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Symbolic Forest

A homage to loading screens.

Blog : Posts from September 2005

Over time

In which we consider Ian Huntley

The big news of the day: convicted child-killer Ian Huntley will not get parole until at least 2042. It’s even bigger news here, because it counts as a Local Story. After lunch, it was all anybody in the office could talk about. According to legend, Huntley had done some business at the office a few years ago, whilst he still lived in the area. There’s no trace of it in our databases, but naturally everybody who has worked there since that time claimed they had a distinct memory of him, even though he would have been instinguishable, then, from almost everyone else who has rung the doorbell.

“Oooh, they should lock him up for good,” people said, “after what he did.” “Forty years isn’t enough!” said other people. Everyone seemed convinced: there was no way a 40-year-plus sentence was long enough for him. Everybody was very sure of themselves.

I kept quiet at the office, because I’m doomed to never feel sure of myself on issues like this. No doubt all these people talking are far more experienced than the judge, and no doubt they all know far more about Ian Huntley than the judge does too. Unfortunately, I don’t. I have no idea about criminal sentencing, and I’m entirely willing to admit that Mr Justice Moses probably knows much more about it than I do. All I know is that forty years and more is a very, very long time.

Leviathan

In which we get excited about squid

As you’ve already read elsewhere, the first photos of a live Giant Squid have been released to the world. Unfortunately – even though according to the BBC story, the squid-hunting team took over 550 photos – only a handful have been published; between them the two stories linked here repeat all of the photos in the original research paper. Presumably, the full range of photos goes something like this:

  1. Photos of murky blue sea with no squid in sight (107 shots)
  2. Look! Squid! (4 shots)
  3. Ooh, we’ve captured a tentacle! (2 shots)
  4. The crew cooks calamari (143 shots)
  5. Blurry pictures of drunk sailors (314 shots)

Books I Haven’t Read (part two)

In which we discuss An Unequalled Self by Claire Tomalin

On Friday, I took the morning off work to take the car for its service. I’d told the garage I’d stop and wait there, in the hope that it would get done a bit quicker. Expecting to be stuck in one place for a couple of hours, I took a book with me in the hope that I’d continue reading it once I was at home. This week’s Book I Haven’t Managed To Finish Reading: Samuel Pepys: An Unequalled Self by Claire Tomalin.

When I was small, I had a children’s biography of Pepys;* second-hand, falling apart, probably from the ’60s and probably about 50 pages long. It was an intriguing introduction to the great journal-writer, but was really just about everyday life; very little of it specifically about the diarist himself. He lived in such interesting times that it didn’t need to be. When PepysDiary.com started serialising the diary in real-time – over two years ago, now – I intended to read it daily, but soon didn’t manage to keep up. It still left me knowing little about him.

An Unequalled Self is a very good book, it has to be said. It’s also a large, complex book; and to do justice to its subject, it has to go into seventeenth-century politics in-depth. That’s vital, because – especially around the start of the Diary – Pepys’ life was affected so much by the changing politics of the period; but it was also my undoing. So many events and figures blur together that I start getting to the bottom of the page without having taken any of it in. That’s always a sign that I’m going to give up reading before long, if only because on picking the book up again I can’t work out where I am.

The common thread here, between this and our last book, is that my downfall is Too Much Information. If it’s something I know about: no problem. If it’s a new subject, and the information is packed too densely: that’s when I stop paying attention.

* Well, I almost certainly still have it somewhere.

Just another office conversation

In which a colleague scares me

Last Wednesday, in the office kitchen, making a cup of tea. A random colleague with a history of attention-seeking pops her head round the door: “I had a dream about you last night.”

“Oh yes?”

“Yeah.” They looked around quickly, to see if anyone was within earshot. “I was naked, and tied up like this” – they mimed a hands-above-head position – “and you were whipping me!”

“Riiight.” Run away! I was thinking. Run away! “Um, better go and do some work. See you later.”

Suspicious

Or, how to get arrested

In today’s Guardian, an interesting article with a firsthand experience of being arrested as a terrorist suspect, for trying to catch a tube train whilst carrying a rucksack and wearing a big jacket. And, interestingly, it includes a list of things that the police are looking out for that mark you down as a potential terrorist.

They’re all very mild, innocuous things that anybody might do – looking at other passengers on the platform, not looking at policemen guarding the station, appearing to enter the station with a group of people. What amazed me even more, though, was that suspicious behaviour includes keeping your luggage with you at all times. Given that, if you travel anywhere in Britain by train, you’re constantly being told to do this – because if you don’t, stations get evacuated and trains stopped for hours – it was quite surprising to hear that doing it is a good sign that you might be a terrorist. You have to ask just how many people don’t look like terrorists to your average police observer.

Update, September 24th 2005: more about this story on Going Underground and on Slashdot.

Sounds desperate

In which I try to meet new people, but find people I already know

A few weeks ago, feeling bored, I signed up with an online dating site.* It’s free, it only takes a few minutes to fill out, it’s just a bit of fun, you never know what might happen, and so on. Scientifically, it promises to find you your very best possible match from the people in your district. Of course, hardly anyone came up from this area, so I went away and forgot about it.

Yesterday, I thought: why don’t I look at it again? Why don’t I look further afield? So, I searched for my best match out of everybody in the country. And found one. My ideal partner, out of every man and woman in the country on this popular dating site, is my friend K.** So much for meeting new people!

* but no, I’m not telling you which one, or what my profile name is.

** I recognised their profile immediately, because I was there when the photo was taken.

The Grauniad

In which we discuss The Guardian’s Berliner redesign

As I’ve been an avid Guardian reader for ten years or so – long enough to get very used to it, but not long enough to remember the old 1980s design – then of course I’m full of opinions on their new redesign. Or, at least, I was a week ago. I decided to hold off writing anything until I’d seen a full week of third sections; but now I’ve seen them all the novelty has gone, and I’ve settled back down to just reading the thing again.

The Guardian – sorry, I mean theguardian – hasn’t changed that much. It still has most of the same writers, even if they’ve shuffled round a bit. The additional sections haven’t changed much. It does feel, though, more like a magazine than a newspaper. It’s the combination of colours and fonts that does it; a full-colour newspaper on its own would still look like a newspaper, but there’s something about the fonts that makes me think of weekly trade magazines. The print and the paper is better than it used to be; but you don’t read a newspaper because you like its print quality.

I was slightly disappointed that, for all the talk about radicalism, theguardian backtracked so quickly on dropping Doonesbury. Yes, I like it, even though the jokes were drowned out by the soap opera years ago; however, I can still read it online. Maybe Doonesbury is their one sop to the style-conservatives: “no, we’re not going back to X, but we do listen – look, we brought back Doonesbury!” Personally, I was more disappointed about the death of Pass Notes: it was an old joke, but I still liked it.

I’m not going to stop reading theguardian, and I’m still going to read it on paper, not online. Newspapers change, and I’d think I’d rather have dramatic, sudden change than the slow drip of change you don’t realise. Besides, as I said at the start, now it’s been going for over a week I’m already used to it. The broadsheet Guardian is already history to me.

Books I Haven’t Read (part one)

In which we discuss Karen Armstrong’s “A History Of God”

Following on from Thursday’s post, here’s the first Book I Haven’t Managed To Finish Reading Yet.

I’ve always been interested – in an academic kind of way – in trying to understand what other people believe;* partly because I can rarely understand why they believe it. That’s why I wanted to read A History of God by Karen Armstrong. I’ve started it three times now, but it’s still a book I haven’t managed to finish reading yet.

It’s a very good book, but the problem I have is that it’s very information-dense. As I was brought up as a good little Anglican, I still know a lot about basic Christian theology and a fair amount about the Bible itself. Because of that, I already had a fairly good grounding in the Christian side of the history of God, and the early Jewish part too. The problem comes with the development of Islam, which I know relatively little about, and the later developments in Deist philosophy. It just goes right over my head, and I get stuck in a thicket of theologians’ names and hair-splitting beliefs. Every time I try to read the book, I slow down but plod on when I get to Islam, then get stuck somewhere in the medieval philosophers. I’m hoping that if I make it past that section we’ll eventually get to the growth of fundamentalism. I know a bit about that, mostly from an apocalyptic viewpoint,** and it should hopefully start to be an easier read again after that point.

* although I have to admit to a certain amount of point-and-laugh too.

** but then, the apocalypse is the most important aspect of most Christian Fundamentalist theology, not to mention all the other 19th-century and later Christian sects, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and so on. The next time a Jehovah’s Witness comes to your door, remind them that for many years they taught that Armageddon would occur during the lifetime of members who were alive in 1914.

Violence

In which we pull things apart

We’re getting the builders in at work, so this morning was spent in overalls, ripping out old network wiring that we know is dead and we don’t want to keep. I’ve not done any sort of energetic manual work for a long long time, and I’d forgotten how much fun it can be to just tear things apart. I ran round the office ripping cabling out of the wall, sending cable clips pinging across the room. I took out all my frustration on stubborn junction boxes and brittle, elderly trunking. Pulling things to pieces is a damn good feeling.