Lascaux cave paintings from the hall of bulls
Lascaux cave paintings from the hall of bulls
Hall of Bulls, Lascaux Cave Paintings (image: public domain)

This morning my wife and I had breakfast in an indoor diner for the first time since lockdown started. It wasn’t the Hallelujah free at last! moment I had imagined it would be. Instead I found myself preoccupied with a little voice in my head saying “maybe this isn’t such a good idea after all.”

The diner was small, completely enclosed, and every booth was occupied. Nobody was wearing a mask except for the staff. This place was the perfect environment for spreading COVID.

I couldn’t get my mind to settle down the whole time we were in the restaurant…


Photo by Maksym Kaharlytskyi on Unsplash

When you get stuck on your next writing project wouldn’t be great to have a partner who could quickly help you work through the stuck point and arrive at clarity?

That’s how Niklas Luhmann thought of his zettelkasten note-taking system. He saw his notes as an active partner with which he could communicate. He describes his method of note taking as being a conversation in which both partners learn from the other. The greater the investment of time, the deeper the conversation.

As a result of extensive work with this technique a kind of secondary memory will arise, an alter…


Your gut knows more than you think

Photo by David Billings on Unsplash

This story first appeared on The Wilder I. Read more stories here.

Let me say right off that I’m guilty of mocking Marie Kondo’s advice of holding an article of clothing to your heart to see if it “sparks joy” before deciding to dump it in the recycle bin.

If I use the term at all I’m more likely to say “ugh, does not spark joy” when the dog throws up in the middle of the living room.

But recently I discovered that the “spark joy” method of decision making is pretty effective when…


Photo: Library of Congress

Getting Things Done had a good run. For a while this powerful and intensely popular productivity method was really useful in helping me stay on track. But now I feel like it’s bogging me down.

I’ve got two gripes with GTD — massive projects that span long periods of time (writing a novel) and shorter projects that repeat and may run in parallel with similar projects (writing blog posts).

Big Projects


Poison oak near my house

On a recent hike to the falls in Rancho Sierra Vista I noticed that it’s not just the lacy phacelia that’s super-blooming. As noted by the California Poison Control System, there’s a bumper crop of poison oak along the trails. In some places it’s practically unavoidable.

I also noticed that a lot of people didn’t recognize the plant and just brushed on by. I’ll bet they are itching to know more now.

How to Identify Poison Oak

I can usually spot poison oak leaves by their shape — they are usually lobed and about the same color and size as…


Photo by Pete Birkinshaw from Manchester, UK — Data Storage Device, CC BY 2.0, Link

I stumbled across the zettelkasten note taking process while watching Beck Tench’s helpful Tinderbox series. Beck uses Tinderbox software to create a hyper-organized system of notes for her Ph.D. studies in contemplative practice and information science. Her method of managing these notes is based on the zettelkasten concept developed by Niklas Luhmann.

Yes, zettelkasten sounds like a complicated German philosophical concept but it simply means “box of notes.” When all is said and done, it doesn’t get much more complicated than that.

You don’t need any fancy hardware or software to build a zettelkasten. You can create an intelligent knowledge…


A recent study published by the European Society of Cardiology and cited by NBC News has people looking at toasted brie as if it might be the next fountain of youth. People are especially excited about this passage from the NBC report:

“But most other dairy products, especially cheese and yogurt, were found to protect against both total mortality — death from any cause — and mortality from cerebrovascular causes.”

For Alexandra Petri of the Washington Post this was definitely Gouda news. “YOU WILL NOT EVER GET A GREY HAIR — NOT WHEN YOU HAVE GRUYERE” she writes. And Petri…


Photo by Daniel R. Blume

As a professional wordsmith I have two jobs. One is for love and the other for money. I hope and pray that love will win in the end but right now the Day Job is what puts the food on the table. The bad news is that my paying gig is at the end of long and gnarly commute.

I’ve spent more than enough frustration, anger and “woe is me” over the drive to last a lifetime. But I’ve also found some ways to make it work for me. Coming to terms with the rush hour has made me a…


Photo by why kei on Unsplash

I wrote this article on the 101 freeway during the morning rush hour. To be completely honest I did some light editing and added links afterwards, but the bulk of the material was drafted while I was behind the wheel.

Now I have to say that there are some risks to multitasking while driving even when you use my completely hands-free approach. You can’t pay attention to everything all at once. If you don’t believe me just look at the first video on this link and tell me how many times the players in white pass the ball to each…


It’s easy to neglect your personal contacts on your Mac. For starters your phone is probably where you are most likely to reach out to people — make calls, write text messages, set appointments, even fire off an email. This is why I said in a previous post that it’s important to keep your iPhone’s address book up-to-date.

Here’s the Big Idea for the Mac and why you need to get your Contacts database organized- Spotlight Search. Click on the magnifying glass in your menu bar (I use COMMAND — SPACEBAR) and enter a person’s name, company or contact group…

Phil Houtz

Writer, content strategist, curiosity seeker

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