Things to Think About

This is a continually updated colleciton of articles, talks and books that made me really stop and think, and that I want to re-visit periodically.

In Praise of Idleness - Bertrand Russell. This long article talks about idleness as the pinalce of civilization and ponders why, given our wealth, we spend so much time working. Although I take issue with a lot of his economic thinking (which given the social context was understandable), there's some thought provoking stuff here, and some lovely turns of phrase.

Solitude and Leadership - William Deresiewicz. A thoughtful lecture given at West Point about the need for space to think in order to be an effective leader, and more importantly, to lead a moral life.

How a Radical New Teaching Method Could Unleash a Generation of Geniuses - Joshua Davis. Some interesting examples of how letting kids find and follow their own interests, with minimal guidance, is a much more effective way of teaching that what we're used to.

Rich Hickey's Greatest Hits. Rich Hickey is probably my favourite thinker on programming. He is insightful, profound and entertaining. This is a list of his 5 best presentations. All of them have affected the way I think about writing code, and some, like Simple Made Easy, about how I live.

The Enchiridion - Epictetus. Of the Roman Stoics, Epictetus is the one I enjoy reading most. The Enchiridion ("handbook") is short, witty, acerbic, and deeply thought provoking. I've spent a lot of time exploring it over on This Coding Life.

The Past Didn't Go Anywhere - Utah Phillips. This spoken-word album (with ambient music from Ani DiFranco) has had a massive impact on me. Utah's stories are deeply humane. They also (in my more leftist days) openned my eyes to the anarchistic side of the Left, which in a strange way helped move me towards left-libertarianism. I listen to this whenever I feel like I need some grounding.

Antifragile - Nassim Taleb. Taleb is one of my favourite modern thinkers. Like Epictetus, he can be acerbic and arrogant, but there is a rigour and depth to his thinking that is very attractive (how many philosophical authors include an appendix of rigourous maths to back up their claims?). Much more so than Epictetus, Taleb has a large humane streak that counter-balances his arrogance. He has a writing style all of his own, which can be a good and a bad thing. Fundamentally though, he changes the way I think.

Master of many trades - Robert Twigger. An interesting article on the importance (for human happiness) of learning across multiple areas, and the dangers of over-specialization.

The Courage to be Vulnerable - Krista Tippett with Brené Brown. This is a great conversation on shame and vulnerability. Although it seems like it might be a bit TED/Oprah-y, there's some deep insight here.

The boy whose brain could unlock autism - Maia Szalavitz. This is a great article on the brain chemisty of autism. It took me a little by surprise, because I thought the standard view of austism was that it was rooted in over stimulation and hypersensitivity. I see a lot of parallels between austism and introversion, especially as discussed in Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking. My experience of autism with Jeremy is that it's very much like a hyper-intense form of introversion.

Civil Disobedience - Thoreau. While maybe not directly applicable to modern political life, Thoreau's views on the effectiveness and moral basis of government are interesting and thought provoking.

Clojure Programming with Hand Tools - Tim Ewald. The clojure community is big into simple tools and concepts, which is one of the main reasons I'm attracted to the language. This talk draws a parallel between woodworking with simple hand tools and programming with clojure. It makes me want to get into clojure even more, but also makes me want to get into woodwork. Very inspiring.

Reaching My Autistic Son Through Disney - Ron Suskind. A touching a somewhat confronting story about an austic boy learning to understand his world through the characters, particularly side-kicks, in Disney films. Although Jeremy is nowhere near this level on the spectrum, a lot of it rang true. It was a great reminder that, although he can't always express it clearly, Jer is intensely sensitive to what happens around him.

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