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These are all either duplicates or books that have failed a quality control filter. Don't worry, we still have two copies of the Lord Of The Rings.

Too many to type in, instead you get photos.

Read more... )

In the last image the VHS tapes are in the large boxes, as you'd probably expect.

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Our computer junk pile contains the following:

  • WOC PC. Intel DG965SS motherboard. Intel Q6600 2.4GHz 4-core CPU. 4GB RAM. Onboard ethernet, VGA. No storage.
  • WOC PC. Intel DH61CR motherboard. Intel Celeron G550 2.6Ghz 2-core CPU. 8GB RAM. Onboard ethernet, VGA (& DVI but it didn’t work last time we tried it). Wouldn’t boot to X in Linux (don’t know if this is a software or hardware problem). No storage.
  • Dell Optiplex 960. Variant unknown. Onboard ethernet. Onboard VGA & DP. Video card with 2x DP. DVD drive but no other storage.
  • Samsung SyncMaster 172v 17” monitor. VGA input. 1280x1024
  • Dell SP2000W 20” monitor. VGA & DVI inputs. 1600x1050. Integrated webcam & USB hub. The green pixels in one column are always on.
  • Pair of DECT phones.
  • Keyboard, broken foot.
  • Keyboard, sticky control key.
  • Internal DVD drive.
  • USB floppy drive.
  • Ancient mice.
  • Ancient PDAs.
  • Miscellaneous cables.
  • Even more miscellaneous computer junk than the above.

Does anyone want any of it?

GDPR

May. 26th, 2018 10:35 am
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 GDPR noise highlights (lowlights?):
  • UK Climbing sent me no less than five invitations to continue receiving their newsletter, or seven if you count the banner at the top of the most recent copy of it, which they sent me twice.
  • Runners up in the “repetition” category are ANSI, who twice invited me to accept their privacy policy, I think to continue to receive communications from them, though I can’t remember the last time they sent me anything.
  • GitLab, who want me to agree to their new terms before I can use their site. What's odd about this is that AFAIK I don't use and moreover they've sent to to an obsolete version of a unique address shared only with GitHub. I assume there's some rational explanation for this...
  • Two messages in Finnish, one from a table booking service and one from a restaurant which I don’t remember but looks like the kind of place we’d have eaten at. I have no idea what they say.
  • A recruitment company who have “worked with me in the past”. Not intrinsically implausible (the earliest mail I can find from them does claim to have first seen my CV at a point when I was looking for work) but I have no memory of having interacted with them in the past, much less of them finding me any work.
  • A TSB GDPR (well, “privacy policy”) phish attempt, which is packing a lot of topical stuff into a single attack.
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Consider first https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wCDIYvFmgW8 Weapon of Choice, in which Christopher Walken dances around a predominantly brown hotel, with occasional wirework flying and some good use of mirrors (you can just spot the camera rig if you look carefully). The lyrics have no particular connection to the video.

Next look at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ABz2m0olmPg KENZO World, in which Margaret Qualley dances around a predominantly brown (OK, verging on yellow) hotel, with some flying at the end (I don’t know what technique) and much better use of mirrors (they either did a better job of positioning the camera or edited it out). Also, laser fingers. If the singing means anything it’s not a language I speak, so I couldn’t say whether the lyrics are connected to the video. Anyway it’s very clearly inspired by Weapon of Choice.

After that see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QFvgHIJrEQ - Anna, in which Emma Stone dances around a substantially brown hotel¹, assisted by some quite buff sailors. This has less in common with the other two: the only mirrors are spotted are her shades, the only fx I spotted was a simulated roll, and the video does actually reference the lyrics at one point.

¹ yes, it’s a ship, but it’s been permanently moored since the 1960s and functions as a hotel.

I think the style and setting od these three music videos means they form a genre, although I don’t know what it would be called.

I’ve been wondering for a while whether there was anything else in the same genre, and recently ran into https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ni75mYuwvlg Stay Awhile, in which Zooey Deschanel (in the company of M. Ward) dances around a residence rather than a hotel, with rather less brown (though it’s there if you look for it). On the one hand the lyrics don’t directly connect to what’s going on in the video, on the other hand the dancer is singing them. Instead of wirework I think the fx involve people in chroma key suites. I think there’s enough similarity here to say there’s a close relationship to the three videos above.

Does anyone know of anything else which might fit into the same category, or have a good name for it?
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Dancing in the Glory of Monsters, Jason K Stearns, ISBN 978-1-61039-107-8.

The Congo war is sometimes compared to World War I, and the destructiveness and numerous actors do make the comparison somewhat attractive. But what it reminded me of was the US invasion of Iraq and its sequelae: a rapid and successful invasion with a clear goal of toppling an unmitigatedly unpleasant dictator who at first barely apprehended a genuine threat, but unsupported by any realistic planning for the day after victory, and followed by years of conflict raging from terrorism to open warfare drawing in multiple neighbouring countries.

The origins of the conflict can be read back along a number of lines. The Rwandan invasion of 1996 essentially represented the continuation of the Rwandan civil war subsequent to regime change, with the new government going after still-militarized génocidaires camped out in eastern Zaire (as Congo was called at the time); the victors of that civil war had in turn learned their craft as exiles fighting in Uganda’s previous internal conflict, something that explains Ugandan cooperation (Kagame spent a while as the head of Ugandan military intelligence for instance). Laurent Kabila, used by the Rwandans as a front-man to give the invasion the superficial air of an endogenous rebellion and chosen more because he was available than because he was well-suited to the role, on the other hand, was a classic cold-war superpower cats-paw, temporarily embarrassed by the end of the struggle that created him. But it’s also necessary to consider the ridiculously high corruption, fragility and long-neglected infrastructure of Mobutu’s Zaire, without which the Rwandan invasion might have been repulsed, or at least contained, or even completely avoided (a greater willingness to engage with the situation on the part of the West might also have had some impact at this stage too). And while it would certainly be wrong to let the kleptocratic Mobutu escape blame for the parlous state of the country he ruled for more than three decades, his Belgian colonial predecessors had left the country in an appalling institutional state, meaning that no good outcome was very likely in any case. And none of this is to mention the ethnic divisions in and near Rwanda which drove both its own civil war and much of the brutality in Congo itself, which although pre-existing were exacerbated by colonial meddling. At any rate, this was a complex situation and Stearns analyses it in exhaustive detail.

Stearns also traces the progress of the conflict, spending more time on interviews with and character studies of key protagonists than marches-and-battles history. In combination with analysis of the prevailing political system it’s clear that a lot of these actors were not acting particularly irrationally for the situations they found themselves in and the assumptions they had available. Within Congolese politics, for instance, anyone failing to play the game of corruption and patronage would simply lose out to those who did. Others were simply incompetent though: nothing in Kabila’s background had prepared him to run a country and he did a terrible job of it when he had the opportunity.

Those assumptions were lethal. The invading Rwandans plainly considered their initial targets to be an existential threat and accepted no obstacles to their destruction. Mass killing bred not only mass killing, but also total disregard for the welfare of Rwandan civilians either fleeing with the génocidaires or locals who got in the way. This negligence towards civilians repeated through the war; another repeating pattern is that many of the books interviewees appear to be convinced (whether through denial, or mendacity, or poor transparency) that the war’s numerous atrocities were entirely one-sided, something the testimony of survivors shows to be false. For all that hugely many of the deaths were not directly military in cause but rather less direct consequences of the war - hunger and illness that could not be mitigated due to the destruction of infrastructure, the terrible security situation, the pressing need to flee fighting, and so on.

A common analysis of the war starts from the looting of Congo’s mineral wealth, both through corruptly awarded contracts from the Congo government and by the country’s various invaders. There is indeed a sense in which it prolonged the war since much of it was simply a means to pay for continued military expenditure; but it seems to be a mistake to see it as a cause of the war. What is was not, though, was efficient; it was associated with no real investment (and sensibly so: it was a warzone) and Stearns estimates that it put back the development of Congo’s mineral resources by a decade.

This was an interesting read; I’d been loosely aware of the war in its later phases but it was not well-reported in the western media, so the book was an education. But it is also rather depressing. Congo was already in a terrible state in terms of infrastructure and institutions. The war took its toll on the former and did little to improve the latter. With Mobutu out of the way the country could have reversed its long-term decline from 1997 but instead the war meant it had to wait half a decade more. Millions of people died and many of those directly and indirectly responsible have complete impunity. On the smaller scale, the book does not shy away from documenting both detailed violence and the lethal privations suffered by fleeing refugees.
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Too Like The Lightning; Seven Surrenders; The Will To Battle; all by Ada Palmer.

Several hundred years hence, the world is a very different place. Concepts of gender, religion, family, technology, law and the state have all been rewritten, in response both to cultural and technological changes and to past disasters. There is a lot of entertaining worldbuilding here, most of it revealed incrementally (although I was amused to see at one point that the author found a way to do a more-or-less plot-justified info-dump).

Also revealed only gradually is the set of related challenges to all of these institutions, which collectively form the plot. A recurring pattern is that, despite superficially eliminating or mutating some characteristic of society, the underlying issues remain, either re-emerging in the light of events, or available to be exploited by the clear-sighted and unscrupulous (a well-represented demographic).

The bulk of all three books is written in the hand of one of the protagonist, though a couple of the others contribute occasional chapters; but while they do seem to be presenting the truth as they see it, they cannot be considered more than dubiously reliable, and indeed there is considerable in-world skepticism concerning some of their interpretations. Moreover their work is subject to censorship (at least some of it overt) from multiple competing interests, and to a (fairly sympathetic) editor. Nevertheless they do have considerable access, as part of their normal life, to many of the governing and cultural elite of their world (who form the primary focus of the story; indeed we learn very little about genuinely ordinary people beyond their mass responses to public events), meaning that despite these caveats they do at least seem to have a fairly good understanding of what is going on around them. Their style is wordy and emotional, and somewhat prone to tangents. I really enjoyed this, although it seems to be something of an acquired taste (N just found them smug).

The story is complex and somewhat twisty, with endless machination and intrigue as the various interests attempt to control events or turn them to their own advantage, and a couple of key institutions only revealed some time after their impact and influence has already impinged on the story. Most of the characters are distinctly larger-than-life, generally justifiable in terms of their background or the mechanisms used to fill the social or political roles they occupy, although a few intensely self-propelled individuals are clear outliers by the standards of the society they’re in, which doesn’t really know how to deal with them. The narrator tends to present them in, mostly, rather black-and-white terms, though does explicitly recognize in some cases that this reflects their personal priorities.

The numerous factions do create an occasional weakness: occasionally, it’s necessary to enumerate through most or all of them, something that is handled much better in the third book than the second. By the same token the large number of characters and the connections between them can occasionally be a struggle, especially when some of them get very little stage time before late growing in significance.

After reading the first volume I immediately bought the second, and pre-ordered the third at the end. But now I’m out of luck: the fourth volume is due in 2019, and although the framing presents them as distinct volumes with distinct purposes, this is really a single story, and with all the moving parts in the first three, and a semi-resolved cliffhanger at the end of the third, the gap is frustrating! I’ve made notes on what’s going on, but I suspect I’ll want to re-read all three extant volumes prior to starting the fourth anyway (and possibly within the next month anyway l-)

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I’ve just finished watching Deutschland ‘83, which I think may have been recommended by someone here, though all I can say for sure is that it had spent some time in my bookmark folder of things to watch. At any rate, it follows the adventures of a rather unwilling but nevertheless remarkably successful East German agent injected into the West German army.

In some ways it’s a bit on the daft side; Rauch/Stamm is remarkably successful at plundering the Bundeswehr’s and NATO’s secrets (not to mention a couple of West German hearts) and nobody really tumbles to it despite him standing suspiciously near two major breaches. It also suffers a bit from the tendency of many of the characters to be needlessly horrible to each other, and there’s a couple of plot threads that require some fairly persistent stupidity, one rather less plausible than the other.

Still, it was an engaging watch and by the last couple of episodes I couldn’t wait and watched them back to back. The arc plot is based loosely on real events; an appreciation of some of the history of the era certainly helped although I suspect it would work perfectly well without that background. The score was fairly obvious in places (you will probably not be surprised to learn that 99 Luftballons turns up pretty early) but also had some particularly good choices.

Jonas Ney was pretty good as Rauch/Stamm but for my money Maria Schrader, as the senior HVA officer in the west, put in the best performance, walking off with every scene she appeared in.

Finally, throughout the series, I found the HVA office interiors remarkably familiar, and eventually an establishing shot made me realize why: they’d filmed it in the Stasi offices, now a museum which N and I visited a few years back:


Stasi Museum
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Things I attended included...

  • Appeal of the Bland Protagonist. I remember only that Robert Silverberg was fairly entertaining.
  • The Long Term Future of the Universe & How to Avoid It. I don’t think we got as far as proton decay. Entertaining but I don’t think I learned much.
  • Polyamorous Relationships in Fiction. I think a fair few examples given but I don’t really remember much about this.
  • What Science Can Tell Us About Alien Minds. This was largely a very well-pitched survey of what we know about minds and brains and their development here, with the implications for the alien underlined. Excellent.
  • New, More Diverse Superheroes. Something that’s been improving lately. Many of the examples were familiar. Slightly surprised that Vimanarama wasn’t mentioned, it can’t be that obscure?
  • How to Tell the Ducks from the Rabbits. This covered some unpublished research modelling some perceptual effects we find in human vision. Ian Stewart is a good speaker.
  • Cyberpunk and the Future. Fairly rambling but quite entertaining and IIRC avoided the trap of falling into a laundry list of recommendations which can sometimes happen.
  • New Publishing. A couple of models I didn’t know about (though ‘run publisher as a co-operative’ doesn’t seem conceptually new) but I didn’t get a sense that any particular model was about to set the world on fire. Apparently ebook sales are declining as a proportion of the total, which surprised me.
  • Supermassive Black Holes. A quick survey of how black holes work (which didn’t contain many surprises) followed by some new stuff: the GR-aware visualization of a black hole made for Interstellar, corrections to it involving red/blue shifting and the spin of the black hole, a further visualization of what you’d see as you flew into one (assuming you destroyed by any of the many hazards) and a project to radio image out galaxy’s central black hole. Another excellent science talk.
  • Hugo Awards. Very glad to see Monstress winning Best Graphic Story.
  • Beyond the Goldilocks Zone. Panel about the possibilities for exoplanets that sustain life. One point I’d not previously been aware of was that although Europa-style bodies might (hypothetically) have life in sub-ice oceans, there’s no realistic way of detecting this from a distance, meaning that more earth-like planets are a better bet for analysis. (The “goldilocks zone” is the range of distances from a given star in which planets can support liquid water on their surface, making them a good bet for life.)
  • Gender and “Realistic History”. The panel largely surveyed past examples of groups and behaviors sometimes thought to have been absent or rare in the past. Interesting listening.
  • Exoplanetary Zoo and The Search for Earth 2.0. Another excellent science talk, this time on the detection strategies for exoplanets and the results they’ve had so far. There are a lot of exoplanet discoveries awaiting confirmation.
  • Language Creation. David Peterson (famous for the conlangs from Game Of Thrones) described the basics of making a convincing sketch conlang. A very entertaining speaker.
  • The Singularity: Transhuman Intelligence in Fiction and Futurism. An opportunity for Charlie Stross to steal the show. Fun.
  • Bullets in Space. Basic orbital mechanics, done fairly well. The basic proposition is that ballistic projectiles are a terrible idea when fighting in an orbit; if they miss the target they are probably going to hit something you didn’t want them to.
  • Tomorrow’s Cool SF Physics. Enjoyed it but don’t remember anything else about it.
  • Designing Life. Fun discussion of biotechnological possibilities for modifying and creating life.
  • Ideas Crossing the World: Japanese Adaptations of Western Fantasy. In practice I think this mostly amounted to an opportunity for the panellists to entertain with their encyclopaedic knowledge of manga and anime.

...there were other things but I can’t remember enough to say anything about them.

Malta

May. 1st, 2017 07:26 pm
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Work sent me to Malta for Financial Crypto 2017 last month. I've already shared my domain-relevant thoughts on it with my colleagues, but thanks to the extra-mural parts of the conference program I got to see some interesting things on the island too.

The full set of pictures are on Flickr; some highlights appear below.

Read more... )
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Lately I’ve been enjoyed some very daft poems about cows (and ancillary characters) by Ann Leckie and her fans. I mentioned this to Matthew although I think a few other people might like them too, so here we are.

Big list of URLs )
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From Deep State To Islamic State: The Arab Counter-Revolution And Its Jihadi Legacy, Jean-Pierre Filiu, ISBN 978-1-84904-546-9

This book analyses the background to, and aftermath, of the Arab Spring: the military despotisms in Algeria, Egypt, Syria and Yemen, with a lesser amount of material on Tunisia and Libya.

The question the book asks, essentially, is how the contests between military oligarchies, street protesters, political Islam and violent ‘jihadi’ movements ended with the first of the above remaining in charge, the middle two components crushed, and the latter successful and destructive. Filiu’s answer is essentially that the jihadists were indirectly, and in some cases directly, supported by the governments they supposedly oppose, both as a warning of chaos and as “my enemy’s enemy”.

The most blatant example is Bashar al-Assad, initially providing support for Iraqi enemies of the USA (including the local precursors of IS) and subsequently emptying its jails of jihadists in order to support its own propaganda once popular protests erupted in Syria.

The author also touches on Tunisia and Libya. In both cases the dictator fell, but the outcomes were very different. The reasons can be found both in the pre-revolutionary structure of the two countries and in the subsequent political processes.

The military oligarchies are characterised as ‘modern Mamluks’, alluding to historical military rulers. In their modern form, the author finds them excellent manipulators of both world powers and their regional neighbours, successfully extracting support in the form of money, weapons and oil; and vigorous defenders of their own privileges; but poor rulers of their countries.

This is a pretty depressing book. The only remotely successful entities in places like Syria are those that are prepared to burn the country to the ground to keep or take control, and when compared with the similar situation in Algeria in the 1990s, neither the ferocity of the conflict nor the negligible Western response seem particularly surprising.

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I have now migrated to Dreamwidth. Future postings will happen here. There might be crossposting, I've not decided yet. (2017-12: as it turns out, there is no crossposting.)

Monstress

Oct. 18th, 2016 12:10 am
ewx: (penguin)
Monstress vol. 1: Awakening, Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda.

I encountered the first issue of this as a Humble Bundle sampler (http://ewx.livejournal.com/626752.html) and liked it, and bought it cheap on Comixology during a sale. From a high level, the setting isn’t the most original: the world is largely divided (with a literal wall) between humans and magical halfbreeds (Arcanics). However it’s a good implementation of the cliché and the plot and characters in any any case transcend it.

The previous hot phase of the conflict between the humans and Arcanics was terminated by some kind of major and very destructive magical event, with even the known details to some extent covered up. Maika, superficially human but in fact rather more complicated than that, knows her mother had something to do with it, and wants answers from her former colleagues. As the book opens she is tactically exploiting helplessness, but she soon turns out to be exceptionally dangerous, a repeating theme being others discovering this a bit too late. This could easily have been mishandled but by in practice it stays interesting throughout; her strength, or a least her willingness to use it, does have its limits.

Maika’s principle antagonists are a powerful religious order which when not exploiting enslaved Arcanics seems to be thoroughly overrun by its own members’ private agendas, a characteristic which extends (albeit mostly in less brutal form) to many of the other protagonists, adding a realistic gloss of human nature to a fantastical world.

The volume ends with a satisfying resolution, but with open questions and loose ends lined up for further issues. I look forward to them.
ewx: (penguin)

House of Cards, Michael Dobbs, 978-1-4711-2852-3.

An unscrupulous 1980s Conservative chief whip plots and schemes within a re-elected but weakened government. This is not really great literature: most of the characters are stereotypes rather than in any way rounded portrayals, and the writing felt a little pedestrian. Nevertheless it was fun to read and I can see why it was adapted for television multiple times.

A Very British Coup, Chris Mullin, ISBN 978-1-84668-740-2.

A far-left Labour politician becomes Prime Minister, and the establishment and the Americans set out to undermine him. In some ways timely as Harry Perkins partially reflects Jeremy Corbyn: however, importantly, he is considerably smarter and has the backing of his parliamentary party (and, at least initially, the country). As above the writing is not of the most dazzling style, and the characters are if anything even more 2-dimensional, but also as above, it got the job done.

Also, really, a more serious political work, focusing not on the process of climbing the greasy pole (and stamping hard on those below) but instead on the structure of UK politics (at least as it stood at the time). Amusingly, the book mentions US interception activities in Europe, three decades before Snowden and half a decade before Campbell.

ewx: (penguin)

We went climbing on Stanage Edge, a lengthy escarpment in the Peak District.

Climbing. We mostly stuck to Mod and Diff routes. For the first few days we managed a lead and a second each; much of the rest of the time was consumed with false starts and getting lost trying to find the next route we wanted to do. We had nice weather and beautiful scenery though. For the last couple of days our productivity roughly doubled, partly a result of more effective navigation but probably also “getting into the swing” of it. On Sunday Matthew and Sally joined us which made for a good end to an already excellent week.

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N looks down.

Other Activities. Friday was the only day that was seriously wet during the day and we went to Chatsworth House, the seat of the Dukes of Devonshire even today. In local terms it’s kind of like Wimpole but on a rather grander scale. Its continued noble occupation has resulted in the accumulation of contemporary art as well as the usual stately home standbys, although excepting the photography I didn’t rate much of it. It’s also substantially covered in scaffolding and sheeting at the moment due to extensive renovation works; apart from the occasional drilling sounds (which based on conversation maybe annoyed the staff more than they did us) this didn’t really impact on our visit, though if you want a clear view of the whole exterior then maybe you should postpone your visit until this is finished.

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I kind of want Mallory Ortberg to caption this.

We also made it to Sheffield Hallam Parkrun, where I chipped a few seconds off my PB. I’m not sure how comparable it is with Cambridge, though. Doing a 5km run in the morning coincided with the uptick in our climbing productivity, which N didn’t consider a coincidence.

Accommodation. We stayed at the North Lees campsite, which is a pleasant 10m walk from the road below Stanage Edge (more to the rock, depending which bit you aim for and how lost you get). Slightly spartan but it did the job. It was mostly fairly empty, only really getting crowded at the weekend. Generally the first thing we heard on waking was sheep.

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The purple sleeping bag is N’s, surprising nobody.

The nearest village is Hathersage, which was a pleasant enough walk in the light though a bit dicey coming back in the dark. We tried two of the three pubs for dinner, returning to the Scotsman’s Pack for a second visit and eating once at the nevertheless perfectly acceptable Plough Inn and one of the two local curry places, Maazi.

Driving. I haven’t owned a car for more than a decade and until very recently hadn’t driven one for around half as long. For this trip we hired a car and mostly got on well, though I thoroughly disliked the single-track lanes around the campsite.

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Vroom!

Cars have changed in the (mumble) years since the previous car I drove left the factory. Six forward gears is an obvious enough evolutionary step and I was vaguely aware of start-stop but I’d not expected the electronic handbrake, nor had I expected the car to tell me when to shift gear - something it was generally right about on the motorways, but I thought less reliable when getting round those narrow lanes.

Photos. There are lots more photos on flickr. I made some videos while climbing although I think they’ll be of more interest for analyzing gear placement than general interest.

ewx: (penguin)
We went to http://clipnclimbcambridge.co.uk/. As a quick look at the website will make clear this isn't a traditional climbing wall - instead of the usual rock-like holds there is a broad variety of (mostly plastic) constructions. The gallery on the website gives some idea and a lot of the routes in the video turn up in Cambridge.

It’s aimed at a general audience of children and adults, not just experienced climbers - there’s no need for climbing shoes, and harnesses are provided. (If you have one, don’t bother bringing it, they won’t let you use it.)

We enjoyed it though going on an extremely hot day wasn’t the best of plans; the only concession to cooling possible was some fans in the corners. I managed most of the routes although a few defeated me in their harder versions (most of them have two or three difficulty levels). In some cases the biggest difficulty was sweat making plastic holds slippery - I had to use slightly awkward grips to stay held on reliably.

The staff insist on doing all the clipping in and out (understandably given the inexperienced intended audience). All the routes have auto belays; among other things this means that usual rest between climbs while belaying someone else didn’t exist l-)

I thought it was quite expensive for what we got; specifically, for an hour climbing we actually slightly paid more than our regular trips which includes a train journey. Still, we had a lot of fun.
ewx: (poll)

With a real likelihood of UK exit from the EU, it makes sense to move the bulk of any savings you may have outside the British economy, since there's a serious risk that they will soon become worth substantially less and stay that way. Where are you moving yours?

[Poll #2047249]
ewx: (penguin)

Some sampler issues that came via Humble Bundle a while back and I’ve only just got around to.

Black Magic #1. A witch who is also a policewoman. First episode works in isolation but is clearly intended as the start of a longer story. I liked this and could be tempted by more.

Citizen Jack #1. Brutish snowplow salesman makes a deal with a demon to run for president. Didn’t grab me at all.

Huck #1. Small-town superman-alike just wants to do a good deed every day. What happens when the media find out? Find out next issue! Difficult to assess as it’s basically all setup in this issue.

I Hate Fairyland #1. Small girl magically transported to fairyland wants to get home and (eventually) responds to persistent setbacks with anarchic cartoon violence. Amusing idea but I didn’t get a sense there was any more to it than that.

Injection #1. See here.

Limbo #1. Noirish amnesiac detective (reminds me of Dead Letters, which I enjoyed) with magic. The issue concludes at the point he thinks he's got a job all wrapped up, and there's a genre convention about that... Has potential.

Monstress #1. A physically and emotionally damaged witch tricks her way into the stronghold of her enemy in search of answers, but has to leave satisfied with nothing better than revenge. I liked this.

Paper Girls #1. Four ?1980s paper delivery girls in (I think) encounter some kind of alien intrusion, although not a hugely competent one so far. Curious to find out what’s going on.

Plutona #1. Spends the entire issue character-building the group of kids who encounter the eponymous superheroine towards the end of the issue. Difficult to asses for the same reason as Huck, but the setup is more character-building and less situation, which I think is promising.

Pretty Deadly #6. Nice artwork and creative panel layout. But the story seems to be mostly setup and I wonder how much I’m missing from being dropped in at a 6th issue. An odd choice of sampler?

Ringside #1. Lots of good character stuff around an ex-wrestler and others ... followed by what looks suspiciously like the setup for a revenge fantasy. Undecided.

Saints #1. Saints run around a dingy bit of the USA and find each other. Angels plot. Reminds me a bit of Lyda Morehouse. The authors clearly share my amusement at medieval depictions of Saint Sebastian.

The Goddamned #1. A blond naked white dude called Cain (yes, that one) kills a bunch of savages in order to recover his stolen clothes and stuff, then spends a few pages moaning about how horrible everything is. I didn’t really like it.

Tokyo Ghost #1. A pair of police-ish types track down a villain who might be at home in a crossover between Ghost in the Shell and Batman: The Killing Joke. Sanguinary but fun.

ewx: (penguin)

A History Of Christianity, Diarmid MacCulloch, 978-0-141-02189-8

Set aside some time to read this; at comfortably over a thousand pages, you’re unlikely polish it off in a weekend.

MacCulloch nominally starts his history in 1000BCE, though devotes just a few dozen pages to the Greek/Roman and Jewish background. The following 2000 years get considerably more detailed attention, across a broad geographic range. Western Europe, Russian, the Greeks, the Miaphysites and Dyophysites of the Middle East, China, Africa (especially but not only Ethiopia) and the Americas are all covered (and I’ve probably missed more than a few from this list).

It is of course thoroughly entwined with other elements of history: Constantine, Charlemagne and colonialism all make an appearance. Some appreciation of (particularly, western-oriented) history over the last couple of thousand years will surely help the reader but the wider context is not neglected. Equally, you will find a lot of philosophy and science in here, covering both religious background to new thinking and subsequent engagement with it.

The writing is excellent, informal without being lightweight, and making occasional but good use of sarcasm; the result is a pleasure to read. Particularly well done is the 16th chapter, which despite the dry-sounding title ‘Perspectives on the True Church’ in fact engrossingly lays the intellectual and political groundwork for the Reformation.

I’ve previously reviewed The Popes by John Julius Norwich. Where that was the narrowest of vertical slices through history, this book may be as broad a slice as is possible while still representing a single coherent theme. Recommended both for readers interested in Christianity in particular, but also world history in general.

(A curious detail that I’d not previously been much aware of is the growing strength of Dyophysite Christians among the Persian elite in the first half of the 7th century. Given the previous Roman experience, it’s interesting to wonder how that would have played out had the Sassanian empire survived any longer.)

God’s Crucible, David Levering Lewis, 978-0-393-06472-8

A history of Islamic Spain and its context and impact. The first quarter of the book quickly covers Roman and Persian background material leading (in the west) to Visigothic Spain and (in the east) to the rise of Islam, before putting the two together with the Islamic conquest of Spain in the early 8th century. The rest covers the history of ‘Al-Andalus’ and its interactions with its geographical and ideological neighbours. (Sadly for my particular interests the author simply states one of the theories for the etymology of the name without alluding to the difficulties in this areas.)

At the political level those interactions generally produced much heat and little light, although the Byzantine gift of De Materia Medica to ’Abd al-Rahman III is a notable exception - essentially a bribe to maintain opposition to the Abbassids, but in practice a substantial injection of knowledge into the western Caliphate and (eventually) Catholic Europe. And it underlines the case the author really wants to make: for an extended period Islamic Spain was the major intellectual and cultural centre of western Europe, for instance putting Alcuin’s efforts in the Carolingian empire into the shade, and moreover that it had an outsized impact on the rest of western Europe.

The case is not badly, though I thought that the balance between the political and intellectual history could be shifted further towards the latter with little real loss. Maimonides, for instance, has to share a chapter with the comparably significant Ibn Rushd (Averroes), and the two of them don’t even get the whole of it. Still, this is a minor flaw. An enjoyable book about an interesting episode in history.

February 2019

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