Random Notes

The public notebook of writer and essayist Scott Nesbitt

Some interesting posts I've discovered in these parts over the last few days:

Too many people (and one is too many) fear admitting that they don't know something. They fear admitting they're not perfect or on top of everything that they think they should be on top of.

They're afraid to say I don't know.

The problem is that you can't know everything. You're often thrust into new situations at work or into new social circles. You have new ground to tread, new information to assimilate, new ways of doing things to learn, new people to meet.

Those situations are often outside your knowledge or experience. There's no shame, no matter what some people seem to think, in admitting there are gaps in your knowledge.

If you want to grow and to learn, you need to swallow your pride and say I don't know. Say it loudly. Say it clearly. Say it proudly.

To get past your hesitancy, you need to ask yourself What's the worst that can happen? Will someone laugh at you? Will they look down upon you? Will they think you're an ignorant lout? If they do, so what? The problem lies with them, not you.

The positives of saying I don't know outweigh the negatives. If you say I don't know, you'll learn something. You'll grow. That's a great payoff for saying three simple words.

You probably know someone like that. Perhaps even several someones. Someone who believes that they need to be doing something all the time. Someone on the productivity treadmill. Someone who suffers from something I call the idle hands syndrome, as in The Devil makes work for ...

On top of that, I keep hearing people repeat that the brain is a muscle and that it needs to be continually exercised. It's an interest idea, and one that's more or less true. To a point. Any muscle that you exercise needs to rest after it's been exerted. That includes the brain.

You need to go fallow once in a while. Doing that lets your brain cool down, if you will. And, more importantly, it moves much of the processing of thoughts and ideas from the active front of the brain to the back of the brain.

One of my personal heroes is physicist Freeman Dyson. Dyson is a unique character, who's done a lot of interesting work over the decades — ranging from designing an interplanetary spacecraft to doing some groundbreaking mathematical work to coming up with a number of interesting scientific concepts.

But it was a story about a bus ride that Dyson told in the book The Starship and the Canoe that demonstrated the power of going fallow. At the time of the story, Dyson was a graduate student working at Princeton University. He was trying to solve a particularly thorny theoretical problem, but was having no luck. During a school break, he decided to take a cross-country bus trip. During that trip, Dyson was concerned more with the his journey and the ever-changing scenery than with the problem that vexed him. Then, at the end of the trip, guess what happened. The solution that Dyson had been so desperately seeking came to him.

You might not have a eureka moment like Freeman Dyson's, or come up with a solution that will change ... whatever. But by going fallow for a short time, you'll refresh brain. That just might help you see pieces of a problem a bit more clearly. If nothing else, it will help clean the slate and start anew.

Some interesting posts I've discovered in these parts over the last few days:

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:

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