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Archive for the ‘books’ Category

This book won’t change your life

Saturday, December 19th, 2009

You know the sort of book I mean: Listography, Wreck this journal, This diary will change your life, This is not a book, How to Make a Journal of Your Life, The Guerilla Art Kit, Your love life in lists, … How to be an explorer of the world: Portable life museum …. Tear Up This Book!: The Sticker, Stencil, Stationery, Games, Crafts, Doodle, and Journal Book for Girls!

Those books that have a fun, wacky but cheap, activity for you to do every day in order to cure your life from the malaise of materialism, work and apathy that has engulfed it.

But, I wonder, how well do the writers of these books live up to the image.

Lisa Nola (Listography)

You can tell Lisa’s a hipster intellectual sort because… well, just look at her! And him. He’s Adam.

Another big giveaway that they’re that way inclined is that they have built up a not insubstantial body of work, or ‘project’, including several books, calendars and, oh yes, the website, around this listography concept of theirs:

Through list making, you can shape an autobiography. Therefore, your listography is a perpetual work in progress, a time capsule you can share, and a map of your life for friends and family.

Or you can never ever look at it again.

I list. I love to list, but if there is any joy in looking at an old list (and, to be fair, there can be) it will be because it was not intended to be looked at so far in the future. You’ll surprise yourself by finding that back in 1996 you rated Aswad as your favourite band. But devoting hours of your younger years to making hundreds of lists for the express purpose of looking back at them in years to come is just depressing. Evidence of how stultifying an activity this must be is indicated by the following helpful text from the website:

Try our list topic generator for further inspiration and reflection.

But the idea does however seem to have taken off, to the point where a chain reaction is starting to occur, and a listographer, Nola Russell, has published a book of her own lists. Call me cynical, but I reckon ‘Russell’ is a bit to similar to ‘Lisa’ backwards, and ‘Nola’ is a bit too similar to ‘Nola’ to completely rule out them being the same person.

So, what have we learned about Lisa and Adam? That when they grow up and their rebellious teenage son screams at them “I don’t want to make a list, Dad – I can remember this one thing without having to make another bloody list,” the reply comes swift and fast, “‘Eh oop son, thy’s talking gibberish. It’s lists that built this ‘owse, and don’t you forget it.”

Think before you list.

Dan Price (How to make a journal of your life)

It turns out hat Lisa Nola is not the only how-to-release-your-creativity-in-a-lo-fi-way author with a coherent multimedia vision. Other mainstay of the genre, Dan Price, has hismoonlight chronicles website to espouse the same philosophy as his book.

Dan seems a bit more for real than Lisa; again, the photo helps to illustrate this. He also lives in a hole, and lives life a bit like Thoreaux in Walden. I imagine he does spend lots of time creating things out of very little at all, and that he keeps a fascinating journal and finds beauty and intrigue in little things (sample). Thank God he’s published a little book teaching us how to see the world just like he does and release our frustrated inner artist.

Keri Smith (Wreck this journal, This is not a book, etc…)

The doyenne of getting adults to scribble in books that cost more than a tenner; she has published six books of this ilk. And, what is more:

Keri Smith is an author/illustrator turned guerilla artist

… according to her website, at least. Her books are more playful and destructive (childish?) than the other authors’, at least judging by their cover (and from flicking through). The byword here is ‘tearing’. Guerrilla whimsy indeed.

She’s published a blog for many years so I’ve tried to get a picture of whether she lives up to the ideals of her books.

i have actively entered into a period of not thinking.

My guess is that she does, although the rate at which she churns out these DIY artist books would suggest that she is, like some people I’ve met over the years, more interested in the idea of having an idea, than an idea itself.

At the end of this review, I should own up and say I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment of these books (that creating your own fun is easy and why doesn’t everyone do it?) and I reckon the authors are probably fairly well-meaning. But the trouble is that a) being instructed to do something silly or creative is nowhere near as fun as thinking of it yourself, so b) nearly every page of every copy of these books won’t be read, and so c) these books in fact contribute to the problem they’re purporting to try and solve – people buying mindless tatt to entertain themselves with.

Still, they’re a pretty good get-out as a present for a difficult to buy for friend.

The portable atheist

Saturday, April 18th, 2009

Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Non-Believer, by Christopher Hitchens

Essential Readings for the Non-Believer

Sounds a bit like an atheist’s bible to me.

I bet Hitchens doesn’t see the irony.

Modern deism

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

Earlier today I was reading an article on agnosticism with relation to God (itself a response to a better article on how Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and their ilk are annoyingly agressive in how they promote atheism/put down religiosity (incidentally, Hitchens’ book “God is not Great” has possible the worst written opening paragraph I have ever read – it just screams “I am a twat”).

One comment on the article linked to a site called modern deism, which tries to encourage people to believe in God without believing in religion, essentially making up their own God as they go along. Quite what the point of this is I don’t know. Also, they claim to be in tune with modern thought, incorporating science and all that, but their inspiration for believing in God is that:

The Deist looks at existence and infers that this wonderous thing could not have been an accident.

Which is pretty much the opposite of what a lot of modern science points towards.

Anyway, I was going to quote liberally and try and be funny, but failed at the funny side. But I will leave you with:

Therefore, Deists have a common belief in God based on Reason but the view into the nature of God varies among Deists as this nature is generally unknown to us at this time.

Junior’s a programmer now

Saturday, April 11th, 2009

I didn’t take the traditional route to my present career. After graduating in maths I knew I didn’t want to take the obvious route of becoming an actuary or accountant as maths, contrary to popular belief, is nothing remotely to do with adding up (although, in hindsight I reckon being an actuary might be fairly interesting, but you still have to mix with graduate training scheme types).

So many years later, after leaning web-wards through a series of charities and lower jobs, I find myself a reasonably competent web-developer.

But I still have a lot to learn and the book I’m reading (Deep Simplicity by John Gribbin) is proving to be a great source of ideas to stretch my programming legs. Making websites is all well and good, but the examples of complex systems emerging from simple rules, and the constant talk of computer models, has given me the impetus to stretch my abilities to making convoluted programs to model certain behaviours.

The first one I’ve attempted is the following scenario:

You have N buttons and an unlimited number of threads. You pick up 2 buttons and connect them with a thread, and then do this repeatedly.

So I wrote something to produce a graph of interesting things to keep track of during this process.

It’s also given me the idea for a jQuery plugin

The Da Vinci formula

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

I’m a little bit of a literary snob. Not the full-blown version that will name drop obscure french authors into conversations about chips, but I do take a certain pride in picking books that are stimulating and not just light entertainment.

The Gaudi KeyA few months ago I was at Victoria train station when I came across  a table full of books called The Gaudi Key. I have no idea how similar to The Da Vinci Code the book’s plot or characters are, but I could hardly believe the unashamedly formulaic title, not to mention the cover design. The Da Vinci Formula seems to be:

Call the book “The [insert mediterranean artist (or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle) name] [insert synonym for mystery or puzzle]“, and try and make the cover look a bit like an old manuscript.

Confirmed today by my finding a book called The Trudeau Vector. Now, Trudeau isn’t a renaissance figure, and a vector isn’t a synonym for riddle so I’ve had to modify the rule a little to:

Call the book “The [insert renaissance figure (or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle) name, or anyone who people might vaguely have heard but not from Big Brother] [insert synonym for mystery or puzzle, or any sort of impressive cerebral sounding activity]“, but do make sure the cover looks a bit like an old manuscript as this is the important bit.

Needless to say I rejected it in favour of an excellent popular science book called Deep Simplicity (which could, quite reasonably, have been titled “The Poincare Formula”. I’ve read it before, but I just fancied some light entertainment during this balmy Dutch heatwave.

Michael Moore: Stupid white man

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

My good friend Matt has always had Michael Moore down as a bit of an idiot, but then again, he often thinks people are idiots. Sometimes for such trivial offences as not thinking.

Anyway, I took this with a pinch of salt. Bowling for Columbine is pretty decent, and what I saw of TV nation was generally both funny and right on. But it turns out that on this occasion Matt is right!

In the flat I was staying in lately there were two copies of Stupid White Men… so I took one. It’s one of the worst books I’ve ever read. Not only is the style brash, squanderingly antagonistic towards the sympathetic ear of the reader, and ineloquent, but much of the substance is… well… lacking in substance. Below are three of the most egregious examples.

New York’s water supply … is collected and stored in twenty-two open-air reservoirs in the Catskills…

an acquaintance remarked … how wonderful it is to boat on the reservoir.

“Boat?” I cried. “You’re boating in my drinking water?”

That was when the cases of Evian began entering my apartment

How much of an idiot is he? Had he presumed there existed several hermetically sealed huge lakes in the hills. And why does he care so much about people boating but not fish dying. Does this man not have reflective capacity? This extract of the book is, in fact, a  pretty good example of the short-sighted, “me me me” rich American idiocy he rails against in the rest of the book.

After the Soviet Union lost over twenty million citizens in World War II, it’s no surprise that they sought insurance against future invasion by seizing and dominating nearly every country that bordered them

Has he not heard of the non-aggression pact between Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia which saw Russia occupy the Baltics and half of Poland right at the start of the second world war, before they lost the 20 million, and actually purely as an aggressive expansionist measure? The man’s wilful misinterpretation of history makes you wonder about his research into and manipulation of present day facts.

Thirdly, virtually the whole of the “We’re number one” chapter is idiotic and often offensive. I laugh a lot at offensive jokes, but they must justify themselves by either being hilarious or insightful. His are neither. What is the point of writing a chapter which jokingly suggests all protestants in Northern Ireland convert to catholicism, and seriously lays out high school level manifestos for creation of peace in the Balkans and the Middle East.

At the end of the book I felt appalled that, at it’s time of publication, it was seen as a provocative shining light for the American left. Thank god for the rise of the Daily Show.