Coping: Reading Out of Your Field

imageI’ve been munching through lots of books lately.

Not that I don’t have a Kindle-full, and hundreds of volumes in the library which is spread throughout the house and spills over into my office in the other building.

At the moment, though, I’m taking a break from reading the usual line of journals, economics books, economic histories, and so on.  Not that I need to, but I’ve come to appreciate that exceptional people read out of their field, a good bit.

I just finished a mystery type book by K.J. Janssen, who as it turns out have been by the site a time or three. A review of that in a moment.

The next book in line is the autobiography of Thomas Edison.

Already, though, within the first chapter, two things have become extremely clear:  Edison, like so many men of his time, was a kind of walking chimney letting of cigar smoke.  He admits at one point…

“Smoking too much makes me nervous – must lasso my natural tendency to acquire such habits – holding heavy cigar constantly in my mouth has deformed my upper lip, it has a sort of Havana curl.”

Ah, the gritty figure that emerges is a wee bit more earthy than the polished version held up in public schools.

Beyond this, however, I was struck by how much Edison read outside his field.

We might have expected that Edison’s reading list would be directly related to the inventions he was working on. Chemistry and electricity with a scattering of mechanical design.  No.  Instead, he mentions authors like Hawthorne, Dickens, McCauley, and Bronte.  

I don’t know why this struck me so much, except that there must be a fine line of personal excellence that doesn’t emerge simply from singular focus.

It’s a mark in support of another one of my “Ure’s Crackpot Theories.”

This one holds that to be a really successful person (at least by your own measure) you should be able, as Robert Heinlein put it:

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

The reason for reading Edison is to look for patterns in his thinking.  Reading outside his field is there in spades.

I told my son long ago that if you want to be successful in a field, you need to think about it a good bit;’ over 50% of the time.  And you need to “water your brain” on a schedule that suits your own tastes, in order to achieve maximum performance from it.

I mean “water” of course as metaphorical, not literal.

What is a brain and what does it require for peak performance?

Well, the first thing is use.  The more you use the brain, the more and better it works.

Next comes the physical support operations.  I’m trying to get myself trained to keep either a) seriously active or b) on the treadmill often enough to stir up from brain chemistry.  That help.

Oxygen is key, as well.  So the exercise drives up blood O2 levels and helps with blood flow.  Certainly, that can’t hurt.

Fertilizer of the direct sort helps, as well.  I find that my “peak” of creativity and energy is based in some part on a regimen of great vitamins including the list we’ve talked about before…the best multi-vit you can find plus MSM, Rhodiola, L-Arginine and  LL-Citrulline, trace elements, and L-Acetyl Carnitine.  Elderberry and others, too.  Caffeine.

For exceptional peak mental work (a tough Peoplenomics report) I throw in Huperzine-A.

I know that sounds like an outrage number of pills, and it is.  But the results are pleasing and my mental clarity today is as good, or better, than when in my 30’s (three decades back) and the personal “recipe collection” we were talking about ion Thursday’s column has grown to prodigious size.

The brain, as near as I can figure it, is very much like the OSI model we use for communications in today’s computer world.

What is the OSI Model (if you are not familiar)?

“The Open Systems Interconnection model (OSI model) is a conceptual model that characterizes and standardizes the communication functions of a telecommunication or computing system without regard to their underlying internal structure and technology. Its goal is the interoperability of diverse communication systems with standard protocols. The model partitions a communication system into abstraction layers. The original version of the model defined seven layers.

A layer serves the layer above it and is served by the layer below it. For example, a layer that provides error-free communications across a network provides the path needed by applications above it, while it calls the next lower layer to send and receive packets that comprise the contents of that path. Two instances at the same layer are visualized as connected by a horizontal connection in that layer.

The model is a product of the Open Systems Interconnection project at the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), maintained by the identification ISO/IEC 7498-1.

imageTherefore, seems to me that in order to understand ourselves (and we ARE creating machines in our own image, which I think we were warned about) that we should at least consider that there may be some equivalency in models of both processing tools:

I believe there is, as shown in the chart to the right.

And what are the ways we each self-optimize for peak performance of the brain?  The items that are more urgently needs are to add to the “stock” at the “presentation layer” – which is what so many great people over history (like them or not) seem to do.

Hence, to my simple-minded way of thinking, the best use of an hour and a half per day is in exercise, reading out of your field, exercising your like for music (or cultivating it if you don’t) and then attacking each problem in life from an efficiency expert’s perspective.

If your brain regimen already includes 20 minutes of exercise, 20-minutes of carefully chosen (and mainly instrumental music) and the remaini8ng 50-minutes reading outside your field, I think you can amaze yourself as your ability to create and excel at everything you attempt.

By the way, if you’re already doing everything but working on the network, or central nervous system in our equivalency chart, perhaps that’s why companies in high tech (with is reall high thinking) provide free massages to key personnel…

Some items to think about, at several levels, and if may give you some ideas.

The Mystery Reader

In the column Thursday I mentioned a basic reading list on economics, along with some stock market history and theory so that when things begin to fall apart, anew, you won’t be at a loss as to what’s happening.

But there are other kinds of reading to be done and these fall into two categories.  One is the general prepping, planning, and personal skills type reading.  The other is purely recreational, but even here there should be purpose.  A side order of personal introspection is good now and then, served with a main course of “escape.”

I just read a fine book by K.J. Janssen titled “Siblings.”  Very interesting book that begins with a group of middle-aged children preparing for a family dinner.

It rolls out as all-American chit-chat as the players are introduced, but as it turns out, each of the children has (how to put this?) “issues.”

As the book builds, we go off on an adventure with one child – fresh from prison time – who gets suckered into being an insider for the F.B.I. and faces abandonment as promises made to clear his past try to evaporate.  A huge drug bust and….I won’t spoil it for you.

Another sibling brings us to a group medical practice where our thinking about medicine is challenged.  The group practice has a serious rotten apple in it: one of the docs steals from his partners via a burglary in order to make a killing on well-insured art.  The art dealer’s a sleaze, too…

There’s the doc with the gambling problem which the local hoodlery offers to let him “work off” by performing illegal abortions under an assumed name at a nearby clinic.

And what about the nurse?  (There are several, by the way.)  The key one turns out to be having a torrid affair complete with a psychedelic-powered sex life.  Enabled, we learn by accounting holes in the local hospital’s pharmacy procedures…  The P.I. tracking her down is quite believable.

It’s a delightful read (certainly five star’s worth) not so much on the basis of the plot (which is good, don’t get me wrong) but because of the flavor of the characters.

It’s like when you’re reading a classic Raymond Chandler or Dashel Hammett mystery, you wonder “Gee…what kind of family could hatch that kind of character?”

Well, now you know.   K.J. Janssen’s Symington family is just the household…and they’re “Siblings.”

That kind of “escape from here and now” is what we look for in entertainment reading.  Economics and prepping?  Sure.  But sometimes you need a good story and this one is very savory, indeed.

Go read something out of your field, once in a while…it’s a nice change of pace from the SoS on the Internet.

We Are Not Alone…

A reader sent along this link to a New Scientist report:  Comets can’t explain weird ‘alien megastructure’ star after all.

Wouldn’t it be a fabulous book for scientists to discover it is moving in our general direction?

Why, that would neatly tie up End Times and Astronomy, now, wouldn’t it?

In the book (not written) it would be “passing by to pick up the worthy” and the rest would be damned to suffer on, here on the third stone.

I don’t have time to write it, but if you’re looking for a plot, this would be a fine one…and don’t be surprised if it heads this way.

And write when you break-even,


22 thoughts on “Coping: Reading Out of Your Field”

  1. The book has been written: Nomad by Matthew Mather

    Below is part of the write-up posted at Amazon:

    Something massive is coming…
    And it’s heading for Earth.

    That’s what astronomer Ben Rollins is told by NASA…His first instinct is to call his daughter, Jessica, who’s vacationing in Italy with his wife. “Something is coming,” he tells them, “a hundred times bigger than the sun. We can’t see it, don’t know what it is yet, but they’re calling it Nomad–and in just months, the Earth may be destroyed.”

  2. Reading outside of your ‘box’ is always good for idea building. As a challenge, when you’re in your local bookstore, pick up a magazine about something you’re not interested in and see if you can find anything that applies to your world. I’m a systems guy and even though I work in the world of computers, I am always on the lookout for systems of ‘things’. Biology and ecology seem to offer the most examples and much food for thought.

  3. Successful people:

    read every day
    embrace change
    forgive others
    talk about ideas
    continuously learn
    accept responsibility
    have gratitude
    set goals and plans

    unsuccessful people:
    watch tv every day
    fear change
    hold a grudge
    talk about people
    think they already know it all
    blame others for their failures
    have a sense of entitlement
    never set goals

  4. Sitting in a wingback chair reading the last installment,”Dictator”,of the Robert Harris trilogy. Cicero as the central character will give you pause because of the mirror to our modern republic’s devolution into Empire. And the writing is such that you feel Rome around you.

  5. Your two posts on reading are right on. Are the works of Lewis Mumford on your list? I recommend his essay “Standardization and Choice”. It is wonderful to be in a position where your reading and thought are limited to the party canon as in higher ed these days.

  6. George,

    Thanks for the mention of “Siblings”

    I couldn’t agree with you more.

    As an author, I try to think, read and write outside the box. In fact, as far as I am concerned, there is no box. The sky (and beyond) is the limit. It’s a very libertating feeling.

    As always, your column and profferings are spot-on.

    Ken Janssen

  7. Which Edison Bio are you reading? I picked up Edison his life and inventions by Frank Lewis Dyer at the library this week along with a couple of others.

  8. George, I like Heinlein’s quote, I have it posted at my desk at work. I haven’t yet butchered a hog, I could make a good stab at planning an invasion, and I hope to postpone the ‘die gallantly’ a while. I’ve done everything else.
    And regarding some readers criticism of mentions of war etc, it is an unfortunate fact that there have been very few years out of the last 2000 that western civilization has not been involve in armed conflict somewhere. As the saying goes those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it. And if you are not prepared to defend your “rights” you will soon not have them.
    It is sad to live in the twilight of the concept called ‘America’.

    James J, Ex-nuke

    • Which I infer means you read a lot.
      Why, you must be one of them terrorist fellers, what being able to independently think for yourself and all… You know that’s not permitted until all-pow3erful central govt, right?
      Dissent is just another one of those fictions.

      • Ya i read 6 different books every morning with my coffee. A page or 2 from each one. Spiritual books or meditation books if you prefer. Just to get grounded and centered. I also love hunting for old old books at thrift stores. I am finishing the book Muhammad written by R.F. Dibble in 1926. I got it for $1.99. I have a first issue christian science bibble from the 1879. And i have a bible that was printed in 1780. My favorite book i bought for $0.79 which is an original copy of “Prayer Master the master Key”. I have read that book i think 20 times? Maybe more. All those booms were treasures sold for litterally pennies. Lol.

        Ya know the thing is, reading a book about Muhammad from 1926? It has no refrences to other books for imformation and it has no cited links or wikipedia refrences. ;)

        You ever read old history books not “internet versions” and see if you can identify the trend lines of how we got to where we are today? I have. Ha ha ha ha. I had bought a full set of college history books from the 1930’s about 12-15 years ago. Totally different take on modern world history then today’s version of the same time period. Or even a book written about Thomas Jefferson written in the 1850’s?

        Anyway, life is busy. Wont be able to ready ure site or others for a while.

        Later old dude.

      • Uhem. Prayer the Master Key by james dillet freeman. By far my favorite book.

        A quote:

        “Be still,
        God is.
        Perhaps then, if you are still enough, you can hear the everlasting tide of being fling itself on the shore of forever. ”

        Ohhhh makes me want to cry, every time i read that. Softens my heart.

        Just got a copy of “The Complete book of home preserving” Author Ann Seranne printed in 1953. For $1.00 at a thrift store. Lol

        I spoke to visible k-9 yesterday. He didn’t post my comments. He did reply, ha ha ha.

        Feels like 2012 again. And kind of like 1994. With a dash of 1997 Like a mix of both. Hmmmm. Like totally. You do know years have flavors?

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