The Daily Stoic

I read “The Daily Stoic” every year, but I have a love-hate relationship with it. Tim Ferris once described Stoicism as a “personal operating system”, but to me, it is more like a toolbox of techniques for attaining your good life, and this is a good reminder of the tools available.

“The Daily Stoic” has 366 sections, each starting with a quote from a Stoic philosopher and then some commentary putting the sage’s advice into a more modern, often American, context. This works well and provides a structured overview of Stoic thinking. The quotes are mainly from the best-known late-Stoic figureheads - Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus.

While most of the quotes come from works intended for publication, Marcus Aurelius’s contributions are from his journal, which was not intended for publication - he often entertains contradictory views or approaches at different times. So cherry-picking quotes for a book like this can be problematic.

The modern context provided is heavily skewed to recent American examples and often has an unspoken assumption that the reader is well-off, which can be rather grating.

If you have a basic understanding of Stoic philosophy, this book is a great daily reminder of tools and exercises that can help your everyday life. However, if you are new to Stoicism, then there are better books for learning about the basics and gaining an overview of how the philosophy can help you - for example, “A Guide to the Good Life” by William B. Irvine.


Skyward by Brandon Sanderson πŸ“š

I greatly enjoy Brandon Sanderson’s fantasy novels. His world-building and magic systems always have an interesting logic - balancing a power’s advantages against its limitations or disadvantages. I always feel that those rules would translate directly into a well-tuned RPG.

“Skyward” is the first Sanderson science fiction I’ve read, but it won’t be the last. It’s a hard sci-fi YA adventure with a teenage girl protagonist who makes mistakes and embarrasses herself but has you cheering her on every step of the way.

The technology and action scenes are convincing, and I enjoyed the way Sanderson went into some detail about how the spacecraft and their weapons worked.

Overall the plot was a little predictable but didn’t detract from the fun of the story, and the final revelation was a good surprise and set-up for the sequel.

Practical Vim

I first used Vim about 20 years ago and have used it as my default editor for both work and play for the last five. At work, I live within Vim and have reached the stage where I couldn’t tell you many of the commands, but my fingers know. But I’ve increasingly suspected there are better ways to do some editing jobs.

Last week I flicked through “Practical Vim” by Drew Neil and was immediately hooked on growing my Vim knowledge more holistically than learning about each command in isolation. By page 8, I’d discovered the t command - how had I not discovered this command before?

Four Thousand Weeks

Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman

I’ve just started to read Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman, which was recommended to me by a couple of people on last night. I’m intrigued by some reviews mentioning parallels between Stoicism and the philosophy described in this book, so it has leap-frogged its way to the top of my reading list.

The last few years have been tough with pressure of work, despite being great fun, forcing my life balance far out of kilter. Perhaps “Four Thousand Weeks” will give me a new perspective on the, maybe, 750 weeks I have left. πŸ“š

The Orthogonal Universe of Greg Egan

I’m close to finishing the Audible version of Clockwork Rocket by Greg Egan πŸ“š and have already bought the sequel. This is “hard” science fiction at its best. Egan has built a universe with remarkable properties simply by changing a minus sign to a plus in one equation that controls space-time geometry. As a result light’s speed varies with frequency, high speed travel causes travellers to age faster rather than slower, and plants emit light.

The physics has been worked out with great care and there is a lot of explanation in the book, backed up by Greg Egan’s website which has over 80,000 words of additional explanation, along with a hundred or more diagrams demonstrating how the orthogonal universe works.

However inventive the “Riemannian” orthogonal universe is, the book wouldn’t hold the reader’s attention without some interesting characters and an exciting plot - and it has those in spades. The dominant species in this “powderpunk” world are physically very different from us but have very recognisable cares, ambitions, and interests. (I was going to say “steampunk” but given the noticeable lack of any liquids in their universe this wouldn’t makes sense.) They are highly intelligent and appear to have no religion making their unique form of reproduction an interesting and rather disturbing social dynamic.

I’ve really enjoyed this book and can thoroughly recommend it to anyone who likes some light physics with their entertainment.

Why I won't be watching "The Watch"

I’ve just seen the first trailers for “The Watch” and I have issues…

I first heard about “The Watch” from a post on Instagram by the script writer, Simon Allen, who thanked more than sixty people involved in the production, but somehow forgot to mention Terry Pratchett. Now I see why… this is not the City Watch we know and love. As Rhianna Pratchett says it shares no DNA with her father’s Watch.

For me the real joy of the City Watch is the characters, and the trailers suggest that the TV series is only paying lip service to the books by reusing the names without any understanding as to who the characters are. For example, one of the key attributes of Carrot is his enormous strength - he is described as “six feet tall and nearly as broad across the shoulders”. He is not slim - he has the physique of a dwarf… but on a rather larger scale.

The raison d’Γͺtre for Lady Sybil Ramikin is that she isn’t an action hero, but a rather substantial wagnerian aristocrat more interested in dragon breeding than… well, anything really. Casting a slim, glamorous actress as Lady Sybil entirely misses the point and the joy of the character.

To be fair I don’t think anyone could make a decent live action version of the City Watch books. Like Dickens, a good part of the pleasure of Sir Terry’s books is the language used, the turns of phrase, and the subtle allusions that will never translate to a screen of any size. For many a Discworld fan, who like me, have lived with the inhabitants of Pseudopolis Yard for three decades, any attempt to bring Ankh-Morpork to life is always going to be a disappointment compared with the great city in their mind’s eye. πŸ“š