Teenage lifeguards abandon their perches to leathery veterans. The county fair’s bounty of funnel cakes and fried beer peters out. Corduroy shopping starts in earnest. The academic year begins. In honor of those entering the hallowed halls of education, reluctantly or with excitement, we offer these takes on prison, the challenges of teaching and what makes boring stories boring.

From Debbie Millman’s “Look Both Ways” (details at end of post; click to enlarge)

From Debbie Millman’s “Look Both Ways” (details at end of post; click to enlarge)


Life in America’s toughest jail” by Erwin James from The Guardian (via The Browser). One ex-con considers the memoir of another.

Using a golf pencil sharpened on his cell walls and any scraps of paper he could lay his hands on, Attwood began chronicling the abuse that he and his fellow prisoners were subjected to. He smuggled his articles out to his parents, who posted them on the internet under the mantle of Jon’s Jail Journal. It was the first blog by a serving prisoner and soon attracted a large international following. Cockroaches featured heavily.

The Education of Ms. Barsallo” by Robert Sanchez from 5280. Sanchez follows an Ivy League Teach for America recruit in her first year.

“You all want to get to fourth grade, right?” Barsallo continues. “And you want to get through elementary school, middle school, high school, and go to college, right? Because, I’ve got to tell you, people are looking at your reading level and making a bed in prison for you. They’re betting half of you aren’t finishing high school.”

Telling Tales” by Tim O’Brien from The Atlantic (via Arts & Letters Daily). A first-person essay on why so many stories are boring — and how to make them interesting.

When Batman was 6 years old, he grew a big, bushy tail. Often, it popped right out of his pants. This was embarrassing, of course, especially in a place like Sioux City, where tails were out of fashion among midwestern children. As a result, Batman had no friends. Kids laughed at him. One day after school, as Batman was walking home, his tail dragging in the mud behind him, he looked back and saw that he had painted a long dark stripe down the center of the road. His grandfather, who happened to be driving by, took note of this, and of how the stripe neatly divided the road into two separate lanes. What a wonderful way to prevent collisions, thought his grandfather.

In death, a promise for the future” from Thomas Curwen of the Los Angeles Times (via Gangrey). A terminally ill woman gains a kind of immortality.

A friend suggested that she start a blog, but she was reluctant. Jeering at ALS was fine if done in private, but she worried that her irreverence might offend those further along with the disease. Still she knew the value of words, and on June 23, 2008, posted her first entry. “I might as well join the rest of the human race,” she wrote, “and start blogging to kill a little time, since time is busily returning the favor.”


Look Both Ways: Illustrated Essays on the Intersection of Life and Design” by Debbie Millman from HOW Publishing. A design guru lays out first-person stories mixed with professional observations in a series of essays, each formatted with a layout and fonts that directly or indirectly evoke an aspect of the essay they present. Cross-stitched text anyone? (Check out the sample pages at the top of this post.)

Diary of a Very Bad Year: Confessions of an Anonymous Hedge Fund Manager” from n+1 magazine and Harper/Perennial. A book-length interview gives the skinny on how and why the economy blew up.

n+1: And so the computers themselves are making these trades?

HFM: You build the models and the computer does the trading. You actually do all the analysis. But it’s too many stocks for a human brain to handle, so it’s really just guys with a lot of physics and hardcore statistics backgrounds who come up with ideas about models that might lead to excess return and then they test them and then basically all these models get incorporated into a bigger system that trades stocks in an automated way.

n+1: So the computers are running the…

HFM: Yeah, the computer is sending out the orders and doing the trading.

n+1: It’s just a couple steps from that to the computers enslaving—

HFM: Yes, but I for one welcome our computer trading masters.

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