Good Reads and Fun Things, Vol. 6

If you like hip hop, data, and linguistics, this post is for you: The Largest Vocabulary in Hip Hop

♫ I’ve Been Thinking by Handsome Boy Modelling School has been on repeat lately.

Gabourey Sibide’s speech on self-confidence is amazing. Funny, bittersweet, and insightful.

I just forgot for a moment that my entire class hated me. I had zero friends from the fourth grade to the sixth grade. Who the hell was I baking cookies for? I really got so excited to bake that I had forgotten that everyone hated my guts. Why didn’t they like me? I was fat, yes. I had darker skin and weird hair, yes. But the truth is, this isn’t a story about bulling, or color, or weight. They hated me because… I was an asshole!

How to restart a shitty day

Teehee. System of a Downton Abbey by @Jimllpaintit

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A really well-researched piece about urban cycling on Medium.

If you’re learning French and are looking for a more immersive experience, check out Night Walk by Google, a guided tour of Marseille (in French or English).

Fans of Mary Roach <3 should read this interview with her on Mental Floss.

Hilarious, amazing photos. Single Woman Spends 14 Years with Mannequin Family to Make a Point

And finally, the Best Cat Video Ever.

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On Impostor Syndrome and Learning

Maturation has been on my mind a lot lately. No surprise, I suppose, as I’m a 23-year-old introvert. I spend a lot of time inside my own mind, which can be wonderful, terrifying, and confusing.

Occasionally, but with increasing frequency (relative to my professional success), I’ve been dealing with bouts of impostor syndrome.

Impostor syndrome is the name for that horrible set of feelings and thoughts that nags at you, telling you that you’re not good enough. None of your successes have really been earned! You just got there through dumb luck and bullshit, and soon someone is going to find out that you’re a fraud. YOU SUCK.

Pleasant voice, isn’t it?

I’m self-employed, and I have no formal training in my area. I’m one of those weirdos who turned my hobby into my job. Most of the time, I love it. But as the projects get bigger and bigger, and the stakes get higher (financial loss, professional ruin), the nagging voice in my head gets louder and louder. Because my degree is in a totally unrelated field, I can’t even calm myself down by pointing at the degree until the voice shuts up.

A quick browse of the internet shows a general chorus of folks telling you to

1. Take note of those feelings, and observe them. Check in with reality and realise that you are genuinely successful and doing your best.
2. Make a list of your achievements to refer to.
3. Realise that everyone is just making it up as they go along.

 

But there’s one other thing that you can do to take control of impostor syndrome. Acknowledge the fear, and do something about it. 

For me, impostor syndrome rises out of the murk of fear. I am terrified that I will fuck up a client’s project. I am worried that I will never be a great developer. I am petrified that my skills are not good enough. To make the fear go away, I take control the best way I know how — professional development.

I’m always learning — new coding languages, new platforms, new ways of doing things… and when I learn, and I become more confident in my skills, the impostor syndrome melts away.

Suddenly, everything is okay again because I’ve taken control.

Try it next time you feel overwhelmed by nagging and complex feelings of ineptitude. If nothing else, you’ll learn something new.

Extra for experts: A Year of Living Academically gives tips on dealing with Impostor Syndrome in academia. 

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Book Review: 10% Happier by Dan Harris

I’ve been under a fair bit of stress lately. Nearly a year into self-employment, work has become steadier, sometimes more than steady. Although I love it, I’ve finally come to understand why people yearn to meditate. With my mind racing with mostly unproductive worries and nags, I’ve been thinking that I should try mediation to calm the tumult and find ‘flow’ again.

The problem has been finding a guide to meditation that isn’t complete granola claptrap. I loaded Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now onto my Kindle but gave up almost immediately. His meanings were almost completely opaque to me, and I didn’t have to fortitude to stick through it. So when Dan Harris popped up on The Colbert Report (where he was a more eloquent guest than most on the show) to promote his book 10% Happier, I figured I’d give it a try.

Writing the above paragraphs, I’ve come to appreciate Dan Harris’ book a little bit more. It’s hard to write about mediation without sounding like a complete asshole. Dan gave it a fair shot, and his book was useful, though I never felt entirely compelled by his voice.

Preci

Journalist/News Anchor, extrovert, and work-a-holic Dan Harris becomes intrigued by meditation, and seeks to cut through the hippy-dippy bullshit in search of something more practical that he can apply to his daily life. He journeys, he stumbles, but eventually manages to create a mediation practice that fits within, and enhances his life. He says it makes him ‘about 10% happier’.

What I liked

This isn’t a life-hacking book. I was afraid that I was in for another Tim Ferris wank-fest, but I was pleasantly surprised by Harris’ respect for the subject matter. Although Harris doesn’t become a Buddhist, he explores Buddhism, and the role of meditation therein with care, and ultimately decides that while the spiritual aspect of Buddhism isn’t for him, the mechanics of mediation are useful to him. From what I know of Buddhism as a whole, this is absolutely kosher (though correct me if I’m wrong).

I like that Harris clung to his misgivings about Eckhart Tolle (whom he  finds a bit too whack-a-doodle) and Deepak Chopra (whom he considers to be insincere), and sought meditation practitioners and teachers whose practise is more deeply rooted in ‘the real world’. In his words:

“After months of swimming against the riptide of bathos and bullshit peddled by the self-help subculture, it was phenomenally refreshing to see the ego depicted with wry wit.”

Amen, brother.

He frequently mentions that meditation has a terrible marketing issue in that its most vocal advocates are a bit too crunchy and/or otherworldly for the mainstream. He suggests several works for further reading which are rooted in science rather than mysticism, for folks who would prefer to read about meditation from that viewpoint.

I also found the chapter on ‘hiding the zen’ to be useful. Although I’m blogging about it, one’s self-help forays aren’t always what you’d like discussed in the public sphere. It’s nice to be able to slip under the radar as a meditator without showing your ‘woo woo-ness’ in public.

What I didn’t like

I’ll be honest, Harris is not someone I’d like to hang out with. While I enjoyed his journey from bro-ish asshole to a more self-aware being, I couldn’t really relate on a personal level. Honestly, even a redeemed Harris seems like a bit of an asshole to me.

I also wasn’t too interested in the extensive personal narrative. While I appreciate it was important to illustrate his journey, I believe it could have been edited more thoroughly. As a non-USA reader, I had never heard of the guy, and don’t really care about the internal politics of USA news networks.

Moreover, Harris’ writing is serviceable, but his forays into poetic description most often fall flat. Take this one, for example:

“With the Klonopin on board you could have marched an army of crazed chimps armed with nunchucks and ninja stars into my apartment and I would have remained calm.”

His asides often devolve to a Barney Stinson meets College Bro level of sophistication

“The real mindfuck, though, was this: almost as soon as he said something brilliant, he would say something else that was totally ridiculous”

While other paragraphs head almost into (the much maligned) Eckhart Tolle territory — behold:

“Failure to recognize thoughts for what they are — quantum bursts of psychic energy that exist solely in your head — is primordial human error”

Observations

Harris is very much an extrovert. Throughout the book I found myself thinking that although I have never really meditated, I have already mastered some of the techniques he mentions. I think it comes down to the fact that I am an introvert and am very comfortable within my own mind — I know how to observe my thoughts and emotions and ‘lean in’ to them, responding rather than reacting. I get the sense that for an extrovert, the inner mind can be a scary and alien landscape, and that a large part of Harris’ journey is simply getting to know his inner mind.

Verdict

Overall, this book was a useful start for my foray into meditation, though I’ll need to do a lot more reading, I think. This is the book for the everyman, and I’d like to gain a more academic insight.

While the tone was a bit too alpha-male and bro-ish for me, I appreciated the practical look at meditation.

Bonus points for a relatively obscure Simpsons reference.

3/5

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Good Reads and Fun Things, Vol. 5

Simplicity — the one-word answer to many of life’s problems

I’m currently experiencing a bit of internet malaise. Here’s five ways to avoid it.

So, so right. The seven deadly sins of freelancing.

Reuters has done an extensive and intensive investigation into the failed adoptions of US parents. What happens to the unwanted children? This five-part longread is absolutely riveting. Seriously, skip Breaking Bad tonight and read this instead.

14 weird reasons you’re not dead yet. In fact, Slate’s entire series on longevity is pretty damn interesting.

What Is Ugly? A New Exhibit Showcases The Diversity Of The Human Form

I’m somewhat torn between thoroughly researching our trip to Indonesia, or taking the que sera sera approach. I sometimes wonder if I would have enjoyed my time in India more had I been more prepared. Here’s some thoughts on trip planning.

This lady made a Feminist Cards Against Humanity.

Gender equity at Harvard Business School

What have you been reading lately? I’m quite enjoying the sexy decadence of Valley of the Dolls.

Before I Die // Art Installation in Newtown

Today was a good day. I did some web design at the Newtown Library and went for a wander through the town. I spotted this ‘Before I Die’ installation on Wilson Street, just opposite my much-beloved Moshims. A little further down the road, on the window of a vacant building, I spied some interesting post-its. I love my neighbourhood.

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Feel free to use these photos, just let me know if you do!

Have you seen any interesting street art lately?

Me and Happiness the Elephant

Good Reads and Fun Things, Vol. 4

If you haven’t listened to Nine Inch Nails’ new album Hesitation Marks yet, give it a listen then read Pretty Much Amazing’s review. I absolutely love the album with one notable exception (the single Everything is bizarre in a bad way. Oh Trent).

Amanda Palmer bought her Ninja Parade to Wellington this week, stopping in at Civic Square, the City Library and some spots on Cuba Street.

Choice: Texas | A web-based game in development that hopes to tackle and give context to the abortion issue

30 Things You Should Do Right Now

Rebecca Harrington tries out celebrity diets and writes (hilariously) about them. Apparently, Madonna’s was the hardest.

Every Tech Commercial Ever // see also: Android KitKat takes the piss out of Apple 

This biographical piece on Marissa Mayer is LONG but interesting

Ditto this exploration of the life of celebrity elephants in India. While we were in India we met an elephant (her name was Happiness) in some pretty dodgy circumstances, but the treatment of male elephants in Kerala is disgusting.

Heroin.com: Selling junk online | dealers peddle drugs online – how do they do it without getting caught?

Is ‘Pretty’ a set of skills? 

Dear Straight People…

Finally — this is beautiful and terrifying

Lyall Bay

The sun left my desk so I went and found it

Spring weather is beginning to creep into rotation, which means occasional glimpses of gorgeous Wellington sun. This morning I sat working in my desk under our bay window and the sun shone on my back while I sipped coffee and sent emails. It was pretty heavenly. At about 11:30am the sun dipped around the corner of the house and my desk grew cold.

I decided to drive to Lyall Bay for a walk along the beach. It was so beautiful…it only occurred to me when I got there that I should have taken the DSLR. Instead a took some photos on my phone, listened to my audiobook and got some sand in my shoes before returning home for lunch. The beach was empty, just a few kids playing on the jungle gym, and a couple of freelancers taking a mid-morning break like myself.

Did I mention that I adore working for myself?

Lyall Bay Lyall Bay Lyall Bay Lyall Bay Lyall Bay Lyall Bay Lyall Bay Lyall Bay

 

 

Book Review — How to Read a Book

I confess that, after skimming the preface of How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren, I set my Kindle aside, cracked open my laptop and Googled ‘how to read a book key points’.

You see, I’m a lazy reader. I simply have not developed the fortitude to plough through a book that isn’t particularly interesting to me on a very superficial level. If it’s boring, I’m out. If it’s too complex and I can’t speed-read it as I usually do, I’m out. How to Read a Book is one of those books. It is bland and boring, soporific and tedious. Hell, even the book’s Wikipedia page was too long-of-wind for me. Take this for example:

There are three types of knowledge: practical, informational, and comprehensive. He discusses the methods of acquiring knowledge, concluding that practical knowledge, though teachable, cannot be truly mastered without experience; that only informational knowledge can be gained by one whose understanding equals the author’s; that comprehension (insight) is best learned from who first achieved said understanding — an “original communication” [Wikipedia]

Yikes.

I’m not entirely sure how I made it through an academic degree, considering my lazy reading habits. Oh wait–I know. I skimmed, I scanned, I read the introduction, the headings and the conclusions, and I always made sure I had a few morsels to contribute during tutorials. As a whole, I find non-fiction easier to read. Except essays by Griselda Pollock, I’m yet to make head or tail of her work. Blessedly, I know that I am personally not cut out for education beyond my Bachelor’s degree and that’s probably the most demanding reading load that will ever be expected of me. I can now choose to wallow in contemporary literature, essays, pop-science, and science fiction novels of dubious calibre. Hooray.

The thing is, though, I feel a bit of pressure (and maybe it’s imagined but nevertheless it presses me), to fully earn my status as a culturally-aware, educated, middle-class woman by reading books that are…challenging. The Classics, you know, The Great Books. I have read a few (and even liked a few)! But there are still others that I avoid because I know, I just know that I’ll struggle my way through them, probably miss the point and themes and what-have-you, and have nothing interesting to say about them. How embarrassing. It would seem that I am exactly the sort of person who would benefit from reading How to Read a Book. So I decided to read the damn thing–maybe it would do me some good.

After perusing the relevant Wikipedia page, I decided to skip Part I entirely. This is probably not how you’re meant to read a book. But really, the chapter summary made it seem like Some Old Guy ranting about the Shitty State of the Education System. Behold:

He takes time to tell the reader about how he believes that the educational system has failed to teach students the arts of reading well, up to and including undergraduate university-level institutions. He concludes that, due to these shortcomings in formal education, it falls upon the individuals to cultivate these abilities in themselves. Throughout this section, he relates anecdotes and summaries of his experience in education as support for these assertions.

While that’s all very nice, I really don’t care that much. Just tell me how I’m supposed to read the book, please. Alright. Here’s what Wikipedia had to say about Part II:

The first stage of the third level of reading is concerned with understanding the structure and purpose of the book. It begins with determining the basic topic and type of the book being read, so as to better anticipate the contents and comprehend the book from the very beginning.

Ah! Great! I understand this. During teacher training, this was referred to as the top-down approach–mentally gathering information you already know and applying that knowledge to the topic. Great. This chapter concerns non-fiction, though. Look, honestly, non-fiction I’m fine with. I can read non-fiction, extract the themes and discuss them intelligently. I have a piece of paper from Victoria University that endorses this ability. What about fiction? Oh. That’s addressed in Part III.

Part III. The author immediately describes me:

People deceive themselves about their ability to read novels intelligently. From our teaching experience, we know how tongue-tied people become when asked to say what they liked about a novel. That they enjoyed it is perfectly clear to them, but they cannot give much of an account of their enjoyment or tell what the book contained that caused them pleasure.

Touché.

I flicked through a few pages. What did I learn?

  • Read your fiction book quickly, to get a sense of the whole story.

Good. I do this. I read FAST.

  • When faced with a metric shit-ton of characters, don’t give up. Try and learn their names and who they are, just like you would when meeting people at a new job. 

Okay. Seems sensible. I’ll do it.

And then I gave up reading. I failed to read How to Read a Book, and I don’t think I’ll ever pick it up again. I’d much rather have started a Dickens novel, really. A quick scan of Goodreads shows that I’m not alone. Many others found the book long-winded and not extremely useful, particularly for fiction. Ultimately, the book wasn’t for me, but that doesn’t mean that my quest for a more meaningful reading experience is ended; I still want to learn to read more critically, but I’ll pursue it in my own way. After all, I want to be able to say something intelligent and compelling at my next book club meet-up. I certainly won’t be recommending How to Read a Book, though.

 

Good Reads and Fun Things, Vol. 3

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It’s the middle of winter and I’m sick of it. The last few days of sunshine have been a welcome reprieve from the storms and earthquakes of the past few weeks. Still, I’m hankering for summer. I can’t wait to start planting plants and extending my tiny garden beyond a couple of herbs.

I’ve spent my past few weeks busily working and (still) trying to settle in to my new life. It’s amazing, and rewarding, but a little overwhelming at times.

Enough about me, though, here’s some good reads:

 

D-I-Why? Emily Matchar on the Lure of the “New Domesticity” | More thoughts on this to come, as I’m currently reading her book.

Boy Meets World | A great piece in Salient by Sebastian, a “transmasculine fella, a non-binary swoonprince smashing heteronormativity ”

Why the UK’s anti-porn laws are ridiculous and it matters that they’re overturned

Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death | Dr. Michael Greger looks at the leading causes of death, and how a vegetarian diet can help fight and prevent most of them.

The History of CTRL+ALT+DELETE

I’m not a hero for taking care of my kids (I’m also not babysitting them. I’m their dad.)

The Comment Section for Every Article Ever Written about Intimate Grooming | This is the funniest thing I’ve ever read online.

Comics about Introversion | So, so accurate.

My Gucci Addiction | The author of Friday Night Lights gives a fascinating account of his high-fashion addiction

How to stop being mean | This should be required reading for everyone

Read anything good lately? Do share!

[WordPress] How to allow visitors to upload photos and content to your site

This tutorial will show you how to use WordPress, Dropbox and IFTTT to set up a system that allows visitors to contribute content to your site. Although visitors won’t be able to post directly to your site, their content will be stored neatly in a folder for you. I’ll also show you how to set up email alerts so that you don’t miss uploads.

 

Why is this useful?

This time, I am using the WordPress/Dropbox setup on a wedding website to allow guests who attended the wedding to upload photos that they took on the day. Having them upload the photos via the website seemed simpler than receiving haphazard emails; when new content is uploaded to the Dropbox I will transfer it to my WordPress media library. You might like to use this setup to run competitions on your website, or to crowdsource content.

 

You will need

A website with WordPress installed

A Dropbox account with enough storage space for your purposes, and a folder for your content (e.g. ‘Uploaded to Site’). Note that if you would like to set up email alerts you will need to make the folder within your Public directory.

A Gmail account and an IFTTT account (optional, for email alerts when new content is uploaded).

A little patience

 

1. Install the Simple Dropbox Uploader plugin to your WordPress site

Install this plugin to your site. This creates a very simple form which allows your site’s visitors to upload their content. Currently they can only upload one file at a time.

Activate the plugin.

 

2. Configure the Simple Dropbox Uploader plugin

Find the Simple Dropbox Uploader settings from your Dashboard under Settings > Simple Dropbox

Fill in the settings as you see fit.  It will also ask you to connect your Dropbox account, which involves going through a quick validation process. If you haven’t created a folder for the content, do so now. Note that if you would like to set up email alerts you will need to make the folder within your Public directory.

It’s important that you note down which file types are allowed. As I am allowing my visitors to upload images, I’ve set it to ‘jpg jpeg png tif tiff gif’.

 

Here’s what my settings look like:

 

Simple Dropbox Upload Settings

3. Insert the Shortcode to the page/post

Find or create the page or post where you would like the upload form to live. Copy and paste the following shortcode where you would like the form to appear.

[simple-wp-dropbox]

 

4. Test!

Test it out! Upload a file and check your Dropbox to make sure it’s worked! If you have issues, try changing the Plugin’s authentication settings (CURL, OAuth) until you find one that works.

 

This concludes the basic set up–visitors to your site should be able to upload content to your Dropbox, which you can then transfer to your site. The next steps show you how to set up extra functionalities–email alerts and accessing your Dropbox files from WordPress.

 

5. Set up IFTTT for email alerts

It’s a good idea to have email alerts set up; it would be a bit embarrassing if you missed some content because you forgot to check your Dropbox! For this, I use IFTTT (If This Then That). If you don’t already have an account, sign up and activate your Dropbox and Gmail ‘channels’ (i.e. allow IFTTT to access your Gmail and Dropbox accounts).

You’ll then want to activate this script that I made for you. Pop in the name of your folder (remember, it will only work if you made your folder within your Public folder), and your email address and hit ‘Use Recipe’.

Test that the recipe is working by uploading a new file via your website. Please note that sometimes it takes a little while to receive your email.

 

6. Access your Dropbox files from WordPress

Finally, it might be handy to be able to access your Dropbox files from WordPress. I use this plugin which allows me to see my Dropbox files when I go to add media to a page or post. It’s a little complicated to install because you have to create a Dropbox App, but I’ll walk you through it.

First, install the plugin and activate it.

Then, go ahead and create a page or post as normal and hitScreen Shot 2013-04-06 at 11.00.59 PM and choose Dropbox images.

You’ll then need to create your Dropbox app. Click here and choose Create an App. Name your app whatever you like, just make sure it doesn’t contain the words ‘Dropbox’ ‘Drop’ or ‘Box’. I just called mine ‘Raquel Moss’. Chose ‘Core’ and then ‘Full Dropbox’ (see screenshot).

 

Screen Shot 2013-04-06 at 11.04.25 PM

Click Create app. You’ll then be given a bunch of information about your app. Find the App key and the App Secret and copy and paste that information to the WordPress plugin on your site. That’s it!

Phew! You should now be able to invite your website’s visitors to upload content to your Dropbox, receive an email whenever anything new appears, and access your Dropbox files from your WordPress site. Well done!

 

Resources

Simple Dropbox Uploader plugin and shortcode: [simple-wp-dropbox]

IFTTT script which will alert you when new files are uploaded

Dropbox Sideloader Plugin