Maand: augustus 2015

Taxi to Hell-sinki airport sliding towards Arto Paasilinna and others

The taxi driver took off like crazy, sliding through the snow. At every traffic light the same recipe: full throttle, tyres spinning through the snow.

liaOn the highway he was taking over a lorry on the right hand side, while typing an SMS, slipping through a corner.

Then he slid a cd in the stereo, and this horrible kitsch music from Aerosmith sounded though the car: Love in An Elevator, Smoking in the back of the Yard (or so – I could not find it online afterwards, and do not want to put too much time into it), and other completely retarded music and lyrics.

I hate Aerosmith.

I was glad when we arrived at the airport and I could get out.

Nevertheless I could not call the taxi driver impolite. Just socially clumsy probably. Generally I find the Finnish people incredibly nice and helpful people. It’s terrible to come back in this little overcrowded country with it’s ill-mannered people.

And of course: it is raining back home. I just got so used to the Finnish freshness of the dry frost and the snow.

And since this post is beginning to be all over the place, I will continue that drift with a reading recommendation from Finland:
Arto Paasilinna
.
His stoArtories are extremely funny, with a dry sense of humor, very Finnish, you will not find something close elsewhere, so really unique story teller. Very entertaining and stories with surprising twist about the melancholic Finnish people getting into crazy situations.

I like these books that give the impression that the author sat down behind his desk, started the story and let it go where ever it leads them. It give a very loose touch to the writing.de man zonder ziektecatch 22

Freely associating while concocting story. Paasilinna is like that. Murakami has the same attraction to me – A Wild Sheep Chase being the outstanding one for me.

More of those: Joseph Heller , Arnon Grunberg De Man Zonder Ziekte / The Man Without wild sheep chaseIllness, Douglas Coupland Worst. Person. Ever..worst person ever

How I found Sei Shonagon and Pieter Steinz’ wordpress blog in the process

Not sure where I heard about Sei Shonagon first, but for sure the reason to go look for the works of this writer was a list or a book by Pieter Steinz (I do not believe that only now, while I am writing this blog post, I found his wordpress blog).

I found a second hand edition of Het Hoofdkussenboek / The Pillow Book on Marktplaats and within a few days the book arrived and I could undo it from it’s tightly wrapped cover of newspaper and brown tape.the pillow book

The book immediately reminded me of the atmosphere that Cees Nooteboom creates in his writing on his travels through Japan (Van de lente de dauw / there is no english translation ?!), and the feel from the pictures of artists like Hokusai.

Shonagon sketches a unique image of the life of aristocracy in the 10th century. The book inspires you to take your notebook and go walk around and document everything that’s happening around you, and realize nothing is really as self-evident and mundane as you think when you are in the middle of it every day.

(ng 1)

Metamagical Themas reread

Some time ago I wrote I was re-reading  Metamagical Themas from Douglas R. Hofstadter.

The last chapter of the book dismetamagical themascusses the Prisoner’s Dilemma, and continues to reason basically how (super)rationalist reasoning would lead to better decisions, and ultimately a better world. Hofstadter applies his ideas to the cold war reality of those days (1980 thru 1984).

The text is wonderfully bright and one can only agree with him, but … as Hofstadter tells us, this is only true in the ‘iterated’ case, meaning consistent rational behavior pays off to everyone in the long term! I strongly believe self-enrichment, egotism, and other human vices, are all non-rational behaviors aiming at short-term satisfaction. Thus standing in the way of Doug’s better world. Anyway, these quality of the essays is outstanding and I found Hofstadter’s idealism still incredibly inspiring.

Kitten Clone and the engineer’s lost soul

Coupland’s Kitten Clone is written in Coupland’s sort of nonchalant style. Entertaining and ironic, without giving the impression of not being serious. And it has a few typical nerdy typographical jokes like making a paragraph brake with

<br>

The very well written documentary (leave that up to Coupland), is very kitten clonebeautifully illustrated with photo’s from Olivia Arthur, a famous Magnum photographer.

A piece of art, this book.

Coupland documents his thoughts as he travels over the globe, interviewing staff from the company Alcatel-Lucent, one of the few organizations providing the backbone  technology for the Internet. Without this technology and maybe without this company our (cyber) lives would look quite different.

With Tracy Kidder’s The Soul of a New Machine (“the original nerd epic”), soul-new-machinesee also my earlier post linking to Kidder’s book, and Coupland’s own  JPod,  one of the best books on the soul of engineers.

Kitten Clone is the most analytical and philosophical.

“The zeitgeist of the twenty-first century is that we have a lot of zeit but not much geist. I’m appalled I just wrote that sentences, but it’s true; there’s something emotionally sparse about the present era, and the world just keeps spinning faster and faster. Optical fibres carry forty billion phone calls at once, and soon ten terabits. And I want my Dexter, Season 4, and I want it now, and that’s what’s driving all of this: we want it and we want it now.

And on top of that, it sort of feels like we’re all being chased by monsters.”

I found the formulation smelling like cultural pessimism, and it feels like every generation has developed this sort of fatique. However this feeling of this ever increasing speed of need I definitely share, but still I am not convinced this may be a generational gap.JPOD_FrontCover

And Coupland not just wonders where all this speed is necessary for. This company is mostly invisible to the public, while their product is so fundamentally changing society. It does continue to improve their technology, without seemingly wondering what this technology really enables.

“All of the scientists I spoke with were almost endearingly surprised even to be asked the question of how people will use what they invent.”

And while the company does not bother much about the application of their technology, the people using their product create a complete new reality with it.

“Right now, half of humanity – the younger half – believes the Internet is the reality.”

This lack of apparent self reflection from the this technology company as well as from the people using their stuff, is what Coupland seems to fear most.

And with that the conclusion of this documentary story is positive and alarming at the ame time. Possibilities of people connecting globally are developing at an increasing speed, but this seems to develop on itself and there is a no grand plan, vision or idea guiding this advancement. Coupland for a moment even longs for religion.

Innovation: getting comfortable with chaos

First I got a bit irritated. Thought this is either beyond my intelligence, or it is BS with capital letters.rainforest

“People in Rainforests are motivated for reasons that defy traditional economic notions of “rational” behavior.”

Such sentences sound like religious crap in my mind. I hit a few more of these texts in The Rainforest, by Victor W. Hwang and Greg Horowitt.
I was a false start. I admit. But now and then the writers fall in the trap of academic writing, and they follow the “misguided lessons you learn in academia” as Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson call it in “Rework” (more on that in another post).
rework fried heinemeier

The book looks at psychological, neurological context of forming innovation groups, and what to look at. It touches open many other aspects of inactive environments (rainforests).

There’s a sociological aspect to it that very much speaks to my heart.

“As veteran Silicon Valley venture capitalist Kevin Fong says, “At a certain point, it’s not about the money anymore. Every engineer wants their product to make a difference.” “

This reminds me of The Soul of a New Machine from Tracy Kidder. soul-new-machineExcellent book by the way, a must read for (computer) engineers and other Betas. You will get your soldering iron out.
Anyway in this book also, the goal of money is way out of sight, it is the product that counts. Personal issues are set aside, esthetic issues with respect to the new machine prevail. The team is totally dedicated to creating the new machine. They are in the flow, very similar to the psychological flow that psychology professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, has described in “Flow”. The state in which people (typically athletes talk a lot about pushing themselves into a flow) where conscious thinking and acting disappear and a person gets totally submerged in the activity itself.flow

Back to the Rainforest, where the authors have found that a social context is key for a innovative rainforest to thrive. It’s not just about creating the brain power, but an entire entrepreneurial context that turns this brainpower into a innovative growing organism. The trick is to create a social environment where cross-fertilization takes place.

“Governments are increasingly seeking to spur entrepreneurial activity across the entire system, not just for large companies. Today, countries are ambitiously seeking to create entire innovation economies.”

“The biggest invisible bottleneck in innovation is not necessarily the economic desirability of a project, the quality of the technology, or the rational willingness of the customer. The real cost frequently boils down to the social distance between two vastly different parties.”

“Serendipitous networking is essential because, in the real world, it is impossible for a central agent to do everything.”

A lot of word and advice are spent on the topic. Tools are presented as guidelines for achieving such an environment.

“Tool #1: Learn by Doing Tool #2: Enhance Diversity Tool #3: Celebrate Role Models and Peer Interaction Tool #4: Build Tribes of Trust Tool #5: Create Social Feedback Loops Tool #6: Make Social Contracts Explicit”

I am not sure if Hwang and Horowitt prove in their work that a central organization (government) can really steer this. An analytical approach to culture change is something different from a (working) prescriptive culture change. I may be skeptical, but with me are the Fried and Heinemeier again in Rework about culture (in context of an organisation):

“Culture is the byproduct of consistent behaviour. 

It isn’t a policy. It isn’t the Christmans party or the company picnic. Those are objects and events, not culture. And it’s not a slogan, either. Culture is action, not words.”

The Rainforest continues and brings together Deming’s approach to maximize quality of product procedures by an organization with the entrepreneurial approach towards innovation. This so serve as a model to evolve innovative, informal and entrepreneurial spirited organizations, a kind of primordial soup into mature structured organization.
(In this soup of entrepreneurial elements, a “flow” should be created igniting an entrepreneurial life form.)

“We surmise that one of the major reasons large corporations often fail at innovation―whether they create venture arms, new product divisions, or otherwise―is because they typically create new business divisions in a formal sense without the “cultural walls” separating the Deming and the Rainforest communities.”

Interestingly this is also what Christensen speaks of in “The Innovators Dilemma”. the innovators dilemmaChristensen makes a similar claim. Organizations fail at innovation because they manage innovation the same way as they do there mature business units. This inherently fails. There is a lot of similarity between the thinking of Christensen and Hwang here. These guys should talk. And invite Fried and Heinemeier to the party.

I conclude managing innovation in an existing (large) organizations can only be successful if it is operated in a completely separate entity. With their own culture that is free to grow, and in a social environment that is not constraint by bureaucratic “efficiencies”.

The greatest All American Guitar band of all times

In the car I listen to podcasts (James Altucher, Tim Ferriss, The Candid Frame, Freakonomics, …).

Or I listen to music. For that I have an SD Card that I load with a random “smart playlist” from my iTunes library. 8GB of musical history. (Spotify is for the gym.)

Today I hit this fantastic Thin White Rope song, It’s OK. I had not listened to them for quite some time. Somehow they must have been missed by the randomization algorithm in iTunes.

thin white ropeThey are still fantastic to listen to. The greatest All American band of all times. Grungy guitar rock from the desert. John Wayne, Billy the Kid, saloons, cowboys, buffalos, oversized vehicles, overloads of street signs, New York, Lincoln, guns, George Bush, Apaches, Ernest Hemingway, hamburgers, Dear Hunter, slavery, baseball, Texas, NASA, the electric guitar, Rock & Roll, FDR, IBM, obesitas, white sneakers, kaki trousers, Elvis, Omaha Beach, Winnetou and Old Shatterhand (Karl May himself jawohl), revolver, Ford Mustang, getto’s, Fox News, CNN, every 10 minutes advertising on tv, Star Wars, Joseph Heller, John Irving, William Eggleston, You Kill It We Grill It, Apollo I, II, III and following, Tom Peters, J.D. Salinger, The Blues Brothers, Apple, Casablanca, … I give up, but sure there are a few others.

And Thin White Rope.

The Quietus has written a very good article about the band, and their music. Can’t improve upon that one.

“‘It’s OK’ blasts down the synaptic highways, a thing of both terror and awe, before locking into a monumental end groove that the band proceed to demolish with searing feedback and a hammering counter-riff. This is one of those tracks it’s simply not possible to play loud enough.”

Classic. Listen.

Badges of Horror in The Dutch Virgin

After all the reading of self help and entrepreneurial help type books see below, I felt a need to read something like a novel again. Too much self help can make you feel helpless, in the sense of: wow, I have a lot to improve. What have I done the past x years – thrown half my life away?

I tripped over Marente de Moor’s De Nederlandse maagd (The Dutch Virgin), and purchased it on my new kindle. The story plays largely in Germany, during the interbellum. The main person, a Dutch adolescent girl, is sent on a training camp for fencing in Germany. The training teacher is an German WW I veteran and the story plays against that background, and the approaching WW II.

denederlandsemaagd

Interesting setting that reminded me of Céline, whose work covers the same period. But what intrigued me especially in the book where the dark sides in this story.

One of the days during her stay, the girl attends a Mensur fight. I had never heard of such a ritual in Western civilisations, where opponents quite deliberately wound eachother in the face.
I got interested in this Mensur and it’s code honour. Did some research to find out where this came from. There is an excellent article on this topic that can be found on the internet, written bij the journalist Jonathan Green. It is here in the web archive.

So what is this Mensur. It is a odd kind of sword fight with swords practiced amongst student in a corps as a kind of bonding and building of character. All for self-conquest instead on winning from an opponent other than oneself.
The rules are such that there are limited defense options besides special protectives from eyes and nose and a sort of body armor. Participants typically end up with significant cuts on the face and wounds on the head, which are treated on the spot.
The remaining scars are sign of honor. An honorable practice you could easily argue is a rather brute and horrific initiation ritual.

Further down in the book there is the description of a ghostly appearance, the main characters experience. She sees the head of a wounded person, whose head is half gone.

“Zijn gezicht was maar aan een kant wet weefsel bedekt, de andere kant was een doodskop.” / “His face was only covered with tissue on one side, de other side was a skull.”

Mort a CreditThe description reminded me of the image in my head I have of the cover of Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s Mort a Credit (Death on Credit/Dood op Krediet. (Guess I had unconsciously associated the story with Celine already, as we saw). The cover of the Dutch edition from Meulenhoff had a similar picture on the cover.
Now on my qui vive for disgust, I started noticing more of these horror references.
Description of decaying bodies killed or wounded in battle. Fermentation of animals, which makes meat tender. (Eskimo’s seem to fill seal carcasses with dead birds to enrich the fermentation process. Kiviak, I found. See http://www.odditycentral.com/pics/kiviaq-probably-the-worlds-most-disgusting-meat-dish.html. I understand they eat the bird (not the seal meat) “fresh, right out of the seal-bag after a couple of months of breeding). Referred to as in the book as a decadent rotting. The doctor manufactures a hand from a foot and and nose out of cheek tissue. And there is a link to the Golem mentioned earlier in the book, created through a ‘Procedure (Mulsich Procedure), but here the doctor has taken an almost dead man from the battlefield and resurrected him through physical and mental patch work.

B74122F9-6CD7-404B-9AA7-78523B93A66F No I have arrived in this space, other linkages with other well known Dutch writers: one of the protagonists has suffered from a dissociative diaorder – he thinks he is doppelgänger of himself. Which of course is the main theme of Hermans’ De donkere kamer van Damocles / The Darkroom of Damocles. And twins (I don’t see a relation to the theme in Tessa de Loo’s De Tweeling), but the notion of a shadow-soul that follows us around, and after death passes on our experience to another body is interesting concept (and again may associates with Hermans, this time Engelbewaarder / Memories of a guardian angel). Not sure whether the writer has made it up or I can’t simply find a reference, but I could not validate it let alone find more information on that.229D9E19-1F49-45CA-AD6B-2813D5E37E0B

One last concept to touch on is the “Sippenhaftung”, horror of another kind another. I think this is the main theme for the book. The girl’s father has commited a sin, for which the girl is paying: Sippenhaftung. That’s Sippenhaftung: an honor is blemished, the relatives of the offender are paying for the sins of the offender. A concept Hitler reintroduced after the attack on his life by Von Stauffenberg. (By the way is seems Hitler opposed the practice of Mensur, it seems.) Other great nation states like North Korea and Chechnia are practicing this kind of right.