First Run of the Year

After a few weeks off running, it was perfect conditions yesterday for my first run of 2020. It was a gentle affair, just taking it slowly for the most part — but what a joy it is to get out into the fresh air and run.


No world records today unfortunately but that’s hardly the point now is it!

Anybody else out there running in 2020?

A Song for Sunday with The Dirty Dozen Brass Band

Needed something festive to welcome in the Chinese New Year — and what could be more festive than a brass band!

The Dirty Dozen Brass Band have played on some great records. I first heard them playing on Elvis Costello’s ‘Spike’ in the late 80s and have followed them since.

’Just a closer walk with thee’ starts slow and kicks off about half way through. Man I love this track.

Here, have a listen:

Stoic Life Tips #3: Inviting Discomfort

In ‘A Guide to the Good Life’, William Irving outlines five practical psychological techniques used by the Stoics. The first two I shared recently: negative visualisation and the dichotomy of control.

Another that comes naturally from negative visualisation is ‘self denial’ which I think of more broadly as ‘inviting discomfort’.

The Stoics recommended that in addition to negative visualisation, we should sometimes live as if these things were happening. They mention ‘practising poverty’ and being content with the ‘scantest and cheapest fare’ and with ‘coarse and rough dress’. As well, Musonius (one of the ‘big four’ stoics) recommended that we should occasionally cause ourselves discomfort that could readily be avoided. He gives the examples of going shoeless on occasion or underdressing in cold weather. Exercise, heat/cold stress and diet restriction could be thought of as further examples.

Inviting occasional discomfort into your life is useful for two reasons.

1. Achieving anything worthwhile requires time, effort and sacrifice. Working hard, staying focused, resisting distraction is an ongoing challenge that requires the ability to endure relative discomfort.

2. Ageing is not a comfortable process. Everyone will get old and one day die. We need inner resources to deal with this uncomfortable reality.

Each of us will have to navigate our own way through set backs, adversity, trials, naysayers, seeksorrows(!), health challenges and countless other things. Building a light, flexible stance towards discomfort seems like a sensible approach to me.

Book 2: Range – David Epstein

We live in a world of specialisation — in a world where depth and mastery are preferred over breath and experience. As a result, we push our children to focus early on specific skills chasing a ‘head start’. At the same time experts silo themselves into increasingly narrow communities of separate exploration.

In ‘Range’, David Epstein argues that this may be a flawed approach. He presents a strong case for generalists who gain diverse experience and perspective across disciplines and interests.

Epstein pulls evidence in from a huge ‘range’ of sources, all the while building a case that is hard to disagree with. His thinking is clear throughout and the mix of science and anecdotes makes this an easy read.

Parents, educators and those entering the world of work should give ‘Range’ a closer look. It dramatically redefines the moving parts of success and innovation. His arguments seem all the more compelling now, at a time when the future of work is unclear and narrowly specialised work looks most at risk from AI and automation.

Perhaps the biggest endorsement for ‘Range’ is that early on listening to the audiobook, I ordered this hard copy:

Highly recommended.

The Case for Eating Insects

A horrifying dose of Chinese medicine got me thinking about the future of food this week.

As the research that led to last year’s ‘Planetary Diet’ outlined, we are going to need to feed 10 billion people by 2050. To get there, we‘ll need sustainable food production of a scale that we simply don’t have right now. The study recommended global ‘boundaries’ on food production — particularly in relation to greenhouse gas emission, cropland use and water use. To achieve this there will need to be a critical shift (they call it a ‘new agricultural revolution‘) towards sustainable, diverse plant-based foods, and away from the livestock that make such huge demands on our collective resources.

Well, it turns out that insects (not mentioned in the study!) might hold one of the keys to this dietary challenge.

Just have a look at this:

Crickets require around 2500x less water to produce a pound of protein than cows, use less space and produce far less greenhouse gases. Ethically (if not aesthetically…) they seem a far better option.

I looked for companies exploring this space and there are a surprising number already up and running:

‘Chirps’ is fairly new US company and look to be doing well on the back of a recent kickstarter campaign. While I don’t buy their marketing for second — “We’ve been told our protein powder tastes like Ovaltine, chocolate milk, cookie dough, a strawberry milkshake and a vanilla smoothie”. Really? Cookie dough?!

In any case, this is interesting, so I went ahead and put in an order.

As I write, this ‘Vanilla Cricket Protein’ is winging its way to Hong Kong. I’m keen to get a head start on the future and can’t wait to dig into some strawberry, cookie dough cricket protein.

Building a sustainable planetary food supply will be one of our big challenges as a species. Insects may be a big part of that solution — like it or not — so perhaps it’s time we started to refocus our diet through a planetary lens. Of course if this Chirps cricket protein tastes like shoes, then all bets are off.

Onward to the future!

Tech Review: Paperlike 2 iPad Screen Protector

Paperlike is a German company that makes iPad screen protectors that are…paper-like. They claim that their protectors mimic the experience of writing on paper and more than a few people agree.

I first saw the product on Ali Abdaal’s youtube channel. This is the guy whose glowing review of the smart keyboard convinced me to buy. The fact that I absolutely love this keyboard meant that when he recommended the paperlike, I thought I’d try it as well.

The paperlike (now at version 2), costs about 30 Euros. The shipping takes weeks and I’ve seen some complain about the wait — but it’s not a problem if you expect it.

They send two protectors which I thought was generous. I guess they assume most people to mess up the application at least once — not in my case though, I stayed well away and let Muky put it on for me!

The first impression you’ll have with the paperlike is probably going to be negative, mine was. The new ipad pro’s have incredible screens and with the paperlike on you lose some sharpness and detail. There’s a slight softening of images — sort of like a cinematic filter. You get used to it but it’s noticeable at first. I’ve had it on for a week now and quite like the change.

But is it like paper? Well, kind of. Certainly, the experience of writing with a pen on the screen is exponentially improved. There’s a friction there now — and while it’s not exactly like paper it mimics it fairly well. Scrolling with fingers feels much more tactile and enjoyable as well. I have, however, noticed that the screen is sometimes not as responsive to gestures now compared to before but this is becoming less of an issue as I adjust.

Another noticeable benefit is the lack of fingerprints. I was cleaning the screen several times a day before but now that’s just not necessary. Not quite sure how they’ve done it, but it seems essentially immune to marks and fingerprints. This outcome I wasn’t expecting.

I’d recommend the paperlike 2. If you use an apple pen, it will substantially upgrade your experience of using the iPad. If you don’t, then it’s less of a clear choice. A matt-style screen won’t suit people who want the highest definition video experience— though in saying that I have come to like the way the videos look. Bearing in mind that any 12.9” screen protector is going to cost perhaps 10 or 20 euro, the paperlike 2 represents fair value when you consider the fact you get two of them.

Have a look at Ali Abdaal’s video below if you’d like to know more:

Word of the Day: Seeksorrow

Most of us know whiny people who seem to take great pleasure in complaining about every little thing. Yesterday I discovered the perfect word to describe them in William Irving’s book on Stoicism:

Samuel Johnston coined the word ‘seeksorrow’ (sometimes hypenated) in his 1755 dictionary, and for the stoics these are people to avoid.

The stoics believe that the bad habits and vices of others are contagious and counsel us to select our company carefully. We can’t always choose our company but just imagine the ways a conversation could be upended with a pointed:

‘Hey man, don’t be such a seeksorrow..’