What I learned last week (#36)

Learned last week: Kids learn fast, habits need to be formed before they can be optimized, you don’t need a rarefied job, and more.

Practical application for my recent focus on habits: We just started to tackle a big habit (/skill?) with Sam: using the toilet and getting used to no diapers anymore (yessss!). It started out horribly on Monday, and it seemed he was doing more pee and poos on one day than in the last month combined, all of them directly in his pants, on the floor, or on us. But that lasted only one day and then he has, incredibly, been on point for over a week now. We’ve also been tackling a big skill (/habit?) with Vivian as well: riding a bike by herself, no training wheels or hand-holding. She’s on point now to. How’d we do it? We didn’t, they did, we just provided plenty of space, encouragement and positivity. These kids learn fast!


Podcast that I enjoyed: Sticking to the habit theme, I listened to James Clear on 10% Happier where he was discussing his book, Atomic Habits. There was so much to like and here are a few notes that stuck with me (my paraphrasing and thoughts mostly):

  • Habits need to be formed before they can be optimized. Don’t try to make them perfect at the start. Keep the bar low, get a chain going, and then don’t break the chain.
  • We shouldn’t vilify addictions as we often do. The process of living a healthy lifestyle, one that’s right for you, is really the process of finding the healthiest addictions.
  • “The heaviest weight at the gym is the front door.”
  • “Every action you take is a vote for who you want to be.”
  • Pay attention to the story you are telling yourself and others, the words you use matter. Instead of saying “I have to pick up my kid from practice (so I can’t do X)” or “I have to go to work on Saturday (which I don’t want to do)”, swap “have to” with “get to” and suddenly the whole thing shifts from a focus on some set of expectations not being met to a focus on appreciating the reality of what you have.
  • Think about your life as a series of seasons. Be honest with yourself about what types of habits and focus are right for the current season you are in (i.e. you aren’t going to be meditating for 1-2 hours a day if you have young kids, but it doesn’t mean you never will).

Idea I am thinking about:

“You don’t need a rarefied job, you need a rarefied approach to your work.”

From Deep Work by Cal Newport

A few references from Deep Work: I’ve been really enjoying this one. Although the concepts are straightforward (and have been covered in many forms since this came out) they are still profound and the examples, arguments and resources are fascinating. Here are three things I am checking out from last week’s reading:

  1. Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey
  2. Art of Focus by David Brooks
  3. The Eudaimonia Machine by David Dewane

New music: The latest from Moodymann, Sinner, was on repeat during trips to Edinburgh and Glasgow this week, and is equally well suited to long car rides or work sessions. (Note: It’s almost exactly 45 minutes which makes it a decent timer listening front-to-back.)


New beer, this time from Estonia: Got my hands on a couple of bottles of imperial stout from Põhjala the week before last. The Vahtra, one from their cellar series, was one of my favorite BA stouts in recent memory. The inclusion of blueberries gave it a slightly tart finish and was a welcome compliment to the expected choc/coffee notes and addition of maple syrup.

What I learned last week (#35)

Learned last week: The power of perseverance, being disconnected is hard, St Andrews is more than a golf course, and more.

Nope, we’ve not settled yet: Most of the last week was spent partially connected, having no internet service at home yet (along with somewhat spotty plumping service). That’s made for lots of reading and traveling around local spots, which is mostly great despite being spiked with the frequent unnerving feeling of not being able to do something that requires a connection. It’s been a good lesson in accepting and appreciating reality instead of worrying about expectations…hard to do consistently.

Other proof of our settling is the fact that I’ve amassed the following set of Allen keys as a full-time builder of basic home furnishings.

But a few of the tools I’ve amassed from furniture boxes.

Quote I am thinking about:

“Whatever you hold in your mind on a consistent basis is exactly what you will experience in your life.”

Tony Robbins

Book excerpt(s) that I loved:
Here are a couple from last week’s read, Born Standing Up by Steve Martin.

At age eighteen, I had absolutely no gifts. I could not sing or dance, and the only acting I did was really just shouting. Thankfully, perseverance is a great substitute for talent.

I related to this to how I’ve been successful in certain areas of my life and career, which I think has been through sheer persistence in doing what I’m interested in rather than any given talent.

Consistent work enhanced my act. I learned a lesson: It was easy to be great. Every entertainer has a night when everything is clicking. These nights are accidental and statistical: Like lucky cards in poker, you can count on them occurring over time. What was hard was to be good, consistently good, night after night, no matter what the abominable circumstances.

The sheer amount of work (we talkin’ about practice) that Steve Martin did being a musician/magician/comedian prior to becoming known for it is both reassuring and intimidating. He spent years doing 2-3 shows a day when he was working, in every kind of condition imaginable. Talk about becoming bulletproof (an leaving a lot of lessons to learn from).

As I finished So Good They Can’t Ignore You and think more about my habits and attitudes towards what I do next in terms of work, the underlying ethos of consistent work, deliberate practice, and (as everyone from Seth Godin to Steven Pressfield writes about), being a professional and a craftsman are what I’m most reading and thinking about at the moment.


Purchase I’m most enjoying since moving: Having a place to write at in the morning, and having the Jarivs adjustable height desk, has had a big impact on my daily routine. Even though I have little structured time to work there (and no internet), having the space primed for standing and writing in quiet is something I didn’t have in our old home and am surprised how much I value it.


New music: The Circle Remains Unbroken by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, picked up from a reference in Born Standing Up, is, I learned, a heralded country blues (triple!!) album from the seventies and superb with morning coffee, evening dinners, and setting up life in another country.


Thing I learned about Scotland: St Andrews is more than a golf course. My wife took us all for a day trip last week and it was spectacular. The cooperative weather certainly played it’s part by providing full sun, but the combination of the bustling restaurants and shops, the castle, the beaches, the university (founded in 1413!) and the golf courses made for one of the most memorable outings since we’ve arrived.

The view of St Andrews castle from one of the beaches.

What I learned last week (#34)

Learned last week: The history of beef, fresh perspectives on making software, the history of monopoly, and more.

The move is feeling real now: I’m writing this after just having spent a week in our new house (first few weeks we stayed with my mother-in-law), and I’m starting to feel like the first wave of change is over, something new is starting now or about to start. I now have the start of an office going and I also got my first haul of craft beer from The Wee Beer Shop, so that’s helping settle me down as well.


How Basecamp works: Basecamp recently published a complete guide to how they do software development. Although it is definitely dual-purposed to encourage people to try Basecamp (and for good reason, it looks and feels awesome), the guide is really cool if you are interested in process and planning and tools as I am. There is SO MUCH here, so here are a couple of things that stand out (at least from my experience at Microsoft):

Writing the pitch (this is a nice framework, although I still prefer the approach of writing the press release first, used at Automattic and Amazon, among others):

There are five ingredients that we always want to include in a pitch:
1. Problem — The raw idea, a use case, or something we’ve seen that motivates us to work on this
2. Appetite — How much time we want to spend and how that constrains the solution
3. Solution — The core elements we came up with, presented in a form that’s easy for people to immediately understand
4. Rabbit holes — Details about the solution worth calling out to avoid problems
5. No-gos — Anything specifically excluded from the concept: functionality or use cases we intentionally aren’t covering to fit the appetite or make the problem tractable

No backlogs:

Backlogs are a big weight we don’t need to carry. Dozens and eventually hundreds of tasks pile up that we all know we’ll never have time for. The growing pile gives us a feeling like we’re always behind even though we’re not. Just because somebody thought some idea was important a quarter ago doesn’t mean we need to keep looking at it again and again.

Backlogs are big time wasters too. The time spent constantly reviewing, grooming and organizing old ideas prevents everyone from moving forward on the timely projects that really matter right now.

Six week cycles:

Some companies use two-week cycles (aka “sprints”). We learned that two weeks is too short to get anything meaningful done. Worse than that, two-week cycles are extremely costly due to the planning overhead. The amount of work you get out of two weeks isn’t worth the collective hours around the table to “sprint plan” or the opportunity cost of breaking everyone’s momentum to re-group.

This led us to try longer cycles. We wanted a cycle that would be long enough to finish a whole project, start to end. At the same time, cycles need to be short enough to see the end from the beginning. People need to feel the deadline looming in order to make trade-offs. If the deadline is too distant and abstract at the start, teams will naturally wander and use time inefficiently until the deadline starts to get closer and feel real.

After years of experimentation we arrived at six weeks. Six weeks is long enough to finish something meaningful and still short enough to see the end from the beginning.


How the beef business was built: I’m a vegetarian that sometimes eats seafood and I do it for a few reasons, one of them is environmental. A Once and Future Beef was a really interesting read in that regard.

Half of the world’s habitable landmass is used for agriculture. Of this, just more than two-thirds is used for grazing. Of the remaining third, a third of that is used for animal feed, and a fifth for biofuels. In short, a downright incredible amount of the world’s land is used for animal agriculture.

In speaking about the myth that beef is a economic source of protein:

Then as now, there were always cheaper proteins available — you won’t be shocked to learn that the cost per calorie of almost all beans and nuts, as well as eggs and a lot of dairy products, is massively less than that of nearly all meats, including relatively cheap ground beef. Yet, the world over, the hunger for beef is growing.


Something I learned about Scotland: There is so much to see (and sketch)! We’re off to visit St. Andrews this weekend, but the famous bucket list on Isle of Skye is high on the list (where over 70% of all tourists are from the UK, less than 30% international, not what I would have thought). Also, in the castle-porn bucket goes Kilchurn Castle:


The origins of a loved and hated game: The History of Monopoly was a great little read. Almost every family member I’ve played Monopoly with has wanted to kill me after, despite my not winning very often. This especially includes my wife.


Favorite quote from last week:

He who doesn’t lose his wits over certain things has no wits to lose.
– Gotthold Ephraim Lessing

Scottish water and kilted yoga

Between Scottish water and kilted yoga, the sense of pride the Scots have in their country is wholly foreign to this American.

Kilted Yoga. I spotted this among the gift shop items at the great Riverside Museum in Glasgow, one of millions of examples of Scottish culture that is frequently parodied and exploited, by the Scots as much as anyone else, almost always in good fun and always with a strong undercurrent of pride.

See, the Scots are a fiercely proud people, and that’s understating it. They take pride in everything that they do. From their land, food, and water, to their sports, raising cows and even their yoga practice. I experienced this strong sense of pride from the beginning of my visits here, and coming from America, this all seemed a bit much (does Scottish water really make that tea taste better?), but none-the-less I find it endearing and more than that, I sense there is something a bit deeper to be explored.

Since moving here it’s evident that beyond the kitsch touristy stuff, the Scottish people take a lot of pride in the quality of what they do. People are really into their chosen craft, they invest in deeply in their relationships with their co-workers and friends, and they draw a strength from their history (and their antagonistic weather) in a way that’s wholly new to me. You could argue that the taste or aesthetics of what the Scots do could be better (Irn-Bru?), but it’s tough to argue any lack of quality and craftsmanship.

Prior to moving here I didn’t think of myself as having such a strong sense of investment in my home country, let alone have it be a major source of pride from which I can draw strength from. Perhaps it is because the US is so big, or that I’m being ungrateful to my country’s history, or perhaps it’s just that I’m wired differently as an American, a product of my specific time and place. Regardless, I’m loving the glow of small-country pride in Scotland. It is infectious and energizing and, with the exception of kilted yoga, I’m looking forward to participating in it more.

What I learned last week (#33)

Learned last week: life is a dance, the power of one push-up, Spielberg wasn’t good at school, and creativity is a lifestyle, not a skill.

Life is not a journey, it’s a dance: The point of a dance is to enjoy it, not to get to the end as quickly as possible, or even to finish. Getting everything set-up in the UK has felt like a race at times, and it’s hard not to feel like I should be constantly working on something that is helping us to progress towards being self-sufficient here. I’m trying not to though, I realize that most things are yet to be done and I hope that will be the case for a long time to come.


Quote I was thinking about:

You are who you pretend to be.

Kurt Vonnegut

What I was listening to: Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen has been great for waking up early with Sam (thanks Scott).


The power of intention: The Power of One Push-Up is about health measurement, but more broadly, it speaks to how those who do (any variety of) activities with intention are more healthy.

The speed at which you walk, for example, can be eerily predictive of health status. In a study of nearly 35,000 people aged 65 years or older in the Journal of the American Medical Association, those who walked at about 2.6 feet per second over a short distance—which would amount to a mile in about 33 minutes—were likely to hit their average life expectancy. With every speed increase of around 4 inches per second, the chance of dying in the next decade fell by about 12 percent. (Whenever I think about this study, I start walking faster.)

Another part:

Doing things that produce tangible, short-term results can lead to a domino effect of health behaviors. “If someone reads this article and starts doing push-ups, it would be a statement about their general conscientiousness and motivation,” says Joyner, “and that speaks to so many other health behaviors. People who follow guidelines, eat well, get their kids vaccinated—they tend to engage in other healthy behaviors.”


Spielberg wasn’t “good at school”: From the short The Education of Steven Spielberg Didn’t Involve Ivy. This connects with my recent read of So Good They Can’t Ignore You in that Spielberg built up a huge amount of career capital in film that he was able to cash in for a shot at the movies without a traditional education pedigree.

Spielberg’s grades were just too bad. He had a lot of C’s at Arcadia High School in Phoenix and then at Saratoga High School near San Jose. He hated school. He had dyslexia, then undiagnosed. He only wanted to make films.

His mother, a free spirit with artistic talent, gave him free rein. She “was so tolerant of her son’s lack of interest in school that she often let him stay home, feigning illness, so he could edit his movies,” McBride wrote. His father, although bothered by Steven’s grades, often did his science homework for him. Their impending divorce upset their son.


Favorite book excerpt:

Where you take [your creativity] is completely up to you but know that seizing it requires no specialized education or skills. It only requires the willingness to lay aside the bad habits you gained in school and at work and rethink your own learning processes and nurture your creative biorhythms so that you can start living a more creative life.

From The 7 Stages of Creativity by James Whittaker

Most things remain to be done

In between the constant doing-stuff/busy-ness of moving there have been many glimpses of why we came here and what awaits us when we pause and look around. Isn’t that the point?

The family and I are in full acquisition mode at the moment. As expected, setting up shop in Scotland has required endless amounts of admin and purchasing and “getting things done”. We are very much trying to keep things small and simple, but there are myriad things that a family of four needs and we’re knocking those off one-by-one in (what seems to me to be) short order. In under two weeks we’ve added a rental house, car and insurance, beds, kitchen table, couch, desk, bikes, new phone numbers, and millions of other tiny things to our list of possessions here. Oh and we’ve probably added a few pounds from stress eating while chasing two little ones down the aisles of you-name-it shop. At times it’s been a grind (example: four hours on the phone trying to get car insurance with no credit history), and there are times where I’ve periodically lost sight of why we moved over in the first place.

A quote seen at Ikea stating most things still remain to be done. A glorious future.

I spotted this while in Ikea yesterday and it has stuck with me. Although it feels like we’re doing stuff to get to an end goal (finally being able to sleep in our new place!), that will be another beginning.

In between the constant doing-stuff/busy-ness of moving there have been many glimpses of why we came here and what awaits us when we pause and look around, like this moment from the road to the farm where we live (the place we are renting is a house converted from a horse stable). It’s stunning.

I came across the following passage while writing this and it fits nicely to the topic. We chose to climb this mountain, and are fortunate to be able to have the means to climb it. Why not enjoy every moment?

Mountains should be climbed with as little effort as possible and without desire. The reality of your own nature should determine the speed. If you become restless, speed up. If you become winded, slow down. You climb the mountain in an equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion. Then, when you’re no longer thinking ahead, each footstep isn’t just a means to an end but a unique event in itself. This leaf has jagged edges. This rock looks loose. From this place the snow is less visible, even though closer. These are things you should notice anyway. To live only for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top. Here’s where things grow.

From Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

There is more to do and there always will be. A glorious future indeed!

What I learned last week (#32)

Learned last week: big change can be done, downsizing is hard, practice alone is not enough, and more.

Big changes are possible with small incremental steps: Last week we (finally!) closed up shop in the US and started our Scotland experiment. By midweek, all of our belongings fit into the back of an SUV and a small crate sitting somewhere in the port of Seattle. Amazing to get to this point. There were countless small decisions that were made moot by making the one big decision to move, and executing that big decision was a matter of one day and step at a time.


Getting rid of things is harder than I thought: We’ve sold and given away a lot of stuff as part of our move, and we’ve invited many friends and strangers alike to go through our stuff to pick out things they might like or find useful. During this process my feelings have swung all the way from gratitude to ambivalence to resentment and back again, sometimes very rapidly, and it’s surprised me how hard this was to moderate. I often felt like someone “owed” me for something they were given, or even bought. Or I felt they didn’t “deserve” these things that I valued so much, etc, etc. I think I navigated this ok, but it was harder to keep my mindset on the right things throughout the process of shedding stuff than I thought.


Documentary I finally got a chance to watch: I’ve been waiting to watch Free Solo, and finally snuck it in while Sam slept on me in the flight to Scotland. One part that stuck with me was when Alex Honnold was reflecting on the difference between himself and his girlfriend, and he says something to the effect of “her goal is happiness, having a comfortable life. Nothing great has ever been accomplished by being happy and comfortable. My goal is performance.” It’s incredible what he has achieved by being so laser focused on performance. It is a mindset I admire, and strikes me as very similar to that of another person I hold in high regard, Josh Waitzkin.


Tips on how to become a craftsman: In the midst of everything last week I was somehow able to sneak in some reading, this time it was So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport. I love how the book is structured, how it provides summaries at the end of each section and the conclusion where he brings it together and applies the rules. The part that I’m thinking a lot about, a core idea to the book, is the section on how to become a craftsman and build valuable skills. Of particular interest is the one-two punch of putting both a structure in place that allows you to spend the time on practicing a skill, as well as being very deliberate about having that practice be stretching oneself through challenging and uncomfortable work.

In his 2007 interview with Charlie Rose, here’s how Steve Martin explained his strategy for learning the banjo: “[I thouhgt], if I stayed with it, then one day I will have been playing for forty years, and anyone who sticks with something for forty years will be pretty good at it.”

The image of Martin returning to his banjo, day after day, for forty years is poignant. It captures well the feel of how career capital is actually acquired: You stretch yourself, day after day, month after month, before finally looking up and realizing, “Hey, I’ve become pretty good, and people are starting to notice.”


Quote that relates to what I was watching and reading:

“What you do everyday matters more than what you do once in a while.”

Gretchen Rubin

Book excerpt I loved:

We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.

From Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

What I learned last week (#31)

Learning last week: Managing stress, work is non-linear, practicing to express who you are, and more.

The difference between knowing something and understanding it: This past couple of weeks we’ve sold virtually everything we owned, slept in different places every couple of nights, and have had endlessly busy days going nonstop. We new it would be stressful to quit work and move country, but now we understand it! It’s been super challenging, but the next time we move (and when we do more extended travel), it’ll be easier as a result. We couldn’t be more to be more excited to get started on this next experiment.


My mind is controlled by my body, not the other way around: The best antidote to the stresses of moving have been a 5 mile run and a few sets of pushups. I’ve been trying to do “100s”, which is code for 100 pushups, sit-ups and seconds of plank position each day. I haven’t been very consistent with much of anything during the last week, but whenever I have stuck to this, I’m always better off.


Thinking about work in a non-linear way: The following thought from the excellent Joe Rogan podcast with Naval Ravikant made me think my desire to work differently in what I do next. Here is a paraphrase:

We tend to think of work as linear. We work a certain number of hours (9-5) and get a set amount of output consistently for those hours. But that’s not how we work. We’re not cows grazing, we’re more like lions. We train. We work best in intense bursts. Then we get feedback, we train to get better, and then go again.

This also seemed to be related to an idea from The One Thing that goes against the idea of “work-life balance”. The idea being that you will have bursts where you will want to be focusing on a work goal, but it’s best done in intervals. Instead of work-life balance, seek counter-balance:

Counter-balance is the process of focusing exclusively on the important task at hand, whether it’s work, teaching our kids something or working out. We have to choose what’s critical and give it as much time as it needs before switching to the next most important thing.

The hard thing here is to do what’s critical.

Also, fuck hard work (which very much aligns with work hard is not good advice). 


A little shop of things: I’ve enjoyed following Austin Kleon’s writing more closely recently, and his shop on Amazon list seems like it has some gems on it. I’m excited to check out the pencils and a few of the books on it.


Book excerpt I liked:

Zen Mind, Beginners Mind by Shunryu Suzuki greatly influenced my life. There is a line in there something like, “We practice (meditation) not to attain Buddahood but to express it.” Even though I first read it over 40 years ago, I still feel a thrill move through my body as I think about that line. I’ve often thought the best kind of teaching is an articulation of what we already know, but don’t know how to put into words or, most crucially, how to live. From the first time I read it, I sensed the vital difference between practicing to get something you think you lack, and practicing to express the fullness of who you are.

From Sharon Saltzberg in Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferriss

What I learned last week (#30)

Learned last week: Don’t wait to say thank you, a new productivity tool, one-way and two-way doors, and more.

The importance of doing it now: My last day with Microsoft was last week and I thought I’d have a lot more time in the final weeks/days to say thank you to all of those people that I learned from and who helped me out. I got to a few but, for most, the time ran out. A good reminder to tell people your thankful the moment you think about it (technology is your friend here), don’t wait until it’s too late. The end of my leaving note that I posted last week read as follows:

If you find yourself in Scotland in the near future, please drop me a line. It’s been an honor and a pleasure to work with you all and I will forever be grateful for all you have taught me. As Elbert Hubbard once said, so here is a handclasp over the miles, and I am, yours sincerely, 

-Nick

There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning.” – Louis L’Amour


A potential replacement for Trello and OneNote: I learned about a tool called Notion last week and am in the process of trying it out to track all our UK move stuff (instead of OneNote/Trello). Pretty interesting so far.


Thinking about niche over broad: LinkedIn recently posted a bit about how it’s algorithm is changing, which I thought was pretty interesting. I like to say I’m not interested in getting the most ‘likes’, but I am hoping to contribute something of value, and there aren’t too many other ways to gauge whether I’m doing that or not. I thought the best practice of sharing content that is “niche over broad” is insightful way beyond social posts, and applies to all types of creating. Are you going for the masses or are you trying to make something that you know will be valued by at least one person out there? What are you giving up with each approach?

Niche over broad

– We know from our data that members are more interested in going deep on topics they’re interested in. Consistently we see better conversation around niche ideas (eg #performancemanagement) than the broad (#management).
– Use hashtags (we recommend no more than three) to help other members find the conversations that match their own interests.


New music to move (and work) to: I saw The True Loves play at big Microsoft event recently (they were formerly fronted by Grace Love) and their album Famous Last Words has been on regularly while we’ve been packing up getting ready for the move.


Very few decisions actually matter: Loved this post from Charlie Kindel, One-Way and Two-Way Doors, which is centered around a Jeff Bezos quote from one of his shareholder letters. At the end he links to an article by Richard Branson on the same topic. Leaving Microsoft last week after 13 years was definitely a two-way door decision. But leaving and moving to Scotland, probably less so. Similar to the 80/20 rule, spend time only on the decisions, priorities, tasks, etc. that really matter! 🙂

“Some decisions are consequential and irreversible or nearly irreversible – one-way doors – and these decisions must be made methodically, carefully, slowly, with great deliberation and consultation.” 

“But most decisions aren’t like that – they are changeable, reversible – they’re two-way doors. If you’ve made a suboptimal two-way door decision, you don’t have to live with the consequences for that long. You can reopen the door and go back through. These decisions can and should be made quickly by high judgment individuals or small groups.”


Favorite book excerpt:

All the good stories are out there waiting to be told in a fresh, wild way. Mark Twain said that Adam was the only man who, when he said a good thing, knew that nobody had said it before. Life is like a recycling center, where all the concerns and dramas of humankind get recycled back and forth across the universe.

From Bird by Bird by Anne Lamont

(Oh, and that drawing is from one of my old sketchbooks from 1995 that I’ve been combing through as we get ready to move. I decided to keep that one. Woo ha!)

What I learned last week (#29)

Learned last week: Looking back upstream, awkward memorization, the new kilogram, and more.

Favorite book excerpt of the week:

Look back upstream. If you have come to your planned ending and it doesn’t seem to be working, run your eye up the page and the page before that. You may see that your best ending is somewhere in there, that you were finished before you thought you were.

From Draft No. 4 by John McPhee

This idea of “done before you realize it” made me think about applications beyond writing. It’s about overworking anything, be it a piece of art, a status update, or a work project.


A great way to approach presenting pretty much anything: Don’t try to memorize a presentation, tell us a story! String a few stories together and you have your presentation. From the great Seth Godin post Awkward memorization.


Something I never knew that surprised me: The new kilogram.

For more than a century, the kilogram had a very simple definition: It was the mass of a hunk of platinum-iridium alloy that’s been housed at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures in Sèvres, France since 1889.

It’s called the International Prototype Kilogram (a.k.a. Big K, or Le Grand K), and it has many copies around the world — including several at NIST in Gaithersburg, Maryland — that are used to calibrate scales and make sure the whole world is on one system of measurement.

The problem is that Big K is a manmade object, and therefore, it is imperfect. If Big K changes, everything else has to adjust. And this has happened. Big K is not constant. It has lost around 50 micrograms (about the mass of an eyelash) since it was created. But, frustratingly, when Big K loses mass, it’s still exactly one kilogram, per the old definition.


The real story of Malaysian flight 370: I was following this story for a little while but, inevitably, had forgotten about it. What Really Happened to Malaysia’s Missing Airplane was a super interesting and worthwhile read.

Less than a week after the disappearance, The Wall Street Journal published the first report about the satellite transmissions, indicating that the airplane had most likely stayed aloft for hours after going silent. Malaysian officials eventually admitted that the account was true. The Malaysian regime was said to be one of the most corrupt in the region. It was also proving itself to be furtive, fearful, and unreliable in its investigation of the flight. Accident investigators dispatched from Europe, Australia, and the United States were shocked by the disarray they encountered. Because the Malaysians withheld what they knew, the initial sea searches were concentrated in the wrong place—the South China Sea—and found no floating debris. Had the Malaysians told the truth right away, such debris might have been found and used to identify the airplane’s approximate location; the black boxes might have been recovered. The underwater search for them ultimately centered on a narrow swath of ocean thousands of miles away. But even a narrow swath of the ocean is a big place. It took two years to find the black boxes from Air France 447, which crashed into the Atlantic on a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris in 2009—and the searchers had known exactly where to look.

Lots of interesting backstory on the searchers and the conspiracies throughout…

In truth, a lot can now be known with certainty about the fate of MH370. First, the disappearance was an intentional act. It is inconceivable that the known flight path, accompanied by radio and electronic silence, was caused by any combination of system failure and human error. Computer glitch, control-system collapse, squall lines, ice, lightning strike, bird strike, meteorite, volcanic ash, mechanical failure, sensor failure, instrument failure, radio failure, electrical failure, fire, smoke, explosive decompression, cargo explosion, pilot confusion, medical emergency, bomb, war, or act of God—none of these can explain the flight path.

Second, despite theories to the contrary, control of the plane was not seized remotely from within the electrical-equipment bay, a space under the forward galley. Pages could be spent explaining why. Control was seized from within the cockpit.


Quote that’s made me think:

“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

Bernard Baruch