Searching for contentment

This is what fascinates me most in existence:
the peculiar necessity of imagining what is, in fact, real.
– Philip Gourevitch
epigraph to Blindsight by Peter Watts >

Reading: Malcolm Gladwell, Talking to Strangers
What We Should Know about the People We Don't Know

Talking to Strangers by Malcolm GladwellNarrated by the author

After reading or listening to all of Malcolm Gladwell's pervious books and learning a lot from them, I found this one disjointed: the sections jumped from one story to another with only marginal thematic consistency. The author also attempted to modernize his audiobook presentation ("What you're about to hear is a different kind of audiobook … Think of this as an audiobook with the polish of a well-produced podcast.") by injecting live audio of interviews, which were often of poor audio quality; background music, which I found mostly distracting; and interludes of music … the music was fine, if not exactly to my taste (Hell You Talmbout by Janelle Monáe), but suddenly going from listening to calm, quiet narration to loud, percussive music was often jarring.

All those criticisms aside, I learned something valuable from this book related to the ideas of the psychologist Tim Levine, specifically his Truth-Default Theory.

The basic idea of TDT is that when we communicate with other people, we not only tend to believe them, but the thought that maybe we shouldn’t does not even come to mind. This is a good thing for two reasons. First, and most important, the truth-default is needed for communication to function. Second, most people are mostly honesty most of the time. But, the truth-default makes us vulnerable to deception.

Little, Brown & Company, 2019, Downpour⩘ 

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Contemplating: The Story of Us

Illustration by Tim Urban from The Story of Us of a pile of cartoon faces, one of which is waving
--> Illustration by Tim Urban

The Story of Us⩘  is a fascinating long read from Tim Urban—the brilliant and entertaining storyteller and illustrator behind the Wait But What blog. I now understand our world, which so often seems entirely insane to me, a bit better.

A few years ago, Tim gave what turned out to be one of the all-time favorite TED Talks: Inside the mind of a master procrastinator⩘ , during which he introduced the Instant Gratification Monkey, who exerts a large influence on many, if not all of us, and who went on to become an endearing plush toy.

The Instant Gratification Monkey plush toy

Not being a TED Talk junkie, I hadn't previously seen this talk, so it a was delight to be introduced to the ideas Tim shares through it.

Wait But What: The Story of Us by Tim Urban⩘ 

More recent contemplations >

Living in the Rockies

When I reach the halfway point of my daily walk and turn around, this is the view that greets me. A bit different every day, it almost always invites me to pause for a few moments.

View across South St. Vrain Creek

If I don't get too lost in my thoughts and stay aware of my surroundings, I also see this beautiful moss covered boulder nestled in the wild grasses along the way.

Moss covered boulder nestled in wild grasses

Higher res version of this photo >
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Woodworking: Windtraveler lamp

The Windtraveler shoji lamp

Dedicated to my good friend Thomas Hey'l
who has inspired me to look at design more deeply
and to take even more care about precision.

More about this project >
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Tool reviews: Window tools

For someone like me, owning a home for twenty years means I've done just about every kind of handyperson remodeling and repair job imaginable, from plumbing to electrical, painting to insulation, and on and on. But one thing I had never needed to do, thank goodness, was to replace a large double-pane piece of glass. We did replace all of the windows in the house when we first moved here, but never the glass in an installed window.

Then one day I was out doing something I've done for many years, using a grass trimmer to cut down the tall grasses growing where we hang our clothes, and suddenly I heard a crack followed by a very strange sound. I took off my ear protectors and discovered that the sound I was hearing was of a large sheet of tempered glass forming thousands of cracked pieces spidering outward from where a stone my trimmer had kicked up had struck it. See the large vinyl windows in the background of the following photo? It was one of them. Oh shit!

New clothesline in our backyard

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Ham radio: Reflections of an amateur⩘ 

My HT: Kenwood TH-D74A

Although I'm still relatively new to the universe of amateur radio, where there are active hams who have been playing around with it since the 1950s, I've already enjoyed enough interesting learning experiences as well as stubbed my toes enough times to have gained a few insights. I'm a non-technical user figuring things out as I go along, and I'm writing these articles as my way to keep track of what I'm learning (and also just for fun, as I love writing as much as learning). Basically, this is info I wish I had found online when I was browsing for insights:⩘ .

Playing with Pi-Star⩘ 
More amateur radio⩘ 


Sharks kill an average of 10 people per year. People kill around 100,000,000 sharks per year 1. People also kill approximately 425,000 people per year, topped only by mosquitoes, which kill about 725,000 people per year 2.

And we worry about sharks?

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People walk at an average pace of about 2.5 miles per hour.
Trail winding up Cow Creek valley by Toshen
Meanwhile, light travels about 186,000 miles per second, or about 11,160,000 miles per hour. It would take light about 0.13 seconds to travel around the Earth,
Blue Marble, 2012. Credit: NASA/NOAA/GSFC/Suomi NPP/VIIRS/Norman Kuring
1.3 seconds to travel the 238,900 miles from the moon to the Earth,
Big end-of-year moon by Toshen
8.3 minutes to travel the 93,000,000 miles from the sun to Earth, and 1.3 hours to travel the 890,000,000 miles from the sun to Saturn.
Saturn. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
At the scale of the solar system, the Earth is a spec of dust (1,300,000 Earths could fit within our sun).
Sun, from the video Fiery Looping Rain on the Sun. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO
Our sun, as big as it is, is just a tiny twinkle of light in a suburb of the Milky Way galaxy. Its light takes 28,000 years to travel to the center of the Milky Way.
The Milky Way in Yosemite by bgwashburn is licensed under CC BY 2.0 (cropped)
One light year is just short of 6,000,000,000,000 miles. The Milky Way has a diameter between 150,000 and 200,000 light-years, and contains between 100,000,000,000 - 400,000,000,000 stars, which together create a smidgen of light in our local group of galaxies.
The Milky Way: VL test PSP8 by gjdonatiello is licensed under CC CC0 1.0 (cropped) The light of the Milky Way takes about 2,500,000 years to travel just to the nearby Andromeda galaxy.
Andromeda. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
The observable universe is estimated to contain somewhere between 200,000,000,000 - 2,000,000,000,000 galaxies.
Hubble eXtreme Deep Field (XDF). Credit: NASA, ESA, G. Illingworth, D. Magee, and P. Oesch (University of California, Santa Cruz), R. Bouwens (Leiden University), and the HUDF09 Team

And we worry about anything?

All distances and times are approximate.
Inspiration: "New 3D map of the Milky Way shows we live in a warped galaxy," NBC News, Feb 5, 2019.
A related video: Hubble Legacy Field Zoom-Out.
Another related video: The Exhilarating Peace of Freediving by Guillaume Néry (really, it's related).
Related project: A team of five French amateur astrophotographers has assembled an amazing gallery of deep space images from their observatory in Chile: Ciel Austral, which means Southern Sky.

Image credits: