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.

Well, that was a week! The universe decided to wave the you-know-what with me wand in my direction, with predictable results. That knocked my motivation and confidence down, which also derailed the essay I was working on for this edition of the letter.

So, instead of leaving you hanging I dug an older piece from my archives. It's one which I consider one of the better examples of my writing. It's also the longest musing I've sent out so far. I hope you enjoy it.

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

On Riding the Rails in Kyushu

Japan is many things to many people. To me, it’s a nation of trains.

And when you say the words train and Japan in the same sentence, those words instantly conjure comical images in the minds of most listeners. The filter of the media has for decades shown us sleek, ultra-modern trains traveling at 300 kilometers per hour. It’s shown us stations packed with endless waves of rush hour commuters. And, of course, there are the pathetically hilarious video snippets from the Tokyo underground of uniformed, white-gloved pushers appearing from nowhere to cram passengers into already jam-packed cars.

During the time that I spent in Japan, the trains I rode in all parts of the country not only carried me from destination to destination, but also helped me form opinions of Japan and the Japanese people. Some of those impressions were good, some not so.

A trip to Kyushu, Japan’s large southern island, gave me a new perspective on not only Japanese trains but on Japan itself.

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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, I'm taking a look back at what the web was and what (parts of it anyway) could be again. Yes, the nostalgia bug has bitten me once more ...

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

On the DIY Web

Maybe it's suddenly realizing that the years are catching up with me. Maybe it's my love of simplicity and minimalism. Whatever the reason, lately I've been a tad nostalgic for the early days of the web.

Back then, the web was dotted with home pages — little sites that academics and ordinary people used as their online CVs or to discuss their interests. For me, those home pages were an amalgam of homesteads on the digital frontier and numbers stations.

All of those pages were quaint. Simple. Spare. Utilitarian. Kind of dull. None of them was about aesthetics. It was all about what was on the page, with each page an expression of the person behind it.

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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.

Welcome back! With my trying to catch up on quite a bit of writing, working on updating an ebook, and the general tumult at The Day JobTM, last week was ... well, it was. Three ideas for musings jockeyed for position, and I actually started all three. Started, but couldn't finish.

But don't worry. Uncle Scotty isn't going to let you down. I quickly (maybe a bit too quickly; sorry!) pulled together the essay you're about to read. It's kind of timely and topical, and typically contrarian. I hope you enjoy it. Or, at least, get something out of it.

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

On Learning Because You Want To

When the COVID-19 lockdowns started cascading a few months back, a spate of articles and blog posts and social media ramblings quickly followed. The topic? How this was the perfect time to learn something. Much of that advice was around learning to advance one's career.

Take a moment to think about why you learn something.

Far too often, we learn things because we need to pick up knowledge or skills to better do our jobs. Or, we see learning something new as a way to advance our careers either in the short term or a few years into the future.

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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.

Over the last while, a few of the fives who read what I post ehre have asked me why I don't focus Weekly Musings on a single topic — say, technology or productivity. I thought about doing the letter that way, but concluded that approach would be restrictive. Instead, I find it more natural and liberating to take these musings where my interest wanders.

My interest wanders not out of boredom or a lack of focus, but out of fascination. It always has and always will. And it's that wandering interest which sparked the idea for what you're about to read.

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

On Numbers Stations

When I was growing up in the 1970s, I was fascinated by radio. Not so much with the technical aspects — though, given the chance, I could have bored you to sleep with those details — but with what was on the radio.

I was intrigued by the breadth and variety of it all. News. Music. Talk. Comedy. Drama. Documentaries. How all of that came into existence and with the voices presenting it.

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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.

If you tuned in last week, you might remember that I mentioned a musing that was four-fifths complete. Guess what? It still is. That essay just refuses to let me finish it. Talk about stubborn, willful kids ...

Because of that, I've had to shift gears rather quickly this week. Luckily, I've got enough ideas knocking around in my head to be able to do that. The last thing I want to do is let any of you down.

Just so you know, parts of the essay you're about to read first appeared in my public notebook and appear here via a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license.

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

On Striking the Balance Between Work and Life

I don't need to tell you how much COVID-19 has disrupted all aspects of our lives. One of those aspects is work.

Many are fortunate enough to 1) still be employed, and 2) have jobs that enable us to work from home. That has created an entirely new dynamic in our lives. For many, it's upset that very difficult balance between work and life. If you lose that balance these days, you'll probably fall on the side of work. It shouldn't be that way.

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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.

The essay I was originally working on for this week was about four-fifths done. Then the idea for what you're about to read rushed in, elbows out, and knocked my first idea aside. I know I shouldn't encourage that kind of behaviour, but I'll let it slide this time.

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

On Taking Notes While Reading

Everything I needed was laid out, in a somewhat asymmetrical grid, on the table before me. My glasses. A pocket notebook held open with a binder clip. A gel pen, quickly running out of ink. And, of course, the book I'd be reading for the next hour or two. All that was missing was a steaming mug of green tea.

My wife walked by, looked slightly askance at the everything laid out before me, and said Hitting the books again, are you?

Since late 2019, I've been making a concerted effort to change my reading habits. I'm not trying to read more, as several people out on the interwebs advocate. Instead, I'm trying to read more deeply. I'm trying to read carefully. To help do that, I'm taking more notes while I read.

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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 musing is a shorter one. I don't know about you, but being in lockdown has energized me in some ways but has been sapping some of my energy in others.

I just want to say welcome to the new subscribers to this letter. I'm flattered that you're interested in what I scribble each week. And, as always, I'm grateful to those of you who've been reading Weekly Musings for a while now.

A quick reminder: you can download the ebook of the first 52 editions of Weekly Musings. It's free (you can pay what you want, but I don't expect you to). And I've finally gotten around to making a PDF version of book.

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

On Travel and How It's Changing

We're in a time of change, folks. But I didn't have to tell you that. Like all of us, you're living through those changes.

To be honest, I can't think of a single event in my 53 years walking this planet that has shaken up the world like COVID-19 has. Definitely not as quickly and definitely not in as many areas.

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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, it's time for another letter about technology. As with my other musings on that subject, I'm not discussing the intricacies of any technology, but a more ephemeral aspect of it.

Before anyone starts reading between lines that aren't there, understand that this musing isn't an attack on or an indictment of free and open source software. Open source is the tech world in which I live. It's the world that I know best and the one with which I have the most experience. What I discuss in the essay you're about to read applies any technology. In fact, it applies to just about anything.

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

On Open Source and the Power User Fallacy

It wasn't that long ago that the free and open source (FOSS) world wasn't a pleasant place to be in. If you were someone who lacked technical skills and posted for help in a forum, you were as liable to get belittled as you were to get help.

And woe betide you if you wrote or said something that didn't mesh with the ideas or beliefs of some corner or the other of the FOSS world. On more than one occasion, I was on the receiving end of some nasty backlash. Yeah, fun times.

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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 hope you and those close to you are doing well. These times are testing us, but I believe we can come through them stronger and with a stronger sense of what's important.

Once again, duelling topics bouncing around in my head have vied for my attention. This week's musing presents the winner of that duel. It's a slightly shorter essay than usual, but like the topic the essay is pared down to the essentials.

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

On Minimalism

It was an interesting idea. It was a good idea with a solid foundation. But in the hands of some, that idea went to extremes. It became a game of bragging rights, of demonstrating strength of character, of rejecting the supposed norms of society. In the words of New Republic writer Jill Steinhauser, the idea became a measure of taste and an opportunity to announce your sophistication.

And in that way, a good idea became the object of mockery and derision.

That idea? Minimalism.

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This week's essay isn't about the scariness that's sweeping the world. Instead, it's about most of us. It's about embracing something that shapes us whether we realize it or not.

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

On Living an Ordinary Life

I see the cultural messaging everywhere that an ordinary life is a meaningless life

— Dr. Brene Brown

If you believe everything you read on the web, we live in a world of hyperachievers. Of people doing extraordinary things. People (until recently, anyway) travelling the world with nothing but a backpack and a laptop, having amazing adventures and telling the world about them. People founding companies while grinding away at gruelling day job. People pushing themselves beyond their supposed limits. All that sort of thing.

In some circles, those kinds of folks are held up as a modern ideal. And unless, like them, you've lived in a dozen countries or mastered half a dozen languages or founded three startups before you're 30 you haven't lived up to your potential.

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