Many years ago I participated in an inter-blog (and very detailed!) discussion of the military classic On War by Carl von Clausewitz. The proceedings of that endeavour have been collated into 553 page book, released this week by Ever Victorious Press.
I submitted three chapters under my alias at the time “Sir Francis Younghusband.” My bio from that time was appropriately ridiculous:
If you are very interested in CvC, you can get the book from all the usual places. Below are the links to my minor contributions:
One recent tech fascination is bots. Retailers are especially interested in bots which will allow consumers to ask unstructured questions about products and help them order pizza or whatever. Bots may be the latest advance in customer service automation, but, they aren’t quite up to scratch. There are still plenty of limits to overcome with machine-learning and natural language processing. It will not likely take four decades like the paperless office, but automated sales bots are still a ways off. In the meantime, what is likely to happen? To put it another way, how will the “paper double”?
People who think I am a downsizing/minimalist fundamentalist, are surprised when they come into my livingroom and see a number of wall hangings. We don’t have many, but almost all of them are handpainted art (like the family portrait featured in this post). They are all gifts, and have a personal touch.
For example, the piece in the photo above was made for me by a calligrapher I met near Babolsar in northern Iran, on the coast of the Caspian Sea. It is the opening line from an Omar Khayyam poem, that translates into English as “Arise o gracious treasure!” I originally hung it up over my bed.
The artist, Farhangi, was knowledgeable about Japanese calligraphy, and wanted to show me how it was done without a brush. He wrote this out, signed it and gave it to me, joking about its potential worth. I put in a camel bone frame bought at a bazaar in Tehran and have had it hanging in every home I have lived in since receiving it in 2004. It is an important token to me, a good story-piece for when people come over, and the poem is pretty good too!
If I really wanted to, I guess I could get rid of it… . But it costs nothing to own, either in terms of space or environmental impact, and it spruces up the place a bit, making our living space interesting without any clutter. Besides this piece, we have our family portrait, a Japanese calligraphy piece, a painting of the Seven Lucky Gods, and this piece by a local artist and friend of my wife. None are mass produced, or kitschy, so I do not feel they impinge on our downsizing lifestyle, though admittedly they will have to go if we ever transition to a tiny house.
A bamboo-style wooden fountain pen and ink well
Farhangi pictured with completed piece, and one of his other elaborate works.
A young (and thin) me posing with Farhangi (2004)
Calligraphy piece by Farhangi
Camelbone frame I picked up in Tehran.
Beautiful book with French and English translations where they showed me the line.
The most perfect thing I have ever seen just happened on the replacement train bus service between Newport and Cwmbran:
White man sat in front of a mother and her son. Mother was wearing a niqab. After about 5 minutes of the mother talking to her son in another language the man, for whatever reason, feels the need to tell the woman “When you’re in the UK you should really be speaking English.”
At which point, an old woman in front of him turns around and says, “She’s in Wales. And she’s speaking Welsh.”
Apocryphal maybe, but perfect nonetheless. It’s got all the elements of a great story: some ignorant rube makes an ass of himself in public and gets his comeuppance.
When people find out about our efforts at minimalist living, bearing in mind our Japanese background, many ask us about Marie Kondo and her “life-changing magic of tidying up.” The KonMari Method is the latest in decluttering techniques. It seems pretty effective for many people, but we have not read any of her books.
We don’t subscribe to any one methodology. Our homebrew system is a mix of learnings, mostly informed by the Socratic method, based on the discussion of various principles. A key term of discussion is danshari. Continue reading “Danshari — thinking about “stuff””
The site has been refreshed to a more traditional blog layout that exposes a bit more content. I like the idea of a super-minimalist site that focuses entirely on the writing on the page, but I have nearly 500 posts, many that are still valuable as part of this interconnected web of thinking I call My Blog. Hopefully this new layout will help readers discover that value.
That is the past. What about the future?
There is now a newsletter! Seeing as I only write about twice a month, this is obviously not a destination site. RSS and Twitter probably shouldn’t be relied upon as the sole channels for distribution, so I’ve decided to fall back on trusty old electronic mail and publish a “monthly-ish” newsletter to keep you up to date. Take a look at the first edition and please sign up.
Addendum: Controlling information velocity
Content distribution online is fractured (Facebook notwithstanding). Readers use different channels to limit the flow of information, and control how and when their attention is spent.
Not every update deserves to be a push notification on your phone. And checking every single website every hour of every day for updates is impractical. RSS is great for pulling new information to the reader as it was published, but it seems to be used less and less. Social is a much more casual way of consuming information since you access it when you want, but risk missing things as the stream flows by. Being a social media completionist is hard work! For Twitter I maintain a number of lists, from a small number of accounts that I never want to miss, to a wider net for those long waits at the bank, all the way out to my entire list of Follows.
If you want to get the whole picture, but in a digest form that is not in your face, email newsletters are a great solution. Rather than an urgent notification of something happening now, email newsletters are a gentle reminder that something happened in the recent past. For many types of information, this is a comfortable velocity. It is the convenience of not having little chunks of your attention stripped away daily. I think it is key to the email newsletter resurgence in the past few years.
Publishers would do well to consider what rate their readers would like their content, and offer choices based on “information velocity” rather than merely publishing to every platform at every moment just to be there.
I got cornered at the park during lunch today to offer a “Random Area Man” soundbite about our mayor’s attendance at the Sugarplum Ball, a cool little event put on by my pals at the Okanagan Young Professionals. Watch the whole segment:
This is a complete non-controversy. I reverse-interviewed the journalist who said she had a difficult time finding anyone with a negative opinion. Even if I am not the ideal person to be speaking about these issues, I am glad to support our mayor in championing minority communities that make our city a place of vitality. I am sure the ball will be a blast.
Watching the segment afterwards though, makes one think of the classic Charlie Brooker sketch:
“I hate these sound bites. I don’t want some punter’s opinion usually.”
For Muslims working in non-Muslim work environments, observing Ramadan is an epic feat of self-discipline.
Working through Ramadan is an excellent piece on the Slack blog that I recommend for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. For Muslims, there are some tips on toughing it out with a 9 to 5 schedule, how to prioritize your focus throughout the day, and patience. Also, dealing with co-worker questions. For non-Muslims, this is an opportunity to learn about some of the things a minority has to deal with in the office, which only helps with your perspective as a human.
This blog post reminded me of the exact inverse situation: being a non-Muslim office working during Ramadan in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Even as a traveler in Tehran during Ramadan, I struggled with not eating in public during the day. From my travel journal:
I got into the taxi the embassy called for me and headed back to the hotel. Once back in my room I made a few phone calls … I also ate a granola bar. I was starting to feel a little dizzy from hunger. Maybe coming to Iran during Ramazan wasn’t a good idea.
When traveling I always make sure to have a few granola bars packed just in case.
One of my goals in Iran was to learn about the daily life of religious minorities there. It was during a party in northern Tehran, over pizza and beers, that I got the opportunity to learn more. I had a conversation with an Armenian Christian woman, who worked in a marketing office in Tehran. Since it was Ramadan I asked her how she dealt with it at work, since she is not obliged to fast. She told me that she had to be very careful, since just about everyone else in the office was fasting and struggling as the month went on. Her and one of her Christian co-workers would retire to a closet to eat during mealtimes or have a cup of tea.
Everyone was rejoicing by the end of the month.
Today is the last day of Ramadan for 2016, and I expect some excellent feasts to be had tonight.
Each quarter I do a quick roundup of the book and film reviews that I do on Goodreads and Letterboxd. These reviews are too short and too off-the-cuff to be included with the more in depth reviews I do on this site. Below are the highlights of the quarter.
This month I technically completed my 2016 Goodreads Challenge — 16 books ahead of schedule. It is a little misleading, since of the 14 books I read this quarter 6 were graphic novels. This year I decided to try and read more comics at the long-time encouragement of The Incomparable, one of my all-time favourite podcasts. Hence why I set my Goodreads challenge so low. However, most of the graphic novels are on GR, so I am racking up points!
Also, I have been much better of making at least a note once I finish a book. Thus follows a list of everything I read this quarter, for probably the first time ever. Looking back, I would say that Debt, the First 5,000 Years is a must-read that I will recommend to everyone, and Alif the Unseen, though not perfect, certainly had me thinking and talking about it for days after reading it.
Pretty light on film this quarter. I was catching up a lot on TV, and found that graphic novels (as seen above) became my go to evening entertainment when I didn’t have the bandwidth to read a tract on Buddhism or debt.