Arun.is

I love discovering a wonderful new homepage or blog. Especially on the weekend when I have time to gently sip away at its content. This time it’s Arun and their website arun.is.

It’s a technology-focused blog that’s simply, but sensationally, designed. There’s quite the archive, so I haven’t read all their stuff, but here’s some of my favourites:

They also have a newsletter and another website called zen of things that showcases some beautiful products.


Film Review: The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare

I’m a big fan of Guy Ritchie’s films. His first two, “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch”, are the business. Even as he’s gone more Hollywood over the years, his work always maintains that unique Ritchie touch – the clever dialogue, the inventive filming style. His Sherlock Holmes felt fresh and modern, despite the period setting. And “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” was a blast. Even when he slightly misses the mark, like with “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” or “Wrath of Man” (a poor man’s “Heat”), there’s still enough Ritchie magic to make them worth a watch. His “Aladdin” was okayish too. Really, “Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre” is his only true dud (even the title is bad).

So, I was excited for “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare”. The premise is great, revolving around a secret British commando unit formed during World War II to carry out covert operations against the Nazis. And the first hour was exactly what I wanted from a lazy Sunday flick. It was quintessentially English, almost to the point of parody, and it moved at a cracking pace. I love a good mercenary team-up film, and this one delivered.

Well for the first hour or so. As the second half of the film doesn’t quite stick the landing. The villain feels underutilised and not quite menacing enough. The fight scenes, which initially impressed with their stylish effortlessness, start to feel a bit repetitive and lack any real tension. You never doubt that our heroes will come out on top, which saps the stakes from the numerous altercations and the final big fight. The last hour just drags a bit, and I found my attention wandering.

Despite these issues, “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” is still a really solid film. It’s a fun, old-fashioned adventure that feels like a throwback in the best way. It reminded me of a combination of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, “Operation Mincemeat” and “The Wild Geese”.


The 19th Century's Lottery for Life

April 12, 1835. London. The weekly Friday lottery draw is about to take place and a young woman clutches her ticket with desperate hope as she speeds up Denmark Hill.

A ticket is difficult to get as it all but guarantees that you’ll see a favourable outcome in the draw. So every morning for the past three days the woman visited various wealthy homes, begging the servant who answered the door to let her see their master so she can plead her case for her worthiness of a ticket. And eventually she was thankfully gifted one.

However, once she arrives at her destination the staff on the door tell her the draw started ten minutes ago and they won’t admit her. She begs, telling them it’s a matter of life and death. But she’s simply reminded about the importance of punctuality to this establishment and asked to leave.

Dejected and distraught, she leaves the building and the city of London and returns to her home in the countryside. A few days later she dies.

The young woman – The Times reported – was suffering from a fistula, inflammation of the brain, and consumption. The ticket was to give her the chance of admission to King’s College Hospital. She’d been at the hospital earlier in the week, showing symptoms like abnormal discharge, fever, headache, vomiting, chest pain, shortness of breath and swelling. However, she was turned away. It was a Monday, and she was instructed to return on Friday’s “taking in day” — the sole day of the week when new patients were accepted.

Lindsey Fitzharris in her book The Butchering Art tell us more:

“In the nineteenth century, almost all the hospitals in London except the Royal Free controlled inpatient admission through a system of ticketing. One could obtain a ticket from one of the hospital’s “subscribers”, who had paid an annual fee in exchange for the right to recommend patients to the hospital and vote in elections of medical staff. Securing a ticket required tireless soliciting on the part of potential patients.”

The ticketing system was just one of the many cruel and arbitrary features of 19th-century London hospitals. Governors, not medical staff, determined which patients were admitted. Patients were required to attend daily chapel services, facing the threat of going without food if they did not comply. Punishments were meted out for offenses like gambling, swearing, and drunkenness. No patient could be admitted more than once with the same disease, and those deemed “incurable”, such as those with cancer or tuberculosis, were turned away. As were those with venereal infections.

The plight of this woman underscores the stark injustices of Victorian healthcare. It was an era where medical assistance was often a privilege reserved for the wealthy or well-connected, leaving countless people facing insurmountable barriers to treatment. And it serves as a reminder that despite the abolition of such Victorian healthcare systems, modern healthcare will still harbour poorly designed systems that perpetuate bias, cause needless delays, and foster negative outcomes.


'Stop Acting Like You're Famous'

Ash from ajkprojects.com°:

You aren’t famous. Anything you do or create will probably receive little to no attention, so stop optimizing for a non-existent audience and instead focus on what makes you enjoy the activity.

I’m an overthinker and overworrier. This article didn’t cure that. But it’s important for me to regularly read content like this to try and keep myself somewhat in check.


4000 Weeks: Embracing Limits for a Fuller Life

Ever feel like you’re hurtling through life, desperately trying to cram everything in before it’s too late? Oliver Burkeman’s book “Four Thousand Weeks” aims to help you (4000 weeks is 80 years, the average human lifespan). But it’s not your typical time management book. It’s a philosophical and practical look at why you’re stuck in the hamster wheel of “getting things done.”

I read it recently. So let’s take a deeper look at it and it’s ideas.

And stick around until the end, as I’ve created an 8 week plan on how to put those ideas into action and improve your life 4000 weeks 🚀

The efficiency trap

We’re obsessed with efficiency. Apps, to-do lists, life hacks – we’ll try anything to squeeze more into our days. But here’s the kicker: it’s a trap. The more efficient you become, the more you pile on. It’s like trying to outrun your own shadow.

This “efficiency trap” is a hamster wheel to nowhere. You run faster and faster, but you’re still stuck in the same damn cage.

“The problem with trying to make time for everything that feels important…is that you definitely never will.”

Creative neglect

So what’s the alternative? Embrace your limitations. Accept that you can’t do it all. Choose your battles. Burkeman calls it “creative neglect.”

This means saying “no” more often. Saying “no” to the things that don’t matter, so you can say “hell yes” to the things that do. It means prioritising ruthlessly, focusing on what truly matters, and letting the rest go.

“If you don’t save a bit of your time for you, now, out of every week, there is no moment in the future when you’ll magically be done with everything and have loads of free time.” - Jessica Abel, quoted in Four Thousand Weeks

The antidote to our speed addiction

We’re addicted to speed. We want everything now. But life doesn’t work that way. Good things take time. Relationships take time. Creativity takes time.

Patience is the antidote to our speed addiction. It’s about slowing down, being present, and appreciating the journey. It’s about resisting the urge to rush and allowing things to unfold at their own pace.

“The experience of patience…gives things a kind of chewiness…into which you can sink your teeth.”

The joy of missing

We’re terrified of missing out. FOMO is the plague of our generation. But here’s the secret: missing out is inevitable. You can’t do everything. You can’t be everywhere. And that’s okay.

Embrace the FOMO. It’s what makes your choices meaningful. It’s what gives your life its unique flavour.

“It’s precisely the fact that I could have chosen a different and perhaps equally valuable way to spend this afternoon that bestows meaning on the choice I did make.”

Time is a shared experience

We’re obsessed with individual achievement. But we forget that we’re social creatures. We need each other. We thrive in community.

Time is a shared experience. It’s about synchronising with others, falling into rhythm, and creating a sense of belonging. It’s about participating in rituals, traditions, and collective endeavours that bind us together.

“The more Swedes who were off work simultaneously, the happier people got…as if an intangible, supernatural cloud of relaxation had settled over the nation as a whole.”

This is It

We avoid thinking about death. It’s uncomfortable. It’s scary. But denying it doesn’t make it go away.

Confronting your mortality is a wake-up call. It’s a reminder that this is it. This is your one shot at life. So stop wasting it on things that don’t matter.

“We are the sum of all the moments of our lives…we cannot escape it or conceal it.” - Thomas Wolfe, quoted in Four Thousand Weeks

Freedom in acceptance

Giving up hope might sound depressing, but it’s actually liberating. It means accepting the reality of your limitations and the uncertainty of life.

It’s about letting go of the illusion of control and embracing the present moment. It’s about doing what you can, with what you have, where you are.

“Abandoning hope is an affirmation, the beginning of the beginning.” - Pema Chödrön, quoted in Four Thousand Weeks

8 Weeks For Living 4000 Weeks

“Four Thousand Weeks” is about embracing your limitations, choosing your battles, living with intention and finding joy in the present moment. It’s about making your 4000 weeks count. Now try this 8-week experiment inspired by the book to achieve all those things.

Week 1: Done, not doing

  • Action: Start a “Done List.”
  • Why: Most to-do lists are endless guilt trips. Celebrate what you accomplish instead.
  • How: Each evening, jot down everything you finished, big or small. Savour the feeling of progress, not the pressure of what’s left.

Week 2: Time is yours, claim it

  • Action: Schedule “Creative Rendezvous” with yourself.
  • Why: Stop waiting for free time to appear. Make it happen.
  • How: Block out time in your calendar for your passions, just like you would for a meeting. Treat this time as sacred and non-negotiable.

Week 3: Stillness is the new hustle

  • Action: Try “Do Nothing” meditation.
  • Why: We’re addicted to doing. Learn to just be.
  • How: Sit for 5-10 minutes, doing nothing. Observe your thoughts without judgment. It’s harder than it sounds, but the calm is worth it.

Week 4: Enjoy the ride

  • Action: Start an “Atelic Adventure.”
  • Why: We’re obsessed with goals. Discover the joy of doing things just for the sake of doing them.
  • How: Pick a hobby you’ve always wanted to try, and focus on enjoying the process, not achieving mastery.

Week 5: Give now

  • Action: Practice “Instantaneous Generosity.”
  • Why: Generosity and goodness is contagious. So start the chain reaction. It makes you and them feel good.
  • How: When you feel the urge to give someone a compliment or do something nice, do it immediately. Wether it be a total stranger or your wife of 50 years. Don’t wait or get caught up in your head about how they’ll take it or hold back because they said something mean that morning. Just do it.

Week 6: The everyday is extraordinary

  • Action: Go on a “Novelty Quest.”
  • Why: Break the routine, wake up your senses.
  • How: Take a new route to work, try a new food you’ve always been curious about or avoided since childhood, or simply pay closer attention to the world around you. Get your head out your head and your eyes off your phone and rediscover the magic in the mundane.

Week 7: Get curious about the humans around you

  • Action: Become a “Relationship Researcher.”
  • Why: Deepen your connections by truly listening and understanding.
  • How: In conversations, focus on learning about the other person. Ask open-ended questions, listen without judgment, and be genuinely curious about their experiences and perspectives.

Week 8: Discomfort is your gym

  • Action: Embrace a “Growth Challenge.”
  • Why: Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. That’s where growth happens.
  • How: Choose a challenge that pushes you outside your comfort zone. It’s a cliche, but a true one. It could be anything from having a difficult conversation to getting up 30 minutes earlier to go for a run. Embrace the discomfort and see how you transform.

Beyond 8 weeks: living a finite life to the fullest

This 8-week experiment is just a little taste of what’s possible when you embrace your limited, not unlimited, potential and prioritise what matters.

Keep exploring, keep experimenting, and keep making your 4000 weeks count.

And if you like Oliver Burkeman’s ideas don’t forget to buy the book and subscribe to his newsletter.


Little Links & Notes 8: Writing Hacks and the Pain of Existence

Hi all 👋 Long time no see. Hope you’re having a good Sunday. I’m back with the eighth instalment of Little Links & Notes. Enjoy, and have a good week.


“How I Went From Writing 2,000 Words a Day to 10,000 Words a Day” (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Association – Rachel Aaron°).

You don’t have to be a writer to enjoy this article on how this person used a “Knowledge, Time, Enthusiasm” triangle to improve her daily writing output.

Here’s how she did it:

  • Knowledge: Know what you’re writing beforehand. In the past she knew roughly what she was writing about that day – knowing the plot and the scenes – but it wasn’t throughly broken down, step by step. So she used to waste time finding those steps as she went, which was slow and often needed rewrites. So at the start of each writing session she’d spend some time planning it out. He daily words went from 2K to 5K.
  • Time: She tracked her writing time and analysed patterns to identify the most productive times and writing locations for her. She realised that her words per hour was much higher with each extra hour she spent writing. Writing in short bursts didn’t work. Also her output was higher away from her home. So she optimised for longer, uninterrupted stretches in locations without internet distractions.
  • Enthusiasm: Her statistics showed that her writing output was much higher for scenes she was excited to write. So she got my ruthless on what she included in her book. So she stopped writing any scenes she wasn’t massively excited to write. “If I had scenes that were boring enough that I didn’t want to write them, then there was no way in hell anyone would want to read them.”

Is life more pain than pleasure? (Small Potatoes – Paul Bloom°).

A look at the antinatalism and the work of David Benatar which both have the view that it is morally wrong to bring new sentient beings into existence because life inevitably involves more suffering than happiness or well-being.

There’s some interesting quotes from Benatar in this post, such as:

“Even in good health, much of every day is spent in discomfort. Within hours, we become thirsty and hungry. … When we can access food and beverage and thus succeed in warding off hunger and thirst for a while, we then come to feel the discomfort of distended bladders and bowels. … We also spend much of our time in thermal discomfort—feeling either too hot or too cold. Unless one naps at the first sign of weariness, one spends quite a bit of the day feeling tired. Indeed, many people wake up tired and spend the day in that state. … Itches and allergies are common. Minor illnesses like colds are suffered by almost everybody. … Many women of reproductive years suffer regular menstrual pains and menopausal women suffer hot flashes. … Conditions such as nausea, hypoglycemia, seizures, and chronic pain are widespread.”

[…] “The most intense pleasures are short-lived, whereas the worst pains can be much more enduring. Orgasms, for example, pass quickly. Gastronomic pleasures last a bit longer, but even if the pleasure of good food is protracted, it lasts no more than a few hours. Severe pains can endure for days, months, and years. Indeed, pleasures in general—not just the most sublime of them—tend to be shorter-lived than pains. Chronic pain is rampant, but there is no such thing as chronic pleasure.”

[…] “Would you trade five minutes of the worst pain imaginable for five minutes of the greatest pleasure?”

And Benatar’s counter argument that when people are asked about their happiness that they don’t report they’re utterly miserable is because they’re poor judges":

“People are very unreliable judges of the quality of their own lives.”

[…] “Most humans have accommodated to the human condition and thus fail to notice just how bad it is. Their expectations and evaluations are rooted in this unfortunate baseline. Longevity, for example, is judged relative to the longest actual human lifespans and not relative to an ideal standard. The same is true of knowledge, understanding, moral goodness, and aesthetic appreciation. Similarly, we expect recovery to take longer than injury, and thus we judge the quality of human life off that baseline, even though it is an appalling fact of life that the odds are stacked against us in this and other ways.”

And if people are in more pain the pleasure why aren’t they killing themselves? He says:

“I claim that our deepest cognitive bias is “existence bias”, which means that we will simply do almost anything to prolong our own existence. For us, sustaining one’s existence is the default goal in almost every case of uncertainty, even if it may violate rationality constraints, simply because it is a biological imperative that has been burned into our nervous systems over millennia.”


Colin Farrell in “Sugar”

Watched

  • Civil War - 82%. Film, cinema. I love the work of Alex Garland. Ex Machina, Men and Annihilation were all great. And so was this one. Wow was it intense. You need to see this in the cinema as sound is an important part. The film does have its flaws. But I’ll skip over them because a) spoilers. And b) this was just a great experience. It’s got some humour, action, a stance, and more tension than I’ve experienced for a while.
  • Amy (2015) - 79%. Documentary film, streaming. Rewatch. My girlfriend is a huge Amy Winehouse fan so we decided to watch this again. Usually documentaries released so close after a persons death really are lacking. But not this one. It captures her well. The lack of talking heads, and just talking voices, works nicely and even if you’re not a Winehouse fan this is worth a watch. As afterwards you might just be, despite how flawed she was.
  • Scoop - 62%. Film, streaming, About the Prince Andrew & the Epstein Scandal. It’s okay. The makeup for Rufus Sewell playing Andrew is great. As is he. But this film very much felt like a Channel 4 TV movie and it never quite gets into top gear. And the big finale – the interview – needed to be longer and more tension-filled.
  • Also, I’m not going to review it just yet as the season isn’t over. But I am in love with the first three episodes of Sugar. Colin Farrell as a private detective. It’s campy, fun and utterly stylish. I love it. Watch it on AppleTV+.

Using a Shell Script to Automate the Building and Deploying of My Hugo Blog

blot.blog is powered by Hugo, which is static site generator. So basically my blog is a bunch of Markdown and other files that then gets ‘built’ into HTML, CSS, etc. files and then uploaded to the web. But the thing is, this all has to be done manually by command in the Terminal. It’s a pain and adds an extra layer of friction when it comes to blogging. And it also means it’s a huge pain to update the blog via my phone.

So I’ve finally gotten around to automating it via a shell script to reduce this friction. Here’s what it does:

  • Hazel checks if there’s a Markdown file in my drafts folder with the word publish in it. If so, the script is run.
  • The script edits the ‘front matter’ metadata of the post by marking it as no longer a draft and inserting the current date and time.
  • Extracts the title from the post and renames the file as YYYY-MM-DD - blog-post-title.md and moves it into the non-drafts folder.
  • Builds the blog and deploys it to Amazon S3.
  • Does a git commit and push.

It’s worked well so far. And as the script runs on my always-on Mac mini I can write a post on my phone and all I have to do is add publish to the beginning of the file name to automatically publish it.

Hopefully this will mean I blog a bit more often.

(Here’s the code, if you’re interested)


Movie Review: Your Christmas Or Mine? (2022)

Through a transport and communication mishap, a couple accidentally spend Christmas at the others’ family home. One family is cold but rich. The other warm but less rich. That’s the premise.

I was annoyed at first when the couple got ‘split up’. How can you have a romantic comedy without them being together‽ But I got over that and I warmed to this film. It took quite a while to find its feet, but once it did it had just enough charm to keep me interested and satisfied. And whilst the ending doesn’t quite land this was still a worthwhile watch. Well, judge for yourself. If you’re totally against romantic, cheesy film that give this one a skip. But I can tolerate even middling examples of that category, so for me it was worthwhile.

Though I freely admit that if this wasn’t a Christmas film I wouldn’t have rated it as high and probably wouldn’t have even given it a go at all. And is it good enough to make the Christmas film yearly rewatch list? Unless it particularly speaks to you, probably not.

59%

Streaming on Amazon Prime.


Shane MacGowan Has Died

“The Pogues were once described as a tight, professional bunch of musicians fronted by a total shambles.”

Shane MacGowen, frontman of The Pogues, has died aged 65. A decent innings in some ways, considering his lifestyle.

I haven’t listened to pretty much anything of The Pogues and the limited knowledge I have of MacGowen is just of his hellraising. But there is one song of the band that I know very well: Fairytale of New York.

I’m not sure of its reputation outside the U.K., but here it is one of the big ones. So much so that it was voted as the nation’s favourite Christmas song°. It’s certainly one of my absolute favourites. It cuts a nice contrast against the usual sickly sweet Christmas songs, and it’s an actual proper, good song. I always listen to Driving Home For Christmas (by Chris Rea, Spotify link) and Fairytale of New York when I officially want to kick off Christmas.

Below is a good live version of Fairytale of New York. But here’s the album version if you prefer.

Alexis Petridis of the Guardian has written a brief summary° of his life and music that’s worth your time.

Obituaries: The Guardian° / BBC°


Little Links & Notes 7

Recipe timings before the invention of clocks (Making Darkness Light: The Lives and Times of John Milton).

Recipe books, if they needed to tell their readers how long to undertake a given action, would often say things like: ‘Let it remain boiling, while your pulse beateth two hundred strokes’ or The water is to remain upon it, no longer than whiles you can say the Miserere psalm very leisurely.'


New York City has 340,000 millionaires. That’s more than Cincinnati has residents (The Daily Upside).


AltTab. The power of Windows’s “alt-tab” window switcher to macOS (via Dense Discovery)


Protesilaos Stavrou. I always discovering new personal blog/homepage. And I like Protesilaos’s one.


A mistake repeated more than once is a decision. – Paulo Coelho


Little Links & Notes 6

‘A new ‘miracle’ weight-loss drug really works — raising huge questions’ (Financial Times°).

It’s pretty pricey right now. Costing $1,350/mo in the US.

Something interesting about being obese:

Once it becomes obese, the human body tends to push itself to rebound to its previous highest weight. Scientists don’t fully understand why, or how to stop it.


The 100 best TV shows of the 21st century (The Guardian°). I usually hate these sorts of lists and massively disagree with them. But this one is actually pretty good.


The Fireplace Delusion (Sam Harris°).

The case against burning wood is every bit as clear as the case against smoking cigarettes. Indeed, it is even clearer, because when you light a fire, you needlessly poison the air that everyone around you for miles must breathe… By lighting a fire, you are creating pollution that you cannot dispose. Your neighbors should not have to pay the cost of this archaic behavior of yours.

I have discovered that when I make this case, even to highly intelligent and health-conscious men and women, a psychological truth quickly becomes as visible as a pair of clenched fists: They do not want to believe any of it. Most people I meet want to live in a world in which wood smoke is harmless. Indeed, they seem committed to living in such a world, regardless of the facts. To try to convince them that burning wood is harmful—and has always been so—is somehow offensive. The ritual of burning wood is simply too comforting and too familiar to be reconsidered, its consolation so ancient and ubiquitous that it has to be benign. The alternative—burning gas over fake logs—seems a sacrilege.


The Seasonality of Weight Gain (Prime Cuts Newsletter°).

If you miss the single best day of the year in stocks, your performance suffers badly over the long run… I was thinking about how the average adult in the US gains around 1-2 pounds per year… All of it (and then some) comes during the winter months.

[…] I wonder what would happen to that 1-2 pound average annual weight gain per adult, if we removed three days: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Eve. These three days alone account for the majority of the weight adults gain annually in the US.


AI can ‘hallucinate’ (Every / Dan Shipper°).

Hallucination is a technical term that refers to the model’s propensity to return nonsensical or false completions depending on what’s asked of it. The model is like a smart and overeager 6-year-old. It will try its best to give you a good answer even if it doesn’t know what it’s talking about. OpenAI and other foundational-model companies are actively working on this problem, but it’s still common. It’s compounded by the second problem.


The fifteen-hour days and long walking commutes of Victorian Britain (The Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickens’ London).

Many of those [workers] walking long distances [5-10 miles] then worked twelve-, fourteen-, sixteen-hour days, at the end of which they then walked home again. The great journalist of working-class London, Henry Mayhew, noted in passing what he considered ‘the ordinary hours’ of employment: from 06:00 to 18:00…

Shifts for drivers of hackney cabs were always long: the shorter shifts lasted eleven or twelve hours, the long shifts from fourteen to sixteen hours, sometimes more. (The horses could work nothing like these hours: two or three horses were needed for a twelve-hour shift.) Even worse were the hours of many omnibus employees: frequently drivers and conductors worked twenty hours at a stretch, beginning at 4 a.m. and ending at midnight, with an hour and a half off during that time.

The industry average, however, was fifteen hours: 7 a.m. to midnight, with seven minutes for dinner, and ten minutes between journeys at the termini. Shop assistants worked equally long hours. One linen draper told his fellows at the Metropolitan Drapers’ Association that he had started to close his shop at 7 p.m. instead of 10 – thus working an eleven-hour day – and had found it saved money: ‘so cheerful and assiduous’ were the staff made by these short hours that he could manage with fewer employees. Henry Vizetelly, later a publisher, worked his apprenticeship as a wood-engraver, walking ten miles daily from Brixton to Judd Street in Bloomsbury and back, leaving his lodgings at about six and arriving home again around ten. And, he pointed out in his memoirs, he was lucky: City hours were longer.


For me, magazines (and newspapers too) are such a poor value in comparison to books. Today when I was in my local newsagents I noticed that a copy of the New Scientist costs £7. It’s a slim, weekly magazine. BBC History Magazine – a monthly – was £6.

If you’re interested in science or history why not spend a little more money to get a long, detailed book instead? Something that will really help you understand and grasp the subject, rather than a 500 word cursory article.

I understand that certain magazines are time sensitive and are about recent news or might not have a book equivalent. But there’s plenty of new science books published each month on new and groundbreaking subjects. And if you’re into history there’s a wealth of books, new and old.

Whenever I pick up a magazine the moment and notice the price I nearly always just think to myself “I’d gladly rather just spend double this to get a book instead that will have hundreds of times more content.”


Niccolò Machiavelli in “The Prince.

“When evening has come, I return to my house and go into my study. At the door I take off my clothes of the day, covered with mud and mire, and I put on my regal and courtly garments; and decently reclothed, I enter the ancient courts of ancient men, where, received by them lovingly, I feed on the food that alone is mine and that I was born for. There I am not ashamed to speak with them and to ask them the reason for their actions; and they in their humanity reply to me. And for the space of four hours I feel no boredom, I forget every pain, I do not fear poverty, death does not frighten me. I deliver myself entirely to them.”


Watched

  • Tim’s Vermeer - 76%. Documentary. Rewatch. An inventor thinks that the painter Johannes Vermeer had the help of an optical device to paint his masterpieces. He goes to extraordinary and practical lengths to prove this. It’s shot and looks like a web documentary. But this is so great and compelling that you don’t care.
  • Hellboy - 76%. Rewatch. The Nazi’s raise a demon from the other side to help their war effort. But the twist is that the demon falls into the hands of the allies and becomes the good guy. In my mind this is a little bit like a supernatural Indiana Jones. It’s one of my favourite comic book film adaptions. A little corny. But it’s also a great, slightly dumb fun. I consider this a ‘pizza’ movie.
  • Role Models - 68%. Rewatch. Two screw-ups have to mentor two young kids as part of community service. This is one of my comfort films. Quietly heartwarming. And Joe Lo Truglio’s small role as a chap who takes LARPing a bit too seriously is wonderful (spoilers from 02:20 in).
  • Avatar: The Way of Water - 48%. The second Avatar film. It looks pretty, but I just didn’t… care. Turned it off about half way in.

Listened

  • New Riders of the Purple Sage - 1971 - New Riders of the Purple Sage - 7/10: Decent enough, though not outstanding. A nice pretty mellow Country Rock album with a few nice songs. It grew on me as it went on.
  • New Riders of the Purple Sage - 1972 - Powerglide - 5/10: Short and sweet. There’s some standard rock elements here, but there’s also the expected country fare. There’s no outstanding songs on this album, but there’s plenty of really solid ones.
  • New Riders of the Purple Sage - 1972 - Gypsy Cowboy - 5/10
  • New Riders of the Purple Sage - 1973 - The Adventures of Panama Red - 4/10: Looks like this is their most popular album. But for me this is the worst one so far. The album is less than 30 minutes long and it’s rather dull. Fast-paced, but boring songs. Lonesome L.A. Cowboy is on this album which is arguably their best song, but aside from that this album isn’t great.
  • μ‐Ziq - 2023 - 1977 - 7/10: Really loving this at the moment. It’s an electronic ‘background’ album for me, that I listen to whilst programming. It blends nicely into the background and I’ve had on a loop for a week or two. h

A Stopped Watch

My watch stopped recently. I like my watch. It is (usually) reliable and has been a loyal friend for many years. And I must glance at it dozens of times a day. But suddenly it stopped.

At first I would instinctively continue to check it, only to be reminded – after a beat or two – that the time it was showing was a lie.

Despite all those thousands of instances down the years where I’d loyally turned to it for the right time and it had loyally delivered, all of a sudden none of that mattered. And it took just an hour or two for the habit and the trust to break and for me to stop looking to it.

I didn’t judge it too harshly though. All watches do stop at some point. That’s not their fault. They just need a service or a battery change every now and then. So that’s what I did. I gave it a chance for redemption.

However, problems persisted even after a service. It would stop or run slow. And the trust in it continued to erode.

It did continue to be beautiful to look at throughout. But all the good looks in the world can’t make up for it failing at its main job.

I eventually binned it. You can only trust a lying watch so many times.

Relationships are like this. Accumulative goodwill does build up. But only kind of; within limits. All you have to do is treat a partner badly a couple of times back-to-back for that trust to breakdown. For them to stop looking to you for the time.

You don’t always have to be right or perfect. But you certainly can’t be wrong or unreliable too many times in a row – no matter how long you’ve been reliably ticking away before that.


Lilacs and War

It’s early summer and a veteran of the First World War is walking hand-in-hand with his young son through the lush English countryside. His lungs have never fully recovered from the gas attacks he endured in the trenches, so it’s only a short stroll – just a gentle morning meander really.

After pointing out a rummaging squirrel and a rounded robin to his child he momentarily shuts his eyes and takes a deep breath as he soaks up the warmth of the dawn sun. He notices a smell on the breeze. It’s the scent of blossoming lilac shrubs.

His heart rate increases and adrenaline floods his body. Sheer panic sets in and he feels entirely breathless and helpless. His head hurriedly swivels from side-to-side as he searches all around for some imagined device that will help him. He collapses in a heap in the dew-soaked grass, writhing and screaming all the while.

Confused and crying, his son tirelessly tugs at his fathers cuffs as he shouts “What’s wrong, Daddy?! What’s wrong?!”


During World War I the Germans hid the smell of mustard gas by adding a tear gas. It was called xylyl bromide and it smelt just like lilac shrubs. The former soldier was experiencing a PTSD flashback and panic attack brought on by the simple smell of a pretty purple flower.


Little Links & Notes 5

‘When Coal First Arrived, Americans Said ‘No Thanks’’ (Smithsonian;°

But convincing Americans to use the new fuel proved tricky… Many people hated the aesthetics of stoves because they were enclosed, and you couldn’t see the flames within as you could in a traditional fireplace. In articles and speeches, prominent citizens protested, denouncing stoves as, essentially, un-American… The cultural arguments piled up. Food cooked in stoves was baked, not broiled, and that, too, offended American tastes… “People were blaming coal-fired stoves for impaired vision, impaired nerves, baldness and tooth decay,” says Barbara Freese, author of Coal: A Human History.


‘All History is Revisionist History’ (Humanities Magazine / James M. Banner Jr.°)

This article is a tad lifeless and an editor really needed to cut down its length. But, it’s still likely worth your time.

Don’t have the time? Here’s the summary:

Distinct from “the past” are the narratives and analyses that historians offer about earlier times. That’s what we call “history.” History is what people make of the forever-gone past out of surviving documents and artifacts, human recall, and such items as photographs, films, and sound recordings. And because each historian is an individual human being… they come to hold different views, have different purposes, create different interpretations, and put forth their own distinctive understandings of “the past.”

[…] Many people find it difficult to accept such frequent challenges to what they were taught to think of as unalterably fixed and true. It’s not surprising that they ask in bewilderment: If the past can’t change, then how can the history about it do so? They’re offended to learn that at least some of what they were taught early in life as “history” is no longer fully accepted by historians and is instead taught in different ways… Many people are ready to dismiss all such interpretations as no more than “revisionist history”—the result of ideology, politics, and misbegotten negativism.

[…] All written history is revisionist in intent or consequence. Revisionist history is a universal phenomenon. Historians’ debates and shifting views of their subjects are the principal means by which they approach, while never reaching, their goal of understanding the extraordinary complexity of human life in times before their own.

[…] In no case does a new way of viewing the past annihilate older ones. On the contrary: Discarded historical interpretations, like strata of ancient sedimentary rock, lie buried atop each other, out of sight until they’re made visible again for study and use. Renewed, reconsidered, and repurposed, they can then fuel fresh struggles to understand the past. Revisionist history ensures the unending renewal of knowledge of what came before our own days on earth. We should celebrate as well as accept that fact.


Michael Sugrue on Marcus Aurelius and stoicism (YouTube, here’s a audio-only copy). This 42 minute lecture is probably my favourite, simple explanation of stoicism. I do disagree with one or two of his points, but overall this is a great introduction to stoic philosophy and Marcus Aurelius. Worth a watch.

And here’s an article° on Michel Sugrue and how after he uploaded his old lectures from the 1990’s to YouTube he ‘became a phenomenon’ (bit of a stretch there, but still).


When I come across a word I don’t know whilst reading I will immediately search for its meaning, jot it down in WorkFlowy, then later add it into Anki (my spaced repetition software of choice) with the hope that I will learn it.

However I’ve slowed down a little on this recently. I just spend too much time and brain power learning words which the Oxford Dictionary label as ‘archaic°’. Basically words not really used any more.

My new strategy is only to learn new words that I’ve already come across quite a few times or that are particularly good words.

Though if I stumble upon a word that I don’t know in a popular magazine or online article I will nearly always learn it. Because if it’s featured in a place like that it’s probably a fairly common word and worth learning.


Last night I saw an advert for a TV show called Let’s Game° that’s made by Sky, a traditional cable provider. It’s essentially a ‘let’s play’ gaming YouTube channel, only it’s on TV (or available to stream).

Sky have obviously realised this is what the kids want and watch these days (though I’m sure quite a few executives took some convincing. “It’s a show where you watch people play video games?!”) and have decided to offer them a more polished version of a ’let’s play’ hoping to entice a younger audience to their services.

The show is aired on the Sky Kids channel, so is aimed to a very young audience, with their parents being the ones actually paying the bill. But I’m sure most young kids don’t use Sky or even know what it is these days. When they want to watch something they go straight to YouTube or Netflix, even if their household has Sky. Sky knows this, and I’d imagine with this show they’re just hoping that kids might actually become aware of their existence and get used to their (awful, expensive) ecosystem in the hope that when the kid grows up they’ll maybe consider a Sky subscription.


Little Links & Notes 4

On realising that friends often talk about you behind your back and that they don’t always give you the benefit of the doubt (New York Times°, from 2013).

Hearing other people’s uncensored opinions of you is an unpleasant reminder that you’re just another person in the world, and everyone else does not always view you in the forgiving light that you hope they do, making all allowances, always on your side. There’s something existentially alarming about finding out how little room we occupy, and how little allegiance we command, in other people’s heads.

[…] The operative fallacy here is that we believe that unconditional love means not seeing anything negative about someone, when it really means pretty much the opposite: loving someone despite their infuriating flaws and essential absurdity.

We don’t give other people credit for the same interior complexity we take for granted in ourselves, the same capacity for holding contradictory feelings in balance, for complexly alloyed affections, for bottomless generosity of heart and petty, capricious malice. We can’t believe that anyone could be unkind to us and still be genuinely fond of us, although we do it all the time.


The last seven Marvel movies haven’t been released in Chinese cinemas as their censors haven’t approved them (The Hollywood Reporter°).

We don’t know the exact reasons as the censors never explain their decisions. But, the likely reasons:

  • ‘Anti-Chinese’ comments by Eternals’ director Chloe Zhao.
  • The main star of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Simu Liu, made similar comments.
  • Same story with Tom Hardy and Venom: Let There Be Carnage.
  • Black Widow had some anti-communist sentiment.
  • Spider-Man: No Way Home featured the Statue of Liberty too much (ha!).
  • Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness had a gay character.
  • And Thor 4 has hints of a non-heterosexual character.

A barrel of 46-year-old Ardbeg whisky has sold for £16m (Financial Times°).

That’s more than double the price the entire Ardbeg distillery° was sold for back in 1997. The value of Scotch whisky grew 14% in 2021. I wrote last year about the increasing cost of whisky.


Child sexual abuse in Greenland is rampant (CBC°).

In the 2007… a staggering 52% of women and 22% of men said they experienced severe sexual abuse during childhood.

(via Slate Star Codex’s Suicide Hotspots of the World°)


The reason you ‘see stars’ after a hard whack to the head is because the cells in the occipital lobe (the visual processing area of the brain) get shaken and start sending out random electrical signals, which the eye displays as random bursts of light, or ‘stars’. (via Life Time: The New Science of the Body Clock, and How It Can Revolutionize Your Sleep and Health by Russell Foster)


Little Links & Notes

Get Ready for the Forever Plague (The Tyee / Andrew Nikiforuk°). ‘Public health officials’ COVID complacency has opened the door to new illnesses and devastating long-term damage.’

This article is scary in its to-the-pointness. There’s a lot of bold, worrying claims within it. Some of which don’t have any links to papers to back them up. But either way, the gist of the article is:

  • COVID isn’t going anywhere and is mutating quickly.
  • Governments and the public aren’t behaving like the above is true.

One of the biggest takeaways I had from the article that I wasn’t aware of before is that each time you get COVID you’re more likely to get issues, especially long-term ones. I presumed it was the other way around. But:

Reinfections… just increase the damage from COVID, which can be profound: immune dysregulation, blood clots, nerve cell death, inflammation, lung damage, kidney failure and brain damage. […] But each and every infection will damage your immune system regardless of how mild the symptoms.

[…] A pandemic that progressively weakens its host population with each successive wave is ultimately more dangerous than one that dispatches 10 per cent of the population and then vanishes.

COVID continues to be scary. It’s now been over a year since I first got COVID (and the resulting long COVID) and I’m still dealing with the severe effects it’s had on me. Brain fog, sleep disturbances, fatigue and muscle soreness (the last two literally keep from exercising at all). Live your life, but remain cautious of COVID and just don’t forget that it is still out there.


Whilst reading this cute blog post° about someone growing to love a neighbours cat I discovered that in America it is unusual° for a cat to be an ‘outdoor cat’. Here in the UK the opposite is true.


Gulfstream’s latest £38 million private jet can’t land if there’s a brisk wind. The billionaires who bought them aren’t happy about it.


“There’s a reason why going to a high school reunion is so awkward, and in some cases so terrifying: we are re-engaging with people with whom we shared a baseline, with whom we were (and still are) close to in age, and with whom we shared a common social environment at one point in our lives. our lives. That is why it is all the more mortifying to see the disparities, and why the urge to compare is far stronger than it would be with someone who went to high school in a different state or who graduated in a different year. We’re less likely to think of ourselves as their rival.”

– Luke Burgis (via fs.blog°)


All throughout the American War of Independence George Washington was a shareholder in the Bank of England (via Till Time’s Last Sand: A History of the Bank of England 1694-2013 by David Kynaston).


The Quest by Circadian Medicine to Make the Most of Our Body Clocks (New York Times°).


Can’t Afford the Gas to Cook

(Lots of money talk in the UK today as the Chancellor of the Exchequer° has released his ‘spring statement°).

The Telegraph°:

….surging inflation will [cause] the biggest fall in living standards in any single financial year since records began in 1956.


An anecdotal tweet coming from a Daily Mail journalist° isn’t the most trustworthy combination. But still, this quote speaks volumes about just how expensive gas and electricity is in the U.K. right now:

…some food banks are rejecting potatoes and root veg because people ‘can’t afford the energy to boil them’.

Also°:

I was at food bank in Leicester recently and heard of someone who when given fresh food commented they would now need to switch the fridge back on.


Also the Telegraph°:

The packed lunch is back. As office workers return en masse, John Lewis (for my non-UK readers, John Lewis is a shop, not a person by the way haha) reports that sales of plastic food containers are up 64 per cent on the same week last year.


Tolkien, Orwell and Simple Living

Darcy Moore° looks at the surprising similarities between George Orwell and J.R.R. Tolkien.

And I really like these two quotes by them:

“Outside my work the thing I care most about is gardening, especially vegetable gardening. I like English cookery and English beer, French red wines, Spanish white wines, Indian tea, strong tobacco, coal fires, candle light and comfortable chairs.”

— George Orwell

“I am in fact a Hobbit in all but size. I like gardens, trees, and unmechanised farmlands; I smoke a pipe, and like good plain food, but detest French cooking; I like, and even dare to wear in these dull days, ornamental waistcoats. I am fond of mushrooms; have a very simple sense of humour; I go to bed late and get up late.”

— J.R.R. Tolkien


Little Links & Notes

Good afternoon everyone. It’s a beautifully mild and spotlessly sunny lunchtime in southern England right now and here I am with this instalment of Little Links & Notes. A few long reads this time – but as always, they’re there because they’re worth your bandwidth. Enjoy them and your evening. – elliot


‘How Putin’s Oligarchs Bought London’ (The New Yorker / Patrick Radden Keefe°)

[Britain became] a no-questions-asked service provider to the crooked élite, offering access to capital markets, prime real estate, shopping at Harrods, and illustrious private schools, along with accountants for tax tricks, attorneys for legal squabbles, and “reputation managers” for inconvenient backstories. It starts with visas; any foreigner with adequate funds can buy one, by investing two million pounds in the U.K. (Ten million can buy you permanent residency.)

[…] The oligarchs “feel free to buy Belgravia, kill dissidents in Piccadilly with Polonium 210, fight each other in the High Court, and hide their children in British boarding schools.

[…] According to an investigation by BuzzFeed News, U.S. intelligence believes that at least fourteen people have been assassinated on British soil by Russian mafia groups or secret services, which sometimes collaborate, but British authorities tend not to name suspects or bring charges. (Instead, they have concluded with an unsettling frequency that such deaths are suicides.) In an interview with NPR in late February, Bill Browder was asked whether he would name Russian oligarchs who had not yet been sanctioned but should be. “I live in London,” he said. “So it’s very unwise to name names.”


‘The Case for Induction Cooking’ (New York Times°)

Reasons to go induction include: it’s easier to clean, doesn’t heat up the kitchen, you can be more precise with the temperature, it doesn’t pollute the planet and it also heats pans via electromagnets, which is insanely cool.

Also: “For children who live in a home with a gas stove, the increased risk of asthma is on par with living in a home with a smoker.”


A look at the “color bar” – a form of segregation – in Britain’s pubs of the past and one mans attempt to end it. (Good Beer Hunting / David Jesudason).


‘The Diderot Effect: Why We Want Things We Don’t Need — And What to Do About It’ (James Clear°)

The Diderot Effect states that obtaining a new possession often creates a spiral of consumption which leads you to acquire more new things. As a result, we end up buying things that our previous selves never needed to feel happy or fulfilled.


Starbucks is planning to phase out disposable cups (CNN Business°). This is the right thing to do. Customers and staff alike are going to hate it for a while, I’m sure. But it’s the right thing to do.


If you’re in the UK you should know that “Taboo” starring Tom Hardy is now on Netflix (it’s on Hulu if you’re in America). It’s an underrated, dark gem and a favourite of mine. It is long overdue a second season, but don’t let that put you off.


Little Links & Notes

Ran Prieur° on not choosing suicide:

“But I think the most universal reason to keep living is the beauty of small moments. If you look for them, you can find them all over, and think to yourself, I’m glad I’m still here to see this.”


I immediately dislike any website that has a non-standard scrollbar or does anything funky with how scrolling works. I find it unnerving and it plays havoc with my muscle memory.


6% of Ukrainians (2.5M people) have now left the country. (The Economist°)


The cover of this weeks New Yorker° is very beautiful, and very sad. Side note: I don’t really buy magazines, but $8.99 seems very expensive for a weekly magazine to me?


Live Intentionally: The Results – trms (Lorenzo Gravina)°:

Last week, I resolved to stay a day without Internet, and I said I’d let you know how it went. Well, I did as promised, and here are the results.

One result I was expecting, and which felt particularly good, was the complete eradication of gray areas… I call ‘gray areas’ those times when you’re just zombie-ing through online content, not fully conscious about what it is you’re doing. Well, since there is no “online content” to speak of, those times were gone too.

As a result, I was always doing something consciously. This is the best part about the Internet-free day, and why I’m thinking about making it a weekly occurrence. Unplugging from the Internet won’t increase your productivity, it’s not about that. I still did things I’d consider a “waste of time.” But it will make you more conscious about what you’re doing.


“The most serious problem facing any organization is the one that cannot be discussed.”

Marc Andreessen (@pmarca)°




You can find even more posts in the archive.