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What I learned last week

What I learned last week (#45)

The week before the last week: This week is my last week before going back to work full time, so last week was special. Mostly because Sam turned 3 and we had a lot of celebrating to do throughout the week. But also because I just had a lot of time to play with the kids, not worry about what time I got up in the morning, and go running, speaking of which…


A new book that made me smile: I started reading What I Talk About When I Talk About Running my Haruki Murukami, and am finding that I am relating to it a lot. There is too much to mention, but here are a few.

On being a good writer (but I think it applies to being good at whatever you do), you must have talent, concentration and endurance:

You’ll naturally learn both concentration and endurance when you sit down every day at your desk and train yourself to focus on one point. This is a lot like the training of muscles I wrote of a moment ago. You have to continually transmit the object of your focus to your entire body, and make sure it thoroughly assimilates the information necessary for you to write every single day and concentrate on the work at hand. And gradually, you’ll expand the limits of what you’re able to do. Almost imperceptibly you’ll make the bar rise. This involves the same process as jogging every day to strengthen your muscles and develop a runner’s physique. Add a stimulus and keep it up. And repeat. Patience is a must in this process, but I guarantee the results will come.

On being alone:

It might be a little silly for someone getting to be my age to put this into words, but I just want to be sure I get the facts down clearly: I’m the kind of person who likes to be by himself. To put a finer point on itm I’m the type of person who doesn’t find it painful to be alone. I find spending an hour or two every day running alone, not speaking to anyone, as well as four or five hours alone at my desk, to be neither difficult nor boring. I’ve had this tendency ever since I was young, when, given a choice, I much preferred reading books on my own or concentrating on listening to music over being with someone else. I could always think of things to do by myself.

On learning in school:

The most important thing we learn in schools is that the most important things can’t be learned in schools.


A scary-but-beautiful bit of encouragement to pass on to your partner, kids, students, and friends: Ken Burns’ mentor, Jerry Liebling, advocated learning by experience and told his daughters and students:

“Go, get out into the world. See, look around you. Do, make something, relate. You have an exchange with somebody, be. Take it in. Go, see, do, be.”

From the superb Ken Burns interview with Tim Ferriss. I did a drawing about it I liked it so much.


Revisited my few-time-a-year baking ritual: Baked a cake for Sam’s birthday and this simple sheet cake recipe turned out quite good. By the way, why is Cook’s Illustrated print edition so good and their digital stuff so annoyingly bad? I’m putting it here out of protest:


New music to work and draw to: I’ve been listening to Stars Are The Light from Moon Duo this week after hearing it on KEXP. Check out the track The World and the Sun to get a taste.


I miss regular Cheerios: You can’t get just plain Cheerios here it seems. It’s either some five grain variant or honey or something else. The kids are missing out!

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What I learned last week

What I learned last week (#39)

New life continued: First week on the full time work train and overall I’m loving it, but it is an adjustment to be working from home all day every day. I’ve been doing daily walks but let’s just say I’m going to need to have a system for getting out more. Otherwise life now is moving quickly as the days are full of work and full of beauty. It’s hard to go anywhere and not run into a castle or a long winding trail inevitably leading past one. Hard to beat that!


Book excerpt that resonated last week:

“…people rarely succeed at anything unless they have fun doing it.”

Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

Loved this New Yorker article from Cal Newport, Was Email A Mistake?

Something to give us all pause:

Last year, the software company RescueTime gathered and aggregated anonymized computer-usage logs from tens of thousands of people. When its data scientists crunched the numbers, they found that, on average, users were checking e-mail or instant-messenger services like Slack once every six minutes. Not long before, a team led by Gloria Mark, the U.C. Irvine professor, had installed similar logging software on the computers of employees at a large corporation; the study found that the employees checked their in-boxes an average of seventy-seven times a day. Although we shifted toward asynchronous communication so that we could stop wasting time playing phone tag or arranging meetings, communicating in the workplace had become more onerous than it used to be. Work has become something we do in the small slivers of time that remain amid our Sisyphean skirmishes with our in-boxes.

Plenty have figured it out though, there is hope:

…the software-development firm Basecamp now allows employees to set professor-style office hours: if you need to talk to an expert on a given subject, you can sign up for her office hours instead of shooting her an e-mail. “You get that person’s full, undivided attention,” Jason Fried, the company’s co-founder and C.E.O., said, on the podcast Curious Minds. “It’s such a calmer way of doing this.” If something is urgent and the expert’s office hours aren’t for another few days, then, Fried explained, “that’s just how it goes.”


I was looking for some new books and referenced Derek Siver’s book list (who BTW has three new books coming out). I’m reading The Lessons of History and A Guide to the Good Life at the moment.


Speaking of new books, Ultralearning caught my attention


But who needs a book when there is a new Wait But Why series? If you haven’t read Wait But Why Year 1 you should.


Why Austin Kleon is a one issue voter and after reading that I think I am to.


Quote I have been thinking about:

“There is only one person who could ever make you happy, and that person is you.”

David Burns

Podcast I enjoyed that’s related to that quote: Jim Dethmer on the Knowledge Project. Some gems in here, for example:

“Be impeccable with your agreements.”

“Are you living in a victim mindset or a creator mindset?”

For example, when you get upset or annoyed because of someone’s actions are not what you wanted them to be, do you think “That is making me really angry…” or do you say “I am making myself angry over/because of…”. It’s a subtle shift, but has been helping me recently. Subject or object. Are you subject to something (like the weather) or is something object to you (it’s raining, who cares)?


Something that stuck out as strange but is normal in the UK/Scotland: Driving like a bat out of hell. I mean, I like driving fast, but there is no reason to be going 50 MPH on a twisty lane barely wide enough for two cars in the rain when it’s pitch black. People here love their cars (“motors”) and take driving more seriously than we do in the US (a plus for sure!) but it can be a little extreme at times. Oh, and if you are a pedestrian you are taking your life into your own hands by the roads here.

Wish me luck.

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What I learned last week

What I learned last week (#36)

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.