Looking into other worlds

I read The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work by Alain de Botton recently, as I have mentioned here earlier, and there have been a couple of articles here and there since then that reiterate the book’s central thesis: that most people never really stop to think about what goes into the manufacture, or process, of a lot of things. In the book, de Botton shadows a number of people who work in completely different industries, and his experience provides quite an insight into careers as uncommon as cargo ship spotting, career counselling and transmission engineering.

Kitsune Noir recently linked to a beautiful video (some camera shots where the level of detail is unbelievable) on the growth and manufacture of linen as a material. I like the way someone says at the end of the video that linen, because of its natural qualities, is a material that doesn’t need ‘marketing men to tell you it’s organic, because it just is.’ And somehow, you never stop to think of its origin – of the flax, the retting and so on.

In a similar vein, the Guardian had a very thought-provoking piece on life ‘aboard a big tin can travelling at 17,500 mph’. An excerpt:

Most shuttle missions take astronauts to the space station for two weeks or so, during which every working day is intense. As soon as the wake-up music begins, printers start chattering out instructions for the day ahead. Almost every hour is scheduled, with crew members’ tasks and the tools they will need choreographed by logistics experts on the ground making sure no one gets in anyone’s way. At least that is the theory. The crews meet for breakfast, get briefed on the day’s jobs, then scatter, breaking only for lunch and dinner.

Short visits to the space station are relentless but easier to cope with psychologically than longer ones. Frank de Winne, a Belgian astronaut and former test pilot, spent nine days on the space station in 2002 and returned for a six-month trip last year, when he became the first European commander of the space station. “If you are there for a week or two, you are basically on a high the whole time. It’s not the same when you’re there for six months. You need to manage your mood and motivation despite inevitable setbacks. Things that are difficult in the short term, such as not having a shower or any fresh fruit, become part of normal life. The things you really miss are close contact with your wife, your kids and your family and friends,” he says. The crews are not completely cut off from those back home, and use email and the station’s phone to get in touch when there is time.

And so I continue to learn.

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