Readings of Interest 6

Readings of Interest #5

Articles

Books

Readings of Interest #4

Articles

  • Just a reminder to do the real thing. “But doing the real thing matters. Days wasted on fake activity may keep you busy, but they never seem to go anywhere. A life spent on real work may not always be the easiest or most entertaining, but it’s the one that adds up in the end.”
  • What makes people stop caring? “While most of us will see a single death as a tragedy, we can struggle to have the same response to large-scale loss of life. Too often, the deaths of many simply become a statistic.”
  • What is the definition of success? According to Ryan Holiday it is, “In a word: autonomy. Do I have autonomy over what I do and think? Am I free?”

COVID Data

  • I’ve heard people talking about thinking that more people have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 than we know about, and using that as a reason for re-opening. After sampling over 61k people (35k households) in Spain, this paper found that only about 5% of the population likely has been infected, with a range of about 3-10% depending on geographical location.
  • COVID Exit Strategy added some new map visualizations.
  • Still a preprint, but an interesting study looking at testing frequency and speed vs. sensitivity. “These results demonstrate that effective surveillance, including time to first detection and outbreak control, depends largely on frequency of testing and the speed of reporting, and is only marginally improved by high test sensitivity. We therefore conclude that surveillance should prioritize accessibility, frequency, and sample-to-answer time; analytical limits of detection should be secondary.”
  • The racial inequity of the coronavirus continues to be evident in the data. “Latino and African-American residents of the United States have been three times as likely to become infected as their white neighbors”

Books

  • Finished White Fragility. Tough read with some good points and areas to think about, despite some controversy around the book (see “Readings 3“).
  • Next up and already about 25% completed is Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg. I always gravitate to these books with actionable advice, but as always, it is remain to be seen if the advice sticks. So far, I’m finding BJ’s methods very simple and logical.
  • Finally checked out Cool Beans by Joe Yonan from my local library. Every recipe I’ve made has been delicious so far, so I’m looking forward to cooking more from this book.

Readings of Interest #3

Articles

  • Amazon creates a $2 billion climate fund, as it struggles to cut its own emissions. “But Amazon still has plenty of work to do on reducing its own emissions, which rose 15% last year to more than 50 million metric tons…Amazon—which posted nearly $12 billion in profit last year and has nearly $30 billion in cash on hand—could easily afford to invest far more than $2 billion on these problems.” We all love Amazon and find it hard to shop elsewhere while at the same time knowing there are many issues.
  • I discovered Nick Wignall’s (a clinical psychologist) blog recently (thanks Om) and found his list of 4 Things Happy People Don’t Do to be fascinating and things we all could spend more time thinking about. He frames some of them as things to stop doing, and I’ve tried to re-frame them in a more positive light here:
  1. If you can’t control or influence something, it’s not worth worrying about.
  2. Talk to yourself compassionately like you would to a close friend.
  3. Let your expectations be flexible.
  4. Live by your values rather than feelings.

COVID Data

  • The Rt was only above 1 in 5 states two months ago, as of June 24th, it was above 1 in 29 states. (Max Roser)
  • The amount of testing in the US is starting to increase relative to the size of the outbreak, but we could still be doing much better. (Our World in Data)
  • A very data rich and interesting discussion on emerging COVID-19 success stories.

Books

  • While I’m still working through White Fragility, there is quite a bit of criticism around the book. See this Twitter thread by Rhea Boyd MD, MPH. So far my impression is that there are a few key ideas that could be covered in many less words.
  • I’ve been baking bread for a year or so now, and most of the sourdough recipes (Tartine is a favorite) make a huge amount of dough. I’ve experimented with saving the dough to avoid having to freeze bread, but haven’t had a ton of success until I recently discovered New Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I’ve managed to greatly increase my whole grain content as well as have fresh bread every few days.

Readings of Interest #2

  • KAYAK is sharing their flight search trends, interesting to dig into to see how air travel dropped off and is coming back.
  • After ending subscriptions with Elsevier, The University of California system has signed a open-access deal with Springer Nature. This is a win for open-access and a big deal because Nature is one of the most prestigious journals worldwide.
  • Scientific American has published a detailed visual guide to the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus if you are interested in learning more about how the virus infects the body, replicates, and how the body responds, as well as some drug and vaccine strategies.
  • Before you look at this COVID-19 case data, know that the population of the US is 330 million and the EU is 446 million. (Thanks Max Roser)
  • A paper from Harvard asked the following question: “How do COVID-19 mortality rates vary by age across US racial/ethnic groups?”. The answer? “In all age strata, COVID-19 mortality rates were higher for racial/ethnic minorities compared to whites, with extremely high rate ratios (5-9-fold higher) among younger adults (24-54 years) more than 3 times the age-standardized rate ratio. More years of potential life lost were experienced by African Americans and Latinos than whites, although the white population is 3-4 fold larger.”

Readings of Interest #1

Rather than posting articles of interest as I come across them, I’ve decided to collect them and share them in batches weekly(ish). I plan to focus on text (articles and books), because I often find written opinions more concise and well thought out than podcasts.

Articles & Data

  • Plastic rain is the new acid rain shared some numbers from a shocking study about how microplastics not only pollute our oceans, but also the rain and air, as well as how much of the synthetic material collected came from clothing. “After collecting rainwater and air samples for 14 months, they calculated that over 1,000 metric tons of microplastic particles fall into 11 protected areas in the western US each year. That’s the equivalent of over 120 million plastic water bottles. “We just did that for the area of protected areas in the West, which is only 6 percent of the total US area,” says lead author Janice Brahney, an environmental scientist at Utah State University. “The number was just so large, it’s shocking.””
  • Michael Pollan is a great writer, so it stands to say that I could have quoted most of his article, The Sickness in Our Food Supply. Our food system has been and remains broken, and the COVID-19 pandemic is exposing more weaknesses and vulnerabilities in how we grow and produce food in the US. “Most of what we grow in this country is not food exactly, but rather feed for animals and the building blocks from which fast food, snacks, soda, and all the other wonders of food processing, such as high-fructose corn syrup, are manufactured.”
  • Quite the condemnation of foodie culture here. One simple point made a big impact on me. “Watching so many Americans die, and realizing that so many of them were made sicker and more vulnerable in large part because they had no access to nutrition made the recipe revelers of foodie culture seem not just slightly ridiculous but outright insufferable.”
  • If you want to take a deep but practical dive into LED lighting for your house, Ben Brooks took us there in this week’s Member Journal (paywall).
  • Some refute the serious nature of the COVID-19 pandemic with the argument that “more people die from x than COVID”. This visualization should refute that. (Thanks Patrick)
  • Some COVID-19 data sources I’ve been finding useful: How We Reopen Safely, NY Times Dashboard.

Books

  • Finished up Ballistic by Marko Kloos the second book in The Palladium Wars series. I enjoy throwing an easy sci-fi read occasionally, and I’ve enjoyed all of Marko’s books (check out his Frontlines series as well).
  • Started White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo. I’m only about 20% of the way through, but found it interesting how she defines racism. Everyone has prejudices and when acted upon, those prejudices become discrimination. Racism has a societal definition: “When a racial group’s collective prejudice is backed by the power of legal authority and institutional control, it is transformed into racism, a far-reaching system that functions independently from the intentions or self-images of individual actors.”

Weather Apps

If you haven’t heard of it, Forecast Advisor rates the accuracy of many weather services forecasts over the past month and year. In my case, Weather Underground (WU) is almost always the best. In my search for weather apps, I’ve limited it to those that use WU.

Official WU Apps

Weather Underground – Was my default weather app for years until I discovered Hello Weather (see next section).

WU Storm – I use Storm to look up historical weather data. Provides some additional layers on the radar.1

Apps With WU as a Data Source

Hello Weather – Hello Weather has become my favorite weather app as the interface is data dense but still very clean. If you subscribe to the Fan Club, you get the option to use WU for the forecast and Dark Sky for rain. This is a very unique (and useful) combination.2

The only other two apps that I’ve found that use WU data are Clear Day and Weather Mate Pro, but I haven’t tried either as their interfaces look awful from the screenshots. If you know of any others, I’d love to hear about them.

Update

CARROT Weather has released a huge update that includes an option to use WU + Dark Sky (you must have the Ultrapremium subscription to access this option). The widget isn’t quite as good as the one from Hello Weather, but I do really like the customization options for Watch complications and the widget.

  1. If you really want a powerful radar app, RadarScope is the best. ↩︎
  2. Hello Weather also has an excellent widget. ↩︎

Climate Change Reading

As part of consuming less news, I made it a goal to read more books. One of the first topics I tackled was climate change. Let’s take a pause here. Climate change is not an opinion or hoax, it is supported by science from every angle over a long period of time1. Now that we have that out there, I’d like to recommend three of the books I read.

Planetary Boundaries

Big World, Small Planet by Johan Rockström2 discusses how in two generations, we’ve overwhelmed the earth and ”went from a small world on a big planet to a big world on a small planet”. There are planetary boundaries (greenhouse gases, ocean acidification, etc.) that we must stay within or we risk going to a point of no return. While we have an idea what will happen if we exceed the boundaries, we can be sure there will be some catastrophic surprises. The author goes on to discuss how we can still succeed economically and as a society while remaining within the boundaries. In order to do this, we need to change our mindset and spark innovations to solve the issues at hand. If you want to be informed about the science and be inspired by some great photography, I highly recommend this book3.

Human Capability to Change

Earth in Human Hands by David Grinspoon is a much longer read. Being more of an academic book, it weighs in at over 500 pages with numerous footnotes and references. Regardless, I found it an intriguing read. The author is an astrobiologist and discusses how Earth’s climate got to where it is, as well as research on other planets’ climates. He discusses how we can learn from this research to help imagine what might happen to Earth if we don’t make changes. Overall, this book takes a much more optimistic tone (on a long term time scale) and is a proponent of engineering the planet to make sure we keep the climate under control.

Climate Denial

The Madhouse Effect by Michael E. Mann is a quick, but excellent read. Combined with satirical cartoons, the author discusses climate denial and how we got into the current political mess surrounding climate change4. The author is skeptical of geoengineering5 and doesn’t see how we feasibly could move to another planet in the next several generations6. His solution is that we must work toward clean energy so we can keep fossil fuels in the ground.

  1. See the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and National Academies. ↩︎
  2. For a brief overview of the main points from the author, check out the book’s website. ↩︎
  3. I read the book on Kindle, but I’ve heard that the physical book is beautiful. ↩︎
  4. This book was published during the 2016 election campaign, and seems to be a bit more optimistic than it would be now. That part is a little painful… ↩︎
  5. We might make a mistake, and we don’t have another Earth to experiment on. ↩︎
  6. Although, Elon Musk is working on it. ↩︎

Backing Away From the News

After getting pulled into the news during this year’s election cycle, I decided to take a step back and reevaluate my consumption. Reading Nicholas Bate’s “22 Reasons your 2017 is going to be Awesome“, number 4 stood out:

Every single problem commentators list for 2017 from Brexit to Trump to Asteroid Collision, you will ask: Can I fix this? If yes, do so. If no, execute your plan B. But stay resourceful, walk tall and love planet Earth

I’ve started posing this question to myself, and it has changed how I consume media. I no longer mindlessly save news stories to Instapaper to read or browse multiple papers. I am even thinking of cutting out the national evening news for some extra reading time.

What am I reading now?

For the past few weeks I’ve been relying on the NYTimes1 and The Economist Espresso2 apps. I also still subscribe to the Next Draft newsletter, which is where I find a lot of my long-form current event reading.

Reducing my consumption of the daily news cycle has freed me up to read more nonfiction books. While not as current as the news, you gain much more depth from reading a book. Some of my recent favorites include Elon Musk, How Music Got Free, Eating Animals, Eccentric Orbits, and 10% Happier.3

Less stress, More knowledge

So far, I’ve been learning a lot and feeling less stress about the news (but not under informed). If you feel like you’ve been pulled into the news cycle, I suggest you give some thought to your consumption as well.

Update: Seth Godin wrote an excellent article about how we need to move our media consumption from “The candy diet” (or clickbait, bad TV shows, etc.) to thoughtful consumption. Just changing our consumption habits will force the media to make changes.

  1. I mainly read the Morning Briefing and scan the article summaries in the Top Stories section of the app. ↩︎
  2. The Economist is a great source for international news and U.S. news from a foreign prospective. Espresso provides it in a quick to read, daily format (not to mention it's much cheaper than subscribing to the magazine). ↩︎
  3. Don't forget to check your public library to see if they loan Kindle books for free. ↩︎

The Great Outdoors

As a kid, my summer vacation always included a two week camping trip. During my elementary school years, it was always with my grandparents who were lifetime campers (they’ve camped in every state but Hawaii). It was during these early years that I developed my connection with nature.

It’s hard to explain, but there is a sense of peace and wonder that can be felt from spending time with nature and away from everything else. John Muir said it best in his journal:

There is a love of wild nature in everybody an ancient mother-love ever showing itself whether recognized or no, and however covered by cares and duties.

After finding this connection, I always looked forward to spending time in nature. Our vacations took me many beautiful places, some of my favorites being Grand Teton, Glacier, and The Great Smokey Mountains National Parks.

Now that I am on my own, my wife and I make sure we do everything we can to protect our planet. We only have one, and need to make sure it survives. We make sure to get out and enjoy nature to nurture our connection and remind us what were protecting. Every outing still brings a sense of calm and inward reflection for me. Again, as explained by John Muir:

But in every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks.

On this Earth Day, take some time to think about how your life has been changed by nature. If you don’t feel that connection, do yourself a favor and spend some time building one this summer. We need to work together to take care of this spaceship we call Earth.