Contemplations – 4

I'm incurably curious about many aspects of this journey of ours. Here are a few noteworthy items I've stumbled across that I'm making a note of so I can revisit them from time to time.

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"We now live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings."
– Ursula K. Le Guin, in her acceptance speech for the National Book Foundation's Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.


Home of the Brave by Scott Carrier

Scott Carrier's dog

I stumbled across Scott Carrier's excellent podcast, Home of the Brave⩘ , via its inclusion in The Atlantic article, "The 50 Best Podcast Episodes of 2015⩘ " that referred to the episode ""Najibullah in America⩘ " about a young guy Scott met when he visited Afghanistan just after 9/11.

It's a very good episode. It convinced me to listen to another, which led me to another, and then I just went ahead and started downloading and listening to all of his episodes, beginning with his first. I'm about half way through and I'm simply floored.

Scott has a knack for making the people he talks with comfortable talking about themselves and their worldview, even as he tackles often quite challenging topics and gently, respectfully asks tough questions. Doing this, he is taking me places I've never been. What a gift.

Home of the Brave⩘ 

3D printed digital sundial

Still shot from Mojoptix video

The very clever first episode of the "Invent-It-Yourself" blog, Mojoptix⩘ , explores designing and 3D printing a digital sundial (according to the video, someone who designs a sundial is a Gnomonist, and someone who makes one is a Dialist). Presented by a charming French engineer who has an equally charming cartoon lab to work in, the sundial is both clever and awesome.

It is designed to be used anywhere in a hemisphere (one design works for the north and another for the south) by adjusting it's angle to the angle of the latitude. It shows a readout of the time in 20-minute increments from 10 am to 6 pm. The numbers are created by the sun shining through a series of precise tubes that go through the arm of the sundial and reflect on the arm's own shadow.

YouTube: Mojoptix episode #1: Digital sundial⩘ 

WTF? On the origins of corporate evil—and idiocy

Illustration of human brain by Justin Renteria
Illustration by Justin Renteria

I came across an article in The Atlantic online today about the cultural drift that occurs in organizations "in which circumstances classified as 'not okay.' are slowly reclassified as 'okay.'" The article is titled, What was Volkswagen Thinking?⩘  In addition to Volkswagen's fuck-up (the emissions-cheating scandal), the article discusses several similar incidents including fuck-ups at Ford (delaying the recall of prone-to-explode Ford Pinto), NASA and Morton-Thiokol (okaying the Challenger launch despite serious concerns about faulty O-rings), and B. F. Goodrich (delivering faulty brakes to the Air Force).

The author, Jerry Useem, actually makes some good points in the article; however, his opening paragraphs caused my "WTF?" moment:

One day in 1979, James Burke, the chief executive of Johnson & Johnson, summoned more than 20 of his key people into a room, jabbed his finger at an internal document, and proposed destroying it.

The document was hardly incriminating. Entitled "Our Credo," its plainspoken list of principles—including a higher duty to "mothers, and all others who use our products"—had been a fixture on company walls since 1943. But Burke was worried that managers had come to regard it as something like the Magna Carta: an important historical document, but hardly a tool for modern decision making. "If we're not going to live by it, let's tear it off the wall," Burke told the group, using the weight of his office to force a debate. And that is what he got: a room full of managers debating the role of moral duties in daily business, and then choosing to resuscitate the credo as a living document.

Three years later, after reports emerged of a deadly poisoning of Tylenol capsules in Chicago-area stores, Johnson & Johnson's reaction became the gold standard of corporate crisis response. But the company's swift decisions—to remove every bottle of Tylenol capsules from store shelves nationwide, publicly warn people not to consume its product, and take a $100 million loss—weren't really decisions. They flowed more or less automatically from the signal sent three years earlier. Burke, in fact, was on a plane when news of the poisoning broke. By the time he landed, employees were already ordering Tylenol off store shelves.

On the face of it, Useem makes a good point. Except that just a few months previously, I had read an excellent and hard-hitting article by Steven Brill in The Huffington Post Highline online magazine, America's Most Admired Lawbreaker⩘  about the way Johnson & Johnson disregarded its Credo when it came to the drug Risperdal. From the subtitle of the article: "Over the course of 20 years, Johnson & Johnson created a powerful drug, promoted it illegally to children and the elderly, covered up the side effects and made billions of dollars."

The frosting on the cake is that the head of the Johnson & Johnson subsidiary that marketed Risperdal, Alex Gorsky, is now the Chairman and CEO of Johnson & Johnson, in other words, the person now entrusted with the Johnson & Johnson Credo.

Perhaps if Useem had read Brill's article or done a bit more research about Johnson & Johnson, he would've chosen a different example as the counterpoint for his article. Perhaps if Gorsky has read Brills' article, he would've gone ahead and torn up Johnson & Johnson's Credo.

Jerry Useem. What Was Volkswagen Thinking? On the origins of corporate evil—and idiocy⩘ . The Atlantic, Jan/Feb 2016 Issue.

Steven Brill. America's Most Admired Lawbreaker⩘ . The Huffington Post Highline, Sep 2015.

The sky is falling … or not

Still shot of the 20,000 pieces of space debris orbiting Earth

After seeing the film Gravity, the short video, Space Debris: 1957 - 2015⩘ , takes on an enhanced meaning. There's a lot of stuff up there! This morning there was news of people reporting a fireball streaking across the Nevada sky last night. Turned out to be a Russian rocket falling back to Earth. Duck!

Thermonuclear Art – The Sun in Ultra-HD Video

View of sun flares on about ⅓ of the sun

This is a still shot from a stunning 30-minute video that NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory made of the sun, made all the more glorious by a sound track by Lars Leonard from his Deep Venture album.

From the beginning of the video: "Every twelve seconds, NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory images the sun in ten wavelengths of invisible ultraviolet light. Each wavelength is assigned a unique color and every image is eight times the resolution of HD video. A team of media specialists works about ten hours to create one minute of this footage." [Note: The video is 30 minutes long.]

More: Thermonuclear Art images⩘ 
YouTube: Thermonuclear Art⩘ 
More info: NASA Goddard Media Studios⩘ 

Our solar system to scale

Still shot showing the relative orbits of Mercury, Venus, and Earth

I'm fascinated by the immensity of our solar system (for example, see the last part of my book review of Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky⩘ ) and by how incredibly tiny we are in this vastness. Although I can barely grasp the scale, this knowledge enhances the tremendous awe and gratitude I feel experiencing life on our planet.

Wylie Overstreet, Alex Gorosh, and some of their friends created a video that gives another glimpse of this immensity. Their story begins with a quote by James Irwin, from the Apollo 15 mission:

As we got farther and farther away, the Earth diminished in size. Finally it shrank to the size of a marble, the most beautiful marble you can imagine ….

They explored what a map of our solar system would look like if the earth were the size of a marble. They ended up needing a stretch of desert seven miles across to demonstrate it, and the resulting video is creative, poetic, and stunning.

YouTube: To scale: The solar system⩘ 


Image displaying Element 119, Ununennium, also known as eka-francium

Recently, I listened to a most fascinating podcast titled "Elements" by Radiolab. The story traveled from the tiniest bits of matter that we know about through our universe itself.

I typically think of myself as a separate being with tangible boundaries defined by my skin. Every once in awhile, I catch a glimpse of what an illusion this is. Light waves are continuously streaming into us and, through our eyes, become a part of our experience; sound waves are continuously streaming into us and, through our ears, become another part of our experience; likewise, scents, tastes, pressure. This podcast reminded me of another dimension of our "boundarylessness."

When you and I are sitting on the surface of the earth, we're not acutely aware of it, but we are being hit by cosmic rays at a rate that I think really rather amazes people. If you simply hold your hand out, three of four times a second a cosmic ray is going through your hand and it's going right through it, and that's every second. So your body is literally bathed in thousands of these every second.
– Experimental Physicist Rick Gaskell, Radiolab: Elements, (59:10)

At the same time, I read an article in Scientific American, about another expansion of our boundaries, perhaps not as romantic but illusion-shattering nonetheless. As we move through life, we emit particles at a rate of a million per hour, which surround us in an unseen but detectable cloud, a cloud which is infused with our bacteria, among other things. This cloud of us interacts with our world, intermingling with the clouds of others, trailing behind us as we walk.

Microbial ecologist Adam Altrichter and his colleagues have been able to collect samples of these microbes we emit and found that in many cases these samples were so unique that they were able to identify the individuals they came from.

So where do we actually begin and end? Our environment is streaming into us and being distilled into our experience of living. We are continuously bathed in cosmic waves. We are constantly emitting a cloud of ourselves into our environment. Our ideas commingle with the ideas of others and can change all of us. How is it possible to actually think of ourselves as separate?

Radiolab: Elements⩘ 
Scientific American: We Emit Clouds Of Microbes Wherever We Go⩘ 

Two friends and the longest selfie stick around

Image of the moon passing in front of the Earth

This image was "captured by NASA's Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC), a four megapixel CCD camera and telescope on the DSCOVR satellite orbiting 1 million miles from Earth."

On their website, the have an animated gif that shows the moon orbiting the Earth: Moon Crossing Face of Earth⩘ 

How the Hubble Space Telescope's stunning colour images are created

Still shot of Zoltan Levay

With Zoltan Levay, the Imaging Lead at the Space Telescope Science Institute⩘ . A fantastic way to spend 10 minutes, at least if you are as addicted to images of our universe as I am.

This is an image of the Carina Nebula. The segment about this nebula is amazing. There are a couple 3-D fly-ins beginning at 4:05 and 6:59 that are just mind blowing. Oh, this place we live!

A 50-light-year wide section of the Carina Nebula

Published on YouTube by The Guardian⩘ 

Everything Is Yours, Everything Is Not Yours

Clemantine Wamariya giving a talk

"I think the only hope for the world is for each of us to become a better, more self-aware, more responsible person."

At age six, Clemantine Wamariya ran away with her sister Claire to escape the Rwandan massacre. They spent seven years as refugees surviving a perilous migration from camp to camp across war-torn countries, then emigrated to the U.S., where Clemantine learned "what I meant to people, how my personal history could make me as relevant and powerful as any donor in the room."

Written by Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil. Portraits by Andrew White. Additional photographs by Anna Vignet. Matter magazine⩘ 

Kosticks puzzle

Kosticks puzzle based on 6-axis star

One of the delightful things about the internet is that it opens up the possibility to meet people one might otherwise never cross paths with. A wonderful example of this is woodworker Jane Kostick, who lives on the East coast, and who I met only because of our shared interest in maintaining the Swiss-made Inca bandsaws that we both have had in our shops (unfortunately, Inca closed its doors about a decade ago).

It's turns out we also share a passion for geometric woodworking; however, Jane takes this to another level that I can barely grasp, both in terms of complexity and quality. For example, she creates some of the most interesting and beautiful furniture I've ever seen.

John, her husband, creates foldable bronze stars that seem almost magical. Here's one of his stars, folded and then opened. This one is a six-axis star, with each axis comprised of five strands of bronze, interwoven with the strands of every other axis (that detail is important as my little story unfolds further).

Kosticks 6-axis star, folded
Kosticks 6-axis star, opened

Together, Jane and John also create structures—buildings, roofs, ceilings, etc.—based on "quadric designs," for example, hyperbolic paraboloids. I didn't even know what all that meant until I saw some of the examples posted on their website⩘ .

Once I had seen Jane's work, I felt it would be an honor to have an example of it in my home, so I asked her if I could commission one of her small puzzle sculptures. She offered to make it out of a beautiful piece of cocobolo she had, but asked if I were patient enough to wait a bit, as she and John needed to build a new workshop first.

Once they finished the new workshop, which is, as you can imagine, crazy beautiful, Jane sent me a package. I was a little intimidated when I first opened it to discover 30 unassembled pieces of gorgeous and exquisitely finished cocobolo, wondering if I would be able to figure out how to assemble them.

Kosticks puzzle, pre-assembly

Not to worry. The neodymium magnets guide the pieces together so that they snap into place almost as if by magic. I started with a triangle in the following build, but it's also possible to start with the star base and build up from that.

Kosticks puzzle, assembly

The finished sculpture reflects the center of the six-axis star, with a cocobolo strut matching each bronze one, woven together in the same way. How cool is that?!⩘ 

What is Code? by Paul Ford

Illustrated What Is Code? article title

A quite entertaining—and, @ 38,000 words, quite lengthy—essay about the world of coding that captures better than anything I've read previously the challenge, complexity, tension, and exuberation⩘  of making software: "We got to a release," he says. "We are going to ship."

Paul Ford (June 11, 2015). What is Code?⩘  Bloomberg Business.

The media as puppets of the government

Illustration of whistle casting shadows of ink pens

This is such an important article about the state of journalism in the U.S., framed against the second anniversary of the publishing of the first story based on the Snowden reporting. I find the stance of the LA Times appalling. The only explanation I can come up with is that they're not really a newspaper; rather, they must be something more like just an entertainment industry publication.

Media Lessons from Snowden Reporting: LA Times Editors Advocate Prosecution of Sources⩘  by Glenn Greenwald

Web, the film

Image of Peruvian child with computer from Web, the film website

I watched a gem of a movie this evening, Web. Directed by Michael Kleiman⩘ , it explores how our world is becoming more connected as one international community joined by the internet by showing the story of what happened when the children in a remote community in Peru received laptops through the One Laptop Per Child initiative and then got online via satellite.

The curiosity and intelligence of the children is incredibly inspiring. I was left feeling more optimistic about our future knowing that kids like this will have the opportunity to contribute their creativity and passion to solving the challenges we all face together.

From the Wikipedia page written by the kids for Palestina, Peru⩘ , a place I now feel connected to: "A documentary featuring Palestina, Peru, has been created under the title Web, in cooperation with the Wikimedia Foundation⩘  and A Human Right⩘ . It describes the impact of the One Laptop per Child⩘  program on Palestina, including showing the children in the school writing the initial version of the Spanish-language version of this Wikipedia page⩘ . A short segment from this documentary is available on YouTube⩘ ."

Films like this are why I often appreciate documentaries so much.

Web, the film: Short segment on YouTube⩘ 

The illusion of control

Photo of finger pressing a Walk signal button at a pedestrial crossing

"All of these deceptions are arguably desirable. Whether or not you feel cheated by them, their effect is largely for the greater good. People feel happier with the world around them, more in control of events and comforted by the apparent efficacy of their actions. But what if the illusion of control had negative effects? What if it made people do things that weren't just detrimental to themselves, but the whole of society?
   "These are the questions raised by Mark Fenton-O'Creevy and his fellow researchers. Back in 2003, they published a study on the illusion of control in financial traders.…
   "In 2008, economies around the world were rocked by the failure of several financial institutions culminating in the catastrophic financial crisis. Did an illusion of control pervade at banks where the haphazard dealing of subprime mortgages went on? Fenton-O'Creevy thinks it's likely.
   "'This wasn't rocket science. Most banks have a very strong understanding of the relationship between risk and return. So if you find yourself making a very high return in a market, the obvious question is, "if we're making unusually high levels of return what are the risks we're taking?" It's very obvious people weren't asking those sorts of questions,' he says."⩘ 

Gravity Glue - Stone Balance by Michael Grab

Photo of multiple balanced rock sculptures above creek

From Gravity Glue's About⩘  page: "I began balancing rocks through somewhat of a whim in the Summer of 2008 while exploring Boulder Creek in Boulder, CO, USA. Since then, simple curiosity has evolved into a prolific creative passion, and daily meditative practice. I quickly noticed the unique effect that my creations had on myself and others, often inspiring a sense of magic and peace; a sense that ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE."

Photo of balanced rock bridge sculpture across a creek⩘ 

Keep Your Hat On! Stampede strings by Davie Leather & Braid

Cowboy hat with stampede strings hanging on my wall

I love wearing hats when I'm outside working or hiking, and I like bigger brims for the shade they provide. In cooler months, I wear a felt cowboy hat from the American Hat Company in Bowie, Texas. The wide brim provides good sun shade, and the felt keeps me nice and warm. The only challenge is that we have a lot of wind here in the Rockies. Until recently I relied on smashing my hat down hard on my head to keep it on, but that hasn't always worked. The last time it flew off, I decide to get some stampede strings.

After searching far and wide, I came across a couple, Bo and Tammy Davie, who live in a rural stretch of the southern Rocky Mountains near New Mexico's Gila Wilderness Area. They've been braiding since the 1980s when they started making their own tack for their guide and outfitters work. Eventually they created Davie Leather and Braid⩘ , through which they sell a variety of braided goods.

I called them up and ordered the stampede strings a few weeks ago. They wove them to order and the package arrived this past week. I couldn't be happier with them. They are made from deerskin, so they're very soft and supple, and the braiding is exquisite. I so much appreciate something like this that is made with skill and care.

Now looking forward to my next windy day hike!

"That's not passion to me. It's obsession."

Screen capture of definition of obsession from Google Search

From the article "Programmer Passion Considered Harmful" by Matthew Graybosch.

Being a passionate programmer meant spending twelve to sixteen hours a day in the office, coding for the sake of coding at the expense of relationships, hobbies, reading, sleep, and even basic self-care. That's not passion to me. It's obsession.

I've never been a programmer, but I did work in the tech industry for many years, and I think Graybosch touches several raw nerves of truth in his two posts, for example, when he talks about how employers deploy—and in my opinion, abuse—the concept of "passion." "Programmer Passion Considered Harmful" (unfortunately, the article has been deleted by the author)

Chocolate chip cricket cookies?

Chart of the amount of water needed to grow one pound of various sources of protein
Graphic by Leslie Ziegler

Ah, the internet. I was reading an article in The HuffPost this morning about what some people are doing about California's drought when I came across this linked line: "If you're not quite ready for a change as drastic as giving up showers, there are other tweaks you can make to your daily routine that can help—quitting eating hamburgers is a good start⩘ ."

That link led me to an article in Medium by Leslie Ziegler, one of the co-founders of Bitty Foods, about, of all things, eating crickets! The thing that really caught my attention was a graphic that compared the water consumption of beef and crickets. Beef: 2500 gallons of water per pound of protein vs. crickets: 1 gallon per pound of protein. That's a stunning ratio.

I continued to a related article in The New York Times by Claire Martin, as well as a TED Talk by Megan Miller, another of the co-founders of Bitty Foods. Other things that caught my attention:

I'll admit, my initial reaction to the idea of eating insects has always been a bit of revulsion, but this new info caused me to pause and ask myself: Why? I mean, I eat shrimp occasionally; how could this be so different? Maybe I'm actually missing out on something nutritious and delicious!

So I took the leap and ordered some of the Bitty Foods cookies and, more importantly, some of their cricket baking flour (also contains cassava and coconut flours). I love flatbread, so maybe this will be a great flour for a flatbread pizza.

We'll see. I'll report back in a couple weeks with my evaluation.



Note from the author of the graphic, Leslie Ziegler: Numbers vacillate depending upon growing methods, and each has a different protein efficiency and bio-availability. These are the most commonly accepted numbers I found on my intertube travails.


Update: Well, that didn't take long: cricket flower is definitely not for me.

The cookies have a slightly pungent aroma that I didn't find pleasant. It's a bit difficult to describe, but it's sort of like the difference between the milder flavor of domestic meat and the gamier flavor of wild meat. The company's chefs describe it as having a nutty flavor, but I didn't get that at all.

Even though I didn't like the initial aroma upon opening the package, I ate one anyway. I survived, but didn't find it delicious or enjoyable, and that's pretty much what defines a cookie for me. If it's not delicious and enjoyable, what's the point?

I still wondered whether the flour might work in a savory food, so I opened it. The aroma I didn't like was much stronger; in fact, for my sense of smell, it was overpowering. I can't imagine cooking with it.

To be fair, I'll note that after my experience I read a bunch of online reviews, and it seems like most people like it or are at least neutral about it, but a minority of people had reactions similar to mine. I suppose it's like Camembert or Roquefort and depends on your personal sense of smell and taste.

I don't regret giving it a try, but I'm chalking this one up to experience and moving on!

The emotional truth of the situation – interpreted by Adam Curtis

Image from BoingBoing of kids looking into camera

Why in the world is the BBC hiding a film this important behind a regional firewall?

From Jon Ronson's interview of Adam Curtis in Vice:
   "But the people in the rushes I have used are doing something very different. They are really brave journalists and technical people going into an incredibly complex situation and trying to make sense of it. And, in a way, they are the heroes of my film.
   "I've taken care not to criticise or shame any of them. But, to be honest, it would be difficult, because what's sitting there in those thousands of hours of footage is an amazing achievement. It is a group of women and men going into the most difficult, frightening and strange situation, and recording it in incredibly intelligent and imaginative ways. Some of the camera-work is so brilliant. It has that modern eye that you find in some movies. The camera does what you yourself would do instinctively in the situation – and as it hunts and looks you get the most unexpected compositions.
   "The problem is how that material is then used, when it's processed through broadcast central. It is taken and fitted into increasingly rigid formats in TV that tend to remove the very thing that has been captured so well in the original rushes: the emotional truth of the situation. What it felt like to be there. And what you would think if you yourself were there."

Image from BoingBoing: How Adam Curtis' film "Bitter Lake" will change everything you believe about news⩘ 
Interview quote from Vice: Jon Ronson in Conversation with Adam Curtis⩘ 

Bitter Lake is accessible to viewers in the UK via BBC iPlayer⩘ 

What are those floaty things in your eye? by Michael Mauser

Still shot from What are those floaty things in your eye? video by Michael Mauser

I always wondered about this, especially the—as I now know—Blue Field Entoptic Phenonemon, which I've seen occasionally but had never understood. Nice to know what's going on!⩘ 

Under the Dome by Chai Jing

Chai Jing speaking in the video

When I read this morning that the Chinese government had removed Chai Jing's documentary, Under the Dome, from websites after it had gone viral and and been viewed more than 100 million times, I realized I needed to watch it.

The film is about the challenge of pollution and the opportunity for ordinary citizens to take action. It is powerful, courageous, and disturbing. Ultimately, though, it is uplifting and optimistic because it is a call to action for all of us who share this amazing planet.⩘ 

Procida, Italy

Photo of Procida waterfront

A view from the bay of the bright, multi-colored pastel buildings of the island city of Procida⩘ .⩘ 

Seeing reality as it is?

Rainbow color bar

When the "white/gold vs. blue/black dress" internet meme broke out earlier this week, at first I dismissed it as yet another example of online silliness. I saw the dress, saw that it was white and gold, and moved on. Then I came across some articles explaining the science behind what was happening and got interested. Last night, I asked Garima what she saw: "blue and dark brown, of course!"

The most interesting article I've seen is by Professor Diana Derval, who explains that the color nuances we see depends on the number of color receptor or cone types that we have in our eyes. 25% of us have two types, 50% have three, and 25% have four. Do you like to wear black clothes? Then you probably have two. Do you dislike wearing yellow clothes? Then you probably have four.

In Professor Derval's article, 25% of the people have a 4th cone and see colors as they are⩘ , count the number of color nuances you can see in the rainbow bar at the top. Interesting note: I see 30 and Garima sees 39.

There's no morality in exercise

I'm a fat person and made a successful fitness app by Naomi Alderman

Illustration of person running
Illustration by Robin Davey

Such a beautiful article, and a perspective I haven't come across in the media before.

I have never, as far as I know, lost a single pound-through exercise. I know some people do—we get emails every day from people who are losing weight with our app, and if that's a goal they have, I'm very happy we're helping them to achieve it. It's just never happened to me. No, what happened was better: I started to enjoy being in my body. I felt better. I felt good. It is a very different feeling to be in a fat body that is moving a lot to one that hardly moves at all. It feels like love. As simple and as joyful as that.

… Your body is there right now. You did not have to earn a thing. It is a gift.

– Naomi Alderman, "There's No Morality in Exercise: I'm a Fat Person and Made a Successful Fitness App⩘ ." Matter⩘ 

I've thought about this a lot over the past 25 years or so, ever since my metabolism changed in my mid-30s and I went very quickly from being thin—too thin, really; I used to get cold so easily—to being chubby and then fat.

Also in my mid-30s, I started working in the tech field at companies where 10, 11, even 12-hour days of sitting at a desk, still except for the flying of fingers, is the norm. The one thing that didn't change in my mid-30s was my love of tasty food, well-crafted alcohol, and dark chocolate. Guess what?

The other thing that didn't change is my lifelong passion for being in nature, primarily by hiking. I'm never as happy as when I'm walking around in mountain forests. It's not always easy and I get really worn out by the end of a longer hike, but I experience so many moments of joy and even some of sheer ecstasy. I hike more than anyone else I know, other than my almost constantly hiking and always constant life companion, Garima, who, by the way, never worked at a desk job and is rail thin. Our norm is a good hike in the mountains just about every weekend, and a lot of shorter nearby walks in between.

So I became a bit of an anomaly on the trails: a fat hiker. I've always had strong legs—they were disproportionately large and muscular when I was skinny; now they're proportionately large and muscular—so I power up trails, including some of the steeper mountain trails, with a bit of huffing and puffing but no real problem, even though I'm carrying a lot of weight. In fact, as a person who likes to be prepared and enjoys nature photography, I also carry a fairly heavy pack full of lenses and other photography gear, as well as a complete mountain first aid kit (which we've never needed to use yet, thankfully, but out of which I have extended supplies to other hikers who needed them and weren't carrying a kit).

What to make of this dichotomy? I've thought about this sometimes as I've been hiking quietly through a silent forest, a good time for reflection. I figured that I basically had two choices: I could deny myself some of the things I enjoy so much, like a fine criollo chocolate bar or an aged Speyside single malt, or I can simply enjoy being a fat and happy hiker. You can see the choice I made by taking a look at my photos of our hikes⩘ .

Follow up a few years later. Well, things have changed: an injured knee led to less walking, which led to more weight gain and then high blood pressure. A night in the hospital entirely changed my thinking about all of this (how can anyone get better in that environment?!). Big changes: no more chocolate bars, single malts, sugar, meat, coffee, white flour, snacks, and dramatically less salt. Brisk walks almost every morning, no matter the weather (lots of audiobooks!). After a year of this new way of living: 40 pounds lighter. Not quite there yet, but well on the way. A couple days ago, I carried two 20-pound bags of bird seed from the car into our storage shed. All I can say is no wonder I injured my knee.

A Self-Help Book by Chris Thomas

Image of the book cover's title: YOU HAVE TOO MUCH SHIT

Awesome! Worth recycling as soon as you finish it: You Have Too Much Shit!⩘ 

Smog Journeys: a short film by Jia Zhangke

Still shot from the video of a person doing a back flip on a smoggy road with smoke stacks in the background

Powerful story of the human tragedy told through the eyes of the afflicted: Smog Journeys⩘ . #weallsharethisair

Be My Eyes

Screen shot of Be My Eye website

Wonderful idea! A video chat app that pairs blind people who need some assistance seeing something with sighted people who have volunteered to assist. Sometimes technology turns my stomach (NSA, malicious hacking, etc.), but sometimes, like now, it melts my heart.

[Unfortunately, the link to this site is no longer active.]

Can a blind person see?

Invisibilia podcast logo

I am absolutely enthralled by the new podcast, Invisibilia, presented by Alix Spiegel and Lulu Miller. I've listened to three episodes so far:


The Internet's Own Boy

Image of  Aaron Swartz speaking

I usually keep these posts short, but there's a rambling story I need to tell related to this one.

I'm currently enjoying a three week staycation, the longest break I've taken in many years. It's amazing how much I've been able to catch up on and do: woodworking, reading, writing, hiking, and watching some films … oh, and just resting a bit, too. Exquisite!

Two of the books I listened to while out in my shop working on the latest shoji lamp project were by the incomparable Cory Doctorow: Information Doesn't Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age and Homeland.

Homeland is a very strong book, a challenge to us to not just accept all the bullshit that is going down right now, the diminution of our rights and freedoms. Aaron Swartz presented one of the afterwords to Homeland, and that reminded me that I had The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz⩘  in my film queue.

Last night I watched the film. The actions of the prosecutors were even more of a travesty than I previously had thought. This is yet another example of why I find our current administration—in which I had such high hopes six years ago—so disappointing.

However—and this is my most important takeaway from these books and this film—this is not the time to give up. People are learning how to effectively wield the power of connectivity to fight and win political battles even in the face of the powerful dominance of corporate cash and its corrupting influence on politics.

As Aaron said in his afterword to Homeland: "The system is changing. Thanks to the Internet, everyday people can learn about and organize around an issue even if the system is determined to ignore it. Now, maybe we won't win every time—this is real life, after all—but we finally have a chance."

Aside: I purchased the audiobook of Homeland from Ambling Books (now out of business), and I learned something in the process. Cory Doctorow isn't able to offer his audiobook via because he refused to sell it with DRM and doesn't allow its authors that option. (For more about this topic, listen to or read Cory's book Information Doesn't Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age⩘ .)

I've been buying books from Audible for a long time, beginning well before they were acquired by Amazon. Because of that I continued to use their service even after they were acquired, even though I try to avoid having any other dealings with Amazon (I can't stand the way they treat their employees). Well, after learning about this, in my opinion, tyrannical disregard for the wishes of their authors, I'm going to wean myself away from Audible, too.

The Internet's Own Boy:⩘ 
Information Doesn't Want To Be Free:⩘ 

New power is fast—but it is also fickle

Image from the article of a digitized fist

Very interesting article in Harvard Business Review: "Understanding 'New Power'" by Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms.

Traditional organizations that want to develop new power capacity must engage in three essential tasks: (1) assess their place in a shifting power environment, (2) channel their harshest critic, and (3) develop a mobilization capacity.

Today, the wisest organizations will be those engaging in the most painfully honest conversations, inside and outside, about their impact.

I'm enjoying the "new power" experiment that is⩘ . Hope it survives, but whether or not it does, I think it is indicative of the shift that is underway.⩘ 

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