• The circle

    David Egger’s The Circle is a fast paced and addictive read, it’s a blunt satire of the pervasiveness of social networking and people’s need to share.

    The Circle is an internet company that has replaced Facebook, Twitter, Google, Amazon, Justin.tv and more. As such it knows a lot about a lot of people. The novel is about Mae Holland, as she starts work at The Circle’s google-esque campus in the customer experience department. Mae quickly realises what is expected of her as a Circler - sharing everything and feels obligated to comply, culminating in lifestreaming her waking life. During the interview where she announces this, she says, and the company is quick to echo

    SECRETS ARE LIES SHARING IS CARING PRIVACY IS THEFT

    The Circle’s ultimate goal is total transparency to improve the world - if everyone knows that they may be being watched and their behaviour publicly discussed. This is very relevant to one of the current hot internet issues - the requirement for YouTube commentators (notoriously rude and useless) to be linked to their google+ profile - which requires a real name.

    Mae’s journey from an everyday person, to one of the elite “T2K” circlers is accompanied with her love interests - her puppy-dog colleague, who like every good Circler believes in sharing everything, her ex-boyfriend who is a sceptic (and given his monologues, I think he is Egger’s voice) and her shadowy, mysterious colleague Kalden and with her parents changing attitudes towards Mae and her job.

    The novel is black and white with it’s arguments against social networking, the only grey statement I can remember, is one that I agree with in general <blockquote>my problem with paper is that all communication dies with it</blockquote>

    I use facebook (due to network effects), twitter and Google+, I let Google track where I am so they can tell me about travel times etc, I scrobble my music to last.fm so I can get suggestions from my friends and strangers, I post on various forums, not always using a pseudonym. I’m aware each time that I’m giving away some privacy, each time the trade off always seems worthwhile. Heavy-handed and satirical the novel may be, but I think it’s totally correct about how things are changing. There is no cabal, it is happening incrementally. Someone comes up with an idea that will improve your life if you share this little thing with the company, someone else comes up with something else, a company decide to make some of the data you share with them slightly more visible.

    The book is not all about bludgeoning the reader about the internet, there is some levity, mainly poking fun at the earnestness of the inhabitants of the Circle campus.

    There’s something ironic about me having rated this book on amazon, tweeted and facebooked about having read it and now blogging about it.

  • Cooking with wine

    I have just found out that some people refuse to cook with wine if they have children. It has never occurred to me that a glass of wine in a risotto or stew might be a problem, and I’ve been happily serving it up to my son (there’s a stew in the oven now). Being a fan of reason and logic I decided to run the maths.

    After 2.5 hours of cooking, 5% of the alcohol will remain (source).

    To take a real world example, cooking “Jools’s favourite beef stew” uses half a bottle of wine in a stew for four people. Assuming you cook it for 2.5 hours (quick for stew) the alcohol percentage of the wine will be reduced to 0.675%. A full serving will contain 8.75cl of wine (half of a 70cl bottle shared between four servings), 0.675% of 8.75 is 0.0590625cl of alcohol.

    For comparison, and ignoring that the alcohol is further diluted by a massive amount of stew, a 330ml (33cl) can of shandy will contain 0.132cl of alcohol.

    Cue the old timers talking about spirits for toothache.

  • The Illiad

    I’m not sure that given all of the attention and scholarly works about the Iliad, what I can really add, but it has made me think and I’ve really enjoyed it. The below does contain “spoilers” (the story is nearly 3000 years old!). I assume not much of an introduction is needed, it’s a testament to the story that nearly everyone knows roughly what happens. The Illiad is an epic poem first written down by Homer in the 7th century BC. It is set towards the end of the Trojan war, which has been raging for nine years prior, the Greeks are laying siege to Troy and the Trojans and their allies are obviously in opposition.

    There’s a lot of characters, many of whom are introduced in the midst of battle, with a brief mention of their worth and lineage, followed by them promptly being speared through the chest. The main characters are Achilles - the Greek hero, King Agamemnon, the proud leader of the Greeks, the Ajaxes - a pair of Greek warriors and Hector, the leader of the Trojan forces. These humans are backed up by a cast of gods, besides Zeus there’s Athena, Hera, Poseidon and Hermes on the side of the Greeks and Aphrodite, Apollo, Artemis and Leto on the side of the Trojans, to name but a few.

    Achilles is strong and powerful, he inspires his comrades and instils fear into his enemies. He also has an appalling temper and sulks like a child - he asked the gods to aid the Trojans in killing his own allies because of his quarrel with Agamemnon. Once the death of Patroclus focuses his anger to the Trojans he’s very bloodthirsty in dispatching them, the way he treats Hectors body, even after it’s been 12 days dead is inhuman. He’s more of an anti-hero than hero. In the end he is redeemed when he treats Priam (Hectors father) with understanding and thinks of his own father. Achilles sets himself on the path of war and anger but without the intervention of Zeus, I’m not sure that he would have started down that path of redemption.

    Hector is altogether more sympathetic, in many ways he is the opposite of Achilles. Achilles has spurned a chance for a peaceful life to go and win glory in the war he knows will be his death, Hector is at war to defend his home and family. Hector is not without his flaws at times he’s too much confidence and at times too little. His flaws only seem to humanise him in my eyes, though it may just be my love of the underdog.

    The gods had their own drama and rivalries and worked these out by manipulating the humans, sometimes ridiculously so, for example picking up their favoured human and dropping him out of the battle, out of harms way. The machinations of the gods prolonged the war and probably caused much more deaths, I felt quite sorry for Zeus trying to keep both factions happy. These aren’t benevolent gods, and in that displayed a more human nature. The sections about the gods were often some of the most interesting parts, but at times they made me cry out to them to butt out and let the mortals get on with it.

    Descriptions of battles make up a large part of the tale. Battles are expected to be violent but some of these deaths are quite gory, I was actually reminded of the movie 300. > The stone hit him on the forehead and drove his brows into his head for the bone was smashed, and his eyes fell to the ground at his feet. He dropped dead from his chariot as though he were diving, and there was no more life left in him.

    I found it hard to imagine the overall shape of the battles, there wasn’t much discussion over tactics but rather there was a focus on personal battles, which are quite odd. It seems that two characters meet, wind each other up, throw spears at each other, someone dies in a very vividly described violent manner and then the victor strips the dead of their armour to dishonour the fallen, all while the battle rages on around them.

    I did notice that there weren’t any metaphors (maybe I just missed them?) at all. Homer does make use of similies a lot though, and these are fantastic, producing powerful imagery. They aren’t just a few words like “Menalaus was like a lion” but rather more like this from Book XVII paragraph 4: > Or as some fierce lion upon the mountains in the pride of his strength fastens on the finest heifer in a herd as it is feeding—first he breaks her neck with his strong jaws, and then gorges on her blood and entrails; dogs and shepherds raise a hue and cry against him, but they stand aloof and will not come close to him, for they are pale with fear—even so no one had the courage to face valiant Menelaus.

    I was surprised at the end of the book - I had expected it to end with the Trojan horse and sack of Troy, but the redemption of Achilles, the grief of Priam and the funeral of Hector was a lovely, sad ending.

    I am tempted to re-read and will undoubtedly do so in the future, this time I read the Butler translation which is in prose, so perhaps with a different, poetical translation just for the variance.

  • Book review - Shards of Honour

    Shards of Honour is a space opera about the relationship between Vorkosigan, a military general and Naismith, a biologist. The relationship develops in the context of a clash between their two different human civilisations. Vorkosigan comes from a Machiavellian absolute monarchy with a utilitarian outlook. Naismith comes from a democratic society that can verge on the anarchic at times.

    Naismith is the protagonist of the novel but doesn’t seem as well developed as Vorkosigan. Vorkosigan starts off as a mysterious soldier and develops through the novel.

    The plot starts with a journey through a vividly described planet and accelerates quickly afterwards. The plot isn’t stellar and as a whole is predictable from an early point. world but it is reasonable. There were not too many action parts but what was there was well done.

    The world that Bujold has built is really interesting, there are multiple civilisations at war with their own philosophies. The description of the planet and fauna in the first half of the book is particularly imaginatively done.

    Despite my criticism, the novel is engaging and the world building has me looking forward to reading the other novels in the series.

  • Annual leave

    I’ve just finished a week of annual leave, I planned to spend some quality time with Hugo and Sara and do some other things that need doing. It has been a good week all-in-all, so this is a dear diary kind of post.

    Monday

    Went swimming with Sara, some a few friends and their kids. Hugo and I had fun playing with balls and surfboards. We then went for a carvery afterwards - swimming always makes me hungry. I enjoyed having a mothers’ meeting :)

    Hugo fell asleep in the car, and when we got back my father-in-law had arrived to spend a few days with us.

    Tuesday

    We went to Graves Park first thing in the morning, walked through the park and then up to the animals - Hugo didn’t really like the chickens but was more impressed by the goats. We also had a play on the park and a short journey on the “land” train.

    Hugo went for a nap and I heard playing outside so I went and entertained the 3 year old twins next door. Lots of running around and being mischievous. It was tiring work.

    We went to the Chesterfield medieval market in the afternoon, this was disappointing, there were plenty of neon flashing light ghost trains scattered throughout the town centre, and off to one side, beneath the crooked spire there were three medieval themed stalls (which were all quite interesting). There was also a small battle re-enactment which we missed and a medieval march through time

    In the evening I went for a game of squash, which wore me out further.

    Wednesday

    Sara took Hugo to nursery in the morning, which is something I usually do - giving me the chance to have a lay-in until 9am. I dropped Sara off at work and then went into town to catch-up on a few errands.

    My first objective was some business at the bank, unfortunately an ISA transfer needs a specialist member of staff due to how complicated it is, and none were available that day, or the next, or any day that week, for either of the two branches. I’ve had to make an appointment for a Saturday two weeks in the future.

    That sorted out, I’d decided to visit the Chesterfield museum & art gallery as I’d never been. The opening hours have recently changed so that it is closed on Tuesday and Wednesday as well as Sunday, so I’ve still never been.

    I decided to go to the Market pub for a spot of lunch and half of a perry from a keg on the bar while reading The Last Unicorn from the Humble e-book bundle. That finished I got the ingredients for dinner. I spent about 2 hours preparing and cooking a moussaka which turned out disappointing - my fault.

    I got to pick Hugo up from nursery, so got to see him playing and hear about what he’d been up to all day. I much prefer picking him up to dropping him off.

    Thursday

    Hugo and I walked down to play group at the local sure start centre. He did enjoy playing but I think his favourite part was snacking on fruit.

    Friday

    Hugo and I went for a trip up to Crich Stand, ~300m above sea level, the Easter-most big Derbyshire hill and so affording distant views to the North, East and South. When we got there there was no access to the tower at the top - a notice just said it was due to “Health & Safety” with no further explanation. Therefore the views of eight counties and to the Humber bridge were limited. It was Hugo’s first trig point though.

    A view of green countryside to the horizon
    Crich stand - looking South-ish

    In the late afternoon Sara and I went into Sheffield for a meal at The Italian Kitchen, the meal was tasty and reasonably priced. A short walk up and down Ecclesall Road was needed afterwards before we went to pick Hugo up and then spend an evening with my parents.

    Saturday

    We went swimming, Hugo has never liked lying on his back and especially so when in water. However his recent trick of trying to keep one ear in the water as I pull him around has morphed into lying on his back in the water.

    In the afternoon we had a lovely visit to Northern Tea Merchants for afternoon tea - delicious as ever.

    Sunday

    Hugo and I went to the Peak Rail 1940s weekend. There were steam trains, WW2 equipment on display, 1940s vehicles and a WW2 battle reenactment. Hugo enjoyed sticking his head out of the window on the train (there were only two signs above the window saying no heads out of windows).

    He wasn’t too interested in the battle reenactment. He jumped at the initial loud simulated bomb explosions when other children nearby started crying. Dropping the last quaver did cause him to start getting noisy, thankfully the enactment had finished by then.

    I videod part of the WW2 re-enactment.