Minimum Effective Convenience

My love languages are Convenience and Adventure. The biggest struggle in my life is trying to manage this stressful union.

Productivity gurus like to talk about daily routines, but in reality, convenience is based on a predictable schedule, mostly weekly:

  • Our baby daughter goes to her preschool every workday around 9 am.
  • Our cleaning lady comes in on Mondays.
  • My favorite cardio class (Les Mills Bodycombat) is on Thursdays
  • We are seeking a weekly appointment with a behavioral trainer for our dog (she’s a rescue and still has some issues despite our efforts)
  • My wife’s favorite yoga class is on Saturdays

The weekly schedule is a very predictable, convenient, and efficient arrangement. It’s only seven days to think about, and once you nail it – you can live your life on autopilot.

That is exactly what is so dull about it.

It takes me just about five weeks of an established weekly routine to start wanting to die. Whenever we return to Warsaw, the weekly routine is very appealing – everything has its place and time, and there is no uncertainty or confusion. Just follow your calendar. And then one day, inevitably, I ask myself:

If every day and every week is a copy of the previous one, what is the point?

As I start planning the next trip.

Marrying Convenience and Adventure

Adventure, by definition, is taking you out of your comfort zone. Subjecting you to the unknown, testing you in new environments, and is a little bit inconvenient on purpose. Are they opposites?

Dynamic equilibrium

A common mistake in the work-life Balance discourse, morning routines stories, and other rigid solutions is seeking a static balance. Most things in life are a dynamic equilibrium – you do one thing, get bored, and do another thing:

  • Vacations are a brief but good example – you take some time to disconnect and refreshed, return to your work
  • Instead of working till retirement, you can take sabbaticals as recommended by Paul Millerd, or mini-retirements as popularized by Tim Ferriss

The point is that you can set a time for convenience and then a time for adventure. Each makes the start of the other more enjoyable, so try to shake things up more often.

Minimum Effective Convenience

There is no time I desire adventures while dealing with bureaucracy, shopping, or waiting in a grocery store queue. There are areas of life where I seek total convenience, which lets me be more adventurous in others.

  • I am happily exhausted during my adventures, but I find no joy in being lost without a map.
  • I can be hungry, but I hate putting on wet clothes.
  • My wife would rather eat something now than wait 1 hour to get to a better restaurant.
  • I will rather buy ten more iPhone cables than save $50.
  • I want to put Airtag onto everything because I keep losing my keys.

Convenience no-brainers are probably different for you. The exact mix of our family needs led us to a specific version of RVing. Given sufficient funds, we would rather get a “luxury” motorhome than an off-road adventure machine. My friends joke about us becoming middle-class retirees way too early.

You can only find your minimum effective convenience once you are honest about your needs and stop trying to impress others.

Taking things too far

The term “Minimum Effective Convenience” is inspired by “Minimum Effective Dose” – an amount of medicine that is enough to facilitate a change, but not more. As medicine becomes poison when overused, so is Convenience and Adventure. As people get older, the following scenario sometimes plays out:

  1. Oh, I have a job/a wife/kid now. Time to change things!
  1. I will get a sweet apartment/car/house/life
  2. And all these convenient things
  3. Oh no, I am become trapped. Halp!

People live in all sorts of different ways, but you want to set up mini-experiments for yourself to determine if you are indeed this sort of a person. Your dream life can become a trap once you actually start living it.

The additional reason for not “going all in” at once is that all good things are better when you ramp them up slowly. As I wrote in The concavity of fun, awesomeness is concave, but annoyance is convex:

  • The first 3 bites of dessert are the best
  • The first five weeks of super-convenience are the coziest
  • Improving your house over time will give you a stream of satisfying quality-of-life improvements for a fraction of the cost of a full-scale remodel.

Finding others is harder

Convenience is easier to mass-produce than adventure. The weekly schedule is the default path, but convenience is also all about following the default path. If you want adventure in your life, it will take more exploration, more trial and error, and more agency. That is why it’s an adventure.

Our Baby daughter is very fond of her playmates at her preschool. When we are traveling, she misses them. That is why we are excited about traveling with other like-minded families, and we are looking into Worldschooling organized by Nikolaj. I will let you know how it plays out.

What are the ways you are trying to marry convenience and adventure?

A thing I’ve read

Tiny Parks

In London, unused ticket offices in many Tube stations have been turned into “Tiny Parks,” bringing terrariums full of plants and life to the Underground. (View Tweet)

Four great decisions per year

Nat Eliason shares that you only need to make four great decisions per year.

You might be better off asking yourself a question like “what would make my kids proud?” in the morning and then try to be extremely bored for the rest of the day

This pairs nicely with my philosophy that when you tackle hard things, you can be pretty lazy.

I also like his suggestion at the end:

And maybe you don’t need to do anything at all right now

I’m glad that we are moving away from the grind mindset.

Obvious Advice

We sometimes try to be too clever for our own good – we tend to skip obvious advice as too basic for our appetites, but obvious advice still works. I especially like the following:

Before carrying out any plan, actually do the obvious things

When you’re about to make a big decision, pause, and ask yourself what obvious things a reasonable person would do before making this sort of decision

Here is my take on the basic advice.

Transcribing your iOS Voice Memos to Markdown with Whisper

Open AI has recently introduced an Open-Source library to transcribe voice recordings, and it immediatelly caught my eye. I like automating things, and transcribing memos is a great example of a high leverage automation.

  1. Recording voice or video is much faster and easier than writing text
  2. Text is much easier to parse and consume than video or audio.

When I record a voice memo for myself and a bot transcribes it, I have something easy to produce, but also searchable and easily read.

As my current note-taking app is Logseq, it auto-imports those markdown files to my notes database.

Installing Whisper

If you have Python, pip3 and ffmpeg ready, you should be able to run a command like:

pip3 install git+

Then you can run it on any audio or video file:

whisper /path/to/file

More instruction in the GH repo.

iOS Voice Memos

When iCloud sync is enabled, the voice memos from your phone sync to your laptop via icloud. This will be perfect!

The recordings are stored in a directory like this: (replace artpi with your username)

/Users/artpi/Library/Application Support/

Unusually accessible for an Apple product, but a win for us! Let’s put it all together. The following code will:

  1. Read all .m4a files from /Users/artpi/Library/Application Support/
  2. Transcribe
  3. Save each as /Users/artpi/GIT/logseq/pages/ file
  4. When re-run, it will skip the files already saved.


function sync_apple_voice_memos( $dir, $save_dir, $whisper_dir ) {
    foreach ( glob( dir ) as $filename ) {
        $name = basename( $filename, ".m4a" );
        $file_to_save = $save_dir . '/Voice Memo - ' . $name . '.md' ;
        // Only proceed if file not already transcribed
        if ( ! file_exists( $file_to_save ) ) {
            $lines = [];
            exec( "{$whisper_dir} \"{$filename}\"", $lines );

            $lines = array_slice( $lines, 2 ); // Some default headers.
            $lines = array_map( function( $line ){
                return preg_replace( '#\[[0-9.:]+ --> [0-9.:]+\]\s+(.*?)$#is', '- \\1', $line );
            }, $lines );

            if ( $lines ) {
                file_put_contents( $file_to_save, implode( "\n", $lines ) );

    '/Users/artpi/Library/Application Support/*.m4a',

More Logseq imports

Here are some other importer ideas for Logseq:

5 Pieces of advice for my 37th birthday

I have set up quite an elaborate note-taking system to pull insights from what I read and distill them into lessons (that I call Talking Points). Unfortunately, this is a work in progress I am utterly failing at since I am too busy enjoying life. I am spending my 37th birthday with my family, RVing around Slovenia and Croatia and catching the last bits of summer.

Lake Bled, Slovenia

Other bloggers have published lessons during their birthdays, so I feel a bit obliged to share with you a refreshing few drops of wisdom from the fountain of knowledge that is my brain:

  1. Figure out what brings you joy in life, and do more of that—question your excuses for not doing what you know brings you joy RVing.
  2. Tales to inspire work better than tales to condemn. You will inevitably help bring about that what you focus on, so focus on what you want to see more of.
  3. Life is meant to be fun. Being professional is delivering on your promises and treating people with respect, not losing all sense of humor.
  4. You should think VERY hard about where you live (and how much you pay for it), who you marry, and where you work – as these decisions have a disproportionate effect on your life. Conversely, you should spend way less time thinking about cheaper groceries or the cost of your phone.
  5. Be honest with yourself about why you are doing what you are doing. You can do stuff just because you think it’s cool or you like it (seriously, you have my permission). Pretending it’s not fun but a good investment or an obligation will end up being neither.

Why 5? I ran out of numbers, and the number store was closed.

Advice from other bloggers

This is the way

Stephen collected 50 pieces of advice for his newborn daughter, and this is a sort of manual I want to create for mine. He elaborates on each item with a personal story that will definitely resonate with his daughter.

Think Carefully About How You Will Measure Your Life

Strengths Can Be Weaknesses

103 Bits of Advice I Wish I Had Known

Kevin Kelly is one of the first bloggers on the Internet. He recently had a birthday as well and published 103 pieces of advice (he is probably younger than 103)

Getting cheated occasionally is the small price for trusting the best of everyone, because when you trust the best in others, they generally treat you best.

At a restaurant do you order what you know is great, or do you try something new? Do you make what you know will sell or try something new? Do you keep dating new folks or try to commit to someone you already met? The optimal balance for exploring new things vs exploiting them once found is: 1/3. Spend 1/3 of your time on exploring and 2/3 time on deepening. It is harder to devote time to exploring as you age because it seems unproductive, but aim for 1/3.

Things You’re allowed to do

Milan collected “things you are allowed to do”, for those who need a special permission:

Ask your acquaintances, “Hey, I want to leave my house more, are there any cool events you’re going to soon?”

Tape over annoying LED lights

Live in multiple places

Life is short, you are free to be mediocre

Somewhat tangentially related, I recently published my review of Four Thousand Weeks – a book about our relationship with time.

The invention of the clock turned time into a commodity that we try to “stock up on”, never having enough and not even enjoying the small bit we do have. Our vain efforts leave us worse off than we were before, while the answer was there all along:

The best solution is to stop wishing things were different

Book: Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman

You have no cosmically significant life purpose.

Liberating, isn’t it?

Tik Tok

If the title is not enough of an indication for you, it may be surprising to learn that a big focus of “Four Thousand Weeks” is our relationship with time.

The author points out that the invention of the clock turned time into a resource and, in effect – a commodity. Since time is money, we treat both the same way – stressing over both and never feeling like we have enough.

But time is not something we can ever have in the same sense as money. We can never “stockpile it for later, ” but we really want to.

In a vain attempt to save up, we live mentally in the future that we’ll never reach because then we’ll think about yet another future by the time we reach it.

The approaches to time and money go in pair not only because of the proverbial equality of both but also because capitalism rewards those who work now for returns in the future. Giving away your time will bring you money – the Marshmallow experiment claims that the better you are at living in the future, the more money you’ll have. (The methodological controversies in the experiment do not limit its significance, as it’s enough to be believed to have an effect.)

Another way we try to “stock up” on time is by saving up optionality – not closing any doors. Just as our attempts with time, it also makes us miserable in the process. Ultimately, you will settle. Your romantic partner will not be perfect; your job will not be the most glamorous, and your house will not be the coziest on the street.

By “keeping our options open”, we maximize our choice, but more choice is not making us happier – as explained in detail by Dan Gilbert in “Stumbling On Happiness”.

Since time passes, if we like it or not, and our attempts to stockpile it make the matter even worse, the only way to use it correctly is to enjoy each moment. But that is easier said than done.

Being in the moment

What is an example of really being in the moment?

  1. Something you cannot succeed or fail at
  2. Something you are doing for the sake of it, not for a future benefit

Hiking is an excellent example since turning it into a race is very hard.

Obsession with control and some criticism

The author admits that the source of all his woes is the pursuit of control and the endless struggle to make reality predictable. The to-do list becomes a plan to reign in chance and chaos, to create a feeling of control, and a reality in which some things are as they should be.

I suspect a person that publishes a New York-Times-Bestseller by definition is a bit of a control freak, but he focuses a bit too much on people like him.

The author’s self-diagnosis is that he needs to give up the feeling of control, of having the “ducks in a row”, everything neatly prepared to start the work. Authors’ beef with to-do lists is that they are never complete, and the work will never be finished.

I can’t entirely agree because the todo-lists are tools for deciding what I will NOT be doing. I delete items due to shifting priorities more often than I complete them, which feels more in line with the spirit of the rest of the book.

Other stuff just needs to get done. Productivity is a tool to get things done, not feel better about doing stuff.

The struggle comes from lying to yourself about why you do what you do.


The biggest stress is over using the time right. Since we only have four thousand weeks, it is in my best interest not to squander them.

Saying you should enjoy every moment of your life is not great advice since it can become a source of anxiety in its own right.

The best solution is to stop wishing things were different

The author seems to be alluding to the idea that the best way to quit stressing over time is to stop worrying over outcomes, lower your standards, and embrace mediocrity.

I have very ambivalent feelings toward that idea. On the one hand, chasing someone else’s goals, keeping with the Joneses, and comparing oneself is a surefire way to waste your life, and I wholeheartedly agree. Buddhism aptly points to expectations and aspirations being the source of all suffering.

But on the other hand, people already have abysmally low standards. We are surrounded by shitty products, shitty culture, and shitty art. This was not always the case – we deem old towns beautiful for a reason, but we kind of stopped caring.

This tension is something I wish the book covered in more detail. Here is my attempt at addressing it:

  1. You should be very clear on what is important to YOU.
  2. You should strive to use your four thousand weeks to do more of those things / become good at them.
  3. You should be absolutely mediocre at everything else.

One more criticism I have towards the book is that it mocks Four Hour Workweek, but ends up repeating the same advice verbatim – Be ruthless in what you want to accomplish, don’t focus on busywork.


  • You have to pursue your most important goals FIRST, because you will get drowned with incoming requests
  • No more than three active projects at a time
  • The biggest traps are those “moderately interesting” opportunities. Avoid them like the plague
  • Make it clear what you won’t do
  • Boundaries are helpful
  • Don’t think too much of yourself
  • Don’t demand too much of yourself
  • Be here and now

Various quotes

  • Modestly meaningful life
  • The more efficient you are, the more you become a limitless reservoir for other people’s expectations
  • You have no cosmically significant life purpose.

Running Tumblr on WooCommerce

Tumblr has recently released features for creators to earn a living with their art. Whenever you turn those features on, we provision an entire WordPress site, complete with WooCommerce (and WooCommerce Payments) plugins to facilitate billing. This post explains why (in case it’s not obvious).

Your new WooCommerce is hiding behind this toggle

Read more about Post+ and Tipping on Tumblr.

When I am not writing blog posts on this site, I work at (actually, the company is called Automattic) on helping creators earn a living without sacrificing artistic freedom. When we bought Tumblr, we wanted to extend that option to Tumblr creators as well. Only, Tumblr isn’t running WordPress.

Or is it?

At Automattic, we also work on WooCommerce – the most extensible eCommerce platform on the web. Why not extend it to power Tumblr features as well? Actually, there are lots of reasons not to do it, but we did it anyway.

How does it work?

Whenever you enable Tumblr monetization features, we:

  1. Create a new WordPress site on infrastructure to serve as a payments backend
  2. Install WooCommerce, and WooCommerce-Subscriptions plugins to power the payments
  3. Create a Stripe account for you via WooCommerce-Payments
  4. Create products on that site with the price point you set on Tumblr
  5. Link that backend site to your Tumblr blog

From now on, your Tumblr blog will use that site as its billing API.

A design I originally drew many months ago, still accurate.


At Automattic, we like to eat our dogfood. And eat the dog food bowl. And eat the table under which the dog food is served. It is really surprising how the dog has managed to survive.

The above design is definitely inefficient from data perspective: Yes, we do have some duplication. Yes, we create 38 new SQL tables each time somebody decides to try out tipping on Tumblr.

But it is very efficient from an organizational perspective. We already have composable pieces for each requirement. Even if any one piece is not fitting exactly right, we would have to make it so. (WPCOM) is a giant multisite (It’s one installation of WordPress running all the blogs – read more about multisites). Our systems teams made it run on bare metal, effectively turning WordPress into “serverless”. New WordPress sites have a marginal cost for us. The ones with WooCommerce are slightly more problematic, but that is something we have to solve anyway.


WooCommerce is an eCommerce platform based on WordPress distributed as a plugin. It is designed with extensibility in mind to suit any use case, including our billing system (dubbed “Tumblrpay”).

Checkout is the only interface of WooCommerce that we expose

Hundreds of open source contributors and our colleagues are making sure WooCommerce is reliable, secure, and a perfect solution for any payment-related use case. It powers a thriving ecosystem of extensions that make it do exactly what you want, although some use cases are easier than others.

By far, the biggest challenge of our work was making it run on the giant multisite of We had to improve security, reliability, stability, and data handling. We are streamlining database structure and plugin APIs and fixing bugs that are only uncovered at this scale.

WooCommerce Payments

WooCommerce Payments is an Automattic-owned payment gateway based on Stripe. It leverages Automattic’s infrastructure and experience from running WooCommerce at scale to provide the most convenient merchant experience of any WooCommerce payment method.

Our teams are monitoring fraud, paying attention to the payment flow and a set of processes to ensure security, stability, and maintenance on the payment side.

But the main reason we made it handle Tumblr web payments and renewals is because it’s fully vertically integrated with the rest of our business and existing workflows.

Alternative designs

I am pretty confident that this is not how you would imagine monetization features on Tumblr to work. The design had the following goals:

  1. Use each component of the existing ecosystem for its strenghts.
  2. Find gaps in those, and improve each component so other efforts (including the Open Source users) can benefit.
  3. Leave minimal footprint. No new dashboards, no new systems.
    Ideally, each subsequent billing need should be a configuration, not a custom project to be maintained.

The alternative architectures we were discussing did not meet these goals:

  • Combined backend for all Tumblr blogs, running on top of Stripe Connect (the obvious SAAS-like architecture with 4-5 bigger tables):
    • Does not utilize our infrastructure
    • Does not contribute to other products
    • Requires custom management UIs and new dashboards for Fraud, Systems, and Accounting teams
    • Creates issues with In-App-Purchases
  • Running “One Big WooCommerce” – a design where it’s still WooCommerce under the hood, but are payments are aggregated on one store, instead of per-merchant:
    • Cannot use WooCommerce Payments, requiring a custom payment gateway
    • Requires us to write custom logic for splitting revenue across “merchants”

In-App Purchases

Running hundreds of thousands of WooCommerce sites is easy compared to the gymnastics we had to perform to enable In-App-Purchases in the app.

We are effectively running a Marketplace on top of the Apple IAP API, and it’s not easy. I will describe it in a seperate post – subscribe to know where it’s ready:

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Some lessons learned

This is a random assortment of lessons we learned:

  1. Just because you find a clever way to do it, it is not always worth it. You have to design for ease of maintenance in the future
  2. Real problems are org-chart problems. Everything technical is solvable, but organizational issues are much harder to untangle.
  3. Chekhov’s function: If you deploy a function to a shared codebase, chances are somebody is going to use it without the same precautions as you would take. Sanitize your inputs.
  4. It’s always the cache.
  5. Tumblr users really want to share porn, while both Apple and Stripe really do not want that.
  6. Running 80 000 database updates per minute is a bad idea.
  7. Complexity grows at an exponential rate. If you have 3 untested features, when something breaks, you don’t know what you can depend on. Even if you build on a stable foundation, it’s best to do it one story at a time.
  8. When your wp_users table is bigger than 300 million, than don’t create a user that owns more than 100 000 sites. As a role on each site is stored as a user_meta, that giant entry will create cache timeouts.
  9. Composer autoloader filenames are incompatible with WordPress coding standards.
  10. WooCommerce boot order is a delicate beast.
  11. Your job is to code yourself out of the job


I want to give huge huge huge kudos to my amazing teammates who made this challenging architecture a reality:

And the entire product team using this infrastructure to build amazing features like crabs, so you can give crabs to other Tumblr users. It has been a joy to work with them.

Ups and downs of parenting

I was talking to a friend today and realized that when I talk about fatherhood, it’s mostly in negative terms. We work together (and sometimes travel as well), so my limited flexibility is a natural topic. But still, I felt compelled to offset the negativity of the described parenting experience with the positive side, and it was hard.

It’s not that the beautiful side is not there – quite to the contrary; it is just very hard to explain to somebody who does not have children.

The bad stuff about parenting – sleep deprivation, chores, responsibilities – is very legible, very easy to explain. The amazing stuff is not as easy – the subtle smiles, the jokes the kid makes, the way they brave through scary situations.

Paul Graham mentioned this as well in his amazing essay on “Having Kids”:

What I didn’t notice, because they tend to be much quieter, were all the great moments parents had with kids. People don’t talk about these much — the magic is hard to put into words, and all other parents know about them anyway — but one of the great things about having kids is that there are so many times when you feel there is nowhere else you’d rather be, and nothing else you’d rather be doing.

If you are considering having children, I encourage you to read the opening sentence. If this describes you, go ahead and read the whole thing.

Before I had kids, I was afraid of having kids. Up to that point I felt about kids the way the young Augustine felt about living virtuously. I’d have been sad to think I’d never have children. But did I want them now? No.

If you want to chat with other parents on how to have amazing life while nurturing your children, my wife hosts a series on Interintellect, called Kinderintellect.

This weekend we attended a wedding and left our daughter with her grandma for the first time. I don’t remember partying that hard before, but it was a welcome break and a very good celebration.

We returned home around 2 am, and at 4, our baby woke up and demanded a full schedule of play she was denied the previous evening. Party Hard.

Few things I’ve read

Fish & Ships

Gregory is creating dreamy illustrations, and one of his series is -very appropriately- called “Fish & Ships”. Check out his Twitter

From digital nomad to becoming a parent

Continuing the parenting thread, Nikolaj has a very good post about becoming a parent as a digital nomad:

While traveling full-time we heard this all the time: “Better do this now, you can’t do it when you have kids”, which is such bullshit. There is such a negative framing of the before and after having kids.

He also touches on the “dynamic equilibrium” of location independence:

really like the idea about being on the border of many different communities and applying a bit from each

How to trade money and time

Let’s talk about something other than parenting, ok?

Convenience is my love language. I spend some effort in hopes of saving the future Artur a lot of annoyance in the future. My attempts include hiring Virtual Assistants, buying 10+ chargers, testing many many headsets, and generally drowning in extra cables.

Katja lists a few more ideas in her article on how to trade money and time:

I agree that time is very valuable. I just disagree that you should avoid putting values on valuable things. What you don’t explicitly value, you squander

Can Matt Mullenweg Save the Internet?

Matt is my boss, a friend, and kind of an important figure in Internet history. The article in protocol with a little grandiose title “Can Matt Mullenweg save the Internet?” is a very good introduction (and a reminder for myself) to why I continue to work for Automattic for seven years now:

I think it’s crucially important to have alternatives that are creator-focused, versus advertiser-focused

This paragraph captures very well how it is to talk to him:

Before he answered, Mullenweg changed the frame of the question. This happened constantly in our conversations: I’d ask about Instagram or the iPhone, he’d respond with Plato or Camus

What do you wish existed?

I am absolutely drunk on power.

Recently, I got access to both Dall-e and Midjourney. Both are AI image generators trained on the entirety of digital art available on the Internet.

The idea is that you submit a prompt (for example, “beautiful utopia with dramatic light and shadowing reflection under the sea”) and end up with an original image (below).

This is great fun.

  • Dall-e is a web app by OpenAI (the guys that brought you GPT-3) and generates the most “realistic” images. You get 50 prompts free, later you have to pay $15 for 115 prompts.
  • Midjourney works as a Discord (discord is similar to Slack or MS Teams) bot. You get 25 prompts free and later have to pay $10/month.

I much prefer Midjourney, as it produces much more “artistic” results. I was reluctant to deal with Discord but liked it quite a lot. Creations generated by free accounts are posted to Discord public channels, and you get to observe human creativity in action.

Some of the images are unreal, but the human ingenuity that gave them life is as fascinating.

Original prompt by Deyna Beth

While I am trying to generate an image of my hometown, somebody else creates an image from a prompt: “Corgi wearing space suit.”

Original prompt

How do I start with Midjourney?

  1. Click here to join the Midjourney Discord
  2. Join one of the “Newbies” channels ( for example, newbies-117, or whichever will be available when you join)
  3. Type in a prompt “/imagine your amazing image idea”. You can add --ar 16:9 for 16:9 aspect ratio or any ratio you want.
  4. Wait for your image to be generated. You can now click a button to “upscale” one of them.
  5. Enjoy!

Alternatively- email me your idea, and I will generate it for you!

I’m also collecting the best findings in this thread. Click for “spider man playing the violin on the battlefield”.

A few things I published

A few things I’ve read

Most of the people who’ve made beautiful things seem to have done it by fixing something that they thought ugly. Great work usually seems to happen because someone sees something and thinks, I could do better than that.

In the age where you can generate stunning images with a few words, the taste may be something unique to humans. It’s up to us to decide what creations are good, and which ones should fade away like Frankenstein’s monster.

Synchronizing WordPress posts with Github

I treat my WordPress blog as my “digital home” – THE place to collect my thoughts, describe projects, and publish ideas.

It works very well for writing, but my coding projects feel better on Github. They also appreciate the documentation and descriptions I attach to them.

Over time, my projects would get out of sync with their WordPress counterparts. I would add new features, change behavior or describe new use cases and would have to manually change that in WordPress, which I naturally forgot to do.

I wrote this simple snippet to embed any Github .md file inside WordPress posts or pages. Content would be refreshed from Github every hour and displays inside the post like it was written on WordPress.

Here is an example page. Almost the entire content is from the associated

How to sync your WordPress posts with any markdown file on Github

  1. Use the attached code to introduce the GitHub markdown handler to your WordPress blog. Remember to also attach Parsedown.php!
  2. Create an amazing project solving the world’s most pressing problem, write a .md file describing it
  3. Copy the URL to Github markdown file
  4. Paste it to WordPress block editor, and see how it turns into the content from the file.

Here is the code:

// Drop this in functions.php or your plugin.
// You NEED to have Parsedown.php also :
__NAMESPACE__ . '\artpi_github_markdown_handler'
function artpi_github_markdown_handler( $matches, $attr, $url, $rawattr ) {
$url = str_replace(
[ '', '/blob' ],
[ '', '' ],
$transient_key = 'gh_' . md5( $url );
$content = get_transient( $transient_key );
if ( ! $content ) {
$request = wp_remote_get( $url );
if ( is_wp_error( $request ) ) {
return false;
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Book: A short history of nearly everything

I would call this book a “multivitamin” of natural sciences: It fills the gaps in the general knowledge of:

  • The cosmological and geological history of the planet earth,
  • History of physics, history, astronomy, and the science itself,
  • History of our – and other – species

In “The Interconnected Mess of it all,” I wrote about how dismantling the world into discrete disciplines is not serving science that well. “A Short History of Nearly Everything” drives that point home, as it showcases the interdisciplinary pursuits of famous scientists and the cross-pollination of ideas between disciplines. Particularly in the period of Romantic Science (the late 1800s – early 1900s), few prolific scientists amassed discoveries and inventions by applying new scientific methods to previously unconnected disciplines.

It is a surprise that we are still here.

The Book starts with the tumultuous early days of the universe, solar system, the earth, and our atmosphere. It underscores how many seemingly miraculous coincidences have had to happen in order to make life on earth possible.

It also lists a long list of threats to our continual existence: Asteroids, Supervulcanoes, Diseases, Ice Ages, Warming periods, and other cyclical cataclysms that can render the planet uninhabitable.

There are just so many threats beyond our control that gained a renewed understanding of Elon Musk‘s efforts to make humanity a multi-planetary species.

Scientists are as petty and random as the rest of us

Max Planck is credited with saying that “the Science progresses one funeral at a time“. Scientists who made their careers by discovering X are not very happy with the new generation trying to disprove the painstakingly proven theories of the old guard.

Scientists are, after all – human and not that much more objective than the rest of us. Their idiosyncratic quirks are pretty interesting.

Halley (for whom the Halley’s commet was named) was an exceptional figure. In the course of a long and productive career, he was a sea captain, a cartographer, a professor of geometry at the University of Oxford, deputy controller of the Royal Mint, Astronomer Royal, and inventor of the deep-sea diving bell. He wrote authoritatively on magnetism, tides and the motions of the planets, and fondly on the effects of opium.

(Parkinson had one other slight claim to fame. In 1785 he became possibly the only person in history to win a natural history museum in a raffle. The museum, in London’s Leicester Square, had been founded by Sir Ashton Lever, who had driven himself bankrupt with his unrestrained collecting of natural wonders. Parkinson kept the museum until 1805, when he could no longer support it and the collection was broken up and sold.)

In the 1860s, journals and other learned publications in Britain began to receive papers on hydrostatics, electricity and other scientific subjects from a James Croll of Anderson’s University in Glasgow. One of the papers, on how variations in the Earth’s orbit might have precipitated ice ages, was published in the Philosophical Magazine in 1864 and was recognized at once as a work of the highest standard. So there was some surprise, and perhaps just a touch of embarrassment, when it turned out that Croll was not an academic at the university, but a janitor.

(Cavendish) he was particularly devoted to the weekly scientific soirées of the great naturalist Sir Joseph Banks – it was always made clear to the other guests that Cavendish was on no account to be approached or even looked at. Those who sought his views were advised to wander into his vicinity as if by accident and to ‘talk as it were into vacancy’. If their remarks were scientifically worthy they might receive a mumbled reply,

We are not the best stewards of our planet.

For almost the entire history of our species, we had to fight for survival. We had to dominate nature and the elements, protect ourselves against predators and survive the perils of the natural world.

But since the scientific revolution, we started winning disproportionately, and the fight stopped being fair. We continue to exert our dominance, wiping the entire species’ and polluting the environment out of habit.

Now it’s our responsibility to grow up and become good stewards of our planet.

Since 1946, the United States had been ferrying 55-gallon drums of radioactive gunk out to the Fallarone Islands, some 50 kilometres off the California coast near San Francisco, where it simply threw them overboard.

Imagine ground sloths that could look into an upstairs window, tortoises nearly the size of a small Fiat, monitor lizards 6 metres long basking beside desert highways in Western Australia. Alas, they are gone (because of us), and we live on a much diminished planet.

This point is also mentioned in The Overstory, The Invention of Nature, and Of Wolves and Men.

My Highlights

  • There seemed to be a mystifying universal conspiracy among textbook authors to make certain the material they dealt with never strayed too near the realm of the mildly interesting and was always at least a long-distance phone call from the frankly interesting.
  • Most star systems in the cosmos are binary (double-starred), which makes our solitary sun a slight oddity.
  • The reason the Voyager craft were launched when they were (in August and September 1977) was that Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune were aligned in a way that happens only once every 175 years. This enabled the two Voyagers to use a ‘gravity assist’ technique in which the craft were successively flung from one gassy giant to the next in a kind of cosmic version of crack the whip.
  • Halley was an exceptional figure. In the course of a long and productive career1, he was a sea captain, a cartographer, a professor of geometry at the University of Oxford, deputy controller of the Royal Mint, Astronomer Royal, and inventor of the deep-sea diving bell. He wrote authoritatively on magnetism, tides and the motions of the planets, and fondly on the effects of opium.
  • He merely recognized that the comet he saw in 1682 was the same one that had been seen by others in 1456, 1531 and 1607. It didn’t become Halley’s comet until 1758, some sixteen years after his death.
  • Halley’s traumas were not yet quite over. The Royal Society had promised to publish the work,
  • Jean Chappe spent months travelling to Siberia by coach, boat and sleigh, nursing his delicate instruments over every perilous bump, only to find the last vital stretch blocked by swollen rivers, the result of unusually heavy spring rains, which the locals were swift to blame on him after they saw him pointing strange instruments at the sky. Chappe managed to escape with his life, but with no useful measurements.
  • (Cavendish) he was particularly devoted to the weekly scientific soirées of the great naturalist Sir Joseph Banks – it was always made clear to the other guests that Cavendish was on no account to be approached or even looked at. Those who sought his views were advised to wander into his vicinity as if by accident and to ‘talk as it were into vacancy’20. If their remarks were scientifically worthy they might receive a mumbled reply,
  • Among much else, and without telling anyone, Cavendish discovered or anticipated the law of the conservation of energy, Ohm’s Law, Dalton’s Law of Partial Pressures, Richter’s Law of Reciprocal Proportions, Charles’s Law of Gases, and the principles of electrical conductivity. That’s just some of it. According to the science historian J. G. Crowther, he also foreshadowed ‘the work of Kelvin and G. H. Darwin on the effect of tidal friction21 on slowing the rotation of the earth, and Larmor’s discovery, published in 1915, on the effect of local atmospheric cooling
  • It is hard to imagine now, but geology excited the nineteenth century – positively gripped it – in a way that no science ever had before or would again.
  • And when, in 1841, the great Charles Lyell travelled to America to give a series of lectures in Boston, sellout audiences of three thousand at a time packed into the Lowell Institute to hear his tranquillizing descriptions of marine zeolites and seismic perturbations in Campania.
  • Throughout the modern, thinking world, but especially in Britain, men of learning ventured into the countryside to do a little ‘stone-breaking’, as they called it. It was a pursuit taken seriously and they tended to dress with appropriate gravity, in top hats and dark suits, except for the Reverend William Buckland of Oxford, whose habit it was to do his fieldwork in an academic gown. The field attracted many
  • In 1794 he was implicated in a faintly lunatic-sounding conspiracy10 called ‘the Pop-gun Plot’, in which it was planned to shoot King George III in the neck with a poisoned dart as he sat in his box at the theatre. Parkinson
  • (Parkinson had one other slight claim to fame. In 1785 he became possibly the only person in history to win a natural history museum in a raffle. The museum, in London’s Leicester Square, had been founded by Sir Ashton Lever, who had driven himself bankrupt with his unrestrained collecting of natural wonders. Parkinson kept the museum until 1805, when he could no longer support it and the collection was broken up and sold.)
  • His other slight peculiarity14 was the habit, when distracted by thought, of taking up improbable positions on furniture – lying across two chairs at once or ‘resting his head on the seat of a chair, while standing up’ (to quote his friend Darwin).
  • Jurassic refers to the Jura Mountains on the border of France and Switzerland.
  • for his work with dinosaurs that Owen is remembered. He coined the term dinosauria in 1841. It means ‘terrible lizard’
  • Before Owen, museums were designed primarily for the use and edification of the elite27, and even they found it difficult to gain access. In the early days of the British Museum, prospective visitors had to make a written application and undergo a brief interview to determine if they were fit to be admitted at all. They then had to return a second time to pick up a ticket – that is, assuming they had passed the interview – and finally come back a third time to view the museum’s treasures. Even then they were whisked through in groups and not allowed to linger. Owen’s plan was to welcome everyone, even to the point of encouraging working men to visit in the evening, and to devote most of the museum’s space to public displays. He even proposed, very radically, to put informative labels on each display28 so that people could appreciate what they were viewing.
  • at a place called Bone Cabin Quarry, only a few miles from Marsh’s prime hunting ground at Como Bluff, Wyoming. There, hundreds and hundreds of fossil bones were to be found weathering out of the hills. They were so numerous, in fact, that someone had built a cabin out of them – hence the name37.
  • The number of neutrons is generally about the same as the number of protons, but they can vary up and down slightly. Add or subtract a neutron or two and you get an isotope23.
  • When you sit in a chair, you are not actually sitting there, but levitating above it at a height of one angstrom (a hundred millionth of a centimetre), your electrons and its electrons implacably opposed to any closer intimacy.
  • The picture of an atom that nearly everybody has in mind is of an electron or two flying around a nucleus, like planets orbiting a sun. This image was created in 1904, based on little more than clever guesswork, by a Japanese physicist named Hantaro Nagaoka.
  • Soon afterwards, at a meeting in Wisconsin, Patterson announced a definitive age for the Earth of 4,550 million years (plus or minus 70 million years) – ‘a figure that stands unchanged 50 years later’16, as McGrayne admiringly notes. After two hundred years of attempts, the Earth finally had an age. Almost at once, Patterson turned his attention to the question of all that lead in the atmosphere. He was astounded to find that what little was known about the effects of lead on humans was almost invariably wrong or misleading – and not surprisingly, since for forty years every study of lead’s effects had been funded exclusively by manufacturers of lead additives.
  • It would prove to be a hellish campaign. Ethyl was a powerful global corporation with many friends in high places. (Among its directors have been Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell and Gilbert Grosvenor of the National Geographic Society.) Patterson suddenly found research funding withdrawn or difficult to acquire. The American Petroleum Institute cancelled a research contract with him, as did the United States Public Health Service, a supposedly neutral government body.
  • To his great credit, Patterson never wavered. Eventually his efforts led to the introduction of the Clean Air Act of 1970 and finally to the removal from sale of all leaded petrol in the United States in 1986. Almost immediately lead levels in the blood of Americans fell by 80 per cent21.
  • As
  • Clair Patterson died in 1995. He didn’t win a Nobel Prize for his work. Geologists never do. Nor, more puzzlingly, did he gain any fame or even much attention from half a century of consistent and increasingly selfless achievement. A good case could be made that he was the most influential geologist of the twentieth century.
  • Most particle physicists feel, as Leon Lederman remarked in a 1985 television documentary, that the Standard Model lacks elegance and simplicity. ‘It is too complicated. It has too many arbitrary parameters19,’ Lederman said. ‘We don’t really see the creator twiddling twenty knobs to set twenty parameters to create the universe as we know it.’ Physics is really nothing more than a search for ultimate simplicity, but so far all we have is a kind of elegant messiness – or as Lederman put it: ‘There is a deep feeling that the picture is not beautiful.’
  • It was Arthur Holmes, the English geologist who did so much to determine the age of the Earth, who came up with a suggestion. Holmes was the first scientist to understand that radioactive warming could produce convection currents within the Earth.
  • extensive mountain range on Earth was – mostly – under water. It traced a continuous path along the world’s seabeds, rather like the pattern on a tennis ball. If you began at Iceland and travelled south, you could follow it down the centre of the Atlantic Ocean, around the bottom of Africa, and across the Indian and Southern oceans and into the Pacific just below Australia; there it angled across the Pacific as if making for Baja California before shooting up the west coast of the United States to Alaska. Occasionally its higher peaks poked above the water as an island or archipelago – the Azores and Canaries in the Atlantic, Hawaii in the Pacific, for instance
  • tiny grains of iron ore within the rocks point to wherever the magnetic poles happen to be at the time of their formation, then stay pointing in that direction as the rocks cool and harden.
  • attachment to rocks, but this problem intrigued him. It occurred to him that the answer might lie in dust from space.
  • Scattered through this thin dusting are exotic elements not normally much found on Earth. Among these is the element iridium, which is a thousand times more abundant in space than in the Earth’s crust (because, it is thought, most of the iridium on Earth sank to the core when the planet was young). Luis Alvarez
  • ‘Well, you have to remember,’ Asaro recalls, ‘that we were amateurs in this field. Walter was a geologist specializing in palaeomagnetism, Luis was a physicist and I was a nuclear chemist. And now here we were telling palaeontologists that we had solved a problem that had eluded them for over a century. It’s not terribly surprising that they didn’t embrace it immediately.’ As Luis Alvarez joked: ‘We were caught practising geology without a licence.’ But there
  • But let’s suppose we did see the object coming. What would we do? Everyone assumes we would send up a nuclear warhead and blast it to smithereens. There are some problems with that idea, however. First, as John S. Lewis notes, our missiles are not designed for space work32. They haven’t the oomph to escape Earth’s gravity, and even if they did there are no mechanisms to guide them across tens of millions of kilometres of space. Still less could we send up a shipload of space cowboys to do the job for us, as in the movie Armageddon; we no longer possess a rocket powerful enough to send humans even as far as the Moon. The last rocket that could, Saturn 5, was retired years ago and has never been replaced. Nor could we quickly build a new one because, amazingly, the plans for Saturn launchers were destroyed as part of a NASA spring-cleaning exercise.
  • Although it is little more than a guess, it is thought that in over four billion years the temperature at the core has fallen by no more than 110 degrees Celsius. No one knows exactly how hot the Earth’s core is, but estimates range from something over 4,000 degrees to over 7,000 degrees Celsius – about as hot as the surface of the Sun.
  • Did you know there are more geysers and hot springs at Yellowstone than in all the rest of the world combined?’ ‘I didn’t know that.’ He nodded. ‘Ten thousand of them, and nobody knows when a new vent might open.’
  • Put the human body under pressure, and that nitrogen is transformed into tiny bubbles that migrate into the blood and tissues. If the pressure is changed too rapidly – as with a too-quick ascent by a diver – the bubbles trapped within the body will begin to fizz in exactly the manner of a freshly opened bottle of champagne, clogging tiny blood vessels, depriving cells of oxygen and causing pain so excruciating that sufferers are prone to bend double in agony – hence ‘the bends’.
  • Aluminium is the fourth most common element on Earth, accounting for nearly a tenth of everything that’s underneath your feet, but its existence wasn’t even suspected until it was discovered in the nineteenth century by Humphry Davy, and for a long time after that it was treated as rare and precious. Congress nearly put a shiny lining of aluminium foil atop the Washington Monument to show what a classy and prosperous nation we had become, and the French imperial family in the same period discarded the state silver dinner service and replaced it with an aluminium one29. The fashion was cutting edge even if the knives weren’t.
  • What sets the carbon atom apart is that it is shamelessly promiscuous. It is the party animal of the atomic world, latching on to many other atoms (including itself) and holding tight, forming molecular conga lines of hearty robustness – the very trick of nature necessary to build proteins and DNA.
  • Trillions upon trillions of tiny marine organisms that most of us have never heard of – foraminiferans and coccoliths and calcareous algae – capture atmospheric carbon, in the form of carbon dioxide, when it falls as rain and use it (in combination with other things) to make their tiny shells. By locking the carbon up in their shells, they keep it from being re-evaporated into the atmosphere where it would build up dangerously as a greenhouse gas. Eventually all the tiny foraminiferans and coccoliths and so on die and fall to the bottom of the sea, where they are compressed into limestone. It is remarkable, when you behold an extraordinary natural feature like the White Cliffs of Dover in England, to reflect that it is made up almost entirely of tiny deceased marine organisms,
  • If you have ever been struck by how beautifully crisp and well defined the edges of cumulus clouds tend to be, while other clouds are more blurry, the explanation is that there is a pronounced boundary between the moist interior of a cumulus cloud and the dry air beyond it. Any water molecule that strays beyond the edge of the cloud is immediately zapped by the dry air beyond, allowing the cloud to keep its fine edge. Much higher cirrus clouds are composed of ice and the zone between the edge of the cloud and the air beyond it not so clearly delineated, which is why they tend to be blurry at the edges.
  • Charles William Beebe and Otis Barton in 1930. Although they were equal partners, the more colourful Beebe has always received far more written attention. Born in 1877 into a well-to-do family in New York City, Beebe studied zoology at Columbia University, then took a job as a birdkeeper at the New York Zoological Society. Tiring of that, he decided to adopt the life of an adventurer and for the next quarter-century travelled extensively through Asia and South America with a succession of attractive female assistants whose jobs were inventively described as ‘historian and technicist’ or ‘assistant in fish problems20’. He supported these endeavours with a succession of popular books with titles like Edge of the Jungle and Jungle Days, though he also produced some respectable books on wildlife and ornithology.
  • Navy provided funding for a more advanced submersible, to be operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution of Massachusetts. Called Alvin, in somewhat contracted honour of the oceanographer Allyn C. Vine, it would be a fully manoeuvrable mini-submarine, though it wouldn’t go anywhere near as deep as Trieste. There was just one problem26: the designers couldn’t find anyone willing to build it. According to William J. Broad in The Universe Below: ‘No big company like General Dynamics, which made submarines for the Navy, wanted to take on a project disparaged by both the Bureau of Ships and Admiral Rickover, the gods of naval patronage.’ Eventually, not to say improbably, Alvin was constructed by General Mills, the food company, at a factory where it made the machines to produce breakfast
  • Today Alvin is nearly forty years old, but it remains the world’s premier research vessel.
  • Perhaps nothing speaks more clearly of our psychological remoteness from the ocean depths33 than that the main expressed goal for oceanographers during International Geophysical Year, 1957/8, was to study ‘the use of ocean depths for the dumping of radioactive wastes’.
  • Since 1946, the United States had been ferrying 55-gallon drums of radioactive gunk out to the Fallarone Islands, some 50 kilometres off the California coast near San Francisco, where it simply threw them overboard.
  • Crab-eater seals are not a species of animal that most of us have heard of, but they may actually be the second most numerous large species of animal on Earth, after humans.
  • At depth, microbes shrink in size and become extremely sluggish. The liveliest of them may divide no more than once a century18, some no more than perhaps once in five hundred years. As The Economist has put it: ‘The key to long life, it seems, is not to do too much19.’ When
  • Making a host unwell has certain benefits for the microbe. The symptoms of an illness often help to spread the disease. Vomiting, sneezing and diarrhoea are excellent methods of getting out of one host and into position for boarding another.
  • in 1983 when Barry Marshall, a doctor in Perth, Western Australia, found that many stomach cancers and most stomach ulcers are caused by a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori. Even though his findings were easily tested, the notion was so radical that more than a decade would pass before they were generally accepted.
  • In an attempt to devise a vaccine, medical authorities conducted experiments on volunteers at a military prison on Deer Island in Boston Harbor52. The prisoners were promised pardons if they survived a battery of tests. These tests were rigorous to say the least. First, the subjects were injected with infected lung tissue taken from the dead and then sprayed in the eyes, nose and mouth with infectious aerosols. If they still failed to succumb, they had their throats swabbed with discharges taken straight from the sick and dying. If all else failed, they were required to sit open-mouthed while a gravely ill victim was sat up slightly and made to cough into their faces. Out of – somewhat amazingly – three hundred men who volunteered, the doctors chose sixty-two for the tests. None contracted the flu – not one. The only person who did grow ill was the ward doctor, who swiftly died. The probable explanation for this is that the epidemic had passed through the prison a few weeks earlier and the volunteers, all of whom had survived that visitation, had a natural immunity.
  • Happily the outbreak stopped there, but we can’t count on always being so fortunate. Our lifestyles invite epidemics. Air travel makes it possible to spread infectious agents across the planet with amazing ease. An Ebola virus could begin the day in, say, Benin, and finish it in New York or Hamburg or Nairobi, or all three.
  • Walcott had found, in effect, the holy grail of palaeontology. The outcrop became known as the Burgess Shale, from the name of the ridge on which it was found, and for a long time it provided ‘our sole vista upon the inception of modern life12
  • Anapsids gave rise to the turtles, which for a time, perhaps a touch improbably, appeared poised to predominate as the planet’s most advanced and deadly species, before an evolutionary lurch let them settle for durability rather than dominance.
  • Some animals absolutely prospered – including, a little surprisingly, the turtles once again. As Flannery notes, the period immediately after the dinosaur extinction could well be known as the Age of Turtles31. Sixteen species survived in North America and three more came into existence soon after.
  • Rarely has a man been more comfortable with his own greatness. He spent much of his leisure time penning long and flattering portraits of himself, declaring that there had never ‘been a greater botanist or zoologist’, and that his system of classification was ‘the greatest achievement in the realm of science’. Modestly, he suggested that his gravestone should bear the inscription Princeps Botanicorum, ‘Prince of Botanists’. It was never wise to question his generous self-assessments. Those who did so were apt to find they had weeds named after them. Linnaeus’s
  • In the 1860s, journals and other learned publications in Britain began to receive papers on hydrostatics, electricity and other scientific subjects from a James Croll of Anderson’s University in Glasgow. One of the papers, on how variations in the Earth’s orbit might have precipitated ice ages, was published in the Philosophical Magazine in 1864 and was recognized at once as a work of the highest standard. So there was some surprise, and perhaps just a touch of embarrassment, when it turned out that Croll was not an academic at the university, but a janitor .
  • Croll was the first to suggest that cyclical changes in the shape of the Earth’s orbit, from elliptical (which is to say, slightly oval) to nearly circular to elliptical again, might explain the onset and retreat of ice ages. No-one had ever thought before
  • In fact, global warming could plausibly, if paradoxically, lead to powerful localized cooling in North America and northern Europe.
  • We don’t know precisely the circumstances, or even the year, attending the last moments of the last dodo, so we don’t know which arrived first, a world that contained a Principia or one that had no dodos, but we do know that they happened at more or less the same time.
  • dodos were so spectacularly short on insight, it is reported, that if you wished to find all the dodos in a vicinity you had only to catch one and set it to squawking, and all the others would waddle along to see what was up.
  • In 1755, some seventy years after the last dodo’s death, the director of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford decided that the institution’s stuffed dodo was becoming unpleasantly musty and ordered it tossed on a bonfire. This was a surprising decision as it was by this time the only dodo in existence, stuffed or otherwise.
  • biggest-ever member of the pigeon family,
  • Imagine ground sloths that could look into an upstairs window, tortoises nearly the size of a small Fiat, monitor lizards 6 metres long basking beside desert highways in Western Australia. Alas, they are gone, and we live on a much diminished planet.
  • Schouten made life-sized paintings of every animal they could reasonably recreate and Flannery wrote the words. The result was an extraordinary book called A Gap in Nature,
    • Book: A Gap in Nature

Principles for reading

We are not well adapted to the world of abundance. In the past, information was scarce and valuable.

But in marvelous lands of modernity, we have access to way too much content. Just like with food, we must learn to consume it mindfully and responsibly. Here is how I handle it:

My principles for reading

My entire “system” is designed to satisfy the following 3 principles:

1. Do not read crap

I prefer to read nothing than crappy clickbait. The best approach to avoiding low-quality content is never to start reading it. The next best thing is to stop reading it the moment you realize it’s not great.

If you are struggling through a book, you have my permission to abandon it right now.

2. You have to get something out of it

Read either for pleasure, knowledge, or both. Infotainment is an excellent way to learn, but it has to contain some actionable items.

There is a very successful genre of non-fiction that only makes you feel like you are learning something, improving yourself, or getting valuable tips.

News, for example, is not giving you an accurate picture of the world, nor is it making you feel better. This article explains why following news is a bad idea.

3. Knowledge is a graph

If it’s for knowledge, integrate what I read with my existing knowledge. Otherwise, it will be lost in the bottomless pit of my brain forever.

My reading flow

My media “diet” looks as follows:


I listen to fiction almost exclusively on Audible, preferably while outside and moving. If it’s a particularly entertaining book, it motivates me to spend more time outdoors or working out. Win-win.


I avoid reading new articles straight away because the urgency usually makes them more appealing than it really is. So instead, I put new pieces to the Pocket app.

I have pocket sorted in the oldest-first order (as opposed to the default newest-first setting). This is because, by the time I get to the article I just put there, it will no longer be urgent or relevant.
Usually, I wonder why it was a good idea to read it and delete the article without reading it.

I try to highlight exciting takeaways while reading. Sometimes these highlights are valuable, but seeking takeaways makes me more mindful and read more carefully.


For similar reasons, I read books mainly on Kindle or the Kindle app. I extolled both virtues in For the love of Kindle – the ultimate nomad library.

For Kindle books, you can add the Audible version to your book in the Kindle app. You can seamlessly switch between listening to an audiobook, reading the regular version, and making highlights.

You have to pay for both versions, but if you are not getting more value out of this book anyway, you should not be reading it.


There are two podcasting apps that I know of that let you do highlights:

While listening to a podcast episode in one of these apps, you can press the “back” button on your headset (or triple tap the AirPods) to mark that point of the episode. Later, in the app, you will see a transcription of that moment. It has been a game changer for content-heavy podcasts like The Tim Ferriss show or the Huberman Lab.

Highlight management

All of the sources mentioned above connect to a fantastic app called Readwise.

Readwise automatically exports my highlights to my note-taking app (currently Logseq), where I can review, pull quotes on the fly and access everything I deem worthy.

All my blog posts and newsletter issues are compilations of those notes, and all are fueled by what I am reading. Quality of inputs matters.