When I was in my teenage years, I’d often be romanticising about some girl that was far beyond my ability. One night, talking amongst the lads, I commented off-hand that I had an eye for spotting good-looking ladies, and a friend (a friend!) instantly responded, ‘it’s a shame they don’t have an eye for spotting you, isn’t it?’ As far as withering put-downs go, that’s up there!
I’m often asked about motivation: why and how do I do things? As far as my soul-searching goes, it doesn’t go back to a childhood moment of chastisement or “I’ll show them attitude”, of which I’ve had an incredible amount to draw on. Indeed, when looking at my teenage years, it is mostly full of embarrassment, yet this is just how the memory works: punctured by moments of heightened emotions, of happiness, sadness or cheeks of radish red. Don’t even get me started on having to ask the best-looking girl in my year out in French class, in French, as ordered by the teacher. Jesus-F*cking-Christ!
But regardless of these ghosts in the machine, I rarely ever think about them. My biggest competitor, motivator and critic are the same person: me. It is constant, incessant improvement. I feel healthier than I have in years, I’ve read a great deal too this year (thirty-five books), way more than any year previous, and there are always tiny elements of a book that inspire me utterly and keep that motivation going. So, at my most lazy, when I hug the couch, tea in hand and just thumb through a book, my body is taking respite but mind looking for a spark. One thing I have noticed though is that my mind and body are addicted to walking: I need to get out and about for an hour or two a day, becoming restless and unhappy without it. And once I’m walking, my mind is running: either listening to audiobooks or podcasts, music, TED Talks or speaking with friends. From these acorns big things grow (I’ve written about daily, weekly, fortnightly and monthly lists before!)
What next? A few changes in 2020, my surroundings to start with: I’ll be spending the next few months out in the United States. Although I’ve enjoyed it, perhaps less time reading will allow me to increase focus on health, writing and photography, relationships and my career. Will see what happens. For those that have this blog read over the years, I don’t believe in New Year’s Resolutions per say (if you want to do something, go to it, don’t wait!), but I do believe in being very grateful for everything life has afforded you. Despite constant lists of things I’m yet to do, I’m eternally grateful for the now.
Best wishes for 2020 x
It’s not often that my mind is blown, but the week started off with quantum mechanics and then I was in recovery mode for the week! but I’ll get to that in a second. During the normal working-week I’ve been gliding to the office on the dulcet tones of the classic children’s book Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham, some of the most effusive, happy descriptions of nature I’ve ever heard in my life. What a wonderful, wonderful book, and a lovely narration from libravox (and free too!). To get the cognitive juices flowing (because quantum mechanics isn’t enough), I’ve picked up Edward DeBono’s Lateral Thinking which is, as you can imagine, a different approach: in modern terms it’s generating as many ideas as possible, something in the corporate world they refer to as ‘ideation’ – idea generation. As opposed to vertical thinking where one reasons a good idea, and methodically and systematically improves on said idea, lateral thinking doesn’t mind going down blind alleys, as that wrong turn could generate a better outcome than purely singular thinking. I’m only halfway through but enjoying it.
With my reading time a little limited as work has ramped up on the last week to Christmas – holy monkeys, it’s Christmas! – I listened to the excellent TED Talk on quantum computing by Craig Costello, a researcher in cryptography for Microsoft. And then things got complicated. The fundamentals I think are this: codebreaking at the moment basically tries every combination possible to find the one successful to allow access. It’s a problem of concurrency i.e. we need to tackle one problem at a time. This is the example that I’ve come up with that helps me: if you knew that knocking on a door required anything between one and a million knocks to gain access, you’d start with knocking once. No answer. Knock twice. No Answer. Knock three times . . . you get the picture. You’d be there for some time, but you’d get the right answer eventually along with some sore knuckles and annoyed neighbours.
And then quantum mechanics ‘arrived’, and things don’t quite work at the same level as the rest of the physical universe – The Avengers were right! Well, to a degree, anyway. In the quantum realm, two objects can influence each other instantaneously despite being apart, which is called quantum entanglement. Then there’s the idea of quantum superposition, where a particle can exist in two places at the same time. As Craig Costello pointed out, protons can spin clockwise and anti-clockwise at the same time. To explain further, there is an excellent article from the New Scientist from 2015. But the basics is the idea of instantaneous and multiple existences.
Apart from being odd, why does this matter? Well, it means that instead of tackling one problem at a time, you can tackle all problems at the same time. Take the knocking on the door analogy again. If you knew that one combination of that one to a million knocks would let you in, at the quantum level you could just knock with million hands super-fast. So, when you relate this back to code-breaking, all the things that currently protect your email accounts, bank details, companies and governments, could receive a battering ram of hackers trying to access information. You know in movies where the bad guys access personal accounts and it slowly disintegrates down to zero as the money is wired to Zurich? Yeah, think that. In the words of Russel Crowe in Gladiator, ‘are you not entertained?!
It’s rare that I consent to watching television but I was drawn recently to a Bill Gates documentary on Netflix, Inside Bill’s Brain. Note – I did wonder whether streaming is actually television per say, but since ‘tele’ come from being far or distant in Greek, transmitting from afar, such as telegraph, streaming is television after all! So yes, I watched television. Don’t judge me!
There were three outstanding items from the documentary: the first was Bill’s sanitation project, taking normal everyday poop and turning it into drinkable water and combustible fuel; the second was solving the world’s energy crises via redesigning nuclear reactors using spent nuclear waste as the powering source; and the final item was simply on his reading fanaticism. I try to read, God know I wear my finger out, but there are books that just take time. Having just finished Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything in about two weeks (not reading constantly, you understand – am not that slow!), I generally went though a few chapters an hour. Bill Gates reads at an alarming 150 pages an hour, and imbibes every ounce of it. Bastard!
My pettiness aside (really, one hundred and fifty pages, come on!!) those two pet-projects of his could save hundreds of millions of lives per year – this without going into the eradication of polio which he and his wife, Melinda, have championed for years. In air-lifting/building a communal toilet to the most impoverished parts of the world and providing clean water as a by-product is simply astounding, ironically vastly improving the odds of almost 2 billion people that use a drinking water source contaminated with faeces, leading to dysentery, cholera, typhoid et cetera. Dysentery alone kills 140m people a year! Chuck in a few bars of soap as per a previous post on the Checklist Manifesto, and The Gates’ are single-handedly saving the human race (for which the planet may not thank him). Nuclear power on the other hand is a heavy topic, primarily because so many people have seen the repercussions of when it goes wrong. There are 450 in operation worldwide, but a single error such as Chernobyl or Fukishima results in unmitigated disaster. Interestingly there are none in Australia. What Bill saw was the necessity for a design re-vamp, which he and his team duly undertook. The result, if it works, is something that could change the entire perception of nuclear power worldwide. Speaking to a friend about it, he referred to is as a thorium reactor, and you can read more about it here in the Business Insider. I’m not a guru in business enough to know if Bill and Melinda Gates back turkeys often, but if Bill believes in it, and the eminent Warren Buffet backs Bill, then it’s worth keeping an eye on TerraPower.
It's heartening that after conquering the technological world, having more wealth than Croesus and being able to achieve anything Melinda and Bill want to do, they choose philanthropy. Giving something back.
You can read more about Bill Gates and his many projects at his blog gatesnotes.com.
Writing and writing...