- The Millions : One Fixed Point: “Sherlock,” Sherlock Holmes, and the British Imagination
- Why we love Sherlock.
(tags: sherlock sherlock-holmes britain television books)
- 13 reasons why I am taking the Daily Mail to the Press Complaints Commission | British InfluenceBritish Influence
- The Heil lied about Romanian immigration to the UK. This isn’t that surprising, but it’s nice to see someone do the research to prove it.
(tags: dailymail fail journalism lies uk romania immigration politics)
- The Descent to C
- Simon Tatham introduces C to people who’ve only worked in high level languages, the innocent little darlings. You ‘ad array bounds checking? You were lucky!
(tags: C programming language)
- The Liberal Democrats face a true test of liberty | Nick Cohen | Comment is free | The Observer
- “The real scandal in the Liberal Democrats is not leading the news. Extremists are menacing the career and life of a Liberal Democrat politician and respectable society hardly considers these authentically scandalous threats to be a scandal at all. The scandal, in short, is that there is no scandal.”
(tags: islam libdems liberal-democrats nick-clegg islamism freedom twitter mohammed)
- The Millions : Read Me! Please!: Book Titles Rewritten to Get More Clicks
- Classic literature titles re-written as those click-bait headlines you see spreading around Facebook: “They Told Him White Whales Were Impossible to Hunt. That’s When He Went Literally Crazy.” Via marn.
(tags: creative funny literature parody)
- Why Can’t We All Just Get Along? The Uncertain Biological Basis of Morality – Robert Wright – The Atlantic
- “Squaring recent research suggesting we’re “naturally moral” with all the strife in the world.”
(tags: morality science evolution utilitarianism joshua-greene trolley-problem)
- Djina Unchained
- A social justice blogger. I think it’s a parody, but it’s hard to be sure.
(tags: sjw social-justice privilege tumblr patriarchy feminism)
- The cult of Cthulhu: real prayer for a fake tentacle | The Verge
- Someone published a Necronomicon. I never knew that.
(tags: necronomicon h.p.-lovecraft fiction magic horror aleister-crowley)
- Waterstones’s social stories · Storify
- Turns out Twitter is useful for something after all. Waterstones (the bookshop) in Oxford Street have been writing short stories with theirs. I liked “Quantum Leap”.
(tags: twitter waterstones oxford-street books bookshop funny fiction storify)
- Burkhard Bilger: Inside Google’s Driverless Car : The New Yorker
- The engineers behind Google’s driveless car.
(tags: google cars robots automotive driveless artificial-intelligence)
- Project Euler
- “Project Euler is a series of challenging mathematical/computer programming problems that will require more than just mathematical insights to solve. Although mathematics will help you arrive at elegant and efficient methods, the use of a computer and programming skills will be required to solve most problems.”
(tags: puzzles maths mathematics programming)
- Science, Reason and Critical Thinking: How to replace the School ICT Curriculum
- 10 PRINT “PAUL IS SKILL”
20 GOTO 10
- The undeniable fact and its inescapable consequence | Alethian Worldview
- “The undeniable fact is this: God does not show up in the real world, not visibly, not audibly, not tangibly, not for you, not for me, not for saint or for sinner or for seeker. … the inescapable consequence is that we have no alternative but to put our faith in men rather than in God. … When men say things on God’s behalf, and make promises that God is supposed to keep, the word they tell you is the word of men, not the word of God. That’s true even if what men say is, “This is the word of God.” They’re not giving you God’s word, they’re giving you man’s word about God’s word (or at least what they claim is God’s word). Sure, you can believe what men tell you about God if you like, but if you do, you are putting your faith in men. Before you can have faith in God, God has to show up, in person, to tell you directly the things He wants you to have faith in. Otherwise it’s just faith in men.”
(tags: deacon-duncan religion atheism)
- I Am An Atheist: 16 Things Atheists Need Christians to Know
- Some only relevant to Americans, but there are some good general points.
(tags: lists religion christianity atheism)
- Atheists face Muslim-led censorship from UCL Union
- The atheist society at UCL posted a Jesus and Mo cartoon as the image accompanying their Facebook event. One Muslim objected as the cartoon depicts Mohammed in a pub (what the Muslim was doing looking at the Facebook page for an atheist event isn’t clear). The UCL student union got a complaint from someone and asked them to take it down. They refused. The story got picked up by atheist blogs and Dawkins Our Leader and hence the newspapers. The union backed down though there’s still the vague threat in the air that the atheist soc might be guilty of bullying or harassment.
Hopefully the media attention has put the fear of God into the Union and they won’t be so silly in future. Muslims do not have the right not to be offended.
(tags: richard-dawkins dawkins ucl university censorship religion islam)
- Bash Tips for Power Users
- I didn’t know about the “fc” command. Nice.
(tags: programming shell unix linux bash)
- Twilight: The Use of Sparkle
- If Iain M. Banks had written Twilight. Funny, even though I’ve never read/seen any Twilight.
(tags: parody twilight iain-m-banks sf science-fiction sci-fi culture books)
- So who is good enough to get into Cambridge? | Education | The Guardian
- Guardian reporter sits in on admissions meetings at my old college. Inevitably, the photo with the story is of King’s, because it’s prettier than Churchill.
(tags: churchill cambridge-university university education cambridge)
- Fat Acceptance Movement. || kuro5hin.org
- kuro5hin is still alive: who knew? Anyway, this is a recent Diary entry from HollyHopDrive who discovered a bunch of Fat Acceptance blogs while looking for fitness information. Her division of what she found into stuff she agrees with and bullshit looks sound.
(tags: medicine health fat)
- The Americanization of Mental Illness – NYTimes.com
- The expression of mental illness is cultural: anorexia was more or less introduced to Hong Kong by newspaper articles. A view in which mental illness is caused by brain problems rather than childhood experiences or demons actually makes people less sympathetic to those with mental illness, because they’re perceived as being unfixable.
(tags: anorexia schizophrenia culture science psychiatry psychology)
- Git Immersion – Brought to you by EdgeCase
- Looks like a nice introduction to the "git" version control system. Must get round to understanding that one of these days.
(tags: programming version-control git development tutorial software tools)
- I’m starting to think that the Left might actually be right – Telegraph
- In the Torygraph of all places.
(tags: politics economics journalism murdoch news telegraph)
- philosophy bites: Nick Bostrom on the Simulation Argument
- "Nick Bostrom doesn't rule out the possibility that he might be part of a computer simulation. Find out why in this episode of the Philosophy Bites podcast." Hard to fault the argument, as far as I can tell, though I should probably check how people have responded to it.
(tags: philosophy computers consciousness simulation nick-bostrom transhumanism)
- fic: the joinery (game of thrones) (1/2)
- A nice alternate history of A Game of Thrones from Cersei's perspective: what would have happened if Ned had taken the throne instead of Robert? Spoilers for the first book/TV series.
(tags: fandom fanfic game-of-thrones books cersei/ned)
- “Don’t Talk to the Police” by Professor James Duane
- Of course, in the UK, we don't have an unqualified right to silence, but this stuff's interesting anyway. There's a follow-on video where a police officer responds and says the professor is right 🙂
(tags: law video police legal lectures rights)
- Try Thinking | Here lieth the thoughts of SiânyB
- "I do (despite appearances) totally understand the importance of prayer for some people – I know people who use it as a kind of meditation to clear their heads, to unburden their guilt or to enter some kind of celestial lottery of hope. But, given current world events, the message ‘Try Praying’ is a grimly obscuring lens through which to view your surroundings."
(tags: religion culture advertising prayer edinburgh christianity)
- Sean Carroll: Does the Universe Need God?
- Top theoretical cosmologist Sean Carroll wrote a chapter for the Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity, and this is it. Interesting to compare Carroll's stuff with other popular science about the Big Bang.
(tags: philosophy god science bigbang big-bang sean-carroll physics cosmology)
- The Blog : Being Mr. Nobody : Sam Harris
- "Imagine a language in which, instead of saying ‘I found nobody in the room’ one said, ‘I found Mr. Nobody in the room.’ Imagine the philosophical problems that would arise out of such a convention. " Sam Harris quotes Wittgenstein to explain why he doesn't like to call himself an atheist.
(tags: wittgenstein atheism philosophy language sam-harris)
- Fixing HTTPS
- Glyph, of Twisted Python fame, talks about ways to fix HTTPS, presumably in the light of the recent attacks on certification authorities.
(tags: https security internet encryption)
- AC Grayling: ‘How can you be a militant atheist? It’s like sleeping furiously’ | Books | The Guardian
- Graying mocks the people who call atheists militant and fundamentalist, and talks about his new book: "But the third point is about our ethics – how we live, how we treat one another, what the good life is. And that's the question that really concerns me the most."
(tags: philosophy religion atheism grayling books)
- Paul Haggis Vs. the Church of Scientology : The New Yorker
- Just in case you were in any doubt that Scientology is a massive con.
(tags: religion scientology cult)
- Clergy told to take on the ‘new atheists’ – Telegraph
- The Archdruid is going to fight the Dawkinsator. This will be epic.
(tags: atheism uk anglicanism anglican cofe rowan-williams new-atheism richard-dawkins)
- What “socalized healthcare” is really like
- Not perfect, but pretty good at treating urgent stuff.
(tags: uk nhs health medicine)
- Terry Jones Adapting Good Omens Into A TV Series Bleeding Cool Comic Book, Movies and TV News and Rumors
- Should be good, if it happens.
(tags: terry-pratchett pratchett neil-gaiman books television fantasy)
- On ableist language
- Why you shouldn't call the Conservative cuts "crazy". I found this very helpful.
(tags: satire identity-politics disability politics)
- The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman | Books | The Guardian
- Rowan Williams review Philip Pullman's latest. Via andrewducker.
(tags: christ jesus books christianity guardian literature religion review theology rowan-williams pullman philip-pullman)
- They Work For The BPI
- Who voted for the Digital Economy Bill, coloured by party affiliation. A sea of red. Oh well, they'll be gone soon, with any luck (though of course, most of the Tories didn't even turn up).
(tags: politics bpi debill digitalbritain election)
- The Third Strike by Andrew Sullivan
- "The AP's story on Joseph Ratzinger's direct involvement in delaying for six years the defrocking of a priest who had confessed to tying up and raping minors ends any doubt that the future Pope is as implicated in the sex abuse crisis as much as any other official in the church."
(tags: catholic pope abuse church corruption rape ratzinger religion paedophilia)
- God and Morality (Part 2): Owing Duties and the Euthyphro Dilemma
- A good introduction to the Euthyphro Dilemma, the problem faced by people who claim moral facts can only exist if God exists: if God is a moral expert, the moral facts he's an expert on are independent of him (so you don't need God for moral facts to exist); if God is a moral "engineer", there's little motivation to do what he says, since he might tell us to do what we regard as terrible things. I mentioned the "it's God's nature which defines good" response in the comments.
(tags: morality euthypro-dilemma ethics religion)
- The God Squad
- "In a little-noticed press release on Wednesday, the Department for Communities and Local Government announced a group of 13 "inter-faith" advisers to act as its "sounding board" on all things faith." Heresiarch names the lucky 13 and provides some background on each of them, although he doesn't tell us which one is Judas. "Not a humanist in sight", he says. It's enough to make you vote Conservative…
(tags: politics religion labour new-labour uk inter-faith)
- BBC News – Frozen Britain seen from above
(tags: bbc news photo satellite uk weather snow cold)
- Strange Horizons Fiction Department: Stories We’ve Seen Too Often
- Strange Horizons lists SF plots they don't want to see because they see them so often.
(tags: writing scifi sci-fi sf science-fiction plots funny literature books)
Peter F Hamilton’s Greg Mandel books are the only cyberpunk stories I know of set in and around Peterborough. As my memories of the place are of being dragged around the big shopping centres there as a kid, it’s hardly a name to conjure with: it’s like setting your story in Milton Keynes, or something (though Charles Stross did that successfully). After global warming, Peterborough has a Mediterranean climate (a little far-fetched, perhaps, but I can’t quite remember how much we knew about global warming in 1993, when the first book was published). At the edge of the flooded Fens, it’s thriving port, filled with refugees from the floods, smugglers and whatnot.
The trilogy follows Greg Mandel, a former officer in the English Army who fought in the Jihad Wars. Mandel was given psychic powers as part of an experimental unit, the Mindstar Brigade. He can sense strong emotions, and gets flashes of intuition. Now a civilian, he makes a living as a private detective. As the trilogy begins, England has just revolted against the People’s Socialist Party, who took power in the chaos after the Warming. When the PSP largely disbanded the army, Mandel spent some time as an urban guerilla on the council estates of Peterborough, fighting with the PSP’s supporters. As we first meet him, he’s on his way to assassinate a former member of the hated People’s Constables, who used to beat people well with their magic wellness sticks. He’s soon tangled up in solving problems for Event Horizon, an emerging English mega-corporation. Event Horizon aren’t a stereotypical evil corporation: they’re the good guys, a sort of mega family firm. Julia Evans, the boss, is another recurring character in the books, though, reassuringly, she’s not Mandel’s love interest.
Reading the books after The Magicians, I found Hamilton’s style tight and easy to read rather than sparkling or poetic. Sometimes we get a cyberpunk version of Hello magazine: he’s got an irritating habit of carefully describing what people are wearing when he introduces them and detailing the makes and models of cars, weapons and so on; and almost everyone is beautiful. That said, the plot rattles along satisfyingly, with some gripping set-pieces. Of course, there are big corporations who duel via their hired mercenaries, spies and hackers, but these standard cyperpunk elements are combined with mysteries for Mandel to solve, mixing the SF stuff with detective fiction.
Hamilton went on to write several door-stops in the Night’s Dawn trilogy (the dead come back… in space, with Al Capone as the principal villain: strangely not as bad as it sounds, although the ending was a let down) and the Commonwealth Saga (which contains the neat idea of running railway lines through stable wormholes). I like the Greg Mandel books for their comparative brevity, pace, and their English take on cyberpunk.
Lev Grossman’s The Magicians is Harry Potter meets Narnia meets Brideshead Revisited meets Douglas Coupland.
The protagonist, Quentin Coldwater, starts off as a maladjusted geek who’s in love with his best friend’s girlfriend. He escapes into the Fillory books, which describe the adventures of a family of English schoolchildren in a magical land filled with talking animals. After his interviewer for a place at Princeton drops dead, he’s invited to join Brakebills, an elite magical college.
Brakebills is Hogwarts, but with more grit. Without the magic, Hogwarts is an English boarding school. The nearest mundane equivalent to Brakebills is a small Oxbridge college. Undergrads drink and screw, as undergrads do; everyone knows everyone’s business; new arrivals end up reeling from the shock of being given work which taxes them and of being surrounded by people as intelligent as them, if not more so. It turns out that magic isn’t about learning the secrets of the universe, or waving a wand and uttering some cod Latin and having everything just work: it’s more like learning Basque while juggling. So far, so very familar.
The Brakebills section is enjoyable: Quentin grows up a bit, acquires some comrades, chooses to face a trial, and overcomes it. But on graduating, he and his friends are lost. Not just in the come down after the party, or the come down after an intense intellectual effort (recall Philip Swallow in Changing Places, who saw the run up to his final exams as the high point of his intellectual career), but because as magicians they’ve become the idle rich, people who can have anything they want, if only they knew what that was. Only Quentin’s much more sensible girlfriend, Alice, seems to be able to cope with the existential problems of being a wizard. The rest of them need a story to be in, and don’t have one.
Many people in that situation end up finding a religion and writing their lives as fan-fiction. The magicians go one better, and find their way into a story by finding their way into
NarniaFillory. Will this finally give their lives some meaning? I won’t spoil the ending by telling you.
Grossman’s borrowings from other works are done knowingly: the Brakebills students are as media-savvy as any teenagers, so of course they make jokes about Quidditch; the Fillory section reads like someone’s report of a dungeon crawl (albeit a particularly well-written one), so the magicians arm themselves with spells they name Magic Missile and Fireball after their D&D counterparts. But Grossman’s not merely mugging for the camera, writing a modern Bored of the Rings. He wants to jar us by combining a modern novel with a children’s fantasy setting, and he succeeds. Watching the magicians stumble through Fillory is like hearing someone swear in a cathedral.
Grossman can write, and supplies us with wit as well as grit. I read the book in one sitting, after which the sound of birds outside the window reminded me that sleep might be a good idea. Abigail Nussbaum (whose review you should read, although be warned it gives away more of the plot than I have) wishes that Grossman had the courage of his convictions. I like the relentlessly grim SF novel as much as anyone, but I find it hard to fault Grossman for giving his protagonist a second chance. I enjoyed it in any case. Recommended.