Tuesday, 31 December 2013
General: Miriam and I continue and even flourish at CSR; work remains interesting and engrossing. Miranda left Coton primary - an emotional event - but is now enjoying her first year at the Perse with new friends, but still keeps up with the old. Daniel took his "early maths" GCSE and got the desired A*, and as the year ends is buried in revision for mock GCSEs and work experience forms.
February: Howard "flee you fools" Roscoe dragged me out winter climbing in Coire an t-Sneachda which was lovely. I'll hope, somewhat wistfully, to do more next year.
March: was an extended family stay at English Heritage properties inside Dover Castle. It was a particularly bleak time of year, weatherwise, but perhaps that allowed us to get into the spirit of how it must once have been.
April: I ran the Brighton marathon for the third time, and got my first quasi-respectable time: 3:46:34. Amsterdam in October was even better; overall, it was a good year for my running.
May: more climbing, again featuring the Old Man of the Mountains, and all of us: Stanage, Youth. This year has been a year of Daniel taking up climbing; he is now technically slightly better than me, if you discount leading. Even better he is doing competitions with school, and going off bouldering with friends.
May also saw the welcome return of the bees: my old lot didn't survive the very long cold winter, poor things, but a new lot started sniffing around and to my delight moved in.
June saw some flowering in the sadly neglected garden. But peonies are reliable.
July: as for the last few years, the focus of my life in early summer is rowing, and in particular the town bumps. This year I was effectively men's captain and through a mixture of luck, perseverance, enthusiasm, reliance on home-grown talent and skill we ended up with a good crew: up 3, and it could have been blades if only Nines 2 weren't so slow.
After bumps M+J were once again kind enough to look after the infants for a week and Miriam and I sneaked off to the Stubai to go mountaineering. Woo! It was great. Unseasonally snowy which gave us a hard time trekking between huts and meant I had to retreat off the Habicht, but wonderful anyway.
In August I took our club to Peterborough regatta and I finally got my point! After all these years. And we won it at IM3, too, against a pretty decent Twyk-men crew. If you don't row, it will mean nothing to you; if you're still Novice at 50 you'll know what I mean.
And of course we had a family summer holiday. Having made no plans at all we ended up with a "drive through France and do some climbing" sort of holiday, which worked very well, especially the three days in Fontainebleau.
September saw the end of the rowing season with the Boston rowing marathon in the VIII, and my personal view. You're safe now: there's no more rowing on this page.
October: Amsterdam marathon - even closer to a respectable time -3:43:06. One day I hope to get down to 3:30; I really can't decide if its likely I ever will: at some point my general-fade-off-due-to-old-age will start becoming more important than my improvements from fitness. Miranda came along for the trip, though she didn't run. We stayed with Si+B in their apartment, and Miranda went shopping with Becky.
December: Miranda gets her grade 4 piano with 80/100, which is a merit. We draw a discrete veil over an earlier episode. Grade 4 clarinet is next summer.
Christmas-to-New-Year is the familiar round of staying with my Mother - who will be 80 next year, and I'll be 50, the horror - and M+J. A quiet life, and a pleasant one.
Saturday, 28 December 2013
The baggage labels: the "Jamaica Direct Fruit Line Ltd.". Time frame: the 1920s.
The hat itself, in its glory. Still pristine after all these years, because unused.
And here he is. On the left. I'm the one in the middle. My father, Peter, is on the right. This is taken at Lyndhurst.
Me again, and my mother, and Great Aunt Jess. Who isn't actually my great aunt, but I can never remember the true relationship.
Wednesday, 18 December 2013
Alas, there really isn't much more to be said. I gave up about 2/3 of the way through. The book - and the predecessor, Golden Witchbreed - works only when the air of mystery and hints of ancient alien civilisation is played with a delicate touch. In GW she just about survived; but in AL that touch is lost, the mystery evaporates, and all that is left is silliness.
Wednesday, 11 December 2013
I've found various reviews that such much what I would, only with more gush, so I'll just annotate them.
Jaine Fenn has a review I like: as it says "SF but not quite Space Opera" which is what I was struggling to say: it has spaceships, it has travel between worlds (as that review says, "travel between worlds is too simple, treated rather like a short sea voyage" but that is fine; see comparison to Cecilia Holland), but these aren't handled the way you'd expect from yer typical male writer. For example, there are no loving descriptions of the hugeness of the ships or the power of their weapons; all that is left aside. It reminds me more of Floating Worlds by Cecilia Holland (which is brilliant; better than this; better than most things).
TOR has a review which I mostly like, and which pushes the pronouns issue, which I agree was well done (though in my recollection she gets it somewhat wrong: I think its just that Breq finds it really hard to tell gender, and usually doesn't care).
One of the nice things about the book is the way it surprised me. Example (somewhat spoiler-ish, so skip if you like): in one of the climatic scenes, JoT has just shot (one instance of) Anaander, and the other AM's have deployed the break-comms weapon, so everyone is on their own. The narrative voice (One Esk 19 I think) then heads off, and I thought "oh well, we're going to have a somewhat tedious fight scene". But no! There's no fight scene at all; One Esk just heads straight for the exit and leaves in an escape pod. Brilliant.
A criticism. The imagined empire doesn't really make a great deal of sense. The problem is that the "annexations" are brutal and violent, and remain that way even after the native population are subjugated. That's necessary for the flow of the book, but it doesn't actually make sense. That level of violence is known - now - to be counter productive and to Just Not Work. Its hard to imagine it being used as described.
Sunday, 24 November 2013
The film is excellent, if you like an exciting action movie. The production quality is very high, it all looks excellent, and the pace is fast enough that the holes in the story / concept only jar briefly, and if you're watching for them. Some of the slightly subtle surrounding details of persons is good too: for example the metamorphosis of Effie from soulless PR-bot to someone still in that role - the change is not too jarring - but who cares about her team and their place.
The "hoverships" are lovely, they look like spaceships. Quite a few details of the districts are good too: the village-square bits, the thin snow cover, the housing, it all fits and looks and works well.
No more Mr Nice GuySo, I genuinely think it was a well-done film: I enjoyed it, its pretty long, but it doesn't drag. Far from it; I was disappointed when it ended to realise it was over. However, I wouldn't be me if I didn't whinge a bit.
There are some trivial holes, which I'll mention as examples, but they also expose my contempt for the water-fat folk of Hollywood:
* when you see Katniss in the initial return-from-hunting scene, walking over rocks in the woods, its pretty clear that she's an actress walking in the woods; not someone used to it. Its in the way she moves, her awkwardness.
* In my experience, when there is snow lying on the ground and wind in the air its cold out, and you dress for it, hunkered down into warm clothes.
* Katniss has an infinite supply of arrows.
All trivia. Another one is the format of the Games themselves. We see them entirely from the viewpoint of the participants. But think of them from the viewpoint of the spectators - aren't they a bit boring? What you want to see is people stalking each other, cunning fighting, hardship, endurance. But death by poison gas is just a bit random. As is from waves of water.
The biggest hole, though, is the political structure of the world. The capitol is huge, as it has to be. New York, or London sized. Millions of people. All, apparently, living in luxury. District 12, by contrast, is small: the town-square meeting is of thousands, at most. There's no way these districts can possibly be meaningfully contributing to the economy of the capitol - the capitol is clearly not living off their backs. With that gone, the reason for oppressing them disappears too. I suppose you could wave this away - that the districts we see are only a sketch intended to represent a larger substance. It still seems hard to believe that, given their tech-level, the capitol would bother oppress these people.
Oh, yeahI suppose the film could also be about making difficult choices: Katniss occasionally has to worry about the folks back home. And stuff. Balancing one good/bad against another. But a film is a bad place to explore such choices, and this one doesn't even try. Which is good; its there to be action, not thought.
Wednesday, 20 November 2013
Oh, yeah: its a spy whodunnit. I can't talk about it without spoiling the surprise. Don't read on if you care.
The flawsThe flaws, the flaws, Carruthers! I think they are threefold: firstly, that it seems a very small world. To some extent the book begins to address, or talk around, this point towards the end: "Gerald" goes on about how small a place England has become. But what I mean is that the Circus seems to spend its whole time chasing its arse. Perhaps you can argue that for dramatic effect all other operations are elided? Secondly, it seems less original than it must once have. Perhaps it was The Original of the "there's a mole in our spy network" type story; but its a commonplace now, and that's the view I'm reading it from. Third was a plausibility problem: how does a retired spy end up subverting the whole Circus? That would be terrible security, if possible. How can Guillam so trivially steal and photograph files he's not entitled to? Oh yeah, and fourthly, I don't think the central plot is entirely believeable either: the idea that everyone was so naive as to believe an unexplained sudden flood of intelligence as genuine seems far fetched. Its also necessary that, say, Jim be so emotionally wound up after Testify that he not go talk to Smiley, which is unexplained; as it Smiley being sent away but Control during the operation. As indeed is Jim's bizarre decision to go ahead even though he knew he was compromised.
The virtuesBut, its quite a good book. Well written. Good storyline. Exciting. Once you know the answer the denouement isn't a surprise but even so I could see myself reading it again, because its complex enough that on the first reading you'll miss stuff.
Something worth calling out - though the text does point it out, several times, because it is the central cleverness and he doesn't want you to miss it - is the cuteness of the "knot": by allowing the idea that a genuine Russian source had to be fed "chickenfeed" in exchange for his high-quality stuff, it was necessary for there to be a fake-mole in the Circus, who should not be investigated; and therefore the true mole could hide behind the fake mole.
Sunday, 17 November 2013
As usual, there isn't much to be said without revealing the plot, so the key take-home messages are:
* both are excellent,
* I've read them before and I'll read them again,
* they've got new ideas and new thoughts in them.
They're both, rather vaguely, set in the same universe. But I can't really tell you more about that until I talk about the plot. So if you haven't already read them, I advise you to stop here and go read them.
And I haven't even told you about the trip to the edge to meet Earth. Its well done, and the bits that can be done are well sketched in without breaking the other bits. In this kind of stuff, that's a lot of the skill.
Sunday, 10 November 2013
Other people have different opinions, but they are wrong.
If you're reading on past this point, I'll assume you don't care about me spoiling the surprise, not that there is any, so I won't take any care to hide the plot.
The worst thing about this is that its not total junk; there are some interesting ideas in there. But the ideas are badly handled, indeed the whole book is profligate with its miracles. If you're writing Fantasy, then every Elven kingdom can have its own magic, and the more the better. If you're trying to write "hard SF" as this guy is, then the game is to wring as much interest out of as few violations of the known laws as possible. Not to randomly splatter the book with new implausibilities, just because your poor tired imagination has run out of interesting consequences for what you've made up so far.
The sort-of basic premise is moderately interesting: what might a colony on a tidally-locked planet of a red dwarf be like? Unfortunately, the book totally stuffs up even trying to explore it.
Firstly, and utterly bizarrely, the mega-expensive task of colonising is shambolically amateurish: the colonists are a bunch of ex-cons. This is utterly implausible; who would spend such a vast amount of money on colonisation, then set it up to fail? I guess he is harking back to British colonisation of Australia; but if so, it doesn't work. His colonists get no training at all; they are deliberately spread out over the planet in small groups. Then, the astronauts that took them all the way to Alpha Centauri go back to Earth. That is so mind-bogglingly fuck-witted that its hard to believe even a sci-fi author would do it.
Secondly (and here the profigacy starts to come in) although his characters have (correctly) made much of the stability of red dwarfs, no sooner do his people turn up than the sun turns variable and it starts to get cold. Aie, its so stupid. Not only that, but that level of variation would have been visible from Earth, so we'd know about it. His characters then start migrating across the planet, but in a very uninteresting way, they might just as well have been in a Little House on the Prairie not on a tidally locked planet.
A bit later it turns out that there's a Mysterious Alien Artifact on the planet which just happens to be some kind of hyperspace gateway (but a lightspeed one, ho ho, pretending to keep his credentials intact) back into the solar system. At which point, not one of his characters turns to any one of the others and says to themselves "fuck me, but that's a bit of a co-incidence isn't it? Humans happen to have gone to precisely one extra-solar planet, and that planet just happens to have a gateway back to the solar system".
Meanwhile, back in the solar system, amongst some tedious badly imagined politics, one of the other characters goes into the gateway there and (this bit wasn't well described) emerges with a twin. And suddenly her entire life has been re-written backwards in everyone's memory so that this has always been so. Everywhere but in her own mind. Oh, and on her mothers gravestone, which mysteriously gets forgotten to be re-written. The book provides no explanation for why this twinning might be done (much less of an explanation of how the re-writing might be done), and nothing interesting happens as a consequence, so it is not just profligate, but pointless mindless profligacy.
Meanwhile, in yet more profigacy, a sort of light-sail AI is also sent to Proxima, but does nothing interesting when it gets there; it just hides around the far side. Where yet another fucking expedition from Earth, this time a solo one, has died quietly in the wilderness. Its all so mind-bogglingly badly thought out I just can't bear to write any more.
Monday, 28 October 2013
Sunday, 13 October 2013
The other interesting thing to be reminded of, was what I was applying for - not climate modelling, but ecosystem modelling. Later on, I wouldn't even have considered that. I was a climate modeller, and proud of it, with no truck with the soft squishy ecosystem types. But then (four years after my doctorate) I wasn't so set in my ways. We were living in Stevenage and I was considering moving to, oh, Bangor and Scotland were on the agenda. I was more "into" ecology and keen to work in the area. Well, somewhat keen.
Here's the CV (should only work for "family" on Flickr). It looks very young to my ancient eyes. I had a "WWW" address even in those far-off 1994 days, but it was an "ftp:" one; and I had email, but to "vc." which was vax-c; ah, I remember VAX.
Sunday, 6 October 2013
They are, in many ways, Jack Vance standards: a hero and his journey across strange lands, told in a language I find sympa. In some ways they are isomorphic to, say, Lyonesse. Or Araminta. But that doesn't matter, because I enjoy them anyway. There is a little that is genuinely new here, but that's not why you'd read them.
Read again: certainly.
The books, collectively, form the Planet of Adventure series. If you want to know the plots, well, wiki will tell you.
And I'm not really going to review them here: this post is merely my note to myself that I've read them.
This was honey that I'd taken off, oh, more than a month ago. Perhaps longer, I forget. Probably in the middle of the rowing season. And so it sat there, with me hoping that it wasn't too much rape and could be extracted later. Alas, I was wrong: it is largely rape and mostly solid. So having tried to spin off a few bits of liquid in a few frames I gave in to reality, returned the spinner to Nikola (via a talk about 6th forms: Nelson went to Hills Road, which is very good, but), and put about 2/3 of a super that really did have liquid in it back onto the hive to make sure they would survive the winter. Or at least to give them a fair chance.
I also put in some Apistan that I'd belatedly ordered. Really its too late for this, and I'm very unlikely to be able to take it out again after 6-8 weeks. But I decided it was better than not putting it in at all. The hive had, well, a fairly full brood box that I didn't look at (I put the Apistan in through the queen excluder) and perhaps 5 frames moderately well full in the super. So I put the new ~2/3 full super on top of that, and left them to reorganise it as they saw fit.
The rest I just left for a little while, on the grounds that it hardly mattered: it was mostly rape, and therefore of little interest to the Bee World. But I was wrong, as you see. Should I move it down the garden now? Perhaps I ought to really. Though with luck they'll just go back to the hive come the end of the day. [2 hours pass. I pick up Daniel from the Perse where he's been returned at the end of a climbing trip to Gardoms and Burbage North, top-roping and bouldering, which he enjoyed.] No sign of them getting bored and going home yet.
Wimpole half marathon
Paul came in somewhat later at 1:56 I think - I went 100 m forward of the finish line and sat down, splashing self with water and feeling tired, then cheered him to the finish. Rather later - ?2:20? - Sarah came in, and later still Amelie just beyond 2:30.
Tuesday, 17 September 2013
What's to say? Mostly, how hard it was to organise the thing. We started off with high hopes of getting M1 together for one last hurrah, and JH wouldn't have agreed to come down were it not for that, but CW and AS were out from the start for health, WW was regrettably on holiday, so we were down 3. DR had to pull out due to "taking his daughter to uni" - that one, hmm well, Dave is a good bloke so I'm rather reluctant to criticise. But I had to drop my college 30/20/10 year reunion, which I did because I'd committed to the race. In fact scratching around for new people wasn't too hard, just a bit stressful. TW came on board OK, indeed enthusiastically, but then had to drop out. In the end we ended up with KH and UB and all was well, but... the sheer volume of email and faff!
Here are my hands, after the race (remember I wore the very thin orange running/sculling gloves during the race, to stop the plasters rubbing off). Mostly to show me next year where I put fabric strip on beforehand, and where I got plasters. You can;t see the worst blister, which was on the inside of my left thumb. The main point of all this was that the blisters didn't stop me pulling, though they came close to doing so. As did my left hand/forearm getting close to seizing up. But ultimately the main constraint was mostly strength/endurance, as you'd hope.
After that, I could also add how good it was to have done it, now its done. We rowed well, and it was a great end to the season. It would have been nice to have had better opposition! (It would have been nice to have had a tailwind :-). Sad to say goodbye to James Howard though. Not, I trust, for the last time; but he's gone now.
What about the transport stuff? That also added to the stress. Firstly, all that nonsense with IW and the Downing trailer and the Champs ladies and our ladies and Argh! What was somewhat more irritating was that I couldn't simply pay IW £150 of my own money for the trailering; everyone else would have felt obliged to contribute, but wouldn't have wanted to, I think. To-ing and fro-ing the trailer was OK, from my viewpoint. The difficulty, perhaps, was getting the crew into place and back. I do think that Boston RC could do better in trying to facilitate a "transport exchange" of some sort.
Times: this (not the club post) is a good place to say that my 5:10 last year in Joy, when deflated by 0.94 (a correction factor coming from the average ratio of the winning times of the masX scullers, X=C..G, between 2012 and 2013) comes to 5:30, which beats the ladies 5:33 in their 4+.
Saturday, 14 September 2013
Here's a photograph of the photograph of the wall of my room. By Rob, depicting a scene from "The Deep", as interpreted by him from my telling him of the book. It doesn't really fit my imagination of the lake at the centre of the world, but no matter.
This was so long ago that photographs were analogue and had to be pieced together by hand. It used to hang on my wall, but has been gathering dust in our bedroom for many a moon. I considered throwing it away, but was reluctant, and Miranda wanted me to keep it.
My father read the Telegraph all the years I knew him. So it was fitting to have his obituary in there. In later years, he would occasionally note the death of some work colleague or old friend. Its a bit of a shame they spelt his name wrong, but then again everyone always does. They did publish a correction.
My mother still reads the Telegraph, after a very brief flirtation with the Graun after Peter died. I rarely read papers now; we stopped having the Graun delivered, oh, five or ten years ago? Miriam sometimes buys it for the weekend sections. If I want to read a newspaper (say, in Waitrose cafe) then I'll probably read the Torygraph or the Times; the Graun is too fluffy generally for me. But nowadays my news comes from Radio 4 news, or blogs, or the web news, or suchlike.
I kept the copy of the Telegraph for years. Today I found it in our bedroom whilst tidying; oh but a house accumulates junk when you live there for many years and don't turn things over. So many things.
Here's the text, so its findable: "CONNOLLEY. - On October 24, suddenly in hospital, WILLIAM PETER, aged 72. Formerly of Montego Bay and Kingston, Jamaica. Funeral service at St Giles Church, Cheddington on Monday October 30 at 3 p.m. Family flowers on please. If desired, donations for St Giles Church may be sent to S. R. Dillamore Ltd., 16 Old Road, Linslade, Leighton Buzzard, Beds. LU7 7RF."
I have a "public" blog (scienceblogs.com/stoat/) and a "private" blog (wmconnolley.livejournal.com/). The latter is not entirely satisfactory, largely because its hosted in Russia and I simply don't trust them; certainly not for the long term. I only started with them because Paul was, and he isn't any more. Unlike paul I can't be bothered with my own hosting software, so I'm here. This one is mostly a diary. So some of it is friends-and-family only. Don't expect anything exciting.
If you've found me, feel free to leave a comment here.
Already, the formatting is annoying me. But I have no time to beat it into shape yet.
And google won't allow me to edit the time-of-publication of this post to keep it on top. Hey ho, so it goes.
Policy: all the posts about old photos, and so on: I'm allowed to edit them later, so add or remove memories and thoughts as I see fit.