Thursday, 31 March 2011

Also this is cool

From Letters of Note: a 9-year-old kid writes to Blue Peter with a slightly disturbing request, but it all turned out well in the end.

The honey badger

I think the internet is at its best when it makes you feel like part of a hive mind, like with the whole Bronx Zoo cobra on twitter thing and the way it's taken in the "honey badger don't give a shit" video. We're a pretty wierd species. Other animals don't develop complex global systems of information processing and sharing, and then mostly use them for pissing about. Oh what a piece of work is man! (In a good way.)

Wednesday, 30 March 2011


1. I've just had an e-mail from the US government to tell me that my ETSA permission to travel there thingy is about to expire. I'm not welcome in their country until I have filled out the form again. And maybe not even then. I've usually liked America more than I was expecting, but then there's the jet lag and hours on planes and in airports, so all those horror stories on boing boing about the pornoscanners have just tipped things the other way and I don't intend to return. Maybe I should reply to the US government's email explaining about that, but I fear they might be petty enough to keep it on my record. Like the underwear you can buy that has the fourth amendment in silver so that they show up on the body scanners. It's a good point, but is it a good idea, practically speaking, to rile them?

2. Sometimes it's odd to live in a village. For example, they are actually going to celebrate the Royal Wedding here. The flyer asks people to arrive at the village hall at 11am to watch the wedding live, with Bucks Fizz and nibbles. Then when it's all over you eat a lunch of "good old fashioned" fish and chips, while watching the thing again on the BBC's highlights show. They need a substantial take-up to pay for a TV licence for the village hall.

3. It's interesting that even for the people who were really behind World Book Day/Night and the giving out of free books, it seems to have gone rather badly. This woman tried to give out 48 copies of Fingersmith in Peterhouse.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Academic ethics again

One of the important things about doing post-docs is not to be too invested in the work you are doing for other people. Work hard at it and do it to the highest possible standard during work hours: and then hand it over and don't consider it yours any more. It's really a sort of surrogacy service for other people's projects. This is a policy that I came up with when I started my first post-doc, not because I thought that post-docs shouldn't own what they do, but because the example of the last person who worked on that project showed me the pitfalls of being too attached to what you do in that sort of position. Essentially the work you do is for someone else's project, and if you care too much about it you're probably going to feel hurt at some point. You don't have any control over what will happen to the work, and very probably your name will not appear on it. Neither of my post-docs has resulted in anything published in my name, and I don't have a problem with that. I've managed to publish quite a bit of my own work, although it's been a struggle time-wise, and that's the stuff I care about. I prefer it that way -- I prefer only to have my name on things I have some control over.

The freelance work I'm doing at the moment will not be published under my name, and this raises an interesting ethical issue. I am writing about some manuscripts about which I also wrote for my last post-doc. My thoughts on, say, Corpus MS 153 pre-date my work on either of these projects, but have of course informed my work on both. How much do I need to be careful, in the second project, not to look like I'm plagiarising the first project, given that neither are published with my name? It's complicated by the fact that the first project is a website, and the second is not the sort of project that cites websites.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Watch this

Having failed in the last post to come up with anything good that wasn't utterly trivial, here is an advert from an AIDs charity showing a patient whose changing health was filmed over 90 days. Watch the whole thing.

Here's the charity's website if you want to donate:

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Good things after too much haggis

My Grandma is staying, and while she's here we eat our main meal in the middle of the day, usually literally so, at noon.  I find this a trial.  For some reason the afternoon seems a bit more depressing after an octogenarian-appropriate meal, like steak and kidney pudding, or eggs and bacon, or, today, haggis, neeps, and chattered tatties, which my parents used to eat a lot when they were students in Scotland. 

Anyway I have felt moved to list some of the good things in this generally depressing world, in which you stop paying attention for a few days and suddenly we're bombing the Middle East again:
1.  True Blood.  I've got a bit addicted to this rather silly but dramatic Deep South vampire saga.  I like the way that each episode starts the same way the previous one ended, usually with someone screaming.  It's about a telepath called Sookie Stackhouse (the little girl from the Piano but grown up now and working in 18-rated drama) who's a waitress in a Lousiana diner.  When a vampire called Bill walks in she falls for him because she can't hear what he's thinking, but it's not a popular move among the population at large, who are anti-vampire.  There's a fantastic scene where she runs to him at dusk through a graveyard, wearing a big floaty white nightdress, to have emotionally meaningful sex in front of the fireplace at his Civil-War-era house.  I blame Mal from Firefly for the recent increase in men on TV wearing high-waisted button-fly trousers.

2.  Neal Stephenson has a new book out in the autumn.  That's a good thing.

3.  It's William Shatner's 80th birthday!  Here he is all covered in Tribbles.  Watch him give the camera a little bit of Shatner love at about 0:41

4.  You can do what you want with this man's textbook on Data Communications as long as you agree to be a nice person.  I think that's a pretty high price.

5. now has an Android App store, and there is some speculation that they might launch a tablet.  That's interesting, at least.  And anything that keeps Apple down a bit is good.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Census question

I managed to start an argument between my parents when I saw that the census form had arrived.  What I had failed to do was read the religious belief question before commenting.  I said "Dad, you are going to put us down as Christian not Anglican, aren't you?"  I had some idea that Anglican would be an option on the form, and I felt strongly that it should not be ticked.  My mother misheard.  "Have you put us down as Anglican?" she shouted at my Dad.  "I'm really angry at you if you've done that."  It took me some time to calm down the subsequent row which was entirely my fault.  For one thing I really doubt that my father would ever treat "Anglican" as a religion.  For another the question actually doesn't go into such detail.  The options start with "No religion", include plain "Christian", and finish with a box for filling in anything not covered, for example if you really want to put yourself down as a Jedi, which is fantastically tedious of you.  I'm not entirely sure what all the fuss has been about with this question, which seems very fair to me.  The Guardian, which is often very boring about religion, reports that the Humanist Society has done a survey to show just how misleading the Census religion question is.  Apparently "61% of 1,896 adults in England and Wales said they belonged to a religious denomination or body. When asked in a subsequent question if they were religious, only 29% of the same people said yes."  I might possibly these days say I was religious when asked in a poll.  As a youth I would never have said I was religious, because I basically saw religion as the enemy of faith. According to the same poll, when asked "48% of the people interviewed who said they were Christian believed that Jesus was a person".  Well, asking a Christian if Jesus was a person is a trick question.  The orthodox answer, taking orthodoxy by the creed, is yes and also God.  Or no, not just a person, also God.  Even if 48% think he was just a person and not God, then that simply makes them Arians -- these are debates which have been raging within Christianity for centuries, and contributed to the early years of Islam, when some people thought Islam was just an Arian sect.  I really object to the British Humanist Society in some way implying that whether or not people say they are Christians, they're not if they respond as that 48% did.  The British Humanist Society don't get to decide what Christianity is.  I'm afraid that I don't either, and when it comes down to it faith, like race, is something where people get to self-define.  I may be practicing the hermeneutics of suspicion, but I feel that the British Humanist Society is trying to imply that people who say they're Christians are so stupid that they don't even realise that they're not.  So much of what is said against Christianity in the media or popular books is against a Christianity that I do not recognise.  For one thing it's an immensely stupid Christianity, because the people talking against Christianity in this way have already decided it's stupid.  So hurray for Augustine!  Because it's Lent I'm reading some more of his Expositions on the Psalms.  I'm still only on Psalm 37.  He was intelligent and humane.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Brief note about being patronised

I really hate CAM, the Cambridge Alumni Magazine.  Stop making assumptions about the sort of person I am just because I went to your University!  I might look into stopping them from sending it to me.  The Trinity Alumni Magazine is even worse, of course.  Oddly enough, the Trinity Annual Record is far less provoking, with its serious obituaries of proper academics, and its transcriptions of usually reasonably worthy speeches, and the section about the college's charity work in London.  Cambridge has appalling PR -- people are being paid by the university and colleges to represent the place as far more self-indulgent than it is.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

The Only Way is Ethics

I have an ethical question.  Suppose someone were writing a book report for a publisher?  And that this someone knew and liked the author, and was broadly positive about the book but thought that there were a couple of major issues that needed fixing before it was published?  And felt that the author would probably work out who had written the report?  Given that everyone's first impulse on getting a report like that is to work out who wrote it, and this is not a massive field?  In that case would it be so very wrong, morally speaking, if that someone wrote the report in the distinctive voice of a well-known, some might say notorious, third person?  Would it?

It probably would.  *Sighs, morally.*

Monday, 14 March 2011

Profit from misery

This drug company has apparently hugely increased the cost of shots to help prevent premature labour in women who have had premature births before.  Instead of charging ten dollars they can charge fifteen hundred per shot because they have a monopoly.  Given that someone who has had a premature birth has gone through a truly horrendous experience even if the baby survived, let alone if the baby, as often happens, died, profiting from their despair and worry seems startlingly evil.  Really quite strikingly evil.

"If I were a practitioner of the hermeneutics of suspicion..."

...seems to me to be a great way to start a paragraph. I expect that practitioners of the hermeneutics of suspicion look worn and anxious, a bit like Cardinal Fang, the Terry Gilliam character in the Spanish Inquisition sketch.  I think it's my future ambition to become a crypto-practitioner of the hermeneutics of suspicion.

(M. Robinson, Absence of Mind, p. 39 -- this is the first Kindle book I've read which has given me real page numbers.)

Sunday, 13 March 2011

I smash the castle

This game here allows one to smash castles.

Bees: they're clever little blighters.

The Tournament of Books has finished half of the first round. I'm really enjoying it so far. I had previously decided I didn't want to read Skippy Dies but I think I've changed my mind now, although it did lose to Jennifer Egan's much-hyped Good Squad.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Some book-related things

It's Lent, so I'm finally getting round to reading Marilynne Robinson's Absence of Mind. I have been fearing this, I fear having to use my brain.

In other book news, the Morning Post's annual Tournament of Books has started. So far Freedom and Room are through to the next round, so no big surprises there. As well as the judge's verdict there's a commentary on the verdict by the people who run the thing, I think.

Plus it seems that Faber's The Crimson Petal and the White has been dramatised by the BBC. Maybe I should reread it. I wonder if they've made up a proper ending?

Saturday, 5 March 2011


I do like Britney's new single too: Till the World Ends. They've released it in a wierdly un-fanfare-y way. Maybe they're experimenting with release timing.

NB do not read the YouTube comments which seem mostly to be about when the world will actually end. Though this is an endearingly literal way of taking the song -- yes, we'll keep on dancing til the world ends, but only if we can expect it within a reasonable timescale, we do have other things to do.