Hephaestus (Dean's List #2)
The unknown, underrated God of Craft
Hephaestus was kicked out of Olympia for being a crooked-footed hunchback, and so to compensate he made a studio under a volcano and built lifelike, golden automatons to help him forge tools (yes, the Iliad actually featured AI robots). He was the Greek God of fire, technology, and craftsmanship. I never knew of an ancient God dedicated to craft, so I bought a statue of him for ~8 euros in Monastiraki to help me write my textbook.
I had the pleasure of spending my last half of January in Athens. Greece is obviously a summer place, but if you enjoy ruins, go in the winter. In August there are over 20,000 daily visitors on the Acropolis, but I watched the sun rise over the Parthenon with approximately 9 people. At lunch I had the Roman Agora entirely to myself.
The point of this trip was to meet my nephew, a 6-month old international traveler whose passport says, “Occupation: Baby.”
During the days I’d see family or archaeological sites (I finally went to Eleusis), but thanks to jet lag I wrote a lot between 1-5 am. Half that time was writing about my trip (see: logs from Jan 17-28), and the other half was drafting out the upcoming chapters for Essay Architecture.
What makes a good thesis?
Thanks to everyone who signed up for Essay Architecture!
I’ve drafted out the first 4 chapters and can’t wait to share them with you. In February we’re unpacking the idea of a thesis. When you hear the word “thesis,” what possibly comes to mind is a 426-page typewritten dissertation that took three 3 years of library hunkering before it got ransacked by a committee of heads in suits. That’s not what I mean. A thesis is the central (but elusive) idea that unifies all the material in your essay. A good one has 3 facets:
a microcosm (a small frame that illustrates a bigger pattern);
a response (that puts your idea in context of existing ones); and,
a catalyst (how someone might change after reading it).
Paid subscribers will get a full essay for each concept (you can join for $10/month).
Here’s a preview of some visuals I’m working out for the first post.
Daily Feedback Sessions in February!
Feedback is the key to refinement. I’ve set up the Writer’s Studio so you can book live feedback calls whenever you need them. You’ll leave each call knowing if your sentences land, and also: the best part, the worst part, and an open question. Bring a draft, get feedback, edit, then bring it again, as many times as you want. More details here.
For $300/month (the Founding Members tier), you can join a network of craft-focused writers.
I published 7 of these one-pagers last month. They’re around 500 words each and take 45-60 minutes to write. Some of my favorite essays are now coming through the typewriter.
These are all on my paid tier, but I figured I’d share one so you get a sense of what it’s like. Everything exists in the Analog section, and you can choose your frequency: you can opt-in to get them in real-time, or, you can binge them all at once in my monthly listicle (list below).
Typewriter essays in the last 30 days:
aliens in miami, when portal-peddlers are also growth hackers
lucid dreaming on-demand, the century of the subconscious
the art vandelay effect, george costanza & the creator economy
AI george carlin, entering the fan-fiction hallucination vortex
on tinnitus, what to do with the humming in your head
a private universe of practice, audiences and accountability
shapeshifting calligraphy, a handwritten essay on graph paper
10 logs on Eleusis, historical encryption, the terrible future of news, VR, the demise of typewriters, the ideal vice president, religious reform, where to hide the nuclear codes, polymathic websites, and how to type 360 words per minute.
In each edition of Dean’s List,
I’ll share some top logs from last month.
Writing as literal architecture | Jan 27, 12:52 pm — On the site of Eleusis, there were dozens of eroded columns that had long paragraphs (/atomic essays) of Greek writing on them. I hadn’t seen such a volume of text on anything in the Acropolis or in its museum. Reading was part of the initiation that helped frame the psychedelic experience (read: Resurrections on Demand). Makes sense that you couldn’t “pledge” unless you could read Greek. Very cool to see medium-form writing as an architectural element.
Why are the Eleusinian Mysteries encrypted from history? | Jan 25, 1:05 am — Eleusis was such a massive part of antiquity’s religion, but it was barely mentioned or studied in the Renaissance. Interest in it didn’t really emerge until the 20th century. Some thoughts on why:
Greece was under Ottoman control, and it was hard to access archaeological sites. After the Renaissance, it took 200 years to re-discover Eleusis, and then 400 years to excavate it (1882).
The site was completely demolished unlike some other ruins, making it hard to appreciate its grandiosity (the Telesterion temple at Eleusis was 13% bigger than the Parthenon).
It was a walled “necropolis” that was 13 miles away from Athens, meaning it was out of sight and far from where most were drawn to studying.
The secret nature of the cult meant that it was historically encrypted. There is little written record of the rituals, either because they were destroyed, or because much of it was passed down orally.
Religion was a sensitive topic in the Renaissance; humanism was already a challenge to the established Christian church. Paganism was a non-starter; the revival was more around aesthetic and intellectual fields: art, architecture, sculpture, literature, law, democracy, etc.
When bots create news clips based on what’s trending on X | Jan 16, 2:36 pm — Right now, the #1 thing going viral on X is—ironically, under fashion and beauty—pornstar Mia Khalifa. Bots read everything in the feed, pull it into a dossier, and that gets fed it into an AI prompt like, “summarize this into a 1-paragraph statement.” It outputs something bland and shallow like: "Popular Lebanese adult film star Mia Khalifa is trending today after being confronted by an Israeli woman outside an airport in a video that has since gone viral." Content is born. Along with it is an unrelated video of Mia dancing in lingerie and making stupid faces as she sings to the Arctic Monkeys. This whole thing is wrapped in a CNN-looking UI, with a “breaking news” sub-header, the time, and a ticker. It’s called GNN. The punchline is that the statement is being read by an AI-generated news anchor, a plastic supermodel who calls herself Leslie Bombshell, stopping all the scrolls, making it more likely for this video to hack the algorithm.
Apple Vision Pro | Jan 30, 9:43 am — Many of the Apple Vision Pro unboxing reviews feel off in tone and perspective. They tap into the average consumer’s cliches about VR and don’t acknowledge any of the 50+ year history behind this moment. They’re all anchored in cheekiness: a Wall Street journalist rented a cabin in Camelback to go skiing in the headset, because yes, they look like goggles. She even implied that the killer-app was cutting onions. Many other reviewers made jokes on how it would be weird to masturbate inside of the AVP because it’s always tracking your hands. Another reviewer showed 8 apps floating in a sphere around them, including one on the ceiling—an ergonomic nightmare. The Verge insisted on comparing this device to our perceptual system instead of consumer device. Since it can only display 92% of the industry-standard color space, it’s a deal-breaker. Semi-realistic avatars are created in under a minute, but they’re not absolutely perfect. FFS, the pixels are smaller than red blood cells, but it’s still a screen. These reviews have a weird anti-VR peskiness to them; they don’t think it’s feasible until it’s a weightless, perfect, tyrannical illusion. I’m happy the wire is gone.
Typewriter as endangered species | Jan 23, 1:31 am — In 2011, the last typewriter production facility—in Mumbai—closed down. After 150 years of production, they now only exist through second-hand stores, flea markets, and Etsy. I wonder how the total volume will decay through the decades. It’s crazy to imagine how all screens might undergo this same fate (TVs, laptops, monitors, and phones). Someone in 1942 would have never imagined that typewriters would become obsolete. Computing as we know it might be halfway through it’s life-cycle, and by 2100, we could be in a completely different paradigm.
AI VP | Jan 6, 9:28 am — Short story idea: a politician’s vice president is an AI bot named Washington II. It can simultaneously talk to millions of Americans at once, understand their problems, synthesize them in real-time, and guide the policy for a politician. The human figurehead is just the face, a familiar looking and trustworthy person, honest about the fact that his invention is better at “representing the people,” than him or anyone else running.
Rejectionists vs. reformists | Jan 26, 10:43 am — There are two ways to be critical about religion. One is to see its faults and write off the whole premise; a rejectionist might value non-denominational spirituality. The other sees the momentum and values of the established faiths, and seeks to reform them so that they can:
encourage fundamental questions (around our origins, purpose, ethics, and death) instead of fundamental answers, and,
offer rites of mysticism, transcendence, and consciousness-expansion, instead of literary and moral beliefs.
As a reformist, I’m isolated without a camp: atheists don’t get my respect for Christianity, and Christians find me slightly heretical.
Fischer Protocol (nukes) Jan 5, 11:50 pm | The Fisher Protocol was a proposal to embed the nuclear launch codes into the heart of one of the President’s advisors. If he wanted to launch a bomb (and kill millions of people), he’d have to personally kill his own advisor, cut open his chest, and take the codes out himself. It takes the abstraction out of mass destruction. It’s not just numbers and buttons, but the embodied nausea of taking a human life. It would be far less likely to ever happen.
Website advice for polymaths | Jan 13, 11:42 pm — Internet bloggers are often advised to start with extreme legibility, so much so that they’ll have different websites to house the different sides of themselves. I think you should start the opposite way: centralize the chaos and then gradually organize.
Keep everything in one place; my obvious vote is Substack. A fragmented self is hard to maintain and sustain. Create a single place that has the permission to contain everything and anything. This lets it evolve with you. A branded channel is bound to die, but your personal time capsule could live as long as you do.
Start with as little segmentation as possible. Don’t worry about sections or tags before you have any posts. Allow random topics to co-exist. Little by little, you can add legibility and make it easier for people to navigate your maze. I try to revisit my “cartography” every 6-12 months. I look back at my old posts, find patterns, group things, and move on. Anarchy forward, order in retrograde.
Use sections and tags. You can organize posts across two dimensions. Sections are the “major” mode, since subscribers can opt-in and opt-out of specific streams. I group sections by medium (essays, updates, analog, craft, etc.) Tags are the “minor” mode, and can connect ideas across your sections. I might have posts across different sections that mention “Greece,” so I can make a tag for that. Every section and tag get their own URL. This means if someone says, “Do you write about Greece?” I can send them michaeldean.site/t/greece for a full curation.
You don’t have to blast everything. The default is to send every post to your whole email list. However, if your site is an aggregator of everything you think, then you might annoy your audience by emailing them 5-10 times per week. Consider ghost posting. You can curate the best of what you make in a weekly/monthly round-up (ie: this).
Stenography | Jan 1, 11:19 am — I’m fascinated by stenography and shorthand for the opposite reasons of cursive and typewriting: speed. Gregg Shorthand was taught in US schools in the 1920s, but my generation has never heard of it (what’s bound to happen to cursive). Shorthand is a phonetic system; each sound is a specific pen squiggle, and you connect the sounds to create a pictogram. They even have “StenoKeyboards”— instead of typing, you do something called “chording” which involves hitting multiple keys at the same time. The speed is remarkable. A professional stenographer can type 360 words per minute (with 99% accuracy)! I’m a pretty fast typer, and that’s at least 3x faster. A stenographer can even reach 250 wpm by hand. Stenographers are known to capture conversations, but they can capture ideas faster than the mouth can talk. What if I mastered shorthand? How would that effect the transcription of mind to page? Might be interesting to practice two modes at the same time: slow cursive and fast steno-chording.
What have you found to be the most important dimensions of a good idea?
Thoughts on Apple’s Vision Pro?
What most irks you about February? (Super Bowl Ads? Valentines? The 29th?)