Category: essays

Knowing When To Say When: On Giving Up On A Book

Well, I’ve done it again. I have failed to make it through Cryptonomicon. So far the third time has not been a charm. Interestingly, I stalled at almost exactly the same place as I did during my last attempt, right around page 600 in the paperback edition. I’m somewhat ashamed giving up on the book, especially since I made a big deal of announcing my third attempt to get through it. So I am giving myself one more chance at redemption. I’ve got a long drive today and I plan on listening to the book the entire way. I should be able to come close to finishing it. But this is really the last chance. I can deal with shame. What I can’t abide is spending time on a book that just isn’t doing it for me, when there are too many other books I want to read.

Most of what I read these days is nonfiction and it is unconscionable for me to spend as much time on fiction as I have on Cryptonomicon. I spent at least 10 days trying to get through it. During that same period of time, I could have made it through three nonfiction books. I made the sacrifice because the themes in Cryptonomicon would seem to be right up my alley. It’s got late 1990s tech, so there’s nostalgia from the dot com boom. It’s got crypto; it’s got information theory, which I ate up this summer. It’s got World War II history, which I enjoy reading. So why can’t I get through it? I don’t have an answer.

Actually, I broke my own rules this time. Long ago, I learned the importance of knowing when to say when with regard to a book. If a work of fiction doesn’t catch my interest after a few pages, I’m out. With nonfiction, I like the rule I once heard: give it 100 pages minus your age. This year, that means giving a book 51 pages, and then I bail. Time is too precious to waste it on books that aren’t good fits. This is by no means a slight to the authors. In just about every case, I’m sure the fit is bad on my end. Cryptonomicon is teetering on joining a cadre of eight other books I’ve failed to make it through this year, including:

To be honest, the pressure was already on even before I started reading Cryptonomicon. I should have had 50 books read by June 30. As of this moment, I’ve completed 48 books and I’m about 9 books behind my pace for the year. I gave Cryptonomicon far more time that I should have. I didn’t trust my instincts, and that always gets my into trouble, where books are concerned.

So, with Cryptonomicon finally set aside, what is on tap for me? Here’s some of what I am looking forward to reading over the rest of the summer:

My usual caveat about the butterfly effect of reading applies here. But this is the list that I am currently looking at tackling the rest of this summer.

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The Weight of a Streak

Back on April 10, WordPress notified me that I had a 100 consecutive day streak of posting underway. I thought it was nice of WordPress to notice this and let me know about it. Thereafter, for the next 108 days (as of this writing), WordPress has sent me a daily reminder of my posting streak. I was happy with the alert at 100 days. I appreciated the notice at the 200-day mark. But every day? After a while, the weight of a streak becomes a stressor itself.

My folks visited recently and while my Dad was here, he mentioned that his streak of 600 days of walking was finally broken–on the 600th day.

Streaks are good ways to form habits. As I write this, I am on a 45 consecutive day streak of meditating each morning.

“Don’t break the chain,” sometimes referred to as the Seinfeld Method can be a powerful incentive for people to do whatever it is they want to do. Following that method is what got me my 825 consecutive day writing streak that ran from 2013 in 2015.

Heat map of my 825 day writing streak
Heat map of my 815 days of my 825-day writing streak.

I voluntarily ended that writing streak. I learned a lot from it, and not all of it was about writing. The most important thing that I learned is this: performing an activity just to keep a streak alive is a bad reason to perform the activity. For me, my writing became about the streak, and not the writing. When that happened, I woke each day feeling the weight of the streak press down on me. Each morning that streak was one day heavier. Streaks can be nerve-wracking as they build up. Winning streaks in sports sometimes built on their own momentum, but ultimately crash under the pressure of their weight. I often wonder how Joe DiMaggio felt each time he entered a game during the later part of his 56-game hitting streak in 1941.

For me, a streak is a precarious thing, balanced on a knife edge. I am fine if I keep it going, despite the pressure. But I can’t miss a day. If I break the streak, I am not likely to get it started again, and that is bad.

These day, I try to treat streaks not as tools that keep me going, but as side-effects of activities that I enjoy. Thinking about a streak in this way puts it in a different perspective. If I miss a day, it’s no big deal, I’ll get back on it the next day. There is no disappointment in breaking the streak. It’s not a crutch and I can get along fine without it. That was a difficult mental pivot for me to make.

My writing streak taught me that I could be disciplined about my writing. Yet I think the pressure to get something written every day diluted the quality of what I wrote. Sometimes I was just worn out and had nothing to say, but forced it anyway. That’s no way to do it, at least not for me.

What of the current streak I have going here on the blog? This post marks the 210th consecutive day I’ve posted on the blog? How do I handle the weight of that streak? Well, it isn’t really a streak. Yes, I have had a new post up every day for the last 210 days. But I haven’t written every day during that time. Often, I’ll write more than one post during my morning writing time. Usually, I am 2-3 days ahead in scheduled posts. That way, if I need a day off, or circumstances prevent me from writing, I’ve still got several days worth of posts already scheduled. (More about how I manage the blog is coming next week.) I’m slowly trying to work my way up to a 7-10 day lead time. Just knowing that I can skip a day or two of writing if I need to means that there really is no writing streak weighing me down here, even if posts are appearing every day.

More important than a streak is finding the joy in whatever it is you are trying to do. That, it turns out, is more motivating than any streak I might find myself in. I really enjoy writing here. It is the most fun I’ve had of any of the writing I’ve done, including writing that I’ve been paid for. Joy, not streaks, is my real motivation.

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Failed Attempts at Digital Journaling

My Moleskine paper journals

It is important to know what you are not good at, if for no other reason than to decide either to improve, or to stop wasting time on them. Over the years, for instance, I have made several attempts at keeping my journal in digital form, instead of in notebooks of various kinds. My reasons for doing this always seem pure. I type faster than I handwrite. It My typing is not illegible when I type faster. My hands grow less tired when I type. I think this means I’ll write more on a computer than I would in a notebook.

But it never works out. Take my most recent foray into digital journaling. I was looking for small efficiencies in my day. I thought that by being able to type my journal, I’d get it done faster, possibly write more, and also have a place where I could easily search my journal for what I was looking for. All of these were perfectly sensible. And still, things turned out much worse than if I just stuck to writing in my Moleskine notebooks.

This most recent adventure began about a month ago, and at first, it seemed to work well. Between June 29 and July 16 I banged out nearly 7,000 words in my digital journal, far more than I probably would have written on paper, although I’m not completely certain of this. So far, so good, right? Well, since July 17, I haven’t written a word–the longest stretch I’ve gone without writing in my journal since possibly 2017.

This is part of a recurring pattern. Ever since I first started keeping a journal in 1996, I’ve been repeatedly fooled by the paradox of journaling, in much the way Charlie Brown is lured by Lucy’s promises that she won’t pull the football away this time. Every now and then, some whisper in my mind tells me it will be much easier if I type it into a computer than writing in a notebook. It hints at time saved; it hints at the ability to search my journal using regular expressions. It is an alluring voice, the dark twin of the call of the wild. The problem is, I can never sustain it for very long, and ultimately give it up.

I cannot explain why this should be. When I write in my notebooks with pen and ink, I can go for years without skipping a day. It took all of two and a half weeks for me to give up my digital journal. I’ve tried to think about what causes this. The answers I have thus far are weak and uncertain, but two are worth contemplating

  1. I spend enough time on computers that I want to be done and so I don’t put in the extra time to write my journal.
  2. I somehow feel that there is more permanence to what I write in a notebook, and am therefore more committed to it as a lasting repository of my writing than digital media.

I think the latter point may be the crux of the issue for me. When I read Walter Isaacson’s fantastic biography of Leonardo da Vinci, I was impressed by a point Isaacson made the importance of which seemed all out of proportion with the rest of the book. Isaacson wrote:

[Da Vinci’s] mind, I think, is best revealed in the more than 7,200 pages of his notes and scribbles that, miraculously, survive to this day. Paper turns out to be a superb information-storage technology, still readable after five hundred years, which our own tweets likely won’t be.

Somehow, I have internalized this. Indeed, I’ve had the experience where some of my digital writing is forever lost to the ether. While I have most of the stories I’ve ever written going back to 1992 in digital form, I have nearly none of the digital journaling I’ve ever done. Instead, I have diaries and notebooks filling with my journal writing. The one exception to this strange rule is my writing here on the blog, which covers a span (as of this writing) of 16 years and is, in some respects, a kind of public-facing journal. Still, I have this suspicion that because my physical notebooks have weight and texture, they, and what they contain, are more valuable than intangible bits stored in clouds.

I suppose that if you were to search this blog, you’d find among the nearly 7,000 posts, a few where I confess this problem, only to write later on about yet another attempt to migrate my journal into the digital realm. This is me in the role of Charlie Brown, to the digital world’s Lucy, holding a virtual football, and then pulling it away at the last moment. Sometimes, even when I recognize my mistakes and failings, it is hard not to repeat them.

All of this to say: as of this morning, I am back to fountain pen and ink in my Moleskine Art Collection large sketchbooks.

In the future, if you see me eagerly writing about how I am once again going to move my journal into digital form of some kind, kindly drop a comment on that post with a gentle reminder of the inevitable results. I think a simple, “Good grief!” would do the trick.

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One Last First Trip to the Library

One of the great pleasures of having a child five years younger than the next oldest child is that I get to revisit things that I did with the older kids, and maybe savor the moments a bit more than I did the first times around. Yesterday, for instance, I took the Littlest Miss to get her very first library card. She will turn five next month, and I’ve been promising to take her to the library for several weeks now. I’d been busy with work and other activities, but told her that we’d do it yesterday. She woke up excited to go to the library, asking over and over if it was time to go yet.

Libraries are incredibly important to me. My mom took me to our local library when I was about the same age as the Littlest Miss, and libraries have made a huge difference in my life. I learned to read in grade school. I learned to think critically in high school. I learned how to learn in college. But books gave me knowledge, took me around the world, deep into the atom, and far into space. The library I frequented in Los Angeles as a teenager even provided a haven during the hot summer months. I could walk there under the blazing sun, and then explore the rows of books for hours in the cool air conditioned space.

So I set out for one last first trip to the library. I took both my daughters to our local branch of the Arlington Public Library, my younger daughter to get her first library card, my older daughter to renew hers. The Littlest Miss could barely contain herself as she emerged from the car. Holding my hand, she pulled me along the sidewalk, down the small flight of stairs, and into the main entrance. It was hot and muggy out, but the air inside was cool and dry.

We went first to the circulation desk where the girls obtained their new library cards. They were given a choice of colors. The Littlest Miss chose pink. The Little Miss chose yellow. Once they had their cards, the Littlest Miss asked the librarian at the circulation desk where she could find the kids books. Then it was off to the races. I think she was a little overwhelmed by the rows and rows of books. I expected her to wander the aisles, trying to figure out what she wanted, but in less than a minute she had a book in hand.

The Littlest Miss among the books
The Littlest Miss among the books

“Can I get this one?” she asked, holding up a copy of Bitty Bot’s Big Beach Getaway by Tim McCanna (and illustrated by Tad Carpenter).

“Of course,” I said. “Do you want to get another one, too?”

“Can I?” said said, eyes wide.

“Sure.”

So she quickly picked out two more books. Meanwhile, I helped the Little Miss locate a book that she was looking for. When they were ready, we headed over to the self-checkout station. I showed them both how to scan their library card, how to scan the books, how to get a receipt so that they know when they need to return the books. The Littlest Miss was delighted with all of this, and wanted to do it all herself. We thanked the librarian for his help, and then we headed back into the hot, humid air for the drive home.

I’m not sure what the Littlest Miss was more excited about, getting books, knowing that she can get more books when she is ready, or having her very own library card, which she put in her backpack so she’d know where it is.

Kids are so busy with activities these day that I suspect mine won’t spend nearly as much time as I did in the public library. But I try to encourage them to use it, and it was certainly an exciting morning for one little girl in particular. It is nice to see the kids excited about something that isn’t a YouTube or TikTok video. Over time, I’m hoping they find that the library is more than just a place to get free books. It’s a place to learn new things, read about people and places that they may be unfamiliar with, and maybe even discover a passion that they didn’t know they had. This is the real value a library provides: discovery–about the world and about themselves.

I’m grateful that I had one last first trip to the library.

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Adding Pins to the Map

Later this summer we will be heading on our annual summer road trip, or what I like to call “adding pins to the map.” For our tenth anniversary, Kelly got me a framed map of the United States that came with a tin of pins. The title at the bottom of the map is “The Adventures of Jamie and Kelly.” I decided that I would only put pins in places that Kelly and I have been together, either with or without our kids. Over the years since we’ve added pins here and there, and I’m excited to be able to add some more pins later this summer.

The Adventures of Jamie and Kelly
The Adventures of Jamie and Kelly

The map hangs on the wall of our dining room. When people see it, they often ask, “What do the colors mean?” I have to explain that they don’t mean anything. They were the colors that came in the tin of pins that accompanied the map. I’ve had to explain this enough times to where I’ve been tempted to put a label in one corner of the map with a legend, “Pin colors carry no meaning.”

We’ve done a good job covering much of the east coast together and with the kids. We’ve been to L.A. together, and to Seattle with the Little Man. We’ve also been to San Antonio with the Little Man. I’ve been wanting to gradually make our way west on our road trips. We drive down to Florida several times a years and I’ve used string to measure out the distance from our house to southern Florida, and then mapped out a circumference to show that same distance spread out to the west. We’ve gone as far as Nashville in our road trips.

Usually, we will head up to Maine in the summer, but every few years we decided to do something different. This year we are planning a trip up to Niagara Falls. Neither of us have been there before, and the kids should enjoy it as well. On our way up, we’ll stop to see friends in Albany, NY. We may hit Cooperstown and the National Baseball Hall of Fame. As it is mapped out so far, our trip is a kind of circle around central New York, eastern Ohio, and Pennsylvania, so we will definitely be adding pins to the map, which is always fun.

I sometimes wonder what this map will look like by the time all of our kids head off for college. I hope that we can fill more of it up before then. Traveling the roads together, going to interesting places, getting the kids out to see things they might not otherwise see is a real treat, and something I am always grateful that we can do. Most of our vacations are road trip vacations of one form or another, and I like that because it frees us to up go at our own pace, and change our minds along the way if something of interest catches our eye. (This happened on the way to Nashville a few years back, when we detoured to the Hermitage, to see the home of Andrew Jackson.)

Another thing I like about this map is it quickly answers the kids’ question, “Have I ever been to…?” All they have to do is glance at the map to know if we’ve been to a place.

Next year, we may need to add a world map, as we are planning to head to Europe with the kids. Then we can look forward to adding pins to that map as well.

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Trailhead: My Newest Field Notes Addition

As part of my Field Notes annual subscription, I get a quarterly shipment of the newest Field Notes notebooks. Yesterday’s mail brought their 51st quarterly edition, “Trailhead.” This edition’s theme, as you might guess from the title, are the great trails of the United States. Each 3-pack of notebooks comes with a different trail printed on the back, and facts about the trail on the inside back flap of the notebook.

My new Field Notes "Trailhead" notebooks
My new Field Notes “Trailhead” notebooks

These editions contain lined pages. I prefer squares or dotted squares, but I like that these pages are an off-white. As with most of the subscription packs, this one came with an extra goodie: a Field Notes “Blaze Your Trail” patch.

Field Notes Blaze Your Trail patch

This quarterly shipment is the 17th consecutive quarterly shipment I’ve received from Field Notes since I began subscribing back in 2016. I began my subscription with their 34th quarterly edition and the Trailhead edition marks Field Notes 51st quarterly edition. Despite having filled more than 30 notebooks at this point, I still have more coming in than I can fill at any moment. I have a section of shelf in my office dedicated to a wide variety of fresh notebooks to choose from once I fill one up:

My collection of Field Notes notebooks ready for use when I need a fresh one.
My collection of Field Notes notebooks ready for use when I need a fresh one.

I have a tendency to use whatever the latest notebook is as the next notebook, so chances are good I’ll pull out one of the Trailhead notebooks when I finish with my current notebook–which happens to be a United States of Letterpress edition.

It’s fun to occasionally go back and flip through the old notebooks. There is all kinds interesting stuff in them, like when I had to locate the name of a beer I liked. I recently began an experiment of scanning in the old notebooks to make them easier to search no matter where I was. I scanned in one as an experiment. Now I have to go back and scan in the other 29 that I have already filled. I’ll get to that eventually. Filling a notebook is much more fun than scanning one.

It occurred to me that while I know of friends and a few other people online who have told me that they also use Field Notes notebooks, I’ve never run into anyone at the grocery store, or a conference, or anywhere else I can think of that has a Field Notes notebook in their pocket, and is pulling out the notebook frequently enough for me to notice that they are using one two. I see people with Yankees hats all the time. How come I don’t see more people with Field Notes notebooks (or any notebook) for that matter, jotting things down? Does everyone use their phone for this stuff these day? I still find taking notes on my phone way too cumbersome and time-consuming.

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I Dream of In-n-Out

I have a confession to make: it has been 730 days since my last Double-Double. If that number sounds familiar it is because it also happens to be the same number of days in exactly two years. Yes, two years ago today was the last time I had an In-n-Out burger.

My last In-n-Out meal in July 2019

I’m not going to debate the relative merits of whether In-n-Out burgers are better than, say Five Guys, or Shake Shack. For me In-n-Out burgers and fries are superior to all other chain burgers and fries I’ve ever tried and that’s good enough for me. But I will recall here a recurring day-dream I have. It goes something like this:

I wake up in the morning, and grab my phone to scan the news. After scanning the headlines, I usually checkout the local Patch site for local news. On this particular morning, the top story on the Patch news for my town is a banner headline that reads:

IN-N-OUT TO OPEN LOCAL FRANCHISE

In my reverie, this is some of the most exciting news I’ve ever heard. Forget election results, or billionaires in space, I am just giddy over the fact that there will be an In-n-Out nearby.

Some people imagine winning the lottery and what they’d do with their fortune. I prefer to daydream that an In-n-Out opens nearby. That would be like winning the lottery to me.

I never take my day-dream beyond the discovery that an In-n-Out will be opening locally. I know everything after that will be something of a disappointment. The food, of course, would be fantastic, but I could only imagine the crowds that a local In-n-Out would attract. People would wait hours to get a burger. Parking would be impossible. It would, in all likelihood, be a tease. The restaurant there, within reach, and yet impossible to get food from thanks to crowds and parking problems. It might as well be in Santa Monica for all of the good it would do me.

The reality is, I’m glad there is no In-n-Out anywhere near where I live. It makes the rare visits when I am back in California for work all that more special.

I have a good imagination, and when I have a clear vision for something, I usually manage to achieve it. I’m confident that I’ll get to have another Double-Double someday. For now, I’m happy just dreaming about it.

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The Silence and the Noise

I found myself listening to Metallica’s …And Justice For All album after I finished a long day of meetings. The noise acts as a kind of palette-cleanser for the brain, blocking out much of everything else until my brain has had a chance to put everything back in order. Ironically, the loud, metal music actually quiets my mind.

Whenever I listen to that album, it brings to mind physics. In my senior year of high school, I took A.P. physics with a fabulous teacher, one of the best I had in high school. Our physics homework was nothing to sneeze at and it sometimes could take a couple of hours to complete. Whenever I tackled that homework, I always had my Walkman headphones on my ears, and Metallica’s …And Justice For All cassette in the player. I always did my physics homework listening to that album and today, I can’t think of the album without seeing a physics textbook in front of me, and a message notebook page filed with pencil scratches. The music, the noise, had a similar effect as it does after a long day of meetings. It cleared my mind and allowed me to focus on the problem at hand with no other distractions.

I did alright in A.P. physics (indeed, I entered college as a physics major), but looking back, I think I might have done even better if I’d been allowed to listen to …And Justice For All during the tests.

Your author, listening to ...And Justice For All </em>really loudly while he writes this.
Your author, listening to …And Justice For All really loudly while he writes this.

At work, when I am trying to solve a particularly difficult coding problem, I often put on a loud album. It has the effect of blocking out everything else and concentrating my focus the problem at hand. It really is a strange, magnifying effect. Often, I never actually hear the music. It acts as the pillow under the sheets so that my mind can wander off and take care of whatever business is at hand and no one’s the wiser. In a way, this is frustrating. I like the music and want to listen to it, but that isn’t the reason I’ve got it on.

When it comes to writing, and especially writing fiction, I need silence. I’ve tried listening to music now and then, but when I am writing and listen to a loud album, it clears my head of everything, including the voices that whisper the story to me. I find this fascinating. The same thing that clears my mind to solve physics problems, blocks creativity when I try to write stories. Very rarely, I’ll find a song that I can write to, that puts me in just the right mood I need to complete a scene. In these cases, I will play the same song over and over and over until the scene is complete. Most of the time, however, when I write I need silence.

When I am writing nonfiction, I can tolerate music a little more, but I still prefer silence. There are exceptions. When I sat down to write this post, I put on the …And Justice For All album, and I managed to write the whole thing listening to the album. Can you tell?

If you’ve ever wondered how long it take me to write 600 word post, I have a pretty good measurement for you. It took exactly the first two-and-a-half songs of the album for me to complete this: all of “Blackened”; all of the lengthy “…And Justice For All”; and a little over half of “Eye of the Beholder.”

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Writing My Wrongs

Mistakes are great teachers. That is a hard thing to understand as a twelve year-old when the pressure of society makes you strive for perfection. I’ve tried to explain this to the Little Man, my own twelve-year old. It’s perfectly acceptable to make mistakes. That’s how we learn. The trick is to take the time to learn from our mistakes instead of just ignoring them. Make a mistake on a math problem? Look at it and figure out why? Was it careless arithmetic? A lack of understand the problem? Figure out what cause the mistake so that you can identify it the next time you see it. Of course, this is easier said than done.

One way that I try to do this is by writing down the mistakes I make–at least those that I become aware of. I call this “writing my wrongs.” When I notice that I’ve messed up some how, I’ll pull out my Field Notes notebook and jot down my mistake. I don’t always say exactly what I did wrong. Over the years, I’ve come to recognize that jotting down a corrective action, if one is available, is more valuable for my future self. A simple example comes from yesterday. I moved the laundry from the washing machine to the dryer. Later in the evening, Kelly said me to, “I appreciate you switching the laundry, but for future reference, the girls bathing suits don’t go in the dryer. It makes them shrink.” What I wrote in my notebook was, “Don’t put girls’ swimsuits in dryer.”

Writing down my mistakes does three things for me.

  1. It is an acknowledgement that I’ve messed up somehow.
  2. It provides an accessible list of things that I can work on improving
  3. The very act of writing it down helps me remember it the next time I’m in a similar situation.

The list occasionally serves another purpose: when I get a little too full of myself, I can always flip through my notebooks and see the great variety of ways that I mess up all the time.

The breadth of my mistakes is impressive. It can be something like putting the swimsuits in the dryer. Or it can be something like, “Next time, take the GW Bridge lower level to avoid that crush after the toll booth.”

Acknowledging my mistakes is important because that is one way in which I learn from them. You can’t learn if you can’t acknowledge them. Sometimes, ego gets in the way and I don’t want to admit to others that I made a mistake. These days, I try to admit my mistakes freely if only to show my kids that mistakes are an important way we learn. But even on those times when I am loathe to admit my mistakes to others, I still jot them down in my notebook so I admit them to myself.

I don’t have a particular routine for reviewing these mistakes. Sometimes I may not revisit one because writing it down fixes it in my mind. But I come across them when flipping through my notebooks, and I use that to judge if I have managed to improve. Sometimes I have, and other times, I haven’t. Still, there is something comforting to me about noticing my mistakes and writing them down. I feel like a squirrel storing acorns away for the coming winter. There are always things that I can improve, big or small, always nuts left behind in the nest that act as teachers instead of serving as food.

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Reading Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

My paperback copy of Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

Sometime in 2002 a friend of mine asked me if I’d read a book by Neal Stephenson called Cryptonomicon. I said I hadn’t. I’d heard of other books that Stephenson had written, including Diamond Age and Snow Crash. He told me I would enjoy Cryptonomicon, which was published in 1999, because it dealt with cryptography and technology and contained lots of techie references. I picked up a paperback edition back then, and was immediately attracted to its length. I don’t know what it is about long book, but I like them. Still, I had a hard time getting through the book, and eventually, gave up.

A few years ago, I thought I’d give it another try. I was certain I’d get through it. I remembered almost nothing of my first attempt so the story would seem new to me. But I ran into the same problem as before. I had a hard time getting through the book and gave up again, in almost the same place (about two-thirds of the way through the book).

They say the third time is a charm. On Saturday, almost on a whim, I picked the book up again. This time, I was determined to finish it. I started reading, and something strange happened. I understood what I was reading. It wasn’t nearly as difficult. And I finally know why. At its core, Cryptonomicon seems to be a novel about information theory. And it just so happened that I spent much of the past spring, reading books about information theory. The focus of much of the book (so far) is on cryptography, which is a subset of information theory. But really, the novel itself is a novel about information theory.

In my previous readings, I hadn’t read about Alan Turing or Kurt Gödel. I hadn’t read about Claude Shannon and his invention of information theory. I hadn’t grasped the relationship between theories of entropy and theories of information. And of course, I hadn’t yet read Gödel, Escher, Bach and grasped the nature of the Entscheidungsproblem–whether any statement could be found true or false. Having read about all of this since the last time I attempted to read Cryptonomicon has seemed to make all the difference.

I don’t know how long it will take me to get through the book, but I am committed to getting through it this time around. I am definitely enjoying it more than on my first two attempts. And besides, I have precedence for this. I was once recommended a book and it was more than twenty years before I finally read it. Of course, when I finally finish it, I’m sure I’ll have more to say about it here.

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Good Morning

You can tell a lot about someone by how they greet you in the morning. I have a tendency to say an abbreviated “‘Mornin'” to people I pass. I am always impressed and envious of those people who greet me with a bright “Good morning,” clearly enunciated. How to do they find the energy that cheerful so early?

With our kids, the greetings seems to decline with age. The Little Man usually offers a relatively bright, “Good morning” when I makes his way into the living room. The Little Miss also has a fairly cheerful, “Good morning, Daddy,” when she wakes up. The Littlest Miss usually offers a grunt followed by a whiny, “I’m still tired,” or “I’m not ready.”

Days of the week seem to matter. Growing up Sunday seemed to be the grumpiest day of the week in terms of greetings. Unintelligible grunts were the order of the day.

I see a wide variety of greetings on my morning walk. Bright, enthusiastic, “Good mornings,” to my more muted “‘Morning!” to a mumble. Sometimes, a nod and smile can be just as good as an enthusiastic ‘Good morning.’ One person that I frequently see on my morning walk offers a deluxe package, “Good morning!” he says with a wave, “Happy Friday!” Or sometimes, “Good morning! Hump day!” if it is a Wednesday.

No where I’ve been are greetings offered more plentifully and genuinely than in Maine. Walking the streets of Castine, for instance, I’ll pass by a dozen people on my morning walk and get a dozen cheerful greetings and half a dozen offers of conversation. It is almost as welcoming when we visit southwestern Florida, and walk on the path that encircles the community in which my mother-in-law lives. It makes me wonder if all of the snow birds living in Florida in the winter are originally from Maine.

I tend to find the opposite in New York City and its outskirts. Taking the train into the city for a Yankees game, no one offers greetings. The Yankees fans on the train jeer at the few Mets fans they see, but greet one another heartily. Beyond that, no one is saying good morning, or good evening, for that matter. I don’t remember much in the way of greetings in Los Angeles either, although there were a few exceptions. When I lived in Studio City and would take an evening walk around the neighborhood, the late actor Jon Polito was usually out in his yard talking to friends he had over. He would always raise a hand when he saw me and say, “Hi fella!”

With people you know, greetings offer a kind of window into their mood. A cheerful greeting and you know you can expect a cheerful mood. If I get an “I’m still tired!” from the Littlest Miss, I have a pretty good idea what kind of morning it is going to be.

I really am envious of the people who can, day in and day out, offer a hearty “Good morning!” Alas, all I am capable of doing today is offering you my usual: ‘Mornin’!

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Progressives

The word progressive is a dynamic term. According to Merriam-Webster, there are 10 major definitions split over two entries. I guess the first thing that comes to mind when I think of progressives is the movement that took place around the turn of last century, during the Roosevelt and Taft administrations, with magazines like McClure’s and the muckrakers. Whenever I hear someone say “progressives” I think of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s outstanding book The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism. That book was so good it made a flight from Washington/Dulles to Los Angeles pass by in the blink of an eye.

It is a versatile term. Back when I was flying, at unfamiliar airports, you could request a “progressive taxi.” Typically, as you roll off the runway, ground control gives you a series of “intersections” to get you to where you are going. They might say something like, “Take Charlie to Charlie 6 and cross 16-right to Bravo. Bravo to Bravo 4.” That can be a lot to remember, especially at an unfamiliar airport. In a progressive taxi, the controllers give you the first step: “Take Charlie to Charlie 6.” Once you reach the Charlie 6 intersection, they give you the next step. And so on.

It occurred to me that our car has something called “progressive” cruise control. I love this feature and use it often on our long drives. You set your speed, like any other cruise control, and then you set your distance in car-lengths. After that the car maintains the distance from the car in front of you, slowing when they slow, speed up when they speed up. When I use it, it is almost like we are tethered by a tractor beam

I was thinking about progressives because I got a new pair of glasses they other day. Like my old glasses, they have progressive lenses. Here “progressive” is a euphemism for “tri-focals” which itself code for “Jamie is getting old.” My vision changed a little in the last two years since my previous prescription. The new glasses definitely help.

One thing I’ve noticed: as my vision regresses, my use of my glasses progresses. I wear my glasses frequently these days. Because of that, as the kind people in my eye doctor’s office were adding the various features I had on my old glasses to the new ones (poly carb, anti-glare, blue-light blocking, etc.) I realized that I had an opportunity. For a while I’d been putting my sunglasses on over my glasses when outdoors. So I had them add “transitions” lenses to the mix. This is a progressive move on my part. It will help my look far less ridiculous when I am outdoors.

“Transitions” feels almost like a sibling of “progressives.” I like these lenses because the UV light darkens them and I don’t need my sunglasses in places where UV light is abundant. (Inside the car is not one of these places.) Of course, as soon as I got home I had to test them out. I went into the front yard, waited while my glasses adjusted, and then took a photo. I then went back into my office, waited for the UV light to die down and took another. There is a noticeable difference.

Progressives seem to be a theme with me these days. I’ve got progressive lenses, and a car with progressive cruise control. I’m not flying planes any more, but I am working on progressively improving my habits.

Thinking about progressives makes me think about progress. That in turn reminds me of a joke I once heard:

If pro is the opposite of con, what is the opposite of progress?