Category: Links

In praise of ordinary lives

This richly-illustrated post uses as a touchstone the revolution in art that took place in the 17th century with Johannes Vermeer’s The Little Street. The painting (which can be seen above) moves away from epic and religious symbolism, and towards the everyday.

Unfortunately, and particularly with celebrity lifestyles on display everywhere, we seem to be moving back to pre-17th century approaches:

Today – in modern versions of epic, aristocratic, or divine art – adverts and movies continually explain to us the appeal of things like sports cars, tropical island holidays, fame, first-class air travel and expansive limestone kitchens. The attractions are often perfectly real. But the cumulative effect is to instill in us the idea that a good life is built around elements that almost no one can afford. The conclusion we too easily draw is that our lives are close to worthless.

A good life isn’t one where you get everything you want; that would, in fact, that would be form of torture. Just ask King Midas. Instead, it’s made up of lots of little things, as this post outlines:

There is immense skill and true nobility involved in bringing up a child to be reasonably independent and balanced; maintaining a good-enough relationship with a partner over many years despite areas of extreme difficulty; keeping a home in reasonable order; getting an early night; doing a not very exciting or well-paid job responsibly and cheerfully; listening properly to another person and, in general, not succumbing to madness or rage at the paradox and compromises involved in being alive.

As ever, a treasure trove of wisdom and I encourage you to explore further the work of the School of Life.

Source: The Book of Life

What’s the link between employment and creativity?

These days, we tend to think of artists as working on their art full-time. After all, it’s their passion and vocation. That’s not always the case, as this article points out:

The avant-garde composer Philip Glass shocked at least one music lover when he materialized, smock-clad and brandishing plumber’s tools, in a home with a malfunctioning appliance. “While working,” Glass recounted to The Guardian in 2001, “I suddenly heard a noise and looked up to find Robert Hughes, the art critic of Time magazine, staring at me in disbelief. ‘But you’re Philip Glass! What are you doing here?’ It was obvious that I was installing his dishwasher and I told him that I would soon be finished. ‘But you are an artist,’ he protested. I explained that I was an artist but that I was sometimes a plumber as well and that he should go away and let me finish.”

Art and employment aren’t necessarily separate spheres, but can influence one another:

But then there is another category of artists-with-jobs: people whose two professions play off each other in unexpected ways. For these creators, a trade isn’t just about paying the bills; it’s something that grounds them in reality. In 2017, a day job might perform the same replenishing ministries as sleep or a long run: relieving creative angst, restoring the artist to her body and to the texture of immediate experience. But this break is also fieldwork. For those who want to mine daily life for their art, a second job becomes an umbilical cord fastened to something vast and breathing. The alternate gig that lifts you out of your process also supplies fodder for when that process resumes. Lost time is regained as range and perspective, the artist acquiring yet one more mode of inhabiting the world.

It’s all very well being in your garret creating art, but what about your self-development and responsibility to society?

Some cultivate their art because it sustains their work, or because it fulfills a sense of civic responsibility. Writing children’s literature “has helped me grow in confidence as a person, which in turn has helped me develop … as an officer, too,” said Gavin Puckett, a U.K.-based policeman (it remains his primary income source) and author of the prizewinning 2013 “Fables From the Stables” series. Puckett, who joined the service in 1998, sketched the rhyming adventure “Murray the Horse” after passing a horse in a field while listening to a radio announcer report on “sports and activities you can only complete backwards” — he imagined a story about a horse that runs in reverse. He admits that telling stories still makes him feel as though he’s “stepping out of character.” “My role as a police officer came first,” he told me.

Perhaps it’s because I’m recently employed, or don’t really see myself as an ‘artist’, but I like the final section of this article

The trope of the secluded creator has echoes of imprisonment and stasis. (After all, who wants to spend all their time in one room, even if it belongs to them?) Sometimes the artist needs to turn off, to get out in the fray, to stop worrying over when her imagination’s pot will boil — because, of course, it won’t if she’s watching. And regardless of whether the reboot results in brilliance down the line, that lunchtime stroll isn’t going to take itself, those stray thoughts won’t think themselves, the characters on the corner certainly won’t gawk at themselves. Artists: They’re just like us, unless they can afford not to be, in which case they still are, but doing a better job of concealing it.

Source: The New York Times Style Magazine

Not everyone is going to like you

One of my favourite parts of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations is this one:

Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness – all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good or evil. But for my part I have long perceived the nature of good and its nobility, the nature of evil and its meanness, and also the nature of the culprit himself, who is my brother (not in the physical sense, but as a fellow creature similarly endowed with reason and a share of the divine); therefore none of those things can injure me, for nobody can implicate me in what is degrading. Neither can I be angry with my brother or fall foul of him; for he and I were born to work together, like a man’s two hands, feet or eyelids, or the upper and lower rows of his teeth. To obstruct each other is against Nature’s law – and what is irritation or aversion but a form of obstruction.

In other words, you’re going to deal with people you don’t like, and people who don’t like you.

This article from Lifehacker is along the same lines:

Remember that it is impossible to please everyone,” Chloe Brotheridge, a hypnotherapist and anxiety expert, tells us. “You have your own unique personality which means some people will love and adore you, while others may not.” Of course, while this concept is easy to understand on its face, it’s difficult to keep your perspective in check when you find you’re, say, left out of invitations to happy hours with co-workers, or getting noncommittal responses from potential new friends, or you overhear your roommates bad-mouthing you. Rejection is painful in any form, whether it be social or romantic, and it’s a big ego blow to get bumped from the inner circle.

I had a good friend of mine cut me off a few years ago. This was a guy who my kids called ‘uncle’, without him actually being a family member. But hey, no hard feelings:

So, it’s not really that it’s not you but them, so much as it’s both you and them. “This person, this situation, where they are in their life, it’s not compatible to where you are,” Jennifer Verdolin, an animal behavior expert and adjunct professor at Duke University, tells us. “We have preferences in terms of personality, and that’s not to say that your personality is bad. It’s different from mine, and I prefer to hang around people who are similar to me.”

There’s incompatibility, different life stages, and there’s just being a dick:

While you shouldn’t always blame yourself if someone doesn’t like you, if you’re finding this is a pattern, you may want to take an unbiased look at your own behavior. “When I put people in a [therapy] group, I get to see immediately what problems or tics or bad social habits they have,” Grover says. He recalls a successful, handsome male patient of his who was having trouble holding onto romantic relationships. Though they were unable to solve the problem together in individual therapy, Grover managed to convince the patient to join a group. “Within five minutes, I was horrified,” Grover says. “He gets very anxious in front of people, and to camouflage his anxiety he becomes overly confident, which comes across as arrogant. The women in the group commented that he was becoming less popular the more they got to know him.”

You can’t please all of the people all of the time, but you can introspect and know yourself. Then you’re in a stronger position to say what (and who) you like, and for what reasons.

Final thought? It’s worth being nice to people as you never know when they’re going to be in a position to do you a favour. It doesn’t, however, mean you have to hang out with them all of the time.

Source: Lifehacker

Support Thought Shrapnel on Patreon

For almost a year, I’ve been building up supporters for Thought Shrapnel through a semi-automated workflow that involved Gumroad. I still think that’s an excellent platform but, this week, I emailed the ~50 current supporters of Thought Shrapnel to let them know I’ll be transitioning to a Patreon page I’ve set up.

The most economically powerful thing you can do is to buy something for your own enjoyment that also improves the world. This has always been the value proposition of journalism and art. It’s a nonexclusive good that’s best enjoyed nonexclusively. (kottke.org)

If you value Thought Shrapnel, then please do consider backing it on Patreon. You can do so from as little as $1 per month. The first goal I’ve identified is to reach 100 supporters, as it really encourages me to keep on going with this endeavour!

As part of the transition, I’ll be moving Microcasts over to Patreon too. That’s for three reasons:

  1. They didn’t quite fit in with being part of the feed here on the Thought Shrapnel blog.
  2. I find that having them as fully public means I self-censor a bit, something I don’t have to do when I know I’m talking to people who better understand my context.
  3. Supporters on Patreon can get access to a private RSS feed they can add to their favourite podcast client.

The final bonus of the move is that it’s more likely to lead to interactions with the community around Thought Shrapnel. I’m already enjoying interacting with those who I support on Patreon, and look forward to doing similarly with you!

Become a Patron!

Thanks in advance 👍

The three things you need to make friends over the age of 30

This article from 2012 was referenced in something I was reading last week:

As external conditions change, it becomes tougher to meet the three conditions that sociologists since the 1950s have considered crucial to making close friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other, said Rebecca G. Adams, a professor of sociology and gerontology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. This is why so many people meet their lifelong friends in college, she added.

I’ve never particularly had wide group of friends, even a child. Acquaintances, absolutely. I was on the football team and reasonably popular, it’s just that I can be what some people would term ’emotionally distant’.

But making friends in your thirties seems to be something that’s difficult for many people. Not that I’m overly-concerned about it, to be honest. A good Stoic should be self-contained.

The article makes a good point about differences that don’t seem to matter when people are younger. For example, coming from a wealthy family (or having a job that pays well) seems to somehow play a bigger role.

And then…

Adding children to the mix muddles things further. Suddenly, you are surrounded by a new circle of parent friends — but the emotional ties can be tenuous at best, as the comedian Louis C. K. related in one stand-up routine: “I spend whole days with people, I’m like, I never would have hung out with you, I didn’t choose you. Our children chose each other. Based on no criteria, by the way. They’re the same size.”

Indeed, although there’s some really interesting people I’ve met through my children. I wouldn’t particularly call those people friends, though. Perhaps I set the bar too high?

Ultimately, though, there’s more at work here than just life changes happening to us.

External factors are not the only hurdle. After 30, people often experience internal shifts in how they approach friendship. Self-discovery gives way to self-knowledge, so you become pickier about whom you surround yourself with, said Marla Paul, the author of the 2004 book The Friendship Crisis: Finding, Making, and Keeping Friends When You’re Not a Kid Anymore. “The bar is higher than when we were younger and were willing to meet almost anyone for a margarita,” she said.

Manipulators, drama queens, egomaniacs: a lot of them just no longer make the cut.

Well, exactly. And I think things are different for men and women (as well as, I guess, those who don’t strongly identify as either).

Source: The New York Times

Sounds and smells can help reinforce learning while you sleep

Apparently, the idea of learning while you sleep is actually bollocks, at least the way we have come to believe it works:

It wasn’t until the 1950s that researchers discovered the touted effects of hypnopaedia were actually not due to sleep at all. Instead these contraptions were actually awakening people. The debunkers could tell by using a relatively established technique called electroencephalography (EEG), which records the brain’s electrical signals through electrodes placed on the scalp. Using EEG on their participants, researchers could tell that the sleep-learners were actually awake (something we still do in research today), and this all but ended research into sleep as a cognitive tool. 50 years later, we now know it is possible to alter memory during sleep, just in a different way than previously expected.

However, and fascinatingly, sounds (not words) and smells can reinforce learning:

In 2007, the neuroscientist Björn Rasch at Lübeck University and colleagues reported that smells, which were associated with previously learned material, could be used to cue the sleeping brain. The study authors had taught participants the locations of objects on a grid, just like in the game Concentration, and exposed them to the odour of roses as they did so. Next, participants slept in the lab, and the experimenters waited until the deepest stage of sleep (slow-wave sleep) to once again expose them to the odour. Then when they were awake, the participants were significantly better at remembering where the objects were located. This worked only if they had been exposed to the rose odour during learning, and had smelled it during slow-wave sleep. If they were exposed to the odour only while awake or during REM sleep, the cue didn’t work.

Pretty awesome. There are some things still to research:

Outstanding questions that we have yet to address include: does this work for foreign-language learning (ie, grammar learning), or just learning foreign vocabulary? Could it be used to help maintain memory performance in an ageing population? Does reactivating some memories mean that others are wiped away even more quickly?

Worth trying!

Source: Aeon

Where did ‘Å’ come from?

I’m (sadly) pretty monolingual, but as an historian by training find things like this fascinating:

Regardless of who originally penned the idea, the new letter resulted from an unusual convergence: the Swedish Å owes its existence to a major religious reformation, a groundbreaking technological invention, the founding of a brand new nation, and the ever-flowing tide of phonetic evolution and language modernisation.

The post continues with a discussion of ‘diacritical marks’ used in other languages such as German and Czech. The author, who is also a type designer, has promised a follow-up post on uses of the letter ‘Å’ in contemporary typefaces.

Source: Frode Helland

Fred Wilson’s predictions for 2018

Fred Wilson is author of the incredibly popular blog AVC. He prefaces his first post of the year in the following way:

This is a post that I am struggling to write. I really have no idea what is going to happen in 2018.

He does, however, go on to answer ten questions, the most interesting of which are those he answers in the affirmative:

  • Will the tech backlash that I wrote about yesterday continue to escalate? Yes.
  • Will we see more gender and racial diversity in tech? Yes.
  • Will Trump be President at the end of 2018. Yes.

I picked up a copy of WIRED magazine at the airport yesterday for the flight home. (I used to subscribe, but it annoyed me too much.) It is useful, though, for taking the temperature of the tech sector. Given there were sections on re-distributing the Internet, the backlash against the big four tech companies, and diversity in tech, I think they’re likely to be amongst the big trends for the (ever-widening) tech sector 2018.

Source: AVC

Albert Wenger’s reading list

Albert Wenger, a venture capitalist and author of World After Capital, invited his (sizeable) blog readership to suggest some books he should read over his Christmas and New Year’s break. The results are interesting, as there’s a mix of technical, business, and more discursive writing.

The ones that stood out for me were:

Former Mozilla colleague John O’Duinn has just sent out Update #14 of his Leading Distributed Teams ebook, so I’m looking forward to reading that soon, too!

Source: Continuations

The best album covers of 2017

It was only last week that I was telling my children how they’d missed out on the joy of exploring CD inserts to find detailed information on tracks and random artwork.

This post gives 20 examples of great artwork from albums that came out in 2017. I do like Beck’s album, and not just because it’s got a badge-shaped cover:

Speaking of his creation, album cover artist Jimmy Turrell said that Beck commissioned both him and Steve Stacey to create the entire visual representation of his latest album. Packed full of bold colour, Turrell says he and Stacey looked back to their youth for inspiration, considering what stimulated them visually as kids. The Deluxe Vinyl edition allows fans to remove and change pieces to create their own bespoke cover.

My favourite from 2017? Morrissey’s Low in High School, which I’ve used as the featured image for this post.

Source: Creative Bloq