Monday, October 24, 2011

Week 19: Bookstore magic and Quora inflation

This week, I spent 4 days in Dumaguete, Philippines, on a work-related assignment. The city straddles the seaside, and there are hardly any cars – most people get around via motorcycle or “trikes.” The city is not sleepy, but it is quaint. During the 4 days, I read Chekhov, discovered the most amazing cookies, bought bunches of ladyfinger bananas, and visited two rural communities. I’d tell you those stories – walking between the mud and through rice paddies and listening to mothers who had tumors the size of watermelons in their midsections because they couldn’t afford the bus fare to the free clinic in town – but I’d sound patronizing, just another ex-pat slogging through desolate conditions for a sense of benighted purpose. So I’ll tell you another story.

At the used bookstore in the middle of town, as I navigated through the aisles picking out books I wanted to read (blackjack, John Muir, sports writing), I frequently had to let three boisterous 15-year-olds walk past me, they too attempting to pin down their reading list for the week. They spoke perfect English, ragged each other on their book choices, debated the merits of Dan Brown – I’d never heard 15-year-olds speak like this before, let alone 15-year-olds in a rural city in the Philippines. I couldn’t help wondering why they weren’t playing Nintendo, or basketball, or wasting time walking around the city, instead of at a bookstore on a perfectly sunny Sunday morning. I tried to talk to them, but they were as irreverent and hare-brained as teenagers should be, and didn’t get much, other than the fact that they just liked reading.

As I paid for my books and walked out, I really hoped that they made it to a good University, and maybe even out of the Philippines.

As for online life: this week, I spent 9 hours, 48 minutes on Quora, and around an hour each on Facebook, New York Times, Yahoo Sports, TechCrunch, and WSJ. Everything else was under 30; email just 2 hours, 15 minutes. And writing -- 20 hours, 45 minutes! That's an average of 3 hours a day! Not too shabby.

Highlights from my Internet browsing this week.

I’m frankly inspired by this profile of George Clooney. His former girlfriend Sarah Larson, who figures prominently, totally didn’t see the break-up happening.

The New York Times have strong essays on the hazards of confidence, this Haruki Murakami fellow, and Herman Cain supporting alcohol and cigarettes. I also learned how Romney and Perry almost came to blows, which isn’t surprising given the history between them. And go California olive oil!

My tech digest: Hipmunk is the new Kayak; and there are a ton of people on planet Earth using Google+. The Google-Facebook-Amazon-Apple tech war, 2011 edition. If you need motivation to make your Facebook more private, take this lollipop. See how many times your name has been searched with Google AdWords Keyword Tool. Why Jeff Bezos is a baller. Online gift cards.

Here’s the evidence I’m spending way too much time online: I know the rules of Calvinball, learned a new way to pronounce “octopus” (Click on the audio), read half of the Duke University “F* list,” watched the most contentious handshake in NFL history, and know that Yale’s #4!

Finally, I’m debating whether I should become a writer. Here’s the flow chart I’m using to make my decision. (And here’s a little more on if writing is worth it.)

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