Lessons in relativity

Last year, I did some reading in physics, notably enjoying Einstein's plain-English explanation of his Special Theory of Relativity. I'm a little scattered in my reading this year, but one thing I've come across is Bertrand Russell's ABCs of Relativity (free: PDF - audio).

Here are a couple of take-aways we can apply to everyday life.

Touch. Watching the dog sniff around, I know that he understands his world by smell. If he doesn't recognize a smell, he'll taste or touch, and if he can't figure out the origin of the smell, he'll look around for it. I've thought, though, that in the way that he understands his world by smell, we understand by sight. I was wrong. We understand by touch. A tiger doesn't appear dangerous if you don't know what torn flesh feels like, but once you know what that the touch brought by a tiger is dangerous, you only have to perceive a tiger is present to get the hell out of Dodge. You're unlikely to stick around until it bites you to find out if it's a hologram or even just an audio recording.

Similarly, we only understand a coffee table's utility because we touch it and place something upon it; if we merely see it, it's useless to us – it could just as easily be a reflection in a mirror if we don't touch it.

Your starting point is arbitrary. You can start from wherever you want, or more accurately, you can call your starting point whatever you want to call it. We generally start counting at 1, but we could start at 496 with the same consequence. If you're walking 15 yards, you can start at 0 and get arrive at 15 yards, or you can start at 7,236 yards and arrive at 7,251 yards and have traversed the same distance.

Apply this to your life; let's say you're broke and want to make $1,000,000. You can call your zero point $1,000,000 and have the goal of reaching $2,000,000, as long as you understand your scale in relation to the scale everyone else uses. That sounds like a useful self-confidence boost.

Simplifying: A lesson in beauty from The Art of War

Sun Tzu's The Art of War has long been a manual for field battle, and, for not quite as long, a manual for management in the business world and even sales. But reading it recently, this is what stood out to me:

7. There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combinations of these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard.

8. There are not more than five primary colors (blue, yellow, red, white, and black), yet in combination they produce more hues than can ever been seen.

9. There are not more than five cardinal tastes (sour, acrid, salt, sweet, bitter), yet combinations of them yield more flavors than can ever be tasted

We have, of course, found notes beyond the pentatonic (though not many), and now understand white and black not as primary colors but as, respectively, the combination of all colors and the absence of all color.

But take this point to heart. All of the wonderful variety in life can be drilled down to a few basic attributes. When these simple attributes are combined in various ratios, we get all the beauty in the world. Start with small pieces, and let it grow.

About a book: Crime, by Irvine Welsh

I'm an occasional admirer of Irvine Welsh's work. Not occasional as in, "some of his stuff's OK;" more like occasional as in, "OK, it's been a while. I think it's time to read another Irvine Welsh novel."

Our protagonist, Ray Lennox, is a cop on vacation in Miami Beach after finally helping bring down a serial pedophile/murderer. He's in recovery — again — from a cocaine habit and needs some time away to plan his wedding with his bride-to-be, Trudi.

But Lennox gets off his anti-anxiety medication and falls off the wagon for just one night — and finds himself single-handedly trying to bring down a child sex ring on this side of the pond.

Crime is paced a whole lot slower than Trainspotting or Skagboys – it moves at a speed that allows Welsh to develop his characters, and create dialogue that's a lot less frantic than his most famous works.

Plus, it's a good story. Highly recommend.

Be the best you that you can be

The day after the Super Bowl, the pundits were talking about Peyton Manning's legacy. How, if he'd led the Denver Broncos to victory, we had to seriously think about whether he was the best quarterback ever. But because the Seahawks won, it now relegates Manning to maybe top five of all time, but there's no chance he's the best.

Here's the thing: WHO THE FUCK CARES? No question, Peyton Manning is one of the best quarterbacks to have every played professional football. It's not just his numbers that bear that out — it's also his on-field abilities and intelligence. But it doesn't matter if Peyton Manning is the best ever, or if Joe Montana is the best ever, or if Russell Wilson turns out to be the best ever.

If Peyton Manning is the best Peyton Manning he can be, he should be proud. If he's not the best Peyton Manning he can be, then he's got some work to do.

You, too. You don't need to be the fastest runner in your office or the best salesperson on the tennis court. You don't need to hit the longest golf ball, ski the steepest slope or play the loudest horn.

You just have to be the best you you can be. And when you get there, get better.