The Gulag Archipelago is Solzhenitsyn’s memoir of life in the Russian prison system — regarded as a masterpiece of 20th century literature this a serious piece of writing, detailing the horrors of Soviet Russia.
So imagine my shock on receiving the book today….
Arghhh….my eyes! What the hell were they thinking? The last time I saw this shocking pink was in a ‘90s! This is not a colour for polite society yet, here it is, loud and proud on Book 1 of the Gulag Archpelago. Couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw it, I mean is this really an appropriate cover a book on the Russian death camps?
I’ll recover from this eventually, and may come to love it, but for now I’m reeling!
Last week’s OSIRIS-REx mission could easily be overlooked as ‘just another of those’ but when you start to look into the details you head starts to spin:
So, here we have an asteroid, larger than the empire state building…
…careering through space at 63,000 mph — and here we are, trying to grab a sample from the asteroid in full flight.
For the collection, NASA chose a mostly flat site dubbed the ‘nightingale’ —notice the building-sized rocks on the perimeter:
Just take a moment to imagine the precision involved in the calculations required to pull this off. I don’t look into the details and prefer to marvel at the operation from a safe distance!
The sample collection went off without a hitch:
The team wanted a 60 gram sample but OSISRIS took a bit too much…. and it’s apparently leaking some sample as a result of a few rocks jamming the hatch.
The scientists still feel they’ll have plenty but now there must be some anxiety in the camp, particularly given they won’t get to confirm the sample size for a few more days. In the unlikely event that they don’t have enough sample, they will be able to try again in January of next year.
As to the ‘why’ of the mission, Scientist know that primitive asteroids like Bennu are essentially unchanged since the solar system was formed 4.5 billion years ago. Thus the organic compounds on Bennu may provide clues as to the origins of LIFE ON EARTH.
Let’s wait and see what these samples deliver when they finally come back to Earth in 2023.
Here’s a short animation of the approach and collection — astonishing!
Joe Hill is an author I hadn’t heard of before ‘Horns’ and like many of the books on my Amazon ‘Wishlist’ I can’t recall where I got the recommendation, still, I picked it up a few months ago and recently finished it.
I won’t spoil the read— but I will say it’s a peculiar, strangely enjoyable read.
The book starts with the lead character waking to horns on his head after a hard night out drinking. As the character deals with his bizarre transformation, he navigates the mundane challenges of his own life, family and relationships. The intensity builds as unnerving secondary characters bring complications and intrigue to the plot.
This is a dark fantasy with gothic elements. The writing is sharp and clever, the characters believable and the twists unpredictable. There’s elements of Neil Gaiman in the style and fans of his will feel at home for much of this. I had no idea what to expect from ‘Horns’ but in the end, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and am on the lookout for more of Joe Hill’s work.
Here’s chapter one for a taste:
IGNATIUS MARTIN PERRISH SPENT the night drunk and doing terrible things. He woke the next morning with a headache, put his hands to his temples, and felt something unfamiliar, a pair of knobby pointed protuberances. He was so ill—wet-eyed and weak—he didn’t think anything of it at first, was too hungover for thinking or worry. But when he was swaying above the toilet, he glanced at himself in the mirror over the sink and saw he had grown horns while he slept. He lurched in surprise, and for the second time in twelve hours he pissed on his feet.
What sounds like another Stars Wars’ prequel is in fact Martin Molin’s integration of three complementary ideas that help him manage his work flow.
His method combines Marie Kondo’s ‘Magic of Tidying up’, Sam Harris’s ‘Waking Up’ meditation app and James Clear’s work on habit formation: Atomic Habits. As a fan of both Sam Harris and James Clear, his system had immediate appeal — as well, Martin is such an intensely original, creative thinker that it’s interesting to hear him turn over these ideas.
Here is Martin discussing the way he combines the concepts:
And if like me you were astounded by the Marble Machine, you might be surprised to learn that Martin has ripped out the marble transport system. He needed to improve on the ‘local maximum’s’ failure rate of 0.01% and setting his sites on bringing that down to 0.00001% (?!). This guy’s dedication and work ethic are completely off the hook. Here’s the update:
‘Naked’ is collection of autobiographical stories based on the writer’s early life. This was my first venture into the world of David Sedaris and I went with the audio version via scribd, narrated by the author himself.
Sedaris has a satirical, often perverse style based on realistic life situations. There’s a focus on the bizarre and traumatic in each of the 17 stories, and there’s often a touch of melancholy particularly at the end of stories—no doubt accentuated by Sedaris’s deadpan delivery. There’s social commentary throughout too, if you look for it, but it never dominates.
Many of his stories involve his atypical family. The story of his grandmother ‘Ya-Ya’ is a highlight. Try this for a taste:
“We would pass the afternoon at Ya Ya’s table, eating stringy boiled meat served with spinach pie. The food tasted as though it had been cooked weeks beforehand and left to age in a musty trunk. Her meals had been marinated in something dank and foreign and were cooked not in pots and pans, but in the same blackened kettles used by witches. Once we’d been served, she performed an epic version of grace. Delivered in both Greek and broken English, it involved tears and excessive hand-wringing and came off sounding less like a prayer than a spell.“
David Sedaris, Naked
If you haven’t read any Sedaris, Naked is a fine introduction to his work. There are genuinely hilarious moments dotted through the book and he delivers a consistently good comic turn of phrase. I’d go for the audiobook, as the author’s peculiar voice adds a great deal to his narrative.
Back in 1980, Historian Allan Lichtman developed a system to predict the outcome of presidential elections. By looking back through 120 years of electoral history and analysing the broad trends he was able to identify 13 keys that seem to decide the outcomes. Using these keys he has correctly forecast each election since the ‘80s.
Surprisingly most of the keys are not directly related to the attributes of the candidates themselves:
Lichtman doesn’t pay too much attention to the polls, allowing him, even as a life-long democrat, to correctly pick Trump in 2016.
In this video, he goes through the 13 keys and and offers his prediction for the coming election.
The reason you’re reading this book is that I did a dangerous thing for a man in my position: I decided to tell the truth.”
Edward Snowden, Permanent Record
Permanent record is Edward Snowden’s memoir, published in 2018. You’ll know the basic story: Snowden was a US intelligence community contractor who revealed the extent of the American government’s mass surveillance programs and capabilities.
Snowden is a highly divisive character—he’s been labelled as a traitor, a hero, a dissident, a spy, a patriot and everything in between: In ‘Permanent Record’ you hear his side of story.
Snowden writes with clarity, circumspection and great intelligence. From his childhood in a military family, to his career as a highly regarded analyst for the CIA, Snowden documents his experiences and later his growing unease with the way the US intelligence extended its covert surveillance to entire populations. The eventual sacrifice he made in releasing the documents to the press was extraordinary, and you get a real sense of how hard the decision was for him. He was walking a perilous path for months and could have been arrested and imprisoned for life at any point. Remember this was a guy in his 20s, living in Hawaii on a great wage with a girl he loved. He literally gave it all up for the American people:
“I myself had sworn an oath of service not to an agency, nor even a government, but to the public, in support and defense of the Constitution,”
Edward Snowden, Permanent Record
Snowden always believed that the systematic mass surveillance program was a clear violation of the US constitution, principally the fourth amendment —an amendment that only gives the authorities the right to search property with ‘probable cause’. It’s interesting then that just last month, seven years after Snowden exposed the surveillance, a US federal court ruled that the NSA’s collection of metadata was in fact illegal. Snowden himself couldn’t believe it:
Despite the ruling, a pardon for Snowden seems unlikely…
Closer to home, I found it interesting to note that when the US paints China as a technological menace by the way they surveil their population, the US government is not only do exactly the same thing — it’s also likely that they are surveilling and recording information of the citizenry of other sovereign countries:
What China was doing publicly to its own citizens, America might be—could be—doing secretly to the world.”
Edward Snowden, Permanent Record
Permanent Record is thoroughly engaging and revealing read. He does well explaining the technological aspects of the book without getting lost in the details. The meet with journalists in Hong Kong and the escape to Russia matches any thriller for excitement and the pace is snappy throughout. The book highlights the importance of privacy in the technological age but also invites us to consider how we wished to be governed.
Since hearing Ben Folds talk about his manic and often chaotic live performances in his memoir, I’ve been listening to some of his old concerts. Ben Folds skills are constantly on display of course, but one thing that comes through clearly is how accomplished the other two guys in the band were. The bassist is a brilliant player —a fact that was often lost in a sea of distortion—he can sing as well. Likewise the drummer is superb and also has a good voice.
This track, underground, is as good, or better, than the version that made the album. Top stuff. Have a listen: