Random Notes

The public notebook of writer and essayist Scott Nesbitt

Over the years, I've developed a particular and peculiar ability. It's one that I didn't set out to develop. It's one which, because of its strength and scope, seems like a bit of a superpower at times.

That ability? To destroy someone's joy for something by expressing a dislike for, a lack of interest in, or a negative opinion towards that something.

When I express an opinion like that, the reactions I get range from How can you not like or appreciate x or You ruined y for me!. Yes, a few people have said that I've ruined something for them. I was surprised by that response, too.

Here's a simple truth: my opinion shouldn't matter to you. No one's opinion should.

That opinion has no power over you. It has no bearing on you, on your life, or on what you like or dislike. My opinion is what I think and feel at a particular point in time. That opinion may change. It may not. But that doesn't matter.

If my opinion offends you, so be it. You need to understand that others have opinions that differ from yours. Once you learn that, you'll become a bit more tolerant. Or, at least, less prone to knee jerk reactions.

If my opinion (or that of someone else) ruins something for you, then the problem is with you and not with me. You need to start taking yourself and what you are interested in a bit less seriously.

Instead of stressing, instead of getting worked up just shunt my opinion (and that of others) to the side. Sit back, relax, and enjoy life. Take a few moments to consider an opinion contrary to your own. Who knows, you might learn something.

Confession time: I'm partial to a certain brand of notebook. I've been using notebooks crafted by that company for a number of years and they've never let me down.

But I also realize that the quality of the notebooks I use doesn't affect the quality of the thoughts and ideas that I jot on their pages. A higher-end notebook doesn't inspire deeper thoughts, more tightly-focused ideas, or anything like that.

In fact, the notebook you pick up as a promo item at a conference or the one from the local drug store is just as good as the more expensive one you might buy at a stationery store.

Case in point: just after Christmas 2019, I found myself in a local branch of Daiso, a chain of Japanese discount stores. As I threaded my way through the store, I found myself in the stationery aisle. And, as you might have guessed, I zoomed in on the pocket notebooks.

Some of those notebooks were $3 (NZD) a pop, so I took a chance and bought three of them. One of those notebooks replaced the one I'd been using in the previous months. Guess what? That cheap, sturdy little notebook is doing its job. And doing it well. Just as well as the pricier notebooks I often use.

It just goes to show you that the quality of a notebook isn't a matter of its cost. That the quality of a notebook isn't wrapped up in the paper or the binding or the materials used in the covers. It definitely doesn't always depend on who makes it.

A good notebook is the one that you find useful. It's the one that doesn't get in your way and lets you record what you need to record without falling apart.

I'd probably just waste it.

Instead, I'm embracing that constraint (and others). That, in turn, makes me focus and actually get stuff done. Maybe not everything I want or even would like to do, but whatever I have to do.

I've been putting words to paper and screen professionally for ... well, at lot longer than I sometimes care to admit. While I'm definitely not a great writer, I like to think that I do OK. And I like to think that I know good writing when I read it.

At various Day JobsTM and when I worked as a freelance editor, I regularly ran into some pretty shocking prose. Quite a bit of that prose came from keyboards of other professional writers.

I'm talking about seemingly endless sentences. About the overuse of marketing/tech/business speak. About passive sentences. About people who write like they're trying impress or are working on the world's driest academic thesis.

I'm not one of those writers who expects everyone to be able to write at my level (or better). I don't get overly wound up about how poorly some people, including pros, write. I'm talking about

That said, if poor prose is dropped in my lap, I can't let it stand.

A good chunk of my work at the current Day JobTM over the last three years has been reshaping other peoples' writing. Trying to streamline it, to improve the flow and structure, to make it more active, to give it more punch.

A lot of hours have gone into that. But I'm not sure it's making a difference. Some days, I feel like I'm spitting into the Sun. No matter what, I'm compelled to keep trying.

Why? If I didn't, I wouldn't feel good about any of my work or the work that I've taken over.

I still don't have my own personal flight pack or a wrist communicator. And, no, a smartphone just isn't the same.

When I was a child, the 21st century I dreamed about was a mix of atompunk and steelpunk. A world of fast travel, automation, outlandish personal gadgets, regular and frequent space travel, and a lot of flashing lights and Bakelite knobs. A world without the capes, pirate boots, and silver bodysuits, thank you very much.

Obviously, that future didn't come to pass. Instead ... well, we are where and when we are.

Every so often, my mind sometimes drifts back to those childish dreams of what was then tomorrow. And I think Wasn't the future wonderful?

One of the benefits of living at the bottom of the world is that Christmas and New Year's come in summer. Which means being able to walk around in shorts and t-shirts without worrying about freezing various parts of your body off.

One of those walks for me was around the Orakei Basin, a lagoon in a volcanic crater just a few minutes outside downtown Auckland. It's been a while since I've done that walk. And it's nice to have something like this in the city.

Here are three photos that I snapped on that walk:

On January 31, 2019, I filled the last page of the notebook I'd been using for several months. No, that wasn't by design. But was it a sign or an omen? Nah. Just a happy coincidence.

Pulling the wrapper off a new notebook presents fresh possibilities. No matter when during a year I do that.

Cracking open a new notebook is a chance to record fresh thoughts. A chance to put down fresh ideas. An opportunity to muse and wonder in private with pen and paper. A chance to clear the bad ideas from my head.

Sometimes, when I'm confronted with a fresh notebook, I feel a tad guilty about ruining its pages with my handwriting, with what comes out of my brain. Then, I realize that's exactly what the notebook is for.

While I wouldn't call it eclectic, my taste in music is somewhat off kilter. I'm probably one of the few people in the world who can listen to Aretha Franklin followed by Bolt Thrower followed by Sibelius followed by Thomas Dolby and not think anything of it.

While I can't play an instrument or sing to save my life, I do enjoy discovering new music. My two favourite places to do that are Bandcamp and Jamendo.

Bandcamp is site that allows independent artists to upload and sell their music. You can preview songs, and download whole albums as a set of MP3 files. You can buy those albums for as little as $9.

Jamendo operates on a different model. All music is available under a Creative Commons license. That means you can play, copy, and share the tracks as long as you credit the musician and don't sell them. Jamendo also lets you purchase royalty-free licenses for music.

You can spend hours, maybe longer, exploring both Bandcamp and Jamendo. Admittedly, not every artist and their music will appeal to you. But I'm sure you'll find something. I always do.

And if you'll permit me, I'd like to make two recommendations. At Jamendo, I stumbled across Italian jazz man Paolo Pavan. Over at Bandcamp, an artist I keep going back to is Icelandic cellist Hildur Guðnadóttir.

Enjoy.

There are times when something we read has a profound impact and influence on us. For me, that came with a magazine article I read in 1979. That article was an interview with guitarist Robert Fripp, best known as the founder and leader of the band King Crimson. The magazine, a long-defunct publication called Future Life.

Even if you're of my generation, chances are you haven't heard of Future Life — it was overshadowed by other, similar magazine from that time including its sister publication Starlog and Omni. The best way to describe Future Life is as speculative or futurist. It looked at current trends in science and futurism, and pondered what could be. The magazine also included interviews with forward-thinking individuals from a variety of areas and disciplines.

The interview with Fripp was in issue 14, cover dated November, 1979. In that interview, Fripp used the metaphor of the dinosaur versus the gazelle to contrast traditional, monolithic systems and smaller, more agile and self sufficient ones. The latter, Fripp dubbed small, mobile, self-contained units. Fripp contrasted traditional systems and hierarchies that move slowly and take too long to react with smaller, more compact systems that can easily adapt to sudden changes.

As you can tell, that idea of small, mobile, and self contained struck a chord in my 12-year-old brain. Thirty-six years on, that phrase and the concept behind it still does.

If you're in software development, you'll probably recognize small, mobile, and self contained is similar to the idea behind Agile. But it goes beyond merely writing and releasing code. It's a way of organizing communities, governments, and societies. It's a way of leaving a small footprint, of reducing your use of resources, of building something sustainable. In case you're wondering, Fripp did put this philosophy into practice, with some degree of success, with his band The League of Gentlemen and with the 1981-1984 incarnation of King Crimson.

Even as a pre teen I recognized, though I didn't quite understand, the problems with existing political and social and corporate systems. The idea of breaking society down into small, mobile, self contained units appealed to me. Maybe it's a utopian idea. We need more ideas like that, and the cynics be damned.

Try to imagine a world made up of small, mobile, self-contained units. Units which quickly adapt to change, which can quickly find solutions to problems, which can temporarily (or longer) come together to form a larger, stronger, more adaptive community.

That world would be an interesting place, indeed. A better place? I'd hope so.

In the early 1990s, I was heavily into desktop publishing (DTP). As I was learning that craft, I couldn't afford heavy-duty DTP software like FrameMaker or Ventura Publisher or QuarkXpress. But I did have a copy of WordPerfect 5.1 (yes, that version, the one which ran under DOS). And, coincidentally, I around that time I stumbled across a book titled Desktop Publishing with WordPerfect 5.1.

Using the two, I managed to learn how to publish long, well-formatted documents using a tool that wasn't really designed for that task. It was a cumbersome process, but it was possible.

In learning to desktop publish with WordPerfect 5.1, I garnered a valuable lesson: unless you have no other choice, it's not worth the time or effort to push your tools beyond their intended uses.

It's not uncommon to come across blog posts and hacks that tell you how to wrestle an application into doing something it wasn't designed to do.

Take Evernote, for example. Ostensibly, it's a tool for collecting and organizing information. But it's not a word processor. It's not a blog post editor. It's not a task or checklist manager. It's not a flashcard app, and it's not a presentation tool. Yet many people who use Evernote use it for all of those tasks. And a whole lot more.

As good as Evernote is at collecting and organizing information, it's not as good as the dedicated application people try to use it to replace.

I can understand why people try to push their tools beyond their uses, beyond their limits: they might not want to clutter their hard drives up with specialized applications. Remember what I did with WordPerfect those 20+ years ago?

Sometimes, though, you need to bite the bullet. You need to recognize the limits of the tool that you're using and, when necessary, turn to something else.

Remember that the goal behind using tools is to help us do a job faster and more efficiently. To free up our time to do other thinks besides work. I don't think that trying to push your tools beyond their limits is the most productive use of your time and energy.

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