Thinking long term

I’m a sucker for long range thinking like this note on the relative durability of storage media from Slashdot (thanks to Brad De Long for the link).

Thinking long term, I just renewed my subscription to the indispensible Future Survey, “a monthly abstract of books, articles, and reports concerning forecasts, trends, and ideas about the future”, from the only-slightly-kookie World Future Society.

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Britain’s biggest flow chart magazine?

Mizz Flow Chart Magazine
What’s a flow chart? “A method for showing how information flows around a system using stylised boxes and arrows which show the direction of flow?”. “A pictorial summary that shows with symbols and words the steps, sequence, and relationship of the various operations involved in the performance of a function or a process?” No. You fool. It’s a teen craze!

(click the little picture for the whole cover of Mizz Flowchart Magazine)

Two 9/11 books

The John J. Harvey
Michael Tomasky reviews William Langewiesche’s American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center in the New York Review of Books. Langewiesche was the only journalist to be allowed access to Ground Zero for the whole of the cleanup process, conducted by the City’s previously obscure Department of Design and Construction, so this is a book about inventiveness and public service rather than epic heroism and sacrifice.

Maira Kalman’s Fireboat is a kids’ picture book about the New York City fireboat John J. Harvey, brought out of retirement to fight the fires at Ground Zero on 9/11. It’s beautifully made and very moving (we’ve all been sobbing round here). Maira Kalman is a designer/illustrator and generally super-creative person. For thirty years she was wife and business partner to the legendary Tibor Kalman who died in 1999.

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Memory at the British Museum

The British Museum's Great Court, showing the glass roof and the rotunda that used to accommodate the British Library
The Great Court

Bloggers will love ‘The Museum of the Mind’, a new exhibition in The Great Court at the British Museum: odds and sods assembled to support a larger purpose – a sort of physical semantic web. The show is a clever window onto the museum’s vast collections focused on memory in all its aspects. Materials from just about every collection in the building are gathered together, in a well-organised single-room show.

There’s a gorgeous (and specially made) Mexican Day of the Dead shrine to the museum’s founder Sir Hans Sloane, an amazing twig-and-shell mnemonic device used by Pacific navigators, ancient Roman and Greek memorial statuary and a Ghanaian coffin carved in the shape of a Cadillac.

The paradoxical thing about clever, information-rich shows like this is that they can only undermine the case for retaining the huge Western hordes of looted artefacts. Once you wrap the object in its human context – making connections – its status actually declines. It may be a beautiful, haunting object but here it’s just part of the information mix – a plaster cast would work just as well. Retaining the originals just seems like more indefensible Imperial greed.

There’s also an instructive comparison to be made between the ancient artefacts, most of which were looted, and the more recent items, most of which were probably bought on the open market or commissioned from their makers: the expropriatory economics of empire vs. the consensual economics of trade.

The accompanying book, by the museum’s top ethnographer, John Mack, is also pretty good.

Building Magazine on why construction needs migrant workers

Gordon Brown’s announcement of a larger quota for desperately needed overseas construction workers is cue for a good piece from Building magazine about migrant workers on UK sites. The article focuses on the experience of workers on the huge Paternoster Square development, next door to St Paul’s Cathedral in The City – from Italy, Hungary, Zimbabwe and Germany. This is the kind of access only a prestige trade title like Building could get but it’s crying out for a longer treatment – five workers from four nations on one well-run site is hardly an in-depth survey.

The magazine’s coverline sums up the UK building trade’s attitude to migrant workers: “The indispensibles: why construction needs migrant workers”.

Planet Parent

Juliet’s latest Planet Parent column is up at Tigerchild. It’s about the remarkable ability of our 4 year-old Oliver to get spontaneously grubby.

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Better Writer

12 or 13 years ago I used a Mac Word Processor called Nisus Writer. It was fast and cheap and it easily fit on a 400K floppy. I think I sort of assumed that Nisus had fallen beneath the wheels of the Word Juggernaut (like WordPerfect) but it’s just popped up again, in gorgeous OS X (proper Cocoa) beta form with a very clean UI, good integration with OS X, super fast performance and some geeky things like PERL scripting (like I know what that is). The native file format is Rich Text Format but it reads and writes Word files (a bit buggy in the beta). I’m not an anti-MS zealot but I did take some pleasure switching from Powerpoint to Keynote a few months ago and I reckon I’m going to enjoy dumping Word too.

And the winner is…

Jonathan Bell, who looks after the excellent Things weblog, got an email off to me quicker than nine other people in response to this entry so he gets to read the LRB for nothing for the next year…

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Book trade snippets

From The Bookseller.

Ten (that’s all ten) of the current top ten bestsellers in the Children’s Non-fiction category are by the same author. They’re all from Terry Deary’s series of ‘Horrible Histories’ for secondary school kids, with names like ‘The Terrible Tudors‘, ‘The Barmy British Empire‘ and ‘The Rotten Romans‘.

The thinning out of the legendary strip of bookshops on the East side of London’s Charing Cross Road (one of London’s most important cultural resources) continues – both branches of Zwemmer’s Art Bookshops were this week repossessed by their landlords, the non-profit Soho Housing Association. Zwemmer’s claims all is well and that the eviction is just part of a particularly tough round of lease negotiations. Ian Shipley, who runs the excellent Shipley’s Art Bookshop in the same block, obviously isn’t so sure: “There used to be bookshops all the way from the National Gallery to the British Museum. If this lot go, what’s the point in me staying?” (free subscription required).

One third of British adults didn’t buy a book in the last year and 20% neither bought nor read one. 54% classify themselves as either light- or non-readers (survey of 2000 people – free subscription required)

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