fighting the lack of good ideas


For a long time, I’ve been concerned about knowledge capture.

And archiving.

I’ve finally done something about my own public persona.

It’s not 100% complete, but I’ve created my own “online merikebi” of public content.

It’s over at It’s collecting posts from all of my blogs, Reddit, and Twitter.

As and when appropriate (and possible), I’ll add other public sources (for example, I cannot collect my Quora content anymore).

what would you have done?

“He flew between the spans, becoming the first pilot to do so in a jet aircraft. He buzzed three more airfields before returning to his base, where he was promptly arrested.”

via Futility Closet –

the genie of the lamp

A Polish gentleman was walking through Krakow one afternoon, and found a curious object covered in dust and grime.

As he was cleaning it, out popped a genie.

“I am the Genie of the Lamp™. I will grant you 3 wishes. Choose wisely.”

The gentleman asked, “3 wishes? Any 3 wishes?”

“Yes, any 3 wishes you choose.”

The gentleman thought for a moment and said, “I wish for the Mongol invasion of Poland.”

To which the genie replied, “The Mongol invasion of Poland? With Ghengis Khan and the Mongol Hordes? You’re Polish, you know – are you sure?”

“Yes, quite sure.”

“OK. Give me a few minutes.”

Up from the ancient battlefields, graveyards, and mausoleums across Asia rose Ghengis Khan and the Mongol Hordes. Sweeping across the steppes of Asia. Havoc! Bedlam! Death! Destruction everywhere! Into Poland! Leveling everything in their path.

And back to their resting places went the Mongol Hordes.

“Phew – that was probably the biggest wish I have ever granted. Are you satisfied, sir?”

Looking around decimated Krakow, the gentleman replied, “not bad, genie, not bad.”

“What do you desire for your second wish, master?”

“Easy – the Mongol invasion of Poland.”

“You want..the same wish. Again‽”

“Yes – is that against the rules?”

“Well…no. But. Well. OK. If you insist, sir.”

Up from the ancient battlefields, graveyards, and mausoleums across Asia rose Ghengis Khan and the Mongol Hordes. Sweeping across the steppes of Asia. Havoc! Bedlam! Death! Destruction everywhere! Into Poland! Leveling everything in their path.

And back to their resting places went the Mongol Hordes.

“I have never been asked for the same exact wish twice in a row before, master. How did that suit you?”

With barely a stone left atop another, the man said, “Genie – that was better than the first time.”

“Thank you, master – I live only to please.”

“Genie, I know what I desire for my third wish.”

“Yes, master?”

“The Mongol invasion of Poland.”


“Yes – unless wishing for the same thing three times in a row is against the rules.”

“Master, you must be the most peculiar possessor of the lamp I have ever had. As you wish, sir.”

Up from the ancient battlefields, graveyards, and mausoleums across Asia rose Ghengis Khan and the Mongol Hordes. Sweeping across the steppes of Asia. Havoc! Bedlam! Death! Destruction everywhere! Into Poland! Leveling everything in their path.

And back to their resting places went the Mongol Hordes.

“Sir, I must ask – I have been in this business a very long time. Why, praytell, did you wish for the Mongol invasion of Poland – and why did you wish for it three times?”

The Polish gentleman replied, “that’s easy, genie – every time the Mongols invade Poland, they invade Russia. Twice.”

I don’t know the original author – but I’ve found this hilarious since I first heard it probably 10 years ago or more

why nations fail by daron acemoglu and james a robinson

I first came across Why Nations Fail at my local Half Price Books. After seeing it on the shelves a couple times, but still being unsure about whether I really wanted to read it or not, I reserved it at my local library.

Now I wish I had bought it (and likely will) – Daron Acemoglu & James A Robinson, while sometimes slipping into an academic, journalistic tone, present a fantastic historical, economic, cultural, and international view into the similarities, and differences, of “national” failures around the world over the last several centuries.

They spend a great deal of time expounding on the differences of countries that succeed and those that don’t – and offer insights into how failing nations could, potentially, turn themselves around.

Interestingly, the factors that play-into national success and failure are similar throughout history – critical junctures, inclusive/pluralistic political and economic environments vs extractive/exclusive political and economic structures, empowered citizenries, overbearing rulers, literacy, economic incentives (positive and negative), etc.

The Iron Law of Oligarchy:

the overthrow of a regime presiding over extractive institutions heralds the arrival of a new set of masters to exploit the same set of pernicious extractive institutions (p366)

My recommendation? Buy it. Read it. Share it. The background and conclusions this book presents and reaches should be required reading for anyone who wants to see their nation “do better” – politicians, businessmen, citizens, NGOs: all would benefit from applying what is demonstrated in this excellent work.

  • Quality of writing: 4/5
  • Quality of content: 4.5/5
  • Historicity: 5/5
  • Educational value 4.5/5
  • Overall: 4.5/5

to engineer is human by henry petroski

I’ve ogled To Engineer is Human by Henry Petroski for several years. So when I saw it at a local used book store for just a couple dollars, I snagged a copy.

Along with some of his other works, such as The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance, I’ve found the titles interesting, and the back covers alluring.

Sadly, while the book isn’t bad in and of itself, Petroski’s writing sounds like that of his profession – a professor. His style, while informative, carries the dryness associated with being in academia far too long.

Henry obviously knows a lot about engineering – but his delivery is too formal. Compared to works such as 1421 by Gavin Menzies (review), To Engineer is Human sounds like a graduate thesis. Maybe that was the author’s goal – if it was, he accomplished it.

If it was to make something normal folks would like and want to read, I think he failed miserably.


I love maps. I have a calendar with historical maps on my wall next to my desk. I love books based around atlases (such as the Historical Atlas of series (many by Ian Barnes (similarly related review)). I like going to museums, visiting websites, used book shops, etc and just peruse the maps. I used to have a small collection of rail and bus transit maps from around the world (London, Hong Kong, Singapore, New York City, Washington DC, Chicago …). On my phone I have Apple Maps, Google Maps, MapQuest, Scout, TeleNav, Park Me, and Google Earth.

I love books like 1421 by Gavin Menzies (my review) that have histories of map making, ancient maps reproduced, etc.

When I graduated from HVCC in 2001, I had hoped to join many of my classmates from school at MapInfo. I think GIS is fascinating (and know someone, now, who works for the KY government doing GIS).

I wish I could be a cartographer.

I can’t draw, though – so I sate my appetite for geography via reading maps others have made.

Data visualization, which is all map-making is, is another, broader interest of mine – but also one I don’t have enough of a grasp of to work with intelligently too often.

All this leads me to ask for the best introduction to GIS you have seen for someone interested in cartography, and with a basic knowledge of system design and architecture. What would it be?

the basque history of the world by mark kurlansky

I have long been interested in the Basque people; first introduced to them nearly 13 years ago in an introduction to terrorism class (a year and a half before it was “cool”) with the separatist group ETA.

So it was with great interest I grabbed The Basque History of the World by Mark Kurlansky off the shelf of my local library recently.

Before continuing: wow – Mark’s writing is intensely engaging, wide-sweeping, and both in-line with some of my previous knowledge of the group, and builds and extends that view in new, exciting ways.

Kurlansky has had the opportunity to live in and among the Basque people for years, and brings a great deal of insight from interviews, papers, books, histories, etc that showcase the “Basqueness” of the people in eastern France and northern Spain – aka Basqueland – in contrast to the “Spanishness” of what we think of as modern Spain (and, to a lesser extent, the “Frenchness” of France). For example, it was the Basques who trained the English in whaling, built much of the armada which was damaged so severely in 1588. Basques also largely crewed the exploratory vessels of Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan (indeed, the commander who brought Magellan’s mission to a completion after his death was a Basque).

For centuries, Basques have been stereotyped as reclusive, secret-keeping, quiet people. They have been known as smugglers across the France-Spain border, rural, and a nation of people who has never had their own country. For millenia they have lived in the same region of Europe – creating some of what has been frequently credited to others in modern industry: in addition to the aforementioned whaling activities, they also contributed to new steel industry by providing ideal iron ore both to their own factories and to the British blast furnaces in the 1800s which utilized the Bessemer process.

So many anecdotes, triva points, and fascinating facts and stories of the Basque people, region, and history are wrapped in The Basque History of the World, that to do true justice would require reading the book.

Interspersed through the pages are recipes for traditional Basque foods, terms, words, and phrases; having never visited that portion of the world in person, I feel like I have gotten a true taste of the people through this book.