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Import Export Snowmobile

Oblique Strategies

Austin Kleon highlighted a Brian Eno quote on why he stopped touring:

What I really like doing is what I call Import and Export. I like taking ideas from one place and putting them into another place and seeing what happens when you do that. I think you could probably sum up nearly everything I’ve done under that umbrella. Understanding something that’s happening in painting, say, and then seeing how that applies to music. Or understanding something that’s happening in experimental music and seeing what that could be like if you used it as a base for popular music. It’s a research job, a lot of it. You spend a lot of time sitting around, fiddling around with things, quite undramatically, and finally something clicks into place and you think, “Oh, thats really worth doing.”

Which is precisely what Boyd was describing in Destruction and Creation. In his biography, Robert Coram illustrates a specific example:

Boyd’s favorite example in “Destruction and Creation” was a thought experiment that took his audience through his exegesis on the nature of creativity. It went something like this: “Imagine four separate images. Let’s call them domains. Each domain can be easily understood by looking at its parts and at the relation among the parts.”

Boyd’s four domains were a skier on a slope, a speedboat, a bicycle, and a toy tank. Under “skier” were the various parts: chair lifts, skis, people, mountain, and chalets. He asked listeners to imagine these were all linked by a web of relations, a matrix of intersecting lines. Under “speedboat” were the categories of sun, boat, outboard motor, water skier, and water. Again, all were linked by the intersecting lines. Under “bicycle” were chain, seat, sidewalk, handle bars, child, and wheels. Under “toy tank” were turret, boy, tank treads, green paint, toy store, and cannon.

The separate ingredients make sense when collected under the respective headings. But then Boyd shattered the relationship between the parts and their respective domains. He took the ingredients in the web of relationships and asked listeners to visualize them scattered at random. He called breaking the domains apart a “destructive deduction.” (Today some refer to such a jump as “thinking outside the box.” But Boyd believed the very existence of a box is limiting. The box must be destroyed before there can be creation.) The deduction was destructive in that the relationship between the parts and the whole was destroyed. Uncertainty and disorder took the place of meaning and order. Boyd’s name for this hodgepodge of disparate elements was a “sea of anarchy.” Then he challenged the audience: “How do we construct order and meaning out of this mess?”

Now Boyd showed how synthesis was the basis of creativity. He asked, “From some of the ingredients in this sea of anarchy, how do we find common qualities and connecting threads to synthesize a new and altogether different domain?” Few people ever found a new way to put them together. Boyd coaxed and wheedled but eventually helped the audience along by emphasizing handle bars, outboard motor, tank treads, and skis.

These, he said, were the ingredients needed to build what he called a “new reality” – a snowmobile.

Boots Theory of Socioeconomic Unfairness

The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

This was the Captain Samuel Vimes ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness.

Terry Pratchett, Men at Arms

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Not My Teaching, But My Study

What I write here is not my teaching, but my study; it is not a lesson for others, but for me. And yet it should not be held against me if I publish what I write. What is useful to me may also by accident be useful to another. Moreover, I am not spoiling anything, I am only using what is mine. And if I play the fool, it is at my expense and without harm to anyone. For it is a folly that will die with me, and will have no consequences.

Montaigne

via Old Man Ellis

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This past summer a 13-year-old girl shattered my optimism for the future.

In June, The Atlantic published an article discussing the use of Instagram as a source of life advice by (pre-)teens. I do not understand insta-face-tweeting, but what struck me most was 13-year-old Sophie’s justification of her behaviour:

Teens say they’d basically do anything to avoid searching for answers to their problems outside of Instagram. Unlike threads, web pages don’t follow any standardized format, and teens say that navigating the open web, especially sites with ads and pop-ups, was a frustrating waste of time.

“The format is just a lot easier to read than stuff like Google,” says Sophie. “You can read longer things in little chunks. It’s not like reading this giant paragraph at once. No one wants to do that.”

Teens say that another benefit of threads is that you don’t have to waste time searching around – the information is delivered to you based on your interests and whom you follow – and that threads feel more trustworthy than search engines.

I’m not sure what sort of dystopic future we’re in for if we manage to raise a generation of people who are intimidated by a paragraph, but I suppose we’ll find out.

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I was reminded recently of John Michael Greer's comments on distributed communications.

To wit:

What would a viable long-distance communications network in the age of peak oil look like? To begin with, it would use the airwaves rather than land lines, to minimize infrastructure, and its energy needs would be modest enough to be met by local renewable sources. It would take the form of a decentralized network of self-supporting and self-managing stations sharing common standards and operating procedures. It would use a diverse mix of communications modalities, so that operators could climb down the technological ladder as needed, from computerized data transfer all the way to equipment that could be built locally with hand tools. It would have its own subculture, of course, in which technical knowledge and practical expertise would be rewarded, encouraged, and fostered in newcomers. Finally, it would take a particular interest in emergency communications, so that operators could respond to disruptions and disasters with effective workarounds at times when having even the most basic communications net in place could save many lives.

The interesting thing, of course, is that a network that fills exactly these specifications already exists, in the form of amateur radio.

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In an interview with the Economist, Adam Curtis describes what he sees as our static, machine haunted world.

You know Adam Curtis from The Power of Nightmares, HyperNormalisation, etc. He tells the Economist:

This is the genius of what happened with computer networks. Using feedback loops, pattern matching and pattern recognition, those systems can understand us quite simply. That we are far more similar to each other than we might think, that my desire for an iPhone as a way of expressing my identity is mirrored by millions of other people who feel exactly the same. We’re not actually that individualistic. We’re very similar to each other and computers know that dirty secret. But because we feel like we’re in control when we hold the magic screen, it allows us to feel like we’re still individuals. And that’s a wonderful way of managing the world.

Its downside is that it’s a static world. It doesn’t have any vision of the future because the way it works is by constantly monitoring what you did yesterday and the day before, and the day before that. And monitoring what I did yesterday and the day before and the day before that and doing the same to billions of other people. And then looking at patterns and then saying: “If you liked that, you’ll like this”.

They’re constantly playing back to you the ghosts of your own behaviour. We live in a modern ghost story. We are haunted by our past behaviour played back to us through the machines in its comparison to millions of other people’s behaviour. We are guided and nudged and shaped by that. It’s benign in a way and it’s an alternative to the old kind of politics. But it locks us into a static world because it’s always looking to the past. It can never imagine something new. It can’t imagine a future that hasn’t already existed. And it’s led to a sense of atrophy and repetition. It’s “Groundhog Day”. And because it doesn’t allow mass politics to challenge power, it has allowed corruption to carry on without it really being challenged properly.

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James Stejskal's article from American Rifleman provides an overview of the arms used by T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt.

The article is an extract from the author’s military history of Lawrence and his legacy, which I’ve added to my reading list. I was unaware that they made use of technicals, predating Bagnold and his self-described “piracy on the high desert”.

Lawrence had a talent for employing the Great War’s new technologies: semi-automatic pistols, airplanes, electric detonators, machine guns and motorcars. The equipment used by T.E. Lawrence and his colleagues against the Turks was innovative, as was his untraditional approach to the employment of intelligence, aerial reconnaissance and mobile gun platforms. His methodologies were game-changers and would heavily influence what would later be known as special operations in the British military, not to mention guerrilla leaders such as Mao Zedong and Võ Nguyên Giáp.

via Active Response Training

I try to structure my life to optimize sleep.

Piotr Wozniak, the author of spaced repetition software SuperMemo, has a lengthy treatise on sleep, based on his long running research regarding memory and learning. His disk and RAM metaphor is a useful way to think about the relationship between knowledge and sleep.

A metaphor can help understand the role of sleep and why alarm clocks are bad. We can compare the brain and its NREM-REM sleep cycles to an ordinary PC. During the day, while learning and experiencing new things, you store your new data in RAM memory. During the night, while first in NREM, you write the data down to the hard disk. During REM, which follows NREM in the night, you do the disk defragmentation, i.e. you organize data, sort them, build new connections, etc. Overnight, you repeat the write-and-defragment cycle until all RAM data is neatly written to the disk (for long-term use), and your RAM is clear and ready for a new day of learning. Upon waking up, you reboot the computer. If you reboot early with the use of an alarm clock, you often leave your disk fragmented. Your data access is slow, and your thinking is confused. Even worse, some of the data may not even get written to the disk. It is as if you have never stored it in RAM in the first place. In conclusion, if you use an alarm clock, you endanger your data.

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