Eternal Now

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“The days and nights of Brahman are spread out in time in rather the same way as a ball of thread an inch in diameter is unrolled to the length of a hundred yards. Its real state resembles the ball but to be presented to the human mind it has to be unrolled. For our idea of time is spatial; it has length, which is a spatial dimension. But eternity has no length, and the nearest thing to it in our experience is what we call the present moment. It cannot be measured, but it is always here.” [More excerpts]

— Become What You Are (Alan Watts)

Ten Books

  • Be As You Are: The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharishi
  • I Am That: Talks with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaja
  • The Tao of Zen (Ray Grigg)
  • The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are (Alan Watts)
  • The Way of Zen (Alan Watts)
  • Tao – The Watercourse Way (Alan Watts)
  • This is It: and Other Essays of Zen and Spiritual Experience (Alan Watts)
  • Still the Mind: An Introduction to Meditation (Alan Watts)
  • The Power of Now (Eckhart Tolle)
  • God’s Debris (Scott Adams)

Little Rice: Smartphones, Xiaomi, and the Chinese Dream

Amazon: “Smartphones have to be made someplace, and that place is China. In just five years, a company names Xiaomi (which means “little rice” in Mandarin) has grown into the most valuable startup ever, becoming the third largest manufacturer of smartphones, behind only Samsung and Apple. China is now both the world’s largest producer and consumer of a little device that brings the entire globe to its user’s fingertips. How has this changed the Chinese people? How did Xiaomi conquer the worlds’ biggest market” Can the rise of Xiaomi help realize the Chinese Dream, China’s bid to link personal success with national greatness? Clay Shirky, one of the most influential and original thinkers on the internet’s effects on society, spends a year in Shanghai chronicling China’s attempt to become a tech originator–and what it means for the future course of globalization.”

A few excerpts:

The mobile phone is a member of a small class of human inventions, a tool so essential it has become all but invisible, and life without it unimaginable.

There are only three universally personal items that someone will carry with them no matter where they live. The first two are money and keys; the third is the mobile phone, making it the first new invention added to that short list in three thousand years.

The number of mobile phone users crossed 4.5 billion last year, and because of dual accounts, there are now more mobile subscriptions in the world than there are people.

A smartphone is as different from a standard-issue Nokia 1100 as a computer is from a typewriter.

Mobile phones are a funny product, midway between commodity and luxury. They are a commodity in that everyone needs one. They are a luxury in that a phone makes a significant personal statement.

Status is a bigger feature of the iPhone (in China) than in the U.S. Electronics stores display phones running Android with the screen facing out, as usual, but iPhones are often displayed case out, to show off the Apple logo.

Nokia went from being the world’s most important mobile phone company to an also-ran in three years, collapsing into Microsoft’s waiting arms after another three, a generation of dominance undone in half a decade

If you make something that appeals to 5 percent of the Chinese population, you have a potential market the size of France.

Tidying Up

tidying upThe Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (“The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing”) by Marie Kondo. If you really, really want to declutter your life (and most people do not), this is the only book you’ll need. More philosophy than how-to and that will turn off many. And here method only works if you do exactly what she says to do, and in the order she says to do it.

I’ve nearly completed her method, only photos remain and I’ll tackle those this afternoon. In the process, I have held in my hand every item I possess. That alone will frighten off most people. But I now see why she believes that is important.

If you’re tired of drowning in stuff, read this book. If not, keep swimming. A few excerpts:

Tidying: deciding whether or not to dispose of something and deciding where to put it.

When your room is clean and uncluttered, you have no choice but to examine your inner state.

Tidying is just a tool, not the final destination. Putting things away creates the illusion that the clutter problem has been solved. But sooner or later, all storage units are full. This is why tidying must start with discarding.

People who can’t stay tidy can be categorized into just three types: “can’t-throw-it-away” type; “can’t-put-it-back” type; and the “first-two-combined” type.

You only have to experience a state of perfect order once to be able to maintain it. Examine each item you own, decide whether you want to keep or discard it, and then choose where to put what you keep. […] You only have to decide where to put things once.

Discard things when they cease being functional. Discard things that are out of date.

Take each item in one’s hand and ask: “Does this spark joy?” If it does, keep it. If not, dispose of it. […] You must take each (item) in your hand.

Always think in terms of category, not place. (Don’t organize by room!)

In addition to the physical value of things, there are three other factors that add value to our belongings: function, information, and emotional attachment.

Start with clothes, then move on to books, papers, komono (miscellany), and finally things with sentimental value.

Put all your clothes in one heap, take them in your hand one by one, and ask yourself quietly, “Does this spark joy?”

There are two storage methods for cloths: one is to put them on hangers and hang from a rod and the other is to fold them and put them away in drawers.

Store things standing up rather than laid flat. […] Never ball up your socks.

Remove all books from your bookcases. You cannot judge whether or not a book really grabs you when it’s still on the shelf.

The problem with books that we intend to read sometime is that they are far harder to part with than the ones we have already read. […] “Sometime” never comes. You may have wanted to read it when you bought it, but if you haven’t read it by now, the book’s purpose was to teach you that you didn’t need it.

My basic principle for sorting papers is to throw them all away.

People never retrieve the boxes they send “home.” Once sent, they will never again be opened.

If you just stow things away in a drawer or cardboard box, before you realize it, your past will become a weight that holds you back and keep you from living in the here and now.

The reason every item must have a designated place is because the existence of an item without a home multiplies the chances that your space will become cluttered again. […] The essence of effective storage is this: designate a spot for every last thing you own.

There are only two ways of categorizing belongings: by type of item and by person. [page 138]

Clutter has only two possible causes: too much effort is required to put things away or it is unclear where things belong.

Keep everything out of the bath or shower. Whatever is used in the bath should be dried after use.

A deluge of information whenever you open a closet door makes a room feel “noisy.” […] By eliminating excess visual information that doesn’t inspire joy, you can make your space much more peaceful and comfortable.

At their core, the things we really like do not change over time. Putting your house in order is a great way to discover what they are.

When we really delve into the reasons for why we can’t let something go, there are only two: an attachment to the past or a fear for the future.

The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life. […] The best way to find out what we really need is to get rid of what we don’t. […] Selecting and discarding one’s possessions is a continuous process of making decisions based on one’s own values.

On Not Being There

[Spoiler alert: If you haven’t read William Gibson’s The Peripheral this article contains spoilers.]

A few excerpts from a fascinating article by Rebecca Lemon in The Hedgehog Review:

Almost daily, we encounter people who are there but not there, flickering in and out of what we think of as presence. A growing body of research explores the question of how users interact with their gadgets and media outlets, and how in turn these interactions transform social relationships. The defining feature of this heavily mediated reality is our presence “elsewhere,” a removal of at least part of our conscious awareness from wherever our bodies happen to be.

I recently spent 90 minutes in a video Hangout with +Steve Brown. He was in Tucson and I was here in Jefferson City, MO in a coffee shop. That’s were our respective bodies were but I’m not sure where my awareness or consciousness was. In the cloud? Cyberspace? Somewhere other than that coffee shop. Back to Ms. Lemon’s article:

Mark Carranza—[who] makes his living with computers—has been keeping a detailed, searchable archive of all the ideas he has had since he was 21. That was in 1984. I realize that this seems impossible. But I have seen his archive, with its million plus entries, and observed him using it… Most thoughts are tagged with date, time, and location.

(This is where I would comment on that but I can’t think of anything to say)

“clickworkers, gold farmers, porn zappers” – Many of them based in suburban Manila in former elementary schools and other unlikely sites, the content moderators perform the unsavory job of repeatedly adjudicating whether images posted to Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, or other social networking sites are sufficiently offensive to be eliminated from view. Moderators at PCs sit at long tables for hours, an “army of workers employed to soak up the worst of humanity in order to protect the rest of us.” By some estimates, the content-moderating army is 100,000 strong, twice the size of Google’s labor pool, and many of its members have college degrees.

You need a little context for that and the article provides it. “The data-drive body at work and at play.”

Awesome

“Then he explained in a whisper that the plan was composed entirely of awesome. It was made and designed by the House of Awesome, from materials found in the deep awesome mines of Awesometania and it would be recorded in the Annals of Awesome—and nowhere else, because any other book would catch fire and explode from the awesome—and by its awesomeness it would be known from now until the crack of doom.”

Tigerman by Nick Harkaway

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

sevenevesOf the half dozen or so Neal Stephenson novels I’ve read, Seveneves (pronounced seven Eves) is probably my least favorite. That might say more about how much I enjoyed his previous books. I need to make a few notes here while the book is fresh in my mind. [SPOILERS: If you haven’t read it yet, there will be a few] In no particular order:

  • If humans have any long-term future, it will involve space travel. And, if humans survive, they will evolve into beings that are different — in important, significant ways — from what we are today. Future humans will have god-like powers (genetic engineering, to name one)
  • The story brings to mind The Martian (Andy Weir); Contact (Carl Sagan) and Red Star, Winter Orbit (A short story by William Gibson). And some clear echoes of Stephenson’s Anathem.
  • Regarding the author’s choice for bringing about the end of the world: an unknown Agent blows up the moon which — within a couple of years — destroys all life on Earth. Not climate change; plague; nuclear war or alien invasion. And even though Stephenson chooses destruction by fire, he avoids the obvious Biblical reference.
  • Stephenson made the “end of the world” seem real to me in a way that other apocalyptic tales have not. I found it difficult to read. He points out that “within about 100 years” everyone who is alive today will be dead. Something I never consciously considered.
  • The story made me appreciate water and clouds and gravity in a way that I don’t think I ever have. I hope I don’t live to see the end of this world. Or the beginning of the end. Oops. Never mind.
  • Robots figure prominently in this story but they are tools, not metal “people” No mention of Artificial Intelligence in this story. I came away with a feeling that this is how things will probably go. Not the romantic vision Hollywood has provided.

I’ve read most of NS’s novels more than once. Some so often the books have started to come apart. Seveneves is a good yarn but one read will probably be enough. Excellent review of 7Eves.

Books, like love, make life worth living

If you love paper books, you’ll enjoy this essay by William Geraldi. A few snippets to prime your pump:

“What does it mean when what you own is essential to who you are? In our everyday grasp of owning things, we tag it materialism, consumerism, consumption. But I trust you’ll agree that the possession of books is not identical to the possession of shoes: Someone with a thousand books is someone you want to talk to; someone with a thousand shoes is someone you suspect of belonging to the Kardashian clan. Books are not objects in the same way that shoes are objects.’

“For readers, what they read is where they’ve been, and their collections are evidence of the trek.”

“The wise are wise only insofar as they know that they know nothing. In other words: Someone with all the answers has no use for books.”

“Like the bicycle, the book is a perfect invention, and perfection dies very, very hard. The car hasn’t murdered the bike, and the Web won’t murder the book.”

Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at Mon, Apr 20, 9.37.54 AMAt no time in my life did I think I might want to be a parent. If I thought about it at all, it was brief moments of mildly guilty introspection that quickly passed, certainly not a topic of conversation. Barb might have gotten some “You’ll regret this some day” but I didn’t. From time to time someone would “compliment” me with, “You’d be a great dad.” A sentence I completed —in my head— with “and miserable every day of my life.”

I never heard or took part in discussions on the decision not to have children so this anthology was particularly interesting. Sixteen intelligent (all writers, I believe) people who chose not to have children (Thirteen women and three men). Each story a little different and deeply personal. I found these stories… up lifting.