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The purpose of reading is to write

I’ve long struggled with the fact that I forget most of what I read. While there’s a valuable pure entertainment value to reading, I read enough books with the goal of personal growth that it’s disappointing when it feels like it’s not effective.

Writing about books seems to help me remember what I read. The additional thinking required to write down and compress my thoughts solidifies the lessons from the book. A good friend once opined that “no one can ever teach you anything; they can only help you realize what you actually believe already.” Writing about what I read further distills the ideas and helps me “know what I believe”.

There’s also an imbalance created by only taking in ideas and not putting them back out. Writing helps me let go of ideas, making room for new things.

So now when I find a new book to read, I ask myself “what will you write about this?” The books that seem like good writing inspiration are also usually the best reads as well.

(inspired by a tweet from Steve Sinofsky…sure, tweets count as writing too!)

Why We Forget Most of the Books We Read

Great overview of the “forgetting curve“, the way that we immediately forget almost all the information we take in:

For many, the experience of consuming culture is like filling up a bathtub, soaking in it, and then watching the water run down the drain. It might leave a film in the tub, but the rest is gone.

That describes many of my reading experiences quite well; sometimes I feel like the characters in this Portlandia skit. The key to avoiding this is recalling and re-encountering the information again:

If you want to remember the things you watch and read, space them out…Memories get reinforced the more you recall them, Horvath says. If you read a book all in one stretch—on an airplane, say—you’re just holding the story in your working memory that whole time. “You’re never actually reaccessing it,” he says.

The most well-known technique for recalling information systematically is spaced repetition:

Spaced repetition is a learning technique that incorporates increasing intervals of time between subsequent review of previously learned material in order to exploit the psychological spacing effect.

This website has always served as my outboard brain, but I don’t re-encounter my own thoughts on a regular basis. I’ve tried a few times to set up a system to send me random past posts; worth getting that going.

Mount Umunhum opening at last

In 2004 I headed up Mount Umunhum for the first time, hoping to conquer my last Peninsula summit. Unfortunately I was thwarted by the private land which blocked the road, tantalizingly close to the summit.

Thirteen years later, and thanks to lots of hard work by the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (donate here =) and the voters of Measure AA last year, Mount Umunhum is finally set to open to the public for the first time on September 17.

The Grand Opening ceremony is fully booked, but starting September 18 the summit (and the road there) will be open to the public. Exciting!

In other news, the famous red barn familiar to riders of Highway 84 West will soon become part of the new La Honda Creek Open Space Preserve, with 6 miles of hiking trails. Great news.

The rise of everyday writing

Something easily forgotten but remarkable when noticed–we write more as a society today than ever before. An excerpt from Clive Thompson’s new book:

Every day, we collectively produce millions of books’ worth of writing. Globally we send 154.6 billion emails, more than 400 million tweets, and over 1 million blog posts and around 2 million blog comments on WordPress. On Facebook, we post about 16 billion words. Altogether, we compose some 3.6 trillion words every day on email and social media — the equivalent of 36 million books.* (The entire US Library of Congress, by comparison, holds around 23 million books.)

And what makes this explosion truly remarkable is what came before: comparatively little. Before the Internet, most people rarely wrote for pleasure or intellectual satisfaction after graduating from high school or college.

“Go to page with similar content”

A new feature in Google Chrome seems to be analyzing the entire web for pages that mirror a broken link. Check it out by visiting this now-deleted page in a recent build of Chrome. “Go to page with similar content” links you to this page, which hosts the document I was looking for.

I’ve spent a lot of time organizing this site, and every time I change the structure the links break. I think I’ll just let Google handle it from now on.

The Walker Library of Human Imagination

Best. Museum. Ever.


The Walker Library of Human Imagination.

Jay Walker, founder of Priceline.com, has collected an amazing set of items that represent human ingenuity. 3 stories, mood lighting, carefully curated for maximum creative stimulus. At TED 2008, he gave a historical walkthrough of some of his favorites.

What I like most is that this library so clearly reflects Walker’s own perspectives and the connections he sees. I’d love to walk through the libraries that each of my friends create, and I’d love to create my own. To me, this blog is my current library, and hopefully I’ll make it easier to “walk through” soon.

For now, though, take a tour of Jay’s:


Birthday updates

On my homepage, I describe myself as a “28-year-old designer”. Sharp-eyed observers will notice that’s now inaccurate–I turned 29 on Sunday. So for the past few years I’ve logged in shortly after my birthday and updated the number manually.

This morning I started to do that and remembered that last year I’d grown weary of the process and coded it this way:

I am a <? echo (date(“y”)+20); ?>-year-old designer

So while my homepage will always lag a bit behind reality, for a December birthday this works pretty well. At least until I turn 120.

Lots of book notes coming

We did some spring cleaning this weekend (yes, I know it’s September) and I’ve got a huge stack of books that I’ve read but never written out my notes for.

So brace yourselves, here come the notes.

Blending several blogs together

Following on my RSS blending project, I used the RSS2HTML script to display all the feed items on my blog’s index page.

It has the minor drawback of relying on the hourly cached RSS feed to display items, which means that new items won’t show up immediately. Hopefully my throngs of fans will be understanding…

Blended RSS feed

Inspired by Kottke, and necessitated by a current project, I’ve rolled all my online writings and creations into one RSS feed to keep track of them more easily. If that happens to also interest you, you can find that feed here.

The next step is to do similar things to the front page, and then the rest, of this site. That should be possible using the same great scripts I used for this.