Novis Weekly Read: The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist

What I am “Reading” This Week

This week I have been listening to the excellent book “The Soul of Money,” By Lynne Twist. A friend of mine recently circulated an article that appeared on business insider. where the author has yet to meet a “rich person”. Everyone he met, no matter how wealthy in appearance, always had a tale of frustration and woe. No one it seems, feels rich.

Mrs. Twists book goes right at that concept and it dove tails nicely with Daring Greatly. It turns out in a culture driven by a Scarcity Mentality, few Dare to live greatly because there is never “enough”. I love books that challenge the status quo and make us reconsider the unquestioned answer.

Peter Thiel of PayPal fame and author of Zero to One, is noted for asking, “What one truth do you believe that very few other people believe?” This book is one of those truth. I first learned about it from Verne Harnish but it keeps popping up over and over again.

It’s worth a read.

My Pen This Week

These week I was fond of my Delta Skeleton Stub. This pen is a piston filler with an impossibly smooth nib. It is bold and writes great with Iroshizuku Ku-jaku Ink. You want to be careful because it does lay down a LOT of ink, but that’s partly what makes it fun. They pen is hefty with a steel exoskeleton over the signature orange celluloid. I picked up in New York at the Fountain Pen Hospital and it has been one of my favorites ever since.

The piston filler has a novel ratchet mechanism which keeps you from over tightening the screw. All in all it is a great pen, but not a cheap one. It took me a long time to pony up for Delta and my only regret is that I did not do it sooner.

Novis Weekly Read: Daring Greatly By Brené Brown

What I am “Reading” This Week

When I walk the dogs, I use the Audible App to listen to audio books. A few years ago, I read Tim Ferriss book the 4 Hour Work Week, and in it he challenged me to stop listening to the news. His premise is that you will get better information if it is filtered and cultivated by your smart friends. It also makes you more interesting to talk to because you really want to listen to what they have to say. Neat trick. but… if I don’t listen to the news what should I listen to?

I used to listen to a lot of talk radio. And when you don’t listen to talk radio or the news, you start to notice something. Many, if not most radio personalities are very skilled at cultivating rage. They want to get you worked up. If you are worked up you will listen to them. My life as a husband, father, and entrepreneur is challenging enough without driving around and picking up artificially induced outrage.

For a while I turned to TED Talks. They are awesome. There is something inspiring about hearing really smart people, share their passion to change the world. The trouble is, that many of these are very visual and I can’t watch a video and walk the dogs. That’s what lead me to Audible. I discovered that most of the books on my reading list have excellent narrations available. Even better, some of my favorite books are narrated by their authors. What’s great about that, is I feel like I am hanging out with this super smart person who is sharing something smart they learned. It’s as good if not better than a ted talk.

By subscribing to Audible, I get a new book each month. What’s more, if I buy the kindle edition, I can usually buy the audible version for a few dollars more. So I usually do that.

While I love it, most of my friends don’t have time for that nonsense, but they do seem interested in what I am reading. The real trick is to try and take at least one thing from what I read and apply it.

So with that in mind, I wanted to start to share what I am listening to, and what I think I can apply from it.

Daring Greatly By Brené Brown

This is an amazing book, and is part of the reading material for her course in Courage Works. Professor Brown is famous for her Tedx Houston talk that went viral about vulnerability. For me, I found the idea of vulnerability hard to wrap my head around, but it’s a lot easier to grapple with her core research: shame. Understanding and becoming shame resilient is a skill I would love to develop. There is a side benefit however. If you understand people’s shame triggers, it makes it easier to understand what can motivate certain responses to certain triggers. In short, I think her work can help me avoid certain emotional landmines and be a better communicator. I am still trying to wrap my head around being vulnerable in order to become wholehearted. It’s a very interesting read.

Pen of the week

While I take my notes, I have been favoring my Pelikan Souverän M800 limited edition burnt orange fountain pen. This has a custom grind provided by John Mottishaw from Nibs.com. The grind is a medium stub which makes the line thicker on the down stroke and thinner on the cross stroke. The pen is exceptionally smooth with character. I enjoy using this pen with Aurora black ink.

 

How to Make a Digital First Aid Kit

I Use This: Gear Ties, Sea To Summit Ultra Mesh Bag, Jabra Drive

I have been traveling a lot lately and as I sit here in my LA Hotel room, I reflected on several things that make my road warrior lifestyle a little easier. Perhaps the most important one, is my Digital First Aid Kit

Tired of always scrambling to find a charger or cable in my backpack, I decided to get organized. I went to REI and picked up a 6.5L Sea to Summit Ultra mesh bag – think of a scuba net bag only much, much smaller. These are also called “Ditty bags” by campers and they are meant to keep small loose things organized in your backpack or rucksack. I have round they work great for cables.

The big advantage with this kind of bag is that you can see everything inside of it without opening it. What’s more, being mesh, it is stronger and less split-prone than a clear plastic bag.

Full Bag

Then I assembled:

  • one colored usb car charger
  • one colored usb “wall wart”
  • an ipad caliber usb wall charger (for fast charges)
  • Two USB to lightening adapters
  • Two USB to Micro usb cables
  • A PNY spare battery
  • Spare set of earbuds
  • Spare Aux cable

Travel Bag

And then I tie all my cables together with Gear Ties. Gear Ties by Nite Ize are extremely useful rubberized reusable twist ties. They make it easy for me to keep all my little cables together and keep them from doing the “tangle dance”.

In truth my bag has gotten slightly more cluttered with a few more odds and ends like my Jabra Drive Speaker Phone (Best bluetooth speaker phone I have ever seen. Check it out on Amazon, it has like 1200 reviews) and a spare superman led flashlight I got from Magic Mountain in California, but all in all this bag holds what I need to charge anything, any where and let me hook my phone up to virtually any rental car.

So far my favorite use for a Gear Tie is to make my cheap knock-off FitBit HR Charger work. The springs are too strong or the pins are too long so it’s always popping out and I’m too lazy to order a new cable from Fitbit itself (for $20). So one Gear Tie and voila, the cable works as intended. Cost? about 75 cents and some stubborn ingenuity.

FitBit Charger

So far having everything organized and at my finger tips has saved me countless hours of heart burn, but I think the real advantage is that now I am like an electronic medic. People are always forgetting this stuff, their batteries are always running down, they always need a charge, or a cable or a something and I usually have what they need in my travel bag. It feels good to be helpful.

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Mistborn Author Brandon Sanderson is fun to read

Mistborn Author Brandon Sanderson is fun to read

MistBorn

I often say read, when what I really meant is that I have listened to, a book. With Audible, it is easy to complete a book while walking the dogs, or driving to work, or in some cases, driving long distances for baseball tournaments or family reunions. However, I personally can’t always listen to self improvement or business books. Sometimes, I just want to kick back and hear a good story. As a kid I remember my Dad has these audio tapes which had old 1940’s radio soap operas on them. Some had Sherlock Holmes mysteries. I believe one was called The Shadow. It was a vintage radio show. I remember how much fun those were to listen to when we were driving cross country and you could turn the radio station across the dial without picking up anything. I therefore like to listen to fiction. Occasionally, however that habit can lead to real reading. And if the author is good enough, I will even pick up my kindle Voyager and hunker down to a great story.

Last night I finished reading one of those stories. I completed Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson. It was one of those stories that kept me up until all hours of the night. It was one of those stories I found myself reading on my iPhone (love the kindle app that kept pages in sync with my kindle Voyager). It was one of those stories that near the end, I tuned out just about everything so I could finish it. It was that good.

I first came across Brandon Sanderson when I drove to a family reunion in Las Vegas. Looking for something fun to listen too (business books can get a little old) I discovered his clever Rithmatist audio book. The reading was decent but the story was clever. I am pretty sure most people discover Sanderson’s work this way but his clever creation of an alternate universe with a new magic system really grabbed my attention. So I looked for more of his work.

I discovered: Mistborn

Mistborn reads like an Orson Scott Card novel. It is quick to get into, and he uncovers the details of his universe – teasing and revealing in an almost sing song way. He teases, then reveals at just the right intervals exposing you to something new so you think, “What is that?” Then within the next chapter comes your answer. He masterfully leaves you in a state of intrigue and gratification, carefully and skillfully stepping you deeper and deeper into the world of his head.

In the end he brilliantly binds together all of the elements in that magical way that you realize with a start all the pieces of the puzzle felt like they were there from the beginning, but you were looking at them wrong. As he uncovers each layer of the plot, everything makes sense except the central mystery – which he manages to turn skillfully upon it’s head and like an origami flower a flat piece of paper becomes this wonderfully complex thing in your mind, and everything you experienced up until that moment acts like a new story to you.

Events take on new meaning, characters grow richer, and your frustrations turn to pride as the characters live out their convictions in a way that is utterly consistent with who you hope they are.

I cannot recommend Mistborn highly enough. It is high fantasy, but it is the characters struggling with their own humanity that make the stories compelling.

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Lenovo Yoga Pro 2 Review

Lenovo Yoga Pro 2 Review

For nearly a decade now I have been squarely in the Mac camp. Everyone in my family except my middlest uses a Mac. At work, we have converted everyone over to Mac’s. Why? Because they work and they keep working. Friday in preparation for our annual conference my operations manager grabbed two Windows notebooks to try and bring them to the conference for the hospitality suite. She wasted two hours trying to get them to update and install. They are the same vintage as at least 4 other computers by timeline. Her conclusion? “These are worthless!” While a windows laptop usually costs half of what a Mac laptop costs, in my experience they tend to work 4 times as long.

A Windows 8.1 Machine

Having said that, I needed a laptop, and after looking at a MacBook Air, I realized I wanted something between an iPad. I can’t develop on an iPad. While there are some cool apps that now support development, I needed a “real” computer. Having said that, it bothers me that the MacBook’s still do not have a touch screen. So after the Super Bowl and Microsoft’s incredible product placement (players and coaches were practically tripping over Surface Pro 3’s), I decided to get a surface. However, before I did, I checked with my local Techie: Matt.

“What should I get?”
Matt quickly did some research. The Surface Pro 3 is powerful at a good price compared to the MBA, however there is one complaint. You can’t really use it in your lap. The keyboard and stand are meant for a hard surface. I had heard good things about the Lenovo Yoga, but for some inexplicable reason Lenovo decided to completely handicap the promising Ultrabook with an M-Core processor. This to me was an example of the marketing department investing heavily in a pretty hinge and the price was utility and performance.

What I have learned about Windows machines is that they don’t run fast the day you buy them, they will not run faster in the future. Windows machines do not get better with time. So I headed down to best buy, fully intent on buying a Surface when I saw that Lenovo had created a pretty large presence at the store and low and behold they had someone there who knew something about their computers. It turned out, the Lenovo Yoga Pro 2 had what I was looking for, for $200 less than the Surface Pro 3. I was able to get the 256MB solid state drive, the i7 processor, 8GB of RAM and a real keyboard with backlighting! And yes, it has a touch screen.

I was sold.
lenovo-yoga-2

Hi-Rez Panel Problems

The one drawback I found with the Lenovo, and I suspect this haunts all the Windows 8.1 devices – is that a shocking number of applications are not compatible with the 260dpi screen. They assume a 72dpi screen and so you get these unreadably small windows. Launchy, Scrivner, MarkDown Plus. Over and over again, I find these strange behaviors where applications either are 1/4 the screen size they should be, or the fonts are readable but the window is too small, or the window is okay, but the fonts are impossibly small or the icons are mere specs.

tiny-icons

For the applications that do support the full resolution – such as Microsoft Office – they look gorgeous. However too many of my go to Mac applications, that work great on a Retina display – or their windows alternatives – simply are unreadable on this high rez panel.

It will be interesting to see how well this device works in the long run, and I may be forced to go back to a Mac just for productivity, but for now I am going to give this a whirl.

How To Form a New Habit

When I attended a seminar on the One Thing by author Jay Papasan, he passed out a neat little cheat sheet. The topic? How to Form a new habit. They reported that someone did a study and found that that it takes much longer than most people think to form a habit. The popular misconception is that it takes as 30 days, and in some instances as little as 3 weeks to form a habit. For some people this is true. For most people however, this is far from true.

It turns out that someone did a study (I have no idea who – citation needed), and discovered that low and behold humans are all different! Well, different enough that one number does not describe our behavior. And if you think about it how could one number – one length of days – determine how everyone forms a new habit?

What the study revealed is that there is a range of days it takes people to form new habits. For a few it happened in as little as 17 days. For an equally small group it took 234 days! The average? 66

How to Form a New Habit: It Takes 66 days

For most of us, that is the sad truth. For most of us it takes 66 days to make a habit. So Mr. Papasan and his co-author Gary Keller kindly put a pdf file on their website called The one thing 66 Day Challenge. It combines the very famous Jerry Seinfeld “chain idea” with a set of 66 boxes.

If you want to form a new habit, then you need to do it for 66 days. Why the challenge? Because what they want you to do is to start checking off boxes. As you cross off each square, you start to form a chain. The trick is to start focusing on the chain. Encourage yourself not to break the chain.

The chain provides internal motivation, and it takes advantage of another principle. Kaizan, or the idea that small changes over time can lead to big results. As humans we are hard wired to love the home run, especially the grand slam. LOTS of wins in one big play. In real life however, (and I have seen this in baseball) you can often cause more damage by getting walks and singles. Small achievements consistently applied over time add up to big things.

This is the core idea behind the chain.

How to Form a New Habit: Our Brains Want Habits

It turns out, habit forming is natural. We mostly think of habits as unhealthy. But in the book “Smart Thinking” by Art Markman, Phd he shares that the human brain is built to save energy by forming habits. Thinking is hard work. Habits save time and energy. However, consciously building habits – that takes some effort.

How to Form a New Habit: My own Experience

My own experience with forming new habits is that I get about 16 to 18 days in then I run out of steam. I miss for a few days, then come back in a smaller burst, then miss a few more days, then a smaller burst, until finally there are a few scattered ‘X’ marks on my challenge sheet and 66 days have gone by.

A few habits have stuck with me – such as walking the dogs daily. I journal daily (with pen and paper). And my fitbit has been surprisingly effective in getting me to pack in 10,000 steps every day. When I did not have it, I cut corners. As soon as I got it back, the feedback motivated me to put in the time to hit my daily goal.

So in the grand scheme of things, and perhaps this is the true potential of the iWatch and other wearable tech – if we can get just the right kind of help to motivate us to create new habits that are healthy for us. My fitbit has motivated me to walk regularly and improve my health. But it can’t motivate me to put my keys and wallet in their home by the front entrance (Thank you Andrew Mellen). I am still barely 31 days into that new habit forming, and for the first – yep you guessed it – 17 or so days, I was diligent about putting my keys and wallet in their “home”. Now I find my keys and wallet in all sorts of places around the house and I dutifully walk them back to their home as soon as I catch them out of place, but I feel like I am losing focus on creating the new habit. I am not giving up, just working it.

How to Form a New Habit: Keep plugging

The real key here I believe is to keep after it. Despite the fact that our brains want to form new habits, they often have to reprogram old habits to vest the new behavior. And that will take some time and effort. Sustaining effort over long periods of time is easier if you have effective feedback systems. And as good as my fitbit is, the real motivator are my two dogs, Cookie and Addy. No electronimagical device can compare to the guilt they will lay on me if I don’t walk them in the morning. In fact, even as I write this they are coming up under my arm and flicking my hand with their nose to get me away from the computer.

Doagies

I have been walking them every morning (at least 6 days a week) for nearly 3 years now.

Habit formed.

Unstuffing Your Life – My Progress Report

I made a post earlier about the audio book, Unstuff your life by Andrew J Mellen. As far as Audiobooks go Andrew is a highly entertaining speaker and falls into my favorite category of audiobook. Super smart author narrates their own material so you feel like you are having this amazing one on one conversation and they are talking just to you enthusiastically sharing what they know.

Andrew even makes it playful and interacts with the listener. An adult version of Blues Clue’s.

My first project applying the book was to tackle my storage closet. I wish I had the before image, but really, who takes pictures of overcrowded junk? Let’s just say when I started I could not even walk into the closet. But when I was finished (it took a weekend), not only could you walk in, but there are actually empty shelves!

UnStuff Your Life: Storage Closet

UnStuff Your Life: Empty Shelves

Unstuff Your Life: The Rules to Clean All Your Living Spaces.

After listening to the audiobook, I have come to distill the book down to three core rules.

  1. The One Home Rule
  2. The Like with Like Rule
  3. The Frozen Rule (Let it Go)

Andrew publishes his three core rules on his website, so I don’t feel like I am giving anything away from the book. Besides, I could not possibly capture his energy and enthusiasm in a blog post. The man is worth listening too.

The One Home rule and Like with Like

Scott Adams wrote about how important it is to have Systems for Success, not just goals. Andrew Mellen’s book is just that, a system and the core of the system are the twin rules, One home for everything, and like with like. The idea is that you live in one home, so should your stuff. There should be one, and only one place your things live. When they are not in use, they belong in that home. It’s corollary however, is that similar things belong together. Why is this profound? Because when one kind of object can be in many places, that means it can be in every kind of place. It is intrinsically lost.

There is another brain science reason why this is very powerful. In his book Smart Thinking, cognitive scientist Art Markman points out that similar memories compete with one another and more importantly suppress one another during the recall process. When your brain remembers one place to find an object, that process makes it harder to remember other places to look!

Keeping like objects together reduces the chances of memory suppression.

Blue Masking Tape.

If you had asked me before I read this book, how many roles of blue masking tape were in my house I would have said, “One, possibly two, in fact I should probably stop at the store on my way home and pick up another role.”

UnStuff Your Life: Like with Like

After sorting my storage closet, and gathering my masking tape with all of their brethren I discovered eight roles of tape. Yes. Eight.

Apparently, I really like blue masking tape.

The Frozen Rule

The key to unclutter however is what I call the “Frozen Rule”. The hit song, “Let it Go” has been sort of my mantra since I started this process. In chapter one of the book, Mr. Mellen pleads with the listener to go through the process of getting clear about his or her values. In short, if I wanted to unstuff my life, I had to get clear about my values. It seemed like a waste of time until I did it. That key piece of information gives you a foundation for knowing what is valuable in your life and what is not.

If you know what you value, then you can measure every object you have surrounded yourself with and decide if it means anything to you. I see lots of calls for minimalism, I study stoicism, and austerity always sounds like a virtue. In my experience however, I was shocked by how many things I had – if not collected at least gathered into my life that I did not care about.

The Rocks

When I hike if I see a cool rock I pick it up. During this process of unstuffing, I started to go through my rocks. Two things jumped out at me. I was shocked at how many rocks I just flat out could not identify. No idea where they came from, or what they meant. Secondly, I was shocked at where they all were. On my desk, in drawers, in the garage, in my closet (apparently I needed rocks to keep my clothes company) even in the bathroom. Don’t ask what I was thinking, I don’t know.

I point that out because these were free. Not the product of consumerism. Just things I had “gathered”. They didn’t qualify as mementos, because I had no memory to go with them. And yet I held onto them and filled my space with them. The first lesson I started to learn is that when something has no meaning, there is no reason to hold on to it.

Hence my rule: Let it go.

Do I still have any rocks? Yes. A few. Ones I exactly know where they came from and what they mean. The collection if you can call it that is down to exactly three.

I still have a long way to go, but for the last two weeks my desk at home and at work has been clear, and I can find my wallet, my car keys, and my phone within 30 seconds of looking for them every time. I mean every time.

Malcome Gladwell in his book Tipping Point, points out that your environment can have a huge impact on your behavior. One small, but significant way to change your environment is to “Unstuff it”. I need to get better at before and after pictures, but so far, I can see some of the value in freeing up some space by “unstuffing it”.

How To Shoot Video That Does Not Suck – doesn’t suck.

How to shoot video that doesn’t suck – doesn’t suck

It is quite the opposite in fact.  Another audio book from Audible, author Steve Stockman does an amazing job of reading his own every entertaining and informative work.  He brings it alive with clever pauses, smart tonality, and lively emphasis in all the right places.  The man knows how to deliver entertainment.  However, more than that he knows how to give you quick smart tips that will make your video shooting, editing, and final product immediately better.
 

My personal experience applying Steve’s tips is that they made an immediate impact on my own videos in a relatively short period of time.  Here are just a few of the suggestions that made the biggest difference for me:

  • Think in shots.
  • Keep your shots short.   I have found 2,3,4 and 5 seconds are best.  He suggests nothing should be longer than 10 seconds.
  • Shorter is almost always better.  In Everything.
How did that effect my videos?
Steve tells us that the eye is constantly scanning, looking wherever our interest takes us.  However, with video you can only look where the camera points.  Therefore we get bored quickly.  Using many short shots to show even the same information from different angles can stimulate the eyes and the brain in the way a long static shot can not.  
 
My experience was that when I handed my first couple of “short shot” videos to friends, they did not look away.  They watched the entire thing through without taking their eyes off the screen.  I can’t say I’ve ever had that happen before.  By giving my audience lots of different views of largely the same scene, they have more visual variety and they were more entertained and engaged.
 
His book is loaded with many many more tips, and his first dozen key ideas alone are worth the cost of the book, but if you don’t have a subscription to Audible you should check it out now.  Steve is extremely entertaining and worth a listen.  
 
— Scott
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Goals are for Losers

Scott Adam’s Fun, Informative, and Controversial Book Shares Some Interesting Ideas

My latest good read, is Scott Adams, “How to fail at almost everything and still win big at life.” To be honest, I have not actually “read” it. I listened to it on my iPhone via Audible. The book was read by Patrick Lawlor, who does an excellent job narrating the unabridged tome.

I won’t bother trying to review the whole book here – I highly recommend the read (or the listen).  But I will share an interesting idea he introduced and tell you my thoughts on the subject.

Goals are For Losers

Scott Adams controversial asertion that “goals are for losers” is a sensational way of selling his real idea.  His real idea is that successful people pick systems over goals.  That might sound like splitting hairs, and indeed he admits it himself, but he does have a point.

When you chase a goal:

  1. By definition you have not achieved your goal.  Therefore, by default, you are “losing”.  Long periods of losing can sap your energy.
  2. You can lose your way after you reach your goal because goals are specific, like lose 10 pounds.  What happens after you lose the weight?

In contrast, systems for success can produce different, sustainable outcomes.

  1. Every time you apply your system you are “winning”  regardless of the outcome.  This provides positive feedback. When you operate your system, you have done something positive.  This positive energy is important because it encourages you to keep applying your system.
  2. Success systems in theory have no end, they can cary you far beyond the end point defined by a single goal.
  3. Systems are open ended and therefore more opportunistic, they can lead you to outcomes goals never envision.

I like Scott Adams writing because he is inherently cynical and that pleases the engineering part of my brain.  However, there is some merit to his assertion about systems versus goals. There seems to be value sustaining positive energy versus living in a negative state. He has a number of other very interesting ideas.

I highly recommend giving it a listen.

Scott

You can find the Audio Addition Here

Or the Kindle Addition

Stars and Strikes – Good Read

I just finished reading stars and Strikes by Dan Epstein is an interesting tour through baseball history. Recommended to me by friend and fellow baseball fanatic John Bodow, Stars and Strikes tells the story of Baseball during Americas Bicentenial.

Stars and Strikes

I find it gives me a strange feeling to have lived long enough to read about “historical” events that occurred during my own life time. As I read the book, Dan recounts popular music “I loved Boston!” and popular players – I recallgoing to see The Bird pitch. I realize Mr. Epstein also grew up in Detroit and through his book we are sharing memories of our childhood. Well, I am not sharing mine with him, but he is rekindling mine.

He is also adding more background, flavor, and perspective than I would have had at 10 years old. Yes it is hard to believe the Bicentenial was nearly 40 years ago. I still vivedly remember putting red white and blue crey-paper in the spokes of my bike and hand crafting a long coat. I don’t know where my mom found the triangular hat – but they were every where that year.

She probably found it at K-Mart (No one had heard of Walmart or Target in 76). There were parades, and fireworks, and picnics. That was the summer I learned how to cut through a cheap steak on a paper plate with a plastic fork.

As for the book it is a pleasing blend of baseball and history. I will grant you that it does get a bit tedious when he recounts much of what was happening in some games. I just don’t enjoy reading baseball statistics for players I have never heard of. However, I found it easy to skim those parts and get to the real story – my story, the story of growing up in the mid 70’s.

Seventy Six was important for another reason. This was the last year of the reserve clause, the year before Free agency became a thing. This was the last time baseball players made salaries people could relate to. Personally I am glad for the athletes. There should be no cap on what someone can earn.

However, this book puts a perspective on an era that is otherwise impossible to remember or relate to.
If you are a fan of baseball, and you can recall the Bicentennial then I highly recommend this read.