Scribblings and Blether
These are my longer posts and photos. Visit the Microblog tab above for the shorter stuff.
Reading online essays on your e-reader
If you want to read good essay content from the internet (and there is a lot of excellent writing out there) then I recommend getting the articles off the web to read.
I find it far too easy to get distracted when I am sat at a computer or even looking at a tablet. I don’t want to do deep reading with either. The slightest lapse in concentration and the web browser is open and I’m haring down some rabbit hole.
Reading is best when I concentrate on it, get absorbed in it. I now do most of my deep reading on an e-ink reading device. One of the best ways to read essays is to convert them to a format that works for my e-reader.
There are various paid services that do this and I have tried many of them. (Instapaper and Pocket being two big players in the field.) I’ve just not quite got the habit to stick. I now use EpubPress. It is free - though it is well worth donating a few dollars to the developer if you find it helpful and can afford it.
First off you need to install the browser extension for Chrome or Firefox. You are now ready to go. What I do is line up 4 or 5 articles I want to read. I often use LongReads.com to find them.
Once I have them open in different tabs you then click on the EpubPress icon in the toolbar of the browser. Tick the boxes for the articles you want to be added to your book. If you click on the gear icon you can choose the output file to be epub or mobi. If you use a Kindle then go with Mobi - other devices then go with epub.
You can, at this stage, edit the title and the description of the ebook. Then hit ‘Download’.
Getting the newly created ebook onto your device
You will need to do some ‘sideloading’. It’s easy. There are various email based options. Amazon allows you to email files to your Kindle device. You have to authorise email addresses for this and they have help pages to get you going. EpubPress also has an email option for you to send the file direct from the browser. You will need to whitelist the EpubPress email (email@example.com) on Amazon and if you add your Kindle device email to the box offered your file can be delivered direct.
I prefer to do it manually and I sideload ebooks onto my Kobo Forma using some excellent free software called Calibre. Once you have installed Calibre (versions available for all operating systems) you can then add your newly created ebook as a file. Then just plug in your e-reader and ‘Send to Device’. Easy. I have also added the Annotations plug-in which will then detect my highlights and notes from my ebooks. The advantage of using Calibre is that you build a one-stop library of all your reading material along with your notes in one place.
22 April 2022
February and March 2022 reading list and notes
- Get Started in Stand-Up Comedy by Logan Murray
- Post-Truth by Matthew d’Ancona
I half-read several books in February and just didn’t have the focus to get them finished. I think Twitter was a major factor in this and I’ve sorted that.
Not many books are as timely as this one. Recommended.
- A Director’s Guide to the Art of Stand-Up by Chris Head
- Write It All Down by Cathy Rentzenbrink
- Control: The Dark History and Troubling Present of Eugenics by Adam Rutherford
- The Future of Food by Matt Reynolds
- How to Stay Sane in an Age of Division by Elif Shafak
- This Is Vegan Propaganda by Ed Winters
- Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig
- Corruptible by Brian Klaas
- The Five Health Frontiers by Christopher Thomas
- Structured Chaos by Victor Saunders
- Butler to the World by Oliver Bullough
Quite a difference this month. While I’m not chasing numbers with my reading I have come back to it after a couple of months of drifting. It has confirmed to me that I just feel a lot better when I read a lot and when I read with some purpose. I like the deep explorations and it just emphasises the superficiality and toxicity of the flitting and doom scrolling that characterises web browsing and social media.
In one of the books above Rentzenbrink said Twitter made her “jealous, judgemental and jittery” and books are the antidote to that. Shafak in her short book also had a comment on reading. Funnily enough How to Stay Sane in an Age of Division was recommended to me when I told someone I was leaving Twitter. I think, though I may have it wrong, they recommended it because they thought it would encourage me to stay on Twitter but to find a path through it. In the end, it cemented my decision:
Knowledge requires reading. Books. In-depth analyses. Investigative journalism. Then there is wisdom, which connects the mind and the heart, activates emotional intelligence, expands empathy. For that we need stories and storytelling.
So, that’s what I am doing. I am reading - but I am also seeking out longer essays and analyses where I can as well.
I also read a couple of times, in some detail, a long essay:
- Augmenting long-term memory by Michael Nielsen
This online essay is well worth your time. I did what I now usually do with longform essays and I converted it to an epub file for my own personal consumption. I read it twice and got some detailed notes. Basically, it outlines a process for using Anki to understand and learn from your reading. It is excellent and I have since started using Anki, albeit in a limited way, to enhance my reading.
21 April 2022
Monthly Reading List
January 2022 Reading List
- The Outlaw Ocean by Ian Urbina
- The History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell
- War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
- This is Vegan Propaganda by Ed Winters
Yes, I know…
29 January 2022
Monthly Reading List
- The Social Conquest of Earth by EO Wilson
- Human Compatible by Stuart Russell
- Calypso by David Sedaris
- The Photography Storytelling Workshop by Finn Beales
On giving up on books
Another post on the theme of reading a little less…
Just when is it reasonable to give up on a book? This used to be something I almost never did, at least not deliberately, and I would somehow persuade myself I would come back to them. Naturally, there were books that I put down and not picked up again but I always held out that I would return. Nope. Now I’m older I have come to terms with the fact I won’t finish them and I am more than willing to give up on books.
Sometimes they are just not for me. No hard feelings.
I don’t have a rule on the point at which I give up as I try to take into account the context. I think it is different between fiction and non-fiction for sure. It certainly varies between genres. And I have to take into account my own state of mind. Am I tired or distracted? I can have periods of days/weeks like that but usually I can identify a style/genre that will get me through those days. Maybe I’m in need of something light-hearted and funny and that book on disaster capitalism isn’t going to work. But I’ll try to go back to a book if I think that might be the case.
There are more fabulous books than it is possible to read in a lifetime and my willingness to persist is inversely proportional to my increasing age.
I’ve got more brutal about giving up on books that get stuff wrong. I was reading Alan Rusbridger’s book News: And How to Use It and found a Latin phrase that helps describe how this feels. It’s a legal phrase: falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus. Untruthful in one part, untruthful in all. I suspect this might be more to do with witness testimony but it is just as applicable to the presentation of facts. It is all about trust, as Rusbridger frequently points out. If you have specialist knowledge in an area and you realise the author is getting it wrong, it becomes much harder to maintain the willingness to accept what the author is saying on other areas.
The most egregious example was a book I was reading about drugs written by an American author. At one point, quite early, the book stated that fentanyl was also believed to be involved in the Skripal poisoning in Salisbury in the UK. It might have been, for about five minutes, and it was very apparent, very quickly, it was something very different. If you don’t know you can Google it. Which is all the author had to do. You will quickly learn just how shockingly, teeth-itchingly, wrong this is. In a heartbeat, my trust in the other facts in the book collapsed. I went on for a while but I realised that it had destroyed the book for me. There was simply no point in continuing.
“In 2018, a former colonel in the Russian army named Sergei Skripal was poisoned in Salisbury, England, along with his daughter. The poison was reportedly fentanyl. Skripal had been convicted in Russia of spying for Britain years earlier but was sent to the United Kingdom as part of a “spy swap,” an exchange for sleeper agents in the United States. Both he and his daughter survived. Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov denied Russian involvement.”
The incident with Skripal happened on 04 March 2018. On 12 March the then Prime Minister, Theresa May, gave a statement in the Commons that it was a chemical weapons attack using a Russian-produced nerve agent, novichok. The book was published in the UK in September 2019. It is spectacularly wrong and the fact-checking has utterly failed. For me, that book is unreadable.
8 January 2022
More numbers — this time on exercise
So, my post two days ago was about being wary of chasing numbers. How better to follow up than to chase some more numbers? This time some overall stats on my exercise from 2020 to 2021. Firstly, my numbers from 2020 in summary:
Then the numbers from 2021:
A very satisfactory improvement. It’s all a bit skewed due to the pandemic as working from home has made it, paradoxically for me, easier to get exercise. A rare privilege for which I am very grateful. And — touch wood, fingers crossed — I have managed to avoid any significant injury but circumstances may make it harder to be so consistent with my running in 2022.
Almost all my exercise is running but I simply couldn’t manage the volume if I was out slapping feet on tarmac. It’s all on varied terrain, mostly up the fells and on hilly trails as the elevation data show, and on trails and that seems to make a huge difference to my overall tolerance. I suspect it is also much better for my mental state and it is easier to go out and simply enjoy the experience when I am a bit fatigued. It has become almost comedic, when I have been away in a city, how I end up pinging a calf muscle when I go for even a moderate 10k on the roads. And, I have avoided any sort of racing at all. My long post about the Ring of Steall fell race in 2017 should answer any questions on why I don’t go for races.
My main aim for 2022 is to get myself a regular bodyweight exercise habit. I am just aiming at the minimum to maintain strength and some flexibility and offset the drop off from ageing. I’ve no ambitions beyond that. I am very aware that some kind of strength training is probably the single best way to reduce the risk of injury. Want to check the evidence? This systematic review and meta-analysis showed a dose-response relationship between strength training and its preventive effect on injuries.
7 January 2022
Sun up on Winder
A couple of days ago was the latest the sun will get up and it has already been taking a little longer for the sun to go down since we got over the shortest day. I always like this point, just a little after the winter solstice, as we can know that we are over the hump and we’ll be getting up in the light soon.
The photo was taken on 06 January 2022 at 08.38.
6 January 2022
Some reflections on a year of reading
Must read less…
I’m not one for New Year resolutions but there is never a bad time for some reflections.
Last year I read 116 books.
It’s a decent number, indeed it often surprises people, and it certainly affords me a lot of scope to cover plenty of new and classic books. I do include audiobooks but I now select these with care as detailed audiobooks quoting evidence drive me nuts as there is no easy way to take notes and look up references. I’ve tried various techniques but it just doesn’t work.
My best strategy for the next few months is to read a little less. Not the most common of resolutions but I certainly don’t need to read more. At least not books, although I do think I have scope to read more academic papers in a targeted and purposeful way. I’d like to capture more notes, write more, and linger over the books I do read. If I dropped a couple of books and spent that time writing it would amount to a significant increase.
Now, it is not quite as straightforward as that and reading is obviously a different kind of experience. Yet, there is scope and, as with many things, it is far too easy to chase the numbers and I think, honestly, that is what I have been doing. In the old cliché, I need a little more quality rather than quantity.
5 January 2022
December 2021 Reading List
Tharoor’s Inglorious Empire was gloriously angry and rightly so. It is quite remarkable how the British have managed to re-write the history of Empire and it is coming as a nasty shock to the nostalgically inclined to have it challenged and re-examined with a gimlet eye. Tharoor does, in his understandable ire, overstep with some conclusions but they are rare moments and it shouldn’t detract from the brutal assessment of the British in India.
All the Young Men has over a thousand five-star reviews on Amazon. It is worth every one of them. I thought McMindfulness was an excellent polemic though it lacked focus in places and was occasionally repetitive — not unusual with a polemic but it offers an essential perspective. I’ve never been an enormous fan of Bob Mortimer’s comedy style, that’s just a personal preference, but there is no denying the sheer likeability of the man and his book And Away… is a warm, amusing and shyly life affirming book.
1 December 2021
Monthly Reading List
- Inglorious Empire by Shashi Tharoor
- Do Breathe by Michael Townsend Williams
- All the Young Men by Ruth Coker Burks
- Fake Law by The Secret Barrister
- McMindfulness by Ronald Purser
- The Zoologist’s Guide to the Galaxy by Arik Kershenbaum
- And Away… by Bob Mortimer
November 2021 Reading List
Not a good reading month for me. I just seemed to struggle to settle into it and it was a little bit of an effort. It happens sometimes and the four short books at the end of the month reflect my approach when I find my concentration is a bit waffy.
Unusually, two fiction books are on the list this month. I’ve read all of the Charlie Parker series by John Connolly but I was a bit adrift with A Book of Bones as there is another one after that now out. It is a bit of a brick, coming in at around 200,000 words, and although it did still give me a lot of pleasure I’m not quite convinced it warranted that length. The very short and nearly perfectly formed Small Things Like These was recommended, several times, in a New Statesman ‘best of 2021’ list sits in contrast, lengthwise in any case.
Sad Little Men kicks the hell out of the boarding school system and I can’t recommend Austerity which was way too technical to be enjoyable.
2 November 2021
Monthly Reading List
- Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris
- Sad Little Men by Richard Beard
- Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea by Mark Blyth
- A Book of Bones by John Connolly
- Write Useful Books by Rob Fitzpatrick
- Things I Have Withheld by Kei Miller
- Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan
- Silence: In the Age of Noise by Erling Kagge
October 2021 Reading List
Some excellent reading here and the ‘pick of the month’ would be One Track Mind. It isn’t the most promising of premises — a book about a man running around a single strip of athletic track for 24 hours. It turns out to be inspiring and uplifting. I have to give an honourable mention to How to Be a Liberal that taught me a lot and far exceeded my initial impressions of what it would be about.
I will comment on the two pandemic books as well. Spike reads like a self-serving dress rehearsal for the public inquiry which will, eventually, come around and Blinded by Corona has some excellent moments. It is also dismally edited and awash with typos; it feels rushed and veers close to egotistical rantiness. Ashton is not a man who hides his light under a bushel and his book amply demonstrates the real benefit of basic standards of editing.
1 November 2021
Monthly Reading List
- Hooked by Paul Merson
- Time: 10 Things You Should Know by Colin Stuart
- How to Be a Liberal by Ian Dunt
- Spike by Jeremy Farrar with Anjana Ahuja
- Blinded by Corona by John Ashton
- The Juggling Author by Jim Heskett
- Empireland by Sathnam Sanghera
- One Track Mind: What Running 150 Miles in a Day Can Teach by Michael Stocks
- The Running Book by John Connell
September 2021 Reading List
A bit of a bumper month. Let’s concentrate on the best offerings. I genuinely enjoyed the audiobook of Son of a Silverback and Maconie presents a compelling picture of the joys of the value of state services in The Nanny State Made Me. Both are helped greatly by being laugh out loud funny in places. If I had to suggest one then I will plump for Will Storr’s The Status Game that shows off his talents admirably. I did actually get a little irritated with the way links and footnotes are handled in the book. But that shouldn’t detract from the excellence of Storr’s work.
1 October 2021
Monthly Reading List
- The Nanny State Made Me by Stuart Maconie
- Helgoland by Carlo Rovelli
- Football Hackers by Christoph Biermann
- Son of a Silverback by Russell Kane
- Trials of the State by Jonathan Sumption
- The Status Game by Will Storr
- On Chapel Sands by Laura Cumming
- The Art of Making Memories by Meik Wiking
- Privacy is Power by Carissa Véliz
- Death of a whistleblower and Cochrane’s moral collapse by Peter C. Gøtzsche
- The Way Home by Mark Boyle
- The Interest: How the British Establishment Resisted the Abolition of Slavery by Michael Taylor