Nothing out of the ordinary this month, a bunch of steady plodding stuff: we got Tara her first set of blocks (”Mega Blocks”), and a “learning tower” (see this YouTube video for an exaggerated use case), went for a birthday party (yeah, get used to it), she sprouted a few more teeth and got a haircut, and we took a bunch of walks downtown and to the park, et cetera.
Finally, I was bummed see an amazing one-of-a-kind, second-hand bookstore on Castro Street close its doors. I guess browsing books (outside of a good library) is soon going to be some sort of ancient ritual. Sad, sad, sad.
I knew the Daily Show was over when Jon Stewart left, some people1 just took longer to realize that
I’ve been a fan of ASMR for a while, I’m happy to see it slowly go mainstream, as this live2 session shows
This one is very, very niche, but if you liked ”Moby Dick”, you might like this collection of Melville trivia3.
If you grew up in the 90s, you’ll wince when you see these kids react4 to Windows 95
This article (which gets to contributes to this month’s cover image) takes a nostalgic look at the ruins of old rocket launch5 sites (I have a hunch that old soviet launch sites are even more romantic).
Finally, to end on a positive note, a building in Zurich (a reasonably big one) successfully completed its 60 meter journey6.
(Meta: Delayed by a couple of weeks because I was on vacation! That’s also why there isn’t much here or in next month’s post)
So, miscellanous finds last month:
In the spirit of Avatar, Peter Wohlleben shows how trees can communicate1 through a fungal network he dubs the “wood-wide web” (!)
Before moving on to an elderly beech to show how trees, like people, wrinkle as they age, he added, “Sometimes, pairs like this are so interconnected at the roots that when one tree dies, the other one dies, too.”
While trawling YouTube, I came across a2 great old cover of a U2 song, by a gospel choir
After “Alien” and “Aliens”, many stories were considered and rejected for “Alien 3”, and one of the most interesting ones4 was set in “an archaic wooden planet inhabited by an ancient monastery” (really).
The Guardian reviews5 Jonathan Blow’s new game and gives him an unusual title, “The Thomas Pynchon of Gaming”
Douglas Rushkoff continues6 his trademark pessimism:
They’ll get marketed to. Facebook will market you your future before you’ve even gotten there, they’ll use predictive algorithms to figure out what’s your likely future and then try to make that even more likely. They’ll get better at programming you – they’ll reduce your spontaneity. And they can use your face and name to advertise through you, that’s what you’ve agreed to. I didn’t want Facebook to advertise something through me as an influencer where my every act becomes grist to marketing.
“The Witch” is reviewed7, and found to be beyond the reach of other modern thrillers (sadly, I have no time to watch it)
How many people, these days, heading out of “Don Giovanni,” are honestly shaken by the mortal terror of the hero, in his final conflagration? Which of us treats “The Crucible,” set sixty years or so after the events of “The Witch,” as anything but a reflection on the political hysteria of the time in which it was written? The problem is simple: we can’t be damned. One gradual effect of the Enlightenment was to tamp down the fires of Hell and sweep away the ashes, allowing us to bask in the rational coolness that ensued. But the loss—to the dramatic imagination, at any rate—has been immense. If your characters are convinced that a single action, a word out of place, or even a stray thought brings not bodily risk but an eternity of pain, your story will be charged with illimitable dread. No thriller, however tense, can promise half as much.
I’ve saved the best for last: a new graphic novel8 by Douglas Rushkoff (yes, he of the technological pessimism above), titled Aleister and Adolf. This one I have to make time for.
“The bigger idea is the corporate-cyber-universe as the progeny of fascist sigil magick,” Rushkoff said. “Swastikas and other sigil logos become the corporate logos of our world. And given that we’re living in a moment where those logos are migrating online where they can move on their own, it’s kind of important that we consider the origins and power of these icons.”
The month was a blur, mostly because three whole weeks was vacation time! Tara had her longest travel ever (yet), with a seven-hour flight followed by a ten-hour flight to get from San Francisco to New Delhi, and some domestic flying as well (New Delhi to Mangalore).
Lots of context switching happened, and it’s hard to come up with highlights, and I’m not sure I even relaxed as much as I thought I would, but we did fit a ridiculous amount of stuff into these three weeks. One lesson learnt is that everyone has more fun when they’re away from home, which is why the big family get-together away from home (at Bekal, Kerala) was such a good idea.
Back to work tomorrow, and probably won’t get to another three-week vacation anytime soon.
Went to a bunch of places, ate a bunch of stuff, but it’s all a blur.
Tara turned 15 months (so, one-twelfth of the distance to 15 years), and can spout little mono- and bi-syllabic words.
Played around with a couple of apps/games as “time fillers” during the month. The first was “Lumosity”, which is gimmicky but fun, and the second was “Chess Light”, which I barely made any progress at, but has made the few occasions I’ve had to wait in a line somewhere quite satisfying.
Subjected my draft mini-story-thing (about 25.5k words) to a couple of rounds of revision and now wondering what to do next. It is this year’s plan to put it out there, just have to make time for it.
Miscellaneous stuff: Tara was sick for a week, and we’re getting ready for a her longest trip yet, a three-week visit to India in March. I continued to run at least once a week, which is not bad at all (I thought I would have given up by now).
A bunch of miscellaneous stuff I came across in January 2016:
Cool archaeological stuff still happens, as seen here in this unearthing1 of a city that was “the Hong Kong of Egypt” during most of the first millennium BCE
Happened to watch this movie on Netflix and it turned out to be pretty watchable. An excerpt from a review2:
A day-in-the-life story, “A Coffee in Berlin” follows the downward-sloping fortunes of Niko, a scruffily poetic slacker who loses his girlfriend, his driver’s license and his financial support from Daddy. And that’s before night falls.
Blogs were all the rage twenty years ago, even ten years ago. A view3 on the pointlessness of blogs today:
Hossein Derakhshan was imprisoned by the regime for his blogging. On his release, he found the internet stripped of its power to change the world and instead serving up a stream of pointless social trivia.
A different riff4 on the same theme: we read a lot more than anyone ever before, we just read different stuff.
The abundance of texts in this zeitgeist creates a tunnel effect of amnesia. We now have access to so much information that we actually forget the specific nuances of what we read, where we read them, and who wrote them. We forget what’s available all the time because we live in an age of hyperabundant textuality. Now, when we’re lost, we’re just one click away from the answer. Even the line separating what we know and what we don’t know is blurry.
And yet another article5 tries to answer the question: ”what is web writing in 2015?” (yes, from a year ago)
Every once in a while, an article6 gets me interested in geology again. I won’t try to summarize or paraphrase here, the title (“The 40,000-Mile Volcano”) says it all.
Apparently, the whole man-hunting-mammoth thing isn’t some recent pre-ice-age phenomenon, we were doing it as early as _45,000 years ago!_7
Old-time astronomers suffered from bad notation, but were no less curious, and Babylonian astronomers8 had even come up with a sort of primitive calculus! Also, an unsurprising meta-quote at the end of the article:
But it’s also possible the author had trouble passing on his revolutionary technique. The math might have been too abstract, while existing methods for observing the heavens worked well enough at the time. ”Perhaps his colleagues didn’t understand it.” Ossendrijver says.
The image at the top is taken from this set of photos9 in a recent article in Wired.
Can’t believe the first month of 2016 is already over.
The big highlight (for me) is that I started running again, trying to keep it once a week on Sunday mornings. The current goal is to do a 14-mile run by March. We’ll see how it goes.
The second big highlight is that I fished out the half-novel manuscript I wrote as part of NaNoWriMo last year, and edited it a bit, etc. Still have to work on a lot of rough edges, but I’d like to take it “all the way” and then forget about it (gist: a very trippy psychedelic “Alice-In-Wonderland-for-adults” sort of tale).
Miscellaneous stuff: I experimented with a New Yorker subscription for several months, then gave up and went back to the Economist, and began a trial daily habit of Lumosity and Duolingo on my phone. Tried to cut down on random internet browsing, with limited success. Planning a long (three-week) trip to India in March. Photo above taken from through a grille window on a cloudy day.