Update, July 2018

It has been so long since I posted anything here that I thought the easiest way to get going again would be to do a general update on where I’m at currently. 

Reading

I’ve been reading a lot this year, and the content of my reading has transitioned over recent months to being dominated by Christian topics. I view this as a good thing as it reflects an underlying transition in my thinking back to being more God focused than I have been for a while. My reading does tend to follow the direction my heart is inclining, hence the eclectic selection in my lists of books I have read.

Bible

Earlier this year I bought a New Cambridge Paragraph Bible, which is the King James Version of the Bible with modern spelling (eg, ‘show’ rather than ‘shew’) and crucially, in paragraph format rather than having each verse begin on a new line. The paragraph format makes a huge difference to the readability of this version and I’ve been enjoying reading the version of the Bible which has made such a massive impact on the English language.

However, I’ve also gone in the other direction on Bible translations and returned to reading the NIV for my main daily reading. This has been like reuniting with an old friend as it is the translation I used for the first five years of my Christian life. I read the Bible a lot during this period so revisiting this translation is helping motivate me to read it a lot more now too. 

Social Media

I caved in and did open a new Facebook account at the start of June. I have only added 30 people as friends, all of whom I know well in real life but some I don’t see very often currently so this is a way to keep in touch. I’ve noticed though that most of these folks don’t actually post much to Facebook anyway so the ‘staying connected’ aspect is not all that useful.

Family

Our kids are generally doing OK. One is about to change schools in the hope of getting more support for some particular learning needs. The decision to make this change has been a long time in coming and we have tried a lot of other options before making such a big change. In the end our priority is to ensure each of our kids gets an education that builds them up and gives them a good foundation for life. Each child is different so we are seeking the best combination of teachers, facilities and systems to fit each one.

One of our parents had major heart surgery in June. This was a very anxious time because even the surgeons were not confident of a positive outcome. However, so far, so good. The first week of recovery was tense, but there has been a steady improvement since.

Evernote expired

My paid subscription to Evernote expired last month and I chose not to renew it. The plan I was using allowed me to save over a gigabyte of notes each month so my habit was to use the web clipper tool to save any article I thought I might want to read from the web. Because of this my collection of notes was growing much faster than I could read those articles. Being a person who likes to completely finish things, I felt an internal pressure to read all the stuff I had saved. Since stopping that subscription I’ve changed my approach and now try to decide if something is worth reading before I even consider saving it. I try to read things immediately if they seem worthwhile, or park it in a browser tab. If I haven’t read it by the end of the day I close the tab on the assumption that if it is actually important I will stumble across it again or can do a search and find something similar. If I was not motivated to read it during the day, it probably is not relevant enough to me to bother saving.

Low tech evenings

Without setting out to, I’ve become mostly technology free in my evenings over the last few months. This has largely been a progression from committing myself to reading less off the internet and more books. Then my Kindle died so I got in the habit of reading hardcopy books, and my phone battery is also dying so it goes flat quick enough to dissuade me from wasting time on games or reading the news. I am also reading the Bible a lot more these days and I use a nice leather bound Bible so enjoy the experience of reading from that. (I did replace my old Kindle with a new one and do use it, I just enjoy real, paper books more).

The pleasant result of this coalescence of factors is that my evenings are less stressful than they were when using technology a lot – there are no crashes or slow internet issues, my eyes get less tired, and it seems much easier to think about important things rather than trivia when the world is further than a click or tap away. I am currently finding it more effort to login on the laptop than to grab my book from the shelf beside the couch. In my view this is a good thing.

We have three school aged children so life is no less busy for me than it was when I spent my evenings glued to screens, but it feels better now. My thoughts are able to follow a track to its conclusion rather then being interrupted or sidelined by some alert or glittery distraction. I’m able to concentrate better on books that require hard thinking to read them well, and I have quite a stack of this sort of books.

I haven’t attained nirvana or transcendental bliss, I still can waste an evening reading crap on the internet. But now I notice the loss of that evening acutely and feel worse for the internet time rather than fooling myself that I’m ‘staying informed’. Most of what is published on the internet is garbage now, so it is hard to know what are reliable sources and what are not, and even the better ones are still often profit driven and rely on advertising so generate content to gain clicks not to publish quality journalism. Surfing the web is not an easy way to ‘stay informed’, books are easier.

New (old) notebook day

I have just reached the last page of my previous notebook so rather than crack open a brand spanking new one I’m returning to one that I started using about a year ago but for some reason abandoned in my locker at work. This is a Moleskine ‘cahier’ lined pocket notebook, they are readily available and this format is an ideal pocket size.

I waver between using lined, unlined and dot grid notebooks. Unlined obviously offers the most flexibility, but I typically write short notes rather than drawing stuff and my writing is small enough to comfortably fit within most lines and grid layouts. In the end my main reason for choosing a particular layout is often just wanting a change from whatever I was previously using.

Another factor which can be important to me is the type of paper in a notebook. If I’m in the mood to be using a fountain pen I opt for Clairefontaine notebooks which are also great value for money. Pencil works well on most paper (but not well on the Clairefontaine coated paper!), with the Story Supply Co. paper being particularly good. Moleskine has mediocre quality paper, it is awful for fountain pens, OK for pencil and OK for ballpoint and gel pens.

Because of the middling quality of the Moleskine paper, and mainly because I haven’t been using it much lately, I’m pairing up this notebook with my favourite ballpoint pen. This is a Lamy 2000 multi pen, actually the most expensive pen I own but excellent for carrying around in my pocket. I’ve replaced the Lamy D1 refills with Zebra JSB 0.5 refills in royal blue, black, carmine red and emerald green. The ink in these flows immediately and is nice and smooth to write with. They are not very economical refills because of their small size but for the way I use the pen it is an ideal set up – four colour options, no skipping or false starts and no problems with accidental leaks in my jeans pocket.

 

Another idiosyncrasy of my notebook is that I taped a ‘pencil board’ (shitajiki) inside the front cover to stiffen it a little. This particular one was designed for a larger notebook so has been trimmed a little to fit. It does make writing notes while on the move a bit easier, I forgot I had done this so am glad to have found this notebook again.

My current notebook

This is a bit of a geeky post. I thought I would start keeping tabs on the notebooks and writing sticks I use. I already have reasonably strong preferences in what I like to write on and with, but over time it could be interesting to see what I actually use most as opposed to what I think I like to use. My guess is that non-aesthetic factors such as price and availability could play a bigger role than I presently account for.

The notebook currently in my back pocket is from Story Supply Co. It is one from a pack of three that I ordered from the US in 2016 when I was placing an order for a few other items. I’ve already used one of them and found it a good notebook with nice paper for pencil (hence the pencil in the photo).

story-supply-notebook
Pocket Staple Notebook by Story Supply Co.

The pencil I’m using is a General’s Cedar Pointe HB (or #2 for Americans). It actually seems a bit soft for an HB but is an OK pencil. I like the natural wood finish and the eraser on the end is handy when carrying it around in my pocket. Because the point wears down reasonably quickly (and I prefer a sharp point), I often also have a small brass bullet sharpener in my pocket too. The plastic pencil cap is by Tombow and keeps the lead point from snapping off while doubling as a pencil extender by sticking it on the eraser end when I’m using the pencil. Another centimetre or so and I will retire this pencil to use in my bullet pencil.

ssc-pencil

Note: These notebook posts won’t be particularly frequent as I take a while to get through each notebook (from 3 months to almost a year in some cases).

Related Posts:

How I slowly read the internet

Now that I’ve misled you with that headline, I should clarify that I slowly read select snippets of content from the internet. As my wife has told our kids, “You can’t watch the whole internet!” and neither could I read the whole internet (obviously).

The system

I am constantly finding stuff I want read on the internet. Much of it is from blog posts or news articles, some is reference material that I want to save, books I want to find more about before deciding whether to add them to my reading list, things I’d like to buy but cannot afford, quotes, poems, the list seems to be endless. Rather than deciding for certain whether I will actually read any of this stuff up front, I simply save it into Evernote, my default tool for consolidating all this junk into one place. I use a paid account (currently the Plus tier at US$44 per year) which allows me to save up to 1GB of new stuff per month which is sufficient for my needs. There is a free version but I always exceed the maximum amount you can save on that.

Evernote has a tool called the ‘web clipper’ which copies a web page and saves it to my list of notes. The way I typically use this is to save the ‘simplified article’ version which effectively grabs the text, some images (not always all of them, this can be annoying) but minimal formatting and usually it leaves comments and advertisements out. As part of this saved file the original web address is included, an essential factor in how I finally use these notes.

So I end up with a huge folder in Evernote which I call my ‘inbox’. This contains everything I’ve saved but not sorted into other folders (Evernote calls them notebooks). Aside from a few specific notebooks such as one I call my ‘wish list’ (for all those things I’d like but can’t afford) and ‘to watch’ (for videos I can’t legitimately watch on my work computer!) I just work directly from my inbox which is sorted so that the most recently modified items are at the top of the list. This sort order is key to how my process works.

The reading

When I have time to do some reading I simply begin with whatever is at the top of the pile of notes, if that’s not appealing at the moment I scroll down until I find something that is. Then my weirdness kicks in… As I read a paragraph and move onto the next one I plonk the cursor at the end of the stuff I have read and keep a finger on the delete key. Visually this looks slightly odd on the screen as the stuff I have read is slowly deleted and what I’ve not yet read gradually moves up the screen. It seems daft, but I find that by doing this it is much easier to visually keep my place in what I’m reading and the slowness of the delete action causes me to slow down my reading and actually read it rather than scanning as I do on a normal web page. It also functions as a bookmark because what I’ve already read is deleted so I just pickup at the top of the remaining text. If I need to go back to stuff earlier in the article I still have a link to the original article.

Self-ordering

Because this is how I always use Evernote, my huge pile of 4244 notes (at exactly now, it will change throughout the day) is always sorted with what I most recently was reading at the top of the list. In most cases, what I want to look at first is likely to be the stuff in the top of this pile of notes so it’s reasonably easy to find. Other times I decide to let serendipity play a role and randomly scroll towards the bottom of my list to see what I saved a few years ago that is still in there. This can be a good way to find topic fodder for blog posts because it is a trove of interesting stuff that I’ve seen before, chosen to keep, but not done anything specific with it yet.

This is also where sorting of my notes tends to happen – once something has sat in my notebook for a while I’m in a better place to see whether it is worth reading or is a topic that is no longer of interest so can be safely thrown out. I find that such decisions are better made at leisure some time after the initial “Oh, I should read that,” moment has passed. It is an easy thing to clip stuff as I encounter it and then worry about sorting it later. (You may notice that this all works on the principle of the self-ordering heap, as I’ve written about previously.)

Slow

An inherent ‘limitation’ of this system is that the rate at which I read my notes is much slower than if I used something like Instapaper or Pocket, both of which I have used and are excellent ‘read-later’ apps. With those apps the rate at which I read is much faster, but there is a corresponding decrease in how much I remember. My Evernote approach is slower and clunky in comparison but the inefficiencies of reading slower, seeing the same article several times sitting on the top of my list and being sorted by last modified means that a sort of visual map is built in my mind of the topics I’ve been digging into recently and this can enable connections about stuff that is not topically related by is temporally related simply due to when I happened to see it in my list of notes.

Current notebook

This is the notebook I have been carrying around for most of this year. It is by Clairefontaine, made in France. With high quality paper for fountain pen use it has been a really good notebook to use, the paper is smooth and takes ink well without smudging. Initially I was worried that it might take too long for ink to dry for quick notes, but I find that by the time I’ve written something and capped my pen the ink is dry so have had no issues. There are 48 sheets of paper in this book (i.e., 96 pages) so it lasts a long time – hence the beaten up appearance of this notebook. I bought this notebook from the University Bookshop in Dunedin for less than $5.

clairefontaine-preppy

The pen is a Platinum Preppy extra fine nib. For a cheap plastic fountain pen I think these are fantastic value and really nice to write with. You can buy these in NZ for just under $10 which makes them excellent for carrying around because even if it were to get dropped and broken or lost the loss is not catastrophic. I’ve had this particular pen for two years now and often carry it around in my pocket. There have been no leaks, it always starts well without skipping, and writes nicely. I’m cheap and refill the empty cartridges from a bottle of ink, so it’s economical writing.


Related posts:

Pencils

I have an odd obsession; pencils.

Don’t laugh, I’m serious, there is even a podcast that exclusively discusses pencils.

Obviously I’ve used bog standard pencils for years, generally without giving them much thought aside from noting which ones pissed me off when the leads broke in sharpeners, the wood split or they were gritty and scratchy when writing. Since finishing school my use of pencils diminished in favour of pens, especially as my use of handwriting moved from the presentation of finished work to being used for writing rough drafts that would end up typed into a computer.

With the superior presentation facilitated by computers and laser printers, handwriting for me has become something that generally only I see and a thinking tool for getting ideas onto paper away from screens and gadgets. These days my handwriting no longer needs to be neat or free from cross-outs, meaning that pen is as convenient as any other writing tool. Pens don’t need to be sharpened and the tips don’t break as do pencil leads.

However, with my change of occupation back to being a lab technician after over ten years in office environments, I’m finding pencils are more versatile, being easier to manipulate with gloves on and quicker to use for brief notes. Pencils work instantly and write on surfaces that ballpoint pens don’t, such as damp or frozen labels, thermal paper, and electrophoresis strips. Obviously pencils are also erasable and in my job we often use paper checklists and need to erase the previous set of check marks so pencil is the only option there. Somehow the simplicity and disposability of a wooden pencil seems more appropriate in an environment where we have concerns and regulations about chemical and biological contamination.

Beyond the lab I am enjoying using pencils again for general note taking and writing tasks such as drafting blog posts. I prefer to write my drafts by hand and with pen the result is a lot of cross outs as I correct my spelling or think of a better way to phrase something. With pencil I can rub out the mistakes and end up with a cleaner draft that is easier to follow as I type it into WordPress.

A major contributor to my new enjoyment in using pencils is the discovery of better quality pencils. I used to think that pencils came in two categories, those that were OK and the crappy ones with spilt wood and fragile, scratchy leads. Through listening to Tim, Johnny and Andy on the Erasable Podcast I learned about the iconic Palomino Blackwing 602 so ordered a couple online and was amazed at how nice they are to write with compared to the Staedtler Tradition pencils I’m accustomed to using. There is a real difference between el cheapo pencils and quality pencils.

My next step down the rabbit hole of pencil geekery was to order an assortment of pencils from what may be the only retail shop in the world that specialises in pencils and related accessories, CW Pencil Enterprise. I’m still in the process of trying those out so will reserve judgement until I’ve used them enough to determine which are my favourites.

(I wrote this over a year ago but never published it until now. At least this enables me to say confidently that my all round favourite pencil is the Swiss Wood, it is smooth to write with and holds its point really well. The main drawback is the price at about NZ$7 each by the time you get it shipped from the UK or US.)


Some interesting links:

Rabbit fight! (7 to 13 August update)

Misty and Dusk

Rabbit fight!

Misty (the light grey rabbit in the photo above) and Dusk (the black bunny) have been fighting a bit lately and on Saturday morning (5th August) I noticed that Misty had what appeared to be conjunctivitis in one eye. On closer inspection we realised he had a scratch on his eye and some fur missing below the eye, so it would appear that his brother attacked him. We had some chloramphenicol eye drops at home from the vet so I used these in the injured eye and it has cleared up nicely now.

Warmer weather

After complaining about the cold last week, this week has been pleasantly ‘warm’ and dry in comparison:

Mon 7 August High 20°C, Low 4°C
Tue 8 August High 12°C, Low 4°C
Wed 9 August High 9°C, Low 7°C
Thu 10 August High 14°C, Low 4°C
Fri 11 August High 15°C, Low 0°C
Sat 12 August High 18°C, Low 4°C
Sun 13 August High 17°C, Low 5°C

Water blasting

My wife returned the faulty water blaster to Bunnings and got a new replacement which is working much better so I spent most of Saturday afternoon cleaning the concrete driveway area in our back yard.

Army Cadets camp

Our 15 year-old daughter spent the weekend at a camp for her army cadets unit learning navigation and how to use the radios. Thankfully she avoided injuring herself at this camp and had a great time.

Consuming

Reading

  • A DNA App Store Is Here, but Proceed with Caution: I guess this had to arrive sooner or later – consumer DNA sequencing which claims to inform you various genetic traits, ranging in usefulness from whether you are a carrier for 67 different genetic disorders, through to gimmicks such as a scarf coloured to represent the proportion of bases in your DNA. (see Helix online store. You could easily kiss goodbye to thousands of dollars on this stuff and learn little that is truly useful – just my opinion as a biochemist. See your doctor if concerned about genetic disorders).
  • I have been reading a bit lately about social media, smartphones and how these are having negative impacts on people, particularly teenagers. A couple of representative, good articles are: Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? (on The Atlantic, note that this site does not like ad blockers) and Understanding our digital persona.
  • Also on the topic of social media, I’ve been considering how to move stuff that I’ve posted on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to my own website (this one). This also includes evaluating what is even worth moving, there is plenty of junk. I have manually transferred a few things but this is going to be a very slow process if I was to shift everything. My consideration of this was prompted by this article: Bookmarks, favs, likes – backfilling years of gaps.
  • Another article which has been timely and helpful to me is Writing As An Act Of Worship. I can easily become quite preoccupied with blogging and so have to question why I am doing it, is this what God would want me to be doing with my time and energy? Kris Camealy’s article reminded me of who needs to be in charge of my writing (God) and that self-promotion should not be my goal.
  • I found another encouraging article the day I Googled ‘why do people read blogs’ in a fit of self-doubt over whether there is any point in keeping a blog these days. So here is a few reasons why people read blogs.
  • Poetry: I’ve been continuing to read poems by Philip Larkin this week and also enjoying Scape by Luci Shaw, refreshing poetry from a Christian writer.

Watching

My media consumption is decidedly not Christian in flavour: Game of Thrones and Vikings. Both quite violent and containing a lot of sex scenes. Judge as you will.

Creating

I’ve not been particularly creative over the last week. My ‘blogging time’ has largely been spent trying to reduce the cpu load of this blog and doing some tentative experimenting with static site generators.

What I have been creating at home is a rough version of this:

Mine is only ⅔ constructed, using old broom handles and in good kiwi tradition #8 wire . Getting the wire through all those bits of broom handle is not as easy as I thought it should be!

Just an old garden rake

I was mowing our lawns today, and because the catcher doesn’t work very well on our lawn mower, was using an old bamboo leaf rake inherited from my grandfather to gather up the grass clippings. The irony is that this old rake, with many tines broken off, is still more effective than a newer metal one that I have in the shed. The thing is probably older than I am, yet still it gets the job done.

But effectiveness is only part of the reason I like using the old rake. I don’t recall actually seeing my grandfather use that particular tool, but when I use it I’m reminded of him. He could be a cantankerous old sod, but it is still good to remember him. He certainly took care of his tools and implements better than I do, his workshop was always orderly and he took great pains to mend things and keep them in good order. To the extent that his wheelbarrow had an improvised tyre made from an old bicycle tyre wrapped around the wheel several times and held in place with bits of wire.

Using his old rake also got me thinking of their house, with it’s funny outside toilet that had a golf ball on a chain to flush it with. There was always a box of neatly split kindling by the back door, and the old wooden building blocks that my father had as a child. The way Nana and Granddad always used cloth napkins and had the table properly set for every meal. Sunday roast dinners that my grandmother managed to cook in a tiny little kitchen which became swelteringly hot when the oven was on.

Which got me thinking of the tragedy of my grandmother ending her days in the confusion of Alzheimer’s disease, forgetting and forgotten. I now wish I had put more effort into visiting her in the nursing home during her final few years. It was hard to visit someone who had no idea who I was, and those were the years when my own children were babies and toddlers so life was already very full.

Recently I read an article about caring for elderly parents as they slowly died. Something which stood out to me was the following:

Around holidays and birthdays, rejection and abandonment surfaced, especially when the “family expectations balloon” popped because distance and responsibilities prevented other family members from gathering. (H. Curtis McDaniel How Long Till I Can Die? A 5-Year Journey in Hospice Caregiving)

There will always be conflicting responsibilities and demands on my time and resources, but this article reminded me that to someone who is facing the loss of everything, what they value most is being loved by those they have spent their own lives loving.

As lives are lived and years tick by, families generate their share of issues, disappointments and disagreements. Things are said or not said, done and not done. Choices are made by people we thought we knew that show how much we have grown apart. Our own lives and families are an immediate demand upon us. Yet I suspect that my parents and siblings still long for a phone call, letter or visit to reassure them that I’m still thinking of them and want to remain part of their lives.

In the end all we are left with is memories, regrets and odd items that remind us of those who went before us and in their own way loved and nurtured us as part of their family. So maybe it is just a beaten up old garden rake, but to me it means much more than being just a rake.