Searching for contentment

In the fragrance of freshly worked wood

The soft glow cast by shoji lamps

The inspiration of good reads

The wonder of daily living


My heart is with
the people of Ukraine

The flag of Ukraine (top half blue, bottom half yellow-gold): click to read more

An increasing sense of both anger and apprehension

Image of the letter Handwritten by Professor Will Steffan to Joe Duggan. The complete text is in the following post.

In 2014, Joe Duggan wrote to a variety of climate scientists to ask them how he felt about climate change. Five years later, he asked them again. This is the answer he received in 2020 from Australian Emiratus Professor Will Steffen, one of the world's most preeminent climate scientists, who passed away late January 2023:

As the climate system continues to spiral towards a potentially uncontrollable state, I am struck with an increasing sense of both anger and apprehension. I'm angry because the lack of effective action on climate change, despite the wealth not of only scientific information but also of solutions to reduce emissions, has now created a climate emergency. The students are right. Their future is now being threatening by the greed of the wealthy fossil fuel elite, the lies of the Murdoch press, and the weakness of our political leaders. These people have no right to destroy my daughter's future and that of her generation.

I'm apprehensive because the more we learn about climate change, the riskier it looks. Even at a 1 degree C rise in global temperature, extreme weather events are becoming more violent and dangerous than models have predicted. Over the last 5 years, our knowledge of tipping points in the Earth System has advanced rapidly, with many already showing signs of instability. Worse yet, they can interact like a row of dominoes to set off a tipping cascade, driving the Earth to hotter and more unstable conditions. That is my worst fear—that we may reach a 'point of no return' where we commit our children to a future of hell on Earth.

Will Steffen
16 February 2020

ITHYF5⩘ , posted by Joe Duggan, Is This How You Feel?, 2020.
See also: Will Steffen, 'courageous' climate scientist, dies in Canberra aged 75⩘  by Graham Readfearn, The Guardian, Jan 30, 2023.

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Reading

Rolf Dobelli, The Art of Thinking Clearly

The audiobook cover of The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli displaying the title in the center in large black text, except for the word Thinking, which is red and upside down.Translated by Nicky Griffin; narrated by Eric Conger

Swiss author Dobelli discusses 98 cognitive errors we are all susceptible to make, providing illuminating examples of each, at times sobering, at others quite humorous.

The failure to think clearly, or what experts call a "cognitive error," is a systematic deviation from logic—from optimal, rational, reasonable thought and behavior. By "systematic," I mean that these are not just occasional errors in judgment but rather routine mistakes, barriers to logic we stumble over time and again, repeating patterns through generations and through the centuries.

One example is the Social Proof error, which is caused by individuals feeling they are behaving correctly when they act the same as other people, a mistake I think has been vastly multiplied by social media.

If 50 million people say something foolish, it's still foolish.
– W. Somerset Maugham

(For a glimpse of this, see: Jordan Klepper Crashes Trump's First 2024 Campaign "Rally"⩘ , The Daily Show, Feb 1, 2023.)

I wasn't always convinced by Dobelli's examples. I think he sometimes oversimplifies, glossing over nuance. Other times, I think he's a bit too certain of his own opinion. (Of course, I could be making cognitive errors in my evaluation.) Still, I think listening to the book was worthwhile, though there's no way I'm ever going to remember these 98 cognitive traps!

There is one takeaway conclusion I came to that I will remember: it's worth it to always maintain a healthy dose of skepticism as we're interacting with the world as well as about our initial interpretation of those interactions.

One of my favorite humorous stories is from the chapter discussing the Chauffeur Knowledge error, our tendency to overvalue knowledge from people who have learned to put on a good show (like news anchors):

After receiving the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1918, Max Planck went on tour across Germany. Wherever he was invited, he delivered the same lecture on new quantum mechanics. Over time, his chauffeur grew to know it by heart: "It has to be boring giving the same speech each time, Professor Planck. How about I do it for you in Munich? You can sit in the front row and wear my chauffeur's cap. That'd give us both a bit of variety." Planck liked the idea, so that evening the driver held a long lecture on quantum mechanics in front of a distinguished audience. Later, a physics professor stood up with a question. The driver recoiled: "Never would I have thought that someone from such an advanced city as Munich would ask such a simple question! My chauffeur will answer it."

In my opinion, one of the most frightening cognitive errors discussed is the Sleeper Effect, especially given today's political environment in the U.S.:

   If [propaganda] strikes a chord with someone, this influence will only increase over time. Why? Psychologist Carl Hovland … named this phenomenon the sleeper effect. To date, the best explanation is that, in our memories, the source of the argument fades faster than the argument. In other words, your brain quickly forgets where the information came from…. Meanwhile, the message itself … fades only slowly or even endures. Therefore, any knowledge that stems from an untrustworthy source gains credibility over time. The discrediting force melts away faster than the message does.
   In the United States, elections increasingly revolve around nasty advertisements, in which candidates seek to tarnish one another's record or reputation. However, by law, each political ad must disclose its sponsor at the end so that it is clearly distinguishable as an electioneering message. However, countless studies show that the sleeper effect does its job here, too, especially among undecided voters. The messenger fades from memory; the ugly accusations persevere.

Harper, 2013; audiobook: HarperAudio, 2013; IndieBound⩘ 

See also: The Ultimate Guide to your most common Thinking errors - Part I⩘  and Part II⩘ , Escaping Ordinary, Jan 2023.

More recent reading >

Living in the Rockies

I usually prefer to take snow photos on mornings after a snowstorm when the skies are blue and the scene is lit by brilliant sun. But when I was out clearing the dry, powdery snow from our driveway this morning in crisp 1° F weather with a light snow falling, I was awed by the silence and the soft atmosphere created by the low clouds hovering just at the hilltops, almost hiding the rising sun and promising more snow to come. I'm so grateful that we are having a cold, snowy winter this year, something we can't count on anymore.

A view of a steep, snow-covered hillside. In the foreground, a couple Ponderosa pine trees with big balls of snow around all of their needle tips are framing the view. Misty clouds hang just over the top of the hill, with the sun a faint glow just above the hilltop.

The sun still managed to impart a soft glow to the east-facing side of the Ponderodas.

A view looking up a tall Ponderosa pine tree covered with snow around all of its needle tips and softly glowing in the cloud-dimmed morning sunlight.

After several snowy, cold, overcast days, with temps dipping below zero at night and hovering in the single digits during the day, the sun is shining in all its glory this morning, lighting up an incredibly beautiful landscape. A welcome visual feast.

A view a day later looking up the same tall Ponderosa pine tree covered with snow around all of its needle tips, but this time glowing intensly in bright early morning sunshine, and framed against a brilliant blue sky.
A day later looking at the steep, snow-covered hillside, this time glowing intensly in bright early morning sunshine, with a brilliant blue sky beyond.

Larger version of this photo >
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A disappointment

A dimmly lit Google Android Pixel robot lurking menacingly in the depths of its dingy lair and surrounded by the headline and some of the text of this post that is barely visible but too dim to read easily; derived from an original image by Sergei Tokmakov, Pixabay.

Google Android Pixel 6a

FAIL. While it is for the most part an okay device, if I were one of the engineers who created the piece-of-shit Adaptive Brightness feature, I would be so embarrassed.

I've been fighting with the AUI (Artificial Un-Intelligence) that controls Adaptive Brightness for months, but it continuously growls menacingly from the depths of its dingy lair, "I don't care what your preferences are, I want a dismally dim screen!"

I even added a home screen shortcut directly to the Display settings because I so often need to set it brighter, usually increasing it by threefold or more, for example, from the 19% level, which can look a bit like the image above, to 60% or more.

I also tried resetting adaptive brightness in the Device Health Services app, something recommended in online troubleshooting posts, but to no avail.

Like I said, I'd be really embarrassed if I were one of the engineers who created this "feature"; it ruins an otherwise okay device, making me wish I had never purchased it and causing me to dislike it more and more strongly with each passing dimly lit experience. I wonder if Google will ever get its act together to make devices that aren't plagued with fundamental flaws like this.

And then these:

After years of using Android devices, the UI is imprinted in my muscle memory, and I have one particularly favorite app that isn't available on iOS, but I guess it's time to start planning to switch the next time I need a new device.

More recent contemplations >

Woodworking

Closeup of the new keyboard tray. The mahogany is richly grained in colors that range from tan to dark brown. The back has a one inch strip of mahogany beyond the back edges of the keyboard and touch pad, both of which are mostly white. The front has approximately four inches of mahogany to provide a space for wrist rest. The side edges curve outward for the back two thirds, then curve inward for the front third. The front edge curves in.

Mahogany keyboard tray

A unique shape to fit a special use case.

More about this project >
More woodworking >

Pandemic perspective: Please help keep us all safer

"I've tried to take to heart the lesson I keep writing about—that the pandemic is a collective problem that cannot be solved if people (or governments) act in their own self-interest. I've tried to consider how my actions cascade to affect those with less privilege, immune or otherwise. Instead of asking 'What's my risk?,' I've tried to ask 'What's my contribution to everyone's risk?'" – Ed Yong, The Atlantic⩘ 

A very good source of ongoing analysis: Your Local Epidemiologist⩘ , written by Katelyn Jetelina, recipient of the 2022 National Academies Award for Excellence in Scientific Communication⩘ 

My journey

Trail winding up Cow Creek valley across a meadow and through pine trees towards the hills beyond; photo by Toshen

Love nature. As a kid, I just wanted to be out playing in the woods that surrounded our small town home. When younger, I lived a few places around the world and visited several others … then found a place in the foothills of the Rockies and my heart was home. Hiked and camped a lot in the mountains until my knees wore out. Since then, have enjoyed walking nearer to home where there is still much natural beauty to appreciate. I snap photos and post the better ones on this site to preserve the opportunity to revisit some of these exquisite experiences.

Love reading. As a kid, I carried armloads of books home each week from the library. Now tend to carry around a virtual stack of audiobooks. I deeply appreciate authors, narrators, and translators. Since 1999, I've been posting reviews on this site, in the more recent years focused on just those books I appreciate the most. I listen to or read a lot of genres, fiction and nonfiction, though my mind has held a lifelong special place for SciFi and speculative fiction.

Love woodworking. A passionate amateur, I revere wood. My main focus has been shoji lamps in the shape of polyhedra. I love the light that glows through washi and deeply appreciate the folks who make these papers. I'm entranced by the dance of polyhedra patterns, and keep notes on my website about the experience of making some of the lamps. I've also made a fair bit of our furniture, and have even done some woodworking to fix up our old home.

Love our beautiful, fragile planet. I'm deeply concerned about climate.

Blue Marble, 2012: a photo of Earth showing continents and ocean, lightly covered by some clouds, floating in the infinite blackness of space
Photo credit: NASA/NOAA/GSFC/Suomi NPP/VIIRS/Norman Kuring

Awed by space and astronomy. Photos of a spiral galaxies melt my heart and also inspire me to wonder whether I'm originally from another planet in another galaxy. See also: Our home in this wondrous universe⩘ 

The large, gracious, spiral Andromeda galaxy floating in the depths of the universe
Photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

EFF membership badge with EFF Member surrounded by rings of multiple colorsValue privacy. I think online privacy should be the default state. Because it's not, I try to protect at least some of my privacy online, especially against greedy corporations. I deeply appreciate the work that folks like Cory Doctorow and organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)⩘  are doing on our behalf.

I installed DuckDuckGo App Tracking Protection⩘  on my phone and ended up deleting several apps after seeing how much tracking data they were attempting to collect. By the way, the worst company, by orders of magnitude, was Wyze, which ironically sells security cams. From my previous dealings with them, I already knew they were a shit company, but this blew my mind: they attempt to send hundreds of tracking data packets per hour via two tracking companies: Braze and Segment.io.

Some helpful online privacy tools:
Firefox Browser logo, an illustration of a dark orange fox wrapped around a blue Earth globe; click to learn more.   DuckDuckGo Search logo, an illustration of a duck's head wearing a green bowtie against a circular orange background; click to learn more.   Proton Mail symbol for mail, a stylistic purple P surrounded by a square of white emerging from an open purple envelope.   Mullvad VPN logo, an illustration of the head of a mole (a tunneling animal) wearing a yellow hardhat against a circular black background; click to learn more.   Electronic Frontier Foundation Privacy Badger logo, an illustration of the white furred head of a badger with black fur running from the nose, around the eye, to the ear; click to learn more.

Keystones: Respect, compassion, empathy, acceptance. We're all in this together.

Double rainbow at sunset; photo by Toshen. The rainbows rise above a hill that is sunlit at the rocky top catching the last rays of the seeting sun, but falls into shadow below. There are dark outlines of the tops of a few pine trees in the foreground.