Notes from The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work by Alain de Botton

This book by Alain de Botton started out slowly for me because I am already quite familiar with the global logistical infrastructure and the various ways our food is made (thanks to the Keuringsdienst van Waarde). In the second half though with its focus on the moral and spiritual aspects did it pick up and became a very worthwhile read.

How ignorant most of us are by contrast, surrounded by machines and processes of which we have only the loosest grasp;

The range of items available for purchase may have grown exponentially since then, but our understanding of their genesis has diminished almost to the point of obscurity.

Moments, a six-centimetre-wide biscuit made of chocolate and shortcake

the idea of answering psychological yearnings with dough might seem daunting,

as befitted a snack which respected the realities of life even as it offered temporary relief from them.

Vilfredo Pareto, who theorised that a society would grow wealthy to the extent that its members forfeited general knowledge in favour of fostering individual ability in narrowly constricted fields.

In a perfect society, so specialised would all jobs be, that no one would any longer understand what anyone else was doing.

It is left to the painter, working in a quieter, more observant idiom, to rescue what the film has encouraged its viewers not to see.

The biscuits carried lives on their backs.

All societies have had work at their centre; ours is the first to suggest that it could be something much more than a punishment or a penance.

‘The liberal arts have sung their own praise long enough; they should now raise their voice in praise of the mechanical arts. The liberal arts must free the mechanical arts from the degradation in which these have so long been held by prejudice’.

Their obvious good health and, in some cases, beauty served to suggest that knowledge and experience might not, in the end, be very valuable commodities to take refuge in.

Their obvious good health and, in some cases, beauty served to suggest that knowledge and experience might not, in the end, be very valuable commodities to take refuge in.

One might be doomed not by a lack of talent, but by a species of pessimistic pride.

As a result, it is now a member of the European Union, its highest legal authority is the Court of Justice in Strasbourg, its agricultural and fishery policies are defined in Brussels and its currency, valid even in the Indian settlement of Pilakoupoupiaina on the Oyapock River, is the euro, from the European Central Bank of Frankfurt-am-Main.

They engaged in elaborate praise of their counterparts’ most routine achievements, like their ability to build a petrol station or to install air conditioning

Evoking comparison with Chandigarh and Brasilia, two other examples of modern architecture’s impressive track record of indifference to issues of context and culture, it was in an advanced stage of decomposition after only a few decades of existence.

for it meant that never again would the fate of planetary exploration depend to a hazardous degree on such unpredictable variables as the mood of Johannes Kepler’s wife, Barbara, or the inclinations of his patron Emperor Rudolf II

class? I felt my allegiances shift to the engineers and technicians around me, these new medicine men who often sported baseball caps, and had a tendency towards unsophisticated humour – but who had nonetheless mastered the workings of the universe.

There is also a suitcase jammed with scarves and jumpers, for outdoor painters tend to know the story of how Cézanne caught a chill one morning while painting a sparrow in a field in Aix-en-Provence – and was dead by sunset.

I found myself wishing that the rest of mankind would follow the engineers’ example and agree on a series of symbols which could point incontrovertibly to certain elusive, vaporous and often painful psychological states- a code which might help us to feel less tongue-tied and less lonely, and enable us to resolve arguments with swift and silent exchanges of equations.

Sentimental associations and impossible longings are shut down, and the self is reassembled as an apparently coherent entity, with stable commitments and a prescribed future.

we can be grateful for how tightly bound we have kept our desires, and proud of the restraint we have shown in not poisoning our colleagues or entombing our relations under the patio.

How satisfying it is to be held in check by the assumptions of colleagues, instead of being forced to contemplate, in the loneliness of the early hours, all that one might have been and now never will be.

They have no ambition to become known to strangers or to record their insights for an unimpressed and ephemeral future. They are well adjusted enough to have made their peace with oblivion.

printed a quote from a speech by Theodore Roosevelt, in which the president spoke of the need for every man to strive for excellence and, ‘if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat’.

Of course, power has not disappeared entirely; it has merely been reconfigured. It is by posing as a regular employee that the chairman stands his best chance of preserving his seniority. His subordinates admire the sincerity with which he pretends to share their fate, while he privately recognises that only a convincing show of normalcy will prevent him from ever having to be normal again.

before adroitly slipping in a recommendation for improvements to their methods in the humble and supplicating manner of a preacher in an age of declining faith.

How few are the moments of the day when money is truly being made, and how many are on either side given over to daydreams and recuperation.

He contemplates all that has been difficult, unnecessary and regrettable but from a position of distance, with a calm and poignant vantage point over his imperfections and missed opportunities, as though his life were nothing but a bad sentimental film and he its half sympathetic, half repugnant hero.

The start-up company may be as central to our contemporary ideals as the ritual of praying for the souls of the dead or the maintenance of female virginity was to the values of our medieval ancestors.

a new kind of holiday company which would take tourists around industrial locations rather than museums;

Their real function was to serve as a reminder of the unavailability of beauty to an overwhelmingly male, middle-aged and harried-looking base of customers.

Learning of it was akin to having seduced someone in a bar only to discover, when she stood up to dance or go to the bathroom, that she had only one leg.

invented the term Ruinenlust to describe this new passion. It seems, in fact, that the more advanced a society is, the greater will be its interest in ruined things, for it will see in them a redemptively sobering reminder of the fragility of its own achievements.

It is paying death too much respect to prepare for it with sage prescriptions.

Notes from The Drowned Cities by Paulo Bacigalupi

Not hugely satisfying but still a nice read. Supposedly the first book in this series is better.

A hasty temper was one of the greatest faults a general could have, and people who were provoked by insults were easy to defeat.

“You think China’s sending in peacekeepers again?”

When the sea levels rose, they built huge dikes to protect their coastlines, and floated their greatest cities on the waves, like they did with Island Shanghai.

Now, she swung the machete with expert strength. City girl learning country living.

It was submerged again, but it had been terrifying—beast and human welded together in an unholy mix.

Soldier boys would’ve loved it. Battle to the death. Epic ring.

“I ain’t started cutting, yet.” “So you’re starting with her tongue?” “Gotta start somewhere.”

Scout the town. See if we got any more castoffs. Maybe we got a whole nest of China rats we don’t know about.

It was foolish to think that there was anything left to save energy for, but it was his nature. He had been designed too well.

Full-grown. Unusual in the Drowned Cities, where war ate its young long before they reached maturity.

Full-grown. Unusual in the Drowned Cities, where war ate its young long before they reached maturity.

She’d seen people stand up, determined to hold on to principles. People who thought there was right and wrong. People who tried to save others.

He would have stood tall. And the soldier boys would have shot his head right off and gone on to someone else without a second thought.

I’m sure whoever first started questioning their political opponents’ patriotism thought they were being quite clever.

You didn’t want to overthink. It just got you confused, and it got you killed.

Nobody wanted a castoff reminding them how China had taken everything over for more than a decade, telling everyone what to do and how to live.

“Generals are in the habit of using up all the people around them. It’s their job. It’s what they do best.”

Notes for Against the Smart City by Adam Greenfield

This pamphlet by Adam Greenfield, the first of more is a concise and enjoyable distillation of his politics when it concerns the smart city and also features a number of similarly inclined thinkers:

In this light, the casual contempt for history that is part and parcel of Koolhaas’s generic city and the comparable conceptions of urbanity we find in the canonical smart cities feels particularly glib, adolescent and unsatisfactory.

If a city can even be said to have any such quality as intelligence to begin with, that intelligence is bound to be singular, something that subsists in the unique lifeways, cultures and pragmatic local adaptations that have evolved in a particular place.

What do exist in the world are specific deployments of components from specific vendors, laminated together as particular propositions, and each of these may differ profoundly from other, similar propositions, along all of the axes that condition human interaction with them.

The fact is that the data is never “just” the data, and to assert otherwise is to lend inherently political and interested decisions regarding the act of data collection an unwonted gloss of neutrality and dispassionate scientific objectivity.

They’re too perfectly tuned to the exigencies of a given moment, and generally get caught wrongfooted when the moment shifts.

The sense that citizens themselves may wish to avail themselves directly of the information ostensibly being gathered on their behalf is almost surreally absent from the smart-city literature.

It’s hard to imagine a robustly autonomous community, or a public sphere in any traditional sense, taking root in the soil of a municipality that is owned and operated as a business in the way these places are.

But unquestioned neoliberal assumptions even show up in the smart-city literature in contexts where it makes little or no apparent sense.

the smart city itself, as a coherent object of discourse, arises out of a specific set of conditions produced by late capitalism, under which cities compete against each other as global destinations for capital and talent.

But the results are identical, and at the margins, enthusiasm for the vigor with which an autocratic regime can act can be hard to distinguish from outright apologia for the systematic practice of oppression.

they arise in response to the needs of a great many people of differing proclivities, interacting with one another over reasonably long periods of time.

The same diversification of need and desire that generates a vibrant service ecosystem also makes the city a patchwork of constituencies with wildly divergent conceptions of the good, the just and the proper, virtually guaranteeing the impossibility of satisfying them all at once. But that, too, is part of what we mean when we call something a city.

we shouldn’t fool ourselves that the endeavor is in any way based on an appreciation of the city as a crucible of contested spaces and conflicting constituencies, or of municipal management as the art of balancing their broadly irreconcilable demands.

This, by the way, is entirely intentional: Le Corbusier had consciously designed the Radiant City to “use up tires, wear out road surfaces and gears, and consume oil and gasoline” so as to generate the maximal amount of economically productive activity by way of replacement.

And history teaches us, repeatedly — bludgeoning the point home with a blunt shovel, for those who simply refuse to get the point — that maintenance budgets are among the very first things to go.

And yet the orthodox conception of the smart city says virtually nothing about the prospect that its inhabitants might be equipped with the smartphone.

And while misgivings may in fact be prevalent, there are likely to be relatively few in the bureaucracy who are able to express them forthrightly — that is to say, who are sufficiently comfortable with the technology to understand precisely what is being proposed, sufficiently familiar with the way their city works to convincingly articulate why this is problematic, sufficiently assured of their own position to feel safe in doing so, and sufficiently passionate about the issue to willingly shoulder the risk involved.

The truth is that our cities are already densely and intimately linked with one another, bound together by their own citizens in a constant and mutually-reinforcing traffic in atoms and bits.

We must never lose sight of the idea, though, that another city is possible, a city that harnesses networked information technology toward the lasting empowerment of the people who live in it, give life to it and make it what it is.

Notes from the Rum Diary by Hunter S. Thompson

This was a tremendously enjoyable read. I wonder why my English teacher never pointed us in this literary direction for things to read.

He cursed the “goddamn shitting heat” with such violence and such hatred that it sometimes ruined the atmosphere of the place

everything from wild young Turks who wanted to rip the world in half and start all over again — to tired, beer-bellied old hacks who wanted nothing more than to live out their days in peace before a bunch of lunatics ripped the world in half.

a shoplifting Cuban who carried a gun in his armpit, a half-wit Mexican who molested small children

Vagrant journalists are notorious welshers, and to those who travel in that rootless world, a large unpaid bar tab can be a fashionable burden.

I was a consultant for the cockfighting syndicate

It was a greedy life and I was good at it.

Finally I broke in. “Hey!” I shouted. “What the hell is this? I have to get on that plane!”

When I got to the plane I had to shove past five or six people waiting to board.

Suddenly the old man jumped up and tried to scramble over me like a dog.

After ten minutes of half-hearted listening I suspected I was in a den of hustlers.

Arriving half-drunk in a foreign place is hard on the nerves.

“You’ll turn queer in this place, Kemp — mark my words. This place will turn a man queer and crazy.”

“His penis is pressing on his brain and he can’t think.”

I realized how long it had been since I’d felt like I had the world by the balls,

Suddenly she began to howl: at first I thought I was hurting her, then I realized she was having some sort of extreme orgasm.

“They’re going to kill us all. Come on in after lunch — it should be safe by then.”

wasted hours and frustrated moments and opportunities forever lost because time had eaten so much of my life and I would never get it back.

She was so close to naked, and so apparently unaware of it, that I felt helpless.

He drank incessantly, and by the time it got dark he was steaming drunk and shouting.

Yeamon smiled. “A man never knows when his head might get twisted.”

Tell them that this man Kemp is fleeing St. Louis because he suspects the sack is full of something ugly and he doesn’t want to be put in with it.

On the way down the hill we walked three abreast in the cobblestone street, drunk and laughing and talking like men who knew they would separate at dawn and travel to the far corners of the earth.

He was lewd and corrupt in every way.

There was a time I had been the same way. I wanted it all and I wanted it fast and no obstacle was big enough to put me off. Since then I had learned that some things were bigger than they looked from a distance, and now I was not so sure anymore just what I was going to get or even what I deserved. I was not proud of what I had learned but I never doubted it was worth knowing.

It was terribly sad — not the music itself, but the fact that it was the best they could do.

A ten-year accumulation of these vagrant addresses can weigh on a man like a hex. He begins to feel like the Wandering Jew. That’s the way I felt.

I didn’t want to go anywhere. Yet, when Yeamon talked about moving on, I felt the excitement anyway.

There was an awful suspicion in my mind that I’d finally gone over the hump, and the worst thing about it was that I didn’t feel tragic at all, but only weary, and sort of comfortably detached.

That maddening delusion that a man can lead a decent life without hiring himself out as a Judas Goat.

She seemed oblivious to everything but the music and the freak who led her around the floor.

Lazy intellectualism exposed (probably without consequences)

Funny to come across three pieces today wherein a bunch of fashionable faux-intellectuals are taken apart.

First Franzen in the LRB:

He writes against blogs, yet allows a comparison between Die Fackel and blogs; he writes about the way the internet disturbs the reading experience, but does it in pages bracketed into German and English sections and in notes that confuse me more than anything I read online – that confuse me more than the Talmud. He writes about competition and the work ethic, but never mentions his own Heine: David Foster Wallace, a master of the nuanced citation who managed to be both smarter and more casual, crazier and kinder.

I tore through Freedom for a book club but I never understood the hype. Recently he’s hitchhiking on the anti-internet nostalgia that is so fashionable in 40-somethings which makes him not only suspect but lazy as well. And yes you should read all of DFW and none of Franzen.

Then Gladwell in the New Republic whose stories were amusing to read but who I never could take seriously after the exposition of his corporate shilling.

Now also Diamond in the LRB being taken apart by the esteemed James C. Scott whose writing could inform so much of what passes for political debate in the Netherlands but who seems to be ignored by the fashions of continental academia and the stupidity of our opinion makers.

And last week the exposition in nsfwcorp of Pierre Omidyar as an extremist robber baron (just like every other billionaire out there).

In many regions, Omidyar Network investments have helped fund programs that create worsening conditions for the world’s underclass, widening inequalities, enhancing exploitation, pushing millions of people into crippling debt and supporting anti-poverty programs that, in some cases, resulted in mass-suicide by the rural poor.

This compromises all of the work that Greenwald and colleagues will do under that banner. Of course no reaction from Glenn Greenwald will be forthcoming because of the (partially justified) internet paranoiac way in which he handles criticism.

The lesson here seems simple: if something strikes you as too convenient or too simple to be true, it probably is.

Highlights from Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

Reading this book took me quite some time since it arrived in my mailbox some four years ago. I only picked it up after acquiring an epub version of it that I could read in Readmill wherever I happened to find myself (so also really after Readmill launched their iPhone app). It takes some getting into but this book is hugely rewarding and a pleasure.

it was somehow sadistic-seeming, like drilling a peephole in the wall of a handicapped bathroom.

too Canadianly dumb for anything but the brutalest work.

the terrible accident that resulted in all locks being taken off E.T.A. saunas’ doors and the saunas’ maximum temperature being hard-wired down to no more than 50°C.

It now lately sometimes seemed like a kind of black miracle to me that people could actually care deeply about a subject or pursuit, and could go on caring this way for years on end.

The fish asking about what’s water.

He could just hunker down in the space between each heartbeat and make each heartbeat a wall and live in there. Not let his head look over. What’s unendurable is what his own head could make of it all.

Death says the woman who either knowingly or involuntarily kills you is always someone you love, and she’s always your next life’s mother. This is why Moms are so obsessively loving, why they try so hard no matter what private troubles or issues or addictions they have of their own, why they seem to value your welfare above their own, and why there’s always a slight, like, twinge of selfishness about their obssessive mother-love: they’re trying to make amends for a murder neither of you quite remember, except maybe in dreams.

The rest would be allowed to die for leur rai pays.

It’s like a big wooden spoon keeps pushing him just under the surface of sleep and then spooning him up for something huge to taste him, again and again.

why did she love him when he flang her down and beat her up on a more or less daily basis for fucking years on end.

One of the highest prices of sobriety was not being able to keep from remembering things you didn’t want to remember

he doesn’t have any idea what it means and no reason to be thinking it with roaring force, so the sensation is not only creepy but somehow violating, a sort of lexical rape.

got in some insane drunken limbo-dance challenge with a rival executive and tried to like limbo under a desk or a chair or something insanely low, and got his spine all fucked up in a limbo-lock, maybe permanently

mixed with the sounds of severely fucked-up Canadians returning to whatever passed with Nucks for consciousness and calling for what they called medecins

“could not find his own bottom with both hands and a nautical compass of exacting precision.”

her home’s kitchen, where, apparently despondent, she committed suicide by putting her extremities down the garbage disposal — first one arm and then, kind of miraculously if you think about it, the other arm.

the fact that the Auteur’s belief in a finite world-total of available erections rendered him always either impotent or guilt-ridden.

And at E.T.A. only 16s snapped towels, and only for a year or two, but they went at it with a vengeance, towel-snapping, a brief flared genuflection to jock-stereotype, a stage where there’s this primate-like passion for red-assed bonding in steamy rooms.

You looked into their maps and something was gone.

There may be some persons who are born imprisoned. The irony, of course, being that the very imprisonment that prohibits sadness’s expression must itself feel intensely sad and painful.

The dinner ended in a kind of explosion of goodwill.

until she’d been approached by Orin, who made no secret of the fact that he had balls of unrejectable steel where horrifyingly pretty girls were concerned.

northern Quebec’s La Culte de Baiser Sans Fin

But even the first to quail and jump has jumped. Far beyond prohibited, not to jump at all is regarded as impossible. To “perdre son coeur” and not jump at all is outside le Jeu’s limit. The possibility simply does not exist. It is unthinkable. Only once, in le Jeu du Prochain Train’s extensive oral history, has a miner’s son not jumped, lost his heart and frozen, remaining on his jut as the round’s train passed. This player later drowned.

the precise mechanical specifications of each scheduled train——these are known to the directeurs, they comprise the constants in a game the variables of which are the respective wills of the six ranged along the track, and their estimates of one another’s will to risk all to win.

infamous “Le ]eu du Prochain Train,” and that the A.F.R.’s Root Cult itself was comprised largely or perhaps even entirely of veteran devotees and practitioners of this savage, nihilistic, and mettle testing jeu pour-meme.

“Les jeux pour-memes” formal competitive games whose end is less any sort of “prize” than it is a manner of basic identity: i.e., that is, “game” as metaphysical environment and psychohistorical locus and gestalt.

It turns out the more luridly absorbing the angle of topic you choose, the more people have already been there before you with their footprints to fill and their obscurely academic-type-journal articles to try and absorb and, like, synthesize.

each subsequent reviewing of the Entertainment now would have the price of one digit from the Subject’s extremities.

That we’re all lonely for something we don’t know we’re lonely for.

It is a level of psychic pain wholly incompatible with human life as we know it. It is a sense of radical and thoroughgoing evil not just as a feature but as the essence of conscious existence. It is a sense of poisoning that pervades the self at the self’s most elementary levels. It is a nausea of the cells and soul. It is an unnumb intuition in which the world is fully rich and animate and un-map-like and also thoroughly painful and malignant and antagonistic to the self, which depressed self It billows on and coagulates around and wraps in Its black folds and absorbs into Itself, so that an almost mystical unity is achieved with a world every constituent of which means painful harm to the self.

We are shown how to fashion masks of ennui and jaded irony at a young age where the face is fictile enough to assume the shape of whatever it wears.

they are doomed, because you cannot both celebrate and suffer, and play is always suffering

on some level you can tell that he views the recipients of his charity not as persons so much as pieces of exercise equipment on which he can develop and demonstrate his own virtue.

the father is crushed into aspic in a freak accident on the Jamaica Way and all opportunities for transgenerational instruction are forever lost

this quality of Look-At-Me-Being-So-Totally-Open-And-Sincere-I-Rise-Above-The-Whole-Disingenuous-Posing-Process-Of-Attracting-Someone-,-And -I-Transcend-The-Common-Disingenuity-In-A-Bar-Herd-In-A-Particularly-Hip-And-Witty-Self-Aware-Way-,-And-If-You-Will-Let-Me-Pick-You-Up-I-Will-Not-Only-Keep – Being – This – Wittily, – Transcendently – Open -, – But – Will – Bring-You – Into – This -World-Of-Social-Falsehood-Transcendence,

it is a pose of poselessness

I know that he erased his own cartography in a grisly way.

Football is pure homophobically repressed nancy-ism, and do not let O. tell you different.

It’s the nature of the game. It’s the machine they’re all dying to throw themselves into.

that night he seemed to be the piece of string by which I hung suspended over hell itself.

with breasts like artillery and a butt like two bulldogs in a bag

This was back when his brother Orin needed only to have sexual intercourse with them instead of getting them to fall so terribly in love with him they’d never be able to want anyone else.

eat with such horrible P.O.W.ish gusto

nobody but Ludditic granola-crunching freaks would call bad what no one can imagine being without.

who looks like one of those people you see in pictures of African famine

a Dial-a-Prayer telephone service for atheists in which the atheist dials the number and the line just rings and rings and no one answers

creepy boys who talked without moving their lower jaw

downing one plastic cup after another of beer-foam until he got so blind drunk his sphincter had failed and he’d not only pissed but also actually shit his pant

when the check arrived, in an extra-long-size envelope to accommodate all the zeroes

At a certain level of abstraction it’s like the brain recoils.’

The fourth horseman stays hidden, of course, like in all quality eschatologies, the unturned card, under wraps till actual game-time.

The only reason she’s never been diagnosed or treated for it is that in her the Disorder doesn’t prevent her from functioning. It all seems to come back to functioning.

Their faces become sexual faces.

the abortive parents who’d left or lost them in the general geopolitical shuffle of mass migration

a suicidal Nuck cult of Nucks that worshipped a form of Russian Roulette that involved jumping in front of trains and seeing which Nuck could come the closest to the train’s front without getting demapped.

eliminating the saliva guy’s map on the spot,

He’d have no problem with looking deep into some bitch’s eyes and looking so sincere it’s like he’s dying inside him.

Lenz has a keen antenna for people like this and their stock is low on his personal exchange.

So after the incident with the flaming cat from hell

There were more chunks of dismantled street lying all over.

What you do is you hide your deep need to hide, and you do this out of the need to appear to other people as if you have the strength not to care how you appear to others.

It’s not necessarily pejorative to compare a cornered bureaucrat to a cornered rat.

As a high-velocity object people can project themselves onto, forgetting their own limitations in the face of the nearly limitless potential someone as young as yourself represents.

This drives me bats. You know this drives me bats.

the essential vagueness about himself that Tavis fought by sort of peeling his skull back and exposing his brain to you without any sort of warning or invitation;

I’d be more than happy to shake hands, even one of those intricate multiple-handed ethnic handshakes if you’ll bear with my inexperience with that sort of handshake

where there are disco-ized Brazilians can cocaine and narcotics ever be far away.

The neural distillate of, say, orgasm, religious enlightenment, ecstatic drugs, shiatsu, a crackling fire on a winter night — the sum of all possible pleasures refined into pure current and deliverable at the flip of a hand-held lever. Thousands of times an hour, at will.

who’s rumored also to attend Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, which engages everyone’s imagination to the max.

It’s all the sort of thing that’s uninteresting unless you’re the one responsible, in which case it’s cholesterol-raisingly stressful and complex

His mother was subsequently involved with a live-in lover, a former Navy M.P. who used to beat her up on a regular schedule, hitting her in the vicinities between groin and breast so that nothing showed.

Gately can’t even start to guess what it would be like to be a sober and drug-free biker. It’s like what would be the point. He imagines these people polishing the hell out of their leather and like playing a lot of really precise pool.

The whole place smells like death no matter what the fuck you do.

You can’t induce a moral sensibility the same way you’d train a rat. The kid has to learn by his own experience how to learn to balance the short- and long-term pursuit of what he wants.’

that congenital plagiarists put so much more work into camouflaging their plagiarism than it would take just to write up an assignment from conceptual scratch. It usually seems like plagiarists aren’t lazy so much as kind of navigationally insecure. They have trouble navigating without a detailed map’s assurance that somebody has been this way before them.

Notes from Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War

Another long overdue post with notes from the biography of Colonel John Boyd. This is partially so long overdue because extracting quotes from Readmill is somewhat annoying and the excellent API integration Box of Quotes no longer works.

He quoted Sophocles: “One must wait until the evening to see how splendid the day has been.”

He reacted the only way he knew how: by attacking. The rank or position of his enemy, the size or significance of the institution, none of it mattered. He attacked. And when Boyd attacked, he gave no quarter.

He was a pure man at a time when pure men were needed but so few answered the call.

She hammered into John that as long as he held on to his sense of what was right, and as long as his integrity was inviolate, he was superior to those who had only rank or money.

what is found deep in the bone marrow of a fighter pilot—exaggeration and the belief that a good story is more important than sticking with the bare facts.

Thus, aerial combat favors the bold, those who are not afraid to use the airplane for its true purpose: a gun platform. There is nothing sophisticated about sneaking up on someone and killing him.

The saying of the time was “The more you bleed in peace time, the less you bleed in war.”

He told how to use various tactical combat maneuvers such as the scissors, the high-speed yo-yo, the low-speed yo-yo, the high-G barrel roll, and the vertical rolling scissors to gain the advantage on an opponent.

But what they do has nothing to do with combat flying. It’s all about appearance and not about flying an airplane. I wouldn’t have anything to do with that crowd. All they do is work the cocktail and pussy circuit.”

Heat waves danced on the runway like dervishes.

“The world is divided into hosers and hosees. Your job as fighter pilots is to be a hoser.” A feral grin split his face. He leaned toward the class and added, “I, of course, am the ultimate hoser.”

who talked as if he learned the English language in a New Orleans whore-house.

But he needed Boyd, the maverick: the obstreperous and independent officer who cared more for his work than for his career. Only such a man could save the F-X from being cancelled and prevent the Air Force from being outmaneuvered by the Navy. Only such a man could save the Air Force from itself.

Then Boyd began showing his briefings to Sprey and asking for an opinion. Sprey often ripped the briefs to shreds. And he did it in such a calm and irrefutable manner, reason stacked atop reason, logic atop logic, that it was impossible to disagree. Boyd referred to a Sprey critique as the “Pierre Sprey buzz saw.” But he knew Sprey was making his work stronger and more focused and virtually impervious to attack. “We’ve got to do our homework, Tiger,” Boyd often said to Sprey. “One mistake and they will leverage the hell out of it.”

Very few men were ever invited by Boyd to join forces with him. None ever refused. Each sensed intuitively that he was being offered a rare gift. Each was to pay a terrible price for his friendship with Boyd. Each would have paid more.

It was new and different. And anything new and different is feared by a bureaucracy.

Then he made changes to the paper. It was always fluid.

Burton had a new rule: judge people by what they do and not what they say they will do.

The greatest superpower on earth used almost every arrow in its quiver, everything from multimillion-dollar airplanes to laser-guided bombs to electronic sensors to special-operations forces, and still was defeated by little men in black pajamas using rifles and bicycles.

And when managers lead an army it is their nature to cast blame rather than to accept responsibility.

But some had never heard of Sun Tzu and could not spell “von Clausewitz.” They might have known the names of Douhet or Jomini or von Schlieffen or Fuller or Guderian or Lawrence or Balck, but few knew the theories espoused by these men.

But when he walked out of the Building, he walked into a world of ideas.

Boyd thought analysis could lead to understanding but not to creativity.

He talked of “paralysis by analysis” and said Washington was a city of ten thousand analysts and no synthesizers. “They know more and more about less and less until eventually they know everything about nothing”

To make sure the new reality is both viable and relevant, Boyd said it must be continually refined by verifying its internal consistency and by making sure it matches up with reality. But the very process of making sure the reality is relevant causes mismatches between the new observation and the description of that observation.

The advantage gained from the fast transient suggests that to win in battle a pilot needs to operate at a faster tempo than his enemy. It suggests that he must stay one or two steps ahead of his adversary; he must operate inside his adversary’s time scale.

Generating a rapidly changing environment—that is, engaging in activity that is so quick it is disorienting and appears uncertain or ambiguous to the enemy—inhibits the adversary’s ability to adapt and causes confusion and disorder that, in turn, causes an adversary to overreact or underreact.

They remained ambiguous because Boyd still believed ambiguity created opportunities for unexpected richness.

“Sun Tzu tried to drive his adversary bananas while Clausewitz tried to keep himself from being driven bananas.”

They moved so fast the enemy simply could not understand what was happening and became unglued.

The intent is to shatter cohesion, produce paralysis, and bring about collapse of the adversary by generating confusion, disorder, panic, and chaos. Boyd said war is organic and compared his technique to clipping the nerves, muscles, and tendons of an enemy, thus reducing him to jelly.

But few of those who speak so glibly about the OODA Loop have a true understanding of what it means and what it can do.

Boyd, like Sun Tzu and Napoléon, believed in attacking with “moral conflict”—that is, using actions that increase menace, uncertainty, and mistrust in the enemy while increasing initiative, adaptability, and harmony within friendly forces.

He remembered what Boyd often said: “There are only so many ulcers in the world and it is your job to see that other people get them.”

But those groups often are single-issue groups whose members have no more than a surface knowledge of the military or of defense matters. Because their concerns are frivolous or tangential, they are easily dismissed.

He went in and wrote on the blackboard, “Duty Honor Country.” Then he crossed out the words and under them wrote, “Pride Power Greed.”

Marines are considered both primitive and elitist—primitive because all Marines are basically infantrymen, and elitist because they are so few in number and so good at what they do.

War is ever changing and men are ever fallible. Rigid rules simply won’t work. Teach men to think.”

“So you got your reward; you got kicked in the teeth. That means you were doing good work.

They think the real business of the Pentagon has something to do with defending America. But it does not. The real business of the Pentagon is buying weapons.

And whistle blowers get no respect; they get others to help them do something that they can’t do themselves.

The Army said, “Well, they do exist. But we can’t model them on the computer so we ignore them.”

He was inside their minds and knew how they thought and how they reacted. He could walk into a room of civilian and Army officials and know when the game was afoot. He knew intuitively when and how the adversary would move. Burton had the Fingerspitzengefuhl to move rapidly through the OODA Loop and stay ahead of his adversary, and he found the experience exhilarating.

Each one began with his saying, “I want you to know there is nothing personal in what I am about to do.” And then total devastation.

To make these timely decisions implies that we must be able to form mental concepts of observed reality, as we perceive it, and be able to change these concepts as reality itself appears to change.

Without this unstructuring the creation of a new structure cannot proceed—since the bits and pieces are still tied together as meaning within unchallenged domains or concepts.

The result is a changing and expanding universe of mental concepts matched to a changing and expanding universe of observed reality

Notes from Aramis by Bruno Latour

I finished Aramis (PDF) a couple of weeks ago and this is absolutely essential reading for anybody involved with technology in a wider sense than just technology. It is also quite funny. I look forward to reading more by Bruno Latour, An Inquiry into the Modes of Existence is high on my list and I’ve registered to join his MOOC on the Scientific Humanities.

for life is a state of uncertainty and risk, of fragile adaptation to a past and present environment that the future cannot judge.

The actors come in varying sizes; this is the whole problem with innovation.

A signature on a contract, an endorsement, an agreement stabilizes the relative size of the actors by lending to the provisional definition of alliances the assistance of the law, a law whose weight is enormous because it is entirely formal and because it applies equally to everyone.

Woe betide those who trust the law alone to shelter their projects from random hazards.

Whereas we sociologists have to drag ourselves around everywhere. Our terrains aren’t territories. They have weird borders. They’re networks, rhizomes.

To translate is to betray: ambiguity is part of translation.

The problem is, the innovator has to count on assemblages of things that often have the same uncertain nature as groups of people.

Men and things exchange properties and replace one another; this is what gives technological projects their full savor.

We won’t keep the humans’ physical presence, their caps, their uniforms, or their outspokenness; but we’ll keep some of their knowledge, their abilities, their knowhow.

For a project to materialize, it must at once recruit new allies and at the same time make sure that their recruitment is assured.

To study a technological project, one must constantly move from signs to things, and vice versa.

A technological project is neither realistic nor unrealistic; it takes on reality, or loses it, by degrees.

“But we all know what economic studies are worth.”

The actors don’t have a strategy; they get their battle plans, contra dictory ones, from other actors.

The actors create both their society and their sociology, their language and their metalanguage.

No, because the actors also provide themselves with the means to pass from one point of view to another, and they unify, from their own point of view, and each for himself, the multiplicity of points of view thus deployed. Each constructs his own instrument in order to elaborate a synoptic view. All the actors thus repair, for themselves, the disorder they create by multiplying perspectives.

To survive in a variable-ontology world, the promoters of a technological project have to imagine little bridges that let them temporarily ensure their stability.

research is, as we know, the surest although the most enjoyable way for a company to go bankrupt.

They, too, want to stabilize a certain interpretation of what they are and what they want. And there they are, ordering notes and questionnaires, which accumulate in a file that is soon complicated enough to require new notes, syntheses, and summaries.

The human sciences do not show up as the curtain falls, in order to interpret the phenomenon. They constitute the phenomenon. And the most important human sciences, always overlooked, include accounting, management, economics, the “cameral sciences” (bureau-graphy), and statistics.

And then they reach the height of cruelty and ingratitude: here’s technological prowess that has given engineers hundreds of sleepless nights for ten years, that makes them quake with fright because it may not work, and the customers take it for granted!

The actors are always right, whether they’re multiplying viewpoints or cutting down on them. If we use the adjectives ‘irrational’ and ‘absurd,’ it’s because we haven’t made our own frames of reference supple enough.

Everything happens in defiance of common sense, but there is no common sense for innovations, since they happen, they begin, they invent common sense, the right direction , the correct procedure.”

How can I become a being, an object, a thing-finally a self, yes, a full set, saturated with being-without them, without their agreement, without their coming to terms (since I myself am made from them, flesh of their flesh, a rib extracted from theirs), without their acknowledgment that I am transports, displacements of human beings?

Technology is sociology extended by other means.

Give me the state of things, and I’ll tell you what people can do-this is how technologism talks. Give me the state of human beings, and I’ll tell you how they will form things-this is the watchword of sociology.

The soul of machines constitutes the social element. The body of the social element is constituted by machines.

Our bureaucracy-so widely scorned-is our second brain, as indispensable as the first.

The disorder that is wiped away on one side by describing the tasks meticulously in neat logical trees turns up again on the other side, among the programmers, who are having as much fun as a barrel of monkeys, shooting themselves in the foot, dividing up tasks according to procedures that can’t be described, for their part, in neat logical trees.

Humans and nonhumans take on form by redistributing the competences and performances of the multitude of actors that they hold on to and that hold on to them.

A technology isn’t one single character; it’s a city, it’s a collective, it’s countless.

You can’t give me enough orders, not fast enough, not in time. You have to let me handle things on my own.

Every part of the system is as complicated as the system as a whole. Every plate we unfold is itself made up of plates to be unfolded!

But you’re drawing the wrong lesson. It is not our creative power that we need to curtail; it is our 101le that we need to extend, even to our lesser brothers who did not ask us for life. We acquainted them with existence. We need to acquaint them with love.

They all say the same thing: what the principal actors have put in their mouths! What doormats, these scientific journalists! Always ready to popularize, never to investigate.

They throw money out the window, but they think research means throwing money out the window

You don’t think you have the power? Then don’t expect that Aramis will.

I would have been happy to be something, in the end, anything at all-but first you have to agree among yourselves. I can’t be every thing to everybody. The finest project in the world can’t give more than it has, and what it has is what you give it.

Germany still isn’t really a democracy

I tried to register to vote for the buyback of the Berlin energy grid and then I got this letter back informing me that I cannot vote.

IMG_0001

I already knew that I cannot vote for national German elections and I don’t care much for them anyway. That I can’t vote at the local level where I live and where I am taxed is however somewhat annoying. Especially given the number of new entrants to the city, the fact that none of them receive any representation for their taxation is a outrageous.

There’s a Turkish man who cycles around Berlin with a placard about this very fact. He has a cassette tape to make his point and looks rather funny but the issue that he protests is real for many people. A lot of people who live in Germany for a long time have no say in what happens there. During the most recent elections the statistic was posted that a quarter of people living in Germany are not allowed to vote (because they are foreigners) and another quarter do not vote. This means the government has a shaky mandate based on half the inhabitants.

It could also explain why mainstream politics is so broken and boring. Maybe it’s time for some democracy in Germany?

Tokyo Coffee Notes

Here are my notes from a couple of weeks of drinking coffee in Tokyo on a fact finding mission for Cuppings. With Cuppings we try to give you a guide of the best coffee places around the world based on our personal tastings. Some notable locales are still not as well represented as they should be. London and New York have their own excellent guides for coffee with Oliver Strand’s Coffee App and the London Coffee Map. Tokyo is one place that I thought we should fill in.

I had picked my hotel to be on the right side of the city to be off to a running start so I could visit places right from the very first day. So landed at Narita, got my Mifi and while waiting to checkin I made my way to.

Little Nap Coffee Stand

I had a quick lunch and walked to the Little Nap Coffee Stand (checkin, tip) which I had seen a video of over at My First Coffee and was totally smitten with. As promised the store was beautiful and the coffee was excellent.

Store

Little Nap

Fuglen Tokyo

Then I walked over to this place recommended to me by Companion Coffee. This Fuglen (checkin, tip) is a sister to a store by the same name in Oslo. This place turned out to be more of a cafe with an event program and cocktails in the evening and a diverse group of Japanese people and expats hanging around with laptops during the day.

Fuglen

The decorations are lush Nordic wood and the Kalita Wave pour over that I had was terrific.

Mixology and coffee makes a good combination here in Fuglen. Just had my first Kalita Wave.

Omotesando Koffee

I think I am going to cry. No kidding.

Then after some more walking around at the end of the day I finally hit the promised place: Omotesando Koffee (checkin, tip) which had been recommended to me by countless people and where Eiichi Kunimoto practices his craft. I had an iced cappuccino here because —what I hadn’t counted on— the weather was extremely pressing and it was rainy humid and very warm all day. It stayed that way for most of my stay.

Omotesando Koffee

The iced cappuccino at Omotesando is more of a milkshake like concoction with the espresso shot put into a blender along with some ice and milk, the result is poured out into your cup and sprinkled with —I think— cinnamon. Drinking this at that moment in the idyllic garden of Omotesando was a near religious experience and felt like the best coffee I have ever had. I returned to Omotesando a number of times during my visit for the coffee, the amicable staff and the quiet ambiance of its garden.

Omotesando Garden

Bear Pond Espresso

The next day I walked from my hotel to Shimokitazawa, a 20 minute saunter in the heat through the quiet residential area of Hatagaya. I don’t have any pictures of Bear Pond (checkin, tip) because of their policy but this was the other summit of my Tokyo coffee experience.

Katsuyuki Tanaka (and Eiichi Kunimoto of Omotesando) are very different and have a totally different style of coffee and shop but both elevate making coffee to a level which can only be called artistry.

The ambiance at Bear Pond is slightly forbidding but with the American radio playing it is rather easy to unwind on one of the stools and wait for your espresso to be served. That espresso when it comes out is one of the shortest shots you have ever drunk and probably also one of the most intense.

I ordered an espresso on an empty stomach which I normally never do because it gives me problems. But this espresso was so smooth that not only did my stomach not get upset, it was so delicious that I chased it with another one. With the reduced quantity it becomes something of an effort to get every last bit of taste out of the cup.

I brought back a bag of Bear Pond’s house blend ‘Flower Child’ and even when made in Berlin (by the heroes of Companion Coffee) after two weeks, it still had that characteristic deep chocolate like flavour.

Cafe Obscura

Cafe Obscura

The next stop was Cafe Obscura (checkin, tip), a somewhat out of the way place with lots of nice leather sofas and good siphons on offer. Obscura also have a laboratory which I skipped in favor of this place. The siphon coffee is expertly made and really good.

Siphon Bar

Nozy Coffee

Then it was a quick visit to Nozy Coffee (checkin, tip) which is a small but very nice looking coffee place. I had a solid cappuccino and saw that they have lots of beans on offer. Unfortunately I had no time to come back and bring some of these with me, but this place is one to look out for.

Nozy Coffee has a terrific selection of beans

Be A Good Neighbor (Sendagaya)

Be A Good Neighbor

The following day started out at the tiny Be A Good Neighbor (checkin, tip) store in Sendagaya. The cappuccino and the cake were both excellent and the barista was very helpful in offering tips about where to get more coffee. Especially useful was his pointer to Paddlers which I started the next day with.

Be A Good Neighbor

Streamer Coffee Company Shibuya

Streamer

I then walked on to Shibuya to try the coffee at Streamer (checkin, tip). The type of coffee which they serve here and which I had is a latte. I normally don’t drink them but in the light of trying out the coffee as it is being served locally I had one. Shockingly this was the first place in Tokyo I encountered where the coffee was not fantastic.

Charging

What Streamer does do really well is to be a nice place to hangout. There were lots of people in the store with and without laptops having a great time and relaxing which is exactly what I did as well.

Streamer lounge

On the Corner No. 8 Bear Pond

On the Corner

The last stop this day was the Shibuya On the Corner Bear Pond No. 8 (tip) take-out bar which is a beautiful store front with attached coffee bar where you can sit on a handful of stools and recharge your phone or as it seems to be the intention: take out your coffee. You get an expertly drawn coffee with milk in it and a no photo policy is in effect here as well, so I can show you the cup I drank it from:

Bear Pond No. 8

I did not visit the restaurant and instead had an awesome burger around the corner at Whoopie Gold Burger.

Paddler’s Coffee

Iced Stumptown at paddlers coffee

The next day I trekked to the area around Sangubashi station in the morning and had a terrific start of the day at Paddlers Coffee (checkin, tip) a brilliant setup lunch place with Stumptown coffee on offer. I had a spectacular iced coffee in the stifling heat.

Iced Stumptown

Cafe Kitsune

My first double espresso from a Slayer espresso machine at Cafe Kitsune.

I then made it out to Cafe Kitsune (checkin, tip) whose presence I had just been alerted to. This is a fashion store in Omotesando where they have a fabled Slayer Espresso machine.

Espresso selfie

Then it was off to Kyoto to see some sights and sample the coffee outside of Tokyo. This was something of a disappointment, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

Specialty Coffee Unir

In Kyoto I found it rather hard to get a coffee that I would term drinkable. Most of the local brews are very dark roasted and ridiculously over extracted to a point that I can hardly drink them even with milk and sugar (or gum syrup).

Unir

One exception to his in Kyoto was Unir (checkin, tip) where they make a very nice cappuccino and which I visited a couple of times because of this.

アカツキコーヒー (Akatsuki Coffee)

Real deal

Based on some research I found Akatsuki (checkin, tip) which is a nice place in a different part of town. This place gets the filter brew almost right and the shop itself looks beautiful.

Omotesando Koffee

Another Omotesando! The branding of this one is perfect. Soon he'll be taking over the world.

What I didn’t know until my last day in Kyoto and after my camera broke down is that they have a branch of Omotesando (checkin, tip)in the city on the main shopping street in a fashion store of United Arrows. The same impeccable Omotesando branding and the same fantastic coffee. I’m half glad that I didn’t know of it before because given the Kyoto coffee scene I would have been at this place all the time.

Hood Cafe

Well designed and just saw somebody in a Phil&Sebastian t-shirt. This bodes well.

Then it was off to Osaka to do the same. My experience here was a bit better than in Kyoto but not much. Hood (checkin, tip) is a very nice coffee shop which manages to hit all of the cultural paraphernalia associated with third wave coffee and also serves a bunch of different beans and methods but still it does not seem to hit the level of Tokyo. Still they serve very good coffee even without comparing it to the stuff on offer in the rest of the city.

Right side of the store to stitch together.

Espresso Bar Millpour

Seeing what the coffee here is like

Next up was Millpour (checkin, tip) which is a tiny place in the city where they make a near perfect cappuccino.

After that detour it was time to get back to Tokyo and to finish this visit.

The Monocle Cafe

Good coffee. Don't know about the better living.

I dropped by the Monocle Cafe (checkin, tip) in the basement of a clothing store and was disappointed by the coffee though the food was rather ok. The coffee is not terrible, but it does not have the quality that you would expect from Monocle which is more or less the same for the rest of the store.

Be A Good Neighbor Skytree

Deep in the Skytree

Then I made my way over to the Be A Good Neighbor (checkin, tip) store in the Skytree. The Skytree itself is a pandemonium of commerce where people are screaming at you all the time to buy something. Finding your way through the mall to the exact location of Be A Good Neighbor is no mean feat, but finally having arrived there the coffee is as excellent as in their other store. I would only recommend going here if you’re already in the area or god forbid entering the Skytree but then it is a welcome place to rest.

Be A Good Neighbor

Sarutahiko Coffee

Charming little cafe in Ebisu

I also did a round of Ebisu and found two very nice coffee places in that part of town. Sarutahiko (checkin) is a small shop but it seems to have everything necessary and made a very nice coffee. Definitely worth a visit.

Hitinui Espresso Bar

Tiny espressobar and Tahitian dance school

A bit further on is Hitinui (checkin, tip) which is a tiny place and also doubles as a Tahitian dance school. I couldn’t check out the dance, but the cappuccino was excellent and the barista very friendly.

Hitinui

Identity Coffee Bar+Gallery

Identity Coffee Bar+ Gallery (checkin, tip) also in Omotesando is a rather nice store and has an excellent selection of both Intelligentsia and Handsome beans which they prefer perfectly.

That was the roundup from my Tokyo coffee experience. I visited a couple of the places several times and brought back some bags of coffee but I am extremely impressed with the coffee culture and I’ll definitely be back.