Tuesday 27 December 2022

Book review: Why Materialism is Baloney

1672156002464-1a85d190-09db-40a9-9120-70bdac2d51a1_ By Bernardo Kastrup. TL;DR: woo.

Summary: the world is Mind, which resolves the "hard problem of conciousness" by making conciousness fundamental. But, mysteriously, none of the science we know needs to change in the slightest.

BK comes from a long line of people who don't like materialism. By Materialism he really means the philosophical view that the world physically is material, not in any sense spiritual; but he segues briefly (p 8) into "people to spend their hard-earned income on unnecessary goods and premature upgrades" in order to let us know that he's mixing up the lifestyle stuff too (and also that he hasn't read any modern economics, since "unnecessary goods" is really only snobbishness; people want what they want; unless you're claiming to have Ultimate Moral Authority you're not in a position to judge them).

Let's begin by defining Materialism; I'll give my defn, because I'm more interested in me than in him; but we don't disagree over this in any fundamental way. I hold the ordinary, common-or-garden, scientific naive realistic-materialistic worldview (OCOGSNRMW)2: the world exists, is entirely physical, we experience it mediated by interactions via our senses, and can thereby obtain reliable knowledge of it. One needs to be slightly cautious in phrasing this, because being even more naive and saying "we see the world as it really is", is somewhat facile; but our information is reliable: if there's a wall in front of you it will still be there if you shut your eyes; if you punch it you will get hurt; and the rest mass of an electron (or the numerical result of a certain sequences of operations performed with a specified set of equipement) is fixed and common to all electrons.

In his intro (p 9) BK is terribly sad about the Intellectual Elite (in which scientists are, it seems, over-prominent) in teaching the world that Materialism is the correct worldview. This is nonsense: firstly, scientists do not alas have that place; and second the world's worldview has been materialist since forever1. Fortunately, it is irrelevant to his main thesis. Which is:

Materialism is Baloney?

Why would you believe such an odd thing? First: because of the "hard problem of consciousness". This being philosophy, some people - as you'll see from the wiki article - chose to "solve" the problem by arguing that it doesn't really exist. I see no need to do that, and am perfectly happy to accept that the problem exists; complex systems genuinely are hard to understand. In my OCOGSNRMW what-we-call-mind-or-consciousness simply arises as an emergent property of a sufficiently complex arrangement of suitable cells3. To conquer the "but it is a hard problem, the clue is in the name" he objects that we've been studying it for decades without finding a solution; that seems to me to be childishly impatient. We haven't unified QM and GR, over similar timescales, either.

Second, because the current best-guess view of how we perceive the world is through a "hallucination" we construct. He allows the perjoritive "hallucination" to sway him, when a better expression is "ourselves" do not perceive the external world directly, instead we effectively sip from the top of a continually-updated model of the world, as I put it reviewing Anil Seth. He objects very strongly to this unexceptionable little idea (it "denies the reality of immeadiate experience"), I think because he is somewhat confused by it (he says "the stars you see are all inside your head"; this isn't true, neither are they a "copy" of the stars; they are merely the representation you perceive).

As far as I can tell that really and genuinely is his full set of objections. It seems dreadfully thin to me.

I have a theory

To replace the obviously absurd idea of materialism, he has a theory: everything is Mind. This brilliantly inverts the perceived wisdom, and instantly explains consciousness. Except of course it doesn't: it defines consciousness into existence, makes it fundamental, without in any way enlightening us as to what properties it might have4. Why then do we perceive separated, discrete, minds? Because our individual minds are metaphorically whirlpools in the Mind-field, each a sort of excitation of the Mind-field, very much (although he doesn't say this) like quantum particles might be excitations of fields5. Somewhat later these "whirlpools" become "excitations of membranes" (he has discovered String Theory, you see) but they are only metaphors - except that last might not be, I'm not sure - so fine.

So his theory makes Mind fundamental; for reasons that he attempts to hand-wave around but not in my view very successfully, the things that we identify as minds are invariably associated with clumps of complicated cells. There are other problems too: most obviously, Mind is mercurial and ever-changing, so why isn't reality? Some aspects of it do change of course: seas rage, cliffs tumble; but some don't: electron mass remains stubbornly constant. His answer to this is that the-reality-we-perceive (which is all Mind, remember) is generated by all Mind - err, by itself, I suppose - not just by your mind; you can't change the world just by thinking, because of the "inertia" (my analogy, not his) of all the rest. But I find that unsatisfactory: why on that theory is the electron mass the same in Australia as in Europe? And does everyone's Mind count when determining electron mass? Does the Mind-mass of the Earth count? Presumably. It also isn't clear why QM or GR exist: no-one wanted them in advance, they turned up despite everyone's best efforts to find alternatives, only because we were forced to by observations.

The two worldviews, impartially consider'd

BK's Mind-centric view doesn't give you any special reason to think that our current physical laws would arise. You could argue that neither does OCOGSNRMW: after all, explaining not just what particles fundamentally exist but also why those, and not others, is an aspect of fundamentals of physics. But if you start with, errm, say The Standard Model and General Relativity, you can kinda make a plausible model of the universe and lots of observations. If you start with his theory of Mind, you can explain minds existing... and that's it. Why are the laws of physics constant? No idea at all... Also, there's no explanation for why his theory somehow makes identical predictions of all physical phenomena to the OCOGSNRMW (see knowing in advance what observations you need to excuse; via Paul).

But wait, there's woo

His worldview allows him to wave his hands and maybe believe in ghosts, telepathy, and - the biggie - some kind of survival after death. But all this stuff is for children afraid of the real world. Notice that this kind of stuff is the only way his worldview differs in practice from OCOGSNRMW: not in any physically measureable way, but only in hard-to-define states of mind.

At some point - and I cannot now find the strength to find it - he relies on an interpretation of Bell's Theorem. I don't understand BT, but neither does he6. I do know however that for deducing exciting things about quantum woo, BT is a reliable crank magnet.

Who would believe this nonsense anyway?

Having got to here, the puzzle is why anyone would believe this kind of nonsense. But Idealism has a long history. Mostly, I think it is the religious folk who are to blame. If you are a Naive Religious, then you believe in the material world, and God(s), and Souls, and all that is fine because you don't inquire closely into the details. But if you do so inquire, most obviously into the interaction of Souls and Bodies, then you have a problem. And if what is all important to you is your religion, and the problems of mind, then it isn't too big a step into all-out nutjob stuff like "all the world is mind".


1. You might well object that the world used to have a mixed materialist-spiritual worldview: people believed in Gods and Dryads and divine intervention. But even granting that, the worldview was materialist in his terms: people still believed that the world was physical. He doesn't.

2. Don't tell me that some scientists believe in gods. I already know that.

3. Since he doesn't raise it, I don't need to either, but: I have no particular objection to extending "of cells" to include "or transistors".

4. After a bit he notices that he needs Free Will too, so he defines that into existence too, as some kind of "energy" or motivator of the Mind-field.

5. If I understood quantum field theory (it is on my list...) I might make more of this.

6. If you look closely you can tell from his references how shallow is his reading.


* Book review: Homo Deus

Family film night: the Matrix

The Riddle of the Sphinx

* ACX: Janus' Simulators (section IV): I propose a friendly amendment: they’re noticing that most of what they are - the vast majority of their brain - is a giant predictive model of the universe. This model is big enough that they have lived inside it their entire life, with only slight edits from lossy sensory information that help fit it to the real universe. I’ve written about this before in the context of lucid dreaming - a dreamer safe in bed can apparently wander their neighborhood, seeing each tree and car and dog in detail approximately equivalent to waking experience. No astral projection is involved - they’re wandering around their internal world-model, which contains 99% of the relevant information, with real sensory information filling in the missing 1%. Once you stop obsessing over the character you’re playing, you notice the GIANT SUPER-ACCURATE WORLD MODEL TAKING UP 99.99% OF YOUR BRAIN and you think “Huh, I guess I’m the Universe. Weird.”

The stoat in the room.

Boxing Day at Horseshoe Quarry

Horseshoe Quarry is up in the peaks near Stoney Middleton; this was our first visit, inspired by Myra on fb. Boxing Day was looking sunny - it was, all day - and we had nothing else that needed doing then, so we gratuitously polluted our way up for two-and-a-half-hours in the car; climbed; and returned, via coffee at the Moon Inn. What I hadn't taken the trouble to realise was that it is the centre of mid and lower grade sport climbing in the Peak with many good routes between 6a and 7a, and a few below. And really there aren't all that much below. Though since we were one of only two parties there, we had our pick of what we wanted.

You'll find it easily enough, not far out of Stoney; there's a little parking lane; here FWIW is a pic showing the lane turning into a track towards the quarry. Here's a general view looking Southish; it is a beautiful area. The Main Wall is off to the left; you see its beginning.


Below: part of the Top Quarry (I take my names and grades from the RockFax guide). You get to this up the little track from the main area floor you can see in the pic above.


We did Luke Skywalker, 4a, roughly in the middle of this picture; about 7m high (pic: D on the route, belayed by M). This area has been recently re-bolted and the top anchor points are of the cutesy put-your-rope-through-without-deroping type, which is nice. However, it was very cold, in the shade: the day was about 4 oC, and this rock hadn't been in the sun at all, E's fingers were quite unable to grip (not entirely helped by her technique of hanging around wondering what to do with running commentary; as D said "less talk more climb") so we swiftly decided we needed to be in sunshine to survive.

The rock is limestone; I think it would have benefited from being bone-dry instead of mostly-dry as it felt a little greasy.

So over to the sunny side but still at the top; we decided that the line of Greedor (#26; 6b+) looked entirely plausible, but substituting the "obvious" crack up the center of the face for the arete, because we were none of us ready for 6b.


The only slight fly in this ointment was that there seemed no good reason why, if our theory was correct, the climb wasn't graded and in the route book; nonetheless it looked lovely, as you see, so we pressed on - or rather I did, as it was my turn to lead. All went fine until just before the final crack, with pro from a mixture of Greedor's bolts and friends / wires; but the last crack was a little bolder than I'd really wanted, and perhaps more importantly was a little bit loose. Which made topping out exciting; the rocks either side appeared stable but the one in the middle was distinctly loose, but you need not fear it any more, for D toppled it in passing. There's also no good belay over the top.

Below: pano taken from the Top lateish in the day of the Main Wall area. half-left you see the triangular grass ramp which is the right border of Chocolate Blancmange wall.


Next : we wanted to be down in the main area, and also wanted to stay in the sun. So we headed down, intending perhaps to top-rope something beyond our abilities to lead. But then we found Chocolate Blancmange Wall which is about the right grade, and in the sun:


And somewhat later, the sun setting, E climbing and D belaying:


The path up there is soil and steep; there's a fixed rope which is rather helpful. We're on The Cake Walk 4b 25m, although that 4b seems to be an average of 4a and 4c from the BMC page. From that pic it looks quite featureless but isn't: there are no big holds or ledges but lots of little ones; none very positive or friendly but the angle is fairly friendly. Given a height of 25 m but actually a few meters less, so fine for a 50 m rope. Speaking of which, we were on a single 50 m half-rope, which E - who has recently done a sports climbing course - assured us was fine. I'm a little dubious about that, but maybe.

Tuesday 6 December 2022

Meetings with remarkable stoats

1670356803786-f1372d02-98f3-4274-84c7-42a4941b482cMeetings with Remarkable Men by G. I. Gurdjieff is, as wiki delicately puts it, "autobiographical in nature"1; the overview section there is good (arch), so I won't repeat it.

When I first read this I was about 25 and I found it impressive; now with the weight of years upon me I find on re-reading it that it is much less so. At best, it is an interesting tale, quite likely largely informed by truth, of life around 1900 in central Asia, Egypt, and various places around then on the fringes of empires. At worst, it presents vague semi-mystical ideas as reality.

I think that when G's ideas first appeared, around the 1920's, they made an impression; but like my own re-reading those impressions haven't aged well.

To impose my own interpretation: G grew up a bright young man in a dying empire and frequently found himself, as something of a young chancer, able to make his way on his wits. Vignette: he opens a repair shop and the local Turkish army sends in its typewriters, which have mysteriously stopped working. Of course, the spool ribbons have come to their end and simply need re-winding, which the dull-witted army is unable to think of. G instantly sees this, but nonetheless keeps the machines for days, in order to justify a high fee. Faced with situations like this he inevitably sees himself as above the common run of humanity, and ends up largely inventing / recycling an esotetic philosophy to skim over this; but really, he's just sharp-witted and the philosophy is vacuous.

The only piece of it worth keeping is more an observation of human nature than philosophy: that most people spend much of their lives effectively asleep.

He keeps on journeying to mysterious isolated monasteries in search of the Truth. Here's an example of the kind of thing he was journeying in search of: the young pupils stand for hours before the apparatuses, regulated in this way, and learn to sense and remember this posture. Many years pass before these young future priestesses are allowed to dance in the temple, where only elderly and experienced priestesses may dance. Everyone in the monastery knows the alphabet of these postures and when, in the evening in the main hall of the temple, the priestesses perform the dances indicated for the ritual of that day, the brethren may read in these dances one or another truth which men have placed there thousands of years before. These dances correspond precisely to our books. Just as is now done on paper, so, once, certain information about long past events was recorded in dances and transmitted from century to century to people of subsequent generations. And these dances are called sacred. He is unimpressed with modern science; he is convinced that the antient peoples knew secrets that they recorded in pre-sand maps of Egypt, songs, or here encoded in the movements of dance for those-who-know to read. However all we get is his vague searching for these secrets; never the actual secrets themselves; because of course there are none. He is the sort of person who will think that a concept is more interesting if written in Sanskrit than in English.

On modern science, a thought: when I say "contemptuous of modern science" it would probably be better put as contemptuous of the people doing modern science, though I'm not sure he ever realises the distinction. They are dull, plodding folk - of course he never met any real scientists - who do not have his forceful personality; and he never realises that he knows nothing of science.


1. Or, to be more blunt: whilst written as an autobiography it contains, as well as truth, so much interpolation, invention, hazy memory and wishful thinking that it would be impossible to extract the bits that are actually true.

Sunday 6 November 2022

Book review: Heroes and Best Served Cold

PXL_20220925_092618342 I read Heroes first; and then Best Served Cold. And for whatever reason, I assumed that was the order they were written in. So I was confused when Caul Shivers was two-eyed. But I decided that perhaps fantasy doesn't have to be totally self-consistent across books, and even decided I quite liked that. Then he got tortured and lost an eye and I realised I had them the wrong way round. Never mind. Except, in arrears, I'm now slightly disappointed that CS doesn't get more development in Heroes; he is rather a background character there.

But overall, I greatly enjoyed both of these. They are set in the same "First Law" world as... ah yes, The Blade Itself, which I also read. I enjoyed that too, but got slightly sick of it towards the end and so avoided any sequels for a while; and then got hooked again. They are both quite long, possibly just a little too long, but both good. In that they have a decent story, and the characters are actually thinking.

Also, they are both funny; not constantly, but enough as light relief.

I should pick a nit, for the sake of form: In Heroes, Bayaz or his assistants are developing cannon-and-gunpowder. They drag into the depths of the wilderness three large heavy cannon, and manage to get a few not-very-useful shots off before they inevitably break down. But think - in stark contrast to Bayaz -, how much more useful that gunpowder would have been as grenades at the battle for the bridges.

Book review: The Exiles Trilogy

PXL_20221004_193700422~2 By Ben Bova. Now I look - even prompted by his bibliography - I can't really think of anything of his I've read before, which is odd, cos he is antique. Alas, The Exiles Trilogy has not aged well like fine wine.

TL;DR: well, indeed, I didn't. I got through the first book, skimmed the intro of the second, put it down (with a pat on my back for not wasting my life on trash), went back and tried the third, and gave it back to Oxfam.

The basic plot idea is that the World Govt, fearful of any danger to stability in an overcrowded world, decides to exile something like 20k scientists-plus-family. Ludicrously, they decide to put them on a space station they happen to have empty. And equally ludicrously, they turn it into a starship and fly away.

Most of book one is set on Earth, as Our Hero escapes captivity and does some stuff. The writing level is low, the characters cardboard, but the story kinda manages to limp along. Book two starts off with a Deeply Exciting Intro as there is a fire-in-the-cryo-section! And Our Hero (a different Hero this time) learns that his father has thereby died. By amazing chance, so has the father of the Anti-Hero and, with some implausible but not hot Girl Action, suddenly they are Enemies and... I got bored and stopped. Why would you keep burnable levels of oxygen in a cryo section anyway? Book three is set in the far future, the ship still voyages on but may be approaching wherever-it-was-they-were-going-who-gives-a-toss-really, unfortunately the crew has reverted to semi-savagery and... you get the idea, I'm sure.

The interesting thought here though is: what's the point? I do feel that voyaging to a far star would be a splendid endeavour, and would sign up myself if given the chance, but only if there were continuity of history: getting there with your culture destroyed is pointless. Which applies more generally (I've said this before I think): what matters is being part of the stream of history; contributing to the future.

Wednesday 19 October 2022

Book review: Toyman

1665842370985-ed6e9fa2-49ee-441b-ba87-f81d693fc103_ E. C. Tubb's classic Dumarest Saga, volume 3. See Goodreads.

It isn't too bad; Dumarest is on some planet and has to fight people intelligently for survival; I forget the details: this was more than a month ago.

Having read, intermittently as they've showed up in various second hand bookshops, various volumes in the series (#1, The Winds of Gath; #4, Kalin... and so on; perhaps I've read more than half) the action here is somewhat familiar-ish. But it's a bit unfair to read volume 3 in the light of succeeeding volumes.

Tuesday 18 October 2022

Book review: The Narrow Land

1666124238709-a2c39902-8e7e-45c2-947c-65c2b4a52314_ The Narrow Land by Jack Vance is a 1980 collection of stories, which themselves date from much earlier: 1945 for the earliest, 1967 for the title story, and 1950 for Chateau D'If which is the only one of any real interest. Goodreads is rather keener on it than I am.

In none of them is there more than a trace of the "Vance Voice" in which, say, The Dying Earth is written.

Chateau D'If is the longest; it concerns people selling body-transfers and seems to me interesting in that it presages some of the twists that The Anubis Gates covers. It reminds me of another too that I cannot now recall.

Book review: Count Belisarius

1666124173697-c7325607-2099-4b92-9652-839fcc56b69b_ Count Belisarius, as wiki tells us, is a historical novel by Robert Graves sympathetically recounting the life of the Byzantine general Belisarius (AD 500–565). Apparently it is largely based on Procopius's History of Justinian's Wars and Secret History, and you can even find them online, but I discovered I couldn't be bothered to read them. I fondly imagine that the "wigs sermon" must have come from that, because I can't imagine any other reason for Graves putting that bit in, unless he is showing off his erudition to those more erudite than me; I just skipped that bit.

My best guess is that this is a sort-of potboiler for him: read the old sources and lightly novelise them. But it works: as a novel it is a good read; this was my second reading, the first was decades ago.

The story: Belisarius, a noble but somewhat obscure, err, nobleman of the Byzantine empire, rises by virtue of his sheer military quality to the highest command and achieves astonishing victories in Persia, Africa and Italy; but alas all his noble deeds are undone by a combination of evil at court, the tenor of the times, rivalrous equals and incompetent subordinates; nonetheless he remains stubbornly loyal.

As the book realises at the end - and I cannot tell if Graves suddenly noticed this, or it was the plan all along - although Big B is definitely the Hero, and definitely both Heroic and Noble and Good, his Noble Deeds achieve little more than the slaughter of countless people and the destruction of vast swathes of land. Because while he is a military genius he is a political cretin; and while his victories are - as portrayed - as bloodless and clean as possible, and ditto his capture of cities, regrettably the inevitable recaptures by the other side are not clean, and the poor inhabitants get the short end of the stick again and again.

So this is either a deliberate parable of "good intentions and good people don't always lead to good results"; or an accidental one. Take your pick.

Wednesday 28 September 2022

A trip to Pembroke

I have happy memories of Pembroke, somewhat blurred by the passage of about 25 years. Army Dreamers, Joyous Gard, Jim Lind, Angus Atkinson, Matteus, Ma Weston's and so on. And also - but am I misremembering? - the trip down into a beautiful sunrise, listening to the results of the 1997 general election. Aanyway, this is now. Seeking to reinvigorate my flagging aging rock star status and pushed by something Myra wrote on fb, I bethought me of the Cambridge Climbing and Caving Club and lo! They had planned a trip to Pembroke, so I contacted them, and we (me, M and E) joined in.

As it turned out, we climbed as a three and so could have done it alone. But it was good to join in, we used their abseil rope, and it is always rather reassuring to have someone else at the crag when you're abbing down towards the sea. The trip was officially four days - arrive Fri, climb Sat-Sun-Mon, leave Mon - but we left on Sunday evening. 

My pix are in the 2022 Pembroke album on Flickr.

Friday: leave 5:30 arrive 11:30 pm. Laurent (our trip organiser) is still around say hello; tent up; toilet block; sleep.

Saturday: sleep well up 8:30 bfast porridge. I packed a box of matches from the kitchen but it turned out to be full of used matches; fortunately we can borrow some from others (and we need matches because the striker on the stove broke and got thrown away a few of E's trips ago). Here we see E attempting to squeeze "squeezy" honey from the last Ecrins trip into the porridge.


Say hello to various but I forget their names. People talk of Mythical Monster and Huntsman's Leap but happily it turns out we're all / mostly around the S-plus level so the proposal is Bow-Shaped Slab which I vaguely remember; and possibly remember failing to find it. To the far carpark and walk in 1.5 k (GPS trace) and generally agree we're there: just past the fence and cattle grid, you can see the "sandy bit" from above and then the slab. Part of the joy of Pemroke - well, of climbing in generally usually - is the scenery; here are the Elegug Stacks passed on the way (view including the beach).


[Not very useful guide to identification: here is what you can see of the slab from above, from "the sandy bit". Notice the people on the far side: you can scramble down that way, at low tide, but it is probably more effort than the abseil.] Here's a pano from just about the slab itself.


Do Bomb Corner (Diff) cos other routes are busy and ME want to start easy which it is. No problem. Here's E nearly finished abbing in. Bomb Corner is, well, the corner: roughly the line of the rope. The next route right, Inset Slab, goes up the, errm, inset slab before continuing up on the leftish side of the main slab. Our next route, Bow-Shaped Slab (HS 4b), is right of that and sticks to the middle of the main slab.


Abseil back (using prussik this time) for Bow-Shaped Slab. It is 40+ m (so I start running out of gear...) and steepens quite excitingly at the end, as the holds thin out. Testing shall we say. But I feel alive. Here's E, near the top, courtesy of M:


The person behind in purple is on Bow-Shaped Corner, also HS.

Sit around for lunch for a bit. Then, pm: back towards the car park to Flimstone slab (GPS trace) with Laurent and Alex and (after some ab rope faff, but which turns out to give us a valuable rest) do Brass in Pocket (S 4a), though it is only that for a bit near the top. Pic: on the belay at the bottom. Pic below: me from a secure stance on BiP, Laurent leading Flimston Slab (VD), Alex belaying him, M and E on the hanging belay. This pic exaggerates the steepness; there's one with a level horizon here.


5 done 6 back to car after diversion to Green Bridge of Wales; to St Govans country inn Bosterton but it is all reserved. So we three sit with drink, let others do the hard organisational work, and await Whatsapp summons to wherever. Which turns out to be Mehfils in Pembroke itself, a decent curry house.

Bed 10 sleep... Not so deeply me. 

Sunday: Up 8 loo sees departure of curry :-)

Slow b'fast - should camp on far side for morning sun, we get slivers. Here's a general view towards the campsite toilets+showers; it is a nice rural place on this quiet morning; apparently somewhat more busy of a bank holiday. View the other way.


Then various head off, we'll join Alex+Laur at Saddle Head. First a quick look at St Petrox church, which is just next to the site, but which turns out to be closed.

To Saddle Head (GPS trace) via looking at St Govan's chapel and its little cove, and Huntsman's Leap just as they've fixed up the abseil rope. There's also a scramble out to the saddle then back round that E does, just as I get down. M feeling somewhat gripped - the ab is steep / o'hanging - so sits out. With E, do Flake-Quake (S 4a) then HVD (Forgotten Chimney) that was harder. I don't have a good pic of all that. Here, from on the saddle looking back, I think we see someone on Sunset Boulevard, HVS. On the skyline, orange-helment (Alex?) is at the top of the ab rope, which is on the line of Forgotten Chimney. As you see there's a nice platform well above tide level; Blue Sky is tidal, and would be at the left, where the inlet is.


And thats us for the weekend. We're finishing a bit early, but I think all three of us have found that the long steep climbs are a bit wearing after so long away. E wants a run; so we go to the St Govan's car park, she runs; we drive to the Broad Haven carpark and meet her there. We hand over her swimming costume and she swims out to sea, which for me provides a beautiful atmospheric ending.


 While she is out I find her lost sock, and then hand over her towel and clothes. Then, one last thing, tea at Ma Weston's (though it is her no longer, but still the Ye Olde Worlde Cafe; selfie of us three); then back to pack and off 4 and home 10:30, in pretty good shape.



Monday 19 September 2022

Book review: The Documents in the Case

DSCN1880 The Documents in the Case by Dorothy L. Sayers. Picked up in WS as a successor to Whose Body, since I seem to have exhausted the entirety of modern SciFi and Fantasy. As a story it is fine; not a classic but perfectly readable, told mostly via the medium of letters, hence the title. Wiki tells me the multiple narrative technique associated with Modernist novelists of the period which is likely true, and introduces doubt about who is telling the truth.

Moving on to the spoilers, it is less a detective story than a crime story, in that the cast of villains is thin, the guilty party emerges naturally, and the plot moves onto exactly how the dark deed was done. By this point I'd guessed the Key Insight - chirality - though to be fair this is easier with modern A level chemistry than it would have been in 1930; apparently the very plot idea had been supplied to her. This alas is something of a weakness as, strangely enough, the idea doesn't fit naturally. The solution is introduced into the plot via an adventitious vicar who knows an implausible number of dons, and whose conversation drifts onto the subject. The idea then has to be hammered home to the reader who also can't be expected to be familiar with it, so it becomes laboured. When the congress of dons was convened at the vicar's I was so sure this was going to come out that I was skipping pages of vague philo-scientific waffle that were clearly just there as smokescreen to disguise the introduction of the concept; and sure it enough there it was. Further I somewhat doubt that our medico-chemical examiner would have negelected this trivial test. Further I strongly doubt that the guilty party could reasonably have been expected to know what concentration of muscarine is present in fungi, so would have had no idea what strength to make up the solution to; at the very least, it would have been plausible to ask as to the concentration, and this is never done - because, of course, our author knows the true answer.

Putting the poison into the broth is a bit dodgy sez oi, because any kind of cook, and Mr H was one, would certainly have tasted the broth before cooking with it.

The characters witter about various life-force ideas current in those days; the chemist they meet synthesising chemicals being charmingly naive about his chance of creating life; wiki tells me that DLS thought [The idea] touches the very key note of the mystery of the appearance of Life on this planet. There seems no escape from the conclusion that at some wonderful moment in the evolutionary process a Directive Force-From-Without entered upon the scene of Life itself. There is a bit too much of that in the novel for my tastes, but perhaps we can excuse it as 1930

Thursday 15 September 2022

List of holidays

PXL_20220819_095120851 One day, when my infants are older, they will look back and wonder where we went over the summers. Or so I fondly hope. Also, I'd like to know. So this is a list.

* 2022: Switzerland (blog in progress)

* 2021: I went to Switzerland (Saas Fee and Zermatt). Everyone else suffered from Covid.

* 2020: Ecrins, with D+E.

* 2019: Chamonix.

* 2018: Ecrins with E; Italy all of us; Dolomites.

* 2017: Ecrins, needs finishing.

* 2016: Norway (needs finishing). Ecrins (just me, September); needs finishing.

* 2015: Peloponnese without D. Stubai, with D and Jamie.

* 2014 Peloponnese. Stubai (just me for first week, with M for second) needs finishing.

* 2013 Lakes with Annie in July for a long weekend (day 1; needs finishing...). Main summer hols?

* 2012 Mallorca.

* 2011 Spain (via ferry; week one camping with Rankins; then off to Leon and beyond).

* 2010 Madeira in June with Mother: some pix. Stubai in August (just me? Why so few pix?). What else?

* 2009 Stubai by car: pix.

* 2008 Mallorca: pix.

* 2007 Kerouini, Brittany: pix.

DSCN7328-all * 2006 Llangrannog: pix.

* 2005 Llangannog (words; pix). Zinfandel trip pix.

* 2004 East Coast: pix. Llangrannog: wordspix.

* 2003 April Coombe pix; August Bigbury pix.

* 2002 Les des Alpes, March: pix. Quiberon, August: pix.

* 2001 Corsica in May: pix. Lescun in June: pix. Miranda born in October.


The definitive (digital) photos should be on Flickr. Writing this prompted me to check, and there are some missing. I dug out the old Maxtor and - heavens - it still works. But, there is a lot to check.

I uploaded photos/nikon/2000/12 (to 2000-12-maxtor) and then discovered that all those were dupes. I think. Then I downloaded the new Flickr PC uploader and tried 2000/11, and discovered they were all already uploaded. Including d-sleep-weasel which has unaccountably been given a 2005 date. I then tried all of 2000, and it found 109 more. Which went into 2000-lescun-maxtor. But some at least were already in 2000-06-hols. I find this confusing. I'm going to err on the side of excess uploading, at the risk of some duplication, though I believe Flickr does its best to de-duplicate.

2001: 1320 new. 2003: 1687 new. 2004: 969 new. 2005: 243 (all) new; Jan-Apr. 2006: few, none new.

nikon1: 2003: none new. 2004: 1701, 99 new... but 110 uploaded. Pardon? 2005 and 2006: none new. 2007: 46 new.

nikon2: 2007: 97 (99?) new. 2008: 85 (88?) new. 2009: none new.

nikon-d80: 2009: 614 (626?) new.

Sunday 11 September 2022

Book review: Feersum Endjinn

1662495261470-0373fa26-ac6e-44b9-861e-f4dd1fbe4d5d_ By Iain M. Banks. Read wiki (from which I find "Kirkus Reviews described it as 'Dazzling stuff: a shame it doesn't add up'; true dat, though I think "dazzling" rather over-sells it) or Goodreads.

The Bascule phonetic-writing stuff gets old very quickly, especially as it becomes clear it is entirely irrelevant to the plot. Fortunately, he's only one narrator.

For the rest: well, there is a story, it is reasonably entertaining - this is my second reading after a gap of perhaps twenty or more years - and frequently implausible and like most other such it doesn't really manage to sanely connect the online and real worlds.

As it becomes clearer that the central "castle" really is a giant-sized version of a castle as the ground terminus of a space elevator, I began to wonder how that physically worked, in a structure that is not modifiable. For example, in the "chandelier city", how do you get in? Are there rickety tacked-on ladders? Where does the water supply come from and where does the sewage go? Are there really, as there would be in such a real inflated structure, enormous "useless"spaces? None of this is clarified; instead, the building is largely inhabited and traversed as though it was normal, except the characters sometimes go "woo! It's a giant castle". So I think that aspect could have been better handled.

Friday 9 September 2022

Book review: The IPCRESS file

1662734654862-869dccce-97e5-498b-b55d-7fb7eb5dd7d0 Yet another re-read of this classic I first read in my teens. Wiki. As this review says, it has aged a bit. When I can remember the entire plot, or at least mostly, then the twists and turns seem less realistic, more dictated by the author's need for scenes; especially the pacific atoll stuff (and in retrospect, the idea of Jay's people being able to spirit Our Hero away under all that security is not believable; but at-the-time, you don't know it's Jay doing it, so you ride with it).

The un-named-ness of Our Hero is excellent; as is some of the dialogue such as “Hello Harry.” Now my name isn’t Harry, but in this business it’s hard to remember whether it ever had been. And the our-hero-captured who turns out to be in London bit is also excellent.

There are some bits I could quibble (the weird-for-a-spy obsession with people's clothes for one) but I have an affection for the book so I won't; Goodreads will do it for you if you're interested.


Book review: With a Strange Device.

Tuesday 30 August 2022

Book review: Whose Body?

1661885474189-3b24e3ec-84c3-4874-b175-6968bd0c74cc_Whose Body? was apparently the debut of Dorothy L Sayers, introducing Lord Peter Wimsey. This can perhaps excuse a good deal of... imperfection? LPW for example is little other than an affected upper class drone, with only a sketch at backstory. The plot is implausible as is the motive and I did not trouble myself to follow all the details. The "solution" is so non-obvious that it was necessary to have the criminal explain it all in a death-bed letter.

But having said that, it is fun enough to read.

Saturday 6 August 2022

Switzerland 2022

PXL_20220808_093138204 This will - I do so swear - eventually become a post about the family holiday to Saas Fee and Zermatt in August 2022. But for now, it is a placeholder only.

We were two weeks together, then DM went home, E had a further couple of days at Lausanne / Geneva; and I spent a week reversing the Chamonix to Zermatt Haute Route. See-also 2021's Three weeks around the Monte Rosa Group.

Here's a paste-in of the Google Doc I used as diary:

Switzerland 2022

Finish work early Fri and home; Weina was around Thurs to learn her cat duties for week 2. Sat, packing; to Mfd+J 2:30 for tea; drop E at station. M's Eva is house-sitting the first week and arrives at 4 closely followed by D. Finish packing, realise bags are a little larger than expected so call taxi for 5 but it is inexplicably late so we miss 5:24 but have most of an hour to sit and get some food. D realises he has forgotten his raincoat; ah well we will buy another. Train direct to Gatwick but numerous stops along the way.

Reading Bacon: "for time like a river bears down to us that which is light and inflated, and sinks that which is heavy and solid". Cute, but dubious. Much more but little to any point other than everyone else is wrong; naming specifically big A.

To Gatwick. We were uneasy about our hold bags and nearly bought another but managed to scrunch stuff in. It is just me D and M now: E is at a prom and will join us later. To rooms; small but clean and fine for o'night. Leave D and get a coffee then retire for weirdly non-functional shower. Comedy re E and train: bed 11:45 alarm for 5:30.

Sun: up 5:30 ugh security painful+loud but even so only 25 mins. Pret for coffee then to gate 7:05. Outside: clear still quiet. Board. Some delay but t/o 8:15.

Bacon: gold is malleable ductile yellow and so on: so if we learnt to superinduce yellowness etc we can make gold. Next: atoms, vacuum, immutability of matter: all of which he believes to be incorrect. Heat: is his prime example of sci;  but doesn't have heat/temp distinction; doesn't separate in/organic; considers heat and cold separate. Heats of planets.

Land, slightly longer non-EU p'port queue but after quick baggage reclaim we would have just had time to catch 11:19; and indeed we do get it but just to Geneva then have an hour for cafe/snack. Get our 12:29 and all seems well. Read and gaze. Visp; 20 mins till bus so supermark for a bite. And so to SaasF, light rain. Walk to appt all well. It is a little way uphill but has good views. Me down to supermarche to get bread cereal milk juice. Soir: dinner at cafe Sporting; discuss tomorrow's plan (Mittaghorn VF) and early to bed.


Sleep till 8 then b'fast out side as sun just rises over hill. Glorious sun. Down to town, find right cable car second go (sorry) to top and out.

Then, like last year but with much better wx and somewhat slower. We all have harness+slings but I don't use mine. Some worry that we all have the fitness but we make it. Bask at top, views, pix. Then, the descent. Perhaps in retrospect should have gone round to below-Britannia and down? But I've never been that way. So it is a long way and we were short of water and cruelly there is none on that side. But we just make town in time for 6:30 supermarkt.

Soir: E cooks pasta+pesto and we have misc. Early bed.


Fairly slow start from 8 with b'fast outside in sun. Coffee and finish cereal but struggle to finish apricots and grapes which end up going up with us. Pack tidy and off. Then D and I wait in shade while ME go back for some cereal bars. Go to wrong lift: Felskinn is shut we should go to Morenia and change. Which is what I did last year without realising. Come out of topstation and it is shocking how much has melted: the "low" path has totally vanished; the snow is bare ice. Crampons; M not happy that I have brought her over this. And so down to the lakes (no ice) and grind up: 2 h.

Rest on terasse wx continues sun. Inside for cafe+cards. Register. Dinner at 7; b'fast 4. 3:45: I go explore down across glacier and moraine till I hit the "real" glacier 50 mins. And try to remember path markers and cairns for the morrow. Stream crossing troublesome. Decide on Fluchthorn.

Dinner: soup nice the pasta+peato for ME (oops) and meatbeast+mash for DI. Pay apres.

To bed 8:45 awaiting 3:45 call for 4 am b'fast. Write up mon+tues.


Knocked 3:45 up and b'fast, which is quality. Some others. Get off 4:50 after usual first-faff inclunding me having to remove gaiters+boots to go get map. Head off down, over glacier, then moraine, staying mostly on track. But it is hard work. Lovely sunrise. Continue up, having trouble navigating crevasses. Can see some others further up. At 3260 / 8:50 stop. We're not going to get up so we may as well just enjoy the views and get back in time to not rush. I feel relieved. Looking, see wall leading up to F looks maybe good in its shade and later Strava heatmap says that's popular. All very dry and crevassed. Note: in planning, I failed to realise we'd need to get back late hence need an extra night. Could have warned M.

Notable on the way back: big boulder on two pillars that D climbs. The scree is a grind. Back ~12 I think, see M. Rest, coffee, tea (we're on the 1L tea). Climb Mt Pangolin with D; E and M already have. Great views.

Leave 1:15 and the lakes route is a grind under the hot sun; takes 2h. And so down, to The Larix and then meal Boggalino the witches pizza. Early to bed we're all tired.


B'fast 8:30 and linger; good. Today is rest so no hurry. Go up to Spielboden for lunch and then Langflue thus using our Saascards. Glorious views from both.

Dinner at Chami-Stube Asian fusion place: good. I have Mapo tofu but D's is better. Try variant of game allowing overcalling like liar dice but discover that it doesn't work: because: well, you get no information, and the cards aren't changing.


Up slightly earlier and sprightlier. B'fast then DE to s'markt to get snax for walk to "river delta". Intended to set off 9 but make 10. Go via murmellerie but they are over fed. I get to stroke an earlier ine that might not havd been in the overfed zone. Over moraine and down to river and rest in shade and snack. E is reading Eragon and commenting (on Milo's Kindle) on the inconsistencies and infelicities. D is sleeping, having slept vadly last night due to heat. Sign: farming had ended in SF but 1965 but was artificially restarted.

Insta: post from Britannia hut of new route up from Morania thus avoiding glacier / rockfall. But it would be a grind up.

Up to resto after nice long time by river. Cafe and ice teas and rhubarb+icecream. Thence, back, to sit on terasse under sunshade. Some welcome light cloud developes we need more. M reads Graun article about glaciers melting lead by pic of Britannia hut.

Into town to buy some energy bars for tomorrow. Note: Cesar Sport does gas canisters.

Last dinner in SF: in actual Burgener, with Bim-bowls for DEM: good. My rosti is less impressive: a little dry.


B'fast 7:30 and then off at 8… no 8:15. It is about 16 k to Gratchen and I am nervous about some of our legs; also, anxious to start before the sun is high. We walk all the way through the village and off into the trees, quasi traverse but of course up. In forest to start is nice. Now 1:10 and we've rested for 45 mins for lunch by the last-big-stream where I saw the goatherd last year. So, good progress and we seem in good shape though a little cloud would be nice.

4:30: we've made it. Good. In fair shape too: I'm fine, D to, ME perhaps somewhat tired. The last ~hour is a bit "surely around *this* corner… no, this…" but nicely the sun has gone round and trees provide shade. Last barrier is a herd of mooing cows that worry E. Have drinks a waffles etc then lift down: 13 each but it is a loong way down.

Soir: out for an Italian: the Piazza, good. There's some kind of festival/conzert in progress. Unfortunately it continues to midnight and the hotel soundproofing could be better.


Up 8:20 b'fast. Decent but no second coffee so make one in room. ME have nice omelettes. MEI to church but there's a service. Graveyard: v neat. M and I have religious-type arg - she doesn't like me saying people are wrong. E leaves.

Wx: thin cloud.

Cafe pre bus at 12:10. Discussion on if you need infinity for physics. Decide not. Catch train (25 each) to Z. Fairly easy to find our place which is decently central but also off to one side a bit. And is lovely: old out, chic tasteful understated modern but with old beams. Meh, look at the pix. Luxury: separate bedrooms for D, E and us.

Out for… cafe just nearby. Very "local" perhaps Italian E orders whitebait. Then Migros for b'fast choc dinner coffee etc.

Pm: chill on balcony. M'horn gets cloudier.

Soir: DEM cook pots (had with cheese) and courgettes with spices found in cupboard. And we open the bottle they kindly left us.


All sleep well up past 8 b'fast on balcon then 9:30 set off up to Zmutt on what turns out to be the Kulturweg including a lynxfall aka trap.

Zmutt: cafe-resto. Salads, rosti, iced tea cafe. M'horn just visible. Colchique dans le pre.

After, up a little more to dam, which turns out to be part of some vast hydroelec scheme involving lac de Dix. And so down the far side and back. Dinner at home chickpea and peppers.


Pay more than plausible for zug to Rotenboden; up; and walk off. Scenery is awesome as before. Do pretty well for first half - down to and then up glacier - but somewhat slower esp M for second half "across" which is more up and down than I recalled. So 4:30 to hut, feeling quite tired. Find DE who were quicker. Sit outside for bit and admire Lyskamm and views in general. Inside for tea and cards. Little wash before dinner.

After pack for tomorrow and DE to bed early.


The big day. B'fast 2:30 and then off. I'm slightly nervous about losing the path but we don't; helped by DE spotting. Occasional headlights ahead. To first glacier snout crampons rope up. Then a band of rock and second glacier all well but then we run into a crevasse zone and… well that's it. Dawn comes and we're still stuck. So is another party. Not far on the far side is people who were well agead of us so it is possible to cross but it took them ages. Explore, backtrack, and with reluctance confess failure. This is regrettable and unexpected. In retrospect? We could have continued to try but it was getting decidedly dodgy; and D and esp E have little experience of this. Perhaps should have been more careful/thoughtfull when first getting into zone?


Rest day. Go out and look at Z a bit. Find Portuguese cafe good cakes. Pumpkin display at hotel Beausite.


Up to Trift hut. Wx was supposed to stop rain at 9 but doesn't so we have two hours of being gently rained on which reveals what I already know: my coat really needs renewing 

Pm: me up to Mettelhorn (good! Slightly iffy glacier at top that I'd expected to have melted but it hadn't so no crampons) D to Wisshorn M and E near hut.

Soir: meal: DI generous square of spam and mash and veg: surprisingly good. ME same but less gen cheese.


Luxury of 7 am b'fast. Discussion of "evil". 9:10: DEI head up leaving M to explore and prob desc early. Rothornhutte is 2:10 map time which we make. It has - as I should have guessed - great views across to the MR massif slighly truncated by clouds. Have cafe+kuche. DE like to sit for a bit inside; I explore outside but see no sign of neubau. And so, down. M has already desc. Picnic outside Trift then cafe at lower Edelweiss.

Bacon: is over fond of lists rather than undrlying causes; and has not learnt to separate animate from in-a.

Soir: resto for final meal. E beef tartare me rosti D king prawn salad M risotto. D wins holiday liars poker tournoi by 1 pt over me.

Sun: Z to Zinal

Up first coffee Duolingo then make a few noises and pack. M then D then E emerge; b'fast, finish up juice milk bread butter cornichons and pack and tidy and wash up. Paranoia check passports and we're off: MD to station to fly home; E to slow time to Lausanne; me to dump rubbish and down to St Nk to get Jungen baby cable car 12 chf.

Monday 25 July 2022

The holocaust of the owls

For many years I collected owls. At one point in Stevenage we had an "owl tree". In Coton, they sat upon shelves and the mantlepiece and the display cabinet. Eventually I stopped adding to them, and they remained, slowly aging and getting dusty. I rarely looked at them because I knew them all.

But when we moved - and somewhat earlier, in truth - it became clear that there were too many of them, and a cull was needed. I failed to cull in advance, so they all moved, and I've now culled quite a few. Here are the ones that didn't make the cut.

The one I'll note for future memories is the "three owls on a branch" that I bought on my long walk through France; and which I then copied with the scroll saw when Daniel was small. I parted with those reluctantly.

Sunday 24 July 2022

Dr Fry

1658689806997-4c1e9ab4-c6b5-4ae2-961d-d3bf12199ac3_ Many many years ago in Junior School I studied history against my will, and I think this particular episode was pre O-level years too.
We had a teach called Winterbottom, inevitably known as Numb-Bum, but not unkindly, he was a decent bloke. As a Master he was of course ancient, though I now discover that he was only twenty years older than me.

Anyway, he wrote a book, about Thomas Charles Fry, who was head of the school oh-so-long-ago, or so I thought, but in fact around the 1900's (the cover image deceived me, and at the time I didn't look closer: but it turns out he was not as he somewhat appears mediaeval). Naturally, as a schoolboy I was totally uninterested in Fry or the book; and when copies were given out at the end of the year I put mine away unread.

Recently we moved house, and my copy emerged, and I thought I would try reading it; it is only 56 pages. And so I did. It is interesting and brings back happy memories of the school, and reminds me of how unthinking I was then... though I don't quite mean that; I mean how uninterested in, say, the history of the school I was.

Fry turns out to be responsible for quite a lot of the school buildings still there in my time: the old science block, which had been converted into Bees and Swifts; Dean's Hall; the Chapel; the Lychgate; the swimming pool. I think the library must post-date him though.

I won't detail the book; it is now out of print so you'll struggle to find it; abebooks has one (Clunbury Cottrell Press, Berkhamsted, 1977); if you're in Cambridge you're welcome to borrow mine.

Wednesday 20 July 2022

Pre-bumps assessment 2022

full Most years I forget to write what I think before bumps, but this time I've remembered.

Overall: good.

This year, we're definitely faster than our average over previous years: we hit sub-1:30 on every start and even hit 1:19 once, with a tailwind. We are: Harry, Jonathon, SteveO, Conor, Alistaire, Jon, me and Ralph; and cox Theo (photo-shopped in is Adam, see later). Ali is ex-Kings and has only been with us a month but is young and strong; in general our power this year is better than before, with the exception of me; my 2k this year was 7:31.6. Conor's was 6:35 and Ali is rumoured sub-6:30. Theo is a good cox, active and enthusiastic; his only bad point is that he starts spinning from bowside, and can be a little cautious.

Training has gone well; we're balanced and we're prepared to put effort in. We've only had 2-3 outings per week, but perhaps that helps keep us fresh.

Of our opponents we know little, so I won't speculate here... or will I? Maybe I will. St Neots have been dropped down due to Slow and Robs 2 dropped entirely due to Not Existing. So we start at 9, chasing Tabs 3, and being chased by Nines 3. Tabs appear to have settled on Hills Rd, though they have been Aquaphobes at one point. I think I'd feel more confident against Aquaphobes, but it will be fun to row against the Evil Hills Road crew. And Nines are not strong this year but they have Henk at 5. That's day one, subsequent days can look after themselves.

Note: due to the heatwave, Monday and and Tuesday were cancelled, boo hiss. I wouldn't have, but I do admit it was extremely hot and a defensible decision.

Post-bumps assessment

And now it is all over; this written Sunday night. The official write-up is here; it is rather short because there wasn't a lot to celebrate alas. However, M1 did win the Captain's Prize for the best crew that didn't win blades, with the glorious score of two row-overs and one down; alas, all the ladies went down each night, and M2 twice. That of course is a bare account and not a fair assessment.

In more detail: Wednesday, the first night, was in retrospect a missed opportunity; we had our crack at Tabs 3 unhindered by Nines behind, because City took them out on First Post. We knew this meant that City were fast but we hadn't gone off hard enough and of course Nines being taken out removed any push; so we rowed over. Thursday was much better; we went off harder and were within a whisker of bumping Tabs, but alas we got taken down by City. Boo hiss. Friday was expected to be dull as we knew we were faster than Nines, and so we were, to First Post; but they pushed us hard down the Reach and got within 3/4, so that turned out in the usual odd way of these things to be a more satisfying ending that expected (also Henk was dropped down to 2, so Nines may have had some ringers in). Ali had got Covid to was out Weds and Thurs, ably replaced by Adam but perhaps this unsettled us, but who knows. Given another day I think we'd have got Hills.

Saturday 25 June 2022

Book review: War and Peace

PXL_20220625_185723160 Another classic. Indeed it even says it is one up there at the top; see my picture. Wiki sez It is regarded as one of Tolstoy's finest literary achievements and remains an internationally praised classic of world literature. I think that is overblown; my touchstone is Heart of Darkness. We've owned it forever; I finally read it because it was about time and the Ukraine war provides context.

As history, the book of course chronicles from the aristocratic Russian side Napoleon's invasion of Russia. Somewhat along the lines of Proust, part of the interest is the view we get of the aristocracy. And that view is of a bunch of idle useless pointless shallow folk. We occaisionally get to see the underside, of the serfs, but I think this is airbrushed, with the horrors removed out of sight. If you're interested in how the military campaign went, then read something else, because part of Tolstoy's art is to describe battles from a very detailed close-up viewpoint that  emphasises how confusing they were.

And here we run inevitably into his theory of history. Oh yes, he has a theory. And he isn't subtle about it. I can't tell if he just lacks confidence, and so won't let the ideas speak for themselves as the book unfolds; or if he is perfectly well aware that what he describes doesn't demonstrate his ideas; but either way, there are chapters of theory, and even an entire epilogue of it. His brilliant theory, if you don't know it, is that the "Big Man" theory of history is wrong, and instead, that... well, his alternative is rather less clear. Either that history is made up of lots of little things, or that great movements of peoples from East to West <something>. I wasn't desperately interested, so find it somewhere else from someone who cares. For what it is worth. I think his theory fits the Russian side rather well: the Russians had no-one competent and their response - to keep losing until the French were exhausted - was what happened. But it doesn't fit the French side at all well.

As to the story apart from the campaign, well, it is the lives of various Russian aristocrats, and as a story it is all reasonably well told and moderately interesting. But I think he needed an editor.

I get the feeling that the book does represent something of how Russians view themselves and their people. Perhaps they think more now of the Great Patriotic War but either way it is living on past glories of times that weren't really glorious anyway.

Addendum: 2024/06: finishing Popper's The Poverty of Historicism, he briefly mentions Tolstoy, and agrees with his theory. I find that odd, since I don't think it fits the French side at all well; it is hard to see the Frogs bothering to invade Russia without Napoleon to drive them. But you may read his words here.

Friday 24 June 2022

Book review: Poseidon's Wake

1656098789179-76c6caa9-35dd-4649-a52a-973440ac12b2 TL;DR: indeed. It was, and I didn't get to the end. I starting skipping some stuff, then more, after about half way; and when I gave up about fifty pages from the end I was just flicking through. And am pleased that I was able to tell myself just not to bother finishing it. I knew there would be nothing interesting at the end. 

Just like On the Steel Breeze I really knew I shouldn't have started this. It is a continuation: the same uninteresting characters go off and do implausible things for unconvincing reasons. As is traditional for books about space, the orbital mechanics is hopelessly wrong (Oh noes, we're heading towards a planet! We must deccelerate really hard! But <x> cannot cope with the decelleration and will die! In that case, why not thrust less hard, but sideways? Shhhh, you'll spoil the plot). And don't get me started on the we-can-prove-the-universe-will-end drivel. Our Author is clearly fascinated by elephant cognition or the possibilities thereof, but is unable to imagine such beasts doing anything interesting, so that bit is dull too.

Monday 6 June 2022

Book review: Ender's game

1654286637826-c556e053-9f13-4aea-99f3-cfbeb7418f46_By Orson Scott Card. I regret re-reading this. Goodreads will tell you some of the bad points,as well as having lots of people enthuse over it.

The implausibly young children achieving implausible things is not especially plausible; one could perhaps try making them older, to little effect. Despite the violence, the book is somewhat bland and unsatisfying, though still quite page-turney.

Do we believe (warning: spoilers) that the adults would have failed to realise that the buggers were not fighting back once the queen died? I think not. Indeed, given the storyline, is an alien "fleet" even believeable?

The finale is based on video games, and makes a nice plot twist. But, why would within-a-solar-system orbital mechanics lead to a game taking about an hour? Days would seem more likely... although the drive systems are never mentioned. And if your aim is to get to the planet, why deccelerate at all?

Sunday 29 May 2022

Another visit to Olde Englande

A piece of Olde Englande refers. This time, closer to old home, on the way back from Oxford. GPS trace.

At a turn in the road is a Lychgate that I haven't been through before. It turns out to be for Wilstone cemetery, but it is some way from Wilstone. Indeed it is some way from anywhere.


Inside, we look back out:


All is calm and peaceful. And I feel a surge of feeling for England, the land.


There's even a Proctor. There's nothing particularly old, though. Presumably this is the overflow cemetery.


And then on to Ivinghoe Beacon. How tall it used to be, when I was young.


Ah, time.


Thursday 26 May 2022

My apiary

Hello and welcome to my page about my apiary. This page is mostly here so I can point people at it. The sort of people who might be interested are those who buy my honey. Although you might wish to take "Bismark's" advice. This page is pointed at by tinyurl.com/wmc-bees.

Let's start with a link to my most recent honey-extraction: Bad beekeeping: spring recolte 2022 (2023). And now, a picture of my two (2023: one) hives.


Yes, only two: I am an artisanal beekeeper. Over the years, the number of hives I've had has varied from zero (sadly) to four. Four was a lot to keep going. Two is a good number, I've been on that for a while. Here's some honey:


Recently - spring 2022 - I moved house from leafy Coton into Cambridge where I felt my bees might be less welcome, and so have moved them into the long garden of a friend who also keeps bees. This picture shows the fuller setup: mine are the two central; the far right is theirs; the far left is a spare, currently empty.

Extracting honey

After the frames are removed from the hive and de-capped (the bees will seal the cells with a little wax cap when they think they're ready; to spin out the honey this cap needs removing; I do this with a kitchen bread knife; see this picture) they are then put in the extractor and spun. I have a 1/3 share in a stainless steel "tangential" extractor (which means the frames are placed tangential to the circumference, which means they need to be spun gently, rotated, spun again, rotated, and spun again; which is why the pros prefer radial extractors. Pic showing the inside). Spun off honey then collects in the base of the extractor and can then be tapped off, filtered (in this case via the conical stainless steel filter shown here) to remove bits of wax and undesireable bits of bees, and collected. It is then fit to be bottled.


The archives

There are lots of old blog posts over the years; let's list some:

* Beekeeping, 2021 (an index page which I failed to find, hence created this one)
Bad beekeeping chez M+S (swarm collection)

Tuesday 24 May 2022

Scifi and Fantasy reviews

281839557_568185454666409_5760724985706195430_n Inspired by John Aspden and now by RP (too), here are my sci-fi and fantasy reviews, arranged in order of favouritism. I achieved this order by starting at the most recent and going backwards, inserting into wherever they fit. Books of course cannot be linearly ranked in this fashion; in particular literary quality and fun ideas are hard to inter-rank. As I add more, the discrepancies grow larger. Books get points for: quality and fun of reading; novelty; interest of the ideas; worldbuilding; being a classic; "must include something by this author"; and more. Note that points-for-ideas does not imply that I agree with them, merely that there are some; you get more points if I agree, of course. But sadly most SciFi authors tend to pick up crap philosophy (hello Plato, I'm looking at you).

This list only includes stuff I've actually written reviews for, which is most of the recent stuff but very sporadic earlier. Stuff I would add: The Deep; more Banks; Blish; more LeGuin; Wolfe; Benford; The Forever War;  etc.

The top, but unrankable: The HobbitLord of the Rings, The Deep.

Beasts and Engine Summer, John Crowley
* Foundation, Isaac Asimov
* Icehenge, Kim Stanley Robinson
* White Queen, Gwyneth Jones
Neuromancer, William Gibson
Anathem, Neal Stephenson
The Iron Dream, Norman Spinrad
Across Realtime, Vernor Vinge
Starship Troopers, Robert Heinlein
* Divine Endurance, Gwyneth Jones
* Dune, Frank Herbert
* City of the Chasch / Servants of the Wankh / Dirdir / Pnume, Jack Vance
* Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie
* Stations of the Tide / Vacuum Flowers, Michael Swanwick
* Consider Phlebas, Iain M Banks
* Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C Clarke

(those above this marker are "you should read")

* Emphyrio, Jack Vance
* The Raven Tower, Ann Leckie
* The Dragon Masters, Jack Vance
* Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie
* Grass, Sherri S Tepper
* Uprooted, Naomi Novik
* City of Illusions, Ursula LeGuin
* The Forever War, Joe Haldeman [2023/11]<
* The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Robert Heinlein
* Look to Windward, Iain M Banks<
* The Enemy Stars, Poul Anderson
* The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun and The Robots of Dawn, Isaac Asimov<
* Out of the Silent Planet / Perelandra / That Hideous Strength, C S Lewis
* Heroes and Best Served Cold, Joe Abercrombie
* Big Planet, Jack Vance
* Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand
* The Diamond Age, Neal Stephenson
* The Martian, Andy Weir
* The White Mountains, John Christopher
* The Cadwal Trilogy: Araminta station; Ecce and Old Earth; Throy, Jack Vance
* The Languages of Pao, Jack Vance
* The Silver Chair and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C S Lewis
* Spinning Silver, Naomi Novik

(those above this marker are "worth reading")

* Mickey 7, Edward Ashton

* The Long Tomorrow, Leigh Brackett

* Blindsight, Peter Watts [2023/01]

* Wyrms, Orson Scott Card

* Ender's game, Orson Scott Card

Confluence: Child of the River / Ancients of Days / Shrine of Stars, Paul McAuley

* Blood Music, Greg Bear [2023/01]

Space, Time and Nathaniel, Brian Aldiss

The Undercover Aliens, A E Van Vogt

A World Out Of Time, Larry Niven [2023/12]

* The Memory of Earth, Orson Scott Card [2023/12]

* Neptune's Brood, Charles Stross

The Lions of Al-Rassan, Guy Gavriel Kay

* Rosewater, Tade Thompson

* Star King, Jack Vance

Involution Ocean, Bruce Sterling

Project Hail Mary, Andy Weir

* Fifth Planet, Fred and Geoffrey Hoyle

Dark Light, Ken McLeod

* Tenth Planet, Edmund Cooper

* Sabriel / Lirael / Abhorsen, Garth Nix

Shikasta, Doris Lessing

H G Wells anthologyThe War of the Worlds

The Book That Wouldn’t Burn, Mark Lawrence

* Redshirts, John Scalzi. 

* Sundiver, David Brin

Blue Remembered Earth, Alastair Reynolds

Rotherweird and Wyntertide, Andrew Caldecott

The Ten Thousand Doors of January, Alix E. Harrow

* The Owl Service, Alan Garner

Utopia, Thomas More

* Glory Road, Robert Heinlein [2023/04]

Revolt in 2100, Robert Heinlein

The Witches of Karres, James Schmitz

All the Colors of Darkness, Lloyd Biggle

(those below this marker are "meh")

Anthem, Ayn Rand

Feersum Endjinn, Iain M Banks

The Gift / The Riddle, Alison Croggon

Daughter of smoke and bone, Laini Taylor

* Toyman, E C Tubb

The Green Odyssey, P J Farmer

* Transition, Iain Banks

* The Brightness Reef trilogy, David Brin

Artemis, Andy Weir

* Nemesis, Isaac Asimov

The Narrow Land, Jack Vance

* The Forge of God, Greg Bear

Something Coming Through, Paul McAuley

Ringworld, Larry Niven

The Eye of the World, Robert Jordan

I, Robot

With a Strange Device, Eric Frank Russell

* The Centauri Device, M. John Harrison

(those below this marker are "you should not read")

Raising the Stones, Sherri S Tepper

* Wherever Seeds May Fall, by Peter Cawdron

Three Body Problem, Cixin Liu

Ancient Light, Mary Gentle

* Proxima, Stephen Baxter

Bones of the Earth, Michael Swannick

The Exiles Trilogy, Ben Bova

* Heart of the Comet, David Brin and Gregory Benford

On the steel breeze, Poseidon's Wake, Alastair Reynolds

Seveneves, Neal Stephenson

Fractal Noise, Christopher Paolini

See also

Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels 1985-2010