Read All the Pretty Horses

All the Pretty Horses is a novel by American author Cormac McCarthy published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1992. It was a bestseller, winning both the U.S. National Book Award[1]
and the National Book Critics Circle Award. It is the first of McCarthy’s “Border Trilogy“.

All the Pretty Horses is another Cormac McCarthy novel where they kept on riding. I feel that there are different ways to enter the novel, whether it be an exploration of place, characters or ideas. In some ways McCarthy’s novels are otherworldly, they exist in a space that seems parallel to a semblance of normality. They offer a means of reflecting upon the everyday from a different perspective. I wonder if in a different lifetime if McCarthy could have written novels set in say an otherworldly New York?

Read The Passenger

The Passenger is a 2022 novel by the American writer Cormac McCarthy.[1] It was released six weeks before its companion novel Stella Maris. The plot of both The Passenger and Stella Maris follows Bobby and Alicia Western, two siblings whose father helped develop the atomic bomb.

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The novel follows Bobby Western, a salvage diver, across the Gulf of Mexico and the American South.[2][1] Western is haunted by his father’s contributions to the development of the atomic bomb,[2] and tormented by his inability to save his sister Alicia—the protagonist of the novel’s proto-sequel, Stella Maris—from suicide, which happens a decade before The Passenger takes place.[3] Alicia was a mathematics prodigy who worked under the tutelage of Alexander Grothendieck (a real mathematician who shunned the field at the peak of his influence and chose to live in relative seclusion[4]). The Western siblings grow up in east Tennessee as their father works at Oak Ridge on the Manhattan Project (with luminary physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer).[5] Both children are math prodigies; Alicia studies at the University of Chicago while Bobby drops out of Caltech to pursue a career as a Formula 2 race car driver in Europe, though a serious crash puts him in a temporary coma and ends his driving career.[6] The events of the novel are punctuated with short, italicized chapters about Alicia’s treatment for schizophrenia due to hallucinations of a deformed figure the narrator named “Thalidomide Kid” who perpetually teases and belittles her and summons his ghostly cohorts to perform unwanted and garish entertainment acts.

Following a salvage dive to recover any survivors from a submerged airplane, Bobby discovers that the pilot’s flight bag and data box are missing. Within a few days, he returns to his apartment to find two agents of some kind who ask questions about the submerged airplane and the missing items, and Western learns there was also a missing tenth passenger.

Western spends time in bars and restaurants in New Orleans with old friends discussing truths philosophical and scientific. He visits his grandmother in Tennessee. Her house had been ransacked two years prior, and his father’s research papers and all family records were taken. Now in hiding from the authorities on the advice of Kline (a private investigator), Western has his 1973 Maserati Bora seized and his bank account frozen by the I.R.S., ostensibly for failing to record in his taxes the money he inherited from his paternal grandmother. Left destitute, Western drifts across the country as a transient, eventually coming to reside in Formentera. At the end of the novel, Western lies in his bed in a windmill penning a letter to his sister, the love of his life. He has forgotten her face and believes he will see it again when he dies.

The Passenger by Wikipedia

As is often the way with McCarthy, The Passenger is a book about characters and their journey through the world. As Peggy Ellsberg captures, the book explores identity, legacy and death and lose.

After Alicia’s suicide, Bobby loses his mooring and works for a while as a salvage diver in the Gulf of Mexico, a spooky enterprise involving deep descents into dark waters. He visits bars in New Orleans, lives in single rooms with his cat, hides out at the beach in an abandoned shack, eats roadkill, becomes so skinny that his clothes “hang on him.” As the story proceeds, Bobby also winters over in an unheated house in remote Idaho, cogitating on particle physics. He is a physicist but also a passenger, carried through the narrative by love, grief, and sheer stamina.

Source: No Prayer for Such a Thing: On Cormac McCarthy’s “The Passenger” By Peggy Ellsberg

Although it offers possible narrative elements … missing passenger, Nuclear father, finding a golden inheritance … these moments often serve other purposes. As Graeme Wood touches on, the focus is about contending with life.

The novels McCarthy published in 2022, at the age of 89, permanently resolve the question of whether McCarthy is a great novelist, or Louis L’Amour with a thesaurus. The booming, omnipotent narrative voice, which first appeared in McCarthy’s Western novels of the 1980s and had already begun to fade in No Country for Old Men (2005) and The Road (2006), has ebbed almost entirely in these books—perhaps like the voice of Yahweh himself, as he transitioned from interventionist to absentee in the Old Testament. What remain are human voices, which is to say characters, contending with one another and with their own fears and regrets, as they face the prospect of the godless void that awaits them. The result is heavy but pleasurable, and together the books are the richest and strongest work of McCarthy’s career.

Source: The Incandescent Wisdom of Cormac McCarthy By Graeme Wood

This has similarities with Shakespeare, where it is the characters that matter.

The Shakespeare is no coincidence—and of course Shakespeare, too, was weak on plot; as William Hazlitt and later Bloom affirmed, the characters are what matter. McCarthy’s Sheddan is an elongated Falstaff, skinny where Falstaff is fat, despite dining out constantly in the French Quarter on credit cards stolen from tourists. But like Falstaff, he is witty, and capable of uttering only the deepest verities whenever he is not telling outright lies. Bobby Western regularly shares in his stolen food and drink, and their dialogue—mostly Sheddan’s side of it—provides the sharpest statement of Bobby’s bind.

Source: The Incandescent Wisdom of Cormac McCarthy By Graeme Wood

It is a novel about ‘human concerns … scrutinized on the highest existential plane’.

Put another way, the early novels took place on a human scale, and Blood Meridian was about contests among humanoid creatures so violent and warlike that they might be gods and demons, a Western Götterdämmerung. The protagonist of the Border Trilogy was like a human on an expedition through this inhuman landscape. And the late novels featured humans forsaken by the gods and pitted against one another, or in the case of No Country, contending with demons and losing. McCarthy’s latest, and probably last, novels represent a return to human concerns, but ones—love, death, guilt, illusion—experienced and scrutinized on the highest existential plane.

Source: The Incandescent Wisdom of Cormac McCarthy By Graeme Wood

The Passenger is not a meandering tale like Blood Meridian or The Road, but it is still a journey. In some respects I was left thinking of Don Delilo and even Samuel Beckett, but feel the more I scratch at the surface, Flannery O’Conner might be a better comparison. (The trans character felt like they had just walked off the set of Wise Blood.) For Xan Brooks, it is a wreck of an idea:

Published a full 16 years after the Pulitzer prize-winning The Road, The Passenger is like a submerged ship itself; a gorgeous ruin in the shape of a hardboiled noir thriller. McCarthy’s generational saga covers everything from the atomic bomb to the Kennedy assassination to the principles of quantum mechanics. It’s by turns muscular and maudlin, immersive and indulgent. Every novel, said Iris Murdoch, is the wreck of a perfect idea. This one is enormous. It’s got locked doors and blind turns. It contains skeletons and buried gold.

Source: The Passenger by Cormac McCarthy review – a deep dive into the abyss By Xan Brooks

Brooks talks about the attempt to escape history:

High-concept plots take on water; machine-tooled narratives break down. And so it is with The Passenger, which sets out as an existential chase thriller in the mould of No Country for Old Men before collapsing in on itself. Western might outpace his pursuers but he can’t escape his own history. So he heads into the desert, alone, to watch the oil refineries burning in the distance and observe the carpet-coloured vipers coiled in the grass at his feet. “The abyss of the past into which the world is falling,” he thinks. “Everything vanishing as if it had never been.”

Source: The Passenger by Cormac McCarthy review – a deep dive into the abyss By Xan Brooks

Along with Stella Maris, these novels linger long after they are finished.



Being wrong is the worst thing a physicist can be. It’s up there with being dead.

You cant illustrate the unknown.


Even if all news of the world was a lie it would not then follow that there is some counterfactual truth for it to be a lie about.
I suppose I would agree. If it does have a somewhat lampish smell to it. The Greeks, I suppose.
I suppose. Possibly of course of humbler origins.
Such as Mossy Creek.
Such as. Do you ever think what it would be like to meet a person you’ve known for a long time for the first time in these later years? To meet them anew.


All right. It’s not just that I dont have to write things down. There’s more to it than that. What you write down becomes fixed. It takes on the constraints of any tangible entity. It collapses into a reality estranged from the realm of its creation. It’s a marker. A roadsign. You have stopped to get your bearings, but at a price. You’ll never know where it might have gone if you’d left it alone to go there. In any conjecture you’re always looking for weaknesses. But sometimes you have the sense that you should hold off. Be patient. Have a little faith. You really want to see what the conjecture itself is going to drag up out of the murk. I dont know how one does mathematics. I dont know that there is a way. The idea is always struggling against its own realization. Ideas come with an innate skepticism, they dont just go barreling ahead. And these doubts have their origin in the same world as the idea itself. And that’s not something you really have access to. So the reservations that you yourself in your world of struggle bring to the table may actually be alien to the path of these emerging structures. Their own intrinsic doubts are steering-mechanisms while yours are more like brakes. Of course the idea is going to come to an end anyway. Once a mathematical conjecture is formalized into a theory it may have a certain luster to it but with rare exceptions you can no longer entertain the illusion that it holds some deep insight into the core of reality. It has in fact begun to look like a tool.

I dont know what’s going to happen. I’m not sure that I want to. Know. If I could plan my life I wouldnt want to live it. I probably dont want to live it anyway. I know that the characters in the story can be either real or imaginary and that after they are all dead it wont make any difference. If imaginary beings die an imaginary death they will be dead nonetheless. You think that you can create a history of what has been. Present artifacts. A clutch of letters. A sachet in a dressingtable drawer. But that’s not what’s at the heart of the tale. The problem is that what drives the tale will not survive the tale. As the room dims and the sound of voices fades you understand that the world and all in it will soon cease to be. You believe that it will begin again. You point to other lives. But their world was never yours.

I dont believe anything about God. I just believe in God. Kant had it right about the stars above and the truth within. The last light the nonbeliever will see will not be the dimming of the sun. It will be the dimming of God. Everyone is born with the faculty to see the miraculous. You have to choose not to.

History is a collection of paper. A few fading recollections. After a while what is not written never happened.


If you’d never been anyplace before and you didnt know where it was that you were going or why it was that you were going there then how excited would you be about going?
Not very I suppose.


It’s the idea of loss. It subsumes the class of all possible lost things. It’s our primal fear, and you get to assign to it what you will. It doesnt invade your life. It was always there. Awaiting your indulgence. Awaiting your concession. And still I feel I sold you short. How to sort your tale from out the commons. It must surely be true that there is no such collective domain of joy as there is of sorrow. You cant be sure that another man’s happiness resembles your own. But where the collective of pain is concerned there can be little doubt at all. If we are not after the essence, Squire, then what are we after? And I’ll defer to your view that we cannot uncover such a thing without putting our stamp upon it. And I’ll even grant you that you may have drawn the darker cards. But listen to me, Squire. Where the substance of a thing is an uncertain business the form can hardly command more ground. All reality is loss and all loss is eternal. There is no other kind. And that reality into which we inquire must first contain ourselves. And what are we? Ten percent biology and ninety percent nightrumor.

Mercy is the province of the person alone. There is mass hatred and there is mass grief. Mass vengeance and even mass suicide. But there is no mass forgiveness. There is only you.

Bookmarked Pluralistic: The antitrust case against Apple (22 Mar 2024) by Cory DoctorowCory Doctorow (

Apple is unexceptional. It’s just another Big Tech monopolist. Rounded corners don’t preserve virtue any better than square ones. Any company that is freed from constraints – of competition, regulation and interoperability – will always enshittify. Apple – being unexceptional – is no exception.

Bookmarked Someday, we’ll all take comfort in the internet’s “dark corners” (

We all deserve dark corners where we stand a chance of finding well-managed communities that can deliver the value that keeps us stuck to our decaying giant platforms. Eventually, the enshittification will chase every user off these platforms – not just kids or sex-workers or political radicals. When that happens, it sure would be nice if everyone could set up in a dark corner of their own.

Someday, we’ll all take comfort in the internet’s “dark corners”/ by Cory Doctorow

Cory Doctorow explains as platforms continue to become more problematic, that dark corners on the web will become so important. For me this comes back to the challenge of the domain of one’s own. The problem I feel is that it is easier to have a site of your own, but more of a challenge to build a community. I guess time will tell.

Read Boy Swallows Universe

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Boy Swallows Universe is the debut novel from Australian author, Trent Dalton. Set in Brisbane’s violent working class suburban fringe in the 1980’s, the story tells the tale of Eli Bell, a child finding his way in an often chaotic world. Throughout, it explores ideas of family, friendship and fate in a fantastical world. You

You can find a longer reflection here.


Boy Writes Words

Lyle doesn’t believe in much, but he believes in the circumstance-shifting power of a broken nose.

Boy Receives Letter

That’s Slim’s favourite nugget of porridge wisdom.

Do your time before it does you.

Boy Seeks Help

The concealer. The concealers. The concealed.

A bee sting smarts like a bitch until someone clubs you with a cricket bat.

Boy Steals Ocean

I tore the paper away to find the gift inside. It was no book. It was a block of paper, maybe 500 blank pages of A4. On the first page was a brief message.

To burn this house down or set the world on fire. Up to you, Eli. Merry Christmas. Dad.

Boy Takes Flight

‘I had some dark periods inside,’ he says. ‘Everybody just assumes the head of an organisation like mine would be flooded with letters from friends on the outside. But the reality is, in fact, the complete opposite. No bastard writes to ya because they think every other bastard is writin’ to ya. But no man is an island, ya know, not the Prime Minister of Australia, not fuckin’ Michael Jackson, and not the Queensland sergeant-at-arms of the Rebels outlaw motorcycle gang.’

Boy Conquers Moon

Forward to the beginning. I like that. That’s all I’ve ever been doing. Moving forward to the start.

She looks out from the foyer to Mum, Dad and August, now waiting at the edge of King George Square.

‘I thought they’d look different, your mum and dad,’ she says.
I laugh. ‘You did?’
‘They’re so nice,’ she says. ‘They just look like any normal mum and dad.’
‘They’ve been working on normal for quite some time now.’

Replied to On Feeds by john john (

Following a link from Brad I saw the lovely Making Websites Should Be Easy and then the handy What is a feed? (a.k.a. RSS) | About Feeds. Add a link to the last to my sidebar.

John, I really like your idea of including something like Matt Webb’s ‘What is a Feed’ link on my site as reference for wayward visitors who have stumbled off the highway. I like the idea of a newsletter as a feed, rather than another email.
Bookmarked Five Differences Between Human and AI Tutors (

This hope for chatbots takes a serious challenge—meeting the vast and varied needs of students—and trivializes it.

The positive framing for this article is that I have just described a product roadmap for AI chatbot tutors, one that they are moving ceaselessly along with every new language model release.

The negative framing is that we are asking a tool that is quite neat to do something that is far beyond its capabilities. by Dan Meyer

Reflecting upon recent experiences tutoring and being tutored, Dan Meyer provides five reasons why AI tutors will not replace human tutors:

– Human tutors seek context.
– Human tutors use multimedia.
– Human tutors create relationships.
– Human tutors are pushy.
– Human tutors know their limits.

Liked A simple page builder app by (

There are many ways to make and host a website, and some of the tools even let you do that for free. This guide
will show you how to make a website with a simple drag and drop interface (you can still edit the code later!),
and host it for free.

Liked Threads has entered the fediverse by Chris WiltzChris Wiltz (

In this initial phase federated Threads users will not be able to see who liked their posts or any replies from people in the fediverse on Threads. For now, people who want to see replies on their posts on other fediverse servers will have to visit those servers directly.

Certain types of posts and content are also not federated, including:

  • Posts with restricted replies.
  • Replies to non-federated posts.
  • Post with polls (until future updates).
  • Reposts of non-federated posts.

For posts that contain links, a link attachment will be appended as a link at the end of the post if it is not already included in the post.

Read The Bezzle

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Money-laundering, cyber-knavery and shell-company chicanery: Marty Hench is an expert in them all. He’s Silicon Valley’s most accomplished forensic accountant and well versed in the devious ways of Fortune 500s, divorcing oligarchs, and international drug cartels alike (and there’s more crossover than you might imagine).
Cory Doctorow’s hard-charging, read-in-one-sitting, techno take on the classic PI pulp novel.
**It’s 2006, and Marty Hench is at the top of his game as a self-employed forensic accountant, a veteran of the long guerrilla war between the people who want to hide money and the people who want to find it.
He spends his downtime holidaying on Catalina Island, where scenic, imported bison wander the bluffs and frozen, reheated fast food burgers cost $25. (Wait, what?)
When, during one vacation, Marty disrupts a seemingly innocuous scheme, he has no idea he’s kicked off a chain of events that will overtake the next decade of his life.
Because he’s made his most dangerous mistake yet. He’s trespassed into the playgrounds of the ultra-wealthy and identified their latest target: California’s Department of Corrections, who manage the state’s prison system.
Secure in the knowledge that they’re living behind far too many firewalls to be identified, the tycoons have hundreds of thousands of prisoners at their mercy, and the potential of millions of pounds to make off them.
But now, Marty is about to ruin their fun…

Source: The Bezzle by Cory Doctorow

Cory Doctorow has a way of holding up a mirror that helps make the world around feel that bit stranger, in a good way. The Martin Hench series explores the world through the eyes of forensic accountant. With The Bezzle, Doctorow dives into the world of the US prison system and the way that anyone can be held guilty of something. Marlene argues that the book is a ‘bezzle within a bezzle’:

The story in The Bezzle is a bezzle within a bezzle in a kind of möbius strip of bezzling that doesn’t so much end as shift into a state of mutually assured destruction. A state that Marty, fortunately for him, is finally able to observe from the outside looking in, instead of either from the inside of a jail cell looking out the way that his friend Scott ends up, or up from six feet under, as the villain of this story certainly intended.


However, I was left wondering if we are always-already interpellated within the bezzle and that we are never truly outside of this?

I enjoyed the book and as always was left thinking about everything from pyramid schemes, open access and privitisation. I liked Tavendale’s suggestion that it is part novel and part cautionary tale.

It reads partly as a novel and partly a cautionary tale on the excesses of the worlds of business and finance, and on the toothlessness of governmental oversight.

Source: Book Review: The Bezzle by Cory Doctorow by Tavendale

This is probably a good way of discussing most of Doctorow’s writing as he shines a light on certain elements of life around us to help us think differently.

My only frustration was with who is Martin Hench. Yes there were similarities with The Red Team Blues, but there were times it felt like a different characters. I kind of wondered if this was some sort of quantum fiction where the same character is able to live out different realities in different worlds that are both related and unrelated. For example, in Red Team Blues, Hench is in his late 60’s. However, in the ten years that this book spans, I am unsure how old Hench is or is meant to be. With all that aside, I felt it was a thought provoking read and enjoyed reading it.

Liked (

If the web remains valuable at all, it will be because the hyperlink has remained the basic unit of currency. Once you lose the hyperlink, you basically lose everything else.

Bookmarked (

There is one very clear parallel between the digital spreadsheet and generative AI: both are computer apps that collapse time. A task that might have taken hours or days can suddenly be completed in seconds. So accept for a moment the premise that the digital spreadsheet has something to teach us about generative AI. What lessons should we absorb?

First, the right technology in the right place can take over very quickly indeed. In the time it takes to qualify as a chartered accountant, digital spreadsheets laid waste to a substantial industry of cognitive labour, of filling in rows and columns, pulling out electronic calculators and punching in the numbers. Accounting clerks became surplus to requirements, and the ability of a single worker to perform arithmetic was multiplied a thousandfold — and soon a millionfold — almost overnight.

The second lesson is that the effect on the labour market was not what we might have expected. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that there were 339,000 accountants and accounting clerks working in the US in 1980, around the time VisiCalc started to take off. By 2022, the bureau tallied 1.4mn accountants and auditors. These two numbers aren’t directly comparable, but it is hard to argue that accountancy was decimated by the spreadsheet. Instead, there are more accountants than ever; they are merely outsourcing the arithmetic to the machine.

What the birth of the spreadsheet teaches us about generative AI by Tim Harford

Tim Harford reflects upon the invention of the spreadsheet and makes comparisons with the rise of artificial intelligence.

Liked Work is a Place (

Here are some of the distinct types of socializing that I might be missing:

  • Belonging. A sense of being part of a team and some kind of shared objectives / goals / shared values.
  • Support. Being able to have people around you to help you when you get stuck with something specific.
  • Jam partners. People to feel energized and electric with, to help brainstorm or cram on projects.
  • Creative collisions. Existing in a space where you can bump into new people or make new introductions.
  • Micro human interactions. Being able to step out and grab coffee or talk about the weather.
  • Tacit experience. The experience of passively observing others at work and seeing how people structure their time and work.
  • Separation of home and work. The ability to go somewhere to work.

Work is a Place by Tom Critchlow

Bookmarked (

The Indian government recently established guidelines to ban dark patterns in India. These guidelines are made to address underhand practices in digital design. These rules aim to protect consumers from misleading tactics encountered online.

Canvs Editorial Dark Patterns are now illegal in India

I wonder who would actually follow-up with infringements of ‘dark patterns‘?

via Stephen Downes

Liked Pluralistic: The Coprophagic AI crisis (14 Mar 2024) by Cory DoctorowCory Doctorow (

A key requirement for being a science fiction writer without losing your mind is the ability to distinguish between science fiction (futuristic thought experiments) and predictions. SF writers who lack this trait come to fancy themselves fortune-tellers who SEE! THE! FUTURE!

The thing is, sf writers cheat. We palm cards in order to set up pulp adventure stories that let us indulge our thought experiments. These palmed cards – say, faster-than-light drives or time-machines – are narrative devices, not scientifically grounded proposals.

The Coprophagic AI crisis by Cory Doctorow

Cory Doctorow reflects on the science fiction narrative device that ‘more training data’ can improve artificial intelligence arguing that it simply is not true.

What’s more, while the proposition that “more training data will linearly improve the quality of AI predictions” is a mere article of faith, “training an AI on the output of another AI makes it exponentially worse” is a matter of fact.

Source: The Coprophagic AI crisis by Cory Doctorow

Bookmarked Switching To Linux Full-Time: My Thoughts Two Months Later (Tedium: The Dull Side of the Internet.)

My Linux journey has not been all sunshine and rainbows, but I think I’m getting the hang of it. A few thoughts.

@readtedium Linux Lessons (So Far)

I really should tinker more with Linux, but after finding that running music software would be a challenge, I have parked it for now.

Bookmarked The Great American Novels by The Atlantic Culture Desk (

136 books that made America think

In 1868, a little-known writer by the name of John William DeForest proposed a new type of literature, a collective artistic project for a nation just emerging from an existential conflict: a work of fiction that accomplished “the task of painting the American soul.” It would be called the Great American Novel, and no one had written it yet, DeForest admitted. Maybe soon.

The Atlantic Culture Desk

I am always a sucker for a book list, I agree with the comment that the major text missing is Gravity’s Rainbow.

“Edith Zimmerman” in Yesterday the Atlantic published a list of great American no… ()

Replied to I Told You So by Audrey WattersAudrey Watters (Second Breakfast)

As I argued in my book Teaching Machines the entire history of education technology, from the first decades of the twentieth century, has been bound up in this quest to automate education. And much of the early history of artificial intelligence too, ever since folks cleverly rebranded it from “cybernetics,” was deeply intertwined with the building of various chatbots and robot tutors. So if you’re out there today trying to convince people that AI in education is something brand new, you’re either a liar or a fool – or maybe both.

I Told You So
by Audrey Watters

The discussion around my edtech job has been how AI can help cutdown on the repetitive and mundane, of doing things like cleaning up duplicate data produced through previous attempts to automate things. I sometimes wonder if such errors occur because when faced with the investment in capacity and how people work, we just double down on more automation?