Spaces between words weren’t common until the 7th century

From the Economist:

A book seems such a simple structure that it feels less invented than self-evident, the innovations behind it hard to see. Yet every chapter in its progress was slow, bound on either side by centuries of sluggishness. Turnable pages didn’t really arrive until the first century bc; the book form didn’t take off properly until the fourth century ad. The separating of words with spaces didn’t get going until the seventh—verylateforsomethingsouseful. Finally things accelerated: first came the index, in the 13th century, then Gutenberg, then, in 1470, the first printed page number. You can still see it in a book in the Bodleian Library.

Works Rules! Google research and data on running more effective companies from the 2015 book

Given its large scale, data-driven culture and willingness to experiment, Google has produced a considerable amount of intelligence on operating effective organizations.

Much of it was shared in the 2015 bestselling book Work Rules! by Google’s former chief people officer Laszlo Bock. It’s long been on my list, and earlier this year I finally finished it up.

I recommend you get yourself a copy of the book. Below for my own future reference, I share notes from my reading.

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How to be happy

version of this essay was published as part of my monthly newsletter several weeks back. Find other archives and join here to get updates like this first.

I spent a lot of time living in Tokyo 15 years ago on my bicycle, riding to this park or that garden with one or another book on Eastern philosophy or Asian history. Two concepts I learned about happiness have endured.

One is from a famous passage attributed to ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. He’s translated as writing: “Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”

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Is that a Fish in Your Ear? notes on the 2011 book by David Bellos on translation

Translation isn’t about specific word choice. It’s about meaning.

But, then, there are many different kinds of translation. The very old act of translation both creates and defends language in an interconnected world. Earlier this summer, I finished a 2011 book by translator David Bellos called “Is that a Fish in Your Ear: Translation and the Meaning of Everything.” [PDF] Find a review here of it. This is a different approach to understanding language, which has been an interest of mine for years.

You should read the book. For my own purposes, I’ve captured my notes below.

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The Happiness Equation

Develop your internal motivation. Focus. Be kind. Ignore the rest.

I read Neil Pasricha’s 2016 book The Happiness Equation as part of a pandemic-fatigue powered period of self-discovery. It certainly has its gimmicks and many of the concepts felt familiar to me. Still, I did appreciate the book and came away refocused on returning to being a happier person during such a tumultuous time.

Below I share a few of my notes from reading the book, though I recommend you buy a copy yourself.

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Here’s a list of Pennsylvania whiskey distilleries (and a few stories too)

Pennsylvania was once the country’s largest producer of whiskey, and rye whiskey was its showcase.

I wrote about this history and the Pennsylvania rye renaissance for NPR affiliate WHYY and its Billy Penn news site. I am personally fascinated by this trend and its history. A couple years back, ahead of the American Whiskey Convention, I found an angle that made sense to be published on Generocity.org, the nonprofit industry news site my company publishes. This year as the convention returned, I felt like I’d be stretching our editorial focus to force another story. Instead I asked friend and Billy Penn editor Danya Henninger if she was interested. Thanks much to Danya for a thorough edit on what I delivered her. Turns out I’m a far more experienced business and economics reporter than I am culture.

I have written here about my relationship to alcohol, and specifically how I’ve come to most enjoy whiskey. Heck, I even have opinions about what cups should be used for what liquid. But this was something else: a chance to begin putting to work the years of my tracking an industry in change.

Do read the story. Here I thought I’d share a few stories I’ve had squirreled away and maintain a list of Pennsylvania whiskey distilleries (because I suspect this will keep growing and I don’t want to annoy Danya anymore with updates). Find both below.

Continue reading Here’s a list of Pennsylvania whiskey distilleries (and a few stories too)

Ludwig Wittgenstein

Words and sentences don’t make much sense when they aren’t entangled with each other. They all can carry wildly different meanings depending on the context and the speaker’s intent. This is a “language game.”

This is one of the many contributions that garnered intellectual celebrity for Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951), an Austrian logician and philosopher. He is a philosophy student’s favorite philosopher, but A. C. Grayling argued in his 2001 aptly named “Wittgenstein : a very short introduction” that his academic celebrity may be unwarranted.

Grayling says Wittgenstein is primarily adored by “aphorism hunters.” I read Grayling’s short book because I wanted to ease my way into Wittgenstein as part of a philosophical exploration I had earlier this year. Pandemic, am I right?

The book was a helpful text, and I still appreciated playing with Wittgenstein’s evolution, from his iconic 1921 Tractatus and his Philosophical Investigations, which was published posthumously and seemed to contradict many of his arguments from his first book.

Find my notes below

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Homo Deus: notes on Yuval Noah Harrari 2017 book

Advancements in artificial intelligence could bring about a world in which humans are secondary to self-learning algorithms.

That’s one of the big themes in the 2017 book Homo Deus, a followup by historian and popular intellectual Yuval Noah Harrari on his 2014 book Sapiens. Even more than his first, Homo Deus has been criticized for its wide-sweeping generalizations and his science generalizations. Harrari is one of the chief architects of a kind of techno-pessism so I still find his approach helpful to follow.

He’s a great storyteller, and beyond any debunked science, he engages with concepts I found interesting. I’m sharing notes here for myself. The book is worth reading if only to grasp a view on the treacherous waters some fear are coming due to technical advancements.

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My environmental impact

Climate catastrophe is sound science.

More slowly than I’d like to admit, I’ve changed behaviors in recent years. A resolution of mine for this year has been to do more. I wanted to capture a small accounting of what I’ve done so far and how I think I can do more.

Most prominently, last fall, we installed a 12-panel solar array on our roof. According to projections from our installer Solar States, this should more than account for our electricity usage.

Because of that installation, we replaced our traditional natural-gas hot water heater with a heat pump variety from A.O. Smith. We intend to turnover our other appliances (stove, clothes dryer and furnace) too, as part of electrification. Despite being a home from the 1890s, transitioning all of our home to electricity which can be primarily served by our solar installation will be an important contribution. I’ve happily encouraged a couple friends to follow this same transition.

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Notes from the 2016 book ‘The Rise and Fall of American Growth’ by Robert Gordon

The “special century” between 1870 and 1970 was not an economic transformation to repeat. It was an anomalous period of exceptional change super-powered by the remarkable inventions of the Second Industrial Revolution not to be repeated.

So argues Robert Gordon in his influential, academic and deeply researched 2016 book The Rise and Fall of American Growth. It is one of the better respected contributions to the conversation how quickly will quality of life continue to advance. Technological advances tend to not reverse, so his point is not that we’ll regress but that we’re due for a long period of languishing growth and advancement.

For millennia until the 1750s, there was very modest rates of economic growth. Then the First Industrial Revolution ushered in slightly faster growth, which setup the second, which we most commonly call the Industrial Revolution of the mid-19th century. That spurred the fastest advancement in quality of life in human history. By the 1970s, progress slowed. The third, technological revolution only resulted in a short-lived return to high grow in the decade 1994-2004. That was the lone answer to economist Robert Solow’s famous 1984 quip: “You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

In his book, Gordon argues we’re unlikely to repeat the rate of gains of that special century. It’s an interesting addition to the familiar techno-optimist versus techno-pessimist argument. Below I share some of notes from the book. It is dense and thorough, so it’s hardly light reading, but I devoured it. It’s an important addition to the economic literature. I recommend reading it.

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