Random Notes

The public notebook of writer and essayist Scott Nesbitt

I've found that a place has its greatest impact not when it's teeming with people. That has the opposite effect.

Milling crowds with their cameras and smartphones and banal chatter generally take away from a place. Instead, its when a place is at its calmest, its quietest, its most tranquil that you can really feel its power.

You notice more. You sense more. You feel more. I've experienced that with monuments, places of worship, memorials, and more in a number of countries.

Sometimes, you just don't get that feeling of power, that feeling of awe. Sometimes, you get mixed signals. Sometimes, you just wonder why.

That's what musician Trey Gunn called it in a blog post that's now vanished from his website. Rewiring the systems is a process that prepares you for change.

You reevaluate what you're doing, how you're doing it, and why. Then, you make tweaks or wholesale changes to all of that. It can be scary, but change (even if it's just a small tweak) can be beneficial.

I'm currently trying to rewire my systems (again). At least, rewire part of those systems. It's taking a bit more effort and time than I expected, but I'm hoping those changes will have far-reaching consequences.

An electrician working on some wiring

It seems that Google Cloud (which powers various businesses and applications and devices) suffered an outage on early June, 2019. And, as when these sorts of things happen, the online outrage begins.

Here's a shot of a tweet that a friend sent my way:

Once again, evidence for a point that I've been trying to hammer home for a few years now. That point? Smart devices aren't smart. At all. I mean, how can they be?

Their brains reside somewhere else, on someone else's computer. When that computer, or your connection to it, goes bye-bye then your device morphs into a useless lump of plastic and metal. It becomes a conversation piece. It becomes a source of frustration. It's pretty much useless.

This is the reason I prefer, wherever possible, to have a so-called dumb device. A dumb thermostat. A dumb fridge. A dumb TV. Sure, those devices may not be fancy or cutting edge but I can be assured they'll work. I don't have to worry about them becoming less than what they're supposed to be when a service gets cut off or a company goes belly up.

(FYI: I'm putting together a collection of essays that looks at this, and other problems with modern technology. Watch this space for more information.)

That's a question I'm sure many of us have asked ourselves over the years. What if I made a different choice? What if I took another path or the other fork in the road? What if I settled on that other option?

Looking back, there would be two, maybe three things I'd do differently if I could. But I also know that asking What if is useless. You made your choice. You can't change it. Thinking about a different scenario doesn't make your current situation any better.

You can either accept and embrace where you are and what you do, or you can make a change. The only way the past can help you is to remind you about what making a different choice is like.

An older man, deep in thought

We all have friends we cherish. We all have one or two friends who we want to whack upside the head every now and then. Then there are those friends who fall into both categories. At the same time.

I have three friends like that. Great people, but sometimes ...

Recently, one of them said to me Now that you've got all this time on your hands, why don't you got back to learning a language?

I'm not sure where she got the idea that I have a lot of time on my hands (I definitely don't), but what she suggested isn't going to happen.

Why?

I won't go into details, but suffice it to say I'm 0 for 3 when it comes to learning a foreign tongue. My last attempt failed miserably, and I put that goal behind me.

Those three friends, including the one I mentioned, speak several foreign languages to a high level of proficiency. But they don't see my ineptitude in that area. They don't realize, or just ignore, that I have two left feet (linguistically speaking). They seem to think that because they did it, I can do it too. I tried, Ringo, I tried real hard. It didn't happen.

Despite my best efforts to dissuade them (including semi-serious threats of kidnapping beloved pets), they periodically persist in hounding me. None of them notice that I don't have the time to devote to that task. None of them understand that I don't have a compelling reason to learn a foreign language. None of them seem to get that I'm not interested in learning a foreign language.

Yet, their well-intentioned hounding continues.

The moral of this story? If there is one, that moral is there are people in your life who just don't listen. Many of them mean well, but they can be annoying. But you have let that slide and be happy they're in your life. Be happy that they care enough to pester you. You don't find friends like that every day.

A pile of foreign language dictionaries

Some people believe that magical places only exist far away. That you need to fly for a day or drive for hours to get to one.

But if you look around where you live, chances are there's a magical little spot nearby. It might be a park. It might be cozy book store. It might be a nature trail. It might be your own backyard.

My magical place, for example, is the Orakei Basin in Auckland. It's just a few minutes from downtown, and yet has what I find to be the perfect mix of urban elements and nature.

What makes somewhere magical is as much the place as the effect that place has on you. The magic is within. What's outside just helps it come out.

A view of the Orakei Basin in Auckland

From the mid-1980s to the early 1990s, one of my dreams was to spend a year living on a houseboat in a canal in England. It's not that I was seduced by the supposed romance of it all. I just felt that I need change of scenery, a change of place, a change to my lifestyle. Living on a narrow boat moored in an English waterway, trying to make my living by my keyboard, seemed to offer all of that.

That dream never came true. For a variety of reasons. But I don't view that as a disappointment or a failure. I don't wonder What if ... I understand that not all dreams come true. Many of them can't.

Dreams are important, though. They offer more than a momentary escape from our sometimes drab and dull lives. They offer us something to strive for. They offer us a little better or a little different than what we have. They offer a glimpse into who we are and what's important to us.

Someone holding a glass sphere Photo by Nigel Tadyanehondo on Unsplash

Lately, I've been watching and re-watching a number of movies. Mainly older ones — anywhere from 25 to 50 years old. What's been striking is the use of music in those movies.

Few directors choose music well. I'd have to put Stanley Kubrick at the top of that list. He not only had impeccable taste in music in general, he also had a knack for choosing a piece of music that fit the mood of a scene. From The Thieving Magpie in the early part of A Clockwork Orange to The Blue Danube Waltz in the weightless scenes of 2001: A Space Odyssey to using Hello Vietnam at the start of Full Metal Jacket, Kubrick's choices were perfect.

The only other director in recent memory who comes close is Quentin Tarantino. He's not quite on Kubrick's level when it comes to choice and taste, but Tarantino does a good job of picking the right music to go with a scene or sequence.

The choice of music can make or break a scene. Poorly-chosen music can change a scene's mood from pathos to bathos. Or worse. Well-chosen music can hammer home the emotion, the sensation, the power of a scene.

The best movies combine the visual and audio. How directors choose the music for those movies — whether after deep thought or using gut feeling — I don't know. I'm always impressed when their musical choices enhance the experience of watch a movie.

A page of sheet music

No one likes change. In anything. In their daily routines. In their breakfast cereal. In their software. In the look and feel of their daily newspaper.

Change is jolting. Change can be painful. Change requires you to adapt. And while you're adapting, you feel helpless and lost.

Change can be a four-letter word to some. But change can be good. It can break you out of a routine. It can help you form new habits. It can help you learn. It can help you grow. It can help you move on.

Only if you let it, though.

People like putting things, and others, into little boxes. They like categorizing things. They like pigeonholing people. All of that sort of thing. It's easier than thinking, and doesn't disrupt their view of the world.

But rarely does someone fit comfortably into any one category. Life just doesn't work like that. Take music, for example. When I was a teenager, I listened to a lot of thrash metal. Immediately, people assumed that was the only music I was interested in. They didn't realize that I also listened to progressive rock, jazz, blues, classical, Krautrock, and more. When they learned that, dazed and confused was the only way I could describe their reactions.

If people try to pigeonhole you, the problem lies with them and not with you. They refuse to think before they make a judgement. You're not going to change them. Don't try.

A green pin stuck in a bulletin board

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