Night climbing

In principle I can see what Katherine Rundell gets from Night Climbing

[If…] you want to know what it is to have one thought only, go climbing without ropes. I am not elegant on the ground, but on a wall I feel I am and there is nobody who can see well enough in the midnight to contradict me. It’s a cheap high but a very real one, to swing so close to disaster. Night climbing is better than most sex. Whipplesnaith, the author of The Night Climbers of Cambridge, puts it best: ‘If you slip, you will still have three seconds to live.’

… in practice, you’d never get me up there. Nope. Nope. Nope.

Looking forward/backward

Some thoughts from Matt Webb about the shape of the post-lockdown future once it comes to pass:

Even if we don’t get another lockdown for 10 years, the fact it’s a maybe means that our behaviour will change to account for the possibility.

So I wonder about the long-term effects not of lockdown itself, but the continuous risk of lockdown. Like, will you book a holiday for 6 months time, or will you book simply the option to go somewhere? Would you ever start a business that had a reliance on in-person meetings, or a supply chain that wasn’t tolerant to an unexpected 3 month stop? Of course not. How do you invest in friendships? Do you ever move far away from ageing parents if there’s a risk that planes won’t fly – or does distance no longer matter when you wouldn’t be able to meet in person anyway?

But then, others have a different take on what’s coming our way:

Pretty soon, as the country begins to figure out how we “open back up” and move forward, very powerful forces will try to convince us all to get back to normal. (That never happened. What are you talking about?) Billions of dollars will be spent on advertising, messaging, and television and media content to make you feel comfortable again. It will come in the traditional forms — a billboard here, a hundred commercials there — and in new-media forms: a 2020–2021 generation of memes to remind you that what you want again is normalcy. In truth, you want the feeling of normalcy, and we all want it. We want desperately to feel good again, to get back to the routines of life , to not lie in bed at night wondering how we’re going to afford our rent and bills, to not wake to an endless scroll of human tragedy on our phones , to have a cup of perfectly brewed coffee and simply leave the house for work. The need for comfort will be real, and it will be strong. And every brand in America will come to your rescue, dear consumer, to help take away that darkness and get life back to the way it was before the crisis. I urge you to be well aware of what is coming.

Nowadays I keep on running into articles in which the author deploys some variant of Lenin’s remark1 that "There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen."

I can but deploy another oft-cited (and very possibly equally misattributed) curse: "We live in interesting times."

I hope Matt Webb is right, but the hunger from all sides to declare that post-lockdown2 "Business As Usual" is the order of the day is going to be hard to resist.


  1. Sadly I haven’t found a source for it confirming authorship. Given that it’s very likely an English translation of something expressed slightly differently in Russian I suspect that at best it’s a slightly mangled version of the notion as originally expressed. Sit on it for a few decades and who knows, perhaps everyone will be citing it as one of the sayings of Keir Starmer. Or was it Rishi Sunak? Margaret Thatcher? Barbara Castle?3 
  2. The first time, at any rate. Perhaps it’s going to take a bunch of lockdowns over a period of a few years to hammer home the message that Business Is Not As Usual. 
  3. I dunno. Definitely sounds like someone from the pre-Former United Kingdom era, anyway. 

Crash 2.0

Donato Sansone’s video ghostCRASH is impressive work, editing out all but one car from a series of car crash videos:

A small part of me can’t help but contemplate how oddly bloodless these scenes are, at least when viewed from a safe distance like this. How different did they look thirty minutes or an hour or two later, once the emergency services had arrived and extracted the occupants of the cars.

[Via Orbital Operations]

, 5 April 2020. Category: Uncategorized. Tagged: .

Who better?

Vulture asked various screenwriters/show runners to write part of a Coronavirus Episode for their characters.

Michael Schur knows exactly who should be in charge right now…

First of all, Leslie would’ve known the CDC protocols for social distancing already, and they would’ve been instituted within 24 hours of the first reports of the coronavirus in America. […]

Ron would be thrilled because now there’s a reason for him to be alone with no one bothering him. But he’d worry about Leslie.

If Leslie Knope isn’t available, perhaps Coach Taylor could step in to tell his team what they need to hear.1

A few thoughts on some of the others:

  • Of course Boyd Crowder would be working on a plan to take advantage of the lockdown to pull off a crime. And of course Raylan Givens would know to swing by to remind Boyd of the risk he’d be running if he tried such a thing.
  • I was a bit distracted by the sight of that computer Frasier Crane was depicted as using. Note to readers under the age of 25: that’s what we used to call a laptop back before Jony Ive got control of Apple’s laptop designs. I was torn between admiration for how much less space a modern computer takes up (and how much more capacity it has compared to that thing) and envy for all those ports and sockets that just won’t be found on an equivalent modern laptop, let alone an iPad.

[Via MetaFilter]


  1. I fear Coach Taylor’s brand of sincere, highly persuasive oratory only works when you have the scriptwriter on your side, but we can dream. 
, 4 April 2020. Category: Uncategorized. Tagged: , .

Magnetism

You might imagine that a story that included the phrase…

“My partner took me to the hospital that she works in because she wanted all her colleagues to laugh at me.”

… would be mean or cruel, but as you follow Dr Daniel Reardon’s story it just gets funnier and funnier. Our hero takes what seem to be very reasonable decisions. It’s just …unfortunate… that each of those decisions leads him a step closer to that hospital bed.

I’m voting for Rowan Atkinson to play Dr Reardon in the inevitable film adaptation.

[Via James Nicoll]

, 31 March 2020. Category: Uncategorized. Tagged: .

Nevada nuclear test sites

I’m not going to try to reproduce the images here – fitting them into this layout would require losing much of the detail that makes them so striking – but you should definitely go and see some photographs of Nevada’s nuclear test sites in a New York Review of Books review of a collection of Emmet Gowin’s images:

In 1996 and 1997, the Department of Energy and the US Air Force allowed the photographer Emmet Gowin to take photographs of Nevada’s nuclear landscape from a helicopter. These have now been gathered in a new book, The Nevada Test Site, published by Princeton University Press. Gowin’s original prints aren’t large, about 10” x 10”. But even slightly reduced in size, they give a sense of extraordinary scale, thanks to the raking light and the stark immensity of the Nevada basin. The intimate clarity of Gowin’s lens makes it look as though every detail within its range is aspiring to be noticed. On the desert floor, cause and effect seem to have been reversed. The craters look as though they’re ancient geological formations, the roads added later by curious investigators exploring these strange formations.

Unfortunately the book is too costly for me to indulge myself by buying a copy, but it costs nothing to look at the review.

, 8 March 2020. Category: Uncategorized. Tagged: .

Don’t Panic

To mark the 42nd anniversary of the radio broadcast of the first instalment of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, BBC Radio 4 Extra are devoting a sizeable chunk of their evening schedule to programmes about the series, interspersed with the first six episodes of the story itself.

I can’t help but notice that there’s nary a mention of this on the front page on the BBC Sounds application or the web site. I was alerted to it by #hitchhikersguidetothegalaxy trending in Twitter.1 Still definitely worth a listen.


  1. In fairness, that might well just be the modern way of achieving the desired end and I’m just too stuck in my ways to have picked up on that.