Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Friday, August 26, 2005

Michaela's poems

Michaela's poems - these pass the test of a true poem - they make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end.

I especially liked Sunna-Rise (particularly effective use of anapaests), Od, Ninth Night, and Masks, but they're all excellent.

the Mappined Life

Humans become zoo exhibit - well I suppose it's about time the human species realised that we're just another species of animal.

What is with those fig leaves though? They should have done it in the nude.

And they should only have been allowed a Mappin terrace...

more IQ nonsense

'Men cleverer than women' claim

All that this particular research shows is that for the IQ test used, there is a slight variation in the success of those taking it. On average men scored 5 points more on this test. So what? I tried out several tests the other day and there was a variation of 15 points in my score depending on what test I did. When I took a general test in German I got 133 and I had done the same one earlier in English and got 126. I tried a culture-fair test and got 115 (and I couldn't even answer half the questions as it was very spatially-oriented). And I got 130 for a verbally-oriented test.

I guess these researchers have tested the results for statistical significance and concluded that they are significant, but even so I think all it shows is that men are good at passing IQ tests. All they were testing for were verbal and spatial skills, nothing about social or emotional skills. I think these men are just insecure about women's academic performance.

Men - know your limits.

the real 13th warrior

Risala: Ibn Fadlan's Account of the Rus (thanks to thesilvereel for pointing out this website)

I had come across Ibn Fadhlan before so I was quite intrigued when I saw 13th Warrior as the beginning of it was obviously based on his account of a Viking funeral.

The latter part of the film, with the Wendels being weird and scary in caves, is pure fantasy. For a start, there was no universal neolithic worship of a great mother goddess figure (ooh, there, I've said it now!), and if there had been, it wouldn't have involved sacrifice like that. Weird sacrificial practices were more of an Iron Age thing.

Still, it's a clever reworking of the story of Beowulf, with Grendel being the Wendels and Grendel's mother being the scary cave idol.

Thursday, August 25, 2005


Odin : a poem by Yvonne Aburrow. Newly minted and dedicated to Mister Wednesday himself.

geekiness quotient

I am 28.59661% geeky. This makes me a total geek apparently.

The categories are:

+ Geekish Tendencies..............>=09%
++ Geek...........................>=15%
+++ Total Geek....................>=25%
++++ Major Geek...................>=35%
+++++ Super Geek..................>=45%
++++++ Extreme Geek...............>=55%
+++++++ Geek God..................>=65%
++++++++ Dysfunctional Geek.......>=75%


New claims emerge over Menezes death - Guardian special reports

It appears that the initial account that emerged of the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes was almost totally false:

far from leaping a ticket barrier and fleeing from police, as was initially reported, he was filmed on CCTV calmly entering the station and picking up a free newspaper before boarding the train.

Also a surveillance officer had successfully restrained and immobilised him before he was shot.

The police failed to identify him as he left the house because one of them was relieving himself at the time.

It's a total cock-up.

the UN shows its teeth

Expulsions illegal, UN tells Clarke (Guardian)

The new counter-terrorism measures proposed by the government seem rather draconian. The UK will

"exclude or deport non-UK citizens [for] writing, producing, publishing or distributing material; public speaking including preaching; running a website; using a position of responsibility such as teacher, community or youth leader to express views which 'foment, justify or glorify terrorist violence in furtherance of particular beliefs; seek to provoke others to terrorist acts ... or foster hatred which might lead to inter-community violence in the UK'"

First of all this creates a two-tier justice system - one law for UK citizens and another for non-UK citizens. What if a person who was born and bred in the UK converted to Islam and started fomenting terrorism? What about the hateful activities of the BNP and other fascists?

Secondly, they can't just deport people for a first offence - couldn't they prosecute or imprison them first? Especially if they are going to deport them to countries which use torture, which is why the UN have got involved. Obviously the government needs to do something to prevent atrocities like 7th July from happening again, but measures like this will just polarise the situation and do nothing to create mutual trust and understanding.

There are people trying to build bridges between the Muslim community and the "rest of us". And there are plenty of moderate Muslims pointing out that suicide-bombing is not condoned by the Koran, which forbids suicide and isn't too keen on killing people. The government should be engaging and listening, and be seen to be engaging and listening.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005


Installed the Trackback service recommended by Blogger and it appeared to have deleted all the comments on my blog. This was worrying.

Haloscan help forum had the answer - it hadn't actually deleted the old comments, it had just hidden them.

Here's how I did the code - the best way is to hide the Haloscan commenting service (which doesn't have the facility to delete spam comments) and reinstate the Blogger comments service, whilst retaining the Trackback facility.

<!-- hide Haloscan comment service
<a class="comment-link" href="<$BlogItemNumber$>/" title="Comment" onclick="HaloScan('<$BlogItemNumber$>'); return false;">
<script type="text/javascript">postCount('<$BlogItemNumber$>'); </script></a> end hiding Haloscan comments-->
<-- this is the Trackback bit you want to keep -->
| <a class="comment-link" href="<$BlogItemNumber$>/" title="Trackback" onclick="HaloScanTB('<$BlogItemNumber$>'); return false;"><script type="text/javascript">postCountTB('<$BlogItemNumber$>'); </script></a>

<!-- Trackback autodiscovery code
trackback:ping="<$BlogItemNumber$>" />
<!-- reinsert Blogger comment service -->

| <a href="<$BlogItemCommentCreate$>"
<$BlogItemCommentCount$> comments</a>

<!-- end of reinserting Blogger comments -->


currently reading

The Algebraist by Iain M Banks. Massively complex plot, but very interesting. I like the idea of the Dwellers.

Also reading The Reform of Time: Magic and Modernity by Maureen Perkins. Only just started this one but it aims to show how colonialist discourses about the indolence of indigenous peoples and the working classes were linked to notions of progress and the suppression of "superstition". I bought it in the Hay Cinema Bookshop in Hay-on-Wye.

search tool

Google Desktop 2 (Beta) - this is pretty neat and has a nice desktop bar with recently used items, news, pictures and stuff.

The only thing was, I had to download the university's proxy config, save a local version, and edit it so that it ignores localhost and (which Google Desktop uses for its search).

There's an article with extensions and workarounds on O'Reilly as well.

Google talk

Google starts online talk service (BBC News)

This looks pretty cool - you can use it for instant messaging but also actual voice chat. Also it's open-source and can be integrated into other applications.

Slight drawback: you have to be signed up for a GMail account to use it.

it takes two to tango

Israeli author Amos Oz reflects on the significance of the week's events in Gaza and the West Bank. (Real Audio format)

Amos Oz points out that what is at stake is nothing less than the outcome of a conflict between two visions: a religious state or a secular state; whether the Jews are a people or a religion; democracy versus theocracy. But the action of withdrawing from Gaza requires a reciprocal commitment to the peace process from both sides.

my MI score

Multiple Intelligences

Linguistic: 10
Logical-Mathematical: 5
Spatial: 5
Bodily-Kinaesthetic: 5
Musical: 6
Interpersonal: 7
Intrapersonal: 5

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

email from Israel

Email from a friend in Israel in response to the question, "Are you OK?"
Thanks for asking, I really appreciate it :)

I am OK, it wasn't where we are but it was/is pretty upsetting. Loads of people didn't have anywhere to go to after being evacuated because their new caravans weren't ready. Some couldn't be rehomed as a community so are camping out together in front of the kotel.
Most people couldn't believe it would really happen and were waiting for a miracle which didn't happen, plus the pressure not to bail out on their community and leave early or leave the land, graves and synagogues. Those in these categories lost half their compensation for staying until the end.

Seeing the soldiers crying as they did the evacuations, and the evacuees and the soldiers hugging each other was also pretty heartbreaking.

Everyone is very down about it and last week people all over Israel were walking round crying. It is really a big mess, you cannot evacuate 8000 people at 1 year's notice. Plus something like 80% of our fresh produce came from that area which was exported all over the wolrd, so there is a) a shortage of vegetables, b) a big effect on the economy.


Monday, August 22, 2005


Document: "A Very British Coup"

This programme on Radio 4 looks very interesting. It's about the 1953 coup in Iran which was orchestrated by the British government and toppled a democratically-elected government in favour of the Shah - which arguably led to the rise of the Ayatollahs. Wikipedia has an entry on the British plot, codenamed Operation Ajax.

not much improvement

Palestinians on Gaza pullout

It looks as though the situation has become too polarised for there to be a chance of peace.

the long view

A timeline of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

On the current events in Gaza, it is always a good idea to take the long view - it is very difficult to understand the conflict unless one is aware of the whole history.

This is something the BBC website does really well - coverage of the in-depth background to news items. A pity this is not offered on their broadcast media.

daft notion

What a daft notion IQ tests are. How can a test of 20-30 questions, which is either massively culturally biased or heavily weighted towards spatial reasoning to avoid culture bias, determine how clever you are. What about wisdom, and learning, and emotional intelligence? Why do we have an urge to measure stuff like that anyway? Let alone base important decisions on it? As Stephen Jay Gould pointed out in The Mismeasure of Man, it's all statistical extrapolation anyway. It assumes that your answers to the particular type of questions being posed represents your general reasoning capacity. Why should I actually care about whether Jim is taller than Jack if Fred is shorter than George, or whatever? - scored 126 (apparently I am a Word Warrior)

According to the ultimate IQ test over at the International High IQ Society, my general IQ is 106. Harrumph! Then I tried their Verbal IQ test and scored 130. Then I tried the culture-fair one and scored 115 - I'm completely astonished as they were all spatial and I had no idea of the correct answer for most of them and staring at them gave me a headache. I looked at the exceptional intelligence one but it's really really scary!

And as for the idea that passing an IQ test qualifies you for membership in some crappy elitist organisation, well what nonsense. Anyone who wants to join one of those organisations whose criterion for membership is the passing of an IQ test is by definition someone I wouldn't want to socialise with. Grr.

Much of the early research purporting to prove the validity of IQ tests was falsified anyway. And their efficacy is still controversial.

The theory of multiple intelligences put forward by Howard Gardner is much more useful. Instead of trying to score an overall IQ, he outlines eight different varieties of intelligence which a person could develop:

  • Linguistic intelligence ("word smart")
  • Logical-mathematical intelligence ("number/reasoning smart")
  • Spatial intelligence ("picture smart")
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence ("body smart")
  • Musical intelligence ("music smart")
  • Interpersonal intelligence ("people smart")
  • Intrapersonal intelligence ("self smart")
  • Naturalist intelligence ("nature smart")

It's been criticised by Eysenck but that's a recommendation as far as I am concerned! Though if Gardner is claiming that everyone is equally intelligent, that does seem a bit bizarre, as it's clearly not the case. Anyway most people have a bias towards one or more of the categories, and I suppose might be exceptionally gifted in one or more categories, which would obviously make them more intelligent than others. Also I would say that intellectual capacities are the outcome of both nature and nurture.

Friday, August 19, 2005

officially non-wanky

The Wankometer measures

Wank factor of 0.31 (low)

a-viking we will go

Currently reading Viking: Odinn's Child By Tim Severin - full of meticulously-researched material, based on the sagas, and really atmospheric. Also, as you might expect from Tim Severin (re-enactor of Sindbad's voyage among other things) there is a wealth of detail about ships etc. There is also a fictionalised version of a volva's visit to a Greenland farm, remarkably close to the original account (detailed in Nine Worlds of Seid-Magic: Ecstasy and Neo-Shamanism in North European Paganism by Jenny Blain). There are also details of late Irish paganism (or the remnants of it that survived in hiding).

The only problem is that the book is unputdownable!

Thursday, August 18, 2005

diffusion or archetypes?

Eindridi, Hemingr,Toko, William Cloudesley, William Tell

What have all the above archers got in common? They all shot an arrow at an object placed on their son's heads. Is this diffusion of a story from Norway to Switzerland, or is it the operation of an archetype? I wonder why this story didn't get attached to Robin Hood? (Maybe because Maid Marian is a much later addition to the Robin Hood legends, and she would have been required for Robin to have had a son.)

This is something that occurs again and again with stories - you get a motif and it is repeated in slightly different forms across cultures. The story of Cinderella originated in China; the story of the faithful dog mistakenly slain by its master crops up all over the place (St Guinefort the holy greyhound in France; Gelert in Wales; and the story also appears in India). There is a Brothers Grimm story, The Queen Bee, that is essentially the same as a Siberian story, though the animal helpers are different.

I suppose you could have both diffusion and archetypes at work, in that the stories spread from one culture to the next, and because they resonate with people in an archetypal sort of way, they get spread further.

Discussion of diffusion in Popular Tales from the Norse by Sir George Webbe Dasent, 1904.

The Ballad of Adam Bell, Clym of the Clough, and William of Cloudesley

new CSS designs

css Zen Garden: The Beauty in CSS Design - I particularly like the Kelmscott design by Bronwen Hodgkinson

There are several other new designs on the site, and all the old ones are still available.

easier A-levels?

"Do you think A-levels are getting easier?"

There are several possibilities here. Either:
  • People look at the A-level questions and find them easier because they have more maturity and experience, whereas in fact they are the same; or
  • The exams actually are getting easier; or
  • Teaching and resources are better, so the results are better; or
  • The culture of using past papers as revision is what is making papers easier to pass; or
  • We are experiencing the annual festival of moaning about educational standards (after all, the English do enjoy a good moan).
I don't know about A-levels, but I do know that GCSEs are easier than O-levels. For language O-levels (as far as I can remember), you had to write an essay in the target language, translate a passage from English into the target language, and translate a passage from the target language into English. For language GCSEs, all you have to do is answer some questions in the target language - and you could write anything, so it is not a rigorous test of the student's vocabulary and grammar.

It follows that if GCSEs are easier, then A-levels have to be easier to cope with the intake. University lecturers have been complaining for years that they are having to dumb down their courses to cope with the reduced knowledge of the intake.

The only way to ascertain if papers are easier now is to get pupils to sit past papers as well as current ones.

As a recent test I set a question from an 8-year-old paper on a particular core topic and even my best students only achieved a C grade. - James, Cheltenham

Worrying. And it is not right-wing to say that the exams are being dumbed down. Socialism doesn't mean forcing everyone to be the same, it means giving everyone an equal opportunity to develop.


Menezes probe team briefs family

I hope that the enquiry is genuinely independent and fair, but actually, leaking information is not going to help it come to any sort of conclusion. And it is very upsetting for the family. People should wait until it has gathered and examined all the evidence.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

the middle way

The Ballad of Thomas the Rhymer:

"O see ye not yon narrow road,
So thick beset with thorns and briars?
That is the path of righteousness,
Though after it but few enquires."

"And see ye not that broad, broad road
That lies across the lily leven?
That is the path of wickedness,
Though some call it the road to heaven."

"And see ye not that bonnie road,
That winds about the fernie brae?
That is the road to fair Elfland,
Where thou and I this night maun gae."

On Sunday we went to St Fagans and they had a poster with the two roads (the path of righteousness and the path of wickedness) in one of the cottages. The custodian said that an elderly gentleman who works there often asks people which road they are on. I said I was on the bonnie road to fair Elfland.

I expect they let dogs into Elfland too.

this could be...

...heaven or it could be hell:
A story about a man and a dog

more questions

BBC NEWS: Leak disputes Menezes death story: "had the normal procedures taken place in which a warning is given and officers wear specially marked clothing then this young man may not have been killed" - Former Flying Squad commander John O'Connor

So why weren't the police wearing the proper clothing?
If they had succeeded in fully restraining him (implying he wouldn't have been able to detonate the hypothetical bomb), why did they shoot him?

...and out again

I took my contact lenses out again (I was only allowed to wear them for three hours). Just as I was doing it a colleague came by and gave me a top tip: press down on both eyelids and the lens just squishes out straight away. Brilliant! Much easier than the way the optician showed me.

contact lenses in

I succeeded in getting my new contact lenses into my eyes! It was very difficult, but I got there in the end. Still a little bleary, but it's really cool having peripheral vision and not wearing glasses and stuff. It is difficult to overcome the psychological barrier of sticking a foreign body in your eye, though.

new country

Citizens required for new country

Well it hasn't got a name and I don't like the flag and the citizenship ceremony is a bit conventional. You have to swear loyalty to King Danny I.

If you're going to start a new country, it should be a bit more radical.

So I propose the People's Republic of the Blogosphere. This would naturally be an anarchic collective. To be a citizen, all you have to do is have a blog and display the flag of the blogosphere on your blog. There is no citizenship ceremony. Foreign policy consists of being nice to people for a change. If you feel like it, you could even work towards world peace and stuff. Immigration policy is also no problem - there's plenty of room in cyberspace. Defence policy would be purely electronic - probably trying to eliminate spam comments on your blog, and spam-blogs (the ones that consist entirely of adverts for products). Official religion: none - all religions that acknowledge the validity of other religions would be welcome. The Kabbalah of the Blogosphere has already been worked out.

Possible flags:

flag of the blogosphere
Source: (PDF document - see page 4)

flag of the blogosphere

People's Republic of the Blogosphere official home page

Monday, August 15, 2005

origins of language

Proto-World and the Language Organ - very interesting article by Mark Rosenfelder about the development of language capability in the process of human evolution. It certainly seems far more likely that language is an emergent property of other cognitive abilities in the brain, rather than that there is a language organ in the brain. If there is no language organ, it seems logical to assume that there was no Proto-World language. However, there are many words in very widespread languages which are similar - but then it could be because of long-distance trade or something.

See also: How likely are chance resemblances between languages?

review of H2G2 film

Zompist's Rant Page: "How to think about Hitchhiker's"

Marvin the Paranoid AndroidPretty much what I would have said if I could have been bothered to write a review of the film. Though why did they make Marvin look like that? I suppose one would be pretty depressed if one looked like this:

Also I thought Alan Rickman was a totally inspired choice to be the voice of Marvin.


Astronomy Picture of the Day: Perseid Meteor Shower (animated)

I love the Astronomy Picture of the Day site, but this is definitely an especially good offering.


UK dialects 'strong and varied' (BBC News)

Well, I'll go down our stairs... Regional dialects are alive and well and have not been smothered by estuary-speak, apparently. This is good. I was a bit worried, as I know very few words from the Hampshire dialect (the area where I grew up). The research has been carried out by the BBC Voices project. According to Northumbrian dialect, I am a cuddy-wifter (left-handed).

Regional dialects are also alive and well in German, French (just), Spanish, Italian.

Friday, August 12, 2005

the spaghetti did it

Open Letter: the home of Flying Spaghetti Monsterism, a campaign to persuade the Kansas School Board to teach Flying Spaghetti Monsterism alongside Intelligent Design in science lessons, on the grounds that the two theories are equally sensible.

Touched by His Noodly AppendageLooks like Cthulhu to me...

Personally I don't like Intelligent Design on the grounds that it posits deity as being external to the universe. My theory is that the process of the universe becoming increasingly complex (one of the processes by which it does so being the evolution of life) is what gives rise to the consciousness of the universe (which I reckon is actually clumpy like matter, which is why you get individuality and many deities and spirits). In other words, the development of life is the thought process of the mind of the universe.

On the other hand...

The original meaning of "science" was "knowledge," so that "a scientific explanation" was as Arnold Lunn says in The Revolt Against Reason, "an explanation which is in accord with all the known facts" (105). However, "science" has been redefined to mean "knowledge of the material world as explained by reference to the material world" thus, by definition, eliminating knowledge of non-material entities and truths and prohibiting supernatural explanations. Thus, if the truth is that God has created the natural world, then the truth--that is, the real, actual explanation--is by definition "unscientific." Robert Harris

See also Alan Rayner's inclusional version of evolutionary theory - the idea that evolution is the survival of the fitting, not the fittest - in other words, life co-operates and diversifies to fill available niches, rather than competing for ever-diminishing resources as in the Darwinian model. And then there's Kropotkin's critique of Darwin - he demonstrated that co-operation, not competition, is the basis of evolution.

Clearly evolution happens, but the mechanism by which it happens is still up for discussion, in my view. The problem is that, because of the polarisation between creationists and Darwinists, both of whom adopt an "you're either with us or against us" stance, there is no room for sensible debate about alternative scientific theories of evolution.


pastiches of the end of the current Harry Potter book - warning, contains a spoiler.

I liked the Charles Dickens version - A Tale of Two Cities meets A Christmas Carol.

Found a link to the Harry Potter spoof whilst looking for the Larousse Gastronomique recipe for crow after arranging lunch in an instant messenger conversation - and that's the wonder of the blogosphere, folks.


Computer Quotes gathered on the Net

"Vampireware /n/, a project, capable of sucking the lifeblood out of anyone unfortunate enough to be assigned to it, which never actually sees the light of day, but nonetheless refuses to die."

This has actually happened to me.

Other gems:

  • "The nice thing about standards is that there are so many to choose from."

  • "Standards are industry's way of codifying obsolescence."

  • "A computer is like an Old Testament god, with a lot of rules and no mercy." — Joseph Campbell

  • "Is reading in the bathroom considered Multi-Tasking ?"

Thursday, August 11, 2005

eels in my hovercraft

They thought you'd say this

Under what circumstances might you want to say "Cannot Sir, the price has gone up" or "Clean and set this wig" or "I have my own syringe" or "We must bury her" or "Where was this cheese made?" in any language?

On the other hand, I can quite see why you might want to be able to say "All the road signs have been torn down" in Welsh circa 1979 or "Is the bridge still standing?" in Chechen.

Truth really is stranger than fiction.

clones & angels

Just finished The Time of the Angels by Iris Murdoch, a curiously claustrophobic experience. The characters seem trapped in their lives, unable to move beyond the destiny ordained for them by character - they are like the painted angels on Eugene Peshkov's icon. As ever, Murdoch's prose is divinely precise. At the end, though the characters leave the house, they are still trapped in the strange sad webs of their destiny, and still detached from each other and from other human beings, still viewing everything through a distorting lens. Leo Peshkov reminded me of Lafcadio in Les Caves du Vatican - though Leo realises that one cannot live without morality because he experiences remorse for his immoral action.

Now reading Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm. It's a beautiful book, well-crafted and thought-provoking. The characters are well-drawn, the shift of power from humans to clones is convincing, the prose is lyrical, the characters engaging (except for the poor degraded breeders). The only thing is, she doesn't go into quite enough detail about how the telepathy between the clones works, although an analogy is offered in the form of the rapport that exists between twins. But the return to individuality and the explanation for it is convincing, even if the explanation has been simplified for a non-psychology audience. It is interesting that Wilhelm does not envisage the possibility of temporary subsumption in a group mind followed by a return to individuality. The title comes from the fourth line of Shakespeare's Sonnet 73. I must also get around to reading Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (also about clones) - it should make an interesting contrast.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

conversations with Freya

Conversations with Freya - Sarah's new website. Hope she gets some contributions, it looks like a worthwhile project.

All her websites can be accessed via

goodbye freedom

Secret Terror Courts - press release from Liberty

Goodbye freedom of association, goodbye freedom of religion, goodbye freedom of expression, goodbye right of habeas corpus, goodbye right to a fair trial.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

totem forests

To the Totem Forests - Emily Carr and Contemporaries Interpret Coastal Villages.

Wonderful stuff, lovingly presented, and with a wealth of ethnographic detail.

remember Hiroshima & Nagasaki

>> Hiroshima memorial ceremony

Deep within the still centre of my being
May I find peace.
Silently within the quiet of the Grove
May I share peace.
Gently within the greater circle of humankind
May I radiate peace.

- The Druid Prayer for Peace

Monday, August 08, 2005

Flickr account

Just opened a Flickr account and uploaded the best Prague photos - flickr looks like a much better way of managing photos than building your own webpage, which takes hours.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Tom Lehrer lyrics

Tom Lehrer lyrics - an excellent site with the full lyrics, plus the preamble he always did in performances.


Award for the silliest user interface
Yes it is pretty daft. But I like the cat version. Though I think most of Windows XP is a seriously dumbed-down user interface.

I like the cow animation, it reminds me of the drawings in The Little Prince.

the Three-N rule

Check out the website of The Haunted River, a small press devoted to strange and supernatural fiction - the best of which, according to them, should conform to the Three-N rule: nebulous, numinous, nerve-jangling. This seems to me to be an excellent set of criteria. The kind of authors they are promoting seem to fit the criteria very well: Joan Aiken, Algernon Blackwood and the like. Very interesting. I very much enjoyed Joan Aiken's Midnight is a Place as a child.

In particular I am intrigued by The Dreams of Cardinal Vittorini & Other Strange Stories by Reggie Oliver (who pointed out the Haunted River website to me when I contacted him about his excellent Stella Gibbons website).

The Three-N rule also puts me in mind of the collections by Alberto Manguel of strange stories - Black Water and White Fire.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

inner sanctum

Does the iconostasis perform a similar function to the rood screen? (Except that the congregation can see through the rood screen and into the holy of holies - this is probably not the right term, but I can't think of the correct one.)

What is the effect of the creation of a "holy of holies" - both theologically and in the functioning of the ritual / liturgical space? Since the iconostasis is opaque and the rood-screen is permeable, how does this affect the congregation's view of the mystery being enacted by the priest? Is there a theological basis for this difference in the design of the Orthodox and Catholic church buildings? Does physically seeing the holy of holies, or any other visible symbol of the mysteries, make it more or less visible to the inner eye of the heart?

As a point of comparison, Roman temples also had an inner sanctum, which was in the centre of the temple rather than at the end (I wonder how this affected the lay person's perception of their connection to the divine?) This inner sanctum was under the cella and surrounded by the ambulatory.

According to Wikipedia, as well as being the inner sanctum of a temple, "In early Christian and Byzantine architecture, the cella is an area at the centre of the church reserved for performing the liturgy." Interesting because the cella was at the centre of these early churches, and therefore it sounds as if the layout was borrowed from Pagan temples.

A quick Google suggests that the introduction of an "opaque" iconostasis is a relatively recent innovation, but that both the iconostasis and the rood screen were intended to demarcate the area where the mystery was performed, and indicate that only the ordained could enact it. I observed a similar (albeit vestigial) manifestation of this idea in a Hindu temple I visited, in the form of a rail in front of the main shrine; only the priest could go behind this rail.

However, the cella in Egyptian temples was apparently totally hidden from view, so the idea of the mysteries being completely hidden from the laity is clearly not new.

is Cold Comfort Farm SF?

Many readers have been puzzled by the fact that Stella set the action of the book at some time in the future. (around 1950, perhaps, since the minor character Claud Hart-Harris "served in the Anglo- Nicaraguan wars of '46.") I regret that I never asked her precisely why she did this. Perhaps it was a means of giving her satirical invention a freer rein. She could exaggerate current tendencies without straining the reader's credulity. The result is that the book is quite prophetic in a number of small ways: London residential districts south of the Thames have become fashionable; there are in effect "state psychoanalysts" (i.e. available on the National Health); and one may only have to live a little longer to see air postal services and video telephones in England. Moreover, at least two writers, Daphne du Maurier and Winifred Gérin, followed Mr Mybug's example and wrote biographical studies of Bramwell Brontë. Like her idea of putting of the Baedeker stars against the purple patches to separate her parodic manner from her authentic authorial voice, setting Cold Comfort Farm in the future was a technical device which was both amusing in itself and imaginatively stimulating.

One critic has argued that Thomas Hardy counts as science fiction, in the sense, presumably, that it is about the effect of a particular social environment on the lives of its characters. One of the premises of most SF writing is that if you change the environment, you can modify people's behaviour (cf Isaac Asimov's Caves of Steel).

Cold Comfort Farm is science fiction in two senses - one, it extrapolates trends current at the time of writing into the future; and two, it assumes that modifying the environment will modify the characters. Flora Poste removes Elfine from the dark and brooding atmosphere of Cold Comfort and shows her some nice shops and tea rooms, and lo and behold, she becomes more of a suitable wife for Richard Hawk-Monitor (who otherwise would have just taken advantage of her and moved on). She moves Seth to an environment where his dark and brooding sexuality will be useful - he makes a perfect movie star. She sends Amos to preach in "one o' they Ford vans", and she succeeds in interesting Aunt Ada Doom in flying.

Also, in a way, satire and parody are similar to science fiction in that both provide an alternative way of viewing the world - they look askance at accepted mores and tropes, and offer an alternative vision. One of the most beneficial aspects of Cold Comfort Farm is that it effortlessly deflates pomposity and self-pity, and satirises many other contemporary daftnesses. Compare this with most SF novels, and you can see the parallels.

twisty tale

The Case of the Four and Twenty Blackbirds
Neil Gaiman's LJ post about it

Great fun, very enjoyable. He describes it as "juvenilia" - well I thought juvenilia generally referred to stuff that's not very good, but the author is so famous that people will read it just for curiosity's sake. This story is more than juvenilia, as it's a clever twist on all the various nursery stories it references, and conveys very well the rather menacing quality of most so-called stories for children (in that they often involve untimely death and mutilation). It's also a fun pastiche of Raymond Chandler's style.

As to why folktales and nursery tales are full of murder and mayhem, many theories have been put forward to explain it (Bruno Bettelheim, Clarissa Pinkola Estes etc.) But I think it's mainly just because children aren't very nice, and enjoy a bit of gratuitous violence - hence the popularity of Horrible Histories, I suspect.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005


there are many kinds of silence.

can be a kind of violence:

tension that stretches over the abyss
between minds that continually miss
each other in the dark;

being unable to speak
for fear of saying too much
and having to clutch
at cliché;

silence that eats itself,
gnawing at the root,
serpent coils twisting tighter;

patience on a monument
growing green and pale
like unripe fruit;

the slow drawing apart
when the veil is torn
and the truth is revealed.

the silences that connect:

a companionable stillness
that is both fullness
and emptiness, but a spark
could leap from mind to mind;

long golden lazy afternoons
dreaming in the sun
only the water babbling;

of the divine beloved,
communing with the beyond;

the inability to tell
a mystery - a sacred secret -
because it cannot be spoken.


Devil's Dictionary 2.0 [archive]
Devil's Dictionary X

Found these via Phil Wilson's blog.

I particularly enjoyed the definitions of social software and ROFLMAO.


At last, Iraq Occupation Focus is keeping an archive of its newsletters. I've been wanting this for a while, so I could link to specific items and have the link remain constant. Also historical data is always important, however ephemeral it may seem at the time (and there's nothing ephemeral about the IOF newsletter!)

simultaneous blogging?

I've now got myself a Livejournal account, mainly because loads of my friends are on there and I want to be able to comment on their blogs. I used the name Vogelbeere because 'nemeton' and 'yewtree' had already been used by other people (yewtree hasn't even updated theirs - harrumph). I apologise to any future German-speaking would-be LJ users who are really into rowan trees... (Vogelbeere is German for 'rowan tree' - the German for 'yew' is die Eibe, and I thought Vogelbeere sounded nicer, and rowan trees are one of my favourite trees too.)

Now I want to be able to simultaneously update both blogs, so I investigated various desktop blogging clients and have downloaded and installed w.bloggar, which is free and has a nice interface.

I've now configured w.bloggar to edit my LJ as well (I had to use Internet Explorer proxy server settings), but I still can't do simultaneous blogging - it has a separate interface for each blog, and when you use the 'Last post' tool, it pulls out the previous post from the blog you are logged into, and not the last post that you made with w.bloggar.

I suppose the only option is to copy and paste my posts within w.bloggar - but it's probably no quicker than copying and pasting from one Firefox tab to another.

So near and yet so far....

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

web standards in IE7

It's an improvement on IE6, but what I want to know is, what about supporting pseudo-classes for elements other than the a tag? e.g. Firefox supports td:hover as well as a:hover, but IE doesn't, and you have to use Javascript to work around this. I would also like to see the DOM implemented correctly, as I was trying to do some DHTML and it just didn't work in IE because of the incorrect DOM implementation.

XML Schema best practices

My colleague found this excellent site: - everything you ever wanted to know about designing XML schemas but were afraid to ask. It even introduces abstract elements, which is something I didn't know about, but is similar to abstract methods in Java.

Monday, August 01, 2005

escaping from genres

Neil Gaiman's blog has a comment about Terry Pratchett's letter to the Sunday Times, in which he points out that the Harry Potter books are definitely fantasy. And as for the claim that JK Rowling is the first person to subvert fantasy, well, er, hasn't Terry Pratchett been doing a splendid job of subverting the fantasy genre for last 34 years???? However, as Neil Gaiman points out, it's probably sloppy journalism rather than what Joanne Rowling actually said.

Most people seem to think that SF (and most other types of genre fiction) is beneath their notice, and would be embarrassed to be seen reading an SF book in public. Now I must admit that I would be embarrassed to be seen reading certain types of genre fiction (romance, detective fiction except for Raymond Chandler, westerns), but in the case of SF I think it's part of the general prejudice against science (someone once laughed at me for reading New Scientist!)

I must say that too much of fantasy is concerned with some kind of pseudo-medieval world, but by no means all of it. I'm not sure what genre Neil Gaiman's American Gods fits into, but it is very contemporary. And though his Stardust is set in the land of Faerie, it totally subverts all the tropes, and is definitely hard-edged stuff. So evidently either the journalist who wrote the article is putting words into Ms Rowling's mouth, or she hasn't read much fantasy, and should definitely read some of Mr Gaiman's and Mr Pratchett's fine productions before making sweeping pronouncements.

EDIT: Good comment about it on Karen Traviss's blog as well, in which she also points out that Ms Rowling was probably misquoted. (I have personally been grossly misquoted by a journo, and so has my partner, so I wouldn't be surprised.)

ah, blogging

I've got some blogging to do song by Si Chun Lam (requires Flash)
Some of the references may make little sense if you don't work or study at Bath...