Sunday, 7 February 2016

Miranda's Magic Roundabout

Made in year 6, her last year at Coton School. Rather nicely done, and so of course has been sitting in our kitchen for the last n years. Today I burnt it on the bonfire, with Miranda's assistance. But before I did so I of course took some video of it in action; here it is.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Book review: Something Coming Through

Something Coming Through by Paul McAuley. Summary: meh. Read again? No.

Recommendation: 400 billion stars is his best work. It is hard to produce two like that; and he hasn't. Read that instead. The Quiet War stuff was also almost good; better than this, but didn't live up to its promise. Unlike 400 billion stars, which massively over-delivers.

Spoiler alert: don't read on unless you're not going to read the book.

The premise is a damaged Earth where aliens have turned up and "helped" by giving access to distant worlds, but left us largely alone. On those distant worlds - one in particular is the subject of the book - remnants of multiple alien cultures have been found, former clients of the aforesaid aliens; and some remnant artifacts - eidolons - have the capacity to "haunt" people, or act like brain viruses.

It's not a bad premise and could have lead to a decent book. Sadly, it leads to a detective story which could largely be mapped onto any genre and thus largely lacks interest. All too typically, past the first idea the author really has nothing in reserve for the ending: pretty well nothing happens except some more inexplicable starships turn up.

Sociologically, perhaps the most interesting part is the way that humanity, transplanted to a new world, largely ignores that world and instead falls back on all its old corruption and vices. That could have been interesting. But since it mostly gets in the way of the ostensible story, it isn't. Better would have been some contrast between those who do explore the new world (there should have been people trying to piece together all the dead cultures) and those who turn their back.

Speaking of the dead cultures that are found on the other worlds, there is remarkably little interest about them in the book. But imagine it: you're gifted a pile of worlds where other cultures, also gifted with those worlds many years ago, died out. Everyone would be wondering "so, is it us next? Is there something dangerous about these places, is this a poisoned gift?" But not the people in the book.

Real science error: one of the things in the book is an alien ray gun. In the beginning it is mysterious, a rumoured possession of a criminal. Eventually it is "explained": it is a "ray gun", it converts with near 100% efficiency the power of a battery cell into (effectively) laser light. But, but: that's not good enough. There isn't enough power in the cell to have the effects described, even at 100% efficiency. Also, such a device would be massively valuable; the criminals of the story, instead of spending so much effort on unclear archaeological explorations (which they cannot have known would pay off, though the book treats them as so determined that they appear certain; another plot hole), would just have sold it.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Old pictures: Miriam and I, BKK (Bad Klein Kirchenheim) 1991

In the winter of what I can only assume was 1991, we went skiing to Bad Kleinkirchheim, because Klaus Pulverer's parents had a chalet there. Who else went? Phil I think; Rob; Klaus's brother; Edumnd Shaw. And perhaps others. We drove down, as I recall. However, the point of this post is the oil picture I painted some time afterwards from a photo taken then, of Miriam nearly asleep after a long day, and me resting on her shoulder. I remember that jumper.


Well, I'm no artist; this is for the records only. I would have kept the picture but the oil had got stuck to the glass, so threw it away in a fit of house-tidying. That one is colour-balanced by GIMP; here's an unbalanced one if you're interested.

I'm glad I thought to write the date and place on it, otherwise I'd have forgotten.

Friday, 29 January 2016

Book review: The Hound of the Baskervilles

The Hound of the Baskervilles (text) is dead famous. You've certainly heard of it even if you haven't read it. As a book, it is fun to read. As a crime story, it is badly lacking.

The decent bits: well, it's a Sherlock Holmes story, fairly well written, and all that kind of thing. I won't bore you with the details.

Wiki says "It incorporates five plots: the ostensible 'curse' story; the two red-herring sub-plots concerning Selden and the other stranger living on the moor; the actual events occurring to Baskerville as narrated by Watson; and the hidden plot to be discovered by Holmes. Doyle wrote that the novel was originally conceived as a straight 'Victorian creeper' (as seen in the works of J. Sheridan Le Fanu), with the idea of introducing Holmes as the deus ex machina only arising later." And perhaps that explains some things.

The lack: by the end, Holmes seems to have needed an extraordinary number of clues to get the answer. And seems to find a rather odd balance between saving Sir Henry and catching the murderer. Plot holes: this is a lonely part of Devon, and yet both Holmes and Cartwright come and go freely without anyone noticing. Cartwright, in particular, is a young lad bringing Holmes food out onto the moor - at a time when there is an escaped convict, Selden, out there who needs food - and yet no-one suspects anything. One of the characters has even seen him, but does nothing. Where is Cartwright living? The convict dies on the moor - and yet there is no fuss. No explanations to police or coroner are required. the idea that Stapleton could conceal and control an enormous dog seems implausible; as does the idea of it standing for being painted with phosphorous. And so on.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Miranda's cards, done around 2008

See-also Children's birthday cards from 2015.

These are cards from various years, that Miranda collaged entirely on her own initiative and by herself, when she was about 7 years old; say in 2008. The cards themselves are from the few years previous.





And from her ninth:


and sixth birthdays:


All of these were done at about the same time I think.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Christmas 2015

Every Christmas is the same, but I'd better record one before I forget; time passes.

M and I usually work the morning of Christmas eve. D and E have of course been off school for ages. We come home early-afternoon, madly finish packing and chivvy the infants to do the same, and throw things into the car, leaving by 4 pm to make sure we get to Mother's in time for carols on the village green at 6. In a good year like this one, we've remembered we need a cat minder for Phoebe in advance; in a bad year we scramble around looking for someone at the last minute. A few years back we would sometimes drop the infants at mothers days earlier: that made sense when they were young and needed looking after, and Mother was younger and could. But now they can be left at home; and Mother is past 80 and finds their youthful ardour, unmoderated by another adult, a little tiring.

We get to mother's with a few minutes free, unload, sit down for a little, awaiting RNLT or some subset thereof. Thence to the carols by the corner, where we sing the same carols each year; thirteen of them I think, with all the verses, so it fills out the hour. With luck some mince pies and mulled wine, then back to Mothers to begin relaxing. The evening spend doing little; and finishing wrapping the presents.

Christmas day: is built around the Queen's speech at 3 pm. Mother, and others, go to church in the morning; I go for a run. Around 11 am we're back; Mother's regime of peeling the sprouts or whatever goes into action; M and N help; I just about invariably don't; my job is to sit in the living room drinking a sherry when I'm offered one by Rob. Lunch starts around 1:30, and needs to finish by 2:30, in order to get the washing up done, and the coffee made, in time for The Queen. People say, "but how do you manage to wait until 3?" but the answer is firstly that the children are now teenagers, so barely care what they get; and secondly it has been thus since time immemorial - certainly since my childhood - and no-one expects otherwise. After a brief discussion of Her Maj - perhaps a touch themeless this year I thought - the opening begins, generally with the adults in their chairs and me sitting next to the fire, and the children distributing the presents from underneath the tree. One year we tried an experiment: you get one present to unwrap, and play with for half an hour; then the next. That worked pretty well, but we didn't this year. Every now and then someone goes round with a binbag to collect all the unwrapped wrapping.

There will be afternoon tea, probably with Christmas cake. If we don't feel too stuffed from dinner, and chocolate. The "snowman" comes in at some point. Likely we will watch some Christmas special; Dr Who this year and last. And so it goes, quietly.

Boxing day: years back, the infants would rise early and rush round to RNLT's to play fun games or on the Xbox or whatever; nowadays lying in bed is more the norm. If I'm doing well I'll go for another run; and at lunchtime we'll go over to RNLT's for, errm, lunch. They live less than five minutes walk away.


Friday, 1 January 2016

Blood pressure

M+J have a monitor, so we played with it. I got:

* 116 / 82; 65 (before a run)
* 133 / 84; 91 (soon after a 10k run)

Then, hours later, in quick succession:

* 108 / 71; 61
* 112 / 74; 62
* 116 / 75; 60
* 115 / 73; 60

Various articles say that above 120 / 80 is "pre high presssure"; but they also say it varies, and you need to average several readings.

So, interesting, and perhaps a little higher than I might like, but to monitor not to worry about.