Recommended reading: Ultralearning

I just finished Ultralearning: Master Hard Skills, Outsmart the Competition, and Accelerate Your Career by Scott H. Young.

It’s a good book. I think it would be particularly interesting to my brother, who of course won’t read it because he imagines that its implicit pedagogical underpinnings would not accord with his own. In fact, to the extent that I understand either one, I think it accords almost perfectly. (In particular, that learning is an activity of the learner.)

Even if he were to spend five minutes looking at the table of contents, he’d still be inclined to reject the book, because three of the nine principles are about drilling, testing, and memory retention. Since he won’t read past that he’ll never see the nuanced discussion on these topics.

What kinds of things should you invest the time in to remember in the first place? Retrieval may take less time than review to get the same learning impact, but not learning something is faster still . . . .

One way to answer this question is simply to do direct practice. Directness sidesteps this question by forcing you to retrieve the things that come up often in the course of using the skill. If you’re learning a language and need to recall a word, you’ll practice it. If you never need a word, you won’t memorize it. . . . Things that are rarely used or that are easier to look up than to memorize won’t be retrieved.

Young, Scott H. Ultralearning, pp. 127–128.

Still, it’s an excellent book for anyone who is interested in undertaking any sort of learning project. There are good, practical tips how to start such a project (how to decide what to learn, how to decide how to learn it and find resources, how to manage the project once you get going).

The book works especially to normalize the behavior of undertaking a learning project that might be considered extreme in terms of its size, scope or speed.

Ultralearning: Master Hard Skills, Outsmart the Competition, and Accelerate Your Career by Scott H. Young. Highly recommended.

More secure = more not-useful

With no card number, CVV security code, expiration date or signature on the card, Apple Card is more secure than any other physical credit card.

Source: Apple Card launches today for all US customers – Apple

While @jackieLbrewer was working at the bakery there was a cash register glitch. For several days they took credit card payments on paper, writing the number down by hand, and then entering them manually at the end of the day.

Those customers would have been totally secure from being able to buy bread.

Marketing image courtesy of Apple

My photos are mostly CC-BY

I wasn’t huge fan of the Creative Commons until shortly after I started writing for Wise Bread.

For illustrating Wise Bread posts I liked to take my own photos, but for some things I wanted an image that I couldn’t easily take myself. For those things I used Flickr’s powerful search facility and deep pool of licensed photos.

Because I was using photos for a commercial purpose (to illustrate articles posted to a personal finance site that was heavily monetized so they could pay their writers), I avoided photos that were not licensed for commercial use. And because I and the site were retaining rights to the posts, I avoided photos with a “share alike” license.

I quickly came to love the fact that there was this vast library of images generously donated by their creators, and quickly felt that I owed it to them, and the world in general, to share my images on the same terms.

After the new owners of Flickr broke everything that was great about the site, I started hosting my photos myself at images.philipbrewer.net, using an open-source tool called Lychee. And shortly after I started using it, Lychee added the facility to mark photos as creative commons licensed.

Nearly all of my photos are licensed CC-BY, which allows anyone to use, remix, and share those photos, provided they provide attribution to me. (Ideally mention my name and link back to my blog, to my images site, or to the photo itself—whatever makes most sense for your use of the image.)

Licensed CC-BY.

I mention all this primarily to let people know that those photos are available for use, because finding creative commons licensed images is no longer so easy as just searching at Flickr. Creative Commons has a search facility, but it doesn’t point at the wider web, just at certain “partner platforms.”

Licensed CC-BY.

Still, if you see one of my photos and want to use it, know that it’s probably licensed with a CC-BY license. (The main exception is photos of family members, which I don’t license. Properly speaking all the license does is grant a license to the copyright for that photo. Any model release needs to be negotiated separately with whoever appears in the photo. But I figure that’s a nuance that many image users just skip over, so to avoid issues with people using photos of me or my family inappropriately, I just don’t license them.)

This photo does NOT have a creative commons license.

If a photo is not licensed (and it’s not of me or a family member), that’s probably just an oversight on my part. Let me know and I can almost certainly fix the licensing almost immediately.

Licensed CC-BY.

I would be delighted if people would start using my photos on my images site the way they used to use my photos of Flickr.

Field Notes unboxing

I got the first order of my Field Notes subscription, so I thought I’d do a quick unboxing post. The first thing I noticed was that I had the box upside down.

With that problem fixed, I was greeted with the Field Notes motto, a sentiment that has appealed to me since I first met it:

From that reinforcing message I moved on to the contents:

I had promised to share the notebooks with Jackie, and she immediately wanted the packet with Rocky Mountains, Great Smokey Mountains, and Yellowstone. I claimed the packet with Joshua Tree, the destination of the best camping trip I took during the months I lived in Los Angeles.

The next step is to get over the hesitation I always have to start using a nice notebook. Part of the reason I got the subscription is that I’ve been actually using my notebooks lately, which gives me some confidence that I actually will. But another part is that I’m hoping having a nine notebooks (plus three more boxes coming over the course of the year) will make starting any one notebook seem a little less fraught.

Writing in the morning

I know that I need to write in the morning if I’m going to be productive at fiction. Even just 20 or 40 minutes of early morning writing gets my head into the story space, and once it’s there I’ll continue to have story ideas through the day.

I’ve had trouble making this work since I started teaching taiji. For most of the year I need to start getting ready early enough to be out the door no later than 8:40 AM. I’m only gone for a couple of hours, which isn’t such a big hole in the day, but it’s big enough that it’s made it hard to get in the necessary early-morning writing session.

But after months—years, really—of not getting my fiction writing in, I’m taking a fresh stab at making an early-morning writing session happen.

I started a week ago so I could test-run the new schedule and get the kinks worked out before the last week of August, when the first fall taiji session starts. So far it’s working pretty well. I got my early-morning writing done every day except one, and that day I managed to get in a good writing session in the afternoon.

The obvious thing to do, of course, would be to just start even earlier. That isn’t easy because I’ve put together an early-morning routine that I’m finding really satisfying:

  1. Do a tiny bit of mobility work first thing.
  2. Weigh myself and check to see what my Oura ring says about my sleep.
  3. Sit down at my computer and record that info.
  4. Drink some coffee.
  5. Do the Daily Jumble with my brother and my mom.

After Jumbling and a couple of cups of coffee, I generally have breakfast, after which is my window to get some writing done before taiji.

What I’m doing differently is simply that I’m trying to start breakfast no later than 7:00 AM (ideally a little before), so that I can finish before 7:30.

I need to leave by about 8:40 to be sure I get to the Rec Center in time for my class, which gives me a generous hour to write.

If I manage that—spend enough time writing to get immersed into the story space of whatever I’m working on—then my brain gets started working on story problems. All through the rest of the day I’ll have plot points, possible story twists, clever turns of phrase, bits of dialog, and so on, popping into my head.

Until I start writing, none of that happens. It’s actually kind of awkward when I don’t get a chance to write during the day, and then try to squeeze in a writing session late, because then I’ll be getting those ideas while I’m trying to go to sleep.

Actually, it turns out it can be kind of awkward even when I do what I’m trying to do. Two days last week I skipped the group taiji practice session, but on Friday I did pretty much just what I’m planning to do going forward, and the result was that my brain was fairly fizzing with story stuff at the point I was getting set to head out the door. That’s fine for the summer practice sessions where I’m just a participant and not in charge of anything, but when I’m the teacher it’s my job to be fully present and mindful in the class, not in my latest fictional world.

It was okay this time; my fizzy brain had settled down by the time I was in the car ready to drive. But it’s another thing to take into account as I calibrate this new routine, which is why I wanted to have these couple of weeks for a test run.

Still, if I want to get fiction written, it’s best to get started early. And for a week now, I’ve been managing it. (And as a consequence, have finished a draft of my first new short story in a long time.)

Jumbling with the family

Almost every morning I sit down at my computer with a cup of coffee and solve the Daily Jumble with my family.

We had each done the Jumble from time to time. (I did it occasionally until we quit getting the local paper.) But at some point a few years ago my brother must have mentioned in a chat session that he and my mom were working on the Jumble, and I must have asked if I could help, and he must have sent me a scrambled word.

Since then we’ve worked out a whole procedure for jointly working on the Jumble. My mom wields the pencil and reads off the clues to my brother, who types them into a chat session for me. Then we all work to unscramble the letters until one of us gets it. We continue until we have all the words. (Sometimes we’ll give up on one word or another.) At that point my mom goes through our answers to produce the list of letters available to use, counts the letters in the words of the answer, describes the cartoon and reads all the text from it, up to the prompt to finish. Once again, my brother types all that into the chat session. Then we solve it.

We’ve gotten pretty good at this whole process, and can usually knock of a Jumble in just a few minutes.

It has turned out to be a wonderful way to stay connected with my brother and my mom (and occasionally my nephews when they feel like participating).

Mornings hardly seem complete when I don’t get in some family time with the Jumble—to the point that, when I visit Steven in person, we still do the Jumble the exact same way, with him typing to me in a chat session, even though I’m sitting right next to my mom. (I’m way better at solving a Jumble with a keyboard than I am with pencil and paper.)

(Posting this mainly because I’m working on a post about my daily routine and I didn’t want to excise this important piece, even though my description of it had exploded out of all bounds.)

Started a Field Notes subscription!

I’ve been purely a lurker, watching the Field Notes RSS feed, checking out their posts and videos, literally for more than a decade: I remember admiring their products from my cubicle back when I was working at a regular job. I even kept that RSS feed in my reader after they broke their website and didn’t have a valid feed for a couple of years.

Now, just a few minutes ago, I finally pulled the trigger on an annual subscription to their notebooks, starting with the National Parks series. (I have promised Jackie that I’ll share the notebooks with her, and I’m sure she’ll be thrilled to see that the National Parks are what we’re starting with.)

Updates once I get my first shipment!

Promotional image courtesy of Field Notes.

2019-08-13 10:52

Went for a longish run at a nice easy pace. Felt good all the way through—good enough that I was going to add another half mile or so (by running around Dohme Park), only to have my knees abruptly say, “Nope. You have run the correct amount.” So I just stopped right there and came home. As I have started doing lately, I did this run in a fasted state (mumble mumble autophagy, mitophagy).