My recent best reads…

Started keeping a list and notes on books I have recently read so when asked for recommends I am not left trawling my memory for any that stand out.

Am I the only one that a book can resonate with you at the time of reading but a month or two later it is lost in the noise of the next one consumed?

It feels like “consumption” but as I ingest, some of it does stick.

So from December 18 till now the best I have read, not sorted for genre or in order of preference, is as follows:

Gestapo Mars by Victor Gischler

Easy, low brow reading. But great fun. Aliens, space ships exchanging broadsides Hornblower would be proud of, espionage, sex bots and orgies. Whats not to like!

Masters of Doom by David Kushner

For anyone who grew up with the Doom games and subsequent releases they have a special place in your heart. Whether you are aware of the protagonists in its creation or not the story of their journey is riveting reading. Top workplace tip, if you ever find yourself locked in your office, make sure you have a battle-axe handy…

Munck debates – Political Correctness

This book contains a transcript of the aforementioned debate between Michael Eric Dyson/Michelle Goldberg and Stephen Fry/Jordan Peterson. The Fry/Petersen pairing is interesting in itself bu any chance to hear the wonderful Mr Fry illuminate a subject is worth grabbing. These debates are recorded and can be found on the web, but having it transcribed allows a savouring of the argument that watching on the screen cannot do justice. Biggest revelation for me…certainty in your views or opinions is the death of reasonable discourse and progress. Just wonderful…

A Brief Candle in the Dark by Richard Dawkins

Many are aware of Richard Dawkins for his books on skeptical thought and scientific reasoning. Even more are aware of him by reputation and loath the God Delusion without actually reading what is perhaps one of the few books that should be compulsory reading (along with any religious text you wish to pick) for all teenagers. I was aware he was a biologist and supposed he must have been not too shabby a one. My ignorance in all that he has achieved, and how much I still have to do, was humbling. Ripped through it and will return at some point.

I will pop up any other good finds I have and would welcome any others I may have missed.

Will end with one of my favourite quotes (not sure who said it…same memory issue as alluded to at the start)

Think before you speak and read before you think…

Hope and Pray…

Hope and pray.

What does it mean…

Does it in fact mean anything?

Hope… bland statement of the obvious. Hope for positive outcome. Hope for better results. Hope for all to be well and good.

Tacking on a “pray”. This is where things get a little “tricky”.

So emotive…different things…different strokes

You hope for an outcome and pray for the execution of this hope.

Plea for the helpless and hopeful. Been there and not to be scoffed at but shouting your capitulation to the wind in return for divine favours is, at best a primordial grunt outside a cave, and at worst, delusion.

Hope and pray invokes faith which, no matter how you look at it, is the brain’s placebo.

This is not necessarily bad. When it helps calm the mind and attain clarity, anything is positive.

However when it stifles action in favour of divine intervention it is damaging, pointless, and in some cases criminal.

By all means hope and pray, but also source as much information as you can and act where necessary.

Do not be blown about by the winds of chance, accept your lot where necessary and fight tooth and nail where there is a chink in fate’s armour.

Titan…Sam, what were you thinking?

From its homey bbq scene to the closing cut budget (“you only have one cgi money shot guys…”) this is one to avoid.

I have no idea why great actors take on these roles. Is it small budget favours, fillers or…

But the film offers nothing in terms of suspense or plot. He changes, his colleagues fall by the wayside, he survives to do “something” on Titan.

Horrible low brow moment when NATO (???) forces change focus of their ire from new Sam to bold Prof.

Miss…

“Celebrity” suicides should be buried in the middle of newspapers.

There is evidence that publishing the details of high profile suicides increases the number of copycat suicides. With this in mind, are editors then guilty of manslaughter when they publish such stories?

No? Well what if I told you that this evidence is highly localised and that the sphere of geographic influence is very specific to the area of increased deaths. The area over which a given newspaper sells correlates very closely to the geographic area in which the spike in the statistics occur?

Still not convinced, then what if I also told you that there is evidence that an increase in car accidents, train accidents and air flight accidents also correlate with these stories? Surely not related… However it has been postulated that these are nothing more than “hidden” suicides. That is suicides where the perpetrator has tried to hide the fact that it is a suicide, either for reasons of shame or simply to allow their loved ones left behind to still be the beneficiary of any life policy that may be in place.

The statistical evidence is difficult to refute, the interpretation however is another matter. While no one has been able to come up with a better explanation, at least not one that has been widely published, the case is compelling.

Nor is this a new discovery. In the kate 1700s a novel (The Sorrows of Young Man Werther) where the protagonist commits suicide as a result of spurned love, was banned in many European countries as it was thought responsible for copycat suicides in such places as Italy, Leipzig, and Copenhagen (http://jech.bmj.com/content/57/4/238)

There is the argument that all this does is hasten the decision of those already considering suicide, but again there is strong evidence to the contrary. After the spike in additional deaths, the average returns to the mean, that is it does not dip lower than the average (what a horrible and dehumanising word to use here that hides the scale of personal disaster each of these represents for each family, but please, it is used in a purely statistical sense here) so there is no adjusting after to counter the balance. These are apparently, and tragically, suicides that may never have happened.

Therefore, all this considered, can the reporting (and yes the autocorrect attempt by my iPad here to “reposting” is appropriate as well for once) be justified if there is even a little evidence that it may have an adverse affect on those of us vulnerable to such thoughts?

How better can this be handled? Is there a better way to serve the greater good of public information and free speech without putting those who are vulnerable at risk?

What if….

If the reporting has nothing to contribute to the situation it is simply not permitted?

If the reporting of such matters is simply banned outright?

If the positioning of these reports is reviewed such that it is buried in the newspaper in a control group area of distribution to see what the effect this has?

But this only deals with physical newsprint, in which one can decide to print and distribute, or otherwise. This report was published back when newspapers wee the primary means of news distribution. What effect does the modern means of “publish and be damned” of the Internet is taken into account? Here there can be no narrowing of geographic boundaries. No resection of this effect to just the area of distribution of the newsprint the following morning?

It is trite to say the Internet knows no geographic boundaries as much as it is a statement of the obvious that there can be no boundaries either on the opinion it gives voice to. Yes some can shout louder than others, but if the message chimes the right note, then there is no stopping this same message from reaching almost all ears.

If we accept the fact that the news cannot be controlled, irrespective of any altruistic wish to do so, then what is the solution?

Calls for greater awareness ring as hollow as the politicians statement after a terrorist atrocity that this can never be allowed to happen again… Blah blah.

It is here that the small powerful nudges may come into play. What can the “freak” economists teach us? What small but carefully researched, planned and executed evidence based tweaks to our society offer us?

There are many possible ways of adjusting our thoughts on suicide for the better or worse, but surely it must start by facing the vulnerability we all face? Either intimately or through personal association with those that have been affected.

The evidence presented in “Influence” and the research it references, is as compelling as it is uncomfortable. This is because it points to a fringe, or perhaps an element of the mainstream, in our society that operate “normally” day to day but never more than a small poorly timed nudge that takes them along a course that otherwise may not have ever occurred.

It opens us up to vulnerabilities that we simply do not wish to think about and therefore easier to simply ignore. Ignore the evidence, ignore the fact that we are so easily influenced by what goes on around us, as a whole.

But… We all have our breaking point. For some it is loss of a partner, others it is the loss of a child and yet others it may be their ability to look after their family, or themselves. Personal disability and loss of dignity fears leave many with pre-paid tickets to Switzerland…

Take the example of a German Adolf Merckle, a german pharmaceutical group owner whose fortune went from 9 billion to 6 billion after his companies suffered losses in the 2008/9 financial crisis (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/recession/4210246/Adolf-Merckle-what-made-this-German-billionaire-commit-suicide.html). He was by no means broke nor, it seems, was he overly ostentatious in his lifestyle or use of money. What sort of personal demons would force a man to take such a move. What sort of pressure was he facing that meant that even having wealth beyond the wildest dreams of most of us, he still felt the need to take his own life.

Personal fulfilment is a goal that if attained can surmount this. We perhaps all need a different means of keeping score… Warren buffet, one of the richest men in the world and has pledged to give away his vast fortune, used the earning of money to “keep score and see how well he was doing” but the difference here, his keeping score was with no one but himself. A way of marking his progress almost as an intellectual excercise, not a way of comparing with others. Perhaps the only person we should compete with is ourselves….

Tea clippers in the space age

Going back a few hundred years to the time of the tea clippers and international trade by sailing vessels, we had journey times for the movement of exotic goods measured in months or even years from one side of the globe to the other.

As technology developed and in particular the advent of containerised shipping, fast reefer ships and air freight, we find ourselves now with transit times for goods from the other side of the world dropping to days or weeks (or months if you are prepared to sacrifice speed for convenience and cost).

The common conception is that times will only ever decrease with ramjets and hyperloops moving us and our goods around in ever shorter timescales.

However this assumes geography remains constant. In the far future timescales will again stretch into months, years and even decades for goods to move between point of origin and point of consumption.

This of course refers to interplanetary exchange of goods. While the realm of science fiction at present (take the awfully monikered “unobtainium” from the James Cameron film, “Avatar” for example) but there is already entrepreneurial martyrs with startups looking at mining asteroids and creating the early, sub first generation tech to do this. While they will almost certainly fall on their sword, they will nonetheless germinate technologies and aspirations for those that follow after.

One can only wonder what this tech will look like. Self replicating? Almost certainly. Self aware, perhaps not, but certainly imbued with a level of awareness that allows it to operate autonomously for years. This was something that appeared decades away only a few years ago, but look at the rapid advances in self driving cars, big data and voice controlled home devices. “Imagineer” this all melded in the altered form of an incredibly robust mobile mining and transport unit. JCB will ultimately enter the space race…but that’s another post 😉

When the transit times amount to decades, you are in a situation where cargo orders placed are processed on arrival by subsequent generations of workers. Brokers and shippers spend careers watching cargoes make their way along a single journey. Instructions between the shipping companies HQ and their vessel taking days or weeks to travel huge interplanetary distances. It is a completing of the circle with communications akin to mail packets travelling by wind powered vessels around the globe 300 years ago, only the carrier is electromagnetic waves traversing solar winds.

A young broker may spend their early years attempting to fix the cargo of a lifetime and then, on retirement see that same cargo being delivered.

Today bulk cargoes can change hands many times when en route via the selling of bills of lading. It may be endorsed several times with values of the grain or coal fluctuating as world markets change during the length of the voyage.

Fast forward to the far future, you may find cargo values over extreme periods of time, fluctuate in the extreme. At points being worthless and at others being worth hundreds, thousands or millions of their value at the inception of a journey.

Financial markets will need to be able to accommodate the huge spikes of volumes as these cargoes arrive in huge deliveries. Perhaps they will see orbital holding positions where cargo is released onto the market in a futuristic version of OPEC, tightly controlling the value of the cargo by dribbling into the market over tightly controls periods of time.

Time will tell but its fun to think about it!

Why create another blog site…

A good question and one that should be answered long before you ever give WordPress your hard earned cash!

I come across so much cool stuff and have been looking at ways to best log it for future use. Whether it is a neat bit of code, a cool new artist I have found, a good photography tip or just a great book or film, I have tried, and still use, everything from Mk1 grey matter to Apps and Evernote with varying success.

However this means that it is there only for myself. It does not get shared. Others who may find it interesting will likely have to stumble upon it themselves.

Also I get no personal feedback on it. I don’t get the chance to find out what others think which is most of the fun.

So… here it is. Don’t expect well crafted prose but expect the eclectic. It will only gel with a few but hopefully enough to generate some interest and discussion.Hope you enjoy, and even if you don’t, let me know either way!

JA