Sunday, 19 July 2015

Sabriel / Lirael / Abhorsen

More fine fantasy trash, from Garth Nix. Miranda brought them back, on a school friends recommendation, and now I've read all three, quite quickly. Though there is also a fourth.

Another world, with magic, in communication with one without magic, only this time instead of the usual world-flipping whatever, they're just separated by a wall, and so the expected fun ensues.

Its "young adult" and you can see that in the characters, young people growing up and unsure of their place in the world, gradually growing in confidence. And this is part of the charm; if I wanted to read adult books, I would.

Weasel abroad

Daniel is off into the world, to Ladakh. Who knows how he will fare. Here he is, hair cut, a confident young man against a quince tree.


Monday, 6 July 2015

More bad beekeeping - swarm collection

Just a record of events.

Andy Nicol called me last Sunday to say that there was a swarm at his allotments, on a friends. So I went to see, and indeed there was.

IMG_20150705_114022 (1)

See? Not the words largest, but conveniently close to the ground. And in a raspberry patch, more crowded than this makes it appear. So I got out my nice wooden box and pulled then in.

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That was the bees on several canes, plus a couple of handfuls scooped off the ground. We left the rest to walk in while Andy showed me around, all on a lovely sunny afternoon. I put them in the back of the car -only a few escaped - and offered them to Nikola. We went to look at her hives - she was somewhat unsure about one - but it definitely had bees on it so I kept them for myself.

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Here they are on top of the "original" (slope-top) hive, and I'm using the old "sheet of newspaper" trick. This hive has, I think, swarmed a bit too much this year, because despite coming through the winter much better than the "other" (flat-top) hive, its now looking rather sparse. So this may be a useful top-up.

On Monday night I realised I'd forgotten there was a queen excluder in. And so my two queens had no means to meet, maybe. Anyway, I took it out.

Here's the general hive environs, looking down the garden towards the stream.
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Saturday, 27 June 2015

Miranda: not doing grade 6 piano

Today is the day Miranda would have done her grade 6 piano exam. But she didn't (leaving me entirely free; I choose to go rowing, then cafe, then work, then Waterstones). Last weekend, last Saturday, Miriam came out while I was gardening to ask me to Have a Word with our daughter, a delightfully Victorian experience. And the Word to be had was about piano.

It turned out that Miranda had decided, somewhat tearfully, that she really didn't want to do the exam. She didn't enjoy playing, it wasn't fun, she didn't want to spend the next week practicing for an exam she didn't care about, even if we would then be "happy" for her to drop the piano afterwards.

I'm a bit sad: I knew she had to be pushed to practice, but though she enjoyed playing: she had got to the stage where she could be listened to with some pleasure when playing pieces she knew: some of the Harry Potter themes for example, which I thought - still think - she actually liked.

I asked, was she sad, was she reluctant, because she thought that even with a good week's practice she still couldn't pass? No, its wasn't that, it was - we kept coming back to this - that she just didn't care, she didn't enjoy it, she didn't see any point.

I tried to push my own view - that having got this close, it would be silly not to just get through the exam. It is certainly what I would think about any endeavour. But she was not to be persuaded. And I began to wonder if she might not be right. What virtue would there be in a certificate that she would not value? She will keep doing clarinet, which she does enjoy - particularly playing in the wind band - but that wasn't any argument for piano. Perhaps she is avoiding the "sunk costs fallacy".

She was quite tearful through all of this. I'm not sure why: either because she knew she was displeasing us, or because she was torn herself. I must ask her.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Book review: Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

I find it hard to believe this is the same guy that wrote Anathem (I'm not sure I reviewed that, but I wrote about the Adrakhonic  theorem and polar orbiters). Anathem was good (would it survive re-reading?) especially in the first half; but this book is leaden all the way through. Well, at least to page 400, where I've skipped to, and now given up. Goodreads people disagree with me, many of them giving it 5 stars as a page turner, but... am I just getting old? Its just drivel.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Post election thoughts

A marker for the future, not anything profound. I wish I'd written down what I thought in 2010, and before. Well, here we are in 2015.

So, the result: a slim Tory majority. Which was totally unexpected: a coalition had been forecast, though it as unclear exactly what coalition.

As I wrote on facebook:

UKIP 3,881,064 votes 1 seat (shafting ratio 1:82); Green 1,156,149 votes 1 seat (SR 1:25); Lib Dem 2,415,862 votes 8 seats (SR 8:51). Everyone else seems to be close to 1:1, except the DUP who have an anti-shafting ratio of 2:1 (and the SNP have an ASR of something like 1.8:1).

For completeness: Tories 11M, seats 331. Labour 9M, seats 232. SNP 1.5M, seats 56.LibDem 2.4M, seats 8.

However, we had the PR referendum a couple of years back and the result was a resounding No, so I can't see anything new happening there; and while plenty of my FB friends are unhappy with the unfairness, well, what's that to the country as a whole? As JE said, roughly: "everyone I know is unhappy with this result, so what does that say about me / my friends?" And the answer, of course, is "not typical of the country as a whole", as indeed I and my friends aren't either. I'd damn well hope not.

In normal times, the result would be uncomplicated: a Tory majority, shrug, nothing new. However, the two big complicating factors are the promised in/out Euro referendum, and the "Scottish problem".

Euro referendum

Cameron promised a year back that, if a Tory govt were elected, there would be a simple in/out referendum vote on the EU. IMHO I think he said that to buy people off, not because he wanted it, and he expected not to have to deliver on it, because he expected to be in coalition. Perhaps you could argue it was a success, in that it bought him some UKIP votes, and secured his majority. But UKIP's support, whilst widespread, only got them one seat. In retrospect buying off UKIP doesn't look too important; a bit less Euroskepticism from Cameron might have lost him a seat or two, to UKIP, but so what? Might even have lost him enough to force another coalition with the LibDems: I'd have welcomed that. In some ways I think Cameron might have, too.

I can find Tories salivating over the prospect of a referendum, which is a sign of trouble ahead. Indeed, that column is already laying the ground work for myth, by claiming this won the election. I don't believe that (see below). Quite what will happen, I don't know. If Cameron sticks to his promise - and I can't see any way he can get out of it - but campaigns along with a substantial part of the Tories for "in", then I'd expect us to stay in, but not decisively. And the "out" Tories to be miffed, but stay on board.


Meh. Scotland, this year, was like England when it didn't elect Kinnock and instead elected Major. Everyone knew it wasn't what we really wanted, but people had done it out of fear / inertia / whatevs. And so next time it was Blair by a landslide. Similarly, after failing to go for Independence through cowardice / sanity / whatevs, Scotland is a bit disgusted with itself and so has had a fit of voting SNP. It will wear off, in time. But they'll need to be bought off; hopefully not with money, they get quite enough of that already. More devolution, perhaps? I couldn't object to that and might even be in favour. I guess the Tories can't just say "screw you, we've got a majority" because if done too blatantly it might piss the Scots off enough to screw up their courage and vote for Independence.

Will they, buoyed by this vote, try for another referendum? Probably not: another No would rather prick the bubble.

What would be deeply amusing / trouble making is some combination of referendum and Scotland. What if the UK voted to leave, but Scotland clearly wanted to stay in? Would that trigger another vote on Independence? I doubt it happens.

What won the election?

The economy I think. I really don't know what got into Miliband: he couldn't see a thing without wanting to subject it to price controls, aiming for a state like Venezula. Idiot. In a sense it was a good thing, because Labour were clearly distinct from the Tories, which was rather less true under Blair.

I don't have a closer and more detailed analysis than that, and I don't think most people voting have, either. Its a mood-music thing.


I voted Green. I always do, if I can. Their economic policies are mad, but never mind, they won't get to try them out so that's OK. Simon Saggers got 6.5% in South Cambs and so retains the deposit, well done. In 2010 there was no Green so I voted Lib Dem, which made no difference locally (S Cambs being securely Tory) but added my tiny bit of support to the coalition.

The Lib Dems

I feel a lot of sympathy for them. They went into coalition, admittedly for the power, but by doing so gave us five years of stability and tempered the Tories somewhat; and the electorate rewarded them for that by gutting them. I think that tells you a lot about the Lib Dem support, and its fickleness. Too much empty-headed wishfullness, who knows how they voted for this time.

My preferred result

Of all the results that could plausibly have happened - i.e., I'm not allowed to wish for me being voted Dictator for life - I'd have preferred another Tory-LibDem coalition. I certainly didn't want Labour to win. A small Tory majority is better than Labour, but not good. People not needing SNP support for a coalition is good.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Book review: Code Complete by Steve McConnell

Code Complete, 2nd Edition. Redmond, Wa.: Microsoft Press, 2004. 960 pages. Retail Price $49.99. ISBN:, or Amazon. Wiki says "Code Complete has received outstanding reviews, being widely regarded as one of the leading must-reads for software developers" but what does wiki know?

I brought this home for the weekend. But I got to page 371 and then stopped, fairly bored. There's not enough here that's new to me. Perhaps that's good. I did have some nice time in the garden in the sunshine beneath the young quince shoots before I realised it was dull.

It feels far too long though. Perhaps it might be useful as a reference book; but it feels like bloatware. There's just too much stuffed in here. Too much is dull or obvious; the few interesting things are deeply buried in the dross.

To do: review something I did like. Software craftmanship. I'd have to read it again, of course.