Aside

Simple pleasures, experienced June 1

An “I enjoy your work” comment on a blog post, from a faraway stranger.

The successful mend of a tear in a favorite shirt. (With thread! Not duct tape!)

A two-hour lunch with a Friend Who Understands.

Laughing out loud at a precious, goofy text message.

A storm with enough oopmh to water the garden and scare the cat, but not the energy to produce hail larger than a generous pea.

A piece of mail that was neither an advertisement nor a bill.

The wonder of seeing hints of my brother’s face in a photo of my nephew.

The effervescent fizz of a freshly-opened jar of kimchi.

Good beer, a cool breeze, and a box of colored pencils.

Aside

Age a required course, old an elective

I love this essay in The Washington Post by Susan Bonifant: “Our college son invited us to a beer pong party. Here’s why I accepted.

Some tidbits:

Old is taking part in something that might be fun only if it’s easy.

Young is taking part in something that will probably be fun even if it’s hard.

Old is looking back on everything that’s already happened as better.

Young is looking forward to what will be even better

Another point in the book vs. e-reader debate

Great piece by Nick Bilton in the New York Times: In a Mother’s Library, Bound in Spirit and in Print.

. . . that doesn’t mean I want my mother’s old Kindle to remember her by. And I certainly wouldn’t get much from her Audible collection.

Instead, I want her physical books. I want to be able to smell the paper, to see her handwriting inside, to know that she flipped those pages and that a piece of her lives on through them.

Books are a 500-year-old technology, but they are, perhaps, a more human technology.

Quote

A young writer on HONY

A gem from a young man on the Humans of New York blog:

“When you’re writing a book, you’ve really got to open your imagination. Your book can’t just be about a mean person who eats a banana and learns a lesson, because that’s boring. There needs to be a lot of different parts. There needs to be a protagonist, an antagonist, and some people that you’re not really sure about because that adds mystery.”

See the full post here.

A Bertrand Russell quote for Mother’s Day

One’s friends like one for one’s merits, one’s lovers for one’s charms; if the merits or the charms diminish, friends and lovers may vanish. But it is in times of misfortune that parents are most to be relied upon, in illness, and even in disgrace if the parents are of the right sort. We all feel pleasure when we are admired for our merits, but most of us are sufficiently modest at heart to feel that such admiration is precarious. Out parents love us because we are their children and this is an unalterable fact, so that we feel more safe with them than with any one else. In times of success this may seem unimportant, but in times of failure it affords a consolation and a security not to be found elsewhere.

Bertrand Russell from “The Conquest of Happiness”

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!

Thanks for being there for me, through spilled milk and all.

Yes, my mother did comfort me when I literally cried over spilled milk.

The Conquest of Happiness – a book reivew

conquestofhappinessI came to add Bertrand Russell’s “The Conquest of Happiness” to my reading queue in a roundabout way. I’d heard about a popular philosophy book, and when I looked it up online, “Conquest” was included in one of those “other books you’d like” lists in the margin (which also led me to reading Gretchen Rubin’s “The Happiness Project”.)

While each chapter is a fairly short read, it took me awhile to complete the book because I felt the need to wait until I was in the mood to properly digest its ideas before I picked it up. I’m glad I purchased this book instead of checking it out from the library. I’ve made all sorts of scribblings and notes in the margins. I had conversations with this book, and made connections to all sorts of situations in the world today and in my life. I’m sure I’ll continue to refer to it in the future.

I’ve already posted on this blog a couple of items that struck me as I was reading: here and here, and I also made a few postings of quotations on social media.

social media posts of quotesI’d certainly recommend the book to anyone thinking about the meaning of life or happiness or work-life balance or politics or parenthood, but with an asterisk.

*Several passages in the book come off as racist or sexist. Not to be apologetic, but it reflects attitudes of Bertrand’s time. Based on the majority of the book, I scoffed at the notion that Bertrand was, in fact, a feminist in his day. Then I came across this sentence:

A woman who has acquired any kind of professional skill ought, both for her own sake and for that of the community, to be free to continue to exercise this skill in spite of motherhood.

Hm.

There is so much I could write and quote about this book, but I’ll cut it down to two items.

1. I bet Bertrand would have been chary about the Internet, social media in particular. It could be argued that social media encourages excessive self-reflection, enables comparison, facilitates public shaming, and serves as a constant distraction from boredom – all of which would drain a person’s happiness, according to what I gleaned from the book. A few quotes to support my thesis:

We are less bored than our ancestors were, but we are more afraid of boredom. We have come to know, or rather to believe, that boredom is not part of the natural lot of man . . . too much excitement not only undermines the health, but dulls the palate for every kind of pleasure, substituting titillations for profound organic satisfactions, cleverness for wisdom, and jagged surprises for beauty. . . . A certain power of enduring boredom is therefore essential to a happy life, and is one of the things that ought to be taught to the young. . . .

The habit of thinking in terms of comparison is a fatal one. . . . In the old days people only envied their neighbors, because they knew little about any one else. Now through education and the press they know much  . . .

When the newspaper chooses to make a scapegoat of some perhaps quite harmless person, the results may be very terrible. Fortunately, as yet this is a fate which most people escape through their obscurity; but as publicity gets more and more perfect in its methods, there will be an increasing danger in this novel form of social persecution.

If all our happiness is bound up entirely in our personal circumstances it is difficult not to demand of life more than it has to give.

2. You have to work at being happy.

Happiness is not, except in very rare cases, something that drops into the mouth, like a ripe fruit, by the mere operation of fortunate circumstances.

A few pointers I interpreted from the book, which sound like quotes from motivational posters:

  • Find a purpose in life.
  • Stop obsessing about yourself – you’re not really that important.
  • Focus on other people, connect with your community.
  • Allow yourself to slow down and be bored.
  • Stop comparing yourself to other people.
  • Face your fears, don’t worry about them.
  • Be true to yourself.
  • Find “your people” – friends you can relate to.
  • Develop a hobby. Cultivate broad interests. Have new experiences. Travel.

This quote sums up a lot about why I like to read and travel:

Each of us is in the world for no very long time, and within the few years of his life has to acquire whatever he is to know of this strange planet and its place in the universe. To ignore our opportunities for knowledge, imperfect as they are, is like going to the theater and not listening to the play. The world is full of things that are tragic or comic, heroic or bizarre or surprising, and those who fail to be interested in the spectacle that it offers are forgoing one of the privileges that life has to offer.

Be happy and enjoy the spectacle, friends.

Audio

Using a Mac laptop to record interviews

I’m going to be doing some interviews for my project on The Life Work Blog, and I want to be able to record the conversations, to be able to capture quotes properly.

I have an old mini cassette recorder, but it’s rather awkward to use. It doesn’t even have a time counter on it – a feature I liked on the digital recorder I used when I worked as a newspaper reporter. I would usually take handwritten notes and jot down the recorder’s counter number when some good quotable material came up, so I could easily go back to that portion of the interview later and get the phrasing right.

(Note: I *never* rely strictly on a recorded interview – way too easy to lose it and lose the entire interview. I always take simultaneous notes, either handwritten or on a laptop. Plus, it saves the trouble of having to go back to listen to / transcribe the whole thing.)

I started looking at digital recorders, but soon realized it would be silly to buy another device when the phone in my pocket could do the same thing. I got a cellphone-compatible omnidirectional lavalier mic, started searching smartphone apps to use for recording interviews . . . and got bogged down in a morass of conflicting reviews and crappy apps. I got frustrated and gave up looking.

Time passed, I updated the OS on my MacBook Pro, and I noticed that I now had an “App Store” on my laptop.

“Hmmm,” I thought. “I’m probably going to be typing out these interviews on my laptop – I wonder if I could just record through the laptop, too.”

I set out to search recording apps . . . and got bogged down again in a a morass of conflicting reviews and crappy apps. Until I had a “Duh!” moment and learned that my Mac laptop comes with a recording app built in! Tadaaa! QuickTime Player to the rescue!

“File > New Audio Recording”, click the red circle, et voilà!

The computer’s internal mic worked great with QuickTime, but depending on the background noise level and seating arrangements during the interview, I decided I’d need to use the lavalier mic at times. Alas, I couldn’t get the mic to work. I had a few ports on the side of my computer, and I thought the “line-in audio” port would be the appropriate port to use. I was bringing audio signal into the computer, right?

I finally figured out, and am posting here for others who may be in this predicament, that I needed to use the headphone port for the mic. The line-in port is designed for microphones that have a power source to boost their signal, so no operating power is provided to a device plugged into this port, if I understand correctly. My little lavalier mic does not have a power source, but it does have a TRRS jack (Tip, Ring, Ring, Sleeve – looks like it has three black lines on it), which includes a microphone contact. (See this blog post from the Cable Chick blog for more information about TRRS jacks.)

I had the “System Preferences > Sound (input)” window open when I plugged the lavalier mic into the headphone port, so I could see that the computer automatically sensed what was plugged in and modified the settings appropriately.

Here’s what the “standard” sound input window looks like on my Macbook Pro with OS X Yosemite:

Normal sound input setting for the computer

The “internal microphone – built-in” changed to “external microphone – microphone port” when I plugged in the mic:

Screen Shot 2015-04-22 at 11.11.04 AM

The QuickTime Player gives you a choice in a drop-down menu (the triangle next to the red button) between “line in” and “internal microphone.” Leave it on “internal microphone.”

Screen Shot 2015-04-22 at 2.44.07 PM

One more thing – when the lavalier mic is plugged into the computer, the computer’s built-in speakers won’t work because it’s sending sound signal to the mic. So, if you want to play back a test recording of your interview subject to make sure things are working, you’ll need to unplug the mic.

Technology problem solved! Now all I need to do is manage to snag interviews with a bunch of busy people.

Copyright 2015 by Katie Bradshaw

Link

Beautiful prose

Adding to my to-read list: Tracy K. Smith’s memoir “Ordinary Light.”

I read her post on Literary Hub “What Memoir Can Do That Poetry Can’t” and adored some of her phrases.

It is true that death resists the present tense.

But memory does death one better. Ignores the future.

No matter how clear and present these scenes from my life might have felt, I wasn’t looking at film takes or photographs of another time, but rather glimpsing that time through the lens of memory. A lens that is warped, riddled with dark spots, supremely susceptible to error. A lens shaped by habit, guided even only imperceptibly by the desire to see or not to see, a lens that is an extension of, in this case, me. A lens, I decided to admit, that it is as much a character in the story as any of the real people talking and eating and moving their way through scenes—which is why memoir, for all its sincere interest in the truth, is something we read as literature and not history. . . . Memory, making sense of the past by fashioning the past into something that finally makes sense.

Aside

Learnin’ lingo

I was patting myself on the back last night for having successfully set up an email address incorporating my ktbradshaw.com domain. I crowed to a computer-savvy friend on social media, and he responded:

Yup, you got your mx records right and that’s the weirdest part to grok. Good job!!

Grok??

What kind of techno-speak is that?

1961 Martian-speak, it turns out.

According to an entry in Wikipedia:

Grok /ˈɡrɒk/ is a word coined by Robert A. Heinlein for his 1961 science-fiction novel, Stranger in a Strange Land, where it is defined as follows: Grok means to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed—to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience. It means almost everything that we mean by religion, philosophy, and science—and it means as little to us (because of our Earthling assumptions) as color means to a blind man.

Urban Dictionary says (emphasis mine):

Taken from the book ‘Stranger in a Strange Land,’ literally meaning ‘to drink’ but taken to mean ‘understanding.’ Often used by programmers and other assorted geeks.

Grok is even in my Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary. (Of course I still use a physical dictionary. Don’t you? Such fun to browse!)

v.t. 1. to communicate thoroughly and intuitively. v.i. 2. to communicate sympathetically.

I can’t honestly say that I grok mx records, but I’m glad to have a new word to roll around on my tongue.