Decision making

Predicting the future is hard. Obviously. This fantastic speech looks at the way we define predictions based on fiction cliches without even realizing it. I would go farther and speculate that once a cliche has achieved dominance, it’s very hard to imagine many other futures.

An interesting tidbit at the end, about decision making,  and how we can to some extent predict the future by the mindsets we adopt.

I want to want to create a better world. That, more than anything, is what locks in my future and makes it predictable. That aspect of my future is known.

Read the entire thing here.

Management and its responsibilities.

From Gene Wolfe on Wikiquote:

“What I would like to know is what I should be doing.”

“I see what you mean,” Freeling said, “but I’m afraid I can’t tell you. If you were a lathe operator I’d say make that part, but you’re a part of management, and you can’t treat managerial people that way.” Continue reading “Management and its responsibilities.”

Marco Polo in reverse

When ancient travel narratives remark on cultural differences, the observation is so fresh, the cultural differences so wide, that it’s the closest we have to tracking encounters with alien civilizations. Travelers like Marco Polo observed the differences between the West and East, stranded soldiers like Xenophon portrayed regional differences within Persia and Greece, even Tocqueville in recent memory narrates the difference between the Old World and the New – but where is the equivalent perspective from the East, looking at the West?

What did travelers from Asia observe when first seeing medieval Paris or London or Rome? This incredible online resource mentions a traveler on the Silk Road named Bar Sauma, a traveler from the East who wrote his experience in the cities of the West (apparently Paris, parts of Italy and parts in-between):

As Rossabi notes, “His narrative remains the only one of its era to provide an East Asian perspective on European ways and rites,”…

Wikipedia verifies Bar Sauma’s account is the reverse travelogue, the counterpart to Marco Polo:

His written account of his journeys is of unique interest to modern historians, as it gives a picture of medieval Europe at the close of the Crusading period, painted by a keenly intelligent, broadminded and statesmanlike observer. His travels occurred prior to the return of Marco Polo to Europe, and his writings give a reverse viewpoint of the East looking to the West.

I want to buy it! But this is not a cheap book. The whole thing is online here. Unfortunately, the observations so far are not as interesting as hoped.

Multilple ways of killing a tarrasque

Brilliant. And filled with more nerd than you can shake a stick at (and not the jock in a Flash Tshirt nerd, the genuine kind).

Multiple hacks for defeating a tarrasque, D&D’s most legendary monster. Details assymetrical warfare and studious examination of an enemy to exploit weaknesses. Perhaps single-handedly demonstrates that good strategy can be applied to nearly every endeavor.

Read it here.

International conference calls in Latin

Have you ever been on an international conference call, with people who spoke the current language using different degrees of fluency? It puts people at a disadvantage. One person might be brilliant, but with limited skills in the chosen language, he becomes tough to understand.

From the Roman era to the Middle Ages, important meetings were conducted in Latin, with the same confusion, and same unequal mastery of the chosen language. That’s quite something to imagine.


Lists of wisdom literature

  1. Book of Sirach
  2. The Enchiridion
  3. Seneca essays
  4. Full works of Epictetus
  5. Meditations of Marcus Aurelius
  6. Think and Grow Rich
  7. How to Win Friends and Influence People
  8. Book of Job
  9. Book of Ecclesiastes
  10. Proverbs

Is it fair to include 6 and 7? If the definition of a wisdom book is one that looks unflinchingly at life, then offers practical guidelines for living, then they might fit the category. Though Think and Grow Rich has some pseudo-religious elements to it that might disqualify it, still it does appear to be a study of overarching principles.

The Majestic Plural

There is a “royal we” – The Big Lebowski was right – and it was a way of differentiating nobles and emperors. They were addressed in the plural.

Its first recorded use was in 1169 when King Henry II, hard pressed by his barons over the Investiture Controversy, assumed the common theory of “divine right of kings“, that the monarch acted conjointly with the deity. Hence, he used “we”, meaning “God and I…”

This remains in use today, when “we” is used in business correspondence for additional formality. The roots of this form lie in the majestic plural:

The habit of referring to a leader in the plural has further influenced the grammar of several languages, in which plural forms tend to be perceived as deferential and more polite than singular forms.