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Earthrise

The Japanese satellite Kaguya orbited the Moon for twenty months, from 2007 to 2009. I opened some of its footage on YouTube and randomly clicked halfway the video. The lunar surface was whitely brightened by the Sun, which was in full behind the viewpoint of the camera. Then suddenly the blue sphere of Earth rose from the Moon’s horizon, quickly into view. My stomach twisted, with a feeling that a gripping book or song can provide, moved and touched in ones deepest convictions. The Earth quickly moved out of the viewpoint again, as the Sun’s light casted increasingly longer shadows on the irregular surface, darkening the screen.

It’s the same impression as seen by the crew of the Apollo 8 spacecraft on December 24th, 1968, when Bill Anders took a photo documented as ‘AS8-14-2383’, which became famous named ‘Earthrise’. Or as provided by the image taken six billion kilometers away in 1990, the Pale Blue Dot, which prompted Carl Sagan’s words: “That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives.”

We usually see the sky as something that’s above us, but we forget that its in all around us. We’re stranded on a small island in the vastness of space, a home we don’t master, as hurricane Irma teaches us.

Humbleness and care for our cage would be appropriate, because this tiny rock is all that we’ve got. A shift of viewpoint as provided by Earthrise is a stark reminder.

Prince in Blue

“Monday morning, December 23rd, 1985. The subway train travelling from Hammersmith to Baron’s Court is filled with people setting out for work or Christmas shopping. Among the latter is an old man of Asian origin. He’s wearing a suit jacket, gilet, tie and polished black shoes. The carts rumble through the humid and warm tunnels as the man’s subtle smile suddenly changes into an expression of pain.” 

“The Prince in Blue” is about the only Thai Formula One driver in history.

Driver Spotlight: The Prince in Blue

Fighting a common enemy

The most difficult problem to solve is one that’s invisible or indescribable, a problem in which not everybody believes. It doesn’t have a single cause, but is rather an accumulation of many problems. Such a problem only becomes worse when left alone, and even worse; time is running out. What makes the most difficult kind of problem even more problematic, is that the central authority needed to address it, is nonexistent, and if it’s there it is weak and pushes the required response forward into the future.

There are only two problems in this category of which I can think of. In Game of Thrones’ realm, the White Walkers, also known as the Army of the Dead (“Winter is coming”). And in our own world, it’s climate change (“Summer is coming”). Both ‘enemies’ have the power to change the weather and threat the whole human race, while ‘we’ are too busy with each other, rather than to face our common enemy.

The Targaryen’s, Starks and Lannisters are not that different from our China, India, the USA and Europe. We’ve to make short term sacrifices and put away differences and focus long term. It’s time for collective action, or as Jon Snow said: “We’re all on the same side, we’re all breathing.”

Do you buy products endorsed to you?

Two of my interests merged (advertising and autosport) in a topic on the British Autosport forums — whilst also providing an interest on how layman (or in this case, motorsport fans) explain how much they think advertising influences them. The answer: not by much.

A user asked fellow forummers whether they bought products which their favourite driver or team endorse (in Formula One, both drivers and cars are moving billboards). The responses from the motorsport fans were mostly negative no’s and never’s, mostly ridiculing that they could be moved by something so apparent as a sticker on a suit or chassis. It’s a common theme, one that boils down to; ‘I’m not moved by that‘; ‘I’m conscious’; ‘I make my own choices’.

Yet plain in sight lies the Darwin-esque nature of brands. It’s not an end goal for brands to expose their products to us. Brands expose their products to us because we show them over and over that it works. (There’s a Dutch adage that jokingly says: “I don’t believe in advertising, I only buy the well-known brands”, and a t-shirt on Amazon that says“Advertising helps me decide”.)

Whether brands spend their multimillion advertising budgets on sponsoring is likely the result of extensive target audience research, likely boiling down to the question “Is this effective?”. And so the question: “Do you buy products your favourite driver endorses?” should be met with the same answer that the brands that endorse themselves must have found, which is: “likely.”

Gerhard Berger – Benetton B196 – 1996

Minds of Shanghai

Minds are lonely places. We can never share our thoughts and feelings without translating them into words or actions, nor can we ever look into those of others. The best thing we can do, is to assume that the complex workings of our minds are also present in those of others.

But it is precisely this understanding that helps value Shanghai for what it is, for it is impossible to describe accurately with pictures or words or statistics. Our minds can’t cope with the image of endless repetitions of building blocks, top ten lists of why Shanghai is great, or the statistic of twenty-four million people in a single city.

Understanding Shanghai has to happen in your mind, to connect the pictures and the words and the statistics, to the personal relationships you have with people all around you, and apply those things to the twenty-four million minds.

Shanghai so impressive by the thought about those; the millions of minds that use mobile apps to communicate, order, and pay; the minds that roam the clean parks and streets; the hedonistic minds that shop and consume; the peaceful minds that follow Chinese conformity; the minds that combine the modern Western lifestyle with the thousand year old Chinese culture; their grand dreams and fears, mundane doubt about lovers and breakfast.

It is all of this that makes Shanghai what it is, rather a modern wonder of human ability than an anonymous statistic used to describe a metropolis.

 

What sport says

This week, a political party in Catalunya, Spain, labelled grid girls as the reducing of woman to lust objects, and announced its intention to ban these girls from the MotoGP and Formula One events that are held in Catalunya each year.

In a discussion on Reddit, the common reaction was that the girls have to decide for themselves whether they wanted to have this scarcely clothed job or not. If most of them seem happy with the job, why ban it and limit their freedom? It’s hard to argue with that logic, although it misses the bigger issue.

This proposed ban isn’t so much about individual rights of the girls that choose to exercise this profession, but rather what international sporting institutions wish to tell about the role women should have in male dominated sports, and that this role can be more than wearing scarce clothing and holding umbrellas for male athletes.

Gridgirls are by far the cringiest aspect of top tier motorsport, a heritage from a forlorn era of traditional roles. And while many institutions around the world are promoting equal opportunities for women, the FIM and FIA, who organise the MotoGP and Formula One races, choose to turn a total blind eye and stick to old gender roles.

Staying stuck in the past is hurting cultural change, as the biggest barrier to women entering motorsport, whether it’s as a driver or engineer, isn’t actual liberty to do so, not financial and obviously not biological. The biggest limit are the roles imposed on us by culture. And right now, we’re telling our children that a woman’s role is to be an ornament.

It’s worth asking; what’s the point of sport? For sure it’s entertainment, but sports can also be an inspiration for life, educative in how to overcome obstacles and achieve great things. It is this why we should be more conscience about the lessons we let sport teach to our children, whether they’re boys or girls.

Jenny Tinmouth, photo by Rob Clenshaw

Wholesomeness

Does the quality of your life come from the quality of your decisions? Or, does the quality of your decisions come from the quality of your life?

At first this seems like a chicken-and-egg kind of dilemma, a search for causality. But the present day mantra lays heavily on the former; decision making is the ultimate solution to problem solving, and — either through discussions, strategies, or careful calculations — it leads to good decisions, which in turn leads to a good life.

This is reasonable, but the latter part is equally true. We rarely focus on the interdependance of our decisions. But a good life leads to good decisions. An enthusiastic life leads to enthusiastic decisions, and an angry life leads to angry decisions.

The answer thus seems overly simplified; if you wish to make the right decisions, live the right life. Good decisions flow from good decisions. The opposite is also true; live the wrong life, and every decision taken will be wrong, even the smallest ones.

This explains how, in general, poor people make poor choices; spending more time behind the television, spending less time with friends, and eating less healthy. Poor people aren’t poor because they make bad decisions. They make bad decisions because they are poor.

But the connectivity of decisions is also visible in positive examples, for instance when people start exercising to stay fit. Often, also their diets improve, because they appreciate the feeling of losing weight or feeling fit. As a result, they become more self confident, and dare to socialise more. As a result, they become happier and the quality of life improves.

Accomplishments like this are the result of holistic solutions, not singular decisions. Football teams don’t win just because they have a good goalkeeper. And armies can’t win with soldiers that don’t have their bellies full.

The famous chess player Garry Kasparov was once asked by a journalist how many moves ahead he could think. The people in the room were probably expecting a huge number, one that would explain the brilliance of Kasparov, but he simply replied: “There is no answer for that. The main thing in chess is not how many moves ahead you can think, but how you analyse the situation.”

If the journalist thought that Kasparov was a good chess player because of the many decisions ahead he could make, then Kasparov’s answer proved he was a good chess player because his skill allowed him to handle each new situation. In other words; it was not his good decision making that led to his ability to play chess, it was the other way around.

All this means that focusing on individual good decisions could be less productive than laying a foundation for good decisions. It’s not acts, it’s habits that raise quality of life.

And while the goal of chess is straightforward, life itself doesn’t come with any objectives. But when people know what they want to achieve, know what they want to be, they’ll find out how. They’ll endure. Bad options disappear and good decisions become obvious, prompting more good decisions. Life becomes wholesome, reason becomes automatic.

Image by Tom Anders Watkins

Moral creativity

When we’re young, we understand that insects eat plants, that small predators eat insects, that big predators eat small predators. We understand that all of life is connected, that tadpoles become frogs, that rain turns to clouds to become rain again. When we’re young, we think about ourselves in unlimited impossibilities, how we’ll become fire fighters, singers, astronauts, or more likely, all of those.

Yet when we grow older, that unlimited imagination disappears. Instead, we accept how things are, what is told to us. We divide the world into work and personal life, so that can look at the evening news from afar, without having the need to feel responsibility. We look for cause and effect, and categorise everything neatly, so that we can solve problems one after the other one, or pick up the ones we feel good about.

Yet when we look at reality in neatly organised pieces, we fail to see the dependence of everything with everything. The biggest challenges of our time, climate change, poverty, and political unrest, are all interwoven in a web of causes and effects, and don’t have a singular cause or solution.

The new generations carry lots of talent, knowledge, and experience, as well as the ability to change the world for the better. The new generations are smart and creative in the things they do, hence it’s a pity seeing this ability so rarely being applied to life or work causes; the bigger picture. Many youngster arrive at work and play by the rules of their seniors, more duty bound than passion filled.

Ask yourself; ‘How do you want the world to work?’, and ‘How is my work contributing to that?’, and ‘Should I be doing what I’m doing right now?’ Make that the new zero.

When you have a mission in life that goes beyond paying off student debt or mortgage, that’s when you can develop your style, your unborrowed vision, your creative morale. It’ll make progress for yourself, your employer and all of us together, undeniable.

It’s a much richer life, even if it may make you poorer money-wise. Finding your creative morale is a search, but once you’ve found it, it’s as immersive as falling in love. So give shape to yourself, it’s too important to let others do for you.

Photo by Roberto la Forgia.

The papers

“After Oswald, men in America were no longer required to lead lives of quiet desperation. You apply for a credit card, buy a handgun, travel through cities, suburbs and shopping malls, anonymous, anonymous, looking for a chance to take a shot at the first puffy empty famous face, just to let people know there is someone out there who reads the papers.”

Have you ever read a book with a paragraph that was so powerful that it made you think the author wrote the entire novel just for that passage? I think Libra was written by Don DeLillo solely for the purpose of these two lines. Lines which so painfully expose Lee Harvey Oswald’s impact on modern culture, in which terrorism has become a reality show, played out in front of us in mass media.

Libra was written in 1988, but its dark thesis is still alive today. After this week’s attack in London, Anthony Lane wrote for The New Yorker: “The only surprise is that these attacks don’t come along more often, given how frighteningly simple they are to stage, and how hard they must be to police and prevent. If you wish to spread terror, these days, you don’t have to know how to handle a weapon or to construct an explosive device. All you need is a vehicle, or a blade, or—as in this instance—both.”

In 1839, the pen was coined to be mightier than the sword, but nowadays the camera rules supreme.

Strategic Time

We often think of quantities in a linear way. We know that a thousand millimetres go into a metre, and that a thousand kilograms go into a single ton. We know that a ten-by-ten centimetre square equals one hundred square centimetres, and that when we add ten centimetres of height, you get one thousand cubic centimetres, or one litre.

We often apply this logic elsewhere in our lives. We think expensive products are superior, that bigger engines make cars faster, that more time spend at work means more productivity. We think that wealth means success, and that success means happiness.

But while time, money, distance, and other resources increase in a linear way, their values often don’t. This principle was introduced to me by Ross Brawn, a former team principle in Formula One.

Formula One is a good metaphor, because at first glance it seems like a linear challenge. The winning team has the fastest car, which is the one that travels a set distance within the least amount of time.

This challenge is set within regulations, stating that for instance, the wings on the car can’t exceed certain measurements, and that the engine capacity can’t be more than 1.6 litres. But teams have plenty of variables left to achieve time reduction.

And you could argue — following the linear logic — that all time reductions have the same effect, and that it doesn’t matter whether you reduce the total race time by one second through aerodynamics or mechanical grip.

But in the book ‘Total Competition’, which he co-authored with Adam Parr, Brawn highlighted the importance of time gained during pitstops over other time gains.

Strategic timeDuring races, cars enter the pitlane to be fitted with new tyres, and once on fresh rubber they rejoin the track, often neck-and-neck with competitors, coming out narrowly ahead or narrowly behind.

While half a second reduced from total race duration might not make a huge difference, half a second gained during these pitstops can be decisive. Brawn thus refers to this time as ‘strategic time’.

The principle is interesting, because the value of this time is higher than the same amount gained elsewhere. It’s non-linear value to something as linear as time.

This asymmetry also applies off the racetrack, and we see it happen often. Some beers sell well, not because of their taste, but simply because they have a quirky name. Some movie reel in profits, not because of the quality of the writers, but because a famous actor plays in it.

Applying this to life clarifies how, when meeting new people, first impressions are more valuable than other impressions. It clarifies how, when writing an essay, the conclusion is valued over other chapters. And the principle also clarifies how, when giving a presentation you’ve worked on for days on, arriving just ten minutes earlier allows you to check to see if the screen and sound works, instead of fumbling during your presentation.

And so, while time’s amount moves linearly, its value does not. It’s as George Orwell would say: ‘All time is equal, but some time is more equal than others.’