what i’ve been reading & watching lately: collapse, helvetica, pushing daisies

I thought finally replacing my telvision might slow me down, but 5 minutes after I hooked it up I was like “Oh yeah… teevee actually kind of sucks. Think I’ll read for a while.”


Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, by Jared Diamond

I had a couple people tell me they didn’t think this was that great, or as good as Guns, Germs, and Steel. But I really enjoyed it, although the last chapter isn’t as interesting overall as the rest of the book. Diamond examines some failed societies, past and present (Rwanda, the Greenland Norse, Easter Island) and examines what led to their downfall. He believes all failed societies did/do so because of some very basic factors, including overpopulation and deforestation. Then he contrasts them with some socities that have succeeded (Japan, Iceland, the Greenland Inuit), even though they face/faced the same problems.

I never thought of overpopulation as a contributing factor to Rwanda’s 1994 genocide — Diamond doesn’t ignore the ethnic hatred between Hutu and Tutsi, but he likens it to the powder in the keg, while overpopulation was the match that set it off — but he makes a convincing case. The only other African nation as populous is neighboring Burundi, which also experienced violence at the same time. It also explains why, in the absence of Tutsi, Hutus slaughtered each other.

Incidentally, Jared Diamond was one of the commentators on last night’s Earth 2100, and a lot of the topics he was discussing were right out of this book. So if you watched it — and if you did, I hope you slept better than I did — and you found what he had to say interesting, you might want to think about picking up this book.

I was skeptical that a documentary about a typeface could be interesting, but it really was! I liked that it followed a sort of linear timeline, starting out with the post-WWII modernists who invented/popularized Helvetica; moving on to the PoMo hippies who hated it (“It was like my mom nagging me to clean my room!”) and shows the increasingly fragmented kinds of hand-drawn typefaces they liked to use; then ending with the designers of my own generation, who have gone back to Helvetica, but who use it in a more unorthodox, cheeky style than the original Modernists.

Full disclosure: I love Helvetica (especially the lowercase a and e), and use it for almost all my labeling. But for signs I tend to use Copperplate Gothic Bold, because it has a sort of 19th century one room schoolhouse feel to it. And I work in a school.


ABC decided to air the last 3 episodes of Pushing Daisies on Saturday nights, starting last Saturday. Watching it was like casual sex with an ex-boyfriend with whom you’d had a difficult break-up and were starting to move on from: pleasurable, but painful in a ripping-open-wounds-that-had-just-started-to-heal way.

Yes, I just compared Pushing Daisies to sex. My dorkiness knows no boundaries.

Coincidentally, I should be getting the first disc of Wonderfalls from Netflix today!


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