I've recently started reading about a whole bunch of topics outside my own domain. I've always done this actually. I'm just doing it in a more measured and purposeful manner now. I don't quite read a book a week yet but I may get there at some point.
I don't need to force myself to read. I'm a naturally curious guy so reading a lot and reading on several varied subjects is easy. (I do need to occasionally stop myself from reading tiny snippets of articles that make one and only one point, and spend time instead on longer essays and books.) The actual subjects or styles of book I read aren't important as long as they're something new and are readable. Meaning, don't ask me to read Cosmopolitan magazine or something. Obviously, by reading new stuff, I learn about the subjects of those books. But, subtly different, I also find it helps me make connections in my head that I wouldn't otherwise have made. Juxtapose something written by Scott Adams (he of Dilbert fame) with something else written by Salman Rushdie and something else entirely different written by, say, a historian, and who knows where that will lead the mind?
And it's not just about learning things by reading. I love trying other new things. I have no intention of staying tucked away into the rabbit's fur. Whether it's learning to paraglide or cooking something I've never cooked before or talking to a stranger about their occupation, the magic is in the newness not in the medium or the subject itself.
Will this mean I will be an expert at any of this? Hardly. But that's not the point. The point is experiencing new things. It's about not falling into habits.
It's one reason I ride a motorcycle. (I have several other great reasons. Ask me.) In a car, you're in your own little world, insulated from the outside world. Sort of like listening to a muffled conversation. You know there's stuff going on outside and you can sort of hear it, but not really, and it's hard to participate. Not that you want to. On a motorcycle, you're IN the heart of it all. It's all around you. I don't mean that it's dangerous and therefore it challenges you. I also don't mean that a sufficiently experienced person can't safely ride a motorcycle in a sort of "auto-pilot" mode, just as you can in a car. I simply mean that all your stimuli are experienced in a much more raw, unmuffled manner than in a car.
I'll give you an even simpler, sillier example of what I mean by experiencing new things. For most of January and February this year, I couldn't ride my motorcycle (for a reason not germane to this post). That forced me to take the train or bus to wherever I wanted to go. Now I've obviously used public transport plenty often, just much less so in the last three or four years. What happened when I started to take the train again on a daily basis was that I saw and did things I otherwise wouldn't or couldn't. I did things I used to do and had fallen out of the habit of. I saw how, say, smartphones and more crowded trains had changed the commuting experience. I read while commuting. I watched other people. I observed how foot traffic moved and re-learned how incredibly annoying the public address system in Singapore's trains is. I did things other train commuters find banal because they do them every day. Although I missed riding my motorbike, I also found it genuinely stimulating to do something different for a change. All just from taking the train!
My Chinese teacher has a new student she told me about last week. This student is in her 40s and started learning Chinese from absolute zero. Now, when I first signed up with my teacher, I told her I just wanted to be able to have conversations and that I didn't care about reading and writing so much. This other student wanted to do it all. And the thing is, she's been raving to my teacher that learning to recognise Chinese characters and write them with the correct stroke order has helped her memory improve. Not just for learning the language. Episodic memory too. She's absolutely convinced of it. Her explanation is that she's now working her brain in ways she wasn't working it before -- and specifically it being Chinese means that she's had to learn a totally different writing system from the alphabet-based languages she already knows -- and this is helping her brain form connections in memory that wouldn't otherwise occur. Now, I have no idea about the neuroscientific basis for this claim and frankly I was sceptical when I first heard it. But thinking now about it more broadly, surely there must be some merit to the idea that challenging yourself to do new things could open up vistas of the mind that weren't visible before?
The thing is the mind also gets remarkably quickly used to whatever new situation it finds itself in. This is why, if you take a long road trip or an extended beach holiday, at some point you start to feel as if you've been doing it forever -- or at least I do. So if you really want to keep things fresh, you have to keep doing new things. Which, when I put it that way, sounds like more of a chore than it actually is. I relish it myself.
All this is great from a high-level, make-your-brain-more-adaptable standpoint. The interesting thing is that it's also great from a more practical standpoint. A superb example is of the guy who wanted to design a better sanitary pad for poor women and decided to actually wear a prototype himself to see what it was like. Not for a minute or two but for extended periods of time. Even when faced with ridicule. Even when his family and community ostracised him. This is how you figure out the answers to questions like, "How do people think?", "Why do people do certain things they way they do?" and "What do my customers need?" because you've put yourself in those people's shoes.
All of which are great skills for entrepreneurship and investing.
Snip: "Funds launched by the likes of Alibaba have been lambasted as parasites that are endangering China’s economic health by a prominent commentator, the latest salvo in a battle that pits new online funds against the traditional banking system they are shaking up. The war of words over the weekend is a sign of the growing controversy over the online investment funds, which were launched less than a year ago but have already upended traditional business models in China’s banking system."
This is an auto-generated post from my reading list.
How many web browsers do you run on your computer? Two? Three? Four at most? I have three on mine. IE (because it's there), Firefox (because I like the add-ons) and Chrome (because I can do without Firefox's add-on bloat sometimes).
Now how many web browsers do you have installed on your phone? Two at most, I imagine.
I have five.
I also used to have Opera Mobile until I uninstalled it out of sheer confusion, and some of my apps have built-in browsers too, such as Pocket and my password manager.
It sounds crazy and it is. So why do I have so many? Because I actually need each of them for a slightly different purpose! I haven't even listed other browsers built into apps which I don't use very much.
Dolphin is good when you want to be able to switch between device profiles easily and do other somewhat fancy things, but it's not always necessary. I like Opera because it's fast. I absolutely hate it sometimes for the way it clears its cache when I come back to it from another app. I use the built-in Android browser only to log on to (some) wi-fi hotspots. And Firefox Mobile is (was) nice but too bloaty for my poor obsolete-after-two-years phone.
So, yes, it really is crazy to have this problem. Essentially good enough browsers (except, um, one) have existed for PCs for a long time. Why not the mobile too?
Ok, you know I'm just kidding. Sort of.
The NYT reported some weeks ago an airport innovation: the winter coat-check. Quote:
With passengers stowing all those coats on jam-packed airplanes, it’s more difficult than ever to claim space in the overhead bins for carry-on bags. But one international airport has come up with an idea that in a small way addresses the question of what to do with that bulky coat. Check it, just as in a restaurant.
The idea was born in a long queue at the end of a business trip at the Hong Kong airport. Packing, queues, and laundry were the last thing Jonathan (my co-founder) and I wanted to deal with during a trip that was focused on work. I thought about cloud storage and how we had our files available to us wherever we went, and I imagined how much simpler travel would be if clothes and essentials were always waiting at our destination. We’re both passionate about efficiency and productivity, so Packnada’s goal was really to simplify business travel by taking clothes out of the equation.
Amazingly, astoundingly, that actually makes sense somehow. At least for the lazy+productivity-obsessed among us (UPDATE: I should have added, "i.e., people like me") . How Packnada executes its service is going to be the crux of its success or failure.
Funnily enough, the NYT article about the airport winter coat-check service ends with the words:
Will it spread? “Well, it’s an interesting thought, but a very limited market,” said Michael Sommer, a technology consultant who travels frequently. But like any seasoned traveler, he also saw some potential bumps in the road. “What if you’re leaving from Frankfurt to Miami in February, but you get diverted to Boston?” he asked. “Or Moscow?” Still, he agreed that it showed the value of innovation at airports. And he had an idea, too: “Why can’t they also offer you dry-cleaning service at the coat check?”
Mr. Sommer, you need to sign up to the Packnada beta user program.
An elegant innovation:
A student at the University of the Arts in Bremen has built what he calls an electromagnetic harvester—it converts electromagnetic fields in the immediate environment into electricity to recharge a common AA battery.
Now let's see it scaled up.