Marginal

An interesting read about the little notes we add to our interesting reads.

At the marginsNational Review
That what I’m describing is a tension inherent in the marginalia business will be obvious to anyone who’s ever read with pen in hand. Writing in a book today, I record some portion of my thinking for tomorrow. Though I trust that it will be readable, I can’t pretend that it will all make sense. Among my favorite margin notes, for instance, is the lone exclamation point, with which I frequently signal both agreement and furious dissent. Will those who come behind me know one from the other? Will I? Perhaps not. But we’ll know what moved me.

Two things strike me about this. Firstly, are our Kindle notes too impersonal and clinical, compared to those left by our fading pencils and scratchy pens? And secondly, is this entire blog—my collection of notes about things I’ve read—just one huge margin?

Talking rubbish

Whilst I could be described as being a ‘knowledge worker’, I work in a place as far from Silicon Valley as it’s possible to be. There is no table-football or Lego in my office. We don’t have hot desks or use Slack. And there’s no expectation that we swap the 9-to-5 with 996, that is 9am to 9pm, six days a week. Less 24/7, more 7-and-a-half/5. Others aren’t so lucky, however.

Silicon Valley ruined work cultureWired
Lyons believes these new-agey corporate practices, along with perks like free snacks or beer on tap, are simply a misdirection from something rotten at the core. He blames worker unhappiness not just on Silicon Valley’s work culture but also on its business model—one he calls “shareholder capitalism.” The modern tech company is obsessed with growth and profit, at the expense of its employees and to the benefit of its investors. Some lucky employees might have stock options, but most don’t, and even then it’s a small percentage of the money flowing back to investors. The perks, then, function like trick mirrors, “a way to distract employees and keep them from noticing that their pockets are being picked.”

I’m imagining Uncanny Valley, Anna Wiener’s new book on Silicon Valley and start-up culture, to be a Microserfs for millennials. It probably isn’t.

Seduced by Start-up Land: A new memoir about millennial ambition in Silicon Valley – The Cut
Uncanny Valley is a memoir about Wiener’s journey through start-up culture during its most bullish and self-aggrandizing era, and how her idealism gives way to disappointment and horror as society starts to suffer the consequences of tech’s unchecked fetish for growth.

Examining endemic ills of tech bros in ‘Uncanny Valley’The Boston Globe
The most valuable question Wiener asks is why we are allowing that to happen — why we have such blind faith in these “ambitious, aggressive, arrogant young men from America’s soft suburbs,” why we’re so seduced by their confidence that we assume their priorities should be our own, why we defer to them when we ought to be saying no.

As well as via some very suspect management practices, that culture is expressed by the choice of language being used.

Garbage language: Why do corporations speak the way they do?Vulture
Wiener writes especially well — with both fluency and astonishment — about the verbal habits of her peers: “People used a sort of nonlanguage, which was neither beautiful nor especially efficient: a mash-up of business-speak with athletic and wartime metaphors, inflated with self-importance. Calls to action; front lines and trenches; blitzscaling. Companies didn’t fail, they died.” She describes a man who wheels around her office on a scooter barking into a wireless headset about growth hacking, proactive technology, parallelization, and the first-mover advantage. “It was garbage language,” Wiener writes, “but customers loved him.” […]

I like Anna Wiener’s term for this kind of talk: garbage language. It’s more descriptive than corporatespeak or buzzwords or jargon. Corporatespeak is dated; buzzword is autological, since it is arguably an example of what it describes; and jargon conflates stupid usages with specialist languages that are actually purposeful, like those of law or science or medicine. Wiener’s garbage language works because garbage is what we produce mindlessly in the course of our days and because it smells horrible and looks ugly and we don’t think about it except when we’re saying that it’s bad, as I am right now.

She’s not the only one to spot this, of course.

Corporate buzzwords are how workers pretend to be adultsThe Atlantic
From a more cynical perspective, buzzwords are useful when office workers need to dress up their otherwise pointless tasks with fancier phrases—you know, for the optics. Coal miners and doctors and tennis instructors have specific jargon they use to get their points across, but “all-purpose business language is the language you use when you aren’t really doing anything.”

Perhaps, instead of using garbage language, we could flick through the pages of Eunoia, a diction of words that don’t translate.

Eunoia: The internet’s dictionary of untranslatable wordsBlog of the Long Now
Eunoia is itself an untranslatable word meaning a “well-mind” or “beautiful thinking.” The user can search Eunoia’s database by “language, tag, or the word itself. There are over 500 words in the database, across 50+ languages and 50+ tags.”

The language with the highest untranslatable words was German; from the well-known Schadenfreude, which means to be happy at someone else’s misfortune, to the complicated Jein, meaning both yes and no.

That last one, jein, reminded me of this new construction that I’m still looking for an excuse to use.

But/andRobin Sloan
I find that in my own writing, my own sequencing of ideas, what I most often want is “and,” except that “and” is so linear: it can’t capture a turn or a twist. The layers of “but/and” do it almost perfectly, and, as a bonus, its clumsiness basically admits, “I am no great rhetorician; this is not a mathematical proof; I’m just trying my best,” which, to me, is a great benefit. […]

“And” is the continuation, fine as far as is goes; “but” is the negation, even if you pretend it’s not; “but/and” is the turn, the twist, the resonance, the perfect fifth.

Better Valentine alternatives

If you don’t want to send your sweetheart a Vinegar Valentine’s card, you could always try something a little different, like– a Valentine’s wall?

Say it with Banksy? Valentine’s gift catapults house to street art fameThe Guardian
She said: “We really want to preserve it, but he’s given us a bit of a headache. First thing’s first is to maybe get some Perspex to preserve it so everyone can enjoy it and then try to get some professional advice. It has been a crazy day, with lots of people being able to come and enjoy it and we want people to be able to continue doing that.

“I just kept like squealing and I’ve not stopped smiling all day. It’s just so special. They are calling it the Valentine’s Day Banksy.”

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It’s nice to see that Banksy has since confirmed it’s one of his.

OK, so sending someone some street art might not be very practical. Pen and paper it is, then.

Grab a pen. It’s time to revive the love letter.The Lily
Unlike digital messages, they’re concrete; we can feel their weight in our hands. (“Will we ever glow when we open an email folder?” Simon Garfield writes in a book celebrating letter writing. “Emails are a poke, but letters are a caress, and letters stick around to be newly discovered.”) Months, years, decades in the future, they prove we lived and loved, savored and felt sorrow. They allow us to grasp at immortality.

Enduring love: how greetings cards are surviving the smartphone eraThe Guardian
“The real growth we’re seeing is among people sending a message to cheer someone up,” says Fergusson, explaining that there has been a huge rise in “No occasion” cards. She believes millennials and gen Z are buying these cards because they are more powerful than social media messages. Hare calls her new range “contemporary sentiments” – one card says, “Just be your beautiful self”, while another reads: “Proud of you.” In 2019, the online retailer Moonpig launched a collection with the Samaritans – personalised cards were emblazoned with messages such as: “Matthew, I’m not sure how to help but if you need me, I’m here.” Fergusson says there has been a recent rise in “man-to-man” sending, but GCA research suggests 85% of cards are bought by women.

Alternatively…

Poundland sells 40,000 engagement rings ahead of Valentine’s DayBBC News
The £1 “Bling Rings” and “Man Bands” are meant to be used as “placeholders” for proper rings, it said. But one analyst described such promotions as “increasingly desperate”.

And here’s a modern take on that Vinegar Valentine idea.

Name a cockroach after your ex and watch an animal eat it on Valentine’s DayCNN
For just $5, zoo staff will name a cockroach after your former lover and feed it to an animal at their “Cry Me a Cockroach” event on Valentine’s Day. And if your ex-boo was an especially snakey one, pay $20 more to have them name a rat and feed it to a reptile instead.

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Update 20/02/2020

Sadly/inevitably, that Banksy Valentine’s Day graffiti has been graffiti-ed, which raises a number of interesting questions (including is it even possible to actually damage Banksy’s artwork, given that it itself is criminal damage, in law).

Banksy: what happens when someone vandalises graffiti – and who owns it anyway?The Conversation
Where graffiti has been applied to the wall of a property, that physical piece of “art” belongs to the owners of the property, who may choose to lawfully remove it or to protect it. If the property is rented – as is reportedly the case for the Valentine’s mural – the graffiti becomes part of the fabric of that building and belongs to the property owner, not the tenants. Ownership of the intangible rights to the artwork (the copyright), however, will remain the property of Banksy as the artist.

Packed your school bag, kids?

There are other collections of school exercise books around, but this one is fully online and looks to be vast, with hundreds of children’s exercise books from across the globe, from the 1700s to 2000s.

Exercise Book Archive
The Exercise Book Archive is an ever-growing collection of old exercise books from all over the world. Everybody is invited to discover the history, education, and daily life of the children and young people of the past through this unique material.

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The Boeing. France, March 31, 1973

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3rd year of school 1943-44. Austria, September 1943

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My Friend. United Kingdom, March 7, 1936

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The blizzard at Honey Brook. United States of America, February 1899

The long and the short of it

From Amelia Wattenberger, a simple but very effective way of visualising an aspect of some famous texts from a variety of classical authors, such as Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde and Jane Austin.

Sentence lengths
How do different writers vary their sentence length? See how some authors play with different lengths, while others stick with one.

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Google Chrome’s hidden treats

I wasn’t expecting much from this article, to be honest, with its click-baity headline—just filler about keyboard shortcuts and pinned tabs. But I was pleasantly surprised by how useful this  create-your-own-search-engine tip was.

How to use Google Chrome like a proWired UK
With a few tweaks you can also search your email or Google Drive directly from the search bar. To do this you have to create a new search engine in Chrome – it’s not as complex as it sounds. Right click in the Omnibox and select ‘edit search engines’. Scroll to ‘other search engines’ and click on add. Here you enter the name of the website you want to search, a keyword that you’ll type into Chrome’s Omnibox, and a URL. The URL should be the search result page of the service you’re setting the system up for.

I’ve just set up search engines for my gmail, calendar, onedrive and blog. Being able to quickly jump into those things directly from the search bar is quite addictive.

Here’s something else that intrigued me, though I’m not sure how much I’ll use it.

You can even use a blank tab as a one-off note taker – enter “data:text/html, <html contenteditable>” and you’ll get a quick notepad. The files won’t save, but it’s useful if you want to jot something down quickly.

Grammar society admit’s defeat

The Apostrophe Protection Society was started by journalist and sub editor John Richards, in 2001. 18 year’s later, hes calling it a day.

‘Laziness has won’: apostrophe society admits its defeatThe Guardian
Now 96, Richards is calling time on the society, which lists the three simple rules for correct use of the punctuation mark.

Writing on the society’s website, he said: “Fewer organisations and individuals are now caring about the correct use of the apostrophe in the English language.

“We, and our many supporters worldwide, have done our best but the ignorance and laziness present in modern times have won!”

The societys website, however, is keen to point out that its still up and running, with many fine photo’s of apostrophe misuse on it’s ‘Example page’s.

Update – 06/12/2019

Heres an interesting follow-up.

Apostrophes: linguistics expert imagines a happier world without themThe Conversation
Hardcore apostrophites would no longer be able to roll their eyes at people’s inability to work out where the apostrophe goes in examples such as “The Joneses front door”, “Holding each others hand” or “Others opinions”. Neither would they be able to indulge in their habitual mocking of someone who has used the wrong form of “its”.

In fact, by removing apostrophes altogether, the pedantry arsenal is vastly reduced. Without their favourite punctuation mark of judgement, your average pedant will be forced to make do with old favourites such as split infinitives and insisting on the “correct” meaning of “decimate”. …

In reality, the Apostrophe Protection Society did not, of course, hold dominion over apostrophes or any other aspect of English. Nobody does. Linguistic conventions (for this is all they are) come and go, and are often based on idiosyncratic preferences from another era. A good grasp of apostrophe use says more about your ability to remember inconsistent patterns than it does about your intelligence.

It seems to me that apostrophes are used to judge others as much as they are used to clarify writing. Maybe the APS finally saw the light and realised this, and decided it wanted no further part in the snobbish pedantry that surrounds this fetishised punctuation mark.

See also this earlier post about apostrophe use.

So, farewell then, Clive

Sad to hear about the loss of Clive James (and Jonathan Miller and Gary Rhodes) earlier. A man of many talents.

TV reviewers the world over owe debt to Clive JamesIrish times
live James, who died this week, was a man of many impressive parts, poet, essayist, literary critic, broadcaster, songwriter and blogger among them. But for me, it was the TV reviews he wrote for the Observer newspaper from 1972 to 1982 that left the most vivid and lasting impression. That’s partly because James essentially invented the newspaper TV review as a particular sort of place where writers could flex their muscles and show off in a way that might have been frowned on elsewhere. But it was mostly because he was so damned brilliant at the job that everyone who followed remains in his shadow.

Clive James’ best quips – from Beyoncé takedown to Arnold Schwarzenegger ‘condom full of walnuts’ jibeMirror
On novelist Barbara Cartland: “Twin miracles of mascara, her eyes looked like the corpses of two small crows that had crashed into a chalk cliff.”

“Windows is Shutting Down” – Caltech
Clive James is an illustrious expatriate Australian poet and author living in London. The title (and opening phrase) of his poem will be familiar to everyone reading these words. I’ve read them often enough myself, but it has taken James’s wit to point out how they should have grated painfully on my grammatical ear. It is a marvellously chosen example to illustrate his claim about declining grammatical standards, since digital technology has been such a powerful force for generating mangled syntax.

It’s through his TV work that I know him best, and his shows in the 80s and 90s were compulsory viewing.

Clive James on Television – ITV, 14th August 1988YouTube

The Clive James Show (Carlton) – 26th May 1996YouTube

And yes, that last one does include a demonstration of the musical talents of one Margarita Pracatan.

Trumped typography

Trump’s handwriting was in the news the other day, when cameras caught a glimpse of the notes he’d made for himself before meeting reporters.

Handwriting expert says Trump’s ‘I WANT NOTHING’ note bears ‘the sign of a liar’Rolling Stone
As for the large, blocky writing, Lowe attributes that to him being “someone who has a strong need for security and to be in control, to be looked up to.” The way the letters disconnect point to “someone who was unable to assimilate the difficulties he experienced in childhood, which leaves him open to life’s various adversities. He lacks good coping mechanisms and has trouble relating fully to himself and to others.”

Now you too can write like the president, though why on earth you’d want to is another matter.

Final Word From The Pres

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Write your own notes in Trump’s handwriting with this new web generatorFast Company
Part of what made the photo notable was that it revealed that the unique writing style the president uses online—the Twitter-friendly brevity of character count and a seemingly unpredictable all-caps emphasis—applies to good old pen on paper, too. For the website, called Final Word From the Pres, the Jones Knowles Ritchie team took those characteristics and automated them. The generator will autocorrect words, turning “we” to “I,” “Trump” to “Stable Genius,” “big” to “yuuge,” and “SNL” to “unfunny,” so the note you write is adapted to the president’s voice. But there are many more autocorrections, with over one hundred Easter eggs up for discovery as you uncover the distinctive language patterns of a very stable genius.

This isn’t the first time such a typeface has been created.

Tiny Hand will be your new Comic SansBuzzfeed News
I was struck not only by the peculiar delivery of the notes, but also by the idiosyncratic way Trump writes the alphabet. At that moment it was clear to me — as it surely must be to you, dear reader — I had to make a font based on Donald Trump’s handwriting.

Mad to think that’s from 2016. Here we are, nearly 2020, and he and his juvenile writing/thinking is still here.

Word up, guys

Following on from yesterday’s reconsideration of the treatment of Guy Fawkes, here’s a quirky little piece from The New Yorker.

Guy Fawkes and the new pronoun in town
The new pronoun is “guys” itself, which, according to Allan Metcalf in “The Life of Guy: Guy Fawkes, the Gunpowder Plot, and the Unlikely History of an Indispensable Word,” belongs on a paradigm of English personal pronouns in the twenty-first century: “I, you, he/she/it, we, guys, they.”

It’s used as a non-gender-specific pronoun, and I’ve certainly heard it being used that way at work for a while now. But for some, that’s still a problem.

But, for many, Guy’s etymological offspring, “guys,” when used as a pronoun, remains masculine, and its use is frowned upon as demeaning to women and L.G.B.T.Q. people. What to do about this upstart pronoun that has sneaked in through the back door? “Folks” is a little too folksy, but those same L.G.B.T.Q. people who gave us the singular nonbinary “they,” as well as “Mx.” and “Latinx,” have a solution: “folx.” Which sounds a bit like Fawkes. We can’t get away from this Guy, guys.

Turning that frown upside down

What would you do with 17 rejection letters?

A doctoral student wore a skirt made of rejection letters to defend her dissertation
The skirt communicated what her presentation didn’t: the grueling, bumpy process she went through on her way to her major moment in front of a committee of five professors on Oct. 7.

“The dissertation presentation is in this narrative form, where … it looks like everything went smoothly in my process from start to finish,” said Kirby, 28, who for the past 4½ years has been a doctoral student in environmental science and policy. “So I wanted something in my presentation that shows that really isn’t how it goes. There are a lot of roadblocks along the way.”

Every day is another chance

A nice write-up in the New Yorker about Bullet Journalling, with an interview with its creator, Ryder Carroll.

Can Bullet Journaling save you?
In the next hour, he helped me set it up. “The Bullet Journal is designed to embrace the chaos that is life,” he said. We made a meta page with my intentions for the journal and a “brain dump” for anything on my mind. He had me draw bullet points instead of a checkboxes for tasks, because, he said, “Things aren’t binary; things begin, they pause, they resume, they get moved.” We talked about the BuJo practice of “a.m. and p.m. reflection,” when you look over the day’s notes. “For us, lists aren’t just stuff we have to do,” he said. “Each task is an experience waiting to be born.” […]

“Only add what serves you, and be patient with yourself, because it’s a new thing. You’re not doing it right, you’re not doing it wrong, you’re just figuring it out as you go along.” He paused. “It’s another reason why I love the notebook,” he said. “It’s like every day is another chance.”

The notebooks I use for work are based on this, a little. For all the bells and whistles that the million apps and online systems have, there’s something immediate and concrete about pen and paper that I prefer. As he says, things aren’t binary.

As with anything, some people can get carried away with it all, and spend hours creating wonderfully polished, Instagram-friendly pages that would take more time to produce than the actual tasks being listed. But that’s up to them, it’s not a requirement of the system. Thankfully, as my handwriting’s appalling.

And another thing #2

How often have you thought about your Shift + 7 key?

Ampersands: A beloved character
It began life as a shortcut for scribes and proved just as useful for early typesetters, eventually working its way into the English alphabet as the 27th letter. We collectively dropped it from the ABCs, and the decline of handwriting and manual typesetting made it less useful. But its flexibility and grace have kept it on our business cards and movie posters.

These Quartz Obsession emails are typically full of wonderful rabbit holes, and this one’s no exception. Let’s start with a quick introduction.

Where did the ampersand originate?
Developed from the Latin et (“and”), the ampersand, formerly the twenty-seventh letter of the alphabet, is a character with a cult following among students of typography.

And not just students of typography — the lowly ampersand can count lawyers, entrepreneurs, movie producers and restaurant owners as fans, if these links are anything to go by.

For law firms, the ampersand is a character worth saving
Paul Hastings, Norton Rose Fulbright, Hogan Lovells, Proskauer Rose, Baker Botts: the list of new BigLaw titles built on the corpses of ampersands is almost endless. All these firms discarded their ampersands as if they were ashamed of them.

There are practical reasons so many hipster businesses follow the exact same naming structure
There’s also a nostalgic feel to this construction. “At some point in its early history, I’d guess the germ of that trend was an allusion to the common practice in 17th/18th/19th centuries of naming your company after its principals (e.g. Gieves & Hawkes, Dege & Skinner, Marks & Spencer, etc.),” says Simon. “Could be some of your fashion brands want to allude to handcraft, to pre-industrial or non-industrial processes.”

Stereotypography
So far, critical appraisal of the ampersand in Pride & Prejudice has been mixed. On Slate, David Edelstein calls the ampersand one of the “ominous first impressions” that he had to get over in order to like the movie. The Toronto Globe and Mail (or is it “Globe & Mail”?) says the ampersand signals a “contracted, contemporary approach” to the novel. The San Francisco Chronicle finds the typographical choice to be indicative of the movie’s “jaunty approach.” And the Detroit Free Press says “the only thing really new” in the film is “the hip ampersand of the title.”

Contemporary! Jaunty! Hip! That’s a lot of stereotypical baggage to put on a modest piece of punctuation that has been kicking around in one form or another for about two thousand years.

Petition · Restore the ampersand as the 27th letter of the alphabet
This isn’t just for us. Think of all the uses of the ampersand out there, and all the people and organizations that could benefit from allowing the ampersand back into our alphabet.

We’re not asking for much. And to be completely honest, we’re not exactly sure who calls the shots on these sorts of things, but having Merriam-Webster on our side seems like a good start.

Bring back the Ampersand

It’s fair to say that graphic designers and typesetters are this character’s biggest admirers, though.

Font Aid IV: Coming Together
The Society of Typographic Aficionados is proud to announce the release of “Coming Together”, a font created exclusively for Font Aid IV to benefit the victims of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. The font consists entirely of ampersands, to represent the idea of people coming together to help one another. Type designers, graphic designers, and other artists from around the world contributed artwork to the font.

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Design by: Herb Lubalin
Herb Lubalin is best known for his logotypes, or as he called them ‘expressive typography’. One of his most famous works is the Mother & Child masthead he designed for a Curtis magazine, where the ‘O’ in the word mother is a womb for the word child. The use of the ampersand in this design is pure genius.

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Attitudes toward hyphenation and rag settings
In fact, Gill was even more willing to challenge convention than Dowding. Not only did he liberally use ampersands for “and” but he also used contractions (e.g., “tho’”), and superscript letters (e.g., “production”) to achieve even spacing. But most importantly, he advocated that text be set flush left, rag right (though he did not use that phrase) as not only more natural than justified setting, but as the best way to guarantee consistent word spacing. He considered the insistence on justified text to be nothing more than a superstition, remarking that “even spacing is more important typographically than equal length.” In his view justified text existed to satisfy man’s desire for neatness.

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That last link is my favourite, I think. I could read about typography and book design all day. There’s something very calming and comforting in a well set page of text like the one above. Those margins!

So it was a wonderful coincidence to see that today’s Aeon newsletter contained this link about book printing.

What’s as satisfying as a good book? Seeing one made the old-fashioned way, by hand
The director Glen Milner charts each step in the process as bookbinders piece together a new hardbound edition of the memoir Mango and Mimosa (1974) by the British writer and painter Suzanne St Albans. From folding pages to sewing and gluing paper to the leather spine, skilful human hands are front and centre throughout. Milner documents this melding of mechanics and craft with an almost musical rhythm, conveying skills and methods born of centuries of refinements.

Birth of a Book

And would you believe it, that printing and bookbinding company is in Leeds, just 5 miles away from me!

We need more monsters

An essay by Lauren Elkin on Susan Sontag, and why her work matters now more than ever.

Susan Sontag was a monster, of the very best kind
This is how I see her monstrosity: residing not in whether she was or was not likeable, but in her relentlessness, and her refusal to pander. The word ‘monster’ comes from the Latin monere, to warn. We need monsters like Sontag because they aren’t afraid to speak a certain kind of truth: cutting through cant, received opinion, nationalist rote, the efforts of alt-Right bot farms. We need critics who insist on hierarchies of thought and output, instead of buying into marketing hype that makes everyone really, really good, critics who don’t lunge straight for content, for what a book is ‘about’ or what it ‘says’, but who stop to consider form, and style – which, as Sontag shows us, are inextricably bound up in content. We need critics to keep us on our toes, to question authority, sweeping claims, totalising world views. We need Sontag to help us think for ourselves, and be unafraid to speak our minds. And we need her for these things now, more than ever. Maintaining a lively critical capability isn’t just about snark. It’s how we’re going to make it out of these dark days of nationalism and populism with our democracy intact.

Books and beds

I know I could be accused of wishing the days away, but one of the things I look forward to most each day is being back in bed with a good book at the end of it. For me, reading > bed > sleep. For Danielle Steel, however, books and beds are in completely separate universes.

How the hell has Danielle Steel managed to write 179 books?
Steel releases seven new novels a year—her latest, Blessing in Disguise, is out this week—and she’s at work on five to six new titles at all times. In 1989 Steel was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for having a book on the New York Times best-seller list for the most consecutive weeks of any author—381, to be exact. To pull it off, she works 20 to 22 hours a day. (A couple times a month, when she feels the crunch, she spends a full 24 hours at her desk.)

Really, though?

Is it possible to work 22-hour days? Danielle Steel says it is the secret of her success
Steel says working up to 22 hours a day is “pretty brutal physically” – but is it even possible? “No, in a nutshell,” says Maryanne Taylor of the Sleep Works. While you could work that long, especially as a one-off, the impact on productivity would make it hardly worthwhile. “The idea that someone could sustain that pattern effectively – work, write, commit things to memory, use their full brain capacity – is just unbelievable to me,” agrees Katie Fischer, another sleep consultant. If Steel was routinely sleeping for up to four hours a night, she would likely be drastically underestimating the negative impact of it, says Alison Gardiner, the founder of the sleep improvement programme Sleepstation. “It’s akin to being drunk.”

Her approach isn’t one others are recommending.

How to write a novel – four fiction writers on Danielle Steel’s insane working day
The only thing I recognise from that brutal regime is the need for copious amounts of tea. For me, a productive day is four hours of writing. Four hours of focused, uninterrupted time at the keyboard. This morning, I wrote for two hours and managed just shy of 1,000 words. Even that is a decent day; a steady day. To wrestle those hours of writing time free, I’m postponing teaching preparation, leaving my marking until the evening, relying on childcare. Most of all, I’m doing my damnedest to ignore emails. When does Steel answer her emails, is what I want to know.

She’s certainly a focused author, though.

Danielle Steel’s surprising secret to success
How do you get things done? By doing. Isn’t that fantastic? It’s the best life hack out there and the one so many of us reject because we believe that there is some other, better secret, like being magical or exceptionally talented. Rather than rely on talent and inspiration, Steel just does the work. Every day. All day.

I liked that “Rather than rely on talent” line.

Full stop stop stop

Back in Newport we once tried to set up an art magazine/brand thing called Ellipsis. We had no clue what we were doing, but I always liked the name. I use ellipses frequently — and inconsistently — on this blog, so I really should pay attention to this piece on them from Quartz.

Ellipses
The word ellipsis might be Greek for “to fall short,” but the unassuming symbol has taken on more life than its size implies, a common phenomenon for punctuation marks in lives that are becoming increasingly text-heavy. But as the design and display choices made by tech giants and software designers influence more and more of our behavior, we paused to consider how much weight three little dots can carry. …

A symbol of hesitancy, apprehension, indecision, and more to come sounds tailor-made for the internet. As instant chat became more popular in the ’90s, designers began to use the ellipsis as a “typing awareness indicator.” While intended to reassure the person on the other side that a response was forthcoming…its unintended effect was an intense anxiety when a response was taking too long.

Don’t move!

So today marks the start of National Stationery Week.

National Stationery Week
People of the world rejoice and wave your favourite pen in the air! National Stationery Week is the perfect time to celebrate your stationery pot, a colourful pencil case or your favourite pen.

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Yes, it could be seen as a glorified advert for office supplies, but it raises some interesting questions too about the changing nature of communication and expression.

Does writing by hand still matter in the digital age?
The decline of writing by hand – particularly among young people and children – has been in the news. Last month, paediatric doctors warned that children were finding it difficult to hold pencils due to excessive use of technology. Letters to Santa are increasingly sent by email, and Cambridge University is piloting the use of laptops instead of pen and paper for selected exams after requests from students. Some academics have noted the “downward trend” in students’ handwriting.

But what of the role that handwriting plays in learning and development? And with technology changing how we live and work, what place does handwriting have in the modern classroom? These were the questions put to the teachers, academics and specialists in education and technology at the Guardian’s roundtable event on 27 February.

I sit opposite computer screens all day at work, but am happy to stick with my pen and scraps of paper when making notes.

Note to self — and to the world

An article from Wired on how much we’re relying on our phone’s Notes app.

How the Notes app became our most private and public space
If you want to stare into the deepest depths of my soul, you’ll find it in the iPhone Notes app. Tucked between Hayu – the streaming app I use to watch episodes of Real Housewives in HD – and my calendar, the Notes app contains information about me that no one else knows. There are long, meticulously-drafted messages I considered sending my boyfriend to explain why he, not I, was in the wrong. There are thoughts I’ve had after a few too many vodka sodas, or drifting in and out of sleep. There are lists of ideas and plans that I don’t quite feel ready to share with the world.

And our music and TV personalities are using this too, as a method to shortcut the usual press release and manufacture some authenticity.

Notes apologies are a clear example of the “Kardashian” effect. Rather than maintaining distance, celebrities are increasingly using this communication method to feed into their fans’ desire for a friendship and individual dialogue. This is, of course, nothing but a fantasy that they are happy to maintain in exchange for their fans’ devotion.

This is nothing new, however. Here’s almost the same article from 2016.

Famous people love sharing from the Notes app, although Apple has made it a struggle
In the last year or so, a bunch of celebrities have made public statements by sharing from the Notes app on their iPhones. Taylor Swift did it most recently, but previously, other young stars like Ariana Grande, Amy Schumer, and Demi Lovato made public statements by posting a screenshot of one of their Notes on Twitter or Instagram (or both simultaneously because they’re that social media-savvy).

Here comes nobody

Yesterday there were millions of us, today there’s nobody here at all.

AI fake face website launched
A software developer has created a website that generates fake faces, using artificial intelligence (AI). Thispersondoesnotexist.com generates a new lifelike image each time the page is refreshed, using technology developed by chipmaker Nvidia. Some visitors to the website say they have been amazed by the convincing nature of some of the fakes, although others are more clearly artificial.

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They look like us, and now they can write like us too.

AI text writing technology too dangerous to release, creators claim
Researchers at OpenAI say they have created an AI writer which “generates coherent paragraphs of text, achieves state-of-the-art performance on many language modeling benchmarks and performs rudimentary reading comprehension, machine translation, question answering and summarisation — all without task-specific training.”

But they are withholding it from public use “due to our concerns about malicious applications of the technology”.

Of course, it’s not just AI that’s trying to pull the wool over our eyes.

How to catch a catfisher
Last year, I found out someone was using my photos to catfish women. He stole dozens of my online photos – including selfies, family photos, baby photos, photos with my ex – and, pretending to be me, he would then approach women and spew a torrent of abuse at them.

It took me months to track him down, and now I’m about to call him.

Machines pretending to be people, people pretending to be other people. At least we’re truthful with ourselves, right?

Be honest, how much do you edit YOUR selfies?
“It’s time to acknowledge the damaging effects that social media has on people’s self-image,” says Rankin of the project, which is part of a wider initiative to explore the impact of imagery on our mental health.

“Social media has made everyone into their own brand. People are creating a two-dimensional version of themselves at the perfect angle, with the most flattering lighting and with any apparent ‘flaws’ removed. Mix this readily-available technology with the celebrities and influencers flaunting impossible shapes with impossible faces and we’ve got a recipe for disaster.”

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