— (p)latitudes

Bill Bryson was my introduction to ‘travel writing’ as a genre.

His prose style is a great mix of funny and informative; it makes for compelling reading.

It’s tempting, consciously or subconsciously, to see the world through Bill-tinted spectacles after reading his books: to see the wacky side of things and to wonder how he’d perceive a place and its people.

I’m midway through a book called ‘Things I Like About America’ by Poe Ballantine. His writing details the mundane side of American life – looking for itinerant work at the red topped chain restaurants lining highways, watching the fiellds pass from cross-country buses, bringing work home of an evening to distract from temptations of a potentially damaging social circle.

It’s more personal, more gritty. It’s also interspersed with more poetic descriptions and more inwardly looking accounts of events and conversation.

Seeing how the tone and focal points of two guys, born just 4 years and 600 miles from each other, highlights nicely the benefits of encountering multiple world-views: assimilate too much of one, or close yourself off to seeking others, and you risk stifling the development of your own in favour of just reciting someone else’s.

There’s a great (and brief) line in Cloud Atlas that summarises it well:

As many truths as men

It’s one of my favourite quotes from that book (or any).

Too philosophical for a Friday evening, apologies :P

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These are some books mentioned on the Wikipedia page for We by Yevgeny Zamyatin.

Putting them here as a reminder to read them later:

The Iron Heel by Jack London:

Generally considered to be “the earliest of the modern Dystopian”, it chronicles the rise of an oligarchic tyranny in the United States. It is arguably the novel in which Jack London’s socialist views are most explicitly on display.

Love in the Fog of the Future by Andrei Marsov:

The book tackles the themes of the impossibility of attaining personal happiness and finding love under a totalitarian, socialist regime

Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut:

It is a dystopia of automation, describing the dereliction it causes in the quality of life. The story takes place in a near-future society that is almost totally mechanized, eliminating the need for human laborers. This widespread mechanization creates conflict between the wealthy upper class—the engineers and managers who keep society running—and the lower class, whose skills and purpose in society have been replaced by machines.

Player Piano by Ayn Rand:

It takes place at some unspecified future date when mankind has entered another dark age. Technological advancement is now carefully planned (when it is allowed to occur at all) and the concept of individuality has been eliminated.

Invitation to a Beheading by Vladimir Nabokov:

The novel takes place in a prison and relates the final twenty days of Cincinnatus C., a citizen of a fictitious country, who is imprisoned and sentenced to death for “gnostical turpitude.”

The Foundation Pit by Andrei Platonov:

The plot of the novel concerns a group of workers living in the early Soviet Union. They attempt to dig out a huge foundation pit on the base of which a gigantic house will be built for the country’s proletarians. The workers dig each day but slowly cease to understand the meaning of their work. The enormous foundation pit sucks out all of their physical and mental energy.

Chapayev and Void by Victor Pelevin:

The book is set in two different times — after the October Revolution and in modern Russia. In the post-revolutionary period, Pyotr Pustota is a poet who has fled from Saint Petersburg to Moscow and who takes up the identity of a Soviet political commissar and meets a strange man named Vasily Chapayev who is some sort of an army commander. He spends his days drinking samogon, taking drugs and talking about the meaning of life with Chapayev.

And the Ass Saw the Angel by Nick Cave:

And the Ass Saw the Angel tells the story of Euchrid Eucrow, a mute born to an abusive drunken mother and a father obsessed with animal torture and the building of dangerous traps. The family live in a valley of fanatically religious Ukulites, where they are shunned. Euchrid’s mental breakdown includes horrific angelic visions, and the story builds towards Euchrid exacting terrible vengeance on the people who have made him suffer.

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Controversial opinion from The Guardian:

Search engine optimisation (SEO) was always a flawed concept. At its worst, it means making web content less engaging for the reader but supposedly better for search robots and for the mysterious algorithms that determine the order in which results appear for a Google search. At its best, it means no more than following best practice in creating clear, accessible web sites with intelligible content, meaningful titles, descriptive “alt” attributes for image, no broken links, and the rest of what makes for a high-quality web destination.

Not sure I agree :P

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This is a fantastic interview between Dave Cornthwaite and Alistair Humphreys, two professional adventurers. You should read the whole thing. They talk about various amazing things they’ve done, as well as the planning process and various other things.

Below is a fantstic quote from the interview which ties in nicely to what I was saying before about starting a new hobby:

Then I heard on Radio 4 someone describing himself as a “working artist”, meaning an artist who works and earns enough money to live. That was a massive epiphany for me, to realize that being a working artist, somebody who earns money from it, is enough. He’s obviously not Leonardo Da Vinci, or Michelangelo, but then if everyone compares themselves to the Da Vinci of whatever life they do, then that’s just ludicrous.

If you’re able to live from something you enjoy, you’re doing it right. It doesn’t matter how you chalk up to other people doing the same thing (whether at a higher or lower level). Quite a nice realisation, for sure.

Here are the guys:

Alistair Dave

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I like these pictures of

Dan Deacon:

A watchmaker:

It’s cool to see the custom workspaces. Messy but organised, personal and presumably leading to productivity.

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