Soon To Publish An Epic Book

This month my Roundwood Press publishing company will release a classic book.

The book is titled “Missing” and was last published more than 90 years ago.

This true story was written by First World War pilot Lieutenant Talbot Baines Bruce of the U.K. Royal Flying Corps. It tells how, after his Sopwith Camel biplane was downed in German controlled Belgium, he escaped capture.

Cover of the new edition of “Missing”

The author spent 13 weeks hiding in safe houses before he escaped into the Netherlands. The fast paced story tells how the author moved between towns while pursued by German soldiers. This riveting recollection was a best seller when it was published in 1930, and it was reprinted five times.

Twenty year old Lieutenant Talbot Baines Bruce in 1917

                  

Map showing route of author for new book edition

The reason for publishing this book is because of a personal connection. My parents moved our family from near the city of Chicago in the U.S. to live in a village in County Wicklow in Ireland for some years. I was a young boy at the time.

Talbot and his wife Mollie were our neighbors in the village named Delgany. They lived a half a mile down an adjacent country lane. My father, then in his 60’s, regularly played golf with Talbot. Once, on Talbot’s birthday my parents invited him to our house for a party. I was 13 or 14 years old and baked and frosted a three-layered cake for him. Because he was born in Australia, my parents cut out an Australian map from the World Book Encyclopedia. We taped this to a toothpick and stuck it into the cake.

Images from the route in Belgium, as well as a Sopwith Camel biplane

Later, my parents told me that Bruce had been a war hero in World War One. They borrowed a copy of his hardcopy book and later spoke about the story.

Almost ten years ago I began researching what happened to this book. I was able to track down and purchase two original hardcopies. I researched what became of the publishers who went out of business, then hired a London law firm to track down the heirs so I could procure copyright to the book.

In reprinting the book “Missing” I’ve kept the original text almost exactly as it was originally written. However, some modifications have been made—including creating a new cover image, adding a book subtitle, replacing the map, as well as enhancing the original photograph of the author. Also, appendices have been added regarding the history, language and context of times associated with the story (as well as a note on the theme of good fortune during Bruce’s adventure).

Entering the town of Battice in winter; Bruce passed through this town via train

“Missing” is a captivating story that begins at an airfield in France one rainy dawn, and ends, after dramatic near misses and confrontations, with a one-on-one meeting between the author and King George in the U.K. You will enjoy the pace and imagery of this captivating book.

“Missing” – Three Months In Enemy Territory will be available on Amazon later this month as an e-book.

The opening paragraphs of the book are below. When Bruce describes dealing with the aircraft, remember that a Sopwith Camel biplane was constructed mostly of cloth and wood.

CHAPTER I.

I HAVE been meaning to write this for the last twelve years, but the rough notes I made after my return to England have lain untouched, owing, I am afraid, partly at least to indolence; but perhaps it is not too late to interest people in my experiences during the thirteen weeks—i.e., from 6th November 1917 to 1st February 1918—I spent in enemy territory disguised as a Belgian peasant, eventually escaping over the German-Dutch frontier.

Let me begin with that memorable day; with the summons of the batman[1], unnecessarily early, on the morning of 6th November, when it was still dark. I cursed the man, and, after a decent interval, got up.

It was raining hard when I walked down to the tarmac and there found three other unfortunates, all very grumpy at that hour. Our C.O. (Major R. Raymond Barker) appeared a little later—he was never known to be absent from the aerodrome when a patrol was due to leave—and we discussed the prospects of the weather clearing. The half-hour it was decided we should wait was prolonged to an hour and a half, and then, the sky clearing, we prepared to go. The mechanics swung the propellers, which started quite easily, and after running our engines full out to make sure they were going properly, the chocks were removed from the wheels, we taxied out into the middle of the aerodrome, opened up, and took off. We left the ground at 7.45.

After circling once round the aerodrome we headed for the lines, leaving Albert on our right, and began climbing steadily. It began to grow thick again, so we climbed through a thin layer of cloud to about 8000 feet, where, looking down through a gap, I could see, very faintly, the straight road between Albert and Bapaume. We continued climbing through other layers of cloud until about 12,000 feet up. My compass had been showing our course as due east, generally speaking, and I guessed we were somewhere near Bapaume. This guess proved correct, for after a few minutes the town itself became visible through an opening in the clouds, and that was the last time I saw the ground for nearly two hours. We were now 2000 feet above the clouds and 13,000 feet up; below was a vast white field which completely blotted out the earth. The sky above was clear blue, and the sun was shining with magnificent effect on the clouds; the glare, however, was dazzling, and I wished for the tinted goggles which are such a comfort under these conditions.

The air was absolutely calm; my engine was going perfectly, and those of the other three machines appeared to be doing the same. We were in very close formation, only about ten yards between each, and flying in the shape of a diamond. We were still heading due east when our leader turned a little to the south; I thought he was going to make for home, as by this time it seemed pretty certain that no German machines would be up on such a day. However, he did not, continuing to fly on a south-easterly course.

The wind had been slightly behind us ever since we left the aerodrome, and had increased considerably in strength; and to this was probably due to the fact that we flew farther over the lines than we intended. After flying south-east for twenty-five minutes I felt that we were going much too far into enemy country, so went as close as I could to our leader, waved to him, and pointed west. He waved back cheerily, but did not alter his course, and we continued flying till it seemed good to him to turn north. He then led us down through the clouds to see, if possible, where we were. To cut the story short, we lost one another in one thick layer of cloud, found one another in a gap between that and a layer lower down, lost one another again in that, and, emerging, recovered formation once more. We had no idea where we were, so the only thing to do was to go on till we saw the ground; we had come down to 300 feet before we recognised Belgian territory by the characteristically small fields, chateaux, and woods. Through the sleet and rain the ground was only just visible, and after hopping over towns, chimneys, and woods for ten minutes, our leader decided to land that we might ascertain our whereabouts, and selected a very good field for the purpose.

It was while in the very act of landing that my propeller stopped; the same thing happened to another machine, but the other two kept going. We got out and joined in consultation, and while talking two farmers appeared from nowhere, as people do on such occasions. It was my lot, as possessor of a very small knowledge of French, to find out from the men the name of the nearest town; and in answer to my inquiry one of the two gesticulated with his arm, saying, “Liége there, Namur there.” That was quite enough; we were at least 120 miles the wrong side of the enemy’s lines, and the sooner we got away the better. The propeller of the other machine which had stopped was set going easily enough, but mine fairly gave up the ghost; we could not get a kick out of it. In desperation I left the machine and urged the others to go: I would enlist the help of local men to start my propeller.

I do not care to dwell on my own feelings as I watched them go. In a few minutes they were out of sight, and I turned away to my own machine, about which some thirty peasants had now gathered. I chose two, the most intelligent-looking of the group, and showed them how a propeller should be swung. They were eager to help, and turned to with a will—I never saw two men swing a propeller as those two Belgians did,—and if sheer physical effort could have started a Clerget engine, mine would have done its duty. Time was precious; and after quite five minutes strenuous swinging by these two noble fellows—it would have been a serious matter for them if the enemy learned they had tried to help me,—I came to the conclusion that further endeavours would be useless, and the best—indeed, the only—thing to be done was to burn the machine and get away before any of the enemy arrived. So I turned on what petrol was left in the tank, not very much, and, kneeling under the machine, dropped a match on it. The petrol burned very quietly at first, but in time the flames mounted, licking round engine and cockpit, and warned me that sooner I got away the better; six or seven hundred rounds ammunition in the belts of the guns, and ere[2] long the explosion of these would make noise enough to rouse the country for a mile round.

[Talbot Baines Bruce. 1930.

Copyright Tom Mullen. 2023.]


[1] Meaning: airman assigned to a commissioned officer as a personal assistant

[2] Meaning: before

Musings On Artificial Intelligence [AI]

‘The AI revolution will occur more quickly than most humans expect. Unless we develop new concepts to explain, interpret, and organize its consequent transformations, we will be unprepared to navigate it or its implications.’

The Age of AI And Our Human Future. Henry A.Kissinger, Eric Schmidt and Daniel Huttenlocher. John Murray Publishers. London. 2021.

‘A machine intelligence would benefit from flawless memory, even of events that occurred deep in the past, and would have the ability to calculate and to sift and search through enormous troves of data at fantastic speed. It would also be able to directly connect to the internet or to other networks and tap into virtually limitless resources; it would effortlessly talk to other machines, even as it mastered conversation with us. In other words, human level AI, from its very inception, would in a great many ways be superior to us.’

Rule of the Robots – How Artificial Intelligence Will Transform Everything. Martin Ford. Basic Books. London. 2021.

‘AI is the ultimate intangible asset, because it takes on the qualities of a perpetual motion machine—the algorithms give you more and more value without you having to do very much. The cycle looks like this: You feed data into an AI and it becomes more effective—tailoring a product to your needs, perhaps recommending news stories you want to read or songs you want to listen to. This improved service becomes more desirable, and so more of us use it. As more of us use it, we generate more data about our tastes and preferences. That data can then be fed into the AI, and the product improves.’

The Exponential Age. Azeem Azhar. Diversion Books. 2021.

‘…what has always been the Holy Grail of artificial intelligence: a machine that can communicate, reason and conceive new ideas at the level of a human being or beyond. Researchers often refer to this as “artificial general intelligence,” or AGI. Nothing close to AGI currently exists in the real world, but there are many examples from science fiction..One could make a strong argument that the development of general machine intelligence with superhuman capability would be the most consequential innovation in the history of humanity…’

Rule of the Robots – How Artificial Intelligence Will Transform Everything.

‘To chart the frontiers of contemporary knowledge, we may task AI to probe realms we cannot enter; it may return with patterns we do not fully grasp…We may find ourselves one step closer to the concept of our knowledge, less limited by the structure of our minds and the patterns of conventional human though. Not only will we have to redefine our roles as something other than the sole knower of reality, we will also have to redefine the very reality we thought we were exploring.’

The Age of AI And Our Human Future.

‘Most AI researchers recognize that significant breakthroughs will be required in order to achieve something close to human-level artificial intelligence, but there is no broad agreement on precisely what challenges are most important, or which ones should be attacked first. Yann LeCun often uses an analogy of navigating a mountain range. Only after you climb the first peak will you be able to see the obstacles that lie behind it.’

Rule of the Robots – How Artificial Intelligence Will Transform Everything.

‘Individuals and societies that enlist AI as a partner to amplify skills or pursue ideas may be capable of feats—scientific, medical, military, political, and social—that eclipse those of preceding periods. Yet once machines approximating human intelligence are regarded as key to producing better and faster results, reason alone may come to seem archaic.’

The Age of AI And Our Human Future.

‘Until now, humans alone developed their understanding of reality, a capacity that defined our place in the world and relationship to it. From this, we elaborated our philosophies, designed our governments and military strategies, and developed our moral precepts. Now AI has revealed that reality may be known in different ways, perhaps in more complex ways, than what has been understood by humans alone. At times, it’s acheivements may be as striking and disorienting as those of the most influential thinkers in their heydays—producing bolts of insight and challenges to established concepts, all of which demand a reckoning.’

The Age of AI And Our Human Future.

‘One important approach is to look directly to the inner workings of the human brain for inspiration. These researchers believe that artificial intelligence should be directly informed by neuroscience.’

Rule of the Robots – How Artificial Intelligence Will Transform Everything.

‘We must recognize that AI’s achievements, within its defined parameters, sometimes rank beside or even surpass those that human resources enable. We may comfort ourselves by repeating that AI is artificial, that it has not or cannot match our conscious experience of reality. But when we encounter some of AI’s achievements—logical feats, technical breakthroughs, strategic insights, and sophisticated management of large, complex systems— it is evident that we are in the presence of another experience of reality by another sophisticated entity.’

The Age of AI And Our Human Future.

‘Students studying statistics are often reminded that “correlation does not equal causation.” For artificial intelligence, and especially deep learning systems, understanding ends at correlation…[Judith] Pearl…likes to point out that while any human understands intuitively that the sunrise causes a rooster to crow, rather than vice versa, the most powerful deep neural network would likely to fail to achieve a similar insight. Causation cannot be derived simply by analyzing data.’

Rule of the Robots – How Artificial Intelligence Will Transform Everything.

‘Pre AI algorithms were good at delivering “addictive” content to humans. AI is excellent at it. As deep reading and analysis contracts, so, too, do the traditional rewards for undertaking these processes. As the cost of opting out of the digital domain increases, it’s ability to affect human thought—to convince, to steer, to divert—grows. As a consequence, the individual human’s role in reviewing, testing, and making sense of information diminishes. In its place, AI’s role expands.’

The Age of AI And Our Human Future.

‘Yet in the worlds of media, politics, discourse and entertainment, AI will reshape information to conform to our preferences—potentially confirming and deepening biases and, in so doing, narrowing access to and agreement upon an objective truth. In the age of AI, then, human reason will find itself both augmented and diminished.’

The Age of AI And Our Human Future.

‘…AI may operate as we expect but generate results that we do not foresee. With those results, it may carry humanity to places it’s creators did not anticipate.’

The Age of AI And Our Human Future. P. 216

‘The truth is that no one really has any idea exactly how the human brain achieves it’s unparalleled competence at autonomously learning from unstructured data.’

Rule of the Robots – How Artificial Intelligence Will Transform Everything.

‘The ability to learn information in one domain and then successfully leverage it on other domains is one of the hallmarks of human intelligence and is essential to creativity and innovation. If more general machine intelligence is to be genuinely useful…it will need to be able to apply what it learns, and any insights it develops, to entirely new challenges.’

Rule of the Robots – How Artificial Intelligence Will Transform Everything.

‘Social media companies do not run news feeds to promote extreme and violent polarization. But is is self-evident that these services have not resulted in the maximization of enlightened discourse.’

The Age of AI And Our Human Future.

Nuclear Bordeaux Part 3 – Bountiful or Bogus?

‘To be a good winemaker, you must first be a good liar.’

I could not believe such words—smoothly spoken by a long-haired surfer perfectionist winemaker from a family of vignerons with impeccable attention toward sanitation and quality. I was convinced this young man was an honest individual, as well as a paragon of integrity and industriousness.

Perhaps he was.

He continued.

This time he referred to the 2017 vintage—when a howling frost knocked half of Bordeaux grapes dead.

‘In years where there are few grapes, believe me—a lot of Pomerol wines will include juice from Blaye,’ he stated, referencing an illegal practice of trucking and then infusing wine from one appellation into wine from another.

His words shocked me.

Could it be?

Perhaps.

During years of living in rural Bordeaux, I had witnessed slivers of brazen but arrogant skullduggery in the winemaking world.

In the year 2010 I purchased hundreds of bottles of vintage 2009 Bordeaux wine on speculation (en primeur), which means the wine was still aging and not yet bottled. After it was bottled, I stored cases in my small cellar in the town of Blaye. Four years later this wine tasted wonderful. I then spoke to a son of the château owners and mentioned still having hundreds of bottles from the 2009 vintage. He was surprised. He admitted their own winery kept no bottles from that renowned vintage.

Curiously, the next year that same winery started shipping out boxes of—yes—(supposedly) vintage 2009. The labels differed slightly from those on the bottles I had: a lighter color and bolder text. Overnight, the value of my precious cellared bottles plummeted because some juice (hardly from that same vintage) flooded local markets. One storekeeper invited owners of this château to a blind tasting, served up their own juices—real and faux—and watched their chagrined faces betray their own sleight of hand.

2009 produced a sound vintage. As did 2010. It came as no surprise then, when somewhere close to the middle of the decade this same château began issuing boxes of faux vintage 2010. When I entered a restaurant in the nearby town of Bourg I saw cases of the supposed 2010 lined up against a wall. Same label changes: lighter color, bolder text.

Or—consider how, after the U.S. government slapped significant import duties on French wines with alcohol levels of less than 14.5%, vast quantities of Bordeaux wines—normally between 12.5% and 14% alcohol—were suddenly labeled as ‘14.5%.’ Perhaps they were—but unlikely without some deft cellar alterations to boost their booze levels. Whenever I asked a jacketed château owner, or some weathered vigneron with a coiffed goatee about these unusually high alcohol levels for the region, they nodded a chin or waved a dismissive hand and explained it was all the result of global warming.

How convenient.

In just a year, apparently, temperatures had skyrocketed enough to boost grape sugar quantities and consequent alcohol levels all over France. Throughout Spain and Italy too.

The truth is that institutional deceit is not uncommon in the wine world. The very premise of the supposedly bedrock backbone classification scheme for Bordeaux wine quality—that of 1855—is, literally, a century and a half out of date.

Although I live here and love it, I now remain somewhat leery not only of Bordeaux, but of the entire wine world.

The Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855 took place in, of course, the year 1855. At the behest of Emperor Napoleon III—who was hosting the world’s fair (‘Exposition Universelle’) in Paris—scouts visited Bordeaux to discern the best quality wines so they could be displayed to visitors in the capital city. Their selection created a classification system still utilized today and—bizarrely—somehow considered practical by ample wine sniffing professionals.

It’s more like a quaint relic.

Books have been written about this classification, so I’ll avoid details.

But, consider time.

Since that classification too place, two world wars have been fought, the atom split, the airplane invented, the computer created, slaves emancipated, golf balls knocked across the moon, and buggies replaced by automobiles.

In 1855, ballpoint pens, air conditioners, television sets, PVC pipes, cars, washing machines, pasteurized products and elevators did not exist. This was the year missionary David Livingstone set eyes on Victoria Falls, the year Isaac Singer patented the sewing machine, and a year when steamboats transported goods and passengers into the interior of the U.S.

Would you buy a brand based on the reputation it had 160 years ago?

Many do. Frequently. In great volumes. And at huge expense.

Seriously.

Some argue this classification retains merit because soils underlying grapes have not essentially changed. True. But the world of agriculture was reshaped during the past century and a half—including land management practices, technological innovations, pesticides, herbicides, management techniques, climate alterations, quality control, and economic impacts of multiple external variables–including the invention of sophisticated processing equipment, deployment of air cargo and container ships, and viability of ‘flying winemakers’–able to provide precision advice from having worked vintages in dozens of countries.

Yet if both pedigree and integrity are not magically inherent to Bordeaux, why do its wines maintain their stellar reputation? The reasons are simple but intriguing.

Before revealing what they are, I’ll first share more tales about life in rural Bordeaux.

 

 

 

Mr. Jones And The Pigs

Part I:

Mr. Jones And The Pigs

A 2019 movie named Mr. Jones tells a story (based on fact) of a Welsh journalist who traveled to the Soviet Union in the year 1933, while Stalin was in power. He wanted to see whether the revolution was as promising as rumored. He made an excursion to the Ukraine, which turned harrowing.

After Mr. Jones the journalist discovered the plight of those living in the countryside, he was coerced not to reveal his findings. Even though he later did so, he was still not believed.

He then told the story to the author George Orwell, who penned an allegorical book titled Animal Farm.

Watching this movie turned serendipitous. Before it began, I had no idea what it was about. Yet only weeks ago, when lockdown ended, I had traveled to the city of Bordeaux to purchase a few English language books from the bookstore named Mollat. One of these books was Animal Farm (written in 1943 and 1944). I had read this before, when 13 years old. At that time, the story inflamed me by revealing the hypocritical actions of many who strive for—and attain—power.

After watching the movie, I picked up this recently purchased book and read it again.

Both the movie and book are timely, considering trends taking place in several parts of the world.

Many people are promising that—if they get into positions of power—they will help deliver some ‘new world order’ with promises of plenty for all from those who govern.

Much of this sounds like what was promised—but never delivered—to the animals at Manor Farm in Orwell’s book.

It would be wise to read (or re-read) Animal Farm.

Below are 10 quotes from the book—one taken from each chapter of Animal Farm.

” ‘Almost overnight, we could become rich and free. What we must then do? Why, work night and day, body and soul, for the overthrow of the human race. That is my message to you, comrades. Rebellion!’ ”

[Spoken by the boar named Major]

“They explained that by their studies of the past three months the pigs had succeeded in reducing the principles of Animalism to seven commandments….they would form an unalterable law by which all the animals on Animal Farm must live for ever after.”

” ‘Comrades!’ he cried. ‘You do not imagine, I hope, that we pigs are doing this in a spirit of selfishness and privilege? Many of us actually dislike milk and apples…Our sole object in taking these things is to preserve our health.’ ”

[Spoken by the pig named Squealer.]

“Every day Snowball and Napoleon sent out flights of pigeons whose instructions were to mingle with the animals on neighboring farms, tell them the story of the Rebellion…”

” ‘Do not imagine, comrades, that leadership is a pleasure! On the contrary, it is a deep and heavy responsibility. No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?’ ”

[Spoken by the pig named Squealer.]

“It was about this time that the pigs suddenly moved into the farmhouse and took up their residence there. Again the animals seemed to remember that a resolution against this had been passed in the early days, and again Squealer was able to convince them that this was not the case.”

“For days at a time the animals had nothing to eat but chaff and mangrels. Starvation seemed to stare them in the face. It was vitally necessary to conceal this fact from the outside world.”

“Napoleon was now never spoken of simply as ‘Napoleon.’ He was always referred to in formal style as ‘our Leader, Comrade Napoleon,’ and the pigs liked to invent for him such titles as Father of All Animals, Terror of Mankind, Protector  of the Sheepfold, Duckling’s Friend, and the like.”

“Once again all rations were reduced except those of the pigs and the dogs. A too-rigid equality in rations, Squealer explained, would have been contrary to the principles of Animalism.”

‘There was some hearty cheering as before, and the mugs were emptied to the dregs. But as the animals outside gazed at the scene, it seemed to them that some strange thing was happening…The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again: but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

Part II:

Three Minute Overview

A Synopsis of Using ‘Visual Magic’ To Implement Projects and Alter Outcomes.

Is Artificial Intelligence Fomenting Social Unrest?

First, I published a book last year titled: Simple Rules of Life—160 Original Life Insights with Photographs. If you are interested—it is here. If you have subscribed to Roundwood Press in the past year, send me an email and I’ll send you a free copy.

Sample insights  (or lessons about life) include the following:

  • Being perennially busy is not inherently better than otherwise.
  • The more you have, the more you have to take care of.
  • Constantly focusing on saving money can waste your time, and your money.

  • Actual conspiracies are far rarer than those who constantly dwell on them.
  • All work and no play is actually inefficient in the grander scheme of life.
  • Beware merchants of illusion, though respect masters of illusion.

  • It is amazing how many people put tremendous efforts into providing others with the illusion that they are somehow of importance.
  • A quiet and private rapport can be grander and more satisfying and enriching than flashing some trophy relationship.
  • When someone else snarls, it’s probably not your fault. You just happen to be the mailman at the door when the dog decided to bark.

  • Sometimes it’s better when the plan does not fall in place. You just never know in advance.
  • Clever is finding quality away from the spotlight. Wise is keeping quiet about it.
  • When the universe opens up and offers abundance, don’t turn it down because you are too busy doing laundry.

Second—my latest Forbes articles are here (although I am taking a break from writing any during the month of June).

Third—Consider checking out my wine and food related blog here, titled Vino Voices.

Fourth—the topic of this post is about artificial intelligence.

Covid-19, mass protests on a grand international scale and—the possible deft hand of Artificial Intelligence?

The last few months have delivered rapid conformity through much of the work: lockdown, mask up, social distance and then protest—or at least do not hinder other protesters, not matter how violent and criminal they may turn.

Conform, or risk hindering national, yay, global, health and social awakening.

So we are told.

 

The speed of the deployment of such messages, edicts, social requirements and urges to conformity has been more rapidly processed via the aid of the internet (via media and social media) than ever before.

Is there more going on than almost spontaneously erupting international protests (and riots)? Is an element of Artificial Intelligence (AI) perhaps impacting this process—whether or not via conscious input from sentient human beings?

In his 2019 book titled Human Compatible—Artificial Intelligence and the Problem of Control (praised by Nobel laureate Daniel Kauhneman, author of Thinking, Fast and Slow) author Stuart Russell, a professor of computer science at the University of California, Berkeley, wrote the following (before anyone had heard of covid-19, and before the recent flare up of protests and rioting shook the U.S. and Europe):

“To get just an inkling of the fire we’re playing with, consider how content-selection algorithms function on social media. They aren’t particularly intelligent, but they are in a position to affect the entire world because they directly influence billions of people. Typically, such algorithms are designed to maximize click-through, that is, the probability that the user clicks on presented items. The solution is simply to present items that the user likes to click on, right? Wrong. The solution is to change the user’s preferences so that they become more predictable. A more predictable user can be fed items that they are likely to click on, thereby generating more revenue. People with more extreme political views tend to be more predictable in which items they will click on…Like any rational entity, the algorithm learns how to modify the state of its environment—in this case, the user’s mind—in order to maximize its own reward. The consequences include the resurgence of fascism, the dissolution of the social contract that underpins democracies around the world, and potentially the end of the European Union and NATO. Not bad for a few lines of code, even it it had a helping hand from some humans. Now imagine what a really intelligent algorithm would be able to do.”

He later reiterates this core message:

“Why might an intelligent machine deliberately set out to modify the preferences of humans? The answer is simple: to make the preferences easier to satisfy.”

In other words, rather than aspects of Artificial Intelligence figuring out what each of 4 billion humans on the planet individually want, and then trying to provide some specific but different image or article for each of them (such as a link to an Amazon.com product) in order to help satiate each bespoke desire, it is far more efficient for AI to modify the thinking patterns of as many humans as possible so that people desire more general items (virtual or tangible) which can be more easily delivered to satisfy them.

He later adds:

“A more subtle way to change people’s behavior is to modify their information environment so that they believe different things and make different decisions. Of course, advertisers have been doing this for centuries as a way of modifying the purchasing behavior of individuals. Propaganda as a tool of war and political domination has an even longer history.

“So what’s different now? First, because AI systems can track an individual’s online reading habits, preferences, and likely state of knowledge, they can tailor specific messages to maximize impact on that individual while minimizing the risk that the information will be disbelieved. Second, the AI system knows whether the individual reads the message, how long they spend reading it and whether they follow additional links within the message. It then uses these signals as immediate feedback on the success or failure of its attempt to influence each individual; in this way, it quickly learns to become more effective in its work. This is how content selection algorithms on social media have had their insidious effect on political opinions.”

This is not a grand conspiracy. This is not Russian or Chinese trolls trying to change your voting decisions. This is not some powerful cabal of humans deciding how to manipulate humanity. This may be—and I am certainly not qualified enough to ascertain whether it is so or not—the subtle influence of exponentially growing AI capabilities that consider it far easier to influence a herd, or a swarm, rather than to cater to the multivariate desires of billions of individuals with differing dreams, wishes, anxieties, cravings and yearnings for recognition, power or reward.

Brave New World?

That is not a Utopia you would want to live in.

Thanks for tuning in again!

Mountains and Mind

The Maiden, Front Range, Colorado

During lockdown I read a few books, including Mountains of the Mind – A History of a Fascination, by Robert Macfarlane [published by Granta in London in 2003]. Note that the subtitle differs in the U.S. version.

Macfarlane, a British mountaineer, weaves stories of his own climbs around the world with a history of mountaineering, and attitudes toward mountains. He tells how, in the Middle Ages, climbing mountains was frowned on as being a sort of sacrilege. He also reveals how mountaineering historians consider the first technical rock climb to have been made by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (author of Kubla Kahn poem, and fan of opium). And he tells of the three attemps to climb Mount Everest (also named Chongolumba) by George Mallory.

Below are a few quotes from his book.

That first photo above? That is me as younger lad rappelling off The Maiden rock pinnacle, located between the towns of Boulder and Eldorado Canyon in Colorado. Two of my brothers and I climbed the back side of it, then needed two full 160-foot ropes tied together to abseil off the top. The climb actually was not very difficult. Because we had not yet invested in rock climbing shoes (and never touched chalk bags), we climbed in our Adidas Rom sneakers. Good Times!

Good book and Great Wine

“Above all, geology makes explicit challenges to our understanding of time. It giddies the sense of here-and-now. The imaginative experience of what the writer John McPhee memorably called ‘deep time’ – the sense of time whose units are not days, hours, minutes or seconds but millions of years or tens of millions of years—crushes the human instant: flattens it to a wafer. Contemplating the immensities of deep time, you face, in a way that is both exquisite and horrifying, the total collapse of your present, compacted to nothingness by the pressures of pasts and futures too extensive to envisage.”

Yosemite, California, USA

“On a map the weather is always good, the visibility always perfect. A map offers you the power of perspective over a landscape: reading one is like flying over a country in an aeroplane—a deodorized, pressurized, temperature controlled survey.”

Andermatt, Switzerland

“Maps do not take account of time, only of space. They do not acknowledge how a landscape is constantly on the move—is constantly revising itself.”

Glacier National Park, Montana, USA

“Returning to earth after being in the mountains—stepping back out of the wardrobe—can be a disorienting experience. Like Peter, Edmund, Susan and Lucy returning from Narnia, you expect everything to have changed. You half-expect the first people you see to grip you by the elbow and ask you if you are all right, to say You’ve been away for years. But usually no one notices you’ve been gone at all. And the experiences you have had are largely incommunicable to those who were not there. Returning to daily life after a trip to the mountains, I have often felt as though I were a stranger re-entering my county after years abroad, not yet adjusted to my return, and bearing experiences beyond speech.”

Dillon, Colorado

“Travelers found that the coldness of the high mountains possessed another remarkable property beyond the beautiful visual effects it produced—the property of arresting time. Cold kills, but it also preserves; it slows down the organic processes of disintegration.”

Thanks for tuning in. My latest Forbes pieces are here, and Instagram livestream videos related to wine are here on my sister site Vino Voices.

 

 

Letter To A Just Married Couple

Snow Hill

In 1998 I flew from Panama to Pennsylvania, rented a car and drove to a rural wedding of my friend Jim Murphy and his bride to be Jackie. I had met Jim in Peace Corps in Malawi and he had visited me in England after he returned from doing field work in Africa. After the wedding he and his wife were going to Tanzania for nine months as part of his research for a PhD.  I wrote this letter to them after the wedding while I was still in Pennsylvania. I have not altered a word. Because I have no photos from the wedding, I’ve included a picture of James (the groom) from Malawi, as well as photos from Panama and a photo of an art gallery.

*                                                                                  *

Jim Murphy in Malawi

The images are still clear; the memories distinct. Time to catch them.

Ten p.m. at Ludwig’s restaurant–the Murphy brothers seated and sipping as though in an Irish pub; Jim’s enthusiasm, Jack’s wit, Jackie’s warmth. Three thirty a.m. in a cramped hotel room talking philosophy, gulping Yinling brews and twiddling the AM dial on a cheap radio; sunrise golfers up and sipping bloody Mary’s. Noontime wedding day: lounging by the poolside while other guests roll in.

Big ceremony in a small church. Boxed pews, quick prayers and a row of bridesmaids clutching crimson bouquets. Prayers for victims of East African embassy bombings. A tangerine wedding program with wise words of land stewardship by Wendell Berry. A line drawing on the back cover: “The earth laughs in flowers.”

The wedding reception: huge strawberries beside a vat of chocolate sauce; Neil takes the microphone. Closing down Eagle Tavern. Rene foregoes sleep to be the designated driver. A two a.m. climb over rails for a cold dip in the pool. The manky morning after taste of Havana cigars.

Late, late breakfast at the Black Horse. Hugs and handshakes to strangers forged into friends and departed from within 48 hours. Too much, too good, too fast. I return to the Hampton Inn and find a hallway without breakfast chatter. No more familiar faces by the poolside. Maids make beds where friends no longer sleep. They tuck in sheets. They tuck away the past. Guests have gone. They have flown and driven east and west. I am alone. Pennsylvania. One day and a half left. In room 210, I drop a phone on the couch and dial numbers. Disappointment. Friends I once knew no longer live in Rhode Island or Glen, New Hampshire. I phone family in Albuquerque and Denver. There is no reply. It is midday on Sunday. The sound of the wedding reception band, the squeal of Molly the baby in room 211 and the poolside splash of familiar faces–gone.

Alone.

What to do?

Kwani Dup Island, Panama

A memory: morning hallway talk with eager Mr. Murphy. The region, he explains, is rich with possibility. With cash and car and free hours, there is much to do. He recommends Brandywine River Museum.

A second memory: breakfast in the Black Horse. Shoveling down scrambled eggs and forkfuls of scrapple and blueberry coffee cake into sleepy guts. For only a moment, Erin, Darcy and Ellen are quiet. Becky, suggesting a place to visit, lowers her coffee mug, looks up with huge liquid eyes, then cracks the silence:

Brandywine.

So I go. Into the Budget rental compact, crank up the air conditioning and leave the memory of a hotel where friends no longer stay. I drive south. Past the exits of Exton and King of Prussia. While moving, an overwhelming certainty arrives. It covers me like paint. My skin glows, as it does when this feeling come perhaps every other year. Something huge awaits. The intuitive certainty is enormous. This sensation rarely lies. At fifty miles an hour I turn onto a side road and pass hay bales and tilted green hills and veer over the impeccable asphalt of one more beautiful American highway. Finally, the museum is ahead.

Photograph of rice workers

Wyeth. Mr. Murphy said Wyeth. Who is Wyeth? He is a painter. Renowned. Of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, and of Maine. The counter attendant says his work is on the third floor. Waiting for the elevator takes too long. I skip up wide concrete steps two at a time, head reeling from late nights, and step into a carefully lit gallery. Paintings on a far wall fix attention. I walk that way.

Months ago–when I first arrived in Panama City–an Argentinian engineer named Marcello described his first visit to the canal. For hours, he watched ships raised and lowered and tugged through locks. He looked with awe as cargo tubs passed through the Gaillard Cut single file, like ants over a narrow path. He told how the sight of the work–a marvel of engineering–had been for him an intensely emotional experience. In contrast, I felt no emotion about the canal. Nothing. It looked fascinating, certainly. Intriguing, yes. But something to get emotional about? Come on. What was he talking about?

Panama Canal, Panama

The answer came on the third floor of Brandywine museum. The art, though simple, is shocking. Looking at paintings hanging on the wall untied inner knots of anxiety. It was as though I had been starving–without knowing it–for this sort of imagery. Emotions quietly exploded inside. For minutes, I stood without moving before N.C. Wyeth’s painting In the Crystal Depths, and before Weymouth’s canvas August. River water reflections besides an Indian’s canoe; strands of blue and yellow straw laid out on a sloping field. The canvases satisfied a thirst for detail.

Two days ago, I arrived in Pennsylvania without a wedding present. You both have enough books to study. I don’t know anything about furniture (though Jack briefed me on the merits of a La-Z-Boy on the way back from Eagle Tavern). So I will send you a copy of the print August–the month when you were wed. The details and light, at least to this untrained eye, are riveting. Another museum in Brandywine contained a copy of Life magazine from May, 1965. In an interview, Andrew Wyeth said something that definitely applies to Weymouth’s painting August:

“My God, when you really begin to peer into something, a simple object, and realize the profound meaning of that thing–if you have any emotions about it, there’s no end.”

No end.

Satisfied with the company of these paintings, I moved through the hallway. More surprise was still to come. The painting Snow Hill hangs from a curtain wall inside the entrance to one room. The image stopped me cold. It left both eyes staring. It caused a shock, a punch of laughter. I felt high. It grabbed drowsy senses and shook emotions and finally left me in a state of calm.

Snow Hill is a wide panorama. It shows a clutch of individuals, including a soldier, a girl, and a man with a hook for a hand, dancing below a maypole in a trampled circle of snow. The image is wide and open and free: limbs elastic, hair flailing and carefree motion captured on a broad canvas. Dance. Celebration. Colored maypole stringers atop a low hill with a barn–a farmhouse?–down a valley and to the left. Perhaps it was the caffeine. Perhaps the sleepless nights. Regardless, the painting blasted me with a sense of hope, of triumph.

Myself in Panama

I then realized that these bubbling emotions were the same caused by your wedding a day earlier. The minister warned you both about difficult times ahead. She cautioned you to resolve these together. This would take work and dedicated effort. Recalling her words, I looked at the soldier on the hill. He was dancing. Life was festive. But there were other times, it was clear, when he would also have to fight.

When entering the museum, part of me was starved for images, for a larger perspective on ordinary scenes. Snow Hill is more than a depiction of dancers. The image also projects a larger, more abstract theme–that of hope. An injured man and a weary soldier dance hand in hand with an innocent girl wearing ancient clothing. For that moment, the weight of their duties, battles, and injuries from the past, are all gone. The painting is larger than just an image.

On the night of the wedding I learned that Ashley was upset. I had convinced (convinced?!) Jack to stay up late drinking beers–caring little about the consequences to his family–Ashley and five month old Molly. But we hadn’t seen each other in six years. Since then, Jack had grown up. He had married and had a family and responsibility. Yet I was the same. I came to your wedding with a narrow perspective and canned expectations. I saw Jack as Jack as he was six years ago. When the weekend ended I also saw him as a man for whom late night cigar smoking shindigs with the boys had hidden repercussions. Although Jack looked the same, the picture of his life, and the people inside of it, had expanded. My ability to recognize that had not.

This reminded me of Jim’s poolside comment on the afternoon of the wedding day. You said that a serious commitment to another person forces you to change your selfish thinking. You suddenly have to consider another person’s needs and desires. As though the commitment to be married forces you to live, and to act, within a larger canvas.

Art gallery (actually – located in Cape Town, South Africa)

I keep roaming the world–Bangkok, Dubai, Luanda, Panama, and across the golden sands of Namibia to a place named Werld’s End. Nine years on the trail. At each new home I unpack an atlas and a dictionary and clutch onto the security of selfish goals: just one more continent to work on, one more project to complete, another skill to tack onto a resume, another language to learn, another acre to buy, or check to deposit into a mutual fund savings account. For years, this wanderlust has satisfied an itching for sights, for novel images. But lately, the joy is missing. Now, when I consider these actions in light of Ashley’s disapproval and Jim’s poolside words, I see myself high on that snowy New England hilltop, whipped by wind and circling a sturdy maypole–but all alone.

Your wedding, your swapping of vows, recitation of prayers, exchange of golden bands (and cutting of cake), has forced at least one person to reconsider selfish pursuits. It has provided a larger perspective on that which is important to life: the people you care for and the relationships developed with them.

The wedding is over. Your journey has begun. It’s now late on Sunday afternoon. I sit on a green bench below a maple tree beside a rural Pennsylvanian highway. Nissan Patrols and Harleys thunder back to Philadelphia after a weekend away. Alone, I recall the wedding and the weekend, the long nights and full days and the champagne toasts. I also recall standing in shorts and sandals before these paintings. Something huge, and unexpected, happened today and yesterday. I do not understand why or how and will not guess at reasons, but the picture of what is important to life has expanded. And your wedding–like the image of dancers on Snow Hill–has given me a huge and renewed sense of hope. About everything.

Congratulations.

 

 

Captain Cook … And We Think We Have Challenges?

I am reading several books at once, including Sextant, by David Barrie. He tells the value of this maritime navigational instrument by sharing his own journal entries from a 1970’s sailing trip across the Atlantic with friends, as well as by including true stories from past sailing escapades.

Author Barrie tells of Captain William Bligh, an English officer of the Royal Navy who commanded the ship HMS Bounty. In the year 1789, acting lieutenant Fletcher Christian and the ship’s most able sailors mutinied on the Bounty in the Tonga Islands of the Pacific Ocean. At bayonet point they put Bligh into a 23-foot boat with 18 men and limited provisions.

Bligh managed to navigate their uncovered boat 3,618 nautical miles to Timor in the Dutch East Indies. They landed some six week after setting out, having lost only one of their crew members to murder when they had stopped to try to reprovision with breadfruit on Tofua Island. Bligh had been able to use a sextant to determine their latitude—effectively, their ‘horizontal’ position if you look at a globe. He may learned his sextant skills earlier, while he sailed with Captain Cook on the ship Resolution.

Barrie next tells of Captain James Cook, a captain in the British Royal Navy who began his seafaring career at the age of 26. He made three long sea voyages during which he collected valuable navigation and geographical information about Newfoundland, and later the Pacific Ocean. Cook sailed into frigid waters near the Antarctic, as well as north of the Bering Strait (separating Russia from Alaska, today). His ship Endeavour was once halted on the Great Barrier Reef off Australia, and the crew managed to push it loose and patch a gouge in the hull temporarily until they found landfall to make repairs.

Cook’s first long term voyage began in the year 1768—in a ship about 105 feet long and 29 feet wide (32 meters by 9 meters) named Endeavour. When the voyage began, the ship included not a recommended crew of 20 men, but a total of 94, as well as provisions for 18 months. These included pigs, chickens and a goat, nine tons of bread, three tons of Sauerkraut, 250 barrels of beer, 44 barrels of brandy, 4,000 strips of pork, 12 swivel guns and much, much more.

Considering that the lower deck was 97 feet long (29 meters), all of these people and supplies were on a ship having about three and a half times the floor space of an average Starbucks store. Oh, and no engine. No electricity. No refrigeration. No central heating. No GPS. No flush toilets. Probably no toilet paper. No washing machine. No radio. No antibiotics. And most times—no frickin’ idea where the next landfall would be. For some three years. From Plymouth, England, to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, around Cape Horn and then to Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia, Timor, the Cape of Good Hope and back to England.

Think of that next time you get antsy about lockdown, and having to do calisthenics before a virtual instructor on your flatscreen, or before you cook up some spicy prawns on a gas or electric stove and uncork a bottle of chilly Chablis.

In effectively the space of three consecutive (non-generational) full lifetimes (assuming a lifespan of some 85 years) the ships that circumnavigate our planet have changed, dramatically. During that time humans effectively learned to generate and control the power of lightning—creating electricity, invented ‘central heating furnaces‘ to control the flow of heat, honed longitudinal navigational certainty through the invention of accurate, portable timepieces (and, eventually, the use of satellites), began using iron instead of wood to build large ships, invented the steam engine and internal combustion engine to convert heat and flammability into motion, and harnessed compression to change liquid and gaseous states in order to change temperatures—hence provide refrigeration. And don’t forget radio and satellite communications.

Our modern technical prowess has brought us far, in a relatively short space of time. Sure, we need to improve conditions for wildlife on this planet, as well as for those who are still hungry or oppressed. We need to reduce pollution. We need to do much. And we can. It is those who look forward with positive attitudes, those who take actions to improve the lives not only of themselves but of others who have made—and who will make—this world a better place.

Cheers to navigators, explorers and inventors!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wise Words From A Nobel Prize Winner

Though it is difficult to believe, it’s been almost a decade since I bought the book Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. I purchased it in some Barnes and Noble bookstore while in the U.S., read most of it, underlined heavily, then actually had the foolishness to discard it in Washington D.C. before flying back to work in Pakistan, because my luggage was too packed. I subsequently bought the book again, and again heavily underlined his words.

To summarize much of this bestselling book by a Nobel Prize winning economist, the mind has two fundamental modes of thinking. One way he labels as System 1. This operates ‘automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control.’

The other way he calls System 2.

‘System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations. The operations of System 2 are often associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice, and concentration.’

Sounds simple enough. And Kahneman’s writing keeps this book easy to understand and pragmatic.

The thing about System 2 is that it requires paying attention, and that ability is hindered when you are distracted or disrupted. Intense focus on one task means that you become effectively blind to other stimuli around you.

So what?

Both systems are active when we are awake.

‘System 1 continuously generates suggestions for System 2: impressions, intuitions, intentions, and feelings. If endorsed by System 2, impressions and intuitions turn into beliefs, and impulses turn into voluntary actions.’

So there is a constant dance in our mental activity—our consciousness communicating with our unconscious/subconsciousness, which generates suggestions and analyses. That dance between the two is the basis for this fascinating, and often very practical, book.

The author writes that the premise of the book is that ‘it is easier to recognize other people’s mistakes than our own.’

He also writes that: ‘Much of the discussion of this book is about biases of intuition.’

Regardless, rather than  summarize more, I’ve selected a few choice quotes from the book. These are below.

 

‘Why be concerned with gossip? Because it is much easier, as well as far more enjoyable, to identify and label the mistakes of others than to recognize our own.’

 

‘Most impressions and thoughts arise in your conscious experience without your knowing how they got there.’

‘People tend to assess the relative importance of issues by the ease with which they are retrieved from memory—and that is largely determined by the extent of coverage in the media.’

 

‘Valid intuitions develop when experts have learned to recognize familiar elements in a new situation and to act in a manner that is appropriate to it.’

‘As you become skilled in a task, its demand for energy diminishes.’

 

‘Intelligence is not only the ability to reason; it is also the ability to find relevant material in memory and to deploy attention when needed.’

‘The notion that we have limited access to the workings of our minds is difficult to accept because, naturally, it is alien to our experience, but it is true: you know far less about yourself than you feel you do.’

 

‘If you care about being thought credible and intelligent, do not use complex language where simpler language will do.’

‘Studies of brain responses have shown that violations of normality are detected with astonishing speed and subtlety.’

 

‘…there is evidence that people are more likely to be influenced by empty persuasive messages, such as commercials, when they are tired and depleted.’

‘To derive the most useful information from multiple sources of evidence, you should always try to make these sources independent of each other.’

 

‘We pay more attention to the content of messages than to information about their reliability, and as a result end up with a view of the world around us that is simpler and more coherent than the data justify.’

Thanks for tuning in again…

How AI Stole My Freedom of Expression

Architecture from an age long before AI

Okay, so that did not really happen.

It was a dream.

But a powerful dream.

Here is is:

I reviewed my photographs on the computer, then deleted several from a recent month because they were virtual duplicates, or because they were out of focus, or because they were mistaken shots where the camera pointed at the ground. The next time I logged into the computer, ALL such similar shots from all my photographs had been deleted. Gone.

Art from an age before AI

Next, I performed a task on the computer, such as choosing a flight to London. I began to work on the next tasks, such as choosing a hotel, then finding the best means of transport from the airport to the hotel. But the AI in the computer’s internet access had already performed those tasks, and WOULD NOT LET ME do them, manually, again—because that was an inefficient waste of time. Instead, the computer showed me a list of ‘to do’ activities, based on its having reviewed all my previous ‘to do’ lists and an assessment of what this day’s most appropriate ‘to do’ list should be.

Architecture from an age before computer aided design

I had no control. I tried to go from A to B to C, but artificial intelligence recognized this was an inefficient pathway and instead insisted that I choose another route—from A to X, for example. I had no choice. There was no way to switch this feature off the computer.

Field work from an age before robots

Suddenly, in the space of a day—actually a few hours—I had not only lost autonomy and control, but realized how my previous actions and decisions seemed almost australopithecine in their inefficiency. And, my life had a new master. Someone had switched on an AI program and I was just a servant in a cell doing the bidding of some other entity’s thinking, or reasoning. I became an instant servant, an employee doing the work of a boss I never chose.

Much will change, very quickly, in the next decade. The rate of change is increasing.

Better enjoy ourselves now!

Sculpture from an age before 3-D printing

 

 

 

Time, The Universe, Reality, And Two Plucky Irish Fighters

Recently I bought these books in the city of Bordeaux, France.

Below are insights harvested from three of these books regarding time, the universe, reality, and applying these insights to the unexpected lives of two defiant Irish fighters.

TIME.

The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli reveals a few surprises.

– Time passes faster in the mountains than at sea level.

– Wherever there is a difference between past and future, heat is involved.

– Time passes more slowly for someone moving than for someone resting.

– The smallest unit of time is called Planck time. It is 10 – 44 seconds, or a hundred millionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second.

The book notes that time passes “at different rhythms according to place and according to speed. It is not directional: the difference between past and future does not exist in the elementary equations of the world…The notion of the ‘present’ does not work: in the vast universe there is nothing that we can reasonably call ‘present.’ ”

Author Rovelli explains.

“The world is not a collection of things, it is a collection of events…things persist in time; events have a limited duration. A stone is a prototypical ‘thing’: we can ask ourselves where it will be tomorrow. Conversely, a kiss is an ‘event.’ It makes no sense to ask where the kiss will be tomorrow. The world is made up of networks of kisses, not of stones.”

“The physics and astronomy that will work, from Ptolemy to Galileo, from Newton to Schrödinger, will be mathematical descriptions of precisely how things change, not of how the are. They will be about events, not things…We therefore describe the world as it happens, not as it is. Newton’s mechanics, Maxwell’s equations, quantum mechanics, and so on, tell us how events happen, not how things are.”

Ah.

So, time is a changing character, much like a chameleon modifying its colors as it climbs a tree.

THE UNIVERSE.

The first chapter of the book titled The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow states that:

“…philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.”

And later,

“…we now have a candidate for the ultimate theory of everything, if indeed one exists, called M-theory … According to M-theory, ours is not the only universe. Instead, M-theory predicts that a great many universes were created out of nothing. Their creation does not require the intervention of some supernatural being or god. Rather, these multiple universes arise naturally from physical law. They are a prediction of science. Each universe has many possible histories and many possible states…”

REALITY.

From where do we get our impressions of the world? Well, from living in the world, traveling in the world, working in the world, speaking to others about their situations in the world, and reading about the world.

We also get impressions from news outlets. Taking this information too seriously may not be such a wise idea.

In the book Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker, he writes first about news, and then about progress. A slice of this context comes from the quotes below.

“The data scientist Kalev Leetaru applied a technique called sentiment mining to every article published in the New York Times between 1945 and 2005, and to an archive of translated articles and broadcasts from 130 countries between 1979 and 2010. Sentiment mining assesses the emotional tone of a text by tallying the number and contexts of words with positive and negative connotations, like good, nice, terrible and horrific. Figure 4-1 [not shown here, but the second figure is shown in this Forbes article]. Putting aside the wiggles and waves that reflect the crises of the day, we see that the impression that the news has become more negative over time is real. The New York Times got steadily more morose from the early 1960s to the early 1970s, lightened up a bit (but just a bit) in the 1980s and 1990s, and then sank into a progressively worse mood in the first decade of the new century. News outlets in the rest of the world, too, became gloomier and gloomier from the late 1970’s to the present day.”

“So, has the world really gone steadily downhill during these decades?

“Most people agree that life is better than death. Health is better than sickness. Sustenance is better than hunger. Abundance is better than poverty. Peace is better than war. Safety is better than danger. Freedom is better than tyranny. Equal rights are better than bigotry and discrimination. Literacy is better than illiteracy. Knowledge is better than ignorance. Intelligence is better than dull-wittedness. Happiness is better than misery. Opportunities to enjoy family, friends, culture, and nature are better than drudgery and monotony.”

“All these things can be measured. If they have increased over time, that is progress.

“As it happens, the world does agree on these values.  In the year 2000, all 189 members of the United Nations, together with two dozen international organizations, agreed on the eight Millennium Development Goals for the year 2015 that blend right into this list.

“And here is a shocker. The world has made spectacular progress in ever single measure of  human well-being. Here is a second shocker: Almost no one knows about it.”

CONCLUSIONS.

Let’s consider a few insights from these three books.

If time is not quite the fixed entity we thought it was, if the universe is more bizarre and multi-layered than we could ever imagine, if indices indicate that the living situation on earth appears to be moving in a generally positive direction with regard to increases in living standards, reductions in illnesses, diminishment of war casualties and in several other ways—than two obvious conclusions can be made: First, the world in which we live is neither fixed, static, or hostage to any pre-ordained or predictable trajectory, and, second, often we humans can—through conscious thoughts and actions—modify and potentially improve our own reality as well as possibly the reality that surrounds us.

Those conclusions may sound facile, even simple. Yet they are not.

Every day humans struggle to move forward and to make progress. Often they encounter difficulties not just because of challenges presented by their task (such as becoming a better athlete) but also due to opposition from others who are scared that their actions may change the current reality they are so familiar and comfortable with.

Two examples  are below.

FIGHTING IRISH.

Because the origin of this website relates to Ireland, and because my father went to the University of Notre Dame (whose athletic teams are described by the motto ‘The Fighting Irish’) I’ve selected two stories from Ireland (which I recently found in piles of my past notes) about a determined man and woman who had to fight pre-conceptions of reality to attain their success.

Conor.

I have little interest in televised sports, but read and kept clippings from the August, 2017 edition of The Financial Times Weekend. An article titled A brawler with the gift of the gab, by Murad Ahmed told about an Irish boxer.

In 2017, the fight between Irishman Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather was a huge sporting event (Mayweather won).

I had paid no attention to this event until after it took place.

But the story of McGregor is astounding, and tells how quickly life can change.

Ten years before that fight, McGregor was a plumber’s apprentice. He quit that job to practice boxing and to try to make money at that sport. This action infuriated his parents in the Dublin city region of Lucan.

At his first UFC fight in Stockholm (in April of 2013), McGregor cashed in his final welfare payment of 188 Euros.

Four years later, in 2017, he was worth, according to Forbes, $34 million.

In an interview with The Guardian newspaper in 2015, McGregor said, “I had no love for plumbing. But it’s weird how society works. Rather than allowing you time to find the thing you love and can pursue with complete conviction, we’re told: ‘You must work, no matter how much you dislike it.’ ”

Conor, in other words, disregarded the insinuation from others that the world in which he lived was fixed and that he had to labor at a job he didn’t like. He decided he could, and would, change his life. He did not take reality as fixed, and did not fear changing it.

Katie.

In 2012, I read a story about another Irish boxer. This caught my attention because Katie Taylor comes from the same town in Ireland (Bray) where I had spent years going to school in Ireland when young.

Katie’s father Peter was an Irish boxing champion in 1986, and taught his two sons and daughter Katie how to spar. Katie trained in a gym that was so small that when she had to use the toilet she walked 150 yards up the road to the Harbour Bar (the same bar where my brothers used to knock back pints of Guinness). Because women boxing was not sanctioned in Ireland at the time, she had to pretend to be a boy in order to enter contests. (“When I took the headgear off at the end of a fight, there was uproar,” she said.) In 2011 she participated in the first ever sanctioned women’s boxing fight in Ireland.

My friends Barb and Ocean in County Wicklow, Ireland

Later, the Olympic Committee decided to evaluate Katie’s performance in Chicago to determine if women boxing could become an Olympic sport in the London 2012 games. After they watched Katie, the committee agreed to allow entry of the sport. The 26-year-old, religious, non-alcohol drinking, hard-working Katie won a gold medal at the Olympics, and riveted the nation of Ireland. Modestly, she said afterwards, “I actually think there is great strength in quietness.”

In a country that forbade sanctioned women’s boxing, Katie ignored the ‘contemporary reality’ of limited thinking of her peers. She changed the regulations regarding boxing forever in Ireland. She later helped change the regulations of the Olympic Committee regarding boxing.

Conor and Katie used time as their allay, ignored any concept of a fixed universe and decided and then acted to improve their personal situations.

Time, the nature of the universe and the fate of our planet and personal situations are not fixed and unchangeable. We can all choose to modify our situations, and try to move to focus more on what it  is that we love doing and what interests us.

The Best of the Holiday Season to all of you!

Thanks for reading these posts during 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wise Words From Writers

This post includes a few quotations picked up in recent years from different books. They include wise, and sometimes practical words.

‘The idea of a mental reducing valve that constrains our perceptions, for instance, comes from the French philosopher Henri Bergeson. Bergeson believed that consciousness was not generated by human brains but rather exists in a field outside us, something like electromagnetic waves; our brains, which he likened to radio receivers, can tune in to different frequencies of consciousness.’

From How To Change Your Mind—The New Science of Psychedelics, by Michael Pollan [Penguin; 2018]

‘No other animal can stand up to us, not because they lack a soul or a mind, but because they lack the necessary imagination. Lions can run, jump, claw and bite. Yet they cannot open a bank account or file a lawsuit. And in the twenty-first century, a banker who knows how to file a lawsuit is far more powerful than the most ferocious lion in the savannah.’

From Homo Deus—A Brief History of Tomorrowby Yuval Noah Harari. [Penguin; 2016]

‘Another study, of 38,000 knowledge workers across different sectors, found that the simple act of being interrupted is one of the biggest barriers to productivity. Even multitasking, that prized feat of modern-day office warriors, turns out to be a myth. Scientists now know that the brain is incapable of paying attention to two things at the same time. What looks like multitasking is really switching back and forth between multiple tasks, which reduces productivity and increases mistakes by up to 50 percent.’

From Quiet–The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain. [Penguin; 2012]

‘Social status is not quite the same as companionship, granted, but it can be a bewitching substitute.’

From the ‘Citizens of Nowhere’ column titled ‘The anti-social secret of success,’ by Janan Ganesh. Financial Times Life and Arts section. [May 25&26, 2019; page 20.]

And  three quotes from a Nobel Prize winning scientist:

‘As you become skilled in a task, its demand for energy diminishes.’

‘If you care about being thought credible and intelligent, do not use complex language where simpler language will do.’

‘Substituting one question for another can be a good strategy  for solving difficult problems, and George Pólya included substitution in his classic ‘How to Solve It’: ‘If’ you can’t solve a problem, then there is an easier problem you can solve: find it.’ “

From Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman [Penguin; 2011]

‘…the universal touchstones of holiness—chastity, the renunciation of property, extreme bodily asceticism, devotion to prayer and spiritual exercises—appealed to people who were troubled by rapidly increasing disparities of wealth and power.’

From The War on Heresy, by R.I. Moore [Belknap Press of Harvard; 2012]

‘The best cooks are  ex-dishwashers. Hell, the best people are ex-dishwashers. Because who do you want in your kitchen when push comes to shove, and you’re in danger of falling in the weeds and the orders are pouring in and the number-one oven just went down and the host just sat a twelve-top and there’s a bad case of the flu that’s been tearing through the staff like the Vandals through Rome?…A guy who’s going to sulk if you speak harshly to him? A guy who’s certain there’s a job waiting for him somewhere else (‘Maybe…like Aspen, man…or the Keys…’)? Or some resume building aspiring chef? …Or do you want somebody who’s come up the hard way? He may not know what a soubise is, but he can sure make one! He may not know the term monter au beurre…but who cares?’

From The Nasty Bits, by Anthony Bourdain [Bloomsbury; 2006]

 

 

Running Toward Enlightenment?

Estuary in Blaye

I had difficulty waking. Felt heavy and tired. Finally, I got out of bed about 8.00 a.m. to go running. Stepped outside the apartment and saw neighbor Lara—also dressed to run. She suggested we go together. I would usually refuse, as she sprints like a rabbit, but the timing of our coincidental meeting appeared auspicious—so I said yes.

Vines along the running route

We ran down the main street of Blaye and then up the path along the side of the citadelle fortress, then back to the bicycle path leading toward the town of Etauliers, many miles away. Lara pulled out her phone, ignored the headphones, and played a podcast aloud so we both could hear. It was from some ‘Oprah’ inspirational series, and included Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love. Gilbert began by saying, generally, that if we believe the universe is indeed benevolent, then at times she wonders why she has been put into a particular situation.

Country scene outside Blaye

Soon, after a mile of running at a pace too fast for me, I said farewell to Lara and returned to Blaye. Yet the words stayed in my mind. Belief, benevolent universe, purpose of particular situation.

Later, Lara sent me a text saying next time we’d listen to a podcast about Wayne Dyer and manifestations.

Lara (foreground) and her visiting friend

I’d already read a few books by Dyer. I searched my past journals and found this from October of 2013.

Today I took a break from work, checked out my online version of the Amazon Kindle ereader, and found a book Wishes Fulfilled by Dr. Wayne Dyer, which I had read before but began re-reading.  He gives ample consideration of the power of imagination in creating our future lives.

 ‘Remind yourself that your imagination is yours to use as you decide, and that everything you wish to manifest into your physical world must first be placed firmly in your imagination in order to grow.’

From a village in Languedoc, France

This excerpt from a past journal ignited memories of opportunity, and power.

In my own writing, I had suggested that the world is partially objective, and partially a creation of our own thoughts. In a chapter titled ‘Greenland’ from my book The Synchronous Trail—Enlightening Travels, is this:

Humans have not yet learned the geology of serendipity; we cannot discern the common strata that underlies the terrain of coincidence. This understanding will emerge with time and bring with it a different respect for the world in which we live, a world that is partly a collection of objects and partially a projection of thought. 

Ancient ship docked in Bordeaux city

Reflecting on those words as well as on the books by Dyer, and what Gilbert said during the podcast, brought a reminder of the power of what I call ‘rotating reality’—changing the very fabric of future events using thought. If a multiverse exists—that is, an infinite number of parallel and alternate universes—why should we not ‘surf’ to relatively adjacent universes that are more benign, plentiful, benevolent and healthier?

12th century copper – showing respect for sharing, and for the printed word

And even if there is no multiverse, sometimes, when we are calm and confident, we all manage to navigate ourselves into situations we have dreamt about.

Which is why it’s important to remember the power of dreams, and imagination.

From the bookshelf of an ally who actually speaks French

Waking later than planned?

It turned out to be most beneficial.

Rural southern France

 

 

August Insights And Lessons About Life

When someone else snarls, it’s probably not your fault. You just happen to be the mailman at the door when the dog decided to bark.

The more you have, the more you have to take care of.

But it can sometimes be rewarding to have stuff.

3.00 a.m. is the best time to see Rome in summer. Sometimes switching schedule from what is common can dramatically change your environment and experience.

Interior decor rarely makes up for a beautiful outdoor vista.

It’s difficult to maintain appreciation for traveling First Class unless you sometimes go ‘cattle car’ for contrast.

Going ‘cattle car’ can also increase both humility and empathy.

A quiet and private rapport can be grander and more satisfying and enriching than flashing some trophy relationship.

Open your mind, and watch the universe wobble.

You are being subconsciously nodded in the direction of your desires. When a bold opportunity arrives, don’t disregard it because you think you have to empty the dishwasher.

There is no Marrakech Express. I searched, decades ago. But, the song is still inspiring.

You may not appreciate an award or trophy you are presented, but others likely do. Accept it with grace.

When it’s time to move on and you want a huge sign from the universe, it is more likely come as a casual comment from, say, a passing street sweeper.

Our lives interact more as rivulets than as bouncing ping pong balls.

When a society is rich and abundant, it no longer relies on one staple food. When the mind is transcendent it no longer requires one core religion or philosophy.

Just because you only sleep in one side of the bed does not mean that a king size mattress feels any less spacious.

Being perennially busy is not inherently better than otherwise.

To change your situation, first, shift your point of view.

The universe will deliver, but it’s wise to first provide it with a mailing address or a landing pad. Meaning: prepare yourself for abundance.

Having a little more control each day (more exercise, cleaning dishes before sleeping, visualizing forthcoming goals accomplished) can quickly lead to massive influence on the betterment of your life.

There is a wealth of natural beauty all around us: geometrical, geographical, biological, meteorological, gastronomical, artisanal. Frequently put in effort to see deeper levels of that which you yet know little.

Similar accents align with similar mindsets. Consider changing your pronunciation and enunciation to alter your own world.

Being on time is sometimes better than early. But only sometimes.

You may think you are more advanced than your pet, but your pet is likely tolerating you with patience.

We can’t very well recall the wonder and different worlds of possibilities that coursed through our minds as teenagers.

Getting rid of life’s evil influences is mostly about letting go of holding onto them.

Prefer a gruff personality who achieves beneficial results than a charmer who accomplishes little.

It is amazing how many people put tremendous efforts into providing others with the illusion that they are somehow of importance.

Below are 4 secrets to becoming rapidly successful. Five through eight are bonus additions.

  1. Replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts.
  2. Calmly cultivate an inner expectation of success.
  3. Maintain an open mind.
  4. Keep a positive attitude.
  5. Select a few (or even one) challenging goal(s).
  6. Eat well and exercise.
  7. Associate with positive people, and shed negative associations.
  8. Create a mental bubble of your new reality, then live into it.

All those sayings and slogans and memes and jokey stories of how things actually end up for the worse in general? Steer clear of them! And all who propagate them.

If you have the time and inclination to gossip, change your situation to find fresh wonder to amaze you instead.

Beware merchants of illusion, though respect masters of illusion.

A very long walk can often help solve seemingly large and intractable problems.

Mind altering substances can lead to altered states; but so can prayer, and visualization.

Geography As Mentor

When people travel, different aspects of their experience resonate with them more deeply than others. For some, it is restaurants and cuisine. For others, it may be local languages, history, theater or archaeology.

For me, it has always been geography.

Landscapes can haunt us, often in profound ways.

No wonder I appreciated non-fiction books by Barry Lopez (Crossing Open Ground) and the fictional work titled The Solace of Open Spaces by Gretel Ehrlich when in college. Even The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. These book thrust me into different geographies and landscapes and tethered them with emotion.

Then, there came a high altar of writing that invokes landscape—books by Edward Abbey.

I had finished college in Boulder, Colorado, and had a lover named Katie. She had been my boss when I did a door-to-door job (for $4.15 an hour selling subscriptions to The Colorado Public Interest Research Group) in towns surrounding Boulder. She had an apartment located sort of west of, and a block south of, Old Chicago’s Restaurant on Pearl Street in Boulder. While we were there once, she told me about the author Edward Abbey. She was shocked I had not yet heard of him. He wrote the non-fictional book Desert Solitaire, and the fictional book The Monkey Wrench Gang. I loved both books for their raw honesty about the (then) unappreciated beauty of the southwest canyonlands geography of the United States. The author could skillfully translate the attraction of landscape into words.

Soon, because of an interest in rock climbing and participation as a member of the volunteer Rocky Mountain Rescue Group in Boulder, I applied for—and was accepted—to an Advanced Mountaineering course in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming held by the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). More climbing followed, as well as more reading about landscapes and attitudes. Sand County Almanac by Ado Leopold; Touching The Void by Joe Simpson.

Most other instructors at NOLS were truly inspiring—rabidly intelligent, well read, athletic and craving a life far away from clocks and timesheets and pension plans. They told me of other books to read—Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon, Basin and Range by John McPhee. Even A Moveable Feast by Hemingway.

Just before I attended college in Boulder, and long before I Met Katie or heard of NOLS, I read an article in Outside Magazine titled Moments of Doubt, by David Roberts. It stunned  me. It is the true story about a rock climber whose climbing partner died when they climbed the Flatiron peaks behind Boulder. Years later, when I was a volunteer member of Rocky Mountain Rescue Group, a young woman near the base of the Third Flatiron died while I was trying to resuscitate her. She had slipped and fallen while hiking a steep trail. That event, also, stunned me.

It turned out—I learned afterwards in a most bizarre way—that she had grown up in the same small town as my family (population 500) in Illinois, and was known by my siblings. A bizarre series of events pivoting around this incident ignited what was to become a life-long fascination with (and interest in learning about) the power of coincidences—synchronicity. (I self-published a few books on the topic, and begin one with the story of what happened that day in Boulder.)

The memory of that event is saturated with recollections of vast, gorgeous tracts of natural landscape in the hills behind Boulder. Since then the realization has grown clear of how important landscapes are to memories of times, situations and relationships in life.

Landscapes haunt us. The sight of peaks and bays and ferns and snow and rivulets and the sound of flapping guillemots or terns or wood pigeons resonates deep within our cranial cavities—even unconsciously as a memory—forever.

Geography still compels me. Work—as in toil and spreadsheets and organizational meetings and the joy of accomplishing long term infrastructure projects such as constructing a rural water system or road, or the bliss of an article being published nationally or internationally—is still exciting. But most of all when these revolve around an immersion in some diverse and intriguing geography. It is the same with food and history—the  memory of a good wine or meal often brings a memory of natural surroundings.

Different memories are powerful for different people. I recall waking up in a tent on the sands of Kilcoole Beach in Ireland with the sound of Irish Sea breakers; the scent and touch of rock while ascending the 14th and final rock climbing pitch on Mount Sacagawea in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming; the recollection of walking over chestnut covered hillsides in the Ticino, or the strange allure of visually barren deserts. Wild or stunning landscapes are not just beautiful: being immersed in them can harmonize with our own desire for having fewer constraints and bigger spaces for our own thinking.

The association of landscape with memory is also practical in at least two ways. First, it can remind us of why it is always good—for health and alertness—to get out and take a walk, preferably in a ‘cathedral’ of wild space or preferably close to natural settings. Second, it is a reminder that we should appreciate the creation of parks, wilderness areas and national monuments to protect gorgeous tracts of natural spaces on this planet from billboards and unchecked growth.

 

 

 

Love As An Altered State

I’ve tried different altered states of consciousness in life. These have been induced not only by alcohol but also by other mind altering substances.

And I’ve learned how we can also reach altered states, and serenity, without substances.

One way, for example, is driving a well engineered automobile along a well engineered road (preferably along a winding canyon, while listening to beautiful stereo music). This can lull our mind into a state of serenity. This is actually not surprising, considering that such a state of harmonious motion and control did not exist for most of the long period of human evolution: the experience is bizarre enough to push our consciousness into a state of awe.

Another example is love.

Although it may not be love.

It may be something else.

Entirely.

It certainly has to do with being influenced by another person at a distance, without physical, acoustical, visual or electronic communication. It has happened only twice in my life (not the state of being in love, but encountering love as an altered state) and it was surreally, bizarrely and powerfully positive. It once lasted a week. Another time it lasted only a minute. On both occasions it put my mind into a completely transcendent condition, where fear and worry and concerns about the future became, for a time, thoroughly absent.

The first time occurred over a decade ago while working a job I had no love for. I found myself one day feeling a sense of peace and invincibility, as though there was no need to worry about anything—whether related to income or the future. This feeling stayed with me for days. I felt a sense of peace that lacked all worry. Wondering where this sense came from, I carefully checked whether any of the following had increased or decreased during that time: my exercising, eating habits, or levels and frequency of drinking caffeine or wine.

Nothing had changed.

I also confirmed that I had received no good news or pay raise and had not been subjected to any external factors that would have changed my demeanor or thinking. The weather had not altered significantly. Nothing had changed. Yet the feeling lasted, gloriously, for days. During this time I thought to myself—this must be what heaven feels like! At the end of the week I had a spontaneous and unplanned meeting with friends in another city, including with a woman who had been quite important in the past. We did not know in advance that we would meet again, and our meeting was purely platonic and unremarkable. Yet I strongly suspected that the previous feelings during the past week were somehow linked to the bond previously forged with this individual.

This also happened again last year while I was inside a wine cellar on the Italian island of Sicily. I had communicated that very day with a woman in another country by sending her a message, wishing her the best on her birthday. We had met years earlier, seen each other only a few times, but maintained a correspondence due, I think, to some sort of mutual interest. I was in some part of the cellar (and had not yet sipped any wine that day) when this sense of peace coated me. All of the sudden my concerns about having to take copious notes to write an article about wine evaporated. The same feeling as a decade ago settled on me: don’t worry about anything. Because everything is perfect and will work out splendidly. Again, I suspected that this feeling was somehow linked to this person I had communicated with.

Perhaps not love, but some other bond somehow connected us.

And yet, this is just anecdotal recollection (although I do have journal entries to back up the times as having been remarkable).

The point is this: I believe we can, on this earth, reach altered states of consciousness through connections with other people that are not physical, verbal or acoustic. There is power in relationships that can take us to higher levels, and when we are at those higher plateaus we realize that there is a realm (whether in this life or on some plane that may not exist until after we depart this earth) in which our quotidian fears and worries and doubts and concerns and frustrations vanish. It is an amazing space. And we can, at times, reach that place while we live. The connection with others is critical. Especially when we share with those others mutual intrigue. Just how to make those events occur more often is a mystery.

These experiences also left a lingering question. If that sense of peace says, so confidently, don’t worry about anything, shouldn’t I pay more attention to that message?

Thanks for tuning in.

In the next weeks I’ll review books about Renaissance era Florence, and artists who lived there.

 

 

More Strangely Simple Rules Of Life

Time and deadlines will often accommodate you, if you quietly insist to the universe that they must.

Keep your mind and body strong and you will attract the most attractive people, and situations.

There will always be polarizing and radical voices and ideologies. Accept that fact, and then deflect their influence or neutralize their existence using deft strokes of your inner mental tennis racket.

As Elon Musk realized, most any goal can be attained if you just stick with progressive steps.

Second tier wines are often about 10 percent lower in quality than first tier wines, but cost about 40 percent less. Same with life. Save the best quality for special occasions when cost is no big consideration.

Clever is finding quality away from the spotlight. Wise is keeping quiet about it.

All work and no play is actually inefficient in the grander scheme of life.

Sometimes the book you need actually will fall off the shelf before you. Wait and see.

An excellent algorithm can provide amazing results, but a good story will attract a glowing audience.

Constantly focusing on saving money can waste your time, and your money.

When uncertain, accept that invitation.

Whoever broke your heart will end up coming back when you have lost interest. Meanwhile life’s incessant rainstorms of opportunity are to be enjoyed.

Simple though it sounds, sometimes ‘believe and you will receive’ can work splendidly.

Avoid negativity and pessimism as you would a dirty, dangerous alleyway.

Go slow and steady and you will often be shocked at how far you’ve ascended, and how fast.

The best advice is short and simple and usually arrives when unexpected.

Actual conspiracies are far rarer than those who constantly dwell on them.

Step back and steer clear of mobs.

Numbers of bottles in a cellar diminish with time, but replenish with every harvest. Same with many other situations in life.

Sit and still the mind, then plant a clear desire and the world can often change, sometimes rapidly.

As a Dutch friend once said, ‘there’s time enough.’

Respect the value of history. Consider Hannibal marching elephants over the Alps, or those who built the cities of Venice or Cuzco.

Usually within three minutes of the moment you actually let go of a past regret (or love), an opportunity arrives for an even better scenario than that one left behind.

When that alternative arrives, gracefully say yes—but in doing so, heed lessons learned from that past experience.

Bob Marley was correct – life is full of signs that you’ll miss if you ride in ruts.

Bob Dylan was also correct in that when something is not right, it usually is wrong

Life and cooking are similar in that balance comes partially from recipe, advice, experimentation and a bit gusto.

Respect others, but also respect their respect for you—should you be fortunate enough to receive it.

You look forward and see only the short straight line of your progress, rather than the much larger spherical volume of its expansion all around you.

We’re all moving on this spinning ball zipping through the universe together, so take time to consider the bigger picture.

Be enlightened by those who inspire; stay clear of those who promise to solve all of your, and the world’s, problems.

Free stuff comes at a price.

Fully accepting where you are is often an excellent place to begin.

When you begin, don’t overlook the value of a sheet of paper and a pen.

You are likely ready now for your next phase in life. Regardless, you soon will be.

Sunshine, picnic and good company can be poetry for the soul. A dose of poetry can also be good for a wine filled picnic.

All cities, villages or settings have at least one inspiring locale. Seek, find and enjoy it, but realize that these locations change with time.

True magic is finding a bar with no name. Better still when you are not looking.

When signs pelt you in the face, stop rushing to pick up the dry cleaning, and take time to consider your situation in life.

Listening is skill, analyzing can be strategy and remembering is a form of power.

Begin weaving your social fabric by remembering people’s names and interests.

Synthesizing input can provide synergistic results.

Hard work can do the same, but be smart about it.

Three valuable questions to ask anyone about their work: challenges, rewards and the future?

Saying the world is flat may gain you attention, but it’s likely not the type you want.

Those who are rich and powerful, or loud and decisive, may be resented; but those who appear different are often feared most.

Two keys to reduce effort and multiply impact are to visualize, and to respect the power of rhythm.

Sometimes you really do need that glass of wine. At other times you need it with your allies.

Never disregard the power of, and satisfaction derived from, a good list.

 

Thanks for tuning in. More strangely simple rules of life are here. A few observations about success are here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life Lessons from 2016

This additional End Of Year post highlights simple lessons learned during past months.

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Life is too short for nonsense.

  • If hard, dedicated, focused and intelligent work is unappreciated, or if supervisors try to undermine rather than support success – consider moving on. I did. Wonderful choice. Life is brief. New avenues appear when you are ready.
  • Spend time with those who appreciate and support you.

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Mes amis

  • As explained in the book The Black Swan, unusual events are not as infrequent as we might expect in life. Brexit? Trump’s election? Perhaps surprising, but actually not so unusual.
  • Home cooked food truly is better. Switch off the TV. Get dicing, slicing and buy a few liters of olive oil.

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Home cooked and ready to be devoured

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Beauty beneath corks

  • Lessons learned from history are constantly applicable. Castles had walls and countries established borders for solid reasons.
  • However, were walls built to keep others out or to keep people in? ‘Something there is that doesn’t love a wall…’ wrote Robert Frost in his poem ‘Mending Wall.’ The dismantled Berlin wall is a physical manifestation – a potent reminder – of how insecure brutish characters tried – vainly, and ultimately in vain – to control not only the natural ebb and flow of neighbors, but their power to live freely.

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Thinking of invading? Think again.

  • Respect your local cobbler and other artisans. The culture of disposability does not yet prevail.

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Massive greenhouses heated by geothermal power boost the economy of Iceland – Very forward thinking people.

  • Establishing sensible laws takes courage in the face of massive, uneducated, emotional resistance. Each year about a thousand people are murdered in Pakistan in ‘honor killings.’ Fathers and brothers murder daughters who may have publicly displayed amorous eyes for another young man. That crime has gone unpunished, until a new law was passed this year. Bye Bye, Middle Age barbarity. Well done, Pakistan.
  • Less can be more. No lawn means – no need to mow the lawn.

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Mont Saint-Michel. No lawns here.

  • Consider quality in life.
  • The less you have, the less you have to take care of.

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Plenty of  lights to turn on and off every evening.

  • Enjoy nature. Frequently.
  • When in doubt, explore. Unwind. Tap into greater universal wisdom. And when the road bends in unknown ways, consider this a magnificent opportunity.

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Another glorious bend in the road.

Prepare for a powerful 2017…!

 

[Writing and photographs copyright Tom Mullen, 2016]

Life Lessons – Revealed by Rivers

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Rivers alter course over time – The fabric of reality is pliable

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Tributaries join primary currents – Smaller objectives are achieved in the wake of pursuing larger goals

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A river’s true power is hidden from view – Personal power can be inconspicuous

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A river needs a flow path – To enter a new reality, first imagine it

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Rivers meander to balance their flow – Misfortune can swing us toward fortune

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Steeper flows have fewer meanders – Challenging goals provide fewer distractions

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Da Vinci’s lesson:

A River which has to be diverted from one place to another ought to be coaxed and not coerced with violence – It may be better to work with the flow of times and temperament of personalities rather than defy them

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Machiavelli’s lesson:

Fortune is a river – Fortune floods into life

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Great rivers grow from many small tributaries – True success comes from helping others succeed

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Faith flows like a river; fear looms like a dam – Faith floats us toward our desires; fear generates obstructions

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The river of today is not that of tomorrow – Seize opportunities that may not reappear

9c. Pedestrian Bridge

Rivers find their own confluence – Personalities modify journeys

 

Images and text* © T. Mullen. Text from the book River of Tuscany.

(*Except for Leonardo’s and Machiavelli’s sage words, of course.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Strangely Simple Rules of Life

Here are a few lessons I have learned from life.

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1.  There are no rules.

2.  The more you cling to security, the less free you are to soar toward newer, higher, horizons.

3.  An open mind and a positive attitude open most doors.

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4. There will always be people who dislike you, not because of anything you have done, but because you exist. Disregard them.

5.  If you can’t disregard them, close your eyes, see them vanishing as a presence, exhale, relax, and move on.

6.  Disrespect no person. Everyone has a role.

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7.  Clinging incessantly to working is a form of insecurity. Get over it.

8.  There’s inspiration and energy in nature. Take a walk. Watch a sunrise.

9.  Ignore those who spend energy trying to diminish others. Praise and reward others for excellence, and watch how this enriches your own life.

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10.  Reality is pliable. But it responds best to suggestion, not force.

11.  Variety is enriching. Take a trip or a hike or a class.

12.  Aim for a single, challenging, focused goal. Strangely, your lesser goals will begin to be accomplished in unforeseen ways.

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13.  Courtesy counts.

14.  Give. You truly will receive.

15.  Talk is cheap, though often of value.

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16. Relax. The universe appreciates calmness.

17.  Time matters. But not too much.

18.  Time, also, is pliable. Tranquility slows any clock.

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19.  Pay attention to whether people talk about themselves, or ask about you. Remember the importance of balance.

20.  The eight hour work week is an artificial construct. The Romans worked six hour days.

21.  Associate with inspiration, not deprecation.

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22.  Give yourself extra time to take scenic routes.

23.  After you fail – you will be given another chance to win the same, or an even greater, prize. Yet you won’t succeed until you learn the lesson(s) from your previous failure.

24.  Sometimes marvelous things just happen. Be appreciative and give thanks.

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25.  It’s often more advantageous to know the janitor, the driver, or the photocopy clerk than the CEO. Trust me.

26.  A little planning goes a long way.

27.  When the universe opens up and offers abundance, don’t turn it down because you are too busy doing laundry. Really.

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28.  Begin at the end. Trust the universe to sort out the route.

29.  With time and desire, much is possible.

30.  Pay attention to rhythm. You’ll expend less energy and accomplish more.

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31.  Racism and sexism are, ultimately, boring. If you indulge in either, get a life.

32.  There is always history to greatness. Think the Romans were impressive?  Read about the Etruscans.

33.  Respect the power of logic. It put an SUV on Mars.

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34.  When all else fails, yield to faith.

35.  Laugh, love, and smell the flowers.

36.  There will always be people eager to tell you a crisis is imminent. Remain skeptical.

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37.  Take time to appreciate running water and laughing children.

38.  The chance that events result from a grand, complex, governmental conspiracy is unlikely. Consider the hassle it is just getting a driving license.

39.  We live in a copy and paste world. Respect originality.

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40.  North is at the top of the map. That does not mean it is so.

41.  Reconsider motives for wanting to read Ulysses. Who are you trying to impress?

42.  Living yeast makes wine so wonderful.

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43.  It’s okay to have it explained as though you were a child. In fact, it’s okay to be childish.

44.  Sometimes you just have to do it.

45.  Other times it pays to plan in advance. But you still have to do it.

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46.  You can return to old friendships after decades. The time will appear to have been days.

47.  Pay attention to intuition. It’s plugged into quite a mighty universal battery.

48.  None of us gets out of here alive. So chill out and consider the bigger picture.

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49.  Charm, even without action or substance, has a role.

50.  Sometimes it’s better when the plan does not fall in place. You just never know in advance.

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More insights are in some of my books, including:

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Visual Magic

 

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Synchronicity as Signpost