Deryk Makgill's Commonplace Book

My digital scrapbook of things that catch my mind or my eye. An alternative to Tumblr.

Things I'm reading, thinking about, listening to, watching, or otherwise want to save for some reason or another. It goes without saying that posts are not endorsements.

Why the World’s Best Mathematicians Are Hoarding Chalk

Once upon a time, not long ago, the math world fell in love … with a chalk. But not just any chalk! This was Hagoromo: a Japanese brand so smooth, so perfect that some wondered if it was made from the tears of angels. Pencils down, please, as we tell the tale of a writing implement so irreplaceable, professors stockpiled it.

That is the kind of product you want to create.

Yudkowsky on doing it daily

Eliezer Yudkowsky commenting on his archive of daily blog posts:

Even five years later, it still appears to me that this is better than nothing.

Eliezer Yudkowsky


Ayn Rand on race

Ayn Rand is, once again, right.

A genius is a genius, regardless of the number of morons who belong to the same race - and a moron is a moron, regardless of the number of geniuses who share his racial origin.

Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism

Racial supremacism is an attempt to grant oneself the unearned.

Timothy C. May on police corruption

Timothy C. May is a fascinating character. I’ve been doing some research on him for a potential project. Here’s his thought on police corruption, put in a way I think both sides of the question should understand:

Not all cops are corrupt. Indeed, I suspect that they are no more corrupt proportionately than is the general population…which is not too reassuring to me.

Timothy C. May

On Kleon making stuff daily

Here’s a great bit on the results of making things every day. Sometimes the results catch up to you far down the road.

For a while Kleon was doing a daily poem, but one day he stopped and didn’t do another for almost a year. When several blogs recently lauded their genius, Kleon picked up his Sharpie again.

Samantha Grice

Frank Zappa on college

I can’t find a direct source for this, but it’s great:

If you want to get laid, go to college. If you want an education, go to the library.

Frank Zappa

Horace, Socrates and Emerson on travel delusions

Traveling is a fool’s paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty, and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from. I seek the Vatican, and the palaces. I affect to be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but I am not intoxicated. My giant goes with me wherever I go.

Emerson, Self-Reliance

From the Roman poet, Horace:

Quid terras alio calentes/ Sole mutamus? patriae quis exsul / Se quoque fugit?

Why do we seek climates warmed by another sun? Who is the man that by fleeing from his country, can also flee from himself?

Horace, Od., ii. 16, 18.

From Socrates, told by Montaigne in his essay On Solitude:

One telling Socrates that such a one was nothing improved by his travels: “I very well believe it,” said he, “for he took himself along with him.

Montaigne, On Solitude

Kleon says you are what you say you are

The internet: a tool for self invention. You can be a writer now. No degree required. Just write. As Austin Kleon wrote in 2007:

I love how on the internet... If somebody sees your poems, you’re a poet. If somebody sees your comics, you’re a cartoonist.

I am whatever you say I am.

Austin Kleon

Why author Neil Gaiman didn't go to college

Neil Gaiman’s commencement speech is required watching. His awesome remarks on college are just a bonus for me. Want to be a writer? Write.

I never graduated from university. I never even started at one. I escaped from school as soon as I could when the prospect of four more years of enforced learning before I could become the writer I wanted to be seemed stifling.

Neil Gaiman,Commencement Speech to the Graduating Class of the University of Arts, 2012.

The Count of Monte Cristo on wishing misfortune upon others to help us bear our own

Monte Cristo

Here is a brilliant sort of parable from the chapter, ‘La Mazzolata,’ in The Count of Monte Cristo, on the evil of wishing misfortune upon others to help us bear our own.

Don’t pretend you haven’t done it before.

Our goal should be to bear our misfortunes quietly, peacefully, and to never wish those same misfortunes upon others.

In the following passage, two men are set to die by execution together for separate crimes. One of them is pardoned at the very last minute, and the remaining condemned man goes into a frenzy, demanding the other man die with him.

'A pardon for Peppino!' yelled Andrea, entirely roused from the state of torpor into which he had seemed to be plunged. 'Why a pardon for him and not for me? We were to die together. I was promised that he would die before me. You have no right to make me die alone. I don't want to die alone!' And he broke away from the two priests, twisting, shouting, bellowing, and making insane efforts to break the ropes binding his hands.

The executioner made a sign to his two assistants, who jumped off the scaffold and seized the prisoner.

'Whats wrong?' Franz asked the count.

'What is wrong?' the count repeated. 'Don't you understand?' What's wrong is that this human being who is about to die is furious because his fellow creature is not dying with him and, if he were allowed to do so, he would tear him apart with his nails and his teeth rather than leave him to enjoy the life of which he himself is about to be deprived. Oh men! Race of crocodiles, as Karl Moor says,' the count exclaimed, brandishing two clenched fists towards the heads of the crowd. 'How well I know you by your deeds and how invariably you succeed in living down to what one expects of you!'

Andrea and the two assistant executioners were rolling around in the dust, the prisoner still crying out: 'He must die, I want him to die! You do not have the right to kill me alone!'

'Look, look,' the count continued, grasping each of the two young men by the hand. 'Look, because I swear to you, this is worthy of your curiosity. Here is a man who was resigned to his fate, who was walking to the scaffold and about to die without resisting and without recriminations. Do you know what consoled him? Do you know what resigned him to his fate? It was the fact that another man would share his anguish, that another man was to die like him, that another man was to die before him! Put two sheep in the slaughter-house or two oxen in the abattoir and let one of them realize that his companion will not die, and the sheep will bleat with joy, the ox low with pleasure. But man, man whom God made in His image, man to whom God gave his first, this sole, this supreme law, that he should love his neighbor, man to whom God gave a voice to express his thoughts—what is man's first cry when he learns that his neighbor is saved? A curse. All honour to man, the masterpiece of nature, the lord of creation!'

He burst out laughing, but such a terrible laugh that one realized he must have suffered horribly to be able to laugh in such a way.

The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas.

The Sick Resume

Maybe this doesn’t belong here in my commonplace book because it’s not lofty enough, but it is my book after all, and I love rewriting poems.

From my friends at Crash:

O Resume, thou art sick.

The job seeker

That discovers an opportunity

By using something better

Has found out thy lies

Of 12-point Roman font

And the proof of their work

Does thy life destroy.

William Blake’s “The Sick Rose” became “The Sick Resume”.

Leonard Read on wise ignorance

“I don’t know” is sometimes the wisest thing you can say.

Leonard Read seemed to agree. From his journals:

At one end of the intellectual spectrum are the wise, those who know they don’t know much; and on the other end are the egotists, those who have little, if any, awareness of how little they know.

Leonard Read Journals, September 6, 1959

Socrates said it a couple thousand years before though:

Although I do not suppose that either of us knows anything really beautiful and good, I am better off than he is - for he knows nothing, and thinks that he knows. I neither know nor think that I know.

The Apology, Benjamin Jowett translation

Resist the urge to always give an answer. Nobody is that smart.

Building a log house

I’ve become interested recently in traditional home construction. Modern houses aren’t typically made to last and are full of toxins, and building a house from scratch yourself seems to be the only way to guarantee a home to your standards.

A great video from the Northmen, building a log house based on building techniques in Latvia:

Gaiman on writing

Here’s writer Neil Gaiman on the Tim Ferriss podcast:

Part of what I discovered, particularly about being a novelist, is writing a novel works best if you can do the same day over and over again. The closer you can come to Groundhog Day, you just repeat that day. You set up a day that works for yourself.

Neil Gaiman

Career opportunity windows

Great career advice from my friend T.K. Coleman:

Career windows

Think about your career in terms of “Windows of opportunity.”

What’s hot right now might not be hot in the future. Today’s connections may be no good tomorrow. The people/practices that were good enough to get you where you are might not be sufficient to sustain you later.

T.K. Coleman

So many things I did when I was 19 and 20 no longer excite me. But I’m so glad I did them because they were necessary steps to figure out what excites me now.

Don’t miss your chance. You might not have the same passion in a few years.

Leonard Read on FEE's purpose

Find of the day. Leonard E. Read takes down the central planners once again…

September 29.

When all the verbiage is cut through and all the shouting dies down, what really is it FEE argues for? Just this: You preposterous egotists! Get the hell off the backs of folks who know as much as you but who know they don’t know much. Leave us with ourselves and our Creator. The Creator, not you, is our source of creative action. Sure, all of us will organize to protect this creative relationship but, other than this, get gone! Leave the creative relationship be, you would-be gods! We are no less fallible than you but you are dizzy.

Leonard E. Read Journals, September 29 1959


Entrepreneurs don't need degrees

A great find from Fred Wilson’s AVC blog in 2009:

We chuckled about that exchange and the other VC on the board said "I think twenty percent or more of our portfolio companies are led by entrepreneurs who didn't graduate from college."

Entrepreneurs don't need degrees like lawyers and doctors do. They are credentialed by virtue of their track record. The first startup is hard but if they make that one work, they end up with something much better than a college degree. They have a notch in their belt. They've got a track record of success. Even if the first one is a failure, I'd say that they've got something more than a degree. They've shown they can start something from nothing, build a team, a product, and maybe even a business.

We've been spending a lot of time lately thinking about, talking about, learning about, and looking at the whole education sector. Education is critically important. But you don't have to go to school to be educated and if being an entrepreneur is your goal in life, that's even more true.

Fred Wilson, One Thing You Don’t Need To Be An Entrepreneur: A College Degree

You have no moral obligation to be offended about anything.

From my friend T.K. Coleman’s blog today:

You have no moral obligation to be offended about anything.

Emotions ≠ Ethics

Moods ≠ Morality

Indignation ≠ Integrity

Your contribution to society is about what you do, not how you claim to feel.

You have the RIGHT to feel whatever YOU wish, but beware the machinations of those who claim you have the RESPONSIBILITY to feel whatever THEY wish.

T.K. Coleman

I thought this 30-year old comic I’d saved from Berkeley Breathed fits it well:


Leonard E. Read on the central planners

Leonard E. Read

Leonard E. Reads private papers at the Foundation for Economic Education are a “lost” treasure.

A selection from an article I read today that was buried in his journal from 1958:

For the student of economics, this poses an interesting question: Can there be a sensible, rational economic system for the wise, for those,'who know they do not know much?

Certainly, such a system would bear no resemblance to the one devised by those who are at the other end of the intellectual spectrum -- the egotists, the ones who are unaware of how little they know.

The egotists appear to beat the root of our social troubles for they are the ones who see no difficulties at all in arranging the lives of everyone in accord with their own design. Indeed, they are so profoundly impressed with their prowess in this respect that they favor using the police force to implement their schemes for the improvement of society.

An Economic System for the Wise


Front Porch Forum, the social community only open to people who live by you in Vermont

I love this idea. Facebook started out as an exclusive platform for Harvard students. Maybe we’ll return to those kind of online networks in the future.

Front Porch Forum is similar to a Listserv: networks that were commonplace on the internet by 2000 but waned as modern social networks arose, their roles absorbed by sleeker, multibillion-dollar platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and others. Yet despite the competition from those larger sites, Front Porch Forum has not only persisted, it’s thrived in Vermont. Since its founding in 2000, it boasts nearly 160,000 members, or just under a quarter of the population of the state.

The Verge


Ads from Canadian Club's 'Hide a Case' campaign

In 1967, Hiram Walker and its advertising agency began hiding cases of Canadian Club Whiskey around the world. In all, 22 cases were hidden and 5 remain hidden to this day.

This might be my favorite ad campaign of all time.

Canadian Club Ad

Canadian Club St. Helena