All about catching thermals

Small publishers are sweeping the Booker and Nobel prizes

On this years’s Booker by Philip Lynch (Prophet Song)

What is the secret to big success for small presses? Nothing new, the editors say, but rather something as old as the book trade: picking worthy titles, editing them carefully and promoting them well. It often comes down to money—in particular, not thinking too much about it.

Publishing, by its nature, is a gamble. The recent renaissance of independent presses may fade with the changing tastes of prize committees or the fickle fancies of readers. “Sometimes you catch a thermal,” Ms Mabey says, and a book soars. “Sometimes you don’t.” But small publishers can adapt to changing winds. And with another Booker in the bag, Oneworld, like so many of its peers, is flying high.

Which is once the way academia worked. All about being the right size for the job in hand.

On not being properly confused

I like orderly confusion very much. But this is neither orderly nor properly confused

Dieter Rams

His German is a pleasure to the ear.

Via John Naughton 10 November 2023 link

Miracle man

Pelé went from poverty to football superstardom :TheEconomist

As a forward he was not that tall, but he was strong, fast and had thighs as thick as his waist. He could read the game like a book, and control the ball as if it was drawn to him like a magnet. He could also tell exactly where he was needed, and when, and what the opposition might have in mind to try to block him. All this seemed to make him a natural captain, but he never wanted that role officially.

Dribbling was his great skill, flummoxing defenders with feints and sudden stops and starts. He could shoot for goal powerfully with either foot and despite his height, or lack of it, was a spring-heeled header of the ball. He jumped so easily over Tarcisio Burgnich, the Italian marking him in the 1970 World Cup final, that Burgnich doubted he was flesh and bone at all. Then he scored the first goal. He knew he was the best player in that tournament and, with the next World Cup four years away, he declared he wouldn’t play any more.

The nickname “Pelé”, a classmate’s tease, annoyed him at first (“Edson” was more serious, after Thomas Edison), but he liked it better when he learnt it meant “miracle” in Hebrew.

Memories 1970, Mexico city, gold shirts, all from the comfort of home.

More magic from the Economist’s obituary writer.


I hadn’t come across the acronym TARA before, but it seems a hopeful thought for the New Year. Life is indeed more interesting with it set as the default.

TARA: There are real alternatives

TINA: There are no alternatives

(I have forgotten the source — apologies)

Got a motor!

by reestheskin on 14/12/2022

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Chartbook #178 Witnesses to the automobile revolution

But that was the experience also of a working-class kid like my father. In Birmingham after, he grew up in a street where the only motor-vehicles until the 1950s were a motorbike and a delivery van. No one could afford a car. Whereas my upper-class paternal grandfather regaled us with tales of his outings in Bugattis in the 1930s, and beat his cars to bits, my paternal grandfather treated his 1960s vintage gold metallic Vauxhall Viva like it was a crown jewel and liked to take the family for “a drive”. No destination. Just for a drive. In the early 1970s that was, for their generation, still a precious and exciting novelty.

This is from a fun post by Adam Tooze interweaving some of his own personal history and that of the motor car. The going for “a drive” echoed with me. My father drove many miles on some bloody awful roads in Wales in the 1950s through to the 70s. And yet, at the weekend, his relaxation was to just go for a drive somewhere. Sometimes we would end up at Cardiff docks where you would see thousands (yes, I mean thousands) of MGBs and other small sports cars waiting to be loaded onto ships. No longer.

Sheep and logic

by reestheskin on 11/12/2022

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Woolliness is the enemy of accuracy as well as utility. A word like “sustainability” is so fuzzy that it is used to encompass everything from a business that thinks sensibly about the long term to the end of capitalism. This column may well count as sustainable because it keeps recycling the same ideas.

To which I might add, this blog.

Dear boy, I’d rather see you in your coffin.

by reestheskin on 10/08/2020

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I thought the above quote was going to be from an exchange between James Hunt and Niki Lauda. But no, it was some advice from a mother to her son (Richard Seaman) on the choice of his bride.

At a party earlier that year he had met Erika Popp, the daughter of a director of BMW. When they decided to get married his mother disinherited him. Her final words to him were: ‘Dear boy, I would rather see you lying in your coffin than that you should contract this disastrous marriage.’

Seaman was dead six months later in a crash on the track so his mother did not have to wait long. Even the spectators got in the spirit of things:

During a race on the Pescara circuit in Italy in 1937, a driver crashed into a marker stone and collided with another car before spinning off into the crowd. Four spectators were killed at the scene, others had their legs severed and five died later from their injuries. ‘The race continued,’ Williams reports, ‘as races always did.’ After the 1955 Le Mans disaster, in which 83 people were killed by flying debris, crowd safety was vastly improved, but in Seaman’s day spectators died almost as often as drivers.

Now attitudes are different: even our attitude to the nuts and bolts:

The [F1]regulations cover everything from engine size to aerodynamic shape, and part of the game is to work out how much you can get away with while still obeying them. Some innovations are modest. Before it was banned in 2012, teams used helium rather than compressed air to power the guns used to remove wheel nuts during pit stops. The helium’s lower density made the guns spin faster, allowing them to get the nuts off fractionally quicker. The incremental gains add up. When the F1 championship began in the 1950s the average pit stop took 67 seconds. Nowadays a decent one takes around two seconds.

The power of incremental change.

Jon Day · Dear boy, I’d rather see you in your coffin: Paid to Race · LRB 16 July 2020

So many bats

by reestheskin on 21/04/2020

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Reminds me of JBS Haldane’s comment that God must have been inordinately fond of beetles (because of the large number of beetle species).

This study is in line with work done specifically on coronaviruses by Tracey Goldstein of University of California, Davis. In 2017 she and her colleagues published a piece of research in which they had tested for coronaviruses in bats, rodents and primates (including people) in 20 countries in Africa, South America and Asia. Individual bat species normally had between one and five types of coronavirus. (For comparison, human beings have seven, including the newly emerged sars-cov-2.) Scale that up for the 1,400 different species of the animals and it means there are potentially more than 3,000 coronaviruses circulating in bats [emphasis added]. This certainly increases the odds that bats will be responsible for generating a coronavirus dangerous to people. But only because there are lots of them.

The Economist | Not so guilty

Throwing woks

by reestheskin on 03/03/2020

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Nice article in the LRB by Wang Xiuying, ‘The Word from Wuhan’.

(Throwing woks: when everyone denies all responsibility and tries to shift the blame back onto the blamer, they are busy ‘throwing woks’).

Throwing woks is an art you need to understand if you want to get things done in China. Whether you’re building an airport, applying for a research grant or inviting a foreign national to give a talk, you have to fill in so many forms, and get approval from so many departments with all their competing demands, that you risk getting trapped somewhere in the middle: whichever way you turn you risk causing upset or offence in one quarter or another. In the workplace too, a step in the wrong direction can provoke a superior and ruin a career, so that sometimes it’s wisest to do nothing at all. Until a virus strikes, that is.

With couples confined together 24/7, ordinary marital friction soon escalates into all-out war. Domestic servants, often migrants, who went out of town over the Chinese New Year, have been unable to return to work – but someone still has to do the household chores. Men slump on the sofa playing video games or hide behind a laptop pretending to work, while still expecting three meals a day and fresh laundry. A joke went around:

Client: My wife and I have been quarantined together for 14 days and we’ve decided to get back together! I don’t want to go ahead with the divorce. Can you refund the fee?

Lawyer: 14 days … hmmmm … Let’s not rush it: I think we’re still in business.

On one word after another

by reestheskin on 28/01/2020

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Well, I doubt if any readers of these scribblings will be shocked. After all TIJABP. But this piece by the editor of PNAS wonders if the day of meaningful editing is over. I hope not. Looking backwards over my several hundred papers, the American Journal of Human Genetics was the most rigorous and did the most to improve our manuscript.

On a subject no one wants to read about (about which no one wants to read?) | PNAS

“Communication” remains in the vocabulary of scientific publishing—for example, as a category of manuscript (“Rapid Communications”) and as an element of a journal name (Nature Communications)—not as a vestigial remnant but as a vital part of the enterprise. The goal of communicating effectively is also why grammar, with its arcane, baffling, or even irritating “rules,” continues to matter. With the rise of digital publishing, attendant demands for economy and immediacy have diminished the role of copyeditor. The demands are particularly acute in journalism. As The New York Times editorial board member Lawrence Downs (4) lamented, “…in that world of the perpetual present tense—post it now, fix it later, update constantly—old-time, persnickety editing may be a luxury…. It will be an artisanal product, like monastery honey and wooden yachts.” Scientific publishing is catching up to journalism in this regard.

We need a science of the night

by reestheskin on 03/01/2020

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One-third of everyone employed in London, 1.6 million people, work at night.

In 2018, at least 8,855 people slept rough on the streets of London, a 140% increase over the past decade, with similar trends globally.

We need a science of the night

All that glitters in silicon

San Francisco conducted its biennial point-in-time homelessness survey. The numbers are up sharply. Two observations: first, most people are from SF, not (contrary to myth) from elsewhere; and second, there are more people sleeping on the street in San Francisco (population: 870k) than in the whole of the UK (population: 66m). Link

Benedict’s Newsletter: No. 296

Summer flight

by reestheskin on 26/07/2019

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Not so much a jet plane, but I don’t know  exactly when I will be back either.


Sunday in Lisbon

“Catholicism imbued a spirit of rebellion and the ghost of faith.”

Well, I get that, too. In a review of Bruce Springsteen’s biography in the Economist.

Direct URL for this post.

Scale matters

by reestheskin on 12/02/2019

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No, not that sort of (dermatological scale). Adam Tooze quoted in FT Alphachat (or another link).

In three years China used more cement that the USA in the whole of the 20th century.

Wheelchairs not suitable for family viewing

by reestheskin on 26/12/2018

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I have forgotten which search rabbit hole I was down, but ended up at Robert Wyatt’s Wikipedia page. I know this story, or at least I knew the tale, but was uncertain about the veracity. The older I get the more I think social change happens ever faster. Yes, there is another more mundane explanation.

Robert Wyatt – Wikipedia

Two months later Wyatt put out a single, a cover version of “I’m a Believer”, which hit number 29 in the UK chart. Both were produced by Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason. There were strong arguments with the producer of Top of the Pops surrounding Wyatt’s performance of “I’m a Believer”, on the grounds that his use of a wheelchair “was not suitable for family viewing”, the producer wanting Wyatt to appear on a normal chair. Wyatt won the day and “lost his rag but not the wheelchair”.

The importance of obsession

by reestheskin on 16/12/2018

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How a Welsh schoolgirl rewrote the rules of publishing | Financial Times by Gillian Tett

In 2011, Beth Reeks, a 15-year-old Welsh schoolgirl studying for her GCSE exams, decided to write a teenage romantic novel. So she started tapping on her laptop with the kind of obsessive creative focus – and initial secrecy – that has been familiar to writers throughout history. “My parents assumed I was on Facebook or something when I was on my laptop – or I’d call up a document or internet page so it looked like I was doing homework,” she explained at a recent writers’ convention. “I wrote a lot in secret… and at night. I was obsessed.”

But Reeks took a different route: after penning eight chapters of her boy-meets-girl novel, The Kissing Booth, she posted three of them on Wattpad, an online story-sharing platform …. As comments poured in, Reeks turned to social media for more ideas. “I started a Tumblr blog and a Twitter account for my writing. I used them to promote the book…[and] respond to anyone who said they liked the story,” she explained in a recent blog post. 

… while Reeks was at university studying physics, her work was turned into an ebook, then a paperback (she was offered a three-book deal by the mighty Random House) and, this year, Netflix released it as a film, which has become essential viewing for many teenage girls.

“They have mobile phones, social media, but no proper toilets and clean water.” Link.

Inverse mentors and inverse role models

by reestheskin on 16/10/2018

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I do not like the term mentor. It is a perfectly fine word, it is just that I have a suspicion of the people who tend to use it. I prefer to think about people I would like to be like; or not. And think about how some people can help me; or hinder me. But the following exchange between Nassim Taleb and Tyler Cowen is fine.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb on Self-Education and Doing the Math (Ep. 41 – Live at Mercatus)

TALEB: I don’t know, but I know how to find inverse mentors.

COWEN: How do you do that?

TALEB: People — you know they’re doing something wrong, and you figure out what makes them do something wrong. There’s a fellow I worked with, and I knew that he was a complete failure but a nice person. When he would do something wrong, he was always caught into details. I realized that there’s only one set of details. You cannot get into more than one set of detail. So that’s one thing I learned.

Also, I find inverse role models, people you don’t want to be like when you grow up.You pick someone and you go with it. You have an instinct to know what you don’t want to look like. Look at what they’ve done, what they do, and then you counter-imitate. You do a reverse imitation, and it works.