my life

Though it’s written from a female perspective, Janis Ian’s At Seventeen conjures memories of being that age. lauralaitaine and Libby (WINOLJ) saw my college matriculation photo and said “aw, bless, you were such a huge geek”. I had huge square glasses and a pretty unfortunate haircut (although thankfully I’m not that bloke in the front row who is the only one wearing white trainers). I’d never had any sort of girlfriend, and wouldn’t for another 3 years. That’s a long time, when you’re 18. I held as an article of faith the idea that if I did find such a fortunate lady then all my problems would be solved at a stroke: I’d never be lonely again, in fact, I’d be just about as funky as you can be. (Aside: apparently there are people on the Internet who believe that the Mr Jones of the song is Adam Duritz’s willy: fortunately this turns out not to be true).

I’ve turned 30 today, so I’m reflecting on how far I’ve come. It’d be nice if there were a way to speak to the 18 year old me and let him know that articles of faith aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, but that that things would work out in the end (and maybe give him a little sartorial advice). I suppose that’s partly what I’m trying to do when I write things addressed to CICCU members or advise the Young People about Courting.

The stuff about hair and clothes is easy, but only gets you so far. The problem with my fantasy of setting my 18 year old self to rights is the obvious one: much of what I needed to learn cannot be taught. I suppose all anyone can do in giving advice is hope to help another person avoid your more spectacular mistakes, always assuming that those mistakes were the ones someone else would be prone to anyway.

I’ve had a great 30th. I’m amazed that I can fill a house with people who like me (at least, I’m assuming that was the motivation rather than free booze), especially at a week’s notice. That’s just about as funky as you can be.

scribb1e and I went to Cornwall, where we stayed in a cottage with a sea view.

We saw the Eden Project. I’d been before, and not thought much of the place, but it’s much more fun when it’s not raining and you can do the outdoor parts as well as go in the huge geodesic domes. We found the Lost Gardens of Heligan, which were pretty and, considering the amount of work and though which had gone into them, downright impressive. Their farm shop also sold us some fine rump steak.

Continuing the gardens theme, we visited some Japanese Gardens, which were very tranquil until a coachload of white-haired old ladies went on the rampage through the place. We’d already looked around by then, and had settled down to have lunch, so their calls of “Cooeee! Deirdre!” did not disturb us too much. After that, we went to St Michael’s Mount on foot, and, as you can see from the photograph, had to return by boat.

We also found a tiny beach you could only reach on foot, and imitated Jack Vettriano paintings.

The weather was pretty warm most of the time, so I borrowed scribb1e‘s Tilley hat.

Holiday viewing was Buffy season 5, which we felt was tightly plotted and much better than the previous season. I got started on re-reading Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver. On my second pass, unrushed because now I know how it ends, I’m savouring the expansiveness of the writing rather than just wishing he’d get on with it. The Diary of a Manhattan Callgirl, which we found in Tescos, failed to either titillate or to arouse much other emotion: it’s sort of Brigit Jones with hookers.

Danced on Friday. Went to a fellow Churchillian’s wedding on Saturday. There are photos, but they were taken with a digital SLR, so you can tell exactly which hairs I missed when I shaved. I don’t think anyone needs to see that, so I won’t link to them. A good time was had by all.

Today, I bought the DVD of the first season of Scrubs and showed a couple to scribb1e, who pronounced them hilarious and worryingly close to the mark (although thankfully the stuff about booting people who don’t have insurance isn’t true here).

Just finished my reply to nlj21 on the “God Hates Long Hair” thread. I found the MP3 of a sermon on the passage in question (which I remember hearing live, as it was preached at my old church several years ago). Though the preacher is not quite as hard line about hair as I am in my posting, he does sugges that God Hates Androgyny (which I recall was an evangelical bugbear at the time, no idea whether it still is) and reminds us that women were created as helpers for men and not vice versa. I felt sorry for the guy lumbered with preaching it, in fact, as I remember him being a nice person. Much like here, I’m amazed at how easy it is to get nice people to believe outrageous things about themselves.

A fun weekend, full of late nights. On Friday, I joined scribb1e, bluap and a host of other potential villains at a murder mystery party. My character was Willie Wakeup, a German hypnotist, so was able to do my Gag Halfrunt impersonation. After bluap and I had used our Holmesian powers of deduction to correctly identify the murderer, people started swapping costumes, transforming David B into a French colonel figure. What do you think of this as a potential user icon?

chaos_natsci had a birthday party on Saturday, with lots of lovely food and interesting people. scribb1e, illusive_shelle and joanneelizabeth got started on reproducing the famous CDC Snog Graph. Note that the image enhancing technology that would enable you to read the graph from that picture only exists in films, so stop trying to zoom in using Microsoft Paint: the original is now in the hands of scribb1e, who is bound by the Hippocratic Oath, or something. There’s the suggestion that we should replace the nodes with blue or pink dots and then use it as a publicity poster. I think we slightly surprised the onlookers, who had thought that CDC was some sort of dancing club.

We went to a Proms in the Park concert in Bedford last night. There were the usual favourites, finishing up with singing Jerusalem, Land of Hope and Glory, and then watching a firework display while the orchestra played 633 Squadron and Live and Let Die. Great fun. The people waving flags all over the place gave me an unusual burst of national pride.

Aled Jones was there, much to the delight of the grannies. He has an excellent singing voice: I don’t think I’ve heard him sing since Walking in the Air all those years ago. Among other things, he sang How Great Thou Art, which is apparently the nation’s favourite hymn.

I once sang it on a hillside in Derbyshire, on a CU houseparty. It was night. We could see the lights of the village below (whose residents hopefully couldn’t hear us). There was a cloudless, starry sky. I see the stars, indeed. Aled Jones’s singing, beneath another clear night sky, was fiercely evocative of that moment, one of those echoes which left me feeling strangely dissociated. The music can revive the emotions from that time, but the reason behind them has gone, and, of course, these days any emotional response associated with Christianty is also tinged with something of the pain of loss (although it’s not particularly searing, thankfully, more a sort of nostalgia).

So, I came home and watched the latest episode of season two of Battlestar Galactica, which fell off the back of a lorry and landed at my feet, guv’nor. It’s good stuff, although as some fans have said, I live in fear that the writers don’t actually know where they’re going, and the whole thing will end up like The X-Files. Still, there are some obvious future plotlines being set up, so we live in hope.

Someone on a web page I was reading the other day compared the present unpleasantness to the Idiran-Culture war. I do hope not: the things a highly technological society can do when forced to defend its very existence don’t bear thinking about. With that in mind, and with my Stephenson “some cultures are better than others” hat on, Blair’s latest proposals sound like a good idea.

ladysisyphus wins at the Internet (contains spoilers for the latest Harry Potter book, sort of). Apparently The Wasteland is one of the most parodied poems in English literature.

scribb1e graduated on Saturday, and now has degrees in medicine and surgery. Cambridge’s graduation ceremony is marvelous pantomime: largely in Latin, with doffing of caps and each group of graduands in turn holding on to the finger of the person presenting them to be graduated. Mercifully, there are no speeches telling you how to be a good citizen or giving advice on wearing sunscreen (personally, I favour this version). The college Praelector did a good bit at lunch about how the Proctors used to be able to arrest young ladies caught about town with undergraduates and sentence them to a few weeks labour in the spinning house (mind you, if Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver is anything to go by, being a Person of Quality meant you could get away with whatever you liked), but it wasn’t clear that we were supposed to draw from this example.

Speaking of things medical, I ran across the blog of Magnificent Bastard the other day, and liked it enough to read back through the archives. He’s funny, occasionally cynical, and writes about life and religion as well as the usual funny doctor stories.

In recognition of her recent elevation, S will now be known as Dr S. While on the way in to town to celebrate this the other night, we saw an unusual busker:
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It’s a good way of drawing attention to yourself, although it’s probably a bit hot and smelly, and I wasn’t too sure about the acoustics. He was singing an Oasis song, but we gave him some money anyway. There also seemed to be any number of hen parties out on Riverside last night. Never thought of Cambridge as a hen party destination before.

Last night, the BBC screened Parting of the Ways, the final episode in the new series of Doctor Who. <lj-cut text=”Cut for spoilers”>I liked it for the spectacle of lots and lots of Daleks doing their thing. I also liked the way future humans (as personified by Captain Jack) have turned into the Culture and are happily unrestrained in their affections (the loony Christians who were protesting about Jerry Springer must be absolutely steaming). Alas, the plot made no sense.

The current fad for deus ex machina endings is getting a bit tired, especially after Boom Town (arguably, that might be seen setting the stage for the latest one, I suppose). If all the TARDIS’s can do that, why did the Time Lords ever feel remotely threatened by the Daleks? Rose as Time Goddess made it look a bit too like Buffy for me (the earlier Rose/TARDIS effects were more like Lyta Alexander in Babylon 5), though if it had been written by Joss Whedon, Jack would have stayed dead, and the episode would have been better for it. Possibly the BBC would get more complaints from parents of kids who were distraught about dead Jack than they will about a gay kiss on Saturday night “family” TV.

Nobody explained why the massive TARDIS energy didn’t kill Rose as well as the Doctor. “Bad Wolf” turned out to be a meaningless phrase which might just as well have been “Arthritic Hamster”. And the bit about opening the TARDIS console with a recovery truck was just silly.

But there were lots of Daleks, and everyone lived happily every after (except the ones who Rose didn’t resurrect). Did I mention that there were lots of Daleks?

Charlie Stross (known as autopope in these parts) has released his latest novel, Accelerando, on his website. I’ve been reading it on and off all weekend. My opinions might be skewed by that peculiar disassociation which sets in when you’re reading about the Singularity at 3 am in the middle of a heatwave, but I rather liked it. I found the earlier, near future, chapters more fun than the software iiiin spaaace stuff. The bits about cats were always good. The software iiin spaaace parts reminded me of Greg Egan’s Diaspora, though Stross’s characters aren’t as clinical as Egan’s, which makes them more bearable.

The book shows signs of an SF writing singularity, whereby books become incomprehensible to people from primitive cultures where they don’t know what slashdot is (perhaps a better description would be “unsullied”, rather than “primitive”, in that case). I’m not quite sure what someone who hadn’t spent most of their life in geekdom would make of it. Perhaps someone who meets that description could read it and tell me?

In any case, it’s a wonderfully exuberant book, and worth a read.

After much prodding, LiveJournal has finally introduced tags, a way of categorising entries and of retrieving entries which have a particular tag. I’ve spent an entertaining hour going back through my old entries and tagging them. So, for example, you can see all my posts on religion or all the posts where I mention what I’ve been up to lately (I’ve nicked livredor‘s “quotidian” tag to describe my daily life). Hopefully they’ll do something similar to Flickr and allow you to search other people’s journals for particular tags, or get a feed which displays all posts with a particular tag.

Speaking of what I’ve been up to lately, I had an excellent time at S’s Graduation Dinner the other night (although the name is a misnomer as they’ve not graduated yet). It was at St John’s, who produced some of the best food I’ve had at a Cambridge college. My favourite photo is this one, as the Three Musketeers seem to be enjoying themselves.

Adam Kay and Suman Biswas, medics themselves, have joined to form Amateur Transplants, a beat combo. They are reminiscent of Flanders and Swann or Tom Lehrer, but with gratuitous use of the word “fuck”. You might have heard their seminal London Underground a while back, but it turns out there’s a whole album, entitled Fitness to Practice. Our favourites are Paracetamoxyfrusebendroneomycin and Snippets, for the excellent parodies of Coldplay’s Yellow and Phil Collins’s Against All Odds. Some MP3s are here, but sadly, physical copies of the entire album seem to have sold out. They should charge to download the remaining MP3s or something: it’s for charidee.

S and I want to go on holiday somewhere scenic, not too hot during the summer (anything over the high 20s in Celsius is too hot, in my book), and not monumentally expensive. Any suggestions?

Well, I’m back. Here’s what I did on my holidays (note laptop in background, and Firefly and Battlestar Galactica DVDs, and Chronicles of Amber in my lap). Oh, all right, there was also swimming and scenery, but most of the time was reserved for the important things in life. It was fun.

You lot all seem to have been busy, so I’m queuing up open tabs in Firefox as I accumulate stuff I’m replying to. So far, we have:

So, Battlestar Galactica eh? Unlike Firefly, it’s not getting cancelled as it’s apparently very successful. There are certain similarities. Both have the same cinema verite, handheld look (in both the filmed and CGI shots: not surprising as the same CGI company did both BSG and Firefly). Both focus on people rather than on the particle of the week, both are serial rather than episodic, allowing character and story arcs to develop. (I’m curious about the way the BSG’s makers try to distance it from science fiction: they seem to assume that SF means Star Trek, which as far as I’m concerned is an occasionally fun but weak example of the genre).

What are the differences that might explain BSG’s success? BSG is a big story: an entire civilisation in danger, a Biblical exodus, and characters who are political and military leaders. We rarely see the underdogs in the BSG universe, but since they have so little freedom of action, that’s not very surprising. BSG is darker: no snappy comebacks and laugh out loud moments. Oh, and let’s not overestimate our demographic: while Inara is pretty, we see rather more of Number 6 in BSG, and BSG is generally sexier.

I like them both, although I think it’ll be interesting to see whether BSG can keep up its early promise now it has become such a hit.

So busy. Jo had a party on Thursday at which there was dancing. The CDC Ball was on Friday, in the Guildhall in Cambridge. The floor was a little slippy, but it was good to have one in Cambridge as people could come and go as they pleased. bluap had a pancake party on Saturday, at which I spent some time talking to jacquic about Buffy and enthused about Firefly (of which more below). I think I also mentioned the cats and robot vacuum cleaners link, so there it is. I want a robot vacuum cleaner.

Today was tea and cakes party, which seems very Cambridge, and a chance to catch up with people I don’t see that often.

In other news, I recently finished watching the DVD of Firefly, Joss Whedon’s science fiction series, which was prematurely cancelled by the US TV network which had sponsored it. It’s the Western-in-space which Star Wars wanted to be, but better. The series follows the crew of Serenity, an unarmed freighter, as they make their living out of various dubious schemes and attract the attention of some very bad people when they give shelter to a couple of fugitives. It has Whedon’s trademark witty dialogue, and presents a more consistent universe than Buffy (it’s not hard science fiction by any means, but there’s nothing so glaringly wrong that it distracts you from the story). Once again Whedon gives us a close-knit group of people whose struggles we come to care about. Fortunately, the show’s cancellation wasn’t the end: there’s a film, Serenity coming out later this year.