Weekly Musings

Thoughts about what's caught my interest in the last seven days

Welcome to this edition of Weekly Musings, where each week I share some thoughts about what's caught my interest in the last seven days.

Over the last few weeks, thinking about much of the tech industry has been getting me down. There's so much potential there, but there's also so much to infuriate me. Sometimes, being an idealist and an optimist only leads to heartache.

With that tugging at my brain, I'm sharing another draft chapter from Project Crimson. You might remember that as the book of contrarian essays about technology that I'm putting together. In case you're wondering, it's still in the works. Lately, paid work has slowed down my progress on it.

Let's get on to this week's musing.

On Going Cashless

Cash is king.

If you're around my age, that phrase is ingrained in your memory (whether you want it to be or not). And you probably remember how true that phrase was.

There was a time before ATMs. In fact, it wasn't all that long ago that if you wanted to withdraw or deposit money you had to go into local branch of your bank. You'd fill out a rectangular paper slip, wait in line, then hand it — along with your passbook and, if you were making a deposit, cash or a cheque — to a teller.

Most of us used cash for everyday transactions. We made larger purchases with cheques or credit cards. But cash definitely ruled.

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Welcome to this edition of Weekly Musings, where each week I share some thoughts about what's caught my interest in the last seven days.

This week's letter is one that might annoy, anger, or even offend a few of you. If any of that happens, I also hope that what I'm sharing with you this week also gives you pause. Either way, you've been warned.

A few of the people who subscribe to Weekly Musings have asked what email newsletters I read. There are a few of them, and every so often I'm going to introduce you to one of those letters.

Starting with Orbital Operations, put out by writer Warren Ellis. Orbital Operations is a cross between an email diary, notice board for Ellis' projects, and link station for what he finds interesting. You get a glimpse into the (grueling) world of a freelance writer and producer, but with liberal sprinkles of acerbic wit and dark humour added to that view. It's never a dull read.

With that out of the way, let’s get to this week’s musing.

On What Might Have Been

You might remember some news reports from September of last year. Reports about a drone attack on the world's largest oil processing site, an Aramco facility in eastern Saudi Arabia. In the immediate aftermath of that attack, fear rippled around the world. Fear that there would be more attacks. Fear that oil processing would grind to a halt and not meet global demand. Fear that oil and gasoline prices would spike. Fear that the world's economy would take a huge hit or even collapse.

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Welcome to this edition of Weekly Musings, where each week I share some thoughts about what's caught my interest in the last seven days.

This week's essay is taken from my book Glimpses of the Rising Sun. I've reworked the essay a bit, but the angle is still the same: a short chronicle of something I encountered during a three-month trip to Japan back in the early 1990s. Time and more than a few blows to the head haven't dimmed that memory. I hope you enjoy it.

With that out of the way, let's get to this week's musing.

On What's Under Wraps

One week into my sojourn to Japan back in the early 1990s, and I found myself without something to read.

The three paperback I brought with me, which were meant to last a month, were read on the flight from Toronto and during those first few jet-lagged late nights and early mornings on the ground in Amagasaki City. I had, to paraphrase Ernest Hemingway, burned through those three books like a drunkard burns through his patrimony.

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Welcome to this edition of Weekly Musings, where each week I share some thoughts about what's caught my interest in the last seven days.

When I originally published this musing, it was an especially hectic time for me. The Day JobTM piled a lot on me, and then I logged I don't know how many thousands of kilometres with flights between Auckland and Raleigh, NC.

Speaking of Raleigh, that's where this musing started. As the ideas that would become this week's letter were coalescing in my brain, I had breakfast with my friend Bryan Berhenshausen. Breakfast in Raleigh has become something of a tradition with us. It gives us a chance to catch up and share ideas in person rather than via email. During our conversation, Bryan offered some interesting and valuable insights into this topic. As is often the case, I'm indebted to Bryan for those insights.

Let's get to this week's musing.

On (Local) History

It's interesting to view how some people perceive history. They think of it as something grand. They think of it as possessing scope. They think of history as focusing on major events, events that shape countries, civilizations, and the world as a whole. They see history as a set of big stories, sometimes interlocking stories, that define us.

History is more than that. For all the big stories, there are countless little ones. Stories of ordinary people. Stories of ordinary places. Local histories that we never learn about. If we do, we don't learn about them in detail. Local histories that we never really discover unless we root them out.

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Welcome to this edition of Weekly Musings, where each week I share some thoughts about what's caught my interest in the last seven days.

This letter is going to be a bit shorter than usual. I was working on a slightly longer essay, but the idea behind this letter grabbed me in a grip worthy of a champion grappler and wouldn't let go. So, I rolled with it.

Let's get on to this week's musing, shall we?

On Digital Versus Physical Books

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon my Kobo Aura eReader. To be honest, I'd forgotten about it. It took a few moments before I recalled turning it into a brick a year or so ago while trying to apply an update. As it turns out, that ereader was alive and on the verge of being well. I just needed to charge it up. After that, I was ready to read.

Earlier today, I looked at that ereader. Then I glanced over at the bookshelf in my apartment. It struck me: I have more books on former than on the latter.

Don't get me wrong. It's not that I dislike physical, paper books. I used to have a sizeable library — numbering in the thousands of books, on a range of topics and from a variety of eras. That library had to find several new homes before I moved overseas in 2012. As much as I wanted to, it was impossible for me to bring those books along without shouldering huge shipping costs. Costs which I really couldn't afford to shoulder at the time.

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Welcome to this edition of Weekly Musings, where each week I share some thoughts about what's caught my interest in the last seven days.

This time 'round, you might wind up learning something. And what's that, you're asking? An idea that's been tugging at various lobes of my brain on and off for the last couple of weeks. It's another one of those ideas that isn't quite fully formed, but it does provoke a few thoughts. At least, I think it does.

Let's get to this week's musing.

On an Internet of People

The spark for an idea can come from unexpected corners. You never know where those ideas will take you.

Case in point: in October, 2015 was in the kitchen at what was The Day JobTM heating up my lunch when I spied the brochure for an Internet of Things (IoT) conference that was held in Auckland. I didn't attend, partly because I'm not all that interested in IoT. Mainly, I didn't attend because the conference fee would have put a massive crater in my wallet. I am just a poor, struggling writer after all ...

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Welcome to this edition of Weekly Musings, where each week I share some thoughts about what's caught my interest in the last seven days.

Some of you might be familiar with The Plain Text Project. That's a site I maintain which looks at living and working in, you guessed it, plain text.

About 18 months ago, I started thinking about creating a companion site called The Analog Project. That site would have focused on life and work with pen and paper, and other non-digital technologies. The Analog Project went by the wayside, if only because I had too much on my plate and didn't want to face burnout in the way that I did in late 2016.

The ideas underpinning The Analog Project still linger in my head. This week's letter is the first in a series of essays that revolve around analog. I hope you enjoy it.

On Pen and Paper

Confession time: I have some of the worst handwriting in the known universe. Sometimes, it's so bad that I can't decipher what I've jotted down in whatever notebook I'm using. Still, that hasn't stopped me from embracing pen and paper.

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Welcome to this edition of Weekly Musings, where each week I share some thoughts about what's caught my interest in the last seven days.

Late last week, I had what developed into a somewhat heated conversation with an acquaintance. The spark that generated the heat in the conversation? Our differing ideas around the concept of mastery.

It was an interesting chat, and it remained civil even when our voices got a bit loud at points. That conversation jump started the idea for this week's musing. Let's get on to it, shall we?

On Mastery

There’s no universal law that says you have to master everything you ever learn. Life requires tradeoffs, and there’s nothing wrong with exploring something new, learning a lot, and then deciding to explore something else.

You don’t have to be a black belt in everything to live a satisfying life.

— Josh Kaufman, The First 20 Hours

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Welcome to this edition of Weekly Musings, where each week I share some thoughts about what's caught my interest in the last seven days.

I really can't think of anything pithy or mildly amusing to write, so let's get on to this week's letter.

On Slow Reading

So much to read. So little time in which to read it.

That’s how it feels, doesn’t it? There’s so much writing out there pulling at our limited attention from so many directions. Books, articles, long-form essays, blog posts. Consciously or not, we often skim through much or all that material. Consciously or not, we don’t engage as deeply as we should or need to with what we’re reading.

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Welcome to this edition of Weekly Musings, where each week I share some thoughts about what's caught my interest in the last seven days.

One of my projects outside of this letter is an ebook that I'm working on in fits and starts. I don't have a title for the book yet, but its working name is Project Crimson and it will be a collection of slightly (sometimes more than slightly) contrarian essays on technology and our relationship with it.

This week, I'm sharing an essay-in-progress from that book. The essay is still a bit rough. It's still a bit unfinished. But I hope you enjoy it.

On What You Don't Own

In the not-so-distant past that was April, 2017 someone going by the name R Martin ran into a spot of bother. Martin had bought an internet-connected garage door opener called the Garadget from Amazon.com. As much of the tech we use these days is wont to do, the smartphone app controlling the device suddenly decided to stop working. On a Saturday evening.

So, like many people in this age of entitlement and easy outrage, Martin left a nasty complaint on the Garadget message board.

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