Microcast #102 — Rituals and Routines


    A very short microcast about reading by the light of a fish tank in the early hours of the morning.

    Show notes

    Nuance and depth through long(er)form reading

    Tantek Çelik reflects on a post by Ben Werdmuller, who wrote a script to be able to quickly follow the blogs of people he follows on Mastodon. As Ben notes in his post, there’s a lot more nuance and depth to be had in reading people’s longer-form thoughts.

    One of the reasons that I write here about other people’s work on a daily basis is that it forces me to read and engage with what other people think and believe. That’s helpful in getting me out of my own head, and (probably) makes me less argumentative.

    Snail shells
    The combination of taking more time (as longer form writing encourages) and publishing on a domain associated with your name, your identity, enables & incentivizes more thoughtful writing. More thoughtful writing elevates the reader to a more thoughtful state of mind.

    There is also a self-care aspect to this kind of deliberate shift. Ben wrote that he found himself “craving more nuance and depth” among “quick, in-the-now status updates”. I believe this points to a scarcity of thoughtfulness in such short form writings. Spending more time reading thoughtful posts not only alleviates such scarcity, it can also displace the artificial sense of urgency to respond when scrolling through soundbyte status updates.

    […]

    There’s a larger connection here between thoughtful reading, and finding, restoring, and rebuilding the ability to focus, a key to thoughtful writing. It requires not only reducing time spent on short form reading (and writing), but also reducing notifications, especially push notifications. That insight led me to wade into and garden the respective IndieWeb wiki pages for notifications, push notifications, and document a new page for notification fatigue. That broader topic of what do to about notifications is worth its own blog post (or a few), and a good place to end this post.

    Source: More Thoughtful Reading & Writing on the Web | Tantek

    Image: Pixabay

    Different levels of reading (technologies)

    This post by author Nick Harkaway was shared by Warren Ellis in his most recent newsletter. It’s something that my wife and I have talked about recently, as she tends to print everything out to read.

    I do occasionally, but only for things I want to read really closely. In fact, I’ve got three levels: deep (paper), medium (e-ink), and shallow (screen). Most of the work that I do doesn’t require super-close reading of the text but rather the general gist of what’s going on. I’ve got an A4-sized ereader so it’s easy to put stuff on there.

    Previously, I have printed out things. For example, I printed out my doctoral thesis and put it on the windows of the Jisc offices to make tiny corrections when I was almost ready for submission. I think this is entirely OK and normal.

    What I really want is a laptop screen where I can switch between a regular screen and e-ink. Something like this.

    There’s a sense of reality in printing (and reading on paper) a finished novel. In theory, you can go through an entire creative effort without ever producing paper on your desktop, but for me there’s a separate space of “tangible book” which has a particular moment and a set of uses. This morning I printed the first two chapters to look at, and aside from the sense of pleasure in seeing a physical manifestation of work done (in this instance a sort of echo, because I held the whole book in A4 recycled a while ago) there’s a difference between words on screen and words on paper.

    Holding paper, I notice different things. The work feels different - different tonal issues arise, new sections I need to rewrite. It’s akin to - but different again from - reading a book aloud and hearing the cadences, the unintentional repetitions and homonyms, the blunt force wrongness of an unmodified word. The text is not different, but the experience is, and of course it’s still the paper experience of my book that most people will have. (I think - a couple of my books were bigger sellers as ebooks than paper in some markets, but as far as I know, perhaps even moreso now than a few years ago, paper remains on the throne.)

    There are actual science reasons why analogue reading is different - and as the writing process at this point is founded on reading and re-reading, those aspects must be interwoven with the creative edit, irrespective of whether the creative process of itself works differently in the brain depending on the medium in which it is iterated. Whether it’s an inherent quality in the combination of tactile experience and inert text, or whether it’s contingent on my knowledge that digital text is both infinitely editable and subject to sudden interruption when my desktop decides to notify me of something, I find there’s a placidity and a sense of authenticity in the work. I’m always wary of mystifying the tree’s presence in the printed book or the long inheritance of paper, but - be it a societal form or something more fundamental - paper feels more “in the world”.

    Source: The Print | Fragmentary

    Some advice for readers

    Less ‘rules’ than notes, this post by Ryan Holiday (himself a prolific author) is worth reading. I like the part where he turns the tables, “You say you don’t have time to read but what does the screen time app on your phone say? What does your calendar say?"

    Along the way, Holiday emphasises the importance of a systematic approach over speed reading, advocates for physical books, note-taking, and seeking wisdom rather than mere facts. He also encourages readers to share impactful books with others. (You can check out my reading list and reviews here.)

    So the question I am asked most often is:

    How do you read so much? What’s the secret?

    The answer is not “I’m a speedreader.” As I’ve written before, speed reading is a scam. The answer is that I have a system, a process that helps me be a productive reader. It’s not my system exactly, as I’ve taken many strategies from history’s greatest readers. Nor is this a system designed around speed or quantity. Reading is wonderful in and of itself, why would I try to rush through it? No, I try to do it well. I try to enjoy it.

    Source: These 38 Reading Rules Changed My Life | RyanHoliday.net

    Context is everything, especially with books

    When I was younger I slogged through some terrible books that, because they were deemed ‘classics’, I thought I should read. Thankfully, I’m a lot more ruthless with non-fiction and, in fact, these days I’m happy to give up on a book I’m not finding enjoyable/relevant after 50 pages.

    The interesting thing, though, is that it’s always worth coming back to books. Sometimes, a change in interest, age, or context can completely change your relationship with them.

    I used to believe that every book has an objective value. And I used to believe that this value is fixed and universal.

    Now, I believe it’s much more useful to say something in this form: this book has this value to this person in this context.

    […]

    The idea that a book’s value is best judged alongside the notional reader and their current context has some corollaries:

    First, reading the books that your heroes cite as important will not necessarily be rewarding. If you admire Bret Victor for his work on computing interfaces, only some of his library will be high value to you because his library also includes lots of books that have nothing to do with UI.

    Second, yes, it’s likely that “great books” may be high value in some more universal sense that is independent of reader and context. And, yes, this high value may come from something inherent in the quality of the books, rather than from the fact that they are about themes that are more relevant to more people. Yes, I probably wouldn’t dispute this. But I suspect that relevance to person and context is a better guide to what to read.

    Third, book recommendation systems based on your reading history can be helpful, but only so much. You, now, are not represented by your reading history. You’ve changed. Making recommendations based on books you read twenty years ago might produce good books for you, now. But probably not.

    Source: Is this a good book for me, now? | Mary Rose Cook

    Image: Thought Catalog

    My highlights from 'Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead'

    This morning, I finished reading Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, the translated name of Olga Tokarczuk’s 2009 novel, published a decade later in English.

    I thought I’d share my five of the sections I highlighted, because it’s one of those books that, despite being a work of fiction, also has sections which describe well the human condition.

    (I’ll also note that the book has made me more militantly vegetarian, which I didn’t see coming!)

    It is at Dusk that the most interesting things occur, for that is when simple differences fade away. I could live in everlasting Dusk. (p.43)
    When you walk past a shop window where large red chunks of butchered bodies are hanging on display, do you stop to wonder what it really is? You never think twice about it, do you? Or when you order a kebab or a chop – what are you actually getting? There’s nothing shocking about it. Crime has come to be regarded as a normal, everyday activity. Everyone commits it. That’s just how the world would look if concentration camps became the norm. Nobody would see anything wrong with them.’ (p.98)
    For people of my age, the places that they truly loved and to which they once belonged are no longer there. The places of their childhood and youth have ceased to exist, the villages where they went on holiday, the parks with uncomfortable benches where their first loves blossomed, the cities, cafés and houses of their past. And if their outer form has been preserved, it’s all the more painful, like a shell with nothing inside it any more. I have nowhere to return to. It’s like a state of imprisonment. The walls of the cell are the horizon of what I can see. Beyond them exists a world that’s alien to me and doesn’t belong to me. (p.146)
    The psyche is our defence system – it makes sure we’ll never understand what’s going on around us. Its main task is to filter information, even though the capabilities of our brains are enormous. For it would be impossible to carry the weight of this knowledge. Because every tiny particle of the world is made of suffering. (p.197)
    Newspapers rely on keeping us in a constant state of anxiety, on diverting our emotions away from the things that really matter to us. Why should I yield to their power and let them tell me what to think? (p.235)
    Source: Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead | Wikipedia

    What makes writing more readable?

    I had the pleasure of interviewing Georgia Bullen, Executive Director of Simply Secure yesterday. I noticed that her website links to an active RSS feed from her Instapaper account, which I immediately added to my feed reader.

    My first gleaning from that feed came today, when I came across this clever website which not just explains, but shows how to make writing more readable. Highly recommended.

    Technology alone isn’t the answer. Even the most thoughtful algorithms and robust data sets lack context. Ultimately, the effectiveness of plain language translations comes down to engagement with your audience. Engagement that doesn’t make assumptions about what the audience understands, but will instead ask them to find out. Engagement that’s willing to work directly with people with disabilities or limited access to education, and not through intermediaries. As disabled advocates and organizations led by disabled people have been saying all along: “Nothing about us without us.”
    ...and the plain language version:
    Source: What makes writing more readable? | pudding.cool

    Reading is useless

    I like this post by graduate student Beck Tench. Reading is useless, she says, in the same way that meditation is useless. It’s for its own sake, not for something else.

    When I titled this post “reading is useless,” I was referring to a Zen saying that goes, “Meditation is useless.” It means that you meditate to meditate, not to use it for something. And like the saying, I’m being provocative. Of course reading is not useless. We read in useful ways all the time and for good reason. Reading expands our horizons, it helps us understand things, it complicates, it validates, it clarifies. There’s nothing wrong with reading (or meditating for that matter) with a goal in mind, but maybe there is something wrong if we feel we can’t read unless it’s good for something.

    This quarter’s experiment was an effort to allow myself space to “read to read,” nothing more and certainly nothing less. With more time and fewer expectations, I realized that so much happens while I read, the most important of which are the moments and hours of my life. I am smelling, hearing, seeing, feeling, even tasting. What I read takes up place in my thoughts, yes, and also in my heart and bones. My body, which includes my brain, reads along with me and holds the ideas I encounter.

    This suggests to me that reading isn’t just about knowing in an intellectual way, it’s also about holding what I read. The things I read this quarter were held by my body, my dreams, my conversations with others, my drawings and journal entries. I mean holding in an active way, like holding something in your hands in front of you. It takes endurance and patience to actively hold something for very long. As scholars, we need to cultivate patience and endurance for what we read. We need to hold it without doing something with it right away, without having to know.

    Source: Reading is Useless: A 10-Week Experiment in Contemplative Reading | Beck Tench

    Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self

    📚 Bookshelf designs as unique as you are: Part 2 — "Stuffing all your favorite novels into a single space without damaging any of them, and making sure the whole affair looks presentable as well? Now, that’s a tough task. So, we’ve rounded up some super cool, functional and not to mention aesthetically pleasing bookshelf designs for you to store your paperback companions in!"

    📱 How to overcome Phone Addiction [Solutions + Research] — "Phone addiction goes hand in hand with anxiety and that anxiety often lowers the motivation to engage with people in real life. This is a huge problem because re-connecting with people in the offline world is a solution that improves the quality of life. The unnecessary drop in motivation because of addiction makes it that much harder to maintain social health."

    ⚙️ From Tech Critique to Ways of Living — "This technological enframing of human life, says Heidegger, first “endanger[s] man in his relationship to himself and to everything that is” and then, beyond that, “banishes” us from our home. And that is a great, great peril."

    🎨 Finding time for creativity will give you respite from worries — "According to one study examining the links between art and health, a cost-benefit analysis showed a 37% drop in GP consultation rates and a 27% reduction in hospital admissions when patients were involved in creative pursuits. Other studies have found similar results. For example, when people were asked to write about a trauma for 15 minutes a day, it resulted in fewer subsequent visits to the doctor, compared to a control group."

    🧑‍🤝‍🧑 For psychologists, the pandemic has shown people’s capacity for cooperation — "In short, what we have seen is a psychology of collective resilience supplanting a psychology of individual frailty. Such a shift has profound implications for the relationship between the citizen and the state. For the role of the state becomes less a matter of substituting for the deficiencies of the individual and more to do with scaffolding and supporting communal self-organisation."


    Quotation-as-title by Cyril Connolly. Image from top-linked post.

    Friday feudalism

    Check out these things I discovered this week, and wanted to pass along:

    • Study shows some political beliefs are just historical accidents (Ars Technica) — "Obviously, these experiments aren’t exactly like the real world, where political leaders can try to steer their parties. Still, it’s another way to show that some political beliefs aren’t inviolable principles—some are likely just the result of a historical accident reinforced by a potent form of tribal peer pressure. And in the early days of an issue, people are particularly susceptible to tribal cues as they form an opinion."
    • Please, My Digital Archive. It’s Very Sick. (Lapham's Quarterly) — "An archivist’s dream is immaculate preservation, documentation, accessibility, the chance for our shared history to speak to us once more in the present. But if the preservation of digital documents remains an unsolvable puzzle, ornery in ways that print materials often aren’t, what good will our archiving do should it become impossible to inhabit the world we attempt to preserve?"
    • So You’re 35 and All Your Friends Have Already Shed Their Human Skins (McSweeney's) — "It’s a myth that once you hit 40 you can’t slowly and agonizingly mutate from a human being into a hideous, infernal arachnid whose gluttonous shrieks are hymns to the mad vampire-goddess Maggorthulax. You have time. There’s no biological clock ticking. The parasitic worms inside you exist outside of our space-time continuum."
    • Investing in Your Ordinary Powers (Breaking Smart) — "The industrial world is set up to both encourage and coerce you to discover, as early as possible, what makes you special, double down on it, and build a distinguishable identity around it. Your specialness-based identity is in some ways your Industrial True Name. It is how the world picks you out from the crowd."
    • Browser Fingerprinting: An Introduction and the Challenges Ahead (The Tor Project) — "This technique is so rooted in mechanisms that exist since the beginning of the web that it is very complex to get rid of it. It is one thing to remove differences between users as much as possible. It is a completely different one to remove device-specific information altogether."
    • What is a Blockchain Phone? The HTC Exodus explained (giffgaff) — "HTC believes that in the future, your phone could hold your passport, driving license, wallet, and other important documents. It will only be unlockable by you which makes it more secure than paper documents."
    • Debate rages in Austria over enshrining use of cash in the constitution (EURACTIV) — "Academic and author Erich Kirchler, a specialist in economic psychology, says in Austria and Germany, citizens are aware of the dangers of an overmighty state from their World War II experience."
    • Cory Doctorow: DRM Broke Its Promise (Locus magazine) — "We gave up on owning things – property now being the exclusive purview of transhuman immortal colony organisms called corporations – and we were promised flexibility and bargains. We got price-gouging and brittle­ness."
    • Five Books That Changed Me In One Summer (Warren Ellis) — "I must have been around 14. Rayleigh Library and the Oxfam shop a few doors down the high street from it, which someone was clearly using to pay things forward and warp younger minds."

    Things that people think are wrong (but aren't)

    I've collected a bunch of diverse articles that seem to be around the topic of things that people think are wrong, but aren't really. Hence the title.

    I'll start with something that everyone over a certain age seems to have a problem with, except for me: sleep. BBC Health lists five sleep myths:

    1. You can cope on less than five hours' sleep
    2. Alcohol before bed boosts your sleep
    3. Watching TV in bed helps you relax
    4. If you're struggling to sleep, stay in bed
    5. Hitting the snooze button
    6. Snoring is always harmless

    My smartband regularly tells me that I sleep better than 93% of people, and I think that's because of how much I prioritise sleep. I've also got a system, which I've written about before for the times when I do have a rough night.

    I like routine, but I also like mixing things up, which is why I appreciate chunks of time at home interspersed with travel. Oliver Burkeman, writing in The Guardian, suggests, however, that routines aren't the be-all and end-all:

    Some people are so disorganised that a strict routine is a lifesaver. But speaking as a recovering rigid-schedules addict, trust me: if you click excitedly on each new article promising the perfect morning routine, you’re almost certainly not one of those people. You’re one of the other kind – people who’d benefit from struggling less to control their day, responding a bit more intuitively to the needs of the moment. This is the self-help principle you might call the law of unwelcome advice: if you love the idea of implementing a new technique, it’s likely to be the opposite of what you need.

    Expecting something new to solve an underlying problem is a symptom of our culture's focus on the new and novel. While there's so much stuff out there we haven't experienced, should we spend our lives seeking it out to the detriment of the tried and tested, the things that we really enjoy?

    On the recommendation of my wife, I recently listened to a great episode of the Off Menu podcast featuring Victoria Cohen Mitchell. It's not only extremely entertaining, but she mentions how, for her, a nice Ploughman's lunch is better than some fancy meal.

    This brings me to an article in The Atlantic by Joe Pinsker, who writes that kids who watch and re-watch the same film might be on to something:

    In general, psychological and behavioral-economics research has found that when people make decisions about what they think they’ll enjoy, they often assign priority to unfamiliar experiences—such as a new book or movie, or traveling somewhere they’ve never been before. They are not wrong to do so: People generally enjoy things less the more accustomed to them they become. As O’Brien [professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business] writes, “People may choose novelty not because they expect exceptionally positive reactions to the new option, but because they expect exceptionally dull reactions to the old option.” And sometimes, that expected dullness might be exaggerated.

    So there's something to be said for re-reading novels you read when you were younger instead of something shortlisted for a prize, or discounted in the local bookshop. I found re-reading Dostoevsky's Crime & Punishment recently exhilarating as I probably hadn't ready it since I became a parent. Different periods of your life put different spins on things that you think you already know.


    Also check out:

    • The ‘Dark Ages’ Weren’t As Dark As We Thought (Literary Hub) — "At the back of our minds when thinking about the centuries when the Roman Empire mutated into medieval Europe we are unconsciously taking on the spurious guise of specific communities."
    • An Easy Mode Has Never Ruined A Game (Kotaku) — "There are myriad ways video games can turn the dials on various systems to change our assessment of how “hard” they seem, and many developers have done as much without compromising the quality or integrity of their games."
    • Millennials destroyed the rules of written English – and created something better (Mashable) — "For millennials who conduct so many of their conversations online, this creativity with written English allows us to express things that we would have previously only been conveyed through volume, cadence, tone, or body language."


    Audiobooks vs reading

    Although I listen to a lot of podcasts (here’s my OPML file) I don’t listen to many audiobooks. That’s partly because I never feel up-to-date with my podcast listening, but also because I often read before going to sleep. It’s much more difficult to find your place again if you drift off while listening than while reading!

    This article in TIME magazine (is it still a ‘magazine’?) looks at the research into whether listening to an audiobook is like reading using your eyes. Well, first off, it would seem that there’s no difference in recall of facts given a non-fiction text:

    For a 2016 study, Rogowsky put her assumptions to the test. One group in her study listened to sections of Unbroken, a nonfiction book about World War II by Laura Hillenbrand, while a second group read the same parts on an e-reader. She included a third group that both read and listened at the same time. Afterward, everyone took a quiz designed to measure how well they had absorbed the material. “We found no significant differences in comprehension between reading, listening, or reading and listening simultaneously,” Rogowsky says.
    However, the difficulty here is that there's already an observed discrepancy in recall between dead-tree books and e-books. So perhaps audiobooks are as good as e-books, but both aren't as good as printed matter?

    There’s a really interesting point made in the article about how dead-tree books allow for a slight ‘rest’ while you’re reading:

    If you’re reading, it’s pretty easy to go back and find the point at which you zoned out. It’s not so easy if you’re listening to a recording, Daniel says. Especially if you’re grappling with a complicated text, the ability to quickly backtrack and re-examine the material may aid learning, and this is likely easier to do while reading than while listening. “Turning the page of a book also gives you a slight break,” he says. This brief pause may create space for your brain to store or savor the information you’re absorbing.
    This reminds me of an article on Lifehacker a few years ago that quoted a YouTuber who swears by reading a book while also listening to it:
    First of all, it combines two senses…so you end up with really good comprehension while being really efficient at the same time. ...Another possibly even more important benefit is…it keeps you going. So you’re not going back and rereading things, you’re not taking all kinds of unnecessary breaks and pauses, your eyes aren’t running around all the time, and you’re not getting distracted every two minutes.
    Since switching to an open source e-reader, I'm no longer using the Amazon Kindle ecosystem so much these days. If I were, I'd be experimenting with their WhisperSync technology that allows you to either pick up where you left up with one medium — or, indeed, use both at the same time.

    Source: TIME / Lifehacker

    The importance of marginalia

    Austin Kleon makes a simple, but important point, about how to become a writer:

    I believe that the first step towards becoming a writer is becoming a reader, but the next step is becoming a reader with a pencil. When you underline and circle and jot down your questions and argue in the margins, you’re existing in this interesting middle ground between reader and writer:
    Kleon has previously recommended Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren's How to Read a Book, which I bought last time he mentioned it. Ironically enough, it's sitting on my bookshelf, unread. Anyway, he quotes Adler and Van Doren as saying:
    Full ownership of a book only comes when you have made it a part of yourself, and the best way to make yourself a part of it — which comes to the same thing — is by writing in it. Why is marking a book indispensable to reading it? First, it keeps you awake — not merely conscious, but wide awake. Second, reading, if it is active, is thinking, and thinking tends to express itself in words, spoken or written. The person who says he knows what he thinks but cannot express it usually does not know what he thinks. Third, writing your reactions down helps you to remember the thoughts of the author. Reading a book should be a conversation between you and the author….Marking a book is literally an expression of your differences or your agreements…It is the highest respect you can pay him.
    I read a lot of non-fiction books on my e-reader*, so the equivalent of that for me is Thought Shrapnel, I guess...

    Source: Austin Kleon

    * Note: I left my old e-reader on the flight home from our holiday. I took the opportunity to upgrade to the bq Cervantes 4, which I bought from Amazon Spain.

    Keeping track of articles you want to read

    One of the things I like about Hacker News is that, as well as providing useful links to technically-minded stuff, there are also ‘Ask HN’ threads where a user asks a question of the rest of the community.

    Ask HN: How do you keep track of articles you want to read?

    When I browse HN, I usually pick out a few articles I want to read from the front page, then email the links to myself to read later.

    This method works out pretty well for me. I’m wondering if people have other strategies that work better?

    I don’t like the ‘inbox as to-do list’ method. Other HN users suggested alternatives, with the top-voted comment at the time of writing this being:

    I used Instapaper (https://www.instapaper.com/), then moved to Pocket (https://getpocket.com/) to take advantage of the social features, then moved back to Instapaper for no really good reason. Pocket still looks nicer and the apps are more reliable, in my experience.

    They both allow you to save the full text of an article to read later, as well as archiving and organizing articles you’ve already read. They sync to phones, so most of my reading actually happens on public transit. Pocket can also sync to a Kobo ebook reader; not sure about Kindle, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it worked with them, too.

    Pocket is great, but I used IFTTT to automatically send RSS feeds there at one point, and now it seems to be in an endless sync loop.

    Other HN users said that they pin bookmarks, and so have many, many tabs open at one time. I think that’s a hugely inefficient and resource-intensive approach.

    Some kept it super-simple:

    I use Org Mode so I have a plain text file called todo-bookmarks.org with a list of links to the articles I want to read.
    This caused me to think about what I do. If I want to read something, I actually add the link as a draft post here, on Thought Shrapnel. The best way to ensure I gain value from a potentially-interesting article is to write about it.

    I’d rather write about a few links rather than bookmark lots. I’ve all but given up on bookmarking, as it’s almost as quick to search the web for something I’m looking for as it is to search my bookmarks…

    Source: Hacker News

    The benefits of reading aloud to children

    This article in the New York Times by Perri Klass, M.D. focuses on studies that show a link between parents reading to their children and a reduction in problematic behaviour.

    This study involved 675 families with children from birth to 5; it was a randomized trial in which 225 families received the intervention, called the Video Interaction Project, and the other families served as controls. The V.I.P. model was originally developed in 1998, and has been studied extensively by this research group.

    Participating families received books and toys when they visited the pediatric clinic. They met briefly with a parenting coach working with the program to talk about their child’s development, what the parents had noticed, and what they might expect developmentally, and then they were videotaped playing and reading with their child for about five minutes (or a little longer in the part of the study which continued into the preschool years). Immediately after, they watched the videotape with the study interventionist, who helped point out the child’s responses.

    I really like the way that they focus on the positives and point out how much the child loves the interaction with their parent through the text.

    The Video Interaction Project started as an infant-toddler program, working with low-income urban families in New York during clinic visits from birth to 3 years of age. Previously published data from a randomized controlled trial funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development showed that the 3-year-olds who had received the intervention had improved behavior — that is, they were significantly less likely to be aggressive or hyperactive than the 3-year-olds in the control group.

    I don't know enough about the causes of ADHD to be able to comment, but as a teacher and parent, I do know there's a link between the attention you give and the attention you receive.

    “The reduction in hyperactivity is a reduction in meeting clinical levels of hyperactivity,” Dr. Mendelsohn said. “We may be helping some children so they don’t need to have certain kinds of evaluations.” Children who grow up in poverty are at much higher risk of behavior problems in school, so reducing the risk of those attention and behavior problems is one important strategy for reducing educational disparities — as is improving children’s language skills, another source of school problems for poor children.

    It is a bit sad when we have to encourage parents to play with children between the ages of birth and three, but I guess in the age of smartphone addiction, we kind of have to.

    Source: The New York Times

    Image CC BY Jason Lander

    Craig Mod's subtle redesign of the hardware Kindle

    I like Craig Mod’s writing. He’s the guy that’s written on his need to walk, drawing his own calendar, and getting his attention back.

    This article is hardware Kindle devices — the  distinction being important given that you can read your books via the Kindle Cloud Reader or, indeed, via an app on pretty much any platform.

    As he points out, the user interface remains sub-optimal:

    Tap most of the screen to go forward a page. Tap the left edge to go back. Tap the top-ish area to open the menu. Tap yet another secret top-right area to bookmark. This model co-opts the physical space of the page to do too much.

    The problem is that the text is also an interface element. But it’s a lower-level element. Activated through a longer tap. In essence, the Kindle hardware and software team has decided to “function stack” multiple layers of interface onto the same plane.

    And so this model has never felt right.

    He suggests an alternative to this which involves physical buttons on the device itself:

    Hardware buttons:

    • Page forward
    • Page back
    • Menu
    • (Power/Sleep)

    What does this get us?

    It means we can now assume that — when inside of a book — any tap on the screen is explicitly to interact with content: text or images within the text. This makes the content a first-class object in the interaction model. Right now it’s secondary, engaged only if you tap and hold long enough on the screen. Otherwise, page turn and menu invocations take precedence.

    I can see why he proposes this, but I'm not so sure about the physical buttons for page turns. The reason I'd say that, is that although I now use a Linux-based bq Cervantes e-reader, before 2015 I had almost every iteration of the hardware Kindle. There's a reason Amazon removed hardware buttons for page turns.

    I read in lots of places, but I read in bed with my wife every day and if there’s one thing she couldn’t stand, it was the clicking noise of me turning the page on my Kindle. Even if I tried to press it quietly, it annoyed her. Touchscreen page turns are much better.

    The e-reader I use has a similar touch interaction to the Kindle, so I see where Craig Mod is coming from when he says:

    When content becomes the first-class object, every interaction is suddenly bounded and clear. Want the menu? Press the (currently non-existent) menu button towards the top of the Kindle. Want to turn the page? Press the page turn button. Want to interact with the text? Touch it. Nothing is “hidden.” There is no need to discover interactions. And because each interaction is clear, it invites more exploration and play without worrying about losing your place.

    This, if you haven't come across it before, is user interface design, or UI design for short. It's important stuff, for as Steve Jobs famously said: "Everything in this world... was created by people no smarter than you" — and that's particularly true in tech.

    Source: Craig Mod

    To lose old styles of reading is to lose a part of ourselves

    Sometimes I think we’re living in the end times:

    Out for dinner with another writer, I said, "I think I've forgotten how to read."

    "Yes!" he replied, pointing his knife. "Everybody has."

    "No, really," I said. "I mean I actually can't do it any more."

    He nodded: "Nobody can read like they used to. But nobody wants to talk about it."

    I wrote my doctoral thesis on digital literacies. There was a real sense in the 1990s that reading on screen was very different to reading on paper. We've kind of lost that sense of difference, and I think perhaps we need to regain it:

    For most of modern life, printed matter was, as the media critic Neil Postman put it, "the model, the metaphor, and the measure of all discourse." The resonance of printed books – their lineal structure, the demands they make on our attention – touches every corner of the world we've inherited. But online life makes me into a different kind of reader – a cynical one. I scrounge, now, for the useful fact; I zero in on the shareable link. My attention – and thus my experience – fractures. Online reading is about clicks, and comments, and points. When I take that mindset and try to apply it to a beaten-up paperback, my mind bucks.

    We don't really talk about 'hypertext' any more, as it's almost the default type of text that we read. As such, reading on paper doesn't really prepare us for it:

    For a long time, I convinced myself that a childhood spent immersed in old-fashioned books would insulate me somehow from our new media climate – that I could keep on reading and writing in the old way because my mind was formed in pre-internet days. But the mind is plastic – and I have changed. I'm not the reader I was.

    Me too. I train myself to read longer articles through mechanisms such as writing Thought Shrapnel posts and newsletters each week. But I don't read like I used to; I read for utility rather than pleasure and just for the sake of it.

    The suggestion that, in a few generations, our experience of media will be reinvented shouldn't surprise us. We should, instead, marvel at the fact we ever read books at all. Great researchers such as Maryanne Wolf and Alison Gopnik remind us that the human brain was never designed to read. Rather, elements of the visual cortex – which evolved for other purposes – were hijacked in order to pull off the trick. The deep reading that a novel demands doesn't come easy and it was never "natural." Our default state is, if anything, one of distractedness. The gaze shifts, the attention flits; we scour the environment for clues. (Otherwise, that predator in the shadows might eat us.) How primed are we for distraction? One famous study found humans would rather give themselves electric shocks than sit alone with their thoughts for 10 minutes. We disobey those instincts every time we get lost in a book.

    It's funny. We've such a connection with books, but for most of human history we've done without them:

    Literacy has only been common (outside the elite) since the 19th century. And it's hardly been crystallized since then. Our habits of reading could easily become antiquated. The writer Clay Shirky even suggests that we've lately been "emptily praising" Tolstoy and Proust. Those old, solitary experiences with literature were "just a side-effect of living in an environment of impoverished access." In our online world, we can move on. And our brains – only temporarily hijacked by books – will now be hijacked by whatever comes next.

    There's several theses in all of this around fake news, the role of reading in a democracy, and how information spreads. For now, I continue to be amazed at the power of the web on the fabric of societies.

    Source: The Globe and Mail

    Why we forget most of what we read

    I read a lot of stuff, and I remember random bits of it. I used to be reasonably disciplined about bookmarking stuff, but then realised I hardly ever went back through my bookmarks. So, instead, I try to use what I read, which is kind of the reason for Thought Shrapnel…

    Surely some people can read a book or watch a movie once and retain the plot perfectly. But for many, the experience of consuming culture is like filling up a bathtub, soaking in it, and then watching the water run down the drain. It might leave a film in the tub, but the rest is gone.
    Well, indeed. Nice metaphor.
    In the internet age, recall memory—the ability to spontaneously call information up in your mind—has become less necessary. It’s still good for bar trivia, or remembering your to-do list, but largely, [Jared Horvath, a research fellow at the University of Melbourne] says, what’s called recognition memory is more important. “So long as you know where that information is at and how to access it, then you don’t really need to recall it,” he says.
    Exactly. You need to know how to find that article you read that backs up the argument you're making. You don't need to remember all of the details. Search skills are really important.

    One study showed that recalling details about episodes for those bingeing on Netflix series was much lower than for thoose who spaced them out. I guess that’s unsurprising.

    People are binging on the written word, too. In 2009, the average American encountered 100,000 words a day, even if they didn’t “read” all of them. It’s hard to imagine that’s decreased in the nine years since. In “Binge-Reading Disorder,” an article for The Morning News, Nikkitha Bakshani analyzes the meaning of this statistic. “Reading is a nuanced word,” she writes, “but the most common kind of reading is likely reading as consumption: where we read, especially on the internet, merely to acquire information. Information that stands no chance of becoming knowledge unless it ‘sticks.’”
    For anyone who knows about spaced learning, the conclusions are pretty obvious:
    The lesson from his binge-watching study is that if you want to remember the things you watch and read, space them out. I used to get irritated in school when an English-class syllabus would have us read only three chapters a week, but there was a good reason for that. Memories get reinforced the more you recall them, Horvath says. If you read a book all in one stretch—on an airplane, say—you’re just holding the story in your working memory that whole time. “You’re never actually reaccessing it,” he says.
    So apply what you learn and you're putting it to work. Hence this post!

    Source: The Atlantic (via e180)

    Reading the web on your own terms

    Although it was less than a decade ago since the demise of the wonderful, simple, much-loved Google Reader, it seems like it was a different age entirely.

    Subscribing to news feeds and blogs via RSS wasn’t as widely used as it could/should have been, but there was something magical about that period of time.

    In this article, the author reflects on that era and suggests that we might want to give it another try:

    Well, I believe that RSS was much more than just a fad. It made blogging possible for the first time because you could follow dozens of writers at the same time and attract a considerably large audience if you were the writer. There were no ads (except for the high-quality Daring Fireball kind), no one could slow down your feed with third party scripts, it had a good baseline of typographic standards and, most of all, it was quiet. There were no comments, no likes or retweets. Just the writer’s thoughts and you.
    I was a happy user of Google Reader until they pulled the plug. It was a bit more interactive than other feed readers, somehow, in a way I can't quite recall. Everyone used it until they didn't.
    The unhealthy bond between RSS and Google Reader is proof of how fragile the web truly is, and it reveals that those communities can disappear just as quickly as they bloom.
    Since that time I've been an intermittent user of Feedly. Everyone else, it seems, succumbed to the algorithmic news feeds provided by Facebook, Twitter, and the like.
    A friend of mine the other day said that “maybe Medium only exists because Google Reader died — Reader left a vacuum, and the social network filled it.” I’m not entirely sure I agree with that, but it sure seems likely. And if that’s the case then the death of Google Reader probably led to the emergence of email newsletters, too.

    […]

    On a similar note, many believe that blogging is making a return. Folks now seem to recognize the value of having your own little plot of land on the web and, although it’s still pretty complex to make your own website and control all that content, it’s worth it in the long run. No one can run ads against your thing. No one can mess with the styles. No one can censor or sunset your writing.

    Not only that but when you finish making your website you will have gained superpowers: you now have an independent voice, a URL, and a home on the open web.

    I don’t think we can turn the clock back, but it does feel like there might be positive, future-focused ways of improving things through, for example, decentralisation.

    Source: Robin Rendle

    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

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