“We humans living on our one planet wring our hands about the brevity of our lives and our mortal restraints, but we do not often think about how improbable it is to be alive at all. Of all the zillions of atoms and molecules in the universe, we have the privilege of being composed of those very, very few atoms that have joined together in the special arrangement to make living matter. We exist in that one-billionth of one-billionth. We are that one grain of sand on the desert.”

Alan Lightman


““When something quite new and singular is presented … The memory cannot, from all its stores, cast up any image that nearly resembles this strange appearance. It stands alone and by itself in the imagination. (This) constitute(s) the sentiment properly called Wonder, and occasion(s) that staring, and sometimes that rolling of the eyes, that suspension of the breath, and that swelling of the heart, which we may all observe, both in ourselves and others, when wondering at some new object.”

– Adam Smith on Wonder.


On the collapse of print newspapers:

“All that’s happened is advertisers are leaving, classifieds first, inserts last. Business is business; the advertisers never had a stake in keeping the newsroom open in the first place. This disconnection between the business side and the news side was celebrated as a benefit, right up to the moment it became an industry-wide point of failure.”

-Clay Shirky on Medium.


“Istanbul’s shoeshiners have a great trick: They drop their brushes in front of pedestrians, and when the more goodhearted pedestrians return the brushes to them, they offer to shine their shoes. The mark, thinking this service will be on the house, readily agrees, and is surprised when he is asked to pay after his shoes are cleaned. Experienced locals see the brush falling from the shoeshiner’s set, and walkover it, as if nothing has  happened. This is what we are learning to do in Istanbul this year.”



For many years the British journalist Matthew Engel kept little red notebooks of random quotes he found interesting, resulting in the compilation Extracts from the Red Notebooks. In the same spirit, this occasional feature shares things I think are worth knowing.