Books Living Memories Presence

Good Memories

back view of a person walking on a forest path
Photo by Gabriela Palai on

“There is no explaining this simple truth about life. You will forget much of it. The painful things you would be certain you would never be able to let go of, now you’re not entirely sure when they happened, while the thrilling parts, the heart-stopping joys, splintered and scattered and became something else. Memories are then replaced by different joys and larger sorrows. And, unbelievably, those things get knocked aside as well…”

Ann Patchett, Tom Lake

This passage about our fleeting memories reminds me of another Ann Patchett quote about life being just a compilation of small moments – either we pay attention to them or we miss it.

“It’s about paying attention to all of the small moments of your life, realizing that your life really is just the compilation of small moments. And either you are awake to them and pay attention to them, or you’re always looking ahead and you miss your life.”

Ann Patchett, PBS Newshour interview

There’s truth in that. Our sharpest memories fade when we fail to fully appreciate the little daily moments. We often overlook the power of presence.

Presence means living fully in the now, using all your senses with mindfulness and gratitude. Noticing the vivid colors of autumn leaves, the warm aroma of fresh bread, the crunch of footsteps on a gravel path. Tuning into the senses opens doorways to memories.

We can choose to cherish routine moments by fully immersing in the season at hand. In spring, capturing the arrival of ducks at the pond. In winter, photographing the tranquility of a rainy street or the drama of an angry sky. Describing in a journal the earthy petrichor smell after a rainfall. Or in snow country noticing the absolute stillness after a snowfall.

When we cultivate presence, ordinary life becomes extraordinary. Making an audio recording of a child’s infectious giggle so you can replay those belly laughs forever. Or interviewing an elderly friend or relative. Freezing time by photographing a baby’s tiny fingers grasping yours. Remembering to capture a photo at your next family celebration together. Preserving memories through the senses helps make them last. Journaling helps record them for future serendipity when you re-discover them and get swept back across your life to revisit moments.

The more we nurture presence, the more natural it becomes. It’s about shifting perspective to treasure the mundane moments we overlook. Being awake to the ever-changing beauty of each season, each day. Appreciating what an amazing gift it is.

So maybe the lesson here is to embrace the fluidity of life, while striving to be fully present. If we learn to cherish today through all our senses, those memories may never fade.

Yesterday I wrote about The Couple I noticed on my morning walk. And the sounds in my ears of Meryl Streep reading while I walked around the pond. I should have taken a photograph of that couple – and I’ll be sure to do that next time. Sometime a while from now I’ll rediscover The Couple – and I look forward to it.

Audio Books Living Menlo Park Walking

The Couple

On my morning walks around the pond, I often see a married couple taking their own constitutional. They walk in perfect sync, stepping in time as if trained in a military march. In their right hands—always the right—they clutch large mugs emitting wisps of steam. Their elbows press close to their sides, steadying the mugs as they promenade along.

Every so often, maybe every 100 yards or so, some invisible signal makes them halt in unison. They raise their mugs and take long sips, black coffee I envision, turning to each other to exchange a few private words before pivoting in tandem to continue their measured pace.

This morning, while watching the couple’s syncopated steps carry them farther from view, I listened to Meryl Streep narrate Ann Patchett’s new novel Tom Lake on my headphones. She read a passage set at a Traverse City cherry farm, describing a summer visit before the harvest. The lush depiction of endless orchards with lush green grass under the trees heavy with green fruit made a lovely soundtrack for my walk through the neighborhood.

It was a peaceful start to the day, with the air very still and heavy with humidity. High overcast clouds blanketed the sky in an unbroken slate grey. The solemn couple marching away added a faint visual rhythm to accompany the cadence of Streep’s voice recounting the verdant cherry trees. I found myself wishing I could capture the mood of this moment – the mingled sights and sounds that made it so uniquely serene.

Books Kevin Kelly Living

The Magical World of Kevin Kelly

One of my favorite writers, Kevin Kelly, is out with a new book titled “Excellent Advice for Living: Wisdom I Wish I Knew Earlier“. This book is based on several of his earlier annual blog posts that he began writing on his 68th birthday about “some things he had learned about life that he wished he had known earlier.”

On my morning walk this morning I began listening to Tim Ferriss’ recent interview of Kelly and it immediately triggered a bunch of ideas in my mind – even before they began discussing his new book! Among them (just during the first 15 minutes) were:

  • The bet he made 20 years ago about the decline of world population by the year 2060. He had observed that modern people, on average, are not having more than two kids per couple which is below the replacement rate required to maintain, let alone grow, population. Google Bard notes that “the global fertility rate has been declining for decades. In 1960, the global fertility rate was 5.0 births per woman. Today, it is 2.5 births per woman. This decline in fertility rates is due to a number of factors, including improved education and healthcare, as well as the increasing availability of contraception.
  • His notion that if you can find 1,000 people who are passionate about your work (1,000 true fans), you can make a living as a creator. Ferriss wrote about this idea in one of his books and helped popularize the notion. Kelly comments that “every day people write to me, and meet me, and say, “Yes, I have been able to do that,” inspired someone by hearing of that possibility.
  • The Whole Earth Catalog and his friendship with Stewart Brand. He described the Catalog this way: Steve Jobs famously called it “the internet before there was an internet.” It was internet printed on newsprint because it was reader generated. It was one of those big books that you could get lost in – analogous to how you can get lost on the Internet while looking up some piece of information.

Kelly has such a creative mind! He has been a joy for me to follow and enjoy for many years. My listen on my morning walk to this interview just highlighted that again for me. He’s just fun (and stimulating) to listen to (and read!).

He continues to blog regularly and to write as Senior Maverick for Wired which he helped co-found many years ago. He writes one article per year for Wired – his most recent being about generative AI image tools: Picture Limitless Creativity at Your Fingertips. Even though I read several of his earlier birthday blog posts of advice, I look forward to reading his new book when it is published later this week. Oh by the way, it appears that today is his birthday!

Books ChatGPT Interstate 280 San Francisco/California San Jose

The World’s Most Beautiful Freeway

A few years ago when I stopped working full time I got interested in exploring the history of “the world’s most beautiful freeway” – I-280 that runs up and down the central portion of the San Francisco Peninsula.

At one point, a friend of mine and I were walking in San Francisco where we went into the main library which has a great history department. I spoke to one of the librarians in the history department who was quite encouraging about the resources they might have available that might assist in pulling together more of that history. But life intervened and I dropped the idea, not pursuing it any further. But it’s always been lingering in the back of my mind as something that might be “fun”.

A few weeks back, when I was exploring ChatGPT, I wondered how it might be helpful to me in thinking about writing such a history. So I asked it the following:

I’m writing a book on the history of the development of interstate 280 on the San Francisco peninsula. I would like an initial outline for the book including special emphasis on any especially interesting stories about people who were involved in its development or in fighting to prevent its development.

ChatGPT responded:

Certainly, here is an initial outline for your book on the history of Interstate 280 on the San Francisco peninsula:

I. Introduction

  • A. Brief history of the San Francisco peninsula
  • B. Importance of transportation infrastructure
  • C. Overview of the development of Interstate 280

II. Early Planning and Development of Interstate 280

  • A. Planning and proposals for the freeway
  • B. Design and construction challenges
  • C. Environmental and community concerns

III. The People Involved in the Development of Interstate 280

  • A. Key players in the development of the freeway
  • B. Their backgrounds and motivations
  • C. Challenges they faced and how they overcame them

IV. The Impact of Interstate 280 on the San Francisco Peninsula

  • A. Economic impact on the region
  • B. Changes in land use and development patterns
  • C. Impact on local communities

V. Opposition to Interstate 280

  • A. Environmental and community groups
  • B. Their concerns and arguments against the freeway
  • C. Strategies for opposing the development of the freeway

VI. Interesting Stories of the Development of Interstate 280

  • A. Personal stories of those involved in the development or opposition of the freeway
  • B. Unique challenges faced during the construction and development of the freeway
  • C. Anecdotes and interesting facts related to the development of the freeway

VII. Conclusion

  • A. Summary of key points
  • B. Reflection on the legacy of Interstate 280
  • C. Future of transportation infrastructure on the San Francisco peninsula

This outline should provide a good foundation for your book, with a focus on the people involved in the development of Interstate 280 and their stories. You can expand on each section and add more details as you conduct research and gather information. Good luck with your book!

Wow! ChatGPT just gave me a wonderful outline to just stimulate my further thinking about compiling such a history. Curious to learn more, I asked ChatGPT:

Tell me more about the key players involved in the development of interstate 280.

ChatGPT replied:

Certainly! Here’s some information about some of the key players involved in the development of Interstate 280 on the San Francisco peninsula:

  1. Othmar H. Ammann: A Swiss-American civil engineer who designed many notable bridges and highways in the United States, including the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bayonne Bridge in New Jersey. Ammann was a key player in the design and engineering of Interstate 280.
  2. Robert Moses: An urban planner and political figure in New York who also worked on infrastructure projects in other parts of the country, including California. Moses was an advocate for highways and was instrumental in the development of the Interstate Highway System, including Interstate 280.
  3. James Rolph Jr.: A former mayor of San Francisco who later served as Governor of California. Rolph was a strong supporter of infrastructure projects, including the construction of Interstate 280.
  4. William E. Kent: An environmentalist and politician who opposed the development of Interstate 280. Kent was instrumental in creating the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and worked to protect the natural areas on the San Francisco peninsula from development.
  5. Dorothy Erskine: A journalist and environmentalist who founded the grassroots organization Citizens for Regional Recreation and Parks. Erskine was a vocal opponent of the development of Interstate 280 and worked to raise awareness of its potential impact on the environment and communities on the peninsula.

These are just a few of the key players involved in the development of Interstate 280, but there were many others, including politicians, engineers, and community leaders who played important roles in the planning, design, and construction of the freeway.

I pushed onward – asking:

Who was responsible for the selection of the route for interstate 280?

ChatGPT replied:

The selection of the route for Interstate 280 was a collaborative effort involving multiple parties, including federal and state transportation agencies, local governments, and community organizations.

The planning for Interstate 280 began in the 1950s, when the California Division of Highways (now Caltrans) began studying potential freeway routes in the San Francisco peninsula region. The San Francisco County Transportation Authority and San Mateo County Transit District were also involved in the planning process.

A number of route options were considered, including one that would have followed El Camino Real, a historic road that runs through the heart of the peninsula. However, this option was ultimately rejected due to concerns about traffic congestion and the impact on local businesses.

Instead, the final route for Interstate 280 was selected in 1956 and ran parallel to, but west of, El Camino Real. The route was chosen based on a number of factors, including the availability of right-of-way, terrain and geological considerations, and traffic patterns. It was also designed to connect with other freeways in the region, such as Interstate 880 and State Route 92.

Overall, the selection of the route for Interstate 280 was a complex process that involved multiple stakeholders and took into account a variety of factors related to transportation and community impact.

Then I asked:

Interstate 280 has been called the world’s most beautiful freeway. who suggested that?

ChatGPT told me:

The phrase “the world’s most beautiful freeway” is often used to describe Interstate 280 on the San Francisco peninsula, and it is attributed to several sources.

One of the earliest known uses of the phrase was in a 1967 article in Sunset Magazine, a popular lifestyle publication that covers the western United States. In the article, the author, who is not identified, referred to Interstate 280 as “a modern and scenic boulevard, perhaps the world’s most beautiful freeway.”

The phrase has since been used by numerous journalists, authors, and travel writers to describe the freeway’s winding curves, stunning views of the San Francisco Bay, and scenic landscapes of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

It is unclear who first coined the phrase “the world’s most beautiful freeway,” as it has been used in various contexts and by multiple sources over the years. However, it is widely recognized as a descriptor for Interstate 280 and has helped to promote the freeway as a tourist attraction in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The world’s most beautiful freeway indeed! There used to be a sign in the median of I-280 as it climbs out of the flat land of Cupertino into the foothills of the Peninsula. It’s no longer there – having been removed sometime in the last few years. You can find a photo of it here in this blog post from 2011.

Another one of my favorite photographs of I-280 is titled 280 Sunrise by Montara-based photographer Robert Buelteman – “an image of the emerging sun with the Interstate freeway in the foreground.” You can find that image in this article profiling Buelteman and his wonderful book The Unseen Peninsula. Buelteman grew up in Woodside and his book explores the Peninsula Watershed, a large piece of property that is owned by the San Francisco Water Department and not open to the public.

As for the book about this history of I-280, it’s still floating around in the back of my mind. It’s something that I continue to explore from time to time, looking for a story or three that might provide some interesting ways into telling the story of this beautiful freeway.

If you know of any good stories about this freeway and its construction, I’d love to hear about them! You can reach me via this contact link. And for more about this freeway, see my post: The World’s Most Beautiful Imaginary Freeway.

AI AI: Large Language Models Books ChatGPT

Fictional Conversations

Reid Hoffman has just released a new book titled Impromptu which he said was co-authored with GPT-4, the latest generational AI model from OpenAI. In one of the chapters in the book titled “Public Intellectuals” he describes a series of “possible interviews” between “widely honored public intellectuals”.

This was the first time I had come across this notion of prompting GPT-4 to generate such interviews – and I just had to try some of my own. I don’t (yet!) have access to GPT-4 so I used ChatGPT and it’s GPT-3.5 model to create a few of my own fictional conversations.

Here are a couple of examples:

These are fun to read and enjoy. By no means are they actually significant but the ability of these models to use some aspects of historical “knowledge” to generate these conversations is something I find fascinating.

Abraham Lincoln interviewing George Washington about the future of democracy

[Setting: A quiet room in the White House, with a roaring fireplace casting a warm glow. Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, two of the most prominent Presidents of the United States, are sitting across from each other in comfortable armchairs, engaged in an animated discussion about the future of democracy.]

Abraham Lincoln: [Leaning forward, his tall stature commanding attention] Mr. Washington, it is an honor to be in your esteemed presence. As one of the Founding Fathers and the first President of the United States, you played a crucial role in shaping this great nation. I am curious to hear your thoughts on the future of democracy.

George Washington: [Sitting up straight, his piercing gaze fixed on Lincoln] Thank you, Mr. Lincoln. It’s a pleasure to discuss such an important topic with you. As you know, democracy is a fragile concept that requires constant vigilance to ensure its survival. I am deeply concerned about its future.

Abraham Lincoln: Indeed, democracy is a delicate balance that must be nurtured and protected. We have witnessed the challenges it faces throughout history, including during my own presidency, when our nation was torn apart by civil war. However, I believe that democracy is a system that can endure, as long as we learn from our mistakes and strive to uphold the values of equality, liberty, and justice for all.

George Washington: I couldn’t agree more, Mr. Lincoln. We must be vigilant in safeguarding the principles upon which our democracy was founded. It is essential to protect the rights and freedoms of all citizens, regardless of their race, religion, or background. We must also ensure that our government remains of the people, by the people, and for the people, and that no one becomes above the law or abuses their power.

Abraham Lincoln: Absolutely, Mr. Washington. We must also be mindful of the dangers of division and polarization within a democracy. As we have seen in recent times, the spread of misinformation, the erosion of trust in institutions, and the rise of partisan politics can threaten the very fabric of democracy. We must work towards fostering unity, inclusivity, and mutual respect among all citizens, and find common ground to address the challenges we face.

George Washington: I couldn’t agree more, Mr. Lincoln. We must prioritize the greater good over personal interests and ensure that our elected leaders serve the people with integrity and transparency. We must also promote education, critical thinking, and civic engagement among our citizens to ensure an informed and active electorate that can hold its leaders accountable.

Abraham Lincoln: Indeed, education and civic engagement are vital for the health of democracy. As you once said, “Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness.” We must invest in the education of our citizens, promote civil discourse, and encourage participation in the democratic process to ensure a well-informed and engaged citizenry that can actively participate in shaping the future of our nation.

George Washington: Absolutely, Mr. Lincoln. We must also recognize that democracy is not static but evolves with the changing needs and aspirations of our society. It is important to adapt and reform our democratic institutions to address new challenges and ensure that they remain relevant and effective in promoting the common good. We must also remain vigilant against threats to democracy, both from within and outside our nation, and take necessary measures to safeguard our democratic values and institutions.

Abraham Lincoln: Well said, Mr. Washington. Democracy is indeed a living, breathing organism that requires constant care and attention. As we move forward into the future, it is our responsibility to uphold the legacy of those who came before us and continue to strengthen and improve our democratic system, so that it may endure for generations to come.

George Washington: Absolutely, Mr. Lincoln. As you once said, “The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and the destiny of the republican model of government are justly considered… deeply, finally, staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.” We must never forget the immense responsibility that we have as citizens of a democracy, and do everything in our power to preserve and improve it for the greater good.

Abraham Lincoln: Well said, Mr. Washington. It has been an honor to discuss the future of democracy with you, and I hope that our conversation has inspired others to think deeply about the importance of democracy and the role that we all play in ensuring its continued success.

George Washington: Likewise, Mr. Lincoln. It is always a pleasure to engage in meaningful discussions about the future of our nation. I have no doubt that with continued vigilance, hard work, and dedication, we can ensure a bright future for democracy in America and around the world.

Steve Jobs and Bill Gates discussing the role of taste in technology development

[Interviewer]: Good evening, everyone. Today, we have two legendary figures in the tech world with us: Mr. Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple Inc., and Mr. Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft. Today, we’re going to discuss the importance of good taste in technology and product development. Welcome, Steve and Bill.

[Steve Jobs]: Thank you for having us.

[Bill Gates]: It’s a pleasure to be here.

[Interviewer]: Let’s start with the topic of good taste. Steve, you were known for your emphasis on aesthetics and design at Apple. Can you share your thoughts on why good taste is crucial in technology and product development?

[Steve Jobs]: Absolutely. Good taste goes beyond just how a product looks. It’s about the overall user experience, from design to functionality. It’s about understanding what people truly need and want, and then creating products that not only meet those needs but also delight the user in unexpected ways. Good taste is about paying attention to details, thinking deeply about how technology can enhance people’s lives, and creating products that are intuitive, elegant, and enjoyable to use.

[Bill Gates]: I agree with Steve. Good taste is about making technology and products that are not only efficient but also pleasurable to use. It’s about understanding that people have emotional connections with the products they use, and that those connections can drive their loyalty and satisfaction. Good taste is about creating technology that seamlessly integrates into people’s lives and enhances their overall experience, making it a joy to use every day.

[Interviewer]: Bill, as a co-founder of Microsoft, a company known for its focus on functionality and productivity, how do you view the role of good taste in product development?

[Bill Gates]: Good taste is essential in product development, even if the focus is on functionality and productivity. It’s not just about how a product looks, but also how it feels and how it works. A product with good taste is something that users enjoy using, and that makes them more productive because they are using a tool that feels intuitive and easy to use. At Microsoft, we have always strived to make our products not just efficient but also enjoyable to use. We understand that people spend a lot of time using their technology, and we want to make that time as pleasant and productive as possible.

[Steve Jobs]: I completely agree with Bill. Good taste is about creating products that are both beautiful and functional. It’s about making technology that people want to use, not just something they have to use. At Apple, we always put the user experience first, and that includes paying attention to every detail, from the design of the hardware to the layout of the software. We want our products to be easy to use, intuitive, and a pleasure to interact with.

[Interviewer]: What are some examples of products that you both feel embody good taste?

[Bill Gates]: For me, one of the products that best embodies good taste is the Tesla Model S. It’s a beautifully designed car that’s also incredibly functional and efficient. It’s a product that people love to use and that has created a loyal following among its users.

[Steve Jobs]: I would say that the iPhone is a product that embodies good taste. It’s a device that completely transformed the way we interact with technology, and it did so by paying attention to every detail of the user experience. From the design of the hardware to the intuitive software, the iPhone is a product that people love to use, and it has become an integral part of their lives.

[Interviewer]: Thank you both for your insights on the importance of good taste in technology and product development. It’s been a pleasure to have you here with us today.

[Steve Jobs]: Thank you for having us.

[Bill Gates]: It was a pleasure to be here.

A heated discussion between Elon Musk and Sam Altman of OpenAI on the future of GPT models.

Elon Musk and Sam Altman sat across from each other at a table in a conference room. The topic at hand was the future of GPT models, and both men had strong opinions on the matter.

Elon Musk began the discussion, “Sam, I think we need to be careful with how we use GPT models. They have the potential to do a lot of good, but they also have the potential to do a lot of harm. We need to make sure we are responsible with them.”

Sam Altman countered, “I understand your concerns, Elon, but I think you are being overly cautious. GPT models have the potential to revolutionize the way we communicate and do business. We can’t hold back progress just because of a few potential risks.”

Elon Musk leaned forward, his eyes narrowing. “I’m not talking about a few potential risks, Sam. I’m talking about the very real possibility that GPT models could be used to spread misinformation, manipulate people, and even cause harm. We can’t just ignore those risks.”

Sam Altman shook his head. “I think you’re being too alarmist, Elon. We can’t just hold back progress because of some hypothetical worst-case scenarios. We need to push forward and explore the possibilities.”

Elon Musk leaned back in his chair, frustration evident on his face. “I’m not saying we should hold back progress, Sam. I’m saying we need to be responsible with it. We need to make sure we understand the risks and take steps to mitigate them. Otherwise, we could end up causing more harm than good.”

Sam Altman leaned forward, his voice rising. “And I’m saying that you’re being too cautious, Elon. We can’t just sit around and wait for the perfect solution to emerge. We need to take risks and explore the possibilities, otherwise, we’ll be left behind by our competitors.”

Elon Musk stood up, his face red with anger. “I’m sorry, Sam, but I can’t just sit back and watch you make reckless decisions that could have serious consequences. I think we need to take a step back and re-evaluate our approach to GPT models.”

Sam Altman stood up as well, his voice equally heated. “And I can’t just sit back and watch you hold us back with your overly cautious approach. We need to move forward and explore the possibilities, otherwise, we’ll be left behind.”

The two men glared at each other for a moment before storming out of the conference room, still arguing about the future of GPT models.

Books Calm Stress

Digital Stressors?

I recently read Chris Bailey’s new book “How to Calm Your Mind: Finding Presence and Productivity in Anxious Times” and found much of it useful. But there was part of the book that didn’t ring true in my life – namely Bailey’s discussion of choosing between analog and digital.

A few days ago I read an excellent review of Bailey’s book by Jim Eager. Jim really focuses on this analog vs digital point:

I think he misses the point when he turns to the question of how to relieve stress, and how to calm your mind. I think he’s picked the wrong battle, by framing it as “digital vs. analog.”

The real question is not analog vs. digital, but how do you avoid and minimize stress and bring more calm into your life?

There are distractions and stress producers in both the digital and the analog worlds. We have to learn to avoid and minimize distractions in both the analog and digital worlds as well. It’s not just an “analog vs. digital” issue.

I recommend reading all of Jim’s review – he’s very thoughtful in his commentary of the book.

Books Future Quotations

Thinking about the future…

Virtually everyone thinks in first person when they imagine their recent past, present, or near future. Likewise, almost everyone switches to third person when they think about their far past or far future, usually defined in the scientific literature as ten years in either direction from today. This shift in mental perspective is why you can often look back at emotionally charged moments in your life, after enough time has passed, and see things from a more detached, clearer point of view. Your brain is literally processing them from a more insightful vantage point. Likewise, this is why taking a mental time trip ten years to the future can help you feel “unstuck” emotionally. You momentarily get a break from your normal mode of thinking and feeling and get to float above it all, like a satellite looking down from space.

Jane McGinigal – Imaginable

Books Libraries Reading

Reading Books in 2022

In a post last week, David Sparks (MacSparky) wrote about his book purchasing and consuming choices. David’s post motivated me to share some of my approaches to reading – which I’ve been doing a lot of during this Covid era. Here we go…

  • eBooks make highlighting easy – Like David, I prefer reading most books on either my Kindle Paperwhite or in the Kindle app on my iPhone or iPad rather than reading a paper book. Amazon has made the Kindle “ecosystem” seamlessly available on all of my devices. I’m a big fan of using highlighting on Kindle and I can move from device to device continuing to read the same book while my highlights are captured online in the Amazon cloud. I have found that highlighting in a digital book is so much better than the old school way of highlighting paper books.
  • After finishing a book – When I finish a book, I can easily download my highlights from the Amazon cloud and save them in my digital journal where they’re easily searchable – along with my comments on the book. Highlights made in a paper book aren’t nearly as useful as those highlights are left buried on the paper pages of the book and not readily searchable or re-discoverable. There are also services like Readwise which can make use of your highlights and remind you of them on a daily basis.
  • Text vs Audio – Sometimes, but not often, I’ll use Audible to get an audio book version of a title I think I’ll want to “read” in the car or in my headphones while traveling, etc. Since I like to highlight, audio can be problematic for that so much of the time I’m actually reading and not listening to books.
  • Libraries not booksellers – With the Libby app on my iPhone I can checkout an eBook from a local library and then download it to my Kindle. A few years ago I made some trips around the Bay Area to pickup library cards from various local libraries. In California, you can get a library card if you’re a California resident – even if you’re not a resident in the local area of the library. Having multiple library cards is especially useful when using the Libby app to search for books in electronic form. Libby makes it easy to see which local library might have a particular book available or, if not immediately available, where the hold time might be shortest. I’ve found that some local libraries are much more responsive to eBook requests than others with my holds often being satisfied very quickly – especially for the most popular titles.
  • Downsides – While there are a lot of pros to my approach but it’s not without downsides. The biggest is that by relying primarily on reading eBooks rather than paper books I’m not often supporting my local bookseller with book purchases. I also frequently used to donate physical books after reading them to local libraries – something that’s not possible with eBooks.

I have some similar processes for managing the rest of my daily reading. At some point, I’ll share what I’ve learned from doing so.

Books Living Musings

Turning Off the Braindead Megaphone

Photo by Zach Vessels on Unsplash

Way back in 2007, author George Saunders published his first book of essays with the curious title of The Braindead Megaphone. In the title essay, he describes going to a very enjoyable party where the guests are all having a great time – until another guy shows up with a megaphone in his hands and starts talking about random stuff – like how the flowers bloom in early springtime and more. The megaphone guy’s stupid voice drowns out the many otherwise enjoyable conversations being had among the guests.

I read that essay for the first time a few weeks ago – and found it to be a beautiful reminder of the influence that loud voices can have on us and on how we feel. For me, TV news has become that megaphone guy ruining the party. Who needs that?

In his latest book, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, Saunders writes about how a writer can be likened to a music producer sitting in front of one of those big mixing boards connected to many different microphones picking up the sounds of the many instruments and voices. The mixing board has rows of fader switches to adjust the sound coming from those many different sources – the music producer uses those faders to “mix” those sounds into the final production.

Photo by Drew Patrick Miller on Unsplash

Saunders writes that “a story can be thought of as a version of that mixing board, only with thousands of fader switches on it—thousands of decision points.” The author’s role is to adjust the levels of those faders to create the best story. Doing so, Saunders counsels, involves a repetitive revision process – “going through a story again and again, microtuning the adjustment of the existing fader switches…” to make the story the best it can be.

Saunders’ mixing board is a metaphor for life – for how we go through our days, constantly adjusting up or down the many inputs that make up our daily experiences. Choosing to play a video game involves cranking up that fader switch while turning down other activities competing for our time. Taking a photowalk to help refocus and experience the world differently is another mixing board adjustment. So many other inputs are part of that big mixing board of our life.

Each day our mixing board gets tweaked – hopefully producing pleasing “music” that’s delightful to us. But some days there may be a cacophony of sounds (experiences) instead – with our mixing board somehow mis-adjusted and out of whack. That’s when it’s time to step back and re-examine our inputs and re-adjust them – or to find new ones to add to our mix or to eliminate others.

About a year ago I made a choice for my life mixing board – choosing to eliminate the input of television news. I turned the volume completely down on my mental mixing board, choosing to eliminate that input from my life. My choice to do so resulted mostly from my frustrations with the events occurring in our country during that time – events that I couldn’t influence and which I didn’t need to have repeated over and over again. So I flipped that switch and the TV news was gone.

One other thought. Many years ago I remember the book titled Steps to an Ecology of Mind by Gregory Bateson. While the content of the book was a bit over my head, that title has always stuck with me. What are the steps that might lead to an improved ecology of my mind? A year ago eliminating television news as a regular input in my life was one of those steps. One that has worked out very well for me.

Books Living Music Photography

Life is a Contact Sheet

Happy New Year! Let’s work towards better outcomes in 2022 than we had in 2021! Like most I’m looking forward to leaving 2021 behind and excited about what the future could bring! Now onward to my first post of this new year!

While away for the Thanksgiving holiday I started watching the Beatles’ Get Back documentary on Disney+ while in a garage in Sonoma county. We had gone away with family and this spot was a great escape for the Thanksgiving weekend. Sometimes the place where you watch a TV show or read a book becomes it’s own memory riding alongside the show or the book in your mind.

Get Back is the remastered version by Peter Jackson that looks and sounds really good – especially given the vintage of the film that it’s based on.

Recently I was on a morning walk listening to the Holiday Special edition of the In The Hive podcast with Joe Hagen and Emily Jane Fox. Joe hosts a great segment talking to Don Was of Bluenote Records about the therapeutic beauty of listening to jazz music (especially in these Covid times). Don commented about the Beatles’ Get Back documentary – about how fascinating it was to see the Beatles working through their creative process – oh so many takes! – before they get to their final result. It was quite interesting to see them working and collaborating together – and just how much time and effort was involved in their creative process.

While I was listening to Joe and Don talking about Get Back, their comments brought to mind that Get Back is really just another metaphor for what photographers know as a contact sheet – the capture of all of the images which are winnowed down to get to a final image choice or two – or sometimes none at all.

Here’s an example of a photographer’s contact sheet:

Magnum has a wonderful book of contact sheets from many of its great photographers. When you leaf through that book you realize just how the creative process takes to work and image and reach the photographer’s ideal result.

But isn’t that process of iteration fundamental to any creative pursuit? Writing, photography, music, you name it. And, isn’t that iteration process what living itself involves? Once in a while we see the iterative steps in action when artists like the Beatles or the Magnum photographers share a behind the scenes look at how they got to their final work product. Those are special learning opportunities worth paying attention to!

Watch Get Back and you’ll find it fascinating but also a bit frustrating to see just how many steps can be required! You can see the same kind of process when you browse through Magnum’s Contact Sheets!

Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.

Dale Carnegie

Science seldom proceeds in the straightforward logical manner imagined by outsiders.

James D. Watson