Sliding Down the Rabbit Hole with Serafini’s Codex Seraphinianus

Today I fell into a rabbit hole, down through the center of the beautiful, crazy wonderland that is the Internet, into something even stranger and amazing still. I was sitting at my desk, eating my lunch, and reading and article from Esquire.com on my phone, as is my habit at such times. I was about halfway through the most recent description of the unfolding telenovela love affair between the Kremlin and the White House, when I came across an ad from Abe Books for something called the Codex Seraphinianus XXXIII. I was intrigued by the interesting illustrated cover of what appeared to be a book (that being a fairly safe guess, as books is the bulk of what Abe Books sells), as well as the fairly hefty $75.60 price tag. I am a fairly regular customer of Abe Books*, but my purchases tend to come with price tags that look more like $0.99 and $1.19. Something in the several tens of dollars has to be either new (which this particular copy is, although the used copies were even more expensive), rare, famous, out of print, or a textbook. I had to find out, and so took the red pill.

On the Codex Seraphinianus XXXIII product page on Abe Books I found a description of the book (which appears to be from GoodReads, although the provenance is unclear). I read such phrases as “An extraordinary and surreal art book…” and “it is a most exquisite artifact.” The description presents the author, Luigi Serafini as an architect, ceramist, glazier, painter, sculptor, designer, opera director, set designer, and critic (sounds like my type of person). I had to find out more about this book. At least see some of the pages to get an idea of what was being talked about. And that is when the rabbit holing started.

It turns out that I was able to find images of the pages. In fact, I happened to find several entire copies of the book online.** There have been several printings of the book dating back to a first edition of two volumes printed in 1981. The version that I came across was printed in 1991 and has on its cover a series of illustrations showing the gradual transformation of a couple having sex into a crocodile. This reminded me of the M.C. Escher illustrations that I spent hours and hours staring at as a child, and then again hours and hours staring at as an art student, and then again hours and hours staring at as a parent, sharing the images again with my children. One of the things I loved about Escher’s drawings was the way he seemed to capture a dimension of space that the rest of us are unable to see with our eyes. In an illustration style that brought up a lot of the feelings of Escher, Serafini seems to go even one step further in that 1991 cover, capturing the dimension of time as an added element. And that was just the cover.



The book reads like an encyclopedia of some fantastic world. That is, the book would read like an encyclopedia if you could read it. But you can’t, because it’s written in a language that doesn’t exist. I haven’t been able to find anything about whether the pages are filled with nonsense, or whether the mysterious script (which looks a little bit like a very ornate obfuscated roman alphabet) actual spells out the words of some language real or manufactured. Or rather, perhaps I should say that I have found all kinds of claims, opinions, theories, and such. There are claims to have translated the entire book. There are analyses as to why the translation claims are bogus, and counter analyses that bogussify the bogussing. I found folks who believe that the book is an effort by Sarafini (often referred to as Don Luigi) to communicate information he received from aliens. Other, more tempered writers suggest that perhaps the writing was not intended to be interpreted at all, but was instead meant to draw attention to Sarafini’s art. Generally uninformed me tends to believe this later claim. Regardless of the various claims, what I did find was the outer edges of what appears to be a wide and deep community of fans of the book. I just barely scratched the surface, and there are certainly many, many more people who know more about the book than I do.

Language aside, the illustrations are strange and beautiful and magical and weird. I read an article that suggested Sarafini’s intention was to recreate the experience an invading Hun would have upon storming a monastery and finding a beautifully illustrated work, written in what would have been to him a very foreign Latin or Greek. Or the experience of a young child, not yet learned to read, unencumbered by the meaning attached to the illustrations by adults who have long since lost the capacity for imagination (This statement may actually come from Serafini himself, at a talk at the 2009 Oxford University Society of Bibliophiles (or so says Wikipedia, which I have to rely on because I have been unable to re-find the article in which I read the statement). I certainly felt like a little kid, looking at the pages of the Codex, wondering what they illustrations were supposed to mean, and then supplying my own meanings in the face of the knowledge that nobody else was going to supply them for me.

In all, the Codex Seraphinianus is an amazingly beautiful book filled with mystery, and strangeness. I was left, at the end of my lunch time, in a place that I have found myself many times before – entirely unsure of what I had experienced, but sure that at least in some small way my life will never be the same for having come through it, and now not being entirely the same person I was beforehand. Find your own copy at Amazon, Abe Books, your local book shop, or a local library, and check it out.


*Being a fairly frequent customer of Abe Books is my only relationship with them, and this post does not constitute either a review or a promotion of Abe Books and its services, either paid or unpaid (although it is a pretty neat place to find books, just saying).
** Like teenage sex, the Turtlshel Project does not intentionally endorse piracy in any way, but knows that in the era of Google you are going to do whatever you want anyway. So please at least use some common sense and be careful. Also, like teenage sex and condoms, YMMV.

For more information about the Codex Saraphinianus:
https://www.pri.org/stories/2016-05-31/cracking-codex-seraphinianus
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Codex_Seraphinianus
http://www.believermag.com/issues/200705/?read=article_taylor
http://www.5cense.com/12/decoding_decodex.htm

Where is my future?

As a kid I never expected to see the year 2000. Especially just before the end of the Cold War, when it seemed like the stalemate with the U.S.S.R. would continue for millennia, and knowing that the missile base just miles from our house was a prime target for a nuclear strike.*

My lack of expectations for the new century were so low, particularly when you add in the vague but ominous threat posed by Y2K, that I remember saying goodbye before going to bed early on December 31, 1999. I fully expected that whatever came next would be in a new, different world. I woke up in the dark of the early morning on January 1, 2000, surprised that death didn’t look much different than life had, and then further surprised that the world hadn’t ended, that Chinese and old Soviet missiles had not struck Japan, where I was living at the time, when their controller computers failed (an event that appears to never have happened – maybe the old communist programmers were smart enough to avoid the kinds of programming shortcuts that resulted in the whole Y2K disaster).

I think that the morning of Y2K may have been the start of a new world for me – one that I hadn’t expected would exist. Because the world was supposed to end before the year 2000 (at least that was how I thought it in my head), I hadn’t expected that I would really have to plan for my future, that I would never have a chance to finish college or have a career, because I would only be 20 at the end of the world.

Apparently, these were all the same feelings that were shared by the captains of our global science-industrial complex, the ones responsible for making the things that make the future. Today is Marty McFly day. But it is a very special Marty McFly day. As you have doubtless seen all across the Internet today, October 21, 2015 was the date that Marty and company went forward, riding in a flying Delorean, into the future in the movie Back to the Future II. In that movie, we are introduced to all of the great things that the future has to offer – flying cars, self-lacing shoes, sweet futuristic 80s clothes, instant biofuel, and most importantly: hoverboards.
So my question on this High Holy Day of geekdom is this:** Where is my hoverboard? What have the captains of industry been doing the last 25+ years? Did they believe, like me, that there never would be a year 2000, let alone a year 2015? Did they think that there would be no reckoning and that no one would think to ask them what they had been up to instead of creating our future, all the while that our future was slowly creeping up on us?

It seems to me that perhaps this recent fascination with all things vintage and retro (think the hipster styles that are the very image of rockabilly) is just a cover by science and industry, a distraction, to keep us looking backwards so that nobody ever realizes that nobody was looking forward. If you can’t have the future in your future, just fill it with the past?

Whatever the answer, I guess I will have to make do for now with my trusty longboard and hope for a future of our future where hoverboards really are a thing.***

 

*It really is true that I never expected the world to continue past the year 2000

**It is not really true that I blame industry alone for the lack of future in our future – there are so many awesome things in 2015 that go beyond even what was imagined in back to the Future II. Internet, smart phones, stuffed-crust pizza, no long distance on calls in North America (depending on your service plan). Life isn’t too bad. It just isn’t very futury.

*** And by I thing, I don’t mean those fake hoverboards that have to run on a super special track with super magnets underneath. I’m talking about hoverboards. That hover.

Being Hungry

“I’m hungry.”

“I’m starving.”

“There isn’t anything to eat.”

“I think I’m going to die.”

These are actual quotes from my children. My children who with only a few very short exceptions have never known actual hunger. What they actually mean when they say those things is “I’m bored,” “I don’t like what you made for my lunch,” “There isn’t anything in the house I want to eat,” “I threw my lunch away and you aren’t making dinner fast enough.”

In the experience of my children, the most hungry they have been is the regular Saturday morning when my wife and I decide to sleep in and the children are too lazy to make toast or pour cereal. Even during our hardest times, at the end of the month when the checking account and the cupboards were both bare, it wasn’t the children who went without food.

“If we can conquer space, we can conquer childhood hunger.” – Buzz Aldrin, 

Today is World Food Day, originally established to celebrate the founding of the United Nations’ World Food Programme, an organization which has as its mission the eradication of hunger and malnutrition, with the ultimate goal in mind of eliminating the need for food aid itself.

And there is a lot to celebrate. The WFP and organizations like it in the world have made a lot of significant progress. Worldhunger.org reports that during the period between 1990-92 and 2012-14 we “saw a 42 percent reduction in the prevalence of undernourished people” in developing regions.

And yet, in spite of the successes, there is still so much more work to do. My children have never known real hunger, but there are many, including children, even in the developed world who are on a first name basis. I know of, and know personally children in my own community who, if they did not have access to free breakfast and lunch at school, would not have anything to eat. Have you ever considered what these children eat when they go home, or on the weekends and during the summer when there is no school? Some of children I know of, even when they do have food, are living on a diet made up almost entirely of instant ramen.

And although there are still problems in the developed world, things are still worse in the developing regions. The World Food Programme reports some sad statistics:

  • Some 795 million people in the world do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life. That’s about one in nine people on earth.
  • 12.9 percent of the population in developing countries is undernourished.
  • One person in four in Sub-Saharan Africa is undernourished.
  • Poor nutrition causes nearly half (45%) of deaths in children under five – 3.1 million children each year.
  • One out of six children — roughly 100 million — in developing countries is underweight.
  • One in four of the world’s children are stunted. In developing countries the proportion can rise to one in three.
  • 66 million primary school-age children attend classes hungry across the developing world, with 23 million in Africa alone.

Thankfully there are things that can be done about it – and it isn’t just food aid, although that is important too. WFP suggests that “if women farmers had the same access to resources as men, the number of hungry in the world could be reduced by up to 150 million.” I remember learning something growing up about two birds and a single stone. A boost for gender equality and a punch in the eye for world hunger? Yes please.

“The best way to perpetuate poverty is by spending on arms and military, and the best way to fight terrorism is by fighting the basic needs of humanity, because hunger and poverty perpetuate crime.” – Oscar Arias

In addition, WFP calculates that US$3.2 billion is needed per year to reach all 66 million hungry school-age children in the developing world. $3.2 billion to send every kid in developing countries to school with a full belly. That’s a lot, right? Consider that the B2 bomber costs somewhere around $2 billion. Each. The new Long Range Strike Bomber program? Expected to cost around $55 billion. We aren’t even talking about a a clash between humanitarianism and national defense. We can have our birds of death out of a horror story and feed the hungry as well*. Just buy two less bombers.

But it’s a hard, intractable, complicated issue, right? I refer you to the Buzz Aldrin quote above. If we can send human beings into the vacuum, radiation, and all-around danger of space, land them on a distant piece of spinning rock, and then bring them back entirely alive, what is it in the logistics of growing and transporting that is so difficult to feed to world’s hungry?

These are not problems that can’t be solved. They are problems that we don’t want to solve because they are inconvenient and we are scared of going hungry ourselves if we help.

There are things we can do. But’s it’s like anything else – if you never start, you never accomplish. Here are a couple of resources to get you started.

“Our foremost priority is the removal of poverty, hunger and malnutrition, disease and illiteracy. All social welfare programmes must be implemented efficiently. Agencies involved in the delivery of services should have a strong sense of duty and work in a transparent, corruption-free, time-bound and accountable manner.” – Pratibha Patil

*You may have noticed a slight anti-war leaning. You weren’t mistaken. I agree wholeheartedly with the Oscar Arias quote above.

Are Girls Allowed to Play Soccer, Dad?

“Are girls allowed to play soccer?”  That is the question my four-year-old daughter asked me this evening while we snuggled watching Costa Rica beat Mexico 1-0 in their FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifier.  Like little children do, her question was just exactly the right one, at the right time.  Her question comes in a week that has been filled with ever more sensational news about the hate-group-disguised-as-a-social-movement, #gamergate.  Her question also came just minutes after I, in an eloquent soapbox rant to my wife, had a realization about myself as a “gamer,” as a nerd, as a soccer fan, as a man, and as a father.

It all started with turning on the Costa Rica/Mexico match (CR/M after this because I can see it getting tedious to type repeatedly).  I’ve never been much of a fan of women’s soccer, although I haven’t ever had a specific reason why.  Maybe because it is less physical or because it seems much slower or maybe just because I’m a man.  But with the international break just ending and club play not back on until tomorrow, there wasn’t much of anything on and the CR/M was better than nothing.

The match wasn’t El Clasico-level excitement, but it wasn’t too bad.  I left it on.  And I kept watching – right through the first foul (which took more than 9 minutes – way less aggressive), through Costa Rica’s goal.  Then, sometime near the end of the first half, something happened.  This is where #gamergate comes into all this and where it all relates to my daughter’s question.  This may not make sense until it does.

I play a video game called FIFA Soccer (by EA Sports).  Maybe some of you have heard of it.  The version of I have is the fifth or sixth version I have owned, but regardless of the version, my love of soccer started with FIFA Soccer.  The thing I like the best about FIFA Soccer is that most of the FIFA teams and players are licensed, so I can play my favorite teams and be my favorite players.  Hours playing FIFA 2006 turned into hours watching the 2006 World Cup, which led to hours playing the Kansas City Wizards in FIFA Soccer, which led to a love of Sporting Kansas City when the Wizards changed names, and a subscription to MLS Live so I could watch all the matches.  All of that led finally to me breaking down and getting cable.  Because there is a game where I can be my favorite player.

In spite of more recent claims by the #gamergate supporters that they are all about ethics in game journalism, the movement started out by targeting (and by targeting I mean shouting down, stalking, threatening, etc.) those who dared suggest that they would also like to be able to imagine themselves in games that had people like them – that maybe there could be more games with women, minorities, etc.  An anti-woman movement that does not represent me as a gamer.

In spite of my opposition to #gamergate and what they stand for, I do have to admit to having wondered before what the problem was in preferring that the game industry make games filled with people that I could imagine myself being.  After all, I do buy games.  And what about all this talk about sexist roles of women in games?  I like a game where my character rescues the beautiful girl.  What’s wrong with that?  Those are thoughts that I have had.  But tonight was different.

Sometime late in the first half of the CR/M match, wondering if watching was worth my time or whether I should break out a little FIFA Soccer 2015 action, I had the thought that the women’s teams aren’t in FIFA Soccer.  They are FIFA teams, but they aren’t in the FIFA game.  Wait a minute.  My favorite part of the game is being able to play my favorite players on my favorite teams.  What if my favorite team was the Costa Rica women?  What if my daughters wanted to play?  Would they be forced to by Messi or Neymar or Zussi or Donovan because that is all they have to choose from?  What if they want to be Hope Solo or Carli Lloyd?  What if they want to be someone like them.  I, and others (**cough** #gamergate), have asked what the big deal about the lack of women in games is.  The big deal with the lack of women in games is that I want my daughters to have the same experience that I have had in games – the same experience my sons have had – I want them to be able to play characters that they can see themselves becoming and that they would like to be if games were real.  I want my daughters to be able to play Hope Solo.  That is what the big deal is.  And I said so to my wife.

Several minutes later my youngest daughter came into our room, climbed into my arms, and realizing that it was girls instead of boys play soccer on the screen asked “Are girls allowed to play soccer?”  Yes, sweetie, girls are allowed to play soccer.  Girls are supposed to play soccer.

Thank You, Microsoft For Giving Me a Reason (Minecraft) to Teach My Children to Hate You

If you haven’t heard, Microsoft is buying Mojang, the creators of the insanely popular Minecraft open-world creation game.  My children love Minecraft.  They fight over who gets what device, and then when settled spend hours playing with each other an an enormous creative world.  These are children who will not get along for anything.  They love Minecraft.  Sometimes all they talk about is Minecraft.  But it gets them talking.  To each other.  For that reason, if for no other, I love Minecraft.  And yet the game itself is a ton of fun (which I discovered for myself during my annual vacation this last summer).

So the news that Microsoft is buying Mojang?  Horrible.  I come from the generation that couldn’t spell the name without dollar signs.  Micro$oft was my generation’s Babylon the Great, Whore of All the Earth.  The Enemy.  The Man.  The primary justification for the existence of Linux.  And then, about the time my kids came along, Microsoft just wasn’t that important anymore.  They had much more competition, and were even struggling to keep relevant in a new age.  I thought that the undying hate might actually die with me, and my children would grow up in a world of peace.  But today that all ends.  Children, meet the enemy from Redmond.

Disclaimer Note: I have grown up some since my youth, and in spite the tone of my comments above (which carries more of the anger of my children than of my own), am not an outright opponent of Microsoft.  I use Windows (reluctantly) at work, and even have a Windows partition somewhere on my laptop for those few things (Adobe Illustrator) that just won’t run in Linux.  If I had to say, these days I am rather ambivalent about the whole thing.  But Mr. Satya Nadella is making quite a statement buying Mojang, and has the opportunity to absolutely piss off an entire generation of children if Microsoft gets this wrong (like they seem to have largely done with acquisitions in the past).

Copyright Note: The featured image is posted all around as a Creative Commons image, but I have not yet been able to find an original source or author.  If you know where it came from, please point me in the right direction.  Thanks.

Today is the Last Day to Tell the FCC How You Feel About Net Neutrality

Today is the last day to submit online comments to the FCC on Net neutrality!  I have intended for a couple of weeks to submit comments to the FCC on how I feel about Net neutrality, and its upcoming rule-making upholding the ability of Internet Service Providers to slow down access to services that don’t pay extra fees to stay fast.  What does this mean?  It means that without a ruling in favor of Net neutrality, even though I pay a lot every month for high-speed internet access that is an order of magnitude or two faster than the national average, if I site I like doesn’t pay the V*****n [name of big-name ISP censored because my legal defense fund is small] tax, my access to it will be slow.  Even if they are paying their ISP for high-speed access as well.  Make sure you submit comments.

Here is the comment letter I submitted:

Dear FCC,

I’m James White and I live in Wenatchee, WA.

 

Net neutrality, the principle that Internet service providers (ISPs) treat all data that travels over their networks equally, is important to me because without it ISPs could have too much power to determine my Internet experience by providing better access to some services but not others.

 

A pay-­to-play Internet worries me because ISPs could act as the gatekeepers to their subscribers.

 

We have, as a nation, decided that the right to free speech, and the right to assembly when and how we wish are important enough to notify, uphold, and defend. And yet, with the strong push that we have made together over the last several decades to move the assembling and the speaking onto the various channels of the Internet, those fundamental American freedoms are at risk. When ISPs have a direct hand in determining which services I have easy access to, and which I don’t, on the whim of arbitrary fees, even when I have paid my own ISP for high speed access to those services, my choices of when and where I can assemble on the Internet, and what I can say there, are endangered.

 

Without Net neutrality, we in this generation and Americans in future generations are in danger of having the places, the times, the methods, and the topics of their assembly and speech dictated by the chance of which venue was able to pay enough to stay in the fast lanes, and which were not.

 

Sincerely,

 

James White
[My Address Removed]

These comments are a matter of public record and are viewable online one day after being submitted to the FCC public docket. You will have the option to edit the letter before submitting.

Don’t forget to comment.

 

No Internet Creative Commons image courtesy of Marcelo Graciolli

 

Extinction: 100 Years Since Martha

I remember reading the story in the Scholastic News as a kid – a species of bird so numerous that when it migrated it completely blotted out the sky, sometimes for days.  An abundant species so hounded by hunters that within a human lifespan they were completely gone.  100 years ago today Martha, the very last known living passenger pigeon, died at the Cincinnati Zoo.

All around the story is interesting – there are a lot of things I’ve learned in the last couple days that I didn’t know.  At the time, the passenger pigeon was the most numerous bird species in North America, with billions of individuals, and may have been the most numerous bird species in the world.  Martha lived to be somewhere between 17 and 29 years old (Wikipedia claims that 29 is the most commonly accepted age), which just blows me away.  Is it common for birds to be that old?  Martha was frozen in a block of ice after her death and sent by train to the Smithsonian where she was photographed, skinned, mounted, dissected, preserved, and put on display for most of the next 85 years.

I didn’t understand all of the social and ecological issues when I read that article all those years ago – thinking about the age I was, it was probably the 75th anniversary of Martha’s death.  Even though the extinction of the passenger pigeon was a horrible tragedy, it was also the catalyst for many of the fundamental protections we have today.  It’s interesting to think of myself sitting in school learning about an extinct bird (I think we also learned about California Condors at the same time – an issue that was big then), never knowing that 25 years later my career would be focused on endangered species restoration.

Become More Awesome Through Constant Learning

As a nerd, learning what I can about just about anything is just an inherent part of who and what I am.  Continuous self-upgrading through daily learning is so important to me that I made it one of the foundational principles of the get-badass-slowly approach I am using in my Awesomeness Upgrade Project.   I was delighted this morning to read a great article by Paul Jun over on 99u titled Never Stop Learning: How Self-Education Creates a Bullet-Proof Career.   The points that Jun makes are right in line with the process that I have gone through with the AUP.

Even with a strong desire to learn new things, fitting them in between work and other responsibilities can be difficult.  In Jun’s words:

After a long day at work, Netflix sounds more seductive than spending one or two hours diving into a book that challenges you to think deeply about what you do and who you are.

It’s a lot easier to fit in learning new things when you are young and most of your day is devoted to learning.  That’s one of the reasons I emphasize with my children the importance of learning everything they can in school.  There are some ways to make room in your life for learning, though.  When I was studying classical Japanese in college, the chair of the foreign language department was a very wise man with many talents.  He shared with me his secret: he turned off the television.  He said that one day he realized he was spending an hour a night trying to find something to watch, and several hours watching whatever he ended up settling on.  By turning off the TV, he was able to concentrate on things he intentionally chose to do, and had the feeling of a lot more free time.

For me, staying with a new subject after I have mastered the basic fundamentals has always been more of a problem than being motivated to learn in the first place.  Making contact with the ball, sewing an item, painting a picture, writing a poem, learning a few conversational phrases all have more immediate appeal than mastering the game, becoming an accomplished tailor, becoming a great painter or master poet, or achieving full fluency. Sustaining interest is critical. Jun recommends embracing a student-like mindset and turning self education into a daily habit.  He offers four ways points that he suggests will help ignite and sustain a passion for learning:

1. Start with heroes from the past

2. Take advantage of free educational resources

3. Explore unrelated subjects

4. Make learning a habit

Those four points really resonate with me – especially because they are all principles that I have adopted myself in my own struggles to be more than I am.

1. Start with heroes from the past

As part of the AUP, I listed out the people that I would like to be more like, and the attributes they have that I want.  Mine weren’t just heroes from the past, although many of them were.  And mine weren’t all real people.  In the midst of great giants from the past, I also had fictional characters like Bill Adama, Kurosaki Ichigo, and Rocky Balboa.  Then I broke those attributes into lists of things that are innate and those that can be practiced or learned.  I made myself a list of the things

2. Take advantage of free educational resources

We live in an amazing time when more of the World’s knowledge is available to more people than every before.  Public education, libraries, and the Internet make knowledge available with a lower bar to entry than ever before.  And now with free online courses in subjects from Art History to Zoology, even the skills and understanding  you could previously often only get at great expense are now there for the taking.  Apple’s iTunes U, Coursera, edX, Kahn Academy, Code Academy, MIT’s OpenCourseWare, and others all offer free online classes in a wide range of different subjects.  Students do readings, watch video lectures, interact with other students in online forums and through other mechanisms, and then do homework which is often peer reviewed using principles learned in the classes.  The price of the class doesn’t (necessarily) determine the quality of the education you are getting – it is still true that what you get out of an education is influenced predominantly by what you put into it.  If you do the work and build the skill and develop the habits, a free education can be as good or better than a Harvard degree (although I don’t suppose Harvard would agree, even though they are one of the producers of free online courses).

Jun makes a really good point related to free educational resources:

Picture your great-great-grandparents learning that you have access to all this information. They would likely be stunned that you didn’t spend all day reading and learning.

While I can’t answer for all eight sets of great-greats, I am sure at least a few of them would smack me silly.  Then again, I think that many of my ancestors would smack me silly for any number of differences between their lives our our modern world.

I know that I use free educational resources all the time.  A couple of weeks ago I changed the alternator in our van following instructions in a YouTube video.  I actually learn quite a bit from YouTube (how to draft a sewing pattern, how to play a barre chord, how to spey cast, how to play the Okinawan sanshin, etc).  Last year, in the midst of starting the AUP, I decided that I really needed to level up my organization/operations management skills, so I took a couple Coursera courses on organizational analysis, operations management, and accounting management.  These were real courses offered through real universities but offered for free in a MOOC format through Coursera.  I use the skills and ideas I learned from those free classes almost every day in my job.

3. Explore unrelated subjects

I don’t know whether to call this one a slam-dunk no brainer or to to express confusion at its meaning.  As a nerd, there are very, very few unrelated subjects.  I get the point, though.  There are only incremental personal improvements to be found in studying subjects you have already mastered.  Those incremental improvements are important and can be profound, but they are just more of the same.  Learning something new, like flexing a muscle you never knew you had, can help you to grow in unexplored directions.  When I am learning something new, I find the ideas I am studying leaking into all of the rest of my work – whether it is applying lessons learned from the reign of Lucius Cornelius Sulla to the operations of a non-profit board or adjusting the colors on a report cover or recognizing a key principle from psycholinguistics within a contract negotiation.

4. Make learning a habit

This is the part that is so hard to do.  It’s easy and fun the first few days of learning Klingon.  Days four and five are harder.  I wonder how many get to week two?  Paul Jun has a number of recommendations for this to, including things like organizing a study group and keeping an information book in Evernote.

Not only was this a great read, but it underscores a lot of important principles in becoming more awesome.  Read Paul Jun’s article at 99u.

Where are the QWERTY Phones?

After the recent death of my beloved Droid 4, I found myself in the Verizon store looking for an upgrade.  Three things were quickly apparent: 1) all the phones these days are freaking huge (I couldn’t find an Android phone that would fit in my pocket); 2) the Verizon staff seemed more interested in the USMNT’s match with Belgium (which in fairness I was doing more watching than phone shopping); and 3) there wasn’t a single QWERTY phone (phone with a slide out, physical keyboard).

The soccer match I can understand, but the huge phones (a phone engineer friend of mine in Japan once told me that the size of phones would never significantly change until the average distance between the ear and the mouth changed – he was talking about phones getting smaller and smaller, but I guess he was wrong either way) are unmanageable, and no physical keyboards?  That just won’t do.  I am a touch typist.  I had mandatory keyboarding classes in elementary, junior high, and high school.  I type over 100 words a minute (not always flawlessly, but it’s fast).  But not on a virtual keyboard.  Their slow.  There’s no tactile feedback, and you have to stare at them while you type.  I hate them.  A lot.  So I was outraged.  I was in total disbelief.  I was absolutely out of luck.  “No one wants them anymore,” I was told.  So I ended up with an iPhone 5s.  It was one of the only phones in the store that fit in my pocket.  Incidentally, in spite of my long resistance to the iPhone thing, I actually like it.  Everything except for the stupid virtual keyboard.

The whole QWERTY/no-QWERTY thing has been a spot of angst and confusion for me for at least the last several weeks.  And then today I came across an interesting psuedo-study by a reader of the ever-nerd slashdot.com.

According to Bennett Haselton, I’m not the only one who prefers physical keyboards.  Haselton quotes an AT&T manager as saying that the slide-out keyboards are more expensive to make and break easier, resulting in more returns.  I don’t know what the real deal is, but I’m at least glad to see that I’m not the only one who cares.

Speed Reading and Staples’ Reading Speed Test

Reading is the foundation of my professional and private life. If you can read you can learn anything. It makes sense that if you can read (with comprehension) faster, you can learn faster. This is the part where the cheesy theme music starts, and speed reading steps out onto the stage wearing a cape.

Long the realm of graduate students and competition readers, speed reading has been all over the news recently (e.g. here and here) and a big clump of apps (like this, this, this, and this) and Web sites (e.g. here, here, and here) promising to teach you how to speed read have been showing up all over the Web.  I have been speed reading for much of my life – one of the tools that helped me survive grad school.  I just took a speed reading test on the Staples Web site. The content wasn’t very challenging, but I read 3,235 words a minute. Can you beat me?

ereader test
Source: Staples eReader Department