Notes from the Road

Thoughts about the world as I travel through it


Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

BIG and Small

Glen Small writes about Bjarke Ingels in this article. The comparison is interesting: Both are full of energy and ideas. Their architectural strategies have a number of things in common. But they could not be more different from a business perspective.

The Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) has a stream of prestigious comissions, and a portfolio of significant projects in many parts of the world. Glen in contrast has a lot of breakthrough ideas, but much less built work.

There’s no answer to the question of which is the right approach. At the end of the day, some choose to produce ideas, others choose to produce product. Ideas can be very influential (think Adolf Loos), and so can product (Frank Lloyd Wright). It’s probably more comfortable to make a living out of product than ideas, and Glen can attest to that.

Ollie’s New Beginning

Cover Picture

While we were living in England, my younger son and I were talking about writing. I think he was about seven at the time. Together we developed the idea for a story about a boy and his toy dragon. Starting with a mind-map, and moving on to a full-blown outline, we talked the story through. It took a long time to get it all written, but both our boys took an interest in the story and offered suggestions.

The book was completed a while ago, but as anyone who has tried to get a children’s book published knows, it’s tough out there.

Finally, five or so years later, the book is published! You can get a copy by clicking here, or on the cover image.

It’s published at, which offers print-on-demand services.

You can also get an electronic copy here.

The next step is to get the book into Barnes and Noble and the Amazon bookstore: hopefully you’ll soon be able to order it from there as well.

If you haven’t read it yet, Ollie’s New Beginning is the story of a young boy and his dragon. It explores the challenges of separation and independence in a story that makes great bedtime reading for a young child.

Now if you buy a copy, I can share the royalties with my son and writing consultant!

Technology will let us live forever

Ray Kurtzweil is not only a respected technologist and innovator, he is also known as something of a futurist. His latest book, The Singularity is Near, argues that technology will radically change our experience of living, and will fix a lot of the things that eventually kill us. There’s a summary of some of the main points here.

It occurs to me that there’s a connection to something the Jesuit theologian Teilhard de Chardin said many years ago – that there’s educational evolution as well as physical evolution. When we learn new things, we are irrevocably changed. The connection is that Kurtzweil is reminding us that technology, which is the result of knowledge, and therefore inextricably linked to education, evolves faster than we do biologically. Our bodies will be overtaken developmentally by machines. This is unavoidable.

The challenge for all of us is to make the absolute best of this that we can. To be responsible, forward-looking, and to express our care for the future of our world in the way we harness the potential of our technology-rich future.

Keeping up to date with NetVibes

The world is changing fast, and it’s tough to keep up. is one of the great tools I’ve found recently. They let you create a custom home page on the web that contains lots of feeds from the sites that interest you, of course along with the ubiquitous and de rigeur Google search bar.

RSS feeds are the way to keep up with the news – and with NetVibes you can build your own real-time newspaper. There’s lots of information around on what RSS is and how to use it: here’s one from CNET.

You can also use NetVibes to watch your Google Mail.

Saint Osama?

This controversial piece was written to try to counteract the black-and-white, good and evil, freedom versus terrorist rhetoric that abounded following the 9/11 attacks. Now several years on, I think it still has merit. We see the US and other governments spending enormous resources on war, creating enormous pain and division, while there are many humanitarian causes that would not only have benefited directly from those funds, but that would go some way to building bridges between East and West, Christian and Moslem. It is deeply disappointing that fear and anger continue to prevail, where in truth compassion – and compassionate action – seems much more likely to create sustainable progress.

Attending Aurora Theater’s marvelous “Saint Joan” last week in Berkeley, I was struck by the parallels between the life of this fifteenth century warrior and our current nemesis in Afghanistan. Joan of Arc was a religious extremist who believed that God gave her precise instructions, independent of the advice of the established church or civil government. She also spoke of “France” and “England” in a day when both land masses were ruled in haphazard fashion by feudal lords. (more…)

A Sailor’s View

This was written for a US publication called “Spinsheet” that serves the yachting community. Following the attacks on New York and Washington, the paper asked readers to contribute their thoughts. With September 11th approaching again, I thought it was worth reprinting. Here’s what I wrote.

Sailing connects me with the planet, and with all the peoples of the world. It is easy to forget in these difficult times that the US is not the center of the universe, and that we are not the only people to have suffered a terrorist attack or to have lost innocent citizens in recent years. Yet every time we climb into a boat, and head away from the dock, we are physically connected, through the seas that surround the globe, to our fellow-travelers across the world. (more…)

An unsettling similarity

This quotation seems eerily consistent with the current British and US approach to communicaton with the electorate:

“Of course the people don’t want war… That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it’s always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it’s a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”

The quotation is from Hermann Goering.

It’s sad to see the government so defensive

The government response to the Moslem leaders’ letter is remarkable for its defensiveness. The letter suggests that Britain’s foreign policy is not working, and asks for change. As evidence it points to the failure of our policies to create a solution in either Iraq or the Middle East, and to the rise in terrorists targeting Britons.

We should change our policy because it is not working. There is no evidence that the kinds of force Britain and the US are deploying can successfully conclude a guerrilla war, as these are decentralized and driven by passionate belief (rightly or wrongly) in an injustice needing a remedy. Shifting to compassionate aid, collaboratively delivered, will yield faster results.

Letter from UK Moslems to Tony Blair

This was published earlier today by Moslem leaders in the UK:

“Prime Minister, As British Muslims we urge you to do more to fight against all those who target civilians with violence, whenever and wherever that happens.
It is our view that current British government policy risks putting civilians at increased risk both in the UK and abroad.


UK – US travel threatened

Today we see headlines about the foiling of a terrorist plot to blow up planes flying from the UK to the US. This resonates with me as I’m supposed to make that trip tomorrow. I will probably delay my flight – both to minimize risk and to avoid the hassle of extra security.One of the key elements of the heightened security is the banning of carry on luggage – down to elements like spectacle cases. It’s obvious that there are many ways for a suicide-bent terrorist to create something poisonous or damaging from apparently innocuous carry-on items, so these restrictions are not surprising. But they do make travel very unpleasant for all of us. (more…)

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