How about this for writing, from James Salter’s The Hunters, his 1956 novel about fighter pilots in the Korean war. Cleve is an Air Force captain; he’s taking off on his first mission from his new posting.

Cleve dressed himself slowly to reduce the time he would have to spend standing around and taking little part in the talk. He was not fully at ease. It was still like being a guest at a family reunion, with all the unfamiliar references. He felt relieved when finally they rode out to their ships.

Then it was intoxicating. The smooth takeoff, and the free feeling of having the world drop away. Soon after leaving the ground, they were crossing patches of stratus that lay in the valleys as heavy and white as glaciers. North for the fifth time. It was still all adventure, as exciting as love, as frightening. Cleve rejoiced in it.

Salter goes from the ready room to flight inside a paragraph break. And how he describes it! His flying descriptions do become slightly more ‘technical’, in the sense of defining what is happening, when combat occurs, but he’s almost completely uninterested in the technical interactions of flying. He wants to show intent – what Cleve is doing, not what his plane is doing. (His plane, incidentally, is an F-86 Sabre, though it will only ever be referred to as a ‘ship’ throughout the novel, and the MiG-15s of the North Koreans will be reduced to nothing but ‘MIGs’.)

Beautiful; not quite ‘spare’, but stripped down to only that which is necessary to tell the story, about how a man feels in the air. The rest of the book is continuing to be as good.

  • "In The Wave in the Mind, one of Le Guin’s many collections of essays, she wrote, ‘All of us have to learn how to invent our lives, make them up, imagine them. We need to be taught these skills; we need guides to show us how. If we don’t, our lives get made up for us by other people.’ When I met Le Guin, I was in outer space, hovering in that darkness. Cast out from my homeworld, I spent my days orbiting a new world, afraid to land." This is great.
  • First and foremost, a Gross Recipe is an expression of you: of the uniquely briny, spicy, bland, mushy, crunchy things at the core of you, in concentrations that the average person would find actively off-putting. In cooking for others, we are always making compromises—in favor of decorum, preference, presentation, and hard-coded culinary norms that dictate what goes with what and in what quantity. A Gross Recipe throws all of that out of the window; it is one of few chances that any of us get—in a kitchen or elsewhere—to be who we truly are.
  • "Silly as it sounds, not being able to figure this out made dad feel more distant. I had thought of us as like minds, and it made the loss easier to accept. His brain wasn’t entirely gone, I still have a partial version of it in my own head. But either this gadget did nothing intelligent at all, which couldn’t be true, or he and I thought so differently that even with unlimited tries, I couldn’t deduce how his interface was ever supposed to work. It was an upsetting thought."

    Tom Francis on time, memory, PIDs and parental inventions.

  • "Let’s say the computers I was working with had been powerful enough for me to do my experiments in real time. I’m not at all sure that I would have made the discovery! Because the condition under which I was working, on a time-share machine, a few seconds of sound might take me nearly two hours. So the time it took, perhaps specifically the time between experiments, I had to think. These were discrete times: I would generate a sample of a sound that was 20 Hz, with a modulating frequency of 20 Hz and a deviation of 100 Hz. Then I would wait. Then I would listen. Then I would increase to another. If I’d had continuous control, I think I probably would have missed it. I could have let the carrier sweep through frequencies that were way too high, and I would have missed the points where they converged to harmonic spectra. That being the case, the fact that I had to sit and wait and think, and listen, and then think about what I heard, “what will be the next step?” greatly enhanced my ability in realizing the discovery." John Chowning on how not having realtime feedback was an asset, rather than a problem.
  • "This course is an advanced seminar in the anthropology of attention. What makes the
    anthropology of attention different from other ways of studying attention (e.g.
    psychology) is that we study it as a social and cultural phenomenon: attention is not just a matter of individual minds selecting objects from environments. Rather, attention is collectively organized and valued. We learn how to pay attention and what to pay
    attention to from other people; other people make technological and media systems to
    intentionally organize collective attention. We learn to value certain kinds of attention
    (e.g. intense focus on work, mindfulness, or multi-tasking) and to criticize others (e.g.
    absent-mindedness, distraction, intense focus on entertainment) in cultural contexts. So, while we will be experimenting with our own attentions throughout this course, we will remember that our attentions are not really our own. No one pays attention alone." This paper sounds brilliant.