Where to file a Thorn?

Dreams come true. You just have to be willing to work for them.

~ Annie Mist Þórisdóttir

slip:4a748.

Apparently, these two-fer posts aren’t as rare as I thought.

Without thinking, as I transcribed that quote, I used their preferred way of writing their name—at least, that’s how they are attributed in the source I had at hand. (Every web site I find romanizes it to Thorisdottir, offensively—in my opinion—sterilizing the family name to simple roman letters.) I was feeling all proud about even being able to write that character.

And then I went to file the quote in the slipbox. Uh… “Houston, we have a problem here.”

Step one: What is it? It’s a Thorn. Wikipedia helpfully, (that’s sarcasm,) explains:

[…] in modern Icelandic, it is pronounced as a laminalvoiceless alveolar non-sibilant fricative [θ̠],[1][2] similar to th as in the English word thick, or a (usually apicalvoiced alveolar non-sibilant fricative [ð̠],[1][2] similar to th as in the English word the. Modern Icelandic usage generally excludes the latter, which is instead represented with the letter ðæt ⟨Ð, ð⟩; however, [ð̠] may occur as an allophone of /θ̠/, and written ⟨þ⟩, when it appears in an unstressed pronoun or adverb after a voiced sound.[3]

~ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorn_(letter)

I didn’t quote the part where they say, it’s not actually related to the letter P, which we get from Greek.

Well it looks like a P. That suggests filing this person under “PO”.

Iceland is the only place that has not, long ago, replaced it with “th”, and it’s pronounced like “th”ick. So I’m going to treat it like “TH,” and then Þórisdóttir gets filed under “TO”. (Wait, why not under, “TH”. Because my index of people is arranged by first-letter, plus next-vowel—not by the first two letters.)

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Deep dive into books

Today I thought I’d share a thorough explanation of what I do “to” a book these days. This process—which to be honest I don’t follow for every book I read—is the result of combining a few different ideas:

  • I love the physicality of books. The typography, the paper, writing in them, desultory bookmarks, (I add my own ribbon bookmarks,) and numerous sticky-notes poking out the side.
  • I love the peaceful, inertness of books. They literally sit there and do nothing. There are no alerts, and no interaction, (from anyone beyond the author’s original magic spell.)
  • I’ve always wanted to retain more of the knowledge from a book once I’ve read it.
  • I’ve wanted to be free of my self-imposed rule of reading every page.
  • These days I have a slipbox, and I want it to grow.
  • I love to collect quotes.
  • I’ve always wanted a set of crib notes, summary, or something that I could lay hand on after reading a book.

Arrival

Fortunately, books arrive slowly. It took practice, but I learned to do all of the following in a minute or two.

If it’s a new book, I take a few moments to prepare the spine. (Please tell me you know how to do that.) I affix a small, white, circular label on the spine, and I slap a sticky-note on the first face opposite the cover.

I skip over to librarything.com and find the book in “Your Books”—my books, that is. Most arriving books are coming in after already being in my “wishlist” collection; They get moved to the “library” collection. Otherwise they get searched for and added to my collection. Books get tagged as “physical,” (as opposed to those tagged “PDF,” “iBooks”, or “Kindle,” because, yeup, I track those too.) I see what MDS number Library Thing says the librarians of the world have chosen.

On the sticky-note, I write “LT”, (for “this book is entered into Library Thing,) and the MDS number. I write the main, three-digit part of the MDS number on the label on the spine.

Finally, I skip over to bookmooch.com and remove it from my Wishlist over there to ensure I don’t forget about it. (Lest I accidentally “spend” my Book Mooch points requesting a book I now have.) If this is a book that someone sent me because of Book Mooch, I hit the “Received!” button instead.

This book is now “ours.” And some amazing things are now possible just by having spent a couple minutes on each book as it arrives. (Please ignore the entire week I spent bootstrapping ~500 books when I started doing all this. :)

  • Physical bookstores are fun again! What books are on my wishlist? (500+ at the moment) …okay, what wishlist books are tagged, “priority”? (about 250 — yes I have a problem.) Picking up a book… “this looks interesting…” Do I already have it in the house, maybe now is the time to buy it? Did I once have it, and it’s no longer in our collection, (part of my collections in Library Thing is “had but gone now”)?
  • Long-term storage of books doesn’t mean they are lost. A big portion of the books in our house are here because we want to keep them. They sit for years untouched. Those are shelved by MDS number. Ask me for a book, and I can walk directly to it; It’s either laying about somewhere and top of mind, or it’s shelved where it can be found immediately.
  • This is morbid, but if the house burned down I could decide what books to replace.

Books are for reading

Well, technically, one can also build a thing called an anti-library. But eventually, hopefully, or at least this is what I keep telling myself: I start reading the book.

I do tend to read the entire book. But generally I read the table of contents first to see what I’m getting into. If I think the book is going to be a really deep read—something I want to read more than once, refer to, and really ingest—I probably read the Afterword first. The Afterword was written dead-last, after the book was done and the author is a different person at that point. Then maybe the Foreword, or some books have a Summary, or a Preface, whatever.

I’ve no qualms about skipping parts. For example, in books like Trust Yourself by M Wilding I skipped all the anecdotes and skipped all the workbook/exercises stuff. I ended up reading only about one-third of all of the pages. (Still, a good book by the way.)

As I’m reading, if anything quotable jumps out, I’ll capture that on the spot. This leads to me making some marks, allocating a slipbox slip address, and I’ll leave a small post-it sticking out the side. I’ve never met a book worth reading that didn’t have at least one quotable bit awaiting me within.

Slipbox

As soon as the first slip gets created from the book, that slip needs to refer to the book. That means the book itself needs to be in the slipbox. Apparently, I always wanted to be a librarian.

And now I can leave a “(2tu1)” reference on the quote’s slip.

So that’s a bit of detour, but it really only takes me about a minute. You’ll notice—first photo at top—that the sticky-note for this example book has a slipbox reference, “(2tu1)”—the parens mean “this is a reference”. I didn’t put that on the sticky-note when the book arrived. That was added when I put the book into the slipbox by creating slip “2tu1”.

But mostly, I’m just reading the book.

Identify summarizing bits

One day, I’m finished reading.

I find that even if it took me months to finish, the book’s contents remain pretty fresh in my mind. I flip through the book cover-to-cover, just skimming and noticing what I recall from reading. When I see a good, representative bit, I simply stick in a blank card at those spots. This lets me gauge how many slips my “summary” will be; Two is too few, and 20 might be too many.

Each spot has some key point that I want to include in my summary. I don’t write anything at this point. The goal is just to stick the cards into all the places that I want to include in my summary.

(I once tried using a printed template whose layout facilitated taking brief notes and had pre-printed page numbers. Folded, it doubled as a bookmark so I could build some notes as I read. When an idea leapt out, I’d find the page number on the sheet and jot a note. It was a neat idea, but didn’t work out for me.)

Summarization

Finally, I go through all the spots I’ve identified and I do a little underlining. I jot the basics of the idea on a slip and address it. So for this example book, whose slip is addressed “2tu1”, this first of the summary slips goes “below” as “2tu1a.” Next summary slip would be, “2tu1b”, “2tu1c” etc.

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When in doubt

We once spent 7 years remodeling our house while living in it. *shudder* Note to self: Don’t ever do that again. In such a journey, you must learn to navigate a precarious balance between perfection, and omgbecky just get it done! Reflooring the entire house? …maybe lean toward the former. Gutting the only bathroom to subfloor and bare stud walls? …maybe lean toward the later. (Ask me in person and I’ll tell you some stories.) But there is a huge swath of work that falls in the middle area.

“When in doubt, rip it out,” became my matra in those years. Yes, we could fix, cover, repair, patch, shift, or ignore whatever-it-was. And we’d then forever live with the fixed, covered, repaired, patched, shifted, or… well, you can’t ignore it forever. So any time there was doubt, we ripped it out. Dug it up. Tore it down. And then—as time, energy, and money—were available we did it the right way. Or at least, the way we wanted it.

This principle works spendidly too for things other than one’s physical domicile. “What would be the right way, or at least the way I’d want it to be?” will lead you on a journey of exploration.

What’s the right way to repair the crown wash atop our chimney?

How should I convey all these features, benefits and doo-dads to new community members?

How should I organize this book I’m writing?

What would whatever-this-is be like if I did it the Right Way(tm)? …why is that the Right Way(tm) and what if I did it differently?

…but this is actually a post about my slipbox. I’ve not posted recently about it, and it continues to grow. Mostly I continue collecting quotes. But the main part of the slipbox is growing slowly as well. The topmost-level numbers are major divisions, conceptually. “4” is a hierarchy of analects. (I’ll pause while you search.) And “2” is for books.

Any time I want to refer to a book, I add a reference like, “(2b2)” on a card. I had setup the 2nd-level-letters to be MDS leading digits. So that’s a reference to the 2nd book in the 2b section. The point isn’t to understand the structure, when I see a reference… I can just go find the slip. I’m simpy explaining how it was setup. When I set it up, I thought a structural organization would be the way I’d like it.

I was thinking I’d put notes about the books elsewhere in the slipbox. Turns out I’d rather keep a few notes directly “under” the slip for the book itself. But that means I can’t easily find Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow—great book by the way. I have to go find its MDS number and then go into that slipbox section. So yesterday I pulled all the slips out of the “2” section and redesigned the entire thing.

“When in doubt, rip it out.”

The section is now simply organized by title. That book is now under “2to1″ —”to” from the title, first book under “to”. But the first rule of a slipbox is that you cannot change the address of a card. Other cards likely refer to it. And my blog posts have slip addresses on them. And I have digital documents with slip addresses in the names.

So I spent hours hunting and searching through everything, updating blog posts, updating filenames of digital files, updating notations on slips, … hunting down the physical books and updating the notes I keep in the books. It was a big undertaking.

If you’ve been following along with my slipbox journey, you’ve seen me write about how the slipbox enables having a conversation… with the ideas in the slipbox. It sounds wacky, I know. But my experience yesterday showed me it’s true. Every idea, every slip, were mine originally—I put them all in there. But I had an entire day’s worth of new ideas, connections, rereading parts of books, making new notes, … it was totally worth every minute, (yesterday and to date creating the slipbox.)

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Seriously

I know I’ve been off on two long tangents recently: The long series of posts about practicing self reflection kept this blog busy for two months, and before-and-after that I’ve been doing a deep rabbit hole exploration of Slipboxes. I’m still yappin’ about Slipboxes, but I think we’ll be seeing more random things here in April.

But before that happens here’s another thing related to the Slipbox: I found this really detailed summary of Ahrens’s, How to Take Smart Notes. I’ve been reading and studying these notes, as I’m reading and studying the book. Take a look at this post, How to Take… —the site is literally named The Rabbit Hole. You’ve been warned.

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slip:2ho1a.

One Slipbox to rule them all

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.

~ J R R Tolkien

At least, one Slipbox to rule over all the various mediums of information I have.

You see, the Slipbox also solves a problem I’ve known I’ve had, (stop laughing at me!) for a long time: PDF documents get lost. Not, “I can’t find it,” lost but lost under the gently falling snow which ultimately covers all. For a while, I used to print and comb-bind stacks of things from their digital format, just so they would be “equal citizens” in my spaces with other professionally printed things. But, (aside from the killing trees wastefulness of it,) this is a crap-ton of work. Yes I have them in a folder, (not on a hard drive but rather on a file server with a redundent array of drives backed up into the cloud,) but I never look in that folder. Out of sight, and they’re soon out of mind.

The Slipbox solved the real problems of finding a PDF and remembering to continue reading it. (Aside: Bear in mind that being able to print-to-PDF means I can turn anything from the Internet into a PDF. You should too.) I simply create a slip in the Slipbox for the digital document; When Where Matters: How Psychoactive Space is Created and Utilised, wound up at 8d in the Slipbox, (still early days in my fledgling Slipbox’s addresses.) So I prepended “8d – ” to the filename and then threw it into the storage folder.

Perhaps you guessed that I have a small mark on the slip too? I do. It’s a little sort of dog-eared document icon telling me that there’s a digital document “attached” to this slip. Done. Now the slip points to the digital doc; Digital doc points back to the slip.

And then I tossed that slip on my desk with the stack of books I’m currently reading. Second problem solved: Digital PDF is now on the same footing at things physically on my desk.

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Now I feel like I can read this book

The things that worked out weren’t _supposed_ to work, so I realized on my birthday: I had no plan for after 40. As often happens at forks in the path—college graduation, quarter-life crisis, midlife crisis, kids leaving home, retirement—questions started to bubble to the surface.

~ Tim Ferris from, Tribe of Mentors

If you’ve not heard of this book, my pull-quote is from Tim’s Introduction… eight lines into the book. The book is 597 pages, and the pages of the book—not including the hard covers, just the pages—are 1-and-three-quarters inches thick. It’s can serve as a functional foot-rest in a pinch. (But interestingly, not as a doorstop since it’s mysteriously light for its size. I keep wondering if the back half of the book is hollowed out, as in a prison escape movie, hiding a whoopie-cushion full of Helium.)

Anyway, if you’ve not heard of this book, find a copy and start reading the Introduction.

This book arrived in our house November, 2018. I started into it and it is, as one would hope, chock full of stupidly interesting ideas from so many different people. I got through 64 pages before, for some reason which I only just today realized, I put it down one evening. And then I didn’t pick it back up for, well, two years. I mean I moved it around a lot, but whatever it was that made me _want_ to read the book, there was something else that made me _not_ want the book.

You ever have sand slipping through your fingers? I didn’t realize it, (until today,) but that’s what made me walk away from the book. Yes there’s some malarky and woo-wu in the book; But there’s so much that I want to dig further into. Back in 2018, what was I going to do with that? …blog about every other page? Instinctively I knew that wouldn’t do _me_ much good.

But today? Today I’m comfortable knowing that I can bump into ideas, mull them over, and produce a contextualized, reduced to something I’m interested, idea… and drop that into the Slipbox.

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I am not the only one

I think there are some specific reasons why Zettelkasten has worked so well for me. I’ll try to make those clear, to help readers decide whether it would work for them. However, I honestly didn’t think Zettelkasten sounded like a good idea before I tried it. It only took me about 30 minutes of working with the cards to decide that it was really good. So, if you’re like me, this is a cheap experiment. I think a lot of people should actually try it to see how they like it, even if it sounds terrible.

~ Abramdemski from, https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/NfdHG6oHBJ8Qxc26s/the-zettelkasten-method-1

If you’ve been following along with my personal knowledge system, Zettelkastën and Slipbox journey of discovery you might be interested in this deep, DEEP dive someone else wrote. This is one of the many things I read all over the place before beginning my experiments. I don’t agree with his “30 minutes … to decide”; It’s taken me a little bit /sarcasm longer than that. But I do agree with his assessment. And everything else in that link.

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Entry points

When I began trying to understand how a Slipbox would work for me, I think I was most stuck on the idea of entry points: Where and how would I find myself going “into” the Slipbox?

Turns out, I’m “in” the Slipbox a lot simply because I’m often adding things to it. So of course I run into other slips and ideas inside the Slipbox.

But I’ve had a lingering concern: What happens when I want to locate something in particular within the Slipbox?

All the instructions and guidance I see caution one to not try to structure the Slipbox from the beginning; cautions against trying to incept the perfect categorization of all the stuff you don’t yet realize you are going to want to add… They are correct; that way madness lies. And so I set off creating top-level slips, (slip address “6” is an ambitious, “Mastery Projects,” because I wanted to add a slip 6a1 about “concept shaped holes”.)

But still that lingering concern: What happens when I want to locate something in particular within the Slipbox?

And so I’m stealing a trick from the even-older-than-Slipboxes/Zettelkastën methods of creating commonplace books: How to create an index on physical media (journals, blank books, or little paper cards going into a Slipbox!)

slip 4c is “Slipbox indices”
slip 4c1 is “people by last name”

Here I’m hacking the Slipbox addressing system. Yes, I’m leaving room for a later 4c2 that could be another index, by topic. But mostly, I’m making sure that the slips under 4c1 can then be letters— 4c1a, 4c1b, 4c1c and so on.

And here’s the hack from commonplace books: To Build an index that doesn’t get out of hand, take the first letter and the next letter which is a vowel.

Constantine > “co”
Washington > “wa”

Easy. But the following are not under “an” …

Anka > “aa”
Antisthenes > “ai”

And…

Armstrong > “ao”
Curie > “cu”
Einstein > “ei”
Epictetus > “ei”
Gracián > “ga”
Irvine > “ii”
Twain > “ta”

And so on.

If you’re wondering, that means there could be 26×6 slips in this index. (a-z gives 26 first characters, times a, e, i, o, u, y gives 6 second characters.) But in reality I’ve reached about 40 slips and I’ve not had to add another for a while now.

What’s on each slip? Just references to other slips in the Slipbox…

4c1wa has
Ward, William A — pj4.28
Wayne, John — 4a7
Ward, Bryan — 4b21
Washington, George — 4a19

It’s not sorted. It’s simply in the order I added those names. If the card overflows, I’ll add an identically addressed 4c1wa since the items on those two 4c1wa cards aren’t in any particular order.

What? Is it worth it? …yes. I’ve already gone in to add a person, only to discover they are already in the Slipbox somewhere completely different and that’s a connection I hadn’t noticed before…

BOOM! There’s the other part of the Slipbox I wondered about: How is this thing going to make new things fall out of my thinking.

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Surprising connections

In these blog posts I’m trying to capture my initial experiences using a Slipbox. These posts are tedious to write and relatively long reads– just to capture one tiny idea. Sorry about that.

Why am I writing this post about the Slipbox?

When [if?] you start a Slipbox, you quickly wonder: Should I “import” everything [glancing about, books, Evernote, blogs… whatever it is you have]? Woa, that’d be a lot of work. It’s obviously not necessary that one “import” all your previous whatever-you-have in your life into a Slipbox; It’d be your Slipbox so there’s no “necessary.”

But there is some heated discussion about this: should one, or should one not, back import? The consensus is DON’T. The theory is that I have collected too much stuff. (That feeling of having collected much, but yet not accomplished what I want to with it, is part of what I’m trying to wrestle to the ground.) Putting anything into a physical Slipbox is a little more friction. And that’s one of the key points.

On the other hand, I have a curated collection of things here on my web site. And one dear-to-me tag is for specific podcast episodes I’ve heard over the years. That’s why I’ve been working through adding these particular podcasts to the Slipbox.


Today I found a podcast episode that I listened to in 2017. I was adding a slip about this podcast, noting that it is a wonderful introduction to Stoicism. I’m far beyond the contents of this podcast now, having done a lot of reading of original source, and modern analysis. But it’s something I wanted in the Slipbox, for the next time someone asks. (Elsewhere I pointed out that writing URLs is bonkers, so what I do is add a slip to the Slipbox and add a little symbol to remind myself there’s a corresponding blog post.)

So there I was adding that podcast, adding the person-reference (not explained here how/why I do that, sorry) …and OH SNAP! That podcast is with William Irvine. Back then, I had no idea who he is/was.

I’m currently reading a book by W B Irvine, A Guide to the Good Life. It’s an introduction to the ancient art of Stoic joy. (It’s an interesting book, etc but that’s not the point today.)

The point is that this connection was one I had missed. If I had had that podcast in my Slipbox, I would have noticed when I was first looking into this book.

Not sure all that typing is of any help. But there it is none the less. :)

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The promise of future discussion

Only recently did I become aware of the key point of a Slipbox: It can capture your thinking and enables you to have a discussion with your own thinking. I’m aware of this key point, but I’m not entirely certain it will work. I am convinced that the only way to find out is for me to try the experience.

There are many ways to do capture, and those ways are useful for various things. For example, capturing information with the context necessary to use, or do, the thing captured:

GTD is based on storing, tracking, and retrieving the information related to the things that need to get done. Mental blocks we encounter are caused by insufficient ‘front-end’ planning. This means thinking in advance, generating a series of actions which can later be undertaken without further planning. The mind’s “reminder system” is inefficient and seldom reminds us of what we need to do at the time and place when we can do it. Consequently, the “next actions” stored by context in the “trusted system” act as an external support which ensures that we are presented with the right reminders at the right time.

From, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Getting_Things_Done#Summary

Other examples are: A collection of books (at personal or institutional scale); personal journals; note-taking (think school studying); at-scale capture of information (Evernote, and ad hoc ways of doing that oneself). There are many more: Personal or team Wikis; Online collaboration systems (Miro, Emvi, et al).

I’ve tried all of the above. Some I’m still using—big time using! Collections of books, notes, journals, Wiki’s, and others.

And yet, something was still missing. The first problem was that I could only sometimes sense there was something missing. The best I can describe it: It’s like hearing a sound and not being sure you heard it. Later, in a very different location, you think you heard the sound. Eventually, you know the sound, without being able to describe it. It’s a sort of pattern in my mind, into which something should fit.

So the current experiment with a Slipbox is my attempt to place a ‘something’ into this pattern— this concept-shaped hole. I will continue to write about this as I go along. Today I wanted to try to take a snapshot of the hole.

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