How Pencils Are Made

You ever read/view something, say to yourself, “That would make a good blog post,” and totally forget to bookmark it? After my colleague Katie mentioned that the Philadelphia Museum of Art had a pencil bar, I told her I had just seen a post with behind-the-scenes videos of pencils being made.

Except: I didn’t have the link anywhere in my Pinboard, and my browser history didn’t turn up any hits. Turns out:

  • I had read it via RSS reader
  • It was on

The music on the Faber-Castell video is a bit … much, but I am fascinated by the multi-stage process. The Derwent video is (as noted by Jason Kottke) less slick, but it’s also more soothing as a result.

Some related bits ’n bobs:

My friend Henry and I were discussing note-taking tools, and he mentioned that he’d been using some of the Blackwing line. I’ve always preferred a pen, but I’m starting to think I should give pencils a try.

Terseness tension

I found myself agreeing with a lot of what Christian Heilmann writes here, especially this part:

Terse code is harder to read. Oh boy, this is holy war material. I’d rather have maintainers get clean code that follows a style than clever, dense hacks. And it shouldn’t be a rite of passage to know all the syntactic magic a language allows. U wl b abl 2 rd ths, as our brain craves harmony and tends to fill in gaps. But it will tire you out much faster than a proper sentence.

One of my former colleagues warned me off this kind of terseness by recounting how he once tried to shorten his function names into acronyms, turning pickFirstItemFromCollection() into something like pfifc(). It was a short-lived experiment.

I’m also reminded of this Twitter thread by Marco Rogers, looking back at the genesis of the arrow syntax in JavaScript, and how that trades readability for terseness:

The javascript community fought hard for the fat arrow syntax, () => {}.

It’s shorter for sure. But way more annoying to type on a regular basis than function() {}.

And that is the folly of programmer culture IMO. Constantly optimizing the wrong things for the wrong reasons.

The Last Video Store

A short mini-doc on Ardmore’s own Viva Video. The bittersweet tone is one I share — like the store’s owner, Miguel, I hope that Viva Video can keep going as long as possible. Streaming is more convenient, but I love that my family has a space like Viva Video where we can go, browse, get the staff’s opinion, and get a chance to experience the unexpected.

Anne Helen Petersen wants you to take 30 minutes to just read

I enjoyed this interview with Anne Helen Petersen on the Pocket blog. She talks about her path from academia to writing deeply-researched articles on everything from burnout to women in film and music.

It seems fitting that I would read this shortly after the Atlantic piece from my last post. Petersen writes:

But everyone, no matter where they are and what they do, should have 30 minutes in their life to devote to something they want to read, listen to, or think about. For centuries people of all classes have had that sort of time, even if they devoted it exclusively to the bible or church.

I do think that most people do have that time—it’s just whittled away by other distractions (our phones, checking email, especially) that we turn to for quick relief from the overwhelming stresses from the other corners of our lives. Taking 30 minutes to read feels indulgent. It shouldn’t.

She also describes a phenomenon that desperately needs a noun:

The most embarrassing thing is when you start pocketing articles for a piece, go back and search a keyword, and realize that you pocketed the EXACT SAME ARTICLE two years ago—just never read it.

(In my case it happens more frequently with Pinboard, which I use for bookmarking).

Why Some People Become Lifelong Readers

Writing for The Atlantic, Joe Pinsker tries to uncover the factors that lead to folks joining the “reading class.”

This made me laugh in recognition:

“Introverts seem to be a little bit more likely to do a lot of leisure-time reading”

“I’m Parenting Right Now” is my new motto:

Reading will seem more like chocolate cake if it’s something that parents themselves take part in happily and regularly. “When I’m sitting there on my couch, reading a book, and my kids are doing their own thing, I like to think, ‘I’m parenting right now—they can see me reading this book,’” Russo told me.

This ignores the very real possibility that one would have to actually move to a larger, more expensive space to accommodate the influx of cheap books:

Paul also advised that parents seed books throughout the house, not stash them “preciously in your own bedroom, away from everyone else, or in one [specific] area of the house.” It may seem expensive to assemble a large home library, but Paul points out that it’s cheap to buy used books and free to borrow lots of them. “You don’t need a lot of money to fill your home with books … [and] it’s very hard to have a bored child when there are always books around,” she said.

All kidding aside, it’s been one of the biggest pleasures of my life to share a love of reading with my whole family, and to look up most afternoons and evenings and see everyone tucked away in their own corner, lost in a book.