A not entirely positive reception for the second Swan

Can’t really resist a book review from The New York Times that begins like this.

You Are All Soft! Embrace Chaos!
A reader could easily run out of adjectives to describe Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s new book “Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder.” The first ones that come to mind are: maddening, bold, repetitious, judgmental, intemperate, erudite, reductive, shrewd, self-indulgent, self-congratulatory, provocative, pompous, penetrating, perspicacious and pretentious.

And then there’s the from The Guardian.

Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb – digested read
Wind extinguishes a candle and energises fire. How deep is that? The answer, counter-intuitively, is not quite as deep as me. For I, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, alone have discovered the secret of the universe. It is the antifragile.

Overview Effect. Spaceship Earth. Home

The Overview Effect, first described by author Frank White in 1987, is an experience that transforms astronauts’ perspective of the planet and mankind’s place upon it. Common features of the experience are a feeling of awe for the planet, a profound understanding of the interconnection of all life, and a renewed sense of responsibility for taking care of the environment.

There’s more about this at www.overviewthemovie.com.

Regrets, I've had a few —all these, at least

The Harvard Business Review has a rundown of the top five career regrets according to some survey or other. I think it’s safe to say we can identify with most if not all of them.

“Disappointment doesn’t discriminate; no matter what industry the individual operated in, what role they had been given, or whether they were soaring successes or mired in failure, five dominant themes shone through.”

Nassim Nicholas Taleb: The future will not be cool – Salon.com

Nassim Nicholas Taleb: The future will not be cool – Salon.com

“Tonight I will be meeting friends in a restaurant (tavernas have existed for at least 25 centuries). I will be walking there wearing shoes hardly different from those worn 5,300 years ago by the mummified man discovered in a glacier in the Austrian Alps. At the restaurant, I will be using silverware, a Mesopotamian technology, which qualifies as a “killer application” given what it allows me to do to the leg of lamb, such as tear it apart while sparing my fingers from burns. I will be drinking wine, a liquid that has been in use for at least six millennia. The wine will be poured into glasses, an innovation claimed by my Lebanese compatriots to come from their Phoenician ancestors, and if you disagree about the source, we can say that glass objects have been sold by them as trinkets for at least twenty-nine hundred years. After the main course, I will have a somewhat younger technology, artisanal cheese, paying higher prices for those that have not changed in their preparation for several centuries.”

The 10 Best Psychology and Philosophy Books of 2012

QuietYes, I’m highlighting yet another brainpickings blog post, but this one is very interesting, a very detailed and considered look at the ten best psychology and philosophy books of the year: “From Buddhism to the relationship between creativity and dishonesty, by way of storytelling and habit”. Off I go to add all these to my wishlist. (I’m assuming I can get all these on my kindle?)

Many fine quotes here, but my favourite one:

To the dumb question ‘Why me?’ the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not? — Christopher Hitchens (who else?)

Link: The 10 Best Psychology and Philosophy Books of 2012

The shapes of stories

Shape of StoriesYes, I’m aware I’m linking to yet another brain pickings article, but I don’t care as I love this one. it’s Kurt Vonnegut drawing the shapes of stories, which leads him on to discussing the difficulties with distinguishing good news and bad news. And there’s a great video too.

Kurt Vonnegut on the Shapes of Stories and Good News vs. Bad News

Dr. Strangelove film review to end all others

Dr. Strangelove film review to end all others

“… In addition to numerous sexual images and jokes throughout the film (including large phallic cigars, mating airplanes, guns, Ripper’s impotent “loss of essence”, and the orgasmic atomic bomb that Kong rides between his legs), many of the absurd, omnipresent names of the male, military characters (caricatures) have sexual connotations or allegorical references that suggest the connection between war, sexual obsession and the male sex drive: …”

Why we write

Maria Popova’s found a chapter from Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem from 1968 that resonates today, with our blogs and twitters and instagrams.

Joan Didion on Keeping a Notebook
Why did I write it down? In order to remember, of course, but exactly what was it I wanted to remember? How much of it actually happened? Did any of it? Why do I keep a notebook at all? It is easy to deceive oneself on all those scores. The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself. I suppose that it begins or does not begin in the cradle. Although I have felt compelled to write things down since I was five years old, I doubt that my daughter ever will, for she is a singularly blessed and accepting child, delighted with life exactly as life presents itself to her, unafraid to go to sleep and unafraid to wake up. Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss.

An anxious malcontent. Hmm.

We are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not.

Work shy?

In defence of idleness
Our instictive aversion to freeloaders was an evolutionary response to pre-industrial times. But it is a maladaption in our present environment, an atavistic anachronism. There is now – and there is likely to remain – a shortage of jobs. In this world, the fact that some (few?) people don’t want to work should be welcomed, as it increases the chances of getting work for those who want it.

If the suit fits…

At last, the rules.

How to tell your suit fits
1. Shoulder pads end with your shoulders.

2. Your flat hand should slip easily into your suit under the lapels when the top (or middle) button is fastened. If you put a fist in, the suit should pull at the button.
3. The top button of a two-button suit — or the middle button of a three-button suit — should not fall below your navel.
4. With your arms at your sides, your knuckles should be even with the bottom of your jacket.
5. Jacket sleeves should fall where the base of your thumb meets your wrist.
6. Between a quarter and a half inch of shirt cuff should be visible.
7. One inch of break.

Turning regrets around

Coping with Career Regret
The should haves are hard to turn off. “I should have gotten that promotion.” “I should have never chosen Public Relations.” “I should have left my job long ago.” These should haves eat at you, particularly if you are comparing your career to the careers of others.

[…]

The right approach is to replace the “should haves” with “what ifs.”

It pays to be pragmatic sometimes

“Do what you love” is not great advice
Not all passions match up with the realities of the job market. If you’re passionate about poetry or painting, you’re going to find very limited job opportunities for those things. Other people’s passions are their friends or their family, or home-making, or dogs, and again, there’s not much of a job market built around those things. But those are lovely passions to have. And in those cases, it makes sense to find work that you can do reasonably happily, while pursuing your passions when you’re not at work. And that’s completely okay.

Book making

Book making

That’s not a proper book
There’s only one copy of it, unlike a proper print run. Technically all I’ve done is printed one copy of the web page for personal use. But it feels odd. Books are usually mass produced. With a few clicks I could print off as many copies as I want with no additional work. Scaling atoms like you scale software. And it baffles the author when you ask them to sign it.

He’s made a book. Or just printed out an article from the web. Can’t tell which, but would love to give this a go myself.

Watching music

Or: Why listening to music makes me think of art gallery gift shop postcards and running down steep hills

Mr @robertbrook has an e-mail newsletter and he recently shared with us a Michael Nyman Band youtube video, Chasing Sheep is Best Left to Shepherds.

I think Michael Nyman’s stuff for Peter Greenaway’s just brilliant, so resonant and immediate. The first thing I heard of his was the soundtrack to the first Greenaway film I saw, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (the whole thing’s on youtube!), with Memorial making a big impression. Apparently, “edits of Memorial appear throughout the film, with the entire twelve minute movement accompanying the final scene and end credits”. And then there’s the music from The Belly of an Architect, but that’s Wim Mertens. But anyway, here’s another one of his, Time Lapse, from A Zed & Two Noughts.

Those clips are just wonderful, but they got me thinking. About how I think about listening to classical music without seeing it, without having the benefit of seeing the musicians create this stuff, these sounds, out of thin air. It reminds me of art gallery gift shops and seeing all those fabulous, majestic paintings reduced to little postcard-sized rectangles of card. Actual postcards, really.

If you see a postcard of a Pollock or a Hockney or something, it’s pretty obvious that you’re not getting the full “picture”. You might be looking at a faithful, full colour reproduction, and it may well serve as a great reminder of the picture you’ve been staring at for about 20 minutes, but a ton of stuff has been lost. Not just in the scale, but in not being aware of the physicality of the painting anymore. You can’t see the brush strokes, you lose that direct link with the artist. (I love looking at brush strokes and pen marks, seeing that the artist was just there, his hand must have been just actually there, the same place, just a different time. Sometimes I even put my hand in the same place, the actual same place in space, relative to the canvas, obviously. I think I may have well have shouted out a little “Ah ha! Gotcha!” when staring at that Pollock and seeing where he had gone back over those strokes to touch them up and improve them. Random, my arse.) Anyway, you don’t get the impact of the original’s presence, or force, with a tiny little postcard.

And I think it’s the same with listening to classical music, especially orchestral. (Well, not just orchestras, it’s exactly the same with things like string quartets. I loved watching the Tippet Quartet thrash out that Piazolla piece, not Libertango but something else. Can’t find it now, but it was that evening they were playing music inspired by Hitchcock and Herrman, including some of these. It was fantastic watching the music bounce from one player to the next, whirling round and back again, quicker than your eyes could follow.) If you’re only listening to it, you’re not fully experiencing it, you’re missing out on all this. If you can’t see all the performers really going for it, busting a gut to get all their notes in, exactly in tune, exactly in time with the conductor and the other players (do you remember as a kid running down steep hills, going so fast you were sure you were going to fall arse over heels, but you couldn’t stop, all you could do was keep going, all of your energy and determination going into just trying to keep up with your legs, taking all of your strength to maintain control whilst your legs independently propel you forward faster than you thought possible, the crash only ever moments away, but you manage to keep in control, keep it together till you get to the end? Speaking as a complete non-musician, I imagine playing Bizet’s L’Arlesienne might feel a little like that. I certainly feel like roaring “Come on, come on, you can do it!” towards the end at them, and jumping up “Yeeaah!” when they finally get to the end, like some desperate football fan at someone who’s just been sprinting up the wing, full pelt, to bang it in the net), if you can’t see all that rush and energy, you’re missing out on loads of stuff. You’re only seeing half the picture.