Weekly Reads: Idea Party Edition

Last Thursday, the twitterverse was abuzz (atwit? atweet?) with Barbara Sher’s marathon Idea Party.  For twelve straight hours, folks from around the world shared their wishes and obstacles, and received tonnes of suggestions in return.

Sometimes, it even went beyond suggestions and into the realm of action. For example, a tech writer with experience in resume writting was looking for work, and was paired with a jobseeker looking for a tech resume update.

If you want to revisit the madness of the IdeaParty, there’s a massive 250-page PDF of the conversation available — you’ll want to read it from bottom to top. Or, if you want to get in on the party, there will be another one this coming Thursday from noon until midnight (all times Eastern). Just keep an eye on the Twitter hash tag #ideaparty.

It’s all leading up to the massive March 24th Idea Party bash to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Barbara Sher’s Wishcraft: How to Get What You Really Want. It’s a fantastic book — if you haven’t already read it, you can do so for free online, or get a copy at your local library. You can also purchase the book through Amazon (note: that’s an affiliate link, so if you purchase the book via that link, I’ll get a very small cut).

If you’re curious about what exactly an Idea Party is, or how you can get involved, be sure to check out the free eBook that Barbara put together to explain the concept.

Also, if you’re a scanner, note that time is getting short for you to contribute to the first Scanner Blog Carnival. Details are in this post.

On an unrelated note, I’m still looking for more feedback on these Weekly Reads posts. Enter your vote below, and shape the future of Sententia. Wow… that sounded a lot more dramatic that I intended.


[polldaddy poll=”1439550″]

If you would like to pass on anything you think I might be interested in, post the link as a comment to this thread! I’m always looking for new things to explore. Note that comments containing multiple links are flagged for moderation, so if your note doesn’t show up right away, don’t worry!

Made Me Think

Don’t Try to Dodge the Recession with Grad School and Seven Reasons Why Graduate School is Outdated (from Penelope Trunk). It used to be common thought that if you lost your job and couldn’t get another one right away, the next natural step was to go back to school. While there certainly are some cases in which that’s still good advice, in classic Brazen Careerist style, Trunk gives loads of reasons to reconsider the grad school path.

How to Mitigate the Urgent to Focus on the Important (from Harvard Business Publishing). Repeat after me: urgent and important are not the same thing. Urgent and important are not the same thing. Got it? Good. Now, the question is how to actually get to the important without the urgent taking up all your time. Fortunately, Gina Trapani of Lifehacker fame has some tips. My favorite? Schedule a non-negotiable 20-minute meeting with yourself every week.

Steps Towards a More Sustainable Life of Less (from Zen Habits). I am becoming more and more aware of how much stuff is around me all the time. Not just physical stuff, but mental and emotional too. Sometimes, I’ll be watching a TV show that shows a “simpler life” (the real thing, not the Paris Hilton TV disaster) and find myself pining after that way of life. Fortunately, there are small steps that we can take to simplify our day-to-day, and this great article from Zen Habits is a good place to start.

For Your Reference

How to Make Butter (from Bay Area Bites). Ever since reading In Defense of Food, I’ve not been able to look at margarine the same way. If you’re an all butter, all the time type person too, you may want to check this article out. No churning needed, just some heavy cream and a mixer. As a nice side effect, you get buttermilk for baking with, too!

Wishcraft Online (by Barbara Sher). I mentioned it above, but it’s worth another mention. Wishcraft is one of the most influential books I think I’ve ever read. For 30 years, it’s been doing exactly what the subtitle promises: helping you get exactly what you want out of life. This isn’t just some feel-good, airy-fairy but ultimately unrealistic book, either. Sher tells it like it is, and makes you believe that dreams really can come true.

Weekly Reads: Switch to Monday Edition

No, you didn’t travel in time, and you’re not going crazy. This week’s link collection is being posted on a Monday. As I mentioned yesterday, I’m going to experiment with posting the Weekly Reads at the beginning of the work week rather than on the weekend.

The major reason is that it gives me a bit more flexibility if I happen to head out of town on the weekend or (gasp!) have plans Saturday night — previously, I would have written the piece on Thursday or Friday, and just queued it up. But doing that means that I potentially miss a whole bunch of awesome articles to pass on!

Speaking of Saturday, this past one was Valentine’s Day (or, as some folks I know call it, “singles awareness day”). My day was pretty low key, and featured mostly some good old fashioned home cooking. The highlight of the day had to be some oh so good Chocolate souffles (note, don’t check the link if you’re hungry and/or a chocoholic!)

If you would like to pass on anything you think I might be interested in, post the link as a comment to this thread! I’m always looking for new things to explore. Note that comments on this site are moderated, especially if they contain links, so if it doesn’t show up right away, don’t worry!

Made Me Think

What is School for? and Learning All the Time (from Seth Godin). This pair of posts from acclaimed author Seth Godin reminded me of my early post on education (and how it’s not for everyone). Lifelong learning is a big deal, and it ought to be. Schooling people to think and act a certain way? Not so much. As a bonus, in Learning All the Time, Godin provides a link to the 100 Best Business Books of all time. There’s enough there to keep you busy for quite some time.

Remember Your Vowels to Manage Conflict on Twitter (from TwiTip). Not just for Twitter, actually, this link is a fantastic formula for handling conflict wherever you encounter it. The key is hidden in the vowels: Acknowledge, Engage, Ignore, Open and Understand. My struggle is usually with Ignore — once I get past that point and onto Open and Understand, I’m alright. Being able to identify that as a potential pitfall will be a valuable tool for me going forward.

The Biology of Belief (from Time). It really shouldn’t be a surprise that someone with an interest in both science and religion would find this article fascinating. I personally believe that, despite what the “death to religion” crowd would have you believe, religion must have remained a vital part of thousands of years of human culture for a reason — it must “work” on some level. That something like prayer can actually change the way the brain works, permanently? Very cool.

Money Matters

Retirement Calculations (5-part series; from Canadian Dream: Free at 45). The keeners among us are busy maxing out retirement plans, collecting income statements from employers, and maybe even filing taxes in hopes of a juicy return. For me, it’s also a time to dream — and plan — about achieving financial independence and having the option of leaving the workforce. If you haven’t given much thought to the numbers, or just aren’t sure where to begin (and are Canadian) this series is way cool.

7 Concrete Tips To Curb Your Spending (from Alex Shalman). One of the things that’s becoming more and more apparent given the “economic climate” of the day is that many people have been spending more than they earn, on a regular basis. The problem is compounded by job loss, but even those still employed are having to take a good look at their income and expenses. I’ve never been a big spender, so a lot of what Shalman suggests is familiar territory for me. But it’s a good reminder, and gave me some good ideas for saving money, myself.

Weekly Reads: IxD Edition

Normally, I try to have something witty or at least interesting to say as a prologue to my weekly collection of links, but so far, I’m coming up empty.

As I indicated last week, I also don’t have my laptop at the moment (the repairs were to take 5-7 days, so you’d better believe I’m counting down!) so the list of links this week is also a bit shorter than usual.

On the plus side, I guess that’s a good thing in some ways, since it means I haven’t been bored at work :-). I’ve been busy researching and learning about Interaction Design.

The team I’m on at work is going to be working on implementing best practices, and it looks like I’ll be particularly responsible for the design, usability and accessibility aspects of things. With that in mind, if you have any IxD links to pass on, please do so — I’d love to add them to my reading pile.

If you would like to pass on anything you think I might be interested in, post the link as a comment to this thread! I’m always looking for new things to explore. Note that comments on this site are moderated, especially if they contain links, so if it doesn’t show up right away, don’t worry!

Made Me Think

Do You Believe in Free Will (from PsyBlog). Ah, free will. Basis for world religions around the world, and debates amongst philosophers for the ages.  But a new study shows that believing in free will can also have some interesting relations to behavioural patterns: a disbelief in free will decreases helping behaviours and increases aggression.

What Are You Good At? (from Seth Godin). What’s the difference between process and content? In this insightful piece, Seth Godin examines the value of having domain knowledge (skills, abilities, “head knowledge”, etc.) and its relation to the emotional intelligence that gives the ability to visualize, make connections, etc. I love this piece, because it really speaks to me. I don’t know if this is true of all scanners, but I find I more naturally identify with process than content anyway.

Why You Should Celebrate Your Mistakes (from Zen Habits). One of my favorite sayings is “there are no mistakes, just opportunities to learn.” Leo Babauta explores this understanding, by discussing how without mistakes we would never have opportunity to learn. Here’s a snippet: “So if you value learning, if you value growing and improving, then you should value mistakes. They are amazing things that make a world of brilliance possible.” Good stuff.

Bonus Material

Discovering Ricotta (from the New York Times). I’m really getting into this whole eating “real food” thing. While I have yet to make my own cheese, I think my first attempt may be with ricotta. I enjoy the store-bought stuff well enough (heresy!), so I’m eager to try some of the real thing. And it sure seems easy enough.

Weekly Reads: Free Time Edition

If you’ve been following the posts the past week or so, you will no doubt have noticed that I’ve republished a number of articles from the old Sententia in commemoration of the Chinese New Year. There will be two more articles yet to come in the series, which I suppose is good, because as of yesterday my computer is in for repairs, and so I’ll be somewhat out of commission.

However, never fear; I’ve got a fair number of posts queued up, and I do still have internet access (though somewhat more limited) at home, so the posts should be able to keep on rolling. Comment moderation, etc. will be a bit slower, but I’ll try to keep up on that as well.

Now, the real question is… what will I do with all the extra time I’ll have, not being able to spend my evenings online? It’s way too cold to be spending much time outside… I do have some books I’ll continue reading, but I’m open to other ideas, too! Feel free to leave a comment if you have some suggestions for me…

If you would like to pass on anything you think I might be interested in, post the link as a comment to this thread! I’m always looking for new things to explore. Note that comments on this site are moderated, especially if they contain links, so if it doesn’t show up right away, don’t worry!

Made Me Think

How to Learn Any Language in 3 Months (from Tim Ferriss). I really enjoy language learning, and seem to also have an aptitude for it. Ferriss’ article focuses on applying Pareto’s principle (AKA the 80/20 principle) to language learning, a technique I found very valuable when I studied Latin in University. Students of Latin, check out Anne Mahoney’s list of 1000 Essential Latin Words. The first 250 words make up 50% of the vocabulary you’ll need to know; if you spend some time familiarizing yourself with the list, you’ll find it that much easier to comprehend texts without running to your dictionary every other second. (Then again, I still prefer the natural language method for learning languages, but that’s another topic for another day.)

Wrapping Your Head Around the Project (from LiveDev). I run into this situation often at work: I get really into a project, work on it all day, but am not able to wrap it up before it’s time to go home. So I leave it for the next day — at which point, I just can’t seem to get back into it. Glen talks about this problem — and offers some techniques for getting past it — in this interesting article from LifeDev.

Guided Meditation as a Tool for Speaking with Spirit Guides (from Erin Pavlina). I can remember two times in my life that I’ve participated in a guided meditation, although until reading this article by renowned medium Erin Pavlina, I never really considered it as meditation. Regardless of your aims in mediation — maybe you want to listen to your inner voice, speak with spirit guides, talk to your future self, or something completely different — Pavlina gives some really practical tips to get you on your way.

Communication Concepts

So You Want To Be An Interaction Designer (from Cooper) and So You Want to Be an Interaction Designer 2006 (from AdaptivePath). How had I not heard of Interaction Design (commonly abbreviated IxD) before this week? There is just so much in these two articles that resonates with me and calls to something within me. Is this another fleeting passion of my scanner-ness? Who cares, it sounds fascinating, and I think I’m going to spend some time checking it out. Any Interaction Designers have some favorite introductory books they’d like to recommend?

Six Ways to Get People to Say “Yes” (from CopyBlogger). No, it’s not about Jedi-mind-tricks, although the effect can be almost the same. Whether you’re in marketing and sales or not, there’s huge value in learning the fine art of persuasion. The key is to show people what’s in it for them — and in this article, Dean Rieck gives six great tips on how to do just that.

Choosing a Good Chart (from The Extreme Presentation(tm) Method). If you’re at all involved with data visualization — maybe you have to generate reports for your management at work, for example — you may be used to just choosing charts more or less at random. “Pie Chart? Nah, did that last time. Let’s do a bar chart this time!” But did you know there’s a rhyme and reason to why (and when) you should use different chart types? Check out this easy reference guide whenever you need a quick reminder of what’s what.

Bonus Material

6 Words That Make Your Resume Suck (from SquawkFox). Layoffs are really starting to hit a lot of people hard. If you want to get a jump on the competition, check out this fantastic piece from SquawkFox. Often we’re told to put specifics on our resumes, but its in the examples that this article really shines. Even if you’re confident of your job security, it never hurts to keep your resume up-to-date; it saves a lot of time if you put in updates as they happen, rather than doing one major overhaul every several years!

Company Man – Jim Lahey reveals his recipe for no-knead pizza dough (from TastingTable). Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread cause a firestorm of breadbaking when it showed up in the New York Times a couple of years ago — and it’s what got me into my love of baking. Now, Lahey’s back with a recipe for no-knead pizza dough. I haven’t tried his recipe yet (I love my current kneaded version, from Bertinet’s fabulous book Dough — if you enjoy baking and/or eating fresh bread, this book is a real winner) but if its anything like the original No-Knead Bread, it will be a winner.

Weekly Reads: Busted MacBook Pro Edition

Okay, so maybe “busted” is a bit of an overstatement. I’m a big fan of my MacBook Pro (first gen) — so much so that I’ve avoided taking it in for repairs for quite some time (trust me, it needs some work… the screen has dead pixels and bruising, the battery is shot and not that old, the VRAM fails its tests and frequently freezes the machine, the fan sounds like it’s out of balance, the top case has some serious pitting issues… and those are just the things that I can think of off the top of my head. But I love it! It just seems to be time to finally take it in. Thank goodness for AppleCare).

Anyway, I had planned to take it in this weekend, even going so far as to take it to our new Apple Store. Sadly, once I got there, only to find out that they’re soooo busy, they were booked up for the whole weekend. Note to others — call ahead and book an appointment if you need to see the Apple Geniuses.

So, here I am, writing up a delayed Weekly Reads on my MBP — which has none of my bookmarks, links, or browsing history, since my last-ditch effort to repair the VRAM on my own was to reinstall the operating system. Ah well, the things we do for our … uh … “adoring public”!

If you would like to pass on anything you think I might be interested in, post the link as a comment to this thread! I’m always looking for new things to explore. Note that comments on this site are moderated, especially if they contain links, so if it doesn’t show up right away, don’t worry!

Made Me Think

Why We Do Dumb or Irrational Things (from PsyBlog). There are probably at least a half-dozen articles I could have picked for this week’s roundup from PsyBlog, but the title alone makes this collection of interesting studies worth mentioning. I think my favorite was The False Consensus bias. I’ve been working a bit on marketing and communications at work, and I think this study is important for marketing specialists in particular.

9 Brain Habits You Didn’t Realize You Had (from MindCafe). While I was familiar with some of the tidbits from this article (for example, the notion that your short-term memory is only really good at holding a maximum of seven things at once), others were new to me. For example, did you know that we have two nervous systems?

How to Travel the World for Free (from Traveler’s Notebook). This past week, J and I spent some time reviewing our finances and our short- and long-term goals (we do this relatively often). One thing that we made a real effort to work into our plan this time was some money for vacations — mostly the small, going-camping-since-we-live-near-the-mountains-type — but even international travel doesn’t have to be super expensive, as this article demonstrates.

Things to Try

Oatmeal Streusel Cookies (from Baking Bites). Yes, I have a fair bit of a sweet tooth, and I also have a thing about baking. If not for the fact that I just baked up nearly 5 dozen bran muffins for lunches this week and next, I would probably already have made these. And eaten them all, too.

Water Balloon Luminaries (from CandleTech). A picture will do this link more justice than any long-winded description from yours truly…


Water Balloon Luminaries

Water Balloon Luminaries

One for the Road

Stripes — another one that I just can’t describe. Part optical illusion and part sheer awesomness (hm… I think I watch too much Ace of Cakes), this is pretty nifty to play with.

Review: In Defense of Food

The next time you’re watching TV, watch how many commercials are for weight-loss products, prescription drugs intended to cure almost anything, and fancy cookware intended to reduce the amount of something-or-other in your diet. Not to mention all of the antibiotic this and good-for-you that.

The next time you’re in your local bookstore, go check out the health and diet section. Be prepared to be overwhelmed by the pure volume of books and then stop and look at the titles. In my experience, there is certainly no shortage of “help” on the diet front — much of it contradictory. Eat more of this, less of that, and don’t forget about your nutrients!

In some stores though, hiding in and among all of the fad-diet books, you will be able to find a significantly different book: In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, by Michael Pollan (256p., Penguin Press 2008). Why this one often gets shelved with the diet books, I’m not exactly sure, since a lot of pages are spent discussing the detriments of our nutrient-obsessed society. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

What’s It About

Pollan gives the whole book away even before the first chapter hits: the first paragraph of the introduction simply reads:

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

Those same words even grace the cover of the book — a simple “manifesto” for how we ought to be eating. I don’t think anyone would find that proclamation particularly revolutionary, or really all that interesting. Given that those seven words pretty much sum up the entirety of the book’s content, you might almost be forgiven for thinking that the book was a little … well … boring.

Far from it.

In fact, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants” only really shows up in the latter third of the book; oh, to be sure, the general idea persists throughout, but in order for Pollan’s simple message to make sense, he first has to combat all of the ideas found in those other diet books on the shelf.

As a result, it’s perhaps better to discuss In Defense of Food in terms of its internal subdivisions; the book itself is roughly divided into three equal sections:

  • The Age of Nutritionism
  • The Western Diet and the Diseases of Civilization
  • Getting Over Nutritionism

The Age of Nutritionism

 (A.K.A. How did we get into such a confused mess about what to eat, and what not to eat? And how on earth did Potato Chips and Cookies get health-food claims stickered on them?!?)

I don’t think a simple overview can nearly do justice to all of the fascinating information Pollan has collected in The Age of Nutritionism. Providing a carefully researched (and referenced!) history of the swirling mess that is “nutritional guidance” is one thing — and Pollan provides masterfully — but delving into the murky political mess that has become food lobbies and nutrition science is quite another.

Fortunately for the reader, Pollan bridges the two with a fantastic conversational approach which not only makes the dry details interesting, but makes the whole matter entirely disgusting — and that’s a good thing.

In many ways, reading the history of nutritionism (that is, being concern with the health impacts of parts of foods rather than the whole foods themselves) is like a car wreck — you can’t believe what you’re reading, it feels just absolutely wrong on so many levels, you’ve been duped into believing lies because someone else was profiting and … you just can’t turn away. It’s that fascinating.

The Western Diet and the Diseases of Civilization

 (A.K.A. Are our health foods actually making us sicker?)

If The Age of Nutritionism is where Pollan uncovers the political agenda behind what we eat, The Western Diet and the Diseases of Civilization is where he takes on the scientific and research community.

From medical doctors to academics, and yes, even to nutritionists, Pollan’s investigation leads him next to the startling conclusion that all of our best intentions to eat healthier may actually be making us less well.

This section of the book begins with one of the most interesting bits of the whole book: the retelling of a 1982 study in which a group of Australian Aborigines with a host of health problems (including type 2 diabetes, obesity, etc.) spent 7 weeks living in the bush eating nothing but their culturally traditional cuisine. The result of the study was astonishing: in just 7 weeks, the health problems associated with type 2 diabetes had either disappeared completely or were greatly reduced.

Pollan uses this account as his jumping off point, from which he investigates the way in which the “Western Diet” (what most of us eat every day) has surely but slowly moved away from traditional diets — which, by the way, had us overall pretty healthy for many thousands of years.

Getting over Nutritionism

(A.K.A. Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.)

Ah, finally we get to it: the part of the book which can really be summed up simply by the “eater’s manifesto.” If the message hadn’t gotten through sufficiently in the first two sections of the book, this is where Pollan really spells it all out: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

Of course, it’s not nearly so simple as that — and so the reader is presented with a list of “rules of thumb” for determining what we actually should eat. In some ways, this section reads quite differently from the first two. It seems a lot lighter on facts and research, and heavier on calls to “culture” and “tradition” — not bad things, by any means, but just a different approach than the rest of the book.

If you’re looking for a quick guide to “what to eat”, then you could do a lot worse than the Getting over Nutritionism section — and it’s probably this section that sees the book most often show up in the diet section of the bookstore. The tips are great and easy to follow; my only wish is that the “what” was a little more integrated with the  “how” from the first two sections.

Overall Thoughts and My Verdict

Does In Defense of Food have a touch of polemicism in it? Yes.  Is it a condemnation of modern science and a hearkening back to “better days”? Sure. But is it worth reading?

Yes. Yes. A million times, yes. And then lend it to anyone and everyone you know.

If you’re afraid by the publisher’s stated length of the book (256 pages), don’t be. Pollan’s experience as a journalist shows itself here, and the writing is light and fluid; he is passionate about his topic, and it shows. On top of that, a good 20% of the book is citations of reference materials, which can be a bit disappointing until you realize that it just demonstrates how thoroughly Pollan researched this book.

From what I understand, In Defense of Food is also a nice tie-in to Pollan’s other well-known food book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I haven’t read it, so I’ll refrain from commenting on that aspect of things; however, any concerns about the book not being able to stand on its own would certainly not be well-founded.

Personally, I found the first two sections of the book far more interesting and engaging, but the last section is certainly valuable insofar as it gives you practical “to-do” steps to take in your own life. If the first two sections are the “why”, then the third is the “how” — it wouldn’t make sense removed from the rest of the book, but at the same time doesn’t quite seem to fit.

But the best thing I can say for this book would be simply this: it changed the way I eat. After reading In Defense of Food, I spent much of my next umpteen trips to the grocery store marvelling at exactly how much of the things on the shelves just aren’t food. And while I still do enjoy a few non-food items now and then, I’m finding it actually is really rewarding to eat food, mostly plants, and not too much.

It’s just too bad that we need to be told something that should be so obvious.