Week 7

A little Phil Hartman to get you in the mood

Following Niels ‘t Hooft’s example, I thought I’d start reviewing my week in public. I already review my week in private, but those thoughts aren’t fit to print, so to say.

Reading

Here’s my past week in a list of online articles:

  • Gravitational waves were all over the news. One of the first to attempt to detect them was Joseph Weber. I remember Weber being discussed in a philosophy of science book I had to read in college. The book made him look like a kind of janitor cum science enthusiast. He wasn’t. 
  • Loved this open letter by Apple CEO Tim Cook, in which he explains in very plain words why Apple is opposed to helping the FBI crack an iPhone that belonged to one of the San Bernadino terrorists. I was sceptical of Apple’s stated commitment to privacy in 2014, when they first made it into a talking (and selling) point, and they took a swipe at Google at the same time. But they’re really taking a stand here.
  • Quartz has been busy keeping us here in the West in the know regarding South East Asia. This week, they reported on a movie called Ten Years, which offers a frightening look at Hong Kong in 2025.
    The movie is a collection of vignettes that imagine a dystopian Hong Kong 10 years in the future, as Beijing’s growing influence over the city entails mandatory Mandarin language for residents, fake, fatal, terrorism incidents to scare the citizens, and a ban of the word “local.”
    (Heather Timmons, Hong Kong’s popular, lucrative horror movie about Beijing has disappeared from theaters)

    Theatres have stopped showing the movie for ‘economic reasons’. Yet, at the same time, tickets for private viewings have been in high demand. Which makes people suspect the Chinese government is pressuring theatre owners. Hong Kong, as you may know, is now under Chinese control. Theoretically, the city state should be allowed to have its own way of life and capitalist system for at least another 21 years under the “One Country, Two Systems” principle. But things like this movie affaire and the case of the missing bookstore owners suggest a different reality. With Hong Kong vs. China, Turkey vs. the Kurds, Russia vs. TurkeyRussia vs. Sweden, and Europeans vs. refugees, this are bleak times.

  • Quartz has also been in the news itself, because of its interesting new take on a news app. The app gives you the latest news via chat interface. The future of news? … Maybe, in a few iterations, after the gimmickness of the chat interface wears off. The ‘more/next’ interface is brilliant (sort of like a Twine for news!), but the app doesn’t really need the iMessage style blue bubbles.
  • Scientist discovers a boiling river. Surely, the end times are nigh.

Book Clubs

This week I finished Being Wrong, by Kathryn Schulz, just in time for the pre-Meetup prep yesterday evening with my co-organizer Naomi.  You should read ‘Being Wrong’. In this age of predigested lessons and listicles full of pop culture references, it’s refreshing to read a writer who never takes the easy route yet is completely comprehensible. Turns out, I can still have a complex thought and enjoy myself! ‘Being Wrong’ also completely changed the way I think about my own convictions. That’s never a bad thing.

Also: the other, more informal book club I’m part of finally settled on Lauren Groff’s Fates & Furies. “So you’ll read thís divorce epic, but not any of the Franzen books I recommend?”, my wife sulked. Not my fault, dear. It happened to be another book club member’s time to pick a book.

Writing

I wrote a post for my new blog Kacang Pedis. On Kacang Pedis, I use a simple question – “Why is the Dutch word for peanut ‘pinda’, a word of West African origin?” – as an excuse to write about the Columbian Exchange and all the ways it has changed and influenced our lives.

Next week, I’ll write a post for Kacang Pedis about my visit to the Tropenmuseum (Museum of the Tropics), in Amsterdam. And I’ll continue working on my Dutch-language scifi story, which has suffered a bit from my sudden renewed interest in the Columbian Exchange.

Cooking: Valentine edition

I made cookies for Valentine’s Day. The recipe came from an old recipe book my mother kept from when she was in Huishoudschool (that’s right: housework school, where Dutch girls learned how to be a housewife).  It might be the simplest recipe ever:

  • Mix 1 part butter, 3/4 part sugar,  1 1/2 parts flour, and 2 pinches of salt into a non-sticky ball
  • Leave in the fridge, covered, for half an hour
  • Roll the chilled dough into a sausage and then slice the sausage into small cookie shaped nuggets
  • Bake in a preheated oven (150 degrees Celsius) till golden brown (about 20 minutes)

Like chocolate? Mix in some cocoa powder. I mixed some shredded, sugared ginger in one part of the dough, and made two-tone heart shaped cookies.

I want collect more simple snack recipes. I tend to spend a lot of time on cooking healthy meals, and then buy the 3 same snacks over and over again (chocolate, potato chips,  olives). I want more vegetable-based snacks and home-made cookies in my life. Pickling peppers this afternoon, as a matter of fact.

A photo posted by @noobpw on

Watch ‘The Big Short’, then read ‘Being Wrong’

Last week we went to see The Big Short (Adam McKay), about a group of outsiders who find a way to profit off what they accurately predict to be the housing bubble of 2007.

For a Hollywood production, ‘The Big Short’ tells its story in a strange way. Big names like Ryan Gosling and Steve Carrell routinely break the fourth wall, ham it up only to tell you “it all actually happened exactly like this”, and wear silly wigs. Presumably, ‘The Big Short”s unconventionality is another way to explore its Cassandra theme of outsiders and underdogs speaking an untimely and unpalatable truth. – Well, whatever the reason, I thought it made for a funny movie.

On ‘Being Wrong’

As a portrait of that Big Wrong of our time, ‘The Big Short’ makes a great side dish to Being Wrong, by Kathryn Schulz. Which is the book the Amsterdam Nonfictionados are currently reading for their 3rd meetup. (Naturally, Schulz references the financial crisis a number of times, seeing how many people were wrong back then.)

Schulz has a TED Talk about her book (see below). But you’d be wrong to conclude from there being a TED Talk that ‘Being Wrong’ is some upbeat plea tailored to startup CEOs about the life-altering lessons you can only learn through failing. It’s actually a very philosophical book, quoting the likes of Plato, William James, and modern age neurologists, and carefully navigating the sandbanks surrounding concepts like ‘belief’ and ‘fact’. 

Why are we wrong so often? Why does being right feel so good? Why are we willing to bankrupt entire nations, instead of practicing some humility? What does our endless capacity for error tell us about the world out there? And why do our errors make for such funny stories and movies?

Schulz goes into all that, and more. So go read it, and then join us!

 

First short story in a long time: ‘GLAN party’

I spent December writing ‘GLAN party’, my first short story in a long, long time. It’s about a LAN party in the future.

The story is in English, and though it’s not entirely done yet (I’m waiting for reactions from some critical readers and I might still edit a bit), you can read ‘GLAN party’ on Medium.

‘GLAN party’ started out as a Twine game, but I quickly soured on Twine’s unsatisfying blend of narrative and game play. There are some great Twine games out there, but they’re not something I enjoy writing.

Here’s what I learned:

  • To write a short story, basically you have to sit down and write. That’s the only real requirement. You can make the process as convoluted as you like, and I’ll want to tweak mine a bit more. But the story will never exist if you don’t sit down (or stand up, sure) and write every word of it. I find that an empowering thought: because that means if you can find the time to sit down long enough, you can write anything you like.
  • Start with the end in mind. They told me over and over again, and I didn’t listen. Turns out they were right. I think it ends okay, for a simple A to Z plot. But for my next story, I going to think about the end a bit before I start writing.
  • Try to solicit some more criticism, earlier in the writing process. I recently met ‘hybrid novelist’ Niels ‘t Hooft, who polls his readers during his writing and after their reading. Seems like a good idea.

Here’s what I’m happy with:

  • The English used in the story, though rather cryptic according to some early reactions, is very much how I wanted it for this story. I like puzzling over fiction, as the higher payoff you get from that has been one of the joys for this non-native speaker wrestling through Melville and Nabokov. Also, it helps sustain the futurism angle, by creating a bit of distance between it and the English of our familiar world. For a next story in English, though, I might tone it down a bit. (Actually, my first story after this one will be in Dutch, at the request of Niels.)
  • The idea of mobile computers morphing into brightly colored, childlike replicants in our lifetime (or a lifetime that closely resembles ours). To go online, pull them on your lap and cuddle them.

Here’s what I’m unhappy with:

  • The world is a bit tongue-in-cheek, with tubers riding around (get it?), and krilldogs, and embodied computing. The story was meant as a new look at the frustrating yet satisfying experience of organizing a LAN party. But because of those ‘funny’ ‘ideas’ it will now be read as satire. That’s on me.
  • The ending. How do LAN parties end?  The same way you go broke: gradually, then suddenly. So that means the party had to end with a bit of an anticlimax. Say your goodbyes, and that’s that. True to life perhaps, but not a very satisfying read per se.

What I’m going to do next:

  • Write another story, again with a science fiction angle (sorry!), but in Dutch.  I’m reworking a dream I had last year into a setup right now, and want to write the story, start to finish, in February. (So expect it in March.)

Charles seems to like it.

What’s this blog for?

More or less a log of what I’m up to. Now that I’m unemployed (more on that later), I thought I might as well do some soul searching.

Having spent the last few years picking time-consuming side projects and life goals on a whim, only to abandon them soon after, now that I have the time, I want to try new things. Things I’ve been putting off for no particular reason. Then, we’ll see which ones actually captivate my interest. I’m trying to shed the manic “This might be what I want to do with the rest of my life, because if not, what is?”-thoughts. Instead, just do things and enjoy doing them.

So expect random stuff: stories, essays, newsletters, personal notes. Recipes. Art projects, podcasts, and probably videos.

Also, as I’m still thinking this all through, expect the definition of what this blog is for to change as well.

me trying new things