Last Week and This Week: ZettelKasten, Income Inequality, and I-Corps

I’ve had a pretty good run for January on Deep Work. But February will not be so kind.

This upcoming week I’m going to be training some new I-Corps instructors at GW, so I’ll be working most of the day Wednesday through Friday.

It doesn’t rule out doing any Deep Work on those days, but it’s not going to make it easy. So there’s really Monday and Tuesday only this week.

The week after that I’m joining my wife in Hawaii for her meetings and some… potentially Deep Work, perhaps. We’ll see how it goes.

And the week after that I’m doing more work on the I-Corps trainees as well as returning from Hawaii via SF for a couple of days.

You get the idea.

So I have the same agenda — flesh out the 7 Hard Problems chapter on “Individual Wealth and Commonwealth” — but it’s going to go more slowly than January. I’ll be lucky to finish the Piketty book this week.

And what about the week just past, you may well ask?

Last week I had a big diversion. I immersed myself in the Zettelkasten technique for note-taking.


Well, I’ve been unhappy with the quality of my notes for 7 Hard. And the unhappiness came to a head maybe the week before last.

Coincidentally — I think it was from Lifehacker or some other PIM-ish source — I ran across a book about “Smart Notes”, by Sonke Ahrens.  Needless to say, I bought it at once and dug right in.

Ahrens does not have the most straightforward presentation of his subject, but the book eventually covers a note-taking system of stunning interest. I devoted most of the Deep Work last week to grokking it and only on Friday did I take a pass on continuing my Piketty note-taking with the new system.

I will report more as I get more familiarity with it.

(Cool aside: I was googling around for Zettelkasten and found the name of an academic friend who was YouTube-ing as an expert on some of the Zettlekasten software. I viewed his videos with great interest. Nick Cifuentes-Goodbody, thanks!)

More Income Inequality, More Piketty

I’m continuing this week with Capital in the 21st Century.

Last week was reading Parts One and Two of the argument. Part One defined the methodology and gave some results about how Piketty measures Income (mainly national income, derived from income-tax government sources) and Wealth or Capital (mainly derived from intelligent-observer estimates over a long period at least in the cases of England and France). Piketty devotes a fair amount of air time to discussing the merits of his sources.

Part Two deals with the changes in the capital/income ratio over time, showing among other things, that the 20th century was not kind of capital anywhere in Europe, including some estimates of where the destruction of capital came from (SPOILER: not mainly from physical destruction).

This week we are looking at Part Three which deals with the nature and structure of inequality in both labor income and capital ownership. And, with any luck, we’ll get to Part Four dealing with Piketty’s prescriptions for regulating capital going forward.

Income InEquality: A Week of Thomas Piketty

I’ve just spent a week digging into Capital in the 21st Century, and I’m taking away a few points:

  • Piketty seems less “kneejerk-Leftish” than I had thought. He has been pretty much misrepresented. He is no lover of Marxism in any case, but his data are pretty nuanced.
  • Above all, he has attempted, and sort of delivered, an attempt to really quantify the changes in national income, national wealth, and national distribution of income between capital and labor over a long historical period. He has numerous caveats about the potential inaccuracies in his sources, and is careful to draw attention to only the most salient takeaways.
  • Probably the most salient takeaway is that the 20th Century was a disaster for capital. The 21st century has capital’s share of things returning to pre-20th-century levels.
  • I’m satisfied — this third time around trying to read him — that he is a worthwhile source. Whatever role the argument about income inequality plays in 7 Hard Problems, Piketty is a good choice for one of the sources. I’m not sure which others I’ll want to use.

PiimCraft: The Difference Between a Task, a Habit, and a Goal

I’ve been wondering what the difference is between a task and a habit.

Just to make things more interesting, how about the difference between a recurring task and a habit?

One might think that the signal thing about a habit is that it’s… well, habitual.

“Habitual” means, among other things, that you don’t have to be reminded of it by your PIM, I would guess. When the trigger for your habit hits, you do the habit (Charles Duhigg wrote the book on habits, literally; see his Power of Habit for more on triggers, etc.)

I have a morning routine that’s pretty much a habit by now, but I still go through a checklist every morning even though I probably have it by heart and it’s probably triggered just by getting up. (Atul Gawande wrote the book on checklists, the Checklist Manifesto)

Maybe my morning routine isn’t as habitual as I would like, or I wouldn’t need the checklist.

But I have a bunch of things in my PIM that are essentially habits or habit wannabes. Strength training twice a week. Blog postings for this blog.

And just to complicate things, I have a habit tracker, HabitHub, which I use only on my phone and tablet (not for any good reason; HabitHub only runs on Android)

What do I track in HabitHub? “Move the bod” (which is any exercise every day), “Only Connect” (which is some connection with someone every day) and “Deep Work” (which is some Deep Work every day). I do this just to keep a Seinfeld-like chain of virtue.

But then isn’t my “goal” then to move the bod, connect, and do deep work every day?

I feel like there’s some difference among these things, but I’m not sure I can put my finger on it.

Theme for Week of January 27, 2019: Income Inequality

I’m returning now to each of the seven antinomies in 7 Hard Problems, starting with #1: “Individual Wealth vs. Commonwealth”.

The aim is to flesh out the elements that were glossed over in the original vomitout, so I’m going to start in with income inequality, and then work my way over to class struggle.

Accordingly, I’ll be doing some reading and thinking this week on Thomas Piketty, Paul Goodman, and Anthony Giddens.

I’m not sure how far I’ll get this week, but hopeful I’ll break the back of these topics.

The aim now is to flesh out each antinomy until it’s more-or-less complete.

Summary: Writing about Reality and Wishes This Week

Well, this was the most fun of the antinomies by far. There’s something about reality and fantasy that makes for interesting conundra.

I found myself getting into the struggle between science and faith. And that drew me somehow to the dialog between Einstein and Freud about the possibility of stopping war. Einstein was crystal-clear on Reality and pretty fuzzy on people (or perhaps wishful). Freud was unsparing about people. So much Reality is almost too much to bear.

Anyhow, that’s it for the vomitout of the 7 Hard Problems for now. I did about 22,500 words (a normalized 90 pages). That’s from when I started the vomitout in November to now (and remember I essentially took off December to write GoLang code). Not too shabby. And certainly enough to get a flavor for the core of the book.

PIMCraft: Why I Still Use a Pocket Notebook

I lavish attention on my PIM.

I’ve written here about a lot of it: my task-management software, my note-taking software, my Pomodoro timer gear, even my wall calendar.

But there’s one humble-but-vital set of gear I haven’t talked about: my pen and pocket notebook.

I use gel pens. I used to use only 0.7mm Sarasa pens until they started routinely jamming on me. I switched over to 1.0mm Pilot G-2 pens; I like them fine, except those silly extra 0.3mm, which make the mark a little thick for me. (Given how often the Sarasa pens were jamming on me, I don’t think I’m going to go back.)

I use any thin notebook that fits in my shirt pocket. I especially like the “Field Notes” notebooks because of the cool name and the witty implications. But I’ve used the Moleskine “Cahier books” as well.

The major point is to have something that’s always with you and allows rapid data entry.

The dirty secret about electronic stuff is it’s unbelievably slow for data entry.

Scott Cook, founder of Intuit, called his software “Quicken” because he wanted it to be quicker than writing checks with a pen. He succeeded, but modern smart phones do not. By the time you’ve got the phone out, woken it up, corrected a few typos, fired up Evernote, and made a note I could have ten notes filled out in my notebook with my pen. 10:1. (I’ve never tried it, but I just bet it’s so!)

When I can’t put the notebook in my shirt pocket (would you believe the nerve of these shirt companies making so many men’s shirts without a breast pocket?) I stick it in a back pocket of my pants. It shortens the life of the notebook — the binding gets worn out more quickly in that position — but it’s worth it to have it ever-ready.

And then part of my morning routine is to move any notes from the notebook to my PIM (or to Evernote for things that don’t have an action). I do that (it’s pretty quick) every morning, or almost every morning.

That’s it. A humble, but a key link.

Cabinet of Curiosities: The Woodworkers’ Club of Rockville

I last took wood shop in 4th Grade, which would be almost sixty years ago. I did love it, but I’m hardly a woodworker.

I just joined the Woodworkers’ Club of Rockville and went to my beginners’ safety and certification classes last week. Two nights, 6:30-9:30. We covered basically all the machines in their shop.

Above there’s a picture of the main table saw. Below are some of the routers and sanders.

It was a bit intimidating, not (just) because of the power of these tools (and their power to do me harm, although I took some comfort from the SawStop cartridges that are standard on most of this equipment and that will stop a blade before it takes off what my teacher called a “digit.”) It was also intimidating because most of the other people in the class have serious woodworking or furniture-making projects.

And me? I want to build a tool system on my wall that has “leaves” like a book and you can flip through the “pages” to find a tool. Something like the above.

In terms of what the rest of the people taking the cert course with me were doing, this is woodworking kindergarten. I feel a little ashamed even taking up the resources of the Club with this stuff.

On the other hand, I really don’t have the space for great power tools at home and the weather’s not nice enough to work on stuff in my driveway.

The Club is an opportunity to see if this has interest for me, to see if it’s worth the time and money (and the shlepp out to Rockville!) To see if I can make anything actually any good.

Work and Study, Week of January 20, 2019

Continuing with vomitouts.

We’re at the last of the 7 antinomies, probably my favorite: What We Believe vs. What Is.

It doesn’t get much starker than this. But slaves to the Pleasure Principle (see “Pleasure vs. Duty”) don’t need to fret: the deck is not utterly stacked in favor of “What Is.”

Wanton regard for “What Is” is just as bad as wanton disregard: paying no attention to “What Is” may make you a fool, but paying no attention to “What We Believe” makes you something just as bad: a Nego, a concept I want to explore in this section.

Briefly, Negos are people without a vision, cynics, pessimists, “glass is not just half-empty, it’s broken” kinds of people. We need vision to supplement respect for reality. You need both.

Pimcraft: Two Cheers for my Wall Calendar

I’ve had a wall calendar for a few years now.

I get the one I use from, which was recommended to me by Mike Vardy of Productivityist. The first record I can find in my Evernote for Mike’s teachings on the subject is from 2014, so I guess this is my sixth year with a wall calendar.

Originally I started out with Mike’s whole idea of “theme-ing” each month of the upcoming year. So January would usually be HHF for me (“Healthy, Happy, Fit”), February would often be “Money”, March “Deep Work”, April “Spring Cleaning”, etc.

I began to lose zeal for this approach in 2017 when I found I was flailing between my Theme goals for a month and what I would have done anyway (because it was a yearly goal or for other reasons). I also was under the influence of Essentialism and was asking hard questions about how complicated my goal-setting had become. To make a long story short, I stopped Theme-ing.

So why have a wall calendar at all now? The real estate for a single day is sufficient for an icon or two, but not really for much text.

I put on the calendar things that occupy blocks of time, so courses I’m going to teach during the year, vacations, other travel. I mark holidays with a red box.

I get a gestalt of the year-in-progress this way. I guess I avoid some double bookings, but I really rely on my Google calendar for that.

I’ll admit it, I’m on the fence. This could be the last year for a wall calendar. Maybe I could better use the space for a Kanban whiteboard, or maybe just a freeform whiteboard for sketching.


Benefit from my 35 years of tech industry experience