Fog flowing through the valley, a ghost river.

Falling leafs, a million tiny deaths.

But is it death that auntum brings, or just sleep to awaken renewed?

Burning Midnight: the Ultimate Guide to Spheres

Burning Midnight is a refreshing coming-of-age novel by Will McIntosh, that starts out with a strange and unique scenario where large parts of the earth are suddenly seeded by indestructible, colorful spheres that provide physical and mental improvements to people. Just like in Roadside Picnic, the 1971 novel by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, no one has any explanation on how and why things happened, but some grasp the opportunity and make a living off of it. As I love obscure scenarios like that I decided to hunt for easter eggs and find all the colors that had been found at the outset of the novel.

Photo by Matthew Payne on Unsplash.

43 different types of spheres of different color, effect and rarity (and as such price) exist in the world Will McIntosh created. Mention of the different types is distributed all over the novel and while most of them are described in full, I didn’t manage to find the the supposed effect and/or rarity of some of them. Please let me know if you find something I have missed and I will update this post with it.

So, without further ado, I present the ultimative guide to spheres in Burning Midnight:

Army greenResistance to the common cold1
TaupeArtistic ability1
TealFall asleep more easily1
Baby blueTolerance to heat1/2*
TangerineMimic sounds1/2*
Lemon yellowGrow one inch2
Slate greySinging ability2
LavenderEnhanced musical ability2
RoseAbility to hold your breath over a long time2
Ruby redWhite, even teeth2
Forrest greenEnhanced sense of smell3
MintMore outgoing3
Sky blueSense of humor4
IndigoEnhanced eyesight5
Hot pinkAdrenalin rush5
PeriwinkleGood with numbers6
PlumErase memory6
CranberryBetter looks7
AquamarineQuick healing8
OlivePain control8
VermillionNeed little sleep8
ChocolateEnhanced strength and build to go with it9
MustardHigh IQ9
Canary yellowPerfect memory9
Cherry redCreates new spheres10
TurquoiseEnhanced hearing?
MagentaNight vision?
Seafoam greenSpeed?
Burnt orangeSpeed reading?
VioletVerbal acuity?

* rarity isn’t mentioned, so I determined the rarity from the price

If you have read the novel, or even the cover of the book, you will find that two colors are actually missing in this list. The two colors gold and midnight blue are unique spheres that are relevant for the story, so I didn’t put it in here, as I don’t want to spoiler anyone. Midnight blue gives the book it’s name, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it will get burned at some point. To learn the effect of the two colors and who it is that burns them, you will have to read the book yourself. While I wasn’t too thrilled by the resolution of the novel it definitely is worth a read, if only for the fun setup and all of it’s implications. So grab a copy and enjoy the ride.

How to Make Important Decisions

To jump or not to jump … by Joacim Bohlander on Unsplash

There are many decision we have to make in our daily life – most are trivial, but now and then there comes a time where we have to decide something that will have a massive influence on our future life. Often these decisions are all but obvious and doing the right thing in situations like that is hard. In times like these systems can offer an easier path to a good decision – in this case I like to use an approach my brother introduced me to some time ago – the rusty scales.

Put arguments for continuing on one path on the lower side and arguments for change on the other side of the rusty scale and see if the arguments agains change hold up against the resistance of the scale.

Some years back I was really struggling with my relationship of eight years. It wasn’t that I didn’t like my then-girlfriend anymore or that there was any pressing problem that drove me away, but somehow it didn’t really feel right anymore. We started dating during school and were together through all of my time in university and I longed for new experiences. I still liked her a lot – as a person and as a friend – but it didn’t feel like I loved here.

I struggled with this decision for months without any progress and it took several months more until I finally mad up my mind and left. After that I never regretted the decision.

While a situation like that will never be easy for me, there is a way to take away some of the doubt and the process is rather simple:

  • imagine a rusty old scale, maybe one like Justitia uses – it still moves, but it takes quiet a bit of weight difference to make it move
  • take all arguments against a decision and put it on the lower scale
  • take all the arguments for a decision and put it on the upper scale
  • if the upper scale moves down, go along with the choice

The reasoning here is that for a hard decision both sides have merit. However, there are often good reasons for the status quo, reasons you shouldn’t easily discount. This is the rust in the mechanisms of the scales – it takes more than just a balance of weight to make scales move and for you to take the plunge.

All of this doesn’t make hard choices easy, but – at least for me – it helps to take away some of the anxiety and often that is everything I need.

There is No Growth without Discomfort

The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.

Joseph Campell

To me growth is at the core of a fulfilled life and growth only happens on the edges of our skills or personality – the “place” we call our comfort zone. Maybe fear is to strong a word here, I would choose discomfort, but the core of the message holds true. You have to go where it isn’t comfortable, maybe not even safe, and through that anxiety and fear creeps in. If we stop at the slightest discomfort, we will always stay where we are. If we brave our fear and continue onwarts despite of it we will grow.

Maybe safety and comfort is important to you. There is nothing wrong with that, nothing wrong with staying within the boundaries of your comfort zone. But know that it is a choice, your choice.

How to Better Solve Complex Problems and Learn New Things

A completely realistic rendering of my eureka moment by Nicolas Gras on Unsplash.

A couple of days ago I was driving home from my parents and not really thinking about anything special, when I realized something about two completely unrelated things I had struggled with in the last few weeks, which let to some kind of eureka moment about ideas and problem solving.

The first situation was buying a new climbing harness. I have been an avid climber for a decade now and my current climbing harness is on the verge of wearing through. For some weeks now I have been looking online for a new one, but for some reason I didn’t manage to decide on a harness to buy. This is kind of strange for me, as I am usually a quick shopper. But here I was checking out harnesses every few days, but I just didn’t manage to choose one. I  bought my current one years ago without much thought and it was perfectly fine, so I couldn’t understand what was stopping me. Then, on Sunday morning, I started looking again and here I was – my indecision gone – and I easily selected one and bought it right away.

The second thing I struggled with was a software project I was working on. It wasn’t a trivial problem, but it wasn’t that hard either.  However, every time I sat down and tried to start on it I thought a bit and tinkered around, but rather quickly I always found something else “important” to do. This went on for a few days, then a week. I did make a little progress with the design, but at no point I sat down and really started implementation of this part of the software. It seemed to me that I just couldn’t find the right approach to the problem at hand.

A totally unrelated picture of a puppy by Duffy Brook (Unsplash).

What connects these situations, and what I didn’t realize until my drive home, is that in both I was missing some piece of “critical” information: while I have been climbing for years, I hadn’t really thought much about what I need in a climbing harness. So when I started looking at different types, I actually just started my research into them, but at this point I didn’t really know what I wanted. Over the days and weeks I thought more about what I need and in which situations I want to use it and only after I subconsciously defined what features I needed, I “could” decide. The same thing was the case with the software project – it took me the whole week to subconsciously think through the problem until I had all of the moving parts assembled in my mind to really start implementation.

What I did realized on my way home was that this is something I had read about a couple of years ago – it is the process that helps to have a Eureka Moment. At the time I was reading about it I considered it a fascinating idea, but I didn’t really think that my usual tasks required “eureka moments” to solve. I mean, I wasn’t trying to invent a new kind of physics, they mostly were just “normal” tasks and how could this be relevant to me? What I really only grasped here is that this works for many – also mundane – problems and probably makes solving complex tasks easier and that I was doing it – in a way – all along!

The process is markedly simple – start by really immersing yourself in the subject at hand, then take a break from the task and do something different. It’s best if it is something that doesn’t need your full attention – doing the dishes, showering, taking a walk – you name it, but it basically can be anything at all. After some time, pick up the original task and work on it some more and repeat this process until you are done. Markedly, this is also very similar to Spaced Practice, one of the best ways to learn new stuff.

The best way to have a eureka moment. Photo by Jad Limcaco on Unsplash

What happens here is that you give your mind a lot of information to process by immersing yourself, followed by time to really process this information subconsciously, and through repetition you keep your brain working on it. At some point your subconsciousness has spent enough time on the task at hand to solve it, or, in case of learning, really carve out the neural path ways to store the new information.

So, make your life easier and learn more using eureka moments and spaced practice!

Paths and Perception

Photo by SpaceX on Unsplash

We will always meet and never meet again. Our corridors lead us forever apart.

Ursula K. LeGuin – Paradise Lost, The Found and the Lost

This poem from the novella Paradise Lost by Ursula K. LeGuin made me think about how our environment influences how we think and communicate. It is the story of woman who is born and grows up on a generation space ship traveling to a far away planet and the poem is written by this young woman about one of her friends who once was close, but has drifted off.

Photo by Dylan McLeod on Unsplash

What especially fascinates me is “Our corridors lead us forever apart.” It felt so strange to read this. We, who have grown up and live on a planet, with open spaces and ways that crisscross the world wouldn’t phrase it like that. We would probably say something like “our paths lead us forever apart“, which makes sense if you have the concept of path. The first definition of path in the Free Dictionary is “a road or way, esp a narrow trodden track“, the second is “a surfaced walk, as through a garden“. Even if you were born in a large city and have never seen a path as I automatically visualize it – a small worn out track through a wood – you would still know the concept from tiny alleys or the ways through a park. The concept is deeply ingrained in all of us as we have seen and walked paths all our life.

But is a path is a concept that you would understand intuitively if you were born on a space ship that consists of spaces connected by corridors? Probably not. Probably the ingrained concept of a way that leads you to or from someone would be a corridor as LeGuin writes in the poem. And this is not only true for a path and it isn’t only true for fictional people living in a fictional spaceship. This is true for everything and all of us.

What we perceive and how we perceive things is strongly shaped by our past and current environment. If you grew up in a city you have probably learned how to navigate streets, when you can safely jaywalk, and how to ignore people around you in the subway. These are the skills you need to “survive” in this environment. What you haven’t learned is to track – or even see – wild animals on the savanna. I learned this first hand during a trip to the Kruger National Park in South Africa, where I completely failed to see a Lion pub sitting right next to the car until it was pointed out to me. Your experience is a completely different one to someone who has grown up on the savanna and whose life literally depends on her skills to recognize a Lion in the underbrush.

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

Now, if we consider that each of us has a vastly different perception of the world, isn’t it understandable that we often don’t understand each other? I believe if we manage to keep this in mind and more often try to see also the other side of an argument then all of us will get along much better. And this is something we will definitely need if we want to tackle the challenges that are ahead of us on this tiny blue dot in the middle of emptiness.

Fading Glow

This single moment when the power is gone, the filament still shining brightly, only to fade away in an instant.

Thanks to Devin Avery on Unsplash

There is so much beauty in a light bulb being switched off in a darkened room. This single moment when the power is gone, the filament still shining brightly, only to fade away in an instant. Just like a glow worm on a warm summer night. A tiny speck of light in the darkness. Temporary, but never fully gone, it’s beauty forever burned into my neural pathways.