Not quite finding Flow

It was very unclear what to expect from this book when I first picked it up. I’ve been hearing about this book off and on for a while now. When it showed up in the ‘further reading’ section of Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an ArtistI thought maybe it was time to actually give it a read.


1990 cover. Throw back!

I’m not disappointed but I didn’t find this work as life changing as I’d been lead to believe.

I was first surprised by the fact that this book is old. Published in the same year I was born (1990), both this book and I have reached one quarter of a century. And while I am relatively obscure, this book has had 25 years to permeate the culture in which we live.

It has, and I believe that is part of the reason this book was so difficult to get through. When people say Seinfeld isn’t funny, they mean that the things which made Seinfeld novel and groundbreaking as a sitcom, have all been used and perhaps over-used by other shows which came after. Themes and techniques which Seinfeld brought to the scene, have been improved on, or even perfected by other comedies later on. New things have emerged.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience seems to have suffered a bit in the same way. While it was interesting to have certain terms coined (ex. psychic energy, flow etc.), and defined with exacting precision, it seemed to me that the main thesis of this work was no longer novel.

flow2For example, Csikszentmihalyi describes conditions which need to be met in order for Flow to occur. Essentially, we need to find a task which a) matches/pushes our ability, b) brings us closer to some goal we’ve set. He goes on to state that if the activity is too easy, we’ll grow bored and if it is too difficult, we will give up. I wouldn’t call this discovery earth shattering but it also isn’t completely irrelevant either. Useful to consider if seemingly a bit obvious. Much of the wisdom in Flow can be ascribed as such.

I suppose, what we are meant to take away from this work is that we are happy when our abilities are tested, and we succeed. For Csikszentmihalyi, when we’ve found a task that matches/pushes our ability, and brings us closer to something we value, our consciousness expands. We become more complex and in doing so, achieve greater happiness.

What Flow is useful for, is prompting introspection. What activities do you perform (whether at work, or leisure) that generate flow? Which don’t? Can they be made to? How do they bring you closer towards your goals? What are your goals? Why? What activities do you do simply for the sheer enjoyment of doing them?

I won’t lie, thinking about all that is a bit like staring into the abyss. But it’s worth a look. For me, it was very useful to look at my activities and really isolate my motivations. Some activities I started for seemingly external reasons (ie the wrong reasons) but continue because I’ve found that I really do enjoy them.

Hmm. Maybe I learned something from this book after all 😉

Until next time . . .



Nostalgia, Computer Personalities & Detective Fiction: A Review of Adam Christopher’s Made to Kill



Recently I was able to read and (mostly) enjoy an advanced reader copy of Made to Kill by Adam Christopher. In essence, this book is a detective story in which the detective has been replaced by a Robot who is also an assassin (hence Made to Kill). The book seems pretty heavy on the detection and light on the assassin but I’m probably just nitpicking. Now, I say mostly enjoyed because while I was reading this book, I felt like I wasn’t enjoying it, but I kept going, eventually finished and ended up thinking about a lot of things along the way. This is more than I can say about some of the “deep” books I’ve read in the past. Here are my thoughts:

I Spy

The first thing I’ll say is that this book is a veritable I Spy of detective fiction. It seems like most if not all of the elements in this story link back to or reference something in detective fiction. For me, a good deal of the fun of reading this work was seeing all the references, and trying to search out others. I’m sure there are a good many others I didn’t find (please post any I missed in the comments section). Here are the allusions I was able to pick out:

  • The main character Ray appears to be a clear homage to detective novelist Raymond Chandler. I won’t ask for any points for figuring this out. Not too much detection needed, but you know, start with the low hanging fruit.
  • Ray’s creator Thornton. This one caught me by surprise. I read most of the novel before looking Chandler up on wikipedia to see if there were any other obvious allusions. Turns out Thornton is Chandler’s middle name. Learn something new every day.
  • Ray’s control computer / secretary is named Ada. I think this might be a call back to Ada Lovelace, who is credited with writing some of the first analytical algorithms and generally thought of as one of the first, if not the first, computer programmer. Well done there.
  • Rico Spillane is one of the A-list actors Ray comes across in his detection. I believe this is likely a call back to Mickey Spillane, another detective novelist.
  • Finally, and this one is a bit of a stretch. The Daily News is brought up a few times through out the book. Apparently Chandler wrote for a paper titled The Daily Express. I mean, Daily News is probably the name of a thousand papers so it might not have anything to do with Chandler, but maybe it does.

I’m sure there are many more to be found if I’d spent some more time researching / knew more about detective fiction, but that was all I came up with on a first read through. Oooh and if you like a little innuendo in your detective fiction, my personal favorite was a character named Touch Daley. A government agent. lols.


Raymond Chandler writing? Reading? Solving the case!

Raymond Chandler writing? Reading? Solving the case!

As I’m going along, living my life, consuming more and more culture, I’ve realized we’re in a very nostalgic moment right now. I think Made to Kill is a great example of this. I think the most basic premise here is simply: Robot detective. So why set this story in the 1965? Of course, I’m thinking about Mad Men (note: this book is nothing like Mad Men). In a way, I think the success of Mad Men has garnered a legion of fiction set during the 50’s and into the 60’s which in essence don’t belong there. Consequently the quality of shows like Mad Men also have set the bar super high for any fiction that’s even remotely similar. Made to Kill strikes me as a story best written in a modern or even future setting. While atomic technology, radiation, Gieger Counters, etc. all were prominent fears in the 50’s and 60’s, they’re still things that we need to worry about now, or will have to worry about when it’s more likely that a robot will be investigating it.

But, I think right now, much of our culture is looking back at the elegance and abundance that was the 50’s and 60’s and romanticizing it. Shows like Mad Men are successful because they present that elegance and abundance as a facade, with the harsh reality of that time (racism, sexism, elitism etc.) just underneath. It resonates with us because we still have those issues today. Unfortunately, Made to Kill seems to only provide the romance of the 50’s / 60’s but doesn’t touch any modern concerns. However, if you’d like to just read a story about a robot detective in the hard-boiled mode, then Made to Kill has you covered and does a fantastic job with the form of hard-boiled detective fiction.

Personality of Computers

Ray and Ada aren’t computers they’re people. We’re constantly reminded that while Ray might hear the squeak of Ada’s chair or a pause in her speech while as she draws back on her cigarette, there is no reason for her to do these things. Just as there is no reason for Ray to bother with a trench coat, or even pants for that matter. Lots of little signals, that in the past told readers they were reading a detective story, seem completely erroneous. Almost vestigial considering that our two main leads are computers. I suspect that it could be read as a comment on the future of this type of tech. As we rush towards ever increasing sophistication in our computers, there might be little ‘human’ elements to their ‘personality’ (computernality?) that are random or even programmed so that we as people can better interact with them.  I’m not really sure. Food for thought . . .

Well that’s all for now folks. Please leave comments if you have any. Also, send me some hints about other detective fiction allusions that I missed. Now get detecting!