If x is an approximation to the square root of n, then (x/2 + n/2x) is a closer approximation.
Monthly Archives: November 2007
Thaw in Macedonia, freeze in Kosovo
I’ve driven this route many times, and I’ve always been aware that Macedonia is in general a few degrees warmer than Kosovo – farther south, less elevated, gets the tail end of the warmer Mediterranean breezes before they are deflected by the mountains. But this is the first time I can remember doing the route when the temperature difference straddled freezing point: it was a tremendous contrast to emerge from the Vardar gorge after crossing the border to find the ground covered in snow, and bedraggled bushes covered with frost like last year’s decorations. Macedonia, twenty minutes drive behind me, was a bit chilly, but there was no visible evidence of winter weather having hit. It’s quite rare for international frontiers to actually coincide with such a dramatic change in the micro-climate.
November Books 11) The Happy Prince
11) The Happy Prince and Other Stories, by Oscar Wilde
Have had this ebook from FictionWise sitting on my Blackberry for ages, but airport / waiting for meetings to happen gave me the incentive to go through it. I was familiar with two of the stories, The Happy Prince and The Selfish Giant, from children’s anthologies, but the others (The Nightingale And The Rose, The Devoted Friend and The Remarkable Rocket) were all new to me.
I’m not actually certain that I would give these stories to a child to read – they are all so very sad. The one with the happiest ending is The Selfish Giant, and even then he dies, if not quite as tragically as the protagonists of the other stories! Knowing what I do about Wilde’s own life and death, I was on the lookout for reflections in the stories: but in fact what there is is rather surprising – The Selfish Giant is an explicitly Christian allegory, and The Remarkable Rocket, full of his own pretension, arrogance and snobbery, eventually terminally expends his considerable talents and energies in such a way that nobody notices.
These are uncomfortable stories, and should only be read by children (and perhaps even adults) under strict supervision.
There have been times in my life that the Holiday Inn in Skopje has felt like a second home. I’ve been here rather less in the last year or so, since the people I knew well in the previous government carelessly lost the election and since I changed jobs myself. But it’s quite nice to be back, benefiting from wi-fi, essentially doing much the same work as I would be doing in my office in Brussels. The one irritant is that my Belgian mobile phone doesn’t seem to be networked. But as long as the most urgent messages are getting through I can cope. (My long-suffering assistant in Brussels has already backstopped a couple for me.)
This trip has been unusually chaotic to organise. I had originally planned to be in Kosovo today and see government officials here tomorrow afternoon. Then I realised that the people I want to see in Kosovo are all in Austria today, returning only late this evening. So I asked the Macedonian officials to rearrange their meeting for today instead. Most of them can do it, but of course the most important official is in Estonia and gets back too late this evening to meet. So I have lined up a separate meeting with her tomorrow morning, though am still seeing her colleagues this afternoon; and then will try and zoom up to Kosovo, weather and traffic conditions permitting, to pack in a day’s worth of meetings into the afternoon and evening. And will then try and zoom back here late tomorrow evening to sleep, as my plane home to Brussels via Zagreb on Friday morning is at a truly ungodly hour.
Normally I prefer to travel with colleagues, but I think the levels of uncertainty about the timetabling and transport make it just as well that I am alone this time!
That Doctor Who spoiler, and Kingsley Amis
Those of you who care have been expressing outrage or satisfaction, depending, about the big news re next year’s Doctor Who.
Come on folks, it’s not a big deal. It’s rather nice that the programme is able to explore both its recent roots (as with this story) and its more distant roots (as with School Reunion and Time Crash). I can’t quite believe that some commentators seem to think this means The End Of Doctor Who As We Know It – that happened in 1966 when William Hartnell regenerated into Patrick Troughton!
In other news, I am baffled as to why my attempts to list my newly purchased copy of Spectrum IV, edited by Kingsley Amis and Robert Conquest, breaks my LibraryThing catalogue. I’m sure there is a good reason.
(By the way, I am in Macedonia for the rest of the week.)
I was in and out of Beneluxcon this weekend, given that it was just up the road in the Novotel in Leuven and featured three particularly interesting authors, Ken MacLeod, Christopher Priest and Alastair Reynolds. There were 100 people signed up (I myself was alphabetically last at #100) but I didn’t see more than 40 there at any given time. I was struck by a couple of features of the event which differed from any other sf con I have attended (not that I have been to all that many).
1) The programming was fairly light: both mornings and afternoons featured an hour-long session with a single GoH (MacLeod in the mornings, Priest in the afternoons) followed by another panel featuring more of the guests (apart from the three already mentioned, these included two Dublin writers, David Murphy and Robert Nielsen, and three Dutch/Flemish writers) to pick up on the themes of the first panel. So that was only four hours of actual discussion on each day, though there were also readings, signings, a workshop, a banquet, and a tour of Leuven, none of which I was able to attend.
I felt that this approach probably did ensure that the discussion panels were of higher quality than I have sometimes experienced elsewhere; there was no sense of “OMG I’m on another panel WTF am I going to say” which I have sometimes seen (indeed, sometimes experienced directly) at other cons. It was, of course, embedded in a wider theme of talking about “Visions of the Future”, which the con chair attempted with varying success to channel discussions into. And it happened to suit my own intermittent attendance rather well.
2) The second point that struck me is rather less to Beneluxcon’s favour. The eight featured guest authors and the four-strong organising committee were all male. Not a single woman appeared on a panel at any time during the weekend. Unless I missed something, the only woman mentioned in the programme booklet was a local fan who had recently died. Very peculiar. There were certainly women in attendance – I had long chats with Agnes (and Graham) Andrews, and more briefly with ex-
Anyway, I did generally enjoy it. Ken MacLeod’s talk on the future of ideology was as provocative as I had hoped, and indeed I would have felt the con was worth the attendance for that alone. Christopher Priest on the inside story of The Prestige was also an entertaining insight into the processes of writing and then having one’s work transferred to the big screen. I did very well in the dealer’s room, picking up nine vintage paperbacks for €15, including Mutiny in Space. And I note that the organising committee for next year’s Beneluxcon in Eindhoven includes someone I knew twenty years ago, so I’m open to attending it, if the guests are interesting and the everything is right.
November Books 10) Mutiny In Space
10) Mutiny In Space, by Avram Davidson
I confess that I bought this purely because I overheard people sniggering about how Jack Gaughan, the cover artist, had been told to add a very small amount to the costume of the lady on the front cover compared to the original (which is still visible, if more dimly, on the back cover):
Also the blurb made this look like it was probably entertainingly bad, particularly given its likely take on sexual politics.
Well, it turned out to be a bad book for quite different reasons. The blurb writer obviously felt that a planet controlled by women must be a Bad Thing; but in the novel Davidson portrays it as a pre-industrial feudal Eden, where men happen to be much shorter and women do the chivalry thing. (The scenes described in the blurb have almost no resemblance to anything that happens in the book.) If anything, I was disappointed by how unimaginative the setting actually was, and the plot is just good Earthmen vs bad Earthmen in Eden. On top of that the characterisation is lousy, and the pacing rather peculiar.
A quick read, though not necessarily a particularly edifying one.
Three Sunday morning links
Three blogs that you all should be reading:
Alex Wilcock is torn between the two Lib Dem leadership candidates.
Verity Lambert, 1935-2007
Like many other people, I’m sorry to hear of the death of Verity Lambert yesterday, the day before the 44th anniversary of Doctor Who and the week before her own 72nd birthday. Not many people start a cult TV series before they turn 28. Her professional record was indeed impressive, but I found myself really charmed by her commentaries on the DVDs of early Doctor Who stories, and by a lovely double-headed interview she did with Russell T Davies in one of last year’s Doctor Who magazines. Her legacy, of course, lives on.
November Books 9) The Awful End of William the Silent
9) The Awful End of William the Silent: The First Assassination of a Head of State with a Handgun, by Lisa Jardine
Got a battered second-hand copy of this cheap off the internets after reading Veronica Wedgwood’s biography of William (which is not cited even once by Jardine). I think this is much the better book; it’s also about a third the length. Where Wedgwood breathlessly tells of the exploits of her hero, Jardine analyses how events were reported and used in the wider geopolitical context. She makes much of the use of the new pistol technology for William’s assassination, though I’m not totally convinced by her stress on the novelty of the murder method: in fact it was the second such attempt on William’s life in just over two years, and it was more than two decades since the Duc de Guise had been shot by a pistol-wielding assassin.
What surely is unusual is the economic aspect to the crime – the fact that Philip II of Spain had put a massive price on William’s head, and indeed paid out to the family of the assassin (who was himself put to death in a gruesome public execution in Delft lasting several days). Even then, a policy of decapitation of unfriendly regimes by physical attack on their leaders was regarded as particularly controversial, and the murder clearly damaged Philip II’s already poor reputation still further. (The more modern parallels are obvious.)
Jardine concentrates a lot more than Wedgwood on the English aspects of the killing, though she goes in circles a bit (especially about the death of Sir Philip Sidney) and pulls in contemporary references in a way that will make this book feel rather dated before many years have passed. On the whole, though, I found her presentation of the historical details more lucid and interesting than Wedgwood’s.
Anyway, a good quick read about an interesting part of European history.
One of Five and two of Three
Thanks to the long flights to and from Cyprus, I was able to catch up with some more Old Who: Castrovalva, Doctor Who and the Silurians, and The Time Monster.
These days, of course, there is a real Newton Institute in CambridgeShada (and the bits from it hacked into The Five Doctors).
Anyway, none of these makes my personal top ten, maybe not even my top twenty, but I quite enjoyed all three.
November Books 8) Eurotemps
8) Eurotemps, edited by Alec Stewart, devised by Alec Stewart and Neil Gaiman
A collection of stories setting the UK government’s Department of Paranormal Resources in a European context which I picked up at Octocon, apparently a sequel to an earlier collection; a British, more bureaucratic version of the Wild Cards stories. Interesting to realise that back in 1992 there was far less Europhobia around in British culture – compare the mild mocking of Brussels here with the irresponsible paranoia of Andrew Roberts. Most of the stories are fairly standard stuff given the scenario; it starts with a rather good one by David Langford which I hadn’t previously read, and I really enjoyed the second last, by
We went and saw B today en famille, and spent about an hour with her in the snoezelruimte at the centre where she is living – not quite as elaborate as the one we used to go to at Tielt-Winge, but none the less very acceptable. She was delighted to see us, and F delighted to see her; U took a bit more convincing that this was a good idea, but had mellowed out by the end. It was really good to see all three children being happy in the same room, with F valiantly doing his best to interact with his sisters. We may even try the excursion again.
We’ve done quite well for family expeditions since she moved out. Last week we went to the annual exhibition of small cuddly animals in our village (see also our visit in 2005both U and F enjoyed it, U seeming very much to engage with them whether in or out of her buggy:
and F bringing along his current favourite toy, Mr Rabbit, to meet his distant relatives:
The weekend before we went to Technopolis, the educational science centre in Mechelen to the north of Brussels. Lots of exciting wheels to turn and buttons to push; the highlight is the child’s encounter with their own little Van de Graaff generator, a quite literally
See also video evidence of how exciting this is!
Well, the children’s uncle has just arrived to celebrate his 30th birthday, so I shall go and be sociable.
We got F out of bed last night to watch Time Crash (we’re an hour ahead of you guys in Ireland and UK-land, so it wasn’t on until twenty past nine, way past his usual bed-time even on a Friday). He loved every minute of it, though some of the jokes were a bit above his head. And this morning we sat down and watched the Doctor Who Confidential (which consists entirely of fannish squeeing from Collinson, Davies, Moffat, Harper, Davison and Tennant). And then we watched The Runaway Bride. And we finished off with a few scenes from episode one of Castrovalva, so that he could see what the Fifth Doctor looked like first time round. And then after a break we watched both episodes of Revenge of the Slitheen.
F has only really got into Whodom in the last few months. He was aware of it as something his parents watched after his Saturday bedtime, but then his cousin J raced through our DVDs of the 2005 and 2006 seasons while we were staying with them in July, and then the Sarah Jane Adventures began and he is now completely hooked. Now it is again past his bedtime, but he is spontaneously redesigning my filing system for my Tenth Doctor episodes. Excellent.
There has been some debate here about whether or not Mel Chisholm is groping Geri Halliwell’s breast at 4:28 into this.
But what do you think?
A few posts of interest
November Books 7) Oscar and Lucinda
7) Oscar and Lucinda, by Peter Carey
Supposedly one of the Great Australian Novels. I was engaged by it pleasantly enough, but the eventual tragic ending seemed to me just a little far-fetched.
Wasn’t it great???!!!???
The original Season Three
I have been celebrating my purchase of the CD version of The Ark by listening to most of the 1965-66 season of Doctor Who on audio, all narrated by Peter Purves. I don’t have audio versions of either the first story, Galaxy 4, or the last, The War Machines, but otherwise it adds up to 37 episodes of seven (or eight) stories. A child conceived just before Mission to the Unknown was broadcast would have been due shortly after the last episode of The Savages.
I think it’s a brilliant run of stories. The First Doctor, having shed the original Tardis crew, settles down to being a strange cosmic wizard, with a slightly contemptuous and hobbyist attitude to technology and science, and a vigorous sense of ethics and morality. Peter Purves as Stephen plays straight man and action man, often tactlessly reminding the Doctor that he has no control over where the Tardis lands. There are no less than four female companions – Vicki (married off), Katarina (sucked into outer space), Sara Kingdom (the best of the four, who gets aged into dust at the end of The Daleks’ Master Plan) and Dodo Chaplet (of whom I have written before). Nicholas Courtney makes his first Doctor Who appearance as Bret Vyon (and also ends up getting shot). And there are three particularly memorable villains: Mavic Chen, the Guardian of the Solar System who betrays humanity to the Daleks; the mysterious Celestial ToymakerThe Ark survive by enslaving the Monoids (who then turn on them) and Jano and his colleagues are supporting their utopia by vampirically leeching off their own kind. Two female companions die horribly. All three historical stories end in mass killings (the sack of Troy, the eponymous St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, and the shootout at the OK Corral). But The Myth Makers and The Gunfighters, and the Christmas and New Year episodes of The Daleks’ Master Plan, are basically comic, and though it’s not to everyone’s tastes I find it works for me. (The twentieth century appears basically as comic relief in The Daleks’ Master Plan, and briefly at the end of The Massacre to introduce Dodo; the first real contemporary story was The War Machines.)
With audio, the listener is left to imagine the visuals, and given the way in which special effects technology has moved on in the last 40 years this is probably just as well (perhaps most true of The Celestial Toymaker, whose one surviving episode is visually rather dull). The various Daleks, other aliens and humans of The Daleks’ Master Plan sound particularly memorable. That is also the story with the best sound effects, with various jungly noises for the planet Kembel, and the sinister throb of the Time Destructor. But the two final stories of the sequence are musically quite remarkable: the narrative of The Gunfighters is framed in a ballad performed by an off-screen narrator (not everyone likes this but it is one of my guilty pleasures), and Raymond Jones’ electronic incidental music for The Savages is innovative and memorable.
Anyway, I’ve written each of these up separately before, but it was interesting to put them all together and listen in the sequence first intended (especially to separate Mission to the Unknown from The Daleks’ Master Plan by the four episodes of The Myth Makers). It is surely the most diverse season the show has ever had, in terms of setting and tone. Perhaps none of the stories is individually as strong as the greatest of the Tom Baker/Philip Hinchcliffe/Robert Holmes years, but taken as a whole it’s one of the best sequences of classic Who.
November Books 6) Democratisation in Southeast Europe
6) Democratisation in Southeast Europe, ed. Dusan Pavlovic, Goran Petrov, Despina Syrri, David A. Stone
Essentially the papers presented at a January 2004 workshop in Belgrade, organised by the SEERC in Thessaloniki and funded by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. Nothing terribly remarkable in the way of policy prescriptions, but a decent tour d’horizon of electoral practices in the region. (Would have liked a bit more on the methodology of electoral fraud!)
Why ћ and ħ are different from ℏ
I noted some time ago that the Serbian letter ћ is different from the Maltese letter ħ. The Serbian ћ is Cyrillic, and its upper case equivalent is Ћ, whereas the Maltese letter ħ is based on the Latin h, and its upper case equivalent is Ħ. Also they are pronounced completely differently, the Serbian Ћ/ћ is phonetically /ʨ/, a bit like English “tch”, and the Maltese Ħ/ħ much more like a heavy English “h” (the Maltese H/h without the cross stroke is much softer).
Indeed, the IPA symbol for the Maltese sound is simply /ħ/, using the Maltese letter; it’s found in several other Semitic languages – Arabic ḥa (isolated ح, initial حـ, medial ـحـ, final ـح) and traditional Hebrew ח (though apparently that tends to be pronounced more like /x/ by modern Israelis). I’m glad to see that some of the more obscure Caucasian languages have it too: ҳ in Abkhaz, xI in Avar, xъ in Chechen, хь in Kabardian. And a couple of African languages as well, according to Wikipedia: ḥ in Kabyle, one of the Berber languages of Algeria; and simply x in Somali. And finally a couple of Romance languages/dialects: g/gh in Galician, and j in Cuban Spanish.
This is all completely different of course from ℏ, which is Planck’s constant divided by 2π.
I hope that is clear.
November Books 5) The Steep Approach to Garbadale
5) The Steep Approach to Garbadale, by Iain Banks
This was great fun: memories of teenage lust, complex families with long-hidden secrets, games and business connections, and an excuse for the occasional political rant. It reminded me a lot of three of my favourite other Banks books, in particular The Crow Road and The Player of Games, with a certain amount of Whit thrown in as well. I think it’s a fair bet that if you liked those ones you will like this as well.
November Books 4) The Prestige
4) The Prestige, by Christopher Priest
Haven’t read a lot of Christopher Priest – I know three of his earlier books, being a bit underwhelmed by Fugue for a Darkening Island and A Dream of Wessex , but totally blown away by Inverted World. And The Separation was one of the first books I blogged here, back when I was still getting into it. But with the coming con I thought I should renew my acquaintance with his work.
I wondered at first if The Prestige actually had any sfnal content at all, or if it was going to qualify as genre only in the same way as The Syſtem of the World. But by the end of the story it’s pretty clear that this is science fiction, though in a particularly creepy and eerie way; the story of two rival stage magicians at the turn of the nineteenth/twentieth centuries, combined with the technology of Nikola Tesla, and all kinds of questions about family secrets and unreliable narrators. I really enjoyed it.
My walk on Friday morning
Hope this will display – also trying to get the routes to show as well.
I was staying in the Saray Hotel (marked with the green hostel icon on the right), and walked through the streets of the Turkish section of the old town to just outside the walls, there I turned left and approached the UN buffer zone (between the two little inspector icons). The next few hundred metres, both before and after the Greek Cypriot checkpoint, are a combination of international community buildings and houses still devastated from 1974; the hostel icon between the checkpoints marks the Ledra Palace Hotel, where I was last year. The transition to suburban sprawl is pretty sudden and by the time I reached the car hire place I could have been in any Mediterranean country.
Totqal distance: almost exactly a mile. Shame that one of the wheels on my pull-along case went wonky at a very early stage…
See you there?
November Books 2) A Storm of Swords: Steel and Snow, 3) A Storm of Swords: Blood and Gold
2) A Storm of Swords: Steel and Snow, by George RR Martin
3) A Storm of Swords: Blood and Gold, by George RR Martin
I’ve been rereading the Song of Ice and Fire books over the last year (A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings) because they are just so enjoyable, and sooner or later (I hope)
will finish the fifth part of it, and I want to have the events of the first four still fairly fresh in my mind when that happens, and I know I rushed through reading them first time round so that not enough will have stuck in my mind.
The third part, A Storm of Swords, is the most challenging one of the four so far published because it is so long. In the UK paperback printing it was done as two separate volumes (in French translation, apparently, as four) each of which is over 600 pages, though a fair chunk at the end is supporting matter rather than real plot. When I first got the books in 2001 I had to wait several months between volumes, which rather blunts the impact; the cut-off point between the two halves doesn’t really make sense dramatically, and you are then trying to pick up several conversations at once.
Rereading the whole thing as a block, a few things struck me. The first is that disastrous weddings are a huge part of the set-up and pay-off. There are several of these – three obviously, the horrific Red Wedding scene, and the two King’s Landing weddings featuring Tyrion and Joffrey; but two more subtly off-stage, Robb Stark’s near the beginning and the fake Arya Stark’s near the end. The more interesting relationships that we see are the irregular one between Jon Snow and the wildling girl Ygritte, and the unconsummated one between the real Arya Stark and her unlikely protector. And the even more interesting relationships are the ones we don’t see, that happened fifteen or twenty years before the main action, which we only hear about by dim reflection: who really were Jon Snow’s parents? What really happened between the Tully sisters and Littlefinger?
(On top of that we have Daenerys continuing her educational march to queendom across a different continent, which is also good reading though one wonders how on earth it will eventually be united with the rest of the plot.)
Tyrion, the dwarf aristocrat, is one of the most sympathetic characters, but as with the second volume the one scene that didn’t work for me on re-reading involved him. He is enabled to take a monstrous revenge on those who have wronged him essentially by the action of the eunuch spymaster Varys; it seemed to me out of character for Varys not to have planned to be able to prevent Tyrion from doing it. (And certainly not in his character to allow Tyrion to go ahead.) Still, it is dramatically very satisfying; as is the culmination of the Jon Snow plot in this part of the overall story.
OK, back to A Feast for Crows soon. And I do hope it’s not too long before we get to clutch copies of A Dance with Dragons in our hands.
Shurely shome mishtake?
Greetings from Amazon.co.uk,
As someone who has purchased or rated books by Stephen Baxter, you might like to know that “The Earls of Mercia: Lordship and Power in Late Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford Historical Monographs)” will be released on 29 November 2007. You can pre-order yours for just £60.00 by following the link below.
The Earls of Mercia: Lordship and Power in Late Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford Historical Monographs)
Release Date: 29 November 2007
Presumably a different author of the same name?!?
November Books 1) William the Silent
1) William the Silent: William of Nassau, Prince of Orange 1533-1584, by C.V. Wedgwood
Bought this on impulse the other day; it is a very interesting and passionate biography of the leader of the successful Dutch revolt against Spanish rule in the mid-16th century. I had not appreciated how central present-day Belgium was to the Netherlands as a whole up until then: the capital at Brussels, the main trading port being Antwerp. And although there was always a gradient from Francophone to Dutch-speaking, and increasingly from Catholic to Protestant, as you go from south to north, it’s easy to imagine how a slightly different set of historical circumstances could have led to a very different border between today’s Netherlands and Belgium, or even no border at all; the military balance was always fragile, and local allegiances in the extensive boundary zone volatile.
Wedgwood’s book was published in 1944, and there’s clearly an implicit parallel between the Dutch fight against Spanish oppression and the second world war, with William the Silent being portrayed as an almost Churchillian figure; also, of course, his descendant Queen Wilhelmina, exiled in England and Canada during the war, would have been a well-known personality to the British reader of the time. I have to say that I felt a bit suspicious of Wedgwood’s nuances on a couple of occasions, given the likely didactic intent of the book. William was possibly the first political leader to be assassinated with a handgun – apparently Lisa Jardine has a book out about that, so I’ve ordered it from Amazon, and maybe it will give a slightly different perspective.
The story is contemporary with a couple of other historical episodes I’m interested in as well; though Irish history is not mentioned here, the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre is a major incident, with William’s last wife (of four) the daughter of Admiral de Coligny. Anyway, all very interesting and helps to build up the context.