Newsletter 1.9

Dreamtime

(image of the Nazca Lines taken from this blog post)

This is The Praxis Circus.

And unfortunately this is going to have to be a shorter than normal one due to the amount of work I have to get through this week.

I have been thinking a lot about building a successful and sustainable business in Nigeria and the specific set of skills required to surmount the challenges that being in such a volatile environment throws up regularly. Unfortunately, I don’t have much to offer beyond the terribly mundane fact that most people have here have very little disposable income, so if your business requires volume to survive, you had better make sure you can provide your goods and services at a cost that people can afford. Issues of design, aesthetics, purpose and greater good seem to come at a very distant second to price for most things, but quality should never be compromised.

We should all be like Amazon in that regard.

"There are many ways to center a business. You can be competitor focused, you can be product focused, you can be technology focused, you can be business model focused, and there are more. But in my view, obsessive customer focus is by far the most protective of Day 1 vitality."  

I have personally been very product focused and pride myself on aesthetic aesthetic and design sensibility and “authenticity”, and sure, I believe in giving good customer service, but maybe the difference between a business that can thrive in our environment and one that doesn’t is found in the degree to which providing an amazing customer experience is at the foundation of why you do what you do.

Building a framework for great customer service is different from building a framework for supporting the design of products as the former can work regardless of what it is you are creating, while the latter is about the thing being created.

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This story about the faked death of a journalist by the Ukrainian government could literally have come from a Monty Python sketch and is further proof of how the tools of disinformation have gotten out of control and are now writing the scripts for us to follow.

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More frustrating Nigerian gist, this time via Femi Fawehinmi speaking about Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s new book. The task of creating a system that can successfully incentivise more virtuous and productive behavior from our leaders in this country is going to be an enormous one and on darker days I don’t believe it is possible to accomplish this within a democratic system…

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I think charts are amazing. This one 👆🏾, showing the biomass of all life on Earth compared to each other is beautiful and an extreme example of the Pareto principle at work.

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Speaking of plants, I wasn’t aware that The Netherlands were this advanced when it comes to agriculture. It goes to show you what is possible when the focus is placed on innovation, productivity and a common goal (in this case, feeding themselves) beyond using farming as a means to try and make money.

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Fancy some real life Black Mirror design fiction with your tea? Go on then.

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In the latest chapter in the musicians’ petty, transcendent beef, Drake responded not with the venom of a battle rapper but with the anxiety of a pop politician.

😂 Good ol’ old school rap beef seems to be back and social media amplified, with zingers like this:

He is like a horror-movie psychiatrist, excavating a patient only to use deep-set pathologies against him.

It is worth a read even if you don’t care about Drake or Pusha-T. Extra points to the writer for referencing some previous beefs that also went beyond the pale. The truth is though, that in this internet-augmented age of simulacra and social networks these sorts of things only last as long as the next big thing. If Drake is smart, he will focus on making his next album the best it can be and leave Pusha-T alone for now. The unfortunate thing is that in the rap game, everybody is as guilty as the last person so it probably won’t take long for Pusha to provide ammunition for a Drake comeback.

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Have a great week and remember to breathe. It is never as bad as it seems - it may be worse than you think it is, and even that is not as bad as you think ☺️.

Newsletter 1.8

Better late than...

(Banner image via)

One of the things that got me interested in putting a newsletter together was how intimate the whole endeavor seemed. Every week I could sit down and do some writing and share various things with a group of people that - I think - are interested in the majority of the things I was sending out. This week’s deluge of GDPR emails from various companies and organisations reminded me of how important it is to continually frame the media we consume and participate in so that we are always aware of the consequences of engaging with them.

For the record, I am using all your data as inputs in a top-secret AI-powered pattern recognition network. Don’t be alarmed, it is all for the greater good.

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I read a fascinating article on how fish are killed and the steps some people are taking to not only increase awareness of the inhumane way most commercial fishing operations handle it, but that there are better ways to do it, not just for ethical reasons, but also to improve the way the fish taste.

Speaking of food, here’s a follow-up article to the last conversation I posted on nutrition.

I keep reading and sharing articles about eating right because apart from getting enough quality sleep and breathing better, eating well is one of the basic things we can do to improve our baseline physical and mental health. I feel it is important that we cut through a lot of the marketing-powered noise and get to the basics about what healthy eating means in this day and age where most of us, have more access to food than we know what to do with.

This is a good podcast featuring Dr. Andrew Huberman professor of neuroscience at Stanford, and Brian Mackenzie, renowned coach and innovator in health and fitness, talking about how altering your breathing and visual focus can help you manage fear, stress and give you more control over your emotional state.

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This short, but sweet essay captures so much about what we could potentially be doing in our present moment. It also taught me a new word:

Neoteny, one of my favorite words, means the retention of childlike attributes in adulthood: idealism, experimentation and wonder.

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Do any of you guys listen to The Moth? You should! Keeping the oral tradition alive is something worth encouraging and definitely something I would love to see emulated all over the world. From great sagas to the small and mundane, storytelling is part of humanity’s cultural DNA and not something we should lose to our market-augmented obsessions with efficiency and convenience.

Interested in telling better stories for fun and/or profit? This is not a bad place to start.

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One of the things that I have come to realize over the last few years is the power of keeping records. One of the easiest ways to fight against our innate cognitive biases is by augmenting our memory with objective recording. Whether that is via journaling, using a decision journal, tracking your weight, tracking your sleep and physical activity via a smart watch or an Oura ring, there are loads of things that one can and should keep track of especially now when there are so many options for doing so. Even without buying anything more than a notebook and a pencil you can track a lot of things about how you feel each day, things that happened and more in order to allow you to know yourself better.

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(Still from Beyond the Black Rainbow)

Is anyone interested in a film club? I have decided to put together a semi-regular and informal viewing meetup at Stranger where we can get together to watch all manner of stuff and talk about it afterwards. Everyone is welcome to join in even if you are not around. Still making up my mind about the first film, but it will definitely be something in the general aesthetic camp as Villeneuve’s Blade Runner, NWR’s The Neon Demon - essentially Kubrick and Lynch progeny with a heavy helping of retrofuturistic soundscapes.

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“Intelligent individuals learn from every thing and every one; average people, from their experiences. The stupid already have all the answers." — Socrates

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China’s quickly transforming into a science fiction country complete with a social credit system ranking its citizens, brainwave monitoring of workers in mines, a rainmaking network three times the size of Spain, the most advanced renewable energy program on the planet (for every $1 the US spent, China spent $3) and massive investments in AI research and applications.

I have been reading some trashy Chinese martial arts comics online recently and the fantasy version of China portrayed in those stories is really incredible. Not because of all the people flying and channeling chi energy to do superhuman feats, but because of the mythopoetic view of China present in these publications. They believe they are the center of the world and now their government is working VERY hard and VERY smart in order to ensure that belief becomes a reality.

Meanwhile, Nigeria continues its lackadaisical stroll into mediocrity and potential decline via opioids, herdsmen(?) and a burgeoning “lazy” youth crisis. If I ever go into politics, it will be to somehow fight to comprehensively overall and revolutionize the education system. Forget power, forget potable water, forget jobs, forget diversifying the economy. If we don’t get education right right now, we will be left with a massive population unable to do much beyond menial jobs.

With all the information out there about human development and neurobiology, we have the raw materials to build truly radical systems to empower our people and give us some way out of the cycle of ethnic and religious backed conflict that has plagued us since the founding of the country.

If you work in education in any way, you owe it to yourself to get acquainted with the work of people like Dr. Zachary Stein right now.

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And on that note, here’s wishing you all a great week ahead! It seems like we are always moving from one place to another and maybe not seeing much of a difference when we arrive, but just remember that the process of moving is where enlightenment is experienced, in the journey, not the departure or the arrival.

Newsletter 1.7

Fictionaut

(Found via Pinterest)

This is The Praxis Circus.

And you’ll be getting this at almost midnight Sunday! 🌚

Recently, I have found myself revisiting old haunts, temporary obsessions and ideas on the web and irl, looking at a lot of the ideas and frameworks that inspired me or just seemed interesting at the time.

Exploring the creative and intellectual foundations of my current perspectives is something I realise I do whenever I feel lost or in need of new energy and so far, it has not failed to reinvigorate and get me believing in the potential of the future once more.

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I have been toying with discussing some current affairs in this newsletter, talking about things like the BBC documentary about the codeine epidemic in Northern Nigeria or Kanye West saying Slavery was a choice or Childish Gambino’s powerful new music video “This is America”, but I think I will just leave that sort of thing for the podcast (yup, it’s on the way!) which will allow me to give it a more distinct identity from The Praxis Circus and give me some room to explore some stuff I can’t get to here.

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The Alpine Review has been on hiatus for a while now, but Patrick Tanguay is putting out a weekly newsletter covering a lot of the same content - future of work and economy, interesting technology, and sociology stuff. If you find my newsletter interesting you would definitely find something mind expanding every week. He did a stint over on Kottke with a whole load of really cool articles. Start with this one on why humans need stories and work your way through the rest. All good stuff!

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Warren Ellis, whose comic book/graphic novel Planetary is where I first saw the term “fictionaut”, tends to talk a lot about the mechanics of building stories and the metatextual things surround a lot of his work are sometimes even more fascinating than the stories themselves.

Amongst all the writers that have influenced me, he really helped me hone in on the practice of approaching projects and organisation building as narrative constructs.

It sounds weird, but if you think about life as this space that can be interacted with only through our actions (whether that is a marriage, going to school, traveling or building a business), then it makes sense to me to engage in activities that maximise your perspectives and experiences in various domains. The idea of a fictionaut is of someone that builds worlds and explores them in order to come back with insight and I think this approach can be applied all over the place.

Build, explore, record, learn.

Observe, Orient, Decide, Act.

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A lot more people are talking about Design Fiction these days with one of the best creators of it being the excellent designer and futurist, Anab Jain of Superflux. Imagining different futures is one of her more straightforward talks about the practices and a good introduction into what she does. Here is speculative fiction author Bruce Sterling with a good talk discussing the practice.

As a slight tangent to all this, here is one of my favourite authors Philip K Dick (PKD) writing about world building.

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Via Patrick Tanguay’s newsletter is this great piece by Ian Bogost arguing that “stories” are probably the first native smartphone media format - click.

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I really like these and Toogood in general as a design company. The way they name their clothing and shoes is very evocative and pushes all those fiction-loving buttons I have.

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Reading List

I finally got around to picking up a copy of James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games and I am reading it alongside Ian Bogost’s Play Anything - The Pleasure of Limits, the Uses of Boredom and the Secret of Games. I am still flirting with the idea of getting Hyperobjects by Timothy Morton to complete my current philosophy reading for the next few months, but it is either that or Akwaeke Emezi’s Freshwater which I have been putting off for a while.

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Music

Been listening to music again (and reading interviews with musicians)!

Ryuichi Sakamoto’s music is basically what I want my life to be soundtracked to. Here are two recent interviews where he discusses his recent battle with cancer and making music after that experience.

The Fader has one and so does The Verge.

I also thought this Pitchfork interview with Liz Harris of Grouper was pretty good, and she has a new album.

Timaya’s Ah blem blem and Olamide and Wizkid’s Kana are both amazing and make me incredibly proud of where our music industry is going - creating a vibe that is simultaneously wholly Nigerian, contemporary AND of high quality without any compromises made to make it palatable for a non-Nigerian audience.

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I don’t know how to explain this succinctly so I will just leave a link to it here. Devine Lu Linvega is a musician, game designer, software developer and graphic designer that lives and works on a sailing boat with his partner and puts out work with a very strong monochromatic aesthetic.

I own all his iOS apps and enjoy his work immensely. He has created this arcane universe that he uses as a framework for the majority of his creative projects and is a great example of the sort of thing I am fascinated with and very interested in building myself.

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I am will be away next week so it is possible that the next edition of the newsletter will be a bit delayed, if it is and you notice, please forgive me in advance!

Have a great week ahead!

Newsletter 1.6

That dark forest

Banner artwork by Moonassi

This is The Praxis Circus.

This week I reached a decision that I have been contemplating for at least a year on and off and while there is a load off my chest because of this, I also feel very conflicted as I deal with a variety of residual negative emotions. I can see a light at the end though and it seems like it could be exactly where I need to be, sucks that there has to be a tunnel to go through though 😒.

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As I have been wandering about in the gloaming of my mental spaces, my thoughts drifted to a game I played ages ago on my iPhone called Year Walk. Inspired by an ancient Swedish folklore tradition involving a ritual walk in a forest alone on the eve of the new year in order to see the future, it got me thinking about how transformation and insight are often gained by discomfort and disorientation - if not outright pain and suffering.

The modern world has made us believe that change has been tamed and made convenient; requiring nothing more than an app, classes or a book and of course, money. We would do well to remember that pain evolved not only to keep us safe from danger, but also to help us learn.

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What if every single human act was backed by a manifesto? A personal one even, would we still be making shit?

Ganzeer is an artist I have been keeping tabs on for a while now and the excerpt above is from a pretty cool post about manifestos.

I am a pretty big fan of manifestos, things like the Xenofeminist manifesto or the Declaration of the independence of cyberspace or one of my faves in video form - P2P and Utopia. Manifestos are these big, utopian, messy things that almost go out of date once you finish writing them, but I think they are useful in the way the idea of utopias are useful, as directions for movement, translating speed into velocity.

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Having just typed that, Venkatesh Rao just put up an essay where he argues that the best players of the larger game of life versus entropy are entities that don’t commit too hard to one goal or direction. With the speed at which the world is moving these days, I am inclined to agree with him. Anybody who specialises in this day and age is doomed to be unable to respond when their field of specialisation is inevitably disrupted and/or made obsolete by AI and machine learning. We are creeping slowly back into the era of the generalist.

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Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees

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Reading list

I just picked up a preorder of The Emissary by Yoko Tawada and I am currently trying to figure out how to get Rachel Armstrong’s Origamy without paying more than twice the cost of the book for shipping.

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A few people I know reading this (and to be honest I would argue most people) have difficulties asking for help in many ways. I like what this guy had to say about making requests and how asking for help can create value for others as well. There is a vulnerability in asking for help that our society has taught us to shy away from and it alienates so many of us from support even when we really need it.

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I want to leave you all with this video discussing why unintelligent protest is bad for democracy. I would add that ideology in general is bad for developing any sort of collective intelligence as it in a way results in that sort of hard “specialisation” that Venkatesh talked about in his essay above. My simple rule of thumb is that whenever I find myself getting too sure about something I need a rain check.

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Have a great day and week ahead and remember to take time out for yourself.

P.S.

The podcast is running just a bit behind schedule, but it should be done next week 🤞🏾.

Newsletter 1.5

Flotsam and jetsam

This is The Praxis Circus.

And unfortunately it is going to be a short one.

I traveled to my hometown last week for a funeral and most of the proceedings were over the weekend so I couldn’t write this yesterday. The deceased was my cousin and only five years older than me. His passing so suddenly in a car accident was really tragic and seeing his wife so shattered was heartbreaking. They had two adorable little girls who were scampering about throughout the funeral and thanksgiving mass, mostly oblivious to why all the adults around them were so solemn and it got me marveling at this life that we live. People leave and people come; life goes on.

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Richard Feynman is one of my heroes and the Feynman Technique is one of the many things he blessed us with before he died.

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The Aesop newsletter is really cool and very different from what one imagines a marketing newsletter should be. Definitely worth a subscription for those of you that still use email for stuff (hopefully, since you are reading this!). The science fiction author Hannu Rajaniemi has also started a newsletter called The Entangled that is also worth a subscription.

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There’s been a lot of discussion recently about algorithms and privacy and the power massive Silicon Valley corporations are currently wielding. A lot of it is pretty worrying from a political, social and maybe even existential point of view, but there is also an aesthetic and cultural component as well. This article in The Verge talks about the advent of what they term Airspace, an aesthetic inadvertently been spread by companies like Airbnb as people hone in on the most successful interior design choices. This effect can also be seen on Instagram with particular camera angles and subject matter being replicated all over the place by unconnected people as we all move towards peak likes. The Kinspiracy tumblr shows loads of examples of one of these sorts of aesthetics and I am sure you would have noticed it yourselves across different sectors of Instagram. It’s funny, but it is also pretty scary and just highlights how vulnerable we have become to the tools we have made. We are gradually becoming the nails to our hammers.

Speaking of Silicon Valley and algorithms, this Bloomberg story about super secret Peter Thiel company Palantir is a glimpse behind the curtain that I have been waiting for (complete with screenshots of actual software!). If you haven’t heard of Palantir, they are a company that claim to be able to give police in various states in the US the ability to predict people that will commit crimes before they do - this is the more sensational thing they are involved in, but they also work or have worked for the CIA (including helping with Bin Laden), Homeland Security, we’re approached by Cambridge Analytica and a LOT more.

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I’ll leave you with this (highly edited) snippet by Daniel Schmachtenberger from a much longer podcast as food for thought this week -

We do have an innate impulse towards agency, towards self-actualization. Within a win/lose game structure that will look like a competitive impulse. But within other structures, within win/win structures that will look like the desire to go beyond my own previous capacity but not to necessarily be better than or, you know, consume somebody or something else.

And so, that’s where there’s an innate impulse but that expresses itself through context. Now, let’s take the next step…Until very recently humans didn’t have any concept of what evolution was…and we’re only right now beginning to have a deep sense of what it actually is, not just biological natural selection. But the process by which subatomic particles come into atoms, come into molecules, come into more complex organic structures, dust clouds turn into stars in spiral galaxies. That evolution is this process of increasing orderly complexity in a way that has more and more synergy…

And as we’re starting to understand this…We can actually become conscious agents of evolution. We can like, say, “Holy shit, the universe is actually doing something. It’s actually moving in this direction of increasing orderly complexity.” We can consciously participate with that and we move from just being part of the whole, where evolution is just kind of this unconscious algorithmic process to thinking about, feeling about, identifying with, and being an agent for the whole.

And so, then evolution itself becomes an agentically mediated process, like we actually say, “Shit, the whole evolutionary process resulted in me…So, in a way, the evolutionary process has kind of awoke to itself in me as I’m contemplating it.”…Because we actually identify as evolutionaries, right? As part of the evolutionary impulse, and in doing so really obsolete the need for pain as an evolutionary driver…human nature has the capacity to transcend much of what human behaviour has been so far.

Stay safe, appreciate your loved ones and have a great week.

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