Moontower #28


So I left Osaka this evening and arrived in SF this morning. An amazing trip but I’m in decompress mode so today I’m going to continue with the change of pace. Like last week, I will share a response to another friend’s question and in the process also ask for your help.

My buddy Khe in the #parenting channel of the RadReads Slack posed the following:

We’re entering kindergarten and it’s all about reading. My 5 year old loves it and I’m wondering how you all encouraged and helped them learn. I’m doing the obvious, i.e. reading together A LOT and learning letters, sounds, and sight words — but it feels like I’m making it up on the fly. I don’t want to helicopter this set of tasks, but feel like a few simple principles could go a long way. (fwiw, haven’t googled this q as I’d find the results too overwhelming).

My full response:

I tried an incentive [to my older kid]: when you start trying to read books on your own I’ll let you get a headlamp and you can read a little extra after you get put to bed. This so far hasn’t moved anything along faster. A friend of mine thinks it did help. We are pretty relaxed about it otherwise. Try to read with the boys every nite. We go to the library so they (and I) can take books out. The library is a nice place, we like just being there.

Some nites we don’t read and instead play a game. I constantly talk to the 6 yr old about the benefits of reading pointing out that it’s like a superpower that lets you solve mysteries. I point out his older cousins reading habits etc. It’s all soft suggestion and keeping them surrounded by books. I don’t force anything. He’ll come around when he comes around. He is into Pokemon so the reference book is constantly in his hands. He even made his own book. And he copies the names of the characters into it. But he doesn’t really read on his own and isn’t super eager about doing so. He’s more of a cataloguer or something. With math problems, I’ll pose a word problem and leave him alone. “Just get back to me whenever you want” That actually makes him more aggressive about wanting to solve it.

In general, I find forcing things to be counterproductive and I have some deep-seated concern about associating learning with competition or timetables (there’s a therapy session in there somewhere). Also, I’m in no rush about reading. Waldorf Schools start much later. And the world is probably more mystical before you can read. I see no harm in letting that be.

Your children won a genetic lotto as far as smarts almost certainly and you can probably see they are bright. While I, like you, feel like I should be doing “more” sometimes, I’m actively trying to be super chill about it at least at these ages. More into encouraging projects, creativity, awareness (his teacher wants the first graders to be able to “read the room”. Recognize emotion, impatience, etc). I basically agree with this. I might be overcompensating for immigrant grindstone upbringing. So consider this all disclaimed.

I’d love to hear Moontower reader perspectives and if you feel comfortable may share some back into this letter.

And for those of you who have kids a bit older that are exposed to the internet and social media, this convo between some smart folk I follow on Twitter might help you think about internet policies in your own home.

Climb Higher

Mass market trends always give birth to their own backlashes. Farm-to-table and localvore movements glorify bottoms-up artisans over top-down algorithms. Well, if Facebook is the McDonald’s of social media, be aware there is a back-to-the-land movement towards what Cal Newport calls the “long tail of social media”:The mass audience strategy is starting to fray. As users become more familiar with both the joys and depredations of the attention economy, they’re increasingly shifting toward a long tail model for the social internet.

In this new model, users don’t want to connect with everyone they already know, but instead, want to connect with small groups they find really interesting. Similarly, they don’t need access to massive libraries of low-quality content, but instead, want access to curated collections covering topics they really care about.

Part of the quality control mechanism is permissions. Unlike Twitter and Instagram, you can’t just share anywhere you want. There are gatekeepers and moderators which act as a form of government within these new and not-so-new platforms. Examples of these platforms include:

  • Your iMessage and WhatsApp groups
  • Slack memberships
  • Nextdoor (requires address verification)
  • Email chats

The interactions in these smaller groups are, on average, more rewarding and useful than the mass-market platforms. Even Twitter which is mass market can be narrowed into a much tighter conversation if you curate and segment your groups as I’ve explained here and here.

If you are interested in meeting an awesome Slack community to see what I mean, my favorite one is Khe’s Rad Reads. A number of Moontower readers are actually in it. The interactions are much richer than what you will find in any permissionless forum. And it’s worth noting that the caliber of people across many dimensions is very impressive. It’s like when you wish Yelp reviewers were “more like you”. This is that place. You can subscribe here.

*I met Khe after being a long-time subscriber to his newsletter. It’s still my favorite one (out of about 20 letters I read — I don’t read the news if you wonder what gets displaced). Sign up to RadReads here.

Last Call

  • The parallel of Idiocracy to modern times continues…The possible culprits of this “sex recession” include “hookup culture, crushing economic pressures, surging anxiety rates, psychological frailty, widespread antidepressant use, streaming television, environmental estrogens leaked by plastics, dropping testosterone levels, digital porn, the vibrator’s golden age, dating apps, option paralysis, helicopter parents, careerism, smartphones, the news cycle, information overload generally, sleep deprivation, [and] obesity. Read here.
  • Chief economist at Google, Hal Varian’s slides showing how some traditional measures of productivity are outdated.
  • Scott Adams walks through the dumbest arguments around gun control on both sides of the spectrum.
  • A tech company that trains gamers. Broader applications abound and not just drone pilots.

From my actual life 

One of the highlights of the past week was spending a few hours with sake apprentice Jorge Navarette. I will do a fuller write up on his awesome story when I compile a guide to Japan based on our trip but I will just say that Jorge is probably the most knowledgable American citizen on the subject of sake. Meeting him was pretty much an accident as we just took a tour where the hotel concierge sent us but he had only been there since July.

But here’s some knowledge you can use today if you like sake or want to get into it.

  • Premium sake is defined by how much the rice is polished down. So a 60% sake has had 40% of its rice polished down before fermentation. Sake must be below 70% to be considered premium.
    • Jumai: “pure rice” typically 60-70% remaining after polish. Large variation in taste.
    • Ginjo: “fragrant” 50-60%
    • Daiginjo: “super fragrant”. Less than 50%. Very smooth, but less variation in taste
  • To give sake shelf life it is pasteurized. In Japan, unpasteurized or “draft” sake is bottled and kept cold. It is known as “nama” sake. While technically you can drink it within 6 months we learned you really want to drink it in less than 30 days. You can find it in the states but it won’t be the same as fresh namasake.
  • Sake is expensive in the US mostly because of taxes and tariffs. A good bottle of sake in Japan need not set you back more than $7.
  • A word on Japanese whiskey. Jorge could trace the boom in popularity and price spike back to a single month in time. ​November 2014. There were 2 reasons at the same time which created a perfect storm:
    1. The rise of international demand for Japanese whiskey in the wake of The Whiskey Bible ranking Yamazaki as number one in the world and ahead of Scottish brands.
    2. A surge in local demand when a documentary about Nikka Distillery’s founder aired in Japan. It told his incredible story full of passion and suffering as he traveled to Scotland to learn the craft during the WW1 era.

Yamazaki 12 went up 6x in price but this was like table whiskey before that! Jorge had been drinking it for over 20 years when it was 25 a bottle.

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