Thursday, May 16, 2024

desk stuff

Greetings Starfighters,

Earlier this week, Austin Kleon sent out a wonderful article about the things we love and live with, especially all the little things we keep around our workspaces and homes that help keep us sane.

I started thinking about all the trinkets I keep around me and realized that I keep a metric buttload of stuff, some of it useful, some of it for inspiration, and some of it just because.

For instance, on top of my desk at home, I have a number of themed Mr. Potato Heads because they make me smile. But amid them, there is a Batman action figure from the 1989 Tim Burton film.

Of all the toys I had in my younger days, that one has been with me through move after move, relationship after relationship. Sometimes a space doesn’t really feel like mine until I have Batman standing silent guard over all.

Pictures and drawings from my daughter and wife also hang around, as do several creations from former students.

Several versions of Iron Man lay scattered about, along with more pens, pencils, and markers than should be acceptable for someone in his late 40s.

I also keep several quotes taped up around me as reminders and inspiration. They include:

quote
quote
quote

I also have a copy of this print from Ryan Holiday featuring a great Hemingway quote hanging next to my desk at home.

quote

Oh, of course, there’s also my growing book collection (because I’m totally embracing the antilibrary theory).

Each item has some meaning for me, whether sentimental or silly and helps make my little areas of the world truly ‘mine.’

So, my question to you today is, “What do you keep around that makes a space truly yours?”

I’m opening up comments for this post on my Substack for everyone. Normally, only paid subscribers have access but let’s all get in on this bit of memory sharing, shall we?

Quote of the Day

“When we do the work for itself alone, our pursuit of a career (or a living or fame or wealth or notoriety) turns into something else, something loftier and nobler, which we may never even have thought about or aspired to at the beginning. It turns into a practice.” (Steven Pressfield, Turning Pro)

“When we do the work for itself alone, our pursuit of a career (or a living or fame or wealth or notoriety) turns into something else, something loftier and nobler, which we may never even have thought about or aspired to at the beginning. It turns into a practice.” (Steven Pressfield, Turning Pro)

Musical Interlude

Since my friend, John Nash, is in Las Vegas for the opening of Dead & Company at the Sphere, here’s a live performance of Sugaree from a few years ago.

Long Read of the Day

If you are holding a day job while you are writing your novel or poetry in the evenings after the kids have gone to sleep or the dishwasher has been unloaded or various tasks for the next morning have been completed, please do not be disheartened. Of course, writers need more space and support mechanisms of their own. This was clearly outlined by Virginia Woolf in her A Room of One’s Own. But my point is, if at this moment of your life, for whatever reason, you cannot completely dedicate your time to writing and have to do other things alongside, do not allow anyone make you feel like you are not a serious author.

We are storytellers. We are lovers of literature. We do not need labels or boxes. We are writers and that is all there is to it.

Amateur Writers vs Professional Authors

Video of the Day

If you haven’t heard, Francis Ford Coppola has a new movie he’s hoping to release soon. It looks bonkers. I hope someone picks it up and releases it because I want to see exactly how bonkers it is. I also hope Coppola is able to make some of his money back since he funded the film himself.

That’s dedication, folks.

Final Thoughts

What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you’ve enjoyed the insights and stories, consider showing your support by subscribing to my weekly newsletter. It’s a great way to stay updated and dive deeper into my content. Alternatively, if you love audiobooks or want to try them, click here to start your free trial with Audible. Your support in any form means the world to me and helps keep this blog thriving. Looking forward to connecting with you more!

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

anthony bourdain israel

“It’s easily the most contentious piece of real estate in the world. And there’s no hope—none—of ever talking about it without pissing somebody, if not everybody, off. Maybe that’s why it took me so long to come here, a place where even the names of ordinary things are ferociously disputed. Where does falafel come from? Who makes the best hummus? Is it a fence or a wall? By the end of this episode, I’ll be seen by many as a terrorist sympathizer, a Zionist tool, a self-hating Jew, an apologist for American imperialism, an Orientalist, socialist, fascist, CIA agent, and worse. So here goes nothing.”

Anthony Bourdain, from the 2013 “Jerusalem” episode of Parts Unknown.

I was raised in a non-denominational church—that’s code for ‘we are Christians, but we don’t like the rules of any Christian sect, so we’ll make our own and also choose to be radical fundamentalists’—making my view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict quite skewed for a long, long time. We were taught that Israel was the Holy Land, the Promised Land, the Land of Milk and Honey, and that every true Christian should go there at least once in their lives to walk in the footsteps of the heroes of the faith.

Oddly, it sounds very similar to the Muslim Hajj, but I digress…

We were also taught that the Jews were the chosen people of God. To speak ill of the Jewish people or to not support Israel was akin to high crimes of treason against the church, unthinkable and unacceptable. Also, we were taught that Muslims and all Palestinians were the enemies of God and essentially the embodiment of Satan and his minions.

Oddly, this rhetoric is similar to any extremist religion, choosing enemies of a God and naming people it’s perfectly acceptable and encouraged to hate. Weird.

However, in the 20-ish years since I left that church and the misguided people in charge and in my ongoing struggle to come to terms with my own faith—plot twist: I think there’s some truth to be found in all religions, including the religion of not being religious—I’ve changed my mind on any number of things, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Of course, I don’t have an answer. People much smarter and more powerful than me have tried and haven’t come up with a winning solution yet. It’s an old, old problem, tied up in disparate beliefs that form the very core of many people. Emotions run wild on both sides of the battle, giving reason little space to maneuver.

I don’t know that the violence will ever stop. Here’s what I do know: Violence begets violence. If we can’t come to an agreement amongst all parties involved that, at the most basic level, everyone involved is connected on the most basic level of being human and inhabiting the only home we’ll likely ever know, then I see no hope in ending this ridiculous conflict.

Both sides are right, both sides are wrong.

And none of us are the better for it. This conflict represents one of many very difficult conversations we should have with our children and our students. We must have these conversations, make room to talk with disagreeing people, and try to come to some common understanding.

If not, we all lose.

Quote of the Day

"I hope to give my children the opportunity to find what they love to do, work to be great at it, pursue it, and do it. Rather than cover their eyes from ugly truths, I want to cover their eyes from fictional fantasies that will handicap their ability to negotiate tomorrow’s reality. I believe they can handle it." (Matthew McConaughey, Greenlights)

“I hope to give my children the opportunity to find what they love to do, work to be great at it, pursue it, and do it. Rather than cover their eyes from ugly truths, I want to cover their eyes from fictional fantasies that will handicap their ability to negotiate tomorrow’s reality. I believe they can handle it.” (Matthew McConaughey, Greenlights)

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Greenlights
  • #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER Discover the life-changing memoir that has inspired millions of readers through the Academy Award–winning actor’s unflinching honesty, unconventional wisdom, and lessons learned the hard way about living with greater satisfaction.
  • Hardcover Book
  • McConaughey, Matthew (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 304 Pages – 10/20/2020 (Publication Date) – Crown (Publisher)

Musical Interlude

Having only recently discovered the Black Pumas, I loved this cover of the Otis Redding classic.

Long Read of the Day

On the eve of the 70th anniversary of Brown v. Board, scholars revealed racial and economic segregation in American public schools has steadily increased throughout the last few decades. 

The trend is unsurprising to lawyers and researchers familiar with the challenges of Brown’s implementation, who’ve sounded the alarm that the widespread practice of tying school assignment to childrens’ home addresses has  perpetuated segregation.

But one civil rights and education law expert maintains a sense of optimism, offering new ideas for how courts and state legislatures can take on integration efforts.

“There’s a whole lot that they could do if they wanted to,” said University of North Carolina law professor Erika Wilson, “but often states lack the political will.”

Racial and economic segregation in American public schools is increasing, despite efforts to desegregate. Civil rights lawyer Erika Wilson highlights the challenges in addressing segregation and advocates for racially and economically integrated schools for a healthy democracy. She suggests rethinking school district boundaries and the role of charter schools in promoting equity in education.

Video of the Day

Wes Anderson, known for his meticulous craftsmanship in filmmaking, was chosen to direct Montblanc’s commercial for their hundred-year-old Meisterstück writing tool. Filmed in Germany, the short features Anderson, Jason Schwartzman, and Rupert Friend, who portray mountain climbers inspired by Montblanc’s products. The ad transitions from the snowy Mont Blanc to a warm chalet, which required 50 takes. Anderson surprised Montblanc by presenting a prototype pen he designed, the Schreiberling, and requested its production. The company agreed to produce 1,969 pen copies, referencing Anderson’s birth year, 1969. Anderson’s career has evolved from his early days in Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums to influencing the film and luxury goods industries.

Final Thoughts

Three. More. Days.


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you’ve enjoyed the insights and stories, consider showing your support by subscribing to my weekly newsletter. It’s a great way to stay updated and dive deeper into my content. Alternatively, if you love audiobooks or want to try them, click here to start your free trial with Audible. Your support in any form means the world to me and helps keep this blog thriving. Looking forward to connecting with you more!

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

allergies
Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

That’s just the way it is…

Greetings Starfighters,

Living in the Southern United States during the months of April and May is, to be quite honest, one of the most ill-informed choices a human being can make, especially for those of us suffering from seasonal allergies.

I mean, when you can wash your car and come back out to it a few hours later to be greeted by a powdery covering of yellowish-green stuff that is often a little sticky and definitely irritating, you know that you’ve made poor life choices.

But that same yellowish-green stuff is the sign of life returning to the world. My grass is the greenest of greens right now, thanks to more than enough rain and the nearly perfect fertile ground that covers much of Kentucky. I love looking at the world around me, but OH MY GOD, CAN WE GET SOME SUPER-SIZED AIR FILTERS FOR ALL THE POLLEN?

Ah well, such is the life of a Kentucky boy. All allergies and longing for time spent in the woods. Time for more nasal spray…

Quote of the Day

"The world only cares about—and pays off on—what you can do with what you know (and it doesn’t care how you learned it)." (George Couros, The Innovator's Mindset)

“The world only cares about—and pays off on—what you can do with what you know (and it doesn’t care how you learned it).” (George Couros, The Innovator’s Mindset)

Musical Interlude

It’s September 1986, and I’m just nine years old. My summer had been absolutely destroyed by two things: my family moved from Campbellsville, KY, to Elizabethtown, KY (there’s a movie about this place that is great, but not because they portrayed E-town properly), and Optimus Prime died in the Transformers movie.

Even now, it’s difficult to say which event was more traumatic.

Regardless, this song hit the radio waves, whether it was Q104 in Campbellsville or WQXE in E-town, and I loved it. The simple melodies combined with the incredible piano lead hit me. Of course, I didn’t understand the lyrics then, but they stuck with me.

That song was The Way It Is, written by Bruce Hornsby and recorded by Hornsby along with his band, The Range, at the time.

Hornsby has said he wanted to create a sense of place with the song lyrics, providing a snapshot of small-town life in Virginia. Much like Springsteen with New Jersey or Mellencamp with Indiana, Hornsby wanted to take listeners to Virginia and talk with them about racism.

I’m quite certain that’s exactly what he accomplished, and given the song’s enduring legacy in the nearly 40 years since its release, many millions have had the chance to talk about it and its meaning.

And that enduring legacy has reached beyond the pop and rock genres with many artists covering or sampling portions of The Way It Is for their own hits, most famously done by Tupac Shakur with Changes.

There’s not a version of The Way It Is that I don’t enjoy, but this one from BBC 2 Radio is quite good. The orchestra adds something special to Hornsby’s iconic piano.

Long Read of the Day

In the late 18th century, officials in Prussia and Saxony began to rearrange their complex, diverse forests into straight rows of single-species trees. Forests had been sources of food, grazing, shelter, medicine, bedding and more for the people who lived in and around them, but to the early modern state, they were simply a source of timber.

So-called “scientific forestry” was that century’s growth hacking. It made timber yields easier to count, predict and harvest, and meant owners no longer relied on skilled local foresters to manage forests. They were replaced with lower-skilled laborers following basic algorithmic instructions to keep the monocrop tidy, the understory bare.

Information and decision-making power now flowed straight to the top. Decades later when the first crop was felled, vast fortunes were made, tree by standardized tree. The clear-felled forests were replanted, with hopes of extending the boom. Readers of the American political anthropologist of anarchy and order, James C. Scott, know what happened next.

It was a disaster so bad that a new word, Waldsterben, or “forest death,” was minted to describe the result. All the same species and age, the trees were flattened in storms, ravaged by insects and disease — even the survivors were spindly and weak. Forests were now so tidy and bare, they were all but dead.

The Internet as we know it now has become a little too well-maintained and planned. We’re not seeing the true purpose of this amazing tool; in fact, we’re moving further and further from that original purpose.

Just like in our schools, we need to have a little less structure and let things get a little wild.

Video of the Day

Not to get into a huge debate here, but I will talk about AI. As a tech guy, I know all sides of every argument around the arrival of Generative AI tools like ChatGPT, DALL-E, and more. Yes, there are some very clear ethical issues attached to the usage of these tools, especially in the creative world.

However, there are very valid uses of the technology, provided we operate on the assumption that we are human beings and should treat everyone as such. We should only use AI tools to better ourselves or our work and NOT use AI as some all-encompassing replacement for the creativity of the human spirit.

This week on CBS Sunday Morning, Randy Travis got a feature. Travis, an award-winning, massively successful, Hall of Fame country music artist, suffered a stroke in 2013. Given only a 2% chance to live, Travis has battled against the odds and is still with us more than a decade later. However, the portions of his brain tasked with speech and singing were the most damaged by the stroke. His singing career was essentially over.

Until some folks thought about all the voice-generating tools powered by AI that create something that sounds a little like a famous artist but without any of the heart, passion, or humanity behind their voice. They decided that there must be a way to use these tools responsibly and help Randy Travis get his voice back.

Trust me, you’re going to need Kleenex for this one.

Final Thoughts

Admittedly, I’ve switched to publishing daily thoughts as a bit of an experiment. I’m trying to force myself to push out more content to continue developing my writing practice. However, I don’t ever want to get to a place where I’m publishing just for the sake of publishing. Veteran web publisher and all-around genius Om Malik recently talked about excessive activity leading to average quality, especially in the online world as the almighty algorithms continue to dominate. Cory Doctorow talks about the ‘enshittification’ of everything and I certainly see that on every social platform out there.

So, I’ll keep publishing daily but promise to remain vigilant about content quality. Yes, I like to share my thoughts, but I don’t want to share without providing value or insight. Only add good things to the world friends, never take away.


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you’ve enjoyed the insights and stories, consider showing your support by subscribing to my weekly newsletter. It’s a great way to stay updated and dive deeper into my content. Alternatively, if you love audiobooks or want to try them, click here to start your free trial with Audible. Your support in any form means the world to me and helps keep this blog thriving. Looking forward to connecting with you more!

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Greetings Starfighters,

Among the treasures we discovered as we cleaned out my grandparents’ old home was a Hasselblad 500C/M camera. Some of you may know what that means, many of you likely don’t, just know that Ansel Adams used a Hasselblad 500 model at times in his career.

First, a word about my grandfather. The man was obsessed with gadgets, just like I am. He shelled out over $1200 for an early VCR, had every form of home video recording equipment, and even bought a light that was allegedly the same model used on the Space Shuttle to better stage our family Christmas movies. So, having a Hasselblad just sitting in the top of a closet collecting dust isn’t necessarily a surprise.

I’m playing around with it and hope to take some shots with it soon. I was a little surprised that you can still purchase film and even get it developed but I’m also watching some videos and looking for tools to develop at home if I need to.

Once more, the Internet proves that, with a little effort, you can find and learn how to do just about anything.

Quote of the Day

Without memory, it’s impossible to build the future. – Umberto Eco, A Library of the World

Musical Interlude

A number of years ago, Daryl Hall of Hall & Oates fame began a show recorded at his home studio with various guests. “Live from Daryl’s House” has had several homes over the years, but it seems they are uploading more and more to Daryl’s YouTube channel.

Here’s the episode with Lisa Loeb, including a great version of her classic, “Stay.”

Long Read of the Day

“In 1303 CE, a monstrous earthquake ripped through the Eastern Mediterranean. The trauma shook glittering casing stones loose from the Great Pyramid at Giza in Egypt—the most ancient of our Seven Wonders—and brought the remains of the youngest, the towering Pharos Lighthouse of Alexandria, crashing to the ground. The Great Pyramid embodied enormous effort for the sake of one, virtually omnipotent man. Alexandria’s Pharos Lighthouse had been a public beacon to keep travelers from four continents safe, and to announce a repository of all the knowledge that was possible for humankind to know.

But across that complex arc of experience, spanning nearly 4,000 years, from the vision of a single, almighty human to a network of human minds, no human-made Wonder could prove a match for the might of Mother Earth.”

What Makes a Wonder? On the Human Need to Map Out Monumental Greatness

Video of the Day

Final Thoughts

May 1 means that it’s very nearly Star Wars Day. If you haven’t heard, The Phantom Menace is returning to theatres this weekend. My kid and I have watched it I don’t know how many times here at home. Friday afternoon, we’ll catch it on the big screen. I was in the crowd on opening night 25 years ago, and I think I’m just as excited now as I was back then.


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you’ve enjoyed the insights and stories, consider showing your support by subscribing to my weekly newsletter. It’s a great way to stay updated and dive deeper into my content. Alternatively, if you love audiobooks or want to try them, click here to start your free trial with Audible. Your support in any form means the world to me and helps keep this blog thriving. Looking forward to connecting with you more!

Crafting a Digital Commonplace Book

commonplace book
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

One of the most fulfilling tasks I do on a regular basis is updating my commonplace book. What’s a commonplace book? Simple: it’s a place to store all those quotes, lyrics, poems, passages, etc. that mean something to you.

It’s a way to store all the things you read, regardless of their format, in one place so that you can access it any time you want. The concept isn’t new by any means; people across history have kept some form of a commonplace book. Marcus Aurelius had one that would later be published. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Mark Twain, and Virginia Woolfe all had one.

Modern authors like Austin Kleon and Ryan Holiday keep one. The formats change based on the person but they all serve the same purpose: a way to keep track of things that mean something to you.

Ryan Holiday has famously used his note card system as the basis for writing his books, something he picked up while working for Robert Greene.

If you want to dive deeper into this system of note-taking, writing, and organizing, read up on the Zettelkasten Method.

Personally, I keep a daily journal and I’ve been using my own version of the notecard system for the past couple of years. However, as I’m heading into my doctoral work this fall as I write, I’m attempting to update my commonplace system.

While I agree there is tremendous benefit in writing things down on paper – I write in my journal by hand in cursive daily – the real power of keeping a record of all the things in your commonplace book is when you can make connections between different entries.

I’ve tried making those connections with my note cards, but it hasn’t worked for me. So I needed to come up with something better. Something digital.

I’ve come up with a two-pronged approach. One of those prongs is this blog you are reading now.

For too many years, I tried to take blogging far too seriously. Always trying to write something meaningful and important while sharing things that I found or learned with the world.

My anxiety (which turns out to be pretty crippling and only in the last year have I really begun to get a handle on it) wouldn’t let me craft those perfect blog posts.

But, I can create short posts that I can share quickly with the world and store on this blog while organizing it pretty quickly into different topics.

The inspiration for this shift comes from Cory Doctorow. He refers to it as “The Memex Method” and many writers use it to create a commonplace book that doubles as a public database.

memex method
Photo by Patrick Perkins on Unsplash

Enter the Memex

Vannevar Bush famously described the memex as “an enlarged intimate supplement to one’s memory.”

Cory’s link blog is here.

Longstanding tech columnist John Naughton has one here. And I’m sure there are many others out there you could look through.

This blog that has been in existence in one form or another for 16 years is now becoming my public memex, my online database of things I learn, like, and use regularly.

Using WordPress tags, I can quickly filter posts into multiple topics and save them for later reference. And so can any of my readers. Of course, building this will take time and input data on a daily basis.

The second prong of this memex is my personal database, powered by Evernote. I’ve had an Evernote account since March of 2008 while it was still in beta, I think. But I’ve never used it very well.

Now, I have one notebook in my Evernote account. But a bajillion tags. I’m still working through all my existing notes and adding tags which will take some time but I’m feeling good about that progress and excited for the results.

I’m also taking all my existing note cards and scanning them into Evernote for tagging. The tags will sort and connect the ideas from various notes, giving me lots of sources for new articles and possibly even books.

As Robert Greene has said, “Everything is material.”

I just had to find a way to keep my material organized. I’ll keep you updated here on my progress.

Why is this important for educators?

I don’t know. Maybe it isn’t. If you’re a researcher, I can’t help but think it would be useful to have a very organized and connected system for your research.

But for the classroom teacher or administrator, how helpful would it be to connect the threads of all your work over the years? Likely, very helpful. And think of what you could share with your colleagues or future students.