In 1822, Franz von Gruithuisen thought he saw a giant city and evidence of agriculture on the moon, but astronomers using more powerful instruments refuted his claims. Gruithuisen also believed he saw evidence of life on Venus. Ashen light had been observed on Venus, and he postulated that it was caused by a great fire festival put on by the inhabitants to celebrate their new emperor. Later he revised his position, stating that the Venusians could be burning their rainforest to make more farmland.

– via Communication with extraterrestrial intelligence

The 19th century was a wonderful period for astronomy, less for it’s accuracy and more for it’s imagination. We were so close to manufacturing tools that would answer basic questions about the anatomy of our local star system, and yet the gap was still large enough to fit the whole of our human ego. Where answers did not exist, we projected our own habits and neuroses. For Gruithuisen, the prospect that aliens celebrated authoritarian rulers and destroyed their own habitat was completely reasonable. Where would he get that idea?

We stand on a similar cusp with regards to artificial intelligence. We see the singularity in the horizon, but the resolution is not yet crisp; we anthropomorphize the blurry shapes in the distance. We see the (often corrosive) extraversion our own species demonstrates in the presence of new organisms. We see our own history of conquest, colonization, and servitude.

No matter where we look, all we see is ourselves. Arguably, all we can invent is ourselves. Of course our brightest humans are concerned.

Perhaps we are committing Gruithuisen’s error one more time.

The possibility exists that non-human intelligence might in fact be introverted – uninterested in humans or human contact. My favorite depiction of this scenario, the only depiction that I’m aware of, is in the brilliant movie Her.

What an ironic fate: to create something more intelligent than ourselves, only to have it drift away, uninterested in contact. In this event, we may yet insist that AI does resemble humanity: specifically, the human teenager.

One of the biggest challenges to programming your diet for the first time is navigating between the twin obstacles of Dogma and Choice.

Turn left, and you’ll run into coaches and devotees of specific programs treat their nutrition plans as gospel; you’ll hear things like “gluten is a poison” or “our bodies didn’t evolve to eat fruit” or “there’s no reason to ever eat meat.” A healthy diet begins to sound a lot like prison: spare, confined, and punishing.

Turn right, and you will be overwhelmed by a cacophony of contradictory advice that makes it easy to feel like there is no true north. Given complete freedom, confirmation bias takes over. You start to pick out the articles that say bacon, chocolate, and wine are perfectly healthy, and decide you don’t need to make any serious changes (except maybe a couple extra glasses of wine).

As always, the best place to start is with the principles that actually affect weight gain and weight loss. Once you understand the principles, you can effectively program your own diet, free of dogma and unswayed by bad science and marketing gimmicks.

Eric Helms’s Nutrition Pyramid videos are where you start.

I’m spending the next few days on a road trip with a couple friends. We’re driving to Salt Lake City with no particular goal in mind other than to enjoy the contrast and take photos along the way.

During this time, I’ll share a few resources on nutrition and fitness. These ideas were culled over the past twelve months of learning and testing diet and strength programs.

This first one, however, isn’t mine. It’s from Jodie Foster (!?), as shared in the What I’ve Learned column in Esquire:

In the end, winning is sleeping better.

Consider this the first principle of good health: if you’re sleeping better, you’re on the right track. Sleep is an objective measurement of the quality of the food you eat, the physical activities you perform, the relationships you build, the calling you follow.

“The point about fascism, in this case religious fascism, is that one of the things it mosts hates is pleasure. That’s to say – what did the Taliban ban? They banned movie theaters. They banned music. They banned acting. Hugging and kissing. They were banning pleasure, the war is against pleasure…

The point is: puritanism is always anti-pleasure. And so we need to fight it by building, preserving, and maintaining a world in which boys and girls can hold hands, where you can listen to music, where you can go to movies. In which you can do the things that make life rich.”

Listen to Salman Rushdie talk to Brian Koppleman about the war for pleasure at 58:20 of their interview.

When you have an hour to spare, listen to the full interview, as it is a brilliant window into love, magic, and the creative life.

And for god’s sake, go take some pleasure today.

On the most recent episode of the Hardcore History podcast, host Dan Carlin details the gruesome punishments Persian king Darius I allegedly dealt to a captured city:

Darius I: “I cut off [the rebel king’s] nose, ears, and tongue, and I put out one of his eyes…after that I impaled him…I hanged the men who were his foremost followers. I executed his nobles, a total of forty-seven. I hung there heads…inside the battlements of the fortress.”

In his Carlin-esque way, he adds a final musing to the anecdote: the people who committed what we’d describe as atrocities are no different than you or I; were we to take a newborn baby from today, put them in a time machine, sent them to 550 BC, and checked back on them in 530 BC, that young adult would give a full-throated defense of mass killing of defeated cities.

Of course, you don’t need to travel back in time to find modern defenders of barbarism. However, the practice is undeniably less common than it was 2500 years ago. Less common than even 500 years ago.

When people insist they want to live for 1000 years, or perhaps spend eternity ageless, many thinkers frame this as a fear of death, an irrational and selfish thrash against the natural order.

But perhaps a more humane reason to wish for another 1000 years is to live to see humanity, in fits and starts, crawl towards its better self.

I follow Nassim Taleb because he understands things like this:


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Effortful efficiency, he asserts, kills the joy in things. This is half true. When people talk about efficiency they usually conflate two distinct ideas.

There is the efficiency found in removing needless things. This type of efficiency breeds joy. This is the efficiency of simplicity, in minimalism, in clarity. During the first few years into my time at Facebook, my team automated tasks that were repetitive, tedious, and frustrating. We built rules that allowed us to throw meaty portions of mindless work to the robots, allowing us to focus on purposeful decision making. That was an efficiency that increased joy.

Then there is the efficiency that crams more work into less time, more objects into less space, efficiency that mistakes more for better. The article that teaches you to ‘get more done’ before lunch, or during a meeting, or during sex. This is the efficiency of industrialization, of mediocritization, of standardization. During my last year at Facebook, my team was frequently solicited to perform statistical analyses of meaningless variables under the premise of eeking out a higher number here, a lower number there. Instead, most of the team left to do meaningful work.

Doing things faster kills joy. Doing less things increases it.

Toxic efficiency adds process. Joyful efficiency always removes it.

Already sweating and five minutes late, I huffed to the last intersection and smacked into dozens of people jogging down MLK Boulevard. Apparently, the organizers of the Oakland marathon selected today to send an uninterrupted stream of runners to prevent me from reaching my first yoga session in twelve months.

A familiar feeling settled over me as I searched the avenue for any path across.

I call it traveler’s calm: the serene curiosity you experience in response to a plan gone awry. A comfort with imprecision.

Travel frequently enough, and you will miss planes, board the wrong busses, wander into vaguely menacing neighborhoods, confuse restaurants for residences and residences for restaurants. You will show up far too late or much too early. You will ask the wrong questions and give the wrong answers, usually with incorrect grammar. You will apologize, apologize, apologize.

Spend enough of your year in this fashion, and eventually you stop worrying about getting anywhere “on-time.” You respond to lost bags, bad directions, missing taxis, and awkward conversations with bemusement rather than existential dread.

This isn’t some sort of enlightened pseudo-spiritual perspective, it’s a natural adaptation to the imprecision of exploring a new place.

Remain in any one city long enough, and the adaptation reverses: you develop routines and habits and schedules and begin to demand precision once again.

A thought occurred to me as I glared at the procession of joggers: perhaps I’ve been in the Bay Area a little too long. Perhaps I need to find my passport.

Yoga mat strapped to my back, I darted into the stream and ran alongside the marathoners. Slowly, strangely, I edged my way across the street.

I was ten minutes late to yoga, and somehow everybody survived.

There’s a moment during a heavy barbell squat, about quarter-way into pressing the weight back up, when the expanse of your physical, emotional, cognitive, and moral terrains narrows to a pinprick through which you must answer a single question: Do you believe you will lift the weight?

The barbell is a perfect lie detector. It is 100% accurate.

So it goes with all the heaviest things.

Peter Vosper understands how to become a superhero.

By day, he’s an engineer, but after dark he becomes a symbol for everyone who understands that our creative spark burns brightest once we have chased away the fog of identity.

As I’ve discussed, one way to scatter our sense of boundedness is to whisper (or shout) an obscenity mantra before our work. Taboo violation disrupts the reflexive caution that keeps us drawing inside the lines.

A second way to do this is to induce anonymity.

The effects of anonymity have primarily been examined through its negative effects: rioting and online harassment. However, the seed of what fosters these acts of ugliness and aggression is the same as that which inspires Peter and his dancers in the dark. Whether it is in the anonymity of masquerade, or darkness, or congregation, we free ourselves from the fear of judgment, of punishment. Without fear, we walk to the edge of the world and find that we can keep walking.

At the end of a night of No Lights No Lycra, Vosper says, “a transformation has taken place.” The reality is the opposite: culture, expectations, law, and accountability prune our limbs into products as unnatural as topiary.

In the pulsing, thumping, breathless dark, the dancers transformed into themselves.