Handpicked: Virtual Reality, Gangrenous Fingers, Travel Agents, Brexit, and Home

A shorter, and hopefully more useful format this week. Let me know what you think.

Book am I reading (Non-Fiction)

People Skills by Robert Bolton.


This week covered body language.

You can read more on what I learn here.



As Gerard Egan says, the averted face may mean an averted heart:

“Our approach to communication stresses the primacy of feelings. Unquestionably the content of the conversation can be very important. When the emotions are strongly engaged, however, they should normally receive primary attention. Since nonverbals are the major means of communicating emotions, they are central to understanding many of the most important things that others communicate to us.”

Honourable Fiction Book Mention

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

9969571I won’t normally mention a fiction book I am reading. Fiction is escapism for me, my evening reading when the brain needs a rest.

However, this book was mentioned in passing in a few podcasts. They never spoke about it explicitly.

It is worthy of mention here is it paints a possible future only 20 years out where Virtual Reality, in particular, has become the drug of choice. The parallels with our obsession with smartphones and Facebook are too easy to imagine. If you find yourself checking Facebook 10 times a day you could imagine yourself living a life in this alternate reality.

That is the downside. The upside is realising the power of Virtual Reality. I had always thought of VR as being about video games. Honestly, I had never thought about it further than that. Prompted by Tim Ferriss’ conversation with Kevin Kelly I realise how much more it could be.

Imagine you could go into a VR chat with your distant family rather than Skype? Or you work in a VR office from your home with people in any location in the world? No more rubbish video conferencing.

That is why this book gets a mention.


Podcasts I Heard

Common Sense 307 – Revenge of the Gangrenous Finger

cs_dc_itunesThis show has a “chickens coming home to roost” feel to it, but maybe in a positive way. It was supposed to be about the recent British vote to leave the EU, but evolved into something larger. Surprise, surprise.


What Stuck

I enjoy listening to Dan Carlin. His Hardcore History podcast is epic. These are very interesting, very well told, stories from history … oh and not to put you off, they can run to four hours long per episode. Still worth it when you are in the mood.

Anyway I didn’t listen to Hardcore History this week. I listened to his other podcast, Common Sense. This is a show where Dan discusses politics mostly, at least all the episodes that I have heard. I enjoy them and always learn something.

This week I went looking to see what he was saying about Brexit with no guarantee I would find something. However I was lucky. He had posted something.

The first point I want to make is I admire the way he waited a day or two before recording the episode. There is a lesson there about waiting for the initial shock and reaction to reside, for it to run its course, before commenting. This way you have more perspective.

In this episode Dan discusses the following:

  • How the growing gap between the haves and have-nots, or the elites and everyone else, is reaching a tipping point where they can affect change.
  • The Brexit vote is a symptom of an underlying flaw in the current system, where the well-being of a large part of the society is not being considered. At least it is perceived that way.
  • The gangrenous finger analogy in the title alludes to this point. You cannot ignore an issue like a gangrenous finger. If you do it ends up infecting the rest of the body.

There is way more in his commentary than those points can possibly convey. My concern is that your own politics mean you interpret the above in such a way that you won’t listen to what he says.

I urge you, listen. You don’t have to agree. But you will struggle to find a commentator trying this hard to talk with genuine interest in these topics. With a willingness to listen and reconsider.

Note to Self: The Puppet Masters Behind Online Shopping

icon_452538677-2aa50a6173da667d2804aac29066a28b51f23033-s400-c85Here are some things that we’ve had to come to terms with about the Internet: People watch us when we shop online; They collect data about our likes, dislikes, habits; They using that data to manipulate… err, guide us.

This type of design research is called User Experience or UX. And to find out exactly what these designers are looking for, and why they do it, we went to the room where it happens: Manoush volunteered herself as a guinea pig in Etsy’s Usability Testing Lab. But unlike most subjects in UX testing, Manoush got to step behind the curtain for a story about online seduction—how designers create an immersive experience that makes you relaxed or happy or excited, and makes you feel like spending time and money.

What Stuck

If you have wondered what goes into the design of a website have a listen.

I found this interesting from a professional perspective as I learn more about how much testing goes into these websites. You may feel slightly uneasy about that, but there are all these small step by step improvements happening all the time.

In fact, there is a chance that we can both log onto the same website and be presented different functionality. This is the A/B test. See which version is more successful, choose that version and move on.

I found her stress levels shopping online funny, and empathised, as I have the same reaction booking travel online. To the point that I prefer to go to a travel agent and discuss in person for anything but the simplest holiday.

As an example, we saved nearly £1,500 on our tickets from London to Brisbane, via Johannesburg when moving to Australia as a family of four, by talking to an agent. The combination of ticket types and airlines made the difference.

EconTalk: James Bessen on Learning by Doing

WebAre workers being left behind when the economy grows? Is technology making the human workforce obsolete? James Bessen, author of Learning by Doing, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the role of learning on the job in the past and in the present. Bessen argues that during times of technological innovation, it often takes years before workers see higher wages from productivity increases. Bessen stresses the importance of the standardization of education on the job as workers adapt to new technology.

What Stuck

I have not finished listening to this episode yet. There is so much going on here I have a whole post starting to write itself in my head!

If you have every wondered how Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, Robotics, and other technological advances are going to affect yours or your children’s careers, listen to this.

This one question quoted below from Russ Roberts has me fascinated.

… is that we think about the phrase, ‘Machines make workers more productive.’

Which is undoubtedly true in the transformation and industry you are talking about–weaving–we’ll probably get into it in some detail.

It’s rather extraordinary how much more workers could do than with the machines than without. With the automation and without.

And yet, in many ways it’s the machines that are productive.

And so the fundamental question is, one of the fundamental questions is: What are the workers bringing to the experience that works with the machine, as well as that makes them valuable in and of themselves relative to their alternative employment?

And I think that’s something people often forget.

There are some great counter-intuitive examples in this episode … as I said fodder for a post in its own right.

The book that this podcast is ultimately about is called Learning by Doing: The Real Connection between Innovation, Wages, and Wealth.


Articles I Saved

Brexit Is Only the Latest Proof of the Insularity and Failure of Western Establishment Institutions

This is the article mentioned a couple of times by Dan Carlin in the podcast above. I found it a fascinating read. In some respects, it gets at my post about Brexit here. Only in the sense that it alludes to how the current system is failing. Maybe we wouldn’t need a referendum if we trusted our politicians more?

THE DECISION BY U.K. voters to leave the EU is such a glaring repudiation of the wisdom and relevance of elite political and media institutions that — for once — their failures have become a prominent part of the storyline. Media reaction to the Brexit vote falls into two general categories: (1) earnest, candid attempts to understand what motivated voters to make this choice, even if that means indicting their own establishment circles, and (2) petulant, self-serving, simple-minded attacks on disobedient pro-Leave voters for being primitive, xenophobic bigots (and stupid to boot), all to evade any reckoning with their own responsibility. Virtually every reaction that falls into the former category emphasizes the profound failures of Western establishment factions; these institutions have spawned pervasive misery and inequality, only to spew condescending scorn at their victims when they object.

I now see the Brexit event as a clear signal that needs to be heard and responded to. I had never thought of myself as part of the elite. I am definitely not in the 1%.

But I do have a very vested interest in the status quo.

How effectively have I tried to understand what it is like to live in the north of England with all the challenges they face?

Summer Book Recommendations from the Smartest People We Know

A great list of books to read, both fiction and non-ficiton. I have read a few of these, but still found more than I know what to do with.

My Amazon Wishlist just broke 300 books thanks to this article!


With immigration playing a central theme in Brexit and the US elections this series wants to ask what ‘home’ is. A subject that fascinates me. Can’t wait to read more.


Handpicked Tweets



Have a great week.