1. Take a quarterly vacation 2. Hold a “retrospective” after projects 3. Write every day 4. Create an “interesting people…

practice, habits, habit, creativity, ttd, things to do, advice, 99U

“1. Take a quarterly vacation
2. Hold a “retrospective” after projects
3. Write every day
4. Create an “interesting people fund”
5. Keep “tear sheets” to get inspired
6. Nap every day
7. Envision what you will be remembered for
8. Brainstorm at the bar
9. Get out of the building
10. Engage in “morphological synthesis”


Zoomorphic illustration from the 12th-century manuscript Boethius, De musica, f.43v. De musica contains many beautifully-drawn…


Zoomorphic illustration from the 12th-century manuscript Boethius, De musica, f.43v.

De musica contains many beautifully-drawn diagrams, most illustrating the various musical intervals and their mathematical ratios. Some are further enhanced with animal forms (as here), musical instruments or human figures.

This manuscript was originally part of the great library of Christ Church Cathedral Priory in Canterbury, England.

The 1960s movements were born out of excess, a generation with too much time and certainty; our era, by contrast, is defined by…

“The 1960s movements were born out of excess, a generation with too much time and certainty; our era, by contrast, is defined by scarcity, how unlikely it is that we’ll come close to achieving those handed-down dreams in the first place. Better, probably, to start reaching elsewhere—if we don’t, we too might win only similar cultural victories, and find instead of a more sustainable adult life only a shallow, push-button version of the sharing economy, a version dictated by some of the only people left in America who don’t even have these problems.”

Molly Osberg, ‘These Nine People Gave Up the Middle-Class Dream. Was It Worth It?’ (2015)

Science Behind the Factoid: Eskimo Words for Snow


You’ve probably heard about the Eskimos’ incredible amount of words for snow. Perhaps you’ve also heard that this is in fact a myth. Linguist Geoff Pullum traced the origins of this myth in the article The great Eskimo vocabulary hoax. That article was published in 1989, building on work by the anthropologist Laura Martin first presented in 1982. More than 30 years ago, this myth was already debunked, but this “interesting fact” remains in the public consciousness.

Pullum makes several interesting points in his paper. First and foremost, he cites a dictionary of the West Greenlandic Eskimo language, a language of the Eskimo-Aleut language family, which has only two roots for snow: qaanik, meaning “snow in the air” or “snowflake,” and aput, “snow on the ground.” Secondly, English does not have only one word for snow. There is sleet, hail, slush, blizzard, powder, crust, avalanche, snowflake etc.

Thirdly, the structure of Eskimo languages is such that one can derive practically infinite words for anything. Eskimo languages are polysynthetic, which means that they build most words out of many meaningful units (morphemes), such that a single word may express an entire clause or sentence. English is only mildly synthetic language, meaning it builds words out of a moderate amount of morphemes. For instance, the word foretell consists of the two morphemes fore- and tell. A language with few morphemes per word is called an isolating language. Mandarin Chinese is rather isolating. Compare these two sentences from Mandarin and the Eskimo language Inuktitut:

nî de3ng wo3, wo3 jiu4 ge1n nî qu4 (the numbers indicate tones)

utaqqiguvinga, aullaqatiginiaqpagit

Both sentences mean “If you wait for me, I will go with you.” The difference is that Inuktitut builds single words out of many morphemes to express complex concepts, while Chinese uses separate words where each word contains only one or two morphemes. It’s clear that Inuktitut, with its many inflections, can derive a large number of words from the same root, but this does not reflect any special importance for the word, since the two long words in Inuktitut are built up so that they express the same concept as the eight words in Mandarin.

Pullum further slags the concept of numerous words for snow by pointing out that technical vocabulary regularly makes detailed distinctions that the layman would not think to make. A graphic designer has a large number of words to describe text: what they would describe as 72 pt Helvetica Condensed center-aligned would perhaps be described by a layman as “huge-ass text.” It’s not interesting at all, says Pullum, that people with specialist competence would make very narrow distinctions that people without such specialist knowledge would not. Thus, even if Eskimos did have a hundred words for snow, this would not be particularly interesting.

This point is arguable. Yes, technical language is more precise than layman’s language. But the fact that different languages or specialist groups make narrow distinctions is, in fact, of anthropological, if not linguistic interest. It reminds us that it’s possible to divide up the semantic space—the space of meanings—in different ways than those we’re familiar with. This point may be very familiar to linguists who study diverse languages around the globe, but it is still interesting to those of us who are not linguists and aren’t familiar with more than one or two languages. One example of fuzzy versus precise distinctions lies in kinship terms. Mandarin distinguishes eight types of cousin, for instance “elder male paternal cousin,” but lacks a word that means “any kind of cousin,” like English has.

So the interesting factoid about Eskimos and snow is a myth. But are there societies or languages that do, in fact, have huge amounts of words for concepts that English lumps together into one word? This article gives us another factoid to replace the one about Eskimos and snow. It must be taken with a grain of salt, as the article only makes a vague reference to a dictionary, and does not properly cite a source. Nevertheless, if it is true, it inspires the same kind of awe that the Eskimo snow hoax. The factoid concerns the West African language Fula, spoken by an ethnic group that were traditionally cattle herders. According to the article, Fula has more than eighty words for “cattle,” making such distinctions as:

guddiri ‘bull without a tail’, wudde ‘cow without a tail’, jaabuye ‘cow with a large navel’, lelwaaye ‘cattle with eyes like a gazelle’, gerlaaye ‘cattle that is like a bush-fowl’, happuye ‘cow in milk after her calf has died’, mbutuye ‘cow whose calf has been killed so that she may be fattened’, and other useful terms. A number of different types of cattle are distinguished by their horns: elliinge ‘cattle with upright horns’, gajje ‘cattle with horns twisted back’ (also called mooro), hippe ‘cattle with horns drooping forward’, hogole ‘cattle with horns almost meeting’, lettooye ‘cattle with one horn up and the other drooping’, wijaaye ‘cattle with horns drooping towards the ears’, tolle ‘cow with one horn’, and wumale ‘cow without horns’.

I’m wary of spreading another myth, and I don’t speak Fula, so I can’t vouch for this. But still. Haven’t you ever wanted a word for a cow with a large navel?

Huge source of government data now open to the public at Data.gov. Climate, weather, precipitation, food access, crime, even the…


Huge source of government data now open to the public at Data.gov. Climate, weather, precipitation, food access, crime, even the weight of students (e.g., health indicators). These new data bases are one of Obama’s pet projects. There are nearly 200,000 sets!

There’s a nice climate data base that really needs to be mined. There’s also a data and tools set for ecosystems vulnerability under climate. Killer stuff.

Launch of Ecosystem-Vulnerability theme of Climate.Data.Gov

The U.S. government has released a collection of data and tools that will advance planning capabilities for the impacts of climate change on our nation’s ecosystems. The data and tools will provide information and will help to stimulate innovation in preparing for climate impacts on fire regimes, water availability, carbon sequestration, biodiversity conservation, ocean health, and the spread of invasive species. Here are some examples of how the data and tools could be used:

  • Help communities and natural resource managers determine if they are currently at risk from wildfires and if they will be impacted in the future due to wildfires becoming more prevalent and severe;
  • Provide information to the public on their sources of water and their sensitivities to climate change;
  • Aid in the public understanding of the role that ecosystems play in mitigating rising carbon dioxide levels due to their absorbing and storing of carbon, as well as how land management activities may influence storage capabilities;
  • Identify the potential impacts of climate change on rare and endangered species, iconic species, and ecosystems;
  • Identify which invasive species may threaten specific locations and their impacts on local communities and their economies. This effort will contribute to early detection, rapid response activities.

Should trees have rights? What is their legal status? If non-humans, like corporations and animals, have a variety of legal…


Should trees have rights? What is their legal status?If non-humans, like corporations and animals, have a variety of legal rights, shouldn’t trees also be offered similar protectionary rights? The law has changed and matured over time, but trees seem to be left behind. Why?

In this influential work, Christopher Stone argues that special guardians be empowered to speak for the “voiceless” elements in nature, in effect, to give legal standing in the court of law to endangered species and threatened forests.

Stone showed how the law has progressed over time to confer rights upon persons or entities that society previously had considered incapable or unworthy of having rights.

Children, slaves, women, Native Americans, racial minorities, aliens, fetuses, endangered species—all have been the beneficiaries of this drive to give legal voice and legal rights to those who once lacked both voice and rights. So, too, argued Stone, has the law recognized corporations and other entities as having legal rights. It was not always so…

Our industrial civilization has been pouring carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a great rate. By the year 2000 we will have…

“Our industrial civilization has been pouring carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a great rate. By the year 2000 we will have added about 70 percent more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. If it remained, it would have a very marked warming effect on the earth’s climate, but most of it will probably be absorbed by the oceans. Conceivably, however, it could cause significant melting of the great icecaps and raise sea levels in time.”

From the 1958 U.S. National Academy of Sciences publication, Planet Earth: Mystery With100,000 Clues.

*Way to go with the futurism, Space Age scientists


Postnormal times

PNT, post-normal, postnormal, CCC, kids these days, futures, cutlure, epoch

Postnormal times or “PNT”, a concept developed by Ziauddin Sardar, is a description of the turbulent and changing times we are living in. Sardar defines PNT as “in an in-between period where old orthodoxies are dying, new ones have yet to be born, and very few things seem to make sense.”[1] This period is characterized by three C’s: chaos, complexity and contradictions, which come together to produce uncertainty and different varieties of ignorance.


On jellyfish and listening to the futures

jellyfish, futures, forum for the future, post-normal policy, postnormal, global weirding, global wa

Jellyfish are not just expected to be mere beneficiaries of global warming; they are actually emissaries of global weirding, which is a term coined by Hunter Lovins and popularized by Thomas L. Friedman. I prefer ‘global weirding’ to ‘global warming’ as the former is a prognosis while the latter is a diagnosis. Rather than simply stating what is happening, which is precisely what ‘global warming’ denotes, ‘global weirding’ suggests that the very life systems we have come to rely upon, such as the water cycle or oceanic temperature ranges, are experiencing massive changes–the results of which are going to weird, literally perhaps, our world. As jellyfish have been implicated in a variety of potential disasters, including clogging the intake pipes of a number of nuclear power plants around the world, they are the perfect symbol for postnormal times.


Singapore’s founding father Mr Lee Kuan Yew dies aged 91 at 3.18am on Monday

The Straits Times, Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore, obituary

The elder Mr Lee is widely regarded as the man most instrumental in shaping Singapore, from the time he and his People’s Action Party colleagues pushed for self-government in the 1950s, to their quest for merger with Malaysia in the early 1960s, and their efforts to secure the country’s survival after independence was thrust on it on Aug 9,1965. He famously wept on that occasion, which he immortalised as “a moment of anguish”, not only as he had believed deeply in a unified Malaysia as a multi-racial society, but also as he must have sensed the enormity of the task for this fledgling state to make a living in an inhospitable world. He would lead a pioneer generation of Singaporeans to overcome a series of daunting challenges, from rehousing squatters in affordable public housing, rebuilding the economy after the sudden pull-out of British forces and the oil shocks of the 1970s, and a major economic recession in the mid 1980s. Through it all, Mr Lee would exhort his people to take heart and “never fear” as they looked forward to a better life. “This country belongs to all of us. We made this country from nothing, from mud-flats… Over 100 years ago, this was a mud-flat, swamp. Today, this is a modern city. Ten years from now, this will be a metropolis. Never fear!” he thundered at a grassroots event in Sembawang in September 1965. He delivered on this promise, earning the trust of generations of voters. This would see his party returned to office repeatedly over three decades. By the time he stepped down in 1990, he had served 31 years as PM, from 1959 to 1990. At the age of 67, he chose to hand over the premiership to Mr Goh Chok Tong, and took on the role of senior minister, serving as guide and mentor in the Cabinet.


Commander of his stage: Lee Kuan Yew

The Economist, Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore, obituary

But Mr Lee’s party has left nothing to chance. The traditional media are toothless; opposition politicians have been hounded into bankruptcy by the fierce application of defamation laws inherited from Britain; voters have face the threat that, if they elect opposition candidates, their constituencies will suffer in the allocation of public funds; constituency boundaries have been manipulated by the government. The advantage of Mr Lee’s system, its proponents say, is that it introduced just enough electoral competition to keep the government honest, but not so much that it actually risks losing power. So it can look around corners on behalf of its people, plan for the long term and resist the temptation to pander to populist pressures. Mr Lee was a firm believer in meritocracy. “We decide what is right. Never mind what the people think,” as he put it bluntly in 1987. His government’s ministers were the world’s best-paid, to attract talent from the private sector and curb corruption. Corruption did indeed become rare in Singapore. Like other crime, it was deterred in part by harsh punishments ranging from brutal caning for vandalism to hanging for murder or drug-smuggling. As Mr Lee also said: “Between being loved and feared, I have always believed Machiavelli was right. If nobody is afraid of me, I’m meaningless.” As a police state, however, Singapore was such a success that you rarely see a cop.