Sometimes, after a period of what I can only describe as ‘not writing very much’ I have this need to, well, write something. The problem is when I don’t have a particular thing that I need to write about, in which case I literally sit down, as I am now, and start typing words onto a screen.
The words come, eventually, as they always do. The process starts by noticing the things around me, by performing a kind of ‘situation report’. So here’s mine: oblique rays of the sun stream in through the velux window in the ‘penthouse suite’ (as I call it) of our recently-listed house. I’m propped up on pillows and cushions in bed, able to hear noises from outside such as our kids playing football in the back lane, and birds cawing and tweeting.
I’ve already written a short post today, comprised mostly of a quotation from Katherine May’s Wintering. Other than a post commemorating my fortieth birthday (which I actually wrote back in November) it’s the only thing I’ve published in the last week. Thought Shrapnel is on hiatus until 2021, but I couldn’t resist sharing the most popular articles from this year with subscribers to the weekly digest.
It’s close to 10:00, although it feels much later, having woken up at 05:15 and not being able to get back to sleep. I enjoyed making a morning fire and being able to sit in front of it, reading while the house was peaceful. Reflecting on someone else’s experiences of this time of the year was especially poignant, and the similarities and differences enhance and reinforce my own.
Today I will achieve nothing, which exactly corresponds with my aim. I will, no doubt, play some Sniper Elite 4 which is a game I did not expect to like when I tried it on our TV thanks to the technological magic of Google Stadia. But I’ve found it strangely addictive, and have poured hours of time into completing various missions over the last week or so.
My wife has just informed me that this is the last day of “Christmas slobbing about” by which she means we need to get ready for potential house viewings over the coming week. She’s right, of course, and we do need to get this house sold soon, but the lethargy is strong at this time of year. It’s the only period of time in my calendar when I allow myself to do nothing of importance. There are no expectations of me, and I have none of myself.
I’m not sure if it’s worth pressing publish on this post but, as I have a mere 4% of laptop battery life remaining, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
Apparently I’m ‘hard to buy for’. I probably don’t make it easier for people by proclaiming – quite rightly, I think – that if you have to ask people what they want for a birthday or Christmas then it’s not really a ‘gift’ as such.
I usually relent (slightly) by pointing family and friends to my Amazon wishlist. As you can see, I’ve been adding a lot of books related to infographics recently. But what about if you know someone a bit like me – someone ‘hard to buy for’ who’s into education, technology and the like? What should you go for? Well, my wishlist is a start, but here’s 10 definite recommendations. I’ve placed them in order of how much they cost – clicking on the image will take you Amazon to purchase them.*
1. Indexed (Jessica Hagy) – £4.58
Jessica creates graphs and diagrams on index cards ‘weekday mornings as the coffee brews’. A great book to have either on the coffee table or, dare I say it, in your toilet for casual reading. I find her blog hilarious at times.
2. The Power of Less (Leo Babauta) – £5.21
The author of this book writes one of my favourite blogs, Zen Habits. If the book is anything near as good as the amazingly practical advice Leo gives on his blog then this will actually do what it says on the front – i.e. ‘change your life’.
3. Ignore Everybody (Hugh McLeod) – £10.03
Hugh McLeod is a great guy. Acerbic, but great. Many of his gapingvoid cartoons adorn both my office and home study. In this book he expands on the ideas that he draws on the back of business cards.
4. Very Short Introductions (The Picture Box) – £12.47
The Very Short Introductions series is excellent. Concise, scholarly, readable introductions to topics that would usually take a university course to even begin to comprehend. I highly recommend them. I’m into design and infographics at the moment (which is why I chose this one) but I haven’t read a bad one yet!
5. Logitech Alto Express Laptop Stand – £12.99
It’s a piece of curved plastic with rubberized ends, but one of the single best accessories I’ve ever bought. I use a Macbook Pro as my main machine and it really does make using it so much more comfortable!
6. Hitchcock DVD box set – £17.99
This really is such a bargain – 14 classic films for £17.99! This is the only item on this list that I already own. Quality. (N.B. Amazon say this will take ‘3-5 weeks’ to deliver – just go for one of the ‘Used & New’ options, which may be even cheaper!)
7. Colloquial Icelandic (Audio CD) – £23.67
Not only does speaking a rather random language mark you out as ‘interesting’, but learning Icelandic means being able to read the sagas in their original form! But seriously, this was recommended to me as a fantastic example of how to structure learning and teach difficult concepts and content.
8. The Complete Far Side (Gary Larson) – £62.72
Despite it being almost 15 years since Gary Larson retired from drawing his Far Side series of cartoons, they’re as popular as ever. This compendium includes all those Larson has drawn. According to the Amazon reviews it’s impressive both in form and content!
9. Flip Mino HD camcorder – £119.99
This really is the world’s easiest-to-use camcorder. One big red button for start/stop recording. Preview on wide screen to rear, then press the button to ‘flip’ out the USB connector to attach it to you computer. I’ve got one similar to this at work. It’s legendary.
10. Asus Eee PC 1008HA ‘Seashell’ netbook – £280.52
I’ve had a few netbooks in the time they’ve been available, and the Asus Eee range has always been the most reliable and aesthetically pleasing. The 1008HA ‘Seashell’ is no exception – gorgeously thin and very mobile. Oh, and you can always ditch Windows and go with Linux. :-p