Understanding music

My kind of music video.

“Music is a good thing. But what we did not know until we started with the research for this piece: Music is also a pretty damn complex thing. This experimental animation is about the attempt to understand all the parts and bits of it. Have a look. You might agree with our conclusion!”

Finally Studios

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.

Project management, psychoanalysis, and hell

A very timely little piece from contentedmanagement.net (great name) on the dangers that lurk within our projects

Project hell is others
L’enfer, Jean-Paul Sartre tells us, c’est les autres. This is so commonly and simplistically mistranslated as “hell is other people” that it’s become something of a fallacy. Hell for Sartre is not other people; it’s others. It’s about our faulty relationship with others and most particularly our psychological other, our id: the basic, instinctual drives that motivate us to seek out pleasure or avoid pain. Those instinctual drives are very much at the heart of every project.

Read the rest of this post to understand how a more psychoanalytical approach to our projects, combined with project management frameworks, can stop us making an infernal mess of things.

It's January! That must mean blog posts about motivation!

A couple of things I’ve found about everyone’s favourite topic this time of year, motivation. (Ok, everyone except Charlie Brooker.)

Common sense advice dressed up as another ‘hack’ on how keeping a daily log of your achievements can help you stay focussed on your goals.

Keep a diary of your achievements to stay on course in 2012
Once you’ve started, it’s important to ensure that you remain on course and the actions you take on a day-to-day basis are steering you towards to the ‘Promised Land’ known as Success. Writing down your achievements at the end of the day, rather than just crossing them off a to-do list as you go along, has more benefits than you might think.

Read the rest of the article and see for yourself. Sounds like just another thing to add to the list, to me.

Compare that with this, from the real world. A fascinating insight into the meh mind of Dave Seah, as he attempts to write himself out of the doldrums through a better understanding of what motivates him, and how.

Plotting for motivation
I’d hoped to do a lot of work done this weekend, but I came down with a bad case of the blahs. Instead of going to sleep at a responsible time, I stayed up late and consumed a lot of television and Internet in an attempt to drown out a growing sense of malaise. And instead of getting up early, I slept-in and then berated myself ineffectually. Apathy ruled the day. Zonked out in bed very late Sunday morning, I started to trace through the likely causes of my unproductive bout of ill humor, establishing a preliminary framework of understanding to help realign my attitude.

Read the rest, and see if the framework he comes up with rings any bells with you. Very interesting.

Should I be here?

Presenteeism
Presenteeism or working while sick can cause productivity loss, poor health, exhaustion and workplace epidemics. While the contrasting subject of absenteeism has historically received extensive attention in the management sciences, presenteeism has only recently been studied.

Certain occupations such as welfare and teaching are more prone to presenteeism. Doctors may attend work while sick due to feelings of being irreplaceable. Jobs with large workloads are associated with presenteeism. People whose self-esteem is based on performance, as well as workaholics, typically have high levels of presenteeism.

Books, productivity

  • Wired UK article about Anobii, “a virtual book club”
    “Amazon is the destination for purchases but not necessarily for inspiration”, explains Anobii’s CEO.”‘What am I going to read next?’ is the question we want to answer.” Fair enough, but how many of these social-media-book-clubs do we have now? And they all want to be the only one, the Amazon equivalent.
  • Leo Babauta, from zenhabits.net, summarises what he’s got up to in 2011. Loads.
    His “don’t procrastinate, stay in the moment” message is behind all his blogs posts and has led to several productivity and llfe-coachy ebooks. This productivity-through-present-centred-awareness thing comes up often on the web, with Mr GTD Allen being the most prominent I guess, but these Zen Habits posts cover this area very well too.