bookmark_borderBoxing Day Reading

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas, now it’s time to sit back and relax, grab that turkey sandwich, and maybe a few of the following will help get you through until it’s time for a nap.

  • Consciousness Began When the Gods Stopped Speaking
    Julian Jaynes was living out of a couple of suitcases in a Princeton dorm in the early 1970s. He must have been an odd sight there among the undergraduates, some of whom knew him as a lecturer who taught psychology, holding forth in a deep baritone voice.
  • Dispossessed in the Land of Dreams
    Sometime in July 2012, Suzan Russaw and her husband, James, received a letter from their landlord asking them to vacate their $800-a-month one-bedroom apartment in Palo Alto, California. He gave them 60 days to leave.
  • Mistletoe is a Parasitic, Explosive Plant That Maybe You Shouldn’t Stand Underneath
    The mistletoe plant is largely known for a manufactured characteristic: It’s the green sprig with white berries that hangs in doorways during Christmas time, requiring those who meet beneath to kiss.
  • Visualising Design Research
    I’ve almost given up on delivering written reports as a UX research output, favouring video and large scale visuals instead. (I explain why here) In this article I’ll walk through my process and the tools I use, in the hope you can do something similar for your clients.
  • The Year of Good Things
    Welcome to Slate’s celebration of all the things that went right this year! Good news is hard to find. One of journalism’s most important jobs is to call out what’s wrong with the world so we know what to fix.
  • ‘Star Wars’ Legacy II: An Architect Of Hollywood’s Greatest Deal Recalls How George Lucas Won Sequel Rights
    Behind many a classic Hollywood film franchise is a story of someone who gambled and won, and someone else who lost. The most extreme example of that is Star Wars.
  • The Beatles music will ‘stream across Apple Music and Spotify’ from Christmas Eve
    The Beatles fans are about to get one of the best Christmas presents ever – the band’s back catalogue will reportedly be available to stream online for the first time in four days.
  • SpaceX has successfully launched and landed a Falcon 9 rocket—and made history
    SpaceX made history last night (Dec. 21) in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The company, amid much jubilation, landed a Falcon 9 reusable rocket that had shortly before been in orbital space delivering satellites.
  • Golden Pigs, Jesus-Shaped Bread, and 5 Other Delightful European Christmas Customs
    American Christmas has its own basic formula: Tree, ornaments, stockings by the fireplace, Santa Claus, presents, feast. (Plus, for observant families, an actual religious rite.) Most of these traditions are vaguely European.
  • The magic that makes Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlists so damn good
    This morning, just like every Monday morning, 75 million Spotify users received a great new mixtape: 30 songs that feel like a gift from a music-loving friend, who might once have made a cassette tape with your name scrawled across the front.
  • How we made: The Muppet Christmas Carol
    My father, Jim, passed away in 1990. He had done three Muppet movies, and I didn’t want too much of a direct comparison between me and my dad. So I thought: “Let’s do something different.
  • At 6 Feet 1, He’s Raising the Art of the Dunk to Another Level
    With all due respect to the reigning N.B.A. dunk champion, the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Zach LaVine, the best dunk of 2015 was performed not at Barclays Center during February’s All-Star festivities, but in a near-empty gym in Sudbury, Ontario, by a 23-year-old professional dunker from Canada.
  • How Rogue Techies Armed the Predator, Almost Stopped 9/11, and Accidentally Invented Remote War
    On the afternoon of October 7, 2001, the first day of the war in Afghanistan, an Air Force pilot named Scott Swanson made history while sitting in a captain’s chair designed for an RV. His contribution to posterity was to kill someone in a completely novel way.
  • Aldous Huxley’s Role in the History of Psychedelic Science
    At the popular lifestyle blog an anonymous writer confesses to taking small doses of psychedelic mushrooms to prevent her migraines. An article at hipster news site reports that people are taking tiny doses of LSD to deal with work anxiety.
  • How the Mast Brothers fooled the world into paying $10 a bar for crappy hipster chocolate
    Whether you’ve seen their beautifully wrapped bars for sale at Shake Shack or Rag & Bone, featured in the pages of the New York Times or Vogue, or decorating one of their New York, London, or soon, LA shops, Mast Brothers chocolate bars have become the world’s most prominent brand.
  • Japanese bookshop stocks only one book at a time
    With hundreds of thousands of books published every year, the choice of what to stock can prove bewildering for booksellers.
  • NBA takes stand against gun violence with Christmas Day ads
    In another spot, Curry talks about what it was like to hear that a child the same age as his 3-year-old daughter had been shot. Paul and Anthony share personal stories as well.
  • Sex Writing Saved Me
    The first sex toy I ever tried was the Tantus Feeldoe. It was a smooth, silicone, double-ended dildo, six inches long on one side, just a couple inches long on the other, each end expanding into a bulb about one and a half inches in diameter.

bookmark_borderA letter to my 15 year old self

Hey Gordon,

Nice hair, how much mousse did you use this morning to get that look? Impressive. Enjoy it (it won’t last, but you won’t care).

It’s a big year for you, even though you don’t realise it yet. Events will happen around you and this will set the tone for the next decade. You will flounder around without really thinking ahead, you will act badly and selfishly, you will have a lot of fun.

You don’t have a plan for the next few years as you approach adulthood, you don’t really know where your life is headed, and no matter who tries to help – the guidance teacher at school, your parents, your friends (more on them later) – you are just not built to think too far into your future.

You won’t even realise most of this, of course, but when you do it becomes overwhelming to the point of distraction and so you retire inside yourself and act out a little to divert attention away from the fact that you feel completely lost. You will grab hold of any opportunity that you can to ‘belong’ without considering the implications further down the line. This is how you will live the next 20 years or more, but don’t worry, turns out that isn’t as bad a thing as some people might tell you.

I’d love to tell you what to do differently, how to act and how to make better decisions. If I thought you’d listen at all I’d only ask you one thing; that you pause occasionally to look around at how you are living your life, and be truly, brutally honest with yourself.

But you won’t, because you aren’t ready to be honest with yourself, but that’s ok, and that’s kind of the point of this letter.

My point is simply that you wouldn’t be me, writing this letter to you today, if you hadn’t have had all those experiences. To be me you have to have gone through all those highs and lows, the disappointments and elations, the fuck-ups, the fantasies and all the stupid fumbling about you are going to do to try and find yourself.

So, rather than advise how you should try and live your life, let me try and ease your mind. Things will be ok. Things will work out, maybe not always for the better, but your life will not be full of suffering. Don’t get me wrong, you will suffer badly at times, things will be very very black and you’ll question why you ever paid this letter any heed but please know that you get through it all and end up with a pretty damn good life.

When you eventually get to the age I am now you will find that you appreciate how lucky you have been, you’ll appreciate it so much more than you ever have in the past. You’ll find you have a life full of love and security, you will have friends that have stood by you for more years than any of you will want to count, you will have more love in your life than seems fair at times (but don’t worry, love isn’t a limited supply thing, there is always more to go round), and you’ll be happy.

And that’s really the point of all of this I guess to tell you that you will be happy, that you will be just another flawed human being trying to better themselves and that will be more than enough.

Anyway, you are still young, you still have your hair and your waistline (ohhh yeah, if you could MAYBE try and control that a bit better, that’d be great!) and you have your life in front of you,

So stop worrying about fitting in and go live it.


Gordon (aged 42 and a bit)

bookmark_borderWeekend Reading

A few of the following are hard to read, please note there may be triggering content.

  • The Secret History of One Hundred Years of Solitude
    The house, in a quiet part of Mexico City, had a study within, and in the study he found a solitude he had never known before and would never know again. Cigarettes (he smoked 60 a day) were on the worktable. LPs were on the record player: Debussy, Bartók, A Hard Day’s Night.
  • There Once Was a Girl
    My parents have a small framed photograph of E and me in their upstairs hall. We must be 6 or 7. We are smiling in someone’s backyard, our heads damp from running through a sprinkler, and we wear matching checkered bathing suits—mine pink, hers blue. My sister is lissome.
  • The Scandalous Legacy of Isabella Stewart Gardner, Collector of Art and Men
    The first time I encountered Isabella Stewart Gardner was the way most people do: through her museum. The Isabella Stewart Gardner museum is located near Fenway Park in Boston, just a short walk from the Museum of Fine Arts.
  • Encounter with the Infinite
    How Did the Minimally Trained, Isolated Srinivasa Ramanujan, with Little More than an Out-of-Date Elementary Textbook, Anticipate Some of the Deepest Theoretical Problems of Mathematics—Including Concepts Discovered Only after His Death?
  • Get rich or die vlogging: The sad economics of internet fame
    It was all so painfully awkward. That night, Brittany Ashley, a lesbian stoner in red lipstick, was at Eveleigh, a popular farm-to-table spot in West Hollywood. The restaurant was hosting Buzzfeed’s Golden Globes party.
  • The 5 Habits That Will Make You Happy, According to Science
    Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.
  • Did anyone end up touching Shia LaBeouf’s soul?
    I’ve been thinking about Shia LaBeouf a lot this past weekend. Probably because while many were frantically redialling his hotline to touch his soul, I was stood right beside him.
  • Streaming TV Isn’t Just a New Way to Watch. It’s a New Genre.
    At some point during Netflix’s “Sense8” — a gorgeous, ridiculous series about eight strangers scattered across the world who use a psychic connection to aid one another in fights and at one point have a virtual orgy — I had to ask myself: What am I watching?
  • Unpregnant: The silent, secret grief of miscarriage
    When she miscarried in her mid-30s, Alexandra Kimball felt profoundly alone: abandoned by a feminist movement that didn’t recognize her loss, accused by conventional wisdom of waiting too long to conceive, and deprived by society of the rituals that mark other forms of grief.

bookmark_borderApples don’t fall far

I recently met up with my very pregnant sister for lunch during which she recounted the story of a recent shopping trip. My parents are buying her a pram as a new baby present and so went along to check out the prams and, after a few stops, my sister, her partner, and my Mum all start to feel some shopping fatigue. But not my Dad as it turns out he was the most excited of them all about this purchase.

This doesn’t surprise me at all. These days, prams are wonderful pieces of clever design allowing them to be multi-year, multi-use items; they are in every essence a clever gadget with lots of clever features. Designed to be operated with one hand, they have to be light enough for Mum, convert from car seat to crib to stroller, have storage for baby stuff and … I dunno, they are probably bluetooth and wifi enabled as well these days (actually the bluetooth one isn’t so bad, soothing music for the baby?).

Because I inherited a very similar gadget lust from him, it’s easy for me to imagine my Dad enjoying the process of viewing and comparing the features to make sure they got the best pram available. I’d do exactly the same as it’s what I tend to do with any purchase; Outside of food, clothes, and art, I tend to research most things that I buy to make sure I am getting the best option for my money.

The depth of my research varies, so when I replace my TV next year I know I’ll spend a lot of time on that, and for that I’ll revert to another inherited trait. The List (that capital L is very important).

I used to mock – actually I still do – my Mum for her use of Lists as she lives by them. Fast forward and today I’m the same, I am a heavy list user except these days I control mine electronically.

My Mum has stuck with paper and has her own specific way of working through her lists and woe betide you if you get it wrong!

For example…

Mum was recently in hospital for a couple of days (she’s fine, back home now!) and so my Dad rounded up the Christmas Card list (which is an item on a larger Christmas list of course). The card list has each person/family on a separate line, with a checkbox drawn next to it.

So my Dad wrote out Christmas cards, stuck address labels on envelopes (remember, he’s the gadget/tech guy) so they were ready for sending, and as he wasn’t sure on a couple of them he left them unchecked in the list.

He mentioned this to Mum and she asked if he’d marked the list properly. Unable to resist I asked ‘what do you mean properly?’.

Apparently for a two stage process you have to use the checklist PROPERLY. That means when you write a card you draw one diagonal line in the checkbox – from top left to bottom right (I shit you not, she was very specific on that) – and when the card is in the correctly addressed envelop you complete the X by drawing the other diagonal (from top right to bottom left for those playing along at home).

My suggestion of just using squiggles or circles earned me a punch on the arm.

That said, it’s a smart way to do it and, sitting at work I look at my own notebook where I capture actions and questions from meetings – checkboxes for something I need to do, question marks for things I need to think about – and it’s no great surprise that I am struck by just how much I am my parents son.

Which is a comforting thought in many ways, and not just because I’m 6′ tall and both my parents are below 5’8 (there have been times I’ve wondered…).

As I grow older I find myself seeing more and more of myself in my parents, a happy hybrid of both. I look at them and wonder how I will be when I reach their age and realise that I don’t really care. I don’t imagine I’ll change all that much from here on out, I’ve made my peace with who I am, and I guess I’m just happy that this apple fell from some pretty incredible trees.


Wings pull at the air as they launch themselves at the sky. Tiny black spots against the dipping glow of the evening sun, soaring higher and higher, cajoling and sniping as the nervous energy builds, pulling them up, up, up..

Viewed from a distance the birds coalesce; the shape shifting from blanket to ball, a liquid mass pulled by invisible forces.

In the air they seem one in thought and movement, wheeling and diving, governed only by instinct and the common heartbeat of their motion. On the grass below a couple stand, hand in hand, their gaze held by the swift curves of the flock overhead.

More birds arrive, racing from bushes and trees, diving into the wheeling and spiralling noise. Soft down feathers float to the faces watching below, the frantic thrum of a thousand wings a gentle staccato on their ears.

The shape above them turns, spins, dives, swoops; wide brush strokes daubing the sky. The couple, transfixed, sway gently in time as they unconsciously follow the movement.

The sun slides below the horizon and in one last surge the birds turn, sated and spent, and the edges blur as the murmur descends. The noise of wings rustling leaves as the sky empties.

bookmark_borderWeekend Reading

Commuting = reading time.

Here are some of the best things I read this week.

  • ‘Star Wars’ Strikes Back: Behind the Scenes of the Biggest Movie of the Year
    It is a bleak time for the Republic. It is a period of great struggle for the entire planet, and not only is the dark side winning, it’s no longer clear any other side even exists. Seriously, you guys – Earth is messed up. Just ask a polar bear, or an almond farmer, or a GOP debate moderator.
  • Arts & Culture
    Read Is it OK if you don’t know where you stand on Syria? A poll by YouGov found 1 in 4 women don’t know if they support Syrian airstrikes. And they’re not the only ones.
  • In the hunt for new antibiotics, the genius of simplicity
    BOSTON — Slava Epstein works in aggressively low-tech quarters at Northeastern University. You might expect otherwise, given the extraordinary work that he and his colleagues are doing, discovering new kinds of antibiotics that are fundamentally different than the ones doctors prescribe today.
  • Peking Duk fan infiltrates backstage by fooling security guard with Wikipedia edit
    You can’t trust everything you read on Wikipedia, as a security guard has learned after falling for a concertgoer’s auspicious edit.
  • All the Bros I Love Leave Me
    On a glassy, windy night, I tried to make an employee of this magazine like me. To achieve this, I used a kind of psychological warfare. I don’t have enough male friends. I want more, badly. Most of the bros I love leave me.
  • How To Turn Your #NaNoWriMo Project Into a Real Novel
    Back in 2009, I used NaNoWriMo to create the first 20,000 words of what eventually became STONE OF FIRE. But the words I wrote that month were only the start of the journey. They were first draft words that needed a lot more work to turn into book form.
  • Creeps on a Train
    I like to work in London in glittering cabaret shows, bedecked in sequins and crystals then I gather up my bags and trudge home, make up flaking, at the end of an evening. I take the late night train home, a train regularly character filled.
  • Giving Up Is the Enemy of Creativity
    What determines whether the ideas we generate are truly creative? Recent research of ours finds that one common factor often gets in the way: we tend to undervalue the benefits of persistence.
  • Rick Dyer’s Believe It Or Not!
    A team of Bigfoot believers, a legion of “Haters,” more than one Walmart parking lot, and the showman at the center of it all. I. To Believe or Not to Believe Things got weird, as they so often do, in a Walmart parking lot.
  • Gift Shopping for People You Hate: the Passive-Aggressive Shopping Guide
    Those who used to follow my blog over on LiveJournal may remember that for several years now I’ve done a list of suggested gifts you could give to someone you didn’t like very much, but had to buy a gift for anyway.
  • The Other Side of The Other Side of Midnight
    In 1973, author SIdney Sheldon published the book “The Other Side of the Midnight,” a novel focusing on a love triangle between a American World War II pilot, the lover he takes while stationed in France, and the woman back home he abandons her for after the war is over.
  • Can a French Friar End the 21st-Century Slave Trade?
    Xavier Plassat is a friar of the Dominican order, a Frenchman who has worked for decades in the Brazilian Amazon and is renowned for his fight against slavery as it exists in our time.
  • What critics agree are the best books of 2015
    2015 has been an unusual—and exciting—year for books. We saw new works from literary legends, like Dr. Seuss and Harper Lee, books from rising contemporary figures such as Ta-Nehisi Coates, and tomes from established writers such as Salman Rushdie and Jonathan Franzen.
  • Wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery
    In 1944 an American war ship loaded with supplies and explosives never made it to her destination. Bound for Allied-controlled territory in France, a side-trip to join up with a shipping convoy – and an inconvenient sandbank – got in the way.
  • ‘The Boy in the Bubble’ Moved a World He Couldn’t Touch
    The epitaph on David Phillip Vetter’s gravestone observes correctly that “he never touched the world.” How could he have? From a few seconds after his birth until two weeks before his death at age 12, David lived life entirely in one plastic bubble or another.
  • The Mystery Men Behind Carly Simon’s ‘You’re So Vain’
    According to her recently released memoir Boys in the Trees, Carly Simon decided at the age of three that she wanted nothing more than to be noticed.
  • TIME Person of the Year 2015 : Angela Merkel
    Fairy tales are where you find them, but any number seem to begin in the dark German woods where Angela Merkel spent her childhood. The girl who would grow up to be called the most powerful woman in the world came of age in a glade dappled by the northern sun and shadowed by tall pines.
  • India’s Untouchable Queen of the Dead
    She sits down under the arches of the ancient temple blackened by soot, guarding the sacred fire — an eternal flame used to cremate the dead. In a male-dominated realm, her presence instils a sense of maternal safety. Two golden bracelets tie her burly wrists.
  • Slacktivism is having a powerful real-world impact, new research shows
    It’s time to rethink armchair activism. As large social movements from the Arab Spring to #BlackLivesMatter have shown, 21st-century activism is intimately tied to the internet. But does the activity carried out on social networks actually help make a difference?
  • Reggie Miller Sizes Up Steph Curry
    A recent piece made a lengthy statistical argument that the Golden State Warriors—the only N.B.A. team in history to win its first twenty-three games—could be even better if they let Stephen Curry, their very human-looking superman, take even more shots.