Jon Aquino's Mental Garden

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

4 Books That Function as Time Machines

I’m fond of books that trace human culture from ancient times to the present day. They’re like time machines—when you flip through these books, you travel through thousands of years.

Here are my favorite “time machines”:

Gombrich’s A Little History of the World. I talked about this wonderful little history in a previous post. From the Heidelberg Jaw (600,000 BC) to the fall of the Berlin wall (1989) in 284 pages.
Kerman and Tomlinson’s Listen is the textbook and 6-CD set for a university music appreciation course. There are 88 pieces on the CDs, from Gregorian Chant (750), to Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto (1721), to George Crumb’s disturbing Danse Macabre (1970).
Keegan’s The New Penguin Book of English Verse is an unusual anthology of poetry in that the poems are arranged chronologically. You start in 1300 with the Rawlinson Lyrics (“Come and daunce with me / In Irlande.”), see Coleridge writing his Kubla Kahn in 1816 (“For he on honey-dew hath fed, / And drunk the milk of Paradise.”), and end up in 1994 with Christopher Reid’s Stones and Bones (“We are not of their blood, / springing instead from the bones / of the Great Mother”). 1103 pages covering seven centuries.
Gombrich’s The Story of Art (reviewed previously) takes you from cave paintings of bison (17,000 BC) to David Hockney’s photo-cubist My Mother, Bradford, Yorkshire, 4th May, 1982 (1982) in 637 pages that go by quickly.

Do you have any recommendations for time-machine-like books?

Junior legal pads of paper

On David Allen’s GTD podcast Best Practices of Collect, "junior legal pads" kept coming up. I hadn’t heard the term before, and it just means 5"x8" pads of paper. They’re half the size of a regular piece of paper. I bought a pack of them and duly distributed them around my place—near my computer, in my bedroom, in the kitchen, in my backpack, etc. You never know when you’ll have an idea or need to jot something down.

5x8 legal pads

A Little History of the World

E. H. Gombrich’s A Little History of the World is the most fascinating (and probably the easiest to read) one-volume history of mankind.
Chapter 33: A Truly New Age

If you could talk to a gentleman from the time of the Turkish siege, there would be many things about him that would surprise you. The way he spoke and the many Latin and French words he used. His elaborate and convoluted turns of phrase and habit of slipping in Latin quotations that neither you nor I could place, and his grand and solemn bows. You would, I think, suspect that beneath that venerable wig was someone with a large appetite for good food and fine wines. And – if you will forgive me for mentioning it – you could hardly fail to notice that beneath the fancy lace, the embroidery and the silk, this prinked, perfumed and powdered gentleman stank, because he hardly ever washed…
It’s a delightful history, from Neanderthal man to the present day, packed into a book the size of a Stephen King novel. It’s great to read aloud.

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Serendipitous Typo

I smacked myself on the forehead when I saw this typo I made in an email. But on second thought, it does have a sort of exuberant charm. Is it Cockney?


Sunday, June 21, 2009

In search of a decent pen: The Mom Test

As mentioned earlier, I have recently spent way too much time reading reviews about and purchasing inexpensive pens. Now having too many pens, I asked my mom to try them out and let me know if there’s one she might like. She divided the pens into two groups:

  • Speedball Panache Calligraphy Pen
  • Uniball Signo 207
  • Sharpie Pen
  • Zebra Sarasa 0.7

Pens she disliked:
  • Lamy Safari, 1.1-mm italic nib
  • Pilot G-Tec-C4
  • Uniball Jetstream
  • Pilot G2

Mother knows best—I think I’ll stick to the first group for my future pen purchases.

(I find the G-Tec-C4 and G2 too scratchy—I guess I’m not a micro-tip-pen person. The Jetstream is just a (better-than-average) ballpoint. And the Lamy Safari, expensive and highly rated, performs poorly for me.)

Amazon Universal Wishlist: Better than Google Shopping List

I used to use Google Shopping List as a public list of gifts I’d like to get, but a drawback is that it only lists items that appear in Froogle search results. For example, I was unable to add the Herman-Miller Embody chair when it first came out.

I’ve found a better thing for wishlists: the Amazon Universal Wishlist bookmarklet. It works on any site—just go to the page showing the thing you want, click the bookmarklet, and you will see a popup that lets you choose the image and specify the name and price:

Amazon Universal Wishlist

The item will then appear on your Amazon Universal Wishlist page. Here’s mine in case you want to buy me something.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Zebra Sarasa Pen, 0.7-mm Olive Green

Here’s another pen I got today—the Zebra Sarasa 0.7 in olive green.

Sharpie Fine Pen

Here I’m putting some pens through their paces, starting with the Sharpie Fine

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Edward Tufte’s Beautiful Evidence

For my bedtime reading, I’m enjoying Tufte’s Beautiful Evidence. The Amazon reviews 3.5/5 aren’t that great, claiming that a lot of material can be found in his earlier books, and that there is much eye candy. But I don’t find it to be that bad. I noticed that the illustrations are larger than usual, which is nice. Just finished a couple of chapters on sparklines Sparkline and arrows → which had a few idea gems.

Got a bunch of pens

Feeling guilty. How was I to know that four pens would cost $17?

Here’s what I got:
Pilot G-Tec-C4, Pilot G-2, Uni-Ball Jetstream, Uni-Ball Signo 207

The most expensive one ($4.49) is the ugliest:
Pilog G-Tec-C4

I like the looks of the Uni-Ball Jetstream the best:
Uni-Ball Jetstream

But enough about looks—performance is what really counts. Going to give these a spin over the next few weeks to see which seems best.

In search of a decent pen

Did some googling for “favorite pen”. I’m going to keep my eyes peeled out for these ones when I do my errands today:
  • Pilot G2
  • Pilot G-Tec C4
  • Uniball Micro 0.2mm
  • Uniball Signo RT 0.38
  • Pilot Hi-Tec 0.25
They’re inexpensive pens that people are saying good things about.

What’s your favorite pen? ∎

Friday, June 12, 2009

Usefulness of a script that creates a random directory, puts it in the clipboard, and types it out

Do you ever find yourself having to frequently create empty throwaway directories on your computer? I do this quite a bit, and found it helpful to write a script to (1) create a directory named after the current timestamp (2) put the directory name in the clipboard (3) type the directory name. I just type randdir`, and it is immediately replaced by something like c:\junk\20090612-104031.

I used AutoHotKey to do this, but it could probably be easily done using Apple Automator or any scripting tool.
FormatTime, JA_DirName,, yyyyMMdd-HHmmss
Clipboard = c:\junk\%JA_DirName%
FileCreateDir, %Clipboard%
Send ^v

Friday, June 05, 2009

The "Links" text-mode web browser

I'm trying out a web browser called Links. It does some pretty amazing things for a text-based browser, including pulldown menus and mouse support. In fact, I am writing this blog post in it.

Links browser

The main advantage of using Links is speed. Since there are no images or Javascript, it's pretty snappy.

I'm going to try using Links for some of my day-to-day browsing. ∎