Beetle & Byte

How Pencils Are Made

I suspect pencils are among the many things we take for granted in modern, daily life. They’re one of the first, if not the first, writing utensil we ever use as children. We learned to write, add, subtract, and multiply with them. We learned geometry and perspective with them. We took tests with them. So, so many filled in circles on standardized tests (does that date me or is that still a thing?!) My words and imagination fail to convey their omni-present place in my life and those of many others.

These days I try not to horde them as much as I used to and enjoy the ones I have until they’re whittled down. That’s tough when they’re beautiful pencil-loving stores like CW Pencils out there that pull you in like graphite sirens.

And, it’s tough when you come across a video like this that shows you how pencils are made. The machinery is hypnotic and the color dyes beautiful. I may just need to crack out one of those long-neglected adult coloring books and reconnect with an old love.

Stop Treating Yourself Like an After-Thought

None of us are getting out of here alive, so please stop treating yourself like an after-thought. Eat the delicious food. Walk in the sunshine. Jump in the ocean. Say the truth that you’re carrying in your heart like hidden treasure. Be silly. Be kind. Be weird. There’s no time for anything else.

Nanea Hoffman, Founder of Sweatpants & Coffee

I’m Not Spraying Anybody’s Linguine Dinner with Air Freshener

A friend recently directed me to an interview with Lucy Ellmann, author of the book Ducks, Newburyport. I’d previously never heard of either the author or her book and yet I was prevailed upon to read the article. Ellmann is certainly the type of person you want as a neighbor, friend, or if you’re a mother, she is someone you want to be a part of your outcast / rebel mom click. She’s witty and fiercely independent and a midwestern American living in Scotland, so she’d be a good person to know for a visit.

I can’t say I know what to think of her writing style or book. Ellman self-describes it as one long run-on sentence—the stream of consciousness of an overwhelmed and anxious Ohio housewife. A commenter notes that there are 19,000 instances of the term “the fact that.” This trifecta of rebellion against structure, convention, and punctuation may be more than I can bare. I have 13-weeks until my library hold, which may just enough time to mentally prepare myself for what could either be a fantastic mind bend or a deflated and grumbly gut.

This quote in the interview is what tipped the balance and led me to give the book a go.

I’ve been rudely criticized in the past for using too many capital letters, but you know what? I DON’T CARE. What is wrong with using all the techniques at our disposal? I’m not spraying anybody’s linguine dinner with air freshener, I’m just reconsidering form. It’s not a crime. Yet.

I like illustrations too, and wish I had more. I don’t see why only children’s books get to have pictures.

Lucy Ellmann, Lucy Ellmann, a Great American Novelist Hiding in Plain Sight

A Prescription for Good Design

On the heels of the last post about Margaret Heffernan and her argument that computer automation is not a rightful substitute for human expertise—especially in highly unpredictable and complex spaces—comes a related episode of the Wireframe podcast.

In this episode, host Khoi Vinh met with doctors about the design of electronic health records (EHR) and the accompanying software and hardware. In a nutshell, these broken systems work against the doctor-patient relationship instead of for it. They are driven more by healthcare billing practices than by patient needs and often command the attention of doctors at the expense of engaging meaningfully with patients. It’s a quick and worthwhile listen for anyone interested in the topic of design in healthcare.

The Human Skills We Need in an Unpredictable World

This talk by Margaret Heffernan more intelligently and eloquently expresses the idea that’s been noodling in my mind for some time. That it isn’t an inevitability that we lose our humanity at scale. In fact, we should double down on our humanity–compassion, empathy, and attention–the larger an organization gets. Without it, we become little more than a cog in an unfeeling and uncaring machine.

Preparedness, coalition-building, imagination, experiments, bravery — in an unpredictable age, these are tremendous sources of resilience and strength. They aren’t efficient, but they give us limitless capacity for adaptation, variation and invention. And the less we know about the future, the more we’re going to need these tremendous sources of human, messy, unpredictable skills.

But in our growing dependence on technology, we’re asset-stripping those skills. Every time we use technology to nudge us through a decision or a choice or to interpret how somebody’s feeling or to guide us through a conversation, we outsource to a machine what we could, can do ourselves, and it’s an expensive trade-off. The more we let machines think for us, the less we can think for ourselves.

The more time doctors spend staring at digital medical records, the less time they spend looking at their patients. The more we use parenting apps, the less we know our kids. The more time we spend with people that we’re predicted and programmed to like, the less we can connect with people who are different from ourselves. And the less compassion we need, the less compassion we have.

What all of these technologies attempt to do is to force-fit a standardized model of a predictable reality onto a world that is infinitely surprising. What gets left out? Anything that can’t be measured — which is just about everything that counts.

Margaret Heffernan, TEDSummit 2019

A Week of Links

Missy Elliott slayed with a performance medley of her greatest hits at the VMAs.

This squirrel knows good music.

Two Swiss sisters pay homage to Homer and Lisa‘s trip to New Orleans. I’m impressed with just how many culinary scenes they recreated.

Recently dawned on me that there’s a better way to dole out honey.

Can’t wait to play Mario Kart on my phone.

Currently trying to figure out where to put this DIY living wall in my home.

Leadership is as much about the environment that one shapes as it is about the impact that follows.

A breathtaking reminder why we should all be booking our trips to Iceland.

Moving and funny TED talk by Paula Stone Williams about what she’s learned since transitioning to a woman.

Whimsical paper masterpieces.

Recent addict of Lucas’ Papaw Ointment.

Library Savings

Image of Wichita Public Library receipt showing savings.

The Wichita Public Library has a simple and clever type of positive reinforcement. When you checkout a book from the library, the receipt shows you how much you saved by using the library instead of buying the book. They also show your lifetime savings.

At the beginning of this year, I pledged to not buy anymore books and instead either read the ones I’d accumulated or else checkout others from the library. It was a bit of a bumpy start to change habits and adapt to loan periods and hold times for books, but now I’ve hit my groove. I do everything electronically. I use Libby to connect to my local library‘s catalog and once a book is available, I send it to my Kindle. I’ve read much more this year than in the several years preceding. It’s a super convenient and rewarding system, though a tally of my lifetime savings would be fun too!

via Open Culture | Image by The Wichita Eagle

Sagrada Familia

Photo by Angela Compagnone on Unsplash

One hundred thirty seven years after construction began, Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain, received its first building permit. Construction began in 1882 and completion is targeted for 2026, the centennial anniversary of the death of the architect, Antoni Gaudí.

While, I’ve long felt the fatigue of visiting European churches, I did use good judgment last year to check out the Sagrada Familia. It was bizarre and surreal and absolutely stunning. There were two things I loved in particular.

First, the design – everything from the architecture to the stain glass to the 23 foot tall, bronze doors – were contributions not only from Gaudi but many generations of designers since his death.

Second – the light. The way the light pours through the stain glass and hits the curves, lines, and shapes of the building’s interior is true magic.

Photo by Angela Compagnone on Unsplash

More Work

Austin Kleon‘s response to the question, “Do you ever feel like no matter how much work you do, you can or should be doing more?

Yeah, always. If you get into that productivity trap, there’s always going to be more work to do, you know?

Like, you can always make more. I think that’s why I’m a time-based worker. I try to go at my work like a banker. I just have hours. I show up to the office and whatever gets done gets done.

And I’ve always been a time-based worker. You know, like, ‘did I sit here for 3 hours and try?’ I don’t have a word count when I sit down to write. It’s all about sitting down and trying to make something happen in that time period — and letting those hours stack up.

Austin Kleon

If I’m anything, I’m a list maker. No matter how many times I’ve tried to break the habit, it seems to be permanently ingrained in me. Two of my goals this year were, a) to not define my success by the number of checkmarks on my to do list, and b) to not define my failure by the number (or lack of) checkmarks on my to do list. I’ve made no headway in addressing either goal. I’ve probably only exacerbated both.

Today, though, I changed my to do list (I use kanban boards with Trello). Instead of assigning myself a list of tasks for a given day. I commit to a period of time for a certain type of task, like chores. For that period of time, I work on my chores until the time has lapsed. This way, I’m always accomplishing the goal of doing my chores but not defining my success or failure by how many I get done. I make the investment and do what I can. I continue the investment the next day and the day after. It’s a minor shift but somehow releases me of a certain heaviness. I’ll keep with it for a while and see how it goes. Fingers-crossed it’s a happy middle ground between list making and meaningful productivity.