Reading & understanding

I usually don’t comment on the quoted articles & writings I put up here – most of the time they’re just links that otherwise would fall down the memory hole that is my “save for later” email, so a short quote I think suffices for me to remember why I thought it worth saving to begin with.

Nevertheless, sometimes the selection is a bit too cryptic – I want to be be able to recall my train of thoughts a year later, so perhaps I ought to write some of my thoughts down? Let’s try that, why don’t we?

This is the first part of a six-part (II, III, IV, V, VI) series I expect to roll out taking a historian’s look at the Siege of Gondor in Peter Jackson’s Return of the King.  We’re going to discuss how historically plausible the sequence of events is and, in the process, talk a fair bit about how pre-gunpowder siege warfare works.

Bret Devereaux: The Siege of Gondor, Part I: Professionals Talk Logistics

I found Brets blog via the distruntled people over att r/freefolk who linked his analysis of the preposterous logistics of the loot train battle which is a hilarious take on the Game of Thrones episode. The Siege of Gondor article – the first of six – is some 20’000 characters long and it’s a great read.

The proposed terrorist content filters will go further than Article 13 in the sense that they require services to remove reported content within one hour. In addition, services will have to prevent this content from reappearing on their platforms.

Torrentfreak: EU Members Approve Upload Filters for “Terrorist Content”

Ten years ago there were demonstrations all over against online surveillance – in Sweden it was FRA – but alongside emerging Pirate Parties there was a social movement concerned with online integrity. Today the social movement is focused on BLM and to some extent the environment, so a proposed “terrorist content” law merits barely a ripple in the news.

The more we ask the big, shifty questions about power and privilege and truth, the more our foundation must be rock solid. Editors must insist on fact checking budgets for their authors, and authors must keep insisting for them such that we can all pay fact checkers fairly.

Emma Copley Eisenberg: Fact Checking Is the Core of Nonfiction Writing. Why Do So Many Publishers Refuse to Do It?

Having read this about the state of American non-fiction fact checking, I’m curious to how it works here in Sweden. There are occasional flairups in the media about an author being caught in a supposed lie, but most often those are memoirs, not reporting books. Also, the piece tickled my research-&journo bone, which has shrivelled up but occasionally gives me phantom itch.

For two decades now, I have been interested in sleep research due to my professional involvement in memory and learning. This e-book attempts to produce a synthesis of what is known about sleep with a view to practical applications, esp. in people who need top-quality sleep for their learning or creative achievements.

Piotr Wozniak: Good sleep, good learning, good life.

I remember reading a feature on Piotr a bunch of years ago, focusing on his Supermemo spaced-repetition software. Browsing through his wiki-book on sleeping gives the similar impression of rigoruous self-experimentation with a cohort of 1. Of course, there’s hyperbole spread throughout and he mixes details with grand sweeping statements – he’d be well served by an editor – but it’s fascinating to read things which you can apply yourself. Suddenly you get a key to a previously unknown space in your brain.

Print magazines are no longer about information; the ones that are have become a commodity easily replicated online. Today’s print magazines are lifestyle products. The question is not “What does my audience want to read?” but “What does my audience want to buy?”

Steve Daniels: How to start a print magazine

Holy hell, the above quote is one of a handful of shimmering nuggets in the short article. Since I’ve been working on getting my own magazine off the ground for the better part of two years, there are some really good insights here that I’ll take with me. And hopefully finally publish the goddamn first four issues.

MateuszReading & understanding

Being reasonable isn’t the same as being right

If I notice that someone needs help, I need to help them or I feel bad about it. This has lead me to find strategies to not notice stuff around me – if this monkey is both blind and deaf it doesn’t have to speak. For example: I’m out and about and see some small children running downhill, unconcerned about the gravel further down. Now, there’s a good chance that nothing unfortunate will happen – they won’t fall down and scrape their faces – but since it’s a non-zero chance that something will happen, I make sure not to be the adult nearest them. Because if I am, and they fall, I will have to do something. But if the matter is taken in hand by someone else, my only moral obligation is to do a cursory evaluation of the person lending a hand (to see if they’re helping matters).

This reasoning – and the behaviour which follows it – is more or less automatic, and I think it’s basically sound. But somehow I haven’t been able to present it in a way which doesn’t make me sound like an amoral automatone. My shrink has suggested that the tendency to systematize my behaviour might be a poorly veiled attempt at shielding myself from emotional engagement and exposure. Which sounds like a reasonable assumption on how the system came to be, even though it doesn’t invalidate the basic assumptions: If something bad is happening you have to help if you can.

Problem is, if you don’t wan’t to help but you don’t want to deal with the guilty conscience that follows inaction, a moral solution is to not learn of the bad things happening. So as we grow older, we grow tired of feeling bad and our eyes and ears reflexively ignore what’s around us; A moral noise-cancellation.

MateuszBeing reasonable isn’t the same as being right

How we image the world

Take efficiency, for example: It is common for new technologies in games to increase efficiency, which is almost always presented as unambiguously good. But while increased efficiency tends to either increase production or require less work, the practical downside is rarely modelled in games: the former increases the consumption of resources, the latter depresses wages. 

Vice – Gabriel Soares: ‘Civilization’ and Strategy Games’ Progress Delusion

I want to see progress. I want change. I want state-of-the-art in software engineering to improve, not just stand still. I don’t want to reinvent the same stuff over and over, less performant and more bloated each time. I want something to believe in, a worthy end goal, a future better than what we have today, and I want a community of engineers who share that vision.

Nikina Tonsky: Software Disenchantment

Write a chapter of a book by hand – you know that’s not what will get published. Start designing a poster with a sharpie, instead of the latest high-tech illustrating program. Create a working prototype for your first product that you’d never ship to anyone else. When you know that you don’t have to make the greatest thing ever right from the start, it’s easier to start. And then it’s easier to continue.

deprocrastination.co: 3 tricks to start working despite not feeling like it

Next, you might ask yourself how the other side perceives your demands. What is standing in the way of them agreeing with you? Do they know your underlying interests? Do you know what your own underlying interests are? If you can figure out their interests as well as your own, you will be much more likely to find a solution that benefits both sides.

Jace Grebski: The Art of Bargaining, Positional vs Interest-Based Negotiation

Now, in addition to the perennial challenge, we face an immediate crisis. In the past week, COVID-19 has started to behave a lot like the once-in-a-century pathogen we’ve been worried about. I hope it’s not that bad, but we should assume that it will be until we know otherwise.

Bill Gates: How to respond to COVID-19

Morale is down. We are making plenty of money, but the office is teeming with salespeople: well-groomed social animals with good posture and dress shoes, men who chuckle and smooth their hair back when they can’t connect to our VPN.

Anna Wiener: Uncanny Valley

For more than a decade now, people have been spending fortunes building platforms and algorithms that rely on ever-increasing user ‘engagement’, often without really knowing what that is. As it turns out, conflict is the most engaging kind of engagement.

Hacker News: The Internet of Beefs

Kristin hopes she has designed the perfect environment. Most FTD patients aren’t so fortunate, if you can call it that, to wind down their lives on a personalized estate with a staff dedicated to keeping them safe and calm. Their families don’t always have a choice in how involved they want to be. Still, all the money in the world can’t answer the question of who, really, is living in that house.

Wired.com – Sandra Upson: What happened to Lee?

Rest assured that we only collected metadata on these people, and no actual conversations were recorded or meetings transcribed. All I know is whether someone was a member of an organization or not. Surely this is but a small encroachment on the freedom of the Crown’s subjects. I have been asked, on the basis of this poor information, to present some names for our field agents in the Colonies to work with.

Kieranhealy.org: Using Metadata to find Paul Revere
MateuszHow we image the world

Cough cough bang bang

These are strange times and I have an odd taste in my mouth. The past couple of days I’ve been feeling tired and sluggish, and I don’t know if it’s allergies, stress, Corona, whatever – I just know that everything has a taste of tart cardboard and I don’t feel like doing anything.

The past months have been strange the world over – everyone is hunkering down in response to the pandemic – and Sweden has been an outlier in that we’re not quaranteeing or sheltering-in-place but are rather encouraged not to cough on each other and keep our distance. Fair enough, but we’ve ended up with Schrödingers flu and until proper vaccins and tests are made available most stuff is in limbo.

Working from home since February means that I’m sitting in the same chair at home most days of the week – I’m climbing the walls a bit so am trying to excercise more often just to get out of the house. But the powerlifting has stalled, and I’m resetting everything into a arms/legs split with a powerlift focus – I’m further from reaching my deadlift goal this year than I was last summer, and it’s a bit annoying.

In a bout of self improvement and/or masochism I gave up snus three weeks ago. The first two weeks were horrible and nicotine withdrawal had me jittering like a methed-up Nick Cage. Being physically addicted is demeaning, and I spent the days having a constant feeling of something missing – jaw working, eyes scanning, hands fidgeting – and if I could have satisfied the crawing without giving in to the craving (if that makes sense) I would have done anything.

So I’m thinking that my lack of taste – or change of taste – might be my tastebuds readjusting to a life without a constant stream of snus saliva.

MateuszCough cough bang bang

Mind palace, without the map

A year or so ago I had a few sessions with a cognitive therapy person which didn’t amount to much – cbt seems mostly about breaking patterns and helping people out that can’t manage their day-to-day life, and whatever my problems are, it wasn’t a good fit. I’m still on SSRI:s but am hoping to drop those as soon as I get some breathing room, but I’ve also started meeting with a honest-to-goodness lie-on-a-couch therapist.

It’s an exciting process and offers a challange to my recursive introspection. His axiom is that most problems stem from conflicts, and identifying those conflicts – be they internal or external – can allow me to get a better understanding of myself as well as be used as a tool to avoid the traps of overthinking and negative spiraling. In a sense, everything is borne of a choice at some point, even if it doesn’t feell like it in a moment of anxiety.

I don’t have any principled objection to medicating my problems away – the psylocybin/ketamin experiments with depressed persons seem promising – but if I can learn to manage my mind better using only my own body, I’ll be more resilient regarless of what other tools I’ll have at my disposal.

MateuszMind palace, without the map

Reading in the year 2019

I start this post on January 2nd – both I and Sara are under the weather so spend the time watching movies or reading. So why not start the new year with another post outlining what I’ve read? Third time in a row, here’s the stuff I’ve read this or given up on.

Halfway through the year I decided to plow through my ebooks in alphabetic order – regardless of my mood I’ll start in on a biography, poetry collection or treaties on thin film manufacturing. As a result, I’ve quit more books than I usually do. This is a good thing since I have more books than I’d be able to read in a lifetime, accumulating more each week.

Printed matter

Johanna Gillbro: Hudbibeln. Saw a blurb about this in the magazine Filter and it seemed up my alley – an academic dermatologists explanation of skin and skin-care. Easy to read and good disposition, but requires a second skimming with a notebook if I’m to make use of the lists of good & bad ingredients in skin care. It does a good job of demystifying creams, serums, exfoliants and whatnots.

Carl Otto Mattson & Johann Lang: Bin till nytta och nöje. A beginners guide to keeping bees. With all that I’ve heard about colony collapse, and the general state of environmental damage and insect die-off, keeping bees might be something actually useful to learn – especially if I and Sara move out into the country someday. Haven’t decided on how this relates to my animal rights & vegan convictions, but now I can have a more informed think about it.

Max Gladstone & Amal El-Mohtar: This is how you lose a time war. A mostly epistolary story of two agents from warring factions which battle for supremacy over a vaguely outlined multi-dimensional/temporal world. Intimately written and a beautiful love story.

M.R. Carey: The boy on the bridge. A prequel to The girl with all the gifts – which I haven’t read although I’ve enjoyed the movie twice. The book is a bit meh, with none of the pathos which the movie had.

Annalee Newitz: The future of another timeline. There’s a battle raging through time over women rights (or lack therof) – research activists travel through time using one of five ancient time machines no-one fully understands. Nice mix of stoneage-scifi and headaches induced by time edits. Slightly different take on continuity than Permafrost, but a nice comparison.

Sofia Åkerman: Zebraflickan. Swedish autobiography of a young girl who spends many years in and out of mental institutions, battling eating disorders and self-harming. Starts out with an attempted suicide and keeps going. In my library copy someone had underlined some passages – perhaps trying to find clues to how to deal with someone similar? Insightful writing on the insidiousness of mental illness.

Epub

Sylvain Neuvel: Sleeping Giants. Parts of a giant robot are found spread over the globe and we follow a Man-in-black as he schemes to assemble it and learn more of its origin. Reads like a teenage outline for mecha fanfic – i.e. I’m not going to bother with the sequels.

John Carreyrou: Bad blood. A rollercoaster of sociopaths and the folly of venture capital. I read this before I saw the movie [the Inventor] and it’s a fascinating read on the rise and fall of Theranos and the people behind it. A bit on the nose sometimes, but an easy and fascinating read.

Bill Owens [ed.]: The art of distilling. I’ve tried my hand on brewing beer and cider with less than stellar results, but didn’t know much about distillation before reading this book. It covers different kinds of stills and resulting liquids, and I’m curious to try it out for doing tinctures and such.

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley: Frankenstein. One of the earliest, if not the earliest, works of sci-fi and surprisingly readable still. The language is stilted as all heck, but not enough to put one off reading. Later reimaginings of Frankensteins monster as a dumb brute does a disservice to the original though – I much prefer the brooding creature presented here.

David Wallace-Wells: The uninhabitable earth. Holy moly Jesus on a stick – this is one depressing and dreadful read. List after list of the ways in which humanity has fucked up the climate, accompanied by list upon list of how this will impact the same humanity – however unevenly. The premise of the book is unapologetically anthropocentric, but combined with our knowledge of ecosystems it draws a map of what we’ve completely fucked up and what we might still save. A must read and what I’ll buy everyone for Christmas this year.

Hilary Mantel: Wolf Hall. My friend Andreas recommended this if I wanted to read court intrigue, and boy am I glad he did. It was so very long ago that I read something so well crafted, with such a commanding language and compelling characters. I actually gasped a few times when encountering passages that were cleverly written – that hasn’t happen for quite some time.

Hilary Mantel: Bring up the bodies. Started in on this straight after Wolf Hall, and it’s more of the same – in a good way. Immediately after finishing it I put in a preorder for the last part of the trilogy – I’ll have it sometime in spring and am looking forwards to it immensely.

Mikhail Bulgakov: A country doctor’s notebook. A collection of short stories all concerning doctors in the Russian/Soviet countryside. Reminded me of David Sedaris – similar neuroticism, imposter syndrome and general feebleness of character. At first I thought the stories were autobiographical, but once the main characters had different names I caught on.

Annalee Newitz: The future of another timeline. Feminist struggle through time travel – two fractions competing for dominance through time edits which will ripple through history and change womens rights for good or ill. Basically mens rights movement vs. riot grrrls. Not as insightful as Autonomous, but still worth a read. How do we remember futures which never happened, and how can we create the future we want?

Audiobook

Jon Ronson: Them. Following (mostly) religious extremists around with a nervous eye – entertaining book but I’m not certain what the takeaway is. Ronson is great fun though, and his frantic escape from suspected Bilderberg spies is a lol moment.

Philip Pullman: La Belle Sauvage. It’s great being back in the universe of the Golden Compass, and the story of how clever Malcolm Polstead navigates an increasingly theocratic adult world is tense and written with a gentle hand. Looking forward to the next installment.

Lev Grossman: The Magician King. [reread] Darker than the first book and still entertaining – everyday magicians doing their stuff in fairy land.

Lev Grossman: The Magicians land. A great finish of the trilogy, and the irreverent tone when dealing with gods, magic and the fabric of reality makes for a fun read.

Annalee Newitz: Autonomous. A future where patent law is violently enforced, sees protagonist-cum-biohacker Jack, trying to undo the damage her pirated copies of a productivity drug have caused. Well written and with some inspiring thoughts on what personhood means for artificial intelligences.

Martha Wells: All systems red. Yet another written-for-being-optioned scifi. Some cute scenes, all told from the point of view of Murderbot, but I’m hard pressed to remember what it was about.

C. Robert Cargill: Sea of Rust. Scavenging sentient robots experience their own post-apocalypse – having previously brought about the human apocalypse. Some interesting scenes, but this would have been a better comic than it’s a book.

Timothy A. Pychyl: Solving the procrastination puzzle. I don’t know how many of these books I have to read or listen to before I actually commit, but the advice usually comes down to: Commit to doing something, split it into small actionable items and then do it.

Adrian Tchaikovsky: Children of time. Humanity is extinct except for a few remnants who’ve set out into deep space in search for a new home in a generational ship, and their only option seems to be a planet on which a biological experiment has given rise to intelligent spiders. Interesting take on exobiology and how cultures might evolve differently in another species.

Alastair Reynolds: Permafrost. A messed up future takes over peoples bodies back in time in order to mitigate the coming disaster. An ensemble story which reads in parts as a techno thriller, in parts as drama. Some interesting ideas about time travel and paradox, but other than that rather forgettable.

Iain M. Banks: Consider Phlebas. Revisiting the Culture again – always a treat. The world building is compelling and envelopes me like a snug blanket.

Iain M. Banks: Player of games. A story of a gameplayer blackmailed into carrying out a mission on behalf of Contact – told by an unreliable narrator. Not the strongest novel in the series and hasn’t dated as well as I remembered, but still good.

Abandoned stuff

Mark Manson: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. There might be some wisdom in the book, but it reads like bro-mindfulness and I can’t overlook the humblebrag, sexism and poor writing enough to finish it.

Johanna Frid: Nora eller Brinn Oslo Brinn. This is good and I’m going to read it later on, but I only had it on short loan from the library and wasn’t keen enough to finish it within a week, even though it’s doable. Well written story of the insanity of jealousy.

Daryl Gregory: Spoonbenders. Well written, but I just can’t get into it. Gave up after an hour of so.

James Patterson: 17th suspect. Trite – gave up after 15 pages.

Ken Follett: A column of fire. Having read Wolf Hall, this story set in the same time pales in comparison and I didn’t want to taint my appreciation of the Mantel book

MateuszReading in the year 2019

Hello darkness, etc

Today was the first time in a good while that I stayed behind at work to do something myself – I spent two hours on the lathe and turned something which resembles a short, splintery dildo.

I’ve been watching a bunch of wood- & metalwork videos lately, and needed to try my hands at it. It’s too easy just to live vicariously, and at some point it’s just not healthy. So, equipped with some Youtube “skills” I set to sharpening a few tools and turning wood, which let me tell you is much more physically difficult than the videos make apparent.

Other than that I’ve had a slow half-year since last I posted. Just before summer I deadlifted 150kg which was a personal best, but then I compensated by not doing anything other than drinking beer for two months during summer. Going back to work also got me back to the gym, and I’m slowly building up my strength and good habits again.

Speaking of which, I had my longest non-drinking period since my teenage years and kept away from the devils brew for 8 weeks or so. I noticed a slight improvement in mood and cognitive ability, so I can see the appeal. Although I can’t really see the appeal while living in Gothenburg, which for six months has nothing to recommend it besides alcohol and a karaoke bar.

There’s some illness in the family and that keeps me worried – not the proper time to quit the SSRI in other words – but I’m hoping that between myself and Sara we’ll get through it. There’s Christmas at moms to look forward to, as well as my brothers marriage in January, so we’re not totally lacking for distractions. Things to look forward to in the short term are important, I’ve learned.

As for the photozine I’m nowhere near completion. I’m very aware of the New Years deadline approaching, but It’ll be done when it’s done. Right now I just need to focus on turning some more wooden dicks and improve my deadlift.

MateuszHello darkness, etc

Dreamtime – Kicking Sara

I’m in a dream, and in the dream I’m running towards the horizon in a dried out landscape – like one of those Australian cracked up dirt vistas – and I don’t know why I’m running. Suddenly, appearing from under some bushes, there’s a knee-high critter which looks like a toad/tortoise combination, and it tells me “I can kill anyone you’d like and make it look like an accident.”

It starts running after me, and I’m frightened because if I don’t have anyone to kill, how do I know it won’t kill me to keep its secret? No matter how fast I run, the creature keeps up and is gaining. Finally, it’s at my heels and I turn around and try to kick it as hard as I can so that I can stun it and hopefully get away.

This is where I wake up because I’ve just kicked Sara in the shin really hard. I mumble an apology and try to fall back asleep, but when I close my eyes I still see the desert and it frightens me and startles me awake. Goddamn hitman toads man.

MateuszDreamtime – Kicking Sara

Gluten and writing

This is the one hour of the day when you can buy alcohol on the ship, and for the less sociable, it’s a Sophie’s choice. Do you come out and spend an extra hour with the people who are driving you to drink in the first place? Or do you abstain so you can hide in your bunk until the last minute?

→ Idle Words: Gluten Free Antarctica

On the day of the attack, he wrote, someone had purchased 60,000 BVB put options — a wager that the shares would fall below a certain price by a certain date. “A purchase like this is only rationally explainable,” he wrote, “if the buyer was expecting the stock value to go down very rapidly.” This kind of drop, he pointed out, wouldn’t happen if Dortmund lost a game. It would require something more serious, like losing players, or the entire team, in a terror attack.

→ Bloomberg: The Get-Rich-Quick Scheme That Almost Killed a German Soccer Team

“Gravity was never proven,” Patrice said. “It’s just a faulty concept to try and brainwash you into believing that tons of water can stick to a spinning ball. When you think of what they taught us in school, that the Earth is spinning so, so, so fast and you can’t feel it? And then all this water’s sticking to it?

→  Mic.com: Meet the people who believe the earth is flat

“She quickly disrobed, laid on her back, put a bunch of powder in her vagina and hit play on the tape recorder. Well, when the guns went off in the song, she emitted little puffs of smoke from down below. It made me proud to be an American.”

The Daily Beast: ‘Deep Sleep’: How an Amateur Porno Set Off A Massive Federal Witch Hunt

MateuszGluten and writing

My time is your time

At work we’re going through an organisational review thanks to a work grant from TRS, and we’re having workshops at least once a month – not counting the planning Skype meets and such. It’s easy for me to forget that I am paid to be there, but most everyone else who attends is a volunteer member who is doing this out of the goodness of their hearts or similar organ.

My own engagement with volunteer organisations has been flagging lately. Laborator – the biohack lab I was starting up – has died of consumption, listlessly fading away underneath the varnish of neglect. Other than that I haven’t put in any time into stuff that hasn’t been work – be it paid or my own.

So it’s inspiring to take a step back every once in a while to realize that much of what is good in the world is still happening because people see a need and step up to get it done.

MateuszMy time is your time