Archive for the 'Asides' Category

How some of us feel about our inboxes

[link] Monday, October 13th, 2014


A typically beautiful piece of letter-carving by the Cardozo-Kindersley Workshop.

Mrs Woolf’s Diaries

[link] Saturday, October 11th, 2014

Following a lovely conversation with two of my dearest friends, I decided to re-read Virginia’s Woolf’s diaries, which I last read over 20 years ago. But when I went to my bookshelves to find them I discovered that Volume (1915-19) was missing. Someone had, er, borrowed it and forgotten to return it. So then I had to get a new (well, used) copy from Amazon before I could start. (It’s important to read them in sequence, I found the first time round.)

Anyway, here I am, immersed in Volume 1, alternately entranced and appalled by her. Here, she is, for example on Saturday 9th January 1915

“On the towpath we met & had to pass a long line of imbeciles. The first was a very tall young man, just queer enough to look twice at, but no more; the second shuffled, & looked aside; & then one realised that every one in that long line was a miserable ineffective shuffling idiotic creature, with no forehead, or no chin, & an imbecile grin, or a wild suspicious stare. It was perfectly horrible. They should certainly be killed.”

This from a woman who herself suffered from intermittent bouts of madness and eventually killed herself.

One big discovery, though, was the extent to which London seemed to have suffered from air raids in WW1. They figure quite a lot in the entries for 1917 and 1918, for example. On Monday 28th January she writes:

“Home I went & there was a raid, of course. The night made it inevitable. [Which probably means that there was no cloud cover.] From 8 to 1.15 we roamed about, between coal hole kitchen bedroom & drawing room. I dont know how much is fear, how much boredom; but the result is uncomfortable most of all, I believe, because one must talk bold and jocular small talk with the servants to ward off hysteria”.

She’s a maddening writer, because her art forces one to overlook her appalling snobbery. I’m pretty sure she would have looked down on me — an engineer, and Irish to boot. And this, the only surviving recording of her voice, tends to confirm this impression. Talk about cut-glass English!

The parenthood religion

[link] Friday, October 3rd, 2014

From an interesting contrarian rant by Astro Teller (head of Google X) and Mrs Teller. Both authors are, I believe, the grandchildren of Nobel laureates. Not sure what difference that makes.

The origins of the parenthood religion are obscure, but one of its first manifestations may have been the “baby on board” placards that became popular in the mid-1980s. Nobody would have placed such a sign on a car if it were not already understood by society that the life of a human achieves its peak value at birth and declines thereafter. A toddler is almost as precious as a baby, but a teenager less so, and by the time that baby turns fifty, it seems that nobody cares much anymore if someone crashes into her car. You don’t see a lot of vehicles with placards that read, “Middle-aged accountant on board.”

When music went digital

[link] Wednesday, October 1st, 2014


On this day in 1982 the first commercial CD players appeared in UK stores.

On this day…

[link] Thursday, September 18th, 2014

Historic day, eh? The Royal and Ancient Golf Club, Golf’s governing body, votes today on the thorny issue of whether to admit women as members.

Oh, and the people of Scotland also vote on whether they want to be independent or not.

(Which makes one wonder what will the “United Kingdom” be called if they vote “yes”. The two candidates I’ve heard so far are fUK — “former UK” — and UK-lite).


  1. The R&A decided to admit women members.
  2. The Scots decided that it was still the UK, not the fUK.

Everything is connected…

[link] Monday, September 15th, 2014


… even in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

Photograph by Douglas McArthur.

The Stones and Muddy Waters

[link] Thursday, September 11th, 2014

Terrific video I haven’t seen before. Thanks to Dave Winer for the link.

Valuation, valuation, valuation

[link] Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

Now that Mark Zuckerberg’s company is worth more than $200 billion — $201.55 billion at the time of this writing … my favorite comparison — now making the rounds on Twitter — is with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s crown jewels, oil producer Rosneft, natural gas monopoly Gazprom and state-owned lender Sberbank. Their combined market cap is $202.3 billion, meaning that Russia’s vaunted energy wealth plus its financial power is worth about as much as a company with 7,000 employees that had just $7.8 billion in sales last year, compared with Gazprom’s $165 billion.



[link] Monday, September 8th, 2014

An asteroid just missed Earth. The rock known as Pitbull is 60 feet in diameter—similar to the asteroid that blew up over Russia last year. It was 25,000 miles (40,000 km) away at its closest point, or just beyond the orbit of geostationary satellites.

From Quartz

Keeping one’s distance

[link] Sunday, September 7th, 2014

One of the difficult balancing acts involved in writing about digital technology is how to keep up with it without drinking its Kool-Aid. In that context, I’ve just come on an observation that Walter Benjamin once made about being a critic.

“Criticism is a matter of correct distancing. It was at home in a world where perspectives and prospects counted and where it was still possible to adopt a standpoint. Now things press too urgently on human society.”

He wrote that in 1928. So maybe nothing changes.