April links: Roulette, Twitter alts, nerds/hipsters
It's staggering how fast skills atrophy without maintenance.
I can't believe I'm saying this, but only this past week did I finish my first book of the year: A Gentleman in Moscow. A recommendation from my friend Rob, it was a delightful story, and had that NYT Bestseller kind of profundity that you can feel even a few pages in. Both Bill Gates and Barack Obama liked it. But it took me about two and a half weeks from start to finish, which seemed slow given the thickness of the volume (480 pages). I read a lot of articles online these days, but, after returning to my Kindle after months of neglect, it's apparent to me that long-form reading is its own kind of muscle group in your mind. You have to be good about making chunks of time for it and also have the discipline not to look at your phone every two minutes and then reset your mental context. Picking up a book again, after months of delving into video games and writing reviews about them, I found myself zoning out, reaching for quick dopamine hits on other devices.
I also went out for my first few runs of the year this week. I am sore as hell because, though I've been hitting the stationary bike like a fiend this winter, few of those cycling muscle movements seem to translate to a jog. Whatever running-oriented strength I had in my quadriceps, hamstrings, and all those countless stabilizers last fall has disappeared.
I got wrapped up in this idea that I do lots of activities that can be grouped together as pursuits for specific outputs. For example, as I was planning my objectives for 2023, I tried to think more about what my underlying motive was when I set a "books completed" goal like I've done in prior years. I figured that my goal should be to absorb good stories rather than just good books, and good stories come in many formats: Novels, articles, TV shows, movies, VR, video games, etc. So I adjusted my goal list for the year to account for this concept (See: "changes to 2023 planning"): "Finish 50 pieces of long-form media." I keep a log of it all here.
I did the same thing with exercise and came up with a goal for "cardio miles" because I'm after good cardio health in general, rather than "miles run" specifically. I realized I do lots of cardio that isn't necessarily running and wanted more flexibility in what counts at the end of the year. After renegotiating the rules with myself, cycling, hiking, backcountry skiing, and running all accumulate toward my 1500 mile goal for '23.
It all looked really nice on paper, but I'm starting to bump into cases where my system pushes me more in a generalist, master-of-none direction and I have to make up my mind whether I like that or not. If you focus on ends (absorb good stories, be in good, general cardio shape) rather than means (read lots, run lots) like this, it necessitates that you be okay letting some of your skills regress.
From the past month
(From me, and technically from May) 2023 productivity methods and tool stack:
(From me) A review of Horizon Forbidden West
I didn't know before that OpenAI benchmarks its models' performance against standardized tests:
How to beat roulette:
A short, nice summary of the plot a Gentleman in Moscow, the book I just completed:
I know it's very much in vogue to dunk on Elon Musk after his bizarro and max-drama Twitter takeover, but I've tried to ignore all of that. However, this latest Musk shot-from-the-hip directly affected me and I was not happy about it. I follow a few Twitter-roundup kinds of Substacks that essentially got shut out of that ecosystem:
The explosion in Twitter alternatives continues:
The writer Sam Kriss on looking for forms of speech beyond Musk products:
It blows my mind that McDonald's started as a barbecue joint:
I'm a big fan of the game Superhot in VR, and these speedrunners made me feel like I had 0 skill:
A Russian T-90 tank appears at a US truck stop:
Sam Kriss on the death of nerds and hipsters (also some excoriation of the Marvel MCU that particularly resonated with me):
Scott Alexander's rebuttal to Sam Kriss:
Replies to Alexander from Kriss and others:
A Twitter thread on the history of "twin films" where various film studios rush to pump out films with extremely similar plotlines. I've sort of noticed this over the years, but I have no idea how it works. Corporate espionage, perhaps?