This is a terrific television series. Norway discovers a great alternative to oil. The Green Party sweeps into office, and not only does Norway switch over to alternative energy, but Norway shuts down the North Sea oil industry. Lots of other countries are unhappy, and Russia steps in to restore oil production.

No one ever mentions the Second World War, but it’s always in the background. Good writing, good acting.

I don’t do much gardening, or any if I can help it, but the neighbors dislike our weeds and so I’ve been pitching in. I’ve gotten to know the weeds and given them names – Tall Pricklyweed, Longroot Vine, Burr Plant. But I’d sort of like to know what everyone else calls them, too.

I remember, before I started to watch birds, sitting in Oliver and Kitty Selfridge’s back yard. Oliver remarked that the bird in the hedge was a wood thrush, or something of that ilk, and I said it seemed terribly hard to learn how to identify all the different kinds of birds. The subtext of course is “you’re a world-class expert in AI and machine learning, I grew up reading the FORTRAN textbook you tossed off for fun, and still you find time to memorize birds?”

“It’s not that hard,” Oliver explained. “There are only a few hundred birds here, and the covers everything from eagles to ducks.” You learn what to look for, and it’s easy enough. Still, it took a fair bit of studying to become even mildly competent, and I’m still rubbish at hawks.

But nowadays, if you're stuck, you can snap a digital photo and there are plenty of sites where people will tell you, “Sure, that’s a tufted titmouse in your tree. Obviously.”

I bet there’s a place like that for gardening. Anyone know?

Aug 16 27 2016

Midnight Riot

by Ben Aaronovitch

Peter Grant is a young police constable in London. He’d love a permanent assignment to the Murder Squad, but he’s been marked down for a permanent posting in bureaucracy. But young constable Grant has a talent his superiors haven’t yet discovered: at a crime scene, he sees clues that his colleagues miss. In Grant’s case, his clue is a witness to a brutal Covent Garden mugging, a witness who is helpful and informative but who is also, inconveniently, a ghost.

by Erskine Childers

A pioneering thriller, perhaps the first of its genre, and a moderately fine rollick. Young Carruthers is having a dull, dull summer, stuck in his tiresome minor post at the Foreign Office because some distant personage decreed that the office should be on alert. Out of the blue, a college acquaintance invites him for a spell of yachting in the Baltic. His superior sees no harm in it, so he goes. It’s nothing like what he had expected.

The opening repays close study, even though we’ve now seen dozens of echoes and imitations. There's an awful lot of sailing in the midsection, and rather too many tides and charts. Still, this was uncharted ocean in 1903, and it's remarkable how well the story holds up.

by Emily St. John Mandel

A fascinating study by the author of Station Eleven of a group of high school friends who have lost touch with each other while their lives have spun variously off course. Gavin Sasaki has wrecked his career in newspapers but, having discovered that he may possibly have fathered a girl who might now be ten years old, remembers that he once wanted to be a private investigator. He finds the former members of his high school jazz quartet – a policeman, a pusher, a compulsive gambler, and a drugged-out former musician whose college roommate became Django Reinhardt’s heir.

by Jill Lepore

A fascinating history of feminism in the early 20th century, wrapped around the complex life of William Moulton Marsden. A Harvard-educated psychologist, Marsden invented the lie detector and then succumbed to the temptation to over-promote his invention. He married his childhood sweetheart, the spiky and erudite Sadie Elizabeth Holloway. He fell in love with his research assistant Olive Byrne, and brought her home to begin a group marriage that lasted for decades and outlived him. Byrne’s mother had been the first feminist hunger striker in the US; her aunt was Margaret Sanger. Merciful Minerva!

Aug 16 14 2016

Hold Still

by Sally Mann

A fascinating autobiography of the influential photographer, accompanied by many photographs (to which the Kindle edition does nothing like justice). Oddly, she says very little about the genesis of At Twelve, the haunting book that made her famous, and there’s surprisingly little about the success of Immediate Family.

What I had missed about Mann is that she sees herself as explicitly a Southern artist – not a regionalist, and certainly not a fan of Southern racial nostalgia, but still chiefly interested in the people (especially poor people, black and white) and in the backwater.


Sparse posting here. Busy!

  • I’m working on a third edition of The Tinderbox Way. In addition to updates on new Tinderbox facilities, the new edition will have a ton of new material on the design and implementation of Tinderbox and the history of the underlying ideas.
  • I’m finishing Decline and Fall, a big hypertext story about a prep school caught in the aftermath of war. It’s The Trojan Women in a school story.
  • I’m working on an interesting side project for the marvelous Victorian Web, involving a simple DOM transformation on perhaps 40,000 hand-coded Web pages.
  • My real work is on Tinderbox 7, chiefly a new approach to recognizing and using big structures that involve multiple notes working together. This has the potential to be transformative, but research is research: we’ll see.
Storyspace 3.2

Storyspace 3.2 is out. The headline here is that we now have the Storyspace Reader, a redistributable reading app for macOS 10.9 and later. Also of note are stretchtext links, the first appearance of our new and adaptive smart guides to help organize your Storyspace maps, broad links, and compatibility with the new Tinderbox 6.6.4.

Lots more Storyspace news coming soon.

Aug 16 7 2016


by Stephanie Danler

This charming and delightfully intricate first novel describes, unusually for its generation, the world of work. Tess, a midwestern girl, has just moved to New York; desperate for work, she lucks into a job as a back waiter at a tony café in Union Square, based on the Union Square Café. This isn’t merely a stage set: the novel is truly interested in how the work world works, how the wheels turn.

Everyone in the restaurant gives Tess a different nickname – Little One, BabyMonster, Fluff, Skipper – because she really is an unformed bundle of potential. She has an appetite for liquor, an even bigger appetite for coke, and she’s addicted to the approval of people whose approval is rare and precious. She is naturally hospitable, attentive to her duty, and takes time to taste experience.

Aug 16 5 2016

Vinegar Girl

by Anne Tyler

A lovely retelling of The Taming Of The Shrew, in which Kate is an entirely sympathetic, sensible, and straight-talking pre-school teacher who lives with her father, a medical researcher. Dad’s postdoc has a problem: his visa is going to expire in a few weeks and he needs a green card.

What makes this work so well is that it’s not simply interrogating Shakespeare – it reimagines the premise of Shrew and asks how this artificial, comic construct could possibly be real. Kate’s two leading traits, after all, are not at all horrible: she doesn’t care about getting a guy and she doesn’t care much about what other people think. Her little sister cares too much, as little sisters will, and so Kate chides her for excesses of fashion and flirtation, leading (as chiding will) to some moderate family chaos.