Things that Just Work

Handwritten drawing: Things that just work

The world is made up of things that work, mixed together with things that don’t work. The busted and dysfunctional, tripping against beauty and perfection. The yin and the yang as it were. It’s human nature to think that things should work all the time. We get bummed, when they don’t. Oddly, we do this day in, day out, like it’s an everyday predictable recurring surprise. Since we are designed by nature to be problem-solving animals, it’s hard not to transfixate on the broken.

I think happy people train themselves, by hard work, to continually notice the many little things that are actually working. It’s incredible, if you look around, how many things, on any given day, really work well.

But this post is not about the singing birds. It’s about computer stuff. My daughter Sally and I were talking about this, how some things are just so easy to use, and it’s hard to appreciate the achievement behind that surface simplicity, the sophistication that must be going on in the background. So this is an Ode to Things that Work:

OneNote & Evernote. First on my list. Unless I’m walking through a swamp someplace, (more…)

Quick & fun language warm-up

Quick & fun language warm-up

Back in May I described a great method for language learning based on finding super-interesting articles, then reading them in combination with the text-to-speech and mini-translator functionality in Word (New Toy, May 2011). I now use this technique every morning, usually for 10 to 30 minutes. It’s by far and away the best thing I’ve ever found for an easy, everyday language warm-up. Since writing the original article, it has smoothed out for me into something I look forward to, and a good little habit.

Here are the actual steps I go through now – (more…)

In love with Kindle

KINDLE (heart). Where have you been all my life?

A year ago I wrote an article about traveling light without a computer, even in a business setting, by using a cloud drive along with public computers instead. I had just returned from Argentina, and the method worked great. This year I was packing for the same trip again, and planning on doing the exact same thing. The technique involves a small amount of printing to paper. In the original article I said this:

"Every trip is different. When packing data, I think about the trip, I think about the things I’ll need, I think in terms of a toolkit at my disposal which includes 1. Paper, 2. Computer, 3. Mobile devices, and 4. Thumb Drive. (Paper, by the way, should never be underestimated. Instant-on, infinite battery life, and who cares if it’s stolen. So thin-and-light that it vanishes when viewed on-edge. There’s a reason it’s popular.) To this list I can now add #5: Cloud drive."

So there I was, packing for the same trip a year later, and thinking as usual of the few things it would be nice to have printed ahead for paper reference. (more…)

Thank You! Y Gracias…

Thank you! Y Gracias...

… to everybody who helped with my logo. I expect to thank each of you directly, but I’m going to Córdoba for a few weeks leaving tomorrow, and probably won’t do much e-mail. So I wanted, at least, to write a quick post. Here’s what I ended up with; this is the front and back of my new business card:

Front of business card

Back of business card

Getting ready for the trip I also quickly re-did the old placeholder homepage at; it now has a little letter of introduction. I wrote it myself in Spanish, so it’s rough, but I’m quite proud that I could do it at all. It’s only one tenth as good as what I hope to have eventually, but then again, it’s twenty times better than the old hand-scribbled thing I was getting by with before. So I feel good. I’m traveling with some kind of a business card, and some kind of a homepage. (more…)



Man, talk about unpleasant and inconvenient…

Four days ago I clicked my own homepage, and saw my antivirus go bananas. Looking at my own source code I saw a strange little script that had no business being there. At first (being extremely naïve way back then, four days ago) I thought, hmm, that’s weird.

I finally got the mess cleaned up. It’s Sunday night, and it took me 20 hours of hard work. I’m leaving for Argentina in a week, so I really needed to be able to point people to my blog. I couldn’t afford to just take it down. (more…)

Picking a Logo, with help from my friends

A little help from my friends

I’m trying to make a logo for Transrio, and unfortunately the project has taken on that dreaded look of a long-term hobby. Time to wrap it up. Here are a dozen that I’m liking now:

#1Logo 1#2Logo 2#3Logo 3#4Logo 4

#5Logo 5#6Logo 6#7Logo 7#8Logo 8

#9Logo 910Logo 1011Logo 1112Logo 12

The first two are hand-lettered, and all the rest are identical except for color. If you click on a thumbnail it takes you to a dummy page I made, placing that particular logo in the context of some content. (more…)

Language tools — a quick revisit

Language tools — a quick revisit

Awhile back Natalia pushed me out of the nest, saying it was finally time for me to start writing to her in Spanish. For years we have been writing back and forth bilingually, my e-mails in English, hers in Spanish. Which was super pleasant. But it was laziness on my part, and in fact unbecoming of a person whose goal is to do business in Latin America.

Writing in Spanish was hard for me at first but it’s getting easier with practice. I read well, but speak poorly, and I had zero experience with writing. To my surprise though, just having everyday language tools readily at hand makes it much, much easier now than it would have been, say, 5 years ago. It isn’t cheating to use these things. In fact writing simple e-mails with the support of spell-checkers and grammar-checkers, conjugators and dictionaries, and of course machine translation, is just a great way to get continual correcting feedback while learning any language.

Over the years I’ve written several posts about language learning and language tools, so today I decided to make a new category called Language — it’s apparently a theme on this blog. If you click Language on the sidebar, you’ll see some of these prior posts. Always they have a special focus on free or nearly-free computer applications. I just finished sending an e-mail to Natalia and I thought it might be worth describing the tools I like best for anybody else who’s struggling with a second language. (more…)

Topo maps: what’s Now, and what’s Next

Topo maps: what's Now, and what's Next

When I was a tyke they gave us map-reading aptitude tests. I loved those tests. Ever since, I’ve tried to stay one jump ahead of the rest of the class. Now I’m an old guy. Anybody who knows me knows I get stuck in a good map, like anybody else might get stuck in a good book. In fact, on trips, I no longer bring a book to read. It can be a camping trip, a foreign trip, no matter where I go I know I’ll just be reading maps. It’s relaxing for me. Sometimes after staring at a good map for a really long time, suddenly there it is: the perfect route, the perfect camping spot. Or in a city, something fun beyond the bridge, that I would have totally missed.

On any trip, I’d rather have the perfect map than the perfect guidebook — or even the perfect guide. It’s fun having that freedom to just explore on your own. Maps let you do that. It’s not uncommon to know things even most locals don’t know, based on serious perusal of a good map. Come to think of it, in our house, we even decorate with maps. The maps get the premium wallspace. They are our art.

This article is about how I’m doing topos now. So it’s about topos specifically. Much of what I say though is equally applicable to city maps or road maps, like you’d use on other kinds of trips. (more…)

A constant feeling of crisis

"a constant feeling of crisis"

This month’s Inc. magazine printed a harsh but well-written feature story about Argentina. The author is Max Chafkin, a writer I like. Lately he’s been specializing in going to countries with extreme business climates, interviewing people, then writing a good article full of direct quotes from locals. In February he did Norway, a country which measures surprisingly healthy for business in spite of being highly socialized. Argentina is at the other end of the spectrum, historically and currently a rough environment for business. I found it really interesting to read stories about how people adapt. It’s a good article which I highly recommend to anyone interested in the subject — the Norway article is especially good, too.

I’m hoping Mr. Chafkin keeps going with this idea. I vote he goes next to India, Egypt, or Peru.


PS — If you found these articles interesting, here are more links you might like:

A fresh new toy for language learning

A fresh new toy for language learning

Recently a good friend called me and asked my recommendation for the best way to learn Spanish. This post is not about language learning generally, it’s about one single, wonderful toy I recently discovered, which I’m using every day now in my own language practice. But first, as background, I would like to talk more generally about learning languages, from a bird’s eye view.

If you want to skip over the "Tricks" section right below, feel free. The new technique I found is at the end, under "Toy." (more…)

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