About Me


I am a writer, artist, traveler, and scholar, sometimes all at once! My interests are vast, and I like to source materials from the ancient to the present, from the written to the aural, and I like to go see for myself. I like to read in the original languages, talk to experts, and recreate possible pasts and futures.

Lately, I am interested in the ways in which we consider political, intellectual and cultural history, how these combine with geography, linguistics, cartography and other disciplines. How we share the stories we tell ourselves, about ourselves, and the ways in which we dissemble, hide, misrepresent, and dream.

I like to think about new ways to model the world, often based on mixing very old ways, with possible future ways, to see what happens.  I like to write about on my interests in the above, on language, culture, history, mythology, geography, navigation, and the natural world.  The problem with modeling complex systems over a large expanse of time and in multiple languages is that I am always reasonably sure I’ve missed something.

Last year, I wrote a book on the cultural history of the magnet, which comes out in September 2019, as part of Bloomsbury Academic’s Object Lessons series. I learned that, in the editing process, that ‘which’ is out of date.

Other than that, I write things which fall into three main buckets:

  • Travel, and in particular my solo travels in remote areas.
  • The Adelphi Project, my multi-year project to read 700 books published by Adelphi Edizione in the Biblioteca series.
  • Linguistics, language, culture, translation, and artificial intelligence. Language evolution in the darkness of machines when the humans haven’t created proper bounds is an interesting dark space.

So how did it come to all of this? I have three degrees (I come from a family of collectors, I am the slacker), and much of my study was  in linguistics, anthropology, philology, culture, and geography. I fell in love with these things as a child, and they’ve stuck evermore. I also really wanted to be a pirate, when I was a child, then a Jesuit (I thought they sat around and read and studied all day, a little gardening, and that was all), and a cat burglar (I practiced, I like climbing and heights, and stealth.)  I have a facility with languages (family trait, again), and can read many quite well, pick them up easily, and enjoy learning new ones.  (Kio Stark wrote about me and my language learning ways, in her book Don’t Go Back to School: A Handbook for Learning Anything.) I’ve studied nine of them, formally, the rest, they just appear. I tend to say I read languages, as I care less about speaking them. I want to read and hear in the original language, and while I love translation and am fascinated with how it works, I still would prefer to know them all. That’s just the way I am. I have no desire to live forever, but a few hundreds years so I could fluently read every written text in the original, well, count me in.

I have spent — and continue to spend — a lot of time traveling.  I like remote places and travel by slow forms; I like to talk to strangers because they tell me extraordinary stories about who they are, and why, and the ways in which they make themselves a reality.  I’ve traveled more than 30k miles by ferry in the past five years. Some of those stories are here.  I’ve been to almost as many countries as I am years old, and now that I write that, I should fix that. More countries than years, sounds like a fantastic goal.

For images of my travels, @ekbarbarossa, for images of The Adelphi Project, @theadelphiproject.

If you want to email me, the personal handle at gmail will do.