Tuesday 31 December 2013

The book of the old year: 2013

This is a sort-of chain letter for our family for the year 2013. But really its assembled from a sequence of blog posts I wrote, so its rather heavily biased towards me. Miriam writes lots of exciting diary, but no-one gets to read it except her.

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

Uncle Tom's Top Hat

He was in the 2nd Border Regiment (or is that the second battalion of the Border Regiment? I'm not sure). I have his brass prismatic compass. The top hat case is a fixture of my mother's house, but it comes from my father's side, the Proctor side.

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

Book review: Ancient Light


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

Book review: Ancillary Justice

This is very good.
I've found various reviews that say 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

Film review: Catching Fire (Hunger Games book 2)

I read the Hunger Games (then, book 1 and only) several years ago when we bought it for Daniel in Spain in 2011. I enjoyed book 1 (as did D, and subsequently Miranda); and they've both read books 2 and 3, which I haven't (I briefly browsed the opening of book 2 and decided that I didn't like it).

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 Guy

So, 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, yeah

I 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

Book review: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Its a classic, innit? Anyone will tell you that. I enjoyed it; indeed, it was quite a page-turner. But... well, I'm not quite satisfied.

Oh, yeah: its a spy whodunnit. I can't talk about it without spoiling the surprise. Don't read on if you care.

The flaws

The 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 virtues

But, 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

Book review: Stations of the Tide / Vacuum Flowers

PXL_20210213_085520169~2 By Michael Swanwick (who also wrote the promising but ultimately disappointing The Iron Dragon's Daughter, as well as the best forgotten Bones of the Earth).

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.

The Plot

VF sets the scene for SOTT. But I read SOTT first. There's a scene - somewhat towards the end of SOTT, as the Bureaucrat starts to unravel the mystery - where he talks to Earth's Avatar in the Miranda system. Its a delight, and I found it powerful and memorable. But it won't make much sense unless you've read VF.

Umm, actually, I find that I don't really want to tell you the plot. What would be the point? If you've read it, you know it, and if you haven't, you don't, and a  potted summary really won't help you. Let talk, instead, about...

The Ideas

So, like I say, they're linked, but it only matters a bit. In the first book, Rebel Elizabeth Mudlark is questing the solar system trying to work out who she is, and ends up at Earth, talking to Earth aka the Comprise, which is now a hive mind (there's a slightly implausible explanation of why Earth is confined to the Earth, except for a few who those who live in space let out; given the tech Earth has, I think it would be trivial for it to sweep them away; but no matter, it suits the book. And there's a partial explanation of this anyway, which is that Earth needs Integrity).

So Earth has tech (transit rings, but not FTL), but the Dyson-tree folk of the Oort cloud have biotech, in particular mindtech, and Earth wants Integrity, which will allow it to glob off lumps of itself and send them starwards, and not have them fall apart into not-Earth2. And it turns out that a Wizard of the cloud has sent REM in, as a cross between a finger of herself and a sale item; and that although wetware reprogramming is commonplace, her personality is resilient, due to said Integrity.

In the end, a bargain is struck, and Earth gets Integrity in exchange for Tech; both sides get the stars, if I recall correctly. The armless child representing Earth is a nice touch; vulnerability.


Cut, to

Back at Stations of the Tide, things move at a gentler pace. The first scene is set on an airship (how people love airships!) and the magician makes his mysterious appearance1 - and disappearance - and the theme of magic, or rather not really magic (I have to say that, rather than "of course", because this is scifi; but its scifi not fantasy: there is no "true magic") but the ability of people to convince others of magic. SOTT is a darker book than VF.

And here too the theme of integrity comes back, in the need to be grounded in reality, and the way people can be fooled into destroying themselves. How well would you survive under the onslaught of such magic? I'm not describing this well: really, read the book.

The ending is good - unlike so many other books, there really is an ending, with (many bonus points, since this is scifi) a gloriously humourous bit when then Bureaucrat finally tells his briefcase for the third time to construct some illegal tech.

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.


I've re-read Vacuum Flowers and enjoyed it again. What jars a little perhaps - now the shock of the story has worn off - is the implausibility of the chain of events taking REM to Earth. And I notice the similarities in style to Neuromancer. But, still good. Still excellent? I'd certainly recommend it over an awful lot of other stuff.

And now SotT. Again, good. But holes begin to open up: just why did Gregorian want to be chased? It isn't clear. There's a faint explanation at the end, but it was not terribly plausible and I instantly forgot it. There's also - I'm tempted to call it crude, but I've only just noticed it, so maybe it isn't - an unpleasant feature: the Bureaucrat is pushed around by all these worldly-wise magicians of the Tidewater, but has the last laugh: he not only has higher tech, he can actually do the things they merely pretend to. Isn't this a bit revenge-of-the-nerds type stuff? Trivia: the "tsunami" from melting ice caps would not of course be any such thing: it would be gradual. And I find the long-seasonal dimorphism implausible, just as it was in Heliconia: I doubt evolution can do that.


1. (Added 2021): in fact this isn't the magician. Also note that the magicians of SOTD are not the same sort of magicians as VF: they are manipulators of people's minds, somewhat in the manner of our stage magicians; not people skilled at manipulating actual reality.

2. Which when you think about it is very much the same "society shall not decay" that Plato wants and that Popper criticises him for.

Sunday 10 November 2013

Book review: Proxima

Summary: its junk.

Other people have different opinions (oops, deadlink, try Goodreads), 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 (update: or maybe not? See this recent report)) 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


Well, this is annoying. Blogger won't let you mark posts as "private" on a post-by-post basis. Its all or nothing. So wmconnolley-private.blogspot.com is for the private stuff.

Sunday 13 October 2013

Old CV and job application, 1994

More tidying finds an old CV and some job application forms. They come from a period that I remember vaguely - I was coming to the end of my first 5-year stint with BAS, and it wasn't clear if my post would be renewed. I have a feeling that doesn't happen now - once you've been in for a bit, you're permanent. But that wasn't true then. In the end, I was renewed, and ended up there for ages. Somehow that seems inevitable, now, but it wasn't then.

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

Book review: Jack Vance: City of the Chasch / Servants of the Wankh / Dirdir / Pnume

DSC_3221-chasch-wankh-dirdir-pnume I've read these before you know, many times.

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.

The bees, the bees / Wimpole half

DSC_3222 Perhaps it was a mistake, in retrospect, to just leave the honey I'd be working on outside. But it seemed like a good idea at the time.

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

That was this morning. It was a lovely day; still, cool, sunny: perfect weather. I've never run at Wimpole before (they have a parkrun). Turn up, park, find the race start (in front of the house, not far from the stables). Paul and Sarah are around, and later Amelie with Russ as spectator. Talk, wait, watch, get numbers, get ready. Its a fairly small event - a few hundred or so, no bigger than some Milton parkruns. My track is here - I went off unwisely fast, even for me, fooled into joining the leading pack. But after 500m at less than 4/k I toned it down. By the standards I'm used to, it was a hilly course, and by ~10k I was feeling that, and beginning to feel drained. I did notice that I got overtaken more on the hills upwards, so I was relatively slower on the ups. Also not just hilly but also off-road. Delightfully so - field edges, woods, and so on - but that kind of ground takes it out of me. And so, overall, I managed 1:46:44 - tolerable for the course, probably.

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

Boston: a personal view

My "public" post on the 2013 Boston rowing marathon is End of an Era on the club blog. These are some personal thoughts. I won't make this post private, trusting to obscurity to shield me from offending anyone. Nor will I repeat what is there; this is the other bits.

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!

2013-09-15 17.38.25 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

Mural on the wall of my room, 2nd year at university

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.

Virata share certificate

Another in the old objects found again line. In the heady days of IPO when Virata shares soared skywards buoyed on the winds of who-know-knows-what they gave everyone in the company a "share certificate" to celebrate.

William Peter Connolley: obituary

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."

Hello, good evening, and welcome

Yes, its yet another blog. At some point I'll link back to the old ones, but for now: why?

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.

Saturday 7 September 2013

Book review: Neptune's brood

[Originally: https://wmconnolley.livejournal.com/32970.html]

Read again: no.
Do I regret spending my time on this book: a bit.
Interest / Ideas / Novelty: moderate to good.

As usual, I'll give a way more of the plot that you'd welcome were you actually wondering about reading this book, so don't read past this introductory paragraph if you want to actually enjoy the surprises in the book. Not that there are many. Potted summary (without revealing stuff): its an innocent-abroad-stumbling-into-deep-mysteries base plot, in the same humans-are-extinct universe as "Saturn's children". Like SC that universe-idea is rather dissatifyingly handled / inadequately exploited, in that its possible to transcribe essentially all the story onto base-human terms; those rather few bits that you couldn't, directly, aren't terribly important to the plot. The nice bit is that its a far-future-with-no-FTL plot; post-humans are spreading, slowly, but in the semi-staple-of-scifi long term spaceships boosted to a few percent of lightspeed by launch lasers, so that colonisation is slow and interstellar commerce is in information not materials. That's good, and its a promising start. He allows himself a cheat: the post-people's minds can be stored in "soul chips" and they can be transmitted between the stars, to be reformed on arrival. And the book, in a sense, is about a possible sketch of how the economics of all this might work; together with a plot about how fraud might work.

Stross's Neptune's Brood: science fictional companion to Graeber's Debt is a review by Cory Doctorow; you might prefer his version. He says The ideas are so plentiful and the story revolves around such a baroque future that sometimes the story itself gets lost amid the argument. That's correctish, but over-polite: more accurate would be to say that attempting to explain the economic concepts used in the book - slow money, exchange-signing - is sufficiently complex that it can't be done unobtrusively; there are big wodges of the central character talking straight to the reader.

A few holes in the book:

* although its a grand-sweep-of-history type book, at least at the start, in the end the vast conspiracy turns out to be disappointingly personal, almost one-person. The justification for that is that it would be hard wrap up the novel otherwise; but it comes far too close to making the whole sweep of history dependent on one person, which isn't believeable.
* the ending is very abrupt (as this review says). Its as though, having used up all his ideas, he couldn't be bothered to finish up writing a proper ending. In some ways that's good - he's not wasting your time - but it diminishes the book. Again, the manner of the ending - here we have a giant battleship / industrial complex, launched 2kyr ago, with scary custom-designed fighting folk, suddenly overwhelmed in a twinkling. Such a structure would have better defences (the excuse for surprise - that they're sneaking up in a blind spot - is laughably thin); but I also don't buy the idea that it would have gone undetected itself; there's vast swathes of plausible-civilisation-infrastructure omitted / evaded.
* sending people by transmitting their mind state is cheating, I think. I was going to say its necessary for the book, and the in-universe, but now I wonder. Its necessary for the personalisation of the ending, but (see above) the ending is weak anyway. I think the book could have done without it. I don't believe you could get the interstellar bandwidth, but more important is the what-do-you-do-about-the-multiple-instantiation problem.
* although the concept of slow money is moderately well worked out (well ter be 'onest, guv, I wasn't really paying attention, just surfing on the ideas) what isn't worked out at all is how the fraud might work. That's all waves-hands-coughs-in-embarrassment type stuff.
* Something that isn't a hole, but is very briefly mentioned at the end, is "well, was this vast fraud so evil then"? In terms of the book, it lead to a vast wave of colonisation - surely a good thing. It suppressed the new AFAL drive, but that was semi-incidental sort of; indeed the AFAL is another one of the book's cheats; so pretend a universe where the whole thing was just a scam, then you can wonder: but was it a good thing? This matters, because at the end its necessary that the scammers be Bad.

So, overall, I'm disappointed. I'm still waiting for the no-FTL-no-new-physics book (its allowed to have new bio, though, so I don't mind people living a long time) that plausibly depicts an interstellar civilisation.

Friday 26 July 2013

A trip to the lakes: day 1, friday: Watendlath

Miriam organised us for a long weekend, with us taking Friday and Monday off, but where to go? Perhaps camping in Norfolk, but we hadn't been Oop North for a while, so I rather belatedly phoned Annie, and she was free. So its Torpenhow again for us. We finally managed to dispose of Phoebe the cat and left at 7:30 which (coupled with not one but two unadvertised diversions on the A1) meant we didn't get in till past 1 am. So after a swift hello we were quickly to bed.

[Originally https://wmconnolley.livejournal.com/32589.html]

Friday dawned bright and sunny and we said hello more properly and met Mist, who is Annie's new (male) border collie, about 5 months old now and as bouncy as you'd expect. From a local farm, and rejected for farmwork because he's mostly white: mostly black is somewhat superstitiously preferred. We lazily didn't get up till past 9 (well I didn't; M did better and had a small Meditate), read the papers a bit, sat at the back in the sun chatting and admiring Anne's anti-mole sticks.

Where to go? Anne proposes Watendlath which I vaguely remember, so lets go there. Drive through Keswick then turn up and park quite soon. Its a lovely day, about the best the lakes can offer - sunny, just a few clouds, and a slight cooling breeze. We start up in green woods and walk up the road for a bit then take the footpath off, following the stream. Several times along the way there are bridges with pools, or pools by the stream, to stop and sit by while the dogs play in the stream. There is "surprise view" where suddenly you get a view over Derwent water. The U-shaped valley of Watendlath is better appreciated on the walk back down. Watendlath itself has a gorgeous old packhorse bridge; according to wiki its the most photographed in the country.

At Watendlath there's a good cafe where we had tea, coffee, cheese toasties and flapjack, it being that sort of cafe. And just lazed around for a long time watching the chaffinches steal our crumbs.

Just for once, perhaps because I was tired, I felt no urge at all to go off into the further hills, I was just happy to stroll along with the family and Anne and enjoy being together.

Back via food shopping in Keswick; bread-n-cheese for dinner; a W/E/D/A game of monopoly won by !Miranda! - I was knocked out first; catch up on email / wub.


GPS track - starts after about 15 mins.

Monday 17 June 2013

Daniel in bouldering initiative shocker

[Originally https://wmconnolley.livejournal.com/32339.html]

Sometime last week, D said "would it be OK if I went bouldering this weekend?" [Bouldering, if you don't know, is climbing, but low enough down that you don't need a rope. As distinct from soloing, which is when you're high enough to need a rope, but don't have one.] The plan was that one of his friends family would drive some of them up to the Peaks - somewhere near Stanage - for the Sunday. And a friend of his called Jamie would come and stay over on Saturday night. Had this been Miranda it would have been planned and communicated endlessly in detail; as it was D it was planned by grunts and assumed to work. Which it did: Jamie stayed over, a perfectly pleasant young lad, and they played computer games before retiring at a sensible hour, since they needed to get up unseasoanbly early:7:40 (for the weekend; D gets up then during the week anyway).

And all went well. I didn't worry much about the possibility of D falling and hurting himself, because there was no point in worrying, and it didn't happen.

I record this as probably the first time that D has gone out of himself in this way. He's gone on scout camps and stuff, but those are always organised by adults; AFAIK this was organised by them. Hopefully, they'll do more. He's just swapped (or tried to) his "enrichment activity" next year from Politics+Economics to PES (Perse Exploration Society), mostly because his friends are doing same, but also because he genuinely likes camping.

Saturday 15 June 2013

Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels 1985-2010

[Originally https://wmconnolley.livejournal.com/32082.html Having now re-skimmed in xfer in 2019, I've managed to add one - Temeraire - and it's meh.]

I ran across this list (via Use of Weapons, via an Iain Banks obit). So I thought I'd check. I've read 25, and disagree with the inclusion of 8.


* R - read (and if so, whether I agree it merits the list),
* N - not read.

Of the one's I've said "yes" to, almost all fit into the "an entirely new concept". Ender's game was for the video arcade generation, for example.

N The Handmaid’s Tale (1985)
R Ender’s Game (1985) - yes. An entirely new concept
N Radio Free Albemuth (1985)
R Always Coming Home (1985) - no. Not without merit, but compared to Earthsea, its nothing.
N This Is the Way the World Ends (1985) 
R Galápagos (1985) - no. Just a toy parable
N The Falling Woman (1986)            
N The Shore of Women (1986)            
N A Door Into Ocean (1986)            
N Soldiers of Paradise (1987)             
N Life During Wartime (1987) - but the Talking Heads song is astounding
R The Sea and Summer (1987) - yes. Elegaic
N Cyteen (1988)            
N Neverness (1988)            
N The Steerswoman (1989)            
R Grass (1989) - yes.
R Use of Weapons (1990) - yes. Classic Culture
R Queen of Angels (1990) - yes. The excitement and ultimate disappointment of a probe to another star
N Barrayar (1991)            
N Synners (1991)            
N Sarah Canary (1991)            
R White Queen (1991) - yes. Superb
R Eternal Light (1991) - yes. Mysterious mind-expanding space opera
R Stations of the Tide (1991) - yes. Pretty damn weird. Vacuum Flowers should also be on the list
N Timelike Infinity (1992)             
N Dead Girls (1992)             
N Jumper (1992)            
N China Mountain Zhang (1992)            
R Red Mars (1992) - no. Overblown. Icehenge is KSR's classic
R A Fire Upon the Deep (1992) - yes.
R Aristoi (1992) - yes.
N Doomsday Book (1992)            
N Parable of the Sower (1993)            
N Ammonite (1993)            
N Chimera (1993)            
R Nightside the Long Sun (1993) - no. Book of the New Sun is Wolfe's classic, as any Fule Kno
N Brittle Innings (1994)            
N Permutation City (1994)            
N Blood (1994)             
N Mother of Storms (1995)            
R Sailing Bright Eternity (1995) - no, drivel. In the Ocean of Night is the classic (and I'll allow you Across the Sea of Suns) but its downhill from there
N Galatea 2.2 (1995)            
R The Diamond Age (1995) - yes
N The Transmigration of Souls (1996)            
N The Fortunate Fall (1996)            
N The Sparrow/Children of God (1996/1998)            
N Holy Fire (1996)           
R Night Lamp (1996) - yes. Its Jack Vance, not at his best, but even his worst is better than most people's best
N In the Garden of Iden (1997)            
R Forever Peace (1997) - no. Read and marvel at The Forever War, and stop there
N Glimmering (1997)            
N As She Climbed Across the Table (1997)   
R The Cassini Division (1998) - yes
N Bloom (1998)            
R Vast (1998) - no. An attempt at weird / mysterious, but it doesn't work          
N The Golden Globe (1998)           
N Headlong (1999)            
N Cave of Stars (1999)            
N Genesis (2000)            
N Super-Cannes (2000)            
N Under the Skin (2000)            
N Perdido Street Station (2000)            
N Distance Haze (2000)            
R Revelation Space trilogy (2000) -yes
R Salt (2000) - no. I *think* I've read this one. All his books are sort-of the same, and nearly-good-enough. Consider Snow instead         
N Ventus (2001)            
N The Cassandra Complex (2001)            
N Light (2002)            
R Altered Carbon (2002) - yes
N The Separation (2002)            
N The Golden Age (2002)            
N The Time Traveler’s Wife (2003)            
N Natural History (2003)            
N The Labyrinth Key / Spears of God             
N River of Gods (2004)            
N The Plot Against America (2004)             
N Never Let Me Go (2005)            
N The House of Storms (2005)            
N Counting Heads (2005)            
N Air (Or, Have Not Have) (2005)            
N Accelerando (2005)            
N Spin (2005)            
N My Dirty Little Book of Stolen Time (2006)            
N The Road (2006)            
N Temeraire / His Majesty’s Dragon (2006)      [2019 update: now read, and no: read Uprooted, or Spinning Silver]     
N Blindsight (2006)                            [2024 update: now read, not enthusiastic]     
N HARM (2007)            
N The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (2007)            
N The Secret City (2007)            
N In War Times (2007)            
N Postsingular (2007)            
N Shadow of the Scorpion (2008)            
R The Hunger Games trilogy (2008-2010) - maybe. I read book 1, and liked it, but declined the chance to read book 2           
N Little Brother (2008)            
N The Alchemy of Stone (2008)            
R The Windup Girl (2009) - yes
N Steal Across the Sky(2009)            
N Boneshaker (2009)            
N Zoo City (2010)            
N Zero History (2010)            
N The Quantum Thief (2010)            

I'm not doing a good job reading the recent stuff, am I?

Monday 27 May 2013

Stanage, Youth

[Originally: https://wmconnolley.livejournal.com/31916.html]

Today was that unexpected and un-looked-for gift: a free day for all the family, with the house and garden in sufficient order that we flt no guilt in taking a day off. Not only that, but the weather was good. And most remarkably of all, the Peaks weren't crowded: perhaps everyone else had taken the half-term week off to go further afield. So we got up at 7, muted the few grumbles, wolfed down breakfast and set off. Arrive in Hathersage around 10 for breakfast at Outside and to buy Daniel some climbing shoes of his own - he's borrowed M's in the past, but hers are now too small for him; and he uses the school ones, but not on private trips. After not-much-thought we end up with Boreal Joker size 10's; and M buys a fleecy type thing that Miranda ends up occupying for the day. And so to the crag (with one slight mis-turn: remember, you want Birley lane); the car park is not full, though its now about 11. The edge is quite hard to see from google maps: for my future use here is a linkshowing the "popular end", the car park, and the camp site. Hathersage is off the bottom left; and this is Outside.

DSC_2063DSC_2064Where shall we go? The popular end, of course. And since it doesn't seem terribly crowded, we'll go to the first bit, which is around the Grotto Slab area. The bit with the fallen-over stack leaning against the edge. D and I gear up (D is all keen, as he's been climbing at school and in competitions, though he's slightly shocked I've so soon taken him at his word that he'd like to do more climbing) and look at Crack and Corner, ***, HVD, 4b (HVD 4b? You have to love these Stanage grades, they're so random). Last done by us, says the guidebook scribbling, in 1991. But I stare at the start (very polished, the crux, says the Book; how true) and realise that would be stupid: we'll do something easier first, just to get our ropework and calls in sync (D has done very little real-world climbing). So we move over to the fallen stack which is Grotto Slab, D - both M and I soloed it in 1992. I put in a couple of bits of gear to show willing, but they aren't really needed, and D breezes up. Miranda also does it - her only route for the day. She spends the rest of the time snuggled up reading Skulduggery Pleasant.

Speaking of which (the breezin' bit, I mean), its blowing a gale at the top. Not bad down at the foot of the climbs, and not too back 20 feet back from the top, but the edge itself is a linear tornado.

Next, well, something a bit harder but not too much. Capstone chimney is also a D, and nominally much shorter, but is actually considerably harder than the slab. But anyway, I lead it and D seconds it happily - barefoot in fact, which he begs to be allowed to try to do. M has a go too. She isn't exactly delirious with joy, and requires a second go ("I'm not very happy". Fortunately its too windy for me to shout down "Trust the rope").

DSC_2090-w-lead-crack-and-corner-hvd-4bTo the right of this is Green Wall (VS 4b; I led it with Howard in 1992, though we didn't realise this till later). D would like a go, so since I'm at the top he can top-rope it. He gets up it, with a couple of rests or heavy weights on rope. As you can see it has some awkwardnesses to it.

That completes our programme for the morning - well, its now 1:30, doesn't time fly. E is hungry, and so am I, so its back to Hathersage for lunch and a new pair of shoes for me too - my old ones have the rubber peeling away at the tip-toe, an unpleasant feeling when you try to stand on it. I tell the children that Howard would never let them get away with the decadent luxury of descent for lunch on a nice day. And for a miracle there is still a space in the car park behind Outside. Egg-on-toast; bean curry; chicken burger; sos-and-chips-in-giant-yorkshire-pud are just some of the delights we same in some order; and I get new Stonelands (tried the Joker and the Silex but they hurt around the back of the ankle. The Stonelands felt better, and were cheaper). We resist the lures of the bargain tent, and head back up - this time getting the route right.

DSC_2076What to do... tricky. Black Hawk Hell Crack? Or our original desire, Crack and Corner? BHHC is occupied (how odd) so go for Castle Crack (HS 4a; left) the corner crack just left. Having watched the previous pair struggle up it I'm careful to note footholds, and all goes well, indeed exhilaratingly so, though perhaps I shouldn't be so excited by a mere HS. But its a good climb, worth a star at least. Nominally a layback, in practice its a matter of delicately selecting and trusting the footholds, unless you're feeling really strong.

Next (and its getting on for time to be going) we vacillate for a while before going for Crack and Corner (HVD 4b; right). As the guidebook says, the start is rather polished and I fall out of it, the first time, when I'm not really applying myself. I resist the urge to do what some previous parties have done - effectively, to pre-place gear just above reach - though I do shuffle my nice purple friend into easy reach. And its fine, worth its stars, and who am I to comment on grades. A most enjoyable climb, and there's a little surprise if you do the over-the-top direct finish, which you should.

And that was all: 5:30 and we pack up and head home.


Sunday 14 April 2013

The last 12 are the deepest

[Originally: https://wmconnolley.livejournal.com/31644.html]

TL;DR: 3:46:34 for the Brighton Marathon. A new PB by 8 minutes (good) but I still died in the last 12 km (bad).

Longer version (or skip to the race itself): this is Brighton Marathon #3, the follow-up to #2. With #2, and two Amsterdams, I'd got 3 times at 3:55 +/- 1 minute, and felt it was time to do better. A 1:36 at the Cambridge half, and a follow-up 2:28 for 30k, convinced me that I could at least target 3:30, which I've decided is my version of respectability for the moment. A week after the 30 k I tore my right calf somewhat, forcing me to take 2 weeks off and then be very gentle, so my training in the run-up was necessarily very tapered. But the calf didn't trouble me during the race. Poor James E, however, tore his calf one week before, and so had to pull out. That left me pitted in a death-match with my arch-rival James H, who has a 1:33 half but has never run a marathon before.


On Saturday morning I sat in bright sunshine with the French window open glorying in the beauty of the day, and wondering if I needed to take sunscreen. I need not have worried: when the train pulled in to Brighton it was cold and pouring with rain. I tried sitting in a cafe by the station to make it stop; this didn't work. I went half-way down the hill towards the sea and sat in a Waterstones for a bit; that didn't help either. So I picked up my race number from the expo and headed back up the hill and caught my train out to Worthing (stopping at a supermarket to buy some buns, and fruit, and pork pies, because I suspected Worthing might be a blue-rinse desert and I might not get any breakfast in the morning. I was wrong). Its 25 mins down the coast, and then a 1 k walk to the front and my hotel, the "Kingsway". Its still raining, so I stay in (and watch Dr Who). James E had chosen the Kingsway, and its OK: corridors rather narrow but room acceptable and bathroom shiny. There's an awful lot of dross on TV though. They advertise to runners that "our menu has lots of carbs" but there is no pasta on the menu at all. I have a nice sos-and-mash-in-Yorkshire-pud, but I'd rather have had a plain bowl of spaghetti. Ah well. Rob has got me "Into the Silence" and this makes good reading for my lonely dinner and evening. Don't get to sleep early.


The rain has stopped, but the sky is grey. My alarm wakes me at 6 and I go down to the runners breakfast: coffee and juice and toast and yoghurt and porridge. Good, just what I want. Walk to the station, get the 7:30 to Brighton, follow the stream of people heading to the start. Stop in a little cafe to (a) blow some time and (b) go to the loo (yes, again. You can't go to the loo too often, as James H found to his cost). I don't time this right, so when I get to the park and change to race kit and pack my bag and hand it over to the baggage lorries (where they are playing "Born to Run", an appropriate, inspiring, and blood-pumping choice; hence my lead pic) and join the enooooormous loo queue (did I mention there are never enough loos?) by the time I'm out the race is just about to start and I'm not even sure exactly where I'm supposed to be. Never mind, I leap over the barrier and join those shuffling forwards, then jogging, and then, woo, we're at the start line.

Perhaps you want to look at 
the GPS trace. Avert your eyes from the last 12 k.

The start is OK. I'm slow to start because of the inevitable bozos, but then things get better and I can run at ~5 min / km pace, which is what I'm aiming at. Actually I had intended to be aiming for a bit better, but today things just don't jel somehow, and I'm not on tip-top form. But 10 k comes in 50 mins, and half-way in 1:45 - all of that goes by fairly quickly and painlessly. At around about 10 k I overtake the 3:45 pacers, which is what I'd hope for; coming back in the loop-inland out East I spot James H in their pack. I'd forgotten that the hill heading East is quite long and not that small. 24 k at 2h, and 30 k at 2:32 is about right, but its at least 2 mins away from a 3:30 finish, so I abandon that target. At some point the sun comes out and the day is warm, indeed a little too warm, but not overly so.

The last 12 k, however, are deeply unpleasant, sliding down to 6 min / km, until the last 2 km which are even worse. James H came past me at that point (and in a slight plus point, I clearly have no reserves at all, because I don't speed up in the slightest. So its not as if I've held anything back), but since he'd started about 1:30 ahead of me (I hadn't realised that:I must have passed him at some point early on, as I went for a fast start and he for a steady pace) we ended up with near-identical times (technically I beat him by 4 seconds, which is 0.011% of our times, but I'm happy to call it a draw). And, as I understand it, he was obliged to take a pitstop at some point.

Excuses, excuses: the tail-off past 30 k is entirely reminiscent of previous runs. Probably I could have got a fast time overall if I'd aimed for 3:45 and set off at that pace, and speeded up later if I had any spare. But, that wasn't my plan, I wanted to try for 3:30, and I'm not sad I did. better a glorious failure than a mediocre success. Ahem.

This time I didn't get my in-race nutrition right. I'd managed to convince myself- based on one test - that I could cope with Maz's caffeine-enhanced rather thick gels (which looked disturbingly like spunk when I found it oozing out of my clutch). However, this was a mistake: my stomach took against it, even though I sipped slowly and washed it down with a water break. I ended up throwing two away (sorry Maz). So there were some portions of the race where I felt distinctly queasy, and I even slowed down a bit on occasion to give my tummy a rest. However towards the end even the Gatorade drinks they were providing made me feel ill, so perhaps I'd just got twisted.

Death note (this applies to mountaineering too, only more so): someone collapsed and died during the race, fairly young I think, perhaps 23. My attitude to this is no-false-sadness: I don't know the guy, he took his chances along with the rest of us, marathons are physically very gruelling and its up to you to make sure you're fit enough to compete. If you get unlucky and have some unsuspected weakness: well, that's unlucky. Go on, tell me I'm callous.

After the race I tired to find James H, but the family-reunion A-Z flags were poorly signposted and I took ages finding them, and he'd gone. So I collapsed for 10 or 15 mins, and then went to the pebbles on the seas edge and collapsed there for most of an hour, watching the waves and the children throwing pebbles at the waves and laughing as they ran from the waves and generally being the delightful innocent creatures that they are. And that's it; I'll spare you my exciting wait for the train at Finsbury park. Oh, but I will tell you that whilst getting up and down, and climbing stairs, is rather unpleasant, cycling back from the station was fine.

Tuesday 2 April 2013

Book review: City of Illusions

[Originally: https://wmconnolley.livejournal.com/31420.html]

Summary: post-apocalyptic, quest, mystery. Elegiac, a quality I greatly value. Its not up with The Deep; but nothing is.

Read again? I first read this in my teenage years, when I read all the sci fi available in our local library. I've read it several times since. I'll read it again.

Memorable line: "people makes laws for what they are most afraid of". And perhaps: "travel alone".

If you want the plot, the the wiki entry is good enough. That also told me one new thing (no, two; oh hold on, I'll come in again...), with which I agree: that the Shing aren't really convincing villains when they turn up. They are almost convincing; what works rather well is that it becomes clear that although the Shing have conquered the Earth, they don't really know why they bothered to do it, they have no purpose. But when they speak they are wrong. The other thing is that this predates The Left Hand of Darkness in the "Hainish cycle".

Like some of her other books, and many another author, Leguin (in the beginning) tries to sketch a future semi-utopia: its a small world, but the people are at peace with nature and stable. This is, I think, what she really wants (see "Always coming home"). But its not stable, and her character Falk sets out to find out why.