Stealing Fire by Steven Kotler & Jamie Wheal – book review

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For those people who are bestselling authors, Silicon Valley geniuses, top performing Navy SEALs, and top-level scientists, this book is well worth reading. If you are a regular attendee at Burning Man you will enjoy this book. However, of the seven and a half billion people on this planet, the number of people who would clearly fall into the combined group above is probably less than ten thousand. If we liberalized the definition a bit to those who aspire to those lofty ranks we might get the number up to a hundred thousand. For the rest of humanity, the odds against you being members of this elite are a million to one, and this book Stealing Fire – How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work will probably be counterproductive to your life.

I came away from this book feeling that promoting activities for people that are beyond their abilities will hurt far more people than it helps. Granted there will be people for whom psychedelic drugs will enhance their performance, and for whom taking huge risks will have an enormous payoff, and their odds may be better than a million to one that it will work, but the odds are stacked against them. I would recommend reading Jim Collins’s book, How the Mighty Fall and why some Companies Never Give In before you read Stealing Fire. Collins’s book is about the perils of overreaching. It is an analysis of big companies that failed compared to their competitors that succeeded. The lessons to be learned in that book about companies have a direct correlation to personal strategies for winning. Stealing Fire is about the glories of overreaching and the authors interview those who have succeeded with that approach; however, they don’t dwell on the vast majority that tried that super-risky path and failed.

Of course, there is some good advice in stepping up to those people who have succeeded with your good ideas and brilliant conversation, but if you don’t have great qualities in abundance even those contacts won’t work. If instead, you can spend some time and energy figuring out a way to provide for the common person’s needs in a way that will scale up with a product you can sell to the whole world you are more likely to succeed than by taking mind-altering drugs.

The harder you work on your good ideas the luckier you will become.

 

A pleasant day of little successes.

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The usual Saturday morning breakfast is with people who are now becoming long-term friends because I have known them most of the six years I have now lived here in Bend, Oregon. We discussed the coming August 21st eclipse and the problems of being in one of the best places in the world to view totality. Our local weather is usually quite clear that day. The problem is that there are very few highways and roads to handle the large numbers of people expected to come here. It is said that local hundred-dollar motel rooms are now reserved for over a thousand dollars per night. A couple of my friends are avid mountain climbers and are considering going to the top of North Sister at about 10,000-foot level for a good viewing place. It is high enough to see the entire shadow of totality go over the land.

Even though I have more relationship to eclipses than most people I am considering just staying home because there will be too much chaos to cope with. I did see the sun rise totally eclipsed in July of 1945. And our family farm 1948-1990 is directly on the center of path of totality. There is no way to cope with a large number of people being out there in those fields. There is only one two-lane road per mile in the area.

I was given a very sweet little gift this morning. It was a beautifully executed credit card size drawing of a busy beaver working in his Bend garden with snow-capped mountains in the background. It has a caption “ ST.CHARLES ♥’S ME!” at the top. This is kind of an in-joke with my friends calling me Saint Charles because I do little things for them like getting chairs for them to sit in, and I use the mnemonic “saint” because that is the name of our local hospital, which helps people remember my name. It seems like such an irony because I’m obviously no saint and often end up talking about unpleasant subjects.

Among the little successes was more yard work done, and four loads of laundry done in our new washer-dryer; although to speed things up the laundry was only partially dried in the tumble dryer and then hung out on a clothesline. It has been a hot dry day with a slight breeze so that made it possible to do so much laundry in one day. The reason there was so much clothing needing washing was that the Ponderosa tree that fell on our house two months ago punctured one of our clothes closets and dumped  lots of blown insulation inside the closet and on those clothes. We just put all of that stuff into big 42-gallon plastic bags and left it to be dealt with later. Well, today was later. It all went well.

Also, I put in a couple of hours on my Love Our Life – Diet book. I have been doing my new diet plan since December 15th, and have lost 13 pounds. My BMI when I started was about 26.5, and after some research I realized that my ideal BMI is 23.5 plus or minus half a point. So, I am going to lose about four more pounds and then stabilize at that weight and that BMI for several months.

It was a pleasant day of little successes, and we lived and lived and nothing happened.

The wildfire season has begun and I prepare.

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I spent a couple of hours around my house today clearing away flammable things. Actually, this is the second round because a week ago we had taken away five 42-gallon plastic bags of yard stuff, along with various things from our catastrophe. Most of that bagged stuff was pine needles, leaves, and wood chips and most of the volume was wood chips that were created by the disaster team’s cleanup of two ponderosa trees that fell in the windstorm of April 7th. The cleanup teams use some chainsaws that don’t leave sawdust, but what could be called saw-chips or saw-slivers because they are much bigger and longer than sawdust.

Because of the fire season, and the idiocy of our local residents on July 4th sending flaming rockets up through our local trees, I decided to do everything I reasonably could to prevent our house from catching fire and burning down. Therefore, I cleaned out things down to bare dirt near our house, and I climbed onto the roof and with a pole saw/clipper cut away all the spruce and ponderosa branches within reach.

A little preparedness may prevent a great disaster.

How should we cope with change?

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Our personal situation is always changing and we are always challenged with how we should adapt. The obvious answer is that we should look to the possibilities that might come our way and prepare for them now, while we have the time, thoughtfulness and resources. What does that mean? In part, it means to be mentally prepared to adapt instantly to any changing situation. But, being human, we have the ability to think about our future situations and thus to position our resources in such a way that no matter which of the reasonable alternatives actually come into existence we can cope well because we have pre-thought about the situation and prepared for its problems and opportunities. If we have sufficient forethought, things that are destructive to most of those around us can benefit us. Great disasters can also be great opportunities if we are prepared to take advantage of them.

Part of future preparation is to have reserves of the necessities of life — food, water, comfortable living quarters — because if we are weak from deprivation we can’t do anything useful. It always helps to have a buffer of money readily available as even in a disastrous situation money will still be valuable. In some situations “cash is king.”

If we are prepared for Black Swan events and have enough slack to cope easily with them we will also have enough surplus to perform some beneficial actions for ourselves and others. When we are properly prepared in mind, body and resources, coping with unusual situations becomes just another activity that is within our routine abilities. To have slack means to avoid being overextended in one’s daily life; it means having enough to cover everything plus some in reserve. Most of the people of our world are in debt to someone like the bank, their employer, their landlord, even for daily routine things.

People must fear change when they lack the resources to even cope with their daily routine.

Warnings: Finding Cassandras to Stop Catastrophes by Clarke and Eddy

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This book makes a convincing case that many things such as artificial intelligence, pandemic disease, sea-level rise, nuclear ice age, Internet of everything, meteor strike and CRISPR gene editing will bring humanity as we know it to an end. Warnings: Finding Cassandras to Stop Catastrophes by Richard A. Clarke and R.P. Eddy is a fun read for people who are accepting of the fact that we live in a dangerous world that might crash at any minute. For everyone else, it will be a spine-tingling thriller that probably portends humanity’s future demise within a few decades if not our personal one in a few months.

Having departed from my young adult occupation as a B-47 H-bomber pilot back in 1960, I have lived under the realization of how easy it would be for those bombs to fall and our civilization to vanish. Consequently, I read Warnings with a cool head and a sanguine heart. I am basically a cheerful person but gloom and doom are not far beneath my pleasant exterior.

In my annual Probaway Person of the Year, which now has ten entries, there are five individuals who are creators of things that would fall into the book’s Warnings list: Albert Einstein and his promoting the creation of the American atomic bomb is one, and Jennifer Doudna and her creation of CRISPR is another.

Without any intent to have it so, I have had strange personal connections with top people in all of the new warning categories in Chapters 10 through 16. But what interested me most was the final chapter on what we could and should be doing to eliminate or at least mitigate the disasters that are already imminent.

Ouch; immediately we, you and I, hit a problem because the authors cut us out of the loop and put the responsibility for action exclusively into the hands of a rarified few people. The authors have been functioning at the White House level for much of their careers, and they limit the people whom they are willing to even consider listening to, to those very few people who are at the absolute pinnacle of their chosen field. The rest of us should go suck our thumbs like a bunch of spoiled children. Such statements as, “The White House, with its decision-making power, is best suited for creating and hosting such a forecasting office,” p. 355. This statement becomes truly chilling when we consider how unwilling our current president is to carefully analyze anything, let alone predicting and responding well before catastrophe strikes.

A few sentences later he mentions how one of the most informed people in Silicon Valley, Bill Joy, got to talk to the Chief of Staff, not the President, and nothing happened. Rock Stars can get interviews with the President, but not people who are really informed on a critical subject. That’s the definition of insane.

I came away from this basically good book with a realization that we humans are in deeper trouble than I imagined because of the mentality of the insiders. They talk about listening to Cassandras but then they put their fingers in their ears and their heads in the sand and they leave all of us with our asses sticking in the air.

It’s Nassim Taleb’s complaint in a new department. Only trust people who have skin in the game.

Who is my target audience for my diet plan?

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The world presently has over a billion overweight people, and the diet industry takes in over a half a trillion dollars per year. If one of those diets really worked well everyone would quickly hear about it and flock to that diet plan. Therefore, none of those current diet plans work, at least they aren’t working for a billion people.

I have been following a diet plan for five months, and I have consistently lost two pounds per month and thus have lost ten pounds. The plan is designed around the idea of being a group of fun games for my mind and body that always leaves my gut feeling happy.

I am working on this new strategy for promoting this diet plan because giving things away doesn’t work. If you can’t sell something for money it isn’t worth anything and people don’t value things that are worthless. Sad. The media don’t promote and sell things that are free, and when they say “free” there is always an offer. The solution to that simple-minded conundrum is to sell my diet plan for money. That way it can be promoted on the media, and thus it can be disseminated worldwide and not be just a few fun and games for my personal friends.

Previously I have been thinking of my target audience as overweight people, but that group isn’t the audience that will get me through to the ultimate audience. It is imperative that the message is disseminated through the mass media if it is going to be seen and heard by billions of people who need to hear the message. Therefore, my primary audience must be those providers of mass media who can reach those billions of overweight people.

These days the most successful promoter of various diets is Oprah on her TV show, and so she is the key person to whom my diet plan must be aimed. I rarely watch Oprah but I do watch Steven Colbert and his show is flagrantly promoting various people and their products, such as new movies, TV shows, Broadway shows and books. I have found that a bit annoying when it isn’t something I’ve been interested in, but now I must pay attention to that aspect of his presentations. Also, I must watch some of Oprah’s shows so I can get a better understanding of what she wants. I need to know what publishers she works with, and thus they to have become a primary audience.

All of this comes back to how I write the book. What the tone is, what the humor is and how the message can be presented so it is accepted. I need a good idea, which I have; a well-written book, which I have started; a great name  – (LOL diet) Love Our Life diet is good; a good iconic logo – I have a background in that kind of thing; and a person to step into the media and represent all these things – I’ve done a little stage work, so that isn’t impossible.

This is an outline strategy for getting the Love Our Life diet rolling.

Clockwork Purple – I hoped the poor fellow would survive.

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June 18, 2017 – Clockwork Purple – writers group
Our random book was chosen by Gail:
Entering the Circle by Olga Kharitidi, MD.
The random page 10 chosen unseen by Aingeal;
Line 11 was chosen unseen by Charles.

Prompt with 45 minutes plus two for tidying up – Alexa set the timer for 47 minutes and the prompt was read aloud.

I hoped the poor fellow would survive.

It was a lovely spring Sunday morning there in Bend, Oregon, and many people were settled into their seats in the many local churches, restaurants, and bars taking in their personal spiritual nourishment with their friends. Everyone but Richard. He was having a slow, lonely stroll along the Deschutes River, just walking. Nothing special, just walking and sort of enjoying himself and the lovely view. The exact place was a path on the water’s edge of Mirror Pond some twenty feet below a decorative railing that had been installed a year earlier. He watched the ducks for a moment, and not thinking in any conscious way he idly decided to sit on the rustic wooden bench and figure out what these ducks were doing.

After a minute it became obvious to Richard that they were totally involved in doing ducky things. Swimming along, and occasionally ducking their ducky heads into the pond to the bottom of the shallow places with their ducky bottoms sticking into the air, and apparently finding things they loved to eat. He mused that those things he would probably find disgusting, but maybe not. He reconsidered. Hmm, chances are those ducks have very refined palates and are choosing delectable little things. If I carefully chose enough of those little things the ducks struggled so hard to get and had them cooked up by Dave, the chef over at the Drake restaurant only a one-minute walk from his spot, they might be able to make the best entrée imaginable. That was the idle thought drifting through Richard’s mind when a single but very colorful mallard skidded into the little group of half-submerged ducks.

For a few moments everything was quiet, and the various ducks were just swimming about appearing to Richard to be about to go searching for another tasty treat on the bottom of the pond when – SMASH – and in an instant, there was total chaos. Wings beating the water and air, raucous squawks deafening to Richard’s ears, and this interloper obviously was creating a huge kerfuffle. He was attacking first one duck then another of the previously peaceful flock.

This was totally crazy! It seemed totally stupid. Outrageous! Richard was so annoyed he looked around for a rock, or stick, or anything he could throw at that awful bird. Anything that would chase that vicious unwanted bully away.

The pursuit of one of the male ducks was so scary and chaotic that he accidentally flew directly into a bush hanging over the water and got entangled, and soon he was hanging there helplessly ensnared. The more he struggled the more entangled he became.

“I hoped the poor fellow would survive,” said Richard out loud, even though there were no humans around to hear his heartfelt plaint, and as he said that, the bully flew off with the most lovely of the hens. “Well,” thought Richard, “I guess this is how survival of the fittest works,” and he headed off to continue his lonely walk.

Think about it, and choose your own goals.

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We always have the problem of having other people’s goals thrust upon us. Some of them are well thought out and tested against our group’s aspirations like our country’s laws. Some things seem like they might be good, such as what our television shows us as appropriate behavior, but obviously, one’s personal morality being learned from several hours per day of TV dramas is unlikely to be good for anyone.

Our society is embedded with an abundance of nonsense. I have written about the common Christmastime lie, Yes Virginia there is a Santa Claus, and the New Year’s Resolution absurdity about dieting and Epictetus’ thoughts on lying.

The most pernicious lies are probably brought to us by local moral authorities of the various religions telling us what we should be doing. These authorities of virtue are occasionally caught doing things that are directly contrary to their pronouncements. Their standard defense is, “Do as I say, not as I do!” But that means they are incapable of following their own advice although they claim to be on a higher moral ground when they make their proclamations. What that means to me is what they ask is impossible, or they don’t believe what they say and that implies they are only preaching what sounds appealing with the intent of getting control of you and your money.

To base our behavior on what those people say, and to do as they say, is to base our acts and thoughts on their premeditated lies! – Let’s call it what it is! Lies! Therefore it becomes essential for us to learn how to identify lies, and probable lies, and eliminate their influence on our behavior. Think about your personal needs, and choose your own goals for satisfying those needs.

A simple indicator of a lie is when it seems too good to be true, coupled with the probability it will be a benefit to the speaker if you do as they say.

I seek to treat people better.

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Today I attended the memorial service for David and Judy Paulsmeyer at the UU Fellowship Church. I didn’t know them well, and our Sunday conversations had always been short and very pleasant. Generally, I spend my time there at the UU finding things to do. Easy little things like greeting people at the door, filling the dog watering bowl, wiping the dust of the benches, opening and closing the huge sanctuary doors, and picking up the collection. Also, I almost always bring a rock for the labyrinth and place it near the front door and pick up an earlier rock left there and take it to the labyrinth and place it in an appropriate location. My ten-minute walk in the labyrinth is a simple pleasure and gives me a bit of time to think in a noncommittal way about life in general.

Today was a special service for the Paulsmeyers who both died in a driving accident while coming back from visiting their grandchildren in Colorado. The service made clear what wonderful people they had been and the kindly service they had provided to their various local clubs, friends, and relatives. They were the salt of the earth in the kindness that they spread everywhere they went. True peacemakers.

I had parked my car a distance from our building but near the labyrinth and so I walked it both before and after the service. I needed the extra time to think about how I can be nicer, kinder and more helpful to those whom I encounter. Actually, I’m pretty good about that already, but I want to be much better, much kinder, and more accepting of people for who they are. I do post this blog with those thoughts in mind for the public to potentially benefit from, and I do lots of tiny things for the public benefit but when I heard today about David and Judy’s life I realized I can do much more.

I seek to treat people better.

The Morocco human fossils are unlikely to be Homo sapiens sapiens.

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The 300,000 year old skeletal remains recently found in Morocco are clearly Homo sapiens, but I would assert that those people probably didn’t speak well. They were not what is sometimes called Homo sapiens sapiens. The Moroccan humans could probably breed successfully with modern humans because other Africans who came to Europe only 40,000 years ago interbred with Neanderthals, and those speaking Africans had probably been separated from Neanderthals for 400,000 years. The non-evolutionary development of Neanderthals’ stone tool technology makes it unlikely that they had the genes necessary for grammar and thus the ability to speak in sentences.

It is likely that neither the Neanderthals nor the Moroccans had the genes necessary for grammar and thus to speak in sentences until those speaking Africans brought that ability to them. The Neanderthal and Moroccan stone tools were sophisticated enough to have individual usages but they were changing noticeably only in a hundred-thousand-year time frame. When the grammar gene appeared about eighty thousand years ago in Africa in some local group it proved to be so useful that it permitted the descendants with that gene to out-compete all the other groups that lacked it. That DNA gene for grammar, possibly came into existence only one time, then evolved into a group of genes which spread throughout all the human populations of the world.

The European Neanderthals were physically isolated until the arrival of the language-bearing people, commonly called Cro-Magnon. These language bearers had already developed a more advanced technology by the time they left Africa. Once a group has language they have a much better ability to communicate what works and what doesn’t and thus to pass a more effective culture to their descendants.

A living person living in a small language-speaking community would see only a few technical and cultural changes in their lifetime, but in a few thousand years of accumulated cultural wisdom, their culture would be able to gather far more food from a given environment and thus to have larger populations. The replacement of the former occupants of an area need not be particularly violent but the more primitive technology of the non-speaking natives couldn’t maintain them against better speaking hunters with a better technology. With only modest violence between the non-speakers and the speakers, there would be inbreeding. In Europe, the genetic interbreeding of the two groups is still observable in the DNA but in Africa, the markers will be harder to trace because of the greater DNA mixing permitted by the ease of continent-wide travel. In Europe, there was a one-time mixing event. It may have been very slow by modern time standards but it was overwhelming and complete.

My point is that these 300,000-year-old Moroccans were not on a route back to the origins of Homo sapiens; our modern species Homo sapiens sapiens came into existence 200,000 years later with the DNA that permits human grammar, that is, the putting together of meaningful combinations of words.

Our “species” origins will be found in the middens where there was a technology undergoing a consistent major developmental change in a few thousand years.