Interview with Umberto Eco: 'We like lists because we don't want to die'

http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/spiegel-interview-with-umberto-eco-we-like-lists-because-we-don-t-want-to-die-a-659577.html

"Italian novelist and semiotician Umberto Eco, who is curating a new exhibition at the Louvre in Paris, talks to SPIEGEL about the place lists hold in the history of culture, the ways we try to avoid thinking about death and why Google is dangerous for young people."

Link: 20 scientific reasons to start meditating today

http://www.emmaseppala.com/20-scientific-reasons-to-start-meditating-today/#.UsL0U38gGSM

"When I started meditating, I did not realize it would also make me healthier, happier, and more successful. Having witnessed the benefits, I devoted my PhD research at Stanford to studying the impact of meditation. I saw people from diverse backgrounds from college students to combat veterans benefit. In the last 10 years, hundreds of studies have been released. Here are 20 scientifically-validated reasons you might want to get on the bandwagon today:"

Fight, flight or … snooze?

Why some people respond to stress by falling asleep
“You can be driven to sleep simply by having a lot of emotional memories to process,” says Spencer. It takes sleep to provide the space needed to sift through the days’ experiences, and make permanent those that matter.

Feeling sleepy? Check your Chronotype, you might be suffering from Social Jetlag

chronotypes
From Maria Popova at Brainpickings.org, a wonderful (as ever) review of Internal Time: Chronotypes, Social Jet Lag, and Why You’re So Tired by Till Roenneberg

This myth that early risers are good people and that late risers are lazy has its reasons and merits in rural societies but becomes questionable in a modern 24/7 society. The old moral is so prevalent, however, that it still dominates our beliefs, even in modern times.

Lots to delve in to, including this concept of social jetlag.

Franz Kafka, professional procrastinator

lunchbreak

In 1908, Kafka landed a position at the Workers’ Accident Insurance Institute in Prague, where he was fortunate to be on the coveted “single shift” system, which meant office hours from 8 or 9 in the morning until 2 or 3 in the afternoon. This was a distinct improvement over his previous job, which required long hours and frequent overtime. So how did Kafka use these newfound hours of freedom? First, lunch; then a four-hour-long nap; then 10 minutes of exercise; then a walk; then dinner with his family; and then, finally, at 10:30 or 11:30 at night, a few hours of writing—although much of this time was spent writing letters or diary entries.

An excerpt from one of Mason Currey’s articles about the daily rituals of famous writers and artists. (Via)

A short history of punctuation

Via The Browser, a quick dash through the history of punctuation.

“Writing in ancient Greece was broken by neither marks nor spaces. Lines of closely-packed letters ran left to right across the page and back again like a farmer ploughing a field. The sole aid to the reader was the paragraphos, a simple horizontal stroke in the margin that indicated something of interest on the corresponding line. It was up to the reader to work out what, exactly, had been highlighted in this fashion”

Maximal meaning in minimal space: the history of punctuation (shadycharacters.co.uk)

On keeping a notebook in the digital age

“In order to exploit this particular quality of idea formation, he keeps what he calls a ‘spark file’: ‘A single document where I keep all my hunches: ideas for articles, speeches, software features, startups, ways of framing a chapter I know I’m going to write, even whole books.’ He doesn’t try to organize them. The randomness is intentional. He reads them over every few months and finds themes emerging — connections between fragments that wouldn’t seem apparent if those fragments were presented in isolation.”

https://medium.com/architecting-a-life/f85cea174de0

Some sunday evening links

littleear

Man after my own heart?

Gus O'DonnellIt’s been suggested I have a listen to Gus O’Donnell’s Radio 4 thing, In Defence of Bureaucracy. It sounds great — “Former cabinet secretary Gus O’Donnell argues that bureaucracy is an essential part of a functioning democracy” — if you like that kind of thing. Which I do.

I was hoping The Google might tell me a little more about this but the links it provided were decidedly unhelpful.

One from FT.com looked promising:

There is no shame in being a bureaucrat
Bureaucracy brings fairness in a way more discretionary systems cannot, says Gus O’Donnell. Calling someone a bureaucrat should not be a …

but the article’s behind a paywall.

And another, from The Daily Mail, was heading off down a path I didn’t care to follow

Unsung heroes? No, pen-pushers like Gormless Gus are the bane of modern life!
We should be proud of our millions of bureaucrats, said nasal Gus, or Baron O’ Donnell of Clapham, as he has become following his seamless …

Let’s leave that there, shall we? I’ll just have to make up my own mind.

Update:

Sir Humphrey: Yes, yes, yes, I do see that there is a real dilemma here. In that, while it has been government policy to regard policy as a responsibility of Ministers and administration as a responsibility of Officials, the questions of administrative policy can cause confusion between the policy of administration and the administration of policy, especially when responsibility for the administration of the policy of administration conflicts, or overlaps with, responsibility for the policy of the administration of policy.

No such thing as a Stoic phone

stoicphoneI’ve had this iPhone for years, got fed up with it, got fed up with always having to chase the updates, always trying to catch up with the latest OS, always fighting off the built-in obsolescence, didn’t bother renewing the contract with O2 (when it finally ended) but instead went off in a huff and bought a cheap, pay-as-you-go, crappy dumb-phone, something deliberately not fashionable, with hardly any “features”, that was out-of-date before it started. ‘If I can’t always have the newest and fastest, I’ll have the oldest and slowest; that’ll show them,’ I thought, not really knowing who ‘they’ were or why I felt the need to show them anything.

But, as so often happens, I got bored with what I had and wanted something new. Again.

guidetothegoodlifeBut of course what I should have done was – not do that. What I should have done was – remember the book I’ve just finished reading, A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, by William B. Irvine. (Here are three summaries he wrote for Boingboing.net.) That would have saved me a lot of trouble.

Stoicism was a big deal back in the day, up there was Cynicism and Epicureanism and the other Greek and Roman schools of philosophy. Seneca, Epictetus and the emporer Marcus Aurelius were big exponents, but it’s pretty unheard of today, in any kind of structured way. Sure, we know what being stoical means, what being philosophical in the face of some adversity means, but that’s about it.

What the Roman stoics wanted, above all else, was tranquility. No negative emotions, such as grief, anger and anxiety, only positive ones. They felt the majority of our negative emotions were caused by our insatiability. We’re just never satisfied. We work hard to get what we want but then, when we get it, we eventually lose interest in it and go on to want the next new thing. And so on. This even has a name: hedonic adaptation. Sounds very grand.

“One key to happiness, then, is to forestall the adaptation process: We need to take steps to prevent ourselves from taking for granted, once we get them, the things we worked so hard to get.”

Lots of similarities with Buddhism, especially around the notion of impermanence:

“By contemplating the impermanence of everything in the world, we are forced to recognize that every time we do something could be the last time we do it, and this recognition can invest the things we do with a significance and intensity that would otherwise be absent.”

There are many techniques in that book that can help the reader contemplate such things as impermanence, as well as how to ‘stoically’ deal with all the crap life may throw at us. It all makes for fascinating reading, and I’ve been trying to out some of it into practice in various settings – with good results. Some of it reminded me of CBT; stepping out of your comfort zone to “immunise yourself against a fair amount of future anxiety.”

But I kept coming back to their views on desire, though that seems to be harder for me to internalise. Rather than working to satisfy whatever desires we find ourselves with, we should be learning to be satisfied with our life as it is, we should learn to be happy with what we’ve got.

I wish I had remembered that before I wasted all that time on that stupid phone.

stopwantingstupidshitI know you’re not interested, but I did finally jailbreak it, by downgrading to iOS 4.o and running redsn0w, but Cydia and ultrasn0w couldn’t get the damned thing to work with my other SIM card. Not bothered, didn’t want it anyway.

Like the Buddha says, Stop wanting stupid shit.

The shape of stories

This week’s coaching and mentoring study day was all about stories and how they are used in coaching sessions to illustrate, elucidate, explain, hide and identify what may or may not be going on in our lives, behind the scenes or upfront, in our histories or our aspirations.

We briefly touched on the theory that there are only eight real stories but countless variations, and I was reminded of that Kurt Vonnegut clip I found on Brain Pickings, where he’s explaining his theory around the shape of stories. It may not have much to say about how narratives can help coaches and mentors, but it’s wonderfully astute and elegant. That Brain Pickings article carries on where this clip ends, if you want more.

Defending process

An engineer’s perspective on process, and on never being put off when asking why:

A good Engineering Program Manager’s job is to keep the trains on time by all reasonable means. However, my experience with program managers over the past two decades is that 70% of them are crap because while they are capable of keeping the trains running on time, they don’t know why they’re doing what they’re doing. When someone on the team asked them to explain the reasoning behind the process, they’d say something to the effect of, “Well, this is how we’ve always done it…”

[…]

Anyone who interacts with process has a choice. You can either blindly follow the bulleted lists or you can ask why. They’re going to ignore you the first time you ask, the second time, too. The seventh time you will be labeled a troublemaker and you will run the risk of being uninvited to meetings, but I say keep asking why. Ask in a way that illuminates and doesn’t accuse. Listen hard when they attempt to explain and bumble it a bit because maybe they only know a bit of the origin story.

It’s a myth, but healthy process is awesome if it not only documents what we care about, but is willing to defend itself. It is required to stand up to scrutiny and when a process fails to do so, it must change.

A great account of how an organisation’s culture could be hidden within its processes, if only we have eyes to see.

To quote, or not to quote (Please retweet!)

“Apollodorus says, ‘If any one were to take away from the books of Chrysippus all the passages which he quotes from other authors, his paper would be left empty.'”
Robert Brook

Sorry, couldn’t resist this, but that was me quoting Robert Brook, quoting Wikipedia, quoting Diogenes Laërtius, quoting Apollodorus on Chrysippus’ quoting too much!