My Haul: A Short Reading List.

An Estate Sale

Today I went to an Estate Sale in Mendham, NJ. The house was set back from the street, which was a sometimes one-lane road in the middle of the countryside. It was quite beautiful…and the most beautiful part where the thousands of books lining its walls.

The former resident of the house was obviously a lover of classic/contemporary literature, arts, history, and biography. I spent a solid two hours searching the shelves and finally exited with nineteen.

I know, that is a lot of books – but when there are several hundred you want to buy and you leave with less than two dozen, one feels a certain sense of accomplishment.

So here is my haul…Perhaps it will make a fun reading list for someone who shares my interests.

Photo of Bookshelf with Lots of Old Books
Image thanks to Unsplash.

Why I Chose What I Chose

Feel free to jump down to the list itself, but for those who care (anyone?) I’d like to share the reasoning behind my choices.

  1. I focused primarily on historical and biographical books because:
    1. I don’t read much contemporary fiction.
    2. When I read classical fiction I usually use an e-text and turn it into an e-book.
    3. I consider myself too much a beginner in the arts to be able to understand much of what is said in these fields and would rather focus on learning more of the basics.
  2. I chose almost exclusively books that the former owner had read in their entirety (which was obvious by the hand-written notes, underlines, and bookmarks sprinkled throughout).
  3. My primary interests in reading are to (a) understand God and (b) understand humanity. The library was sparse in the former, so I focused on the latter.
  4. Most of these books are historical or biographical, but the way in which I read them remains constant with my primary interests:
    1. Who is God? How do we relate to Him?
    2. Who is Man and Woman? How do we relate to each other?

 

The Selections

Revolutionary War Era

World War II

Other

 

  1. [1]When we record history, we interpret it. We are not objective observers. With humility we acknowledge this and attempt to be self-reflective as we write…but sometimes the reader discovers the author has in fact (or just seems to) slipped into various biases which color the facts unnecessarily.

Blinkist: Staying Current in a Break-Neck World

Overview of Blinkist

I’ve been using Blinkist for well over a year now and am quite happy with it. There are free accounts (one Blink available to read each day selected by Blinkist) but I’m a paying subscriber ($4.16/mo.), I’m a little tempted to go Premium ($6.66/mo.) just to gain the ability to export my highlights to Evernote,[1] but for now, I’m being good.

Photo of Book, Glasses, and Phone
Image thanks to Dariusz Sankowski

What Blinkist does is summarize important non-fiction books which generally take 10-20 mins. to read. It allows one to be familiar with the book without investing hours into it.

I also use it to figure out which books I really want to read. It is great to read a brief summary and quickly see whether a full reading will be productive.

Blinkist is accessible on smartphone, tablet, and via desktops/laptops. I tend to read most frequently on my smartphone.

Guide to This Post

You’ve already made it through a quick overview of Blinkist, but there is still a lot of material I’ll be covering, so here is a quick guide to what follows so you can jump around if you so desire:

  1. Blinkist Features I Love
  2. Small Things I’d Like to See in Blinkist – This main consists of inconsistencies in their user interface – features aren’t available on mobile that are on full web, and vice versa.
  3. Big Things I’d Like to See in Blinkist – I have three specific features I’d like to see in Blinkist to make it more useful.
  4. Blinks I’ve Read That Convinced Me I Should Read the Book
  5. Books I Don’t Feel the Need to Read After Reading Blinks
  6. Blinks I’m Currently Reading
  7. Blinks I’m Most Eager to Read

Blinkist Features I Love

  • Favoriting – If you like a Blink you can favorite it. I use this to keep a list of books I want to buy / read in full.
  • Highlighting – I love being able to highlight portions. I actually have OCD and my highlighting is more than a bit compulsive, but I’m still happy to have the feature.
  • Introductions – Provide a brief introduction to the book, oftentimes highlighting the books major topics, and usually including a small bio of the author.
  • Final Summaries – Sums up the main point(s) of the book, recommends a related book to read.

Small Things I’d Like to See in Blinkist

  • The ability to take notes like one can on the Amazon Kindle.
  • Consistent features across devices, e.g.
    • Web App Lacks:
      • Ability to add to one’s To Read list.
      • Ability to add tags to a blink.
      • Ability to add Blink to favorites.
      • Ability to delete book from Currently Reading.
      • Ability to listen to audio.
    • Mobile App Lacks
      • Ability to add via the wish list items for Blinkist to create Blinks of.
      • Ability to buy book from currently reading list.
      • Finished List of Blinks completed.
    •  from the web app.
  • The introductory material (especially the blurb about the author), quotes, and heading sentences for each “page” to be highlightable.
  • When highlighting on the mobile app, sometimes the arrows allowing one to expand or contract the selection never appear (I find this inconsistently happens when selected the first [or last?] word in a line).

Big Things I’d Like to See in Blinkist

There are several rather large changes I’d like to see Blinkist bring about. All three have to do with making the Blinks more productive and useful.

First, there is the need for page references. Right now one knows the Blink is about the book, but not the particular pages or even chapters being referred to. Ideally, there should be chapter and/or page references for all the major points the Blink summarizes so one can pick up the actual book and quickly read the specific section one wants to read more deeply, rather than needing to browse the entire book.

Second, it would be great if there were quotes from the book summarizing each of the major points the book makes. These could be footnotes included in the Blink. They’d allow us to read controversial viewpoints in the author’s own words.

Finally, it would be great to be given resources to see what the critics of the book say. For example, Noam Chomsky criticizes American Foreign Policy in Rogue States, but how would his opponents rebut his arguments?

Another, even more important example is those books dealing with health and psychology. Authors make statements but it is unclear their sources or whether this is the author’s own opinion of scientific consensus.

Blinks I’ve Read That Convinced Me I Should Read the Book

  • (3) Jennifer Kahnweiler. The Introverted Leader.
  • (1) Dr. Eric Berne. Games People Play.
  • (3) William James. The Varieties of Religious Experience.
  • (5) Dr. David Perlmutter. Grain Brain.
  • (5) Dr. William E. Paul.
  • (4) Noam Chomsky. Rogue States.
  • (4) Leonard Mlodinow. Subliminal.
  • (5) Atif Mian and Amir Sufi. House of Debt.
  • (5) Giula Enders. Gut.
  • (4) Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers. The Power of Myth.
  • (3) C.L.R. James. The Black Jacobins.
  • (2) Stephen R. Covey. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
  • (4) Tim Spector. The Diet Myth.
  • (3) Roy F. Baumeister and John Tiernye. Willpower.
  • (4) Daron Acemoglu & James A. Robinson. Why Nations Fail.
  • (3) Susan Cain. Quiet.

Books I Don’t Feel the Need to Read After Reading Blinks

  • Dr. David Perlmutter with Kristin Loberg. Brain Maker.
  • Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull. The Peter Principle.
  • James Rickards. The Death of Money.
  • Carl Zimmer. A Planet of Viruses.
  • Michael Alvear. Make a Killing on Kindle.
  • Timothy Snyder. Bloodlands.
  • Tim Ferris. The 4-Hour Workweek.
  • Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers. What’s Mine Is Yours.
  • Walter Isaacson. Einstein.
  • Amir Levine and Rachel S.F. Heller. Attached.
  • Margaret Cheney. Tesla.
  • Stephen LaBerge and Howard Rheingold. Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming.
  • Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter. Triggers.
  • Jon Ronson. So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.
  • Alex Epstein. The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels.
  • Christopher Hitchens. The Trial of Henry Kissinger.
  • Christopher Clark. The Sleepwalkers.
  • Chris Brogan. The Freaks Shall Inherit the Earth.
  • John Lanchester. I.O.U.
  • Benjamin Graham and comments by… The Intelligent Investor.
  • Philip Zimbardo. The Lucifer Effect.
  • Gary Taubes. Why We Get Fat.
  • Suki Kim. Without You There Is No Us.
  • Thomas Paine. Common Sense.
  • Edward W. Said. Orientalism.
  • Phillip Coggan. Paper Promises.
  • Edward D. Kleinbard. We Are Better Than This.
  • Kevin Roose. Young Money.
  • Ha-Joon Chang. 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism.
  • Kabir Sehgal. Coined.
  • Ha-Joon Change. Economics: The User’s Guide.
  • Robert Skidelsky and Edward Skidelsky. How Much is Enough?
  • Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. The Communist Manifesto.
  • Eric D. Beinhocker. The Origin of Wealth.
  • Karl Pillemer. 30 Lessons for Loving.
  • Niall Ferguson. The Ascent of Money.
  • Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha. Sex at Dawn.
  • Masha Gessen. The Man Without a Face.
  • Niccolo Machiavelli. The Prince.

Blinks I’m Currently Reading

  • Stephanie Coontz. Marriage, a History.
  • Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo. Poor Economics.
  • Ha-Joon Chang. Kicking Away the Ladder.
  • Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener. The Upside of Your Dark Side.
  • Karen Piper. The Price of Thirst.
  • Jeffrey A. Leberman, Ogi Ogas. Shrinks.
  • Steven Pinker. The Better Angels of Our Nature.
  • Adam Braun. The Promise of a Pencil.
  • Seth Godin. Tribes.
  • Lawrence Lessig. Free Culture.

Blinks I Am Most Eager to Read

  • Tom Rath. StrengthsFinder 2.0.
  • David Richo. Daring to Trust.
  • Oliver Sacks. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales.
  • Doris Kearns Goodwin. Team of Rivals.
  • Mark Goulston. Talking to Crazy.
  • Donella H. Meadows. Thinking in Systems.
  • Dr. Richard Bandler, Alessio Roberti and… The Ultimate Introduction to NLP.
  • Noam Chomsky. Failed States.
  • Jeremy Rifkin. The Zero Marginal Cost Society.
  • Ori Brafman. Sway.
  • Walter Mischel. The Marshmallow Test.
  • Helen Fisher. Why We Love.
  • Robert Karen. Becoming Attached.
  • Brene Brown. Rising Strong.
  • Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini and Richard Lannon. A General Theory of Love.
  • Ray Kurzweil. The Singularity Is Near.
  • Josh Kaufman. The Personal MBA.
  • Richard Koch. Living the 80/20 Way.
  • Brian Tracy. Eat That Frog!
  • Donna Jackson Nakazawa. Childhood Disrupted.
  • Laura Putnam. Workplace Wellness That Works.
  • Patrick M. Lencioni. The Advantage.
  • Ron Friedman. The Best Place to Work.
  • Daniel Goleman. Emotional Intelligence.
  • Dr. Frank Luntz. Words That Work.

I Make Money

I try to write only was is worth reading and to only recommend products I believe in,still I figure you deserve to know that I will get paid if you sign up for Blinkist through one of the links on this page.

  1. [1]Honestly, I have a love/hate relationship with Evernote. I wish there was something else that worked better than it did, but I haven’t found it. Microsoft OneNote seems significantly clunkier.

jpegMini: One Simple Step to a Faster Website

TLDR;

If you have a website, you should be using jpegMini. It is an amazing tool that decreases the size of (JPEG) image files without decreasing the visual quality of the images.

Why Does the Size of My Image Files Matter?

When someone visits a web page in a browser (ex. Google Chrome or Internet Explorer) the browser downloads all the files associated with that specific page to the local computer. The larger the files, the longer it takes for the download to complete. The web page can’t be fully loaded into the browser until the download is complete.

Most people won’t wait long for a page to load – after a few seconds most will browse to another website that offers the same information faster.

Decreasing the size of your images decreases the amount of data the browser needs to download which makes the page load faster and results in happy people (your viewers).

What Makes jpegMini So Special?

Some of the most popular options for reducing image file size are compressing, resizing, and (automatically) intelligently choosing images. Google has a great article explaining these and other methods of optimizing images.

jpegMini can be used alone or in combination with some or all of the above mentioned options and it will deliver size reduction even after all of the other options are run.

jpegMini uses complex algorithms to reduce the amount of data in the image while maintaining the same visual appearance. Essentially, the algorithms exploit the way our vision works – we don’t see perfectly and thus two similar images can appear identical to us.

Lets take a look at how this works in real life. I downloaded this image of a baby from Pixabay at 1920×1280 pixels. It is 521 KB in size. I run it through jpegMini and the file is now 226 KB – a 55%+ reduction in size! Try comparing the picture I linked to above with the jpegMini optimized file below.[1] Can you tell the difference? I didn’t think so!

Photo of Baby Sitting on Table Optimized by jpegMini

jpegMini is Free / Super Affordable!

You can download jpegMini for free and use it to optimize up to twenty images each day! This is more than enough for most small/medium sites.

If you want to optimize more images on a daily basis or simply express your appreciation for a great product, a license is $20.

There are several other options with jpegMini, most beyond what the average site requires – but these are also reasonably priced.

Do I Have to Be a Super Geek to Use jpegMini?

jpegMini is one of the simplest applications to use ever. Launch the application then drag and drop the file(s) you want optimized onto the application. Wait a few seconds and the files will be optimized and can be uploaded and used just like any other JPEG file on your website.

Conclusion

jpegMini is an awesome application that will help you reduce image size and thus reduce the load time of your website resulting in happy people. The application is easy to use and the price is right – what are you waiting for!

 

  1. [1]This image is smaller than the original image in canvas size. If you click on the image you can see the image at its full size.

Infographic: How Childhood Trauma Affects Adult Life

I believe that childhood trauma has a significant and formative impact on who we become as adults. The impact can be mitigated by a supportive community during and following the trauma, but such support seems to be the exception rather than the rule. In adulthood we can work to heal the wounds trauma inflicted upon us in childhood, but in my experience, there is always a scar that aches and perhaps tears at times.

The danger when talking about the effects of childhood trauma on adult life is two-fold: (1) We may assume of ourselves that we are inferior to others and (2) others may assume that we are inferior to them.

It is true that we may be changed by what we have experienced, but that  sword is double-edged – we may be hobbled in one area, yet ahead in another. One of these days I need to read Wayne Muller’s Legacy of the Heart: The Spiritual Advantages of a Painful Childhood as I suspect he will flesh this thesis out in detail.

Example: During my childhood there was the necessity of separating emotions from actions. This has resulted in a struggle in adulthood to feel, experience, and express my emotions – both negative and positive. Yet the strength that has grown out of this trauma is my ability to remain reasonable within difficult situations. This allows me to function well during a crisis in which action is required or in conflict where I am able to remain calm in the midst of being (verbally) assaulted.[1]

With this danger acknowledged, and with the hope that others will recognize the strength within their wounds and the strength of others in their wounds, here is the infographic “The Impact of Childhood Trauma on Adult Disorders”:

 

 

Infographic Depicting the Impact of Childhood Trauma on Adult Disorders

 

  1. [1]At the same time, my ability to do so doesn’t mean that I should always do so. There is a cost I pay for such restraint and it manifests itself after the conflict is over, often physiologically. Now I choose when I use this ability and when I don’t – knowing the cost.

Vyrso: My Selection of On Sale Books.

Book Cover of Ed Dobson's Seeing Through the FogVyrso is part of Faithlife, formerly known as Logos Bible Software. It provides e-books focused on general rather than professional/academic audiences. I occasionally browse the site to see if there are any deals worth taking advantage of and I found a few this time around I thought I’d share with you:

  • Ed Underwood. Reborn to Be Wild: Reviving Our Radical Pursuit of Jesus. David C. Cook. $0.99.
    • I don’t know anything about Underwood, but this line from Vyrso caught my eye, “A long-time pastor ponders why the Jesus Movement stopped moving …” This parallels my more general interest in what exactly happened to the hippies…
  • J.I. Packer, Paul Helm, Bruce Ware, Roger Olson, John Sanders. Perspectives on the Doctrine of God. B&H. $2.99.
    • I love these books that provide multiple views on a subject. Some really great authors attached to this particular volume. A number of other volumes are on sale in this series for a similar price, this is the one that most interested me.
  • Ed Dobson. Seeing Through the Fog: Hope When Your World Falls Apart. David C. Cook. $1.99.
    • Dobson recently passed away after a ten year battle with a debilitating and progressively worsening illness.
  • John C. Thomas and Lisa Sosin. Therapeutic Expedition: Equipping the Christian Counselor for the Journey. $2.99.
    • I’m not familiar with Thomas or Sosin, but their extensive experience and the practical nature of the book attracted my attention.
  • William Yount. Created to Learn: A Christian Teacher’s Introduction to Educational Psychology, 2nd edition. B&H. $0.99.




Floating in a Sensory Deprivation Chamber: Personal Recollection.

Strange

Float Tank Path FinderAfter watching The Perfect Storm[1] I became a commercial fishing deckhand in Alaska for a summer.[2]

After watching some episodes of Fringe (see also Amazonand Altered States (see also Amazon) I decided I wanted to experience a sensory deprivation chamber.

What do these two scenarios have in common? My interest was sparked by the stories – stories which, to many, cause fear or aversion.

I have theories as to why I am this way (attracted to, rather than repelled by), but I’ll leave those for another time…

Sensory Deprivation

The cultural knowledge of sensory deprivation chambers / isolation tanks is generally sourced in their portrayal on the recent TV show Fringe, a pseudo-X-Files.[3] Unfortunately, I couldn’t find an image or a clip which does justice to the horrifying nature of the lead character’s (Olivia) experience in the chamber.

Luckily, the 1980 classic Altered States‘ trailer[4] is quite adequate in portraying the horror common in media depictions:

But what is it like to actually be in a sensory deprivation chamber?

Serene Dreams

These days you can find sensory deprivation chambers in stand-alone businesses or at spas spread around the country.  You’ll rarely hear them referred to as sensory deprivation chambers, instead you’ll hear of flotation therapy, or perhaps in medical or academic circles Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy (REST).

I went to a stand-alone (no other services like massage, facials, etc. offered) in Kearny (northern) NJ called Serene Dreams. It wasn’t a big building and (I think) there were two entrance doors. I tried the first, I have no idea what the second led to. This brought me into their waiting/reception area. It was cramped – a single couch and two bar chairs provided the seating. I was handed a small stack of papers to read and sign. The papers were the usual disclaimers regarding liability for bodily harm but they also included the somewhat unusual disclaimer for psychological injury.

After a few minutes I was led through a door into a long, wide hallway. There were two rooms on my left along the hallway, but these were both occupied, so I was led around the corner into their third (and last) room. The room looks like a high-end bathroom. There is a beautiful large shower with a gazillion different settings, a sink, and then a large white pod with water inside and a lid that closes.

Unfortunately these rooms do not include a toilet, which would seem ideal seeing one is about to spend an extended period of time floating in water and having a full bladder would be most unpleasant.

The door was shut and I was left alone. The procedure indicates that one first shower so as not to bring anything into the pod with you (the water is purified between each consumer), one can use provided vaseline to cover over any cuts, and there are ear plugs – which you’ll really want to use.

Once the shower is over you can enter the pod. Inside the pod you have a few items. First there is a large button that allows you to control the lighting. These pods aren’t strictly for sensory deprivation, apparently many use them with the lights on.  Secondly there is a help call button that you can press if you are in need of assistance. Finally, there is a bottle of fresh water to use if you get the pod’s water in your eyes.

Why would one need regular water while laying in a body of water? Because the water in the pod is loaded with epsom salt – so much that it causes your body to float. Get that into your eyes and it will sting (yes, I know from firsthand experience).

I climbed into the pod and closed the lid on top of me.[5] I laid down and began to float in the water and then I turned off the lights. It was pitch black. I couldn’t see anything, I knew I was inside a pod, resting in a body of water – but there was nothing to feel, nothing to see.

As I laid there I became aware of some of my bodily problem spots. My right knee was aching, one of my fingers on my right hand as well. The lack of external sensory input was causing me to feel more intensely my aches and pains. Over time these pains faded away and I floated.

They played soft music for the first ten minutes, so I knew when ten minutes had passed – but after that all was silence – there was no way to know the time. So, I laid there, and laid there, and laid there some more.

My brain wasn’t busy – somewhat surprisingly. Nor did I feel tired, I just floated. The water was body temperature, but half my body was above the surface and every once in a while it would feel a little chilly. As time passed the air became stuffy. It hadn’t occurred to me beforehand, but I realized in order not to cause sensation, they wouldn’t be able to pump fresh air into the pod (or if they did, it wasn’t at a speed that could replace the old air with new). I wondered how long one could stay in the pod before suffocating – obviously much longer than the hour I was scheduled for.[6]

Sometimes it felt like time was dragging on. “How much longer?” I would wonder. At the end of the hour the music started again, informing me that there was only ten minutes remaining. I was surprised – could that much time have passed already? It is a weird feeling to be in the absolute dark with no reference to time – one feels almost simultaneously that a dreadfully long period of time is passing and at the same time that it has been only a few brief moments.

When the music stopped I turned on the light, opened the pod, and took another shower. The second shower is to wash all the epsom salt off your body. If you didn’t take a shower you’d look like you were covered with chalk dust after drying for a minute or two…not to mention that if you got the water in your ears there is the small possibility that they could form into crystals and cause ear pain.

I made my way down the long hallway back to the waiting area[7]. Plunked down my credit card and had a nice chat with the receptionist who informed me about how Mugwort’s Tea before bed has helped her to remember her dreams. Hmmm, I might have to try that.

Not That Scary?

No, it wasn’t that scary. So are the portrayals in film completely unreal? Not exactly. In the film portrayals the individuals are almost always dosed with psychoactive drugs such as LSD or mescaline. In addition the individuals tend to spend a much more extended period of time within the sensory deprivation tank.

Was I Happy?

Sure, I was happy. I had done something I’d wanted to do for some years now and I hadn’t panicked or grown so bored I quit. I had spent an hour alone with my own brain and hadn’t gone crazy – which is something of an achievement.

I’ll admit, I hoped for more. I hoped I would fall asleep and have a vivid dream I could process.[8] I didn’t think I had fallen asleep, but when I got home I had a pain in my tongue and it was a little bloody. I have bruxism, which means I grind my teeth in my sleep. Unfortunately, this also means I bite my tongue in my sleep[9] so it seems I may have fallen asleep at least briefly. Still, the sleep wasn’t what I was after – it was the dream.

That said, if I want more out of it I will have to do it for a more extended period of time. Will I do it again for a more extended period? I’m unsure. I’m ADD[10] and laying still for an hour is a challenge for me, laying still for longer seems at the least extremely boring and perhaps edging into torture…but I might.

There is some science indicating that flotation therapy is helpful in chronic pain and muscle relaxation – and I felt some of that. Portions of my body stopped aching, but I think I’d need to be a regular to see any lasting results.

Minor Positive Criticism

I have only a few minor criticisms of the location I utilized (Serene Dreams in Kearny NJ).

  • It would have been really great to have a toilet in the room.
  • The pod wasn’t quite big enough for me. I would occasionally drift into the walls. This wasn’t a major issue, but it did decrease the sensory deprivation experience.
  • I think I may have gone into the pod backwards (feet where my head should have been). This is probably a me problem…

Concluding Thoughts

Flotation therapy isn’t scary at all. Sensory Deprivation is a bit more testing – the pitch blackness and silence may get to some – probably would get to me over a longer period of time. To experience a more interesting psychological experience once would probably have to increase the length of the session significantly or, as the forefathers of this technology did (see Dr. John C. Lilly for example), utilize psychoactive drugs…ummm, okay, scratch that second idea.

  1. [1]Other materials had primed me, this was just the tipping point. I had previously loved Richard Dana’s Two Years Before the Mast and Louis L’Amour’s Education of a Wandering Man.
  2. [2]I was a salmon set-net commercial deckhand in Ninilchik. This is not nearly as dangerous as the scenarios portrayed in The Perfect Storm or Deadliest Catch.
  3. [3]I had hoped Fringe would be a satisfactory replacement to the X-Files (also Amazon) and at the get-go it appeared to be…but once it became evident that the story arc was becoming one dimensional by focusing on a mega-arc of parallel dimensions, I became disappointed and stopped watching. Monsters of the week episodes had always been my favorite part of the X-Files – which managed to keep an overarching myth without succumbing to it.
  4. [4]The depiction in Fringe was at least in part inspired by Altered States portrayal.
  5. [5]If you are claustrophobic, this may not be for you – luckily, if you aren’t going for sensory deprivation, you would just leave the lid open.
  6. [6]After some further research, I’m fairly certain that the pod was circulating air, it just wasn’t enough to prevent the staleness.
  7. [7]The lights were dampened and it was a somewhat more foreboding environment, if I had been coming in instead of going out, I might have felt a spooked.
  8. [8]I’m not a fan of DREAM INTERPRETATION but I am a fan of dream interpretation. I mean, I believe that sometimes there are overarching themes which spread across dreams which can be insightful to us, but I’m not a fan of attempting to deconstruct every portion of the dream and assign it meaning. I assume that if my brain really wants to tell me something, it will say it repeatedly (and this has been my experience).
  9. [9]I wear a bruxism guard most nights to prevent this
  10. [10]ADD not ADHD. I don’t have the hyperactive component.

A List of Lists of Books Recommended by Famous (and Somewhat Famous) People

Introduction

A Photo of a Stack of Books
This image was generously licensed under the Creative Commons by Alexandre Dulaunoy.

In 2011 I wrote a list of lists of books and it has remained a perennial favorite till the present. I figured it was time to revisit the list. The revamped list has expanded far beyond the original and as such needs to be broken down into sections. This section consists of lists of books recommended by famous (or semi-famous) individuals.

If you know of other recommended reading lists written by the famous, let me know and I just may add them to this article and give you a little hat tip (HT).
Thanks to Margaret Mackey for assisting with the research for this post.
This is the first in a series of lists of lists. Follow the blog to receive updates as each new post is released. You can follow the blog by entering your email on the left or by liking the Facebook page or by following the Twitter account. Or by my favorite method, subscribing to the RSS feed.

Osama Bin Laden

36 Books: Brian Ries. Here Are the Books Osama Bin Laden Was Reading. Mashable, May 20, 2015.

Bin Laden was a serious reader – of serious literature. Check out this fascinating list that includes titles such as Checking Iran’s Nuclear AmbitionsChristianity and Islam in Spain 756-1031 A.D., Handbook of International Law, and Obama’s Wars. It seems Bin Laden took seriously the adage to know one’s enemy.

David Bowie

75 Books: Maria Popova. David Bowie’s Formative Reading List of 75 Favorite Books. Brain Pickings, Nov. 3, 2013.

All but two of Bowie’s recommended books were published during his lifetime, and the two that weren’t were published within 2 years of his birth.  They span a wide variety of topics, from poetry to fiction to history.

Stewart Brand

76 Books: Maria Popova. Stewart Brand’s Reading List: 76 Books to Sustain and Rebuild Humanity. Brain Pickings, March 7, 2014.

American author, co-founder of Long Now and editor of The Whole Earth catalog, gives us his list of must-read books.

Carl Sagan

 10 Books: Maria Popova. Carl Sagan’s Reading List. Brain Pickings, July 11, 2012.

A small sample of Carl Sagan’s reading list.

Brian Eno

20 Books: Maria Popova. Brian Eno’s Reading List. Brain Pickings, March 3, 2014.

Wikipedia says he is a musician, composer, record producer, singer, visual artist, and one of the principal innovators of ambient music.

Clifton Fadiman (and John S. Major)

133 Books: Clifton Fadiman and John S. Major. The New Lifetime Reading Plan, 4th ed, Interleaves, 1997.

American intellectual, author, editor and radio and television personality Clifton Fadiman gives us his “lifetime reading plan.” The original was authored solely by Clifton, but this later edition was co-written with John S. Major.

Joel Gascoigne

50 Books: Joel Gascoigne. 50 Books That Transformed My Business and Life. Entrepreneur, March 13, 2015.

Co-founder and CEO at Buffer.

Bill Gates

6 Books: Viktor Reklaitis. 6 Books Bill Gates Says You Should Read. MarketWatch, October 30, 2014.

Includes a book by Doris Kearns Goodwin, surprising, not Teams of Rivals.

190+ Books: Bill Gates. Book Reviews. Gates Notes, ongoing.

These aren’t necessarily Bill Gates favorite books, but they are books he has reviewed on his blog. This is an ongoing blog series by him, so the number will grow.

Sam Harris

12 Books: Maria Popova. Neuroscientist Sam Harris Selects 12 Books Everyone Should Read. Brain Pickings, July 21, 2015.

Sam Harris is a neuroscientist also known for his vocal atheism.

Will Hatton

45 Books: Will Hatton. The Forty-Five Best Books To Read On The Road. Matador Network, June 19, 2015.

Will Hatton has compiled an excellent list of captivating stories of travelers far and wide – stories guaranteed to captivate and inspire you.

Mark Manson

7 Books: Mark Manson. Mark Manson’s 7 Books That Will Change How You See the World. April 2, 2015.

Manson is an author and blogger. Really great list that includes a summary of each work but Manson is heavy on the profane language.

Barack Obama

6 Books: Brittany Levine Beckman. Barack Obama’s Summer Reading List. Mashable, Aug. 14, 2015.

Leo Tolstoy

45+ Books: Maria Popova. Leo Tolstoy’s Reading List. Brain Pickings, Sept. 30, 2014.

Tolstoy himself penned this list of recommended reading.  He divided his recommendations into age groups, from childhood to age 63,  and then further subdivided the list into books recommended as “great”, “very great”, and “enormous.”

Alan Turing

5 Books: Maria Popova. Alan Turing’s Reading List. Brain Pickings, March 12, 2012.

16 Books: John Graham Cumming. Alan Turing’s Reading List (with readable links). Feb. 2012.

Alan Turing was a British pioneering computer scientist, mathematician, logician, crypt-analyst and theoretical biologist.  This is a list of the books he borrowed from his school library.

Both of these posts reference the same list. Unfortunately I have been unable to find the original list by Alex Bellos. I suppose I could take a jaunt over to The Wayback Machine.

Neil deGrasse Tyson

8 Books: Maria Popova. Neil deGrasse Tyson Selects the Eight Books Every Intelligent Person on the Planet Should Read.  Brain Pickings, Dec. 29, 2014.

A fairly standard list of books – The Bible, Newton’s The System of the World, Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, and so on.

Fluidstance’s The Level: Crucial or Overrated?

A photo of someone's feet and lower legs standing on The Level.

Prelude

I believe it was August when Fluidstance first reached out to me about reviewing their product, The Level. Of course, I was amenable and eagerly awaited its arrival. It wasn’t until October that I realized the packaging containing The Level had been stolen off my front step before I ever saw it. I wrote a post about this theft and The Level generally and Fluidstance generously sent me another one!

I’ve been using it for the past few months few years. I didn’t want to write a review too quickly as products like this can be so bright and shiny and fascinating when they first come out but as time passes they fall into disuse – just another item to stuff in the closet/garage/ attic.

It Is All About Me

A photo of someone's feet and lower legs standing on The Level.
Fluidstance’s The Level (Natural Maple), available for $289.

Before I review The Level I need to give you a little bit of context about me. If you already know me, you can skip this section, if you don’t, I think a minute or two of your time will really inform your understanding of my review.

I have a number and diversity of ailments oftentimes not seen in someone twice my age. Most of them don’t connect with my review of The Level but a few do. Namely, I have chronic leg pain. These days it is usually low intensity though occasionally it will flare up with a vengeance. Combine this with some knee and lower back pain and I’m a bit of a disaster.

Why does this matter? Because my review comes from the place of someone with chronic health issues and will tend to be informed from that perspective. I hope it will be of use to everyone, but I think it will be especially useful to anyone suffering from chronic pain.

The Presentation

Fluidstance is an Apple-esque company. They don’t make a lot of products but what they do make is top notch in quality and you know this from the moment the box arrives at your door. It is a bit like unpacking an iPhone back in the day before everyone else caught on to how presentation could really affect consumer’s buying decisions.

Inside is a nice sack into which one can insert The Level (I suppose to keep it from getting scuffed, wet when raining, etc.). Then there is The Level itself. It is beautiful with a nicely finished bamboo top and a sturdy aluminum base (I know, sturdy is not the first word that comes to mind when someone mentions aluminum, but this is not your soda can’s aluminum!).

Fluidstance positions itself as an eco-friendly company, something which is especially popular these days, but they aren’t just saying a popular slogan to gain customers. Check their website and you’ll see that the use of bamboo for the wood was chosen because of it’s abundance and renewable nature. The base is recycled aluminum made in a solar-powered facility. Even the finish was chosen due to its low emissions.

I like the company culture this seems to express. Fluidstance’s serious commitment to the environment makes me feel that they are concerned about more than making money (not that there is anything wrong with making money, we all gotta eat, sleep, and play) and makes me optimistic that they will steward well in other areas – e.g., genuinely helpful customer support, pride in the quality of the product, and actually caring for their employees.

The Quality

The Level is a solid product. There is no planned obsolescence built in! Seriously, I believe this product will last years – assuming you don’t light it on fire, allow your dog to repeatedly chew on it, submit it to a world’s strongest man crushing objects competition, etc.

You’d think that a product like this, which has a decent amount of weight placed on it day in and day out and which has someone standing on and scuffing around it would begin to deteriorate. Other than a  few cosmetic scratches on the bottom of the aluminum base (which is wobbling around while you stand on it and which may have come via other means – e.g., me not being the best at occasionally moving through doorways or hallways without bumping into them) it looks as good as the day I received it (several years ago!).

Does It Work?

We know its beautiful and responsibly manufactured, but does it work? The short answer is yes, the longer answer is yes, and especially for me (and you?) with chronic pain.

I bought a sit/stand desk because in addition to being healthier than sitting and burning more calories I experience significant flare-ups in my chronic pain if I remain in any one position too long.[1] It worked, but not as well as I had hoped. I couldn’t stand for prolonged periods of time without the pain flaring, so I had to spend more time going back and forth between sitting and standing than I wanted to.

Then came The Level. I was worried at first it was just a placebo effect, but it has been lasting. I can stand for much more extended periods without causing significant flareups in my legs (primary pain point), knees (secondary), or lower back.[2]

These days I’m likely to do 2.5 to 3 hrs. standing before I need a break. Previously there were times where the pain began to flare almost instantaneously and it was certainly significant within 1.5 to 2 hrs. These days I might even go 4 or 6 hours standing at one time.[3]

The Level keeps my legs moving a little bit all the time and, if I begin to feel some tension (or for the fun of it), I can increase the amount of movement significantly, all while still working productively.

Found Out the Hard Way

When I first received The Level it didn’t move much and I was surprised. It isn’t meant to be an aerobic experience, but I did expect a bit more movement. Ends up this was entirely my fault. I had one of those rubber mats one stands on to relieve foot/leg/knee pressure incurred standing on a hard floor. I knew The Level wasn’t supposed to be used on smooth floors (too slippery) but I figured that a rubber mat would serve the same purpose on my hard floors as a throw rug/carpet[4]. I was WRONG. Once I started using The Level on carpet I experienced a significant (though not unpleasant) increase in motion.[5]

Unless you only want The Level to move only when you move (e.g. it will move when you shift body weight) and not a sort of constant, fluid motion  – use carpet!

Price

The Level isn’t an inexpensive product. The American-Made Level (Bamboo) I was sent retails for $389. Not the sort of money one drops without consideration (at least, not that I do). There are lower priced models available – The American Made Level (Maple with Walnut Finish) for $339 and the American-Made Level (Natural Maple) for $289, but these are still not your bargain-value prices. More recently they’ve released The Plane Cloud which comes at $189 but even this isn’t a spur of the moment purchase.

Is It Worth the Price?

As you consider whether this is something you should invest your money in, let me provide a few questions for consideration:

  1. Why would I buy this product? Is it because it is new and cool looking or because I’d actually use it?
  2. How much of my life is spent at a desk? Lifehacker once recommended spending your money where your time is spent – and I think this is spectacular advice. Most of us spend a lot of time at our desk most days!
  3. Could this help with any ongoing health issues I have?
  4. Would this help me significantly increase the amount of time I spend standing rather than sitting?

What About Inexpensive Competitor Products?

If you decide to buy something like The Level the next question is whether you should actually buy The Level or should go with a less-expensive competitor. A few questions for consideration on that front:

  1. What is the difference in price between The Level and the competitive product I’m looking at?
  2. What is the quality of the two products? Am I getting more product quality for the extra price of The Level?
  3. What is the reputation of the company? Do they care about their customers? Do they care about this product? Will they be around next year?

Use the Middle of the Road Approach

Personally, I’m a fan of the middle-of-the-road approach. I don’t need luxury, but I also know that buying cheap oftentimes means buying multiple over time. I’d rather spend a bit more upfront to get a quality product that is going to last than one that will soon need replacement or repairs.

For me, time is my most valuable asset, not money. If the competitive product will last five years but need to be repaired twice and this takes me 1 hour each time to call the manufacturer, secure an RMA, go to the post office, etc. – how much is that time worth? This is not necessarily what you are paid, but what you believe inherently is the value of your time. Is your time worth $10, $30, $50, $100, $250, an hour? Factor in the time you are likely to spend maintaining the lower quality product. Is the price once you include your time still lower for the competitive product? If not, you know what to do!

2019 Update

I’m still using the Fluidstance most days, sometimes for the entire day, sometimes swapping back and forth between sitting and standing every few hours and I still love it. The only change I’d love to see at some point is an (optional) increased angle to require more effort balancing and increase movement overall. Using it for a few years I’ve mastered my balance at the current Level angle but would love to up the ante a bit to keep my body moving/working throughout the day.

Conclusion

I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, The Level is a worthwhile investment. Yes, it makes me cringe a bit to think of buying something so simple for so much[6] but if I divide the cost by the number of days I’ll use it this year it becomes much more reasonable. How many days do we work in a year? Lets say 240. Now we are talking about paying $1.20 per working day for this convenience if we purchase the lower end Level. If we purchase the highest? $1.62/day. Pretty reasonable for a product that will probably last years.

The Level does what it promises – helps one maintain motion even while standing at a desk and thus relieving pressure on the body. For me, personally, I see reduced pain in my legs, knees, and back from using The Level.

What do you think? I’m eager to hear from everyone but would be especially interested to hear from anyone else who is using The Level and has chronic health issues and whether it helps with these. Am I unique in experiencing some relief?

  1. [1]In the past the pain would get bad after as little as ten or fifteen minutes. Doing extended work while seated could be debilitating. Thankfully these days it isn’t nearly as severe.
  2. [2]I generally don’t notice back pain, unless my leg and knee pain is really low. Its sort of that, “Your head hurts? Let me smash your foot with a hammer and your head will feel much better” gag.
  3. [3]Sometimes this still occurs, but I find myself going through cyclical patterns where sometimes I can stand exclusively for multiple days and other times I just want to sit (not because of pain, more my legs feel tired.
  4. [4]Is there a difference, I don’t feel like asking Master Google at the moment.
  5. [5]Besides the placebo effect, this was another reason I’ve taken a while to write this review. Once I realized I was sabotaging The Level I wanted to spend some time using it correctly before reviewing.
  6. [6]Okay, if you haven’t caught on to this yet, I grew up quite poor.

Fluidstance and the Thief

Occasionally folks reach out to me with a product or service they would like for me to review – Fluidstance was one of said companies. They told me they were shipping me The Level so I could put it through its paces. I eagerly anticipated its arrival…and I waited for it…and I waited some more.

As time passed I figured they must have decided not to send me The Level after all…maybe they decided my blog wasn’t getting enough traffic, maybe they had run out of units to send out to bloggers. I was giving up hope.

Then I received a followup email asking how things were going with The Level. I was confused. Wait, you sent me The Level? When? FedEx delivery confirmation shows that the package was successfully left on my doorstep nearly a month ago. Gahh!

Photo of legs standing on Fluidstance The Level

This is the first time I have ever had mail stolen off my front porch (at least that I am aware of) and it sucks. I was really looking forward to giving The Level a try.

I find my knees begin to hurt after a period of standing at my desk and I have to revert to sitting and I hoped that using The Level might allow me to spend longer periods at a time standing.

So, it sucks for me, but it also sucks for Fluidstance, since they sent me a moderately expensive product for review and I can’t review it because someone stole it.

As a poor substitute, I’ve compiled some resources together below to help those who are interested in learning more about The Level do so.

Gahhh! I just went through the first forty results in Google for “fluidstance” to garner the above reviews and now I am even more disappointed than before. Without exception, every one of the reviews I found in those first forty results where positive!

“But Dave, you should have Google ‘fluidstance review’, that would have given you better results.” You are so right, so I did and found the following:

Well, no, those additional reviews don’t make me feel any better about having mine stolen before I ever laid eyes on it.

Soylent 2.0: A Better Meal Replacement?

A Little Background

I enjoy eating sometimes but oftentimes it is more of a chore. Unfortunately, eating is a necessity if I want to be healthy, energetic, productive.

Soylent 2.0 being poured into a glass.
Photo of Soylent 2.0 from official Soylent site.

I’ve written about Soylent, a meal replacement drink, in the past here and here. I’ve tried other meal replacement drinks like RAW Meal and Shakeology (also here and there, and up there and down here).

I’ve written about and regularly consume Ensure, I don’t care that I’m not the target audience.

When Soylent started out (and when I first began consuming it) it was a powder which one mixed with water and then added some bottled oils to. It only took two or three minutes to make a days worth and I thought it tasted decent – much less grainy than either RAW Meal or Shakeology – but much more grainy than Ensure.

I Try 2.0

Recently Soylent announced and then began shipping Soylent 2.0 – which comes bottled similar to Ensure. Now there is no prep time, just take a bottle out of the fridge. I purchased my first twelve pack and have consumed them all. I’ve now upped my order to 24 monthly, which will cover almost one meal a day. I expect, if I continue to like it, I will up my order to perhaps 48 bottles/mo., which would make almost two a day.

While I didn’t have a problem with the old Soylent’s taste, the new Soylent is significantly better. It tastes and has the texture of almond milk.

At first I thought I would need to mix something with it to drink it with great consistency and I tried some chocolate syrup as well as some V8 juice – the latter worked rather well. But as I have continued to drink it I find my taste buds developing more and more of a liking for it and I don’t see myself needing to mix anything else into it.

Why Else I Like Soylent

Besides Soylent providing me an alternative to meals there are a number of other techie reasons I like them.

First, their recipe is open source and this has resulted in a cottage industry producing similar products. I’m a huge fan of open source.

Second, they provide release notes with each version as well as providing detailed blog posts about why they do what they do and when problems arise. I am especially fond of the latter.

Third, they are constantly iterating on Soylent. 2.0 is great, but I’m sure 2.1 will be better!

But Dave…

“But Dave, this can’t be as good for you as eating real, organic food for meals.”

You are absolutely correct – thing is, I don’t eat real, organic food for meals. Soylent is a healthier alternative to a lot of the standard American diet / standard Dave diet. So, while not perfection, it is a step in the right direction…

And I won’t stop eating real food altogether. In fact, I may eat healthier the rest of the time b/c I am drinking Soylent. I always feel so time constricted – so much more I want to accomplish in a day than I can – if I feel a little less time constricted I may be more willing to invest in a meal (no promises, but hey, it’s possible!).