Weekly Reads: Free Time Edition

If you’ve been following the posts the past week or so, you will no doubt have noticed that I’ve republished a number of articles from the old Sententia in commemoration of the Chinese New Year. There will be two more articles yet to come in the series, which I suppose is good, because as of yesterday my computer is in for repairs, and so I’ll be somewhat out of commission.

However, never fear; I’ve got a fair number of posts queued up, and I do still have internet access (though somewhat more limited) at home, so the posts should be able to keep on rolling. Comment moderation, etc. will be a bit slower, but I’ll try to keep up on that as well.

Now, the real question is… what will I do with all the extra time I’ll have, not being able to spend my evenings online? It’s way too cold to be spending much time outside… I do have some books I’ll continue reading, but I’m open to other ideas, too! Feel free to leave a comment if you have some suggestions for me…

If you would like to pass on anything you think I might be interested in, post the link as a comment to this thread! I’m always looking for new things to explore. Note that comments on this site are moderated, especially if they contain links, so if it doesn’t show up right away, don’t worry!

Made Me Think

How to Learn Any Language in 3 Months (from Tim Ferriss). I really enjoy language learning, and seem to also have an aptitude for it. Ferriss’ article focuses on applying Pareto’s principle (AKA the 80/20 principle) to language learning, a technique I found very valuable when I studied Latin in University. Students of Latin, check out Anne Mahoney’s list of 1000 Essential Latin Words. The first 250 words make up 50% of the vocabulary you’ll need to know; if you spend some time familiarizing yourself with the list, you’ll find it that much easier to comprehend texts without running to your dictionary every other second. (Then again, I still prefer the natural language method for learning languages, but that’s another topic for another day.)

Wrapping Your Head Around the Project (from LiveDev). I run into this situation often at work: I get really into a project, work on it all day, but am not able to wrap it up before it’s time to go home. So I leave it for the next day — at which point, I just can’t seem to get back into it. Glen talks about this problem — and offers some techniques for getting past it — in this interesting article from LifeDev.

Guided Meditation as a Tool for Speaking with Spirit Guides (from Erin Pavlina). I can remember two times in my life that I’ve participated in a guided meditation, although until reading this article by renowned medium Erin Pavlina, I never really considered it as meditation. Regardless of your aims in mediation — maybe you want to listen to your inner voice, speak with spirit guides, talk to your future self, or something completely different — Pavlina gives some really practical tips to get you on your way.

Communication Concepts

So You Want To Be An Interaction Designer (from Cooper) and So You Want to Be an Interaction Designer 2006 (from AdaptivePath). How had I not heard of Interaction Design (commonly abbreviated IxD) before this week? There is just so much in these two articles that resonates with me and calls to something within me. Is this another fleeting passion of my scanner-ness? Who cares, it sounds fascinating, and I think I’m going to spend some time checking it out. Any Interaction Designers have some favorite introductory books they’d like to recommend?

Six Ways to Get People to Say “Yes” (from CopyBlogger). No, it’s not about Jedi-mind-tricks, although the effect can be almost the same. Whether you’re in marketing and sales or not, there’s huge value in learning the fine art of persuasion. The key is to show people what’s in it for them — and in this article, Dean Rieck gives six great tips on how to do just that.

Choosing a Good Chart (from The Extreme Presentation(tm) Method). If you’re at all involved with data visualization — maybe you have to generate reports for your management at work, for example — you may be used to just choosing charts more or less at random. “Pie Chart? Nah, did that last time. Let’s do a bar chart this time!” But did you know there’s a rhyme and reason to why (and when) you should use different chart types? Check out this easy reference guide whenever you need a quick reminder of what’s what.

Bonus Material

6 Words That Make Your Resume Suck (from SquawkFox). Layoffs are really starting to hit a lot of people hard. If you want to get a jump on the competition, check out this fantastic piece from SquawkFox. Often we’re told to put specifics on our resumes, but its in the examples that this article really shines. Even if you’re confident of your job security, it never hurts to keep your resume up-to-date; it saves a lot of time if you put in updates as they happen, rather than doing one major overhaul every several years!

Company Man – Jim Lahey reveals his recipe for no-knead pizza dough (from TastingTable). Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread cause a firestorm of breadbaking when it showed up in the New York Times a couple of years ago — and it’s what got me into my love of baking. Now, Lahey’s back with a recipe for no-knead pizza dough. I haven’t tried his recipe yet (I love my current kneaded version, from Bertinet’s fabulous book Dough — if you enjoy baking and/or eating fresh bread, this book is a real winner) but if its anything like the original No-Knead Bread, it will be a winner.

Taking Back Opinion

Sententia is a Latin word. It’s related to a number of other Latin words, like senex (old man) or senator (uh… senator!).

It’s quite an old word, first declension, femine, genitive ending in -ae, and so on and so forth. And if you were to look it up in a Latin textbook, you’d probably find the primary translation to be “opinion.”

Opinion is Weak

Just Full Of Ideas

photo by Cayusa

Sometimes, we use opinion as something to hide behind. We say, “well, in my opinion…” to justify some remark that could be controversial, soften a blow, or exert the superiority of one’s own way of thinking over another.

Other times, we talk about opinion to gloss over something, or treat an idea as less important or valuable. How many times have you heard  — or maybe even said — “oh, that’s just a matter of opinion,” or “well, in your opinion that’s the case, but in my opinion…”?

Culturally, we assert that everyone has a right to their opinion, before backstepping a bit, and dividing them into “qualified” and “unqualified” ones.

I’ve even heard it said that opinions are like noses: everyone has them. They also usually have two holes in them.

Regardless of the context, the word “opinion” just isn’t one which conveys a whole lot of “oomph”. In our everyday talk, it’s become a “weak” word; a qualifier of subjective knowledge at best, and an insult implying lack of knowledge at worst.

The Noisy Web

This is particularly true in the online world, where people spawn new opinions at a phenomenal rate. In years past, opinion sharing was the hallowed territory of newspaper columnists. Now anyone can sign up for a free blog and have a platform to spread their ideas. We’ve gone from a culture where it’s impolite to be overtly opinionated in public to one where the more opinions you spread, the more popular you can become.

But what ends up happening is a lot of people start shouting over each other, trying to get their opinion heard. Increasingly accessable broadcasting mechanisms online have led to whole communities of “experts” whose status has come not purely because they are brilliant minds (although some certainly are), but because they’ve figured out how to make their opinions heard fast and frequently. No wonder Seth Godin warns that the internet is almost full (or at least, our capacity to find it useful is).

This is the same the mindset which says that if you write dozens of very short posts on your blog, you’ll be the next rising blog-star. Never mind content, just throw in ten bullet points of meaningless drivel, dress it as opinion (so no one can attack you for it), sit back, and let controversy bring you the masses. What results is a lot of noisy opinions, without much exchange of ideas.

The result is that the Web is swiftly becoming an environment where it’s not the content of what you say that matters, it’s how loud and fast you can spread your particular opinion. In fact, for as much as we can point to blogging as a medium which encourages opinion “hit and runs,” it’s no longer even necessary to sit and write a lengthy blog post — you can just Tweet your opinion in 140 characters or less. And so the noise level rises.

Opinions Aren’t the Problem

Now, making it easy to share opinions isn’t a bad thing, in and of itself. For that matter, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being opinionated. But when talk (and opinion) is cheap, not needing any basis or reason to exist other than to be heard, all we do is devalue it. And as we continually degrade and weaken opinion, we degrade and weaken one of the hallmarks of humanity.

The truth is, we are all naturally opinionated. It’s impossible to think about anything without having an opinion about it — the human capacity to think implies a capacity to form opinions. Whether we want to admit it or not, having opinions is part of what makes us different from any other creature on Earth. Recognizing and embracing the value of well-reasoned and rationed opinions can be fulfilling and uplifting; degrading opinions to the point where all that’s left is noise, isn’t.

Lasting Opinions

What ultimately makes the difference in an age where anyone can get on an online podium and share their opinions is not the medium, or the volume, or even the source. It’s the message, or at least it ought to be.

It ought not be about how many blog posts you write in a day, how many tweets you make per hour, how many friends you have on Facebook, or how high you show up in the Google search rankings. It ought not just be enough to be opinionated and heard. Eventually, even the loudest opinions can be tuned out.

Instead, as we continually evolve our online existance, I would hope that we realize that the ideas and opinions which have lasting quality are the valuable ones. They are far more valuable than the ones which spread like wildfire, only to die out with the next fad. Often, but not always, the most valuable opinions are the quieter ones. The ones that aren’t shouted, aren’t tweeted, don’t hit your inbox daily; the ones that don’t seem to be standing on a rooftop saying “Hey, look at me!”

If we want to make the web a useful tool, we need to make sure that we’re supporting the types of opinions we want to hear more of. Likewise, if we want to contribute opinions that are worth listening to, we need to ensure that they have lasting value.

Choosing Sententia

To bring us back to where we started, what really makes a contribution isn’t just opinion, it’s sententia. If you go back to that Latin textbook, once you look past the primary definition, you will see that sententia encompasses a much more empassioned set of ideas. It is not only opinion, perspective, and a way of thinking. Sententia is also feeling, decision, or judgement. It is will and desire, determination and purpose.

Sententia isn’t just about having an opinion.  It’s about requiring that there be a reason not only for the opinion, but a reason to share the opinion. It’s about having a determination and basing your decisions on a deeply implanted sense of judgement and purpose.

If you want to share something of value, don’t aim for just a quick-hitter opinion that will make a splash, but quickly fade away. Aim for sententia.