Why not let your reading be a smorgasbord of serendipity?

Yes indeed, why not let your reading be a smorgasbord of serendipity?

Here’s Anna Funder, author of Wifedom: Mrs Orwell’s Invisible Life, on working at the University of Melbourne English Department library as a student:

“It sounds prehistoric now, but I sat at the front desk, typing out index cards for new acquisitions or requests from staff for books or journals — anything from the latest novel, to psychoanalysis, poetry or medieval studies. I read things that had nothing to do with my studies: a smorgasbord of serendipity. Despite my time there, I have never understood the Dewey decimal system: how can numbers tell you what a book is, to a decimal point?” - Every book you could want and many more

My take on this?

an open index card drawer in a large wooden catalogue

HEAJ:Mundaneum by Marc Wathieu is licensed under CC BY 2.0

A minimal approach to making notes

I want a minimal approach to making notes.

I don’t want anything fancy, just enough structure to be useful.

When I see people’s souped-up Obsidian note-taking vaults my head spins (OK, I’m jealous). I also wonder, though, what extra result is achieved with a fantastically complex system. Having said that, I’m keen on people creating a working environment that works for them, and I do admire people’s creativity in this area.

I just can’t be bothered to do it myself.

When discussing the Zettelkasten approach to making notes, it seems there are a lot of different note types to consider, which confuses people. The extensive discussion about different types of notes caused by reading Sonke Ahrens’s book How to Take Smart Notes makes me think this multiple-note-types approach is just too complicated for me. So what do I do instead?

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Five useful articles about writing

Here are five links with worthwhile writing advice. 🖋️

Handwritten note cards spread on a wooden table. There's a black pen beside them.

Finished reading: Days at the Morisaki Bookshop by Satoshi Yagisawa 📚

This made me want to visit Kanda Jimbochu, the second-hand bookstore quarter of Tokyo, where the novel is set. Perhaps it’s a bit of a tourist trap, but hey, books!

The story is a little thin, but then just yesterday I heard an amazing true story about a book shop, that would sound unbelievable if it was ever put in a novel - so maybe this experience has set the bar a little high.

Image: Kenichiro MATOHARA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A forest of evergreen notes

Jon M Sterling, a computer scientist at Cambridge University, has created his own ‘mathematical Zettelkasten’, which he also calls ‘a forest of evergreen notes’.

He maintains a very interesting website, built using a tool he created, named, appropriately enough, Forester.

The roots of a fig tree in Sydney Botanic Gardens

The implementation of his ideas raises all sorts of ideas and questions for me, almost all enthusiastic. Here are a few in no order at all:

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“let’s look at all the apps that live under our thumbs, and interrogate the choices they’re making, and then imagine what they would look like if we demanded that our tools don’t tie our hands.” - Anil Dash 💬

My take: Don’t let your technology dictate your aesthetic experience. We can make choices!

Make your notes a creative working environment

“Do you have an ideal creative environment? Also do you believe the physical space influences your creativity?”

This is a question Manuel Moreale regularly asks his guests on the People and Blogs newsletter. The answers are always fascinating and well worth a read.
This got me thinking about my own working environment and maybe I overthought it. It looks like I’ve totally ignored Barry Hess’s reminder that you’re a blogger not an essayist.[^1] Anyway, here goes.

Note: This post is part of the Indieweb Carnival on creative environments.

A painting by Pierre Bonnard entitled Young Woman Writing. It shows a young woman leaning over a large table with a red cloth, on which are spread several small paper notes.

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Being human is a trend now.

According to the Mintel Global Consumer Trends Report for 2024:

“Today’s rapidly advancing AI-powered technologies seem to be on track to outpace human output. While consumers and businesses learn to balance the use of this emerging technology, consumers will begin to appreciate what makes humans so unique. A new ‘human-as-premium’ label will emerge, giving greater influence to artisans who can take on the creative spirit that exists outside of an algorithm. As the collective memory of a pre-tech world grows more distant, nostalgia will appeal, even to younger generations that only know the conveniences of a digitised world. From this will rise services that teach human skills like self-expression and focus on how to connect with fellow humans.”


🐙 Octopus intelligence is intriguing. Having read Ray Naylor’s The Mountain in the Sea 📚, I now want to try Other Minds: The Octopus and the Evolution of Intelligent Life by Peter Godfrey-Smith. I’d also like to read Children of Ruin by Adrian Tchaikovsky, which has a somewhat similar theme.

I really enjoyed the latest micro.blog photo challenge, both taking part and seeing all the great photos you people posted. As ever, there were some very imaginative responses to the daily prompts.

Why not check out the photo grid? My own little photo wall is also open for viewing.

As online search declines (thanks Google 😖) more people should know about it the discovery tools on micro.blog. They’re seriously useful.


📷 Day 30: hometown

A view of the Botany Bay shore, with the Sydney CBD in the background

📷 Day 29: drift

Parasailing over the ocean near the shore.

Is the Web reconfiguring itself again?

a pile of ropes

Is the web falling apart?, Eric Gregorich wonders.

Meanwhile Manuel Moreale is confident that the web is not dying.

I agree with both of them. These views aren’t contradictory. Falling apart is what the Web does best. It’s been falling apart since it started, and reconfiguring itself too.

Google search used to control and shape the web. Because everyone just Googled their searches, websites all used Search Engine Optimization in a vicious circle of conformity. But that’s finally changing.

Search gets degraded by advertising greed on one side and AI tools are generating drivel on the other. Both are examples of what Ed Zitron calls the rot economy.

So how can good material rise to the surface?

In part it’s a return to the old ways. Blogrolls and webrings and RSS are having a mini-revival and it’s not entirely mere nostalgia. One-person search engines like Marginalia are having a moment, as are metasearch engines and other ‘folk’ search strategies. I like little experiments like A Website Is A Room.

Here’s my tip: to find interesting books, great quotes, and intriguing podcasts, more people should know about micro.blog Discover!

Photo by Valeria Hutter on Unsplash

📷 Day 28: Community. Spotted at a rally in Sydney: “Let’s dream new blueprints for the world we want to live in…”

A hand-lettered poster at a rally says Let's dream new blueprints for the world we want to live in...

Finished reading: Ian Gentle: The Found Line, edited by David Roach 📚

I’ve posted about this interesting artist previously, because I loved The Gentle Project.

Cover shot of Ian Gentle - The Found LinePhoto of the Australian artist Ian Gentle, from the back cover of the book, Ian Gentle - The Found Line

Finished reading: Always Will Be by Mykaela Saunders 📚

These short stories are set entirely in Australia’s Tweed region, but they range over a vast time-frame: from the more-or-less present to the far distant future. I loved the tough optimism. Always will be Aboriginal land - an ideal sci-fi theme.

A clip of the cover of Always Will Be by Mykaela Saunders

📷 Day 27: it’s always a lovely surprise to receive a bespoke selection of books in the mail, from the Wild Book Box.

A nicely gift-wrapped package of books. The bookmark says 'the wild book box'.