We start this issue off with writings on a floating bookstore, the recent success of indie booksellers, the mental health of coral reef researchers, and a new report showing that we are making a significant dent in the climate battle. Listen in on why the future of food is open source (and maybe put that mechanical engineering or data science degree to use in a new way), and take some time with a superb long read on why millennials are where they are (they weren’t born this way). Then we have a fantasy fiction recommendation with ties to the Lord of the Rings, some extra good finds I’ve been diggin’ of late, and an exercise of reflection. Enjoy!
◦ selected words
London’s Floating Bookstore Finds Success
Set on a 50-foot-long (15m) wooden boat in Regent's Canal near Granary Square lies Words on Water, London's only floating bookstore. Run by two book-loving friends in their fifties, the store has struggled since opening in 2010. The store has been squatting and moving to avoid the authorities, and once sank because a customer left an inlet open when using the bathroom. One day, tired of running, the two decided to tie up and stay put in a developing neighborhood. They'd discover an invisible community of supporters and authors that helped them lobby to keep the permanent berth. The two owners now make enough to be satisfied with the biggest perk of all — an unlimited supply of books and conversation.
nytimes.com (8min read)
Despite Amazon, Independent Bookstores Thrive
Between 2009 and 2015, the American Booksellers Association (ABA) reported a surprising stat amongst independent booksellers— a 35% growth in the number of stores nationwide, from 1,651 to 2,227. Assistant Professor of Business at Harvard, Ryan Raffaeli, sought to understand how indie sellers haven't just survived, but are thriving in the face of competition from the Amazon behemoth. The keys to the renaissance? Three C's: community, curation, and convening.
Harvard Business School (3min read)
When Everything You Know is Dying
The unprecedented collapse of coral reefs around the world will have unending consequences. It's estimated 450 million people rely on reefs for tourism revenue, food, and protection against storms. In addition to the enormous global impact, there's a huge personal cost amongst the coral researchers who now face a world without the very thing they've studied their whole lives. One researcher reflects, "How do you get up and go to work every day when every day brings fresh news of loss? When everything you are working to save is collapsing, how do you stop yourself from collapsing, too? Maybe everything isn’t going to be fine, after all. Maybe we can’t do this." Science writer Ed Yong talks with those closest to the matter and explores where we can go from here.
theatlantic.com (7min read)
The Largest Source of Pollution
Behind the ominous clickbait headline, "America Crowns a New Pollution King", two charts from the U.S. Energy Administration jump out. The first shows transportation emissions (measured in tons of CO2) have leveling out, while emissions from electricity dropped dramatically due to a switch from coal and increased use of natural gas, solar, and wind. The second chart predicts electric cars will account for more than half of all new cars worldwide within twenty years. With a concerted effort, we can change the planet.
bloomberg.com (2min read)
Happiness Fund Pays Debts for Up To 1.6M
Using money from The National Happiness Fund, established in 2013 to help the poorest South Koreans get out of debt, Asia's fourth largest economy has announced a program to write off debts of up to 10m won ($9,128USD). It's been called a form of "Confucian capitalism", where the state takes care of the people. Isn't that how it's supposed to be?
bbc.com (2min read)
◦ listen in
The Future of Food – Open Source
With farming practices historically focused on yield and durability over flavor and nutrition, are food system dominated by corn and soy is not only broken, but it's harmful and unhealthy. Scientists and the private sector are teaming up to learn what can be done while posing the least risk to farmers who must keep producing to make a living. Learn about the Open Agriculture (OpenAg) Initiative, where open source technology combined with data science is seen as the solution to the modern food crisis. Four experts are interviewed about how the industrial food system has gone off track, and the movements that are changing it for the better.
Open Source with Christopher Lydon at radioopensource.org (52min podcast)
◦ eat well
Portobello Pesto Flatbread
Thanks to a gift certificate, I made a rare trip to Costco. The result was a sudden abundance of pesto and garlic naan bread. So I did what modern home cooks do — I Googled a pizza recipe (or flatbread, to make it sound fancier). Using naan as the crust is one of my favorite kitchen tricks. I first let the portobellos sit in a basic balsamic olive oil garlic marinade for twenty minutes and added tomatoes for an easy dinner.
◦ read slow
Often Mocked, Millennial Habits Are Survival Strategies
"American Millennials come from somewhere—we didn’t emerge fully formed from the crack in an iPhone screen," writes Malcolm Harris, controversial journalist and author of "Kids These Days". His thoughts on the self-marketing race by YouTube stars and the subsequent corporate exploitation had me re-evaluate my own intentions. In this unflinching book review, Yale Historian Gabriel Winant takes a critical stance on one of the topics of our times, offering a unique perspective on the relationships between society, culture, and modern capitalism. A thought-provoking long read on the greatest generational divide since the 1960's, explained through the lens of corporate profits and human capital.
nplusonemag.com (29min read)
◦ current read
A friend lent me this stand-alone fantasy novel several years ago, with one caveat — I had to give it to someone else after reading. I love this idea — write your name and city on the inside cover, then pass it along. And if you receive a book you're not interested in, just be honest and offer to give it back or pass it to someone who might, no hard feelings. Chosen by J.R.R. Tolkien's son Christopher Tolkien to assist in editing his father's unpublished work, Canadian author Guy Gavriel Kay would later launch his career with his first novel, The Summer Tree, the beginning of the acclaimed series The Fionovar Tapestry. A magical epic about the power of home, language, and rebellion.
Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay (676p book)
◦ dig this
A free MOOC, two videos and a web comic I've been diggin' of late:
- Coursera's Science of Meditation MOOC – A free course examining Buddhism and Modern Psychology, starting Dec 25.
- I'm Done Trying to Be Man Enough – Justin Baldoni's talk on redefining masculinity at TEDWomen 2017 has 300,000 more views since I started writing this issue yesterday. A must listen. (18min video)
- Painting with MS Excel – Meet Tatsuo, a retired 77yr old who used pre-installed software on his PC to create art in this Great Big Story. (2min)
- Dad's Comics of Empathy & Tolerance – Funny and unexpected modern fatherly advice puts finds the positive in dark circumstances.
◦ humble thought
" The day science begins to study non-physical phenomena, it will make more progress in one decade than in all the previous centuries of its existence." – Nikola Tesla
I invite you to join me in a short exercise. Think about your life five years ago. Where were you living? What did your average day look like? What work were you doing? Who would you surround yourself with? What you were most excited about? Now think about how much that has changed since then. Close your eyes take yourself back.
This is my short story of that winter. I was living in Ecuador for a too short three months, in a lovely studio on the 73rd step on the way up to Parque Itchimbía in Quito's Old Town. With the city sitting at 2,850m (9,350ft) elevation, often I'd need to stop halfway to catch my breathe. I had a beautiful neighbor, Georgette, who I called my EcuaMama, because she looked after me and cooked the best Mexican, learned from her time in Albuquerque. She was here with the Peace Corps, was learning the ukulele like me, and was always encouraging my Spanish (though I didn't listen). She's such a wonderful soul, I regret not spending more quality time with her as I had enjoyed our company, her mindset, and had so much to learn from her. Instead, I was in backpacker mode, partying often, and not fully taking the language leap. We also had a bad week of flea problems thanks to an inherited cat. That was awful and I lost a lot of sleep, seeing shadows of jumping pulgas in the corner of my eye against the white bedsheets as I read before bed.
I also met several good friends, mostly Americans, some of whom still run a fantastic hostel and brewery next to the central market. On free days, which there were many, we learned to climb. A friend ran a non-profit taking at-risk kids climbing, so he had all the gear and was eager to teach. It was beautifully simple, outdoors, and free. This was important because our group was a mix of temporary English teachers living off $900US a month, and locals from a country with an average income of $370/mo. We'd wake up early, an hour after the sun which always rose at 6am, to take the packed bus up Avenida Gran Colombia, the only place I'd ever been pickpocketed. Here we'd climb at Las Canteras under the harsh equatorial sun, just off the retired highway overlooking the canyon in Cumbayá (which has nothing to do with the song Kumbayah My Lord, which translates in Gullah to "come by here", fun fact). On rainy days or when our friend wasn't available, we'd take to Mono Dedo, a tiny cave-like bouldering gym on the edge of the trendy La Floresta neighborhood.
I did some work too, but winters are typically slow in my consulting work, so I put that in maintenance mode which freed up a lot of time to explore. That year I found myself saying yes too often to the majority of clients, leading to late projects and stress, so the break was much needed. Back in Vancouver, I was living in a nice one bedroom apartment a few blocks from Granville Island. It was less than a year since my right ACL surgery, which forced me out of team sports and the friends that went with it, and into new, mostly solo pursuits. I took up yoga, climbing, and kayaking. All of these were introduced to me by friends, and I thank them all for these gifts of leisure and the many laughs we shared (that Gatbsy-themed night was a riot!).
What did you see when you went back to your past? Maybe not a lot has changed, or maybe you're a very different person today. I'm now living across the country in a rented 3 1/2 (as they call one bedrooms here), I mostly hang with freelancers and people I met through AcroYoga or traveling, and I'm excited about pursuing a physical practice and extended travel once again. I eat a lot better, drink a lot less, feel as good, if not better (except for that chronically bothersome knee I'm working on), and am making more deeper connections than before. I've yet to find my "calling" with work, but my current gig has become a lot more interesting and intentional. My priorities have also changed: I no longer watch sports or play poker, I read and write more, drink rarely, and still feel (and act) like a kid most of the time. There are still too many days when I haven't got out of the house and had minimal human contact without seeing the sun all day that get me down, but overall, I feel pretty damn good.
I started this post thinking I'd write about the future, and specifically to serve as a warning of how terrible we humans are at predicting how we'll be in one, two, or five years' time, because of our blindness to the small habits we build today and their lasting effects tomorrow. I was holding on to a pessimistic world of smartphone-induced chronic neck pain, Amazon drone shipments, a divided populace, and a collapsing biosphere. But the Internet has enough of that dialog. The sun is shining, I ate a good breakfast, and I'm feeling rather grateful today. What's your story? I'd love to hear it. Connect with me at [email protected].