Monday, May 25, 2015

Comic: Showing the Way

Sometimes I think I know best but for the most part this the reality.


Thanks Connie.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Science mis-reporting: 'Eat rice cold for fewer calories'

Like an old man on a Sunday morning, I have just vented my frustration about an article I read in the press. 'Eat rice cold for fewer calories'. Here is the note I sent to the BBC:

..I would like to report a case of somewhat misleading and confusing reporting. The linked article has several flaws:

- Misleading title: The title quote 'Eat rice cold for fewer calories' but this quote is not found anywhere in the text. Also, it is misleading as the cold rice in the study was reheated after the drying stage (source: http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/2015/03/low-calorie-healthy-rice-resistant-starch). I would suggest changing the headline to something along the lines of "Reducing calories from rice" i.e. make people read further to reduce the probability of changed behaviour based on a headline. I appreciate you mention the reheating possibility but this conflicts with the headline.

- The article states that "According to the Sri Lankan researchers, treating rice in this way reduces its calories by up to 60%.". This should be clarified further. The research showed only a calorie reduction of 10-12%, and ‘perhaps as high as 50 or 60%’ if the treatments were applied other varieties. (source: above).

- The article correctly picks out the two main aspects of the process (cooking for 40 minutes and cooling for 12 hours), but makes no mention of the full process, which included over drying for 2.5 hours. James says that the two steps in the article are the important ones 'in theory' only. Even if this is likely, it is yet to be proven. 

I would recommend amending the article appropriately and listening to the press conference on the topic to be held tomorrow (broadcast live http://bit.ly/ACSLiveDenver).

Kind regards

Riz

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Film: Slow West

Slow West joins my list of favourites in the Western category. The acting is first rate, there is quite a bit of black comedy and the scenery is breathtaking. Also, the movie comes in at under 90 minutes, which shows impressive constraint by the director.


Friday, May 22, 2015

Montaigne quote

So I just opened up my book of Montaigne's Complete Works, and the first sentence I read is:

'The uncertainty of my judgement is so evenly balanced in most occurrences that I would willingly submit to the decision of chance and of the dice.'

I think I'm going to like this book when I get around to reading it in earnest. The hefty block is over 1300 pages long so I'm hoping there will be much to agree and disagree with.

Poem: by the hermit monk Taigu Ryokan (1758–1831)

Too lazy to be ambitious,
I let the world take care of itself.
Ten days' worth of rice in my bag;
a bundle of twigs by the fireplace.
Why chatter about delusion and enlightenment?
Listening to the night rain on my roof,
I sit comfortably, with both legs stretched out.

Economist: tube congestion in London

The Economist has published an interesting chart (see below) highlighting how the morning and evening rush hour periods for the London Underground have increased in recent years. It's certainly a factor to consider if you are thinking about working in the city. Here are some facts pulled from the article:

  • Since 2007 the number of journeys on the Tube has increased by 30%.
  • Passengers now make 4m trips on the Underground each day. 
  •  The rush hour—which today lasts for nearer three hours—has become even more crowded: since 1991 the number of people crammed on to carriages in the morning and afternoon peaks has increased by nearly 50%. 
  • Over the same period the number of people travelling off-peak has almost doubled, with much of the increase in the past decade (see chart). 
  • Since 2004 the number of people travelling to work in central London has increased by nearly a third. Between 2004 and 2014 the number of overseas visitors on holiday increased by 52%. 
  • Another reason is that using the Tube has become much easier. In 2003 Transport for London (TfL), the transport authority, introduced the Oyster card, an electronic ticket. This bit of blue plastic “changed the whole equation” of how people get around the city.


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Podcast: 99% Invisible


99% Invisible is a neat little podcast by Roman Mars (cool name, eh?). Here are some recent learnings lifted pretty much directly from the 99% Invisible episode guide:

Episode 164: The Post-Billiards Age (ivory to plastics)
  • A hundred years ago, there were 830 pool halls in the city of Chicago. Today, there are ten.
  • Billiard balls were first made from ivory, with just 3-5 balls produced from each tusk.
  • Records from the ivory trade sometimes refer to the top grade as “billiard ball ivory.”
  • This was an expensive business and a prize was offered to the person who could invent a suitable substitute material. 
  • Culluloid was a contender - it proved useful for other uses but didn't cut the muster for billiard balls. Inspired by celluloid, Leo Baekeland, in 1907, came up with a new kind of petroleum-based plastic. He named it Bakelite, after himself. And Bakelite plastic was perfect for billiard balls.
Episode 163: The Gruen Effect  (shopping malls)
  • Victor Gruen argued that good design equaled good profits. The more beautiful the displays and surroundings, the longer consumers are will want to stay in a shop. The more time a shoppers spend in a store, the more they will spend.
  • Gruen presented his a solution for America: The Shopping Mall.
  • Malls are suburban pilgrimage sites, which, of course, Americans had to drive to. Gruen knew that Americans loved to drive. So the mall was his compromise: shoppers had to walk once inside, but they could drive over. For better or for worse, Gruen was right. Americans loved driving to his malls. He got commissions for them all over the country
    Over time, Gruen saw that in erecting these malls, he was draining life from the actual cities.
  • About ten years after his return to Vienna, Gruen gave a speech in which he declared, “I refuse to pay alimony for these bastard developments.” Victor Gruen, the mall maker, became the foremost mall critic.
Episode 161: Show of Force (the ghost army)
  • WWII. US utilises a 'deception unit', a unit that would appear to the enemy as a large armored division with tanks, trucks, artillery, and thousands of soldiers. But this unit would actually be equipped only with fake tanks, fake trucks, fake artillery and manned by just a handful of soldiers.
  • After the war, the unit was nick-named the 'ghost army'.
  • An inflatable tank might look real enough on the ground from a distance, but aerial reconnaissance could reveal a conspicuous lack of tank tracks. So the Ghost Army would use a bulldozer to make fake tracks around the fake tanks.
  • There was one cardinal rule about working with inflatables: never carry one across a road, or in any other place where you could be seen. Obviously, two men carrying a 40-ton tank would be a dead giveaway.
  • On the battlefield, the Ghost Army also did “sonic deception.” The sonic deception unit would record the sounds of troops amassing in tanks and trucks and then be able to play those sounds back over loud speakers.
  • The Ghost Army carried out twenty-one deception missions between June 1944 and March 1945—nearly the entire time the U.S. Army was operating in Europe.
Episode 160: Perfect Security (Bramah, Chubb and Yale)
  • 1770s - Joseph Bramah enters English locksmithing scene. “Bramah safety lock” had layers of complexity in between the key and the deadbolt which Bramah believed made it 100% theft-proof.
  • As soon as he had a padlock version of this lock that he felt confident in, he put it in the window of his London storefront, and painted on it a challenge, prize of 200 guineas to whoever could open it.
  • The British government wanted to up the game; they wanted a lock that wouldn’t just be unbreakable, but would also alert the owner if someone tried to open it. Another locksmith named Jeremiah Chubb met that challenge with his Chubb detector lock. The government awarded Chubb £100 for his innovation.
  • For years, the names Chubb and Bramah were all but interchangeable with “perfect security”—but only until the Lock Controversy of 1851.
  • A. C. Hobbs, an American locksmith. Back in the states, Hobbs had made a name for himself by showing bank managers that their locks could be easily picked, and convincing them to buy one of his. Hobbs was selling lots of locks this way. > He cracks both the Chubb and then the Bramah, and 'perfect security' is over forever.
  • Yale invents and mass produces the “pin and tumbler” lock - it became the world’s most common lock, and they are still made today.  It’s probably the lock you have on your door. 
  • The pin and tumbler lock is fairly easy to pick for someone who knows what they’re doing. But despite what movies would have you believe, it can’t usually be done with just a pick, or a paperclip, or a hairpin. There’s a second tool you’ll need: an L-shaped piece of metal called a tension wrench.
  • The lock on your front door is probably pretty easy to pick, but using a crowbar or going through a window would probably also suffice. It’s not just locks that keep us safe—it’s the existing social order. Today, locks have become a social construct as much as they are a mechanical construct.
Episode 157: Devil’s Rope (barbed wire)
  • Mid-1800s: a notion of manifest destiny swept the nation - The U.S. government wanted farmers to move west, because farmers, unlike cattlemen, would establish communities and build permanent settlements. In 1862, President Lincoln signed the Homestead Act, offering 160 acres of free land to anyone who settled and farmed it for five years. > problem: fencing!
  • Different types of fencing tried and failed. It was holding back expansion and settlement. But then came barbed wire. 
  • Glidden’s barbed-wire design took off, and by 1876, his company was producing nearly three million pounds of barbed wire annually.
  •  In World War I, barbed wire would become infamous in trench warfare; in World War II, barbed wire became the emblem of concentration camps.
  • Barbed wire’s history has mostly been about control, possession and separation but there is one instance where barbed wire was used not to separate us, but to connect us.
  • Right around the same time that barbed wire was invented, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. At first, telephone companies were laying telephone wire in cities, but they weren’t interested in the rural market. Still, farmers also needed phones, which meant that they needed a network of wires to connect the farms. Barbed wire fences could serve this purpose. The barbed wire couldn’t transmit a signal quite as clearly as a nice insulated copper wire, but for many years, they did the trick.
  • In WWII electrified barbed wire was used in prisoner of war camps. Some soldiers would commit suicide by 'embracing the wire'.


Economics: the interest rate does matter

Paul Krugman has written a soft takedown of James Montier's latest research note. Montier is a first rate writer on the markets, macroeconomics and investment psychology, and is always worth reading, but this time around he seems to have severely underestimated the impact of interest rates on housing. Montier says, "...but there isn’t  a strong relationship between house prices and interest rates, which limits the importance of this  channel of influence for monetary policy".  This just isn't the case and it's even less true over here in the UK where mortgages are on a much shorter tenor and the public are addicted to variable rate products.

Krugman's final sentence is one to think about when listening to critiques more broadly.

"The bottom line here is that there’s plenty of real stupidity in the world; we don’t need to add to the cloud of confusion with a critique of imaginary stupidity."

Monday, May 18, 2015

Book: Existentialism & Humanism by Jean Paul Sartre




Jean-Paul Sartre is a key player in the existentialist movement. While I don't buy into his spiel hook, line and sinker, I do find his writing fresh, powerful and invigorating.

His little book, "Existentialism and Humanism", is all about how man defines himself through his actions ('the coward makes himself cowardly, the hero makes himself heroic'). This idea, that the meaning of a person's life is something that is defined by the individual. is a central tenet of the existentialist philosophy. It's all sound stuff but Sartre overreaches somewhat when he turns freedom into a burden by stating that because we have choices, we are legislators for the whole of mankind, and that as a consequence there is a great anguish created by this responsibility, a kind of burden of the responsibility freedom.

Effectively Sartre's message is that we are free to make choices and so are without excuse. As a consequence, I think he is unduly harsh on people who don't live each part of their life with full conviction e.g. the waiter who 'acts' as a waiter is in bad faith and lacking in authenticity, denying his own freedom. Simplifying for clarity is one thing but Sartre, at least at this point in his life, seemed convinced of this opinion. In truth the necessities of reality surely mean that our actions are not black and white with respect to authenticity and bad faith, e.g. playing the waiter may allow for a salary which provides greater freedoms in other avenues. Also, on a day-to-day basis, surely we are forever reigning ourselves in a little in order to get along with society, to the betterment of everybody? If we recall that Sartre lived in a time when the Nazi's occupied France, the context of his message is more meaningful. In today's era, however, I think we can afford to be a bit more balanced, although we should never forget the principle point, which is that we are (condemned to be) free.

***

Quotes

There is no reality except in action.

In life man commits himself and draws his own portrait, outside of which there is nothing.

What is meant here by saying that existence precedes essence? We mean that man first exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world - and defines himself. ...to begin with he is nothing.

There is no reality except in action. Man is nothing else than his plan; he exists only to the extent that he fulfills himself; he is therefore nothing else than the ensemble of his acts, nothing else than his life.

...the first effect of existentialism is that it puts every man in possession of himself as he is, and places responsibility for his existence squarely upon his own shoulders.

We are left alone, without excuse. That is what I mean when I say that man is condemned to be free. Condemned, because he did not create himself, yet is nevertheless at liberty, and from the moment that he is thrown into this world he is responsible for everything he does.

He (the existentialist) thinks that every man, without support or help whatever, is condemned at every instant to invent man.

This is what 'abandonment' implies, that we ourselves decide our being. And with this abandonment goes anguish.

...there is not reality except in action. It goes further, indeed, and adds, 'Man is nothing else but what he purposes, he exists only in so far as he realises himself, he is therefore nothing else but the sum of his actions, nothing else but what his life is.' Hence we can well understand why some people are horrified by our teaching. For many have but one resource to sustain them in misery, and that is to think, 'Circusmtances have been against me.. there remains in me a wide range of abilities, inclinations and potentialities, which endow me with a worthiness that could never be inferred from the mere history of my actions.' But in reality and for the existentialist, there is no love except for the deeds of love....no genius other that that which is expressed.

Nevertheless, when one says, 'You are nothing else but what you live,' it does not imply that an artist is to be judged solely on by his works of art, for a thousand other things contribute no less to his definition of a man. What we mean to say is that a man is no other than a series of undertakings, that he is the sum, the organisation, the set of relations that constitute these undertakings.

...the existentialist, when he portrays a coward, shows him as responsible for his cowardice. He is not like that on account of a cowardly heart or lungs or cerebrum, he has not become like that through his physiological organism; he is like that because he has made himself like that by his actions.

....what counts is total commitment.


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Book: Don't Sweat the Small Stuff ... and it's all small stuff. By Richard Carlson


"The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitude." - William James

This book is a self-help classic. It neatly packages Buddhism, psychology and broader self-help advice into tiny, easily digestible chapters, and doesn't over analyse or delve into the New Age mumbo jumbo that pervades the genre. That said, I did have to fight myself to get over the off-putting cover quote from Deepak Chopra, who is the king of New Age gumpf.

The theme of the book is simple:“There are two rules for living in harmony. #1) Don’t sweat the small stuff and #2) It’s all small stuff”. It's a useful phrase to land on when putting things in perspective.

****

Quotes and Notes

- ...when you let go of your expectations, when you accept life as it is, you're free.To hold on is to be serious and uptight. To let go is to lighten up.

- True happiness comes not when we get rid of all of our problems,but when we change our relationship to them, when we see our problems as a potential source of awakening, opportunities to practice, and to learn.

- We deny the parts of ourselves that we deem unacceptable rather than accepting the fact that we're all less than perfect.

- Try to maintain the perspective that, in time, everything disintegrates and returns to its initial form.

- Many people live as if life were a dress rehearsal for some later date.

- A low mood is not the time to analyze your life. To do so is emotional suicide. If you have a legitimate problem, it will still be there when your state of mind improves. The trick is to be grateful for our good moods and graceful in our low moods—not taking them too seriously. The next time you feel low, for whatever reason, remind yourself, “This too shall pass.” It will.

- To a large degree, the measure of our peace of mind is determined by how much we are able to live in the present moment. Irrespective of what happened yesterday or last year, and what may or may not happen tomorrow, the present moment is where you are—always! 

- Something wonderful begins to happen with the simple realization that life, like an automobile, is driven from the inside out, not the other way around. As you focus more on becoming more peaceful with where you are, rather than focusing on where you would rather be, you begin to find peace right now, in the present. Then, as you move around, try new things, and meet new people, you carry that sense of inner peace with you. It's absolutely true that, "Wherever you go, there you are.” 

- Effective listening is more than simply avoiding the bad habit of interrupting others while they are speaking or finishing their sentences. It's being content to listen to the entire thought of someone rather than waiting impatiently for your chance to respond.

- The need for perfection and the desire for inner tranquility conflict with each other.

- I am certain that a quiet mind is the foundation of inner peace. And inner peace translates into outer peace.

- Make Peace With Imperfection. ...Rather than being content and grateful for what we have, we are focused on what's wrong with something, and out need to fix it. We we are zeroed in with what's wrong, it implies that we are dissatisfied, discontent.  Whether it's related to ourselves - a disorganised closet, a scratch on the car, an imperfect accomplishment, a few pounds we would like to lose - or someone else's 'imperfections' ... the very act of focusing on imperfections pulls us away from our goal of being kind and gentle.  ...The solution here is to catch yourself when you fall into your habit of insisting that things should be other than they are. Gently remind yourself that life is okay the way it is. (thought: it is a natural impulse to keep changing for the better, moving forward to an improved state vs "To". Perhaps the trick is to focus on the +ve aspects of conditions at To, thus maintaining a positive, growth outlook, vs being immune).

- Be Aware of the Snowball Effect of Your Thinking. When you have what you want (inner peace), you are less distracted by your wants, needs, desires, and concerns. It's easier to concentrate, focus, achieve your goals, and to give back to others. (thought - have you set your inner emphasis or are you driven by the winds of distraction and manufactured wants). .Needless to say, it's impossible to feel peaceful with your head full of concerns and mental annoyances. The solution is to notice what's happening in your head before your thoughts have any chance to build up momentum. ...the sooner you catch yourself, the easier it is to stop.

Remind Yourself That When You Die, Your 'In Basket' Won't Be Empty. ...we often convince ourselves that our obsession with our 'to do' list is only temporary - that once we get through the list, we'll be calm, relaxed and happy. But in reality, this rarely happens. As items are checked off, new ones simply replace them.

- Let Others Have the Glory. Ironically, when you surrender your need to hog the glory, the attention you used to need from other people is replaced by a quiet inner confidence that is derived from letting others have it. (thought - maybe so, but don't do it with this motive in mind, do it because you want to see them enjoy it).

- Learn to Live in the Present Moment. John Lennon once said, 'life is what happens while you're busy making other plans.' Mark Twain said, ''I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.'

- Imagine That Everyone Is Enlightened Except You. (thought - or at least that they have something to teach you).

- Let Others Be 'Right' Most of the Time.  One of the most important questions you can ever ask yourself is, "Do I want to be 'right' - or do I want to be happy?" Many times the two are mutually exclusive.

- Become More Patient - The quality of patience goes a long way toward your goal of creating a more peaceful and loving self.

- Surrender To The Fact That Life Isn't Fair. ..recognising this sobering fact can be a very liberating insight.

- Repeat to Yourself, 'Life Isn't An Emergency'. Although most people believe otherwise, the truth is, life isn't an emergency. We take our own goals so seriously that we forget to have fun along the way...we take simple preferences and turn them into conditions for our own happiness. (thought - it's like doing a sales and marketing trick on yourself - e.g. clean house = happiness)

- The back burner of your mind works in the same way as the back burner of a stove. While on low heat, the cooking process mixes, blends and simmers the ingredients into a tasty meal. ..Often the less you interfere, the better the result.  Use it when struggling with a problem, not about procrastination and denial but about letting it stew away in the background. (thought - add a back burner to my to do list, in between the 'some day/maybe' tab and the 'to do' tab).

- if you think of strangers as being a little more like you and treat them not only with kindness and respect but with smiles and eye contact....you'll probably notice some pretty changes in yourself.

-..when I set aside some quiet time for myself, it makes the rest of my day seem manageable.

- Become a Better Listener. Not only will becoming a better listener make you a more patient person, it will also enhance the quality of your relationships. Everyone loves to talk to someone who truly listens to what they are saying.

- Choose Your Battles Wisely. The truth is, life is rarely exactly the way we want it to be, and other people often don't act as we would like them to. ...If you fight against this principle of life, you'll spend most of your life fighting battles.

- Become Aware of Your Moods and Don't Let Yourself be Fooled by The Low Ones. When you're in an ill mood, learn to pass it off as simply that: an unavoidable human condition that will pass with time, if you leave it alone. A low mood is not the time to analyse your life. (thought - moods are erratic and passing).

- Practice Random Acts of Kindness

- Practice Humility. Proving Yourself is a dangerous trap.  Ironically, the less you care about seeking approval, the more approval you seem to get. ...The way to develop genuine humility is to practice.

- Avoid Weatherproofing. Essentially weather-proofing means that you are on the careful looking for things that need to be fixed or repaired. ..It encourages you to think about what's wrong with everything...Nothing is ever good enough the way it is.

- Become an Anthropologist (vs seeing things from the perspective of your own tastes, preferences, senses of right and wrong, good and bad, etc.). There's a fine line between being 'interested' and being arrogant, as if secretly you believe that your way is better.

- Understand Separate Realities. ...expect to see things differently, when we take it as a given that others will do things differently and react differently to the same stimuli.

- So often we are immobilised by the slightest criticism We treat it like an emergency and defend ourselves as if we were in a battle. In truth, however, criticism is nothing more than an observation by another person about us, our actions, or the way we think about something, that doesn't match the vision we have of ourselves. Big deal!

- See the glass as already broken. The essence of this teaching is that all of life is in a constant state of change. Everything has a beginning and everything has an end. ... There is peace to be found in this teaching. ...Obviously no one wants their favourite drinking glass, or anything else, to be broken. The philosophy is not a prescription for becoming passive or apathetic, but for making peace with the way things are. When your drinking glass does break, this philosophy allows you to maintain perspective.

- Know that if you don't fight your negative feelings, if you are graceful, they will pass away as surely as the sun sets in the evening.

- Read Articles and Books with Entirely Different Points of View from Your Own and Try to Learn Something. A closed mind is always fighting to keep everything else at arm's length.

- Do One Thing At a Time.

- Be Flexible with Changes to Your Plans

- Think of What You Have Instead of What You Want. If you focus on ways to enjoy yourself around the home rather than waiting to enjoy yourself in Hawaii, you'll end up having more fun. If you ever do get to Hawaii, you'll be in the habit of enjoying yourself. And if by some chance you don't, you'll have a great life anyway.

- The important question in terms of becoming more peaceful isn't whether or not you're going to have negative thoughts - you are - it's what you choose to do with the ones that you have. ..you have a choice which thoughts to pay attention to. (thought - an emotional state doesn't knock on the door and ask if it can come in but it make a sudden, sneaky attack, catching the mind off-guard, and sometimes it enters and exits without ever getting caught by the conscious mind)

- The truth is, there's no better time to be happy than now. If not now, then when?

- Remember that You Become What You Practice Most. It makes sense then, to be careful what you practice (washing car, watching reruns, etc vs creative pursuits, exercise, meditation, etc).

- Quiet the Mind. A quiet mind is the foundation of inner peace. ..you can train your mind to be still and quiet.

- Get Comfortable Not Knowing. The truth is we don't know what is going to happen - we just think we do. ...Most of the time we are wrong. If we can keep our cool and stay open to possibilities, we can be reasonably certain that, eventually, all will be well.

- Acknowledge the Totality of Your Being. ...when you no longer think of your negative feelings as a big deal, or as something to fear, you will no longer be frightened by them.

- The philosophy of acceptance is the root of going with the flow.

- Redefine a 'Meaningful Accomplishment'. Rather than being consumed exclusively with external accomplishments, try putting more emphasis on what's really important.

- Look for the Extraordinary in the Ordinary (we assign our own meaning to our work, etc).

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Book: The Ruba'iyat of Omar Khayyam (Penguin Classics)

"There was a water-drop, it joined the sea.
A speck of dust, it fused with the earth;
What of your entering and leaving this world?
A fly appeared, and disappeared."


The Ruba'iyat was written by the multi-faceted Persian genius, Omar Khayyam, who died way back when in the year 1131. The poetry is deep and wise, touching on eternal truths about knowledge and existence, and living in the present moment. It's all there, captured in tight little verses. There's also a heavy emphasis on drinking wine and finding joy in drunkeness, which adds a bit of lightness to the mix.

I read the the Penguin Classics translation of the Rubai'yat, which tries to be as close to the original as possible. As is typical with many classics, the scholarly introduction takes up almost half of the book and is best skipped and perhaps returned to at the end, if the fancy takes.

****

Quotes

2.
He began my creation with constraint,
By giving me life he added only confusion;
We depart reluctantly still not knowing
The aim of birth, existence, departure.

7.
Neither you nor I know the mysteries of eternity,
Neither you nor I read this enigma;
You and I only talk this side of the veil;
When the veil falls, neither you nor I will be here.

8.
This ocean of being has come from the Obscure,
No one has pierced this jewel of reality;
Each has spoken according to his humour,
No one can define the face of things.

32.
Oh heart, since the world's reality is an illusion
How long will you complain about this torment?
Resign your body to fate and put up with pain,
Because what the Pen has written for you it will not unwrite.

41.
There was a water-drop, it joined the sea.
A speck of dust, it fused with the earth;
What of your entering and leaving this world?
A fly appeared, and disappeared.

50.
...For a time we acted on this stage,
We went back one by one into the box of oblivion.

91.
Nobody, heart, has seen heaven or hell,
Tell me, dear who has returned from there?
Our hopes and fears are on something of which,
My dear, there is no indication but the name.

98.
I need a jug of wine and a book of poetry,
Half a loaf for a bite to ear,
Then you and I, seated in a deserted spot,
Will have more wealth than a Sultan's realm.

101.
...Take comfort, in the place of being and decay
We are creatures of a single moment - also nothing.

102.
You have seen the world and all you saw was nothing,
All you have said and heard, that too was nothing:
Running from pole to pole, there was nothing,
And when you lurked at home, there was also nothing.

120.
...Be happy and do not talk of yesterday, today is good.

135.
...If the heart is awake, do not waste this moment -
There is no proof of life's continuance.

136.
The more I look at the world's condition,
To be convivial is the answer, the rest is nothing.

179.
Anybody who in this world has half a load
And a home in which to live
Is no man's master and no man's slave.

191.
I have meditated for seventy-two years night and day,
To learn that nothing has been learned at all.

196.
The beginning of the matter was not arranged with you in mind.

231.
How long boy will you chatter about the five sense and the four elements?
What matter if the puzzles be one or a hundred thousand?
We are dust, strum the harp boy.
We are air, boy, bring the wine.

Mini project: Poetry Corner

The 'About' section of my blog should really be called 'Projects' or 'Misc'. The latest addition to the section is a repository of poems that I'm trying to commit to memory. Last year, I memorised 'If' by Rudyard Kipling as a memory experiment. I wanted to prove to myself that I could commit something remotely interesting to my leaky memory. I have achieved this many times over for the purpose of exams, but have soon forgotten the material shortly afterwards, simply because it wasn't needed anymore - the grey cells knew those neural road networks no longer went anywhere helpful and so they got built over pretty quickly. Time and time again, all I'd be left with is a piece of paper saying that I once knew something. This time around, I wanted to see not just if I could learn something but if I could retain it over the long haul. One lesson from the experiment is that learning things parrot fashion is highly under-rated, and that meaning can sometimes follow. In other words, practice, practice and practice some more.

Below are the poems I'd like to commit to memory. The aim is to hold them in between my ears for as long as possible; as to timing, I've got a life time. Conveniently, they all print to a single side of A4. If this goes well, I may add other A4 memory projects, such as jokes and maxims, and then perhaps stuff of a more practical nature...well, we'll see, let's not get too ahead of ourselves.
; )

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1rRSDWUNpQXFh6sHZ07nYhRcDoHUjJ405KkuKYoaWd4E/pub
  1. If by Rudyard Kipling
  2. Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley
  3. In the Desert by Stephen Crane
  4. Leisure by William Henry Davies
  5. I'm nobody! Who are you? by Emily Dickinson
  6. Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening by Robert Frost
  7. Do not stand at my grave and weep by Mary Elizabeth Frye
  8. My Own Epitaph By John Gay 
  9. There was a young lady named Bright by an unknown author
  10. The Thief Left It Behind by Taigu Ryokan

Saturday, May 09, 2015

I don't even watch football



but Messi's skills are amazing, and this commentary is great:

Nevermind that Messi just nonchalantly dinked the ball over the best goalkeeper in the world; he just removed the batteries from Jerome Boateng and tossed him into the recycle bin. Boateng went down in a pile of misery like every man when he realizes that his girlfriend was really serious when she said she was done this time. Jerome is basically scrolling through Instagram and crying at every picture of her with the caption #GirlsNightOut.

This is an existential debate in soccer form. Messi brought the ball up and Boateng questioned the Argentine on the condition of the human soul. And Messi, without regard for the feelings of his fellow man, reminded Jerome that all things are meaningless in the end and that death comes to all men regardless if he is good or bad. As you can see, it plunged Jerome Boateng into such a personal crisis that his motor functions abandoned him.

School of Life video: Wittgenstein

Bravo, Bravo! Another superb video from The School of Life.

A lesson in opportunity cost


I thought I'd go for a saunter to McDonalds today. It's been such a long time since I've eaten one of their Filet O-Fish burgers; at around £2.80, the burger is more of a junk food luxury these days. On the way to the golden arches, I passed a charity store and popped in to look at the little shelf of classics.

Thinking of transactions in terms of second-hand book equivalence almost always results in a trip to the book shop.

I burgerlessly walked home carrying two books.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Book: The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera


The Unbearable Lightness of Being is a highly philosophical novel that I found to be very good in parts but a touch tiring in others. The story is packed to the rafters with introspective depth and meaning, and there are some great passages (see below). However, after a strong start I soon found myself impatiently waiting for the next quotable gem to rear up, instead of being absorbed in the story, which is never a good sign.

***

Quotes (my favourite flashes of brilliance)

The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?”

And then came the time I have just spoken of and see as the key to his life: Standing by the window, he looked out over the courtyard at the walls opposite him and deliberated.
Should he call her back to Prague for good? He feared the responsibility. If he invited her to come, then come she would, and offer him up her life.
Or should he refrain from approaching her? Then she would remain a waitress in a hotel restaurant of a provincial town and he would never see her again.
Did he want her to come or did he not?

One day Tereza came to him uninvited. One day she left the same way. She came with a heavy suitcase. She left with a heavy suitcase.
He paid the bill, left the restaurant, and started walking through the streets, his melancholy growing more and more beautiful. He had spent seven years of life with Tereza, and now he realised that those seven years were more attractive in retrospect than they were when he was living them.
His love for Tereza was beautiful, but it was also tiring: he had to constantly hide things from her, sham, dissemble, make amends, buck her up, calm her down, give her evidence of his feelings, play the defendent to her jealousy, her suffering and her dreams, feel guilty, make excuses and apologies. Now what was tiring had disappeared and only the beauty remained.

For seven years he had lived bound to her, his every step subject to her scrutiny. She might as well have chained iron balls to his ankles. Suddenly his step was much lighter. He soared. He head entered Pamenide's magic field: he was enjoying the sweet lightness of being.

During those two beautiful days of melancholy, his compassion...had taken a holiday. It had slept the sound Sunday sleep of a miner who, after a hard week's work, needs to gather strength for his Monday shift. ...
...On Saturday and Sunday, he felt the sweet lightness of being rise up to him out of the depths of the future. On Monday, he was hit by a weight the like of which he had never known. The tons of steel of the Russian tanks were nothing compared with it. Not even one's own pain weighs so heavy as the pain one feels with someone, for someone, a pain intensified by the imagination and prolonged by a hundred echoes.

...only necessity is heavy, and only what is heavy has value.

But how long would he have to be tortured by compassion? All his life? A year? Or a month? Or only a week?
How could he have known? How could he have gauged it? Any schoolboy can do experiments in the physics laboratory to test various scientific hypothesis. But man, because he has only one life to live, cannot conduct experiments to test whether to follow his passion (compassion) or not.

.... when we ignore the body we are more easily victimised by it.

That call meant a great deal, because it came from someone who knew neither her mother nor the drunks with their daily stereotypically scarbrous remarks. His outsider status raised him above the rest.
Something else raised him above the others as well: he had an open book on his table. No one had ever opened a book in that restaurant before. In Tereza's eyes, books were the emblems of a secret brotherhood. ...They not only offered the possibility of an imaginary escape from a life she found unsatisfying; they also had a meaning for her as physical objects: she loved to walk down the street with a book under her arm. ...Of course, she was too young to see how old-fashioned she looked to others. The young men walking by with transistor radios pressed to their ears seemed silly to her. It never occurred to her that they were modern.

What we have not chosen we cannot consider our merit or our failure.

Franz felt his book of life to be unreal. He yearned for real life, for the touch of people walking side by side with him, for their shouts. It never occurred to him that what he considered unreal (the work he did in the solitude of the office or library) was in fact his real life, whereas the parades he imagined to be reality were nothing but theater, dance, carnival...

It captiavted him (Franz). What does it mean to live in truth? Putting it negatively is easy enough: it means not lying, not hiding and not dissimulating....

The brain appears to possess a special area which we might call poetic memory and which records everything that charms or touches us, that makes our lives beautiful.

Book: Conversation by Theodore Zeldin



'Conversation' by Theodore Zeldin is a wonderfully thoughtful little book about the potential value of good conversation. As an aside, it turns out Zeldin himself is very soothing to listen to, his voice harking back to a previous era. Audio files of some of Zeldin's radio broadcasts can be found here.

Here is Zeldin talking about talking:

***3/4

Quotes

The kind of conversation I'm interested in is the one in which you start with a willingness to emerge a slightly different person.

What matters is whether you are able to think for yourself and to say what you think.

This new conversation was like vegetarian cooking: it convinced only a minority.

Ibsen revealed how people could be transformed by their dialogue. One of his characters says, "A change has come over me, and that change has come through you, through you alone.'

Nothing is more difficult than to acquire confidence without arrogance.

The family meal is made for stopping shop talk, and for mixing different kinds of talk. Conversation has to explore new territory to become an adventure.

Everywhere, the higher you climb up the hierarchy, the more time you spend discussing. ...But the more we talk about the less we can talk about with confidence. We have nearly all of us become experts, specialised in one activity. A professor of inorganic chemistry tells me that he can't understand what the professor of organic chemistry says. An economist openly admits that 'Learning to be an economist is like learning a foreign language, in which you talk about a rational world which exists only in theory.

But creativity needs to fuelled by more than polite chat.

Some people may be happy to be a cog in a machinem but others have a different idea of what it means to be a human being. For them, the education and jobs on offer have become too narrow.

Managers start as specialists, but as soon as they show signs of ability and get to the top, they become generalists, they have to understand the world as a whole, not just their speciality. But they are amateurs at being generalists: there is nowhere you can be trained to talk about everything, to be a Renassance Person.

At a medical congress in 1866 a doctor said, 'In the past, whenever one knew that one was going to pass several hours, and sometimes several days, in the company of others, one tried to establish a rapport with one's companions, that often lasted beyond the duration of the journey. Today, we no longer think about anything but the impatiently-awaited and soon reached destination.' And the sociologist Simmel wrote, 'Before the development of buses, trains and streetcards in the nineteenth century, peopel were quite unable to look at each other for minutes of hours at a time...without talking to each other.'

The really deprived are thise who say they have no imagination, or no sense of humour, which is almost the same thing. Dostoyesky claimed that it doesn't matter what people say, only how they laugh. It's true that you cannot be free or fully human until you laugh, because to laugh means to make your own judgement, to refuse to take things at their face value, but also not to take yourself too seriously.

I particularly value conversations which are meetings on the borderline of what I understand and what I don't, with people who are different from myself.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Book: Nabokov's Quartet by Vladimir Nabokov


This book contains four short stories and is a handy Nabokov taster ... it's a shame then, that only the starter in this meal is worthwhile. The first piece, titled 'An Affair of Honor', is a cracking story about a man who comes home to find that his friend has cheated on him, and in the heat of the moment he challenges his the guy to a duel. The challenge is an odd one as it is made at a time when honor carries less import than it once did, and when duelling is an illegal relic of a bygone era. The protagonist realises the error of his ways, and also that he is no match for his ex-friend. The man's  life quickly unravels before the reader, as he becomes a trembling ball of despair and cowardice.

When I started writing this post, I started sensing that I may have read Nabokov previously. Lo and behold, a quick blog search later and I discover that I did indeed read a short story by the author in 2013. And I absolutely hated it. My review ended with 'Avoid at all costs. Never again Nabokov, never ever again.' An Affair of Honor was his saving grace the second time around, but all in all, I think this is one dude who is seriously overrated.

Memorable quotes:

'In elderly people stranded not only outside the border of their country but outside that of their own lives, nostalgia evolves into an extraordinarily complex organ, which functions continuously, and its secretions compensates for all that has been lost; or else it becomes a fatal tumor on the soul that make it painful to breathe, sleep and associate with carefree foreigners.'

'He reflected that he had been condemned to live on the outskirts of life, that it had always been thus and always would be, and that, therefore, if death did not present him with an exit into true reality, he would simply never come to know life.'


Wednesday, May 06, 2015

What ho chaps, here are some quotes from the Jeeves and Wooster television series


Lady Glossop: Do you work, Mr. Wooster?
Bertie Wooster: What, work? As in honest toil, you mean? Hewing the wood and drawing the old wet stuff and so forth?
Lady Glossop: Quite.
Bertie Wooster: Well... I've known a few people who worked. Absolutely swear by it, some of them.

Bertie Wooster: Tell me, Jeeves, were you always like this, or did it come on suddenly?
Jeeves: Sir?
Bertie Wooster: The brain, the gray matter. Were you an outstandingly brilliant child?
Jeeves: My mother thought me intelligent, sir.
Bertie: Well, can't go by that. My mother thought me intelligent.

Rupert Steggles: I'm going inside. This fresh air is getting into my lungs.

Jeeves: [waking him up] Good morning, Mr. Wooster.
Bertie Wooster: What? What's the time?
Jeeves: Ten past nine, sir.
Bertie Wooster: [irritated] Ten past nine!? Is the building on fire?
Jeeves: Not that I've been informed, sir, no.

[about the white mess jacket]
Jeeves: I assumed it had got into your wardrobe by mistake, sir, or else that it has been placed there by your enemies.
Bertie Wooster: I will have you know, Jeeves, that I bought this in Cannes!
Jeeves: And wore it, sir?
Bertie Wooster: Every night at the Casino. Beautiful women used to try and catch my eye!
Jeeves: Presumably they thought you were a waiter, sir.

Bertie Wooster: But how could anything go wrong? All he had to do was propose.
Jeeves: So one would be disposed to imagine, sir. However, upon finding himself alone with the young lady, he confesses to having lost his nerve. In such circumstances, gentlemen frequently talk at random, sir, saying the first thing that chances to enter their head. This, in Mr. Fink-Nottle's case, would seem to have been the newt: its treatment in sickness and in health.
Bertie Wooster: Bad, Jeeves.
Jeeves: Yes, sir.
Bertie Wooster: And how long did he go on talking about newts?
Jeeves: According to Mr. Fink-Nottle, he supplied Miss Bassett with very full and complete information, sir.
Bertie Wooster: Very bad, Jeeves.
Jeeves: Indeed, sir.

Jeeves: Good morning, Mrs. Travers. Mr. Wooster asked me to say that he has gone to Switzerland.
Aunt Dahlia: Oh, piffle, Jeeves, get the blighter out of bed.
Jeeves: Very good, madam. [goes into Bertie's room] Mrs. Travers, sir.
Bertie Wooster: But, I thought I told you —
Jeeves: I'm afraid she seemed disinclined to believe me, sir

Stiffy Byng: Bertie, I think you're a pig!
Bertie Wooster: A pig, maybe. But a shrewd, level-headed pig. A pig who was not born yesterday and has seen a thing or two.

Roderick Spode: Ah, Jeeves! Glad to see you here. You're just the sort of person we need in the movement — the working masses. [Jeeves stiffens visibly in response to this comparison]
Jeeves: [coldly] I hesitate to contradict you, Mr. Spode, but the "working masses" and I have barely a nodding acquaintanceship. Good afternoon.

Bertie Wooster: Was that the doorbell, Jeeves?
Jeeves: It certainly gave that impression, sir.
Bertie Wooster: Well, who could that be at this time of night?
 Jeeves: I shall endeavor to ascertain, sir.

Bertie Wooster: Jeeves, unpleasantness has reared its ugly head in the West 1 postal district.

Jeeves: Feminine psychology is admittedly odd, sir. The poet Pope made frequent—
Bertie Wooster: Oh, never mind about the poet Pope, Jeeves.
Jeeves: No, sir.
Bertie Wooster: There are times when one wants to hear all about the poet Pope and times when one doesn't.
Jeeves: Very true, sir.

Jeeves: Foreign travel often liberates emotions best kept in check, sir, and the air of North America is notoriously stimulating in this regard, as witnessed by the regrettable behaviour of its inhabitants in 1776.
Bertie Wooster: What happened in 1776, Jeeves?
Jeeves: I prefer not to dwell on it, if it's convenient to you, sir.

[Bertie tries to steal the manuscript from Sir Watkyn's study]
Sir Watkyn Bassett: What are you doing here?
Bertie Wooster: Er ... dinner!
Sir Watkyn: Dinner? This isn't the dining room.
Bertie Wooster: Isn't it? Oh. Thought I could smell tapioca.
Sir Watkyn: The dining room's over there. You can't miss it. There are people having dinner in it.

Bertie Wooster: Aunt Dahlia! What ho, old blood relation!
Aunt Dahlia: [affectionately] Hello, Bertie, revolting young blot.

Bertie Wooster: If you ask me, Jeeves, art is responsible for most of the trouble in the world.
Jeeves: It's an interesting theory, sir. Would you care to expatiate upon it?
[pause]
Bertie Wooster: Well, as a matter of fact, no, Jeeves. The thought just occurred to me, as thoughts do.
Jeeves: Very good, sir.

Bertie Wooster: This is a bit steep, Jeeves.
Jeeves: Approaching the perpendicular, sir.

Sir Watkyn Bassett: Perhaps you have hidden depths, Wooster, is that it?
Bertie Wooster: I don't think so. No one's ever mentioned it, anyway.

Bertie Wooster: Something up with the bath?
Jeeves: The water appears reluctant to drain, sir.
Bertie Wooster: Oh. Pulled the plug out, have you?
Jeeves: That was amongst the first things I thought of, sir.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Arnold Schwarzenegger's philosophy from 'Blueprint to Cut' video


You can find the wisest of words in the oddest of places. When I watched this video made Bodybuilding.com, I had to grab my notebook and pen almost immediately.



Here are my scribblings:
  • The mind-muscle connection is important.
  • The biggest mistake people make is that they go to the gym and then 'go through the motions'. They don't have their 'mind inside the muscle'.
  • Concentrate.
  • Arnie talks about observing people who looked like they were bored, like they didn't want to be there, like they didn't even know why they were training. They were not 'inside the bicep', or 'inside the lat muscle' when they did rowing exercises.
  • Arnie would do donkey calf raises with three people on his back and he would be thinking that he's got to be 'inside the calf' to make them split.
  • You have to feel the muscles.
  • When Arnie and his comrades went to the gym, they would go in, drop their bag and hit the work-out.
  • Rest is good but not the kind of rest when you wander off to make a phone call, which takes you out of the zone (it's hard to get back in it). You train or you don't.
  • If you do something, then do it, go all out.
  • Everyone has a favourite exercise. Different exercises suit different people. 
  • What are you more hungry for is really the question. To eat and look like everyone else or becoming Mr Olympia.
  • Have a deadline. Having a deadline in mind channels and focuses your energy, whether it's a body building competition or a movie, or looking good for the summer. It doesn't matter. You need a sense of urgency.
  • If you don't have a specific plan, then you wander around. You can have the best ship or plane in the world but if you don't have a specific plan of where you want to go and when you want to get there, you just drift around and you never get anywhere. 
  • Have a vision. People rarely become successful by accident. Some people may have struck gold in the California gold rush, but don't rely on it.
  • Sit down, take your time, and figure out what you want to do. This is what motivates you. It helps you enjoy it and look forward to the challenge of working towards it.
  • Every rep and every set gets you one step closer to making your vision a reality.
  • Arnie lacked confidence as a youngster, but when he won his first and second little trophies, it made him feel like a somebody. Every little victory builds you up.
  • Public speaking. He would admire Reg Park, a body builder who would give long speeches after the competitions. Park encourages Arnie to start saying a few words by feeding him lines. Over time, Arnie became confident in speaking. 
  • Time management: The hours were too precious to waste. Of the 24 hours available, Arnie didn't want to waste a single one. When the president of America and the pope have time to work out, then you have the time to work out. You make the time.
  • Not everyone has the desire to be a champion, not everyone has the desire to stand on stage and win Mr. Olympia and all the titles, no, but you can apply the same principles
  • On training: Sometimes the body will hit a wall due to the known routine. You have to shock it with different reps, weights, etc. When you hit a wall, change things up and keep the body guessing and adapting.