Longform interview (podcast) with Cal Fussman

I enjoy almost all the podcast episodes with Tim Ferriss, but one of the most recent, with Cal Fussman, was an absolute delight to listen to. Cal is a great story teller.

He speaks about his encounters with Muhammad Ali, that I found endearing. Also Cal and Tim talk about interviewing styles and writing.

Sheer enjoyment, thanks Tim and Cal!


Follow-up On Work The System

Cover of The Systems Mindset

Sam Carpenter is the author of the terrific book Work The System. I wrote about it here. The content was mainly about business, so about the running of a company using standardized procedures.

Now, Sam has published a follow-up, which centers around your personal life. Is is called The Systems Mindset and is available for free here.

I highly recommend it, I will write a review of this inspiring book later.

The Next Large Civilization Stage? The Internet

Courtesy of Leo Koolhoven
Courtesy of Leo Koolhoven

Below are, as I see them, the phases of civilization of humans, from 12,500 years ago until the next 200 years. I see five phases, although there might be more later on.

1. Villages
12,500 years ago, in the Holocene age, the Agricultural Revolution happened. People invented how to domesticate plants (crops) and animals. Agriculture evolved. People settled in houses and started to live in villages for the first time.

2. Cities and states
After that roughly 6,000 years ago, the Secondary Products Revolution took place, where crafts and commerce originated. People made products from the domesticated plants and animals. After that, the first cities were built.

3. Discovery, travel
Then, the age of discovery, where people travelled and inhabited the world. In this age, the world’s seas and oceans were crossed by explorers. Colonies where concurred and occupied. Global trade originated.

4. Urbanisation
In recent history, man moved en masse from the rural villages to the cities. In 2050, more than 60% of man will live in cities. We now live in the age of Anthropocene, because man has severely impacted the earth and the atmosphere.

5. The Global Network
The next phase in settlement: the Internet and the future social media. Although physically, people do not migrate, but their consciousness and senses will be connected to The Global Network, in something that will be future of social media. Therefore, I see the Internet as the next big civilization phase.

Work the System and The OS Fund

Picture courtesy of halfrain (Flickr)
In the book Work The System, Sam Carpenter states that reality is composed of a large number of systems, that for 96% work flawlessly:

I work the system, but not just one. I work all the systems in my control— professional, financial, social, biological, and mechanical. You have your own systems. Do you see them? Do you control them? It doesn’t matter whether you are a CEO, employee, stay-at-home mom or dad, retiree, or student. Your life is composed of systems that are yours to control—or not control.

My personal summary of the method:

  1. Identify or define a system, for instance your weekly shopping round
  2. Design ways to decompose the workings of this system, identify ways to control it
  3. Compose the improved version of the system by writing a procedure or installing a life hack
  4. After every iteration, evaluate the improvements (Kaizen)

Reading this book certainly changed my perspective, my way of looking at my circumstances. Most people define a large portion of the things happening to them as fate and feel helpless about a lot of their life events. When you have the epiphany of, what the author calls, the systems mindset, you not only recognise a lot of systems in your life, but you can also design ways to control them and thereby improving the outcome of the circumstances to your advantage.

Systems are everywhere, even your own body and health can be viewed as systems that are either under your control or not, but when you can control them, you should try to improve.

The systems mindset is rational, the way to optimize the systems is largely a cerebral activity, spirituality, emotions, the heart, are not considered by the author. That is a limitation of the approach but still I find this way to reduce learned helplessness very inspiring.

The OS Fund

Last month, I listened to the conversation between Tim Ferriss and Bryan Johnson, investor. They talked about the so called OS Fund. This fund of 100 M US$, promotes the mindset of what they call analysing the underlying operating system of phenomena, like economics, medicine, trade, aviation, space travel, etc.

In the same way that computers have operating systems at their core — dictating the way a computer works and serving as a foundation upon which all applications are built — everything in life has an operating system (OS). It is at the OS level that we most frequently experience a quantum leap in progress.

Bryan Johnson, courticy of Wikipedia

Bryan Johnson has high ambitions. We can improve the intricate mechanics of reality, just like we can improve the operating system of a computer.

OS Fund Manifesto
Free pdf or audio book of Work The System
Follow-Up on Work The System, with focus on personal life.

The Best € 15,- Ever Spent

Since a week I use the iPhone App Voice Dream Reader. This has changed the way I read large articles.

Nowadays, I commute by a Toyota hibrid car. It is more than a hour to the place where I work. I was looking for ways to use this time more effectively. This new app can read texts with a very clear, natural sounding voice. I supports many languages, also my native Dutch, and I have bought a Dutch voice for € 5,-. The app supports many formats of texts, like pdf, docx, epub, etc.

Voice Dream Reader has an interface with the application Pocket, which I use very frequently. It can read all the articles in my Pocket Queue.

My workflow of article reading now is:

  • On Twitter, I click on a link that looks interesting
  • I quickly scan the article (usually very long, since I like long stories) and decide if I want to read it
  • I save it to my Pocket queue. Pocket removes all the side bars, banners and advertisements
  • In my car, I use Voice Dream Reader to read the text of the article out loud, using the “Pocketed” (stripped) version of the article

I enjoy this very much!

Update July 2015:
This week, Pocket on IOS has added text to speech. However, the voice quality is less than with Voice Dream Reader.

Open Questions List

Are you hesitant to ask a question to a coworker because you expect to find the answer by yourself later? En then later on, you forget what that question was that you thought of when you were studying the subject?

Questions pop up in your mind in the same way as ideas. You have to capture a question, especially if it is a good one, right at the moment you get it.

It can be annoying to bother your client or collegues with unnecessary inquiries. You do not want to ask questions, when you think there is a good chance that you will discover the answer before the end of the day.

But it would be a mistake not to record any questions for that reason. What works very good for me is to still write down any questions that rise to mind, but to postpone sending the questions to my collegue untill at least the end of the day. When the answer is still not evident by that time, I feel free to send an email asking the information to a coworker or customer.

After sending the mail, I copy the text of the question in a list I maintain in Excel.

Columns I use in the list

  • Status: New, Open, or Closed
  • Date Open
  • Date Closed
  • Short subject
  • Sent to
  • Text of the question
  • Text of the answer

What I regularly do, is enter questions in the list with the status ‘New’. This means that the question has not been sent yet. At the end of the day (or week, if you prefer) you can send all the questions with the status ‘new’ for which you still need the answers. After sending the question, change its status to ‘open’.

My favourites from The Setup

Very eagerly, I read the interview-series titled The Setup. The men and women interviewed, explain what hard- and software they use. ‘Hardware’ includes things like laptops, but also camera’s, microphones and so on. Mostly, the tools people mention are not new to me but sometimes I discover something very interesting.

Self portrait of John MacFarlane

John MacFarlane is a professor of philosophy at the University of California in Berkeley. He speaks about his creation, the very powerful converter of text markup formats called pandoc.

I use pandoc’s extended markdown for lecture notes, letters, slide presentations, handouts, and short articles. For books and more complex documents, I use LaTeX.

I intend to explore what the extended markdown of pandoc can do for me. I have installed pandoc on my Windows laptop under Cygwin and on my Linux-hosts.

Derek Sivers a writer and serial enterpreneur, has inspired me to start using Anki, about which Derek says:

For learning anything, I use the awesome Anki, which I love so much I donated $500 to. (The author wrote me back, thinking it must have been a PayPal mistake.)

With Anki, it turns out that memorizing things is very easy. The workings of the program are based on the learning theory called Spaced Repitition. At the moment, I am learning LPI level 2 from this and I am teaching my children multiplication. With Ankidroid you can practise even when you are waiting at the train station. It is very effective.

Amongst the many inspiring interviews, one final:

Steve Coast is an architect @Microsoft and founder of Openstreetmap. Steve Coast uses the library often as a source of reading material.

Library books

I use the library a lot. King County in Washington State has the most traffic of any US library, or so they claim. I refuse, typically, to buy Kindle or other books with a zero resale value. I’m keenly aware that the same information can be had in multiple forms. For example a book can be Kindle, Nook, Hardback, HB 2nd hand, Paperback, PB 2nd hand, Library, audio book (audible.com), Library audio book. I don’t care how I get the information, therefore I may as well have the lowest cost access.

Cygwin, Dropbox and todotxt.sh

This short ‘howto’ describes:

  • putting the home directory of Cygwin on Dropbox
  • making the todotxt.cfg work on all Windows(*) machines, regardless of the directory where your Dropbox is located.

(*) This only works on Windows Vista and higher.

Since a month or so, I use the open source task management script todotxt of Gina Trapani. I am enthousiastic about the uses of this system, so I have spent some time optimizing it. Below is a description of a few hacks that I use.

Because the computers that I use daily are Windows based, I decided to install Cygwin so that I can deploy the original todotxt.sh bash-script. Running the todo system from the command line has a lot of advantages, like easier search and selection, tab completion, easier adding of todo’s, etc.

If you want to know how to set up todotxt.sh under Cygwin, please read this short manual. Here, I asume that the reader is already familiar with using todotxt.sh in this way.

Screenshot of Cygwin terminal with todo-list

Putting the Cygwin home directory on Dropbox
When your Cygwin home directory is replicated to all your Windows machines, so are all your Unix terminal programs settings. When, for instance, you have created some aliases by editing your .bashrc file, it is very nice to be able to use these on all your Cygwin-machines. The same goes for your .vimrc or even your history!

The script todotxt.sh is also located in your home-directory and when the home directory is replicated by Dropbox, you only have to upgrade your todotxt.sh installation once to keep all your Windows Cygwin machines up-to-date.

  1. Stop Cygwin
  2. Make a backup copy of the directory C:\Cygwin\home\{yourname} to a safe location.
  3. Move (not copy) the directory C:\Cygwin\home\{yourname} to your Dropbox. I have moved the home directory to the location {Dropbox}\settings\cygwinhome.
  4. Create a symbolic link to the Dropbox location with the utility mklink.

Below is an example.

mklink /d c:\cygwin\home\ton c:\Users\ton\Dropbox\settings\cygwinhome

This command creates a directory link with the name ‘ton’ (my username) that points to the cygwinhome-directory on your Dropbox. Of course, you should substitute ‘ton’ with your own Windows user name.

This function to create links is not available on Windows versions older than Vista.

Making the todotxt.cfg file roaming
I also use the Android-app Todotxt Touch and therefore, I would like to keep the location of the todo.txt file to the default. Therefore, I do not place my todo.txt file in my Cygwin home directory.

If you edit the todotxt.cfg file, the first lines may look like this:


# Your todo.txt directory
export TODO_DIR="/cygdrive/c/users/ton/Dropbox/todo"
#export TODO_DIR=`dirname "$0"`

There can easily be a problem with this. On the family laptop, for instance, my username is ‘papa’ and my Dropbox is located on the path:

and the todotxt.cfg configuration line would have to read:

# Your todo.txt directory
export TODO_DIR="/cygdrive/c/users/papa/Dropbox/todo"

Do you see the problem? If you want to be able to put your todotxt script and config file on a central location, there should be one uniform todo.txt directory that is also on Dropbox.

The solution? Another mklink hack. On the family laptop, I have used the following command:

mklink /d C:\dbtb C:\Users\papa\Dropbox

Now the top of my todotxt.cfg reads something like this:


# Your todo.txt directory
export TODO_DIR="/cygdrive/c/dbtb/todo"
#export TODO_DIR=`dirname "$0"`

The trick here is that if you create the equivalent directory link on all your Windows machines (pointing to your various Dropbox locations), you can use the same todotxt.cfg on all of them.

I hope this helps you enjoy a centralised Cygwin home directory and roaming use of the excellent todotxt.sh!

Reality and satire

A quote from the biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. He writes about the parody that Guy Kawasaki had published about Apple buying Next and making Jobs its CEO, about 2 years before this really happened at Apple.

Isaacson first describes Kawasaki’s spoofed press release about the takeover. And then he writes:

But reality has an odd habit of catching up with satire

How true!

In the country I live in, the polical party the PVV is in fact the reality and the so called ‘Tegenpartij‘ was the satire.