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Beautiful Trouble updated their toolkit.

With the new toolkit you can slice and dice depending on what you are considering, and also create pdfs from your favorites.

This is a nice online companion to the deck of cards.

📚 After reading The Shallows I’ve been wondering if there is some optimal blend between strengthening deep thinking pathways and Internet thinking pathways.

Along the lines of “explore vs. exploit”, what’s sweet spot between attentive consideration and inattentive collection?

2020: Nonfiction 📚 Review

To view other 2020 review posts (including fiction, feeds, newsletters, and magazines), visit the main post here.


I read 23 nonfiction books this year, down from 31 last year. I attribute this to a tough year, and also reading more fiction as well as reading more from other sources. I read more overall this year than last.

I prefer to read nonfiction in ebook format, so that I can create highlights and notes and have them automatically export to Readwise, where I keep all my reading notes for review. I read through the notes when finishing a book, so that I can capture what I learned in my own words (an important part of learning & synthesizing). I also have Readwise setup to surface 15 highlights from my reading every day (with a built-in “smart system” that follows my weighting choices based on source and recency of the work).

My first choice is to borrow the ebook from the local library, using Overdrive/Libby. Then I can read in the Kindle (or Kindle app). If not available there, I try to buy it as epub, and open it in iBooks. Both Kindle and iBooks are supported by Readwise.

When I read a paper book, I buy my own (usually from Bookshop.org these days, to support independent bookstores) and underline text and write in the margins. Then I also add those to Readwise using the Readwise app and follow the same process I listed above. It just takes more time, which is why I prefer ebooks.

If I’m not sure if a book is going to be relevant, high-quality, or have a lot of content that I want to highlight, I will listen to an audiobook, usually from Overdrive/Libby again (though we have an Audible subscription as backup).

I have collected my 2020 recommendations (both fiction and nonfiction) on a Bookshop list for easy perusal. That, and all of the individual book links, are affiliate links.

  • ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ How to Invent Everything by Ryan North - I can’t recommend this highly enough (micro review)
  • ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Born a Crime by Trevor Noah - this had been on my list for a while, but I picked it up to read with a book club at work, after Noah came to our company all-hands meeting for a deep, insightful, and humorous interview with our company president.
  • ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ I Am Not Your Enemy: Stories to Transform a Divided World by Michael T. McRay - Resilient Review
  • ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Deep Work by Cal Newport - How do we get meaningful work done in a world of increasing fragmentation and distraction? Newport has some ideas. (f you like this, see my in-depth Digital Minimalism reference and review)
  • ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Four Futures by Peter Frase - What are different directions our political economy might go, especially in light of increased automation and ecological crisis? These thought experiments will help you ponder not just the author’s four directions, but others, too.
  • ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt by Michael Lewis - Lewis brings his famous explanatory lens to high-frequency trading (micro review)
  • ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ No Name in the Street by James Baldwin - insights from Baldwin’s life that we unfortunately still need to hear today
  • ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ What Is Reading For? by Robert Bringhurst - A thoughtful and beautiful talk-turned-book. I bought a second copy so that I could have one to mark up on one to keep clear.
  • ⭐️⭐️⭐️ Immunity to Change by Lisa Laskow Lahey & Robert Kegan - When actions & systems don’t change even after declaring our intent and good plans to do so, it’s usually because someone (including yourself) is invested in the way things are. Real change requires addressing that. (micro review)
  • ⭐️⭐️⭐️ Remote by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson - As a remote-first company, the Basecamp & Hey founders share what they’ve learned. There’s a lot here that will be valuable even after more desk jockeys start returning to the office.
  • ⭐️⭐️⭐️ The Unicorn Project by Gene Kim - what Kim did for Ops & DevOps in the Phoenix project, he has continued for product development in this work
  • ⭐️⭐️⭐️ In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan - in this work, Pollan shares the history of “nutritionism” and ways we can reverse the trends in “western diets” and proliferation of metabolic diseases
  • ⭐️⭐️⭐️ Imaginary Borders by Xiuhtezcatl Martinez - Resilient Review
  • ⭐️⭐️⭐️ Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek - micro review
  • ⭐️⭐️⭐️ Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder - I thought this was going to simply about people who lived like nomads, but it’s a look at people living precariously and the industries and companies that are exploiting them
  • ⭐️⭐️⭐️ Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes - like Pollan above, Taubes looks through the history of nutritionism, especially the problems with how we adopted a high-carb diet, and zeroes in on habit change to address the most dangerous parts
  • ⭐️⭐️⭐️ Get Together by Bailey Richardson, Kai Elmer Sotto, and Kevin Huynh - how to build and maintain community
  • ⭐️⭐️⭐️ Nobody Knows My Name by James Baldwin - powerful essays that (as with No Name in the Street above) have far too much relevance still today

Other Books

Here are the other at-least-3-star books that I read in 2020. Books that are unfinished, I abandoned, or I only gave 2 stars are omitted.


What did you read this year? What do you recommend?

2020: News & Magazines Review

To view other 2020 review posts, visit thee main post here.


Newspapers and News Magazines

I tend to prefer “slow news”, focusing on quality over quantity & speed. Most “breaking news” (or even daily news) I don’t need to hear about, and the net effect of rapid-fire news is to introduce more interruptions and unnecessary stress into our lives. I also try to mix both broad (global) perspectives and local reporting.

I reserve most news reading for Saturday mornings, where I usually peruse the following sources, reading just the articles that are relevant to me or challenging to my perspective:

  • The Economist weekly magazine - This is a very high-quality global-perspective news magazine, though a bit limited in topics of focus. I often read from the app, exporting articles to Pocket that I want to highlight or annotate, so that they enter Readwise, where I keep all my reading notes for review. If I have errands to run before I get through reading, I switch to listening to the articles.
  • The Guardian (US edition) weekly news magazine - This is another high quality global-perspective news magazine, and will often hit the important topics that would not have made it to The Economist. I get the actual physical edition of this, only. The puzzles at the back are a nice bonus.
  • Anabaptist World - This year, The Mennonite and Mennonite World Review merged to become this news magazine. It’s published triweekly or so (16 issues a year), and covers various USA and global anabaptist news and commentary.
  • The Indianapolis Recorder - This is my local news and the best source in Indianapolis. Even though it is labeled with the purpose of continuing to “support and empower African Americans”, it has the broadest and best reporting for all.
  • Delayed Gratification - This is a quarterly news magazine that looks back over the quarter. Though I love the idea of this one, and they create a beautiful product, I will probably be dropping it when it is renewal time, as the topics tend to be a bit too pop for my tastes.

Other Magazines

On the “not news” front, I enjoy a few other magazines. All of these are no (or almost no) advertising. This is important to me, as ad-free means the subscription price represents the truer cost of the writing, doesn’t prejudice the editorial stance of the magazine, and helps free the writing to do much more than “get a reaction”.

  • Plough Quarterly - this is another Anabaptist magazine. It is published by the Bruderhof (rather than Mennonites), and has a broader scope & appeal and is not just for Anabaptists. It has both current and historical essays and material.
  • New Philosopher - a high-quality magazine, with each issue being like a symposium on a certain philosophical topic or question.
  • Offscreen - a physical product for digital people. This magazine brings humanity to technology. (warning: this one does have supporter ads, but they are minimal and minimalist.)
  • Ernest - I just started reading this one after learning about it from @adders. It’s a beautiful journal of adventure.

Doing this examen helped me to cull a handful of magazines that I’ve not been reading much.

In the next post (here), I will cover Feeds (RSS, etc.) and Newsletters that I subscribe to.


What are you reading? Anything you recommend?

Have you ever created a structured or restricted adult “learning plan” outside of academia?

One example would be picking one topic (or a specific short list thereof) and objective(s), then restrict your reading (books, blogs, news, etc.) to those objectives for a specific period?

How did you spend yesterday, the highest holy day of Capitalism?

Did you make an offering in worship? Multiple offerings?

Controversial opinion:

A progressive legislature and conservative judiciary is a good pairing.

It allows for acting boldly on problems, with a strong check to defend individual rights.

#DearKiddos: A Vaccine for Cruelty

#DearKiddos:

I was reading this article today from the Economist: “No Vaccine for Cruelty” (image).

It’s about how people in political power have done nastier and nastier things during the COVID-19 crisis, and have largely gotten away with it.

The article says “no vaccine”, but I want to try to give you one, anyway. A vaccine is a medicine you take to make it so that you can get through it when a nasty infection comes your way. So let’s give this a shot.

How authoritarians rise

First, by “authoritarian”, I mean someone who takes away power and choice from the people, and keeps that power with threats and violence. They’re sometimes called strongmen (and yes, they’re almost always men) or tyrants.

There’s a pretty well-know path to getting this kind of power. It goes basically like this:

  1. Make everyone afraid
  2. Blame someone for it
  3. Claim to be the savior

Let’s break that down a bit, and talk about what we can do ahead of time to prevent getting sick from it (that’s the vaccine!).

Make everyone afraid

There are several ways the strongman can go about this. Sometimes, they will simply put lots of attention on something that’s genuinely scary (example: financial problems, pandemics). Other times, they will create chaos by encouraging people to fight amongst themselves (example: encouraging racism). Other times, they will create boogeymen (example: conspiracy theories and communist scares). Other times, they will allow things to get bad via neglect (example: climate change). Often, they do more than one of the above!

As you can see from these short examples, the fear could be real, made up, or even caused by the strongman. The main point is that they want to increase fear, because fear makes us want to react. When we’re afraid, we want someone to do something, and they want to be the one to offer that something (see phase 3).

So what’s our vaccine for this stage of the cruelty?

First, we can practice gratitude, thankfulness, and hope. One simple way to do this is to have a time each day where you think about what you are thankful for. You can even write this in a gratitude journal, or share what you are thankful for with friends, family, or church. For hope, we can build hope by being hope. When we work with others to give and receive help, we build hope for both us and them. We can feel the difference, imagine a better future, and trust in one another. Can you think of other ways you might practice gratitude, thankfulness, or hope?

Another way we can protect ourselves is to be thoughtful when people are trying to scare us. This is extra true in news and social media. Unfortunately, because most of the places we get our news are driven by advertising (sorry, that’s the topic for another post), they are likely to tell stories in a way that scare us, because it gets us to click, tune in, share, etc. So, our news does a lot of the work for the strongman. But we should still ask ourselves questions like:

  • Who is the original source of this information?
  • Is this mostly facts or opinions?
  • Is this showing things in only the worst way?
  • Who are they trying to scare?
  • Does the story feel inspirational or does it feel demotivational? (Meaning: does it make us want to solve a problem together, or does it make us feel alone and angry?)

There will always be some truly bad news, for sure. But with these types of questions, you can start getting your news from better sources, and you will more likely know when someone is trying to make up, exaggerate, or misuse bad news.

Blame someone for it

The next step of the strongman is to convince you that a person (example: their political opponent) or a group of people (example: a race, class, region, or religion) are to blame. Specifically, that they are to blame for the things that the strongman has been trying to scare you about. You might hear this called “scapegoating” or setting up a “fall guy”.

This is a powerful trick, because it gives scared people something to agree on, to join together in blaming. It’s a sad way to create fake togetherness. It’s “belonging” through a common enemy. (This is another reason that working together on hope was so important: it creates real unity instead of false unity.)

Now, it’s true that there may be someone or some people who are partially or wholly responsible for problems that you are experiencing (and it might even be the strongman himself, as we saw in phase 1!). But the strongman is not trying to truly diagnose the problem and work together on a solution. He’s trying to whip up anger, to create a mob, to create vigilantes, and/or to bring in his own forces.

So what’s our vaccine for this stage of the cruelty?

One thing we can do ahead of time is to have met or know people that are different from us. We can live in neighborhoods where there are people with different backgrounds. We can go to schools where everybody doesn’t look like us. We can make friends with people with different experiences than us. When we travel, we can learn from and be respectful to the people that are local to the area. We can be part of groups and activities where we meet people who think or act differently. Here’s why: when you know people that are in the accused group, it’s hard for someone to convince you that they are the enemy, because you’ll be able to see that the lies and stereotypes aren’t true.

Also, along the lines of hope from phase 1, we can build teams, support, and organizations that serve people and solve problems. When we’re used to doing work to make the world a better place, we know that problem-solving is rarely an us-vs-them situation, it’s usually something where diversity actually helps in finding new solutions!

What other ideas do you have for protecting us against the hateful blame game?

Claim to be the savior

At this point, the cycle of blame and fear has ramped up, because the blaming has created more division and fueled fear further. Now the strongman makes the claim to be the savior. They tell you “look, I know what the problems are…I warned you about them” (back when they made people afraid) and “I know how to solve it…I told you who is at fault” (back when they blamed people). See what’s happening here?

They will tell you they are the only one smart enough to see it all, and strong enough to do something about it. They will often use the language of “law & order”, meaning that they will wield power, control, and even violence over the groups that they setup to take the blame.

So what’s our vaccine for this stage of the cruelty?

If you’ve been following along, you’re probably noticing that the strongman isn’t really following tradition & law, and is actually creating disorder or at least adding to it. You’re right, the claim to “law & order” is a lie, but that doesn’t really register for the people who are already afraid and bought into the blame game. That means the best way to defend against phase 3 here is to defend against phase 1 and phase 2, as we discussed above.

That said, if you’re a person of faith (or even if you’re not!), you should be wary of anyone who claims they’re the only solution to your problems. It’s healthy to be a bit cautious (“skeptical”) of power, and one of the things we can do ahead of time is to build our organizations and institutions in ways where power is shared among more people.

Conclusion

Authoritarians are seizing more power around the world right now, and it will likely happen again in your lifetime. But when you and your community practice some of these defenses, you can help limit the times it will happen, and lessen the damage that comes when it does.

Phrase I coined today:

Some people make excuses, some people make improvements

Deep Learning Neurochemistry:

Huberman notes that to attain significant brain rewiring requires that you induce a sense of “urgency” that leads to the release of norepinephrine. This hormone, however, will make you feel “agitated,” like you need to get up and go do something. It’s here that you must apply intense focus to fight that urge, ultimately leading to the release of acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter that in combination with the norepinephrine can induce brain growth.

I’m in the beta and checking out Arbtr, a minimalist network for sharing just one thing at a time. Send me your email if you want an invite. (my email address is on my about page)

You may have heard me talk about watersheds, before. In this post on Resilient, I share how to identify a watershed, and propose a thought experiment of considering watersheds as our political unit.

Learning from the lost David Graeber

“I will always notice things. I will notice what I am not noticing. I will help others to notice things. I will expose the criminal squandering of human potential. I will be nice to the reader. I will see joy as an end in itself. I will try to cultivate the kind of intelligence and humor that David Graeber showed. And I will fight, because that is what anarchists do. They do not put up with bullshit or bureaucracy. They refuse to accept the inevitability of tedium and the squandering of the gift of life. They dare to demand the “impossible.””

Would really like shortcuts.app to be able to turn on or off location services. I want a toggle button instead of having to go through settings when I have to use location.

I’m guessing Apple doesn’t expose/allow this?

“The biggest generator of long term results is learning to do things when you don’t feel like doing them.” - Shane Parrish