What I learned last week (#19)

Learned last week: the small things are the big things, robocalling sucks, a new coffee preparation, and more.

Drawing kids is hard: We were traveling all last week and I tried making some time to draw the kids at the breakfast table (in ink as is my norm right now). It was a (fun) disaster.

A book excerpt that made me think: In Draft No 4 by John McPhee lies the following quote from Cary Grant: “A thousand details add up to one impression.” The implication is that the small things really are the big things. Focus on doing the next thing the best you can, and the next, and the next. Create as many of these chains as you can. That is the definition of quality.

All about the robocall crisis: I get a few of these calls every week and my wife gets way more than I do. This gave me some backstory (and lots of interesting reading) on the cat-and-mouse game of robcalls: The robocall crisis will never be totally fixed.

A new coffee preparation: Found on the board of a coffee shop in Tofino, a cortado is a coffee preparation originating from Spain, consisting of half espresso, half milk. It’s similar to a flat white, but without the “textured” milk that is typical of Italian preparations. I still prefer my coffee black, but when I’m in the mood for something different, this is my new go-to.

My new goes-in-anything sauce: I’m super late to this party but Franks hot sauce is going in my pantry. It’s not really hot, and it’s got a acidic bite that can help balance any dish. When I was at a cooking class not long ago, they added it to anything that needed more acid (French cooking, Italian cooking, you name it).

What I learned last week (#18)

Learned last week: re-learning to code is for me, places for Americans to travel, and how to make my drawings come to life.

  • A book excerpt I appreciated: “While mankind is very intelligent in relation to other species, we have the intelligence of moss growing on a rock compared to nature as a whole.” – from Ray Dalio’s Principles.
  • I want to (re)learn how to code (at least enough to make a few utilities): I have some ideas on little things I’d like to build to make my journaling/note taking/writing easier and I want to do some things on my blog. I used to do light coding as a web designer (JavaScript, Flash/Actionscript, and some ASP.NET). This post, Ten Lessons I Learned While Teaching Myself to Code, and my current reading of Draft No. 4 by John McPhee, is pushing me to dive back in.
  • Some ideas on where to travel: I want to do a year travel with the kids, or perhaps living in a few different places, and reading this list gave me some ideas on how to think about it. France is definitely on the list.
  • A cool app for animating your own art: I’m grateful to have been turned on to the PuppetMaster app last week, and just like that we have a project for spring break this week: drawing the animated story of… (to be continued)
  • A great purchase that I rediscovered: I write a lot and am a fan of fountain pens (one of many rabbit holes I like to follow). I’ve collected a few pens over the past couple years, and I recently picked up my TWISBI Vac700 and remembered why it’s king: filling is easy, the extra-fine nib is superb and it’s got a heft to it that just feels right.

What I learned last week (#17)

Learned last week: Lego keeps getting cooler, the backstory of The Matrix, the vulnerable world hypothesis, and music for creativity.

  • Lego keeps getting cooler: Just saw this full Lego build of a McLaren Senna. It’s drive-able!

    Like the Bugatti Chiron, this is noted as the first interactive McLaren LEGO model which you can drive since it boasts a working V8 engine. The impressive feat took nearly 5,000 hours to complete with the assistance of 42 workers, while the supercar is composed of 467,854 blocks and weighs 3,748 pounds.

    The video at the end of the designers talking about design is fascinating. (Hat tip to Scott for this)
  • I love considering mysteries of the unknown: I heard about the vulnerable world hypothesis by Nick Bostrom, which asks us to consider the “urn of invention”.

    One way of looking at human creativity is as a process of pulling balls out of a giant urn. The balls represent possible ideas, discoveries, technological inventions. Over the course of history, we have extracted a great many balls—mostly white (beneficial) but also various shades of grey(moderately harmful ones and mixed blessings). The cumulative effect on the human condition has so far been overwhelmingly positive, and may be much better still in the future. The global population has grown about three orders of magnitude over the last ten thousand years, and in the last two centuries per capita income, standards of living, and life expectancy have also risen. What we haven’t extracted, so far, is a black ball: a technology that invariably or by default destroys the civilization that invents it.  The reason is not that we have been particularly careful or wise in our technology policy. We have just been lucky.

    Here’s a video of Sam Harris’s discussion with Nick on the topic: Sam Harris and Nick Bostrom – Pulling a Black Ball from the Urn of Invention. Similar to the great barrier in the Fermi paradox.
  • Some new music for creative work: I recently discovered Makaya McKraven, and his (double) album Universal Beings is my jam right now for writing or working sessions. From his site:

    Makaya McCraven is a beat scientist. The bleeding edge drummer, producer, and sonic collagist is one of Chicago’s savviest cultural players and a multi-talented force whose inventive process & intuitive, cinematic style defy categorization.

    Check out Suite Haus for a taste of what I’m talking about (the transitions over the course of that track are mwwwaah!). Your mileage may vary but for me it does the trick.
  • One of the my favorite films turns 20: Like many, I was blown away by the Matrix when it came out. This is an interesting story about how it came to be: How the Matrix Built a Bullet-Proof Legacy.

    One of the great misunderstandings about Keanu is that people don’t think he’s smart,” says di Bonaventura. “Maybe it’s because of the Bill & Ted movies. But Keanu gives me books I cannot make heads nor tails of. And in Keanu, the Wachowskis found somebody who was an intellectual searcher.”

    The famous bullet time shot on the rooftop with agent smith:

    That single shot would take nearly two years to complete and run an estimated $750,000 in computer costs. It quickly proved to be a worthwhile investment. Libreri remembers one internal screening of Matrix footage during which Reeves—seated in the front row—began lying back in his chair, excitedly re-creating his rooftop bends. At that same session, the team previewed another key effects sequence, in which a camera swirls around Trinity as she leaps up and kicks a cop. According to Libreri,”Joel Silver got up and said, ‘That’s it! This is where everybody’s going to get up and scream!'”
  • A quote that captures what I’ve been trying to focus on: “What you get will never make you happy; who you become will make you very happy or very sad.” – Jim Rohn

What I learned last week (#16)

Learned last week: you have a duty to be happy, the future is a mirrorworld, coldbrew makes everything better, and lots of new music.

  • A quote I shared: “There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy. By being happy we sow anonymous benefits upon the world.” – Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Some new music for work: “I have lots of ideas, how do I pick the best one? Execute on as many as possible, the right one idea will pick you.” I heard this on Choose Yourself by Star Slinger. I don’t know if this is his originally, but based on all the advice in this song (including many I recognize from other sources) I’m guessing it’s not. Regardless, a lot of the bits in this track have stuck with me. His instrumental albums are right my alley for music to have on when I’m working. If you’re interested, I recommend starting with Volume 1.
  • A great essay on the future: I picked up a (physical!) copy of Wired before a flight last week as I had heard about Kevin Kelly’s Mirrorworld essay. It was a really fun read. Wired has been putting out so much good content recently that I thought about subscribing, just because I felt like I should support it, but their site wouldn’t do anything when I tried to give them money and support has been horrendous. I tried!
  • My new afternoon snack: Last week I spotted a tub of overnight oats with coldbrew, cacao and dates in an airport grab-and-go market. I make overnight oats frequently but had never thought of combining my afternoon caffeine needs with this snack! It’s now in my fridge as a regular go-to. Here’s a rough guideline for making (you can experiment freely and not go wrong): mix 1 cup oats, 1/2 cup almond, coconut or other nut milk, 1/2 cup cold brew (change the ratio of liquid according to your caffeine needs), 1 cup gluten-free rolled oats, a tablespoon of cacao, and finely chopped dates. Let sit overnight. I like to also add some combination of walnuts, granola, or fresh fruit in the morning when I grab a bit to take to work.
  • Something new to play when I don’t know what to play: KEXP listener’s favorite songs of all time was published as part of their spring fundraising drive. It’s one of those lists I put on when I’m hanging out with the kids or friends and/or not really sure what to go for. Listening to it inevitably leads to something great. Here’s a playlist with the top part of the list, it’s 600 songs deep so I’ll keep adding to it.

What I learned last week (#15)

Learned last week: Embracing the shadow, two great interview questions, Wikipedia is pretty amazing, and more.

  • The paradox that you can’t be happy without embracing unhappiness: Per prior posts, I’m very interested in exploring ideas of yin and yang, and Social Peacocking and the Shadow by Caterina Fake offers a great perspective and links to other good reads on the topic (case-in-point is The Shadow by Hans Christian Andersen)

The more a person acknowledges his shadow, and brings it into consciousness, the healthier and more whole the person will be. But if driven underground and sent into hiding, The Shadow will take on a life of its own, like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

  • Two of the best interview questions I’ve heard: Graham Duncan approaches hiring by finding and matching people with opportunities. He’s not “finding talent” (because everyone has talents) but rather matching people with the right “positive feedback loops”, and he’s not trying to “catch” someone’s weakness, because we all have many.
    These two interview questions are from Tim Ferriss’s excellent interview of Graham Duncan (and there is a lot more).
    1. If you were to hire somebody for this position, what criteria would you use?
    2. If I were to hire a partner to work with you on this, what qualities would be good for them to have?
  • Wikipedia is pretty amazing: Wikipedia and the Wisdom of Polarized Crowds by Brian Gallagher reveals a bunch of important insights from research on Wikipedia: Bringing together polarizing viewpoints is essential to making better things. Bias is essential, not inherently evil as it’s been portrayed lately. It is possible to create a platform and a distributed culture of creators that have vastly different ideologies, yet work together and are able to reach consensus.
  • A serendipitous story of a modern day heist of Star Wars toys: The Great Star Wars Heist from the excellent longreads.com is a really fun read. One of my co-workers was telling me backstory on how the original Star Wars toys came out and the deal George Lucas struck to make it happen, and then this magically popped up on my feed. #serendipity  
  • What I was doing this week in 2016: I went back to my journal to see what I was up to at this time in 2016. Three years ago we had just bought our current home (that we’re now hoping to sell next month), I was pretty crazy with my weekly bullet journal-inspire spreads, and we were in the midst of doing Core Caregiver Training (CCT) to be foster parents.

What I learned last week (#14)

Learning from last week: breaking the chains of discouragement, re-buying my most-used piece of gear, and a ‘now’ page.

  • A useful metaphor for handing adversity and keeping a positive outlook: Unfortunate things are caused by a chain of unfortunate decisions, and it can be discouraging to view a situation through this lens. Alternatively, one can also look at it from the perspective that by making one right decision, or doing something good, the chain can be broken and a whole new chain can begin. There’s always an opportunity to course-correct. 
  • A need to re-buy one of my most essential pieces of gear: Icebreaker 200 Oasis Leggings are one of my most-used pieces of clothing. Perfect for fall/winter/spring outside activities. I live in them during the weekend and I recently had to get rid of a couple of pairs that were literally disintegrating.
  • What a ‘now’ page is: A friend sent me Derek Siver’s now page and, aside from the content of his status being very relevant to ours (he’s relocated to another country), I love the concept of a “Now” page (see others at https://nownownow.com/) and have set one up here.
  • Useful encouragement to get on with it: “Someday” is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you. Pro and con lists are just as bad. If it’s important to you and you want to do it “eventually,” just do it and correct course along the way. – from the 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss

What I learned last week (#13)

Learning from last week: the best I could hope to achieve in my creative practice, protecting my kids from pain, and a great story on solitude and strength.

  • An excerpt from a book that I’m pondering: “Some writers, as Hemingway said in Green Hills of Africa, are born only to help another writer to write one sentence. I hope this collection will contribute to the making of many sentences.” – from Ernest Hemingway on Writing by Larry W. Phillips. If I have a a goal associated with my sharing, writing, and drawing that is better than this, I can’t name it.
  • A perspective on protecting those you love from pain: A friend at work and I were talking about our kids. I was expressing a hope I have that I can provide my kids with the experience of unmooring that I had experienced as a child when my parents divorced, but without as much isolation and sadness. We were discussing whether this is a realistic, or even desired, thing to achieve. I will write about this more soon, but after our conversation she came across this Instagram post and sent it to me:
  • A great documentary and story: Alone in the Wilderness is an assembly of footage from Dick Proenneke, a man who moved to the Alaskan wilderness alone, built a cabin by hand, and lived there alone for 30 years. The footage is grainy and it’s short (and short on context), but fantastic. I recommend getting some background from the site prior to viewing.
  • A great piece of storytelling: The Amazon Race is a really fun and ingenious way for a story to be told. Actually it’s just like the stories I’ve been experiencing for 30 years, except those are almost exclusively fiction. I’d like to see more mini-video games narratives like this. (Hat tip: Steve Wiens)

What I learned last week (#12)

A useful perspective on passion, a new service that reminds me what I’ve read, and reasons to keep reading.

  • A different perspective on answering the question “what you are passionate about?”: With the upcoming move, I’ve been doing a lot of writing and thinking about what I want to do next for work. As part of that, I’ve been thinking a lot about, and answering, similar questions to this. The postWork before passion by Seth Godin, and related TEDx talk from Terri Trespicio, resonates with me here. Instead of trying to articulate what I’m passionate about, I choose to be attentive to the fact that I’m constantly discovering things I’m interested in, that there are so many interesting and worthy problems out there to solve, and that I want to do work that matters.
  • A service so useful I can’t believe Amazon doesn’t own them: I recently started using Readwise.io. They send you 5 highlights from your e-book library at random each day and you can tag and organize them. It’s been surprisingly good for me. I’m a big Kindle reader and highlighter/note taker, and although I export my notes into OneNote, having them sent to me inevitably puts things in front of me I wouldn’t of revisited. It makes me want to read even more.
  • A thought-provoking essay on reading: Sticking with the theme this week of reading, Reading in the Age of Constant Distraction made me ponder what I love about reading (and how I feel when I go for extended periods without it).
  • Continuing to work on mindfulness and came across this (a highlight from my Readwise digest): From Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig: “The past cannot remember the past. The future can’t generate the future. The cutting edge of this instant right here and now is always nothing less than the totality of everything there is.”

What I learned last week (#11)

New music for focusing, a person worth following, and geeking out on urban sketching.

  • Memento mori: Translated as “remember that someday you will die”, and otherwise referring to an object that serves as a reminder of death. Aside from being useful short-hand in conversations, having a reminder like this visible is useful in keeping perspective, prioritizing and staying present.
  • New music to focus with: Midnight Marker by Shy Layers has been on my album list for a while but recently I gave it a spin while working and it was great for focusing.
  • An informative source of thoughts and ideas: I’ve been following Nicholas Thompson, editor-in-chief of Wired, for the past few weeks on LinkedIn and Twitter. I’ve found all of his reading recommendations and short videos have been well worth the time.
  • A simple new essential for the car in the winter: A friend pulled this out last week during a particularly snowy evening and I was shocked I hadn’t seen it before. The Frostblocker keeps your windshield ice free and frees you from having to scrape the window after a long stretch in the cold. Brilliant.
  • An approach to capturing people and movement: I loved these simple-yet-complex sketches and I’m inspired to try the same technique (quick figure gestures, layering on top of one another, the use of different line color for figures vs environment). Here’s one from the blog Mostly Drawing, which is fantastic (I love the info on the kit being used):
From See-through city on the blog Mostly Drawing

What I learned last week (#10)

The secret to likely everything, a reminder that most stuff can wait, and the metaverse is coming (or it’s already here).

  • Learning what and how to ignore things just might be the secret to everything:

“Learning to ignore things is one of the great paths to inner peace.”

Robert J. Sawyer
  • The metaverse beyond the hype: This article clued me into Tim Sweeney (founder of Epic Games, which created Fortnite and the Unreal Engine) and what he hopes Fornite becomes. It’s a fascinating read. 
  • Some useful reinforcement for moving abroad: As I’ve previously described, making the decision to move isn’t easy, but it’s reassuring to hear that part of our rationale is backed up by research showing those who live abroad tend to develop a stronger sense of what’s important to them.  (Hat tip to Marcus Purvis)
  • A reminder that most stuff can wait: Last week was snowy in Seattle, which meant a lot of meetings needed to be canceled, my work time was reduced, and I spent the majority of the week in my long johns. Not surprisingly, the important stuff still got done, and the week felt like a mini-vacation. Removing all the non-essential overhead felt good. It’s surprising how much baggage we all carry around that should be left behind, and I’m grateful for the reminder. On a related note, check out Busy is the New Lazy and aim to get more slack in your days.
Snow in Seattle