Book Diet #8

Recently, the book I have enjoyed most is Joe Henrich's The Secret of Our Success. The subtitle says very well what it is about: How Culture Is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter. I found the interaction between culture and biology totally mind-boggling and think that this is one of those great books that synthesize different areas of understanding into a compelling narrative, in a very accessible and entertaining way. Here is a good interview with him, by Tyler Cowen, if you want to get a preview.
Henrich has a new book out, The WEIRDest people in the world (review by Dan Dennet), which I am eager to read - alas my copy is stuck in the mail.

If one takes "big picture" books as a genre, then Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel certainly is one of the most prominent examples. I had not read it until last year and liked it very much. I continued straight on to his follow-up Collapse but have so far passed on the latest one, Upheaval.

Why we Sleep by Matthew Walker did not leave a permanent impression on me, mostly because I needed no convincing that sleeping is important. I easily average 8,5 hours per night and generally sleep well. What really peaked my interest though was this fantastic blog post that goes though the first chapter of the book and finds a plethora of errors; very worthwhile to check out!

Back to cultural evolution. This View of Life by David Sloan Wilson was certainly interesting as well, but not as captivating to my brain as Henrich's book above. The question whether group selection is real or not gets mixed into the subject matter and I find the debate around this both confusing and semantic at times.

Last for today is Camus' The Plague. I stumbled upon my old copy, in German translation, which I must have read many years ago. But I remembered nothing of it when I started reading the other day. It is of course very well written, but also a bit dense, which is why I only progress a few pages every night in bed.


Yeast Fun


The pleasures of homebrewing include cleaning up, a lot. This time because the yeast liked the wort a bit too much and decided to climb out of the airlock. 🙄

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Flash Tasmota On A Sonoff


Ok, that title takes some unpacking: A Sonoff is a microcontroller that connects to Wifi and can switch some other electrical device on and off, pictured on the right. It is basically a remote switch that can be used for all kinds of purposes, from a manually triggered remote to some fancy home automation. To flash in this context means putting a new operating system (firmware) onto the microcontroller and Tasmota is the open-source firmware that everyone seems to love and recommend.

I have had two of these switches for quite a while, but never got around to converting them to Tasmota. Earlier today I finally did, following this guide for using a RaspberryPi. The Sonoff provides an old-school serial port and wants 3.3V power internally. The only thing I had available that can do both was my Pi Zero (left in picture), and I am happy to say that it worked without much fiddling around. The most tricky part was to physically hold the Sonoff button and cables in place while turning on the Pi, then waiting for it to start up to trigger the software transfer whithout losing the connection on the cables.

Not I have to decide what to do with the switches. Probably I will go back to installing Home Assistant for central control. I have tried several years ago but I expect it to have improved much since.


Trail Gloves Gone Bad

Trail Glove 5

Shoe company Merrell has made a running shoe called the Trail Glove for about a decade, following the hype around "barefoot" or "minimalist" running in the wake of McDougall's book Born to Run. There have been several iterations of the shoe, I have had them all and they have been my primary running shoes ever since, including the marathons I've run. Almost needless to say, I have loved them all, otherwise I would have switched to something else.

Up to and including version 4, that is. The current fifth iteration, pictured above, introduces a major flaw, in my opinion: arch support. Instead of being flat, the sole is thicker and rises significantly in the middle of the foot, so that some of the weight rests there instead of the ball and heel, where it should be. This is a total no-no, and I am sad that I will have to look into other brands, once my two Trail Glove v4 have worn out. Luckily, this will not happen anythime soon, I still use a pair of v3 as well.

By the way, if you have never heard of minimalist running before, this recent podcast gives a good motivation. In short, the reasoning is that cushioned shoes are in effect a kind or orthotics that allow running without building up the strength in the foot itself, which will more likely get you into trouble than running with a thin and flexible shoe that only protects the skin and does not get involved in the motion.

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Book Diet

A few notes on my (not so) recent book diet.

The Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures by Antinio Damasio. I really wanted to read that one after listening to this interview with the author, but I did not make it very far before I got bored. My bad! I might re-visit it some day. Related in the discussion of feelings is this podcast that I just listened to - quite interesting!

I must have mentioned before how much I enjoyed the 40th anniversary edition of Dawkins' The Selfish Gene, in which he reads the audio version of his current commentary, in dialogue with his former self. In the meantime I have read or listended to two more of his books: The Blind Watchmaker was good, but I liked The Extended Phenotype less, since it is written more for a more specialist audience and is very careful about details and nuances, which can make it tedious for laymen readers.

Stephen Fry has written (and recorded audio for) two books about ancient Greek mythology. Mythos covers the gods and creatures that were around before mankind came into play, and how all that came to be. The second part, Heroes, is about Hercules, Jason and their like, concluding with Theseus. Both are overall very enjoyable, not the least because of Fry's excellent reading.

I stumbled upon the semi-famous commencement speech by David Foster Wallace which is very much worth your time, if you don't know it yet. Prompted by that, I also read some of the essays in his collection A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, with mixed feelings. He certainly can write and has some good insight into the human condition, so I think I understand why he gathered a fan-base. But something bothered me with his writing, maybe it felt pretentious, overly showy, or I cannot quite put my finger on it. Still, the title story about his trip on a cruise ship was great fun!

Another book that I did not finish is Against Empathy by Paul Bloom. This is not because it is bad or I found it unconvincing, on the contrary! I just had heard him make the major points of the book in several podcasts (Sam Harris & Very Bad Wizards) and needed no more convincing than that to appreciate the distinction between compassion and empathy and that the side effects of the latter are too often neglected. So be sure check out the book, if that sounds wrong (or right) to you!


Shop Projects

My tool shed and workshop is rather narrow, so when I borrowed my neighbour's table saw the other day, the first thing I did was to build a cart on wheels/castors for it, to be able to rasily move it out of the way. At the same time I made my workbench mobile the same way and ensured that the height of the two matched, so that the bench can serve as an outfeed-table for long pieces from the saw.


This Video served as the main inspiration for the cart, but I simplified it even more and skipped the drawers for a plain storage shelf underneath the saw. I can recommend Steve Ramsey's Youtube channel throughout; I have watched quite a few of his videos and found them both instructive and entertaining.

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Me, getting a critical opinion on the deck rebuild.


Building A Deck

Ever since we moved into our cottage in the forest, there was a small wodden deck in front of the rock wall that limits the property. It is a sunny spot and the rock stores some warmth, so we naturally like to hang out in the garden furniture there. Unfortunately, the deck itself had rotted so much by now that one started to step through the boards.


I had put a temporary fix in place and thought I'd do the proper renovation early next year. But in a bout of restlessness I tore it all down the other week and started over from scratch. And I mean from scratch, starting by cutting some timber into beams and boards. This a manual process using the chainsaw and some improvised rigs to ensure straight cuts.

lumber making

Having good foundations is imporant, even for such simple construnctions as a 4.5x3m deck. So I put some heavy granite stones into the corners, drilled holes and glued in some hardware with anchoring adhesive. In one corner the rock wall itself stuck out underneath, so could drill straight into the rock - this thing is going nowhere!

Then I put together the frame and oiled it with a traditional mix of tar and linseed oil. In the picture you can see that I had to put in four additional trusses (the yet unpainted ones) because I originally had far too large spacing.


Even though the surface is not very large, cutting all the boards out of tree trunks and straightening the edges with a circular saw took quite a while. Once I had screwed them on, I did not have the energy to think of any advanced stair construction, so it turned out as simple as possible. Still, I am quite happy with how the whole thing turned out:


I recycled the old railing which was in ok shape, just painted it and screwed it onto some feet, so it will be easily replaced, if needed.

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Coronavirus Update

What's up, folks? I hope you so far made it safely through the pandemic and its effetcs on everything else!

After my initial spurt of interest in Feburary and March when I followed the situation closely, once everyone was taking it seriously and it became "all hands on deck", I relaxed and left it to the pros. Arm-chair opinions are usually not my thing and keeping in mind a relatively high level of uncertainty about the state of the world is something that I have become familiar with.

Just as one example, it is still open for analysis and debate, whether the Swedish way to handle COVID-19 without a strong lock-down turns out to be good or bad. There are many facets to this and things are complex enough to maintain some modesty in one's opinions and utterances.

I am among the lucky ones that have experienced very little negative impact. Working from home is something I had done weeks at a time for several years. Being isolated comes somewhat naturally to me. Plus, I made a wise decision in the spring, once it became clear that some projects were put on hiatus anyway, to take a temporary partial leave from work. Therefore I have had plenty of time this spring and summer for other things. Mostly forestry, carpentry and wood-working - more on that later! And brewing more tasty beers, of course.

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