Random Notes

The public notebook of writer and essayist Scott Nesbitt

The internet has opened the whole world to us. Not only is there so much to see, there's so much to learn too.

Influenced, perhaps, by tales of uber-productive over achievers, many people try to cram as much learning as they can (in a variety of disparate areas) into the limited amount of time that they have.

Take, for example, a friend of mine. For years, he's wanted to learn both Spanish and Korean. In early 2019, he embarked on twin courses of study: trying to learn both languages simultaneously. The results, to say the least, haven't been spectacular. Or even marginally good.

In addition to sometimes mixing the two languages, he's not absorbing enough of either. He has a limited amount of time for listening, studying, practicing, and reading both Spanish and Korean. And his retention is passable (the assessment of his tutors, not me).

The problem is that my friend's energies are spread too thin. He's too mentally fatigued with life and work and everything else to learn those languages effectively and successfully.

When he originally decided to simultaneously study both languages, I advised him to focus on one. He brushed me off then. Now, after his semi-disastrous experience, he's taken my advice and his focusing on Spanish. The result? His gains are noticeable and his abilities with the language are rapidly increasing.

Trying to cram too much disparate information into your brain, quickly or slowly, results in a jumble. It results in a mess. You don't remember as much as you should. You don't learn as much as you should or need to.

Instead, focus on one thing. On one area. Do it well. Learn it to the best of your ability. Then, move on when you've reached the level that you need to reach.

Doing this maximizes your retention. It keeps your energy up. It keeps your enthusiasm and motivation strong. You won't get discouraged as easily. You won't burn out. You're more like to stay focused, to stay the course than if you try to follow several different threads at once.

What about the other things that you want to learn? They can wait. If you think they can't, then you either need to reassess your priorities or let some things go. In doing that, you might realize that some of what you thought you needed to learn isn't as important as you believed it was.

A little something from the Department of Promoting My Own Work: I’m happy to announce that the third edition of my book Learning Markdown has finally hit the virtual shelves.

Here is what's new in this edition:

  • A chapter that covers how to use pandoc to convert your files formatted with Markdown to HTML, word processor formats, and PDF files.
  • The list of tools for working with Markdown has been updated and expanded.
  • A number of general tweaks and minor changes and updates.

You can read a sample chapter if you’re curious. And if you’re ready to buy the book, you can find EPUB and PDF versions on Gumroad. It'll only set you back $3.99 (USD) (or whatever you choose to pay above that price).

I'm talking about blogs which aren't continually active or constantly updated. Ones to which a blogger posts maybe a couple of times a week, or less, instead of multiple times per day.

Blogs which aren't glorified life logs or aren't ones in which a blogger feels the need to fill dead space with nothing important because there's some dead space. Blogs that aren't hawking anything and are bereft of SEO-packed posts and annoying ads and popups and overlays.

I like to believe that the people behind the slower, quieter blogs aren't ignoring them. Instead, I like to believe that they're taking the time between posts to think more deeply about the ideas and thoughts that they eventually share.

And I like how many of them present those ideas — succinctly, in a spare yet lively and informative style. They eschew the so-called optimal length of blog posts that's been bandied about over the last few years. Instead, they use the number of words that they need to use. That could be a handful. It could be 50. It could be 300. It could be 1,000 or more.

Slow isn't such a bad thing after all, is it?

For some reason, people continually ask me that question. They're hoping I'll open the doors to writing productivity for them.

They're hoping that I'll share with them the one secret that's holding them back from achieving their goals as writers.

They're hoping that I'll turn them on to a computer or tablet or something else that will make writing a breeze.

Do you really want to know what the best device for writing is?

It's the one you're using now.

Writing isn't about hardware. It isn't about software. Whichever devices you use, whichever writing tools you use aren't what's doing the work. You are.

You're developing the ideas. You're combining words into sentences. You're crafting paragraphs from those sentences. You're arranging those paragraphs into a cohesive whole.

The device is just a convenience. It makes the mechanical portion of writing a bit easier. That's all.

The best device for writing is sitting in front of you. It's sitting on your lap. Use it, and use it well.

In the heady early days of the web, one part of the fun of being online was stumbling upon an interesting web page. As the web grew, and many websites became less personal, it became more difficult to find those random, quirky gems.

There are times when I miss those days ...

But The Forest is trying to bring random discovery back. Don't believe me? Head over there and click GO FOR A WALK. You'll be taken to a site that you probably didn't know exists. It might even be to your liking.

What you get is a mixed bag, and there aren't that many sites in The Forest's catalogue right now. You can help change that by suggesting a site or three.

(And thank you to whoever submitted this blog, and a couple of my other sites, to The Forest.)

I've been running into more and more of those as I've been exploring the web lately. And I've been intrigued by those /uses pages. More than I should be, to be honest.

If you're not familiar with /uses pages, they're like /now pages (which outline what a person is up to at any given time). /uses pages, on the other hand, list the hardware, software, services, and tools that a person employs to do their work.

You can argue that /uses pages allow folks visiting someone's website to indulge in a little harmless digital voyeurism. Or for someone to put their tool fetishism on display. You might be right. But as a friend noted, they're also just a great inventory for myself, even if no one else particularly cares.

Most of the /uses pages I've come across have been posted by techies — coders/programmers, web developers, engineers, and folks of that stripe. But why should they have all the fun? There's no reason that others — like writers, artists, designers, photographers, students — can't do the same.

I've added a /uses section to my homepage. Why not give one a try at your website?

Lately, ideas around the smaller web and digital minimalism have been on heavy rotation in my brain. And, of course, I've been pondering how to apply those ideas to my online and digital lives.

It dawned on me that the best place to start was my own website. In that past, that site was a set of pages that spread out from a central landing page — like most sites on the web. But it wasn't always that way.

In the heady days of the web in the early 1990s, that site was a single page. A traditional home page. So, why not go back to that? I took the plunge and spent a whole 10 minutes consolidating the various bits of my website into a single page.

Instead of having a long page crammed with text, I used the magic of HTML5 to create a set of expandable sections. No JavaScript required, just a couple of HTML tags. One click is all it takes to expand or collapse those sections.

Now that I have a home page instead of a website, that piece of my online presence is easier to maintain. It keeps the size of my corner of the web small. And while that homepage is pretty basic, it works. What else do I need?

Enter your email to subscribe to updates.