May Books

A good month this month, aided by some long flights and other journeys, and a couple of sunny weekends of sitting in the garden reading.

Non-fiction: 4 (YTD 16)
Descartes' Clock, by Gary Powell
Broederschap: Pleidooi voor verbondenheid / Fraternité: Retisser nos liens, by Frans Timmermans
The Innocent Man by John Grisham
Katherine Howard: The Tragic Story of Henry VIII's Fifth Queen, by Josephine Wilkinson

Fiction (non-sf): 4 (YTD 9)
The Parrot's Theorem, by Denis Guedj
A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth
Every Step You Take, by Maureen O'Brien
A Motif of Seasons, by Edward Glover

sf (non-Who): 14 (YTD 40)
The Obelisk Gate, by N.K. Jemisin
All The Birds In The Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders
A Taste of Honey, by Kai Ashante Wilson
The Dream Quest of Vellitt Boe, by Kij Johnson
The Ballad of Black Tom, by Victor LaValle
This Census-Taker, by China Miéville
Lavondyss, by Robert Holdstock
The Jewel and her Lapidary, by Fran Wilde
The Winter Long, by Seanan McGuire
The Stormcaller by Tom Lloyd (did not finish)
Argonautica by Valerius Flaccus, translated by J.R. Mozley
An Equation of Almost Infinite Complexity, by J. Mulrooney
Everything Belongs to the Future, by Laurie Penny
Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, by Lois McMaster Bujold

Doctor Who, etc: 3 (YTD 13)
Short Trips: Ghosts of Christmas, ed. Cavan Scott and Mark Wright
The Dalek Factor, by Simon Clark
The Squire's Crystal, by Jacqueline Rayner

Comics: 3 (YTD 9)
Butterscotch, by Milo Manara
Ms. Marvel Volume 5: Super Famous, by G. Willow Wilson and Takeshi Miyazawa
Saga, vol 6, by Fiona Staples and Brian K. Vaughan

8,500 pages (YTD 23,100)
12/28 (YTD 32/80) by women (Wilkinson, O'Brien, Jemisin, Anders, Johnson, Wilde, Maguire, Penny, Bujold, Rayner, GW Wilson, Staples)
7/28 (YTD 12/88) by PoC (Seth, Jemisin, KA Wilson, LaValle, Miyazawa, Staples)

Reread: 0 (YTD 2)

Reading now
Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (a chapter a month)
Warriors, ed. George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois
The Voyage of the Argo, by Gaius Valerius Flaccus, translated by David R. Slavitt

Coming soon (perhaps):
Europe In The Sixteenth Century by H. G. Koenigsberger and George L. Mosse
Dune by Frank Herbert
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J. K. Rowling
De Mexicaan met twee hoofden by Joann Sfar
De piraten van de Zilveren Kattenklauw by Geronimo Stilton
A Woman of the Iron People, by Eleanor Arnason
Marzi: A memoir, by Marzena Sowa
HWJN by Ibraheem Abbas
Lives of Girls and Women, by Alice Munro
Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe
1688: A Global History, by John E. Wills
New Europe, by Michael Palin
The Angel Maker, by Stefan Brijs
Austerity Britain, 1945-1951 by David Kynaston
Etymologicon, by Mark Forsyth
The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, by Erving Goffman
Moon Stallion, by Brian Hayles
QI: The Book of the Dead, by John Lloyd and John Mitchinson
Children are Civilians Too, by Heinrich Böll
The Dancers at the End of Time, by Michael Moorcock
1434: The Year a Chinese Fleet Sailed to Italy and Ignited the Renaissance, by Gavin Menzies
Short Trips: Definining Patterns, ed. by Ian Farrington
The Infernal Nexus, by Dave Stone

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Class

A good Who trivia question: can you name all of the spinoff series? Most fans (and not just of Doctor Who) will be able to name Torchwood and the Sarah Jane Adventures; a bit more headscratching will generally get you the 1980 K9 and Company; a very few will be dimly aware of the Australian K9 series. I fear that last year's Class is likely to end up at the lower end of the awareness scale, not really through any fault of its own – there was a noticeable lack of publicity and the times of broadcast were very variable (I confess that we only got around to watching the last of the eight episodes last week).

Class is set in Coal Hill Academy, in the present day (ie 2016); the background is that Charlie, a blond gay alien prince played by Greg Austin, is doomed to exile in the company of his bonded arch-enemy Miss Quill, posing as a physics teacher and played by Katherine Kelly, both endangered by the alien Shadowkin. Sporty Ram (Fady Elsayed), brainy Tanya (Vivian Oparah) and normal girl April (Sophie Hopkins) round up the numbers, boosted also by Charlie's boyfriend Matteusz (Jordan Renzo). Nigel Betts repeats his role of the headmaster from Doctor Who, but is replaced after a couple of episodes by a new principal played by Pooky Quesnel (who played the spaceship captain in the 2010 Doctor Who Christmas special, A Christmas Carol). Peter Capaldi appears as the Doctor in the very first episode, and charges our heroes with defending the earth against the rift in spacetime located in the school. All eight episodes were written by Patrick Ness.

It’s quite good rather than outstanding. The show is thoroughly stolen by Katherine Kelly (whose six years as Becky on Coronation Street won her two awards) as Miss Quill, the snarky frustrated former terrorist/freedom fighter disguised as a physics teacher. She gets the seventh episode (The Metaphysical Engine, or What Quill Did) almost entirely to herself, unencumbered by the other regulars. She gets practically all the good lines:

  • “Leave us! We are decorating!”
  • “No one disgraces the memory of my sister by making her nice!”
  • Principal: “Are kittens dangerous?”
    Quill: “Only if you insult their worshippers online.”
  • “Look at you all. The cream of the crop. High achievers. No wonder this country only exports Downton Abbey.”

Of the younger stars, Vivian Oparah as Tanya impressed me most, particularly in the third episode (Nightvisiting) where she has an intense and completely convincing confrontation with her dead father, played by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith. (Oh yeah, in keeping with my usual practice: the second line of the third eipsode, not counting the pre-credits seqience, is Tanya’s “father”‘s reply “It is”, to her assertion, “It isn’t you.”)

The makers deserve kudos for having a diverse group of protagonists and explicitly foregrounding the Charlie/Matteusz relationship. (Just to note, in terms of a less often cited component of diversity, that the eponymous Coach with the Dragon Tattoo of the second episode is played by Scottish actor David McGranaghan with what sounds to me like an Ulster accent.) Yet somehow it doesn’t gel in the way that Buffy (explicitly referenced more than once) does from the word go. Part of it, I guess, is simply that the show had less money thrown at it (though there are still some pretty good effects, especially in the fourth and fifth episodes which take place on the Shadowkin world).

So, for a completist Whovian like me, it’s essential viewing, much more so than the Australian K9 series. Others should try the third episode first, and if it’s to your taste, watch the rest in sequence. The last episode (The Lost) is rather disappointing, I’m afraid, with too many plot elements thrown at the wall, including some hitherto-unreferenced elements from the parent show, in the hope that something would stick. (Not the only season finale in the history of Who which didn’t deliver on the promised bang, of course.) In my personal head-canon the show can end with the revelation at the end of episode six (Detained) and its explanation in episode seven.

To Lie With Lions, by Dorothy Dunnett

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Nicholas de Fleury was not brought to Ham in bonds, nor deprived of his senses, but he was under guard, and had been for the week of the journey from Angers. On the way, they stayed only at the King's lodges. The Burgundian was allowed his own horses and his own servants, who were considerably better acquainted with fighting than they looked. Of his escort, only Wodman stayed at his side from the first, but answered no questions.

Sixth of the House of Niccolò novels by Dorothy Dunnett, and very much a sequel to the fifth, The Unicorn Hunt, which I somewhat bounced off when I read it last summer. However, To Lie With Lions actually clarifies a lot of what happened in The Unicorn Hunt and indeed Scales of Gold and Race of Scorpions as well, making me feel encouraged about following the series through to the end.

The settings are Scotland, Iceland, Flanders, and France; the plot concerns Niccolò's manipulation of the market in Icelandic stockfish (ie cod) and his continuing battle of wits with his wife Gelis, in which their son is becoming a collateral victim. The three high points, more or less evenly spaced through the book, are the staging of a massive Nativity play by Niccolò in Edinburgh; a volcanic eruption on Iceland; and the final dénouement between Niccolò and Gelis.

The Icelandic eruption chapters are absolutely superb, as vivid as any of Dunnett's descriptive passages (and there are many good ones) and practically justify the book on its own. I don't think I could recommend it as a starting point for readers unfamiliar with the series though.

This was the most popular book by a woman on my unread pile. Next on that particular pile (broadly defined) is Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, script by Jack Thorne based on an original new story by Thorne, J. K. Rowling and John Tiffany.

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Our daughters

A lot of you are kind enough to ask sometimes about the situation of the girls – B, who turns 20 next month, has no language ability at all, and lives full-time in a care facility half an hour to the east of us; and U, who is 14, can talk a little, and is with us five nights a fortnight and in the same place as B the rest of the time.

This is a short (15-second) video that I took two weeks ago when we took the entire family out to Tienen for a combined Mother's Day / Anne's birthday outing. There is a very tolerant brasserie in the main square where we sometimes go, and the girls were both quite excited to be there with us and with each other.

The video starts and ends with them making eye contact with each other, and U (who as ever has a spoon tightly clutched in her fist) burst out into loud chortles immediately after both times. In the meantime B's gaze roams with interest around the brasserie and the world outside, keeping contact with her mother by slapping hands, until she comes back to look at U again. (Anne attempts to persuade U to be quiet, but without success.)

We are very lucky to live in a time and place where our children can get the care that they need.

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Sunday reading

Current
Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (a chapter a month)
Warriors ed. George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois
Katherine Howard: The Tragic Story of Henry VIII’s Fifth Queen, by Josephine Wilkinson

Last books finished
An Equation of Almost Infinite Complexity, by J. Mulrooney
Everything Belongs to the Future, by Laurie Penny
Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, by Lois McMaster Bujold
Every Step You Take, by Maureen O’Brien
Descartes’ Clock, by Gary Powell
Broederschap: Pleidooi voor verbondenheid / Fraternité: Retisser nos liens, by Frans Timmermans
A Motif of Seasons, by Edward Glover
The Innocent Man by John Grisham

Next books
Europe In The Sixteenth Century by H. G. Koenigsberger and George L. Mosse
Dune by Frank Herbert
Short Trips: Defining Patterns, ed. Ian Farrington

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The landlord’s daughter’s story, revisited

I posted last week about my efforts to discover whether or not the house where I lived in Germany in the summer of 1986 was, as my landlord's daughter claimed, situated astride the old frontier between the Grand Duchy of Baden and the Kingdom of Württemberg.

A bit more research using the desktop rather than relying on the iPad apps has definitively resolved the issue.

First of all, I was delighted to find the 1902 Meßtischblatt for Schwaigern, which clearly shows the boundaries of the Schluchtern enclave.

Secondly, I don't generally use OpenStreetMap but in this case I found the detail visible at different scales much more attractive than the Google equivalent.

Zooming in a bit, I was able to draw latitude and longitude lines intersecting at the front door of my old house.

Drawing these onto the 1902 map was trickly but not impossible. There is a particular kink in the river Lein just directly south of my old address; and it's exactly east of the northernmost point of the Eppingerstraße, which presumably hasn't changed its course much since 1902. So drawing those lines on the 1902 map gets me this:

That does indeed seem to show the old boundary very close to the front door of the house, and probably at least intersecting the back garden if not the building itself. So the landlord's daughter wasn't just making it up. Whew!

Incidentally the Jewish graveyard ("Iſrael. Friedh.") marked on the older map is still there, just off the Kiesbergstraße. Just two of the community survived the Holocaust.

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Elections site update

I’ve just finished updating the Northern Ireland elections site with the results from the 2017 Assembly election and candidates for next month’s Westminster election. (Also details from the 2011 referendum on the Alternative Vote and the 2016 Brexit referendum.)

Massive thanks to Conal Kelly for doing a great deal of the legwork.

This would have happened sooner, but our new-ish home computer melted down the day I planned to do it, so young F and I spent most of that weekend bringing it in for repair and resurrecting the old desktop. C’est la vie.

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Interesting Links for 22-05-2017

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Sunday reading

Current
Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (a chapter a month)
An Equation of Almost Infinite Complexity, by J. Mulrooney
Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, by Lois McMaster Bujold
Every Step You Take, by Maureen O’Brien

Last books finished
The Dalek Factor, by Simon Clark
The Winter Long, by Seanan McGuire
The Stormcaller by Tom Lloyd (did not finish)
The Squire’s Crystal, by Jac Rayner
Argonautica by Valerius Flaccus

Next books
The Innocent Man, by John Grisham
Warriors ed. George R. R. Martin

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The borders of an enclave, or what the landlord’s daughter told me

(See also update to this entry from a week later.)

I lived in Germany for five months in 1986, working on an archaeology site near the city of Heilbronn. Along with several of the other (paid) volunteers, I lived in a rented house in nearby Leingarten, a dormitory suburban place (not so different from where I live now) up the valley of the river Lein (or Leinbach) which joins the Neckar just north of Heilbronn.

My landlord’s daughter, a student in her mid-twenties (so a few years older than me – I turned 19 while I was living there), lived downstairs, and spurred my teenage imagination by having very loud sex with her boyfriend in the room immediately beneath mine. I have completely forgotten her name, but she and her flatmate and their respective boyfriends would occasionally invite us down to the garden for a neighbourly glass of wine.

One day we got talking about local history. It turned out that Leingarten had originally been two historically distinct municipalities, Schluchtern to the west and Großgartach to the east, which had been merged in the name of administrative efficiency back in 1970. In a local microcosm of the merger between the Grand Duchy of Baden and the Kingdom of Württemberg, Schluchtern had been in Baden in the old days, and Großgartach in Württemberg.

I asked her where the boundary ran? Since 1970 there had been a lot of new build (and looking at Google Maps there seems to have been more since 1986). While the former centres of the two former towns were still fairly clear – clusters of shops around the church and the municipal buildings – it was less obvious where one stopped and the other started.

She smiled and told me that the old boundary actually ran through the house. Precisely where, she wasn’t sure, but the house was on the line that had separated Schluchtern from Großgartach until 1970, and Baden from Württemberg until 1945. As a map geek since my childhood, I found this very interesting. Unfortunately the local library had mysteriously run out of historical maps, so I was never able to check it, and the question of whether I really had been living on the boundary line lingered unresolved with me for the next thirty years.

Now, thanks to the internet, you can actually pull up historical maps (I’m using the aptly named Old Maps app on the iPad, but there are many other options) and find more answers. First of all, it turns out that Schluchtern was actually an enclave, a village which was in Baden though surrounded by Württemberg. (German Wikipedia has a very long list of such cases in south-eastern Germany alone.) Here is a detail from Müller’s 1812 map of Baden, just a few years after the changes wrought to the German principalities by Napoleon:

It doesn’t even show Großgartach, and give the impression that the Schluchtern enclave was basically anywhere in earshot of the church’s bells. The spendidly named Geognostic Travel Map of Heidelberg and Vicinity published by Groos in 1830 does give a bit more detail – and, critically, shows Großgartach – but doesn’t take us a lot further.

However, an 1843 military map (unfortunately with poor definition) shows a very different boundary. Here the centre of the enclave is distinctly west of the centre of habitation; the line as it runs between the two villages goes more or less north-south, somewhat closer to the centre of Schluchtern than of Großgartach. The enclave itself is not a neat circle but an elongated shape including a couple of hills to the north and a couple of valleys to the south. (Perhaps reinforcing my church bells theory.)

Finally an undated motorists’ map (I would say first half of the twentieth century) by Freytag and Berndt gives the clearest picture yet. The shape of the enclave is recognisably similar shape to that shown on the 1843 military map. But the inhabited part of Schluchtern is crammed against the eastern edge, while the western border of the enclave grazes the next town along, Schwaigern (“Schweigern” in earlier maps). Most crucially, the easternmost point of the enclave appears to be very close to the location of the place I was renting in 1986.

So, if we zoom in on Schluchtern/Leingarten as it is today, with the location of my address marked, basically my landlord’s daughter’s story does look plausible. You have to ignore Bundesstraße 293, the road shown in yellow passing north of the town, which was built only in the 1970s; the road shown in the earlier maps is the one shown below as Eppinger Straße, the former highway from Heilbronn to Karlsruhe in simpler times. Bearing that in mind, and the relative location of the road going north from Großgartach to Kirchhausen, I reckon that the easternmost kink of the enclave’s boundary may well have been just about where I was living.

If anyone can suggest an easy way of finding out more, I’d be most grateful!

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The Stormcaller, by Tom Lloyd

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Get up, you fool, fight the pain and run. The thought spurred him into action, forcing him up from the ground. He had only forty yards to go, so he lowered his head and sprinted for the drawbridge. Mercifully, it was down and he muttered a quick prayer of thanks to Nartis as he flew across. The light from the arrow-slit windows illuminated the rain that prickled the surface of the black moat water. In his desperation Isak had thought only to get into the protective lee of the gate towers; now he slammed into the iron-bound gates and rebounded, scrabbling fruitlessly for a way to get inside.

I seem to have picked this up as a freebie at Eastercon in 2012. It’s pretty generic fantasy and I gave up after 100 pages.

This was the most popular book on my unread shelves acquitred in 2012. Next on that list is QI: The Book of the Dead, by John Lloyd and John Mitchinson.

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Based On The Popular TV Serial, by Paul Smith

Second paragraph of third entry (Doctor Who – The Edge of Destruction):

Issue 127 of Doctor Who Magazine (August 1987) reported the book was planned for the second half of 1988. It was brought forward when Doctor Who – Attack of the Cybermen was delayed. If it hadn't bee it probably wouldn't have had a hardback edition as W H Allen dropped these from July 1988.

This book's subtitle is A Comprehensive Guide to the Novelisations of Broadcast Doctor Who, and that's precisely what it is. It is only available as an interactive PDF where you can if you like (and I did) read through the entries in chronological order of publication rather than (as they are presented) in order of broadcast of the original story. For each novelisation, the gap in time between broad cast of the TV story and publication of the book is given (starting from -1 day, in the case of The Five Doctors) and the word count for all but the three most recent (shortest: Doctor Who – Planet of Giants, by Terrance Dicks; longest: Doctor Who – The Evil of the Daleks, by John Peel). There's then a listing of UK editions with images of the different covers, the blurb, the chapter titles, individual notes on each book including the fate of the original cover artwork where it is known, and then an account of foreign editions. It's full of odd little bits of trivia – why, for instance, did a Polish publisher decide in 1994 to translate Day of the Daleks, The Three Doctors, Revenge of the Cybermen and nothing else? I was also unaware that there are Australian novelisations of four Eleventh Doctor stories – The Eleventh Hour, Victory of the Daleks, The Time of Angels and The Lodger. Smith loses completist points, however, by including K9 and Company by Terence Dudley (as well as the Pescatons, the two Barry Letts Third Doctor audios and the Sixth Doctor missing stories) but omitting the Sarah Jane Adventures novelisations (which are actually not bad). Still, I mustn't complain; I don't have the time or energy to put this together and I am very glad that someone else does. You can download it for free.

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Pounded In The Butt By My Second Hugo Award Nomination, by Chuck Tingle

Second paragraph of third section:

"Hello, I'm Chuck," I say, formally introducing myself.

I am quoted (well, paraphrased) in the crucial second section, in which author Chuck Tingle, miserable after the defeat of Space Raptor Butt Invasion in the 2016 Hugo Awards, receives notification from the 2017 Hugo Awards administrator that he has been nominated this year. Let's just say for the record that the demands subsequently and consequently made of him as part of the Hugo process are not those actually required of Hugo finalists in real life.

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Interesting Links for 17-05-2017

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Lavondyss, by Robert Holdstock

Second paragraph of third chapter:

‘Why, I remember doing the very same thing myself!’ her grandfather had often said to the younger, more easily influenced members of his family.

I recorded that I enjoyed Mythago Wood six years ago, but I had largely forgotten it in the meantime, so I wa approaching this rather as if it was a completly new book. I really enjoyed it too, though, a great intense exploration of inner space and myth in English wilderness, with a rite of passage combined with quest for lost relative and connection with mythic figures from the collective unconscious. Anyone who has ever loved a woodland will connect with this. Quite a remarkable book.

This won the BSFA Award for 1988 (presented in 1989); the other nominees were The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks, Mona Lisa Overdrive by William Gibson, Kairos by Gwyneth Jones, The Wooden Spaceships by Bob Shaw and Life During Wartime by Lucius Shepard. I've read the Banks, Gibson and Shepard; I would probably have voted for Banks over this if I were voting, but I'm not sure. The Clarke Award that year went to Unquenchable Fire by Rachel PollackCyteen by C.J. Cherryh, and the Nebula to Falling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold.

I've previously written up the winners of the BSFA and Clarke Awards in 1990 – respectively Pyramids by Terry Pratchett, and The Child Garden by Geoff Ryman. So next in this sequence will be A Woman of the Iron People by Eleanor Arnason, the joint winner in 1991 of the inaugural James Tiptree Jr award.

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A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth

Second paragraph of third chapter:

'I see you're enjoying yourself,' said Maan to her in English.

Well, this was heartily recommended to me and you were right. It's a great massive epic of India immediately post-independence, told from the point of view of several upper-middle-class families in the fictional capital of a fictional Indian state, though with plenty of real places (and even real people: Nehru makes an appearance at one point). It's full of politics – religious, factional, class, sexual and electoral (I always like a book with a good election campaign; there are not that many of them). British overlordship in much of India lasted less than a century, from 1858 to 1947, and the picture Seth paints is of a society that has thrown off the more recent rulers and is negotiating its own relationship with older but still resident powers. It's a story told with a warm humour that successfully dials down to grimmer tones for moments of tragedy. A really good book from which I think I learned a lot.

This was both the top non-genre fiction book recommended by you guys, and also the top unread book by a non-white author on my shelves. Next on those lists respectively are Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro, and HWJN by Ibraheem Abbas.

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Sunday reading

Current
Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (a chapter a month)
Argonautica by Valerius Flaccus
The Dalek Factor, by Simon Clark
The Stormcaller by Tom Lloyd

Last books finished
Saga, vol 6, by Fiona Staples and Brian K. Vaughan.
The Jewel and her Lapidary, by Fran Wilde
Short Trips: Ghosts of Christmas, ed. Cavan Scott and Mark Wright
A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth

Next books
Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, by Lois McMaster Bujold
Every Step You Take, by Maureen O’Brien
The Squire’s Crystal, by Jacqueline Rayner

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Interesting Links for 14-05-2017

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Interesting Links for 13-05-2017

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