Is This a Good Idea? – 7 Takeaways for October 3, 2021

Is It a Good Idea?

1. “‘doubt’ is your friend”

iPhones in old paintings — Is this evidence of Time Travellers? – David Gamble – (Medium)

On one hand this is kinda fun. The images are interesting, and I can certainly see the less discerning among us jumping to the wrong conclusions. The author explains each “iPhone” (which, honestly, could just as easily have been an Android) in these pre-iPhone paintings.

On the other hand they’re a great example of how our experiences color our view and our interpretation of the world.

Our brains are amazing pattern seeking engines that are cued to see the things we expect to see around us.

The entire concept of “pattern recognition” is a fascinating one and applies to so many different situations. Doubt and skepticism are critical tools.

Do this: Unless you’re in Africa, when you hear hoofbeats expect horses, not zebras.

2. “The wise is yours”

The ‘Wise’ of Your Writing – Lori Welch Brown – (Medium)

This is a topic I’ve been thinking about a lot lately: wisdom, and how to share it. All of us have accumulated knowledge and wisdom over the years of our existence. All too often, though, that wisdom is never shared and lost forever once we’re gone. That saddens me.

Particularly since we are childless, I struggle with how best to pass along whatever wisdom I might have. The problems are twofold: I have no idea what counts as “wisdom”, and it’s very likely no one cares. I mean the last point in the most positive of ways: folks lead busy lives, and they feel they have more important and pressing things to do than read the meanderings of someone 20 years their senior.

In a recent discussion with some colleagues I brought up the issue and the answer was “just write”. I guess; though that doesn’t give me a lot of direction, or encouragement, for that matter.

Brown’s essay begins to. She’s addressing her own, different problem:

. . . how often I feel, at 55, that I don’t have anything of value to say and/or contribute to the discussion.

I know I have things of value, but I don’t know what they are. She’s given me a few ideas.

Do this: Just write. Don’t let your wisdom disappear.

3. “. . . a way of reading in which books are mined for nutrients, takeaways . . .”

If a book can be summarized, is it worth reading? – Austin Kleon – (blog)

Obviously, by providing seven takeaways each week, I resemble this remark. Smile

It’s a valid point, though. Can a summary (a la cliffs notes, for those over a certain age) be a substitute for reading something?

. . . I believe that the value of a book, regardless of whether it’s fiction or nonfiction or comics or poetry, is actually in the experience of turning the pages, moving from one sentence to the next, or one panel to the other.

I would agree. Summaries are no substitute for the original, particularly when it comes to experience.

However, I would claim that’s not how summaries are best used. I often use summaries as data when I’m making a decision on whether or not to invest the time reading something.  (My favorite is Philosopher’s Notes. I’ve tried Blinkist but it’s fallen out of use.) While they’re not my only data point, summaries really do help me make more informed decisions.

I’ve had the same feedback on 7 Takeaways as well.

Do this: don’t replace books with summaries, but consider using summaries as an additional decision-making tool.

4. “Good show.”

September 28, 1951: Alan Turing, the World’s First Digital Music, and the Poetry of Possibility – Maria Popova – (Brain Pickings newsletter)

This caught my eye for no reason other than the creation of the first digital music, and my thinking over and over to myself as I read the piece, “please let there be a recording, PLEASE let there be a recording”.

There’s a recording. It’s pretty cool.

Do this: listen. It’s older than I am. Smile Popova’s article, of course, has more background.

5. “I worry about the future of medical care in the U.S.”

I fear Covid-19 is pushing young physicians out of medicine – Gerald E. Harmon – (STAT)

This feels like the piece on teaching I mentioned last week. Medical staff are burning out. Once again, I can’t imagine choosing to join a profession where so much of it — especially right now — is fighting a tide of misinformation, and dealing with the consequences thereof.

Trying to puncture the misinformation bubble about vaccines is emotionally draining. Trying to reach people who would take your medical counsel about any subject except Covid-19 vaccines is exhausting and frustrating.

Vaccines work. And yet unvaxxed people are dying. I don’t get it, but I can’t imagine being on the front line dealing with it.

Do this: get vaccinated. Then thank a doctor, nurse, or other medical professional for being there and fighting the good fight.

6. “That’s how you die.”

Sending Over Baby. No. Please. Stay Home. – Julia E Hubbel – (Medium)

This essay begins by discussing the unprepared and often entitled Americans attempting to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. People who, believing social media, or perhaps just glancing at it, don’t realize the importance of research and preparation for a climb that kills several people each year.

About halfway through the essay pivots from good to great. It’s about more than Kilimanjaro. It’s both an example, and a metaphor for so much more.

As an adventure traveler, I see first-hand what families and schools spit out the other end, which includes a larger and larger percentage of unruly, uneducated, ill-mannered louts, both male and female, largely White, self-centered, convinced of their unearned specialness and completely and utterly clueless.

There are so many quotes I could lift from this article. It’s a great example of how the worst of society — the worst we all see and complain about — is manifesting not only here at home, but how it’s being seen around the world.

To quote someone who should really never be quoted: “Sad.”

Do this: I’ll break my rule once again and suggest that reading this essay is 11 minutes well spent.


Amazon Should Invent With Care – Shira Ovide – (New York Times, On Tech newsletter)

A fascinating examination of Amazon’s approach to trying new things, spurred by the recent announcement of “Astro“, their Alexa-enabled home robot.

The analysis is most clear when comparing it against Apple. Amazon: try lots of things, bring them to market, see what works and what doesn’t. The world is your testbed. Apple: produce fewer, better products, with lots of design effort prior to release.

There’s a lot to be said for each approach. Apple’s is more costly but stands a better chance of producing winners. Amazon’s is quicker but leaves a lot of dead-product detritus along the way. (Amazon Phone, anyone?) Neither is right or wrong, they’re just different.

Though one might consider Amazon’s slightly riskier at a higher level.

The downside of Amazon’s spirit of constant invention is that there is less inclination to slow down and ask: Are we sure that this is a good idea? Why? What is this for? Is this what normal people want? And if so, do we know the best way to give it to them?

Do this: Ask questions.

What I’m Reading

In progress (also on GoodReads):


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