The Steal Like An Artist Trilogy

Author: Austin Kleon
My Rating: ~4.5/5

I was on the lookout for something to read that was inspiring. The last couple of books I read I thought might be it – but they ended up not. So I was still searching.

I had been following Austin Kleon for a couple of years. This year I had been trying, fairly successfully, to keep an Austin Kleon style logbook. Recently, I started to really pay more attention to his work and listened to a few podcasts he was on and decided that possibly his books might be just what I was looking for.

I read them in order – first Steal Like An Artist. This one, I’ll admit, was a little disappointing to me. It was good, but not great. It was a little too short – there wasn’t much to it. All of the advise was good, but not inspiring.

When I picked up Show Your Work I assumed it would be more of the same. However, Show Your Work happened to be exactly what I was looking for. It was inspirational, it was practical, there was more to it – it was a longer and better read than Steal Like An Artist.

“On the spectrum of creative work, the difference between the mediocre and the good is vast. Mediocrity is, however on the spectrum… The real gap is between doing nothing and doing something.”

Austin Kleon quotes Clay Shirky in Show Your Work

I really enjoyed Show Your Work and it let me know that what I have started with my YouTube channel, I should continue and put more effort into it. Also, put more effort into this web-site by posting about things that I like and care about.

Don’t think of your web-site as a self-promotion machine, think of it as a self invention machine.

Show Your Work I rated a 5 out of 5.

The final book of the trilogy is Keep Going. This one, although still good, did not have the same punch as Show Your Work for me. I thought it was better than Steal Like an Artist – it had some meat to it, and it was good – but again, not great. However, the very last chapter, ‘Plant Your Garden’ did hit home with me.

Every day is a potential seed that we can grow into something beautiful. There’s no time for despair… None of us know how many days we’ll have, so it’d be a shame to waste the ones we get.

I will re-read these books. Either end-to-end like I did the first time, because they are short enough to read in one or two sittings – or I might pick them up and read pieces of them from time-to-time like I’ve read that other people do.

Getting Started Making YouTube Videos

Last month I started making YouTube videos. I’ve struggled through making about 10 videos so far. Here’s a little bit of how I’m making those right now.

Screensharing

For screensharing I’m using an application called OBS Studio. I think this application might primarily be for streaming, but you can also do screen recordings with it. It’s very easy to setup different inputs like webcam, microphone, display, etc. so that it will capture all of the different inputs on one video.

The screenshare portions of my videos are the main content. For the video, I’m just using my regular webcam – I’ve played with using my phone to get higher quality video – but the ease of use of just using the webcam outweighs a slightly higher quality I would get with my phone for the small video of myself in the corner.

Intros & Outros

The intros and outros of each video have been videos of me talking directly to the camera. On these segments, I do want a higher quality video – so I’m using my phone for the video.

I’ve played with the setup on probably every video trying to get it a little better. In the picture you can see that I have my phone on a pringles can – that’s my homemade tripod for my phone. I have the pringles can sitting on top of a book. I have a lamp slightly behind the phone for a little more light.

I’m using an app called FiLMiC Pro to video. It was $15 and I’m not sure if it was worth it. I am able to just slightly blur the background using that app, which makes the video look a little nicer.

I’m also talking into my Fifine USB microphone and recording using OBS. I then have to match up the audio and video in the editing software.

Video Editting

For video editting I’m using VSDC which is a free software. I’ve used it for a few years to do some personal videos, but I’ve learned a lot in the last few weeks. I believe it to be one of the most powerful free video editors out there, at least that I’ve found.

I’m sure I will be learning more and changing things as I go, but that’s primarily my setup for now.

Get a College Education on YouTube

There is a lot to despise about how much time we spend looking at screens. And if it were all bad it would be easy for us to know what to do. Stop using it! However, it isn’t all bad – there is some good that comes from our devices, social media, etc.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how much we can learn from YouTube. Like most people, I YouTube things like ‘how to replace an outlet’ and ‘how can I get rid of algae in my aquarium’ and get pretty good answers, for the most part. Also, since I’m a fan of Jordan Peterson, I have come across some of his lectures – mostly his Biblical series – which I’ve even watched portions of some of the videos. But he also has a few playlists of his Maps of Meaning courses from various years at the University of Toronto.

More recently I came across Manolis Kellis YouTube channel which offers entire semesters worth of some interesting courses – most of which are probably over my head – that he teaches at MIT. Courses like Deep learning in Life Sciences and Machine Learning in Genomics.

It turns out there is a bunch of college courses online from renowned universities. Yale offers a variety of courses. Stanford has courses like Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. You can learn Philosophy from Oxford University.

This got me thinking, what if I actually sat down and “took” one of these courses on YouTube? What if I took it seriously – I paid attention and took notes? What if I scheduled it on my calendar for every Tuesday night at 5:00pm, for example?

Steve Jobs’ famously said in his 2005 Stanford commencement speech,

“the minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me and begin dropping in the ones that looked far more interesting… And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on.”

It’s so much easier to follow Jobs’ example today where so many courses on a variety of topics are literally at our fingertips, if we’re willing to invest the time and take it seriously. Of course, I haven’t yet… but it’s something I’ve been thinking about.

I’m not much of an artist…

I have been following Austin Kleon for a while now, but lately have been paying closer attention. I’ve also been doing some more self-reflection recently and I’m thinking that drawing might be a good way to do some of that.

I’m not much of an artist but decided to purchase a brush pen. Here were some first attempts in kind of the same style as Austin’s diary pages:

I will admit that I feel a little silly drawing and in some ways it feels childlike… or maybe that it’s a waste of time. I’m not sure if this is something I will keep up in the long run, but it’s something I’m exploring right now. After all, Austin Kleon mentions that in Christophe Blain’s book Isaac The Pirate it says “Drawing isn’t work, it’s a form of prayer.”

November 2021

Updates

Updated: November 1, 2021

Book I’m currently reading

Books I finished reading last month

Albums I’ve been listening to

Quote I’ve been thinking about

“Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.”

– Roger Miller

Podcast episodes I thought were good

The Motivation Manifesto

Author: Brendon Burchard
My Rating: 3/5

As I read the introduction to this book, which it labels as “The Declaration of Personal Power”, it was getting me pretty excited to read the rest of the book.

“Why, having been endowed with the courageous heart of a lion, do we live as mice?

It seemed to speak to me in a way that I was looking for. At the time I started this book, I was in need of a little motivation.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men and women are created equal, though we do not live equal lives due to differences in will, motivation, effort, and habit. That we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness, but that it is incumbent upon each of us to be vigilant and disciplined should we to attain such a vital, free, and happy life.”

Within the introduction it goes on to summarize the 9 Declarations that will be presented in the rest of the book:

  1. We Shall Meet Life with Full Presence and Power
  2. We Shall Reclaim our Agenda
  3. We Shall Defeat our Demons
  4. We Shall advance with Abandon
  5. We Shall Practice Joy and Gratitude
  6. We Shall not Break Integrity
  7. We Shall Amplify Love
  8. We Shall Inspire Greatness
  9. We Shall Slow Time

The introduction does a great job of summarizing these points. The problem with the book starts after the introduction. The rest of the book seemed to drag out the points and fluff them up to a point that it began to be pretty boring to read. Like most books, it was probably twice as long as it needed to be. In my opinion, the introduction was great and could’ve been the book, but I suppose an 11 page book is too short. But as Einstein said, “make things as simple as possible, but not simpler”.

I gave it 3 stars because it did remind me several times throughout the book about being present in the moment. It also give some good, functional, examples of how to do that.

“Slowing time begins, always, with breath. The deeper and longer we draw air in, the more oxygenated our bodies becomes, and the more heightened our energy and presence.”

That was probably my biggest take away from this book – keep trying harder to be more present, always.

Batched Mobile Notifications

When I first started using e-mail in the mid 1990’s you used e-mail clients that were installed on your PC. One in particular that I remember using was Eudora. It gave you the option of how frequently it should check and notify you of any new e-mail messages. I think the default was every 5 minutes, but you could change it to whatever frequency you wanted.

It gave you the option.

In today’s world there are no options. You get notified instantly for almost every app.

When I hear my notification sound ring, it causes me a minor level of anxiety – because it could be anything – it could be a text message from my family or it could be Clash of Clans letting me know that my army is ready for battle. The anxiety isn’t relieved until I actually check it and see that it was just an e-mail that I could’ve dealt with when I’m ready to sit down and respond to e-mails.

When trying to focus and get work done, this can become quite the distraction. Cal Newport calls it context switching. Losing our focus, even briefly, to think about something else. I would argue this is a problem even when you’re not working. Just being with family or doing household chores – you don’t necessarily want to be notified 6 or 7 times in an hour by different apps.

One option is turn off all notifications or to go on Do Not Disturb. But, I want to know if my wife is texting immediately and it’s a little tedious to go back and forth on Do Not Disturb frequently. And, truth be told, I do want to be notified that my Clash of Clans army is ready for battle – but I want to know on my terms. What I really we could do is what Eudora was doing in the 3 decades ago – be given the option of how frequently be notified.

So, I went on the search for this and it turns out this does exist. The first app I tried out was Daywise.

It worked. It gave me the basic functionality to limit most of the notifications and still allow others to come through immediately. There were some things I didn’t like about it – for example, you seemed to have to get to all of your notifications through the app and not natively on Android. But I was willing to struggle through that aspect of it and was just about to pay the $29.99 lifetime fee to keep the app after the 14-day trial period.

However, before I did, I thought I’d take another look to see if there were any alternatives. I found Buzzkill. This app seems to do an even better job – allows more control and the notifications still come natively – and it only costs $2.49. I’ve been using Buzzkill for a couple of weeks now and I think it’s fantastic – so much so, I gave my first app review to give it 5 stars.

So for the last several weeks, I’ve been receiving almost all of my notifications every 2 hours. My text messages still come through immediately and so does my Ring doorbell, since that’s also timely to me. However, the rest of my notifications can wait until that 2 hour mark to come through and notify me. I would eventually like to make the timeframe longer, maybe stretching from 2 hours to 4 or maybe even just 2 or 3 times per day – but I’m not there yet.

Whatever app you find to use – whether one of these or a different one – I believe batching your notifications is, in some small aspect, a life changer. We use our phones every day and we get notified dozens of times per day – take back a little control. Stop context switching and be a little more present. Give yourself the option and be notified when you choose to be notified – so that you can spend the rest of your day with a little less anxiety and a little bit more away from your device.

October 2021

Updates

Updated: October 1, 2021

Book I’m currently reading

Books I finished reading last month

Albums I’ve been listening to

Quote I’ve been thinking about

“…the aging chief of a small, obscure tribe from a remote river valley in a far corner of the Great Plains would hold up a mirror to the church elders and the prominent citizens, to the farmers and ranchers, to the teachers and generals and newspaper men, to all the judges and lawyers and senators and presidents and ask them: Who are they? What did they stand for? What were their values? What did they believe in? What did freedom and equality mean? What did it mean to be Christian? To be an American?”

– Joe Starita, author of I Am A Man

A few articles I found interesting

Podcast episodes I thought were good

I Am A Man

Author: Joe Starita
My Rating: 5/5

I rate this book a rare 5 stars. The main story is incredible, and although I’d heard it before, this book took it to a different level. Also it’s always interesting to read about the place where you live. Not only is this a United States Civil Rights story, but also a Nebraska story, and even an Omaha story – it’s very cool to think that the crux of it happened just a few blocks from where I live now.

Also, no part of the story was prolonged in the book – I was worried that the court case might take up several chapters – it did not, it was to the point and we got the key takeaways.

To me, this was a story about change – and willingness to change. Either choosing to change or choosing not to change or having change forced upon you.

I think General George Crook, the “Army’s most experienced Indian fighter”, is a hero. He had enough guts to change the way he thought about Native Americans and do something about it. So in the middle of the night, he snuck off and told the newspaper, “come report on this – what we’re doing is not right”. And during Standing Bear v. Crook, at the end of the Standing Bear’s speech, Crook was the first one to stand up and shake Standing Bear’s hand.

Judge Elmer Dundy seemed to have a change of heart also as it relates to Native Americans. He has been called an “Indian-hating judge”, but here it seems he was able to change his mind enough to rule in Standing Bear’s favor.

Standing Bear was obviously forced to change, in many ways. However, the changes I thought were most interesting were the changes he chose to make. The fact that he wanted to assimilate. So much so that during their speaking tour on the East Coast, he wanted to and eventually did, cut his hair and buy a new suit.

“More and more, the boy noticed, his father had taken to wearing white man’s clothing – shoes, trousers, shirts, sometimes a hat.”

I also heard on the Constitutional podcast, that Chief Standing Bear wanted his son to learn the ways of the white man. He sent his son to school to learn English and to church to learn about the white man’s God. He would be the bridge between the old way to the new way.

This to me, is an interesting point to think about. Standing Bear was very willing to change to the new ways and was proactively trying to position his son and the future of their tribe to assimilate more. I guess it could be argued both ways on whether or not that’s good or bad. However, there was a concept of the new way which Standing Bear would have much difficulty comprehending and would not really accept – the individual ownership of land.

The United States Government, on the other hand, did not seem willing to change… even though several individuals within the government were.

“twenty-two years after his homeland has been given away to the Lakota,
eleven years after a federal judge set him free with nowhere to go,
ten years after the Great Father pledge to return all their lands,
nine years after Congress approved the Ponca Relief Bill,
three years after the Dawes act,
a year after the Great Sioux Reservation was dismantled –

Standing bear received Allotment No. 146: a 297.8-acre parcel…”

It seemed that no matter what victories were had within government policies, reality never changed much for Standing Bear and the Ponca.

At the end of the book, I had very mixed feelings. Sure, Standing Bear gave a great speech and won the case — but did he ever get what he really wanted? He got to bury his son in their homeland, which I suppose was some consolation. But things were never the same as before 1877 when the Ponca were forced to walk off of their homeland to the Indian Territory. This, too, is change.

Starkweather

Author: William Allen
My Rating: 4/5

Similar to the last book I read, this book is about a boy from my home state of Nebraska who has some calling to violence. The previous book, Once an Eagle, was a fictional story of a soldier who goes to WWI and WWII and struggles with morality during it. This book, however, was the grim and factual recalling of the actual events that happened back in the 1950’s where Charles Starkweather and his 14 year old girlfriend did not struggle with morality at all as they killed 10 people.

“Hers was really a story of a child in fear of her life for eight terrifying days, a child who believed that not only her own life was in danger but also the lives of her family. She did not know they were dead. if people knew the truth, they would realize that Caril Fugate was no criminal. She was Startkweather’s victim…”

– John McArthur (Caril’s lawyer)

One thing that really struck me about this was the age of Caril Fugate, Charlie’s girlfriend – only 14 years old. It was very hard for me to reconcile that with the events that took place. There are some questions about how much she actually was responsible for — but in any case, she was definitely part of it.

“Nobody but the jury knows how we thrashed out this evidence and tried our best to find her innocent. There was no doubt in our minds as to her guilt.”

– A member of the Jury

The other thing that struck me was imagining how the residents of Lincoln must’ve felt during that week – as there were more and more cases of murder being reported, and they seemed to be pretty random, and they authorities weren’t able to find Starkweather.

“Governor Anderson called about 200 members of the National Guard, and they were cruising the streets with jeeps armed with mounted machine guns. Parents with guns drawn rushed to the schools and took their children home. The city was completely sealed off. A block by block search began… Aircraft were sent up to help look for the Ward’s black Packard.”

Throughout the book the author seems to put some questions in place – who is to blame for someone like this? The parents, the school system, society as a whole? Who knows – maybe everybody, maybe nobody – maybe only Charlie himself. I lean a little that way – but am still uncertain about Caril.