What I Learned this Year, Second Quarter!

I am the curious sort. I also have a daily writing project. To this end, I have been collecting “things” that I come across which have caught my fancy, and use them to fill a writing topic one day a week.

Last fall I read a Medium post by Tom Whitwell called 52 things I Learned in 2016 and thought it was a cool idea. However, although I enjoyed the post, I thought I would write up a few more of my personal feelings, and publish by quarter. I feel this is a bit more consumable, and something you can look forward to again in just a few months!

I present to you, dear reader, WILTY (what I learned This Year), the second quarter edition:

Pookabear in the Sun

Work (One)

Ah, work. Can’t live with it, can’t live without it. Recently I read a post from Josh Sharp one of the developers of Exist titled “Against Work”, where he is starting to examine some of the alternatives to the current capitalist system. His concerns are not new, and from my limited readings, this was a popular topic in the late 1800’s because of the industrial revolution. In many ways, I think the discussions went away after the Second World War because the different idealisms were closely linked to political philosophy, and politically suppressed by the post-war industrial boom. However, I feel that with global inequality, the one-percent, and the potential for technology to considerably reduce the workplace, the topic needs re-examination.

Another factor for this topic is the push by Trump in the United States to “bring back” back jobs to Americans, for example in the coal mines. Here is a good article I found reposted to Medium as a primer on coal mining jobs.

Work (Two)

I came across this article, Why 50 is the New Age for Launching a Startup, and it provoked some thoughts. In some ways, I agree with the notion that all the experience and contacts a person has gained will serve them well at age 50 to begin a start-up from scratch. On the other hand, entrepreneurship may be for the young because of the time and energy it takes to create something from nothing. I think both arguments are valid, and it depends on a few variables such as personality, capital, the actual business sector, and motivation. What do you think?

Work (Three)

‘The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.’ — Nassim Nicholas Taleb. An interesting way to lead off this article, kind of grabs your attention! I know that a “follow your dreams” lifestyle does not work for everyone. I ended up getting married fairly young, and having the expectation of providing a monthly income to help support my family. As it turned out, it was not my luck to land that full-time, pension backed, occupation right off the start. It took many jobs, education, luck, and hard work to finally land a “career” job. And sadly, for a few reasons, the corporate job was not that fulfilling for me, and I have resumed a career in information technology prostitution to bring home the bacon.

I appreciate most the jobs I have had, but at the same time, I found them personally oppressive. Beyond learning some skills and creating a few interesting things, they were a waste of my life. Yes, I sold my soul for material things, when I feel I could have made a difference in the world.

Ideas (One)

I think somewhere out there is a word for everything. Tsundoku is a condition I suffer from, as described in Wikipedia, the condition of acquiring reading materials but letting them pile up in one’s home without reading them. I have gotten past the physical ones, but the virtual ones are drowning me.

I came across the word in this article by Charles Chu. The part that really hit home for me was “One problem, I think, is that collecting feels like learning. Each time we discover a new productivity toy, internet article or bestselling book, our brain sends us a jolt of dopamine (our brain’s “reward” hormone) for doing nothing at all.” I think that in my brain, when I come across something interesting, thinks “wow, that’s cool — something else I can add to the knowledge war chest”. What it really means that I have heard about a lot of things, but know nothing about them.

How to change? Can I recover? Right now, I am doing a personal challenge to declutter my life, closing those browser tabs, and following up on all the little projects I started and reading the articles I have been stockpiling. I can see why hoarding gets out of hand — perhaps I can get a spot on some sort of reality show to clean up my addiction to knowledge.

Ideas (Two)

The “bike shed effect” is an example of Parkinson’s law of triviality. The law was created by C. Northcote Parkinson in 1957, and argues that members of an organisation give disproportionate weight to trivial issues. The example he provides is of a fictional committee whose job was to approve the plans for a nuclear power plant, but they spend the majority of their time on easy-to-grasp issues, such as what materials to use for the staff bike shed, rather than the proposed design of the plant itself, which was, in essence, the point of their committee.

Ideas (Three)

Left-brain, right brain. Popular science’s way of categorizing people as artsy types or nerds, labelling them as either “creative” or “logical”. Like so many popular science notions, this one tries to pin a simple explanation on a complex system. If it were true, I’m sure we could use an Electroencephalogram (EEG) to test babies, then put them on their prescribed career track. Pretty easy stuff — A test when a kid starts school, then art and dance or math and science! Think about the saving to the education system! Brave New World! Dancers don’t want to do math, it’s too hard! Biologists can’t paint, it’s too many colours! This article talks about the right-brain, left -brain myth.

Like almost anything in nature, the simple, easy explanation leads to the categorization of people. There is nothing black and white in this world, only shades in between. Studies and statistics tend to paint topics with a single, wide brush. Life is complex, and there are always chances that tendencies will not turn out as predicted. Even man-made events, with analysis and design, don’t always come out as projected. Sporting events, elections, personal aspirations, all have far too many factors which are random. Life is capricious — shit happens, and anyone that tells you otherwise is full of… um… shit.

Ideas (Four)

I found this one on Josh Spector’s weekly mailout “10 Ideas Worth Sharing This Week”. It’s an interesting visual commentary about how and why we react to ideas and information the way we do. The examples are particularly American, and although I know of the subjects being used as examples, I don’t have the patriotic conviction to amplify the feelings the way the article intends. It is still a good read, and the core idea is why we have conflict and how we can resolve it. And you can find more excellent ideas on Josh Spector’s “For the Interested” group, here.

Ideas (Five)

Growing up I never thought about introversion and extroversion. It has only been in the past couple of years that I started to recognize that I am more on the introverted side of the spectrum. I always thought that I was shy, and lacked some self-confidence. I felt that I was not like regular people, and originally, I thought that it wasn't a good thing to conduct activities by one’s self. I also thought that because the Canadian culture is to be humble and unassuming, I was just being Canadian when I didn't want to bother someone. Also, I tend to project my preferences on other people and tend to leave them alone, because that is what I would want. This TED Talk really hit the inner space where I live. In general terms, it explains why I feel and behave the way I do.

Popular Culture (One)

One of the stories from Australian Richard at Worldview was a link to Bloomberg, a data management and analytics company. The site is located here. I’m thinking someone is a James Bond fan. It is called “The (James) Bond Index From gadgets and tuxes to cocktails and quips” and is basically it is a data analysis and visualization of all the James Bonds and movies.

Overall, I found the results of the data analysis very interesting, and not what I was expecting. I think the only real “anomaly” is George Lazenby’s Bond, because with only one movie, there is more room for extreme percentages. Very interesting what you can do with data!

Popular Culture (Two)

What goes around, comes around. As long as I have been aware, cuteness has been one facet of Japanese culture. The always seems to be a façade of appealing, benign images and characters, at least from my passing Western point of view. With Aggretsuko, and other more recent characters, there is an emergence from a fantasy world as the creatures start to reflect the less desirable qualities of modern society. To an extent, this has been a fixture in North America with serial comic strips characters like Charlie Brown, Garfield, and Dilbert, where the protagonists are relatively unexceptional, but the supporting cast provides the conflict and humour.

Aggretsuko brings back the realization that you cannot run and hide from today’s issues. According to the CNN video in the article, the shift to cute characters came out of the student riots in the early 1970 in Japan. The Japanese society, as a whole, tends to be a “yes” culture — the nail that sticks up must be pounded down. The ideas of anti-heroes, particularly as mainstream icons, is quite a cultural shift, and it’s going to be interesting to watch if this trend continues.

Technology (One)

Technology companies rely on their state-of-the-art products to generate business, while Amazon has the luxury of using their retail business to drive their emerging technology. This strategy allows them to dip their toe in with a new technology, and if it sells, continue, if not, go to the next product or service. This article about the newly released Amazon Echo is one such product, and may end up being a service as well.

I have not thought much about purchasing a voice-activated home appliance. It also falls into the category of “what the heck can I do with that?”. I guess I’m old-school about things like self-driving cars and on-demand video. I think the Echo idea is cool, and over a decade ago I was playing with smart home applications, but I never did find the “killer app” that automation could do to enhanced my life. So, for the moment the Alexa/Echo, and similar devices fall into the not-all-that-useful category for me.

Technology (Two)

I love to read, although I sometimes get out of the habit. I had a Kobo for a while, but when I was out of the reading habit for a while the battery died, and sadly the entire device has ceased to function. A bit over a year ago we cleaned out twenty-five boxes of books we had lying around, and gave them to an animal welfare group for their book sale. More recently, last fall, I purchased a Kindle to get back into reading.

In conjunction with Amazon, and the Kindle, is the Goodreads website. It’s an interesting utility site to enhance a reading hobby. Some of the features it provides are a library of the books you own, the books you want, or the books you want to borrow from the library. Books can be organized on different “shelves” — however you want to categorize them. If you want to purchase a book there are links directly to Amazon, other online vendors, and WorldCat for borrowing a digital copy.

I always looked at reading as a solitary endeavor, but a hub like Goodreads can help you with your next reading fix.

Cats (One)

This weeks WILTY is about cats and an article in the Washington Post titled “Long Before They Conquered the Internet Cats Took Over the World”. The article postulates that cats saw an opportunity, and, in essence, domesticated themselves when they started to interact with humans. The article maintains that there is still a debate on whether cats are truly domesticated today. This YouTube video (which is embedded in the article) basically outlines the scientific research.

For me, cats are the perfect pet. It is rare that you can make them do anything they don’t want to do. You must earn their affection, and even that isn’t enough for them sometimes. They all have unique personalities. They are not shy about asking for things. When they approve of you they reflect your affection back. They are masters at playing hard to get.

Food (One)

Over the past few decades the role of restaurants in North American society has been changing. This article about the state of the restaurant industry is specifically about the United States, but I’m sure there would be similar data here in Canada. The article is specifically about the economics, sales, and trends of different styles, or niches of dining establishments, but what I find most interesting is that the amount of money spent dining out had eclipsed the amount spent on groceries.

Although the article doesn’t talk about it, I think that television food channels and the internet have actually slowed the rise of dining out. Once you see how your favorites dishes are prepared, and how simple and inexpensive it is, it brings out the do-it-yourself in people, and could potentially turn a dine out occasion into a home cooking party.

Overall, this is a fluid industry, and I’m interested to see what direction it will go. For me, I have the time, the interest, and some knowledge of food preparation, and I’ll just stick with shopping and knowing what goes into the meals I make.

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