Archive for the ‘Worth Reading’ category
This made some waves last week, and for good reason. A really nice quality commencement speech (a thing for which I still hold some fondness). A selection:
What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.
Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded…sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.
I enjoyed Freddie Deboer’s review of Jaron Lanier’s Who Owns the Future, a book about which it seems I was right to be both interested in and dubious of. This paragraph is, I’m increasingly convinced, the trenchant and unanswered question facing the future of the capitalistic economies:
It is hard to overstate: This country, in its current condition, has no other option but something close to full employment. Our pathetic social safety net, even absent the contracting effect of austerity measures, can’t fill in the gaps caused by the demise of ubiquitous employment. Even the counterrevolution has no other idiom; the most common epithet directed toward Occupy protests, after all, was “Get a job!” That the near impossibility of getting a job was the point for many who were protesting was too destabilizing a notion to be understood. In the short term, I have no doubt that the unemployment rate will fall. The question is the long-term structural dependability of a social contract built on mass employment.
James Bamford’s piece about the NSA, its history, and it’s likely cache of legally-questionable data about US citizens is a valuable nugget of sanity among all the hubbub that’s followed the Edward Snowden’s data release. I liked this slice of history:
On July 1, 1920, a slim balding man in his early thirties moved into a four-story townhouse at 141 East 37th Street in Manhattan. This was the birth of the Black Chamber, the NSA’s earliest predecessor, and it would be hidden in the nondescript brownstone. But its chief, Herbert O. Yardley, had a problem. To gather intelligence for Woodrow Wilson’s government, he needed access to the telegrams entering, leaving, and passing through the country, but because of an early version of the Radio Communications Act, such access was illegal. With the shake of a hand, however, Yardley convinced Newcomb Carlton, the president of Western Union, to grant the Black Chamber secret access on a daily basis to the private messages passing over his wires—the Internet of the day.
The always-worth-reading Atul Gawande has a new piece in the New Yorker about his role in working to improve practices around childbirth world wide and what it (and some more historical anecdotes) have to tell us about how you really change the world. The whole piece is good, but this part felt most notable to me:
Besides, neither penalties nor incentives achieve what we’re really after: a system and a culture where X is what people do, day in and day out, even when no one is watching. “You must” rewards mere compliance. Getting to “X is what we do” means establishing X as the norm. And that’s what we want: for skin-to-skin warming, hand washing, and all the other lifesaving practices of childbirth to be, quite simply, the norm.
(via The Browser)
Really interesting story from Brendan Koerner in Wired about a speaker installer whose side business in putting secret compartments into vehicles landed him in jail. The heart of the issue in the case:
Alfred Anaya’s case makes clear that the government rejects [the “technology is morally neutral”] worldview. The technically savvy are on notice that they must be very careful about whom they deal with, since calculated ignorance of illegal activity is not an acceptable excuse. But at what point does a failure to be nosy edge into criminal conduct? In light of what happened to Anaya, that question is nearly impossible to answer.
There’s a lot of good stuff in this essay, but this bit most resonated with me:
I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.
UPDATE (04/05/13): Just came across the magnificent Onion treatment.
In a very brief essay Derek Sivers lays out the case for truly owning everything you can about your life and treating it as your responsibility.
It’s worth saying that it’s easy to (mis)understand Sivers’s thesis as damaging and destructive. But read as intended, there’s a lot of wisdom and power in the perspective.
Gavin Francis’s piece on his experience being the only doctor in all of Antartica touches elegantly on the increasingly specialization and safety that have become so crucial and prominent to progress in the last hundred years that frequently forget about them.
I asked around Halley, trying to understand how scientists there were unravelling the mysteries of Antarctica. I wanted to find a way to contribute the way my predecessors did. Halley concentrates on atmospheric science, with big-budget projects examining the solar wind, clean air chemistry, the ozone hole, the earth’s magnetic field. But my medical training towards the end of the twentieth century had been so narrow there was little that I could add. It is not only medicine that has become super-specialised over the last hundred years; the sciences have done the same.
(via The Browser)
Using the portrayal of Antonio Salieri in Amadeus as a jumping-off point, Sven Brikerts says a great many good and interesting things about envy.
[His taking in of Mozart’s heavenly] music stops. [Salieri] is back inside what he now knows more than ever to be his demonstrably inferior self. He is, he understands, no Mozart — a recognition paradoxically more painful by the fact that Mozart is no Mozart, either. The Mozart of the heavenly music has no relation to the giggly buffoon who makes fart-jokes. What Salieri must swallow is that God — in whom he absolutely believes — has seen fit to give to impish Mozart the gift of making beauty, and to him only the secondary gift, no gift at all, of being able to recognize it.
I meant what I said about how Justin Wehr killing it. Here he is again:
But there’s a problem. We feel strongly – or at least believe without questioning – that we are ultimately responsible for our actions, but we also know that who we are is a product of our environment and our heredity. We aren’t responsible for our environment, and we aren’t responsible for our heredity. So we aren’t responsible for who we are. How, then, can we be responsible for what we do?
Be sure you stay tuned for the final paragraph. It’s really just about perfect, and it took a lot of will power not to pull it here.
Nice to see, from time to time, a solid takedown of life-controlling 80 hours a week careerism. Is this a strictly American affliction?
If we were honest about what these jobs entail, we’d talk less in terms of success and more in terms of sacrifice and seclusion from the world. If we recognized the single-minded focus that drives [careerists] to think of intimacy as obstacle, as life-thwarting, we might not hold it up as the ideal, the logical next step for the best and the brightest.
(via Mark Larson)
This Ask MetaFilter thread turned out to be amazingly great. The question:
What are some examples of things that people without experience do, while attempting what you do or know well, because they don’t know any better that make their lack of experience obvious?
So much interesting stuff across such an array of fields that I won’t even try to excerpt it here.
My old internet pal Justin Wehr’s been killing it again lately, so I’ll just pick one example:
Those who focus on relationships rather than people are likely to be nice and inoffensive and a little overly-complimentary. (I do that. I hate myself for doing that.) Those who focus on relationships are concerned with maintaining a connection, being liked, having the support/comfort/fun of a friend. For them, the “choice” of friends is about who can provide the biggest boost in status/comfort/fun, rather than about who possesses qualities that they admire.
In short, if you are focused on relationships, you are focused on your own bounty (“what’s in it for me?”)—even if it’s only a mild antidote to loneliness.
I now forget why I had this in my to-read pile, but I’m definitely glad I did:
In the final analysis, love is not this sentimental something that we talk about. It’s not merely an emotional something. Love is creative, understanding goodwill for all men. It is the refusal to defeat any individual. When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system.
“Atul Gawande” is a consistently promising byline, and this piece about the balkanization and standardization of the health care industry is no exception. You’ll get a number of thoughts about the pluses and minuses of the biggest trend in American healthcare administration, but also a thorough look at the high-end American restaurant chain The Cheesecake Factory. About the kitchen of the restaurant:
Two things struck me. First, the instructions [delivered to a touchscreen right beside the cook] were precise about the ingredients and the objectives (the steak slices were to be a quarter of an inch thick, the presentation just so), but not about how to get there. The cook has to decide how much to salt and baste, how to sequence the onions and mushrooms and meat so they’re done at the same time, how to swivel from grill to countertop and back, sprinkling a pinch of salt here, flipping a burger there, sending word to the fry cook for the asparagus tempura, all the while keeping an eye on the steak. In producing complicated food, there might be recipes, but there was also a substantial amount of what’s called “tacit knowledge”—knowledge that has not been reduced to instructions.
Second, Mauricio never looked at the instructions anyway.
This is certainly one of the best AskReddit threads I’ve seen in a long time. The question:
Showed my fourth grade students the interactive ‘Scale of Universe’ model. Student said, “I keep getting this funny feeling when I think of how small I am.” What moments have you had where you saw someone’s understanding of their existence change?
I laughed, I cried, and just really recommend you peruse it. More than a few experiences are glimpses of the “sacred” which I can’t help reading into the initiating story.
Austin Seraphin’s story of learning how to use echolocation to compensate for his lack of sight it awesome. It’s like reading someone describe learning how to see:
The muscles in the back of my neck would start to hurt because I did not need to move my head as much before. Now the direction of my gaze actually meant something.
(via Waxy, I think)
Have I told you how much I love Oliver Burkeman? Because it’s a lot. In this excerpt from his latest book, he says so many sensible things that people rarely do about life, failure, contentment, and consumer goods innovations.
The water-visualisers experienced a significant reduction in their energy levels, as measured by blood pressure. Far from becoming more motivated to hydrate themselves, people responded to positive visualisation by relaxing. They seemed, subconsciously, to have confused imagining success with having already achieved it.
(via The Browser, which I also love)