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PSA: Fake calls from fake me

I’ve been told that pranksters are using details on this site to call the CEO’s of various major companies pretending to be me, often regarding research proposals. The number usually used seems to be 0203 883 5035 (although there’s no reason another number couldn’t be used). Please ignore calls pretending to be from me from this number.

I don’t think I’ve ever cold-called a company’s CEO, but I suppose there’s always a first time. If you aren’t sure whether you’re speaking to real me or fake me, I’m always very happy for you to drop an email to sh@simonhoward.co.uk and I will reply to confirm.

If you want to know what I sound like – which certainly isn’t gruff, aggressive and rude like fake me – there are also a couple of YouTube videos featuring me!

This 2,333rd post was filed under: Site Updates.

What I’ve been reading this month

It struck me that Matthew Kneale’s An Atheist’s History of Belief was neither particularly for atheists nor a comprehensive history of belief. Rather, Kneale presented interesting potted histories about the development over thousands of years of soecific aspects of various religions, picked – by Kneale’s own admission – for the fact that they are interesting stories. For example, he tracked beliefs about violence within Christianity from Jesus’s time through witch trials and the crusades to the modern day; and he followed Buddhism from it being a lifestyle through to a fully fledged religion and back again. Kneale clearly has a good eye for a story, and made this book very enjoyable and interesting.
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Anthony Longden’s essay in Slightly Foxed persuaded me to seek out a copy of Ruth Adam’s A House in the Country. It was a gentle story written and set shortly after the Second World War. A group of six friends (and a couple of young children), ground down by wartime urban living, decided to club together to live communally in a large country house in Kent, which they had loved at first sight. Adam described the mostly humorous, but sometimes poignant, series of adventures and disasters which follow. The characters felt absolutely complete and true-to-life in a fashion that is rarely true in a book this short. The most interestsing aspect to me was the natural discussion of the rapid change in social mores over the post-war period, and the impact this had on individuals. I have no idea whether this book was entirely fiction or rather based on Adam’s experiences. This is not the sort of book I would typically pick up, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
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Every Third Thought was an extended reflection on death by Robert McCrum who explored how one’s perspective on death changes with age. This wasn’t a superficial examination of the topic which ended with cheery messages about ‘living every day as if it’s your last’: it was an uncompromisingly depressing examination of the pain and suffering that often accompanies the end of life. There was much in this book to think about and reflect on further.
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I found Nick Clegg’s book on How to Stop Brexit disappoiting and confused. Most of the book was a restatement of reasons why Britain should remain the EU, but this was followed by a logically flawed set of suggestions for stopping Brexit. For example, Clegg argued that the referendum was unfair because the result of a ‘leave’ vote was not clear in advance. In this book, he advocated for a second referendum with a clear ‘leave’ deal on offer, but in which a ‘remain’ vote would result in a commission to re-evaluate and re-negotiate the UK’s place in the EU: therefore, the very same charge about a lack of clarity of sequelae previously associated with the ‘leave’ campaign then becomes problematic for the ‘remain’ campaign. Having enjoyed Clegg’s autobiography, I expected a lot more from this book.
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In Trust Me, I’m Lying, Ryan Holiday shared his angry at how easy it has become to manipulate bloggers into publishing content that is blatantly untrue, and how credulously traditonal media outlets then pick up those posts and re-report them as fact. Holiday drew on his experience in using this technique to court controversy as a marketer for American Apparel. Holiday admitted to seeing no easy solution, but wrote admiringly about subscription-based approaches to journalism as part of the answer. I feel better informed for having read this, but found the snarky tone and strong language distracting.
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I picked up the Lionel Giles translation of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War because it is so often referred to in other things I’ve read. It was a short book of military strategy written 1500 years ago. Much of it seemed pretty obvious, but I suppose that is because it has become received wisdom. What struck me most about this, though, was not really the book at all. Other have suggested that this book contains great lessons for surviving modern life, or for succeeding as a politician, or for informing business strategies, or for managing a team. On reading and realising that this is just a manual for slaughtering adversaries without mercy, it made me feel a little sad that people see so much in this for other parts of life. I hope life isn’t about fighting with others: I hope life is about discussion and mutual respect and compromise and forgiveness and helping people out. So reading this left me with a general sense of pensive melancholy, not so much about the book itself, but about the place many people see it taking in the modern world.
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This 2,332nd post was filed under: What I've Been Reading.

What I’ve been reading this month

I’m not someone who would naturally pick up a book written 2000 years ago. I’m no classicist. But there has been so much written online and in magazines in recent years about Seneca’s Moral Essays that I thought I’d pick up a translation to see what all the fuss was about. The volume I selected contained Seneca’s essays On Providence, On Firmness, On Anger and the sliver that survives of On Mercy. These essays were many times better than anything modern I’ve read on character or morality. The John W Basore translations were highly readable and engaging. There were parts that made reference to Seneca’s contemporaries or cultural/religious figures that slightly went over my head, but the down-to-Earth “life advice” was astounding. It also made me reflect that there’s more in this single volume on effective management of people than anything I’ve ever previously read. I was completely blown away.
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A Death in The Family was the first of five parts of Karl Ove Knausgård’s radically honest autobiography. This volume covered Knausgård’s relationship with and the death of his father. The book was extreme in its honesty. Knausgård left nothing to the imagination. He didn’t spare family or friends in his descriptions of them and nor did he spare himself in documenting his darkest inner thoughts. His descriptions were detailed, meticulous and evocative. “Transcendent” seems to be a word commonly associated with this book and that captures my impression. It is a very impressive first volume.
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Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths’s Algorithms to Live By stood at the intersection of computer science and philosophy. The authors explained a number of fundamental algorithms used in computer science (many of which were new to me) and then used tenets of philosophy to explain how these algorithms were also applicable in everyday life.
The premise sounded like a terrible marketing-driven airport paperback ‘What X tells us about Y’ concept. In fact, it was carried off very well. The computer science was quite complex (certainly well beyond my rusty A-Level Computing knowledge), but explained with a clarity that outstripped most ‘popular science’ books. The ‘relevance to everyday life’ was also carried through expertly, delving fairly deep into evidence-based psychology. There was a lucid connection between the two which the authors brought to life with thoughtful examples. This was interdisciplinary thinking done right.
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I picked up Unmasked, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s memoir, because the reviews I read suggested that it was better than one might expect it to be—and that’s exactly how I found it. It would be interesting in any case to have some insight into the creative process of a man who has had musical successes writing everything from Elvis Presley songs to stage musicals to a requiem mass. But—perhaps surprisingly—this book was also very funny. There were bits that were a little cringe-worthy, including a bit where he makes a joke about the size of his penis, but he strikes the right note far more often than the wrong one.
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I struggled a bit to get through Fire Sermon by Jamie Quatro, which is saying something considering that it was quite a short novel. In a nutshell, the novel found Quatro’s protagonist attempting to reconcile her Christian faith with a lifetime of sexual encounters. There were interesting ideas to unlock in that premise, but I didn’t really gain any real insight into them. This was partly because Quatro often took approaches which extended beyond my sphere of knowledge without anything like an adequate explanation (a treatise on apophatic theology, anyone?). It was also partly because the writing didn’t lead me to particularly care about any of the characters. Fire Sermon just didn’t quite do it for me.
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This 2,331st post was filed under: What I've Been Reading.

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