on What Went Well

I stumbled on the discipline of ‘positive psychology’ in my reading about gamification, and it has gone on to be a very satisfying subject to study. I started with the primer ‘Optimal Functioning,’ a short introduction, and went on to read ‘Flourish’ by Martin Silegman. Positive psychology suggests that the best approach to psychological health is not just analyzing negative emotion. Looking for causation and suggesting remedies to depression or anxiety doesn’t enhance ‘wellness’ in the impacting way that actively seeking and drawing out positive thoughts and feelings does.  A suggested exercise is the ‘What Went Well’ activity. According to Seligman’s studies, people who write down three things that ‘go well’ every single day, with a short explanation of why, are much more likely to experience positive emotion on a regular basis within a month of beginning the practice, than those who don’t participate. The entries don’t have to be …

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Herman Hesse on Trees

This has been blogged on Brain Pickings and several other places, but it pops into my mind often when I’m outside walking and looking at the trees, so I wanted to share (for Earth Day): For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary …

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on ‘What Technology Wants’

Working in the web development industry, where growth and innovation happen at an incredible rate, it’s easy to become enamored with the internet, software, screens, and devices, and put off the big questions about our use of technology. Kevin Kelly’s book, “What Technology Wants” is a vivid analysis of the human compulsion to create and use tools, adding depth to the commonly superficial perspective we take on daily interactions with things like the web and mobile phones. Kelly writes with authority on many subtopics (from the sentience of rock ants to the ‘evolution of evolution’) but the book’s most eye opening theme, for me, was the analogous relationship between biological life and technology. “We can think of technology as our extended body,” he writes. He relates the evolution of technology to the evolution of life, finding parallels over time in increasing complexity, structure, and mutuality. The story of new ideas unfolding in …

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on Taking Sips (of Books) (part 2)

Last May, I published a list of all the books (42) I had sampled on Kindle.  The editors of WordPress featured the post on the ‘Freshly Pressed’ section of the WP homepage, bringing thousands of readers here and prompting hundreds of comments. The suggestions that readers left the comments were helpful, but not totally followed. From the first list of samples, I ended up buying 6 of the books – 5 on the Kindle, and one in paperback. The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien What Technology Wants – Kevin Kelly Aleph – Paulo Coelho Alone Together – Sherry Turkle Beautiful Testing – Adam Goucher The Four Loves – C.S. Lewis Two I finished reading – Lewis and Turkle – the rest I’ve begun but haven’t finished. (Tolkien 35%, Kelly 51%, Coelho 17%, Goucher 77%) I’ve also finished  probably 15 others that weren’t sampled or on the list. I have continued my habit …

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Renascence

by Edna St. Vincent Millay All I could see from where I stood Was three long mountains and a wood; I turned and looked another way, And saw three islands in a bay. So with my eyes I traced the line Of the horizon, thin and fine, Straight around till I was come Back to where I’d started from; And all I saw from where I stood Was three long mountains and a wood. Over these things I could not see; These were the things that bounded me; And I could touch them with my hand, Almost, I thought, from where I stand. And all at once things seemed so small My breath came short, and scarce at all. But, sure, the sky is big, I said; Miles and miles above my head; So here upon my back I’ll lie And look my fill into the sky. And so I looked, …

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On being ‘Alone Together’

I recently finished reading the book by Sherry Turkle, ‘Alone Together’ which analyzes the growing relationship between humans and technology. As someone whose occupation is dependent on using the internet and social media, I’m moderately skeptical of the benefits of 24/7 connection. Could having the internet everywhere, all the time, be analogous to having holidays every day of the year ? Could the internet become redundant? I think it’s important for people to find ‘offline’ time. Turkle is an MIT professor whose research in human/computer relationships inspired her to write the book, and give the corresponding TED talk. Throughout ‘Alone Together’ she gives several examples of what scares her about the dependency people have on using machines to communicate; she also looks deeply into the interactions that people have with robots. I wasn’t expecting so much of the book to detail human/robot relationships. She is mostly concerned with how children who interact with robots …

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On the Hunger Games

I finished reading the Hunger Games, too late to see the movie when it first opened, but better late than never.  On the surface, without any analysis, its a simple, entertaining, well-paced read.  In discussion it could easily open up topics like modern entertainment and gender roles. Like ‘1984’,’ Fahrenheit 451′, or more recently, ‘A Super Sad True Love Story’, ‘Games’ portrays the authorities of the future as inconsolable. Like ‘Lost’, ‘Castaway’, and ‘The Beach’ it also gives nature and human survival a furious posture. Like ‘the Truman Show’ it warns against the relentless nature of celebrity. I was a bit skeptical about the innocent sexuality of the characters, who were otherwise ferocious murderers and survivalists. In many works of gratuitous violence, examples of extreme sexuality are also present – ‘..Dragon Tattoo’, ‘Pulp Fiction’, ‘Clockwork Orange’.  A world where characters murder each other is more imaginable if they aren’t concurrently experiencing a kiss for …

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On Taking Sips (of Books)

Since I first got my hands on a Kindle, I’ve liberally abused the “Sample This Book” feature available in the Kindle Store.  In the last two years, I’ve downloaded and read samples of dozens of books. Here’s an incomplete compilation of the samples I’ve acquired, which are surely all very interesting books worth a full reading… but we are only given so much time, right? If anyone reading has a suggestion for which of these I should follow through to their conclusion, let me know in the comments…  Punk Rock Dad – Jim Lindberg Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe Bossypants – Tina Fey Mental Models – Indi Young In The Plex – Steven Levy Guitar For Dummies – Jon Chappell Understanding Marijuana – Mitch Earleywine The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien What Technology Wants – Kevin Kelly Aleph – Paulo Coelho Alone Together – Sherry Turkle What I Talk About …

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On “Internetese”

A column in the Washington Post today about the language of the web world piqued my interest. I have some frustration with the whimsical nature of the “words” used in the industry. I responded to the columnist, Melissa Bell.  Here’s the conversation that followed: As an English major who ended up working in I.T., nothing frustrates me more than the dozens of completely made-up words I encounter daily.  Trying to complete basic tasks or read a short paper is an effort in discerning intangible, untranslatable words.  Learning anything new about programming requires a linguistic patience that is painful to summon.  It might be a heretic position, but I don’t even like that programming languages are called “languages.” Response: Brian, heretical or not, I’m glad to hear it. I think one of the major challenges in getting a newsroom to go digital is that people who build their careers around words have …

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The ‘Capote’ film and ‘In Cold Blood’

I was interested to watch the film after finishing the book, and my interest was definitely rewarded.  Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s ‘Best Actor’ Oscar was well deserved.  One of the first statements the Capote character makes in the film, after arriving in Kansas, is “I don’t care if they catch the killers or not.”  In a room full of the KBI investigators, this comment doesn’t go over particularly well.  For students wondering about objectivity, however, the character makes his point clear:  he is going to be a non-discriminatory observer.  At least until the killers are caught, and he develops a fascination with Perry Smith. The inclusion of Harper Lee in the film was unexpected.  As I read In Cold Blood, I had no idea Capote was traveling with another author who helped him out periodically with community relations and research.  I had heard before they were friends, but wasn’t aware to …

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