Books Geography Photography

An illustrated journey to Svalbard

This is a charming travelogue.


(You have to click through for the real polar bears.)

North is a travelogue of illustrations and photographs detailing Christoph Niemann’s journey to Svalbard as part of a National Geographic cruise (which looks ace but also seriously out of my price range).

Had you asked me about Svalbard a month ago I would’ve told you about the home of the Panserbjørne, about those two episodes of Fortitude I watched before I forgot it was a thing, and how its name comes from 12th Century Icelandic records of islands visited by Vikings that may not actually be Svalbard.

Now, however, fresh from reading Prisoners of Geography it’s all about fishing territory, coal mining (or not), and the scramble for the Arctic.

Most countries and international organisations recognize the islands as being under (limited) Norwegian sovereignty, but the biggest island, Svalbard, formerly know as Spitsbergen, has a growing population of Russian migrants who have assembled around the coal-mining industry there. The mines are not profitable, but the Russian community serves as a useful tool in furthering Moscow’s claims on all of the Svalbard islands. At a time of Russia’s choosing it can raise tensions and justify its actions using geological claims and the “facts on the ground” of the Russian population.

It’s a genuinely fascinating read, I had no idea the extent to which Russia and China maneuvre their population en masse into foreign or disputed territories, or the importance of warm water ports. It was written pre-Brexit/Trump but with speculation on what could happen if UK or US foreign policy changed which adds an extra layer of interest.

Illustration Natural Science

Soviet Dinosaurs


Scans of a Children’s Encyclopedia from 1959 USSR.


Soviet Gollum

From a Soviet-era Russian edition of The Hobbit:


For some reason it makes me think he should be a character in Spongebob.

(via Boing Boing)


World’s most awesomely awesome flag

As suggested by Senor Wignall:


Thinking about it a far more sensible way to do it would be to just take the cool parts of the cool flags and construct an uber-flag .

My 5 minute lunchtime effort is: Eagle eating Snake + Two Headed Eagle + Dragon + Maasai Spears & Shield + Two Snowlions + Man behing beheaded:


I think if the rules could be bent to allow non-national flags there could be some awesome mashups as provincial flags and royal standards get all the cool stuff. That said if we were to allow them there’s only one flag we’d need:


It’s a bear holding a freakin waraxe. Thank you Yaroslavl Oblast.

The Web

Russian Interest

Getting quite a lot of random Russian spam comments on my blog. Babel Fish kindly informs me that todays reads:

On-line cinema, To [skachat] [porno] and XXX of video. [PORTALCHIK] reinforced-concrete pillbox k. Photos are hitching posts. Ridiculous stories. Site of new [vareza], everything for you

Other gems include:

Furniture stores, table and drawing rooms. [OOO] “Baltic region House”. Shelf. We present to your attention high-quality hull and soft furniture, namely bedroom, dinner tables and chairs, drawing rooms from the chief producers of Lithuania.

And with regards to this sage piece of advice:

It is possible to [podiskutirovat] in regard to this…

I’ll just have to take your word for it.