Initial conditions, Wonderlust, and the art of noticing

Where do you look when you walk into a space for the very first time?

Jake poses this question at the beginning of his Initial Conditions, a post that provides an overview of the inspiration used for establishing a set of “initial conditions” for new members joining the HYPER lab at WSU.

Initial conditions, as a mathematical term, is an interesting way to describe the scope of what the lab is trying to document, especially if you think of a lab—or any community—as a dynamic system. By assigning a set of predefined expectations (variables), you help remove some of the blind spots that the community may face if those expectations weren’t defined. Calling them initial conditions also acknowledges that they may change over time, which is perfectly fine.

A cool conclusion to that effort is that the lab has collectively produced a draft describing the roles and responsibilities of the lab director (Jake) and lab members. It will be fun to check in and see how it’s going as new lab members come in.

Aside: There is a greater than zero chance I’ll end up noting this as an example when writing up my answer to the current WP governance question. This is not that post, though it may seem like it by the end.

Where do you look when you walk into a space for the very first time?

When I first read Jake’s post, I was stuck on that first line. It caught me as a concrete question about actually walking into physical spaces and immediately reminded me that earlier that morning I had stumbled on a post I wrote 8 years ago, Notes From An Essay – “Wonderlust”.

This post is a semi-review of a Tony Hiss essay, Wonderlust, from 2010 that deals with a concept of “Deep Travel”. At the time we were in the process of selling all of our stuff and were getting ready to depart on some long travel. Everything in that essay connected quickly for me.

Reading back, I still really enjoy this:

Some people know a great deal about the stars, others next to nothing. There is always more to find out. But habituation—not noticing something that seems unchanging and harmless—can cloak both knowledge and ignorance with the same mantle of indifference: “Oh, yes, the stars.” Something we have a word for.

Tony Hiss, Wonderlust

There is always more to find out. Always more to observe. And just because we do something some way, doesn’t mean we know why we do it or that it makes sense to continue.

Of course there’s more.

I opened my feed reader this afternoon to catch up on a few things and a post from Jason Kottke earlier in the week titled “The Art of Noticing” caught my eye. Kottke introduces Robert Walker’s book of the same name, self described as a “practical guide to becoming a better observer”.

That post has a couple interesting bits in the context of this one, or at least that’s what I’ve led myself to believe. I’ll quote two of Kottke’s related observations here that I think help tie all of this together into the reason I wrote this post.

Isaacson argues that Leonardo’s observational powers were not innate and that with sufficient practice, we can all observe as he did. People talk in a precious way about genius, creativity, and curiosity as superpowers that people are born with but noticing is a more humble pursuit. Noticing is something we can all do.

And then.

They are literally at a different level in the world, ocularly speaking, and so notice different things. They’ve also got Beginner’s Minds, again literally. Having been a designer for many years, I am pretty good at observation, but my kids are always noticing details that I miss.

Noticing and observing are things that we can all do and can all work to do better.

Documenting the collective observations of a community can help new members avoid blind spots and give them a direct path to contribution.

Having new members in a community (Beginner’s Minds) document their observations can help to evolve the collective observations of that community to further avoid blind spots.

Repeat. 🍻

My news diet for 2019

With a new year upon us, I’ve been reflecting on the news that I consume. I originally referred to this as my “media diet”, but that’s pretty broad and I’m not ready to reflect on movies, television, or music at this point.


I subscribe to two weekly magazines, The Economist and The Guardian Weekly and I’m happy with both of them, even if I don’t always have time to read cover to cover.

I’ll often read both from back to front, mostly because I enjoy the book reviews more than letters to the editor. It may also help to know how long a piece is going to be before getting started on it. 🤷🏼‍♂️

I’ve tried subscribing to local daily newspapers a couple times since moving to Pullman, but each time delivery was less than stellar and, when it was working, I often ended up with piles of unread papers. I would love to get a Sunday subscription to The Seattle Times or The New York Times, but no delivery is available in our area for either.

I may add a subscription to The Week, but I’m still getting familiar with their content online.


I don’t want to get my news from Twitter because Twitter makes it seem like everything is news.

A sentence from an unpublished 2017 draft on this website. 🙂

A couple times a day I’ll sit down and decide to read some news from good old-fashioned home pages. This is a newer development for me after I refactored how I use Twitter last year. Starting at the home page seems like a decent strategy for approaching news without an algorithm. Naive?

I have folders in my browser’s bookmarks bar for “Reads (News)”, “Reads (More)”, and “Reads (Longer)” that I’ll work my way through with intent or at random.

I’ll start with The Guardian most often, then the The New York Times, and then a quick mix between The Daily Beast and FiveThirtyEight. Every once and a while I substitute The Washington Post for one of the above. More recently I’ve spent time on Politico and have tried to introduce that as more of a near-daily thing. Even more recently I’ve followed a strategy via my Dad and check in on Fox News from time to time.

Of all these, I’m only a paid subscriber to The Guardian and The New York Times.

Once or twice a week I’ll check in on Washington State specific news and cycle through Crosscut, The Stranger, The Seattle Times, and The Spokesman-Review. Very recently, High Country News, which covers the general West, hit my radar and I’ve added it to my trawl.

I don’t support any of these regional publications financially and I should change that in 2019.

Much less frequently I’ll poke at Paper, The Walrus, and The Outline.

And then finally, when I’m futzing around on the weekend, I’ll browse through The New York Review of Books, London Review of Books, and Arts & Letters Daily to try and find gateways to inspiring books and bits.


Why read all of these things? That’s a good question.

In general, I want to understand and be aware of my community, region, country, world, etc… One actionable step I should take here is to also reflect on what to do with this knowledge once I have it.

From that first objective, I should be aware of people and causes I can support.

The more I read books, the more I want to read books. Many of the above publications have led me to good books.

And last, but not least: I want to win future trivia contests. 😎 (One day I may also add crossword puzzles to that list.)

Thinking through a way to write and display “tweets”

I want to post incidental thoughts, links, and photos on my website first. These may also end up posted elsewhere, but I should self-publish what I own.

I don’t want to come up with titles for everything I write, so whatever system I use should leave me feeling okay with how things are going to look and feel once they’re published—without a title.

If I have a productive day and post many things, I don’t want my feed to push 20 new “posts” to everyone’s feed reader or email.

If I exclude a post format, category, or tag from the main query, I could probably work out a way to do an automatic roundup post. This roundup post could happen every week or every time the number of “asides” reached a certain limit.

And really, a draft round-up post could always be waiting so that if I decided I wanted to ship it early or attach more content, it would be there.

What’s funny is that I could probably still use Matt’s code for asides from 2004. Also funny is how I went through this similar exercise in 2011, but likely got re-distracted by Twitter. I wonder if I’ll get distracted again.

It looks like INN has something similar already built in Link Roundups, but it uses shortcodes. I may still take a look at it and see how close it is to what I’m looking for.

It’s “roundup” in British English and “round-up” in US English, if you were wondering.