Saturday, December 31, 2011

HDR Swag

Again - No Wooden Table - Meh of the Day
Back in the days when we lived in a cardboard box in the middle of the road and thought ourselves lucky not to wake up to ice in our boots, Christmas was a meagre, seventies affair. If we were lucky, the Turkey would just about stretch to covering the saucers which were all we had as dinner plates and the highlight of the presents was the latest leaflet in the rack at the library checkout. Not that it bothered me at all - I was just glad to have days away from the various Wackford Squeers wannabes at school, sitting between the curtains and the windows with some scientific tome, every so often glancing through the snow and fog at the distant road leading to the bright lights of Hanley Castle. We were happy and we were grateful to be alive.

Now we've returned to something similar to those late seventies times of austerity, it seems that I've swung so far the other way. And so we have this embarrassingly extravagant pile of stuff. Should keep me going until a major currency failure or the end of a calendar - whichever comes first.

PS. Please Mr Fry and Mr Schott - let's get back to normal next year hey!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Phalangeletic Calculus

Well it certainly feels like Christmas round here, despite various tribulations and rigidly-defined areas of doubt and uncertainty. Of course at this age the festive season is more about extended lie-ins and time away from the desk-of-woe that is the result of going to and leaving work in the dark. Anyway we don't want to talk about that. We want to talk about higher things like Quantum Physics and how the brain works so it is nice to see Brian Cox and his Night with the Stars and the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures back where they belong - well on BBC4 anyway. Youngest watched BC avidly despite it being way beyond his bedtime. Current reading for him is split between Antique Giles Annuals and his science book which is currently giving him a head-start on science programmes. Daughter seems to be gravitating away (can you gravitate away from something?) from scientific things and is currently churning out short stories by the (two) shed loads - none of which is allowed to be read by us. If only she would use a single notebook at a time - her room is stuffed with various collections of random thoughts and ideas and I hate to think what her laptop is like.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Charisma and Chameleon

He Blends - That's What He Does.
Listening to Let England Shake - Number One Album of 2011 here and most everywhere.
I rejected the idea of some classic fiction in favour of some palate-cleansing dip-in which is Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman, a blunt and wide-ranging discourse from probably the greatest genius of the last century. What is more amazing is that despite his mind operating at a gear several hundred times above that of us plebs, he was able to communicate these complex ideas into the real-world. The book itself is light in tone and yet still contains musings on the higher things that made up his day job, and above all shows how to learn by understanding rather than by remembering. Doing is better than being told how to do something for forcing obscure concepts into the grey jelly. Laughing and learning in one easily-digestible volume.

PS. Book Dedications Blog by Wayne Gooderham

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Web Mix

A Horse - Definitely Not yesterday
... though of course Magritte would have it that it is definitely not a horse either.

Listening to Nerve Net by Brian Eno

Well along with 11 holes in one during his first attempt at Golf and all the other Godlike properties of The Dear Leader, we hear that he didn't need to urinate which I suspect might give some of his useless doctors a clue as to what went wrong with this obviously-destined-to-be-immortal man. Is North Korea the ultimate real-world example of the world described in nineteen-eighty-four? All that wailing at the death of a brutal leader (not that he looked as if brutality was ever a strong point) is obviously orchestrated by shadowy groups of thought-police. Which reminds me that after the classic of The Bell Jar I really should read NEF again soon.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Like Chalk on a Blackboard

Two-Dozen Avocados Not Pictured
(SP top of picture)
 After Bonjour Tristesse, I've just whistled through The Bell Jar for the fourth time. I started reading SP poems some years ago and this being noted by someone at work I was pointed at The Bell Jar as being a very funny book and despite the clipped literary tones and serious events it is indeed hilarious in parts. I'm not sure I'd read it for a laugh as for the more melancholy reader it might cut close to the darker synapses of the brain with which the book has an almost-physical link because of the ECT. You might want to dismiss the whole thing as a middle-class girl's experience of mental illness - nice asylum paid for by rich benefactress - but as Esther herself states early on she does not have the experience to write a novel and so this book is basically autobiographical and I can only imagine it pretty-much describes exactly what happened.

I'd read a couple of the SP biographies before The Bell Jar and to me it seemed like a distillation of the fragments I'd already picked up. It seemed that all that was missing were the footnotes pointing the pseudonyms at the real people. So ignore the Bourgeois backdrop and concentrate on the description of Ether/Sylvia's predicament and the brilliantly-succinct way that a complex state of mind is described in a way that keeps you reading despite the over-whelming sense of ennui about the whole thing. If you are expecting obscure poetic references you will be disappointed - this is basic description born maybe of the detailed descriptions of peeling hotel rooms from the journals, a brilliant mind sharply dissecting both itself and the hypocrisy of others, all the while pointing out without judgement,  the hypocrisy of the narrator herself. There is a lot of what she ought to have said but didn't, times where she just shrugged and accepted the terrible behaviour of those around her. You can find a parallel here between the bright and breezy style of the Letters Home and the dark mazes of The Journals. You might not come away from this understanding any more of Plath's mind but you will feel that you have read a great book masquerading as Airport Fiction - A potboiler as Plath herself described it.

I know that there is a second film version of this in development at the moment. I am not hopeful that this will be any better than the 1979 version which resulted in legal actions and apparently managed to filter out any literary merit leaving the pulpiest of pulp-fiction on the screen.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Edsger W. Dijkstra Was Wrong

Goto Considered a Very Nice Man
Well that was a very short book! I bought Bonjour Tristesse years ago and I've only just got around to reading it. There isn't much to it in terms of plot until near the end but it all sort of makes sense in an inconsequential way. It reads a bit like The Stranger in style - the same dream-like desultory narrative - but a Bourgeois version (for all its outward profession of being Bohemian and anti-normal). The only really likeable person doesn't actually make it to the end and in not doing so returns Cecile and her father to their strange hedonistic lifestyle. It remind me of a less-manic version of Wuthering Heights - strange family happy in their own way have this contentment disturbed by misfit outsiders - violence and dislike ensues - someone dies and everything returns to normal. I think. It is brilliantly written - structured nicely but ultimately none of the potential directions that spatter the story would give any sense of feeling for the characters. Cecile may have been played by Jean Seberg in the film but not even that image can keep from thinking of her as much more than a spoiled brat. Read for the language rather than the story is all I say.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

On Completion

The Leaky Cauldron Yesterday
Well we had to do this twice because the thing glitched and left us unable to get the last character with 0.1% to go to completion. Well take that Mr. Lego - 100%. This is the first time I've ever completed a full video game - I am not sure whether the campaign where I was a German Fighter Pilot actually counted as although I got to the end, history does indicate that the ultimate outcome was not good for The Luftwaffe. Anyway - I've hung up the wand now.