20,000 Days on Earth. Nick Cave on himself

20000daysonearth-1Jane Pollard and Iain Forsyth’s 20,000 Days on Earth, a docu-fiction on the polyhedric Nick Cave shown at Sundance and Berlin earlier this year, is coming to theatres at last.

Cave gets to make music,talk about his creative process, drive people around while having conversations with them, and narrate himself in flashes and bursts such as this one (from the NY Times Magazine):

The first time I saw Susie was at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. And when she came walking in, all the things that I have obsessed over for all the years, pictures of movie stars, Jenny Agutter in the billabong, Anita Ekberg in the fountain . . . Miss World competitions, Marilyn Monroe and Jennifer Jones and Bo Derek . . . Bolshoi ballerinas and Russian gymnasts . . . the young girls at the Wangaratta pool lying on the hot concrete, all the stuff I had heard and seen and read . . . all the continuing never-ending drip-feed of erotic data . . . came together at that moment, in one great big crash bang, and I was lost to her. And that was that.

It takes a remarkable woman to inspire this description; it also takes a man with an unusual poetic imagination to put it in words. This is a movie I look forward to.

 

Set up two-factor authentication now

Screenshot_2014-09-03-08-13-41 If you have no idea what this screenshot means, then your online accounts are not sufficiently protected.

Google Authenticator is a little smartphone app (iTunes; Play Store) that you can – and should – use to ensure that whoever logs into your account on Gmail, Dropbox, Tumblr and so on not only has your username and password, but also is in physical possession of your smartphone, i.e. is most likely to be you. This is important in general, but phenomenally important for your primary email account, since whoever gets into that has a good shot at full-scale identity theft if they want to.

Two-step verification means that when you login to Gmail from a new machine, after your usual username-and-password step, you are asked for a six-digit verification code; and you obtain the code – which changes constantly – by opening the Authenticator app on your smartphone. You only have to do this once if you check the machine as a trusted computer (obviously, don’t do this at shared computers).

Here are the instructions for Gmail and all other Google services; here is an article from the Financial Times (login required) that explains how to do the same thing to protect any nude photos you might have on iCloud through Apple’s two-step verification.

Finally, even if this post is about taking your online privacy seriously, let me close on a lighthearted note from the FT’s Chris Nuttall:

Have hackers put any nude photos of me out on the web?

Not if you haven’t taken any of yourself. If you have, they probably won’t have bothered trying to hack you unless you’re a celebrity.

 

 

Yoga for all

A few days ago, the yoga world mourned the death of B.K.S. Iyengar, an enormously popular and influential yoga scholar and teacher. All three of the men who became the main conduits of yoga into the West are now dead: Satyananda passed away in 2009, the Belgian André van Lysebeth in 2004. Their work is continued by legions of followers, and a body of knowledge that had languished in obscure ancient texts until the middle of the 20th century is now, in one form or the other, a daily practice for millions of people worldwide.

The significance of Iyengar’s passing and his impact on the Western world were underlined by multiple tweets from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Yet, in my study of these masters’ teachings (in which, as you may know, I am partial to Satyananda’s), I have sometimes found that the Iyengar style, with its emphasis on rigorous execution of forbiddingly difficult asanas, scares people away from even trying their first approach to yoga.

Mayurasana-Yoga-Pose-BKS-Iyengar

By now, people look at the popular depiction of a yoga practitioner – a 20-something woman in designer gear with a lithe physique stretched into a contortionist’s pose – and say: sorry, yoga is not for me. I can’t do that.

I disagree. As you know, yoga is routinely taught to pregnant women at all stages of pregnancy. I know teachers who teach the elderly in retirement homes; I know teachers who teach inmates in jails. There are now people who teach yoga to former pro wrestlers: yes, those guys with spines made practically unbendable by multiple injuries, stiff with thick layers of traumatized muscle. If these folks can benefit from yoga, everybody can benefit from yoga.

So: don’t be afraid to try. It is not a competition. It is not about whether and how you fall short relative to others. Ignore others. You set your own bar, test your own limits. Your practice is about your body. Stick with it, and it will be about a lot more.

Future Technologies. Have we reached “peak jobs”?

ImageIf I’m born again, I want my job to be “Senior Futurist”. This is the job title of a gentleman by the name of Klaus Ægidius Mogensen, who works at the Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies and has recently released a 62-page report titled Future Technologies.

The report is only available to member organizations, but I want to thank my good friend Alessandra Losito and her employer Pictet for sharing it. Here are a few of the most intriguing possibilities that Mr. Mogensen throws our way (all dates, of course, “subject to some uncertainty”):

  • 2020: Free GMO trade agreements between US and EU.
  • 2025: The MARS ONE project sends the first colonists to Mars (however, also note the prediction for 2037: MARS ONE gives up sending more colonists to failed Mars colony.)
  • 2034: Authorities finally give up censoring the Internet. (Yay!)
  • 2040: 75% of cars worldwide are fully autonomous robot cars.

In 2035, the author also says, 50% of present-day job types are wholly or mostly automated. The rapidly growing use of robots (and more generally software, I guess, not just the variety with hardware attached) leads to jobless growth: adding to that, “individuals unemployed by automation have to find jobs in fields with lower productivity, causing a decline in overall productivity, in spite of increased productivity in industries where a lot of automation is possible.” And here is the wild card, or “possible extreme future event”:

In the long term, it is possible that robots and computers will handle all the necessary work, making it unnecessary for people to do other work. This can lead to an economy that is not based on work as a source of earning money; something that is central to present-day economics.

I have to admit that I find this scenario very extreme. It jars with a present-day reality where blue-collar jobs consume 40 hours a week and almost everybody I know in white-collar, corporate jobs is regularly working 50-60 hours per week (you’d think we’d be smarter than that). Is this prediction an extreme case of the “lump of labor” fallacy – in which case, we shouldn’t worry, because new work to be performed will keep popping out? Is it perhaps something that will truly happen, only a lot farther into the future than we think, as these things tend to do (re-read my rant about the Singularitarian future)?

But, on the other hand, unemployment is real, and jobless recoveries (where we have recoveries at all) are a fact. And well-documented authors such as Brynjolfsson and McAfee (The Second Machine Age) are worried about very much the same issues.

So, let’s go along with the futurist thought experiment and imagine a future where the work to be done by humans is vastly reduced: way after a brief moment of “peak jobs”, so to speak, that is already slightly behind us. What happens? Is this a scenario where billions of idle people consume all their time in adolescent ennui, addictive entertainment, and training for holy wars? Will capital (invested in robots) earn all the money, and labor none of it? Is Piketty right? Will the masses live in destitution? Will suicides skyrocket? And what can we do about it?

Evolutionary technologies may claim to be ethically neutral. Revolutionary technologies never are. We need ethicists along with educators, economists and technologists to help us craft a sustainable future – one that we want our children to live in. Forget about privacy, climate change, human cloning and Mars landings: the central ethical issue in 21st-century politics will be “peak jobs”. The search for a 21st-century John Rawls is open, and more urgent than it ever was.

Milan, Italy: Summer 2014 Restaurant Top Ten

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Fine dining in Milan has never been in such great shape. If you are looking for that special dinner, you have a wide range of choices: traditional or stylish, formal or casual, classical or adventurous. But they all have in common passionate chefs and outstanding quality. Who are the Top Ten? This is the definitive Summer 2014 list from my trusted sources in the Milanese food and wine world.

  1. Enrico Bartolini
  2. Ristorante Berton
  3. Cracco
  4. Innocenti Evasioni
  5. Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia
  6. Vun al Park Hyatt
  7. Manna
  8. La Bottega del Vino
  9. Al Pont de Ferr
  10. Ceresio 7

Photo: Enrico Bartolini’s liquorice-filled raspberries.

The beauty of living in Italy

A few days after the end of a fantastic Milano Design Week, where Milan blossomed around the world leading event in furniture and home design, let me reflect on one of the reasons why for me there’s no place like home: the quality of our homes.

I have lived in Germany, United States, Spain and Switzerland, and, outside the very top end of the real estate market – and often not even there, as plenty of Silicon Valley millionaires are known to live in rickety wood-frame houses, whose anti-seismic qualities are their only redeeming virtue – I have yet to see a place where the quality of urban living is as high as Italy. Our architects, designers, furniture makers are the reason why everybody aspires to “Italian living”. And they tell me that their Italian customers are the ones pushing them towards excellence: they won’t tolerate a lackadaisical design, a slapdash assembly, an imperfect color scheme. Having an exacting clientele at home makes our home design industry a worldwide winner.

I also want to take the opportunity to thank the superlative interior design team for the Milan home I recently furnished and moved into. Many people played a role, but here are the key ones:

A few images of the work in progress and the end product.

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VLUU L110  / Samsung L110