Jason Crawford

The Mundanity of Excellence

An ethnography of competitive swimmers, with deep lessons for what excellence is and how to achieve it: “Excellence is mundane. Excellence is accomplished through the doing of actions, ordinary in themselves, performed consistently and carefully, habitualized, compounded together, added up over time.”

The Curse of Xanadu

On the surface, this is a piece of tech history, a story of a dramatic failure. But look closer, and you can find deep philosophical insight. See my commentary here.

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In Praise of Evolvable Systems

The fundamental standards of web technology have seemingly absurd limitations and inefficiencies—but those limitations are exactly what allowed them to flourish:

“HTTP and HTML are the Whoopee Cushion and Joy Buzzer of Internet protocols, only comprehensible as elaborate practical jokes. For anyone who has tried to accomplish anything serious on the Web, it’s pretty obvious that of the various implementations of a worldwide hypertext protocol, we have the worst one possible.

“Except, of course, for all the others.”

Luck and the Entrepreneur: The four kinds of luck

One of those articles I find myself recommending to people constantly. No one has ever heard of it, although everyone knows the author.

Some luck is blind and totally random—there’s nothing you can do to influence it. But there are three other types of luck that we actually have some control over: by being active, by preparing our minds, or by cultivating a unique personal worldview.

One of those book reviews that turned out to be better than the book.

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What’s Luck Got to Do With It?

Some of the core conclusions from the book Great by Choice. Luck happens to us, but we can defend ourselves against bad luck and take maximum advantage of good luck—both through how we prepare ahead of time, and what we do afterwards. (Paywalled.)

Notes on Progress

Thoughts on the concept of human progress and how we think about it today, contrasted with the ebulliently optimistic worldview of the 18th-century French Enlightenment thinker, the Marquis de Condorcet—interspersed with the story of Condorcet’s attempt to flee from the French Revolution, altogether a narrative that is much more interesting and readable than its prosaic title.

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In Praise of Fast Food

A brilliant, eloquent shattering of any romanticization of the “natural” food that people ate in the past. One of the articles that motivated me to study progress. Longer version here. Rachel Laudan is excellent and you can find her writing at Works in Progress or on her blog.

The Really Big One

Why the US Pacific Northwest is due for a massive earthquake/tsunami, how we know this, and why we really aren’t prepared. Some of the most engaging science writing I’ve read, along with:

The Day the Dinosaurs Died

The fascinating story of a paleontological site that turned out to be a frozen record of the Chicxulub meteor impact from 66 million years ago that caused the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event.

Aphantasia: How It Feels To Be Blind In Your Mind

How Blake Ross learned, in his 30s, that he had aphantasia—the inability to form images in your mind. As Blake recounts, of course, he had always known that he lacked this ability, and what he really learned was that everyone else had this ability.