The world doesn’t particularly need my opinions on NFTs (‘non-fungible tokens’) as there’s plenty of opinions to go round in other newsletters, podcasts, and blog posts.
After doing a bunch of reading, though, I think that the main use case for NFTs will be ticket sales. That is to say, when there is a limited supply of something with intrinsic value, and both the original buyer and seller want to ensure authenticity.
The rest is speculation and gambling, as far as I’m concerned, with a side serving of ecological destruction. I’m also a bit concerned about the enforcement of copyright everywhere on the web it might lead to…
NFTs, explained — “Non-fungible” more or less means that it’s unique and can’t be replaced with something else. For example, a bitcoin is fungible — trade one for another bitcoin, and you’ll have exactly the same thing. A one-of-a-kind trading card, however, is non-fungible. If you traded it for a different card, you’d have something completely different. You gave up a Squirtle, and got a 1909 T206 Honus Wagner, which StadiumTalk calls “the Mona Lisa of baseball cards.” (I’ll take their word for it.)”
NFTs are a dangerous trap — “The more time and passion that creators devote to chasing the NFT, the more time they’ll spend trying to create the appearance of scarcity and hustling people to believe that the tokens will go up in value. They’ll become promoters of digital tokens more than they are creators. Because that’s the only reason that someone is likely to buy one–like a stock, they hope it will go up in value. Unlike some stocks, it doesn’t pay dividends or come with any other rights. And unlike actual works of art, NFTs aren’t usually aesthetically beautiful on their own, they simply represent something that is.”
Cryptodamages: Monetary value estimates of the air pollution and human health impacts of cryptocurrency mining — “Results indicate that in 2018, each $1 of Bitcoin value created was responsible for $0.49 in health and climate damages in the US and $0.37 in China. The similar value in China relative to the US occurs despite the extremely large disparity between the value of a statistical life estimate for the US relative to that of China. Further, with each cryptocurrency, the rising electricity requirements to produce a single coin can lead to an almost inevitable cliff of negative net social benefits, absent perpetual price increases.”
📚 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.
When sitting down to put together this week’s round-up, which is coming to you slightly later than usual because of <gestures indeterminately> all this, I decided that I’d only focus on things that are positive; things that might either raise a smile or make you think “oh, interesting!”
The real advantage of going with a launcher like this instead of a more traditional one is simple: distraction reduction and productivity increases. Everything done while using this kind of setup is deliberate. There is no scrolling through pages upon pages of apps. There is no scrolling through Google Discover with story after story that you will probably never read. Instead between 3–7 app shortcuts are present, quick links to clock and calendar, and not much else. This setup requires you as the user to do an inventory of what apps you use the most. It really requires the user to rethink how they use their phone and what apps are the priority.
Cow face pose is the yoga name for that stretch where one hand reaches down your back, and the other hand reaches up. (There’s a corresponding thing you do with your legs, but forget it for now—we’re focusing on shoulders today.) If you can’t reach your hands together, it feels like a challenging or maybe impossible pose.
I was pretty shocked that I couldn’t barely do this with my right hand at the top and my left at the bottom. I was very shocked that I got nowhere near the other way around. It just goes to show that those people who work at home really need to work on back muscles and flexibility.
As someone who a) thinks Dr. Dre was an amazing producer, and b) read Dr. Seuss’s Fox in Socks to his children roughly 1 million times (enough to be able to, eventually, get through the entire book at a comically high rate of speed w/o any tongue twisting slip-ups), I thought Wes Tank’s video of himself rapping Fox in Socks over Dre’s beats was really fun and surprisingly well done.
One of the highlights of my kids being a bit younger than they are now was to read Dr. Suess to them. Fox in Socks was my absolute tongue-twisting favourite! So this blew me away, and then when I went through to YouTube, the algorithm recommended Daniel Radcliffe (the Harry Potter star) rapping Blackalicious’ Alphabet Aerobics. Whoah.
Google is launching the free version of its Stadia game streaming service today. Anyone with a Gmail address can sign up, and Google is even providing a free two-month trial of Stadia Pro as part of the launch. It comes just two months after Google promised a free tier was imminent, and it will mean anyone can get access to nine titles, including GRID, Destiny 2: The Collection, and Thumper, free of charge.
Tom Warren (The Verge)
This is exactly the news I’ve been waiting for! Excellent.
Practicing simple creative acts on a regular basis can give you a psychological boost, according to a 2016 study in the Journal of Positive Psychology. A 2010 review of more than 100 studies of art’s impact on health revealed that pursuits like music, writing, dance, painting, pottery, drawing, and photography improved medical outcomes, mental health, social networks, and positive identity. It was published in the American Journal of Public Health.
Gwen Moran (Fast Company)
I love all of the artists on Twitter and Instagram giving people daily challenges. My family have been following along with some of them!
[R]esearchers at Norway’s Vestre Viken Hospital Trust and the University of Bergen conducted a small study to quantify the auditory experience of dreamers. Why? Because they wanted to “assess the relevance of dreaming as a model for psychosis.” Throughout history, they write, psychologists have considered dreamstates to be a model for psychosis, yet people experiencing psychosis usually suffer from auditory hallucinations far more than visual ones. Basically, what the researchers determined is that the reason so little is known about auditory sensations while dreaming is because, well, nobody asks what people’s dreams sound like.
David Pescovitz (Boing boing)
This makes sense, if you think about it. The advice for doing online video is always that you get the audio right first. It would seem that it’s the same for dreaming: that we pay attention more to what we ‘hear’ than what we ‘see’.
Humans can’t stand being bored. Studies show we’ll do just about anything to avoid it, from compulsive smartphone scrolling right up to giving ourselves electric shocks. And as emotions go, boredom is incredibly good at parting us from our money – we’ll even try to buy our way out of the feeling with distractions like impulse shopping.
Erin Craig (BBC Travel)
The story in this article about a prisoner of war who dreamed up a daring escape is incredible, but does make the point that dreaming big when you’re locked down is a grat idea.
“What did you learn today,” is a fine question to ask. Particularly right this minute, when we have more time and less peace of mind than is usually the norm.
It’s way easier to get someone to watch–a YouTube comic, a Netflix show, a movie–than it is to encourage them to do something. But it’s the doing that allows us to become our best selves, and it’s the doing that creates our future.
It turns out that learning isn’t in nearly as much demand as it could be. Our culture and our systems don’t push us to learn. They push us to conform and to consume instead.
The good news is that each of us, without permission from anyone else, can change that.
A timely, inspirational post from the always readable (and listen-worthy) Seth Godin.
This column has been in the works for some time, but my hope is that launching it during the pandemic will help you leverage a contemplative mindset while you have the time to think about what matters most to you. I hope this column will enrich your life, and equip you to enrich the lives of the people you love and lead.
Arthur C. Brooks (The atlantic)
A really handy way of looking at things, and I’m hoping that further articles in the series are just as good.
Images by Kevin Burg and Jamie Beck (they’re all over Giphy so I just went to the original source and used the hi-res versions)
I head off on holiday tomorrow! Before I go, check out these highlights from this week’s reading and research:
“Things that were considered worthless are redeemed”(Ira David Socol) — “Empathy plus Making must be what education right now is about. We are at both a point of learning crisis and a point of moral crisis. We see today what happens — in the US, in the UK, in Brasil — when empathy is lost — and it is a frightening sight. We see today what happens — in graduates from our schools who do not know how to navigate their world — when the learning in our schools is irrelevant in content and/or delivery.”
Voice assistants are going to make our work lives better—and noisier(Quartz) — “Active noise cancellation and AI-powered sound settings could help to tackle these issues head on (or ear on). As the AI in noise cancellation headphones becomes better and better, we’ll potentially be able to enhance additional layers of desirable audio, while blocking out sounds that distract. Audio will adapt contextually, and we’ll be empowered to fully manage and control our soundscapes.
We Aren’t Here to Learn What We Already Know(LA Review of Books) — “A good question, in short, is an honest question, one that, like good theory, dances on the edge of what is knowable, what it is possible to speculate on, what is available to our immediate grasp of what we are reading, or what it is possible to say. A good question, that is, like good theory, might be quite unlovely to read, particularly in its earliest iterations. And sometimes it fails or has to be abandoned.”
The runner who makes elaborate artwork with his feet and a map(The Guardian) — “The tracking process is high-tech, but the whole thing starts with just a pen and paper. “When I was a kid everyone thought I’d be an artist when I grew up – I was always drawing things,” he said. He was a particular fan of the Etch-a-Sketch, which has something in common with his current work: both require creating images in an unbroken line.”
What I Do When it Feels Like My Work Isn’t Good Enough(James Clear) — “Release the desire to define yourself as good or bad. Release the attachment to any individual outcome. If you haven’t reached a particular point yet, there is no need to judge yourself because of it. You can’t make time go faster and you can’t change the number of repetitions you have put in before today. The only thing you can control is the next repetition.”
Online porn and our kids: It’s time for an uncomfortable conversation(The Irish Times) — “Now when we talk about sex, we need to talk about porn, respect, consent, sexuality, body image and boundaries. We don’t need to terrify them into believing watching porn will ruin their lives, destroy their relationships and warp their libidos, maybe, but we do need to talk about it.”
Drones will fly for days with new photovoltaic engine(Tech Xplore) — “[T]his finding builds on work… published in 2011, which found that the key to boosting solar cell efficiency was not by absorbing more photons (light) but emitting them. By adding a highly reflective mirror on the back of a photovoltaic cell, they broke efficiency records at the time and have continued to do so with subsequent research.
Twitter won’t ruin the world. But constraining democracy would(The Guardian) — “The problems of Twitter mobs and fake news are real. As are the issues raised by populism and anti-migrant hostility. But neither in technology nor in society will we solve any problem by beginning with the thought: “Oh no, we put power into the hands of people.” Retweeting won’t ruin the world. Constraining democracy may well do.
The Encryption Debate Is Over – Dead At The Hands Of Facebook(Forbes) — “Facebook’s model entirely bypasses the encryption debate by globalizing the current practice of compromising devices by building those encryption bypasses directly into the communications clients themselves and deploying what amounts to machine-based wiretaps to billions of users at once.”
Living in surplus(Seth Godin) — “When you live in surplus, you can choose to produce because of generosity and wonder, not because you’re drowning.”
Image from Dilbert. Shared to make the (hopefully self-evident) counterpoint that not everything of value has an economic value. There’s more to life than accumulation.
How Creative Commons drives collaboration(Vox) “Although traditional copyright protects creators from others redistributing or repurposing their works entirely, it also restricts access, for both viewers and makers.”
Why Being Bored Is Good(The Walrus) — “Boredom, especially the species of it that I am going to label “neoliberal,” depends for its force on the workings of an attention economy in which we are mostly willing participants.”
5: People having fun on the internet(Near Future Field Notes) — “The internet is still a really great place to explore. But you have to get back into Internet Nature instead of spending all your time in Internet Times Square wondering how everything got so loud and dehumanising.”
The Power of One Push-Up(The Atlantic) — “Essentially, these quick metrics serve as surrogates that correlate with all kinds of factors that determine a person’s overall health—which can otherwise be totally impractical, invasive, and expensive to measure directly. If we had to choose a single, simple, universal number to define health, any of these functional metrics might be a better contender than BMI.”
How Wechat censors images in private chats(BoingBoing) — “Wechat maintains a massive index of the MD5 hashes of every image that Chinese censors have prohibited. When a user sends another user an image that matches one of these hashes, it’s recognized and blocked at the server before it is transmitted to the recipient, with neither the recipient or the sender being informed that the censorship has taken place.”
It’s Never Too Late to Be Successful and Happy(Invincible Career) — “The “race” we are running is a one-person event. The most important comparison is to yourself. Are you doing better than you were last year? Are you a better person than you were yesterday? Are you learning and growing? Are you slowly figuring out what you really want, what makes you happy, and what fulfillment means for you?”
‘Blitzscaling’ Is Choking Innovation—and Wasting Money(WIRED) — “If we learned anything from the dotcom bubble at the turn of the century, it’s that in an environment of abundant capital, money does not necessarily bestow competitive advantage. In fact, spending too much, to soon on unproven business models only heightens the risk that a company’s race for global domination can become a race to oblivion.”
As detailed here, our co-op decided last week to lift our sights, expand our vision, and represent ourselves more holistically.
So when I stumbled upon Paul Jarvis’ post on the importance of making art, it really chimed with me:
What makes the content you create awesome is that it’s a story told through your unique lens. It’s you, telling a story. It’s you not giving a fuck about anything but telling that story. It doesn’t matter if it’s a blog post about banking software or a video on how to make nut milk, the content will be better if you let your real personality shine.
He gives some specific tips in the short post, which is definitely worth your time.
From my point of view with Thought Shrapnel, I don’t track open rates, etc. because it means I can focus on what I’m interested in, rather than whatever I can get people to click on.
After never having visited Barcelona before November 2017, in the subsequent 12 months following, I went there five times. One of the things that struck me was the art in the city; some municipal, some architectural, and some more vernacular (i.e. graffiti-based).
When I was in Denver a few months ago, Noah Geisel was kind enough to give me a walking tour of some of the (partly commissioned) street art there. It was incredible.
I’ve never been to Hong Kong, and am unlike to go there any time soon, but this Twitter thread of Hong Kong shutter art makes me want to!
This richly-illustrated post uses as a touchstone the revolution in art that took place in the 17th century with Johannes Vermeer’s The LittleStreet. 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.
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.
Austin Kleon reflects on the following quotation from Jean-Michel Basquiat:
You’ve got to realize that influence is not influence. It’s simply someone’s idea going through my new mind.
In other words, the person who’s doing the influencing doesn’t know they’re doing the influencing. We say that an artist or writer was influenced by someone, but that’s the wrong way around:
When we say, “Basquiat was influenced by Van Gogh,” that isn’t really correct, because it implies that Van Gogh is doing something to Basquiat, when actually the opposite is true.
Kleon continues to quote K.K. Ruthven:
Our understanding of literary ‘influence’ is obstructed by the grammar of our language, which puts things back to front in obliging us to speak in passive terms of the one who is the active partner in the relationship: to say that Keats influenced Wilde is not only to credit Keats with an activity of which he was innocent, but also to misrepresent Wilde by suggesting he merely submitted to something he obviously went out of his way to acquire. In matters of influence, it is the receptor who takes the initiative, not the emitter. When we say that Keats had a strong influence on Wilde, what we really mean is that Wilde was an assiduous reader of Keats, an inquisitive reader in the service of an acquisitive writer.
I like things that make me think differently about things I take for granted, especially ones that have been encoded into language.