I forgot the word sahel when I was writing From Memory. It’s the word that describes where I was in Niger. Tim Marshal reminded me that it comes from the Arabic word ‘sahil’ meaning coast. Shorelines are another of the things that depend on your perspective; the sea of Saharan sands has a southern coast. Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography is a great read for an armchair cartographer. Follow it along The New Silk Roads from Peter Frankopan to test if your current physical isolation is more or perhaps less constraining than an asymptomatic educational isolation. I’m not intending to be rude or patronising. Knowing you have limitations wakes you to the possibilities that your awareness of your limits is itself limited. Knowing of such limits may encourage you to explore for new concepts, seek the words to conjure and invoke and animate and debate them. Or cause you to distrust your perception.[Read more…] about Words
Archives for April 2020
I sat down to write about non-obviousness as a thought experiment. I’d cleared my desk of a litter of barely legible notes, making room for a Gedankenexperiment and a second cup of strong coffee. These notes were written in bed in the dark between 4 and 5 this morning. That’s a trick I learned from Lia though it’s taken me twenty years to put it into practice.
Then my phone almost saved me from myself. I was contacted, though not tasked, to see if there were any giraffes in my study. A safari of this kind required I reload an enormous back-catalogue of photos into Lightroom which left me with time and coffee-energy to write up a non-obvious journal entry.[Read more…] about Non-obviousness
I’ve travelled rather more widely during this curfew than you might expect. It matters not that I only leave the house to walk the dog, replenish the cupboards or sometimes ferry our daughter to her hospital treatments. Even those journeys are more than most may be able to do.
My Fitbit encourages me with milestone reminders that are a disinformation of virtual comparisons. I’ve never walked the length of India or chased Monarch butterflies in migration. I suppose I have ascended to the clouds, not so often on foot as in planes. But I can’t ever wear the ruby slippers earned this time last year on a 50 km hike across the Dublin Mountains Way. That’s a walk memorialised by real effort, actual pain, wonderful exhilaration, some boredom, wind driven chill, magnificent views and the stupidity of postponed toilet breaks. And yet, here I am, writing about ‘badges’ and showing my version of them as a virtual walker’s map depicted in iPhone photo ‘badges’.
All photographs © Simon Robinson
‘When a man gets power, even his chickens and dogs rise to heaven.’
This wasn’t originally an opening line. The idea for opening with it is from a 2011 fund-raising blog. I started every entry with the first line of a recently read novel. This was easy’ish’ because a novel a week was a great distraction from the inflections of geoscience projects and travel-induced jet lags. It was was a quiz-inspired fund-raising hook and I’d reveal the answer in a subsequent post. Interested readers might come back to learn, for example, that it was Hilary Mantel who opened Booker-winning Wolf Hall with ‘So now get up’. I had hoped, more importantly, that some might also contribute to a group fund-raising effort before a charity walk. They did contribute and most generously but not because of the quotations.[Read more…] about OC and Disorder
A 2017 Dalkey Book Festival talk I attended has lingered in memory. It was ostensibly about America, Russia and the new Cold War. It awoke something else in me. I was, at that time, professionally engaged in seeking geosicence applications for algorithms and machines that could learn. What I sought was time. I saw (and see) algos and ML as labour saving devices like the clothes- and dish- washers that continue to liberate people from drudgery. Freedom from repetitive, mind numbing tasks, creates the opportunity to pursue more rewarding things. And I sought to help my colleagues find unseen correlations, derive new insights and put their time to more creative uses. There wasn’t an easy answer to be had.[Read more…] about Networth$
You may have noticed the spine of Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist in a recent photo I posted. There’s a line in it that advises that ‘The best advice is not to write what you know, it’s to write what you like.’ And with such confirmation I feel encouraged to meld it with an Anne Lamott aphorism that’s infected the web: ‘Every thing that happened to you is yours; people should have behaved better.’
Are these observations deserving of reflection and expression? They certainly contributed to my rereading an older walking commentary blog to see if I’m repeating themes close to my heart and of course, create an opportunity to steal from myself. Which led me down some old paths this morning and a return to a personal favourite theme which is that one’s point of view depends on the view point. Mountain tops become islands if you are looking down from a peak above a cloud filled valley.[Read more…] about Future Imperfect