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.

While I was writing this musing, I listened to IBM 1401, A User's Manual by the late Jóhann Jóhannsson on a continuous loop. It's a wonderfully soft, slow piece of music that, in some ways, fits well with the theme of the essay you're about to read. And, in some ways, that piece of music informed the tone of this musing.

Speaking of which, let's get on to this week's musing.

On Slow Communication

Just before Christmas 2019, I sent a few emails to various friends. Not holiday greetings (I hate Christmas, to be honest), just messages to catch up since we'd been out of touch for a while.

The responses I received surprised me.

Those replies came a week or two or so after I sent those emails. Each reply started off with an apology. An apology for not getting back to me sooner. What surprised me was that I didn't expect a response for a while, it being Christmas and 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.

This week's musing comes from the depths of my archives. Before you think it, no that's not due to my legendary sloth.

The two essays I've been working on have stalled. Why? Mainly because I've been caught up in a pile of paid writing and have been wrapped up in a rather pressing personal matter. I haven't been able to tackle a lot of what I've wanted to work on.

So, I present for your perusal another short account of my sojourn to Japan in the early 1990s. It's from a particularly memorable part of that trip, which knocked me out of a funk that I'd been in.

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

On Gaining a Different Perspective on Nature

What's duller than Kyushu in early April? That question entered my head as I boarded a bus leaving the Japanese city of Kumamoto. I'd been traveling around Kyushu, Japan's large southern island, for the past week and a half. This bus was one of the many that I'd hopped on in that time. It, and just about everything else at that time, seemed to blur into a numbing sameness. On top of that, several days of overcast skies mixed with rain had dampened my enthusiasm for this portion of my trip.

But the bus ride I was about to take would change that, and give me a new perspective on the power of nature.

During my stay in Japan, I normally took trains wherever I went. But this time around, there were no trains heading in my direction. So, I had to make this leg of the trip by bus. I chose the bus that I mentioned a couple of paragraphs back because its route passed Mount Aso, an active volcano that was said to have had some of the most explosive eruptions of any volcano on Earth.

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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're in for a bit of a departure from the fare that's appeared in these letters over the past while. This week brings you something of a stream of consciousness musing that's been tugging at my ganglia for the last few weeks. The essay that ganglia tugging has spawned is a short mental ramble, but one that has a flow and (I hope) a point.

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

On Listening to the Heartbeat of a City

Cities can be many things. They can be sprawling. They can be impersonal. Cities can be a series of ecosystems, of tight or loose communities. They can be unexpected repositories of data. They can spark the imagination or deaden the spirit. Cities can be whatever we want them to be, whatever we need them to be at a particular point in time.

Every city, no matter where or what size, has a distinct life of its own. Each city has its own unique heartbeat.

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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 comes courtesy of a couple of people I heard having an intense conversation on a bus. A conversation that, at times, veered into the realm of the absurd. Then again, it was a conversation that I'd heard many, many times in the past.

A small piece of news: I've collected the first 52 editions of Weekly Musings into an ebook. It's titled, not surprisingly, Weekly Musings: The First 52 and that book is a thank you letter to each and every one of you who reads this letter. You can grab a copy at Gumroad. It's a free download, although I've set it up to be a pay-what-you-want deal. You're not expected to or obliged to pay anything. And, in case you're wondering, Weekly Musings: The First 52 is available as an EPUB and as a PDF file.

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

On Fetishizing Notebooks

Among the hardcore productivity and writing crowds, the notebook seems to have become an object of obsession. I'm not talking about the notebook computer, but the paper notebook. Sheets of blank or ruled or lined paper wrapped in a cover. Pages waiting for the caress of a pen. Waiting for the next great thought or idea, for that bit of important information, for that important list of task.

Some folks in that crowd take their obsession to extremes. They deeply ponder whether to buy a Moleskine, a Midori Traveler's Notebook, or a LEUCHTTURM1917. They demand that the pages be a certain thickness or made from acid-free paper. They obsess about the perfect size, the perfect thickness, the perfect dimensions of their notebooks.

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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.

Last week, I had a discussion with a friend that ranged over several topics. He was shocked when I explained that something he believed to be the spawn of the twenty-first century actually wasn't. That part of the discussion brought this idea to the front of my brain. And in front of your eyes.

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

On What's New Being Old Again

What's new is old again.

That's a phrase I often use when people talk about a seemingly new development or trend. A development or trend which turns out to be something that's anything but new.

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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.

As I've mentioned in the past, the musings that appear in this space are sometimes (OK, slightly more than sometimes) ideas and thoughts that are still coalescing in my brain. There's always room for refinement, there's always room for reappraisal, there's always room for expansion.

This time 'round, it's a case of the latter. I'm reaching back a few months and trying to fill in a blank from a previous essay.

On Preserving Local History

You might recall Musing 040, in which I discussed local history and its importance. Since then, the gears in the back of my mind have been slowly grinding away, pondering how to preserve that history.

This week's letter is less a musing and more woolgathering. The next few hundred words aren't a definitive guide to preserving local history, nor do they offer many new insights. Perhaps they'll spark some ideas or, at the very least, inspire you to keep your eyes open.

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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 edition of the letter is an example of inspiration coming from an unexpected place. That place? A particular album by a particular music group. I hope you enjoy the product of that inspiration.

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

On Tokyo

Over the 2019 Christmas holidays, I reached a point at which I needed some time to myself. With my wife and daughter off doing something one afternoon, I settled in with a mug of green tea, a book my wife gave me for Christmas, and some music.

One of the albums I listened to was Tokyo by Marconi Union. The album is a musical evocation of the city, a city that the members of the group have never set foot in. They only know Tokyo through the media. As the tracks drifted into my ears, images and sounds of the city formed in my brain. A little while later, I realized that while I've been to Tokyo, I have only slightly more direct experience with the city than Marconi Union does.

Back in the early 1990s, I spent about three months travelling around Japan. In the 80-odd days I spent in the country, only a couple of those days were in Tokyo. And, to be honest, I couldn't wait to leave the city while I was there.

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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, I'm expanding on a musing from a few weeks back. The core idea is one that's been tugging at my brain, so instead of the essay I had planned to publish this week, I was compelled to tap out this one.

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

On Slow

Do people still use the term internet time? I hope not ...

As annoying and cloying as that term is, there is some truth to it. The online world literally follows the sun. It never turns off. It never sleeps. There's a constant torrent of information and so-called content. Try as you might, you can never keep up with it because there's always something new popping up.

Everything these days has to be fast. Fast answers. Fast decisions. Fast access to bite-sized morsels of information. We're always speeding ahead, chasing something new. We never give whatever from five minutes ago further, deeper thought even though that whatever might need us to do just that.

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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.

As has been the case for the last few weeks, technology is on my mind. This week's letter, though, looks at tech from what I hope is a slightly different perspective.

Once again, I'd like to share another email newsletter to which I subscribe with you. That newsletter is Nextdraft. It's a daily, rather than weekly, newsletter in which Dave Pell rounds up a few of the day's more interesting news stories. Pell summarizes and offers some commentary around the stories. The former is succinct and the latter is in equal parts entertaining and infuriating.

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

On a Different Way of Approaching Technology

It was in the seventh grade that I learned there was more to the concept of technology than I thought. Before then, technology was wrapped up in electronics. In the spacecraft that put humans in orbit and on the moon. In the fledgling home computer.

My history teacher changed that perception when she taught my class about something called Acheulean technology. Until then, I didn't realize that tools crafted by paleolithic peoples could be considered technology.

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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 nattering on about an idea that's been knocking around in my head for quite a while. A few of the fives of people who regularly read this letter may have even heard me talk about the subject in question elsewhere over the last few months.

Let's get to this week's musing.

On Smart Cities

Imagine a city that's flooded with senors and detectors. Imagine a city that collects and transmits massive amounts of data, and shovels that data to your smartphone or smartwatch.

Imagine a city that knows where you are at all times, that can give you directions accurate to a few centimetres. A city in which you can never get lost or make a wrong turn. A city that can tell you where the nearest attractions of interest are, where to find a restaurant you'll like, or that can point you to the nearest bench where you can take a break and top of the charge on your devices.

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