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I’m trying out Xjournal, a rather nifty LJ client for Mac OS X. It’s all very pretty. Club 977 is an 80s Internet radio station, by the way. Pure cheese, all day long. Fantastic.

I had a brief stay in Edinburgh, for a wedding, last weekend. I took a few photographs of the place. Edinburgh is full of impressive architecture. Describing it as “pretty” doesn’t really do it justice, as that seems a little twee, which it isn’t.

That was the first of a run of weddings this year. It was a good start, with a ceidlidh afterwards (at which my theory that Karl Sandeman plays all ceidlidhs, ever, was disproved). S asked them to play a slow waltz. We ended up having the floor to ourselves and getting compliments on our dancing. I don’t imagine that’ll happen at the big ballroom dancing wedding in a couple of weeks.

Leonard of Crummy.com, boyfriend to sumanah, has the answer to why prayers sometimes go unanswered. Now you know where you’ve been going wrong.

I recently finished Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver, a historical novel set in the late 1600s. It’s a bit of a departure for Stephenson, who usually does cyberpunk, but it’s still got his usual style and frenetic set-piece scenes. The Waterhouse and Shaftoe families, familiar from Cryptonomicon, turn up as a friend to Isaac Newton and as a Vagabond, respectively. I found it hard to keep track of just who was related to whom in the noble families mentioned, before deciding that it was better to just give up and enjoy the ride. The name dropping and anachronisms jar occasionally, but all in all, it’s well worth a read. Stephenson has avoided his usual problem of weak endings by making this the first book of a trilogy, so the ending is not the ending at all.

I’m thinking of getting a new phone, which will of course incorporate Bluetooth technology. Currently it’s a toss-up between the Nokia 6600 and the Sony Ericsson T610. Anyone got any experience of either of those? I’d like one with a decent organiser that I can sync with iCal, as I want something which will go beep at me when I’m about to miss important appointments.

Singapore was a good place to visit. I’m not usually a fan of hot places, but since more or less everywhere is air conditioned, there’s always somewhere to retreat to if the 30 °C heat and 70% humidity become too unbearable.

A colleague today referred to what turns out to be William Gibson’s description of Singapore in Wired: Disneyland with the death penalty. Gibson’s article is over 10 years old now, but some of what he says still rings true. What makes Singapore a nice place to visit is that it is Asia-Lite: cheap (at least in Sterling), yet clean and safe, with ethnic areas laid out for the visitor to browse around. The people are friendly and pretty much all speak English to some extent. We saw few policemen about the place: the opinion of our party was not, as Gibson said, that the people had succumbed to the policemen of the mind, but rather that the policemen were among us, plainclothes. But who knows? We weren’t about to drop some litter and find out.

Wired is too hip to like the place, but for all the Disney, Neal Stephenson (him again) and Orwell resonances, I can’t help but admire the vision behind the place. I doubt I’d want to live there, but that’s not because of the problems Gibson has with it. I can imagine that after a while the island would start to seem very small and lacking in scenery. The beauty spots that exist are cheek-by-jowl with construction sites and container ships offshore, just out of shot. But given the choice between what seems a benevolent, if paternal, government and one which mucks around with foreign misadventures while people back home are getting murdered for their mobile phones (a headline to welcome me back, there), it’s not really obvious that the latter is the right one.

The hotel had a phone in the loo. What’s up with that?

The CDC Ball on Thursday was fun. Erin and Anton demoed together, and were very good. There was also a bloke wearing a paper helmet on his head. I think he was some kind of cabaret. The old favourites like the Elimination Waltz were back, too. This was a Good BallTM.

In other dancing news, the chap from Eastenders is still in Strictly Come Dancing, but it’s the public vote that’s keeping him there, so he probably can’t win that way. Clever media management by some of the other contestants, too.

I met Safi and robhu on Saturday afternoon. Rob seems to be some kind of paparazzi stalker figure. cowe had a party on Saturday night. It rocked.

Saw the new Harry Potter on Monday. Darker than the previous film, yet somehow lacking in substance without Voldemort around.

I’m off to Singapore on Friday for a week, with work.

The 28 Days Later scenario is examined by Straight Dope, who tell us when the electric power would run out.

That’s all.

I had an enjoyable weekend. Had dancing and college friends over for a barbeque on Sunday. PaulB turns out to be quite paternal :-). There was an unexpected after-party when some more people arrived just as I’d cleared everything away. We watched Phone Booth, which was suspenseful, short, and, as Salamander pointed out, quite arty for a big release film.

<lj-cut text=”A Fire Upon the Deep”> I finished Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep this week. Vinge is famous for his treatment of the Singularity. He copes with the narrative problem of having inscrutable post-Singularity gods around by positing that the galaxy is split up into concentric zones, with godhood only possible in the outer layers. The book gets rave reviews on SF sites, so it was probably impossible for it to live up to the hype. Like another reviewer out there, I found the manipulation of supposedly sophisticated humans by primitive aliens a bit unrealistic. Nevertheless, it’s worth reading for the ideas. Some similarities between this and Iain M. Bank’s Excession, although I’d say Excession was harder to read.

<lj-cut text=”A History of God”> I also finished Karen Armstrong’s A History of God recently. Armstrong takes us through the history of three monotheistic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The book is heavy going at times, but worth perservering with. Armstrong has a clear bias towards the personal, inner experience of the divine rather than rationalist religious systems. The book shows that the struggles between the people the mystics and the rationalists have been going on for centuries. She also argues strongly against a personal God.

A quotation from Holbach which struck a chord with me as an ex-evangelical. He writes that poets and theologians had done nothing but:

make a gigantic, exaggerated man, whom they will render illusory by dint of heaping together incompatible qualities. Human beings will never see in God, but a being of the human species, in who they will strive to aggrandize the proportions, until they have formed a being totally inconceivable.

In other news, a controversial display of burnt work has divided the world of art into non-identical halves, like a dead bisected animal. Martian.fm has the full story. Classic.

Photos from lisekit and terriem‘s Karoake party are up. The close-ups of faces are courtesy of S, who does that composition thing (as well as being a talented pianist). Thanks for a good party, Terrie and Lise.

I promised Terrie a link to Milkbusters, so there it is.

My computer is unhappy. It freezes or resets itself about 20 minutes after it’s powered on. After that runs for the rest of the day. I’m getting kernel oopses just before the bad stuff happens, which seem to be related to memory paging, so I suspect dodgy hardware.

I could just replace the memory modules and see whether that helps. However, Drogon people have been attempting to convince me that what I really want is one of these fine Apple computers. Apple’s OS X has Unix underneath, and the Fink project makes a variety of open source stuff available to it using the Debian package tools. The PowerBooks look rather nice. They’re also rather expensive. If anyone’s used one, do let me know what you thought of it.

The ensuing discussion of laptops, 802.11, and hence using the computer on the loo made me think of Anthony Hopkins, for some reason.

Had a fine barbeque at PaulB’s last night. I’ve put up some pictures of the goings on. For terriem, here’s the perfect Chris de Burgh karaoke song, from Bill Bailey (I’ve linked to it before, but it seems some people shockingly don’t read all the crap I write).

We also visited Milton Country Park again yesterday. The weather’s just too nice to be indoors all weekend.

In blogland, ladysisyphus posted this and then this about The Passion of Christ, wherein it is revealed that it’s a very bad film. I don’t really like horror films, so I’m not in a desperate hurry to see it.

A copy of a letter to the Grauniad from a raging fundy led me to Steve Locks’s huge site on leaving Christianity. And you thought I was verbose. Lots to read there.

I was quietly moved by aldon‘s posting on the war in Iraq. S sang No Man’s Land to me a little while ago. Unk… I’m divided between admiration of people who will make the ultimate sacrifice for what they believe and Diziet Sma’s far more cynical explanation (it’s in the signature of that posting).

Let’s play out on badgers.

This weekend we went to Walberswick and Southwold, walked along the beach and looked at stuff. As is traditional when soaking up the faded seaside grandeur(OMT), lunch was eaten in the car to avoid the inclement weather.

I’ve also had a spring clean and found my original notes, dated 6th June 1998, on a talk to graduates at StAG on how to avoid plummeting back into the outer darkness when you leave university. I’ve mentioned the talk before, but it was in one of those postings from last year, so, for people who can’t read it, <lj-cut text=”here’s what I said”>here’s what I said:

does this not cause said evangelical Christians to examine their methods as obviously ineffective

Hmm… You’d have thought they would have addressed this, if so many people were giving up on leaving university. I did some further research into this: the UCCF discussion forums contain this posting which confirms it “anecdotally”. However, the UCCF webmaster then says that they know of no survey giving a high percentage falling away and quotes another survey from the 1970s with a large proportion of leavers still carrying on in the faith. I’d a feeling I’d discussed this before, and it turns out I have. Google hasn’t indexed my own postings to the thread, annoyingly, but my own archive has me saying “I thought this was one of those urban legends, but my curate said something before I graduated about the percentage having gone up from the last time the UCCF did the survey.” So, my evangelical church certainly believed it, whethers it’s true or not, and people have a generally feeling that it happens, but there’s no survey known to the CU’s umbrella organisation. Odd.

I heard about the high fall away rate in a talk to leavers about the importance of getting into a good church and not going out with non-Christians (this sucks if you’re a girl anywhere but Oxbridge, I think). So it’s possibly a scare story. But assuming the curate wasn’t knowingly dishonest, which I find hard to believe, I’d say they think that people fall away because they do not look after their faith by establishing themselves in good churches and so on, ie it’s the fallers’ fault, not the CU’s. Christianity does expect some people to give up: take a look at the parable of the sower, for example.

My notes say that over half of CU leavers will no longer be committed within 5 years. It’d be interesting to know where that figure came from, given that the UCCF itself can’t reproduce it. Edited to add: Fall-away rates are discussed a bit more in a later post of mine. But there’s more:

Q1. Why do people give up?

  • World – not being in Χian community.
  • Flesh – sin, eg sexual, or whatever.
  • Devil – “was I ever a Χian?”

Q2. What mistakes did the Israelites make?

  • Idolatry – something takes God’s place.
  • Sexual immorality – 1 Thess 4 love vs lust. Χianity not about being morally perfect but about trusting God for forgiveness.
  • Testing God – pushing the boundaries, rejecting commands.
  • Grumbling.

There’s also the obligatory mention of Hebrews 10, although to my mind that’s about lax Christians (ex-Christians are still doomed of course, but not by that passage, ISTM).

I’m trying to work out where I fit into this little scheme. I never quite felt I fitted in at church, and in fact had a closer circle of friends among the CDC people. It’s interesting how the evangelical obssession with sexual sin comes out here: without breaking confidences, I think it’s fair to say rank-and-file evangelicals are assenting to one thing and doing another when it comes to sex, and that’s certainly a source of guilt and uncertainty. And of course, anyone going through the doubts which must lead up to leaving the church is going to wonder whether their experience was ever real in the first place. Can I have “all of the above”, please Bob?

sitecopy now fulfills my FTP uploading needs, enabling me to maintain my websites without mucking about with Perl or Python scripts. It can be made to look at the files’ hash values rather than modification times, so the BINS program’s habit of regenerating all the thumbnails every time it runs won’t cause sitecopy to upload them all again. Which is nice.

PaulB has pictures of me singing at terriem‘s birthday party. I remember doing “Lady in Red”.

<lj-cut text=”cut for pictures”> I make a particularly good Chris de Burgh. In the words of that Bill Bailey song (1.5 Mb MP3 link):

Beautiful ladies in danger, danger all round the world,
I will protect them, because I am Chris de Burgh.

Beautiful ladies in emergency situations

Beautiful ladies are lovely, but sometimes they don’t take care,
They’re too busy with their makeup, or combing their lovely hair

To take basic safety precautions.

Also me, singing

More pictures from the good almost-Doctor

I have finished Norman Cohn’s Cosmos, Chaos and the World to Come and started on Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent. Cohn says that the early Jews were polytheists who saw the God of Abram as their god but didn’t deny the existence of other gods. It’s interesting to see this played out in the fictional lives of Jacob’s wives in Diamant’s book. I’ll review both of them at some point.