Book Ideas

Mostly just some title ideas, but they have a little bit of meat behind them. Some a little more than others. (I should probably at least write a blog post for each.)

No Straight Lines – Adventures of a neo-generalist

A memoir of my career / life through the lens of being a neo-generalist. I’m thinking start with present day, work my way back through my career reverse chrono (like a resume, focusing on the what and how) to high school, and then work back up through time to the present focusing on the life aspects (tying the why into the what and how along the way). Kind of like Cloud Atlas, but with the past in the middle of the book instead of the future.

Thinking In Bits (Not Atoms)

Musings on the ongoing digital transformation of everything and the need to not just learn and understand technology but to change how we actually think about what we can do, what is possible, and how it can come about.

  • Work
  • Mobility
  • Finance
  • Government
  • Education
  • Relationships

You Should Always Follow the Rules (except when you shouldn’t)

On the importance of rules and why you should learn them so that you can break them.

  1. Learn the rules
  2. Understand the consequences of not following the rules, and of following them
  3. Always follow the rules, except when you shouldn’t
  4. When a rule needs to be changed, change it

Variations On a Theme (Fractals and power laws)

Everything is just a variation of everything else. Some great insight on this from Scale by Geoffrey West.

29 Marbles (inclusion)

Not sure exactly where this one would go, but I’m thinking it to be an exploration of the “other”. Will also look at the impact of “compliance culture”. I expect that The Non-Conformist will come into play in some form, as so many people talk about disruption and difference and diversity, as long as they are the disrupters, the ones who are different, the unique ones.

A post from EK today really resonated here: Why are personal assistants allowed for some people in some jobs or other situations, but not allowed for others?

Anatomy of a [something]: tracing [it] back through history

You find yourself in a convenience store, or better yet a drug store. Say, Walgreens. Look around, what do you see? Have you ever wondered about what it has taken to get to this point, not just how all of this stuff found its way on the shelves in the store, but how those products actually came into being. And how did that become possible. Example: Toilet paper – how does it get to the store, how is it packaged at the factory, how is it manufactured, where do the raw materials come from, what was the first use of it. Et cetera ad infinitum. The business concepts in place for the store, and all of the products. And of course the logistics involved in getting things to the shelves. And let’s not forget the history of those logistics: trucks, internal combustion engines, diesel / gasoline, rubber for tires. Supply chain management.

References that come to mind: The scene in The Hurt Locker where he’s looking at all the waffles, The Story of Stuff.

Layers of abstraction, the cost of convenience, and the commoditization of experience

The story of progress is one of abstraction, of increased convenience, and the taming of novel experience into the everyday. An obvious example that comes to mind is in programming, and in fact this is the context in which this idea first came to me. I learned to program in BASIC in high school, but in my first digital electronics lab at UMR we learned how to program the 8088 processor using machine language, and then assembly language. I have no memory of either language, but what did stick with me was the idea all higher level languages are simply abstractions of those languages that humans can understand and write. The farther away from machine / assembly you get, the easier (more convenient) it is to get the machine to do what you want it to do, but at the cost of understanding what exactly you are telling the machine to do. And as things get more convenient, you don’t even need the experience of understanding: writing a block of code to something in a given context becomes nothing more than a copy/paste from Stack Overflow or some other place where someone (or something) else has already had the experience of creation.

A very different example, but one still close to my heart, is the sport of rock climbing. I learned to climb when I was in high school, in the early ’80s, when it was still a novelty. Before we could actually start climbing we had to learn basic rope management, the various knots, how to belay. And the gear, though effective, was by today’s standards, very rudimentary; if you needed your gear to do something, you figured out how to make it work. Today if you want to climb, you just go to the local rock gym, rent a harness and some shoes, get a quick lesson on how the auto-belay works, and away you go. Not saying this is a bad thing, I love that so many people are being introduced to the sport, even if they only climbing they ever do is in the gym. But that commoditization of the experience, that extreme convenience, abstracts them away from the joys of adventure climbing.

Of course, these examples are important, but they aren’t life and death. Like, say, knowing how to hunt, kill, clean, and prepare your own food. Or how to clear some land and build your own shelter.

One last example for now: When I first heard Dave Gray talking about his latest book, Liminal Thinking, I wrote down “layers of abstraction” among my notes. Though different from the other examples here, the more we commoditize our thinking – the more we are on auto-pilot – the more abstracted we are from an understanding of where our beliefs come from, and the harder it is to understand where others are coming from.

Everything You Know Is Wrong – Useful for now, perhaps, but wrong nonetheless

All models (maps?) are wrong, but some are useful. I’ve most often heard this used in the context of actual models or maps, things explicitly identified as such. But much of what counts for “facts” or “knowledge” these days are really nothing more than models. And they are, in the same way, wrong but useful.

Economics provides an excellent example of progressively useful and yet continually wrong models. The various economic systems throughout the ages have been useful as an instrument of progress, but as progress progressed the various systems became less useful and more obviously wrong. “Wrong”, of course, being in the eye of the beholder. We are at a point now where the current useful model, Capitalism, is on the verge of being declared wrong and replaced by the next useful model.

The most obvious examples of this comes in the continuum of religion and science. Early humans came up with useful models of how the world worked, why things happened, by creating gods and spirits. This often came in the form of creation stories and the passing down of rules in the form of commandments and other texts. Over time these religious stories became more wrong even as some of them became more useful. But useful to the tellers of the stories.

Even science has experienced this. The laws of motion discovered by Sir Isaac Newton were incredibly useful in the context of life in the 17th century and yet are profoundly wrong in the context of 21st century technology such as GPS.

Disruption: Disruptors and the Disrupted

Following the inauguration of Donald Trump I posted a couple of things on Facebook (which I should have posted here, too) related to the election of Trump and the concept of disruption:

Is the disruption caused by the Trump administration different in kind or different in degree from the disruption in the commercial sector brought about by big tech companies like Uber or Airbnb? Or is it the same – disruption is disruption?

…and…

Disruption is great if you’re the disruptor, kinda sucks if you’re the disrupted

Need to explore this in more detail, the concept of disruption in general. Is disruption a goal, or is it the means to achieve a goal. How many disruptors are actually interested in providing something of value to their “customers”, and how many disruptors are simply pandering to the crowd to enrich themselves.

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