Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Dropping out

1. I had the current brief fevery bug last week. This has reminded me how lucky I am to have a job which I like enough to want to go to in the mornings even if I'm still feeling iffy. It's odd that the lurgy comes before the students this year; maybe for once the path of disease will be reversed.

2. I really want to want an ebook reader -- I love the idea of loading things on to it which I would currently buy as cheap paperbacks, and then not worrying about them again, things like War and Peace and Mansfield Park, or Trollopes. But the readers are far too expensive, too invested in proprietary formats, too little is available for them, and what little there is comes at the same price as a proper book despite having far fewer production and distribution costs and no resale value. I should be the ideal market for these devices: I love reading, I love gadgets, and I have recently had the disadvantages of a book collection literally brought home to me heavily -- almost all of the cardboard boxes containing all my possessions seem to be full of books, and lugging them up the stairs to my flat is very tedious. So I am actually quite angry about not wanting one; I feel personally failed by consumerism.

3. Recently some people at lunch were deploring the decline in face-to-face or even telephonic communication resulting from widespread e-mail use. Contrarily I'm all for this, at least when it comes to work-related stuff. The other day someone came up to me at my desk and asked me to chair a session at a conference to which I was probably going anyway. I really don't want to do this because chairing sessions is one of those things that is surprisingly stressful and much harder work than it looks, but she's a nice person who asked nicely and I said yes. I would probably have had to say yes anyway but I feel unfairly resentful of having a yes bounced out of me by a sudden face-to-face request. (Though I'm now hopeful I can get out of going to that conference at all, and I did make my consent conditional on my attendance.) Whereas someone has just e-mailed to ask me to give a paper at another conference and it has been so much easier to write expressing regret but saying no, after a few days to give it proper consideration. Asking people for things is much more civilised by e-mail; if you try face to face maybe they're more likely to say yes at once, but there's also more chance that they will secretly resent you and then find some means of getting out of it anyway.

4. Also I have had this genius idea of putting that second conference in my diary anyway, so that when I get to the point where I would have been frantically patching together a paper I can enjoy the feeling of not. Hurray! I am the laziest person in Cambridge at the moment -- I work 8.30 to 5 and then I veg.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Oddly comforting

1. For the first time in fourteen years I have not bought a copy of the Cambridge Lecture List. Hurray!

2. I am gutting for bibliography a book with the short title Bedingfield 2002, and I cannot get "Gotta get thru this" out of my head. Catchy tune...

3. I was puzzled by the BBC's issue with how to tell the time on the new insect clock; but a colleague says that when he went by on Saturday night it had broken down, and there was a group of people standing there trying to work out how to read the completely dark dial, and that might account for it I suppose. Probably it hadn't really broken down, and occasional darkness is a design feature, perhaps to remind us that we're all going to die. Die!!!

4. It's oddly comforting when science and science fiction are not easy to disentangle. Take this suggestion that the universe is just a projection on the lip of a black hole which has already swallowed us. I saw something which said that if the Hadron collider produced any black holes they would "small, benign and fleeting", which is also an oddly comforting idea, like the dragons in T. H. White that are little and live under stones, hissing like kettles.

Thursday, 18 September 2008


1. I am the only person in the world who doesn't like The Wire. I was discussing this with someone today (though "discuss" is a mild word for any conversation involving the Wire) and she said that even if there are cliche moments they are forgiveable because of all the cliche-subverting moments. I think maybe the problem is that I don't watch enough drama to get the cliche-subverting moments. I'm not very good with drama because acting is an intrinsically ridiculous profession. I quite like Primeval though, because as well as the silly "mammoth on the M25" stories you also get the extra level of knowing that when the actors are cross-eyed with fear in front of a giant prehistoric millipede they're actually just gurning at a runner holding a football on a stick.

2. Isn't local news wonderful? The Cambridge Evening News letters page currently has gems such as "Bunny Girls Not Godly" and a plea for Ely city council to provide all its pensioners with tricycles.

3. I was checking out the Cambridge News to see what it was saying about the new clock on King's Parade, to be unveiled tomorrow. There's a video of it here. Unfortunately we have missed the deadline for the competition to design a new monster for Primeval, or we could have submitted the Chronophage, but in fact the real winner isn't so dissimilar.

PS Better video here.

PPS And now there's the full thing. If you want to live longer you shouldn't sit next to pretty girls, apparently. The bits about the mechanism are interesting, though it doesn't go into the self-correcting irregularities.

Monday, 15 September 2008


My computer at work is making a lot of noise and smells like an underground carpark. But there's no prospect of getting anything done about this at all because the entire computing resources of my workplace are tied up in a complex scheme to replace our phones with far far less useful ones in physically inaccessible places. This has already led to a major incident on Friday for which I'm not exactly reponsible but which I could probably have prevented if I had been more alert -- a police call-out sort of incident. Bad Monday morning.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Good things

1. You can read Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon online here for free. It's good, but not as good as the Baroque Trilogy. Other free books include Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere.

2. Apparently the one thing that can be guaranteed to soothe my god-daughter is the music of the Pet Shop Boys, specifically the album Discography. I think this is great. Of course since Discography was released way back in 1991 she's missing a lot of great Pet Shop Boys songs, but she's not eleven months old yet, so she'll have time to discover those later.

3. Odd maps.

4. 3-D dinosaurs! Beasts from Primeval set to Nine Inch Nails!

5. Am embarked on much rereading -- I got rid of so many books before I moved to Italy that I don't like to think about it, but it does mean that I am unpacking all my favourites at once. I'm rereading the Sarah Caudwell murder mysteries right now -- detective of unspecified gender etc etc, very arch, solves mysteries using principles of textual criticism. Next I think it will have to be the Niccolo books by Dorothy Dunnett.

6. I keep listening to this Keane song, although the radio recording isn't great.

Saturday, 6 September 2008


Parker team photo coutesy of Lizzie:

1. I feel properly back in Cambridge now, because I went to a feast last night. They're a little hard work when they're the long ones with a sorbet after the fish and it's very difficult not to drink -- just a few sips of each wine gets you tipsy. But this is really a very spoilt thing to complain about! I was glad to sit next to a rather aged friend with whom I wanted to catch up, but unhappily what I discovered is that his mind is wandering somewhat. Although it's not impossible that I was just failing to keep up with his trains of thought, which have always been unusual.

2. I read quite fast, possibly because of the way my mother taught me to read when I was little, I don't know. I think I do absorb what's there, just quickly, and it makes reading an expensive hobby. I am experimenting with audiobooks at present, though only of books I've already read. At audible.co.uk you can download them much more cheaply if you subscribe than if you buy them individually, and I have just finished Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, which was over thirty-four hours unabridged. Only some books could take this, and unfortunately most of the ones that spring to mind aren't available: Allan Garganus, Oldest Living Confederate's Widow Tells All; Pynchon, Mason and Dixon; Dorothy Dunnett's Niccolo series. But I have also now listened to a fantastic unabridged Moonstone, with a different narrator for each section -- Patrick Tull is Gabriel Betteredge -- and I also listened to the whole of the BBC's dramatised Barchester Chronicles. I think they would have been better served by an unabridged reading, because the BBC version was overly dependent on soliloquies. Next is a reading of the first Aubrey and Maturin book.

3. I don't think I have previously posted this excellent Pet Shop Boys video:

Wednesday, 3 September 2008


Listening to an admittedly quite good girlband version of The Human League's The Things That Dreams Are Made Of reminded me how good The Human League were.

For some reason it made me think of this old The The remix.

This is one of only two songs I currently have in an "Accordions and Banjos" ipod playlist. The other one is Travis, Sing (food fight video which started regrettable baby mohican trend here). Suggestions appreciated, if anything leaps to mind.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Some stuff

1. Returning to Cambridge is unpleasantly like defrosting, or perhaps more like freezing up again. I remember the last time I came back, though I hadn't been away properly then because when I worked in London I commuted down rather than moving. It was probably worse then because a) I was leaving a job I really didn't want to leave with excellent people and b) my new Cambridge job was chaotically unready for me in a way which turned out to be unhappily typical of the whole experience -- no one had considered that I might need a key to my office, for example, or a computer. This time I'm only leaving Italy, which was interesting but unsustainable, and coming back to a job with great people where everything has been got ready for me -- before I arrived there were even major arguments over my contract with HR, the two professors who are in charge having decided that it was a terrible insult to my dignity for me to have a three-month trial period, which was rather sweet of them. So I don't know what's making me feel uncomfortable about it all. Perhaps it's the fact that I have now lived in Cambridge twice as long as I have lived anywhere else in my life.

2. I have now acquired three rats, mother and two daughters. Mother and two daughter groups from literature or popular culture with acceptable names are harder to find than you'd think -- I toyed with Judy, Liza and Lorna but decided it was too camp. In the end I have called them by the late medieval names of some Anglo-Saxon saints -- Audrey (for Æthelthryth), Edith (for Eadgyth), and Osith (for Osgyth). They are not yet sure that I am a good thing, but they are very curious about me. This is such a sensible response.

3. If you read cuteoverload you have already seen this insane woman and her cat. I like to see this one from the husband's point of view -- so dull an eating companion that his wife has to train the cat to use a fork just to get through mealtimes.