Nation States

I recently discovered that one of my favorite sci-fi authors has been running a wonderful website for 20 years that allows users to create, grow, and administer their own nation state. Australian writer Max Barry’s website NationStates offers the opportunity to own a micronation, name it, pick its politics, and each day check back to see how it was doing, each day being confronted with small decisions about governance that would affect your country’s progress.

Of course I had to try out the site and build by own country. Haven’t we all at sometime yearned to be the omnipotent (and hopefully benevolent) head of state. I haven’t devoted much time to my Republic of Goedlan yet, but hope to spend some time there very soon.

Here’s what Barry had to say about the 20th anniversary of NationStates :

Sites that do things, interactive sites, like this one, are hard to keep alive. They have so many ways to die. I’m incredibly proud that NationStates is here twenty years and eight million nations later, with as many players as ever. That’s magical. I credit:

  • Not selling the site. I came close. In retrospect, the buyer would have spent 12 months squeezing users for money before everyone left.
  • Moderators. Oh my god, moderators. They do so much, every day, for nothing, and without them, the site would almost immediately become somewhere you wouldn’t want to visit. Some mods have been here from the beginning. Many have clocked up over a decade. So much is thanks to mods.
  • The community. I can’t even explain this because I don’t fully understand it. I made a site where you could create a nation and talk to people. The community did everything else, i.e. turned that into something interesting, with political intrigue, relationships, lore, rules; basically the vast majority of what makes NationStates worth your time. This includes regional leaders, ordinary nations, World Assembly Delegates, admin, Roleplay Mentors, Founders, dispatch authors, World Census trophy chasers, forum regulars, forum irregulars, anyone who’s taken the time to explain something to someone new to the site, card traders, everyone.
  • The people who buy Site Supporter, Postmaster, Postmaster-General, and Telegram Stamps. Most people don’t, and that’s totally fine, but the lights wouldn’t have stayed on without those who do.
  • Managing the tech stack. All the tech from 2002 is slow, insecure, missing essential features, and three thousand times harder to work on that what’s available today. It also can’t be replaced without losing 20 years of bug fixes. So far we have managed to steer a path between killing the site from negligence and killing it from overly ambitious upgrades. And we keep adding features! To a 20-year-old codebase! Written in Perl!

By all means, give NationStates a spin. And, also check out some of Barry’s terrific novels. I’m partial to Lexicon.

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Just Another Caturday



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The Direction of Travel

When I ran across Christian Nolle’s terrific periodical Directions of Travel I thought that some of you other travel and map geeks might need to know about the project. Nolle’s fascination with air travel and maps began when he was just a child. “It’s why I started collecting flight maps,” says the designer, who launched the biannual title Direction of Travel in 2020. Published on newsprint, it focuses on historic airline route maps. “I realised that the newspaper format would be a great way to show people these drawings,” says Nolle. “Mainly it’s because you can print it quite cheaply and you can go really big on images.” The periodical offers colorful features collected over the past 15 years, each issue focuses on a different aspect of two major airlines’ stories. The most recent volume, issue three, is available to buy online and charts Alitalia and Swissair’s networks between the 1940s and 1980s. “When you look at books about vintage maps they’re all immaculate but there’s no real sense of the material,” says Nolle. “Maps are made of paper. They’re meant to be folded. I want to show people the beauty of these things.”


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The First Thanksgiving

Warrington Wickham Colescott Jr. (March 7, 1921 – September 10, 2018) was an American artist, he is best known for his satirical etchings. He was a master printmaker and operated Mantegna Press in Hollandale, Wisconsin, with his wife and fellow artist Frances Myers. Colescott died on 10 September 2018, at the age of 97. The First Thanksgiving, 1973



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Everybody Loves a Travel Guidebook Parody

Here in North America the travel guidebook author and travel show host Rick Steves is almost universally loved, but is also the target of good natured satire as well. While I’ve met Rick, and even spent an afternoon hanging with him at a café in a little town on Lake Como, I can’t claim to be personal friends. However, I can attest to his affability and self-effacing charm. When I recently read a clever spoof of his guidebook writing style at the McSweeney’s website, I knew he would be tickled.

Here are some excerpts from the article and a link to the full piece.

Westeros from Game of Thrones

There seems to be a never-ending list of places to experience when visiting Westeros, so you can’t go wrong as long as you aim for a summer visit. Winters here are absolutely brutal. Throughout your trip, you’ll encounter many well-preserved and battle-scarred houses and hopefully some mystical beings. You’ll definitely want to follow the local rules closely as some of the fines and punishments are more severe than you can imagine. The views will provide everything you’d expect in a harsh medieval landscape: picturesque backdrops, fiery dragons, and horrific ritualistic executions. Wear comfortable shoes.

The Chocolate Factory from Willy Wonka

Although it’s cheap, avoid staying at the cramped and dingy Bucket Family House since you’ll be stuck sharing beds with a few elderly guests. Even though tickets are notoriously hard to come by, a visit to the factory is highly recommended. The extremely limited entrance policy also ensures crowds and lines are kept at a minimum. Don’t miss the Wonkatania Boat Ride. This terrifying experience is worth the price of admission alone. Keep an open mind on the factory tour, and you’ll happen upon chocolate rivers, impossibly small elevators, and little street performers that will sing preachy yet campy songs. Not at all kid-friendly.


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Still Autumn

Autumn – Jane Hirshfield

Again the wind
flakes gold-leaf from the trees
and the painting darkens—
as if a thousand penitents
kissed an icon
till it thinned
back to bare wood,
without diminishment.


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Bizarre Books

Brian Lake who manages Jarndyce Antiquarian Booksellers in Bloomsbury, London has compiled  a volume of truly odd and eccentric book covers in his new book Librorum Ridiculorum A Compendium of Bizarre Books.

The books in the collection range from fairly scatological humour and titles which reflect how language has changed over the last 100 years, to niche ones such Fish Who Answer The TelephoneRecipes for GrassHow To Be Happy Though MarriedFrog Raising for Pleasure and Profit, and Banana Circus which features a banana posing as a seal.

Gems include:
Scouts in Bondage
Frog Raising for Pleasure and Profit
Premature Burial and How It May Be Prevented
Drummer Dick’s Discharge




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It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

George Orwell’s seminal dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four became a powerful symbol of resistance to totalitarianism. Last month an impressive reproduction of the novel’s original manuscript was released by SP Books. The only surviving Orwell manuscript of any of his works was conserved at the John Hay Library (Brown University, Providence) since 1992.

This edition offers readers a dive deep into the 197 remaining manuscript pages of Nineteen Eighty-Four (of which 183 are handwritten and 14 are typewritten), and the opportunity to discover the Orwell’s unedited passages. It is the only substantial Orwell manuscript that survives and represents about 44% of the published text. The book reflects Orwell’s creative process in the context of World War II and its aftermath, as well as five years of health struggles, the loss of his wife Eileen, and his doubts while writing.

After Orwell’s death, his widow Sonia travelled to Barnhill farmhouse, his last home on the Hebridean island of Jura. There she found a pile of documents which she was able to identify as the 1984 manuscript, which she donated to a charity auction in London on 11 June 1952. The manuscript was purchased by Scribner’s of New York, then sold to bookseller and rare book collector Daniel G. Siegel in June 1969. In 1992, Mr. Siegel gave the manuscript to the Brown University Library (Providence, Rhode Island).

The text is the only substantial Orwell manuscript that survives and it includes several pages that were cast aside by Orwell, such as a scene in which Winston and Julia come across each other after leaving the flat; or the lynching of a black woman in the propaganda movie watched by Winston. Other passages reveal Orwell’s self-censorship ‘on grounds of possible racial prejudice or taste’.

Here’s an exerpt from the book’s preface:

‘Ill, emotionally bereft, thoroughly exhausted – as were most British people – by the strains of a six-year war, relocated to a new life in the west of Scotland (although he would spend the freezing winter of 1946-7 back in Islington), Orwell was in no state to start work on so ambitious a project as Nineteen Eighty-Four. In many ways, though, the problem was worse than this. Anxious as he may have been to set out his vision of nightmare dystopian future that had its roots in the post-war world he saw around him, Orwell, it soon becomes clear, had yet to establish much of the intellectual topsoil in which the novel’s seeds are sown.

To examine some of the journalism he produced in the post-1945 period is immediately to appreciate the time he spent rehearsing some of the arguments of the novel, canvassing ideas that would resurface in the world of Airstrip One and the Ministry of Truth. Much more so than any of his previous books, Nineteen Eighty-Four is a kind of backward-facing drill that burrows deep into earlier outings and, sometimes subconsciously, turns up all manner of details that will prove to be useful in the task ahead.’

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Brooklyn Public Library’s Most Borrowed Book

Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New York

When I was a young child I spent quite a lot of time in Brooklyn. I did the usual things that Brooklyn kids did; I played stick ball in the street and stuffed my face at the corner candy store. But my favorite activity was visiting the grand Brooklyn Public Library. This year, the Brooklyn Public Library has been celebrating its 125 year anniversary by counting down their 125 most borrowed books of all time. While there are many classics on the list, there are also some more recent releases that have already broken into the top ten. The full list includes a mix of novels, graphic novels, and plenty of children’s books.

The number one most borrowed book of all time at Brooklyn Public Library, after 125 years of borrowing, is:

Where the Wild Things Are book cover


This beloved picture book was originally published in 1963 and won the Caldecott Medal. It was also named the #1 best picture book by the School Library Journal in 2012. It’s been adapted several times, including as a feature film in 2009 and an opera in 1980.

The other books rounding up the top ten are:

2. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
3. The Cat In the Hat by Dr. Seuss
4. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
5. Are You My Mother? by PD Eastman
6. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
7. Naruto Volume 1 by Mashashi Kishimoto
8. The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
9. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
10. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

You can find the full list at the Brooklyn Library.


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Book of Joe

I am not a big hobbiest, but about five years ago I became mildly obsessed with the process of home coffee roasting. Now I am on my second roasting machine and quietly researching a larger capacity replacement. Of course I did a deep dive into the numerous books, periodicals, and websites on coffee roasting for home and small business roasters. One of the fun reads was James Hoffmann’s The World Atlas of Coffee, which is a very accessible resourse both for roasters and avid coffee drinkers. Hoffann recently released a terrific video (see below) that answers thoughtful questions on the magic elixir.

NB: If the video fails to launch, please visit our homepage

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