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books notes

Everything Bad is Good for You (2006), Steven Johnson

Notes

Unlike media-created perception, Computer Games are complicated, and exhibit delayed gratification. So why would anyone want to play them?

  • Because they have a reward system (either clear, or intrinsic), and we are wired to seek reward.
  • They force you to make decisions, as you have to do in real life.
  • They force you to learn how to probe the game, so you understand how it works, in order to win. Isn’t this just another way of describing the scientific method? Create a hypothesis, test, feedback.
  • They force you to telescope – plan your tasks, and sequence them logically so you can correctly progress through the game.

The value of games is not their content (often childish, banal, or morally suspect), but their cognitive skill development.

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books notes

Iconoclast (2008), Gregory Berns

Notes

An iconoclast breaks away from the status quo, and achieves his status by being, seeing and doing differently, and bringing into being some disruptive innovation. To be an iconoclast:

  • Look at new things to perceive old ones differently – you can do this by being in new environments, or being with new people. Our brain rigidly categorizes for efficiency in processing inputs, and so we need to shake the perceptual system out of its categories. Categories are death to imagination.
  • Stress – transform fear into more productive emotions, such as anger. Fear distorts perception. The pressure to conform (especially when among strangers) is because of fear of social isolation, and fear of looking stupid.

There are three steps to achieving successful iconoclast status:

  1. See differently – see things as they are, not as others do. Create a new idea / vision.
  2. Face down fear, so it doesn’t influence your decisions. Be brave enough to stand out.
  3. Social network so others (enough people and the right people) see the way you do. Social intelligence, networking and connectedness are crucial to succeeding – they help you build reputation, experience and eventually, productivity. Familiarity quiets fear (in others).

Finally, in order to see differently, you could consider drugs. The SSRIs and betablockers inhibit fear and anxiety, and have few side effects. Also the hormone oxytocin has been shown to increase social bonding and social intelligence.

Key lessons – see differently, face down fear, and social network.

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books notes

Brain Rules (2008), John Medina

Notes

  1. Exercise during the day improves cognitive ability. It halves the chance of mild dementia, and reduces by 60% risk of Alzheimer’s. This underscores the importance of Physical Education in school.
  2. The brain improvises on a database (knowledge store).
  3. Individual brains develop differently on different time tables, based on different life experiences. Your brain rewires itself based on different experiences in life.
  4. The more attention your brain pays to a given stimulus, the more elaborately the information will be encoded and retained. Emotionally charged stimuli are the most memorable. Association between different data points aids memory, ie. hierarchy, which means put concepts / meaning before details. Have a 10 minute check out rule in lectures / learning. The brain can’t multitask – pay actual attention to many things at once.
  5. Spaced (over time – meaning not too often) and varied repetition enhances remembering. Forgetting allows prioritization.
  6. The brain is active during sleep; only 20% of sleep is non-REM. It is an opportunity for offline processing and furious memory creation.
    1. Sleep patterns differ from person to person – I am active in the mid-morning, and in the middle of the night. Each person has a sleep archetype, or chrono-type – ie. early, late or middle. For many people, a 30 minute nap during the day (especially the mid-afternoon siesta) improves performance.
    2. Sleep aids creativity, while sleep loss ages the body, and also causes mind loss.
  7. Stress (overload – some stress is good) causes a sense of helplessness, and lack of control. Chronic, prolonged stress / cortisol kills brain cells.
    1. Depression deregulates the thought process. Stress prevents learning and brain function – hence, your home and personal life will affect your work and school performance.
    2. Control is key – if I have control in my personal life, I can better insulate myself from stress caused by lack of control at work. Marriage success is often about limiting the severity and frequency of hostile interactions.
  8. Stimulation, especially multi-sense stimulation, including the rarer touch and smell stimulation, can increase creativity.

Key lessons – exercise regularly, have a satisfying and full personal life to manage stress, and make sure you get enough sleep at the right times. To remember important things in your life, encode them emotionally and deliberately.

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film notes

Inside Job (2011), Charles Ferguson

The two defining world events of the last decade have been 9-11 and the ensuing Iraqi occupation, and the global financial crisis of 2008 – for which the last word has still to be written. Filmmaker Charles Ferguson may have created the definitive documentary film accounts for both – in 2008, No End in Sight provided a damning analysis of the US-Iraqi occupation and subsequent insurgency, and his latest film, Inside Job, takes on the failure of the US financial industry.

As he did with No End in Sight, Ferguson provides a well paced and strikingly clear account of the causes and events leading up to 2008, and parades before us a gallery of villains and players (some of whom he interviews, rendering quite uncomfortable under his grilling in the process), most of whom still remain in key decision making positions. You’ll come away with an understanding of how all this happened; anger that while catastrophe has been averted for now, things really haven’t changed; and an insight into the scale of the problem.

The key messages:

  • the financial industry is too powerful, and wields disproportionate influence on government (lobbyists in general, wield too much power);
  • this allows them to heavily influence legislation of their industry, including the financial deregulation which laid the groundwork for the events of 2008;
  • deregulation leads to an industry where conflict of interest is legalised, and where the capitalist ethos, self-interest and short term gains thrive and are encouraged.

One solution appears to be greater regulation to prevent conflicts of interest, but given the power the financial industry currently wields, the chances of this happening any time soon are low.

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productivity technology

The iPad and Favorite Apps

I’ve had an iPad now for three months. In that time, I’ve barely touched my laptop.

Some observations:

1. For content consumption, the form factor is compelling. The book analogy is apt – I hold it like a book, it’s closer to my face and eyes, and it encourages and facilitates sharing with others. I use it in a much larger range of situations than I would a laptop, and more often – in bed, on the street, at a cafe. It’s tactile – using my fingers to touch and interact and engage with media / content can seem more direct when compared to keyboard and mouse.

However, while it facilitates increased consumption, it isn’t always the best tool for efficient consumption – if I have a backlog of Google Reader articles I want to go through, I’ll use the keyboard and mouse on my desktop, which are vastly more efficient still for most tasks. Ironically, it’s given me a greater appreciation of how important the development of the mouse, keyboard and windows-based UIs have been to the overall advance of the computer age. The iPad encourages shallow consumption – if I need to analyze and synthesize information, this usually means flicking between several web pages and applications at the same time, which means my desktop.

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film notes

No End in Sight (2008), Charles Ferguson

Also on Netflix Instant.

The most surprising thing about this film for me – in Charles Ferguson’s narrative, how seemingly clear and direct the causes were for the current tragedy that is Iraq – egregious, depressingly mundane, and avoidable. The initial post-invasion goodwill was rapidly, almost systematically dismantled and destroyed, creating an environment for insurgency.

The mistakes made provide learnings which can also be applied to any undertaking where a number of people are involved, and planning is needed.

  1. Insufficient (and bad) planning. An example: martial law was not immediately established, with no good reason for this other than senior leadership thinking it wasn’t necessary. This left a void for law, order and security, which was quickly filled by religious extremist groups.
  2. Advice of experts and people on the ground was ignored. During the planning stage, General Shinseki’s recommended number of troops for the occupation was questioned and dismissed, even though he had direct and recent experience with post-war occupation – and he was later proven right.
  3. People were not treated with dignity. The Iraqi army was dismissed, as well as the incumbent government, completely disregarding people’s basic needs – an opportunity to make a living with respect and dignity. The Green Zone post-invasion immediately created a clear “us and them” environment.
  4. Insufficient communication, both within senior leadership and through the entire organization, and among the key leaders, a general lack of critical thinking and thoughtfulness.
  5. No desire to seek out differing opinions, or speak with others to build consensus and buy-in. Not toeing the company line meant being removed from your position, eventually resulting in an organization of yes men – nepotism in government.
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photos

Sydney photos

A handful of photos from Sydney, including a standup paddle surfer a long way from the shore.

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photos

Kitesurfing

Photos of a kitesurfer.

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photos

LA Photos

From a recent roadtrip.

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blog photos

Dinner and Hope

IMG_6201_3

Hope