An informal, and incomplete, reading list.

I just finished The Farthest Shore, the third in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea Cycle. It is an ending of sorts, though there are a few more Earthsea books I’ll get to next. Though I enjoyed all of the Earthsea books, I think I like this one the best so far.

In The Farthest Shore, Earthsea is being sucked dry of life. Instead of this manifesting in nature, withering trees and that sort of thing, it is apparent in people’s behaviour towards each other and towards their professions. Though I’m not sure if she purposefully set out to do so, Le Guin paints an extraordinarily accurate picture of depression. She also demonstrates how dangerous and painful it can be to be exist without pride.

Ultimately, the deterioration of Earthsea has a single cause that is identifiable and fixable, with great effort and cost. Wouldn’t it be nice if the big problems we face in real-life were similarly solvable… Maybe they are.

So many passages in this book are worth remembering.

Ged giving counsel to a hypothetical king:

My lord, do nothing because it is righteous or praiseworthy or noble to do so; do nothing because it seems good to do so; do only that which you must do and which you cannot do in any other way.

Which is related somewhat to this part of the afterward, where Le Guin describes how she came to create Earthsea:

The poet Roethke said, “I learn by going where I have to go.” It is a sentence that has meant a great deal to me. Sometimes it tells me that by going where it is necessary for us to go, by following our own path, we learn our way through the world. Sometimes it tells me that we can only learn our way through the world by just starting out and going.

And Ged describing the way that a person’s actions can calcify their life:

When I was young, I had to choose between the life of being and the life of doing. And I leapt at the latter like a trout to a fly. But each deed you do, each act, binds you to itself and to its consequences, and makes you act again and yet again. Then very seldom do you come upon a space, a time like this, between act and act, when you may stop and simply be. Or wonder who, after all, you are.

Reminds me of a very short bit from Bill Callahan in his recent Guardian interview, on how it is easy to forget about the importance of idleness when you are working and trying so very hard: “On your list of things to do, you don’t write: ‘Daydream’.”

This week has been absolute chaos. Good though! A few things to remember, and to follow up on.


I keep coming across Automate the Boring Stuff, and keep forgetting to look in to it. Python was the first language I learned back in college with Prof. Maxwell, so would be nice to revisit it.

Same thing with films like Idiocracy and The Skeleton Twins. Made a mental note to see them years ago and then promptly forgot, so I’m noting them here as an ever-so-slightly more effective reminder. Idiocracy seems particularly weird, on paper it should have been a huge hit but it got absolutely sidelined by Fox and was screened in the bare-minimum of theaters. The reviews are crazy mixed. Still, I’d like to see it.

Something I *have* watched recently on SB’s recommendation is the BBC’s Ghosts. It’s hilarious and completely charming, a lot of the same faces as the original Horrible Histories but a completely different format. I’d watch the whole thing again, hope they do another series.

Last weekend was Offprint book fair in the Turbine Hall at the Tate, and probably my last event with OP. It was nice to see a few familiar faces including the guys at Here Press. Richard Hollis did a talk to a full house on his newest book about Henry van de Velde followed by a book signing at OP’s table. It was nice to see him again. He was using a blue Uni-ball Air for the signing. I’m going to keep my eye out for that one in the stationery shops, it’s a ball point that writes like a fountain pen (line thickness varies with pressure, but very little risk of leaks). The price seems super reasonable, the web’s retail giant offers a three-pack for just under £5.

GC recommended The Mushroom at the End of the World, and if there’s anyone I trust to give me great book recommendations, it’s her. I’m just hoping it leans towards the glass-half-full end of things, I’m not sure I can take more pessimism right now.

I might have a little bit of downtime while travelling over the next few weeks. If I do, I’m hoping to spend a little time looking in to Commotion, “a free, open-source communication tool that uses wireless devices to create decentralized mesh networks”. Could use SiteSucker to grab all of the docs before I leave for offline reading. I came across Commotion for the first time via a link to Learn Networking Basics from Measurement Lab’s learning resources.

Big data? No thanks

Gandi published a long blog post titled “Mass manipulation and platform privacy: where we’re at”. It’s summarises some talks and Gandi’s perspective following a conference on “democracy in the face of cybersecurity threats”. I’d like to follow up on a few of the points from the post. I’d also like to find out what public educational efforts are under way. Surely someone is working on PSA-style messaging about the dangers of misinformation and how to identify it. It’s easy to be skeptical about that sort of thing, but it can stick. What’s the cyber-awareness version of “Only you can prevent forest fires” or “A slip of the lip will sink a ship”? James Bridle’s “Big data? No thanks” is related, but the version I’m talking about is more personal, about confronting your own confirmation bias. But not too ominous, also catchy and friendly? Tall order.

Every time I sit down on the tube I wonder about what other people see when they look at me, what they perceive about me precisely because they are *not* me. There is this slippery divide when it comes to understanding yourself. There are elements of yourself that you can never understand since it’s impossible to get outside your own head (one of the reasons that talking to someone else about a problem can be so helpful). There are other things about yourself that only you can ever understand, no matter how much time you spend attempting to express that thing. I have trouble articulating why this feels like a catch, but surely someone out there has tried. Just need to find them.

Spread from book on Henry van de Velde by Richard Hollis

Richard Hollis’s Henry van de Velde: The Artist as Designer is out at long last. A lot of love, sweat, and tears has gone in to that book. It is absolutely jam packed, covering pretty much all of HvdV’s life with over 400 images. As part of Occasional Papers, I worked on the permissions, a bit of editing, and compiled the index.

Read about how the index was compiled

  • Get John Carreyrou’s Bad Blood
  • Find a copy of An Anthology of English Medieval and Renaissance Vocal Music ed. Noah Greenberg
  • Write down last week’s Dockside Chicken recipe for further refining
  • dat dat dat dat dat & pie w/ GC and HB
  • Try making Semmelknödel ◯ Start with this recipe but consider steaming, refrigerating beforehand, adding nutmeg. Aim for Knödelwirtshaft perfection. Think we had dandylion, goats cheese + red pepper, cheese, and bacon? Thx FB!

And go all in w/ iced tea. Hot tip for cold tea: cold-brew tea + squirt of lemon juice + splash of peach and elderflower squash = top-notch summer beverage. I am a little over caffeinated right now.

Read notes post-semmelknödel

Takeaways from a particularly good evening in the pub last night:

And a salad recipe from a great cab driver:

In a large bowl, combine some diced cucumber, diced celery, and halved cherry tomatoes. Add finely chopped wet garlic or green onions (scallions). Toss with olive oil and lemon juice and season to taste. Optional additions include olives, mint, boiled Jersey potatoes, rocket (arugula), or feta. Use apple cider vinegar if you don’t have lemon juice.

Certain quotes lodge themselves in your head. So many of the ones in my head come from the fourth edition of What is a designer by Norman Potter published by Hyphen Press in 2002.

p.23, on design education

The words by which people describe themselves – architect, graphic designer, interior designer, etc. – become curiously more important than the work they actually do. In one respect this is fair, because under modern conditions it may be very difficult to find one word to identify their work, but such words tend to build up irrelevant overtones of meaning which are more useful as a comfort to personal security than as a basis for co-operative enterprise.

p.30, wrapping up his thoughts on design education

All we can do is make good work possible, and be alert to its coming; never fooling ourselves that all good things come easily. To work well is to work with love.

p.57, on recognising the value in nuance

In raising consciousness of these matters, it should be remembered that our civilization sells itself through sensation, preferably with the volume turned up. This is good reason for designers to learn how to speak quietly, and to understand how it is that conversation becomes possible between people and things.

And nearly every point in chapter 18, “Advice for beginners”, and 19, “Questioning design”.

The point of the phrase “Summer of the Shark” is to remind yourself that a “trend” can be, and often is, entirely a product of people energetically looking for a certain thing, even while the actual rate of the thing is unremarkable, abnormally low, or declining. […] If a self-sustaining hype bubble can form even over something as relatively easy to measure as the number of shark attacks, imagine how common it must be with more nebulous social phenomena.

Read Summer of the Shark post on Scott Aaronson’s blog