Tag Archive | Randomness

Random Reading

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

I’m reading over 50 books at the same time. (Parallel Reading [<link; short read])

Really? How?

I have them in PDF format and I use a little program I found on GitHub called RandomFile [<link] to randomize them.

I have the books in two folders called ’20’ and ’80’. The program allows you to pick multiple folders and select a weight for them – that is, the probability of extracting a random file from each folder.

What weights did you set?

80% probability of extracting a book from the 20 folder. 
20% probability of extracting a book from the 80 folder.

A little aesthetic touch.

I’m most likely to get books from the 20 folder, but once in a while, I get a book from the 80 folder which is a nice surprise.

You mean on top of the surprise of not knowing what you’ll be reading from next?


P.S. If you want to download the RandomFile program from GitHub, click on the green button labeled ‘Code’. (I had to look it up.)

Inspirational Materials as Resource 2

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“How do you organize your bookmarks in the browser?”

“I have two folders: 20 and 80 (Pareto Principle). When I consider saving a bookmark, I ask myself:

Is this a 20 or an 80?

If it’s a 20, I save it in the 20 folder. If not, I save it in 80 folder.”

“Do you ever check the 80 folder?”


“Then what’s the point having it?”

“The point is having a filter when I consider saving stuff for later. The 80/20 question is the filter. The folders are a persistent reminder to ask the question.

Within the 20 folder, I have a folder called Inspirational. As you know, I use inspirational materials as a resource [<link; short read].

When I want to read/watch something, I extract something at random from the 20 folder.
When I want to read/watch something and get inspired, I extract something at random from the Inspirational folder.”

“How do you randomize them?”

“I use a Firefox add-on called Random Bookmark From Folder [<link]. It’s also available for Chrome.”

On Writing and Systems

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“How do you decide what to write about each day?”

“I have a system for it.

I start every day by being creative before reactive. I start every day with writing.

The first phase is playing with ideas. This is essentially free association, mind-mapping style.

I start with something that’s on top of my mind [<link; short read], and/or with some random stimulation, and expand in all directions.”

“What sort of random stimulation?”

“Random quotes. 

As you know, I use quotes as a resource [<link; short read]. In my CommonBook [<link] I have a selection of quotes tagged ‘reflectional‘. These are quotes that stimulate my mind – I call this type of quotes, puzzle quotes. I generate two random reflectional quotes, and use them as a starting point in my exploration.

If I can’t discover my piece for the day this way, I proceed to the second phase: developing ideas.

I have all my writing ideas – ideas about things I want to write about – saved in the CommonBook. I shuffle them (display them in random order), and casually go through them, fleshing them out a little bit more.”

“So instead of going deep on a saved idea, you go wide, developing multiple ideas a little bit.”


We can metaphorically think of ideas in terms of stages of development, like a plant.

Ideas start as seeds.

As you develop them, they turn into seedlings. The bigger the seedling, the more enticing it becomes to write about.

Writing is the process of turning seedling ideas into evergreen ideas.”

Quotes as Resource 2

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“How do you use quotes as a resource?”

“As you know, I collect quotes [<link; short read] in my CommonBook [<link]. 

Some of the most important quotes are quotes that inspire me. I call them inspirational quotes. I tag them with ‘inspirational’.

Among those, some really inspire me. I tag those with ’20’.”

“The 20 from the Pareto Principle (80/20)?”


When I’m feeling low, or when I want a motivation boost, I select the tag ‘inspirational’ to filter them, shuffle them (display them in random order), and read from them for 5 minutes. This has a powerful emotional flooding [<link; short read] effect.”

“Why don’t you read only from the 20%?”

“Unlike regular quotes, my 20-quotes have bolded passages in them – this is by design, to make them stand out. Discovering the 20 among the 80 feels like a surprise, which amplifies their effect.”

P.S. You can try it out for yourself here [<link].

Quotes Collector

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“I collect quotes. My quotes collection has exceeded 6000 quotes, and it’s growing.

Without the ability to randomize them, to extract quotes at random, a quotes collection has limited value.

“You can search for them.”

“Searching is useful but limited. To search for something, you have to know what you’re looking for. When you have so many of them, most you won’t remember you have.

Randomness helps you constantly rediscover quotes. And, in not knowing what to expect, it creates a little surprise every time.

That’s (partly) why I created the CommonBook [<link].”

“What are the most valuable quotes in your collection?”

Inspirational Quotes: quotes that influence how I feel, by reminding me of what’s essential. Mementos.

Reflectional Quotes: quotes that stimulate my mind.”

“Like Zen koans and such?”


The most valuable are those that fall in both categories, that both inspire and stimulate.”

Two random quotes

The CommonBook

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What is the CommonBook [<link]?”

“An online commonplace book built around generating serendipity. I’ve been looking for such a tool for some time, and since I couldn’t find one, I made it myself. (Well, technically my brother did. I was the lead designer.)”

“There’s an opportunity cost to changing knowledge-management tools. Why would one want to make the switch?”

“I see Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) as a system. The CommonBook is simply another tool. For instance, I use both Obsidian [<link] and the CommonBook. They complement one another.”

“What is the central feature of the CommonBook?”

Controlled Randomness – generating random output from a selected pool of information.

When you select a tag or search for something, you narrow down the information pool. This allows you to control the outcome of randomization.”

“What do you use randomness for?”

“I use it to rediscover and create ideas. Ideas are resources. Some can be used to change state, or as mementos, or as creative fuel.

A beautiful creativity practice is forcing yourself to make connections between random ideas.”

Two random notes

“How would you describe the CommonBook in three words or less?”

“Random Insight Generator.”

Quotes as Resource

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“There are two types of quotes worth saving:
– quotes you want to find
– quotes you want to stumble upon

The first type give one-time value. You want to see them again only to provide reference. (informational ideas in my classification of ideas [<link; short read])

The second type give repeated value. You want to see them again and again and again. Either because they’re practically useful (inspirational or actionable ideas), or because they’re thought-provoking (reflectional ideas). Moreover, in seeing them again, they have creative potential – the potential to give birth to new ideas. 

The latter are the ideal target for randomization.”

“What do you use for randomization?”

“I’m using the CommonBook [<link] – the digital commonplace book I’ve created with my brother, which is built around randomization.”

“Are you saving the first kind of quotes in the CommonBook as well?”

“I actually see the commonplace book as a system

For the quotes I only want to find, I’m using Obsidian [<link].
For the quotes I want to stumble upon (and find), I’m using the CommonBook.”

Question of the Day

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“Being part of a Facebook group called Daily Questions (That Will Make You 1% Smarter) inspired me to create a similar system for myself. I call it QD – Question of the Day.”

“What does it look like?”

“As you know, I collect questions [<link; short read]. To be more specific, I collect beautiful questions, by which I mean the 20% most powerful/interesting questions I find.

The essence of the system is creating a selection of beautiful questions, and extracting one at random every day.

I use my phone for that. It looks like this:

Question of the Day

“Still using your random-quotes system [<link; medium read]?” 

“It’s imperfect, but I haven’t been able to find anything better.

I dream of replacing it with the CommonBook [<link; long read] someday.”

Creativity Tools: The Thematic Oracle

How to use an oracle:

Have a specific question on which you would like a fresh perspective. Clear your mind so that you are in a receptive state.

Pick an “answer” at random.

How does the creative insight relate to your question?
What story does it tell?
What sense can you make out of it?

Try to think of as many contexts as possible in which the Insight makes sense. Be literal in your interpretation. Be metaphorical. Be off-the-wall. Be serious. Don’t worry how practical or logical you are. What’s important is to give free reign to your thinking.

Most insights will trigger an immediate response. Sometimes, however, you’ll look at one and think, “This has nothing to do with my question,” and be tempted to dismiss it. Don’t. Force yourself to make a connection. Often those ideas that initially seem the least relevant turn out to be the most important because they point to something that you’ve been completely overlooking.

(Roger von Oech, Expect the Unexpected (Or You Won’t Find It))

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What is a thematic oracle?”

“Using the normal oracle, you’re asking a question and picking an ‘answer’ at random.

Using a thematic oracle, you’re picking an ‘answer’ from a collection of items that are thematically linked.

For instance, you can pick a word at random from the dictionary. (words)

Or you can generate a random quote. (quotes)

Or you can generate a random Magic the Gathering card. (Magic cards)

Thematic Oracle

You can use anything on the card: the image, the title, the mana symbols, the card type, the set symbol, the description, the flavor text [the italicized text on the card].”

“How do you generate random Magic cards?”

“On my phone, I use the method [<link; short read] we’ve spoken about a little while ago.

On my computer I use Gatherer [<link], the official Magic the Gathering card database. At the top of the page there’s a ‘Random Card’ option. (Sadly the option is missing on the phone.)”

Random Magic card on the phone

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“I’ve been looking for an app to see random Magic the Gathering cards on my phone but I was unable to find any in the app store.”

“You can create a pseudo-app to achieve the same effect. It looks something like this:

Random Magic card

When you press the curved arrow at the bottom of the card, it generates a new random card.”

“That’s exactly what I want! How do you do it?”

Step 1: Open an internet browser app on your phone. I use Google Chrome.

Step 2: Go to the page https://flavortexts.com/.

Step 3: In the browser, open the three-dot menu (in Chrome it’s at the top-right side of the screen) and select the ‘Add to Home screen‘ option. This creates a pseudo-app, which appears as an icon on the phone’s screen.

Step 4: Give it a name. This is the name that will appear under the icon on the phone’s screen.

Whenever you want to see a random card, just tap on the icon.”