I am in love with this diagram from Charles Lindblom’s paper “Still Muddling, Not Yet Through”: The gist of this paper (and it’s predecessor, “The Science of Muddling Through”) is that a lot of effort is invested in studying idealized methods for how to comprehensively analyze a situation and make a globally best decision, but that is basically never the skill that anyone is able to exercise. Instead, we are all under multiple competing pressures — especially deadlines — having to make a good-enough-for-now assessment and stay in motion.
On January weekend mornings, when it’s too cold to get the kids outside to play for any real length of time, we all end up cooped up together in the house. More so this year, with COVID cases as bad as ever in Vermont and nowhere indoors to take them to blow off steam (the ECHO Center aquarium is a favorite). By the time, I’ve got my daughter down for her nap, I’m drained — physically, but more so emotionally.
Nearly a year ago, my family went from separating to work and school each morning to permanently cloistered together, with varying degrees of rebellion against the demands of sheltering in place with small children. We have been back to regular childcare for months, but the slow pace of vaccination and the B.1.1.7 variant loom over my partner and I. The prospect of once more trying to keep each other and the children sane while nominally keeping up with our full time responsibilities often greets me when I wake in the middle of the night.
Factorio has been released. If you were looking for an indie real-time strategy game based around building automated manufacturing systems while under attack by bug-like aliens, this is your opportunity! I’ve only played part way through the tutorials, but this is one of the most addictive games I’ve seen in years. My first exposure to Minecraft may be the last time I get this sucked into a game. If I decide to buy a copy, I’m also certainly going to have to pair with a Beeminder goal to put an upper bound on how much I can play it in a day.
Tom Critchlow, in his series of blog posts inspired Keith Johnstone’s book Impro, says: Much as we might like to think of organizations as rational machines - the reality is that companies are social organizations and people interacting with people is the way decisions are made and how work gets done.And in this theatre of human work it’s crucial to speak up. As a software developer in the age of agile methods, I have attended countless sprint reviews, a meeting where every couple of weeks a team presents its progress to interested parties.
I downloaded TikTok, curious about anything that draws the ire of narcissitic authoritarians. What I found browsing the public feed (I did not make an account) was random Americans, playful and goofing off, in 30 second increments. It was like everyone in the country was getting silly at a party with their friends and I was being teleported between them. There’s no doubt that it was a horrible attention sink that had to come off my phone immediately, but I have to admit, there was something beautiful about it.
Years ago, I stayed with the family of a college roommate for a weekend. While browsing their bookshelves, I came across a slim little book that drew me in: To Know a Fly by Vincent Dethier. As I recall, I sunk into an armchair and read it in a single sitting. Dethier was an entomologist and the book is an irreverent memoir on experimental methods available on a shoestring budget. I got my hands on my own copy recently.
Ada Palmer published a delightful, sprawling essay on comparisons between the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Death / Renaissance. This morning, I needed to read this paragraph very badly (emphasis mine): This year, 2020, this is the first time in the history of this planet that any species has faced a pandemic knowing what it is, and how to take effective action. We aren’t taking perfect action, and we absolutely should be criticizing and condemning the many flaws—some small, some huge—in how it’s being dealt with, but there is real, efficacious action we can take.
Peter Heller’s novel The Dog Stars is narrated by a man named Hig bunkered up at Colorado airport nine years after a pandemic has killed ninety-nine percent of humanity, including his wife. His only companions are a bloodthirsty survivalist he shares the airport with and his aging dog. So maybe not the absolute best reading choice for the times. On the other hand, maybe exactly what I needed was a meditation on continuing to live through collapse.
Nadia Eghbal on being basic as a virtue: And I like engaging with ideas, too. I’ve just come to see it more as work than leisure. So instead, my coping mechanism has been to aggressively seek the anti-intellectual: to embrace the basic in my life. Ordinarily, Saturday is a day when I put a lot of energy into denser, more philosophical reading and try to do some writing while I am free of the crush of meetings during the week.
I just finished reading Octavia Butler’s novel Mind of My Mind, in which an immortal spirit that preys on human minds breeds telepathic humans together to produce more satisfying fare. Before the telepaths learn to control their power and shield themselves from the thoughts of other people, they are tormented by an unbearable flood of other people’s emotions. Last week, I was scrolling Twitter and caught myself thinking “That’s a dumb tweet, why the hell did person I follow like that?
While I sincerely believe that we need to coordinate changes to infrastructure and social norms to make progress on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, I am not going to sit and wait for the coordination to magically happen on its own. That means actively experimenting with alternate lower-emissions routines. The pandemic has eliminated my daily office commute for now, but we are back to full-time child care out of the home. For two children with five years between, that means four trips each weekday to different destinations—a 3.
My family is on a weekend trip at an AirBnB not far from our home, but distant and remote enough to act as a forcing function for being deliberate about what we bring and our activities. With two kids, that’s still fairly maximalist by many standards. Much LEGO has come along for the ride. Benjamin Ross Hoffman’s post “Sabbath hard and go home” came up in my Readwise review this morning, well-timed for the day that stretches ahead.
Buckminster Fuller, it turns out, is not a great writer. I picked up a copy of Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth recently, because I am having a deep craving for optimistic visions (wonder why?); it definitely has some interesting bits and I am finding it worth my time, but I’m pretty frustrated with his pompous, convoluted phrasing and the ahistorical speculation used to argue his point. Still, I am trying to read it charitably, as a fable or some kind of foundation myth for switching from a scarcity to abundance mindset.
A confession: I enjoy reading self-help books. I know this isn’t cool. I certainly roll my eyes at plenty of stuff when I’m reading self-help, but they can also stimulate useful self-reflection. The key is to skim anything that is boring or too cringeworthy and to read sympathetically rather than as an adversary looking to find a fatal flaw and demolish the argument. Given that defensive preamble, here’s a quote I highlighted from Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project (which I finished yesterday):
Philosopher Nick Riggle explores the ethics of goofing around in his book On Being Awesome. He identifies the idea of “being awesome” with being skilled at creating situations for others to express their individuality. When we break out of our norm-governed roles by expressing ourselves, we can create what I call a social opening. A social opening occurs when an opportunity arises to step outside of or creatively expand upon these roles—in particular, when there is a chance to recognize each other’s individuality beyond whatever generic traits and skills are required to simply enact the social role or adhere to the social norms.
Cutting carbon emissions requires both household behavior change and government intervention. Neither alone will do the job. It seems obvious to me that this is not an either/or choice. When I get into debates with friends on the topic, it doesn’t take long for everyone to come around to “False dichotomies are false.” But still people are picking sides. This is dumb and we should stop. As Kris De Deckers says in “We Can’t Do It Ourselves”
In her Atlantic essay “Gratitude for Invisible Systems”, Debbie Chachra describes infrastructure as how “we take care of each other at scale”. Because these systems are only visible when they break, we tend to not appreciate them. Well, since I first started paying attention to COVID-19 and what it’s consequences might be in January, I sure as hell appreciate infrastructure now. Building up stocks of food so that we are ready to self-quarantine at any moment was easy enough, but what about clean water, electricity, and natural gas?
Francis Su’s lecture “The Lessons of Grace in Teaching” is in my core curriculum, the writings I reread several times a year. It reminds me that everyone deserves to be known as a person beyond what they can achieve. And everyone includes me. When I treat myself instrumentally, when I feel low because I worry about letting others down, worry that I’m not getting enough down, those are the times I’m most likely to only see other people in relation to tasks and goals, rather than other conscious beings with fundamental dignity.
David MacIver is the guy who gets people to start daily writing practices. Count me in. Today, I’m picking a passage from Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora that I adore. Spoilers ahead, although it probably won’t be a huge surprise if you have read his recent essays. Emphasis mine: The point is that we tried, we tried with everything we had, and we wanted it to work. We had a project on this trip back to the solar system, and that project was a labor of love.