Good reads—Miscellaneous topics: No. 1



Over the last four to five weeks, several fascinating examples of photo-journalism and photo-essays, graphic representations of scholarly research, and richly illustrated book reviews have been published online.

The Atlantic publishes daily photo-essays in its In Focus feature. A recent addition to the series is “Welcome Back to Earth, Commander Hadfield,” which includes photos taken of and by the Canadian astronaut who recently spent five months aboard the International Space Station, who chronicled his experiences through Internet and social media sites maintained by his sons, and who came to international notice by performing a skillful and enthused rendition of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” that was broadcast from the space station as his mission was coming to a close. The 40 photos in the series include somewhat standard photographs of the launch pad, of the exterior and interior of the spacecraft and of the space station. But the series also includes some relatively close-up and therefore, especially for Americans used to launches at Cape Canaveral and touchdowns in the ocean, unusually dramatic shots of the launch and touch down against the backdrop of the arid, largely barren, and sometimes starkly beautiful landscape of remote Kazakhstan. In addition to some photographs of the astronauts working on the space station, there are also whimsical shots—for instance, a photograph of Hadfield peeling an orange in the zero-gravity environment of the Space Station. And, in addition to the usual upper-atmosphere shots of the continents and oceans, there are some remarkable night shots of the lights of cities such as London and Dubai, of singular geographic features such as the Cape Cod and Crimean peninsulas, and of major but less frequently photographed features such as the St. Larwence estuary and the remarkably hued, deep deserts of the Arabian peninsula.

The entire photo-essay can be found at:

A superficially much odder but equally compelling recent photo-essay in the In Focus series is “Harley Davidson National Rally in China.” This photo-essay manages to be both compellingly strange and disconcertingly familiar. The iconic American motorcycles have been available in China only since 2005; they are very expensive, costing about four times the average annual income even in the major urban areas where wages are highest; and they cannot be licensed to be ridden legally on highways and major roads. Nonetheless, the photos in this series suggest that, however much the Chinese riders may be missing many of the nuances in the cultural associations that have long been attached to riding a Harley, these new enthusiasts have fully embraced the notion that riding a Harley is an act of cultural rebellion and defiant individuality. Indeed, quite paradoxically, those fundamental associations may be even more true for Harley riders in China than for their American counterparts.

The photo-essay can be found at:

In “A Scientific Search for the Most Remote Places in the United States,” which has appeared on the Atlantic Cities blog, Bonnie Tsui chronicles the ongoing effort by wildlife biologists Ryan and Rebecca Means to identify, visit, describe, and photograph the spot in each of the fifty states that is most removed from any permanent evidence of a human presence—specifically, buildings and roads. The scientists have now identified the most remote spots in 19 eastern states and are making plans to move the study gradually westward. Although they recognized that they were starting the study in some of the most densely populated parts of the country, they have, nonetheless, been quite surprised that none of the nineteen “most remote” places that they have thus far identified is more than five miles from a road. Moreover, during their visits to all but one of those nineteen places, they have found evidence of a previous human presence there.

For Bonnie Tsui’s complete story and links to photos of the most remote places in the nineteen states located and documented by Ryan and Rebecca Means to date, go to:

Recently, two related items of considerable linguistic interest have been published online. For the Huff Post Tech blog, Hunter Stuart reports on the lifetime effort by Rick Aschmann to map the dialects of the United States and Canada. Stuart’s article highlights the major features of Aschmann’s research that are represented on the map, as well as a copy of the map itself. You should be forewarned, however, that the map is so dense with detail that, to appreciate it fully, you will have to save it in a form that will allow to to magnify it and move from one part of it to another.

The article and the map are available at:

In a complementary effort, Joshua Katz has taken the data on 123 words and phrases from Bert Vaux’s “Online Survey of English Dialects” and has mapped the variations in pronunciation or usage across the continental United States. The variations in usage are framed as answers to questions: for instance, What is your generic term for a sweetened carbonated beverage? What do you call a traffic jam caused by drivers slowing down to look at an accident or other diversion on the side of the road? and, What word do you use for gawking at someone in a lustful way?

The maps are available at:

Finally, in another post to Huff Post Tech, Drew Guarini reviews Todd McClelland’s new book Things Come Apart. McClelland is an artist, and this book is a series of photographs of disassembled technology—of the parts of commonplace gadgets laid out within the rectangular frames of photographs. In McClelland’s hands, what might have been a technical exercise becomes an exhibition of inspired artistic expression.

The cover of the book provides a preview of the contents;


For a fuller group of examples of the images in McClelland’s book, go to: