Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Book: The Wrench by Primo Levi

For the most part 'The Wrench' is a pretty good read, even if doesn't live up to the hype of the quotes on the back cover - 'a masterpiece of quiet patience', 'one of the sanest, most experienced and wisest books I've ever read', and 'transforms molecules and ball bearings into romantic fairy-tales'. The last one from Vogue magazine just feels completely off the mark. It almost feels like these guys read a different book.

'The Wrench' is simple book in which an industrial chemist (this character is effectively Primo Levi, who was a chemist as well as a writer) is working in a remote factory and finds himself sitting down in the evenings with another fellow Italian by the name of Faussone;  he listens to Faussone's many stories of life as a journeying rigger with interest, occasionally chiming in with a comment about his own experiences as a writer and as a chemist. The story is an ode to manual work, to having a skill which which you can create something tangible, and to finding a kind of meaning in doing good work. However, it isn't a romanticised, idealised view of manual work but is dirty and hands on, dealing with the realities of elements such as rough weather conditions, incompetents, bad planning, etc.

I found the first hundred pages of the book quite interesting but lost interest in the middle portion and skipped around thirty odd pages. I'm glad for having kept on though, because the book picks up toward the end, particularly as the story shifts to the chemist's story of when he worked on an enamel food coating for tins and had to investigate a large order from the Soviets which went awry for some mysterious reason, leading to an industrial dispute.



Yes, welding was important, I couldn't say why. Maybe because it's not natural work, specially autogenous welding: it doesn't imitate nature, it doesn't resemble any other work; your head and your hands and your eyes have to learn to work on their own, the eyes particularly, because when you put the mask over your eyes to protect you against the light, you see only black, and in the black the little glowing worm of the welding seam that advances, and it has to keep advancing at the same speed. You can't even see your hands, but if you don't it all just right and you're even a little bit off, instead of welding you make a hold. The fact is after I felt sure of myself as a welder, I felt sure of myself in everything, even the way I walked.

...you know the old saying: error is such an ugly animal, nobody wants it in the house.

...he said the bosses bread had seven crusts, and it's better an eel's head than a sturgeon's tail.

 How obstinate is the optical illusion that always makes our neighbour's troubles look less severe than our own and his job more loveable! I answered that it was hard to make comparisons; but, in any case, having done jobs similar to his, I had to grant him that to work sitting down, in a heated place and at ground level, is quite an advantage; but aside from this, assuming I could speak in the name of actual writers, we have our bad days too. In fact, we have them more often, because it's easier to see if a piece of metal structure is 'right on the bubble' than a written page...if a page is wrong the reader notices, and by then it is too late, and the situation is bad, also because that page is your work, only yours: you have no excuses or pretexts; you are totally resposible.

Angsty grafitti at Berkhamstead train station

Friday, March 27, 2015

Nature goes beyond the genome with epigenetics

The science journal "Nature" has a put together a special page on epigenetics. They also made this pretty cool video, explaining the concept. I find this stuff fascinating.

"epigenetics collectively describes changes in the regulation of gene expression that can be passed on to a cell’s progeny but are not due to changes to the nucleotide sequence of the gene."

"Tackling disease using information on the genome alone has been like trying to work with one hand tied behind the back. The new trove of epigenomic data frees the other hand. It will not provide all the answers. But it could help researchers decide which questions to ask."

Book: What Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes and How to Correct Them by Gary Belsky and Thomas Gilovich

This book is like many other in the field of armchair behavioural finance in that it offers little by way of new ideas. That said, it's well worth a browse as it serves as a well written reminder of our biases and is also a pretty quick read.

The authors remind us that we not the rational, optimising decision-makers we often think we are, and that the reality is that we are pretty odd creatures who often take to using use overly simplified programming to make our decisions, which can result in sub-optimal decisions and outcomes. In addition to the all too distorting human factors such as greed, bad habits, guilt, fear and peer pressure, a lot of our choices are framed in ways that latch on to these weaknesses instead of encouraging objective assessments. While the book focuses on the financial side of things, many ideas in this realm of behavioural finance apply equally well to decision making more broadly.


A few scribbles:
  • Kahneman and Tversky refer to the simplifying procedures as mental short-cuts or 'judgemental heuristics'. e.g. the instinctive thought that a long line at a restaurant indicates that it is good, or that when buying a house it's a good idea to stretch your budget (peer pressure).
  • The Legend of the Man in Green Bathrobe - illustrates an example of mental accounting i.e. valuing some dollars more than others e.g. when you lose money you've won vs money from your wallet. Authors say it is anathema to traditional economics, which holds that money should be 'fungible' (capable of mutual substitution). Similarly for 'gift' money, 'earned' money, money allocated to different actual or mental accounts or moving it from one mental account to another (e.g. tax rebate is earned money but it often goes in the 'found' money pot) ... shouldn't it should be interchangeable?
  • Another example of mental accounting: Going to another store to save £5 on a $20 item, but not going to another store to save £5 on a $10,000 item.
  • Spending on plastic is very different to spending hard cash. It seems to devalue the money being spent. You end up more likely to spend, and when you do spend, you are more likely to spend more.
  • For people who can't control their spending, mental accounting can often be an effective way to ensure the essentials get paid.
  • Tip: See the trees for the forest. Break every purchase down to its component parts, and if you wouldn't pay for that component, don't value it. 
  • Tip: Wait: Sitting on windfall money for a while turns it in to your 'earned' money.
  • Tip: Imagine all income is earned income. The best way to train yourself to view all money equally. Ask how long it would take to earn this money after taxes.
  • People exhibit a 'status quo' bias,  a preference for things to stay as they are. 
  • People display an inability to forget money that's already been spent (sunk cost fallacy), which makes us more likely to throw good money after bad.
  • Loss aversion: Gamblers have a tendency to increase their bets when chance is not going their way. They are willing to take a larger risk to avoid ending up in the red. They feel more strongly about the pain that comes with a loss than they do about the pleasure that comes with an equal gain. Loss aversion can lead us in to holding on to losers longer than we should (it's only a paper loss until its realised), and it makes us more likely to sell our winners too early.
  • Don't be fooled into thinking of the stock market as a steadily rising entity. Most of the gains come from a few days in the year. The stock market is like a war, long periods of boredom interrupted by episodes of pure terror. Tip: Focus on the big picture.
  • People seem to fall prey to the sunk cost fallacy partly because they don't want to appear wasteful, not necessarily to other people but to themselves (we are our own judges of our finances). e.g. spending more and more money on a knackered car, or terminating a project late in its development. Tip: Forget the past.
  • Most people are not keen to admit they suffer from any of this psychological biases.
  • The pain of two moderately bad experiences (e.g. tax forms, etc) will typically exceed the pain of experiencing them together. Tip: Do them together.
  • 'There are not only sins of commission, but sins of omission as well.' The more choices you face in life, the more likely you are to do nothing > decision paralysis and status quo bias. Tip: Put yourself on autopilot where appropriate e.g. monthly direct debit into a share scheme vs an annual decision.  
  • Tip: When contemplating decisions, think about the opportunity cost (often there is a better alternative than doing nothing).
  • Money illusion: ignoring inflation. It can cloud your vision on the longer horizon, when inflation can comprise the bulk of an asset's gains.
  • Odds are you don't know what the odds are. What's the odds of rolling 1,2,3,4,5,6 vs 3,2,4,5,3,3? They are the same. After Jaws came out, less people swam in the ocean. After 9/11 more people in the US travelled by land vs plane. Insurance tip. Insure against the big losses (e.g. house insurance) but not the small stuff such as mobile phones.
  • Don't forget survivorship bias. The evidence is that the majority of self-investors lose money.
  • People tend to underestimate the role of chance in every day life.
  • 10% of funds are likely to beat the average for three years in a row, by chance alone. Past performance is the most common criteria people use to select mutual funds. Tip: Don't be impressed by short-term success. 
  • Chance plays a greater role than you think. Tip: Play the averages.
  • We also tend to disregard the expense ratios.
  • Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in a while. 
  • "Anchoring", the clinging to a fact or figure that should have no bearing on your judgements or decisions, is compounded by "confirmation bias", treating kindly information that supports your preferences. (paired with confirmation bias is "disinformation bias", which is when you avoid asking questions that may challenge your preconceptions.) Tip: Get it out paper, make a quadrant and list the pros and cons of the choices.
  • Confirmation bias and anchoring is helpful in explaining the old wisdom about first impressions. Once an idea sets in your head, it can be difficult to change.
  • These biases distort your impressions subconsciously, more than if you were able to view choices purely objectively, and sales and marketing people exploit this. e.g. seeing a high price selection of goods, and then seeing a cheaper option may make it look like a good deal.
  • When it comes to investing in shares, we tend to look at past price highs when assessing whether a stock looks like good value.
  • Pulling up an anchor is harder than you might think.
  • Tip: Be humble (confidently not knowing)
  • Lake Wobegon effect: Garrison Keillor's fictional community where 'all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.'
  • We need overconfidence for the economy to flourish > entrepreneurs.
  • Overconfidence can often lead to the 'planning fallacy', the inability to complete tasks to schedule.
  • We don't learn well enough from our mistakes.
  • We remember our successes but forget our failures > distorts views on abilities etc. It's a case of 'heads I win, tails it's luck'.
  • Tune out the noise.
 Principles to Ponder

-  Every dollar spends the same.
- Losses hurt more than gains please.
- Money that's spent is money that doesn't matter (i.e. past mistakes shouldn't lead to future mistakes).
- You probably pay attention to things that matter too little (certain facts, figures, etc).
- Your confidence is often misplaced.
- It's hard to admit mistakes.
- The trend may not be your friend.
- You can know too much. Illusory information can be destructive (noise).

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Film: The Twilight Samurai (2002)

This Japanese movie has a special quality about it. The Twilight Samurai sounds like it could be a typical B-movie slasher film but it is anything but. There are just a couple of fight scenes and the focus is much more on the humble Seibei Iguchi and his relationships and obligations. The protagonist doesn't have much and doesn't ask for much, but much ends up being asked of him. Seibei is expertly played by Hiroyuki Sanada, an actor who pops up in US movies and tv series every now and then and who I first saw in The Last Samurai. This is one when you're in the mood for something a little more contemplative.


Hopper-esque picture

This is the petrol station I see across the road from my office. When I'm working nights, the forecourt is lit up in a sea of quiet darkness, emanating the kind of loneliness and solitude that Edward Hopper elegantly captured in his paintings. The snap is a bit fuzzy because it was taken with my old Nokia 'brick' phone, a last minute grab before I left the office for one last time (we are moving to a new place).

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

How to Make a Vision Board

I'm currently doing the grave-yard shift (10pm to 7am) at work and have a couple of dead hours when I can either lay back and catch some zzz's or do something productive, like say make a "Vision Board" to get in tune with my Ultra Spiritual self and manifest my abundant future:

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Book: The World of Jeeves

The "World of Jeeves" is P.G. Wodehouse's first omnibus or 'solid-slab'. It is a compendium of Jeeves & Wooster stories that weighs in at a hefty 780 odd pages, although the dizzying height of the book should not deter the potential reader. Each story stands pretty much alone and runs between 20 to 30 pages on average, which happens to be about spot on the length of one of my typical reading sessions. 

My favourite stories from the collection:

- The Inferiority Complex of Old Sippy
- Jeeves and the Unbidden Guest
- The Aunt and the Sluggard
- Purity of the Turf

While there is much repetition in the plots of the stories, the beautiful use of language keeps the reader coming back for more. For example, in Wodehouse's world people don't simply enter in to rooms, they flow, trickle, drift, or pour themselves into a room, and they sail out.

As an aside, when I was about midway through this book, I started watching the classic ITV series of Jeeves & Wooster featuring Stephen Fry and High Laurie, and from that point onward I couldn't help but to picture the two actors as the characters, which is no bad thing - they are brilliant in these roles.


Quotes and other bits


I don't know if you know that sort of feeling you get on those days around about the end of April and the beginning of May, when the sky's a light blue with cotton-wool clouds and there's a bit of a breeze blowing from the west? Kind of uplifted feeling. Romantic, if you know what I mean. I’m not much of a ladies’ man, but on this particular morning it seemed to me that what I really wanted was some charming girl to buzz up and ask me to save her from assassins or something.


'What ho!' I said.
'What ho!', said Motty.
'What ho! What ho!
'What ho! What ho! What ho!'
After that is seemed rather difficult to go on with the conversation.


Motty: 'I've got about a month of New York, and I mean to store up a few happy memories for the long winter evenings. This is my only chance to collect a past, and I'm going to do it.'


I could stand this all right after dinner, and even after lunch; but before breakfast, no. We Woosters are amiability itself, but there is a limit.


'I have been wounded to the very depths of my soul, but don't speak about it.'
'I won't.'
'Ignore it. Forget it.'


Nobody is more alive than I am to the fact that young Bingo Little is in many respect a sound old egg; but I must say there are things about him that could be improved.


He's lost his pep. He's got no dash.


..a trifle too much for a fellow like me who wants to jog along peacefully though life.


'That is the line of attach,' said Bingo. 'That is the scheme'


I made up my mind that I would pop back and do the strong, manly thing by lying low in my flat and telling Jeeves to tell everybody who called that I wasn't at home.


I nodded myself. I hadn't had my eight hours the night before, and what you might call a lethargy was showing a tendency to steal over me from time to time


This afternoon I went to sit in the garden, and she popped up through a trap and was in my midst. This evening she cornered me in the morning room. It's getting so that, when I have a bath, I wouldn't be a bit surprised to find her nestling in the soap dish.


'What's to be done, Jeeves?'
'We must think, sir.'
'You think. I haven't the machinery.'


'What do ties matter, Jeeves, at a time like this? Do you realise that Mr. Little's domestic happiness is hanging in the scale?'
'There is not time, sir, at which ties do not matter.'


..there is one department of life in which I am Hawkshaw the detective in person. I can recognise Love's Young Dream more quickly than any other bloke of my weight and age in the Metropolis.


Bend you brain to the problem, Jeeves. It is one that will tax you the uttermost.


Of the trouble and nervous strain which this will involve, I say nothing.


How many tins of sardines did you eat, Jeeves?
None, sir. I am not fond of sardines.
You mean, you thought of this great, this ripe, this amazing scheme entirely without the impetus given to the brain by fish?
Yes, sit.
You stand alone, Jeeves.
Thank you, sir.


...you've got it admit, the man can plan a campaign. Napoleon could have taken his correspondence course.


Very good sir, Pardon me, sir, are you proposing to appear in those garments in public.


I've had enough of it. From now on I assert my personality.


It never does to expose the these brain waves to the public eye before you've examined them from every angle.


...it is not too late for you to be saved. You have only sipped of the cup of evil. You have not drained it.


There are the times that try men's souls.


Young Bingo is long and thin and hasn't had a superfluous ounce on him since we met; but the uncle restored the average and a bit over.


The method which I advocate is what, I believe, the advertisers call the Direct Suggestion


And some choice snippets:

'..drinking each other in'
'if you examine it squarely'
'we Woosters are old campaigners'
we can take the rough with the smooth
stirred to the core
hang it all!
we were full of beans
Become 'unstitched'
The small hours
brooding over
to restore his tissues
a trifle agitated
that scheme has blown a fuse
improving books
instructing book
It's rummy how...
A rum thing indeed
Dash it
What absolute rot!
Restoring the physique
Sound notion
..above the common herd
A man's faculties
The Younger Set
Couldn't stick the thing
Knee deep in the bouillon
hard-boiled egg
in the soup
the ancestral home
a reduced sort of state

Monday, March 23, 2015

Liquiglide - the pouring things out game done gone changed

Life is about to get a little bit better. Here is an an example of the technology:

Ketchup Bottle w/ LiquiGlide Coating from LiquiGlide on Vimeo.

Here is a story in the New York Times, and here is the company website.

And here is an old classic ketchup advert featuring Matt Le Blanc. The selling point was "the best things come to those who wait".

Added new comic to the weekly reading: ConnieWonnie

ConnieWonnie knocks out some pretty cool comics. I'm liking the slightly existential, heavily introverted theme:

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Dictionary of Sorrows

While watching an episode of V-Sauce, I learned about The Dicitonary of Obscure Sorrows. The idea is great to "a compendium of invented words written by John Koenig. Each original definition aims to fill a hole in the language—to give a name to emotions we all might experience but don’t yet have a word for". The web-site already has a decent archive of carefully considered entries.The videos are the highlight. I fear I am going to lose many hours of my life wandering these shores (is there a word for that John?).

This guy should be part of The School of Life.

The introductory video:

An example: "Onism"

Lessons from people on the way out

In listening to the dying we can learn a great deal about how to live.

Oliver Sacks, who recently discovered that he has terminal cancer, has written a thoughtful piece in the New York Times. His comment about deliberate detachment has a Buddhist ring to it. Here are my favourite quotes from the article.
... one line from Hume’s essay strikes me as especially true: “It is difficult,” he wrote, “to be more detached from life than I am at present.”

Over the last few days, I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts. This does not mean I am finished with life.

On the contrary, I feel intensely alive.

...I feel a sudden clear focus and perspective. There is no time for anything inessential. I must focus on myself, my work and my friends. I shall no longer look at “NewsHour” every night. I shall no longer pay any attention to politics or arguments about global warming.

This is not indifference but detachment — I still care deeply about the Middle East, about global warming, about growing inequality, but these are no longer my business; they belong to the future.

....I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.
Elsewhere, neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi has written about his altered perception of time when he learned that he also had cancer (he has recently passed away). Here are some quotes from his articles and from the video which accompanied one the articles:
I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed both nothing and everything. Before my cancer was diagnosed, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. After the diagnosis, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. But now I knew it acutely. The problem wasn’t really a scientific one. The fact of death is unsettling. Yet there is no other way to live.
Clocks are now kind of irrelevant to me," he says. "Time, where it used to have kind of a linear progression feel to it, now feels more like a space."
In residency, there’s a saying: The days are long, but the years are short. 
... Perhaps later than I think, but certainly sooner than I desire. There are, I imagine, two responses to that realization. The most obvious might be an impulse to frantic activity: to “live life to its fullest,” to travel, to dine, to achieve a host of neglected ambitions. Part of the cruelty of cancer, though, is not only that it limits your time, it also limits your energy, vastly reducing the amount you can squeeze into a day. It is a tired hare who now races. But even if I had the energy, I prefer a more tortoiselike approach. I plod, I ponder, some days I simply persist.

... Everyone succumbs to finitude. I suspect I am not the only one who reaches this pluperfect state. Most ambitions are either achieved or abandoned; either way, they belong to the past. The future, instead of the ladder toward the goals of life, flattens out into a perpetual present. Money, status, all the vanities the preacher of Ecclesiastes described, hold so little interest: a chasing after wind, indeed.

Another great video by Hans Rosling on our ignorance about the state of the world

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Books read while holidaying in Dubai (3 of 3)

The last in the series. That sure was a lot of reading!

The Way to Willpower by Henry Hazzlitt

There was some really good content here, reinforcing the belief that the modern 'self-help' section in book stores offers very little by way of new findings. 


I'm going to have to re-read this one day, in order to post choice quotes, which I didn't note at the time....bah!


The Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okajura (1906)

This was an unexpected gem of a book. It is meditative, calming, and thoughtfully appreciative. I really shouldn't have been coffee when I was reading it!


- Teaism is a cult founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence.

- Those who cannot feel the littleness of great things in themselves are apt to overlook the greatness of little things in others.

-  Unfortunately the Western attitude is unfavourable to the understanding of the East. The Christian missionary goes to impart, but not to receive.

- You have gained expansion at the cost of restlessness; we have created a harmony which is weak against aggression.

-  England welcomed it in 1650 and spoke of it as "That excellent and by all physicians approved China drink, called by the Chineans Tcha, and by other nations Tay, alias Tee."

- The beverage soon became a necessity of life--a taxable matter. We are reminded in this connection what an important part it plays in modern history. Colonial America resigned herself to oppression until human endurance gave way before the heavy duties laid on Tea. American independence dates from the throwing of tea-chests into Boston harbour.

- Like Art, Tea has its periods and its schools. Its evolution may be roughly divided into three main stages: the Boiled Tea, the Whipped Tea, and the Steeped Tea. We moderns belong to the last school.

- By the fourth and fifth centuries Tea became a favourite beverage among the inhabitants of the Yangtse-Kiang valley....Yet the method of drinking tea at this stage was primitive in the extreme. The leaves were steamed, crushed in a mortar, made into a cake, and boiled together with rice, ginger, salt, orange peel, spices, milk, and sometimes with onions! The custom obtains at the present day among the Thibetans and various Mongolian tribes, who make a curious syrup of these ingredients. The use of lemon slices by the Russians, who learned to take tea from the Chinese caravansaries, points to the survival of the ancient method.

-  With Luwuh in the middle of the eighth century we have our first apostle of tea. He was born in an age when Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism were seeking mutual synthesis....Luwuh, a poet, saw in the Tea-service the same harmony and order which reigned through all things. In his celebrated work, the "Chaking" (The Holy Scripture of Tea) he formulated the Code of Tea. He has since been worshipped as the tutelary god of the Chinese tea merchants.

-  According to him the best quality of the leaves must have "creases like the leathern boot of Tartar horsemen, curl like the dewlap of a mighty bullock, unfold like a mist rising out of a ravine, gleam like a lake touched by a zephyr, and be wet and soft like fine earth newly swept by rain."

- Luwuh describes the method of making tea....According to him, the mountain spring is the best, the river water and the spring water come next in the order of excellence. There are three stages of boiling: the first boil is when the little bubbles like the eye of fishes swim on the surface; the second boil is when the bubbles are like crystal beads rolling in a fountain; the third boil is when the billows surge wildly in the kettle. The Cake-tea is roasted before the fire until it becomes soft like a baby's arm and is shredded into powder between pieces of fine paper. Salt is put in the first boil, the tea in the second. At the third boil, a dipperful of cold water is poured into the kettle to settle the tea and revive the "youth of the water." Then the beverage was poured into cups and drunk. O nectar! The filmy leaflet hung like scaly clouds in a serene sky or floated like waterlilies on emerald streams. It was of such a beverage that Lotung, a Tang poet, wrote: "The first cup moistens my lips and throat, the second cup breaks my loneliness, the third cup searches my barren entrail but to find therein some five thousand volumes of odd ideographs. The fourth cup raises a slight perspiration,--all the wrong of life passes away through my pores. At the fifth cup I am purified; the sixth cup calls me to the realms of the immortals. The seventh cup--ah, but I could take no more! I only feel the breath of cool wind that rises in my sleeves. Where is Horaisan? Let me ride on this sweet breeze and waft away thither."

- In the Sung dynasty the whipped tea came into fashion and created the second school of Tea. The leaves were ground to fine powder in a small stone mill, and the preparation was whipped in hot water by a delicate whisk made of split bamboo.

-   The Taoist conception that immortality lay in the eternal change permeated all their modes of thought. It was the process, not the deed, which was interesting. It was the completing, not the completion, which was really vital. Man came thus at once face to face with nature. A new meaning grew into the art of life. The tea began to be not a poetical pastime, but one of the methods of self-realisation.

-  Tea is now taken by steeping the leaves in hot water in a bowl or cup. The reason why the Western world is innocent of the older method of drinking tea is explained by the fact that Europe knew it only at the close of the Ming dynasty.

- Japan, which followed closely on the footsteps of Chinese civilisation, has known the tea in all its three stages.

- It is in the Japanese tea ceremony that we see the culmination of tea-ideals.

-  The beverage grew to be an excuse for the worship of purity and refinement, a sacred function at which the host and guest joined to produce for that occasion the utmost beatitude of the mundane.

- (Taoist) We must know the whole play in order to properly act our part.. This Laotse illustrates by his favourite metaphor of the Vacuum. He claimed that only in vacuum lay the truly essential. The reality of a room, for instance, was to be found in the vacant space enclosed by the roof and the walls, not in the roof and walls themselves. The usefulness of a water pitcher dwelt in the emptiness where water might be put, not in the form of the pitcher or the material of which it was made.

- The size of the orthodox tea-room, which is four mats and a half, or ten feet square, is determined by a passage in the Sutra of Vikramadytia. In that interesting work, Vikramadytia welcomes the Saint Manjushiri and eighty-four thousand disciples of Buddha in a room of this size,--an allegory based on the theory of the non-existence of space to the truly enlightened. Again the roji, the garden path which leads from the machiai to the tea-room, signified the first stage of meditation,--the passage into self-illumination. The roji was intended to break connection with the outside world, and produce a fresh sensation conducive to the full enjoyment of aestheticism in the tea-room itself. One who has trodden this garden path cannot fail to remember how his spirit, as he walked in the twilight of evergreens over the regular irregularities of the stepping stones, beneath which lay dried pine needles, and passed beside the moss-covered granite lanterns, became uplifted above ordinary thoughts. One may be in the midst of a city, and yet feel as if he were in the forest far away from the dust and din of civilisation. Great was the ingenuity displayed by the tea-masters in producing these effects of serenity and purity.

- Then he will bend low and creep into the room through a small door not more than three feet in height. This proceeding was incumbent on all guests,--high and low alike,--and was intended to inculcate humility.

-  The mellowness of age is over all, everything suggestive of recent acquirement being tabooed save only the one note of contrast furnished by the bamboo dipper and the linen napkin, both immaculately white and new. However faded the tea-room and the tea-equipage may seem, everything is absolutely clean. Not a particle of dust will be found in the darkest corner, for if any exists the host is not a tea-master. One of the first requisites of a tea-master is the knowledge of how to sweep, clean, and wash, for there is an art in cleaning and dusting. A piece of antique metal work must not be attacked with the unscrupulous zeal of the Dutch housewife. Dripping water from a flower vase need not be wiped away, for it may be suggestive of dew and coolness.

-  Thus it will be seen that the system of decoration in our tea-rooms is opposed to that which obtains in the West, where the interior of a house is often converted into a museum. To a Japanese, accustomed to simplicity of ornamentation and frequent change of decorative method, a Western interior permanently filled with a vast array of pictures, statuary, and bric-a-brac gives the impression of mere vulgar display of riches. It calls for a mighty wealth of appreciation to enjoy the constant sight of even a masterpiece, and limitless indeed must be the capacity for artistic feeling in those who can exist day after day in the midst of such confusion of color and form as is to be often seen in the homes of Europe and America.

-  The Taoist and Zen conception of perfection, however, was different. The dynamic nature of their philosophy laid more stress upon the process through which perfection was sought than upon perfection itself. True beauty could be discovered only by one who mentally completed the incomplete. The virility of life and art lay in its possibilities for growth. In the tea-room it is left for each guest in imagination to complete the total effect in relation to himself.

- In the tea-room the fear of repetition is a constant presence. The various objects for the decoration of a room should be so selected that no colour or design shall be repeated. If you have a living flower, a painting of flowers is not allowable. If you are using a round kettle, the water pitcher should be angular. A cup with a black glaze should not be associated with a tea-caddy of black laquer. In placing a vase of an incense burner on the tokonoma, care should be taken not to put it in the exact centre, lest it divide the space into equal halves. The pillar of the tokonoma should be of a different kind of wood from the other pillars, in order to break any suggestion of monotony in the room.

- In this democratic age of ours men clamour for what is popularly considered the best, regardless of their feelings. They want the costly, not the refined; the fashionable, not the beautiful. To the masses, contemplation of illustrated periodicals, the worthy product of their own industrialism, would give more digestible food for artistic enjoyment than the early Italians or the Ashikaga masters, whom they pretend to admire. The name of the artist is more important to them than the quality of the work. As a Chinese critic complained many centuries ago, "People criticise a picture by their ear." It is this lack of genuine appreciation that is responsible for the pseudo-classic horrors that to-day greet us wherever we turn.

- We classify too much and enjoy too little.

- Those of us who know not the secret of properly regulating our own existence on this tumultuous sea of foolish troubles which we call life are constantly in a state of misery while vainly trying to appear happy and contented. We stagger in the attempt to keep our moral equilibrium, and see forerunners of the tempest in every cloud that floats on the horizon. Yet there is joy and beauty in the roll of billows as they sweep outward toward eternity. Why not enter into their spirit, or, like Liehtse, ride upon the hurricane itself? 


Letters to England by Voltaire

I'm a big fan of Candide by Voltaire but found his letters to be a complete let down. It was worth a try.


- 'Zounds!'

- A trading nation is always watchful over its own interestsm and grasps at every discovery that may be of advantage to commerce.

- Before his time (of Locke), several great philosophers had declared, in the most positive terms, what the soul of man is; but as these knew absolutely nothing about it, they might very well be allowed to differ entirely in opinion from one another.

- Men naturally improve upon every system.


A Man of Means by P.G Wodehouse

What ho! Because you can never read enough of the good man's work.


- And a capital report it was.

- The only thing that can stop a triumphal progress like Mr. Windlebird's is when some coarse person refuses to play to the rules, and demands ready money instead of shares in the next venture. This had happened now, and it had flattened Mr. Windlebird like an avalanche.

- 'It's wonderful, the effect money in the raw has on people.'

- one must possess dash

- other sterling qualities

- Here, for the space of a week, Roland lay in hiding, while his quivering nerves gradually recovered tone.

- ..man of dash and enteprise

- The infusion of capital into the business acted on him like a powerful stimulant. He exuded ideas at every pore.

- 'I of course, can always support my declining years with literary work, but - '


A Wodehouse Miscellany by P.G Wodehouse

A final drop of that Wodehouse tonic!


- "It's not what I'm doing, it's what I am _not_ doing that matters."

- "But, Reggie, this is genius. You have hit on the greatest idea of the age. You might extend this system of yours." "I do. Some of the jolliest evenings I have spent have been not at the theatre." "I have often wondered what it was that made you look so fit and happy."

- It was one of those still evenings you get in the summer, when you can hear a snail clear its throat a mile away.

- I poured myself into a chair.

And to finish, here is the first meeting between Jeeves and Wooster:

- "If you would drink this, sir," he said, with a kind of bedside manner, rather like the royal doctor shooting the bracer into the sick prince.

 "It is a little preparation of my own invention. It is the Worcester Sauce that gives it its colour. The raw egg makes it nutritious. The red pepper gives it its bite. Gentlemen have told me they have found it extremely invigorating after a late evening."

I would have clutched at anything that looked like a life-line that morning. I swallowed the stuff. For a moment I felt as if somebody had touched off a bomb inside the old bean and was strolling down my throat with a lighted torch, and then everything seemed suddenly to get all right. The sun shone in through the window; birds twittered in the tree-tops; and, generally speaking, hope dawned once more.

"You're engaged!" I said, as soon as I could say anything. I perceived clearly that this cove was one of the world's wonders, the sort no home should be without.

 "Thank you, sir. My name is Jeeves."

"You can start in at once?"

"Immediately, sir."

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A surplus of information and a deficit of attention ... I thought I'd prove the argument with facts

From Google ngram, a nifty little tool which searches for the incidence of words by scanning thousands of texts over a defined period. 


Here's another one I thought I'd put together.

The high occurrence of witches is a little odd.

gun-toting cat ninja riding a unicorn

this is the new amazing wallpaper on my laptop:

Monday, March 16, 2015

Books read while holidaying in Dubai (2 of 3)

This is the second post reviewing books I read while out in Dubai. I've extended this to three posts instead of two because there are way too many quotes to post in a single entry. The joy of reading so many old books is that the language is often delicious, even if the books on the whole don't add to very much.

The Art of Money Making (or Golden Rules for Making Money) by P.T Barnum

This was a real surprise. What I thought would be pure hokum turned out to be capital, capital!


Quotes, and there's quite a few of 'em:

- A few years ago, before kerosene oil was discovered or thought of, one might stop overnight at almost any farmer's house in the agricultural districts and get a very good supper, but after supper he might attempt to read in the sitting-room, and would find it impossible with the inefficient light of one candle.  ... but the information which might be derived from having the extra light would, of course, far outweigh a ton of candles.

-  True economy consists in always making the income exceed the out-go. Wear the old clothes a little longer if necessary; dispense with the new pair of gloves; mend the old dress: live on plainer food if need be; so that, under all circumstances, unless some unforeseen accident occurs, there will be a margin in favor of the income.

- Here is a recipe which I recommend: I have found it to work an excellent cure for extravagance, and especially for mistaken economy: When you find that you have no surplus at the end of the year, and yet have a good income, I advise you to take a few sheets of paper and form them into a book and mark down every item of expenditure. Post it every day or week in two columns, one headed "necessaries" or even "comforts", and the other headed "luxuries," and you will find that the latter column will be double, treble, and frequently ten times greater than the former. The real comforts of life cost but a small portion of what most of us can earn. Dr. Franklin says "it is the eyes of others and not our own eyes which ruin us. If all the world were blind except myself I should not care for fine clothes or furniture."

-  It needs no prophet to tell us that those who live fully up to their means, without any thought of a reverse in this life, can never attain a pecuniary independence.

-  Many persons, as they begin to prosper, immediately expand their ideas and commence expending for luxuries, until in a short time their expenses swallow up their income, and they become ruined in their ridiculous attempts to keep up appearances, and make a "sensation."

- The safest plan, and the one most sure of success for the young man starting in life, is to select the vocation which is most congenial to his tastes.

- After securing the right vocation, you must be careful to select the proper location. You may have been cut out for a hotel keeper, and they say it requires a genius to "know how to keep a hotel." You might conduct a hotel like clock-work, and provide satisfactorily for five hundred guests every day; yet, if you should locate your house in a small village where there is no railroad communication or public travel, the location would be your ruin.

- Debt robs a man of his self-respect, and makes him almost despite himself.

- Money is in some respects like fire; it is a very excellent servant but a terrible master.

- Remember the proverb of Solomon: "He becometh poor that dealeth with a slack hand; but the hand of the diligent maketh rich."


Work at it, if necessary, early and late, in season and out of season, not leaving a stone unturned, and never deferring for a single hour that which can be done just as well now. The old proverb is full of truth and meaning, "Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well." Many a man acquires a fortune by doing his business thoroughly, while his neighbor remains poor for life, because he only half does it. Ambition, energy, industry, perseverance, are indispensable requisites for success in business.
Fortune always favors the brave, and never helps a man who does not help himself. It won't do to spend your time like Mr. Micawber, in waiting for something to "turn up." To such men one of two things usually "turns up:" the poorhouse or the jail; for idleness breeds bad habits, and clothes a man in rags.

- No man has a right to expect to succeed in life unless he understands his business, and nobody can understand his business thoroughly unless he learns it by personal application and experience.

- Among the maxims of the elder Rothschild was one, all apparent paradox: "Be cautious and bold." This seems to be a contradiction in terms, but it is not, and there is great wisdom in the maxim. It is, in fact, a condensed statement of what I have already said. It is to say; "you must exercise your caution in laying your plans, but be bold in carrying them out." A man who is all caution, will never dare to take hold and be successful; and a man who is all boldness, is merely reckless, and must eventually fail. A man may go on "'change" and make fifty, or one hundred thousand dollars in speculating in stocks, at a single operation.


- There is no greater mistake than when a young man believes he will succeed with borrowed money.



Engage in one kind of business only, and stick to it faithfully until you succeed, or until your experience shows that you should abandon it. A constant hammering on one nail will generally drive it home at last, so that it can be clinched. When a man's undivided attention is centered on one object, his mind will constantly be suggesting improvements of value, which would escape him if his brain was occupied by a dozen different subjects at once. Many a fortune has slipped through a man's fingers because he was engaged in too many occupations at a time.



Engage in one kind of business only, and stick to it faithfully until you succeed, or until your experience shows that you should abandon it. A constant hammering on one nail will generally drive it home at last, so that it can be clinched. When a man's undivided attention is centered on one object, his mind will constantly be suggesting improvements of value, which would escape him if his brain was occupied by a dozen different subjects at once. Many a fortune has slipped through a man's fingers because he was engaged in too many occupations at a time. Of course, there is a limit to all these rules. We must try to preserve the happy medium, for there is such a thing as being too systematic. There are men and women, for instance, who put away things so carefully that they can never find them again. It is too much like the "red tape" formality at Washington, and Mr. Dickens' "Circumlocution Office,"—all theory and no result.

- Always take a trustworthy newspaper, and thus keep thoroughly posted in regard to the transactions of the world. He who is without a newspaper is cut off from his species. In these days of telegraphs and steam, many important inventions and improvements in every branch of trade are being made, and he who don't consult the newspapers will soon find himself and his business left out in the cold.

- ... however successful a man may be in his own business, if he turns from that and engages ill a business which he don't understand, he is like Samson when shorn of his locks his strength has departed, and he becomes like other men.

- So with the young man starting in business; let him understand the value of money by earning it. When he does understand its value, then grease the wheels a little in helping him to start business, but remember, men who get money with too great facility cannot usually succeed. You must get the first dollars by hard knocks, and at some sacrifice, in order to appreciate the value of those dollars.

- The whole philosophy of life is first 'sow', then 'reap'.

- Politness and civility are the best capital ever invested in business.

- Some men have a foolish habit of telling their business secrets. If they make money they like to tell their neighbors how it was done. Nothing is gained by this, and ofttimes much is lost. Say nothing about your profits, your hopes, your expectations, your intentions. And this should apply to letters as well as to conversation. Goethe makes Mephistophilles say: "Never write a letter nor destroy one." Business men must write letters, but they should be careful what they put in them. If you are losing money, be specially cautious and not tell of it, or you will lose your reputation.

- The public very properly shun all whose integrity is doubted. No matter how polite and pleasant and accommodating a man may be, none of us dare to deal with him if we suspect "false weights and measures." Strict honesty, not only lies at the foundation of all success in life (financially), but in every other respect. Uncompromising integrity of character is invaluable.

- The history of money-getting, which is commerce, is a history of civilization, and wherever trade has flourished most, there, too, have art and science produced the noblest fruits. In fact, as a general thing, money-getters are the benefactors of our race. To them, in a great measure, are we indebted for our institutions of learning and of art, our academies, colleges and churches.


Death at the Excelsior And Other Stories by P.G Wodehouse 

When you read too much Wodehouse, back to back, the stories get a little overly familiar and formulaic. But then there's always his wonderful style of writing, which you can simply bathe in.



-  "Now is certainly the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party, Jeeves. We must rally round and cosset this cove in no uncertain manner."

- Jeeves emerged in a brown dressing-gown.
"Deuced sorry to wake you up, Jeeves, and what not, but all sorts of dashed disturbing things have been happening."
"I was not asleep. It is my practice, on retiring, to read a few pages of some instructive book."
"That's good! What I mean to say is, if you've just finished exercising the old bean, it's probably in mid-season form for tackling problems.

- "How's the weather, Jeeves?"
"Exceptionally clement, sir."
"Anything in the papers?"
"Some slight friction threatening in the Balkans, sir. Otherwise, nothing."
"I say, Jeeves, a man I met at the club last night told me to put my shirt on Privateer for the two o'clock race this afternoon. How about it?"
"I should not advocate it, sir. The stable is not sanguine."

- At this point Bingo fell into a species of trance.

- 'If he cut of my allowance, I should be very much in the soup'.

- "The method which I advocate is what, I believe, the advertisers call Direct Suggestion, sir, consisting as it does of driving an idea home by constant repetition. You may have had experience of the system?"
"You mean they keep on telling you that some soap or other is the best, and after a bit you come under the influence and charge round the corner and buy a cake?"
"Exactly, sir. The same method was the basis of all the most valuable propaganda during the recent war. I see no reason why it should not be adopted to bring about the desired result with regard to the subject's views on class distinctions.

- 'literary diet'

- The motto of the Little family was evidently "variety." Young Bingo is long and thin and hasn't had a superfluous ounce on him since we first met; but the uncle restored the average and a bit over.

- He tells me it's his masterpiece, and that he will never do anything like it again. I should like to have that in writing.

- "Old top," I said, "you must keep it dark."


On Doing the Right Thing by Albert Jay Nock (1928)

This one was okay for a few quotes but less good to read straight through.


-  At all events the exercise of ideas and the imagination has become unfashionable. When I first remarked this phenomenon I thought it might be an illusion of advancing age since I have come to years when the past takes on an unnaturally attractive colour. But as time went on the fact became unmistakable and I began to take notice accordingly.

- instinct of expansion.

-After such a dinner as my debonair friend described, it is as once necessary to 'do something' - the theatre, opera, cabaret, dancing, motoring, or what not -- and to keep on doing something as long as the evening lasts. It is astonishing to see the amount of energy devoted to keeping out of conversation...almost every informal invitation reads, 'to dinner, and then we'll do something'.

- There never was a time of so many and so powerful competitive distractions contesting with culture for the employment of one's hours.

- The practical reason for freedom, then, is that feedom seems to be the only condition under which any kind of substantial moral fibre can be developed.

- To the men who now give money so liberally to promote the arts, the men who might be thought, perhaps, to be looking at the arts a little wistfully - ...I would say, if you really wish to promote the arts, keep on with the money, but also sell one of your motorcars, buy a second-hand piano or some paint and crayons or modelling clay, and get somebody to show you what to do with it. You will have a great deal of fun, more fun than you ever had in your life, and you may incidentally turn up some aptitutde that you never suspected of lurking there.

Pocket Timejump

From an article in which Charlie Brooker describes some really useful inventions:

Pocket Timejump
A small handheld device that enables you to leap forward in time without even realising you’re doing it. Simply pull the small rectangular device out of your pocket midway through an episode of Call the Midwife or a dinner party or a wedding or something, intending to glance at it for mere seconds, then gasp in astonishment as you look up apparently moments later to discover an hour’s flown by and you haven’t heard or seen anything that’s happened in your immediate vicinity in that time. Twist: you’ve already got one of these. DIDN’T SEE THAT COMING, DID YOU? #christ #jesus #mindblown #wow

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Art of Living - a video on the value of philosophy

A nice video on the value of philosophy and the difference between modern and ancient philosophy:

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Lately....some stuff I'm watching and have watched on the idiot box

Episode 5 ("Five-0") of Better Call Saul aired this week and it is a masterpiece, the best thing I've watched since Breaking Bad.  


The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is the work of comedian Tina Fey, and it's pretty darn good, silly fun. I had a day off work yesterday and ending up marathon-watching 10 episodes while stuffing my pie hole with various pasties, chocolates and crisps. Looking forward to season 2!

I've recently been making in-roads in to my Jeeves and Wooster Omnibus (by P.G. Wodehouse) and was happy to discover that all episodes of the series have been uploaded to Youtube by some kindly folk. Terribly good, what ho!

John Wick is cheesy but highly enjoyable action film, in which the lethal assassin unleashes hell on a local thug's empire, after the head honcho's son steals John Wick's car and kills his dog. Seriously.


War of the Arrows (2012) is a first rate Korean action movie that features more archery-based action than you will likely see anywhere else, ever again. South Korean cinema just keeps on giving.


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Death is Optional

There is a great discussion between Daniel Kahneman and Yuval Harari over at Edge, in which Harari discusses the possible futures for mankind. The debate is approx 45m long but is well worth listening to.

One of the strands of thought is that as ever greater amounts of production is taken over by more efficient artifical intelligences (think machines and software), civilisation will be left with a rump of useless humans,who will have to find meaning outside of the workplace. Where will they turn? Harari has a stab at an answer: 'My best guess at present is a combination of drugs and computer games as a solution for most ... it's already happening. Under different titles, different headings, you see more and more people spending more and more time, or solving their inner problems with drugs and computer games, both legal drugs and illegal drugs.' If you look at the development of immersive gaming technologies like virtual reality headsets, it's easy to picture a world where actual reality appears less and less attractive to a disenfranchised populous. Simply put, the incentive to plug yourself into alternative realities is just going to keep growing.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

95 year old downhill skier starts the day on five slices

This 95 year old Finnish dude not only ski's every weekend but he also sails on occasion and plays tennis three times a week. As for what's fuelling this guy into old age:

 "If anyone eats unhealthily, it's me," he says. "In my entire life, I haven't eaten anything green." Instead, he favours "lots of sugar and butter", and a hearty breakfast: "In the morning, always five slices of traditional sweet Finnish bread, and tea."
He is a probably a rare outlier and not an example to follow. Nevertheless, the nonagenarian does serve as a useful reminder for people overly caught up in optimising their diets.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Books read while holidaying in Dubai (1 of 2)

I am not a fast reader by any means but I was able to plough through quite a few books during my two weeks holiday in Dubai:


The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

I'm surprised The White Tiger won the Booker Prize. I didn't find it gripping or particularly revealing but it was just about interesting enough to pass the time. 

2.5/5 (meh)


 The Gun Seller by Hugh Laurie

This is Hugh Laurie's only novel and it's pretty good. It's clear that Laurie is a fan of P.G Wodehouse and while the material here is way more serious than you'll find in a Wodehouse, Laurie keeps things light by injecting a dose of black humour. The Gun Seller does read like a first novel but it's still a fun ride with lots of originality, action and intelligent writing.


"I’m part of a team now. A cast. And a caste. We are drawn from six nations, three continents, four religions, and two genders. We are a happy band of brothers, with one sister, who’s also happy and gets her own bathroom. We work hard, play hard, drink hard, even sleep hard. In fact, we are hard. We handle weapons in a way that says we know how to handle weapons, and we discuss politics in a way that says we have taken the bigger view. We are The Sword Of Justice."

"I’ve always felt that humility before the facts is the only thing that keeps a rational man together. Be humble in the face of facts, and proud in the face of opinions, as George Bernard Shaw once said.
He didn’t, actually. I just wanted to put some authority behind this observation of mine, because I know you’re not going to like it."


Treasure Island by Robert Louise Stevenson

This rollicking adventure on the high seas was the best read of the holidays. It is the benchmark pirate adventure story. The Collins Classic edition includes a nice introductory profile on Robert Louis Stevenson, who passed away at just 44 years old.


Quotes and phrases:

- Shiver my soul

- (Pew) And I'm to lose my chance for you! I'm to be a poor, crawling beggar, sponging for rum, when I might be rolling in a coach! If you had the pluck of a weevil in a biscuit you would catch them still."

- "you can't touch pitch and not be marked, lad" (Long John Silver to Jim Hawkins)

- by 'gentlemen of fortune' they plainly meant neither more nor less than a common pirate".

- Well, now," thought I to myself, "it is plain I must lie where I am and not disturb the balance; but it is plain also that I can put the paddle over the side and from time to time, in smooth places, give her a shove or two towards land." No sooner thought upon than done. There I lay on my elbows in the most trying attitude, and every now and again gave a weak stroke or two to turn her head to shore. 

- There never was such an overturn in this world. Each of these six men was as though he had been struck. But with Silver the blow passed almost instantly. Every thought of his soul had been set full-stretch, like a racer, on that money; well, he was brought up, in a single second, dead; and he kept his head, found his temper, and changed his plan before the others had had time to realize the disappointment. 


Wit and Wisdoms of Epictetus - translated by T.W Rolleston

This one was good for many choice quotes but it didn't grip me on the whole.


- The beginning of philosophy is to know the condition of one's own mind. If a man recognises that this is in a weakly state, he will not then want to apply it to questions of the greatest moment. As it is, men who are not fit to swallow even a morsel, buy whole treatises and try to devour them. Accordingly they either vomit them up again, or suffer from indigestion, whence come gripings, fluxions, and fevers. Whereas they should have stopped to consider their capacity.
- When a youth was giving himself airs in the Theatre and saying, "I am wise, for I have conversed with many wise men," Epictetus replied, "I too have conversed with many rich men, yet I am not rich!" 

- Remember that not the love of power and wealth sets us under the heel of others, but even the love of tranquillity, of leisure, of change of scene—of learning in general, it matters not what the outward thing may be—to set store by it is to place thyself in subjection to another. Where is the difference then between desiring to be a Senator, and desiring not to be one: between thirsting for office and thirsting to be quit of it? Where is the difference between crying, Woe is me, I know not what to do, bound hand and foot as I am to my books so that I cannot stir! and crying, Woe is me, I have not time to read! As though a book were not as much an outward thing and independent of the will, as office and power and the receptions of the great. 

- Keep death and exile daily before thine eyes, with all else that men deem terrible, but more especially Death. Then wilt thou never think a mean though, nor covet anything beyond measure. 

- Banquets of the unlearned and of them that are without, avoid. But if you have occasion to take part in them, let not your attention be relaxed for a moment, lest you slip after all into evil ways. For you may rest assured that be a man ever so pure himself, he cannot escape defilement if his associates are impure. 

- When you visit any of those in power, bethink yourself that you will not find him in: that you may not be admitted: that the door may be shut in your face: that he may not concern himself about you. If with all this, it is your duty to go, bear what happens, and never say to yourself, It was not worth the trouble! For that would smack of the foolish and unlearned who suffer outward things to touch them. 

- Asked, Who is the rich man? Epictetus replied, "He who is content." 

-  Diogenes, who was sent as a spy long before you, brought us back another report than this. He says that Death is no evil; for it need not even bring shame with it. He says that Fame is but the empty noise of madmen. And what report did this spy bring us of Pain, what of Pleasure, what of Want? That to be clothed in sackcloth is better than any purple robe; that sleeping on the bare ground is the softest couch; and in proof of each assertion he points to his own courage, constancy, and freedom; to his own healthy and muscular frame. "There is no enemy near," he cries, "all is perfect peace!" 

- The soul that companies with Virtue is like an ever-flowing source. It is a pure, clear, and wholesome draught; sweet, rich, and generous of its store; that injures not, neither destroys. 

- Keep neither a blunt knife nor an ill-disciplined looseness of tongue. ...Nature hath given men one tongue but two ears, that we may hear from others twice as much as we speak. 

-  None is a slave whose acts are free.

- No man is free who is not master of himself. 

- Fortify thyself with contentment: that is an impregnable stronghold.



The Book of Five Rings by Miyamato Musashi

This one is re-read. The Book of Five Rings is a great 400+ year old book on strategy, written by a famed samurai and master swordsman. The emphasis on mastery through disciplined practice permeates the text.

There are too many quotes to post here so I'll save them for another entry.



Siddartha by Herman Hesse

Having read and greatly enjoyed Herman Hesse's 'Steppenwolf', I had really high hopes for Siddartha. These hopes were a little dashed and the book proved to be a pretty good read but it didn't come anywhere near Steppenwolf, which is a shame. The below quotes provide much food for thought, however.


- These and other ways he learned to go, a thousand times he left his self, for hours and days he remained in the non-self. But though the ways led away from the self, their end nevertheless always led back to the self. Though Siddhartha fled from the self a thousand times, stayed in nothingness, stayed in the animal, in the stone, the return was inevitable, inescapable was the hour, when he found himself back in the sunshine or in the moonlight, in the shade or in the rain, and was once again his self and Siddhartha, and again felt the agony of the cycle which had been forced upon him. 

- And Siddhartha said quietly, as if he was talking to himself: "What is meditation? What is leaving one's body? What is fasting? What is holding one's breath? It is fleeing from the self, it is a short escape of the agony of being a self, it is a short numbing of the senses against the pain and the pointlessness of life. The same escape, the same short numbing is what the driver of an ox-cart finds in the inn, drinking a few bowls of rice-wine or fermented coconut-milk. Then he won't feel his self any more, then he won't feel the pains of life any more, then he finds a short numbing of the senses. When he falls asleep over his bowl of rice-wine, he'll find the same what Siddhartha and Govinda find when they escape their bodies through long exercises, staying in the non-self. This is how it is, oh Govinda."
Quoth Govinda: "You say so, oh friend, and yet you know that Siddhartha is no driver of an ox-cart and a Samana is no drunkard. It's true that a drinker numbs his senses, it's true that he briefly escapes and rests, but he'll return from the delusion, finds everything to be unchanged, has not become wiser, has gathered no enlightenment,—has not risen several steps."
And Siddhartha spoke with a smile: "I do not know, I've never been a drunkard. But that I, Siddhartha, find only a short numbing of the senses in my exercises and meditations and that I am just as far removed from wisdom

-  Might we get closer to enlightenment? Might we get closer to salvation? Or do we perhaps live in a circle— we, who have thought we were escaping the cycle?"
Quoth Govinda: "We have learned a lot, Siddhartha, there is still much to learn. We are not going around in circles, we are moving up, the circle is a spiral, we have already ascended many a level."
Siddhartha answered: "How old, would you think, is our oldest Samana, our venerable teacher?"
Quoth Govinda: "Our oldest one might be about sixty years of age."
And Siddhartha: "He has lived for sixty years and has not reached the nirvana. He'll turn seventy and eighty, and you and me, we will grow just as old and will do our exercises, and will fast, and will meditate. But we will not reach the nirvana, he won't and we won't. Oh Govinda, I believe out of all the Samanas out there, perhaps not a single one, not a single one, will reach the nirvana. We find comfort, we find numbness, we learn feats, to deceive others. But the most important thing, the path of paths, we will not find."  

- Thus Gotama walked towards the town, to collect alms, and the two Samanas recognised him solely by the perfection of his calm, by the quietness of his appearance, in which there was no searching, no desire, no imitation, no effort to be seen, only light and peace. 

- You have found salvation from death. It has come to you in the course of your own search, on your own path, through thoughts, through meditation, through realizations, through enlightenment. It has not come to you by means of teachings! And—thus is my thought, oh exalted one,—nobody will obtain salvation by means of teachings! You will not be able to convey and say to anybody, oh venerable one, in words and through teachings what has happened to you in the hour of enlightenment! The teachings of the enlightened Buddha contain much, it teaches many to live righteously, to avoid evil. But there is one thing which these so clear, these so venerable teachings do not contain: they do not contain the mystery of what the exalted one has experienced for himself, he alone among hundreds of thousands. This is what I have thought and realized, when I have heard the teachings. This is why I am continuing my travels—not to seek other, better teachings, for I know there are none, but to depart from all teachings and all teachers and to reach my goal by myself or to die. 

-  "It was the self, the purpose and essence of which I sought to learn. It was the self, I wanted to free myself from, which I sought to overcome. But I was not able to overcome it, could only deceive it, could only flee from it, only hide from it. Truly, no thing in this world has kept my thoughts thus busy, as this my very own self, this mystery of me being alive, of me being one and being separated and isolated from all others, of me being Siddhartha! And there is no thing in this world I know less about than about me, about Siddhartha!"

- "Oh," he thought, taking a deep breath, "now I would not let Siddhartha escape from me again! No longer, I want to begin my thoughts and my life with Atman and with the suffering of the world. I do not want to kill and dissect myself any longer, to find a secret behind the ruins. Neither Yoga-Veda shall teach me any more, nor Atharva-Veda, nor the ascetics, nor any kind of teachings. I want to learn from myself, want to be my student, want to get to know myself, the secret of Siddhartha."

- All of this had always existed, and he had not seen it; he had not been with it. Now he was with it, he was part of it. Light and shadow ran through his eyes, stars and moon ran through his heart. 

- there is never any passion in his soul when he conducts our business. But he has that mysterious quality of those people to whom success comes all by itself, whether this may be a good star of his birth, magic, or something he has learned among Samanas. He always seems to be merely playing with out business-affairs, they never fully become a part of him, they never rule over him, he is never afraid of failure, he is never upset by a loss."  .. When he made a profit, he accepted it with equanimity; when he made losses, he laughed and said: "Well, look at this, so this one turned out badly!"

- "Everyone gives what he has. The warrior gives strength, the merchant gives merchandise, the teacher teachings, the farmer rice, the fisher fish."
"Yes indeed. And what is it now what you've got to give? What is it that you've learned, what you're able to do?"
"I can think. I can wait. I can fast."
"That's everything?"
"I believe, that's everything!"
"And what's the use of that? For example, the fasting—what is it good for?"
"It is very good, sir. When a person has nothing to eat, fasting is the smartest thing he could do. When, for example, Siddhartha hadn't learned to fast, he would have to accept any kind of service before this day is up, whether it may be with you or wherever, because hunger would force him to do so. But like this, Siddhartha can wait calmly, he knows no impatience, he knows no emergency, for a long time he can allow hunger to besiege him and can laugh about it. This, sir, is what fasting is good for.

- However easily he succeeded in talking to all of them, in living with all of them, in learning from all of them, he was still aware that there was something which separated him from them and this separating factor was him being a Samana. He saw mankind going through life in a childlike or animallike manner, which he loved and also despised at the same time. He saw them toiling, saw them suffering, and becoming gray for the sake of things which seemed to him to entirely unworthy of this price, for money, for little pleasures, for being slightly honoured, he saw them scolding and insulting each other, he saw them complaining about pain at which a Samana would only smile, and suffering because of deprivations which a Samana would not feel. 

- And then, for an hour, he became aware of the strange life he was leading, of him doing lots of things which were only a game, of, though being happy and feeling joy at times, real life still passing him by and not touching him.

- Once, he said to her: "You are like me, you are different from most people. You are Kamala, nothing else, and inside of you, there is a peace and refuge, to which you can go at every hour of the day and be at home at yourself, as I can also do. Few people have this, and yet all could have it."

- "And now, Siddhartha, what are you now?"
"I don't know it, I don't know it just like you. I'm travelling. I was a rich man and am no rich man any more, and what I'll be tomorrow, I don't know."
"You've lost your riches?"
"I've lost them or they me. They somehow happened to slip away from me. The wheel of physical manifestations is turning quickly, Govinda. 

- . Property, possessions, and riches also had finally captured him; they were no longer a game and trifles to him, had become a shackle and a burden. On a strange and devious way, Siddhartha had gotten into this final and most base of all dependencies, by means of the game of dice. It was since that time, when he had stopped being a Samana in his heart, that Siddhartha began to play the game for money and precious things, which he at other times only joined with a smile and casually as a custom of the childlike people, with an increasing rage and passion. He was a feared gambler, few dared to take him on, so high and audacious were his stakes. He played the game due to a pain of his heart, losing and wasting his wretched money in the game brought him an angry joy, in no other way he could demonstrate his disdain for wealth, the merchants' false god, more clearly and more mockingly. Thus he gambled with high stakes and mercilessly, hating himself, mocking himself, won thousands, threw away thousands, lost money, lost jewelry, lost a house in the country, won again, lost again. 

-  I've had to experience despair, I've had to sink down to the most foolish one of all thoughts, to the thought of suicide, in order to be able to experience divine grace, to hear Om again, to be able to sleep properly and awake properly again. I had to become a fool, to find Atman in me again. I had to sin, to be able to live again. Where else might my path lead me to? It is foolish, this path, it moves in loops, perhaps it is going around in a circle. Let it go as it likes, I want to take it. 

- Siddhartha stayed with the ferryman and learned to operate the boat, and when there was nothing to do at the ferry, he worked with Vasudeva in the rice-field, gathered wood, plucked the fruit off the banana-trees. He learned to build an oar, and learned to mend the boat, and to weave baskets, and was joyful because of everything he learned, and the days and months passed quickly. But more than Vasudeva could teach him, he was taught by the river. Incessantly, he learned from it. Most of all, he learned from it to listen, to pay close attention with a quiet heart, with a waiting, opened soul, without passion, without a wish, without judgement, without an opinion. 

- The years passed by, and nobody counted them.

- It is not possible for any person to see how far another one has already progressed on his path; in the robber and dice-gambler, the Buddha is waiting; in the Brahman, the robber is waiting.

- Siddhartha bent down, picked up a stone from the ground, and weighed it in his hand.
"This here," he said playing with it, "is a stone, and will, after a certain time, perhaps turn into soil, and will turn from soil into a plant or animal or human being. In the past, I would have said: This stone is just a stone, it is worthless, it belongs to the world of the Maja; but because it might be able to become also a human being and a spirit in the cycle of transformations, therefore I also grant it importance. Thus, I would perhaps have thought in the past. But today I think: this stone is a stone, it is also animal, it is also god, it is also Buddha, I do not venerate and love it because it could turn into this or that, but rather because it is already and always everything— and it is this very fact, that it is a stone, that it appears to me now and today as a stone, this is why I love it and see worth and purpose in each of its veins and cavities, in the yellow, in the gray, in the hardness, in the sound it makes when I knock at it, in the dryness or wetness of its surface. ...let me speak no more of this. The words are not good for the secret meaning, everything always becomes a bit different, as soon as it is put into words, gets distorted a bit, a bit silly—yes, and this is also very good, and I like it a lot, I also very much agree with this, that this what is one man's treasure and wisdom always sounds like foolishness to another person."  

-  Wisdom which a wise man tries to pass on to someone always sounds like foolishness."