🍕 Notes on Florence, Italy

I spent the first quarter of 2022 living in Florence, Italy. Here are my notes:

  • I recommend visiting in the shoulder or off-season (I was there from January to April). The weather is mild, and there aren’t as many tourists as in the summertime.
  • We stayed in the neighborhood of San Frediano. I recommend it for long-term stays. The neighborhood is populated by locals, but still within walking distance of the city center. I also like the Santo Spirito neighborhood, but it’s much more touristy.
  • The Mercato Centrale is the place to go if you need a break from traditional Italian food.
  • Walk through the Piazza della Signoria after dark. The statues and buildings are beautiful to view in the moonlight. And you won’t have to jostle with tour groups for space.
  • The Duomo is the most stunning building I have ever seen. Buy tickets to go up the dome and down to the crypts. Make sure you visit the Opera del Duomo Museum. It’s well worth it.
  • My two favorite places to read a book are in Parco di Villa Strozzi and on the Pescaia di Santa Rosa.
  • Speaking of books, the trains are a great place to get reading done. Make the time to visit Siena, San Gimignano, Bologna, and/or Cinque Terre while in the area.
  • The pasta and pizza are amazing, but I miss the gelato most. Gelateria La Carraia is spectacular.

📚 The Best Books of 2022

‘Tis the season for “best of” lists. Below are notable lists featuring the best books of 2022.

💯 Best overall books according to publications:

📖 Best books according to individuals:

🍳 Best books by genre:

🎨 Best book covers:

If you are looking for suggestions from real people, here is a thread from Hacker News, a thread from the suggestmeabook subreddit (and a second), and a thread from the fantasy subreddit.

🎄 2022 Holiday Gift Guide

It’s the holiday season. For the second time, I’ve made a holiday gift guide of stuff I personally love this year. Note: Some of the products listed below link to Amazon.com. I am an Amazon Associate member, which means anything bought through one of these links sends a little money my way at no extra cost to you.

The National Parks Pass is the go-to gift for outdoors lovers living in the United States. Some states, like South Carolina and Washington, sell annual state park passes. Fifty-Nine Parks created the artwork behind the Field Notes National Parks Memo Books. Now they’ve made a guidebook to the parks. If you’re looking for other outdoors swag, check out the Parks Project. Profits support the preservation of public lands. I highly recommend Nick Offerman’s book Where the Deer and the Antelope Play if you want something to read between hikes. It will give you a better grasp of the fragility and delicate balance of the land we take for granted.

Playing the board game Wingspan has given me an appreciation for the beauty of our avian friends. The best place to start for beginner birdwatchers is with an Audubon bird call and The Sibley Guide to Birds. See the Audubon Society’s gift guide for more bird-related fun.

On the tech side, Kindle finally made an e-ink tablet on which you can write. I’m a believer in the right to repair, so naturally I’m very excited about the Framework Laptop, a computer you can build and repair yourself. Watchy is an open-source, e-paper watch to fill that Pebble-sized hole in your heart.

E-bikes are a fun, healthy, environmentally-friendly, and ever-so-nerdy way to get around town. Here’s a short guide on how to find the best e-bike for you.

The man behind Baron Fig wrote a book on the creative process titled The Laws of Creativity. Speaking of creativity, Steal Like an Artist author Austin Kleon writes a Substack newsletter with bonus content for paying subscribers. His book bundle trilogy also makes a wonderful gift.

For stationery lovers, Yoseka Stationery has published their annual holiday gift guide. Currently, my favorite notebook is the Maruman Mnemosyne. If you’re looking for writing utensils, Pen Addict has you covered. I have long been a fan of Studio Neat’s work. They make a notebook designed specifically for your desk.

In the past, I recommended the Freewrite Traveler as a writing device without the distractions of an ordinary computer. For a cheaper, more retro alternative, check out the AlphaSmart 3000. If you are a notetaker like myself, Tiago Forte published a book on the subject titled Building a Second Brain. I use Obsidian for my notetaking. The software is free, but they sell a service that allows you to sync your notes across multiple devices.

Lately, I’ve taken an interest in chess. I even bought a small travel chess set. Bauhaus makes this cool chess set designed to show exactly how each piece moves. A chess.com subscription is a great way for beginners to learn the game. For board games other than chess, check out Keith Law’s list of top 100 board games. If you’re a fan of crosswords, buy a New York Times Games subscription.

Major streaming services like Netflix and Disney+ are known to everyone, but several lesser-known services are also worth a subscription. For the film snob, check out The Criterion Channel. For the horror fan, check out Shudder. And for the Anglophile, check out BritBox.

If you want to find a way to give back, there are several worthy causes where you can buy amazing gifts. Many museums, like the Smithsonian, Met, and Art Institute of Chicago, have online stores. The same goes for many major libraries, like the NY Public Library and Los Angeles Public Library. Wikipedia recently opened their online store with great swag. Or if you are anti-consumerism, use Charity Navigator and GiveWell to find the best ways to spend your donations.

🎲 Random Internet Button

Taking inspiration from indieblog.page, I’ve created my own random internet button. This button opens an internet thing I find useful, insightful, or otherwise inspirational. Give it a try:

I will add more webpages to the button as I discover cool stuff. I will also delete webpages that fall into a state of disrepair. Of course, that’s easier said than done. The web is ever-changing, and I only have so much time, so be wary of what you may encounter.

📒 Why I Use a Pocket Notebook

I carry a pocket notebook with me wherever I go. In it, I write thoughts, ideas, anecdotes, and to-do tasks. I could use a notes app for this purpose, but I find a paper notebook more convenient and accessible for several reasons:

1. Paper and pen is quicker.
2. While with company, it’s perceived as less rude to write in a notebook than type on a phone.
3. Phones and computers are distraction machines. Often I open them for one purpose and end up down a rabbit hole of frivolity.
4. There is an indefinable magic to writing things by hand.

For multi-page writing, a computer with a keyboard is the most efficient tool. For anything less, pen and paper can’t be beaten.

💪 25 Things You Can Do Right Now to Improve Your Life

1. Tidy your space.

2. Make a gratitude list.

3. Read a book.

4. Listen to an audiobook.

5. Watch an educational video.

6. Drink water.

7. Go for a walk.

8. Tell someone you appreciate them.

9. Read a Wikipedia page.

10. Set a budget.

11. Check your credit report.

12. Talk to someone smarter than yourself.

13. Sit up straight.

14. Unclench your jaw.

15. Floss.

16. Delete Facebook.

17. Block time-wasting websites.

18. Eat something healthy.

19. Do push-ups, squats, or burpees.

20. Write a list of goals for the week.

21. Download a password manager.

22. Set up automatic deposits for your savings account.

23. Take a break from the computer screen.

24. Set up a file backup system on your computer.

25. Stretch.

🎻 15 Ways to Unlock Your Creativity

1. Read. Read about creativity. Read about artists. Learn new things.

2. Get bored. Sit down. Do nothing. Let creativity fill the gaps.

3. Journal. Free write. Let your thoughts flow unencumbered. Try asking yourself questions. Answer them on the page.

4. Do something mindless. Go for a walk. Go for a drive. Do the dishes. Keep your body busy while your mind wanders to other places.

5. Review your notes. Look at your past thoughts. You might have a different perspective now than you did then.

6. Copy your idols. In other words, Steal Like an Artist.

7. Start with one small step. Write one sentence. Make one brushstroke. Do the minimum. Just get things started to overcome that first hurdle.

8. Make a list. Create a mind map. Spit words and ideas onto the page. Figure out what to do with them later.

9. Create more. Creativity isn’t finite. The more you create, the more ideas you get. 

10. Break routine. Do something different. Use new experiences to fuel your creativity.

11. Talk through it. Just saying your thoughts out loud can help you work through them.

12. Change your process. Use new tools. Try a new technique. Approach your work from a new angle.

13. Try collaborating. Get an outside perspective. Find help from someone with different experiences and expertise. Just talking your project over with people can bring new insights.

14. Set constraints. Endless options can lead to analysis paralysis. Set constraints to force creative solutions.

15. Remix your old work. Edit it. Tweak it. Repackage it. You are a different person now than you were in the past. You have experienced new things. You have different skills and opinions. All of that can impact your work.

⏰ Spend Money to Buy Time

Money is infinite. If you lose money, you can always earn more. Time doesn’t work like that. Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. Therefore, given the opportunity to trade money to buy time, one should take it.

There are even scientific reasons to buy time. According to studies, buying time promotes happiness. But how do you do it? Depending on your disposable income, you have a few options.

1. Get a housecleaning service. Pay someone else to do your dusting, vacuuming, and scrubbing.
2. Hire a gardener. Get someone to mow your lawn and prune your bushes.
3. Outsource repairs. Hire others for home and car repairs. If you rent, hold your landlord responsible for home repairs.
4. Pay for faster transportation. Fly instead of drive. Opt for direct flights.
5. Get an assistant. Hire someone to keep your schedule, make your appointments, and run your errands. If that is out of your price range, try online services.
6. Outsource work. Hire freelancers to research, edit, write, design, code, or do whatever else you need to be done.
7. Cut down on commute time. Pay more to live closer to work. Or quit your job and find one that allows you to work from home.
8. Pay someone to cook for you. Order out for meals. For a healthier (and expensive) option, hire a personal chef.
9. Retire early. Be frugal with your spending. Save as much as you can. Invest wisely. Retire early so you can spend time doing what you want and not what you need to do.

Not everyone has the disposable income for these options. Luckily there are ways to free time without spending money.

1. Automate repetitive tasks. If you need to do it more than twice, find a way to automate it. Set up autopay on your bills. Write scripts for repetitive computer tasks. Use automation software.
2. Streamline decision-making. Author Neil Strauss eats the same lunches from the same restaurants every week. He does this so he doesn’t have to spend time choosing what to eat. The decisions are made for him. Find ways to cut down on your decisions.
3. Stay healthy. Eating healthy, exercising, and regularly visiting your doctor can add years to your life you might not otherwise have.
4. Stay on task. Manage your responsibilities in a timely manner, so you can move on to tasks you enjoy.

It’s up to you to decide which strategies you implement. Some things you might actually enjoy doing. Others you will want to outsource. If you enjoy cooking, don’t bother ordering out. However not many people enjoy dusting and vacuuming, so you might want to hire someone to do the house cleaning for you. Like most decisions, the more money you have, the easier they are to make.

Now take the time to choose what you want to outsource. Do it for your own happiness. Go task by task, deciding what you can and can’t afford, what you enjoy and what you don’t. Don’t limit yourself to the tasks in this post. The more time you buy, the more time you have to do the things you love.

📝 20 Ways to Improve Your Writing

1. Write daily.

2. Read On Writing Well or one of these other books on how to improve your writing.

3. Get feedback from friends and family.

4. Join a writing group, class, or workshop.

5. Participate in NaNoWriMo.

6. Listen to the Writing Excuses podcast.

7. Watch Brandon Sanderson’s creative writing lectures.

8. Keep an observation notebook.

9. Read read read.

10. Rewrite rewrite rewrite.

11. Copy great work.

12. Follow the Pixar rules of storytelling.

13. Craft a story from a writing prompt.

14. Read your writing out loud.

15. Start a blog.

16. Travel. Experience the world.

17. Keep a journal.

18. Outline your novel like Jim Butcher.

19. Re-read good books.

20. Try to get published.

✍ 11 Books to Improve Your Writing

Included in this list are books on how to write both fiction and nonfiction.

1. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott — Advice on writing fiction, including exercises to get you started.

2. Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss — A guide to proper punctuation with hilarious examples of real-world misuses.

3. The Elements of Style by Strunk and White — A brief guide on how to properly write a sentence.

4. On Writing by Stephen King — This Stephen King classic is more memoir than how-to guide. Still, it reveals plenty of insights into King’s writing process and serves as great motivation for the wannabe novelist.

5. On Writing Well by William Zinsser — If you need to do any kind of writing to get through the day, this book will teach you how to improve.

6. The Fantasy Fiction Formula by Deborah Chester — This book gives a beat-by-beat guide to writing a fantasy novel. Even if fantasy is not your genre, you can find value in this book.

7. Dreyer’s English by Benjamin Dreyer — A sharp and funny guide to clarity and style.

8. The Everyday Writer by Andrea Lunsford — An all-purpose writing guide for students.

9. The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth — Learn how to elegantly turn a phrase.

10. Stein on Writing by Sol Stein — Editing is an essential part of the writing process. This book will teach you how to fix writing when it is flawed.

11. Everybody Writes by Ann Handley — If you have any interest in creating online content, this book will show you how to attract and connect to audiences.