Richard Florida on #cities

“The most innovative districts in the world remain older industrial neighborhoods, such as Chelsea and Tribeca in Lower Manhattan, Cambridge (near M.I.T.) and parts of Boston, and areas adjacent to downtown San Francisco. These areas boast an abundance of mid-rise, open-floor plan, historic buildings that create street-level interaction, where people and ideas can combine and recombine to form new innovations and startup companies.

– see

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Manchester, 2013

Karl Ove Knausgaard on talking to girls when you’re twelve

‘I’m going to buy a new jacket too’, I said. ‘A black Matinique. Have you seen it?’ 


‘The sleeves are long and they’re made of a different material from the rest. Sort of wavy. And it’s got a little flap down the middle covering the zip. What kind of jacket are you going to get?’ 

Marianne shrugged. 

‘A coat, I was thinking.’ 

‘A coat? A light colour?’ 

‘Perhaps. Quite short.’ 

‘You’re the only boy who talks about clothes,’ Solveig said. 

‘I know,’ I said. And it was something I had discovered recently. It was so difficult to talk to girls. Once you had taken their hats or shouted a few bad words after them that was where it usually ended. Well, you could talk to them about homework. But nothing else. Then I suddenly realised. Clothes, that was what they were interested in. All you had to do was chat away. 

(Boyhood Island, 2010, translated 2014)

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Romeo and Juliet

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I saw Romeo and Juliet last night (Brussels Shakespeare Society; set in a night club; I enjoyed it). It was stuffed full of lines I didn’t know were in the play and hardly knew were Shakespeare. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” is spoken by Juliet, talking about being a Capulet loving Romeo, a Montague:

‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

I like the “what’s Montague?” part as a complement tomYuval Noah Harari talking about how it is “fictions” like money and countries that let us live together in our millions. Here the fiction divides.

The main thing I took away from the play though – all the more so because of its young cast – was how daft teenagers can be.

Yuval Noah Harari on #fiction

According to Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens (2011, tr. 2014), language – e.g. for gossiping ( – allowed Homo Sapiens to cooperate in social groups of up to 150 individuals. 

But… [h]ow did Homo Sapiens manage to cross this critical threshold, eventually forming cities comprising tens of thousands of inhabitants and empires ruling hundreds of millions? The secret was probably the appearance of fiction. Large numbers of strangers can cooperate successfully by believing in common myths… 

Churches are rooted in common religious myths… States are rooted in common national myths… Judicial systems are rooted in common legal myths. Two lawyers who have never met can nevertheless combine efforts to defend a complete stranger because they both believe in the existence of laws, justice, human rights – and the money paid out in fees. 

Yet none of these things exists outside the stories that people invent and tell one another.

rue de la Loi from the Cube cinquantenaire 511.jpg(Rue de la Loi, Brussels, from Cinquantenaire arch, 2011)

Yuval Noah Harari on #gossip

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What, then, is so special about our language? 

The most common answer is that [with] our language… a modern human can tell her friends that this morning, near the bend in the river, she saw a lion tracking a herd of bison. She can then describe the exact location, including the different paths leading to the area. With this information, the members of her band can put their heads together and discuss whether they should approach the river, chase away the lion, and hunt the bison. 

A second theory agrees that our unique language evolved as a means of sharing information about the world. But the most important information that needed to be conveyed was about humans, not about lions and bison. Our language evolved as a way of gossiping… It is not enough for individual men and women to know the whereabouts of lions and bison. It’s much more important for them to know who in their band hates whom, who is sleeping with whom, who is honest, and who is a cheat… 

All apes show a keen interest in such social information, but they have trouble gossiping effectively. Neanderthals and archaic Homo sapiens probably also had a hard time talking behind each other’s backs – a much maligned ability which is in fact essential for cooperation in large numbers. The new linguistic skills the modern Sapiens acquired about seventy millennia ago enabled them to gossip for hours on end. Reliable information about who could be trusted meant that smaller bands could expand into larger bands… 

The gossip theory might sound like a joke… Even today, the vast majority of human communication – whether in the form of emails, phone calls or newspaper columns – is gossip… Do you think that history professors chat about the reasons for the First World War when they meet for lunch, or that nuclear physicists spend their coffee breaks at scientific conferences talking about quarks? Sometimes.

– Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens (2011, tr. 2014)

On LED bike lights (and Karl Ove Knausgaard on #writing)

Went to hear Knausgaard speak about My Struggle. He sat like this:

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– so it was a surprise when he turned round at the end to answer questions. Big crowd (they’d moved it from a smaller room).

The fact that people I meet know so much about me is bizarre, so I don’t acknowledge it. 

[When he starts writing] It is important for me not to know what I’m going to write about. 

I do like to write much more than to be happy.

Like J.K.Rowling, he said he knew the last line of the last book from the time he started writing the first.

On the way back there was a high wind; my bike had an almost-deflated rear tyre; I’d left my yellow reflective thing at a meeting; and the front light’s battery had run out. Any one of these things probably ought to have meant that I pushed the bike home; all four meant that I actually did. The wind brought sleet.

(LED bike lights are wonderfully bright and rechargeable. But I wish they dimmed, telling you they were beginning to run out, like the old ones did. Is there is an indicator light that tells you this that I haven’t noticed?)

The mystery of #energyinefficiency in the private sector

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Last night, when it felt like the winter was starting at last, we stayed in this attractive hotel – the Bayswell – in Dunbar, Scotland. We liked the staff and we liked the food. I hope we’ll go back.

From an energy point of view, there was a lot that could be improved. Our room was hot as hot but if you sat near the single glazed window a sharp draught came through. The shower had to be run for ages and was tepid. The (friendly) bar was cold and they needed to bring in an electric local space heater.

Doing something about these things would make the place even better to stay in and would probably pay for itself quickly. Why doesn’t it happen?