Dead Trees

It’s rare that one can actually track down a meme. This one I’ve picked up from who in turn got it from – see his original post yesterday. Since then I see it has been picked up by (in chronological order) liz_lowlife, tvor, abishag, sunflowerinrain, siren_songs, neilh, captainblue, rhapsody9, lucifein, diffrentcolours, and finally (for now) mistressmalaise. It’s a very infectious meme – several second-generation answers there in less than 24 hours, including this one. I haven’t really looked at other people’s anwers before doing my own, but will do so later.

  1. What did you last read? Gateway by Frederik Pohl
  2. What are you reading now? Eats Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss; also in the middle of a William Hope Hodgson collection and Claire Tomalin’s Samuel Pepys, also rereading Sandman vol 7 (Brief Lives, the best of the ten), and also started but not finished Mary Gentle’s 1610, but Truss is the one I most recently looked into. Some people are polyamorous; I have a similar relationship with books.
  3. What do you plan to read next? The English by Jeremy Paxman.
  4. What would you like to read, but don’t have? Crime and PunishmentMaus.
  5. What would you recommend for others to read? Depends on the person, of course. I’ve been very impressed with SandmanSandman and liked it I’d recommend Ash by Mary Gentle.
  6. What’s your favourite book from childhood? The Lord of the Rings – sorry, but it’s true.
  7. What book last made you laugh Eats Shoots and Leaves – lots of good one-liners.
  8. What book last made you weep? Probably Lois McMaster Bujold’s short story The Mountains of Mourning.
  9. What book last made you angry? Hmm. I read an awful lot of inflammatory political material, but usually manage to avoid it in book form. The last book I read that I really didn’t like was Ersatz Nation by Tim Kenyon, but that’s not quite the same. Michael Moore’s description in Stupid White Men of how the Bush family stole the 2000 election in Florida did outrage me. (I discussed this with a friend from Florida whose repeated requests for an absentee ballot in 2000 got no response whatever, though none of her Republican-registered compatriots had any problem. My friend is registered as Independent rather than Democrat but I doubt she’ll be voting Republican in a hurry…)
  10. (extra question inserted by ) What book have you tried to read, perhaps several times, and never managed to finish? A couple of books by colelagues or former colleagues (who will remain nameless) which I started out of politeness and just wasn’t interested enough in to see through to the end.

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Hugo and Nebula shortlists

Just posted this to usenet:

Maybe this is an old point of discussion, but I thought I’d toss it out anyway. After some time off, I’m trying to catch up on more recent science fiction, and have listed several year’s worth of Hugo and Nebula winners to find and read. I have my own thoughts on this, but how would other fans describe the differences between the types of novels that win each of these awards? In other words, how is the average Hugo award winning novel different than the average Nebula award novel?

First of all, I echo someone else’s comment that the shortlists will be at least as interesting as the winners and of course provide much more reading material!

However I have not found the Nebula Award final ballot very useful for me in identifying novels that I would like to read, and two of the last four awards for Best Novel are, in my humble opinion, completely incomprehensible (Darwin’s Radio and The Quantum Rose). The Hugo shortlist, on the other hand, always includes several books that I already own and I usually enjoy tracking down and reading the others; and while I disagree with all of the last four Hugos for Best Novel, I can at least understand what the voters saw in them (even if it’s only loyalty to the local candidate as with this year’s award to Hominids). I actually find that the shortlists (and winners) of the British Science Fiction Award and the Arthur C. Clarke Award are much better guidelines for my own personal taste, but your mileage may vary.

In terms of how the average Hugo winner differs from the average Nebula winner, the Nebulas are more likely to go to left-wing writers; are more likely to go to women writers; and are more likely to go to new writers. I don’t think any of these are necessarily bad things. It’s a shame that the Nebulas are also more likely to go to inferior books.

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December Books 9-11) Sandman VIII-X

9, 10 and 11) World’s End, The Kindly Ones and The Wake by Neil Gaiman (Sandman vols 8-10). Excellent stuff. I still think Brief Lives is the best of them, but this is all very effective writing. Now to go back to the beginning and see what I missed…

The most disappointing thing about reading the Sandman series is that it rather diminished my admiration for Gaiman’s novel American Gods which I had read first over a year ago. Basically many of the most effective bits from the novel were previously done by Gaiman in the Sandman series, and done better (eg the undertakers; the technique of vignettes apparently tangential to the main story; the various deities who appear in both). So I feel more or less prepared to write my long-postponed review of the novel. But first I hope to go and see RotK tonight.

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December books 6) Sandman VI 7) The Music of the Primes 8) Sandman VII

6) Fables & Reflections by Neil Gaiman (Sandman vol 6) – thought-provoking as always, but a bit episodic.

7) The Music of the Primes: Searching to Solve the Greatest Mystery in Mathematics, by Marcus du Sautoy – interesting story of the humans behind the maths, but I would actually have liked more equations. My brother almost got mentioned twice (his current boss, and his student who won a prize for cryptography). But I must buy an actual textbook on number theory if I want to be serious about this interest.

8) Brief Lives by Neil Gaiman (Sandman vol 7) – my favourite of them so far. Only thing that spoils it is the artwork getting a bit dodgy around Chapter 6.

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My year

1. What did you do in 2003 that you’d never done before?
Started a livejournal! (Twice, actually. I tried blogging in February and lost interest; this lj has now been running since May.)

2. Did you keep your new years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
Didn’t do any this year, but I made a mid-year resolution to do six-monthly resolutions; I kept most of my July ones apart (significantly) from those to do with work.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Since our daughter’s first birthday was yesterday we just missed the boat! Two work colleagues had children, and so did my cousin Fionnuala (only aged 18 herself), and a bunch of friends.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Nobody particularly close. People who I knew and liked who died in 2003 included my cousin Niall MacDermot, the Serbian prime minister Zoran Djindjic, my friend Padraig’s father Michael Hart, my friend Stuart’s wife Loren Butler Feffer.

5. What countries did you visit?
UK, Ireland, Italy, France, US, Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Croatia, Switzerland, Hungary, Macedonia, Serbia-and-Montenegro-and Kosovo (all three but count as only one country), Greece and (for the first time) Georgia and Slovakia.

6. What would you like to have in 2004 that you lacked in 2003?
More time with my family.

7. What date from 2003 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
Djindjic assassination on March 12, because it happened while I was out at lunch with someone who also knew him; the day I had my toe operation and James got expelled from Serbia, both on 3 July; the Georgia revolution on November 23; the Northern Ireland elections on November 26.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Getting the elections site together: full data on for all post-1973 local elections, and running a successful predictions contest in the midst of all else in November.

9. What was your biggest failure?
At work, I have still not managed to get the report on Pan-Albanianism out, and here I sit procrastinating again!

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Surgery on an ingrowing toenail, which seems to have fixed it.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
The Sandman vols 6-10 arrived this morning, but I’m going to save them for Christmas; they may be rivalled by Mary Gentle’s 1610.

12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?
Certainly my wife’s. Our au pairs and other childcare helpers. Many of my work colleagues.

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?
Several other colleagues. The voters of Northern Ireland. Kosovo politicians.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Books. Wine. Travel.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
The Northern Ireland elections. P-Con. The Moldovan peace treaty (which turned out to be a damp squib).

16. What songs will always remind you of 2003?
The Buffy the musical – original soundtrack album which I bought a few weeks ago and have been listening to in the car.

17. Compared to this time last year,
i. are you happier or sadder?
No big change.
ii. thinner or fatter?
A little fatter, I think.
iii. richer or poorer?
Feel somewhat poorer – due to au pair and extra mouth to feed.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Book reviews for the other website. Creative writing.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Worrying about work.

20. How will you be spending Christmas?
I shall cook boar for the family (ie really Anne and the au pair, as the children won’t be likely to eat it).

22. Did you fall in love in 2003?

23. How many one night stands?

24. What was your favourite TV programme?
University Challenge. Practically the only one I watched regularly – I’ve lost touch with the seventh series of Buffy.

25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

26. What was the best book you read?
Hmm. Memorable books: Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson; I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith; Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë; The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck; Holes by Louis Sachar; Sandman vols 1-5 by Neil Gaiman; The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson; The Seven Daughters of Eve by Bryan Sykes. I have to say I think Sandman so far is the best, but haven’t finished it yet.

27. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Nothing really, I’ve bought very little music this year.

28. What did you want and get?
Books. Dishwasher.

29. What did you want and not get?
DVD player.

30. What was your favourite film of this year?
The only films I saw were Terminator 3, American Wedding and Tomorrow Never Dies. I marginally preferred Terminator 3.

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
Age 36; went shopping with Fergal.

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Swimming in the sea. Missed a chance in Ireland in the summer and again in Montenegro in September.

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2003?
As usual – smart at work, sloppy at home.

34. What kept you sane?
Reading, cooking.

35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Halle Berry (see Tomorrow Never Dies)

36. What political issue stirred you the most?
European enlargement.

37. Who did you miss?
As usual, my father (who died in 1990).

38. Who was the best new person you met?
Noel Whelan.

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2003
There are more important things than work.

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year
“Objects in the rear view mirror may appear closer than they are” – not actually appropriate for my year, but a great lyric!

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Saakashvili, Саакашвили and სააკაშვილი

Back to the Russian translation of the Georgia report. Now, we had decided that მიხეილ სააკაშვილი, the likely next president of Georgia, should be written Mikheil Saakashvili in English. But in Russian, should it be Михеил Саакашвили, which would be an accurate transliteration, or should his first name be Михаил which is the more usual Russian spelling?

Once again, Google is my friend. Михеил Саакашвили gets only 5 hits, Михаил Саакашвили gets over 38,000. So we’ll use Михаил knowing that if we’re wrong we’re in good company.

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December Books 4) After London

4) After London by Richard Jeffries

I've been racing through this on my Palm (whole text is also online) leaving behind several other books I had previously started. This is often described as the first ever post-apocalyptic book, published in 1885; some unspecified disaster has overcome civilisation, much of England is flooded and has become a huge lake, and society has reverted to feudalism.

We start off with a lengthy description of the social and zoological situation; we then turn to our hero, Felix Aquila, a young nobleman whose marvellous physical characteristics are dwelt on lovingly (unlike his supposed female love interest, of whom all we are told is that she is beautiful); heruns away from home, fights in a war, discovers the poisonous ruins of London; and is adopted as their king by the shepherd tribes of the south-east in their perennial war against the gipsies/Romany.

The book ends really abruptly with Felix tramping back to his home to reclaim his love. The descriptions of the landscape, vegetation and natural world are fantastic, but there's really very little plot. Still, a classic of proto-science fiction that I can at long last cross off my list.

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Job hunting

I’ve started doing something about my next career move. I’ve been working here since May last year; I’ve been in the NGO/thinktank sector working on the Balkans since January 1997. Before that I had six and a half years of “full-time” postgraduate study combined with political activism, including fighting (and losing) elections in 1990 and 1996.

I’m a bit tired of being outside the tent pissing in (to adapt President Johnson’s pithy phrase about J. Edgar Hoover). Also I don’t want to work here for the rest of my life, or even in twelve months’ time: when I joined, the job was Balkans only, now I’m getting pushed more and more into covering Russian-related stuff, which I don’t have an expertise in. And I really really don’t want to work on Chechnya, and that is inevitable if I stay.

Plan A is to aim rather high: I’d like to be one of the advisers in the “cabinet” of a European Commissioner, all of whose jobs are up for grabs next year. This will take some serious political lobbying and also some luck. I’ve started sounding out the various possibilities but basically this will be signed and sealed either between February and May, when the ten commissioners from the new member states are appointed, or six months later when the new fifteen from the current members come in; I’d prefer to stick it out here for another six months, but may not have that option.

But if all that fails I have a plan B. I’ve been hawking my CV around the various lobbying firms here in Brussels, and been getting moderately positive vibes in return; it certainly seems like a less political process where I can trade on my skills rather than my qualifications (which are in astrophysics and history, so not obviously related to a career as a Eurocrat). It would mean trading the intellectual challenge of the work I do now for greater financial reward, but I’m beginning to feel that I could bear it.

Anyway, back to the current job; finish first read of (too long) report on Transdniestria, see if I can get pan-Albanianism out the door, and do something on ceasefire monitoring before Christmas.

And at long last I have a user pic.

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IMDB meme

IMDB meme

1. Godfather, The (1972).

2. Shawshank Redemption, The (1994)

3. Godfather: Part II, The (1974)

4. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The (2001)

5. Schindler’s List (1993)

6. Citizen Kane (1941)

7. Casablanca (1942)

8. Seven Samurai (1954)

9. Star Wars (1977)

10. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

11. Memento (2000)

12. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

13. Rear Window (1954)

14. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The (2002)

15. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

16. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

17. Usual Suspects, The (1995)

18. Amelie (2001)

19. Pulp Fiction (1994)

20. North by Northwest (1959)

21. Psycho (1960)

22. Silence of the Lambs, The (1991)

23. 12 Angry Men (1957)

24. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

25. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

26. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)

27. Goodfellas (1990)

28. American Beauty (1999)

29. Vertigo (1958)

30. Pianist, The (2002)

31. Sunset Blvd. (1950)

32. Apocalypse Now (1979)

33. Some Like It Hot (1959)

34. Matrix, The (1999)

35. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

36. Taxi Driver (1976)

37. Third Man, The (1949)

38. Paths of Glory (1957)

39. Fight Club (1999)

40. Boot, Das (1981)

41. L.A. Confidential (1997)

42. Double Indemnity (1944)

43. Chinatown (1974)

44. Requiem for a Dream (2000)

45. Maltese Falcon, The (1941)

46. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

47. Bridge on the River Kwai, The (1957)

48. Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi (2001) AKA – Spirited Away

49. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

50. All About Eve (1950)

51. M (1931)

52. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

53. Raging Bull (1980)

54. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

55. Se7en (1995)

56. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000)

57. Wizard of Oz, The (1939)

58. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

59. Vita e bella, La (1997) AKA: Life is Beautiful

60. American History X (1998)

61. Sting, The (1973)

62. Touch of Evil (1958)

63. Manchurian Candidate, The (1962)

64. Alien (1979)

65. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

66. Rashemon (1950)

67. Leon (1994)

68. Annie Hall (1977)

69. Great Escape, The (1963)

70. Clockwork Orange, A (1971)

71. Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The (1948)

72. Reservoir Dogs (1992)

73. Sixth Sense, The (1999)

74. Jaws (1975)

75. Amadeus (1984)

76. On the Waterfront (1954)

77. Ran (1985)

78. Braveheart (1995)

79. High Noon (1952)

80. Fargo (1996)

81. Blade Runner (1982)

82. Apartment, The (1960)

83. Aliens (1986)

84. Toy Story 2 (1999)

85. Strangers on a Train (1951)

86. Modern Times (1936)

87. Shining, The (1980)

88. Donnie Darko (2001)

89. Duck Soup (1933)

90. Princess Bride, The (1987)

91. Lola rennt (Run Lola, Run) (1998)

92. City Lights (1931)

93. General, The (1927)

94. Metropolis (1927)

95. Searchers, The (1956)

96. Full Metal Jacket (1987)

97. Notorious (1946)

98. Manhattan (1979)

99. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

100. Graduate, The (1967)

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Something about me meme

I’ve picked this up from both and , which is appropriate because they both fall very much into the category of people I hardly know at all: I added because I had quoted one of her reviews, and because she sent me a note about Ray Bradbury’s stories set in Ireland.

I know very little about some of the people on my friends list. Some people I know relatively well. Some of you I hardly know at all. Perhaps you lurk, for whatever reason. But you read my blog and I thank you.

But here’s a thought: why not take this opportunity to tell me a little something about yourself. Any old thing at all. Just so the next time I see your name I can say: “Ah, there’s so and so…she likes spinach.”

I’d love it if every person who friended me would do this. Yes, even those I know really well. Then post this in your own journal, if you feel like it.

Tell me something you think I don’t already know. I’m curious.

Three things about me:

When doing my M Phil I discovered Eleanor of Aquitaine’s long-forgotten exact date of birth from a medieval horoscope. (As I type, the clock has just ticked into what would have been her 880th birthday, December 14.)

I played the clarinet in the school band, and percussion in the City of Belfast Youth Orchestra and occasionally at Cambridge. My children have chewed the ends off my timpani sticks now, though I don’t mind as it’s almost fifteen years since I last used them.

Going back to the cource of the meme, I never used to like spinach but learnt to tolerate it combined with cheese. However when I lived in Bosnia several of the local restaurants did a deliciously garlicky spinach arrangement called a “dalmatinska garnitura” and it completely changed my view.

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December Books 3) Paladin of Souls

3) Paladin of Souls, Lois McMaster Bujold

I had a slow start this morning, thanks to the Brussels branch of the Liberal Democrats’ Christmas party last night, and aided the waking process by finishing off Bujold’s latest. This is her third fantasy, stepping away from the superb Vorkosigan space operas, a sequel to The Curse of Chalion. Richly drawn world where theology is an applied science, gripping plot, heartily recommended.

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December books 1) Sandman V 2) The Myth of Greater Albania

1) A Game Of You, by Neil Gaiman (Sandman Vol 5) – excellent. I am beginning to wonder, though, whether I should go back and read it all again from the beginning now, or wait until I have bought one or two more?

2) The Myth of Greater Albania, by Paulin Kola – Not a bad historical account of Albania’s policies towards Kosovo in the twentieth century. It hadn’t struck me before that both King Zog and Enver Hoxha were basically installed as rulers of Albania through force of arms with Serbian help, and though both went through their ups and downs with Belgrade subsequently, neither ever really challenged the 1912 borders. Unnervingly the book switches to the first person for one particular diplomatic episode where the author was (at least by his own account) the main player.

I raised this with an Albanian diplomat at a reception we were both at last night. He teased me by asking when I would next visit Albania. I told him I hadn’t been to Albania for over 36 years. He asked how I could write about Albania without having ever been there. I replied, “The last thing I wrote about Albania was the story of how you didn’t become President.” We clinked our wine glasses together.

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First Christmas card

I just got a Christmas card from the Adult Education Centre at University College Dublin, sent to my work address. Very nice of them, but I don’t think I’ve ever had dealings with any of the ten staff let alone the Centre itself. Quite mysterious…

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Well, B woke us up at 4.30 last night. Not a particularly unusual event, we expect it to happen several times a month, and usually it's containable. However U had a stomach upset as well, and alternated between gurgling with typical eleven-month-old delight at the state of the world and puking onto our bed. So I have been fit for nothing all day. The senior political adviser to one of the more progressive Balkan prime ministers is coming here to meet me in an hour and a half; I hope I make sense to him; whether or not I do, I'm going home and to bed as soon as he leaves our office.

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One load off my mind

We finally published the Georgia report a few minutes ago. One of the last minutes hiccups was how to spell the first name of Saakashvili, the leader of the revolution. I managed to transliterate his name to სააკაშვილი, did a Google and found that his first name appears to be მიხეილ – the fourth letter is definitely an e, and the third almost always transliterated kh, so Mikheil.

And then someone pointed out that he had a piece in yesterday’s Financial Times that spells his name Mikheil; and since he speaks fluent English he presumably knows which version is right, so I hardly needed to bother…

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