Suicide, Free Will & A Monster

RIP Chris Cornell. I’m seeing a lot of posts on Facebook about suicide awareness today and I’m wondering if suicide hotlines work. If your brain is in a state where you’re seriously contemplating suicide (as opposed to just feeling down with remote thoughts of suicidal ideation), are you likely, in that state, to call a hotline? Does anyone have solid data? According to this article in Scientific American, “it is essential to recognize that most suicides are driven by a flash flood of strong emotions, not rational, philosophical thoughts in which the pros and cons are evaluated critically.”

This article quotes extensively from psychologist Roy Baumeister, who according to Wikipedia is now based at the University of Queensland. Baumeister simultaneously claims that “disbelief in free will can lead people to act in ways that are harmful to themselves and society” and yet “feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt, inadequacy, or feeling exposed, humiliated and rejected” lead to suicide. In my experience, when you stop believing in free will, those “feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt, inadequacy, or feeling exposed, humiliated” disappear. Where there is no free will, there can’t be any shame or guilt or inadequacy. Your actions are determined by physics, beyond “your” control. Even if your brain chemistry is going haywire for some reason, once the underlying neural structures have changed so fundamentally don’t believe in free will, it seems unlikely to me that any of those feelings can arise (beyond momentarily popping up before being negated).

In other news – Roger Ailes died. Not suicide, perhaps surprisingly after the year he’s had. I tend to agree with Matt Taibbi that Ailes was “one of the worst Americans ever”:

He is on the short list of people most responsible for modern America’s vicious and bloodthirsty character.

We are a hate-filled, paranoid, untrusting, book-dumb and bilious people whose chief source of recreation is slinging insults and threats at each other online, and we’re that way in large part because of the hyper-divisive media environment he discovered.

Ailes was the Christopher Columbus of hate.

And, of course, he played an enormous role in making Trump President. But as I keep saying (and I’ve been saying it since Bush) – Trump isn’t the problem, he’s only a symptom of the problem. I suspect that focusing on removing Trump is missing the point.

The Mythmaker

My latest obsession is using 3×5 cards as flash cards to improve my memory. Especially as I’m preparing for this documentary, there are so many people and dates I need to keep in my head, that I need a new tool – and there’s nothing that says ‘new tool’ like creating flash cards out of a pencil, 3×5 cards and a rubber band to hold them together. I’m using a regular old notebook for taking notes while I read books. The 3×5 cards I’m using to capture the key names, dates, ideas, just like a traditional flash card – question on one side, answer on the reverse, and I’ve got a pile of them wrapped up with a rubber band, that I go through a few times a day, to test myself. I’m also using groups of cards for other things – memorizing The Raven by Poe (which I used to know but have forgotten some of the verses) and the opening soliloquy from RICHARD III. Also using a separate pile for BIG IDEAS – I’m trying to write down the biggest idea I have every day or the best thing I learned and then I’m reviewing them every day. I’ve tried using notebooks and Evernote for this for years, but there’s something about cards that I really like – they are small, which force me to be succinct, they are easy to keep on my desk, and they are easy to randomize (a quick shuffle). And I’m crazy about pencils these days. There’s something about writing something with pencil on paper that makes part of my brain come to life – typing on a computer doesn’t have the same effect.

In other news: Chelsea Manning gets out of jail today. I hope she gets some peace, but I doubt it if she stays in America. So nice to see that “Backers have raised more than $135,000 for housing and other essentials and to assist her with her reentry into society after seven years in prison.”

Closer to home: Victorian police are deciding whether to charge Australia’s most senior Catholic over historical sexual assault allegations. But there’s concern that as Australia doesn’t have an extradition treaty in place with the Vatican, they won’t be able to arrest him unless he agrees to come back to Australia voluntarily.

Meanwhile, as I’m done with my Cold War research for this week’s recordings, I’m reading an actual hardcopy book (I typically only read ebooks) that I bought from eBay because it wasn’t available in a digital edition: THE MYTHMAKER: PAUL AND THE INVENTION OF CHRISTIANITY by Hyam Maccoby (1986). Maccoby was a British Talmudic scholar who makes the case that Paul was born a gentile, converted to Judaism, and later invented Christianity. He believes Jesus was a Pharisee who would have been horrified over what Paul did in his name.

Lou Reed Bids Farewell To The Wild Side

This has to be one of the last times Lou ever performed his biggest hit live. I saw him play live twice over the years and never saw him play it.

Speaking of Lou, I stumbled across this VERY high quality live bootleg from 9 October 1974 (the day before my 4th birthday), the “Sally Can’t Dance” Tour, featuring Prakash John on bass but without Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter, who had left his touring band by this stage (ROCK N ROLL ANIMAL was recorded ten months earlier). This was the tour where journalist Nick Kent from NME commented that Lou looked like a “ravaged monkey”.

The latest version of Garageband iOS is really a fun composing tool. I spent my lunchbreak adding a guitar track to a song I’ve been working on. So much fun.

I”ve been working on client stuff all day, now I’m going to try to get in a few hours on the documentary.

Wardenclyffe Tower

I like to listen to instrumental music while I work, sometimes jazz, sometimes classical, sometimes techno, or Rob Zombie, or Brian Eno. Tonight I wanted to listen to Wardenclyffe Tower by Allan Holdsworth. I haven’t heard it in a long time but I owned it on CD back in the 90s. Anyway I went to Wikipedia to find out what he’s been doing lately, only to discover he died a few weeks ago, heart attack, age 70. I bet a lot of people have never heard of him, but he was one of the most influential guitarists of all time, according to people like Eddie Van Halen (from who I learned about Holdsworth decades ago), Frank Zappa, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, etc.

Another guy who died today was Powers Boothe, who played Cy Tolliver on Deadwood, among many other great roles, usually playing the villain. A great actor who will be missed.

I spent most of today working on the script for our Christianity documentary, which is a complete mindfuck. So many rabbit holes, the story is so complex, it’s hard to know what to leave out. I had a phone call with one Aussie scholar who is going to be on the film, Mike Bird, and got turned down by another who doesn’t want to appear on film. Meanwhile, for research, I started reading a couple of books by John Dominic Crossan – The Historical Jesus in Context and God & Empire: Jesus against Rome, Then and Now. I’m sure they will open up completely new cans of worms I’ll have to unpick.

As I told Mike, my study of Christianity is the inverse of every other subject I’ve studied, in that the more I read, the more confused I become. It’s a complete clusterfuck. The scholars disagree on nearly everything, it seems.

Meanwhile Chrissy and Fox are still in the US, visiting her family. They’ve been away two weeks, due back in one more week.

QLD Coal Makes Half the World’s Steel

Kind of embarrassing, but until recently I had no idea how much of the world’s economy is based on coal from QLD. For example – Queensland exports half the world’s coking coal which is used to make steel. HALF! That means 50% of the world’s steel is manufactured with QLD coal. For the last year I’ve been working with a client who are coal mining consultants in QLD. They’ve been giving me an education. Mining – mostly coal, coal seam gas and bauxite with some oil shale and natural gas – makes up about 9% of the QLD economy. Meanwhile the cost of solar is dropping exponentially. I have to wonder what’s going to happen to the QLD economy over the next 20 years when coal becomes a dirty word and people are using solar-generated electricity to make steel instead.

Inventing The Messiah

My latest project is a secular (non-religious) documentary about the history behind Jesus and early Christianity. We’re going to interview a range of biblical scholars and academics to learn what they believe to be the HISTORY behind the story – leaving aside theology or faith, what happened? How did a fringe, Jewish personality cult from the backwaters of Middle East, end up taking over the Roman Empire? It’s a terrific and fascinating story. Check out our teaser video on Kickstarter for more information and support it if you can!

How To Make Money From Podcasting

I just published a small book about my experience in podcasting and how my new business model works.

Over the last 12 years I’ve tried different ways to make an income from podcasting – from selling advertising to asking for donations – but over the last couple of years I’ve tried the premium subscription model and it’s worked far better than anything else. So much so, that our premium shows now bring in a six figure income (which I share with Ray, so I can’t retire to my yacht just yet). But pulling together the technical infrastructure to make the premium shows work wasn’t easy. It took my months of trial and error to work it out. So in this book, I share how (and why) I did it.

The hard truth is that 99.9% of podcasters aren’t going to make anything more than beer money out of advertising on their podcasts (until the advertising industry changes its mode). But I believe most podcasters *can* make a solid income from premium subscriptions *if* they get the model right.

Listen to the panel I was part of at OzPod2016 where I discuss advertising versus subscriptions.

Oh and our journey in podcasting was covered by Monty Munford on FORBES.

If anyone wants a review copy, shoot me an email.

Ten Enduring Lessons from the Challenger Explosion

I recently co-wrote the first blog post / newsletter for my client Enable Advisory. They are a boutique consulting firm made up of senior executives from the coal mining and resource sector who provide mine planning and mine project management services (among other things).

Here’s the opening of the blog post, which tries to distill some lessons from the Challenger explosion and apply them to mine planning.

When the Challenger space shuttle exploded off the coast of Florida on January 28, 1986, Wayne Hale was head of the Propulsion Systems Section, Systems Division, Mission Operations, NASA. If you think you’ve experienced systems failure in your job, imagine if the entire event was being televised live around the world to hundreds of millions of people. Hale went on to become NASA Flight Director and Space Shuttle Program Manager and has recorded ten enduring lessons from his experience on how to avoid another Challenger-type incident. One of those lessons is that “a preoccupation with failure results in high reliability organizations.” He believes that dissension during the decision making process has tremendous value and that no dissension means the issue hasn’t been examined enough. Appoint devil’s advocates, he advises, and don’t let people remain silent – draw them out.

You can read the whole thing here.

My Hazel Rules

I’ve been listening to a recent episode of Mac Power Users dedicated to Hazel. I fucking LOVE Hazel and it’s one of those tools that I love to tinker with (but try and limit how much time I sink into it). I’m always looking for new ways to use it and I guess it’s time I give back by sharing some more of my favourite rules.

DRIVE MANAGEMENT

This rule I created early in 2015 to archive files off of my Macbook Pro drive is still working great, albeit with a few minor tweaks. Macbook drives are pretty low on storage these days, and I deal in a lot of large audio files, so I need Hazel to keep a close eye on them and offload them onto USB drives about a month after I create them.

PHOTO BACKUP

Photos and videos take up a lot of room too, so I use Hazel to take all of them that are a month old and archive them to Dropbox. That way I can pull them up on my phone or Mac whenever I need them, but they are out of the way.

BOOKS INTO EVERNOTE

For all of my history podcasts, I like to have text versions of my source books in Evernote so I can cut and paste as needed. So when I download a new Kindle book from Amazon, Hazel notices the new file (in the Kindle folder), and opens it in Calibre, when then converts the epub into a text file. Hazel then grabs the new text file (from the Calibre directory) and opens it in Evernote.

STICKIES

I use Stickies a lot to store bits of data I often need quickly – eg URLs for podcast feeds that people ask me for, Textexpander shortcuts, Macbook keyboard shortcuts, etc. But from time to time I want to do a clean install of OSX on my Mac and the Stickies database usually isn’t something I remember to backup, because it’s buried in the app directory. So I have Hazel take a daily backup of it for me and throw it into Dropbox.

Email me or leave a comment if you have cool Hazel rules to share.