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Flights by Olga Tokarczuk (Books 2019, 1)

The Flights novel alongside a small set of stone-carved elephants
The novel Flights with some elephants

I’m pleased to have finished the first book of the year — and the first of my Christmas books — already. It’s a book about travel, and the human body, and some people and things that happen to them. Is it a novel? It consists of a series of short sections, and a few longer ones. I can’t really call them chapters: some are no more than a paragraph, even a sentence. It does have characters, though: notably the narrator, who is the voice of most of the shorter sections. She appears to be someone who spends most of her life travelling around the world without necessarily any destination or purpose in mind.

That doesn’t make it sound as compelling as it is. There are connections between at least some of the stories, which make me think there must be more connections that I missed. A lot of it regards the preservation of dead bodies, from early embalming techniques to the “Body Worlds” plastination of Gunther von Hagens.

In the end it doesn’t quite form a unified whole, so in that sense I’m not sure we can really call it a novel. But it’s strangely compelling, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

When I was writing that last post I was confused because I couldn’t copy text from the article I was linking to.

Clicking and moving my mouse across the text did nothing: there was no indication that I had selected anything. Similarly, double-clicking on a single word didn’t select it.

Eventually I saved the article to Instapaper, and copied from there

After initially posting it, I noticed that the URL contained the string “amphtml”. I removed the amphtml/, and the page worked normally.

AMP is Google’s “accelerated mobile pages,” a way for them to control URLs instead of the owners controlling them. At least, that’s how it appeared at first. Clearly that can’t be the case for a page like this that’s purely at the Washington Post’s own site.

But it’s a bloody annoying state of affairs, and makes for a very bad web citizen.

Italian Coffee is the Best

This post on someone who’s trying to bring Starbucks-style coffee shops to Italy is kind of annoying. Not least for the closing quote:

“It’s not that Italian coffee has always been bad,” Campeotto said. “They have been geniuses. The god of coffee is the Italian espresso. The problem is, they have been stuck there. They stopped.”

If they had already achieved the “god of coffee” (which I happen to agree with), then why would they do anything other than stop? If you’ve already achieved perfection you have no need to improve. Just make sure you maintain that level.

I spent twelve months of 1989-90 in Turin. A cappuccino was 1200 lire, or about 60p (around 45-50 US cents, probably). And it was delicious. The best coffee I had, or have, ever tasted.

The growth of Starbucks and the other chains came after that, and I’ve been looking for coffee as good ever since. I’ve never found it. The closest I ever found in London was Costa in its early days. It has slipped down to the level of Starbucks and Caffè Nero, though.

Which is not to say that any of those are truly bad: not, at least, compared to what was available before they came on the scene.

But nothing matches my memory of Torinese cappuccino.

Bing Me the Head of the Marketing Team

I keep seeing these posters around town saying, “I’m a binger.” And I think, “What’s that, is it someone who uses Microsoft’s search engine? One who uses Bing?” It’s for a broadband provider — TalkTalk, I think — so it sounds plausible… just.

Then I realise it’s “one who binges.” There’s no obvious way in written English to specify which of the two pronunciations you mean. You’d have to write “binge-er” or something. Not ideal.

You’d have thought someone in the marketing team would have spotted the potential confusion and suggested taking a different tack. But then again, maybe they did, and they thought that the momentary confusion would draw people’s attention and make them notice the poster.

Which clearly worked.

Who’s Who?

Right, let’s get 2019 off to a start by talking about my favourite TV programme. I haven’t said anything about the recent season of Doctor Who here since my appreciative post at the end of the first episode. Not for any reason other than not getting round to it.

I absolutely love this iteration of the series. Jodie Whittaker is fantastic as The Doctor, and the supporting cast is brilliant as well. I like the crowded Tardis feel. It does have the limitation that some of the characters don’t get as much time or as many lines as others. That’s been notably true of Yaz — except in the “Demons of the Punjab” episode, of course.

But there’s plenty of time for her to be developed further, assuming they’re all sticking around. And the focus being more on Ryan and Graham was entirely correct, since if there was an overarching theme to the season, it was grief.

It’s not perfect. There have been several occasions when I’ve thought that the writing team don’t really understand what a galaxy is, or the scale of it. Lines like “half the people in the galaxy are unemployed,” or “they’ve crossed four galaxies to get here,” just don’t really make a lot of sense. And there have been several episodes where things maybe weren’t as tidily resolved as we’re used to.

Tonight’s New Year special episode, “Resolution,” was a classic example of the kind of story where the ideas are good, but the whole thing could have been improved if they’d taken the time to come up with slightly better ways to make things happen. Some way of defeating the enemy that didn’t involve the microwave oven, for example. And the whole vacuum/supernova bit at the end was kind of farcical.

But no matter. This season was all about the character dynamics, and those were great. It’s a strong start for Chris Chibnall as showrunner, and an incredibly strong start for Jodie Whittaker.

Blogging the Bitface, 2018 Style

Like last year, I present the figures for my blogging in 2018. 163 posts in total, counting this one, broken up as follows.

Month Posts
Jan 20
Feb 13
Mar 11
Apr 15
May 23
Jun 16
Jul 11
Aug 8
Sep 9
Oct 13
Nov 12
Dec 12

The formatting has improved, as I mentioned last time. I’m not sure what I did that made it better. The SQL is the same as before, with the obvious year change.

100 posts less1 than last year, but not bad. I’ll try for something closer to daily in 2019.

  1. Some would say that should be “fewer,” but it turns out that was never a real rule, just some guy’s choice that got locked into style guides.