Battersea Power Station, October 2014. Despite looming large in my consciousness, it took me a surprisingly long time after moving to London to make it out here.
The third rule of Fight Club, as recommended by our lawyers.
3. In the preceding two rules, and any rules to be added at a future date, the word “talk” shall be taken to encompass any form of communication, verbal or non-verbal, including but not limited to: talking, whispering, shouting, screaming, writing, drawing, typing, singing, signing, mumbling, miming, interpretive dance, charades, semaphore, blogging, tweeting, subtweeting, Facebooking, vaguebooking, whatever it is that one does on Linkedin, skywriting, and any other form of communication currently extant or to be invented at a later date.
Just like in 2013 I challenged myself to read a set number of books in 2014. This time the magic number was 45. And just like in 2013, I hit the target exactly, although it was much less close run than last year (when I frantically raced to finish my last book on New Year’s Eve). This time I actually finished with about a week to spare.
Here’s the list of what I read. Mostly the usual mix of classic sci-fi and fantasy, programming, random non-fiction.
Favourite fiction? To Kill a Mockingbird. Somehow our class managed to not read this in school, so I thought it was time to catch up on a classic that seemingly everyone else had read, and it didn’t disappoint. A real page-turner, but with true heart.
Favourite non-fiction? This was much tougher to choose, but probably Our Pet Queen: A New Perspective on Monarchy. Short, incisive, fascinating and often funny.
The two biggest chunks of reading were A Song of Ice and Fire books 3-5 and Orson Scott Card’s Ender Quartet books 2-4. Both series did start to flag a bit as they went on. Ender more so; it would always have been hard to keep up to the standard of the amazing Speaker for the Dead, but Children of the Mind‘s plot really did descend into the ridiculous. Not sure if I’ll return to Card’s series, I’ve heard the Shadow books are good but after the bad taste Children of the Mind left there’s plenty of other books I want to check out first.
As for ASoIaF, while A Feast for Crows was a bit of a slog, I’ll join the massed ranks of people waiting eagerly for George R R Martin to hurry up and resolve some of these unanswered questions and cliffhangers!
For 2015 I pondered dropping the challenge entirely. It’s been rewarding, but I want to focus a bit less on reading: it’s absolutely still something I want to make time for, but there are plenty of other things I want to do more of as well (writing, coding, photography, maybe picking up guitar again). There’s also some intimidatingly long books on my “to read” list (Pillars of the Earth – I’m looking at you here!) which I found myself putting off at least partially because they would make it harder to hit my target. In the end I’ve decided to scale my goal back to 40 books again this year. Whether I make it is anyone’s guess, but at least it gives me something to blog about same time next year!
2014 seemed to go by in a flash. It was a strange year for me, but one constant remained: I spent a lot of time on the Internet. Here’s some of my favourite discoveries.
Funniest video: “Mr Needlemouse”
5 minutes of comedy sketch perfection. “Fuck limpets!” Up there with the very best, yet criminally underviewed.
Honourable mention: Faramir Can’t Read Maps. Technically it was published at the end of 2013, but it gets a mention here because I crack up every time I’ve watched it and it’s so expertly done. It also means there’s yet another scene in Lord of the Rings that I can no longer take seriously.
Best music video featuring Star Trek TNG and sausages: SAUSAGE SAMBA
not a hotly contested category to be honest
Funniest piece of writing: The Wikipedia Entry for Guam, Retold as a YA Novel
Pushing confusing thoughts of United Airlines’ broad back muscles and status as a subsidiary of Chicago-based Continental Holdings aside, Inarajan looked up and realized they had arrived at their destination: The forbidding edifice that was the Duty Free Shoppers Galleria. She suppressed a shiver. Her very first non-binding Presidential straw poll. Surely she would not survive.
Bizarre and accurate and amazing and hilarious.
Best subreddit: /r/AskHistorians
Still endlessly fascinating, and responsible for reigniting my interest in history. A close contender was /r/DeepIntoYouTube, which is also endlessly fascinating but in entirely different ways.
Best artist: Chris (Simpsons artist)
How could it be anyone else?
Best Twitter bot: how 2 sext
WikiHow’s odd articles have often been a source of amusement. Even more so when how 2 sext tweets random snippets from it formatted as sexts.
Most horrifying Twitter: @
The Internet can be a horrifying place. @ is a constant reminder of that. As the name suggests, it just tweets and retweets examples of the worst Sonic fan art. There’s genuine works and parody all mixed up in there, and some sort of fan art Poe’s law makes it difficult to tell which is which.
Best blog: Diamond Geezer
Yes, he writes a few long posts about bus journeys. Sometimes even I skip those for lack of time.
But skipping the occasional post hardly matters since you can be certain there will be another one along like clockwork the next day, and it’s very likely to be informative, amusing, or both. That’s why it’s generally the first site I check every day. I’m pretty sure the blog has never skipped a day, and he’s been posting for 12 years! A remarkable record.
Since I’ve moved to London, this blog has taught me a huge amount about the city and my local area. And I’m sure it will continue to do so in 2015 and beyond.
Prompted by discovering Ubuntu Cola while I was in Paris a few weeks ago, I went on a spree of reading Wikipedia articles about cola. Here’s some of the more interesting ones I found.
Ubuntu Cola is not to be confused with OpenCola, where rather than being a closely guarded secret like Coca-Cola, the recipe is open-source.
Russian general Georgy Zhukov was a big fan of Coca-Cola, but couldn’t be seen to be drinking it as it was considered a symbol of American imperialism. He had a word with a US general, and eventually the request made it all the way up to President Truman, who urged Coke to work on the problem. They eventually developed White Coke, a special colourless version, supposedly so Zhukov could pretend he was drinking vodka.
Coke’s attempts at developing new styles haven’t always been so successful. The most infamous example is probably the 80s’ New Coke, when they changed the formula for their flagship product, only to revert to the original a short while later following public outcry. Colossal blunder, ingenious marketing trick, or cunning ruse to disguise the change from sugar to High Fructose Corn Syrup?
My favourite passage from the New Coke article:
Gay Mullins […] formed the organization Old Cola Drinkers of America on May 28 to lobby Coca-Cola to either reintroduce the old formula or sell it to someone else. His organization eventually received over 60,000 phone calls. He also filed a class action lawsuit against the company (which was quickly dismissed by a judge who said he preferred the taste of Pepsi)
Speaking of Pepsi, they were sued in what must be one of the most ridiculous lawsuits ever: Leonard v. Pepsico, Inc. Can you redeem Pepsi reward points for a Harrier jump jet? (Spoiler alert: you can’t)
I love “My Favourite Game” by The Cardigans. Fantastic song, and I remember the video well.
Where many music videos went over the top in an effort to stand out (don’t get me wrong; there were of course some cracking ones at the time) this one stood out because of its simplicity. Just Nina Persson, looking smoking hot and cool as anything, doing nothing but singing and driving. And it was bloody brilliant. Almost like Nothing Compares 2 U in its simplicity, but this made you want to party rather than slit your wrists.
So I was very surprised when I went looking for it on YouTube today to find this video:
It turns out that the original video was a lavish, car-crash studded epic, which cost £220,000 to make. The one that was played on all the UK music channels, the one that I grew up with, the one that I thought was a masterpiece of minimalism, was actually the result of editing out all the violent and irresponsible bits to please the censors.
And yet having now seen the original, I still much prefer the “censored” version.
It’s been years since I last saw you, and I still think of you often. At first, people said you were weird, but I found you refreshing. Soon I fell head over heels in love. You were like an addiction.
Then you went away, and ever since it’s like there’s a hole in the middle of me. I’m sure you know the feeling too.
I miss you Citrus Sharp Polos.
Thermodynamic miracles… events with odds against so astronomical they’re effectively impossible, like oxygen spontaneously becoming gold. I long to observe such a thing.
And yet, in each human coupling, a thousand million sperm vie for a single egg. Multiply those odds by countless generations, against the odds of your ancestors being alive; meeting; siring this precise son; that exact daughter… Until your mother loves a man she has every reason to hate, and of that union, of the thousand million children competing for fertilization, it was you, only you, that emerged. To distill so specific a form from that chaos of improbability, like turning air to gold… that is the crowning unlikelihood. The thermodynamic miracle…
But the world is so full of people, so crowded with these miracles that they become commonplace and we forget… I forget. We gaze continually at the world and it grows dull in our perceptions. Yet seen from another’s vantage point, as if new, it may still take our breath away.
For you are life, rarer than a quark and unpredictable beyond the dreams of Heisenberg; the clay in which the forces that shape all things leave their fingerprints most clearly.
– Dr. Manhattan, Watchmen