Intro³: The Two Priorities

I have written two previous introductions for this blog.

The first involved using this blog to talk about self-improvement, talk about critical issues in culture and politics with “courageous empathy,” and making a list of the 100 most important books to give to my children.

While I still want to do many of those things (especially the book list), that introduction post was way too long, and has been archived.

The second involved refocusing the blog into writing a book “Julie and Julia” style (short essays which get turned into a larger book), specifically about using biotech to make astronauts healthier while living in space (and the issues attached to that).

While I still think it would be a good idea to write that book, and it needs to be written, it’s a book that will take 10 years or more to write – so that post has been archived as well.

In light of August 1st being the 1 year anniversary of starting this blog, I’ve recently reevaluated my priorities – as of right now I have two priorities, and two priorities only. With every other issue I could pay attention to, it is either being de-prioritized or ignored entirely.

The First Priority: Self-Improvement

If you wish to rule a nation, you must first rule yourself.

Put another way for those uninterested in ruling: the mastery of anything first begins with the mastery of self.

I want to be healthy, wealthy, and wise. I want to be a strong person, in both mind and body. I want a life that is long, meaningful, fulfilling, and has a positive impact on the world. I want to be productive, effective, and above all competent. It doesn’t matter if I lack skills or resources for my goals – the most important skill is the ability to learn skills, and the most important resource is resourcefulness.

In my quest for self-improvement, I’m going to be reading (and have read) dozens of books – rather than write a long review that helps few, I write short reviews, which you can find here.

The Second Priority: Stopping the Climate Crisis

If climate change continues unabated for the next several decades, life on Earth will be radically altered and radically diminished.

Sea level rise. Increases in droughts, heat waves, monsoons, and other extreme weather. Melted permafrost and ice sheets. Radically changed boundaries of ecosystems. Desertification. Mass extinction of plants and animals. Ocean acidification. Climate refugees traveling to cooler ground. Resource wars and food shortages created from all of the above. The list of effects goes on an on.

There are lots of problems in the world, but you can’t solve all of them. You need to prioritize. Climate change might not kill or harm the most people in absolute numbers, but it has the most potential to make every other problem worse. Climate change won’t kill you directly, but it’s a force multiplier for any other problem that will.

As far as I can tell, climate change is only getting worse, and there’s only a few decades to stop it at most.

Right now, I have a potential solution in mind – one that works with “technology” we already have, can be deployed at scale, and at minimum will give humans more time to solve climate change (if not reverse it entirely). It’s just a matter of learning to use technologies that are exponentially decreasing in cost – and being willing to take a bold risk on a moonshot solution.

If that path doesn’t work, I’ll try something else until something does work.

What I’m De-Prioritizing

Like I said earlier, I’m de-prioritizing writing that book about making astronauts healthier. Astronauts don’t matter if Florida is underwater.

I love politics. I got a degree in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics, and consider myself a political junkie. From now on I’m only going to pay attention to political issues to the extent that they affect me – unless some political issue rises to the level of nuclear war (or is otherwise about to lead to my death), I’m most likely going to ignore it. The latest tweet from the President matters for today’s news cycle, but not in the long run.

I love video games – I’m not going to give up video games entirely, but they’re being scheduled in as a “minor hobby” rather than a big part of my day or identity. Virtual piles of gold don’t matter if wars are being fought over something as basic as water.

I’ll close with one of my favorite quotes from Tim Ferriss:

“Doing the uncommon requires uncommon behavior.”

Books I Read In 2018

My final list of books I read in 2018. Ultimately I read approximately 25 books. That’s pretty good, I probably only read five in a year normally. I plan to read over 50 next year, and as many as I can on top of that.

Here are the books, and short impressions.

  1. 9/10: Giant of the Senate by Al Franken – Not sure if I read this in December 2017, or January. I’m counting it anyway. The autobiography of comedian and Senator Al Franken. Awkward to read now that Al Franken has been exiled from U.S. politics in the #MeToo era. Still, I gave it a 9/10 at the time, interesting read on the last several years of U.S. politics and legislation.
  2. 8/10: Secrets of the Millionaire Mind by T. Harv Eker – Imperfect book on improving your mindset to be more like rich people, for the purpose of becoming rich. Light on discussion of socioeconomic mobility, like the rest of the genre. I suspect that some or most of the content is similar to Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill (which I’m FINALLY reading this year), and that this will become a 7/10 afterwards.
  3. 8/10: The Philosophical Investor by Gary Carmell – Medium length read on philosophy being useful for success in investing. Also includes sections on the author’s personal life.
  4. 9/10: Make Your Bed by William H. McRaven – Short read on habits and mindsets for success/life fulfillment from a retired admiral. Emphasis on short. Based on the viral 2014 commencement speech that the author gave.
  5. 9/10: The 4 Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss – Quit your job, delegate everything possible, cut meetings and email down 95%, fire the 20% of your customers giving you 80% of your problems, deliver on time, and travel the world on a shoe string budget. I should probably reread it this year.
  6. 10/10: Tools of Titans by Timothy Ferriss – Basically, “Chicken Soup for the Entrepreneur’s Soul.” Advice and tools from all of the interesting people Tim Ferriss has interviewed on his podcast. Bulky. If you’re skeptical, pick it up just for the section with Arnold Schwarzenegger.
  7. 9/10: The 4-Hour Body by Timothy Ferriss – Health and fitness advice from human guinea pig/wrestler/dancer/martial artist Tim Ferriss. If the idea of “biohacking” yourself appeals to you, pick this up. I’m not a doctor, he’s not a doctor, self-medicate responsibly.
  8. 8/10: Tribe of Mentors by Timothy Ferriss – Similar format to Tools of Titans. Read Tools of Titans first to see if it would be beneficial to you.
  9. 9/10: The 4-Hour Chef by Timothy Ferriss – A book on learning anything, written around learning to cook. I need to reread the cooking parts this year, since the first time I was just concerned with the meta-learning parts.
  10. 10/10: Foundation by Isaac Asimov – One of the classics of science fiction. I really need to read the rest of the series though.
  11. 9/10: Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford – Tells the history of Genghis Khan, the Mongol empire, and their effect on the civilized world in narrative form. Makes the case that Khan/the Mongols were surprisingly enlightened for nomadic raiding warriors in the 13th century.
  12. 10/10: Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance – The approved biography of evil genius billionaire Elon Musk. Will need to be updated in a few years though, doesn’t cover the flame throwers he sold to fund digging tunnels under L.A.
  13. 5/10: Principles (106 page pdf) by Ray Dalio – Read in preparation of the full book. Great content, but for whatever reason I really hated reading this. Read the full book instead.
  14. 7/10: The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin – An interesting little book on personality. Rather than creating an overall framework (e.g. the MBTI), Rubin creates a framework of Four Tendencies around the question “How does a person respond to expectations?” Not academic or rigorous at all (and she says so), but I still think about the framework every now and then.
  15. 8/10: It’s All Relative by A.J. Jacobs – Jacobs goes on one of his year long quests, this time to explore how all human beings are related to each other and throw the largest family reunion in human history. I liked it because I love A.J. Jacobs’ books, but I’d suggest The Year of Living Biblically to get a taste of how he writes.
  16. 4/10: Mastery by George Leonard – Good information and ideas about the process of mastering skills and mastering your life. Mind the sections on energy healing and 90s anti-consumerism (you’ll know what I mean if you read it, or better yet, you won’t).
  17. 7/10: The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker – Highly recommended to me as a must-read for anyone interested in business or self improvement. The fact that it’s out of date (Drucker is an AI skeptic, and Australia is referred to as a developing country) made me enjoy it less.
  18. 9/10: Superforecasting by Phillip Tetlock – A book on accurately predicting the future, particularly around economics and geopolitics. If you’re at all interested in politics, economics, world events, or on becoming a rational person more generally, this is the book for you.
  19. 10/10: Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio – Billionaire hedge fund manager Ray Dalio’s principles for success. Radical openness, radical honesty, constant self-improvement, and effective decision making, among other principles. Top quality stuff, one of the best books that I read this year.
  20. 7/10: Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut – A dystopian future where all low skill jobs have been automated, and only the construction, management, and engineering jobs are left. Mind the fact that it was written in 1952. If you’re interested in AI and machine learning, read just for the part where Vonnegut predicts Deep Blue and AlphaGo decades beforehand.
  21. 8/10: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg – A pop science book on habits and habit formation. Also includes some discussion about Big Data and free will. Pretty good for a pop science book.
  22. 2/10: 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson – Clinical psychologist/internet sensation Jordan Peterson gives his 12 rules for life based on a viral Quora post. This ended up being one of the most frustrating books I’ve ever read. I went into this with high expectations, and ended up stopping somewhere in Rule 8. While there are parts about self-help or evolutionary biology I found interesting, and other parts I found frustrating, the thing I found most frustrating was that Peterson is basically trying to use Nietzsche/Dostoevsky/other authors to create a secular/existential/pragmatic Christianity, thus preventing metaphysical chaos in the West. It doesn’t matter if God or Jesus exists, be a Christian anyway. This isn’t an idea I (or many of the authors Peterson quotes) can support, and Nietzsche especially would have scratched their head at Peterson’s bizarre theology. Maybe I shouldn’t be so blunt – but Rule 8 is “Tell the truth – or, at least, don’t lie.”
  23. 10/10: Models: Attract Women Through Honesty by Mark Manson – Quite possibly the best dating advice book for men that currently exists. I recommend it to all men, and if you’re a woman with a single man in your life, you should recommend it to them. No lines. No pickup. No bullshit. Just dealing with your desires and with intimacy in a healthy and attractive way.
  24. 5/10: As A Man Thinketh by James Allen – EXTREMELY short read on mindset and the importance of thinking. If you’ve ever read anything in the self-help genre (and are familiar with it’s flaws), this won’t be of much help to you. Although, I do want to read it again and do at least a Notes and Quotes post – there were a few quotes I liked.
  25. ?/10: Dataclysm by Christian Rudder – I’m reading this right now, and am going to finish it either today or tomorrow.  Using Big Data from OkCupid (and other sites) for insights into love, sex, and the human condition. Tentatively giving this an 8/10, possibly a 7 or a 9.