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Nothing like a good book binge...   
09:23pm 05/01/2018
  I've been enjoying a glut of books and media lately. Just before Christmas I bought Fortune's Pawn by Rachel Bach on a bit of a whim actually as I was already on a mission to buy my Godmother a new historical thriller/crime mystery novel at the local Waterstone's. It's been a while since i read anything new, especially in sci fi/spec fic and as hers was the only feminine name in the section that I hadn't read, I decided to go for it.

That and I do love a good bit of pulp.

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What else I've been reading...

Heavy by Derek Des Anges
This book is one of those you don't think they write anymore. Masterful prose, I can't express how much I enjoyed reading it. I thought the world building was excellent and each character bestowed with a slightly unnerving depth. I have a soft spot for plots based in alternate historical settings that are almost oblivious that they're in a different timeline. Please, buy a copy and read. This will be subject to a longer review, methinks!

Always Coming Home by Ursula Le Guin
I... keep forgetting what I've read so I'm going to start this one all over again (not a big deal as I only got 15 pages in or so). It's like a lovely version of the footnotes from Pratchett's novels, Peakian in its focus.

What else I've been watching...

Michael Clayton, dir. Tony Gilroy - much duller than I thought it would be, not as clever or as engaging. Better as a TV series, methinks.

The Men Who Stare at Goats dir. Grant Heslov - much kookier than I thought it would be. Pleasant enough to have in the background. I thought it was going to be more based on the more esoteric research interests of the US military but instead settled for an attempt at magical surrealism in the midst of the War on Terror.

Denial dir. Mick Jackson - genuinely surprised by how impactful this turned out to be, and not just because of the subject matter at the heart of it. Rachel Weisz amazing as always. I think for me the big lesson was in how important it is to appreciate value of different tactics when dealing with people who allow their hateful bigotry to get in the way of interpreting data. So touching, humanist, with - what I thought - slightly-too-subtle-but-definitely-there indictments of male posturing

Florence Foster Jenkins dir. Stephen Frears - I tried. I found myself truly enjoying it by the end but to be honest it was really hard at the beginning and through most of the second act. I hate Britain's Got Talent etc. for how easy it is to mock the delusional 'talentless' and I wasn't sure if we were being invited to do that to the eccentric Foster Jenkins. I did like the portrayal of her relationship to Bayfield, her passion for music and how genuinely people could be brought from derision to pity to admiration.

The Marvellous Mrs Maisel created by Amy Sherman-Palladino - I. Loved. This. Show. Another example of the 'change one thing'. Or in this case two. Or three. A proper review/analysis coming up, I swear.

Black Mirror, S2-3 dir. sundry - I feel I have to actually carry on watching this now it's become a thing and I'm getting into tech and spec fic critique. Meh, it's good but gets a bit wankishly nihilistic sometimes but alright overall.
Gosh this is a whole new world...   
12:12am 10/05/2017
mood: nostalgic
So I've been getting back into blogging again and taking a tour through all the old platforms. Lots of good folk no longer active either which is expected but sad as our blogs were the only way to keep in touch.

In fact, my friends feed is entirely taken up by io9 posts so that says something...

I must say, this new interface is rather exciting though.

Ah, and now I'm feeling sad again.
It's been a long time, baby   
02:19am 23/02/2014
  ... I know. I was wondering what I was going to do with dreamwidth as a blogging/social platform after so long, but then I started going through my reading page and I realised, I knew some pretty awesome people. 

Anyway, it seems I'm going to be one of those irritating people with a finger in every piepot going. From twitter to several tumblr blogs, the old blogger account and now wordpress, it's a whole bunch of fun. Each platform genuinely gives something so different, so for now I'm going to stick with the mess that is my web presence.

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What am I doing at the moment? Currently I'm on a graduate scheme as a Java developer, getting trained up to work two years for hideously unethical companies. The plan is to save up enough cash to do two masters (one in Classical Studies because I want to keep up with my Classics, the other in Physics or in Computer Science if I can get the latter funded), and then on to a PhD, a research position and finally to take over a disused townhouse in Manchester to base my own research facility.

It's going to be amazing.

Oh and did I mention I'm going to be a published author? That's right, I have a paper that's due to be published by the Disability and Global South Journal on the intersection of technology and disability in West Africa. As someone who is obsessed with History of Science and Philosophy of Science and African history, my research on the African Cyborg is a brilliant way to combine all my interests into one behemoth of intellectual pretension. The research blog is here and is pretty much where I drop anything related to Africa, technology, history and science.

I have another tumblr blog devoted to Hackery and my projects in e-textiles, Arduino and Raspberry Pi. At the moment I'm gearing up for an experimental project researching aquatic snail locomotion - currently this means doing mostly maths and courses on programming/modelling, but I'm also gathering equipment like fishtanks, microscopes, etc. for when the DIY hijinks will ensue. If you're interested in random crap, FieldNotes is the place to go.

The professional me, however, can be found on my WordPress blog, which will eventually become my website. But that's a bit quiet to be honest - more will be coming soon.
I exist!   
01:48pm 09/01/2013
  I am in fact alive and kicking and still as ranty as ever. Of late it's mostly been ranting at the eternal sky but eventually i'll come back to the interwebs...  
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07:12pm 16/01/2012
  So I'm sat here revising Soft Matter Physics when it occurs to me just why I increasingly find the 'pseudo-medieval' world building that you often get in fantasy so weird (as opposed to slightly cliche by now). 

Now, I'm just thinking 'out loud' because as you well know, I am nothing but the plebbiest of historical dilettantes (and I know if anyone will have anything interesting to say, it'll be you guys), but it seems to me that feudalism could have evolved out of the chaos following the decline of the Western Roman Empire. If you consider somewhere like, well, England, a land that it seems was being constantly visited, then attacked, then partially conquered by a series of different ethnic groups, it's no surprise you might end up with a system of rule akin to a more sophisticated version of a protection racket ("We give you swords and a place of protection to settle, you give us some food and monies. And people to wield the swords might help too, now we come to think of it...") that over time, and with the increasing stability of society, evolves into the fully fledged feudal system we all know and love so well from history textbooks with pictures of peasants with mud for teeth.

And obviously ditto for elsewhere in Western Europe. I'm just using England as an example because I happen to live here and know slightly more about Dark Age Britain than Dark Age France, say. Or Dark Age Spain which may as well have been home to dragons and people with faces in their chests for all I know (I'd probably believe it too).

Anyway. So in a fantasy book where the set up is the basic feudal pseudo-medieval (and I say pseudo because most fantasy writers seem to interprete a medieval setting to mean nastiness, raping and that sort of thing rather than, I don't know, women being doctors, writers and crusaders and owning businesses (and occasionally kidnapping a young lord they might fancy, for the higher born lady of course) and peasant children escaping the drudgery of serfdom via education and University etc etc etc.), it doesn't seem to make much sense without that primordial stage of that strange sort of civilised barbarism that follows the collapse of a bureaucracy.

Or maybe I'm just being picky because... I'm a little bit bored.

Alright back to work.
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Worthy Advice for Future Adventurers   
05:10pm 10/12/2011
Found via the Mary Sue
Question Time and Related Musings   
07:54pm 09/12/2011

So. Trying to catch up on my political watching/reading and the first stop was yesterday's Question Time. Now I know, I know, it isn't really any good for actual politics, but it is a good source for references, a bit like a poor man's political New Scientist in televisual form. It was actually quite good this time round. There was very little shouting or panellists talking over each other. Or at least, very little in comparison...


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But that's me being very very cynical. Maybe it's the weather. You know it was hailing the other day with a clear sky? It was the weirdest thing ever. It's no wonder I can't think coherently about politics when I'm living in such a strange city. I swear, Manchester must be the only city in England to have five different climate zones.




I do wish people would stop talking about 'Africa' though, especially people from Africa (ha ha). We really should know better because it just encourages this idea that it's some monolithic entity of darkness, corruption and famine (which, and I feel this is very important to stress, only happens in countries where it hasn't, you know, rained. England'd be getting famines too if it stopped raining and couldn't import enough food. And the next person who says 'overpopulation' will get a virtual steel chair to the back of the head. Seriously. Don't. Even). The only reason I mention this is because there was a suggestion from someone in the audience that perhaps Britain should look away from Europe and towards Africa which I previously would have agreed with, but then I remembered the Chinese have already made the first moves and I think that'll do for now. Britain can carry on with the aid thing and leave the Chinese to create the infrastructure.

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Thoughts on Firefly (i)   
02:03pm 15/11/2011
  In that great and noble tradition of science students everywhere, due to the fact I am currently running an experiment (a really cool little simulation of linguistic evolution), I will use my time explaining in mind numbing, petty detail just what I thought about the last thing I watched instead of doing data analysis or catching up on sleep.

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Anyway. I think I've spent too long talking about things that, of all the things that bothered me, didn't really bother me that much. I'm going to toddle off, run more simulations and try and catch up on the past few lectures on Superconductors and whatnot. 

And yes, I didn't go much into Mal's character because he was such a pain in the derriere, just thinking about it sends me into such a tizzy I couldn't write any critique in an even moderately coherent fashion.

04:57pm 27/10/2011
   It's taken 4 weeks and 400 lines of clunky, ugly code but I have finally got the first draft of a selection based linguistic model done. Now to mess around with some objects and slightly more interesting networks... The clean up doesn't usually take too long so hopefully I'll have lovely clever code in another two weeks. After that perhaps a cute little applet to show the evolution in realtime....

What's this? Some rather nifty looking ideas over here.

Aside from my personal vanity, the reason I'm mentioning this is if anyone out there has any recommendations for the realtime animation bit: Should I start fretting over Java or just use a library like Allegro?
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11:50pm 25/10/2011
   Just taking a break from some math and by some strange sort of miracle found some episodes of the generally highly esteemed Firefly online (without having to go through any dodgy looking sites). Good Lord but it's mediocre. At first I thought it was terrible but then I remembered I'd sat through all six episodes of the BBCs sci-fi series 'Outcasts' which was truly, bizarrely terrible. That and the fact that I did come in with nonsensically high hopes, expecting a sort of Mad Men in space type thing ( It's alright Dr. Who, all is forgiven on your emotional blackmailer of a score and cliched dramatisms (that's not a real word, I know but it's late and I've forgotten the term for the tricks you use to induce suspense/boredom in your audience) I mean, the Doctor thinks fezes are cool. That nigh well covers a multitude of sins in my book).

Of course I will finish watching it. It'll give me something to think (and then write) about. Like why I should never become a writer. The idea of some pretentious hack blogger ripping one's baby to shreds almost brings me to tears.

Still, perhaps I shouldn't feel too sorry for Joss Whedon. It seems most people dug it.

Maybe I should check out Babylon 5 which everyone says is amazing. Or maybe I should just stick to the sci-fi in my head.

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Some Awesome Things   
12:15am 21/10/2011
  Before I forget, here are some reasons why the Internet is made of win:


Goddamit people I don't have to say anything else do I? Thought not.

Furthermore from the denizens of Youtube comes

09:20pm 20/10/2011
  One of the things that has always frustrated me is the charge that throughout the long (longer, in fact, than anywhere else might I add) history of homo sapiens in Africa, there has never been a written script indigenous to the population (Ancient Coptic/hieroglyphs don't count). Now as it happens there have been, but the one I am most interested in - for obvious reasons - is the one that would have been used by Igbos of bygone times.


It just demonstrates the amazing thing about the internet, how new information can be spread so quickly and is there just waiting to be discovered if you're open minded enough and brave the wilderness of counter opinions and barbarians. Sometimes you don't even have to brave that far. Wikipedia will do it for you.

What's particularly interesting is that the last I'd read, the nsibidi script had been used by religious cults and their initiates. I had no idea that, similar to other scripts such as Hiragana, there was also a public version which could be used by women and those outside the boundaries of the cult. This confirmed a suspicion of mine - in traditional Igbo society, women were charged with the responsibility of making money for the family; they would trade with other women in the markets and their profits would go towards the upkeep of the family (A/N: This is actually a pattern typical of pre-industrial settled ie. non-nomadic societies) and, for all even today we're brought up expected to have prodigious memories (...), I couldn't see why no merchant wife would have never thought of setting accounts, debts and deals on tablet/stone/animal skin as it were.

Obviously once the status quo changed and it became more important to be able to read and write in Roman script, knowledge of Nsibidi dwindled. It would be interesting to find out if there's anyone left in the family who can still read and write it.

I also find the fact it was widespread amongst several different ethnic groups rather intriguing. It certainly reveals that disparate peoples traded and had some means of communication that transcended their linguistic and cultural differences.
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The interesting and the infuriating   
07:40pm 21/07/2011

What James and Rupert Murdoch don't know...

Murdoch: This scandal has exposed the scale of elite corruption

The Cameron Collapse

X-MEN: First Class review   
09:19pm 26/06/2011
  Spoilers ahead!

So, now having seen this film twice, I think it's safe to say I'm pretty secure in my impression of it. For the time being at least. I must be honest that after the first viewing, I was a bit confused, not quite knowing how I felt. This was - oddly enough - actually my initial reaction to 'District 9' and though the comparison between the two films only goes that far, it's interesting they're for similar reasons: a confusion between how I actually feel and how I think I should feel.

To begin with, the film is pretty decent. The direction is excellent, the acting is superb and the score is more than adequate (so all three of my major boxes ticked). The effects don't always work well (eg. Emma Frost and Beast) but the film has enough energy that you don't really dwell on them when they get really bad. In fact, there were times I got rather caught up in the whole thing as it were. It is a film worth seeing.

As has probably been said elsewhere, Michael Fassbender came very close to stealing the movie for me. For starters, he has similar looks to a young Ian McKellen which makes him physically ideal for the role but he is also capable of generating a remarkable presence. He stands, stops short and moves like a man who knows every inch of his body, the measure of a mercenary. Apparently he was one of the actors along with Daniel Craig who was considered to be the new Bond and I can completely see why. Both he and Craig have this ability to physically inhabit the role of men who can kill up close and personal. They don't have to do much to convince you that they are men who will have no qualms abot killing you if necessary.

James McAvoy is also brilliant, though occasionally made me feel like laughing as he has a certain John Cleese manner in delivering some of his lines that reminded me of the 'How Not To Be Seen' sketch for some reason:

The chemistry between the two lead actors is terrific and the script was at its strongest when it came to their scenes. Or maybe it was just their acting. Probably the latter actually...

They were easily the best thing about the film - in fact, I could have watched a much longer character drama with a humbler plot and more subtle effects with just those two. The backstory that Magneto spends his youth hunting down Nazis would make an interesting film, though perhaps just too inappropriate. I must confess I can completely understand why people who feel the appropriation of the Shoah for what is little more than a B+ superhero flick to be outrageous. Now I tend to think about these things more deeply, it is more than a little bit uncomfortable for me as well.

Speaking of, Kevin Bacon is also good. I'd love to know if his German is at all convincing but I think he had the right tone and body language as Sebastien Schmidt though the transition between Schmidt and Shaw was a little sudden but meh. He carried it off well, I think. I also think Nicholas Hoult has to be acknowledged as the fascinating actor he is turning out to be. He was by far the best thing in Skins series 1, surprisingly awesome in a 'Single Man' and now this. He should have been Harry Potter. Anyway, I think he nails Beast - in fact, I think there should be more of his characteristics in Charles Xavier actually. For example, when they discover Shaw's plan to cause nuclear war in order to destroy humankind and leave mutants surviving, I really wanted Charles to go into pedant mode and inform everyone that that's not really how it would go down because, well, you know, genes don't actually work that way...

However, obviously the rest of the film I thought was pretty bad which led to the overall feeling ofRead more...Collapse )

Still like I said, the score is amazing and the acting is all around fine, though January Jones is way outclassed by her colleagues, I'll admit. I might even see it again, just to get even more annoyed!

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And then, it was time for...   
08:21pm 26/06/2011
  ...the terminally uninteresting update!Collapse )I had plans to buy a new microscope but that has become a pipe dream as what I really need is a new laptop. My poor old man that is my iBook G4 has started blacking out again. Obviously the Power Manager needs to be reset, but it isn't falling for the usual tricks anymore. Ah well. It's certainly lasted.

*This is one of those never to be solved mysteries of science. Despite being constantly reminded that science is all about practice, we of studentkind always find there are remarkably few problems given for us to solve and even fewer with any sort of answer to check whether we are right. I suppose it's training like that which separates the weedy and wannabe from the Nobel Prize Winners. Sometimes, I've often wondered if it isn't some kind of cruel torture passed down by generations of scientists - "so you want to be a real scientist, huh?" they seem to be saying, "want to feel the pain of never knowing if what you've spent your life (ok, half an hour) working on will even turn out to be right? Well suck it up, ducks - if we had to suffer, you must too! This is what real science feeeeels like!"

The funny thing is, those of us who want to be lecturers/researchers have already admitted that we will likely be just as bad, if not worse, to our poor descendants in the path of science.
10:32am 10/05/2011
  One of these days I will have finished everything ever and then I'll be able to think again.

And blog more frequently...

In the meantime, here's a video of a baby echidna having her dinner:

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12:35am 28/03/2011
  RIP Diana Wynne Jones

I knew it was coming soon as she had been seriously ill for a while, but I feel broken. Diana Wynne Jones was my role model for writing fantasy - dammit for writing in general. She was the only writer who I could read over and over, whether over a period of seconds or years, without feeling like something was missing.

I am so grateful she was feeling better in her last months, but I am sad because I will never read another Chrestomanci story, or find out how long Sophie managed to put up with Howl before she poisoned his soup!
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09:14pm 23/03/2011
   RIP Elizabeth Taylor  
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Reviews and Impressions: On 'Outcasts'   
09:29pm 24/02/2011
   Oh BBC! That word, sci-fi? I don't think it means what you think it means.

And you'd save a hell of a lot more money if you just got rid of whoever composes those scores for you. 

Think about it.
10:44pm 17/02/2011
   ‘Critics are like eunuchs; they know what’s supposed to happen – they just can’t manage it themselves.’ ~ Søren  Kierkegaard