Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Lighting is Everything (also Pillows)

I realize I've been posting infrequently. But have you read the "Popular Entries" indexed in the left margin? Have you re-read them? They're deliberately written to reward multiple rereadings. I know that sort of writing doesn't jibe with current taste and micro-attention, but someone's got to keep working that angle. Heigh ho.

I just got a new apartment, and all the lightbulbs are cool/daylight white so it feels like a dentist office. This is obviously a matter of opinion. If you prefer cool blue-white light, god bless, but the following isn't for you.

Most people never think about any of this. They're unaware that LEDs can mimic incandescent bulbs, casting soulful old-school light. If they swapped out their bulbs for warmer ones, their lives would be transformed. Instead, they live in homes lit like data centers.

Here's info on warm versus cool white LED bulbs.

Basically, look for the "K" or "Kelvins" info on the box. Lower numbers are warmer. 2700 or 3000 is a good place to start. If you dig it, consider spending $200 or whatever to replace every bulb in your house. It's cheaper than redecorating.

Light is IMPORTANT. Your whole visual life is predicated around it! As with pillows, I don't grok why people don't pay more attention (you spend one third of your life intimately bonded to your pillow, yet most people I know sleep on cheap, hardened, flattened ones). Look, I can be as cheap and careless as anyone out there, but I don't skimp on pillows or light bulbs. You don't truly need a BMW or an Apple Watch, but pillows and light bulbs actually matter!

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Why Putin and Xi Want to Absorb Ukraine and Taiwan

The older I get, the more I recognize the power in stating the obvious - or hearing someone state it for you. There are many things (most things, I'd claim!) that we know only fuzzily. To hear things clarified - encoded in crisp articulation - almost amounts to reframing, even if it's aligned with what we've always fuzzily believed. You can have a sensation of breaking through the clouds without having changed your mind.

This compels reexamination of confirmation bias. Maybe it's not that we like to hear our beliefs flatly repeated back at us, so much as a desire to hear our foggy predispositions astutely stated and neatly interweaved.

Why is Putin after Ukraine and Xi after Taiwan? You or I could filibuster for a long while about tyranny, but while there is a succinct central truth, I had to hear it stated by David Frum to realize how blurry I'd been on the matter.

Like a lot of us who suffered through the Cheney/Bush administration, I've long associated Frum with his sneering "axis of evil" line. The prototypical arrogant Neocon. But he's repentant about the Iraq invasion, staunchly opposed to Trumpism (i.e. the current GOP) and he's insightful. He doesn't just amplify the same old talking points; he bakes fresh.

So why is Putin after Ukraine and Xi after Taiwan? We all know, but I doubt many of us could state it as succinctly as Frum did (in this podcast, which is well worth a listen). I've edited for clarity:
"I don't think anyone leading Russia thought "I don't have enough real estate. I don't have enough worthless real estate. I don't have enough shattered former Soviet apartment buildings populated by people. I have too few opportunities to spend productive assets in violence.

"They have lots of those things already. What they are fighting for is to change the character of the Ukrainian state. Kyiv is the largest Russian speaking democratic city on earth. A Russian language-speaking democracy!

"Putin has the same problem with Kyiv that China has with Taiwan. Taiwan is a cultural provider to Mainland China in a way that seems very disturbing and disorienting. Obviously, Taiwan is no strategic threat. So why does China care? Why is it so important?

"It's because they are showing your people what is possible."

Sunday, May 7, 2023

Cheating at Roulette Without Cheating

I loved this long Bloomberg piece about cheating at roulette.

It's a bit of a shaggy dog story, so I won't spoil it too much...

...but I'm about to spoil it a little, so, if that bothers you, stop reading here, and come back later!

I loved the story because I intimately understand the skill involved. Watch long enough - just watch! - and any not-totally-random system becomes at least somewhat predictable, whether you "understand it" or not.

The writer, having lavished 6000 words on telling the tale, couldn't really dive into the juicy hows and wheretos, even if he had the insight to do so. But this is something I previously wrote about here (and continued here). 

Those postings weren't so much about what you can do with this faculty as how to access the faculty itself - and use it to incrementally work up curves of diminishing results (I'm not sure anyone's ever explained this before; it's yet more perceptual framing stuff). But I did offer a few practical applications:
My Guatemalan superstar contractor has a fatal flaw. He can't estimate jobs. A pragmatic man, his head swims with potential snags. And if an unanticipated problem absorbs extra time, he might find himself below the weekly income he needs to feed his kids (and the kids of his workers). That outcome terrifies him, so he estimates crazy high (most customers just pay him by the hour). Here's how I advised him:
Whenever you start a job, flash a number in your head of what you think the job will cost the customer. Don't try hard! Don't mull it over, or get out your calculator. Just let a number frivolously, stupidly float into your mind. A two second operation, if that.

Then, when the job's complete, see how close you came. Don't try to learn from your mistakes. Don't analyze short/longfall. Just note the disparity, shrug playfully, and move on. And keep doing this, over and over and over. In way less time than you'd imagine - weeks or months, not years - you'll find your guesses getting more and more accurate until you're eventually nailing the exact figure every time. All without even trying! Hey, trying hard never worked, anyhow, right?
This is something our spidey-sense recognizes as possible, because we brush against this mysterious facility from time to time. For example, many people claim the superpower of always knowing the precise time when they wake up. They've guessed it many times, as a mere playful caprice (more on that essential part in a moment), and gotten incrementally better and better at it. After a few hundred iterations, one becomes weirdly infallible. It's like a magic trick no one ever really examined.
I discussed the whole thing (the Bloomberg article plus my Slog post) with a biologist friend:

Me: Any system that delivers a rational result, even if you have no idea of the algorithm, becomes highly predictable just from subconscious matching (if you playfully predict and don’t try to dig too deep).

Friend: Yes. It can also be determined statistically. Play long enough, and the small odds make a difference

Me: Can really see this in any computer game you play a lot. You find yourself able to eerily predict things that really shouldn’t be predictable without conscious effort/calculation.

Friend: Yeah. Our brains probably perform some sort of statistical inference

Me: Yeah, you need to clear out the thicket of narrative and emotional thinking, while maintaining just the slightest, playful desire for improvement. Mulish repetition never gets better. You need that spark..

Friend: And the feedback

Me: Yeah, don’t ignore the feedback. Note the result. Calmly!

Friend: Our brains are a reinforcement system

Me: Yes, and I guess my point is that it’s all pretty under the hood, subconscious

Friend: yeah

Me: Any way you strain to improve it is counterproductive

Friend: The intrinsic system is already quite optimised

Me: Right. Lots of biological processes are like that.

Friend: Millions of years of evolution

Me: All you can do is interfere! Zen saying: “All calculation is miscalculation”

Friend: LOL!

Note that if I started out with that Zen saying and tried to work backwards, explaining it, my highly rational friend likely would never have grokked it. But the conversation had reached a point where he was forced to seriously entertain it, if not entirely swallow it!

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

A Nice House With a Good Vibe

I've said this again and again to realtors: I like homes that are nice and have a nice vibe and where everything works, but I don't like grandiosity.

They stand, befuddled, doing the mental calculus. "Ok. 'Nice' means expensive. Good, I can push him high. 'Vibe': fine, hippy, whatever. But 'grandiosity'? So I guess he doesn't want, like, ivory counters with gold leaf inlays? WTF?"

It's like shouting into the wind. No one can hear me.

Real estate is bifurcated. At the low end are shitty boxy little cheesy options with no build quality or aesthetic consideration, where maybe two outlets work right. That's the first 25 years of my adult life. If you can pay more, congrats, you arrive to a poofy life of granite countertops and Sergio Pilaxi appliances (I made it up) and terribly dramatic halogen track lighting and general striking impressiveness. If you can afford them, why would you eschew general striking impressiveness?

Me, I don't want to impress anyone, just in general. And I certainly don't want to impress anyone in the place where I live. That said, I'm a product of middle class suburbia, so curling linoleum and water damage and moldy-smelling basements skeeve me out. I can live happily without a dishwasher, but I do acknowledge the value.

I like nice places where everything works and there's a good vibe. Just no magnificence. No "presentation". Nothing "impressive". Nothing to announce to visitors that I am A MAN OF FRIGGIN' SUBSTANCE. I don't want visitors to say "Wow!", I want them to feel cozy. Here's what I want my home, insofar as it sends a message, to communicate: "Yup, this room is really fun to hang out in, and that couch is even more comfy than you think!"

I can't explain this to anyone. It's all just crazy talk. No one out there imagines/acknowledges they're trying to impress anyone. They just want a STRIKING PRESENTATION, right out of an architecture magazine! And, you know, those sconces are DIVINE!

After getting lost in various web tunnels, I chanced upon the 9-year old listing for saxophonist David Sanborn's apartment. And I almost cried. Because this was the perfect example. THIS IS WHAT I MEAN!!!!!

Remember, this is a $12 million (with an "m"!!) apartment, and even at that dizzying price level, there's no grandiosity. It makes no "statements", and is not trying to impress. Yet anyone with a soul would kill to live there, because it's nice and has a nice vibe.

Those aren't empty, placeholder words. It's not hippy stuff.

What I'm describing - though phenomenally orthogonal to the way anyone thinks about homes these days - is a real thing.

Exceedingly rare, but real. And finally I have an archetype I can point to.

I'm not saying this is my ideal home. That's not my point. I could live in a house that looks very different from this...if it were nice and had a nice vibe and weren't trying to impress.

I can hear a broker's reply: "I'd hardly describe that magnificent living room ceiling as unimpressive!"

Sigh. The ceiling is super-NICE, for sure! But there's nothing status-seeking about that living room. It does not compel consideration of the magnificence of its owner. It's a living room to get down to living in. It's just NICE. And has a GOOD VIBE.

I despair of explaining. It's like trying to convince a TV executive that we're all loving Succession because it's GOOD, not because audiences are yearning for tragicomic high-production-value premium cable shows about devious rich people. Don't give me shows that superficially resemble Succession. Give me shows as GOOD as Succession!

"'Good', huh? Ok, hippy, whatever..."

Blog Archive