Essays and Blog Posts from Barry Morisse.

'The Raft' - Fred Strydom

'The Raft' - Fred Strydom

The Raft - Fred Strydom
The Raft - Fred Strydom

A few weeks ago I attended the South African Book Fair to dip my toe into the SA publishing industry and see what I found.  The fair brought together authors, publishers and book-lovers from all over the country to meet and talk shop about the state of South African literature.  This took the form of various panels, debates and discussions around a wide variety of topics - some of which I went to be a part of.

The most entertaining talk I went to was themed around the genres of horror, science fiction and fantasy and it contained a panel of some of South Africa's most talented writers in those areas, namely: Lauren Beukes, Melissa Delport and the author I want to talk about today: Fred Strydom.

Now, all three of these authors impressed me with their enthusiasm and dedication to a genre of fiction that is only slowing starting to grow in this country and as I listened to them speak, it dawned on me that as a self-diagnosed erudite, I had given very little support to South African authors.  So I went and bought one of each of their books and got stuck in.

'The Raft'

Fred Strydom's masterpiece is where I started and that sure sets an incredibly high bar!

The Raft is the meticulously woven story of an odyssey across a broken world - with one burning question for the protagonist.  Who am I?

To borrow from the book blurb:

On Day Zero, humankind collectively lost its memory.  The collapse of civilisation was as instantaneous as it was inevitable.  For a man name Kayle Jenner, confined by a regime to a commune on a remote beach, all that remains is the vague and haunting vision of a son.  That, and a wooden raft.

In this world without memory, Strydom's story looks at who we are without our memories and what makes us the unique little snowflake we think we are.  It is a thought experiment like no other, because it requires you to disregard thought altogether.

Without memories to build off - there are no reference points.

There is no knowledge.

There is no 'me'.

In a feat of storytelling that I haven't come across in a long time - this book truly deserves to be read and re-read by everyone.  It is sad that because it is a South African author, there is a stigma that comes part and parcel - but I implore you to look past that and give this book a chance.  It is simply incredible.

I cannot wait to get stuck into Melissa and Lauren's books next...  Support South African Fiction!

How To Think Like Elon Musk

How To Think Like Elon Musk

How To Think Like Elon Musk
How To Think Like Elon Musk

The approval of a ‘high speed rail’ system in California irked Elon Musk.  For someone like him, working in the innovation hub that is Silicon Valley, he found it flabbergasting that the ‘high speed rail’ was neither cheaper or faster than currently available trains.  In fact, I’ll let him speak:

“The underlying motive for a statewide mass transit system is a good one.  It would be great to have an alternative to flying or driving, but obviously only if it is actually better than flying or driving.  The train in question would be both slower, more expensive to operate and less safe by two orders of magnitude than flying, so why would anyone use it?”

There it is.  An incredibly honest and obvious take on this specific transport issue.  You or I could have written that, the thinking is simple, logical and rational.

What sets us apart however is the next step.

Before you carry on reading, take a minute and think about how you would react to that problem?  If you were to put on your thinking cap and look to solve this – what would you do?

Most likely, if we are honest with ourselves, we would have suggested a faster, cheaper train.  Maybe by changing the raw materials or the routes, or the infrastructure – we could make a better train!  That sounds like the next step.

Elon disagrees.

As a true innovator does, he didn’t see the question as “How do we build a better train?” but rather “How do we solve the problem?”

What was needed was a solution for short distance travel between cities with heavy traffic that was cheap, fast, efficient and safe.  What Elon does that sets him apart, is that he is not hamstrung by the world as we see it today.  His imagination is not limited by the technology we have available or the language we use with transportation or even by the solutions we currently use.   His mind roams free to explore any possibility.

He dreams of a new form of transportation.

The Hyperloop

Hyperloop is a metal tube that would carry human sized-pods to the destination.  Bare with me here.

On the nose of the pod, there would be an electric compressor fan mounted that would transfer high pressure air from the front to the rear of the vessel.  In essence, the pod would move on the cushion of air, at high speed, to the other end of the tube.  The pods are accelerated using a magnetic linear accelerator (Don’t worry – I have no idea what that is either).

Now whether you understand that at all is irrelevant.  Whether you believe it will work as a transport system is irrelevant.  What I am trying to get at here is the mindset that Elon Musk has when tackling problems.  He doesn’t want to build a better train, he wants to find the best solution.

It’s something that we all struggle with.  Naturally, when we want to improve our lives – we think that we need to get a better TV or a better car or go to a better school.  The only thing we can see in our mind is that the object we have right now is optimal and the only way to improve is to upgrade that particular item or concept or idea.

It is very seldom that we can see past the face value and look at the actual root cause of that desire.

For example, the problem as defined in Elon’s mind – was not: “This train is too slow and too expensive”.

Rather, it was – “People need to travel between San Francisco and Los Angeles as quickly and cheaply as possible.”

He tackles the very root of the problem which allows him to open up the spread of possibilities that could be feasible.  He is not looking to make a 10% improvement.  But rather a 10X improvement.

He is not looking at improvement, for improvement’s sake.  He is not trying to innovate for the sake of innovating.

He is trying to solve the problem, plain and simple.

How do you apply this?

This mindset has helped to write Elon’s name into the history books as one of the greatest inventors and entrepreneurs of our time, and as the real life Tony Stark.  However I don’t want you to read this as an inspirational piece and think that it’s wonderful that he can create things like this, but who am I to be like this.

This is something you can apply in your own life, for your own benefit.  All it takes is some conscious effort.

Dare to step outside of yourself and examine what you take for granted in your life.  What can you re-imagine?

Are there problems/weaknesses in your life, that you could improve 10x rather than by 10%?  Throw out the preconceived notions and look at the root cause or desire.  Then work a solution from there.  You might find some gold.


Further Reading: Hyperloop White Paper

** I must acknowledge that the Hyperloop idea is the result of large scale collaboration between employees at SpaceX, Tesla and Elon himself.  So I don’t want to undermine their efforts.  However, it is undeniable that Elon’s inspiration is paramount and the space that he has built within his companies to allow for this sort of thinking is what makes it possible.  Then again, this is all tangential.  The point is the thought process and how you can apply it to your own life.

'The Perfection Point' - John Brenkus

'The Perfection Point' - John Brenkus

The Perfection Point

The Perfection Point

‘The Perfection Point’ is a book that really caught my attention because it tackles a question that I asked for a long, long time.  Is there a point where we stop developing/improving ourselves?  Is there an asymptote that we approach as a species – when the laws of nature and of physics start working against progress?

It’s a fascinating thought experiment that I think is worth going through.  Anecdotally, every record that has ever been set – has been broken.  Every generation has whole-heartedly believed that they were at the pinnacle of human achievement, only for that sentiment to be rendered naïve and self-important by the following generation.  It’s this age-old short-term thinking that gave us comments such as the 1898 rhetoric: “Everything that can be invented, has been invented”, by Charles Holland Duell.

If you were to look back 20 years and try to predict the rise of technology as it stands today – it would be impossible.  As humans, we are notoriously bad at predicting the future – so anyone who claims to make such claims as a ‘Perfection Point’ ends on the wrong side of history.

But this book makes that claim.

In the book, John Brenkus attempts to calculate the absolute perfection point for a variety of sports – looking to mathematically and logically determine that physical asymptote.  Some of the examples included: ‘What is the fastest possible 100m sprint?’; ‘What is the heaviest possible benchpress?’; ‘What is the longest possible breath hold’; amongst others.  It seemed like a flawed objective (for reasons explained above) and that’s why I got the book – to see what I was missing.

I was pleasantly surprised by the way Brenkus took on the task.  He did not presume to know the future, or even to begin to understand it.  He capped his vision at the human being as we know it now – not with evolutionary or supplement-driving changes.  He built in a significant buffer for calculation error and didn’t take things too seriously throughout the book.

This I appreciated.  This way of thinking avoided over-promising and under-delivering.  While I would have enjoyed some more philosophical comments on whether a perfection point is actually possible – it was a light, enjoyable read.  Don’t expect it to change your life – but for a sport’s fan, it really is a fascinating thought experiment.

Amazon  |  Goodreads