Knowledge: Organized.

Sanna here, reporting from Nerd Central. Today I want to share something that I find more exciting than I should admit. Like, this is basically porn for my project manager brain. I just want to scroll through the neatly organized columns, tweak the comments, add tags …

Sorry, got ahead of myself there. It’s really only exciting if you a) read a lot, especially on a digital device, b) care to structure all your highlights and notes so you can access them easily later, and c) are structure fanatic who should seek professional help.

Kindle highlights 

Ever since I turned my reading digital in 2015 and discovered the magic of highlights in my Kindle, I’ve wondered why there’s no easy way to extract and organize them. Back then, even accessing them was a hassle, but that was made easier in 2016 - now you can email them in PDF and CSV format*. 

A couple of weeks ago I came across this post by Simon Hørup Eskildsen, where he shares his approach to reading. It’s amazing – I’ve never heard of anyone being this intentional and structured about their reading. It made me want to step it up a notch, especially for making the gathered knowledge more accessible. Memory won't cut it, unfortunately. Since I’m already actively investing time in my reading, it doesn’t make sense to not invest those extra 10 percent. A small effort of planting seeds that could pay off for years to come. 

It will without doubt evolve and grow more complex with time, but for now, I thought it might be interesting to share my starting point, for others with similar obsessive tendencies. Because we’re all nerds here, right? 

Weapon of choice: Airtable

I’ve worked with Airtable in a couple of client projects before, I liked what I saw, but these days I’m reluctant to invest time into a tool just because it’s new and shiny (I’ll save that impulse for pole wear). Then Heather shared her business setup earlier this summer, as I was getting ready to start a personal project, and that sealed it for me. 

Airtable is described as part spreadsheet, part database, but that doesn’t quite do it justice. What makes it useful for almost anything you can imagine is how it manages the balance between being incredibly powerful and complex, while remaining simple to use. It’s impressive and never feels overwhelming.

Together with Bear, it’s the foundation of most things I create. Bear for writing, Airtable for structure.

Highlights structured in Airtable

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Here’s my structure, let’s call it 1.0. My main objectives are findability and context. This means: 

  1. Quotes are by default grouped by book title, but also categorized and tagged. 
  2. Comments to explain why I highlighted that section and link to the PDF with highlights, where I find the exact location and go through it again.
  3. Easy to pull out relevant information for each quote; the name of the book, author, and link to Amazon page where I can dive into details if needed. 

As you can see, it's not complicated, and I've just gotten started with the process of adding tags and comments for the books I've imported so far.

Process to get there

It's straightforward, but for someone who's not used to these tools, seeing them listed might make it clear if this is for you. I'm referring to Kindle here, but I assume other devices have some equivalent functionality.

  1. Use highlight on your Kindle, and I'd recommend adding notes to it. I've been lazy with this, but now I'm making a deliberate effort to provide context for Future Sanna, who is often very confused by Past Sanna. I highlight for different reasons, sometimes because I found the phrasing beautiful or amusing, sometimes because it’s insightful and I want to remember it, sometimes it's a topic I want to look up. Clarifying this as a note will save me time later.
  2. Go to Notes in your Kindle device and click Export. They will be sent as PDF and CSV to your email.
  3. In Airtable, create a new base - I'd start with a blank spreadsheet instead of a template. Then play around with the structure. 
  4. Copy the columns you want from the CSV file and paste them in Airtable.
  5. See how it feels when you start adding tags and categories to quotes - does it make sense? If not, restructure and try something else (it's surprisingly painless).
  6. When you have your content and basic structure, you can start to play around with views, groups and filter. Organize them based on tags, group them on type of book, or search after something specific. 

And that's what I've got so far! In a couple of months, this will likely have evolved into something different. Updates to come.

*At least if you read on an actual Kindle. If you read on their app it looks like you can only get it in HTML. Amazon, you make it really fucking difficult for your users sometimes. Some consistency would be greatly appreciated. 

PS: If you take a shot every time you read organize, contextstructure or highlight, this post makes for a great drinking game. 

Stick with the awkwardness

Stick with the awkwardness, there is something magical beyond it. Go to yoga. Run. Hate it until you enjoy it.

There is some good advice in this post, this quote in particular. The feeling when you move past the awkwardness truly is magical. And worth every bruise you got getting there (yes, pole, I'm talking about you).

Next up in the phase of complete awkwardness and terror, waiting for magic: surfing. More on that in August.

The Craft of Storytelling

One of the best parts about my job is that I get to go to things like The Conference. The Conference is a conference that is not that easily described. I would say it is mainly about media and communication, but often with a different perspective. With speakers from all over the world, with a wide range of backgrounds and a high standard of presentations, I was impressed.

Which one was my favorite should come as no surprise. Brian Reed, producer at This American Life, was there to talk about the Craft of Storytelling. (As it happens, he is also the producer behind one of my favorite episodes of said show, What Happened At Dos Erres.)

In his talk, Brian focused on three basic elements for telling a great story. Action, reflection and stakes. Each part was illustrated with audio examples from the show, something that worked as glue for my otherwise forgetful brain. What really made an impact on me though, was how he wrapped it all together in the end.

A good story should make larger point about the world and humanity.

I know, it sounds obvious. But I think most of us clearly need the reminder.

If you are interested in storytelling in any way, shape or form, I suggest you take 15 minutes and watch this.

"It's great to let go. I should have started sooner."

A few times a year me and my friends take turns in hosting brunch for each other. We all bring something to the table, one makes magical scones, another one the best scrambled eggs in the world and the one who is somewhat disabled in the kitchen (me) makes american pancakes from a finished mix. Then we sit down and talk about life for hours.

Today was one of those days and one thing we discussed was that people should be more aware of how short life can be. Not in the extreme way I am, who wakes up in the middle of the night thinking "Oh my god, I could die tomorrow, what the hell am I doing with my life?!", but in a way that put things more in perspective. Such as asking yourself what is really important in your life, and what could you let go of.

When I got home I watched this TED Talk with amazing Isabel Allende. It pretty much says it all.

Also, I want to be like Isabel Allende when I grow up.

The Tutu Project

tutu-project It all started with Bob Carey taking pictures of himself in a pink tutu, both for fun and to express himself. Then his wife Linda was diagnosed with breast cancer, and what started as joke transformed into a project to support the fight against breast cancer; The Tutu Project. Truly inspiring (and funny).

You can help support the cause here (perhaps by buying the book).

Bob Carey and The Tutu Project from PocketWizard on Vimeo.

Gone fishing

BettyWantsIn_02 He was a big man, my old friend. His name was Jan, most people called him Janne. When he came into a room, people noticed. Not only because he was both tall and wide, but because he laughed higher than anyone in there. And he laughed a lot.

He was a fisherman. We owned a small cabin village in the middle of the forest, where he was our only permanent resident. We had some great fishing water around there. It was a small cabin, but he managed to fit a surprisingly large collection of movies in there. Whenever I came over, he made me gooseberry soda and put on my favorite movie, Across the Great Divide. On VCR, of course. It must be at least fifteen years since I saw it the last time, but I still remember every line.

Since we lived in the middle of nowhere, where we had 20 kilometers to the nearest civilization, Janne was the one of my closest friends. He taught me how to fish (well, at least he tried) and how to make fish flies, which I was actually pretty good at. Something I could spend hours with.

Janne past away around ten years ago, when I was busy being an obnoxious teenager and always thought I could get in touch another day. And then suddenly, there was no other day.

This amazing short movie about a fisherman named Phipps, made by Betty Wants In, reminds me of him.

By The Lake, Tasmania. from Betty Wants In on Vimeo.

Thanks to My Modern Met for always finding and sharing great stories.

Frozen in time

I have always been fascinated with abandoned places. In my younger years I have several times tricked my friends into joining me breaking in to houses no one has lived in for many years. Dusty, quite places that makes you wonder what happened to the people who used to live there. Why did they just leave everything behind? What happened to them? Where they planning on coming back? These amazing photographs of abandoned houses are taken by Dutch photographer Niki Feijen, who has made urban exploration his speciality. Visit his website or portfolio on 500px for more photos.



It also reminds me of one of my favorite episodes from This American LifeHouse on Loon Lake. A young boy and his friends finds an abandoned house that is left in perfect condition, and tries to figure out what happened. Definitely worth listening to!


Snap Judgement

sugarandspice-banner-sm For quite some time ago, I added Snap Judgement to my podcast app. But for some reason I never listened to it. (Perhaps because there is only so much time in one day and I also have a day job.)

Today however, I started with the episode Sugar & Spice. About love. And, surprise, I loved it. I caught myself walking around smiling after ten minutes, and that is always a good grade for me.

By the way, their website also gets a top grade from me. Easy to navigate with a good structure and embeddable content via Soundcloud (both separate stories and full episodes). And hey, they even have Spotify playlists for each episode!