I’m embarrassed to confess that after more than twelve years in the technology industry and with a Masters degree for Science in Information, I have only just learned of Claude Shannon.
In a blockbuster paper in 1948, Claude Shannon introduced the notion of a “bit” and laid the foundation for the information age. His ideas ripple through nearly every aspect of modern life, influencing such diverse fields as communication, computing, cryptography, neuroscience, artificial intelligence, cosmology, linguistics, and genetics.
I hope to have a chance to catch this documentary if it ever makes its way to the Pacific Northwest or to streaming video. In the meantime, we can all learn more about Shannon the The Bit Player website.
From the New York Times archives, I stumbled upon an article celebrating and revealing the culture of collecting. The article was in response to an exhibit called The Keeper that was hosted at the New Museum in 2016. By some measure of good fortune, I was able to visit the exhibit at the time and I still think of it to this day.
There’s no mystery as to why the exhibit resonated so strongly with me. I’m a collector and I come from a lineage of collectors. I’ve had many collections throughout my life, starting in childhood with the toys you get in fast food kids meals, troll dolls, antique dolls from around the world, swanky swigs, and much more. My family gave gifts around our respective collections, which were often animal themed. For my grandmother it changed frequently and included chickens, railroad paraphernalia, anthropomorphized vegetables, and so many others I can’t recall. In addition to a collector she was also an antique dealer. This made it easy to accumulate and also to purge. She was always about the pursuit more than about the objects and so she could relinquish them more easily.
For my mother, I don’t think she was ever particularly sentimental around her collections. I suspect she collected because everyone else did and because it gave her daughter something easy to gift. That said, she easily amassed supplies related to whatever craft she was invested in at the time including yarns and beads.
At present moment, my largest collection is ornaments. I have at least 2,000 and within that I have subcollections of insects, animals, and pop culture. For all those ornaments, I probably have—at most—one Santa Claus and maybe one snowman. I have also amassed a lifetime of ephemera. Everything from notes passed in class during middle school to employee name tags to movie stubs and travel postcards. There are also the real photo postcards I collect of people and their pets throughout history. Of all the things I accumulate, my 200 or so plants are the ones that encroach on my living space the most, but then, that’s the point.
While everyone has different objects they collect as well as different reasons for collecting, for me they’ve both evolved over time. In the beginning, I was modeling my family’s behavior and it gave me a sense of belonging. At other times it was an extension of identity. At times, it was an outlet for stress, anxiety, or depression. These days, it’s mostly about appreciating craftsmanship, beauty, and what makes me happy. I don’t hold onto things as a completionist anymore. I hold onto them because I enjoy them and because I enjoy the pursuit of finding them.
Recently, I was confronted with a choice between multiple, equally good yet entirely different options. As much as I had prepared myself in the lead up to the decision, I hadn’t considered a scenario as good—or as challenging. Having exhausted all logic and reason (e.g. pro/con lists), I felt stuck and my anxiety began rising sharply.
Fortunately, my partner shared this TED Talk by Ruth Chang who discusses how to make hard choices when confronted with equally good but strikingly different paths. It helped me tremendously and I hope it will also serve you when you need it most.
Once again, Mr. Roger reminds us about what’s important in life. For a society that values information over wonder, we too often deprive ourselves and others of silence. With deprivation, we rob ourselves of the time to reflect and wonder.
Last month, through extreme sacrifice and personal loss, Caitlin Boston paid off more than $200K in student loans all by her “freaking self”. She attributes a large part of her success to asking her male colleagues what they were making.
“Ask your other peers what they make — especially your male ones. It might make you feel uncomfortable but it’s the sole reason I started making an additional 41% a year.”
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.
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.
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