Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Good news!

I'm going to be an aunt again!  Or the same aunt but twice.  Hurray!  I wonder how small nephew will react to a sibling?

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Small daft things

1. I had to renew my Exeter Cathedral card.  The postcode of the cathedral is EX1 1HS.  Someone must have done that deliberately.

2. Is it wrong to feel a little put off a solicitor because their phone number ends in 666, given that a solicitor is a type of lawyer?  Yes, it is, so I went with that solicitor anyway.

3. I'm not a fan of Bruno Mars.  I find it annoying how his songs get stuck in my head without my actually liking them.  But this alternative video for The Lazy Song is great, involving as it does Leonard Nimoy doing a sort of grumpier version of the Dude.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Dirty pony

Lady Gaga's new album is very excellent.  The best song is Schei├če (or ScheiBe as my ipod will have it):

She can't speak German, but she fakes it pretty convincingly.

If you'd prefer something not quite as hyperactive here's Bloody Mary:

I don't remember Jesus saying anything about dancing with your hands above your head, but I'm prepared to be corrected.

There are lots of other great songs, including Black Metal Lover, which has the lyric "Dirty pony, I can't wait to hose you down".

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

But she's tii-iiny

Here's female brown champion Jemima after shearing:
She's so little under all that fluff! And here's some video of some of the females in their pen after shearing. They're very keen to get back to their field, which is why they're making those agitated humming noises. Jemima's on the right.

Shearing 2011

Here are a few shearing photos. Suddenly the alpacas all look like supermodels, with lollipop heads on spindly bodies and long legs with clumpy feet.

The hotstepper

They're better off without their thick winter coats, but while some of them are calm about it all a few of them shriek like they're being murdered.

I was told there would be cake

One Before and several Afters in the holding pen
The shearer says that when he was a kid they were all given the day off school to go to the Devon County show.

Tra la-la la-la

I'm sorry, the last post celebrating Jemima's show triumphs should have been titled Brown Girl in the Ring. Here are some fabulous outfits to make up for it:

Alpaca update

Last August I blogged about the traumatic experience of a difficult alpaca birth that started when I was the only person around. Luckily first my dad and then a real vet arrived to do all the greasing up and little Jemima and her mother both survived. I put up video of some of her first steps. And now look at her!
Here she is at the Devon County Show last week, where she won her class, the biggest in the whole alpaca show, and then went on to win Champion Brown Female. This means she got to go into the main arena and parade round with all the other champions. Go Jemima!

I love these big agricultural shows. When I was a kid there was the Romsey show right next door to us on the Broadlands estate, and the New Forest and Hampshire shows, but now it's the Devon county, the Mid-Devon, and the Bath and West. Other people collect music festival security bracelet band things at this time of year, while I collect up ones from agricultural shows. My nephew came along on Friday afternoon. He loves tractors and was in absolute heaven. Here is a nice picture I took of the pony scurrying:
and a lovely little angora goat kid:

Today is alpaca shearing day. I'll try to get some photos but I don't want to get in the way.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Good stuff

1. I love how cutting-edge technology keeps getting used for quite trivial things. First there were those many odd gadgets in the Innovations catalogue which claimed to have been developed by NASA, as if the point of the moon missions had been to develop pens that worked upside down and really comfortable pillows. Total surveillance became possible, and the concept of Big Brother turned from a government controlling its people for sinister ends to a low-brow TV game show used to sell gossip magazines. Complex motion sensors and accelerometers were developed, and people use them to play tennis with someone in another city, or to pretend to be drinking beer from their iphone. It hadn't occurred to me that the Artificial Intelligence and the Turing test have gone the same way until I saw this excellent conversation between a bloke and a chatbot who wanted to get his credit card by pretending to be a young lady. This is really the Turing test in action, with real stakes. As a species, we're pretty slobbish. But I like that about us.

2. But this vision of books as places where you hang out to chat with random people about the book, rather than just reading it, and where the poor author never gets to finish the thing sounds pretty hellish to me. Interesting, but if it happens I don't think I'll be taking part. And a lot of readers are unsociable types like me. I think that digital books should instead develop things along the lines of the dictionary that's built into the kindle, things that help you read without getting in the way. The dictionary needs more words in it, since one only looks up obscure things anyway and there are so many old books for free on the Kindle, and it should have a lot more in the way of proper names, so that you can get a reminder of obscure references to mythical or historical figures. At the moment the endnotes of good editions of classics can be even harder to use than in the actual book, and that's just the sort of thing where an ebook reader ought to be able to give you instant info without breaking your reading. I have an edition (paperback) of Beowulf which has enough marginal vocabulary and notes about cruxes that it's possible to read Beowulf in the bath, and it makes so much difference to be able to read it as a poem rather than just translating it as a text. I think ebooks should go the route of unobtrusive help.

3. Talking of books and technology, I do rather like this new "book trailer" thing. At the time I missed the one Gary Shteyngart made for the release of Super Sad True Love Story in hardback, but it's great. He's made a sequel for the release of the paperback which is also quite funny, if not as good. Basically, if you've read any Shteyngart these will assure you that Super Sad True Love Story is the same sort of thing, and remind you why you like him. Well done Shteyngart.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Various internet things

1. Fans of Manchester United or some other football team are trying to get Paul Hardcastle's 19 to number one to celebrate their 19th title or something. But this is an angry song about the slaughter of young men in Vietnam and the terrible time the survivors had when trying to return to normal life. It's not really a victory anthem. I think this summarises my problem with sport.

2. Here is a Japanese robot baby. In this instance they have eschewed the uncanny valley but it's still startlingly spooky.

3. But this picture of Starbuck and Starbuck in Starbucks is great.

4. In Barcelona recently they set up a few Kinects and a 3D printer so that people could take home a little figurine of themselves in their choice of pose. The coverage went for the idea that this was some groundbreaking artistic endeavour instead of just great fun. That's something that annoys me about art -- it often seems ashamed to admit it's for fun.

5. These cat ears are controlled by the power of thought.

6. These people claim that in-born patterns in neurons are evidence for innate knowledge. This sort of thing really frustrates me. I'd need to know all about the possibilities of innate knowledge vs tabula rasa as explored by philosophy as well as about neuroscience and how brains are supposed to work in order to read this properly, with an informed and critical mind. And is "knowledge" the right word? My ignorance irritates me.

7. XKCD's zombie Marie Curie comic is fantastic. It should be put up in science labs in schools. Every time I go to the BL I get annoyed by the thing outside that says something like "Nothing in this world is to be feared, it is only to be understood -- Marie Curie", which may be a good sentiment, but seems to me to be seriously undercut by the fact that the thing she got her Nobel prizes for killed her in an unpleasant manner.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Parenting Lady Gaga

As she gets into the territory of the difficult second (if you don't count Monster and Remix), whether you still like Lady Gaga probably depends on whether you liked her wholeheartedly or reluctantly to start off with. I love mainstream pop, and I still think she's great. She has a new album out on Monday, and on the last two Mondays she has released tracks from it as teasers. I quite liked Edge of Glory, but Hair is excellent. It's about her teenage self saying to her parents "I want you to love me for who I am... I am my hair", and the refrain goes "This is my prayer, that I'll die living just as free as my hair". Spare a moment to sympathise with those two people trying to parent a teenage Lady Gaga.

Amazon.com's automated e-mails suggesting things that I might like to buy have just tried to tempt me with a digital watch, specifically a Casio F91-W. Well done amazon.com! I read boing boing, I'm anti-Guatanamo and a fan of the law of unintended consequences, so I did very briefly consider getting hold of one. Or, is it a trick? If I buy one will I end up on some register? It could backfire next time I try to get into Israel. Modern life is quite complicated.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Les neiges d'antan

When lecturing on codicology, or digitisation, or both, I have occasionally pointed out that the new Domesday survey done by schools in 1986, the nine-hundredth anniversary of the original, was unreadable within a decade or two, while the original manuscripts sit safely in the Public Record Office (OK, the National Archives), just as legible as ever. But they did a big project to get the 1986 data off the BBC microcomputer disks it was stored on, and now it's available online, searchable by place. There's a little BBC video about it here -- I don't know how to embed it. This one is less serious and has people from Tomorrow's World on it.

And it looks like the 1980s were actually as grey and brown as I remember them. This description of the village where I grew up says:
The main land cover is houses but some of it is small undeveloped grassy areas where children play after school.
That's exactly what it was like -- we all hung around playing in the bits of ground no one else had yet found a use for. Also, I remember this underpass! And this supermarket carpark too! (There was some reason why it was special to go to Carrefour, I forget what.) And Telegraph Wood Hill Fort, which now "only looks like an ordinary hill". We moved away when I was eleven so I feel very nostalgic about the place.

But I'm sorry to say that for the big 900-years since Domesday celebrations at my primary school we looked up the derivation of the name North Baddesley, found out that it meant North Bede's Lea, and decided this was insufficiently interesting. Instead we pretended it was called after someone known as Bad Desley, and we made him into a cowboy, and did an assembly about him, all in mime to the theme from Dynasty. I was one of the people who came on at the end and shot dead the few survivors from the raging gun fight which Bad Desley had provoked. I had a sheriff's badge.

Monday, 9 May 2011

I am fond of

1) My nephew! He's coming up for two and a half now, but he still thinks I'm funny, which is good. The other day I met up with him and his parents by the canal in Exeter. He saw me from quite a way away and ran up to me so I picked him up, and then he looked at me all seriously and said "Rat gone", with the air of one stating a regrettable fact. I'm pretty impressed he still remembers about the absence of rat. Today one of our neighbours' cats came out onto our decking, and my nephew went up and stroked her very gently. I was quite proud of him, all the more so when he saw how I put my hand out so the cat could decide for herself whether she wanted to rub her head on it, and copied me, luring the cat to him instead of approaching her. It's a good tactic with cats, especially if you're a toddler. So I am proud of having tutored him in the ways of pet righteousness.

2) The British Museum! It's like a refuge, with its huge light spaces and ancient stones. I went to see the Afghanistan exhibition, which is very good. Each of the sections is about a different important site, and is introduced by a placard that says something like "In 1961 the king was hunting with his courtiers when a local peasant presented him an intricately carved stone. He alerted French archaeologists, and they found the legendary lost city of Ay Khanum..." or whatnot. There's some fantastic stuff there from several different cultures.

3) Python! I am learning to program in Python, using some online resources I found. It makes me happy. It's quite a straightforward language.
print('Hello world!')

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

24-hour news

Here is a TV phone-interview with the man who inadvertently live-tweeted the Bin Laden raid. Slick CNN lady irritates tweeter by asking if he knew Osama bin Laden was living near his town, a question that is somewhere on the spectrum from very stupid to very insulting. Polite tweeterman later gets his revenge by explaining that he never watches TV and gets all his news from the Internet. Booyakasha! Your insensitive question asking days are numbered, smiley TV interview woman.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

A German robot

Hurray for the Germans, who have made this sensible ball-catching and coffee-making robot.

This makes a nice contrast with Japanese robots, which seem mostly designed to freak people out. Here is a new thing where you can snog a device controlled by someone else's tongue, possibly the recorded tongue of a celebrity! The designers are hoping in the future to extend the simulation with real tongue moistness.

Calvin Harris

Here's the new Calvin Harris single. I really like it -- popjustice pointed out that the breakdown sounds like someone actually having a breakdown. But why is Calvin Harris, who presumably has access to the original, uploading to YouTube a rough rip from Annie Mac's radio show? Is it because he's really really cool?

Some things on the web

I've been avoiding the coverage of the Bin Laden thing on the whole, but this Boing Boing story about how many American teenagers have no idea who Bin Laden was is quite compelling. I suppose you're lucky with teenagers if they notice someone who's walking on the same pavement as them, let alone someone who's declared war on their country.

You can vote here for your favourite American Civil War facial hair. I rather like how John Haskell King has incorporated his hair into the overall design, and George Crook has gone for an interesting two-triangle beard. And Burnside's are the original sideburns, supposedly.

This cartoon shows the recipe for an instant bestseller, in this case "Dark Angel Architect Boyfriend".

I would quite want this Lady Gaga/Bronzino mashup if Beyonce didn't look so rough.

Here is some great tidying up music:

Sunday, 1 May 2011

April: some things I read in it

March and April have both been dominated by Lent reading, which is slow, though I actually didn't manage to get through as much of Augustine on the Psalms as I had hoped. Also some of what I read this month was a bit meh. But books I really enjoyed in April include:

Jo Walton's Small Change trilogy: Farthing, Ha'penny, and Half A Crown.
If you think of the 1930s country house set two things come to mind: golden age murder mysteries; and an unfortunate fondness for fascism. Walton combines the two in Farthing, which is set in an alternate England where one such group managed to bypass Churchill in 1941 and agree a "peace with honour" with Hitler. Ever since they have been riding on a wave of popularity with the people, who are understandably quite glad to be done with the bombing and fighting. The novel takes place eight years later at Farthing, the country house where this particular set meets, over the course of a long weekend when a prominent politician is found stabbed in his dressing room. The narration alternates between Carmichael, a police inspector who struggles to solve the case while the aristocrats close ranks, and the daughter of the house, who has disgraced herself in their eyes by marrying a Jew. It's very well done, scarily believable. The next two books continue the story, though with different ingenues each time. The ongoing compromises made by Carmichael, a good man in a hard position, are particularly compelling. I think Jo Walton is great.

Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo

Michel Faber, The Crimson Petal and the White, The Apple
I reread The Crimson Petal on watching the brilliant BBC adaptation. This is a really extremely good book, and currently available on Kindle for a ridiculously low price. I hadn't read the Apple before. It's also very good, but more like a series of footnotes to the longer novel, to help you cope with the novel's famously abrupt ending.