Previous month:
January 2021
Next month:
March 2021

Book Review: The Cosmic Serpent

I wish I could remember who told me about this book; I’d like to thank them. The book is hard to describe because a cursory description — an ethnographic narrative about the similarities of cross-culture shamanism and DNA structures — doesn’t really do justice to the insights and feeling of revelation that the book provides. If you’ve studied esoteric works, the connections that this book identifies will bring forth more than a few “ah-ha!” moments. If this is all new to you, it might just pull you down a rabbit hole from which you’ll never escape.

gordon meyer with the cosmic serpent book

The book’s subtitle is “DNA and the Origins of Knowledge,” and the reviews from far more serious readers than I are not just notable, some declare that it could be a Copernican revolution for both social and life sciences. And while there is a psychedelic aspect to it, it’s perfectly approachable to those, like me, with an unexpanded mind.

A sampling of the notes I made while reading:

  • I was particularly tickled with the discussion that modern anesthesia is based on curare, which is a Stone Age formula that Western scientists insist was accidentally discovered by Amazonian natives, yet it is very complex to create and, even today, it remains unknown as to how it actually works. (Remember that next time you’re having surgery!)
  • Another interesting fact that stood out: If one were to stretch out the DNA contained in the nucleus of a single human cell, it would be a two-yard long thread that is only 10 atoms wide! If you were to lay out all the DNA in a human body, it would stretch 125 billion miles. (Presumably even longer for someone built like I am.)
  • Regarding the “cosmic serpent” of the title, it is primarily an old god found at the beginning of all cosmogonies, and this book lays out the ways in which our understanding of DNA overlaps with the serpents’ characteristics and traits. Is it possible the answer to life was given to us in life-creation “myths”?
  • That’s a bold claim, but using only a rationale perspective that insists on dissecting and separating all things into compartments to understand them destroys complementary insights. Or, to put it as Roald Dahl wrote, those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.

The author of this book, Jeremy Narby, has done an excellent job in making it both readable and technical enough to provide some real insight — not too bad at all considering he’s an anthropologist. (That’s a joke. Sort of.) The back third of the book contains more than enough footnotes and references to satisfy any nitpicker or researcher. Get your copy at Amazon (no relation to the Shamans).

Working around fuzzy PDFs from Shortcuts

Thanks to Readly and Apple News+, I read many magazines on my iPad, and sometimes I want to save an article for future reference. To accomplish this, I capture a screenshot of each of the article’s pages. However, this clutters up my Photos, and the pages can get separated from each other over time. Definitely not ideal.

What I need is a way to stitch these pages together into one document. The only satisfactory way I’ve found to do that is to collate the screenshots into a multi-page PDF.

It seems like a Shortcuts action to automate this process would be a good approach, but it’s not. The only reason this doesn’t work is that the built-in “Make PDF” action in Shortcuts compresses the crap out of images and makes them completely unreadable. Here’s a screenshot that demonstrates the mess it creates.

fuzzy pdf from Shortcuts

The best alternative approach I’ve found is to select each screenshot in Photos, then tap Share > Print. (You don’t actually need a printer.) When the printer selector screen appears, pinch out on the preview of your document. Then, with the preview displaying full-screen, tap Share and select a destination, such as Files or Mail. This will save a high-fidelity PDF. Look how lovely it is by comparison with the abomination from Shortcuts:

clear pdf

Once you’ve saved the PDF in this manner, discard it by tapping Cancel. You’re done, and now you have a perfectly usable PDF tucked away. You can go ahead and delete the original screenshots from Photos.

It’s a shame this can’t be automated, but at least we have a workaround until Apple improves Shortcuts with better output.

By the way, the ability to save a print preview was a gem from a previous version of the Have you read a tip today?

Book Review: The Dutch Shoe Mystery

My earliest memory of “Ellery Queen” is the eponymous Mystery Magazine in my father’s lunchbox. He was a civilian Air Force employee, and he’d spend his breaks reading the short stories (when he wasn’t reading Popular Science or Popular Mechanics). But aside from that, I didn’t really know anything about Ellery Queen, including whether he actually existed.

(He didn’t. Ellery Queen is basically the American Sherlock Holmes, invented by two cousins who collaborated on the many books published under the pseudonym.)

gordon meyer with book

I decided to read this book because it came highly recommended as a classic Queen novel, and as an excellent example of “Fair Play” mysteries (where the reader is provided with all the clews and info necessary to solve the case, if they are smart enough). I was also motivated to read it because the nifty niche store, Mysterious Bookshop, was having a club meeting to discuss it with the son of one of the authors.

I’m a fairly studious and fast reader, but I barely managed to finish the book in time for the meeting. That’s primarily because of the writing — which is very engaging but also filled with archaic and learned references. Queen, it seems, is a bit of a snobby dick. This slowed down my consumption of the prose as I felt compelled to look up unusual words, phrases, and idioms to satisfy my curiosity. I loved every minute of doing so. (I kept my notes in the nifty Craft app, by the way, which is the first time I’ve used it. I was generally satisfied with that choice.)

Did I manage to solve the mystery? Nope. My chief suspect was disqualified (no spoilers!) about 50 pages from the end. Oh, well. Honestly, I wasn’t trying that hard, I was just enjoying the ride. (Which is a legit way to approach the Queen books, I learned at the book club.)

If this sounds appealing, I recommend you give one of his many books a try. I strongly suggest buying from the Mysterious Bookshop as the “American Mystery Classics” series is lovingly constructed — and, as others have noted, some Ellery Queen reprints (and the Audible audiobook) omit entire chapters or important diagrams. (Yes, there are diagrams!) Happy reading!