Dec 23, 2016

Random Articles - RAW 161223


Welcome to the last RAW for the year.  Thank you for joining me over the past year and I hope I've been able to challenge you to Read More and Think More about various topics.  As the year draws to a close and we look forward to 2017 I''d like to  wish you all a joyous Christmas and a happy New Year. Here's praying that you remember the reason for the season.

Pull up a comfy chair and enjoy reading this holiday weekend with your favourite festive beverage.


The Most Overlooked Word at Christmas

One of the most important words in the Christmas story is an unassuming one. It’s one you’ve probably skipped over many times, failing to recognize its significance. It’s not a main character—like Jesus, Mary, or Joseph—but you can hardly understand the Christmas story without it. At Christmas, one little word—with—helps to explain why Jesus came and how we can know him. With clarifies, convicts, and comforts.



The beautiful Icelandic tradition of giving books on Christmas Eve : TreeHugger

Icelanders have a beautiful tradition of giving books to each other on Christmas Eve and then spending the night reading. This custom is so deeply ingrained in the culture that it is the reason for the Jolabokaflod, or “Christmas Book Flood,” when the majority of books in Iceland are sold between September and December in preparation for Christmas giving.



The Hottest Trend In Digital Publishing are Serialized eBooks Good E-Reader News

The big new trend in digital publishing in 2016 is serialized novels that are delivered to you via an app or directly to the email inbox. Large publishers and a number of startups believe that most people do not read complete novels on their phone, but do have time to read a chapter a day



War and Peace: James S.A. Corey on New 'Expanse' Novel

The new novel, releasing today (Dec. 6), is the sixth entry in James S.A. Corey's "The Expanse" series, which continues at a hard burn of one book per calendar year. Season 2 of the associated TV series on Syfy is promised for early 2017. Space.com caught up with Corey — actually the author duo Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck — to hear about their favorite aspects of the new novel, the writing process and the series' ultimate ending, which they can't wait to reach. (Be warned: minor spoilers related to character appearances are included.)



12+ Books for Kids Not Ready for Harry Potter

For kids who are not ready for many of the darker themes in Harry Potter or the reading level of the later books, this list of chapter books will come in handy. Some of these books are good for kids not ready for the 1st Harry book and some are better for kids who can read the first three, but not beyond. All of them have a heavy dose of magic and a share a few elements with J.K. Rowling’s splendid series.



'Post-truth' named word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries | Books | The Guardian

Defined by the dictionary as an adjective “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”, editors said that use of the term “post-truth” had increased by around 2,000% in 2016 compared to last year.



Nutcrackers and Alice in Wonderland: Russian illustrated children's books – in pictures | Children's books | The Guardian

Karina Karmenian takes us on a tour of contemporary Russian children’s books illustrators, after setting the scene with the radical foundations in the 1920s



Tokyo cafes turn to 'friendly, relaxed' Australia for ideas | The Japan Times

What is it about Australian cafes that has Tokyo so excited? Is it the relaxed atmosphere, the service or the fresh flavors? Perhaps it’s the high-quality produce and the commitment to crafting exceptional cups of coffee? Or maybe it’s the attraction of Australia’s laidback lifestyle? Whatever it is, cafes and restaurants across Tokyo seem to be invoking Down Under.



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Dec 18, 2016

Do More Better And The Meaning Of Life (And It's Not 42)


I read this book on the heals of Crazy Busy and I found that it helped clarify a lot of the ideas and issues which Crazy Busy raised for me.  While Crazy Busy was a meander through the thoughts and struggles of the author on busyness and intergrating that into the Christian life, it didn't really have any hard and fast conclusions, whereas Do More Better was different.

One Box not Two

A lot of Christians will compartmentalise their lives. Compartmentalising is basically dividing your life into sections. Let's use two boxes as an example. We will have two boxes one for Sunday Stuff and another for Every Other Day Stuff.  Christian stuff goes into the Sunday Stuff box and only gets pulled out and worked on at certain times, like Sunday, or during those times of the week we have sectioned off to do Sunday Stuff, like mid-week bible class or devotional times etc.  The rest of the week the Sunday Stuff is packed up and not considered as we go about our Every Other Day Stuff. Stuff like working and resting, and eating and travelling etc.  What Do More Better is suggesting is that Christians live a Wholistic lifestyle and combine both boxes together.


What Is The Meaning Of Life?

The author, Tim Challies, argues we need to incorporate our work/productivity into our Christian lives and he starts at the very foundation of the reformed tradition. The first question of the Westminster Larger Catechism is What is the chief and highest end of man? (or What is the meaning of life?) The answer... (which is also backed up in the Bible: Romans 11:36, 1 Corinthians 10:31, Psalm 73:24-28, John 17:21-23) Man's chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.  Therefore anything we do, including work, must rest on this foundation.


Making God Look Good.

Removing the compartmentalisation and committing to glorify God and enjoy him forever needs to be the basis of everything we do, whether it's eating, drinking, working or at rest. Glorifying God involves doing good works and making God look good. Remembering that good works are only possible because of Christ’s free gift of justification (Sola Fide).


The Goal Of Do More Better.

Establishing our productivity on the foundation of the gospel and making it part of our whole life is the goal of this book. Forget compartmentalising our lives into the Sunday Stuff and Every Other Day Stuff boxes. No amount of organization and time management will compensate for lack of Christian character, not when it comes to this great calling of glory through good – bringing glory to God by doing good to others.

Yeah, But My Job Sucks.

If you think that the work you are currently doing is not exciting or impressive and there is no way this humble or dull as dirt job will ever bring glory to God, Challies puts on the following quote from Gene Edward Veith:
Gene Edward Veith says, Essentially, your vocation is to be found in the place you occupy in the present. A person stuck in a dead-end job may have higher ambitions, but for the moment, that job, however humble, is his vocation. Flipping hamburgers, cleaning hotel rooms, emptying bedpans all have dignity as vocations, spheres of expressing love of neighbor through selfless service, in which God is masked.

Two Parts

This book is divided into two sections. In the first section Challies explores our busy lives and discusses the theology of work, which as I mentioned helped clarify some of the issues raised in Crazy Busy.  This section focused more on our main vocation (or work) and getting work done rather than busyness in general.  Challies also takes the reader though some exercises on how to set your foundations and focus in order to be more effective when you are working.

This principle extends to any area of life but is especially helpful in organizing your productivity system. Here it is: a home for everything, and like goes with like. Do not be deceived by the simplicity of this rule: It is a very, very powerful principle. If you were to consistently apply this principle all over your home or office, it would be and remain perfectly organized.
Tim Challies, Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity, loc. 549-552

In the second section of Do More Better we get practical advice on how to boost our productivity.  We are given a look at how Challies himself works, he provides the two simple principles this system revolves around, which is  "a home for everything, and like goes with like"  next he talks about which tools he uses and how to set them up for productivity.

Three Essential Tools

The 3 essential tools which he recommends are:



I have used all three online tools, but after reading how Challies recommended using them, I can see that I was using them in a haphazard and ineffectual manner.  Even though I do not need to use these tools in my job, I still found this section very useful and it was good to see how someone else uses these tools and uses them efficiently.

I tried using these tools as Challies recommended to 'do more, better' with my life outside of my job, for church life, family life and my blog but have reverted back to using Trello as the main tool for collecting ideas and articles for my Blog. For someone who doesn't have a system already in place or is looking for something different then I think these ideas will be of great use.

Do More Better is a nice short read and a very helpful on a topic that lots of people struggle with.  I think it would be well worth your while to get yourself a copy.


Do More Better
A Practical Guide to Productivity 


by Tim Challies

A short, fast-paced, practical guide to productivity to share what I have learned about getting things done in today’s digital world. Whether you are a student or a professional, a work-from-home dad or a stay-at-home mom, it will help you learn to structure your life to do the most good to the glory of God.

You can also get yourself a copy from Cruciform Press.


Takes Aways

Here are some take-aways from the book which I hope will clarify what the book is about:

Validation

I do wonder if, again, we suffer from busy syndrome more today than we did in the past. After all, our society often judges us and ranks us according to our busyness. Although we complain about being busy, we also find that it validates us,

Busyness may make you feel good about yourself and give the illusion of getting things done, but it probably just means that you are directing too little attention in too many directions, that you are prioritizing all the wrong things, and that your productivity is suffering.

Do the Hardest Tasks First

While it may be tempting to focus on several small tasks and reduce your task list substantially, there is often much more value in going straight after the hardest task. Accomplishing nine or ten low-priority tasks while neglecting the one high-priority task may make you feel better, but it is the very opposite of true productivity. Try to do the hardest thing first and when you’re at your peak.

Expect Failure

Do not be discouraged by your inability to do it all, realize that circumstances and providence may interrupt and delay even your best laid plans. Not only that, but you set and manage your priorities with the information available to you at the time, but this information is always limited.

What is productivity?

Productivity is effectively stewarding my gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God.

You need to structure and organize your life so that you can do the maximum good for others and thus bring the maximum glory to God.

Your purpose (in life): to glorify God by doing good to others. That is what we are called to in each of our areas of responsibility: to serve and surprise.


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Dec 16, 2016

Random Articles - RAW 161216

Welcome to the weekend, Here are some hand-picked articles to enjoy this weekend over your favourite beverage.


A hundred years on from Agatha Christie’s first novel, crime fiction is going cosy again | Books | The Guardian

Forget domestic noir and put down all those books with “Girl” in the title. Crime fiction is turning back the clock to its golden age with a host of books that pay homage to the genre’s grande dame, Agatha Christie, either intentionally or in spirit



John Cleese on the Five Factors to Make Your Life More Creative – Brain Pickings

Much has been said about how creativity works, its secrets, its origins, and what we can do to optimize ourselves for it. In this excerpt from his fantastic 1991 lecture, John Cleese (b. October 27, 1939) offers a recipe for creativity, delivered with his signature blend of cultural insight and comedic genius. Specifically, Cleese outlines the 5 factors that you can arrange to make your lives more creative



How Libraries Save Lives – Brain Pickings

Knowledge sets us free, art sets us free. A great library is freedom, Ursula K. Le Guin wrote in contemplating the sacredness of public libraries. If librarians were honest, they would say, No one spends time here without being changed, Joseph Mills wrote in his ode to libraries. You never know what troubled little girl needs a book, Nikki Giovanni wrote in one of her poems celebrating libraries and librarians.



Google AI invents its own cryptographic algorithm; no one knows how it works | Ars Technica UK

Google Brain has created two artificial intelligences that evolved their own cryptographic algorithm to protect their messages from a third AI, which was trying to evolve its own method to crack the AI-generated crypto. The study was a success: the first two AIs learnt how to communicate securely from scratch.



Proxima b Might Be a Habitable 'Ocean Planet'

The entire surface of Proxima b — the possibly Earth-like planet orbiting the closest star to the sun, Proxima Centauri — may be covered in a liquid ocean, according to a new study



Fermi Paradox | Questions No One Knows the Answers to (Full Version) - YouTube

In the first of a new TED-Ed series designed to catalyze curiosity, TED Curator Chris Anderson shares his boyhood obsession with quirky questions that seem t...





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Dec 11, 2016

What Does An Economist, A Fish and Literature Have In Common?

Sturgeon's Revelation: In Defence Of Science Fiction

TL:DR? Want a short concise article about this? Try Sturgeon's Revelation: In Defence Of Science Fiction.

I've loved science fiction (SciFi) for as long as I can remember. The stories of spacemen flying around in space ships and fighting off B.E.M's* with ray-guns fired up my imagination more than anything else. But apart from my family only two other people really encouraged me to read science fiction and Fantasy, my Year Six teacher who encouraged my imagination and my Year Seven English teacher who pointed me in the direction of some great classics. Everyone else either dimissed the genre or openly mocked it.

I'd hear taunts from peers like:
"At least sports-ting is something real, McTavish, not like your Buck Rogers stuff!, that's for people who can't handle the real world." 

Or from Teachers I'd hear,
"Science fiction is not real literature, this is why we're going to be studying real fiction."

...Real fiction? An oxymoron if I've ever heard one.

This is why I was so pleased to learn about Sturgeon's Revelation (or most commonly known as Sturgeon's Law).

So What Is Sturgeon's Revelation And What Does It Have To Do With An Economist?

Sturgeon's Revelation first appeared in the March 1958 issue of Venture (a science fiction magazine) and is a defence of science fiction as a genre. While the proper citation of Sturgeon's Revelation is "Nothing is always absolutely so." (whatever that means).  It is Sturgeon's Law that is in the most common usage which says "ninety percent of everything is crap". Although I believe he used the word 'crud'.

This Is Where The Economist Comes In.

Purchasing stock was one of my favourite tasks when I worked in a book shop. I enjoyed the challage of Just-In-Time inventory control,  getting the delicate balance correct between having the shop full of books and other stock, which would sell quickly. The constant struggle to achieve the magical turn over of 5 consumed my thoughts.  I would talk to other shop managers, if I could and read industry articles and economic books on how to achieve this so I could run the book shop well.

During this journey I came across the Pareto Principle, this is also known as the 80/20 rule. This principle or rule states that '20% of of the invested input is responsible for 80% of the results obtained. Or 80% of consequences stem from 20% of the causes.' (1) Applied to my role in the book shop it meant that 80% of our sales came from 20% of the stock. That's the stock I needed to focus on.

This principle has been found to work for so many other areas of life in general:

  • In sports, 20% of sportsmen participate in 80% of big competitions and out of them, 20% win 80% of the awards. 
  • In business, 80% of problems can be attributed to 20% of causes.
  • In Information Technology,  Microsoft noted that by fixing the top 20% of the most-reported bugs, 80% of the related errors and crashes in a given system would be eliminated.
  • At work, look around you and you'll probably find that you're part of the 20% who does 80% of the work. 

This principle serves as a general rule not a hard and fast one, the ratios can be moved. For instance it could be 60/40 or 90/10.

So What Does This Have To Do With Literature?

If we apply the 'Pareto Principle' to all the books published you notice that only ten to twentl percent of them are good or expectional. This is not something new, Vilfredo Pareto wrote about his 80/20 rule as far back as 1896, and even earlier still in 1870, Benjamin Disraeli wrote:

Books are fatal: they are the curse of the human race. Nine-tenths of existing books are nonsense, and the clever books are the refutation of that nonsense.

This Is Where Our Fish Comes In.

There is a fish called a Sturgeon and we're discussing Sturgeon's Revelation / Law... get it (!) O.K. it's was my attempt at clickbait, looks like it worked though you're srill here. ☺

Back to Sturgeon's Revelation, in 2013, philosopher Daniel Dennett revitalised Sturgeon's Law as one of his seven tools for critical thinking. The full quote is recounted in Dennett's book Intuition Pumps, and Other Tools for Thinking:

When people talk about the mystery novel, they mention The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep.  When they talk about the western, they say there’s The Way West and Shane.  But when they talk about science fiction, they call it “Buck Rogers stuff,” and they say “ninety percent of science fiction is crud.”  Well, they’re right.  Ninety percent of science fiction is crud.  But then ninety percent of everything is crud, and it’s the ten percent that isn’t crud that is important, and the ten percent of science fiction that isn’t crud is as good or better than anything being written anywhere.

Dennett follows this by saying:

A good moral to draw from this observation is that when you want to criticize a field, a genre, a discipline, an art form,… don’t waste your time and ours hooting at the crap!  Go after the good stuff, or leave it alone.  This advice is often ignored by idealogues intent on destroying the reputation of analytic philosophy, evolutionary psychology, sociology, cultural anthropology, macroeconomics, plastic surgery, improvisational theater, television sitcoms, philosophical theology, massage therapy, you name it.  Let’s stipulate at the outset that there is a great deal of deplorable, stupid, second-rate stuff out there, of all sorts.  Now, in order not to waste your time and try our patiences, make sure you concentrate on the best stuff you can find, the flagship examples extolled by the leaders in the field, the prize-winning entries, not the dregs. (2)

So what Sturgeon is actually saying is that science fiction can stack up with the best of any other fiction genre if you give it a chance.

If you're new to science fiction or want to 'give it a go' what I would say to you is 'Yes, ninety percent of SciFi is rubbish so seek out the ten percent that is good and start with that.  Since life is short you could also apply this to life in general, replace SciFi with X and seek out the best in class

How Do I Know The Difference?

Firstly look around for people who are enthusiastic about the subject and see what they have to say, what they have to recommend. Don't forget to ask questions, if they're taking SciFi (or X) they're willing to provide advice. This is where the internet comes to it's own, and something I didn't have access to when I was growing up.

I'm may sound like an old man now when I say this but 'time will tell'. Time will winnow out the chaff.  Take a look back at what was on the best sellers list ten years ago and see how many of these titles are actually memorable or ones you would be willing to read again or recommend to someone.

In this example I was able to find Amazon.com's Top Ten Customer Favorite Sci-Fi/Fantasy Books of 2006 at TechRepublic, and in it there are only three titles, the bottom three, which are memorable, that I would re-read, or recommend as worth reading in 2016.

And of that three only one really stands out is Old Man's War by John Scalzi. (I would definitely recommend that you read this book.) Yet it was not on the Amazon.com's Top Ten Editor's Favorite Sci-Fi/Fantasy Books of 2006.




As you can see by the Vampire novels at the top of this list, some books may be good (or popular) at the time they were released but they don't age well, and this is typical of works of science fiction. They tend to age less gracefully than literary fiction, because both technology and society marches on. For example, Stranger in a Strange Land (which is considered a Classic SciFi novel) hypothesizes Starfish Alien Martians and fascinating new technologies, but still relegates women to sexy secretaries and nagging wives.(3)

This could be part of the reason critics think all science fiction is crud, apart from their lack of imagination.  Critics regard what they do as serious business. They're trying to calculate a canon of great works, and there's no room for anything less. They seem to think that if enough people consume good works, people will start giving out flowers and candy and overthrow 'The Man' and cure cancer, but if they consume bad works, people will have their souls crushed and vote to establish fascism. (3)

I'll finish off with a quote from C.S. Lewis which may help you with winnowing out the chaff as well.
It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones. (4)

...and don't forget to read more, think more with your favourite beverage!


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* B.E.M = Bug Eyed Monsters.
Quotes:
(1) http://www.investopedia.com/terms/p/paretoprinciple.asp#ixzz4RqHivPsU
(2) http://timkastelle.org/blog/2013/06/what-sturgeons-law-tells-us-about-innovation/
(3) not my thoughts, but I've forgotten the source. Let me know if you find it.
(4) http://www.cslewisinstitute.org/On_Reading_Old_Books

Sources:
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sturgeon%27s_law
http://timkastelle.org/blog/2013/06/what-sturgeons-law-tells-us-about-innovation/
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SturgeonsLaw

Dec 10, 2016

Sturgeon's Revelation: In Defence Of Science Fiction

This is a simplified version of  the post What Does An Economist, A Fish and Literature Have In Common? which you can read for further detail.

What is Sturgeon's Law


Sturgeon's Revelation first appeared in the March 1958 issue of Venture (a science fiction magazine) and is a defence of Science Fiction (or SciFi). It is Sturgeon's Law that is in the most common usage which says "ninety percent of everything is crap". Although I believe  the word he used was 'crud'.

I repeat Sturgeon's Revelation, which was wrung out of me after twenty years of wearying defense of science fiction against attacks of people who used the worst examples of the field for ammunition, and whose conclusion was that ninety percent of Science Fiction is crud. Using the same standards that categorize 90% of science fiction as crud it can be argued that 90% of film, literature, consumer goods, etc. is crud. In other words, the claim (or fact) that 90% of science fiction is crud is ultimately uninformative, because Science Fiction conforms to the same trends of quality as all other artforms.


Why Should We Be Aware Of It?


Sturgeon is saying is that Science Fiction can stack up with the best of any other fiction genre if you give it a chance.  If you're new to Science Fiction or want to 'give it a go' what you need to do is to seek out the stories and authors that are the best in Science Fiction.

As Daniel Dennett says : 
Now, in order not to waste your time and try our patiences, make sure you concentrate on the best stuff you can find, the flagship examples extolled by the leaders in the field, the prize-winning entries, not the dregs.

How Do I Know Which Authors or Titles Are Worthy?


To start with look around for people who are enthusiastic about the subject and see what they have to say, what they have to recommend. Don't forget to ask questions, if they're taking Science Fiction they're willing to provide advice.

I've written two articles that you can start with, a more in-depth article about this subject, What Does An Economist, A Fish and Literature Have In Common? Along with Does Science Fiction Have A Canon? Where I came up with a short list of Sci Fi novels that I would consider worthy.

It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.
C.S. Lewis



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Dec 9, 2016

Random Articles - RAW 161209

Welcome to the weekend! Did you know Space Opera was Science Fictions not-quite-respectable little cousin? I didn't, I'm guessing it's because not many people liked talking to me about SciFi so wan't up with all the gossip.  So to increase your intelligence I've also added some advice from Robert Frost.  Anyway sit back with your favourite beverage and enjoy reading this weekend.


Dec 4, 2016

The Time Machine, The Robot and Regrets

[Christian devotion]

When my two oldest son’s were five and three years old I gave them a cardboard box and an old radio to pull apart, I never expected that I would end up in trouble from them for withholding critical information about the inner workings of the time machine they were building. It wasn’t working and they were very unimpressed when I wouldn’t provide the technical knowledge they required.

How could I tell them that robots from the future would come back in time and try to kill us if I allowed them to create one? Because the way things are going I know one of the boys will be creating a killer robot soon, no point in giving it a Time Machine as well.