Monthly Archives: July 2007

Reading about writing

Two books on writing: Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them and Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Read Prose for practical advice (her main argument is that the writer should be concerned with writing good language, beginning with a good sentence, and ignore trends and fashion) and sheer enjoyment of good writing (with many examples). Read King for inspiration (the book is partially a memoir of his career, partially an exhortation to just write, with fairly simple advice, most notably "Second draft = First draft – 10%".)

Actually, both are good for inspiration, countering the dread of entering an airport bookstore and realising you have read it all….

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I hate spammers

That’s it. I cleaned up the comment spam this morning (looking through about 1000 spam comments from the holding bin to find 1 real comment, publishing that, then inadvertently pushing "Publish" rather than "Delete" for the rest. Result: About 1000 spam comments published, which have to be semi-manually excised.

Captchas, here I come.

I hate spammers. As Norwegian boat-owners say: Jeg HATER måker (I HATE seagulls). Seagulls, at least, spread their excrement as a result of doing something useful. Spammers are lower than that.

I HATE spammers. Violently. 

Moving writing (literally)


John McPhee (2006): Uncommon Carriers

John McPhee specializes, like Tracy Kidder, in detailed and ruminative reportages about things and people we see everyday, but seldom think about. In this collection of articles, he primarily studies transportation, describing the workings of long-distance trucking, coal trains, cargo ships, barges and a memorable case study of the workings of “The Sort”, UPS’ humongous sorting facility in Loisville, Kentucky.

I plan to use at least two of these articles in my classes – definitely the one on UPS, and perhaps the one on coal trains (following a crew from Union Pacific between strip mine and powerplant) or the one on interstate trucking (following a driver with a highly polished chemical truck moving WD-40 all around the US. Business school students (as, indeed, most of the population in Norway as well as the USA) have little experience with industrial scale enterprises, and McPhee’s excellent reportages instill not just an understanding (and admiration) for the scale of these enterprises that no Harvard Business School case can come close to, but also an understanding and respect for the people running it, the unsung heroes of the eCommerce and air conditioning revolution.

Moving writing, quite literally. An example for any academic writer trying to explain what makes modern society tick.

The science of the spooky

Mary Roach: Spook – Science tackles the afterlife, 2006

Roach does a fun romp investigating claims of the supernatural: Reincarnation (even going to India to investigate a purported case), various "scientific" investigations of spritism, ghosts and other kookery from the Middle to the New Age. She manages to be somewhat open – at least in the beginning, before becoming scientific and debunking things without descending into the at times tiresom earnestness of full-time skeptics.

The best part of the book is the language and the many funny foonotes, full of quips like reporting on someone communicating with a dead "Chopin (who has, we learn, resumed composing following a brief stint decomposing)". She looks into people trying to weigh the soul (by measuring body weight loss as a person dies) and various echtoplasm claims (spooky white material produced by mediums, mostly turning out to be cheesecloth.) An interesting explanation for ghosts may be that they are caused by infrasound, which can be produced by fans and other electrical equipment and be detected only by a few people, who may experience unease and blurry sights in the corner of their eyes.

Anyway, fun summer reading. 

Vacation slouching

One of the really great aspects of vacationing in friends’ apartment is going through their bookcases. In this case, this is a little like reading boingboing on paper – and discovering small treasures such as Calvin Trillin’s American Stories. A collection of New Yorker articles that never, ever would have been published in a Norwegian magazine on account of being more than 10000 characters long.

Anyway, it is now noon and all I have done so far is read while the family is waking up (some of them returning from an early morning shopping jaunt.) This is life.