inessential by Brent Simmons

Notes and Books

I’m 45 years old and my short-term memory, which used to be very good, is now average, so I take notes frequently as I work. I take notes at the very second I think of them, because if I wait even a few seconds they’re gone.

I’d use Vesper for these notes, but I’m working on Vesper. It may be paused in the debugger or in some other state where I can’t use it to take a note. While I can and do use Vesper for everything else, I can’t use it to work on itself.

So I do what I’ve done for many years: I take notes — in cursive, because it’s fastest — on 5” x 8” legal pads. I got some new pads for Christmas, my favorite kind with the hard back. Not flimsy.

I don’t save these notebooks once full, since they’re really just aids to my short-term memory. The notes aren’t worth anything later on, so I recycle them. I even tear out pages as I go. (Yes, it’s a single-user Snapchat but for words.)

This sounds terribly low-tech, but there’s a part I like about it: it connects me to the programmer — the boy — I was 30 years ago, who sat in front of his Apple II Plus with a three-ring binder full of notes and hand-written code. It didn’t seem at all weird then to mix digital and analog, and it does seem a little weird, at least to me, these days. But I seem to find excuses.

Similarly, for a while I thought I’d buy electronic books only, with the exception that I’d buy physical copies of classics and books I want to keep. But then I remembered I can give to Goodwill genre fiction that I don’t want to keep. So why not buy physical copies of those too?

Reading books has given me so much joy in life, and reading electronic books just isn’t the same joy: it breaks the thread to all the decades of past-mes with a book in my hand. It breaks the thread to all the great readers, living and gone, in my family.

So I do read electronic books, but I prefer real books. A library has a romance that a hard drive will never have.

(Lest you think this is Luddism, I’ll remind you that I write, and use like crazy, note-taking software that runs on iPhones. And I’ve written blogging and RSS-reading apps. But I feel steadier with one foot planted in the past and one planted in the future.)