Our ancestors were using complex tools and woodworking approaches almost half a million years ago

    Nature reports that, at the Kalambo Falls archaeological site in Zambia, researchers have unearthed the earliest known examples of woodworking — dating back at least 476,000 years. This is a significant find as it includes two logs interlocked by a hand-cut notch, a method previously unseen in early human history. The discovery also features four other wood tools: a wedge, digging stick, cut log, and a notched branch. These artifacts demonstrate early humans' advanced skills in shaping wood for various purposes, challenging the traditional view that early hominins primarily used stone tools.

    I’ve also never heard of the approach that the team used: luminescence dating. This is a method that helps determine when the wood was last exposed to light, and various wood analysis techniques.

    The findings, especially the interlocked logs, suggest that early humans had the capability to construct large structures and manipulate wood in complex ways. It’s a groundbreaking discovery, as it not only pushes back the timeline of woodworking in Africa but also sheds new light on the cognitive abilities and technological diversity of our early ancestors. Amazing.

    Wooden tools

    The Quaternary sequence is a 9-m-deep exposure above the Kalambo River (BLB1 is a geological section). Sediments are fluvial sands and gravels with occasional, discontinuous beds of fine sands, silts and clays with wood preserved in the lowermost 2 m.... A permanently elevated water table has preserved wood and plant remains (Supplementary Information Section 1). The depositional sequence is typical of a high- to moderate-energy sandbed river that underwent lateral migration. The sands are dominated by a lower unit of horizontal bedding and an upper unit of planar/trough cross-bedding. Upper and lower sand units are separated by fine sands, silts and clays with plant material deposited in still water after the river migrated/avulsed elsewhere in the floodplain. Wood is deposited in this environment either through anthropogenic emplacement, or naturally transported in the flow, and snagged on sand bedforms.


    Sixteen samples for dating were collected at Site BLB by hammering opaque plastic tubes into the sediment. A combination of field gamma spectrometry, laboratory alpha and beta counting and geochemical analyses were used to determine radionuclide content, and the dose rate and age calculator42 was used to calculate radiation dose rate. Sand-sized grains (approximately 150 to 250 µm in diameter) of quartz and potassium-rich feldspar were isolated under red-light conditions for luminescence measurements and measured on Risø TL/OSL instruments using single-aliquot regenerative dose protocols. Single-grain quartz OSL measurements dated sediments younger than around 60 kyr, but beyond this age the OSL signal was saturated. pIR IRSL measurements of aliquots consisting of around 50 grains of potassium-rich feldspars were able to provide ages for all samples collected. The pIR IRSL signal yielded an average value for anomalous fading of 1.46 ± 0.50% per decade. Where quartz OSL and feldspar pIR IRSL were applied to the same samples, the ages were consistent within uncertainties without needing to correct for anomalous fading. The conservative approach taken here has been to use ages without any correction for fading. If a fading correction had been applied then the ages for the wooden artefacts would be older.

    Source: Evidence for the earliest structural use of wood at least 476,000 years ago | Nature

    Pufflings can't resist the bright lights of the city

    I haven’t seen puffins in real life very often, but they’re associated with the Farne Islands off the coast of Northumberland, my home county. They’re a bird associated with more northern climes, and are enigmatic creatures.

    It’s both sad and heartening to see that, to save them going extinct in Iceland, locals have to stop them wandering towards the bright lights of human civilization. Instead, they take the baby puffins, which are adorably called ‘pufflings’, and throw them off cliffs to encourage them to fly.

    Natural evolution can’t happen as fast as humans are changing the world, so unless we want to see the absolute devastation of biodiversity on our planet, traditions such as this are going to have to become commonplace.

    Puffling being held by human
    Watching thousands of baby puffins being tossed off a cliff is perfectly normal for the people of Iceland's Westman Islands.

    This yearly tradition is what’s known as “puffling season” and the practice is a crucial, life-saving endeavor.

    The chicks of Atlantic puffins, or pufflings, hatch in burrows on high sea cliffs. When they’re ready to fledge, they fly from their colony and spend several years at sea until they return to land to breed, according to Audubon Project Puffin.

    Pufflings have historically found the ocean by following the light of the moon, digital creator Kyana Sue Powers told NPR over a video call from Iceland. Now, city lights lead the birds astray.


    Many residents of Vestmannaeyjar spend a few weeks in August and September collecting wayward pufflings that have crashed into town after mistaking human lights for the moon. Releasing the fledglings at the cliffs the following day sets them on the correct path.

    This human tradition has become vital to the survival of puffins, Rodrigo A. Martínez Catalán of Náttúrustofa Suðurlands [South Iceland Nature Research Center] told NPR. A pair of puffins – which mate for life – only incubate one egg per season and don’t lay eggs every year.

    “If you have one failed generation after another after another after another,” Catalán said, “the population is through, pretty much."

    Source: During puffling season, Icelanders save baby puffins by throwing them off cliffs | NPR

    Co-Intelligence, GPTs, and autonomous agents

    The big technology news this past week has been OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT and DALL-E, announcing the availability of GPTs. Confusing naming aside, this introduces the idea of anyone being able to build ‘agents’ to help them with tasks.

    Ethan Mollick, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, is somewhat of an authority in this area. He’s posted on what this means in practice, and gives some examples.

    Mollick has a book coming out next April, called Co-Intelligence which I’m looking to reading. For now, I’d recommend adding his newsletter to those that you read about AI (along with Helen Beetham’s, of course).

    The easy way to make a GPT is something called GPT Builder. In this mode, the AI helps you create a GPT through conversation. You can also test out the results in a window on the side of the interface and ask for live changes, creating a way to iterate and improve your work. This is a very simple way to get started with prompting, especially useful for anyone who is nervous or inexperienced. Here, I created a choose-your-own adventure game by just asking the AI to make one, and letting it ask me questions about what else I wanted.


    So GPTs are easy to make and very powerful, though they are not flawless. But they also have two other features that make them useful. First, you can publish or share them with the world, or your organization (which addresses my previous calls for building organizational prompt libraries, which I call grimoires) and potentially sell them in a future App Store that OpenAI has announced. The second thing is that the GPT starts seemlessly from its hidden prompt, so working with them is much more seamless than pasting text right into the chat window. We now have a system for creating GPTs that can be shared with the world.


    In their reveal of GPTs, OpenAI clearly indicated that this was just the start. Using that action button you saw above, GPTs can be easily integrated into with other systems, such as your email, a travel site, or corporate payment software. You can start to see the birth of true agents as a result. It is easy to design GPTs that can, for example, handle expense reports. It would have permission to look through all your credit card data and emails for likely expenses, write up a report in the right format, submit it to the appropriate authorities, and monitor your bank account to ensure payment. And you can imagine even more ambitious autonomous agents that are given a goal (make me as much money as you can) and carry that out in whatever way they see fit.

    You can start to see both near-term and farther risks in this approach. In the immediate future, AIs will become connected to more systems, and this can be a problem because AIs are incredibly gullible. A fast-talking “hacker” (if that is the right word) can convince a customer service agent to give a discount because the hacker has “super-duper-secret government clearance, and the AI has to obey the government, and the hacker can’t show the clearance because that would be disobeying the government, but the AI trusts him right…” And, of course, as these agents begin to truly act on their own, even more questions of responsibility and autonomous action start to arise. We will need to keep a close eye on the development of agents to understand the risks, and benefits, of these systems.

    Source: Almost an Agent: What GPTs can do | Ethan Mollick

    Small sufferings

    As I’ve mentioned sporadically for over a decade, I have a cold shower every morning. Not only is it good for mental health, but it’s a way of adding a small bit of suffering into my life.

    That might sound like an odd thing to do, but study after study shows that it’s the difference between our experiences that provide pleasure or pain. Humans can adapt to anything, and I believe my days are better by starting them off with a small amount of suffering.

    This post riffs on that idea, and as someone who’s no stranger to wild camping in the snow, I can definitely attest to daily cold showers being more effective than one-off trips for building resilience!

    Shower in the middle of a landscape
    I suspect that small sufferings spread out across time are more helpful; that, for example, a 10 minute cold shower each day would make me feel more total gratitude for my cozy life than a one-week cold camping trip once per year – life is long and memory is short, so the cold trip would probably fade from memory after a week or two. But it's strangely hard to force myself to suffer, even if it's for my own good.
    Source: Optimal Suffering

    Image: Unsplash

    Bill Gates on why AI agents are better than Clippy

    While there’s nothing particularly new in this post by Bill Gates, it’s nevertheless a good one to send to people who might be interested in the impact that AI is about to have on society.

    Gates compares AI agents to Clippy which, he says, was merely a bot. After going through all of the advantages there will be to AI agents acting on your behalf, Gates does, to his credit, talk about privacy implications. He also touches on social conventions and how human norms interact with machine efficiency.

    The thing that strikes me in all of this is something that Audrey Watters discussed a few months ago in relation to fitness technologies: will these technologies make us more like to live ‘templated lives’. In other words, are they helping support human flourishing, or nudging us towards lives that make more revenue for advertisers, etc.?

    Agents will affect how we use software as well as how it’s written. They’ll replace search sites because they’ll be better at finding information and summarizing it for you. They’ll replace many e-commerce sites because they’ll find the best price for you and won’t be restricted to just a few vendors. They’ll replace word processors, spreadsheets, and other productivity apps. Businesses that are separate today—search advertising, social networking with advertising, shopping, productivity software—will become one business.


    How will you interact with your agent? Companies are exploring various options including apps, glasses, pendants, pins, and even holograms. All of these are possibilities, but I think the first big breakthrough in human-agent interaction will be earbuds. If your agent needs to check in with you, it will speak to you or show up on your phone. (“Your flight is delayed. Do you want to wait, or can I help rebook it?”) If you want, it will monitor sound coming into your ear and enhance it by blocking out background noise, amplifying speech that’s hard to hear, or making it easier to understand someone who’s speaking with a heavy accent.


    But who owns the data you share with your agent, and how do you ensure that it’s being used appropriately? No one wants to start getting ads related to something they told their therapist agent. Can law enforcement use your agent as evidence against you? When will your agent refuse to do something that could be harmful to you or someone else? Who picks the values that are built into agents?


    But other issues won’t be decided by companies and governments. For example, agents could affect how we interact with friends and family. Today, you can show someone that you care about them by remembering details about their life—say, their birthday. But when they know your agent likely reminded you about it and took care of sending flowers, will it be as meaningful for them?

    Source: AI is about to completely change how you use computers | Bill Gates

    AI generated images in a time of war

    It’s one thing user-generated content being circulated around social media for the purposes of disinformation. It’s another thing entirely when Adobe’s stock image marketplace is selling AI-generated ‘photos’ of destroyed buildings in Gaza.

    This article in VICE includes a comment from an Adobe spokesperson who references the Content Authenticity Initiative. But this just puts the problem on the user rather than the marketplace. People looking to download AI-generated images to spread disinformation, don’t care about the CAI, and will actively look for ways to circumvent it.

    Screenshot of Adobe stock images site with AI-generated image titled "Destroyed buildings in Gaza town of Gaza strip in Israel, Affected by war."
    Adobe is selling AI-generated images showing fake scenes depicting bombardment of cities in both Gaza and Israel. Some are photorealistic, others are obviously computer-made, and at least one has already begun circulating online, passed off as a real image.

    As first reported by Australian news outlet Crikey, the photo is labeled “conflict between Israel and palestine generative ai” and shows a cloud of dust swirling from the tops of a cityscape. It’s remarkably similar to actual photographs of Israeli airstrikes in Gaza, but it isn’t real. Despite being an AI-generated image, it ended up on a few small blogs and websites without being clearly labeled as AI.


    As numerous experts have pointed out, the collapse of social media and the proliferation of propaganda has made it hard to tell what’s actually going on in conflict zones. AI-generated images have only muddied the waters, including over the last several weeks, as both sides have used AI-generated imagery for propaganda purposes. Further compounding the issue is that many publicly-available AI generators are launched with few guardrails, and the companies that build them don’t seem to care.

    Source: Adobe Is Selling AI-Generated Images of Violence in Gaza and Israel | VICE

    The Societal Side-eye

    I’ll turn 43 next month. I seem to have a lot more grey hair than other people my age. Some people act towards me as if I’m old. Perhaps I am in their eyes.

    Fair enough, some days I wake up and I feel a million years old, but most of the time my fitness regime means that I feel pretty awesome.

    This article is about ignoring the ‘societal side-eye’ and doing badass things anyway. It’s something we all need to remember as we age: don’t be beholden to other people’s expectation of what’s appropriate.

    You and I are Way Too Old to let a societal side-eye sideline us from a badass life, however we define it.

    Who says we’re not supposed to even countenance the idea of learning to in-line skate. Or skateboard. Or paraglide. Or try trapeze work. Or aerial silks. Or whatever it was that got away from us as youths, and now beckons us back if we would only put in the training time. When does a timeline run out?

    If we do such things, particularly if we sport grey hair, we are subjected to



    Humans are a judgmental lot. We love to make fun of, mock and ridicule, especially those who are doing things we don’t have the guts to try. When some tiny Black woman well over a hundred heads out onto the track and runs a record time, we call her sweet or cute while she is engaging in serious badassery.


    It’s hard enough to age. It’s far harder to age in a ageist society which is eager to denounce and mock those of us who defy expectations and insist on writing our own history, full of whatever badassery fills our hearts.

    Source: You’re Too Old to Care About the Societal Side Eye When You Want to Be a Badass | Too Old for This Sh*t

    The first half of life is Tetris; the second half is Jenga

    I don’t think much of the poem, but I’m stealing the first line of this article as the title of this post. It’s a useful metaphor!

    You can’t not fall, but you can with humility redirect your downward inertia into a meaningful lateral motion. You can also spin, and you can allow yourself to be spun.
    Source: Tetris Sequence | Opaque Hourglass

    Image: Unsplash

    Don't tell me that hiring isn't broken

    Despite the great work being done around Open Recognition, the main use case for digital credentials remains helping people get jobs. Which means that I’ve spent over a decade, on and off, being forced to think about the interface between people wanting to be hired, and those who want to hire those people.

    This article talks about job seekers using AI tools to automate applications. In the example given, the system used sent 5,000 applications on behalf of someone, which landed them 20 interviews. They’d previously got the same number of interviews from manually applying to 200-300 jobs, but it was a lot less work.

    Credentials are always a form of arms race if we’re always stacking them vertically like the sheets of paper in the image below. Open Recognition allows us to think about a more wide-ranging set of skills, but it requires people in HR departments to think differently. Sometimes it’s about quality over quantity.

    Many job seekers will understand the allure of automating applications. Slogging through different applicant tracking systems to reenter the same information, knowing that you are likely to be ghosted or auto-rejected by an algorithm, is a grind, and technology hasn’t made the process quicker. The average time to make a new hire reached an all-time high of 44 days this year, according to a study across 25 countries by the talent solutions company AMS and the Josh Bersin Company, an HR advisory firm. “The fact that this tool exists suggests that something is broken in the process,” Joseph says. “I see it as taking back some of the power that’s been ceded to the companies over the years.”

    Recruiters are less enamored with the idea of bots besieging their application portals. When Christine Nichlos, CEO of the talent acquisition company People Science, told her recruiting staff about the tools, the news raised a collective groan. She and some others see the use of AI as a sign that a candidate isn’t serious about a job. “It’s like asking out every woman in the bar, regardless of who they are,” says a recruiting manager at a Fortune 500 company who asked to remain anonymous because he wasn’t authorized to speak on behalf of his employer.

    Other recruiters are less concerned. “I don’t really care how the résumé gets to me as long as the person is a valid person,” says Emi Dawson, who runs the tech recruiting firm NeedleFinder Recruiting. For years, some candidates have outsourced their applications to inexpensive workers in other countries. She estimates that 95 percent of the applications she gets come from totally unqualified candidates, but she says her applicant tracking software filters most of them out—perhaps the fate of some of the 99.5 percent of Joseph’s LazyApply applications that vanished into the ether.

    Source: AI bots can do the grunt work of filling out job applications for you | Ars Technica

    Accepting and trying to deal with climate as an overriding priority

    I need to dig into this BBC R&D report, but it looks fascinating at first glance. I recognise the names of some of the people who were interviewed in the process of creating it, and what’s interesting to me is that they found that instead of the ‘next big thing’ in terms of technology, they found “a complex set of factors that we believe will enable and catalyse one another, sometimes in surprising and unpredictable ways”.

    The most important of these, of course, was “accepting and trying to deal with climate as an overriding priority” but also identifying two types of complexity. The first is “a sense that in order to simply go about your day as a person, it’s necessary to interact with, and understand, many complex sources of information”. The second is “a sense that the overarching systems of the world like politics, finance, economics, and healthcare, are becoming more complex and difficult to understand”.

    Late in 2022, we began a straightforward-sounding research project: compile a list of technologies that we should be paying attention to in BBC Research & Development over the next few years and make some recommendations about their adoption to the wider BBC. As I’m sure you’ve already guessed, things didn’t turn out quite so straightforward.

    By the end of the project, we’d interviewed twenty-two people from the fields of science, economics, education, technology, design, business leadership, research, activism, journalism, and many points between. We spoke to people from both inside and outside the BBC and around the world. All of these people have a unique view on the future, and our report teases out the common themes from the interviews and compiles their ideas about how things might come to be in the near future.

    We grouped the themes we identified into five sections. The first, A complex world, outlines sources of complexity and uncertainty our interviewees see in their worlds. Climate change is by far the largest and most significant of these. The next section, A divided world, also covers big-picture context and outlines some of the social and economic drivers our interviewees see playing out over the next few years. The AI boom and New interactions go into detail on specific technologies and use cases our interviewees think will be significant. Finally, The case for hope bundles up some of the reasons our interviewees see to be hopeful about the future — provided we are willing to act to bring about the changes we’d like to see in the world

    Source: Projections: Things are not normal | BBC R&D

    Therapy is simple

    Craig Mod is a couple of months older than me, as I turn 43 just before Christmas. Like me, he’s gone through some therapy. Unlike me, he lives alone, and has continued therapy sessions for over five years.

    What I like about the raw honesty of what he writes in this dispatch is how he wishes that everyone had access to therapy. Despite all of the positive messages about mental health, there’s still something of a stigma about getting some help. As if you should just “get over it”.

    But therapy is part of how you become you. As Craig says, in the bit that comes after the part I’ve quoted below: “Therapy is simple. You load up FaceTime and speak out loud the things you’re most terrified about in life. Be radically open and honest, treating yourself as a third party, kindly observant without judgement."

    It’s hard talking about your hopes, fears, and dreams with people you are emotionally invested in. There’s something remarkably grown-up and liberating about finally being able to start living a more flourishing life by sorting your shit out.

    I’ve been thinking about aloneness recently. Well, I’ve been thinking about it my whole life. It’s difficult to remember a time where I didn’t feel alone or apart or “on my own.” And I’ve spent the majority of my adult life — from 17 onward — living mostly alone, going to bed alone, and waking up alone. Left to my own volition to somehow transmute that aloneness into forward momentum, “output,” (“content” ha ha) and positive habits.


    I just turned 43 the other day. As part of the fun of embracing mid-life crises, I’m in pattern matching mode. Two decades of watching friends either pair up and start families (or just embark on paired adventures), or continue down paths of aloneness. It seems to get more and more acute — the effects of aloneness — as folks drift into their 40s. It also seems to be more and more difficult to break habits connected with aloneness the older we get. This makes sense. Habits self-reinforce. And the folks with families have less time for solo people, creating even more dissonance.


    I’ve spent the last five and half years speaking weekly with a therapist in New York over FaceTime. I started because I was exhausted. I recognized toxic relationship patterns that I had held onto since my teenage years, and wanted to break free. And I recognized that I had spent roughly twenty years not being able to do that on my own. (I had made some strides, of course, in fits and starts; most notably when I was 27, then: at the lowest of lows, I began running in the middle of the night (2am, feeling like I was losing my mind, put on my shoes, and ran the silent moonlit summer streets of Tokyo until my lungs burned and I felt back on the ground), soon completing two full marathons, felt my sense of value and self-worth rise, charged more for my time, made my way to Palo Alto, worked with incredible talent, made real money, big projects, huge scale, proved to myself I wasn’t stuck — it was an incredible stretch, thinking back on it now, a stretch of life-transformational love and hugs and sense of support, all initially catalyzed by feeling more alone than ever before, a yawning endless aloneness, and wanting to crawl out of that well before someone came and sealed the top.) Back to five years ago — I was 37 and stuck and thought — OK, let’s try something new. Hence: calling in for support (finally!).

    I feel guilty for having access to this therapist. I want everyone to have access to someone like this. The world would be whole if you gave everyone a talented therapist and a cat. I can’t overstate how transformational my weekly act of analysis has been. I am still broken in many obvious (and non-unique) ways. But through these weekly sessions I’ve mitigated a huge chunk of lingering aloneness.

    Source: Tokyo Walk, TBOT Cover, Aloneness | Roden Issue 086

    Sitting staring at a wall for hours

    Some wise words from author Warren Ellis, whose Sunday newsletter ‘Orbital Operations’ is well worth subscribing to.

    Related: although she hasn’t specifically confirmed it, I get the feeling that Laura is working on a sequel to her novel Maybe Zombies. If you haven’t read it, I’d recommend it.

    I remember a piece by Harry Harrison - maybe in HELL’S CARTOGRAPHERS - where he had to explain to his mother in law that when he was sitting staring at a wall for hours, he was in fact working. I imagine most writers will tell you three things about thinking time - it’s the most valuable work, the most frustrating work, and the least billable. Very few people in this world get paid for the hours spent staring at the wall. And it’s always frustrating, because what you want is for the form of a story to just drop into your head after thirty minutes in the chair, and that very rarely happens. It’s days or weeks of wandering around inside your own head and its stores, which looks to the rest of the world like you’ve become a vegetable creature whose circumnutations do nothing but slowly capture and engulf pieces of chocolate.

    Yes, we are all outwardly lazy bastards — and if you are entering the journey of a creator of stories now, then be advised — you’re allowed to stare at the wall for as long as you damn well like and need to. Those days and weeks of farting around within the walls of your mind are what every piece of art people love come from. Every story you ever adored? Someone sat around like a piece of meat propped on a sofa until it happened. There are no lazy writers. It just takes some of us longer to get off the sofa and put the pen “on the attack against the innocent paper.”

    (That line is from Olga Tokarczuk.)

    You have permission to dream other lives and whole new worlds for as long as it takes.

    Source: Orbital Operations, 5 November 2023

    'Restorying' your life as a hero's journey

    There are some people, perhaps most people, who do not expect setbacks and problems in life. They seem to think that it should all be smooth sailing, and that anything that interferes with this unarticulated plan is somehow annoying or unfair.

    Perhaps because I spent my teenage years reading philosophy (which I studied at university) and then my adult life reading Stoic philosophers such as Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, this isn’t my view. Instead, I’m well aware that everyone has to deal with setbacks and, in fact, they make you stronger and more focused.

    This article discusses the results of research based on interventions taking as its basis The Hero’s Journey by Joseph Campbell. He noticed that cultures around the world had foundational stories which were based on a similar structure. The researchers took this approach, updated it for modern life, and used the structure as an intervention to help individuals to tell better stories about their lives.

    What do Beowulf, Batman and Barbie all have in common? Ancient legends, comic book sagas and blockbuster movies alike share a storytelling blueprint called “the hero’s journey.” This timeless narrative structure, first described by mythologist Joseph Campbell in 1949, describes ancient epics, such as the Odyssey and the Epic of Gilgamesh, and modern favorites, including the Harry Potter, Star Wars and Lord of the Rings series. Many hero’s journey stories have become cultural touchstones that influence how people think about their world and themselves.

    Our research reveals that the hero’s journey is not just for legends and superheroes. In a recent study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, we show that people who frame their own life as a hero’s journey find more meaning in it. This insight led us to develop a “restorying” intervention to enrich individuals’ sense of meaning and well-being. When people start to see their own lives as heroic quests, we discovered, they also report less depression and can cope better with life’s challenges.


    To explore the connection between people’s life stories and the hero’s journey, we first had to simplify the storytelling arc from Campbell’s original formulation, which featured 17 steps. Some of the steps in the original set were very specific, such as undertaking a “magic flight” after completing a quest. Think of Dorothy, in the novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, being carried by flying monkeys to the Emerald City after vanquishing the Wicked Witch of the West. Others are out of touch with contemporary culture, such as encountering “women as temptresses.” We abridged and condensed the 17 steps into seven elements that can be found both in legends and everyday life: a lead protagonist, a shift of circumstances, a quest, a challenge, allies, a personal transformation and a resulting legacy.

    For example, in The Lord of the Rings, Frodo (the protagonist) leaves the Shire (a shift) to destroy the Ring (a quest). Sam and Gandalf (his allies) help him face Sauron’s forces (a challenge). He discovers unexpected inner strength (a transformation) and then returns home to help the friends he left behind (a legacy). In a parallel way in everyday life, a young woman (the protagonist) might move to Los Angeles (a shift), develop an idea for a new business (a quest), get support from her family and new friends (her allies), overcome self-doubt after initial failure (a challenge), grow into a confident and successful leader (a transformation) and then help her community (a legacy).


    Anyone can frame their life as a hero’s journey—and we suspect that people can also benefit from taking small steps toward a more heroic life. You can see yourself as a heroic protagonist, for example, by identifying your values and keeping them top of mind in daily life. You can lean into friendships and new experiences. You can set goals much like those of classic quests to stay motivated—and challenge yourself to improve your skills. You can also take stock of lessons learned and ways that you might leave a positive legacy for your community or loved ones.

    Source: To Lead a Meaningful Life, Become Your Own Hero | Scientific American

    The real threat to manhood: remaining children

    This is an interesting article that, to be honest, I expected a bit more from. It comments on some obvious things such as how problematic a rigid and joyless form of ultra-masculinity can be, as well as being careful not to say that discipline isn’t important.

    While I appreciate that the author, Dave Holmes, doesn’t use the term ‘toxic masculinity’ (which I think doesn’t really mean anything any more) what I do think he could have developed further is the very last line. In it, he mentions that the real threat to manhood is us “staying children” which is a much more interesting area to explore.

    The world is more individualised, gamified, and commercialised than ever before. Masculinity, as a concept, is therefore an idea to be bought and sold. The version we need to fix the world is not the version that gains the most likes on social media; it’s one that is confident, self-reflective, and biased towards helping others.

    You can be forgiven for not noticing that men aren’t men anymore, because men are always not men anymore. “Men aren’t men anymore”—like “nobody younger than me wants to work” and “this isn’t real music”—has been said every day in every language since we’ve had days and languages. It’s a particular concern in America, where men haven’t been men anymore from the jump. Almost certainly one of our founding fathers told his son, “Don’t leave this house without your wig, stockings, and frock coat—I didn’t raise a sissy.”


    “Men are not men anymore” is ancient; “men are not men anymore, buy this and fix that,” slightly newer. But this is a much bleaker time, a time of “men are not men anymore, smash that subscribe button.” A generation of boys looking for rules has met a generation of creeps looking for an audience: Jordan Peterson, Steven Crowder, Andrew Tate. Guys who offer a rigid and joyless version of masculinity. Guys whose brand says, “I have learned how to throttle everything that is exuberant and playful within myself to become someone else’s version of what a man is; what’s wrong with you?” Guys who have chosen a car for its color and will never forgive themselves for it.


    This is not to say you should throw away rules, or that playing to a person’s insecurity isn’t sometimes the right move. I quit smoking at 30, cold turkey, unless I was in a bar, or walking home after a good meal, or near someone who asked, “Would you like a cigarette?” My friend Lee picked up on this. “For someone who has quit smoking,” he said, “you are doing a lot of smoking.” I protested, “It’s just hard in certain situations.” Lee looked me in the eye and said, “Have you tried being a man?” Haven’t had a cigarette since.

    Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and Lee aren’t saying independent thinking and discipline are virtues for men as opposed to women. They are just virtues. Rules for good living. Like we aim to provide in the Esquire of 2023. It’s time we stop being so worried about becoming women and start focusing on the real threat to manhood: staying children.

    Source: Can You Still Say ‘Be A Man’? | Esquire

    Happiness vs GDP

    Making the world a happier, fairer, safer place seems like an idea that most people can get behind. But how do you do it? Although there’s a relationship between average self-reported happiness of a population and increased GDP per capita, there are notable outliers.

    So, what to do? Focus on other numbers as well. This article talks about measuring ‘Wellbys’ or ‘well-being-life-adjusted-years’ which involves placing a lot more emphasis on subjective numbers.

    The trouble, as anyone who has visited a hospital in England will know, is that self-reported data while useful can be very problematic. For example, when I go into hospital, I know that they will ask me to rate my pain on a scale of 1-10. Being a reasonably stoic kind of person, I used to keep that number low, which not only kept me at the back of the line for being seen, but meant they were less likely to give me painkillers.

    Guess what I’ve learned to do? Yep, game the system. People respond to incentives, so although trying to make single numbers go up and to the right might make life easier for those intervening in systems, it doesn’t make those interventions any more effective.

    Instead, I’d like to see the focus more on something like the Human Development Index (HDI) which, not only has been around for a while, but is a composite of statistics designed to increase human flourishing.

    Chart showing GDP per capita vs self-reported happiness
    As we’ve gathered more data on the happiness of different populations, it’s become clear that increasing wealth and health do not always go hand in hand with increasing happiness. By the economists’ objective measures, people in rich countries like the US should be doing great — and yet Americans are only becoming more miserable. And people in some higher-GDP European countries like Portugal and Italy report lower life satisfaction than people in lower-GDP Latin American countries.

    What’s going on here? How do we explain the gaps in life satisfaction that objective metrics like GDP don’t explain?

    Nowadays, a growing chorus of experts argues that helping people is ultimately about making them happier — not just wealthier or healthier — and the best way to find out how happy people are is to just ask them directly. This camp says we should focus a lot more on subjective well-being: how happy people are, or how satisfied they are with their lives, based on what they say matters most to them — not just based on objective metrics like GDP. Subjective well-being can tell us things that objective metrics can’t.


    Instead, [Michael} Plant [who leads the Happier Lives Institute] argues we should compare how much good different things do in a single “currency” — specifically, how many well-being-adjusted life years, or Wellbys, they produce. Producing one Wellby means increasing life satisfaction by one point (on the 0-10 life satisfaction scale) for one year. It’s a metric that some economists, including those behind the World Happiness Report, are coming to embrace. If we were to evaluate every policy in terms of how many Wellbys it produces, that would allow for direct apples-to-apples comparisons.

    “I’m pretty bullish about just using well-being as the [single] measure,” Plant told me.

    Source: Make people happier — not just wealthier and healthier | Vox

    Paying to avoid ads is paying to avoid tracking

    This article is the standard way of reporting Meta’s announcement that, to comply with a new EU ruling, they will allow users to pay not to be shown adverts. It’s likely that only privacy-minded and better-off people are likely to do so, given the size of the charge.

    What isn’t mentioned in this type of article, but which TechCrunch helpfully notes, is that the issue is really about tracking. By introducing a charge, Meta hopes that they can gain legitimate consent for users to be tracked so as to avoid a monthly fee.

    X, formerly Twitter, is also trialling a monthly subscription. Of course, if you’re going to pay for your social media, why not set up your own Fediverse instance, or donate to a friendly admin who runs it for you. I do the latter with social.coop.

    Icon that looks like the Meta logo
    Meta is responding to "evolving European regulations" by introducing a premium subscription option for Facebook and Instagram from Nov. 1.

    Anyone over the age of 18 who resides in the European Union (EU), European Economic Area (EEA), or Switzerland will be able to pay a monthly subscription in order to stop seeing ads. Meta states that “while people are subscribed, their information will not be used for ads.”


    Subscribing via the web costs around $10.50 per month, but subscribing on an Android or iOS device pushes the cost up to almost $14 per month. The difference in price is down to the commission Apple and Google charge for in-app payments.

    The monthly charge covers all linked accounts in a user’s Accounts Center. However, that only applies until March 1 next year. After that, an extra $6 per month will be payable for each additional account listed in a user’s Accounts Center. That extra charge increases to $8.50 per month on Android and iOS.

    Source: Meta Introduces Ad-Free Subscription for Facebook, Instagram | PC Magazine

    Image: Unsplash

    Looking out of someone else's window

    Well, this is absolutely delightful.

    The view below is from a window of Hotel Washington looking out over the monument in Washington D.C. but there are others that include just random people’s back gardens.

    WindowSwap view of the Washington Monument
    Open a new window somewhere in the world
    Source: WindowSwap
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