Currently Reading 3/16/2021

The Book Buddy app

As usual, the library has my desired titles on hold for weeks, and then seems to release them all at once. If I don’t check them out promptly, they’ll go to the next patron and I’ll need to wait for even more weeks.

This week, there are four titles that I am reading all at once. I just finished one so make it three more to go.

Side note: I’m enjoying the Book Buddy iOS app that allows me to log what I am reading and have read. More on this later.

RSS, Read It Later and Newsletters

This is the sixteenth year I have had the internet deliver me updates using the website feed aggregation protocol and it just keeps getting better. RDF Site Summary, or Real Simple Syndication, helps me stay up to date with my favorite websites, blogs, podcasts and some social media channels. Instead of visiting a hundred different websites to find new articles, or posts, I subscribe to their RSS feed which is then aggregated into an RSS reader.

This is old school internet technology, much like the e-mail client. They’re still around because they are the best, most secure way of getting information (the internet’s first function.)

I am in control of the content I want to see, not a publisher force feeding me anything I don’t want. I choose topics of my interests and nothing more. Unless, I am forced to go to a website for a news piece or weather, sports etc, I can’t be bothered.

Throughout the years, I’ve tried most of the RSS feed aggregators and currently I have settled on Reeder. Yes, it was $10 for the Mac and another $5 for iOS, but I am getting what I am paying for- features, privacy, security and the convenience. Thanks to the iCloud, all my feeds and articles are synchronized across all my devices. There is also a built-in read-it-later service that allows you to save an article for future reading or reference. No more web clippings or bookmarks on your desktop all over the place. For me, I’ll save the articles and then have the option to share outside the reader with a share extension. In my world, it’s either being shared via text or to my stand alone read-it-later app, Goodlinks. More on that one later.

For a clutter-free reading experience, I’ll usually have the web article render in Reader View. No advertisements bombarding your screen, no privacy violating trackers watching your every move. Gone. It’s just you and your text and images. I have never, ever clicked on an advertisement from the web. I do not want Google or Facebook or 40 other trackers knowing my interests. They don’t get to do that anymore. I don’t care if that is how they get paid. I won’t pay it anymore and you don’t have to either. (please tell me you use content blockers and reader view on all your websites you visit.)

Back to the RSS reader. Some websites will generate their feeds in truncated mode, which means they’ll give you a snippet of the article, then force you to press “More” which promptly takes you to their website and to the aforementioned ads, trackers and sponsorship links. Well, thanks to the built in Reader View, 95% of the articles are pulled up in the app instead, again with only text, photos and no bullshit. That’s a win.

YouTube

I like the idea, hate the advertisements and trackers. I’ve left Google awhile back and it has been such a relief to be out of that evil ecosystem. I digress. Thanks to a recent update, I can watch YT videos from creator’s channels. No advertisements, no algorithms, no suggested videos. Just content I want and no more all inside the feed reader. Brilliant.

Read-It-Later

Again, I can save the articles I want to keep for future reference inside the app, but I always like to have a dedicated RIL app. For years I used Instapaper, but they moved to a subscription service. No thanks. I went with GoodLinks as a one time purchase of $5 instead.

Using the share extension tool in Reeder, I’ll just pass my saved article to Goodlinks, ideally tagging it under a category for organized reference and it’ll be there waiting for me when needed. I say ideally tagged because saving articles can stack up quickly. It started off organized but…yeah, I haven’t kept up. Goodlinks is also accessing iCloud so I can enjoy my articles on all devices.

Requested feature

I tried another RSS reader called FeedBin and I loved it because it gave you a generic e-mail address where you can subscribe to newsletters. Newsletters are created by bloggers, thinkers that will create articles of interest all in one letter and push it out to your e-mail inbox. I like my inbox uncluttered and am very protective of it. My subscriptions would be redirected into the FeedBin app alongside the other blog posts, articles and YT videos. A perfect all-in-one solution but at $50 annually, I balked because those same subscriptions were delivered to my inbox for $0. I’ve already invested one time purchases equalling $20 for Reeder and Goodlinks and I am pretty pleased with this setup. I’d like to see more feed readers incorporate this feature and make it standard as opposed to an add-on.

Finally, do yourself a favor and get an RSS reader. Subscribe to all your favorite news sources and make them come to you instead of scrolling through their websites. Say no to advertisements, cross-website trackers and privacy invasion. Say yes instead to a more pleasant reading experience that you control.

When you do, be sure to add this humble little website’s RSS feed and enjoy

@ https://chrisdenbow.com/feed/

A Gentle Madness

Here I go again. I borrow or place books on hold from the library and they are available all at once. I’m in over my head again because I want to savor and learn as opposed to rushing through them. I need a book budget.

These are in my digital nightstand:

Now Reading- To Hold Up The Sky

Having recently finished Liu’s mind-bending Three-Body Problem, I was pleased to discover his short story anthology.

I don’t read a lot of science fiction unless it ties in with modern or near future technologies but Chinese science fiction takes it to the next level.

Curate To Create

If you are like me, hoarding content for future use, it can give off a false sense of knowledge. In my experience, the best way to understand something is to create or produce my content in my style and then share it with the world. I’ve accomplished this throughout the years here and through my photography. I’m still working up the nerve to share my creative writing, however.

To close the loop from curator to creator I go from collecting my notes, snippets from the web and personal thoughts to connecting ideas and application of these ideas. Only then do I find I am ready to create and share.

The Anti-Library

The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with “Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have! How many of these books have you read?” and the others — a very small minority — who get the point that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.

As a reader, I can tell you that I have been back and forth between paper and digital books. I’ve been kicking myself lately for selling or donating 85% of my library in the past.

It gives me joy to see physical books on the shelf again knowing that I have read a few or have something to look forward to.

Taking the idea of an anti-library further, it dawned on me that I am also curating a digital library of knowledge with links to web articles, books using PDF or everything I have saved as “read-it-later.”

As if I didn’t have enough to read, I recently subscribed to Apple News that includes newspaper and magazines.

The idea that the knowledge that comes from this anti-library is always available and readily accessible in both digital and analog form is beneficial and comforting. The fact that this library is an extension of my research tools is an added bonus.

Siddartha

One of the best books that I have read recently is Siddartha by Hermann Hesse of how the title character pursues a spiritual quest and search for understanding.

Siddartha was young, wise and loved by everyone in his village, but he and his friend leave the village searching for answers by living a spiritual life. However, the time spent with a group of fellow truth seekers, he realizes that he will not find what he is looking for.

Not long after leaving both his village and these seekers, they come to meet the Buddha and has a brief conversation with him. But after a time, realizes that the Buddha himself offers a message of truth, but only the truth as he sees it. As long as others accept it, that is enough for Buddha, but not so for Siddartha. His companion decides to stay and learn from the Buddha, and so he travels alone.

After a time, he discovers a rich woman named Kamala who shows him the ways of love and pleasure for the first time because that was her role in her life. Siddartha learned more than he expected and wanted to offer her gifts but had no money. He then went into the city and found a shop owner who was kind enough to give him a job. He prospered at this job and made even more money than all the other shop owners.

Having tasted the benefits of spiritual wisdom, love and money he wondered what else was left? Soon, he began to gamble and drink for the first time. He would win at every game he tried and gambled even larger amounts and could soon buy the whole village. After betting, drinking and whoring he began to lose and lose big. He lost so much that he was tired of his wealth and possessions and gave them all away only to go back to Kamala and say goodbye.

The book ends when his long-lost friend returns and asks for wisdom. Siddartha replies that for every true statement there is an opposite one that is also true. That language and time lead people to stick with me belief that does not account for the full extent of truth.

To summarize the lessons learned in Siddartha;

Follow Your Path

Don’t Be Afraid To Experiment

Riches Will Not Make You Happy

Every true statement we accept, we must accept an opposite statement that can also be true.

This book offers more lessons that we can apply and I rate this as highly as I did the Alchemist or the retelling of King Solomon of Israel.

Khmer Empire Hypothesis

Since my research on the Khmer empire of Cambodia seems to be in a bit of a lull right now and have been unable to articulate it into text properly, I want to go ahead and put my hypothesis out in public. I have yet to read any archeologist’s research or conjecture about this and I think it could be enlightening for the ancient history of this empire.

High up in the Kulen Hills, northeast of the Angkor province there is a river flowing through it with a unique archeological feature called the Valley of the 1000 Lingas. The stream bed has carvings representing Hindu deities along with thousands of phallic-shaped stones. Along with the are a few yonis, representing females and wombs.

The thinking here is this valley is an underwater temple and that the water flowing through this temple would bless or fertilize the fascinating water features of the Angkor temple complex below. The water would also flow into the lake called Tonle Sap and the surrounding rice fields. Here, the Khmer civilization itself would thrive and grow into an empire of at least one million around Angkor Was alone.

My theory is that the original kingdom started in these hills and then migrated down into the plains below. The Angkor Was temple site was built around this idea of a blessed kingdom.

A yoni, representing a womb with eggs and a birth canal bears an amazing resemblance to the Angkor Was temple site itself.


The five tower spires representing the five eggs inside a yoni above Angkor Wat

It is a hypothesis to be sure and I would love to prove it on-site in the near future.

A Different Approach

“Good Will Hunting” movie fans will remember the bar scene where the campus know-it-all is confronted about his knowledge of the evolution of the market economy in Massachusetts’s southern colonies. Though the guy speaks confidently, Will reminds him he’s quoting passages from a book.

“You got that from Vickers ‘Work in Essex County,’ page 98, right? Yeah, I read that too. Were you gonna plagiarize the whole thing for us? [Do you have any thoughts of your own on this matter?]”

If you’re reading what everyone else is reading or working on an unoriginal idea to bring up in conversation or even in the office, who would you prefer to work with? Someone who can regurgitate back to you the work that has been done before or somebody who brings a novel approach to research and development?

In my experience, the person who spends their time reading the same works as others or practices the same method of working is replaceable in a conversation. I’d rather talk to someone with a unique perspective.

My approach is different. I follow my curiosity unconditionally and read topics of my interest, no one else’s.

As a suggestion, try to read or speak or act differently so you can have more to contribute.

How I Learn and Think

Way back when I was in school and university, I had to read quite a bit of material prescribed by teachers and professors.

Today, I still read many books and white papers but these are determined solely by my curiosity or even fun. I am permitted to be autodidactic and read about what I think is interesting.

When I allow myself to learn unconditionally, I allow myself certain behaviors such as:

There has to be a benefit either in the immediate or in the near future. I think of it as a knowledge repository. I don’t know when I will use it, but it will be there when I need it.

It does not have to stand alone, but it could be a piece of the puzzle that helps work out something in my comprehension of the topic.

My curiosity overrules obligation. Therefore I am more interested and can appreciate it.

If I learn what feels obligated (everyone else is reading, you should too, Chris) then that means I have learned what everyone else has. This will help me blend in with groupthink and mindsets. Boring.

Well Read

One book you read this weekend can help you obtain the knowledge of a person’s entire lifetime of work. Imagine if you read another next week, and then another the next.

Tsundoku

Tsundoku? It is a Japanese word for all the unread book piles waiting to be read. Since distractions are limited, now is the time to reduce that pile. After a quick glance at the digital pile, it seems like I am on focused on a specific genre.

Apple Books vs Amazon Kindle

I have never owned a dedicated reading tablet such as a Kindle. Thankfully, Amazon has created the Kindle app that can be used on every device. Using this app for years on both the Android and iOS platforms has been great because my purchases have followed me around regardless.

While practicing my social distancing, I’ve been reading more than usual and have been looking at some book purchases. Well, the process of buying a book from Amazon while using an iPad is a no-go. Some BS competition and licensing thing apparently. I have to log on to the Amazon website and order there as opposed to doing this in-app.Then it hit me like a stack of digital books over the head: why not purchase through Apple’s Books app instead? I have gone all in on everything else Apple, why not books?

Amazon started out as an online book distributor. As a charter member myself, I remember receiving books in the mail that even included free bookmarks and magnets. Amazon has innovated the books industry ever since. They are the best and the Kindle software follows.

Having said that, I reinstalled Apple Books to the iPad and looked around at all the redesigned changes. It is pretty and sports the usual customization standards for individual needs.

Both Amazon and Apple have this feature, both have a big store to shop your books. Both can be synchronized and read on multiple devices. I don’t listen to audiobooks but they are available. Apple’s is built in. I am even allowed to listen via my watch if I desire. May have to give audio books another glance soon. Even though Amazon bought Audible, I am surprised they don’t build that into their app. Both can read the PDF format. But from here they go their separate ways.

I have said it before and I will say it again. When paying for digital content, we do not own it. We are only buying the license to use it in the walled-off gardens we bought them from. My Kindle purchases stay with Amazon and that’s it. I learned this the hard way when I killed off my Google account. Goodbye purchased music, books, videos. It has’t changed and it will not change. When and if I decide to use Books over Kindle exclusively, I will not have access to my titles unless I re-install Kindle.

And I just remembered that Kindle has a $10 monthly reading program called Kindle Unlimited. These titles are not on anyone’s bestseller list but they are a great way to read a lot of books. Apple does not have this yet. Apple does make use of the ePub format however. With the wonderful people at the Project Gutenberg website digitizing and archiving the world’s literary classics, I download a lot of titles at no cost. Why pay a publisher money when these titles are now in the public domain? Kindle must have some partnership with local libraries too because I can borrow bestselling titles through the library/Kindle. Apple doesn’t have this yet. Grr.

Both platforms are amazing and I am glad to see that book lovers are getting the best of both worlds. It is a shame that everything has to be proprietary and profit-driven so I suppose I will find a healthy balance between. But for now, I will take some time and see how well Apple Books can be for my reading needs.


Blog Death Is Greatly Exaggerated

“RIP blogging we all tried real hard to make the internet good and then corporations and rich idiots destroyed everything a generation of writers tried to build”

And

there’s almost no space for writing anymore that’s joyful or an attempt to be creative. hardly anyone is playing around with form or even just trying to entertain. so much of the joy has been sucked out of the internet unless its crowdsourced by platforms from ppl who aren’t paid”

Pffft!

Blogs and websites are still around. The good ones have been around for 20 years(!) and there are more, undiscovered websites as well.

Ignore posting your content to Facebook or Twitter or anything social. Fire up a blog aggregator like Feedly and they will help you find good websites regarding topics you are interested in.

There is nothing stopping us from writing to the web. Have fun with it. Be entertaining or be informative, push boundaries.

We choose the web we want. A lot of good people are creating good content out there. Don’t say that the blog is dead. Encourage them and I encourage others to contribute and make it better as well.

Rewilding

Excerpt taken from a book coming out next month called Rewilding:

Before embarking on a hike through a forest, meadow, or other wild space, take a few moments to center yourself. Close your eyes. Take some slow, deep breaths. Allow your exhalation to be twice as long as your inhalation. Let go of anything rattling around in your head—whatever stress or worry you are transmitting. Tune into the sounds, sensations, and rhythms of the land around you. Stretch out with your feelings and sense the aliveness of the earth. Know that the beings that call this land home are paying close attention to what is happening here: They have to; their lives depend on it. Your presence will be felt and communicated far and wide. Notice the birds and the chipmunks—the little creatures we sometimes consider background noise. In a relaxed way, be curious, and with your eyes closed, observe what is happening around you. Take a few minutes to be with it all.
Then, open your eyes and look around. Simply observe everything while expressing your gratitude and respect for the land. Set a strong intention to stay present and connected to your breath, and create as little disturbance as possible. Let each footstep be an experience of soulful connection with the planet, each breath a rite of interbeing with the holy winds that blow.

2019 Reading Goals

Now that I have completed my reading goal of fifty books this year, I am already making plans on next year’s goals. It won’t be fifty. It may be less than half that, I am not sure. The reasons are many but it boils down to appreciating what I am reading. I want to read intently and purposefully. Fifty books was too fast and unproductive. I picked up a few kernels of knowledge but forgot the rest. Well not this next year. This next year:

  • Read-It-Later I have some time off for a few weeks. Time to catch up on all those articles I’ve saved on Instapaper, Pocket, Feedly.
  • Digital magazines My local library provides no-cost access to hundreds of titles. Time to take full advantage of them.
  • Read my night stand stack I do not want to buy or borrow anymore books until I have exhausted my current supply. If someone gifts me a book, obviously that is different but I need to appreciate what I have first.
  • Mix it up with both fiction and non. I want to be both informed and entertained.
  • More physical less digital I’ve mentioned previously that I will be mentally dissecting these books. Mostly with books in hand, not on my devices.

If interested, you can follow me on Goodreads, a tool I will use to help manage my reading life.

Distraction-Free Reading

When and how does anyone make the time? The simple answer is deliberately. There are plenty of mind-numbing, time-wasting activities out there but who wouldn’t want to get something out of it?

One helpful tip is that “Airplane Mode” on your device works just as well
on the ground. That’ll help you with distraction-free reading.

I can say I have accomplished another one of my groundhog resolutions in finishing over 50 books this year. Next year I may limit to something much less and even more deliberate. I also want to invest in more physical books instead of digital copies.

Because another goal for next year is practicing marginalia, the art of marking up one’s book with notes in the margins. I consider it a dialogue with the author and would invest myself back into the book as opposed to reading it and moving on to the next one, learning almost nothing.

This, I think, will make for the best, distraction free and deliberate way to enjoy books.

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