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Misc

Little, Big

Only in the most unusual cases is it useful to determine whether a book is good or bad. It is usually both.

Robert Musil

I certainly wouldn’t consider Little, Big by John Crowley one of the best novels I’ve ever read, or would I? It’s certainly one of the most interestingly strange and effecting fiction books I’ve read. I definitely remember many moments after reading where it stuck with me over the course of a morning or evening in a way not many books have ever done. Similar to what Tim Ferriss describes in a glowing review from one of his 5 Bullet Friday’s:

Little, Big is simply one of the best novels I’ve ever read, and even that doesn’t do it justice. It is, as one reviewer put it, “mysteriously affecting.”…On top of that, I feel like it put me in an altered state of consciousness that often lasted for 6–12 hours, best described as a deep feeling of serenity.

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What I learned last week

What I learned last week (#53 and #54)

A programming note: I was literally under a rock the past week with the flu, so I am combining the last two weeks together as a single-not-quite-double-edition.

The origin of a family favorite: We still use a slow cooker (although the pressure cooker as taken over most of those duties). It’s been a mainstay in my kitchen, and I enjoyed reading A Brief History of the Crock Pot.

At Chicago’s 1971 National Housewares Show, Rival unveiled its newly rebranded version of the Naxon Beanery. Dubbed the Crock Pot, the appliance received a new name, refreshed appearance and a booklet of professionally-tested recipes. Home cooks eagerly brought their Crock Pots home, in distinctly ‘70s hues like Harvest Gold and Avocado. Advertising campaigns, along with word of mouth, drove sales from $2 million in 1971 to an astounding $93 million four years later.


There’s nothing like going to see live music: We went to see Snow Patrol in Edinburgh this month, the first push in an ongoing effort to get out and see more music. The sound was fantastic, but as I watched the activity at the side of the stage, I was thinking about the work the sound techs were doing and what it would be like to hear what it sounds like coming directly from them after reading this article on mixhalo.

Regardless, I don’t want perfect sound at a show. I want to go for the energy and, for lack of a better word, emotion.


I’m relating to all these late bloomers: I’m 40 and feel like I’ve yet to hit my prime. Maybe wishful thinking, maybe not. This is why the profiles of people who do great things late in life appeal to me so much. My ears perk up when I hear that Peter Drucker wrote 2/3’s of his 35 books after the age of 65. A recent Jessiwrites podcast with artist Lisa Congdon caught my attention for this same reason, her having only taken her first drawing class at age 30 and turning to art full time at nearly 40.

Sometimes the time isn’t right when you are young, and things need to simmer a bit more. But I think that another, even stronger force for getting after it as you get older is you are more you than ever and have learned to say and do what you want.


Apostrophe society shuts down: Because ignorance and laziness have won! I’ve been guilty of making “its” possessive once in a while, as in “The paper was not up to it’s predecessors standards.” Sorry, I try.


I love not living in my inbox: Since changing work, I spend 90% less time in email than I did, but I still have to write a decent bit of email on a regular basis. Now I’m much more conscious of how much time is wasted by not being specific with dates, what I need/will do/won’t do, and to whom I need it. With few exceptions, I’m trying to close loops in email, not open them. How to write better emails has some important points to note in this regard.


Books I read in 2019: I counted 21 for 2019, not bad considering I have a tendency to get stuck on books I don’t like (and am working hard on that).


Book excerpt from a book on that list:

Ultimately, though, the prime driver for my own exploration in this field has been creating the space to catalyze and access new, creative, and valuable thinking and direction. To a great extent, that’s actually not something you need to exert a lot of energy to achieve, if you have gotten this far in implementing this methodology. We are naturally creative beings, invested in our existence to live, grow, express, and expand. The challenge is not to be creative—it’s to eliminate the barriers to the natural flow of our creative energies. (Getting Things Done, David Allen)


A reminder it’s always better to go outside first:

Before you make a big decision, walk around the block.

If it’s raining out, take the dog for a run.

End the meeting a few minutes early and go for a stroll with the team.

Instead of an afternoon snack, consider some sunshine.

The less convenient, the more it pays.

A hard habit to create, but definitely worth it.

When in doubt, go outside. Especially when it’s inconvenient.

(If you want to see this as a metaphor, that’s good too.)

https://seths.blog/2019/12/what-is-it/


Lastly, check out what we’re up to now.

Categories
Misc

Books I read in 2019

Here’s my list of books for this year. I counted 21 for 2019, which definitely constitutes a great year of reading for me. I love reading and have been working hard on keeping my throughput high by putting aside books that I don’t enjoy without guilt, freely skipping through books if I feel like it, and not getting stuck on any one in particular. I’d like to keep increasing the number of books I read per year (or at least remain constant) and have plenty on the list to start off 2020.

Here is what I read in 2019 in roughly sequential order, descending from the most recent:

We Learn Nothing by Tim Kreider

Great collection of stories and was surprised by the humor and impact of the writing.

Getting Things Done by David Allen

A legendary productivity system I had yet to understand until this year.

⭐️ What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murukami

One of my now all-time faves. Good for fans or running or just those who like a good memoir.

A Guide to the Good Life by William B Irvine

Deep Work by Cal Newport

What if instead we didn’t have to schedule deep thinking time, but instead had to schedule time to be distracted?

The Lessons of History by Will Durant

A short summary of world history. Really entertaining and educational read.

⭐️ Born Standing Up by Steve Martin

One of my now all-time faves. The journey and methods of an artist building their skills until they were the best in the world.

⭐️ So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport

One of my now all-time faves. It’s all about deliberate practice.

Remote by David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried

The Year Without Pants by Scott Berkun

⭐️ The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

One of my now all-time faves. Cannot recommend enough.

⭐️ Levels of the Game by John McPhee

One of my now all-time faves. Impossible to put down once you start.

Draft No. 4 by John McPhee

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Benjamin Franklin by Walter Isaacson

Ernest Hemingway on Writing by Larry W. Philips

Rework by David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried

Will make you think about the tools and processes you use at work or for any project more intelligently.

Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman by Richard Feynman

Waking Up by Sam Harris

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

A book about writing that’s brimming with wisdom about life.

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What I learned last week

What I learned last week (#47)

Tool I discovered: Droplr. Since starting work at Automattic I have been getting to know and love this tool for taking and sharing screenshots and screencasts. It uploads your files automatically for easy sharing, has a bunch of surprisingly great options, and it’s fast.


Documentary I enjoyed: The Game Changers. Since going vegetarian over a year ago, Kav and I have been getting into it more and more and have no desire to go back. This made me want to go farther.


Tumblr site that made me laugh: Catalog Living. There have been a few of these floating around the office. Too funny.

Gary threw down his napkin in disgust when he realized tonight would be yet another Giant Pear dinner.


Favorite life advice of the week: Read like your life depends on it, because it does. From the always good Marcus Purvis. I also enjoyed his recent post in his Notes from a Small Country series.


Article about “work” that made me think: Asynchronous Communication: The Real Reason Remote Workers Are More Productive. This lines up neatly to my new role working for an entirely distributed, async company, so it’s right in my echo chamber but good I think nonetheless.

This highly synchronous way of working would be understandable if it produced results, but there is more and more evidence that all the real-time communication overhead makes it hard to focus, drains employees’ mental resources, and generally makes it more difficult to make meaningful progress on work.


To see what we’re up to, check out our now page. The featured image is another one I colored in with some Tombows from my small notebook:

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What I learned last week

What I learned last week (#46)

Being a solo Dad was pretty great: But there is nothing like Mom getting home! While Kav was traveling last week I had a few things planned to keep the kids occupied, but Sam’s cold-from-hell ruined a lot of that. Fortunately it all worked out and there were plenty of toys, games, movies and crafts to keep us going, although Vivi did say she got “over Daddy’d” by the end of the week. 😂


My favorite book excerpt from the week:

Our first reaction to most of the statements (which we hear from other people) is an evaluation or judgment, rather than an understanding of it. When someone expresses some feeling, attitude or belief, our tendency is almost immediately to feel “that’s right,” or “that’s stupid,” “that’s abnormal,” “that’s unreasonable,” “that’s incorrect,” “that’s not nice.” Very rarely do we permit ourselves to understand precisely what the meaning of the statement is to the other person.

Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

More thoughts on work life balance:

Buy this car to go to work, go to work to pay for this car

Metric

Working to live often means giving up your life.

I know this dates me, but I’m nostalgic for that atmosphere of repose—the extended family dinners, the spontaneous outings, the neighborly visits. We haven’t completely lost these shared hours, of course. Time-use studies show that weekends continue to allow more socializing, civic activity, and religious worship than weekdays do. But Sundays are no longer a day of forced noncommerce—everything’s open—or nonproductivity. Even if you aren’t asked to pull a weekend shift, work intrudes upon those once-sacred hours. The previous week’s unfinished business beckons when you open your laptop; urgent emails from a colleague await you in your inbox. A low-level sense of guilt attaches to those stretches of time not spent working.

I couldn’t agree more.


New productivity strategies: I’m enjoying (and trying the methods within) the often mentioned Getting Things Done by Steven Allen. Although it’s advocating for what some might at first glance seem to be a rigid way of operating, I am finding it more loose and freeing than I imagined. Why do we feel so good right before vacation: because we’re cleaning up and keeping things current. We’re closing down all our open loops, getting right with our commitments. Wouldn’t it be good to feel that way on a (somewhat) regular basis? I’ll try that kool aid.

Being organized means simply that where something is matches what it means to you.


The allure of country music: Maybe it’s due to living on a farm, but I’ve been dipping more into country music as of late. This was separate from learning about Ken Burn’s recent Country Music documentary. Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and Hank Williams are regularly getting played in the office. Especially The Essential Merle Haggard: The Epic Years.


The power of the project table: I set this up last week and left it going all week so the kids and I could do some art any time we felt like it. It was magic. We made all sorts of random stuff, and a special creation being a set of signs for the home office.


Something awesome: Snoop has a full-time blunt roller on staff

Snoop said the full-time position pays “$40 to $50,000 a year,” which means it’s actually a real job, and my high school guidance counselor lied to me.

I was probably qualified for this job a long time ago, but I’ve sadly let my skills atrophy.