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The Alpine Review—Returns

Prologue to N°2

It has been a commonly held principle by Italian craftsmen that work should be carried out con diligenza, con studio and con amore; that is, with diligence, study and love. In a similar line of thinking, Sir Francis Bacon wrote that some information is meant to be examined with diligence and attention, or ‘swallowed whole,’ while some to be considered and ‘chewed’ over and finally, that some things only need be ‘tasted.’ We seem to have developed a strong penchant for tasting, but perhaps it is time to return to the Italian trifecta of passion, study and diligence to not only consume progress, but effectively question it.

Daniel Pauly, a fisheries scientist, articulated in 1995 a theory he called ‘shifting baseline syndrome’: a form of generational blindness that causes each new crop of people to define normal through their own limited experience of the world, resulting in the acceptance of slipping standards as the general evolution of things. Whether convincing ourselves that there have always been so many cars on the road, that technology is inherently good or that planned obsolescence is an acceptable business practice, Pauly’s theory serves as a reminder that the things we consider to be normal aren’t necessarily so, and are most definitely not above being challenged. There is a great need for perspective, across generations, to prevent being misled by red herrings.

Meanwhile, data is getting ‘bigger,’ supposedly signaling our entry into a golden age of profound knowledge. However, I often consider, and am concerned, that it may only cause a gravely insidious problem: for sterile information is not a replacement for thoughtful understanding. Forgetting this, we may find ourselves filled with misplaced worries, concerned with the inconsequential while the significant passes by unaddressed. Data is a mirage of wisdom, lacking human diligence and consideration. It is studying history, not data, that makes men wise.

And so, The Alpine Review Returns, anchored in the belief that our contemporary existence, filled with flashy distractions, requires a full examination; a collision of varied experiences and disciplines which cannot be achieved by singular and contemporary observation alone. Some ideas are indeed novel, but behind every step forward is a long and winding path of history that has brought it to where it is now. Times change, principles endure. For that reason, it’s worthwhile to be diligent, to look back, return to the point of departure, reunite with our principles, repair our understanding and forge an enlightened path forward.


The Hydra

Elevating the Discussion

Like you, we are curious and hungry to learn. We are excited to elevate debates to a higher level by prodding, challenging and revisiting the ideas put forward. On that note, we were flattered to receive an articulate and enlightening letter from a reader in Barcelona who, in addition to spotting an error we caught post-print, contributed some great counter-arguments. We wanted to share it in the spirit of transparency and open discussion.

Dear Mr Darveau

I live in Barcelona and found your magazine through unusual channels for me. Indeed, I am much more inclined to read Alpinist than The Alpine Review. Nevertheless, I’ve read and enjoyed all of Taleb’s books and was therefore excited for your interview and feature on Antifragility.

I’ll leave aside my disappointment that your namesake cover story was little more than a two-page summary of an advance copy of the new book, for it was my mistake not to investigate this more closely at the newsstand before purchasing what is undeniably a beautiful magazine. But, sir, beautiful as your graphics may be, you’ve got to get your story straight. On page 108, under the heading “How Fragility Gets Traded Off In Society,” you explain Taleb’s three categories of people, those with “skin in the game” and so on. Then you confuse the categories, writing that “Corporate executives and bankers belong to the first category,” which clearly doesn’t make sense with the rest of the argument.

Moreover, in the ten pages of captioned photos that follow, your story is plagued by a lack of depth and especially a lack of distinction regarding exactly which aspects of each topic should be regarded as fragile, antifragile, and robust. For example, in the case of Switzerland, while its economy appears to (for the moment) “benefit from randomness and shocks” as you say, many economists and political leaders regard the mere existence of the Swiss economy to be a great source of fragility for the EU as a whole.

[…]In the cases of “Makers” and “Venture Capital,” you either miss or misrepresent the idea of benefiting from randomness altogether. It seems you have replaced Taleb’s argument, which is certainly statistical in nature, with a warm narrative that is emotional, that we want to believe in. Making, and indeed venture capitalism, can only be considered antifragile activities overall, and not at all individually. They contribute to an antifragile society for this reason: when a large number of individuals (i.e. the single makers themselves, or the various startups under a VC’s umbrella) are willing to render themselves fragile for something they believe in, even though many (probably, most) of these individuals (people or firms) will fail, the loss to society (or the VC portfolio) will be offset by the minority of huge successes that occur (of new products, say, or of new companies). For the individual maker, and for the individual startup vying for VC capital, having skin or soul in the game is essential and valiant–exactly because these people are so fragile.

Since you’ve decided to start your own print magazine in 2012, I know there’s nothing I can say to you about fragility, and about bravely forging ahead in spite of the odds. I hope your magazine succeeds, and I hope you continue to command my interest so I may count myself as a supporter. Think and write carefully, Mr Darveau.

Yours faithfully 

John Hovey

 

Dear John,

First, thank you for purchasing The Alpine Review, we love hearing that discerning minds are giving us a read-through. Second, thank you for taking the time to reach out to us with detailed and constructive feedback. Surprisingly, few people have responded to start a debate and conversation about the ideas collected and presented in our publication. We didn’t start this publication to get compliments (of course, we enjoy those, too) –we did it to start meaningful dialogues.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s term, ‘Antifragility’, is a far more intricate and interesting concept than my brief introduction could do justice. We decided that Antifragility was going to be the theme (Patrick mentions it in his concluding observations on the last page) because it generally influenced our thinking at the time of production and gently connected the diverse topics we explored for the first issue. The Joel Salatin interview is one such example.

With respect to your criticism about the Antifragility piece per se, I tend to agree with most of your comments. Yes, I do know that there was an error in the ‘skin in the game’ part (despite proofreading 20 times, these things happen). For the rest of your arguments, I agree with you, but I don’t think it is productive to enter into a lengthy debate about Antifragility itself.

Here’s why…

Taleb’s thinking on Antifragility is extremely important and useful not only as a framework for decision-making, but as a path to resilience. I wanted to talk about it, but the difficulty was/is that (a) I am not Taleb and (b) his book was months away from release. So, I relied solely on interviews–mere fragments of the larger and deeper ideas he unpacks in his book–that I captured between 2010 and 2011, assembling them in the most coherent way possible. Taleb explains Antifragility in 470 concise pages; my novice exploration of the idea was far from perfect. There are bumps, rough edges and gaps in my eager attempt to flesh out the idea. I only hope that it leads people to seek out his book for the full (and more eloquent) story.

Still, weighing the pros and cons, I thought it was better to include an imperfect piece than to omit the concept altogether. In the words of Henry van Dyke, “the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best.” Taleb will always be the master when it comes to Antifragility, he and I are both comfortable with this truth. I was in contact with him prior to publication of the issue and sent him a copy of the magazine when it was finished. I was happy to receive, not a fiery reprimand, but rather a gift copy of his latest book.

The Alpine Review tries to be broadly horizontal in its exploration rather than intensely deep in one area.  We don’t have the space to dive all the way down into every topic we touch upon. We aim to introduce, explore and truthfully represent each topic. However, we know that for a person well versed in a specific topic, it may very well at times seem lacking in parts. Over the width and breadth of the magazine it can’t always be helped. We hope that there will be something familiar and something new in each issue for everyone.

In closing, we are always looking for quality contributors that have the conviction and articulacy to lead discussions on the things that matter. Based on your detailed analysis and feedback I would encourage you to submit your ideas if you are interested in participating in Issue 2.

All the best,

LJ

If you have ideas to contribute and share with The Alpine Review, we encourage you to reach out to us at info@thealpinereview.com .



What others are saying about it

The Alpine Review

Now that The Alpine Review has been out for a few weeks, it’s a good time to take a look at some of the feedback I’ve been seeing and hearing.

Besides being featured on Coverjunkie’s list of covers you wanna lick, here are just three links to give you an impression:

My friend Peter Rukavina (@ruk on Twitter) very kindly wrote:

As to the magazine itself: wow. My elevator pitch would be “A contemporary take on the Whole Earth Review zeitgeist with the production values of Monocle” (…)
I haven’t been this excited about a magazine in a long, long time — perhaps not since I read Louis Rossetto’s pitch for WIRED on The Well back in the early 1990s. What’s different about The Alpine Review, though, is that it seems to be a creation of my tribe — a sort of house journal for those of us lurking at the nexus of hacker/maker culture, systems, ecology, psychogeography. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to a “hey, Pete, here’s a magazine made about exactly the things that are interesting to you right now.”

Thanks, Peter!

Magculture gave plenty of constructive input including on layout choices, and finds in closing:

There remains enough in the reading and in the flashes of visual character to make this a really promising debut. At $35 an issue it’s not cheap but you certainly get value from that price – it has the scope of a book. I look forward to the next Springs edition, though I’ve plenty to keep me reading meanwhile.

Monocle24′s The Stack gave it quite some praise, too. (You can listen to it here, around 33 minutes in.)

The Stack finds that The Alpine Review communicates these notions primarily – and I’m paraphrasing:

  • The magazine says read me over the course of two weeks. It says important.
  • You know you’re going to be engaged.
  • I’m not sure if I would call it a magazine or a book.

They go on to classify it a bit further, to give you more of an impression of what it feels like – again, paraphrasing for easier reading:

There are those magazines which go on my desk and that I have to deal with that day, and those that I really want to savor, that I want to save that for next weekend when I really got time, like 3 hours, that I want to spend time with. The Alpine Review belongs to that latter category. You feel the power of disconnect, you know you will disconnect totally when you have this magazine/book in your hand.

The Alpine Review

They then touch upon one aspect I find particularly fascinating, and it’s echoed by many conversations I’ve been having recently.

It’s the idea that it’s a magazine that you’d want to display and maybe even protect:

I would look at it and keep it and very nice condition and put it on my book case.

It’s something I’ve been hearing a lot, and I can totally relate to it. If something feels pristine, you don’t want to ruin it.

I’d make a case for the opposite notion: That the magazine, like a good pair of jeans, becomes better with use. To quote the good folks over at Hiut Denim:

To those who persevere, there will be a reward. Like a Guinness, it just takes time to reveal its quality. (…) Every crease, every mark, every rip, every splash of paint is put there by you.

I’d say the same thing about a mag like The Alpine Review. It’s choke full of ideas & stories, and like all good things they get even better through sharing. So read the whole tome, or parts of it, lend it, get it full of creases and dog-ears and notes.

In other words, make it your own by using it!

(By the way, Monocle gave the magazine two thumbs up.)

[Editor's note] Bruce Sterling, one of our biggest influences and a guest in No.1 also said this on Twitter (protected tweet):

*This magazine’s so extraordinarily good that it makes Montreal look hipper than Berlin

Pretty incredible.

Re-posted from Peter’s blog.


New Shipping Price

The “bad” news: October has come and gone and so has our free shipping offer.

The good news: as we mentioned in the post announcing the offer, we worked with our shipping and printing partners and have figured out how to get No.2 under a certain weight barrier. That new weight will let us ship worldwide at a much lower price.

Since we have been getting such great feedback but are still working on broadening our list of stockists, we want to keep making an extra effort to get copies in more people’s hands. To that end, we are introducing our new shipping rate right now and will be using it from now on for the delivery of No.1.

Worldwide shipping of single issues is now only $4US.


Girl on Carousel (1958) by Nick DeWolf

The Girl on the Carousel – Issue 1 Cover

There are innumerable ways to begin a story, and we have innumerable stories to share. Like choosing the right utensils in a multiple-course meal, let’s start from the outside and work our way in. Ironically, the outside of the magazine, that is, the cover, was not even close to the beginning of our story. It was actually the last decision we made.

While cover decisions are always difficult (just recently I found myself participating in the cover selection process for Apartamento’s tenth issue while meeting up with Omar and Robbie over drinks, in Barcelona), they are typically aesthetic decisions. We reviewed upwards of 400 different options for our own cover image, searching for the right image to start our story, but it was much more than design. To us, this image had to speak with the clarity, conviction and creativity we value and collect in our publication. It had to have meaning. It seemed a monumental task, but after reviewing the endless options we realized trusting our instincts was all we really had to do. Amongst the visual clutter this little girl rose up on her carousel horse, fiercely demanding to be chosen. We listened.

The picture (Girl on Carousel) was taken at Knott’s Berry farm in 1958, by the late Nick DeWolf, who is our featured photographer for Issue 1. In addition to falling in love with the image aesthetically, we found the image to be an intriguing reinterpretation and representation of the inaugural issues themes.

Firstly, the idea of ‘antifragility’. The carousel is an icon of robustness, passing elegantly through time through trends, fads and changes in technology. One could say carousels, really, only get better with age. Carousels are one of those things that are cherished and protected; the hand-carved animals from decommissioned carousels have second lives as work of art, and can sell for upwards of $50,000 per piece.

This particular carousel is one of the oldest and most beautiful carousels in America today. Almost 100 years old, it is a rare Dentzel Carousel, a ‘Menagerie-Jester Head’ model featuring 52 hand-carved animals and 2 ornate sleighs.

Dentzel Carousel at SF Zoo interior 10

Secondly, carousels embody true craftsmanship: the craftsmen who created these animals, by hand, went far beyond what was necessary for simply constructing a seat on a ride. At the intersection between craft and art is the artisan. No shortcuts, no quick-fixes, no cheap ingredients or dull tools. These elegant sculptures were their life’s work, their pride and their legacy.

Lastly, the little girl, with her inarguably fierce presence, was chosen as the ambassador of Issue 1. Despite her small frame, ribbons in her hair and pretty little dress, she is clearly a force to be reckoned with. Her face shows that she is a (little) warrior. Expressed in her pursed lips and furrowed brow is determination and antifragility—not afraid to fail, ready to explore and conquer the world beyond the merry-go-round.

And with that, we present the inaugural issue of The Alpine Review. For, by, and filled with, people who are forces to be reckoned with, who are ready to explore and conquer.


Printing at Agprograf S.A. , Barcelona

Barcelona

One of the questions we keep being asked is why we decided to print in Barcelona.
We’ve answered that question before  but let me add some more texture, having just spent three weeks in Barcelona to handle post-printing matters and set up a distribution system in Europe.

  • Craft & tradition – Barcelona has a great tradition of printing and the people we work with have been in the business for a very long time. Printing is not a job, its a trade (the French equivalent métier seems more adequate and specific), and more often than not, a multi-generational family affair with deep roots. In comparison, in Canada, you get what we call a ‘rep’. A rep does what reps do: sell and earn commission. It’s difficult not to notice the difference. There are exceptions to every rule, but we were won-over by Spain right away.
  • Care – Our printer, Agpograf S.A., has been owned by the same family for three generations. They believe in trust and good service. I was surprised that we did so much work (very engaging on both sides) without any signed contract or even ever meeting. “We’ve been burned before, but we don’t know how else we could operate”. From that point on, it was a love affair.
  • Combativeness (vs. competitiveness) – “The ultimate measure of a person is not where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where they stand in times of challenge and controversy.” These have been trying times for Spain. The financial downturn hit them hard, but Spain is rising up to strike back. As they question their systems and processes, the strongest fighters are those who adapt, who are agile and eager to improve. We love dealing with companies that are ready and fit for a fight to be the best.
  • Catalunya – The Catalans, while being nationalists, are still very open to the external world. At least, that’s how Lluis, our partner from Nexe Impressions, puts it. They loved the idea of working with a Canadian company—a welcomed surprise, doubled when they found out that we were a small independent team—and we were both looking for opportunities to strengthen the ties between work being done in North America and Europe.

Finally, another ingredient, which is now fully baked into my way of thinking, is leveraging randomness. Starting a magazine was perhaps a crazy idea, printing and distributing from Europe (as it turns out, a mix of Spain and Germany) was probably begging for trouble. And that’s the point: I came to Barcelona three weeks ago with six tons of magazines and no plan for distribution.

I figured it out in ten days, meeting with multiple companies and people (most of whom I’d never met before), as they opened me up to solutions that I could never have imagined from my office in Montréal. Leaving the security blanket behind is a very empowering thing.

In our Scenarios insert, Jon Evans defends the importance and value of being lost, uncertain and alone (an increasingly rare and exotic experience in our digital and interconnected world). In Barcelona, I felt the inexpressible thrill of figuring things out and finding my own guides in unfamiliar territory. I arrived alone and uncertain; I left with a warm heart, new family and a satchel of victories.


stay-handsome

Introducing free worldwide shipping on all individual October orders

Hectic. That’s what this past week since launch has been like. We’ve been online officially for seven days and showing the magazine around for another week or two, especially in Europe, where our managing editor Louis-Jacques has been for the last month (more on that in another Journal entry soon). So far the feedback has been of two types. Other than noticing the breadth of content, the vast majority has been along these lines (actual quotes):

“It’s brilliant!”
“Wow! It’s gorgeous!”
“Sexyyyyy” (regularly)
“it’s massive, smart & gorgeous!” —Kai Brach
“What a beautiful object!”
“Stunning, important and inspiring” —David Hieatt
“I’ll take the month to read it”

And we’ve also gotten a few comments like this:

“Woah, $35″
“Yikes! $35″
“Ouch, $12 shipping”

magCulture sums up the two like this:

“At $35 an issue it’s not cheap but you certainly get value from that price – it has the scope of a book. I look forward to the next Springs edition, though I’ve plenty to keep me reading meanwhile.”

Those two types of reactions are actually entirely related and not a complete surprise to us. Everyone we’ve met or heard of so far who has seen the magazine in person has comments like the first quotes above. People who haven’t seen it, sometimes comment in the second manner. We thought that might happen, the Review might be more of a recurring book, or a collection of books coming out every six months than it is a classical magazine.

We have no hesitation at all that The Alpine Review is worth the cover price, and then some. We also know that in the quantity and quality of content, in the quality of design, paper and printing, in the absence of advertising, it does have a lot in common with books. We use the phrase “A compendium of ideas for a world in transition” and the word compendium isn’t chosen lightly, it’s bookish in its intent.

When you pick it up, you immediately see the heft of the thing, both in the physicality and in the breath of ideas. When you haven’t seen it, you can be forgiven for being surprised at some numbers if you are thinking along the lines of the average magazine.

But of course we are listening to everyone, hearing the surprise from some of you and we’ve been thinking about shipping. The price is the price and well thought out. And, shipping a stack of paper that size isn’t cheap. But we also need to get it into more hands to spread the word about the value we propose and if shipping is a barrier for some, then we need to look into it.

To that end, we will be offering free shipping on single issues and subscriptions for all orders and subscriptions received in October. During that time, we will re-review all our shipping options and see if we can keep that up or maybe offer a less expensive shipping solution in November. But jump on the chance because it’s very unlikely to become permanent.


do you read me?!

Launch

The time has come! We are thrilled to unveil the inaugural issue of The Alpine Review. It’s been quite a year. It’s been quite a climb.

We had no idea of the scale of this project when we started. We have been delighted with the collaborations and contributions from people around the globe that have made this possible. To everyone who helped out by sharing their ideas, their time, their work, their passion and their patience, thank you. We’ve been lucky, not to say it has been easy. It’s been a lot of work—wonderful, exhausting work—but we’re very aware of how fortunate we are to be able to apply everything we’ve got to make something we’re proud of.


Our Journal

Welcome to The Alpine Review’s online journal. We will be keeping you up to date on the evolution of the magazine, sharing behind-the-scenes photos and interviews, as well as posting developments on the topics we explore. Stay tuned for the inside-scoop on what we’re up to, what we are finding and who we’re talking to here at The Alpine Review.