On Books And Book Books

It’s funny, the world we live in today. When I talk about books, I have to specify the ‘type’ of the book to prevent misunderstandings. For the greater part of human history, when someone mentioned books, everyone knew what it was. That is not the case today. Hence the usage physical book or book book to differentiate them from e-books.

In September 2017, I purchased Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. I’d been eyeing that book for the better part of six months and the Kindle version was way cheaper than I’d imagined. So I immediately snagged a copy, in as much you can snag a digital copy of a book.

And there it has been, lying untouched until earlier this week. In the intervening time-period, I’ve read about half a dozen books. Thinking about the book and why I had ignored it for so long reinforced the point that I do not particularly like e-books. I prefer book books. What’s more interesting is that I had known this since April of 2016, when I read my first e-book and concluded that I preferred tangible copies.

So did I read Sapiens after I bought it? Yes, I made it about 15% of the way, and I even felt confident enough about it to mention it in a post last year. In an effort to read more books, faster, I had started reading them simultaneously. Reading became another aspect of my life that had to be optimized to increase efficiency. Soon, it dawned on me that reading 4 books at the same time wasn’t exactly my forte, especially when all 4 are e-books. So I gave up on Sapiens and there it has been, in limbo, since then. I reverted to buying physical books, despite the obvious downfalls.

e-book-1209040_1280
This is SO not the book that I was reading.

So even though physical copies cost more, took time to be delivered, and made me feel guilty about the environment, I keep buying more of them. Call me what you will, but I am of the opinion that nothing matches the feel of a book in your hand. In fact, 6 of 9 books that I read last year were physical books. Sure, they are dead trees and now is not the time to be going around felling trees. But I’ve found that cognition is often better when I’m reading a physical book than with a e-book.

Not only does having a book in hand get me in the right mood to read, but because they are tangible, I am often more engrossed and remember details in a more vivid fashion. The reading experience on the Kindle is top-notch, for sure, but reading a book in Kindle feels like reading articles or news on your mobile device. You feel like scrolling through absent-mindedly. There is the pull of the plot, but the effect it has on you is watered down.

When I pick up a good book, I find it hard to put it down. But with *e-books*, I find it very easy to turn it off and do something else.

I realize that I could be alone in this and nobody else feels this way about books, physical or otherwise. But when you’re reading to absorb in new thoughts – be they real or fictional – it makes sense to do so in a way that leaves a permanent mark in your mind. E-books don’t do that for me. That being said, the ability to carry hundreds of books in the palm of my hand is a privilege I will be eternally grateful for.

So, I started this post with Sapiens and you might be wondering what’s happened to it. Being the person that I am – the one to run away from problems – I’ve actively ignored my Kindle collection and focussed solely on physical books. I was nearly 30 pages into Stephen King’s It when I made the decision. I would start reading Sapiens – from the beginning. I told myself I’d keep all other books on hold, till I had cleared my Kindle collection. Though I haven’t been reading e-books since September, my collection has been growing, to say the least. So for the foreseeable future, I’ll be playing catchup with my e-books before I get back to my physical ones.

Given that I am reading on my Kindle, progress on Sapiens is slow because my precious eyes get tired soon. But this time around, I’m paying extra attention to really get all the details into my head. Also, I can’t wait to get back to the warm and crispy pages of King’s book, scary as it might be. But I guess I can’t complain since I brought this upon myself. 😉

So that’s the rundown of my love-hate relation with Kindles and e-books. What do you prefer – book books or e-books? Why? I’m sure most of you will have similar thoughts to share, so why not share them in the comments below?

Image via Pixabay

Hair To The Empire

Ugh! Enough with the sloppy puns already.

I love it when even the smallest details are given the attention they truly deserve. So it often hurts me that the barber’s cape at the salon I frequented didn’t have mirrored lettering on it. When I sat on the chair – the barber clipping away my dry, lifeless hair – the letters on the reflection of the cape were all reversed. This has been a pet peeve of mine for quite some time now.

I’ve often wondered if I should consider being a patron of a different salon, one that has the perfect cape for me to wear. To be honest, though, it would be petty of me to change salons simply because their cape the lettering on their cape wasn’t up to my liking. The real reason I had considered moving was that every time I went there, there would be a new barber, ready to cut my hair. It was exhausting having to explain my preferences to a barber I’d never see again. Regardless, my trip to the salon on Wednesday was… special to say the least.

I am pretty relaxed during haircuts but there is a period of time when anxiety sets in. Anytime the barber is close to my temple – to adjust my sideburns – or by the sides of the head, I start paying close attention to what he does. I get nervous and extremely alert. I’m guessing it might be because of remnants of unresolved childhood trauma.

This image worries me way more than it should.

I was in sixth grade, Literature class. The lesson we were being taught had an absent-minded barber as one of the characters. My teacher, in trying to explain what ‘absent-minded’ meant, recounted how a barber had once sneezed while cutting his hair. He was clumsy and did not move the scissors in his hand away when he sneezed. The scissors dug into the skin of my teacher, right beside his right eyebrow. He even showed us the scar that had formed over the gash.

In hindsight though, he could have used a better example and avoided traumatising impressionable 11-year old kids for life. Ever since that class I’ve been very aware of the barber when he cuts close to my ears and face – ready to duck in any direction as soon as I sense something wrong.

Despite this ‘trauma’, I was seated quite comfortably for someone who kept thinking about hairdressers inadvertently attacking him. “This would make a great blog post,” I thought. And that’s when it hit me. Salons make for perfect places to unwind and let my thoughts flow as they like. After all, this isn’t the first time I’ve written about how great it is to let your mind wander at a salon, which means I should make this a regular feature. I used to think there was something special about being in that chair that helped me zone out, but it turns out, this is what I always do! The salon was making it easier for me.

I’m prone to such experiences all the time, but usually, there isn’t a situation where I can let my senses dull and not have something go wrong. Getting a haircut, on the contrary, I can sit and relax on the chair, enjoy the cool air blasting from the air conditioner (which hopefully won’t kill me) and the ambient music, while the barber does all the work for me. Of course, this is excluding those moments of pure agony when the panic sets in. But it’s great because I can lower my guard and not have anything stolen from me. Public transportation is quite similar – I can zone out, someone else is driving for me and I can sit back and relax – but there is always too much action going on outside for me to zone out.

And that, I think, is why I usually have these ‘shower thoughts’ in the salon, before I have a shower. #salonthoughts anyone? Didn’t think so. Now that I’ve written this down, it seems patently absurd to me, that I’m a grown adult who is still traumatised by what someone said 12 years ago, and then thinks about it and then writes about it online, then goes on to analyse why he only has such thoughts in the salon. I should probably stop now.

Image: Renee Olmsted on Pixabay

Where Do We Go From Here?

The first week of 2018 is behind us, and boy has it been a wild ride! From hanging corpses to nuclear buttons and sold-out books, the first week of 2018 looks exactly like an extended version of 2017. Not to be outdone by the dumpster fire that is the world outside, I wasted spent the whole week inside like a recluse. Zero productivity, unless you count the many hours I spent pondering about the state of the world.

As a rule of thumb, I tend to avoid new year resolutions as much as I can. The reason for this is simple. I am not delusional about what I can do. I know for a fact that I will fail any goal I set for myself in a week or two. So I don’t bother with it at all. However, two things that I had decided coming into 2018, were to read and write more, or at least marginally more than what I had managed in 2017.

Remember when I said I spent the whole first week like a recluse and got nothing done?

Most people would try to put that one week to good use by writing, but being me, I did not. I did, however, in my usual fashion, daydream about how much I’d write this year and how I would soon slide into a fixed weekly posting schedule. I even had a couple of ideas floating around in my head about what I would write about.

Needless to say, none of that has materialised.

So where do we go from here? Truth be said, despite my anti-resolution stance, I do like the idea of writing more, at least once a week. Going forward that might be a thing or it might not. The first week may have been a dumpster fire, but that doesn’t mean every other week has to.

How has 2018 been treating you? How many of your resolutions have failed? Are you still going strong with your resolutions? Let me know. Here’s to a great year ahead! [I should have said like a week ago :/ ]

2017 In Retrospect

[Dramatic sigh with intense eye contact]

[A moment of introspection with no eye contact]

Damn, I am this close to being a fedora-tipping neckbeard, with this action in brackets style of writing.

Yes, I really am doing this. I’ve always been bad at creating end of year review/highlight posts, so I don’t bother creating them anyway. Unless somebody else does the work for me, in which case I am happy to plaster it all over the web.

The primary reasons I tend to avoid reviewing the year is that

  1. I end up focusing on the negative experiences – the sorrow, the pain and the moments where I screwed up and took Ls like it was my job.
  2. Everything that happened to me in 2017 was bad.

The second reason is, for all intents and purposes, invalid, because 2017 was shitty for all of us. That’s right, no assumptions, no “It was bad for most of us”; I have zero doubts about 2017’s ability to leave you hurt.

It is a quirk of the human mind that it gives more prominence and weight to negative experiences than to positive, happy ones. In this sense, the mind is similar to a heroin addict – each new hit increases your tolerance and lowers the returns. Once you get the happiness you crave, the effects wear off relatively soon and there’s always something new to pursue.

All the news headlines from this year – both from my own country and the world at large – kept beating me every day till I was numb and couldn’t feel anything anymore. Right now is not a good time to be alive.

I guess that’s enough of introspective philosophical me’, which is the most boring instance of me. I’ll try listing all the good things that have happened to me this year, just to spice things up a bit.

This is the best I could get after Googling “rewind”. Please accept my apologies.

The year started off great with a trip to a hill resort that provided insight into what I wanted from life. Soon after the trip though, life went ‘downhill’ from there. Get it? I went to a ‘hill’ station and then life went down-‘hill’? Oh man, I suck at puns. 😑

  • I graduated from college, finally. I am super stoked to have completed my college education and get a degree, but I can’t say I have the same enthusiasm for actually working. :/ I’m hoping that changes in 2018. In 2017, though, I learned the hard way how not to search for a job.
  • I read 9 books this year. This in itself isn’t brag-worthy by any standards, but compared to 2016, when I read 2 books, this is a definite improvement. I set a Goodreads challenge to read 12 books in 12 months, but could only manage 9, so there’s the remaining 3 books (and growing) to look forward to in 2018.

Another point I’d like to highlight is how much of an idiot 2016-me seems to 2017-me. I went to a freaking rave party on New Year’s Eve 2016, on top of a hill, far from the city. The price of admission was steep, the complimentary drinks weren’t even that good and all we did was keep jumping to loud music from 11 till 1, when the cops inevitably came to shut it down.

It fills me with despair to look back at it, because I am not that kind of person. I’m a textbook-example of the kind of person who’s happier staying at home and sleeping early, because I’m boring like that. Do I regret attending the party? No. Would I do it again? No. The older I get – which isn’t saying much – the more I feel that sleeping early on New Year’s Eve is a better option than anything else.

Without any hint of a transition, let’s move on my best finds of 2017.

Best blogging peeps

  • I think I started 2017 the right way by refreshing not only my writing style, but also the people I follow. Nicole from Nicole Sundays provided me with tons of laughs this year and a fellow millennial with a liking for fails that matches mine.
  • Sanjay from The Polymath Ideal is always up to some experiment on himself and his life. I’m talking about productivity, happiness-tracking and ways to get more work done efficiently. His book reviews are on point and I’ll start reading Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F*ck in 2018, one that he recommended.
  • Littlr is known about The Shining Gem other than the fact that he truly is a gem among bloggers. Ugh, sorry for the corny line. Whether it is about government policy, the present state of the industry and business, or just about any topic, he writes insightful, relevant and balanced posts that I always find myself agreeing to.

If you look at my content over the past year, you’ll find that it has been influenced to a certain extent by these amazing bloggers I found.

Best podcasts

2017 was the year I got back into podcasts with full force. To start it off, I invested in Pocket Casts, a paid podcast app, which I continue to swear by. I discovered so many great podcasts and audiodramas this year that providing descriptions for all of them is difficult. I hope you go through this list and check them out.

  • King Falls AM
  • Limetown
  • The Big Loop
  • S-Town
  • ars PARADOXICA
  • Dirty John
  • The Butterfly Effect With Jon Ronson
  • Mission To Zyxx
  • Steal The Stars

Best books

All 9 of the books I read this year were great, especially Nick Bilton’s memoir of the Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht, American Kingpin. The list of books I read this year is here.

Best movies

This list will be generic at best, simply because I did not have the time to watch too many movies. When you’re juggling two dozen podcasts, books and real-life priorities, movies take the back seat. That being said, here are movies from 2017 I liked.

  • Dunkirk: I rolled into 2017 waiting for this movie and the new Star Wars movie. That’s all I had to look forward to this year. Christopher Nolan created a movie that tightly weaves three different plots into a single cohesive entity. This was also when I had my chance encounter with fanboys.
  • Wonder Woman: A superhero movie that broke all conventional superhero movie rules. With a badass female superhero. Starring Gal Gadot. ‘Nuff said. We need more of these.
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi: Fans are divided about this movie, but let me be very clear, I loved it. Rian Johnson takes the expectations we had after The Force Awakens and turns them on their head. The story strives more than anything to release Star Wars from the grip of the Original Trilogy and to direct it into new areas and storylines.

That was my attempt at highlighting milestones from the past year and you can clearly see it had very little to do with my actual life. Let’s hope 2018 changes that. But more than that, I hope 2018-me doesn’t think this year-in-review was cringy.

That being said, I hope to see all of you and even more bloggers and fresh content in 2018. Wishing you all a great year ahead!

Image via Clker on Pixabay.

The Slippery Slope That Is Nostalgia

“It is strange how we hold on to the pieces of the past while we wait for our futures.” – Ally Condie

Nostalgia. It was something I heard grown-ups talk about a lot when I was a kid. I couldn’t grasp what it meant at the time, and I didn’t give much thought to it. As time has passed though, I find myself torn between active wool-gathering and passive longing for the past. I’m either making up grand futures in my mind, or I’m replaying moments that have already passed. Somehow I do get my things done, so that’s good, I guess.

While we’re still on the topic of nostalgia, I’d like to mention my ambivalence towards nostalgia. Nostalgia can be a powerful tool. On one hand, it can rescue us from moments of self-doubt and sadness. By replaying those key moments, we rediscover all the trials and tribulations we have successfully overcome in the past. It gives us the strength to face the current challenges; nostalgia reminds us that we have it in ourselves to beat those challenges.

Continue reading “The Slippery Slope That Is Nostalgia”

A Sceptic Tries Meditation

It is common knowledge that we do not exist solely in space but across time as well. This temporal existence is much closer to us than we would think. Physically we occupy space. But in our minds, we exist as a temporal slice of our actual whole. The process we call ‘thought’ exists in time and it deals with time; we have memories of events from the past and we have assumptions about how the future could turn out. Eric Frank Russell put it more succinctly than I ever could:

“Your body moves always in the present, the dividing line between the past and the future. But your mind is more free. It can think, and is in the present. It can remember, and at once is in the past. It can imagine, and at once is in the future, in its own choice of all the possible futures. Your mind can travel through time!”

While this temporal existence in itself does not cause us any stress, living in today’s world, in the present can be stressful indeed. There is so much work to be done, so many events to attend, so many people to meet and talk with, so many places to visit, books to read, movies to watch, podcasts to listen to and shows to binge on. If you are not moving ahead in every area of your life, you are essentially falling behind the curve. At least that is what popular culture tells us. We worship productivity tips, we cram in more and more tasks in our daily lives and keep charging ahead, if only not to be sidelined.

Continue reading “A Sceptic Tries Meditation”

Using A Pomodoro Timer To Get Things Done

Using A Pomodoro Timer To Get Things Done

Time management. Nothing fills dread into the hearts of people quite like time management. It is the prime weapon in our arsenal in our never-ending quest to be more productive and ensure zero-wastage of time. And for what? To fill our day with even more tasks that require completion and more activities that seem to make us better. The goal of time management has been corrupted, from being a way of managing our time to cramming in increasing number of tasks and completing them in ever decreasing amounts of time.

That doesn’t make us productive. It just makes us inefficient at what we do. As we try to complete every single task at hand, within the impending deadline, we just end up doing the task sloppily. Quantity over quality is the motto of Productivity™ now. And it’s not only the quality of the work that drops. As we cram more and more tasks into our physical (or virtual) to-do lists, the stress makes itself visible. We are driven by this constant pressure to strike off all the tasks, lest we are deemed unproductive.

When I write, I find that my internal editor butts in at every opportunity. Thus, every single writing session devolves into an editing session, where I’m not writing, but editing every single word and sentence before it even has a chance to be part of a narrative. The most reliable solution I’ve found to this quandary is the Pomodoro technique. I’ve written before about how I use a Pomodoro timer when I’m writing. 25 minutes of unfiltered writing, with no editing. Having a set time in which I write helps me in getting my thoughts down in words.

Structure, narrative coherence, and syntax, all part of my internal editor, take a back seat when I write with a running Pomodoro timer. What’s important is to get to the goal within the allotted time. You can spend a whole week editing an essay, making sure every sentence of it golden and magical, but unless you have written the words down, the essay doesn’t exist. That’s why free writing is so important, to get the story out of you, without letting your internal editor hamper your progress.

That being said, I’ve never given much thought to the ‘how’ of the Pomodoro technique. I just assumed it would work, and it did, but I did not analyse it. The concept of breaking your work into chunks and then singularly focusing on them for a short period of time is based on Parkinson’s Law.

“Work occupies to fill the time that is available for its completion.”

I’d been aware of Parkinson’s Law for quite some time, especially the paradox it gives rise to, namely,

“If you wait until the last minute, it only takes a minute to do.”

The observation above is based on the fact that work expands or shrinks depending on how much time is available. Putting ourselves in a situation with a small task, to be completed in a short amount of time gets the engine going and the creative juices flowing. Where I once took close to 2 days to get the first draft of a post ready, I was now churning them out in 25 minutes flat. But why?

Contrary to what we think, having too much time on your hand can actually cause procrastination. Sanjay, over at The Polymath Ideal, explains this effect and how Parkinson’s Law plays a part in it. He also goes on to explain how the eight-hour workday strangely makes us inefficient.

Instead of trying to be productive all eight hours of the day, which is impossible by human standards, the best course of action would be to block a short amount of time- preferably an hour- void of distractions and tackle set goals. The one-hour deadline looms over you, pushing you to get into the mindset required to complete said task. But the time isn’t so long that you feel drained once the hour is up. In short, one hour of quality work is better than eight hours of half-assed work.

Unbeknownst to me, this is exactly what I was doing with the Pomodoro technique. 25 minutes of quality work, with no distractions. Because I wasn’t setting deadlines earlier, in theory, I had infinite time to write my post. This fueled my already active procrastination and put me in a spot where I had no motivation. Setting deadlines, especially deadlines that are close, can put you in a fight-or-flight situation, where your brain goes into overdrive and you’re done with the work even before you know it. But don’t take my word for it; I’m not a biologist. However, what you can take away from this is that the Pomodoro technique works.

This, I believe, is the whole concept of time management. Time management is not about completing your tasks so you can move on to the next one. It is about arranging your life in a way that helps you complete the truly important tasks, without letting it take over your leisure time. In our pursuit of a productive life, we often forget this, so it’s good to remind ourselves once in a while. Break down your tasks into small chunks, and then devote time to tackle that task, and nothing else. If you still aren’t convinced, this whole post was written with a 25 minute Pomodoro timer running. Yeah, I can be productive too. Who knew?

Also, do check out The Polymath Ideal, where Sanjay shares his book recommendations, great podcasts he’s listening to and discusses methods of improving yourself, one step at a time. I hope you have as much fun reading his blog as I do.

Photo by Dustin Lee on Unsplash

The Right (And Wrong) Way To Travel

As the remains of what I ate lurched around in my stomach, I couldn’t help but wonder. Maybe this is how I finally die; cold, alone and with brutal irony.

So this happened, kind of. Travelling the world with no defining goal in mind is great. Travelling the world with a singular, all-encompassing objective isn’t better by any stretch, for sure. But if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?

October saw me making two separate 400+ kilometre trips, in the span of two weeks. Over the course of these trips, I saw both extremes, interspersed with moments of glaring stupidity— entirely by me— as well as resourceful planning and moments of awe-inspiring ingenuity, mostly by my companions. For obvious reasons, that’s just how the cookie crumbles.

Continue reading “The Right (And Wrong) Way To Travel”

Looking For Life In Alderaan Places

Looking For Life In Alderaan Places

A Star Wars pun. So original, I know. Couldn’t resist. Please tolerate me.

When news about the discovery of a new exoplanet pops up, it is usually followed by massive speculation. Is it in the Goldilocks zone? Does it have a protective atmosphere? Is there water on the planet?

That last bit always irks me to no end.

Continue reading “Looking For Life In Alderaan Places”

A Primer On Death Part 2

Before you begin, read Part 1 here.

Socrates believed that death was a passage to another life. This would explain his calmness when he was sentenced to death. But Epicurus, born about sixty years after the death of Socrates, outright rejected the concept of an afterlife. He did not see death as being good or bad in itself. Being a materialist philosopher, death was just the end of sensation to him. Consider this thought by Epicurus:

“Death is nothing to us, for that which has been dissolved into its elements experiences no sensations, and that which has no sensation is nothing to us.”

What he meant was that, on dying, we stop feeling. Our senses stop working and the abstract concept that is “you” or “me”, the person, ceases to exist. From this point on, we feel nothing, so we don’t feel death at all.

I think that the concept of an afterlife or an eternal heaven is, in reality, a means of sating our fear of death. We want to believe that death is not the end. So if death is not the big bad thing that we thought it was, then that leaves us to our devices with nothing to fear. But that leaves us with a quandary. What to do with the time that we are alive?

You can spend your life in a way that minimizes your suffering. This is what The Buddha strived for. In Buddhist philosophy, it is not death that is the big bad thing. It is the endless cycle of rebirths and lives spent suffering that is to be avoided. It is not necessary to believe in this concept of reincarnations, but you can see the appeal of living a life with no suffering. Over in the world of Western philosophy, Epicurus and his school of philosophy called Epicureanism, also tried to live a life free of pain and suffering, with friends who would always stick by you.

So not only were there thousands of people thinking about death long before you and I, they were also thinking about the most basic of questions: how to lead a good life? The simply answer to that would be, while you are awaiting death, lead a life with deeds that make it a good life. Or as the Stoics would call it, a virtuous life. What they meant by the term ‘virtuous’ is quite different from what the word would mean to us. A virtuous life was a life that was lived in accordance and in tune with nature and its flow. Not surprising, considering that they thought of the Universe as an all-encompassing God.

It is here that Stoicism diverged from Epicureanism and moves closer to Buddhism, in its total indifference to the events that happen in your life. Nothing that happens in your life is good or bad. By practising a strong detachment from everything, as in Buddhism, the Stoics were able to remove emotional reactions from all events and view them as objective actions. The goal was not to be a rock without feelings, it was to treat every situation with the same calm and to experience happiness from any situation.

More than anything, Stoicism is a philosophy teaching us to be strong enough to endure anything and still be tranquil. As Lary Wallace writes,

“Joy and grief are still there, along with all the other emotions, but they are tempered – and, in their temperance, they are less tyrannical.”

This is a good way of living life, according to Stoics, because it acknowledges that life is not always a bed of roses and that there are events that might be labelled ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but you decide to look at them as just events.

But this does not mean that we simply while away our time detached from everything. It is about leading a life in accordance with nature, as the original Stoics said. That would need updating for our times, but it simply means that you go about your life, doing good deeds, and an indifference that would amaze mere mortals.

But what is a good deed? What separates it from a bad deed? What meaning or value, if any, does a good life hold? What meaning or value does our existence have? A discussion on that, soon.