with this debate isn’t about how much people have worked in the past, but more about what actually is work.

For example, in today’s society we do not think of basic chores like laundry as work, but in the past laundry was far more labor-intensive due to the lack of washing machines. Is repairing your broken furniture or clothes work? Is preparing your own food work? Those things are trivialized in today’s advanced capitalist societies, but might have been a substantial part of life for people in the past. Nowadays most people seem to just buy new furniture and clothes, and even food preparing has been substantially trivialized by resteraunts, orders, takeouts, and readymade meals, so we’re probably much more prilvileged than they were. But did the medieval people saw all of this extra work as “work” in today’s sense? (Graeber’s famous book (“Bullshit Jobs”) kinda touches on this aspect in the end chapter, but I wish he’ve delved a bit more on it. There’s a whole anthropology of work that’s left unexplored…)

Farming is much different now than it was in the past:

Modern farmers are polyglot technologists. Hybrid GMO seeds are selected to optimize yield in their specific soil and weather conditions. Tractors are largely self-driving along with a host of technology to rival a race car and harvesters give live feedback on the quality and quantity of grain so that farmers can make decisions about what to do with the grain- sell immediately, store, or take to a specialized storage facility to dry. Crops are rotated seasonally to minimize pests and optimize soil quality, sometimes on complex multi-year patterns of cover crops, cash crops, spring harvests, etc. Underground “tiling” is installed to speed the flow of water away from low-lying sections of fields to maintain consistent soil moisture across fields on rolling hills. And the futures, options, insurance and debt financing decisions to maintain stable income in the face of unpredictable weather and commodity prices rivals what any investment banker in Manhattan is doing. And that’s just for commodity grain producers, meat, dairy, fruits and vegetables have their own unique uses of cutting edge science and technology. A group of farmers in Iowa sitting at a conference about managing soil nitrogen are likely leveraging far more real science and tech than a group of web developers in the bay discussing the latest updates to React.

And this one is just so very Hacker News:

I’m a farmer in southern Colorado. Currently we grow marijuana and potatoes. I’m on HN because because I’m a long time Linux user (20+ years) and free software advocate and this is where a lot of the old boys still lurk

Deliberate Internet

Finally, I want to start your week by recommending “What I Learned from a Week of Shitposting on LinkedIn“. The whole social network is just something else, and Kyle Coberly calls out the particular narrative style:

It’s a special kind of skill to make a post that’s nominally about someone else, but is ultimately all about you.

And then has some fun with it:

How can you tell if the person you’re interviewing is also a GoodPerson? The math is a simple system of equations:

goodperson = you
goodperson = candidate
you = candidate = goodperson

That’s why you should only hire people exactly like yourself.

My LinkedIn timeline could definitely use more fun and a little fewer success junkies.

Book: The Scientist in The Crib

But what makes a science really advance isn’t just the astonishing geniuses, it’s the methods that allow us ordinary idiots to do the same thing as the astonishing geniuses.

“The Scientist in the Crib” by Alison Gopnik, Andrew N. Meltzoff, and Patricia K. Kuhl explores how children explore the world using scientific methods or – the scientific method is built on the framework that children use to explore the world.

Children build theories on the world, test them methodically, and will try out just about anything with unwavering enthusiasm.

It’s not that children are little scientists but that scientists are big children.

Children and good scientists use the same methods, and they are equally baffled and amazed by the world. They conduct real experiments and note their effects with astounding diligence.

The “Theory Theory” states that children have theories of the world

Babies learn about the world by interacting with it. Only after having an experience they can name it. They have a “language explosion” at the same time they learn to solve new problems – like object permanence, manipulation, etc.

  • Babies who are figuring out the sounds of language babble
  • Babies who are figuring out how we see objects play hide&seek
  • Babies who are learning how people think, play imitation games

Experiments show that babies are born with the ability to recognize every syllable of every language. After 1 year, they are limited only to the language they hear at home, so they’ll lose vowels they don’t hear their parents speak. After another 14 years, they’ll pay big money for language classes to recognize those sounds again.

I was dismissive of Baby Talk, but it turns out its really valuable and tailored precisely for language learning:

  • Elongated vowels
  • Clear sounds
  • Slight variations of the same sentence “What a nice toy you have, such a nice toy, who has a nice toy?”

Funny how we’re such great teachers instinctively. Put down your Mozart tapes.

There are no adults

The longer I live, the more convinced I am that in fact there are no adults, and we’re all big babies in oversized suits trying to figure this all out as we go along (I even wrote something to that effect in my wedding vows).

But if even children themselves aren’t “childlike,” the whole picture collapses. There are no savages, noble or otherwise, and there are no “children of nature,” not even among children. There are only human beings, children and grown-ups, women and men, hunter-gatherers and scientists, trying to figure out what’s going on.

As with hard distinction between people and animals, or mind and body, Aristotle is yet again proven wrong. Hilariously, the book shares Plato’s student’s work on Men and Women having different numbers of teeth, a view he probably didn’t consult with his wife. Men have a long history of theorizing without confronting their ideas with facts.

like Aristotle with the teeth, neither Freud nor Skinner took the step of doing systematic experiments with children or babies. Freud largely relied on inferences from the behavior of neurotic adults, and Skinner on inferences from the behavior of only slightly less neurotic rats. And like the philosophers, Freud and Skinner got the developmental story wrong, too.

The more we learn about babies, animals, and the universe, the more we are confronted with our own unremarkableness. It was a nice myth to treat ourselves as the final achievement of evolution, but we’re just lucky animals.

Due to frequent child deaths (as described in Factfulness), children were treated as less than adults for the majority of history. It was an easy way out of both the gruesome reality of child death and the preservation of the special status of the full-grown humans. But we have to get real now.

Parenting

Maybe this book’s biggest benefit is preparing me for the challenges ahead. My baby girl is 6 months old now, and already testing her parents’ patience a little bit more every day. So-called “Terrible Twos” sound particularly scary, and the book helps me to mentally prepare and understand her antics later. She is not out to make me angry, she’s just trying to learn the world. Repeat that again and breathe.

The terrible twos seem to involve a systematic exploration of that idea, almost a kind of experimental research program. Toddlers are systematically testing the dimensions on which their desires and the desires of others may be in conflict.

It will also help to prevent me from strolling up and down the block like a proud peacock whenever she does something impressive:

Parents egocentrically tend to think that they are the deciding factors in their children’s lives. But for a two-year-old, an older brother or sister may actually be a more enthralling exemplar of human nature.

I’m already struggling as my little girl tests the object permanence where she drops toys on purpose to see if that picks them up. He does.

The traditional environment where the children grew up was very different from the modern family. Remote work brings us back, with children being closer to their parents during the day instead of being locked away in daycare

“Perhaps the telecommuting home office with the crib next to the fax machine will turn out to be the contemporary equivalent of the baby on the sling on its mother’s back or the father plowing next to his children”

Read more in “Farmers always worked from home”

Related Books

My Kindle highlights

  • We decided to become developmental psychologists and study children because there aren’t any Martians.
  • worst of all when we turn to the sounds that
  • Our job as developmental psychologists is to discover what program babies run and, someday, how that program is coded in their brains and how it evolved.
  • Finally, the babies have the universe’s best system of tech support: mothers.
  • For human beings, nurture is our nature. The capacity for culture is part of our biology, and the drive to learn is our most important and central instinct.
  • It’s not that children are little scientists but that scientists are big children.
  • But if even children themselves aren’t “childlike,” the whole picture collapses. There are no savages, noble or otherwise, and there are no “children of nature,” not even among children. There are only human beings, children and grown-ups, women and men, hunter-gatherers and scientists, trying to figure out what’s going on.
  • Luria, wildly excited by his results, couldn’t wait for the Trans-Siberian Railroad journey back and telegraphed Vygotsky, “Tatars have no illusions.” He was immediately arrested; there was only one subject about which Tatars could have no illusions. Luria decided to leave developmental psychology and became a military brain surgeon at the front—it was safer. Vygotsky himself avoided the purges only by dying young, at thirty-eight.
  • like Aristotle with the teeth, neither Freud nor Skinner took the step of doing systematic experiments with children or babies. Freud largely relied on inferences from the behavior of neurotic adults, and Skinner on inferences from the behavior of only slightly less neurotic rats. And like the philosophers, Freud and Skinner got the developmental story wrong, too.
  • But what makes a science really advance isn’t just the astonishing geniuses, it’s the methods that allow us ordinary idiots to do the same thing as the astonishing geniuses.
  • One-month-old babies imitate facial expressions. If you stick your tongue out at a baby, the baby will stick his tongue out at you; open your mouth, and the baby will open hers.
  • The newborns imitated, too.
  • When babies are around a year old, they begin to point to things and they begin to look at things that other people point to.
  • The terrible twos seem to involve a systematic exploration of that idea, almost a kind of experimental research program. Toddlers are systematically testing the dimensions on which their desires and the desires of others may be in conflict.
  • Systematic studies indicate that two-year-olds begin to show genuine empathy toward other people for the first time.
  • (3 y/o) always thought there were pencils in the box. It’s as if the children think that since there is only one world out there, a single reality, everyone will understand it the same way. People will never have different beliefs about the same thing, and they themselves will never change their minds about anything.
  • The children, though, make just the same mistakes whether they are reporting their own mental state or predicting the mental states of other people.
  • A relatively brief experience of a friend or an aunt or a teacher can provide children with an alternative picture of how love can work.
  • Three-year-olds do act like lovers toward their parents. In fact, they act like lovers out of Italian opera, with passionate and sensual embraces and equally passionate despair at separation and jealousy of rivals.
  • We can show systematically that “real” lies only begin to appear at about four, at the same time that children start to understand “false-belief” problems like the deceptive candy box. Similarly, children only begin to understand that they can be deceived at about that age.
  • Children with autism don’t seem to have the fundamental presupposition that they are like other people and other people are like them.
  • They are likely to understand the trick box problem at a younger age than older siblings. And the more brothers and sisters children have, the better they do.
  • Parents egocentrically tend to think that they are the deciding factors in their children’s lives. But for a two-year-old, an older brother or sister may actually be a more enthralling exemplar of human nature.

Book: Of Wolves and Men by Barry Lopez

The truth is we know little about the wolf. What we know a good deal more about is what we imagine the wolf to be.

This was a very sad book to read. Humanity has dealt the wolves great injustice, blaming them for everything under the sun (and the moon), and then some more. Barry Lopez shares some context on how wolves actually behave and why they were so vilified.

We tend to compare the to humans, either presenting as the opposite, or a friend. But wolves are proudly themselves. They do exhibit some behaviour we understand, and some that we don’t They are alive, and have the very right to.

Wolves vary their hunting techniques, share food with the old who do not hunt, and give gifts to each other.

The wolf seems to have few relationships with other animals that could be termed purely social, though he apparently takes pleasure in the company of ravens. 

Nature was for the most part cruel and dangerous to humans (more on that in Sapiens), so taming it was a sign of virtue, progress, and hope for prosperity. From Factfulness:

There was a balance. It wasn’t because humans lived in balance with nature. Humans died in balance with nature. It was utterly brutal and tragic. (Location 1066)

For most of the civilization, nature was the enemy, and the wolf – the ambassador of the wild.

In a hunter society, like that of the Cheyenne, traits that were universally admired—courage, hunting skill, endurance—placed the wolf in a pantheon of respected animals; but when man turned to agriculture and husbandry, to cities, the very same wolf was hated as cowardly, stupid, and rapacious.

To kill a wolf was to tame the wilderness, to prove the mighty man’s strength can win with the claws and the teeth of the primeval. And men had a lot to prove.

Part of the tragedy—and it was a tragedy—was that wolves who bothered no cattle were hunted down by men who largely wanted to prove to other men that they were no fools.

There is something deep-seated in men that makes them want to “take on” the outdoors, as though it were something to be whipped, and to kill wolves because killing a wolf stands for real triumph.

Barry Lopez lists countless examples of cruelty the wolves received from men. The most gruesome were the “brave hunters” who would shoot machine guns from an airplane to kill hundreds of alaskan wolves per day.

Thanks to the book I understood a little more about my own dog, but the author warns against extrapolating wolf behaviour onto their domesticated brethren.

The habit dogs have of rolling in putrid substances is also found in wolves. It seems possible that odors picked up in this way and carried to other pack members have some communicative function.

Related Books

Recommended on the Tim Ferriss show – somebody said it’s a book similar to The Overstory. I still prefer the Overstory.

My Kindle Highlights

  • The truth is we know little about the wolf. What we know a good deal more about is what we imagine the wolf to be.
  • If someone says big males always lead the pack and do the killing, the Eskimo shrug and say, “Maybe. Sometimes.” (Location 85)
  • Wolves vary their hunting techniques, share food with the old who do not hunt, and give gifts to each other.
  • once saw a wolf on the tundra winging a piece of caribou hide around like a Frisbee for an hour by himself. (Location 89)
  • For example, wolves do not kill just the old, the weak, and the injured. They also kill animals in the prime of health. And they don’t always kill just what they need; they sometimes kill in excess. And wolves kill each other. The reasons for these acts are not clear. No one—not biologists, not Eskimos, not backwoods hunters, not naturalist writers—knows why wolves do what they do. (Location 94)
  • they once roamed most of the Northern Hemisphere above thirty degrees north latitude. (Location 167)
  • Irremotus (Northern Rocky Mountain wolf) means something like “the wolf who is always showing up there.” (Location 197)
  • By placing muzzle and unprotected nose between the rear legs and overlapping the face with the thickly furred tail, wolves can turn their backs to the wind and sleep comfortably in the open at forty degrees below zero. (Location 278)
  • One observer followed two wolves who broke trail through five feet of snow for 22 miles in British Columbia. The animals paused in their tracks but never lay down to rest. Taking wolves on Isle Royale as an example, they average 30 miles of travel a day in winter. (Location 337)
  • The animal can develop a crushing pressure of perhaps 1,500 lbs./in2 compared to 750 lbs./in2 for a German shepherd. (Location 345)
  • As a rule, only one female becomes pregnant. The pups are born sixty-three days later. (Location 360)
  • The social bond between them is so obvious that in 1576, in an age when people believed the worst of wolves, a sportsman wrote in a book on hunting: “If the pups chance to meet their sire or dam anytime after they leave the pack they will fawn upon them and seem in their kind greatly to rejoice.” (Location 384)
  • With respect to females, who have largely a subordinate standing in Western human societies, the analogy, I think, is poor. Female wolves may not only lead packs but outlast a succession of male alpha animals. It is females, moreover, who decide where to den and thus where the pack will have to hunt for five or six weeks. (Location 423)
  • The male hunter-male leader image of the wolf pack is misleading but, unconsciously, I am sure, it is perpetuated by males, who dominate this field of study. (Location 428)
  • Social structure in a wolf pack has been observed in greatest detail among captive wolves, which makes extrapolating to wild wolves risky. (Location 432)
  • Alpha animals do not always lead the hunt, break trail in snow, or eat before the others do. An alpha animal may be alpha only at certain times for a specific reason, and, it should be noted, is alpha at the deference of the other wolves in the pack. (Location 446)
  • Human beings, particularly in recent years, have grown accustomed to speaking of “dominance hierarchies” in business corporations and elsewhere, and the tendency has been to want wolf packs (or troops of chimpanzees) to conform to similar molds. The social structure of a wolf pack is dynamic—subject to change, especially during the breeding season—and may be completely reversed during periods of play. (Location 449)
  • To place a heavy emphasis on such supposed facets of behavior as “intimidation,” “pulling rank,” and games of psychological cruelty based on social structures, however, is simply to confuse the tools of human analysis with the actual behavior of wolves. (Location 454)
  • Daily activities center around the mouth of the den until the pups are about eight weeks old, at which time the adults move them to the first of a series of rendezvous sites where they remain while the others hunt. (Location 469)
  • Adolph Murie wrote that the strongest impression he was left with was of the wolves’ friendliness toward each other. (Location 493)
  • Even as adults, wolves play tag with each other or romp with the pups, running about a clearing or on a snowbank with a rocking-horse gait. They scare each other by pouncing on sleeping wolves and by jumping in front of one another from hiding places. They bring things to each other, especially bits of food. They prance and parade about with sticks or bones in their mouths. (Location 495)
  • They can howl lying down or sitting on their haunches. I’ve even seen a wolf, with an air of not wanting to miss out, howl while defecating. (Location 507)
  • In chorus like this, each wolf chooses a different pitch. The production of harmonics (see chart, page 42) may create the impression of fifteen or twenty wolves where there are in fact only three or four. (Location 539)
  • The habit dogs have of rolling in putrid substances is also found in wolves. It seems possible that odors picked up in this way and carried to other pack members have some communicative function.
  • The animals may be marking things they consider dangerous to other wolves, especially pups, for wolves also mark traps and poisoned baits by defecating on them. (Location 643)
  • Wolves commonly go without food for three or four days and then gorge, eating as much as eighteen pounds of meat in one sitting. Then, “meat drunk,” they may lay out in the sun until digestion is completed (in two or three hours), and then start again. (Location 684)
  • All wolves eat grass, possibly to scour the digestive tract and remove worms. Consisting mostly of cellulose, the grass itself is never digested. (Location 692)
  • The latter point should be well taken: in the past, it was assumed that wolves were basely motivated and bloodthirsty; then in an environmentally enlightened age, it was suddenly assumed that they were noble and wise. So, (Location 836)
  • For my own part, I mean to suggest that there is more to a wolf hunt than killing. And that wolves are wolves, not men. (Location 839)
  • Wolves have a curious dependency on caribou to act as snowplows. It seems clear that tundra wolves do not follow caribou in winter solely to feed on them but because the herds open the way and pack the snow down. (Location 914)
  • The wolf seems to have few relationships with other animals that could be termed purely social, though he apparently takes pleasure in the company of ravens. 
  • (The set of steel nubs on a leather strap seen on dogs today is a gentler version of the spiked collar dogs once wore as protection against wolves.) (Location 937)
  • A common practice in captivity is to allow wolf pups to establish a bond with an older dog. The relationship gives humans an intermediary, and makes handling the wolves easier. (Location 939)
  • The mistake that is made here, with consistency, it seems, only by educated Western people, is to think that there is an ultimate wolf reality to be divined, one that can only be unearthed with microscope and radio collar. Some wolf biologists are possessed of the idea of binding the wolf up in “statistically significant” data. They want no question about the wolf not to have an answer. (Location 1045)
  • “The more reflective Nunamiut do not search for a primordial cause, a complete explanation or order of the nature of ultimate destiny.” (Location 1054)
  • we do not know very much at all about animals. We cannot understand them except in terms of our own needs and experiences. And to approach them solely in terms of the Western imagination is, really, to deny the animal. (Location 1149)
  • What happens when a wolf wanders into a flock of sheep and kills twenty or thirty of them in apparent compulsion is perhaps not so much slaughter as a failure on the part of the sheep to communicate anything at all—resistance, mutual respect, appropriateness—to the wolf. The wolf has initiated a sacred ritual and met with ignorance. This (Location 1288)
  • Just as intriguing is the idea that some game animals assent to a chase-without-death with wolves. Caribou and yearling wolves, for example, are often seen in harmless chases getting a taste of death. Building spirit. Training. Wolf and caribou. (Location 1379)
  • It should be understood, however, that the Indian did not rank-order animals. Each creature, from deer mouse to meadowlark, was respected for the qualities it best seemed to epitomize; when those particular qualities were desired by someone, that animal was approached as one who knew much about that thing. (Location 1391)
  • To fit into the universe, the Indian had to do two things simultaneously: be strong as an individual, and submerge his personal feelings for the good of the tribe. In the eyes of many native Americans, no other animal did this as well as the wolf. (Location 1427)
  • The inclination of white men to regard individual and social motivations in themselves as separate led them to misunderstand the Indian. The Indian was so well integrated in his environment that his motivation was almost hidden; his lifeway was as mysterious to white men as the wolf’s. (Location 1438)
  • There are no stories among Indians of lone wolves. (Location 1442)
  • The Ahtena Indians of southern Alaska brought a wolf they’d killed into camp on their shoulders, chanting: “This is the chief, he is coming.” The dead wolf was taken inside a hut, where he was propped up in a sitting position and a banquet meal was set before him by a shaman. Each family in the village contributed something. When it was felt the wolf had eaten all he wanted, the men ate what was left. (Location 1503)
  • This person then might explain to the dead wolf that he had been hired by some other village so the wolf would take out any revenge at the wrong place. The Chukchi Eskimo of northeastern Siberia routinely told any wolf they killed that they were Russians, not Eskimos. (Location 1509)
  • At the heart of theriophobia is the fear of one’s own nature. In its headiest manifestations theriophobia is projected onto a single animal, the animal becomes a scapegoat, and it is annihilated. That is what happened to the wolf in America. The routes that led there, however, were complex. (Location 1949)
  • In Europe at the same time the subjugation and ordering of shabby wilderness had reached its exaggerated apotheosis in the excessive neatness of the Versailles gardens. (Location 1974)
  • Roderick Nash writes: “In the morality play of westward expansion, wilderness was the villain, and the pioneer, as hero, relished its destruction. The transformation of wilderness into civilization was the reward for his sacrifices, the definition of his achievement and the source of his pride.” (Location 2000)
  • If a horse kicked a pestering child and the child died, the horse was to be tried and hung. (Location 2035)
  • To clear wolves out of the forest so man could raise cattle was perfectly all right. It was not only all right, it met with the approval of various religious denominations who admired such industry, and of the state, whose aim was a subdued, pastoral, and productive countryside. (Location 2054)
  • Descartes articulated the belief that not only were animals put on earth for man’s use but they were distinctly lowborn; they were without souls and therefore man incurred no moral guilt in killing them. (Location 2058)
  • There is something deep-seated in men that makes them want to “take on” the outdoors, as though it were something to be whipped, and to kill wolves because killing a wolf stands for real triumph. (Location 2264)
  • Men in a speculative business like cattle ranching singled out one scapegoat for their financial losses. (Location 2628)
  • Part of the tragedy—and it was a tragedy—was that wolves who bothered no cattle were hunted down by men who largely wanted to prove to other men that they were no fools. (Location 2673)
  • do not think it comes from some base, atavistic urge, though that may be a part of it. I think it is that we simply do not understand our place in the universe and have not the courage to admit it. (Location 2837)
  • They wanted the attention and respect they used to get in a township, young boys tagging after them, men their own age cheering their shenanigans with the game wardens. It was all slipping away from them now. That afternoon (Location 2876)
  • We killed hundreds of thousands of wolves. Sometimes with cause, sometimes with none. In the end, I think we are going to have to go back and look at the stories we made up when we had no reason to kill, and find some way to look the animal in the face again. (Location 2884)
  • cannot, in the light of his effect on man, conceive of the wolf as reducible. (Location 2904)
  • The Roman Church, which dominated medieval life in Europe, exploited the sinister image of wolves in order to create a sense of real devils prowling in a real world. During the years of the Inquisition, the Church sought to smother social and political unrest and to maintain secular control by flushing out “werewolves” in the community and putting them to death. (Location 2951)
  • The Greek for wolf, lukos, is so close to the word for light, leukos, that the one was sometimes mistaken for the other in translation. Some scholars have argued that Apollo only came down to us as both the god of dawn and a god associated with wolves because of this etymological confusion. (Location 2981)
  • Saint Francis was trying to get the animal to desist. He and the wolf met one day outside the city walls and made the following agreement, witnessed by a notary: the residents of Gubbio would feed the wolf and let him wander at will through the town and the wolf, for his part, would never harm man (Location 3005)
  • Seventeenth-century Europeans commonly referred to a lump that might announce breast cancer as a wolf. They similarly called open sores and knobs on their legs (and on the legs of their animals) wolves. In nineteenth-century medicine a type of general skin disorder characterized by ulcerative lesions and tubercules was called lupus vulgaris, the common wolf. A related disorder was lupus erythematosus unquium mutilans, literally “the mutilated red talons of the wolf,” a disease that attacks the hands and so disfigures the skin and nails that they look like the paws of a wolf. The (Location 3055)
  • Today, systemic lupus erythematosus is recognized as one of the most puzzling disorders in medicine. (Location 3059)
  • Middle Ages. At a time when no one knew anything about genetics, the idea that a child suffering from Down’s syndrome—small ears, a broad forehead, a flat nose, prominent teeth—was the offspring of a wench and a werewolf was perfectly plausible. (Location 3239)
  • Civilization was not as precious as it is to us today. The temptation to strike back at a painful world must have been strong. (Location 3242)
  • In Africa there were werehyenas, in Japan there were werefoxes, in South America there were werejaguars, in Norway there were werebears. In Europe there were werewolves. (Location 3282)
  • In a hunter society, like that of the Cheyenne, traits that were universally admired—courage, hunting skill, endurance—placed the wolf in a pantheon of respected animals; but when man turned to agriculture and husbandry, to cities, the very same wolf was hated as cowardly, stupid, and rapacious. (Location 3326)
  • a wolf is wounded and a human being is later found with a similar wound—was the basis of proof in many werewolf trials.) (Location 3343)
  • And it was a general belief in Europe that those unfortunate enough to be born on Christmas Eve would be werewolves. (Location 3390)
  • evidence. The idle word of a neighbor, the gibberish of a village idiot, a shaving cut that showed up the morning after someone claimed to have driven off a wolf with a sharp stick—for these reasons and less thousands died at the stake. (Location 3419)
  • People wanted society to work smoothly, to be rid of whatever ailed it. (Location 3422)
  • Malleus Maleficarum, published in 1487. Its title, Hammer of Witches, derives from a title sometimes bestowed on Inquisitors, Hammer of Heretics. One of the purposes of the book was to refute in tedious scholastic fashion every objection to the existence of werewolves. The Malleus (Location 3437)
  • Because the wolf children described by various writers were all probably autistic or schizophrenic, suffering either congenital or psychological problems or both, the issue of whether authentic wolf-raised children ever existed seems a hopeless, not to say pointless, inquiry. (Location 3522)
  • The earliest Aesop in Greek is one from the second century by Babrius, but it shows the effects of his having lived for a while in the Near East. The influence of fable collections from India, called the Fables of Pilpay or Bidpai and taken from the Panchatantra and the Hitopadesa, and stories of the Buddha in animal form from the Jatakas, show up more clearly in Aesopian collections after 1251, (Location 3653)
  • The possibility has yet to be realized of a synthesis between the benevolent wolf of many native American stories and the malcontented wolf of most European fairy tales. At present we seem incapable of such a creation, unable to write about a whole wolf because, for most of us, animals are still either two-dimensional symbols or simply inconsequential, suitable only for children’s stories where good and evil are clearly separated. Were we to perceive such a synthesis, it would signal a radical change in man. For it would mean that he had finally quit his preoccupation with himself and begun to contemplate a universe in which he was not central. (Location 3928)
  • AT THE SOUTHERN END of the Acropolis in Athens stand the ruins of the Lyceum. Philologists argue about the origin of the name but it seems probable that the building was once used as a place of worship for Apollo, the Wolf Slayer. (Location 3935)
  • DURING THE TIME I was researching this book, my wife and I raised two hybrid red wolves at our home in the woods in Oregon. (Location 4038)
  • They often sought out ridges, high on the slopes of the mountain valley where we lived. I assumed at first that it was for the view but later it seemed it was for another reason as well. Here the air currents that moved strongly upslope in the afternoon reached them intact, not broken up, with the olfactory information they carried scattered, as happened when the winds blew through the trees. (Location 4080)
  • someone let them out. We never found out who. I think it must have been someone who believed all wild animals should be free but who did not know that wild animals raised in captivity are no longer wild. River was shot and killed by a man who told us later he wasn’t sure what kind of animals they were but they looked wild and were trying to play with his neighbor’s dogs, (Location 4099)
  • “There could be more, there could be things we don’t understand,” is not to damn knowledge. It is to take a wider view. It is to permit yourself an extraordinary freedom: someone else does not have to be wrong in order that you may be right. (Location 4122)

Oldschool Internet & The Blockchain

Oldschool Internet and Open Standards are under assault from big corporations. Blockchain can help.

Aren’t you tired of typing your passwords over and over again? About wondering which email did you use to sign up for this particular site? Was it Facebook login? Oh no – you got another notification that another site got hacked. Jon Stokes, The author of “The Billion User Table” predicts that these problems could soon be over, with identity moving on the public blockchain.

the public blockchain amounts to a single, massive users table for the entire Internet, and the next wave of distributed applications will be built on top of it.

He presents a future where the equivalent of “Google Login” will be baked into the fabric of the Internet in a safe, distributed (not owned by any corporation) and secure fashion.

When you’d visit a service you want to sign up for, you click a button, the browser already knows who you are, and BAM, you’re there.

There’s no on-boarding or sign-up friction

If you are not creating software, this may not seem that important, but you’d be surprised how effective removing a single step is for helping users join. When I was working on monetization tools for WordPress.com customers, simplifying one step in checkout resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars of revenue for the creators on our platform.

Jon summarizes it succinctly, and I love this phrasing:

Adding rows to your platform’s users table is how you win at software.

He also presents this outcome as inevitable, since the companies using the protocol would benefit from the network effects of this protocol being already present in our digital lives:

My guess is that the temptation to take advantage of blockchain-sized network effects will be so great, that companies will default to putting data on-chain rather than keeping it siloed.

The idea of an interoperable, distributed user table sounds very appealing to me as a programmer/hacker. That is also why it sounds very scary to me as a user. Let’s explore how can we make it safer, and why we need to.

We’ve already been there

The first thing that came into my mind is that we’re already there. We have email, an open standard that is effectively a distributed “user table” – when you sign up for a new service, they will most likely ask you about your email address.

  • The addressing system ( user@domain ) is distributed between domains.
  • It’s an open standard, not owned by any one corporation
  • It has built-in messaging, so at least one level of interoperability
  • One-click sign-ins are possible with email. Slack and WordPress.com will sign you in to your account with one click by sending you a “magic link” to your email. I have implemented this functionality myself and wish more services used it
  • It can be even turned into a “Social Network”, with built-in DMs and distribution – something that newsletters take advantage of
  • Tangentially: The biggest gripe that people have about email – long reply-all threads – have a few characteristics of the blockchain itself

In the 2000s, we have regressed from Email and other (like XMPP and RSS) open protocols. I remember being able to respond to Facebook Messenger messages over email. Now, the consumer internet seems to have fractured into private data silos, requiring a separate app for each simple thing I’m attempting to do. Ben Thompson points it out in “The Web’s Missing Interoperability“:

That, though, points to Web 2.0’s failure: interoperability is nowhere to be found

Sometimes this interoperability is removed on purpose, in an effort to bootstrap a gatekeeper that could reap all the network benefits:

The Facebook Cannibalisation manouver

Facebook also used to support XMPP – an open messaging protocol. I think it was the key to bootstrapping their Messenger platform in what I call The Facebook Cannibalisation Maneuver:

  1. Support wide access to your platform by supporting open APIs
  2. Attract technically sophisticated early adopters because they have nothing to lose – the platform already supports their apps
  3. These technical users help convince more people to join the platform
  4. Reach a critical mass to start seeing network effects on the platform internally
  5. Turn off the open APIs that were previously supported. Technical users are disappointed, but it’s not an issue anymore.

That’s why I’m skeptical about this assertion from the Billion User Table:

My guess is that the temptation to take advantage of blockchain-sized network effects will be so great, that companies will default to putting data on-chain rather than keeping it siloed.

I’m sure big players would welcome this protocol with open arms, suck any data out of it, and turn off support later, citing privacy issues.

Privacy&security concerns

The author does not go into privacy concerns too much, and I think these are all solvable problems that will be worked out in time. But I’m going to list them regardless because we don’t want to escalate problems to the level where the federal government has to step in, like in Europe with GDPR.

  1. We need to prevent users from being tracked across sites without their explicit consent. You probably don’t want every service you use to know you have a Tinder account, for example
  2. There needs to be built-in pseudonymity (as explained by Balajis) and a mechanism to switch “contexts.” People need burner identities and a mechanism to transfer data or “karma” to those,
  3. We need mechanisms for permission levels.
  4. We need a better mechanism for retrieving access than a private key. People will lose access, or fraudsters will steal them,
  5. At some point, governments will need to be involved, and this will create a whole new set of issues,
  6. We need to solve the spam

The Apple problem

The biggest obstacle to adopting a distributed, interoperable data store will be Apple. They deserve recognition for their effort in keeping your data private, but it’s downstream from their business model – lock you inside their ecosystem and prevent others from challenging their position.

You could argue that there are alternatives, but the dominant position of the iPhone means that you have to obey their rules if you want your app/service to be successful. And you know Google will eventually copy each one of these rules into the Android ecosystem:

  • If you want to distribute your app to iPhone users, Apple has to review it and agree. There is no other way
  • If you are offering a “federated login” option, like Facebook Login or Google Login, you have to offer the “Login with Apple” as well
  • If you are selling access to any digital goods on iOS, you have to use the Apple In-App-Purchase system, giving 30% of your income to Apple
  • Apps cannot “talk to each other” directly, only through a very small set of APIs. Apps don’t have any access to the filesystem, because of what is called “app sandboxing”.
  • Offering a different version of the experience provided by Apple is often forbidden

Apple’s strategy seems to move all interoperability into the Apple ecosystem and frameworks, making apps themselves interchangeable and commoditized. “The Billion User Table” is unlikely to work on iPhone because Apple effectively monopolized all the exciting benefits.

The app and services developers have to fight back by closing their own gardens and motivating users to stay within their properties. That’s why I think it’s unlikely to see big players participating in this interoperability.

We desperately need it to work

We still have a few open standards left: RSS is still powering podcasting, although Apple and Spotify are making moves to supplant it. The Web is still working, although it wouldn’t be permitted on the iPhone if it was created today. We have to protect and extend them. Working on open standards, and adopting them by “small players” is the only way to protect the Internet against the network effects of big players, and The Apple Problem.

I think we can extend existing “footholds” of interoperability, and work from there:

  • RSS: Sync the state of what podcasts I have listened to, or am listening so I can easily switch between the apps,
  • Email: Earn.com was a nice idea to give you money for replying to messages so people have to be motivated to spam you. Although I’d prefer a karma sytem.
  • XMPP: the open messaging protocol is close to dead, unfortunately and I have no ideas how to save it
  • HTML, JavaScript and CSS are being obfuscated by source minification and precompiling of source code – something that blockchain probably won’t solve and it’s a different story.

I agree with the author of The Billion User Table that we need interoperability, and I’d be happy if we started by bringing back the protocols of the 1990s. Blockchain solves the issue of “who hosts the user data, ” which is a brilliant insight in the original article.

But I’d start with throwaway identities and small stakes. We need to prove the concept before attracting regulator attention and big players’ cannibalization. Starting with extending and protecting existing open standards will let us understand the tradeoffs between privacy and interoperability. And we desperately need the latter – as the current privacy debate favors Big Tech. Per Ben Thompson:

I worry even more about small businesses uniquely enabled by the Internet; forcing every company to act like a silo undoes the power of platforms to unlock collective competition (a la Shopify versus Amazon), whether that be in terms of advertising, payments, or understanding their users. Regulators that truly wish to limit tech power and unlock the economic potential of the Internet would do well to prioritize competition and interoperability via social graph sharing, alongside a more nuanced view of privacy that reflects reality, not misleading ads

Where I disagree with Jon Stokes is that it will upend the present Internet. It is the missing piece of the original Internet, which was correct on so many ideas. I miss it a lot.

Tales To Inspire Climate Solutions, not Tales To Condemn

I found myself continuing the thread started in my Solarpunk newsletter issue: If you want people to change their ways, tell them Tales To Inspire, not Tales To Condemn.

Initially, I wanted to link Mister Money Mustache’s article “Efficiency is the highest form of beauty”, where he extols virtues of a certain extent of frugality not to maximize column D3 in his spreadsheet, but because it appeals to him aesthetically:

The reason I pursue and love the idea of finding new ways to live life in an industrialized world, is the same reason I love music, and art, and writing and all of the beautiful, advanced, inspiring things that people do. It’s because Efficiency is Beauty.

I agree with MMM, and it’s easy to laugh at us both as engineers, but this is very close to the classical conception of beauty:

The classical conception is that beauty consists of an arrangement of integral parts into a coherent whole, according to proportion, harmony, symmetry, and similar notions.

Mister Money Mustache points out, that the opulent spending of the western world is not only in bad taste, but it also has a huge environmental impact:

Look at me! I can afford to grow all these impractical colorful feathers! Or dump water on this big green lawn and pay servants to water it, and I’m not even here because I’m in Monaco this month. Now, come have sex with me because you know you want some of these superior genes.”

But what appeals to me the most in MMM writing is that he does not dwell too long on condemning overspenders, nor the listing of 937 ways to cut your coupons, but focusing on a bright vision. Where most FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) advice consists of sprinting to retirement, leaving you with the Now What?! question, he presents the beauty of simplicity and the environmental benefits. His master plan is (was?) to use his influence and promote the desirability of being mindful with your resources:

you can fix the whole problem by doing just one thing: demonstrating and celebrating efficiency in your own life. (…) Start by attracting the top of society, allow them to demonstrate that your idea is desirable, then watch the rest of the world follow. 

This reminded me of Tesla’s fantastic Master Plan from 2006. It lays out a strategy of starting with an expensive car for rich people, and use these high margins to invest into lower-margin offering:

“The strategy of Tesla is to enter at the high end of the market, where customers are prepared to pay a premium” (…)
Build sports car
Use that money to build an affordable car
Use that money to build an even more affordable car
While doing above, also provide zero emission electric power generation options

But what Elon omitted from the memo is that by entering at the high end of the market, and convincing the influential customers, he proved that it is desirable to own an electric car. The only people who were able to afford the Roadster (Tesla’s first car) were celebrities and rich folk. By riding this wave of hype (and I think we all agree that Tesla does create hype), he popularized electric cars, so that every major car manufacturer is switching away from the combustion engine to a more efficient electric engine.

On a more directly environmental note, Arnold Schwarzenneger has recently pointed out that constant alarms don’t make people act. They make them tuned out. From the Austrian World Summit:

Climate activists have succeeded in persuading many people that we’re on our way to human extinction and picking up speed, but people “tuned out” the climate change activism movement because it is “stuck in despair and confusion.” (…) 

Schwarzenegger warned that with the onslaught of news coverage of potential flooded cities, burning forests, and rising seas, “Is it any wonder people are confused or tuned out?”

I care deeply about the trees, climate, and environment. But I find myself tuning out as well. After all – I have to focus on my daughter, job, and life, and the constant climate anxiety does not help. If I devoted my whole life to doomscrolling, that wouldn’t help either. If we want to have a better future, we have to present a cool and compelling vision to work towards. The beauty of efficiency, sexy and insanely fast cars, and fresher air (what Arnold proposes as the first step) are all attacking climate issues indirectly but more effectively because they are easy to get behind.

Let’s kickstart the cool future with more tales to inspire. Maybe we’ll have the boybands back.

Maybe you have tales to inspire you’d like to see in these emails? Let me know!

Interesting things from the Internet

Inside the imaginarium of Solarpunk Architect

Continuing with the Solarpunk theme, I urge you to check out the work by Luc Shuiten:

since the 1950s, Luc (now 77 years old) has been designing for the future urban landscape based on his concept of “archiborescence,” blending organic and manufactured elements for homes, commercial buildings and even entire cities of tomorrow.

There is no evidence of office meetings boosting innovation

Whenever the discussion about Remote Work comes up, somebody cries

“Yes, but you need to collaborate in person”

The argument that usually follows is that these magical brainstorming sessions with the whiteboard are the fuel for innovation, and the only reason the economy still keeps going. The funny part is that we still have no hard data that this is the case.

This New York Times article with a self-explanatory title “Do Chance Meetings at the Office Boost Innovation? There’s No Evidence of It.” takes a closer look at this myth, and found no evidence of “chance office meetings” boosting innovation, nor productivity:

Yet people who study the issue say there is no evidence that working in person is essential for creativity and collaboration

It is true, that being in the physical office can be beneficial for some, but at the expense of other workers, and the interests of the business itself:

The idea you can only be collaborative face-to-face is a bias,” he said. “And I’d ask, how much creativity and innovation have been driven out of the office because you weren’t in the insider group, you weren’t listened to, you didn’t go to the same places as the people in positions of power were gathering?”

In fact, when I worked in the “Open Office” space, I remember doing everything in my power to avoid my coworkers so I can get some job done:

Contemporary open offices led to 70 percent fewer face-to-face interactions, a study found. People found it distracting, so they wore headphones and avoided one another

The Potato Paradox

From Wikipedia:

Fred brings home 100 kg of potatoes, which (being purely mathematical potatoes) consist of 99% water. He then leaves them outside overnight so that they consist of 98% water. What is their new weight? The surprising answer is 50 kg.

Farmers always Worked From Home

As the gripping cold conceded to the heatwaves in July, we moved to the countryside for a few weeks. There, we have a good view of our neighbors’ farm. While those small farmers are still around, we’re ecstatic to observe the rhythms of the rural lifestyle.

When the cow moos full of milk, my neighbor has to milk her. When the rye is ripe in July, he works 16 hours a day to scythe, sweep, and rake. He collects his chickens’ eggs at 5 am and waters the vegetables at 8 pm when the sun is not so scorching anymore.

Countless articles recommend keeping “Work-Life Balance”. Leave your job at 5 PM, turn off the work phone/email and enjoy your “Life”. It is crucial to set proper boundaries – the articles state in unison. Keep your mental hygiene.

My neighbor is too busy to sit in the office scrolling articles on the Internet, so he hasn’t heard about Work-Life Balance. He does what he needs to, and he rests in between. He sees the fruits of his labor and spends hours watching the rye grow. I envy him sometimes.

He lives on that farm. Farmers were working from home long before COVID. 

In the 1800s, 90 percent of the US population lived on a farm, rocking their WFH setups. How did they all survive without mental breakdowns and Harvard Business Review articles praising strict Work-Life Balance?

I believe we have the work-life balance debate wrong. Instead of introducing more rigid walls between Life and Work, we should focus on keeping a dynamic equilibrium – just like my neighborhood farmer.

Do things that need to be done, and stop sitting in place just because the clock tells you to.

Anne-Laure Le Cunff from Ness Labs touches on that issue in her article “The problem with work-life balance“, starting with the phrase itself:

“That’s a debilitating phrase because it implies there’s a strict trade-off. And the reality is, if I am happy at home, I come into the office with tremendous energy. And if I am happy at work, I come home with tremendous energy. It actually is a circle; it’s not a balance.”

I don’t have such issues with the phrasing, but I think we have it wrong where we think “balance” means tall walls between parts of life. But balance may mean a dynamic equilibrium (as in “Power of Full engagement“) – when one side of your work+life pie gets outsized, you compensate – from Anne-Laure’s article:

One day, one of your kids may get sick; another day, you may need to replace a colleague on the spot; yet another day, you may feel a burst of productivity and get so much done you can take a really nice break. It feels different to work in the summer than in the winter; it feels harder to work when you lack sleep; it feels easier when your colleagues are being helpful. These are ever changing factors you can’t control,

Demand more Life from your Work

Time is a bit cruel. It flies by when you’re having fun, and drags on forever when you’re counting minutes for your shift to end. So you can just decide to have a little more fun, and work will be less exhausting. Any workplace can provide:

  • Fulfillment and Challenge
  • Working on something bigger than yourself
  • Coworkers that can be turned into Friends.

If you’re trying to introduce strict boundaries between work & life, you’re going to treat your job as the enemy and something to run away from the first chance you’ll get.

Avoid BS (As in BuSywork) like the plague. You shouldn’t do constant overtime just to “prove your loyalty”. But if you get a chance to do something awesome, don’t throw it away just because it’s 5 PM.

A thing I wrote

Learn to delegate by hiring a Virtual Assistant

Before becoming a Team Lead, I hired a VA to train my delegation muscle. It has taught me to let go of micromanaging tendencies. It paid off for my Team and my Family.

Interesting things from around the web

The Most Precious Resource is Agency

Simon Sarris has articulated one of my talking points much better than I ever could: The school teaches children to be passive consumers of life.

We seem to have a political (public) imagination so shallow that it cannot conceive of what to even do with children, especially smart children. We fail to properly respect them all the way through adolescence, so we have engineered them to be useless in the interim.

But it does not have to be this way. In fact, we can teach them BOTH agency, and knowledge from the curriculum:

The secret of the world is that it is a very malleable place, we must be sure that people learn this, and never forget the order: Learning is naturally the consequence of doing.

Thanks to the Internet, you can undo years of school trauma today:

You don’t have to wait for professionals to tell you how to make stuff, you can just make stuff. Start typing

Owner of Gail.com refuses to sell the domain to typosquatters

Typosquatters register domains similar to known, existing ones hoping that somebody misspells the address and end up on their site instead.

The owner of Gail.com received the domain from her husband, and it turns out many people end up there instead of gmail:

In 2020 this page received a total of 5,950,012 hits, which is an average of 16,257 per day. Looking at just unique hits, we received a total of 1,295,284, for an average of 3,539 unique hits per day. Occasionally, we get Twitter-bombed and may get several tens of thousands of visitors a day. As an example, on July 21st 2020 we received 109,316 hits.

This person, an outstanding Internet citizen refuses to pollute the common good:

Q: Are you interested in monetizing gail.com?
A: No, but thanks for asking.
Q: Don’t you know that you could throw some ads up and make money?
A: Yes, I know, thank you. For those who feel they need more advertising in their life, please have a look at our swanky Electronic Frontier Foundation ad below. If you believe in a free Internet, please consider clicking on the link and donating to the EFF.

Be like the owner of gail.com.

Lego Lost at Sea

On Feb 23rd 1997, nearly 5 million bits of Lego fell into the ocean when a huge wave hit the cargo ship Tokio Express, washing 62 containers overboard. We’re still finding it 24 years later. Among the pieces lost were green dragons, highly prized among beachcombers.

Lego Lost at Sea project documents those findings but has since expanded to all plastic debree washing out on Cornish beaches.

Solarpunk is the future I want

Singapore and Tokyo captivated me with hopeful modern architecture. It seemed like European buildings scream “everything good has already been”, while Asian architecture looks toward the future and tries its best to make it compelling.

This turn towards gloom seems to be present in all aspects of western culture. We are going overboard with all the Black Mirror Mad Max Social Networks, and these “warnings” seem to be hastening the precise future we do NOT want. So much so that in 2020, Cyberpunk’s creator had to publish a reminder that “Cyberpunk was a warning, not an inspiration”.

It seems that humans don’t do very well with warnings (DUH if you’re following what’s happening with the climate). A better frame seems to be “Tales to inspire, not the tales to condemn” or “focus your time + energy on what you want to see more of.

So how does this compelling future look?

This week I stumbled upon the term Solarpunk, and I love it. It’s simultaneously tying techno-optimism, respect for nature, self-reliance, frontier aesthetics, and positive-sum games.

The pillars of Solarpunk

  • Focusing on designing a compelling future, not warning against possible problems.
  • The strong position of the art, capturing the imagination, and making the positive outcomes irresistible
  • Designing cities from first principles to be lush, bright, hopeful, and above all – nice places to live.
  • Technology coexisting with nature. Humanity finally curing its medieval god complex and giving up taming the dangerous forces of nature but working with them instead.

3 articles and 1 video about Solarpunk you should check out

Solarpunk manifesto (Regenerative Design)

Solarpunk is a bottom-up, unorganized movement held together by common beliefs. This manifesto is not a canonical set, but most of the points are addressing perfectly my disappointment with the mainstream vision of the future. Here are my favorite ones:

Solarpunk is a movement in speculative fiction, art, fashion, and activism that seeks to answer and embody the question “what does a sustainable civilization look like, and how can we get there?”

It is a counterculture that is actually constructive:

Solarpunk can be utopian, just optimistic, or concerned with the struggles en route to a better world ,  but never dystopian.

Humanity loved to tame nature. But it’s clear that we won. What now?

We’re no longer overlords. We’re caretakers. We’re gardeners.

I love the Aesthetics of Bioshock Infinite. No other game has had me just standing and staring at the visuals.

1800s age-of-sail/frontier living (but with more bicycles)

Drawing Pictures of Cities (Noahpinion)

Noah Smith has recently published a Substack Essay focusing on the urban design aspect of the Solarpunk movement. He analyses the art of Imperial Boy and lists why this urban design seems to work – check out the post for a deep dive.

Imperial Boy via Noahpinion

He concludes with the same sentiment mentioned in the Solarpunk manifesto – we need to first envision the future in order to start building it. It seems like (popular) art has turned from serving as an inspiration to priding itself in warnings.

But only by drawing a bunch of these futures can we convince the people of our cities that density and transit and mixed-use development won’t turn their cities into Manhattan clones or dystopian superblocks or whatever else their fevered imaginations run to whenever they hear someone say the word “density”.

To create the future we must first dream the future. Private foundations that are interested in pro-density politics should give a bunch of money to people like Christopher Hawthorne, who should then scour the country for a hundred different Imperial Boy type artists to draw pictures of the futures of American cities.

Solarpunk Is Growing a Gorgeous New World in the Cracks of the Old One (Singularity Hub)

This article on Singularity Hub echoes the same message:

The job of the artist is to make the revolution irresistible.

But it also lists examples of Solarpunk sprouting in the world already, as “Gardens by the bay” in Singapore, or Golden Bridge in Vietnam.

The solarpunk credo is to grow the new world in the soil exposed by the widening cracks of the old world.

Dear Alice

This Chobani comercial captures Solarpunk perfectly:

A thing I wrote

Organic Governmental Disruption

I published an article unrelated to Solarpunk, where I try to predict how Decentralized Autonomous Organizations managed on the blockchain will be used in governance.

I mentioned we have seen enough dystopias, but I have heard the warnings, and I make a case for an auto-expiry system of any autonomous rules.

Check out the full text on Piszek.com