Random Musings

A collection of thoughts about whatever catches my attention

Having a store of information doesn't make us smarter. I don't even think it makes us better informed. It just means we have more information.

Is that necessarily a good thing? Most people don't need a fraction of the information they ingest, either personally or professionally.

Even if you get information from multiple sources, you're not necessarily getting more depth. With news, for example, a good chunk of the information overlaps. You're not getting much that's new. It's mostly repetition.

Instead, try to focus on the quality of information rather than the quantity. One article from Aeon Magazine or Nautilus is worth a month or more of drivel posted at the Fox News website.

While I'm not a musician, I'm a huge fan of drummer Bill Bruford. The first time I heard his work was in 1979, and in the decades since Bruford's work has fascinated and delighted me.

Recently, he published a post on his website that really hit home with me.

Here's the key passage from that post:

No-one else appeared to hear my project unravelling, the sound of un-met expectations crashing to the floor. The gulf between what I expected of myself and my perception of what others expected of me widened, until eventually I was unable to function at all as a musician.

Change musician to writer and you have me.

For as long as I've been writing, people have told me that I'm a good writer. I've always doubted that. At best, I see myself as an adequate scribbler. Someone who can write quickly, but who lacks a certain flair.

Those feelings of doubt have expanded and contracted in recent years. Mostly expanded. I've lost confidence in whatever ability with words that I might have had.

I don't see the words as sharply as I used to. Those words don't come together as easily or successfully as they should. I don't hear the stories as clearly as I once did.

Back in 2009, the gulf the Bill Bruford talked about widened to the point where he put down his drum sticks and retired from music. I'm wondering if it's time to put down my pen ...

Sometimes, a statement or a situation is what it is. There's no hidden meaning. There's no subtext. What's on the page or in the ether says everything that someone needed to say. Nothing more, nothing less.

Trying to read between lines that aren't there is a waste of time and energy.

RSS isn’t dead. Social media works great for link notifications, not so much for complete thoughts or even not-fully-baked considerations. The fields are on fire and being sprayed with liquid shit. Dig your own garden, build your own structures, make your own space.

Warren Ellis

A couple of nights back, I was still battling jet lag and was feeling like a sloth. So what did I decide to do? Watch a movie, of course.

I dug into my collection of DVDs (you remember what those are, don't you?) and, lo and behold, what did I find? A copy of Ran. I slipped the DVD into the player and my eyes were glued to the screen.

I was as rapt with Ran those couple of nights ago as I was when I first saw it at the Roxy Theatre on Danforth Avenue in Toronto back in the 1980s.

Ran, if you don't know, is a film by Akira Kurosawa that's based on Shakespeare's King Lear. It's a powerful film, and I consider it to be Kurosawa's last great one.

I've been a fan of Kurosawa's since I was a teen and Ran is one of the reasons why. If you watch the film closely, you'll see all of Kurosawa's signature elements: the influence of kabuki, the framing and composition of shots, the lack of use of panning and zoom. It's not that the old master was feeding off his previous work. It was more of a recapitulation, a demonstration of technique and storytelling.

Each time I watch Ran, I feel like I'm right there. A silent witness to the fracture and implosion of the House of Ichimonji. There are scenes that still tear at my heart. There are scenes that still shock me. There is cinematography that just amazes me.

Most of all, Ran makes me grateful that a director like Kurosawa was able to bring stories like this to the screen and to the world

What I'm doing — whether learning something, writing, tweeting, making breakfast, leading my life — I'm doing in a way that works for me. It might not be the way you do things. But so what?

Not everyone fits into the same cookie cutter mold. And they shouldn't try to. That's what being an individual is all about. Finding your own way of doing things. Finding your own path. Finding what works for you, even if it goes against the accepted grain.

In my teens, I was an avid listener to shortwave radio. My receiver was an old Grundig model that my old man had acquired at some point, but which had spent years gathering dust in a closet.

Somehow, and I can't remember how, that radio fell into my hands. I whiled away hours listening to the BBC World Service, the Voice of America, Radio Luxembourg, Radio Moscow, and stations from South America and South Africa.

What fascinated me and freaked me out in equal measures wasn't the regular programming. At certain times and on certain shortwave bands, I tuned into what I'd later learned were called numbers stations.

Those are stations that play a list of numbers or a combo of numbers and letters, read by a human or created with a voice synthesizer. The most common explanation of these stations was that they were secure communication lines between spies working overseas and their handlers.

At the time, I didn't understand what those stations were or why they existed. But hearing those voices — sometimes a man, sometimes a woman, sometimes even a child — being pulled from the ether was always unexpected and often chilling. It also offered a thrill. Here I was, in my parents' modest home in Toronto, Canada, catching snippets of coded messages.

The Cold War, the tail end of which I grew up in, is long over. Most numbers stations have shut down. From what I'm led to believe, there are still numbers transmissions happening. I wonder who's sending them, who's receiving them, and what they're up to ...

Over the last five or six years, almost all of my reading has been digital — PDFs and EPUBs on laptops, EPUBs on a tablet or smartphone, and on an ereader. A while back, though, I ran out of ebooks.

Sure, I could have bought more (there are several on my list), but I also had some honest-to-goodness, dead-trees books on my shelf. I decided to tackle them instead. It's been an interesting shift.

Understand that I've been reading books since I was about two years old. Until around 2006, very little of my reading was done on a device. I read ebooks on a Palm PDA (remember those?) and a pre-Kindle ebook reader. Later, I moved to an Android-powered media player.

All of that that rapidly changed when I decided to move overseas in 2012. I couldn't bring my books with me, so I loaded up a Kobo Reader with digital tomes. Since then, I've added more ebooks to various devices and that's been the majority of my reading.

Going back to reading physical books wasn't a sharp change. I have, however, noticed a few things:

  • I've become more engaged with what I'm reading
  • I can more easily go back to read a passage that sparked an idea or which vexed me
  • The heft of a book is comforting
  • I have to wear my glasses more often (you can't change the size of the type on paper)

I don't plan dump digital for the physical. I can comfortably live in both reading worlds. I will be going back to being a hybrid reader, though.

The world is full of people trying to be rock stars, ninja, and Jedi in whatever they're doing.

The world is full of people who are trying to achieve some kind of nirvana with what they do: task nirvana, writing nirvana, even pocket notebook nirvana. I couldn't believe that one, either.

Like describing something as an art or a science, this is just another attempt to exalt the mundane. To make something seem more important, more meaningful than it really is.

Why?

Is there anything wrong with reveling in the ordinary? Or have we reached the point where everything is a silly game of oneupmanship with friends or a peer group or an online community? A game where we have to add a veneer of complexity and mysticism to everything we do so that it seems more important or challenging or special than it actually is.

Yes, change sometimes does cost. One of the biggest costs is the time that you need to take to adapt to something new. To learn something new. To bend or break old habits and create new ones.

That price hurts people more than a hit to their wallets. It's not a surprise. We all like stability. Change is disruptive. Change can be painful. Change slows us down.

But change also helps us grow and learn. And if we don't grow and learn, even just a bit, what becomes of us?