Saturday, 25 December 2010

Merry Christmas!

Hey, hey, hey! We thought you're a radical atheist! What's this now with Merry Christmas?

Slow down my dears... Despite the rumours you might have heard, even radical atheists can be polite, well mannered, and considerate of others. Even those others who have chose to live their lives in a state of delusion, filled with angels, demons, and ghost - maybe even ghosts of Christmases past.

So, while I still want nothing to do with, and could not care less for, any sort of Christian malarkey, I have absolutely no problem to wish anyone who does a very merry Christmas, and generally everything that goes with it. My wishes may also include one for my dear friends to rid themselves of the religious malaise, but I am wont to keep that one silent. At least for Christmas. There's plenty other days in a year when I can try my wicked ways with them, and their problems.

So, my dearest dears, the ones, at least who care about Christmas, have the happiest one ever! Just don't come complaining to me when St Nicholas turns not to be the one he claims he is. Not to mention he may even be a she.

Have fun!

Friday, 24 December 2010

Religious Crutch

Recently, I lamented the fact that I have not yet written about religion as a crutch, a device to prop up those who cannot face the world as it is. And look: the very next post is growing into just such a critique...

Beer: Christmas Ale

For as long as I've been drinking real ales, UK brewers went our of their ways to create special Christmas recipes...

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Business: Delayed

A delayed business-related post...

Language Of Thought

As if by coincidence, The Economist is hosting a debate about whether language we speak influences the way we think only a very short time after I finished reading Steven Pinker's The Stuff Of Thought.

As you may have noticed, I like the book very much. I have found it challenging, thought provoking, and ultimately enlightening. Having read it I could not but agree with Pinker's rejection of the hypothesis that language influences, even determines, the way we think.

Food: Deception Point

When I saw the headline for this titbit I was jawdroppingly surprised...

Monday, 20 December 2010

NEWT'd: Folding@Home

No, this one is not about that venerable distributed computing project...

Rather, I have decided that the right thing to do for NEWT'd is to fold it into my main blog Grey Noughts. I still expect to be posting NETW'd-like notes, only I'll do it alongside the longer musings over at the Grey Noughts. It just didn't make much sense posting to two different places, plus, for some reason, Google consistently refuses to index NEWT'd. You should be able to immediately tell the posts apart as I will strive to keep the two formats as they are: NEWT'd exactly like this one (and no photos in 99.9% of the cases), and Grey Noughts will be longer, and with at least one photo at top left. I also intend to keep posting frequency (substantially) the same.

So, until I see you all over at the Grey Noughts, keep well...

Friday, 17 December 2010

Needs And Musts

If you haven't noticed that my writings here tend to vary in quality (probably a lot), I have.

As you can imagine, I am not quite happy that this is so. Who would be? After all, any normal person strives to do what they do in the best possible way - especially when they're allegedly doing it for themselves.

So, what can be done about this?

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Norwegian Wood v Dubai Gold

As some of you may have noticed I've spent most of last week in Dubai. Or so I thought before I got there. Yes, we knew the hotel was not going to be in Dubai proper, but little did we expect it to be more than 100km away from it. Still, it was a very nice hotel to be in (apparently most Dubai hotels are). But that's not what I want to talk about...

What I do want to talk about is Norway, really. Or rather, how Norway and Dubai are at the same time very much the same, and very, very different.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

A Few Minor Improvements

I've already mentioned elsewhere that Christmas is nigh, but let's see now what I'd really want for Christmas (and yes, it includes you, but no, it is not all about you). Admittedly, most of what I'll wish for below I'll probably only ever get on my death bed - if at all, but hey, not all the wishes can come true, can they?

One: a built-in wireless headset.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Career Climbdown

Another post inspired by something I (was asked to) read in that decent women's weekly glossy that is Grazia. I've no idea if you can read the article on-line. I haven't looked. In case you can be asked the title in the print edition is "Help! I'm having ambition comedown!"

As it would in a women's glossy, it talks exclusively of young women realising that climbing the greasy pole is no longer as attractive an option as they thought. Apparently, they are now looking for alternatives, and in droves.

Grazia having to make some money in the process seems to have opted for a relatively one-sided view of the phenomenon. Namely, they are not really describing women who are giving up on the greasy pole, but women who have got bored of one particular kind, and are now jumping over to the side to a different one. The money making comes from mentioning a couple life coaching companies, by name and website. I initially thought I'd do the same (I'm not allergic to money either), but after looking at their websites I realised one is poorly styled basic operation I wouldn't trust with my pet teddy's career, or life, and the other is a management bull-speak kind of leech company which you may want to hire for your underlings if you are a high flying manager who did not yet realise the pole is greasy...

Now, I have nothing but praise for people discovering "the right thing"™ to do at any point in their lives, giving up everything else, and pursuing their newly found raison d’être. Quite to the contrary. We most certainly need more happy people, than high flying management gurus. What I do disagree with when magazines like Grazia are pushing for it is the tacit suggestion that, while it's OK to turn your good ship around, it is not a desirable, or even viable, option to moor it in the waters you found comfortable and pleasing, the waters which, apart from the day-to-day job of maintaining your good ship (which is your career) may offer some nice diversions which otherwise may not be within such an easy reach. Yes, I am talking here at just applying the breaks - not just taking that junction and joining another fast lane. After all, the Peter Principle is not still considered broadly valid for nothing.

Finally, I must say that I have been advertising both options above to all who would listen for quite a long time now. More importantly, I think I have been taking my own medicine as well. I will not, however, claim that I have been wise from the crib. I have, too, let myself steer my career in the general direction of the top of the greasy pole. In the process some of the things I liked doing the best have, sort of, fallen by the wayside. Yes, I'm still in the general vicinity of them, but no longer on the coal face where I liked to be the most a decade ago.

Oh, I am still enjoying what I do. It's just that the distancing from the coal face, once I realised it happened, made me start to re-evaluate my career, where it's got to, and where it's going. And in this re-evaluation I have come to all of the conclusions of the Grazia article - and then some. I think I have now squarely put myself in the "having moored their good ship" group of people, and I can tell you the waters and the nearby shore are chock full of nice things to do, see, and experience.

Lastly (and unlike "finally" from a couple of paragraphs above this time I mean it), for those who may have an objection to an eternally static mooring, I have to say that it need not be so. It is perfectly possible - even desirable - to up anchor every now and then and choose a different mooring. The general business of running your good ship "Career" may not change much in the process, but the scenery will be new, and you'll get a whole new crew to make it all worthwhile. The plus is often that this new mooring can be quite close to the previous one, thus offering much the same extra-curricular diversions.

So, good people, by all means do evaluate where your own shipping lane is taking you, and change the lane, and its direction as you see fit. Just don't forget that there is one other option, and that is parking in a port for a while, or just dropping anchor by some eye-poppingly beautiful tropical island. Yes, I am urging you to consider just going fishing every now and then. And, if you like it very much you may even consider making it your new career.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

I Have Been Remiss

It is true that one needs to start cleaning from one's own house. But, this most  certainly does not mean one should never even try to point to a mess in the neighbourhood. And, especially when one claims not to belong to any one house in particular, that one is completely opposed to even a notion of a house and would much rather sleep under the moon and the stars (the young lady on the left notwithstanding), then one has absolutely no excuse in not pointing out failings in all houses.

Now, having made my excuse, let me tell you what all the prattle above actually means...

You must be aware that I have written excessively about religion - or rather, against it. However, looking back at my writings they are really very much one sided. Yes, I shout from the rooftops about my atheism - and very loudly - but I only ever seem to rant against Christianity. While I fully believe that all of that criticism is well deserved, I can also see how it may appear one sided. So, alongside the (non)excuse above, and another proclamation of my unwavering atheism, let me say loud and clear that the other major religion of our day, Islam, is not one iota better.

Most recent case in point: private weekend Islamic schools appear to teach their pupils some very unsavoury things. Teachings about hell fire awaiting homosexuals, and about how to best amputate a hand of a thief should not have a place in any modern society. I don't find it acceptable to even think of saying "not here in Britain" or "go teach that somewhere else". These sorts of attitudes have absolutely no place in this day and age. Even deeply religious countries should have by now moved on from medieval, or even thousands of years old teachings.

However, it would be also fair to say that teaching children these things in a very secular and modern country like Britain is not just a bad idea, but a criminal one, too. Criminal, because such children, indoctrinated by the seventh century ideas will either auto-segregate, be segregated, or worst of all, find it called for to try to convert or even punish the non-believers around them. Is that what their teachers have in mind?

Even if such children eventually move to countries where such beliefs are still held (or at least enforced by governments or religious leaders - or both) they will presumably need to communicate, trade, or otherwise work with the rest of the world not sharing their "ideals". We see that already when women travel on business to some Middle Eastern countries. Quite apart of all the limitations they face on the streets (e.g. not being allowed to drive, or wear certain kinds of clothes), they sometimes face discrimination in the business meetings when some of their Middle Eastern business partners refuse to address or even look at them.

Finally, I can't even imagine how an openly gay couple can ever manage to spend a satisfying holiday in some of these places. And anyone interested in making money should know that gay couples are the best consumers there is, usually having two incomes, no kids, and often flamboyant life styles.

But, back to the good old Blighty (or any other European country for that matter), there should be no excuse, and no way to be able to teach such discriminating ideas to anyone. Such textbooks, and such teachers, should be banned. Period. Everything they teach and represent goes against the modern idea of human rights, and humane society. We should all also remember that human rights are not just any idea. They are guaranteed by the European Union law, and also by United Nations charter. If someone can be found in breach of Human Rights Act by making a patient wait too long for a treatment, surely teaching that an adulteress should be stoned to death, or a thief should have their hand or foot cut off breaches, too?

So, from now on, please keep in mind that in my view there is no religion that is innocent of stupidity - or worse (often, sadly, much worse). I may again find myself ranting more about one than the other(s), but this will only be because I tend to hear much more about that one than the other(s). I honestly, and deeply, hold all of them in deep contempt. There is no place for such out of touch systems of ideas and teachings in the modern world. They may have had their value hundreds and thousands years ago. They may even be something that has been evolutionary selected in us poor humans, but what has also been strongly selected in us is plain old intelligence and a drive to better ourselves. Happily, the former enables us to see that the latter does not need religion any more. What's more it also tells us that now, the religion can only be a hindrance. Any religion, and without exception.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Boon, Bane, Both, or None?

I have been chastised for (ab)using my dual citizenship recently. In my Desert Island Discs post I used it to essentially double my allotment of things to take with me to a desert island. Apparently, that's an unfair advantage. Or is it? Let's see...

First, can having dual (or even multiple) citizenship can bring some perfectly legal advantages?

I submit that it can, and in fact does. Take travel, for example.

First, being a dual national you can travel to a set of countries that is a union (in terms of set theory) of the sets possible with either of the citizenships on its own (or at least do so without needing a visa). An unfair advantage? Maybe. Illegal? Not allowed? Sorry, but no. Second, imagine you, being a dual national, travelled abroad (i.e. to neither of your two countries of nationality). While there, something happens and you need your country's help and support. Being a dual national you can tap into either (or even both) of your countries' resources. An unfair advantage? Maybe. Illegal? Not allowed? Sorry, but no. There's surely more examples, but I think these two will suffice for now.

But, does having dual nationality have disadvantages? It sure does. First, if you are in either of your countries of nationality, you are unable to seek help from the other one. This surely is a disadvantage if one of them is "worse" in some respects - and you happen to find yourself in it with a problem (e.g. a military draft). Second... Well, I can't seem to be able to think about the second, but there must be at least one. Instead I will now concentrate on why having dual citizenship may in fact make you worthy of enhanced treatment...

Let's first have a look at the case of economic or political emigration. The case where you left your home country looking for a better life - whatever better life means. This implies that your previous (previous to emigrating) life was less than satisfactory - at least in the eyes of your home country, but also your new home. And, don't we all extend understanding, often even special treatment to those who have suffered? Most of the time we do. So, gaining a dual nationality by virtue of having "escaped" some form of hardship surely entitles one to some leeway?

Next, let's see if a similar argument can be made for those who gain dual nationality by a more pleasant route. Let's assume it is because they are seen as very worthy by their new home country for being very, very good at something. It can be science, it can be art, it can be sport. You take your pick. But, whichever one you choose, you are admitting that such an individual is somehow special and by implication deserving of special treatment.

Now, I won't claim that either of the two paragraphs necessarily describe my case, but surely by extension, even me, as a dual national, deserve at least a little bit of special treatment? Is it really too much to ask to take twice as much music and literature to a place as solitary and sad as even the most beautiful desert(ed) island must be?

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Good Boys Don't Lie! Or Do They?

Let me tell you a little story...

Once upon a time there was a little boy. I like to think he was 9 at the time, but more likely he was 11. I don't know if it makes any difference, but in case it does, we're all safer assuming he was 11. You may also know that at 11 little boys are just that - little. Unlike little girls who seem to be 21...

But I digress - as I am wont to do.

Just bear with me...

This little boy had a birthday party, and many and varied little friends of his attended. As has always been considered good practice his parents were present as well. Well, most of the time. All the children being little (and presumed good) they did pop out for a short time. Not far, mind. Maybe just to the next door neighbours.

In their absence, a glass was broken. There may have been a little colourful spillage even. Nothing major in any case, but still something that would not go unnoticed. It doesn't really matter who did it, apart from the fact that it wasn't the little boy who was having a birthday party.

Back from wherever it was they popped out to, parents naturally noticed the broken glass and/or the spillage. Also naturally they inquired about it with the little boy. Unfortunately (or maybe not, as we shall see later), they chose to also inquire into "who" did it. Not in any menacing way, to be sure. Just a natural question, asked in a natural, not unfriendly tone of voice. After all, they were very good parents.

The little boy, having been brought up by very good parents was not only (generally) well mannered, but also took all their lessons to heart. Including the one which said that good little boys did not lie. They were always truthful - especially to their parents. So, naturally, and without second thought (little boys seldom have second thoughts, anyway), our little boy told his parents exactly who broke the glass. Simple question, simple enough answer, truth told, all was good.

Or was it? Because, what followed was our little boy being chastised for telling on his friend! Apparently, in this particular circumstance (although it was not said in so many words), the right thing to do was to tell a lie, and claim that it was him, our little boy, who broke the glass, thus saving his friend from embarrassment. Hmm. Strange.

Now, I said that little boys do not have second thoughts. And in fact, I still think that's true, and I don't believe our little boy had second thoughts about this strange event, at least not in the way us grown ups (or are we ever?) have second thoughts. Or analyse things. Or maybe the little boys mind worked a bit like mine does now (still?) and he arrived at conclusions in some kind of gestalt manner? Anyway, read on to learn what the little boy learned from the experience...

If you thought that one of the lessons is that to lie is perfectly OK, you'd be very much mistaken. For whatever reason our little boy realised - then or later - that to lie is truly bad in itself. Or rather - and I think the distinction is important - it is the best policy to tell the truth by default. For one, telling a lie tends to make one have to come up with further lies in order to cover the very first one. While doing this is quite possible, sometimes even necessary, it is hugely inconvenient, and requires too much mental work that could be otherwise put to better use (mostly for keeping the "story" consistent).

But, importantly, there are times when telling a lie is the best course of action one can take. This can be for many reasons - one obviously being to save someone we hold dear from embarrassment. Not that the culprit in the story above was necessarily worth the sacrifice.  However, one may need to tell a lie to save themselves from embarrassment. Case in point: our little story. If you are seen to be expected to be protective of others at your own expense you may safe both your and their face by not telling truth. What's best (worst?) one may even gain extra brownie points if it is obvious one lied to protect another - as convoluted as it may sound...

So, quite contrary to what most parents try to teach their children (i.e. that to lie is bad, period), lying is in fact OK, and may even be rewarded by the same people who on different occasions may tell you something very different. What's more, one can be seen to have lied by all concerned and still come out of the experience with one's social status not only unscathed, but in fact improved. As his mother used to tell his wayward son Albert: "All is relative, Albert, my son!". Indeed.

And now to some indirect, yet possibly more profound, lesson our little boy learned from the experience (or at least backdated the realisations to the incident described above)...

Probably the most important "take home" lesson (even though he was at home at the time) was that no lesson - ever - is to be taken literally and at face value. Regardless of who it comes from. Even the parents. Even the parents who one does not have one iota of a reason to doubt in any way whatsoever. Surely, the more trusted the source the less scrutiny may be required, but everything - everything - is to be questioned and played against all other knowledge and experiences. And - and this most certainly came only later - this exercise is to be repeated at regular intervals. This last thing should really be obvious: the knowledge and experience one plays one's lessons against change daily, thus necessitating re-evaluation of anything we decided based on their content in the past.

Were there more lessons in this seemingly small incident in a small child's life? Probably. One of them might have been that, while you may be required to stick your neck out to protect others (even if only with ulterior motives as described above), you should not expect others to do the same for you (our little boy's friend most certainly did not volunteer his confession). It's essentially a game of chicken, waiting to see if you'll be spared by someone's confession of guilt or whatever is in question. And games of chicken are stupid. So, what you do is try to play your hand first and try to get the most of it, however little trumps it holds.

Finally, could little boy's parents have done any better? I doubt it. It is difficult enough to instil the very basics of manners and social norms into your children as it is. To try to teach an 11 year old the nuances of sometimes lying vs always telling the truth is probably well nigh impossible. The best one can hope for is not to get into a situation where confusing messages may be sent. Taking our little boy's story one way of handling the situation might have been to not ask about the culprit at all - after all at parties things get broken, and nobody is ever really at fault. But, it is only human, and natural to instinctively ask "whodunnit".

So, in hindsight, our little boy never really held the incident against his parents. What's more, in due course he actually begun being thankful for the experience, however confusing for his little mind it was at the time. Luckily, his little mind proved capable of wrestling down this particular problem quite efficiently, and came not only on top, but richer and better for it. Luckily, because at age 11 there is not a parent in this world who can vouch that their child will not take exactly the wrong lesson from such an inconsistency. And, taking the wrong lesson can lead to much suffering later. Maybe even suffering caused by one being tied quite tightly to that horrible human invention that is an electric chair...

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Desert Island Discs

As some of you may know, the Desert Island Discs is the BBC Radio 4 programme, created way back in 1942 by Roy Plomley, and currently presented by Kirsty Young. To echo its own web site: "... the format is simple: a guest is invited ... to choose eight records they would take with them to a desert island." I am fairly sure a similar programme used to run on one of the (better) Belgrade's FM stations when I was (much) younger. Whether that programme also included current enhancements to the BBC Radio 4 Desert Island Discs - one book, and one other "comfort" object - I truly don't know.

What I do know, however, is that - unlike current British deputy PM, Nick Clegg - I will probably never be invited to the show. Which, of course, does not stop me wondering what records (and the book, and the object) I might have chosen had I been lucky (i.e. famous and/or important) enough. Also, in the safety of my in inconsequentialness, I can also decide that I, in fact, through my dual nationalityness, deserve to choose two sets of records. To make this unfair advantage ever so slightly fairer, I will consign my self to one set of ex-Yugoslav (and I mean SFRJ) records and one set of "world music" records. I will extend the same rule to books, too, but I will stop at only one object. Fair is fair, after all...

Difficult as the choice is for records, it is much more difficult for books - what with having be allowed only one (each). It is, by extension, even more difficult for the object. Therefore, I shall start with it - the object. First, I will assume that the desert island is a "proper" desert island, i.e. one with no electricity, phones, or even Internet (I do hope it's still one with enough food, drink, and facilities for essnetial ablutions). Unlike Nick Clegg, I don't think I also need to assume that there'll be fire (his "object" was a supply of cigarettes - very controversial and brave choice in this day and age). After all, I could conceivably (and happily) live off veg, fruit, and sushi (it is an island, after all, so I assume ample supply of fish - maybe even shellfish). So, without further ado (but after much deliberation), my object of choice ,to keep me company in my loneliness, is... wait for it... a writing set. Having already succumbed to the delusions of self-importance, and never the one to lose hope, I would very likely want to write down a kind of a diary stroke life story stroke cry for help. And if I am not rescued before I drop dead then I could at least leave my story behind - peppered with (more than) a few choice words for my "rescuers".

The "object" (I know, I cheated - but then Nick Clegg asked for more than one cigarette) out of the way, we come to books. For the "world" book I briefly entertained the thought of One Hundred Years Of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but as much as I love it, I think it would be very inappropriate on a desert island (and I assume it would be just me on the island, right?). Pretty much the same applies to No One Writes To The Colonel - even if I am not one. So, having been cheated by destiny, I decided to cheat a little bit myself and go for Dune, by Frank Herbert - all six of the original series. They do read like a single (master)piece, after all.

While the ex-Yugoslav book choice did not present such a conundrum, I still had to think long and hard. Do I go for Dorotej, by Dobrilo Nenadić - this being by far my most favourite book by a Serbian author, or maybe Igra s hudičevim repom ("A Game with the Devil's Tail") by Vitomil Zupan (Slovenia)? In the end, and again after (very) much deliberation the choice fell on S Krležom iz dana u dan ("With Krleža, day in, day out"), by Enes Čengić. I doubt the last one of the three was ever translated into any language, but if you happen to come across it (or the other two) in a language you can enjoy (no, it's not enough to just "know" it) do give it (them) a go. This, of course, applies to my "world" book choices, too!

And now, for something completely different...

Sorry. I got carried away a little. What's left to list are the records - not films, or TV shows. Although that would be interesting to do, too. But, let's stick to the format, and get on with the choices. At least with records I won't bore you with my uncertainties, and will just present you with two lists. And one caveat. Similar to the case of Dune, I have chosen to consider a double (or even a triple) album as a single record. I think that is very fair, seeing as you'd never accept coming back from the shop wiht just one record out of The Beatles' White Album, for example.

And now, here are the lists, the "world" one again being the first...

The "world" music Desert Island Discs:


The ex-Yugoslav music Desert Island Discs:


Right. I hope you enjoyed it. I also hope you'll try and find at least some of these (books as well) and give them a go. I know I do - often. Yes, I am the type who revisits favourite books every so often, and yes, I listen to my favourite music much, much more than every so often. Now, if only Kirsty Young invited me into her show...

PS
I probably need to create another list of records: my favourite eight classical pieces. I will leave this exercise (no, not to the reader) for later, either as an update to this post or as a brand new one. For now, suffice it to say that my all time favourite classical piece is Mozart's Violin Concerto #5 in A Major (K219, or Turkish). 

Monday, 1 November 2010

Sir, Please Step Away...

A day or so ago, Slashdot pointed me to an interesting (or "interesting"?) article by Poul-Henning Kamp (PHK in further text) at ACMqueue. In the article PHK argues that programming languages should move on from being coded strictly in ASCII, and on to something more expressive, e.g. Unicode. While I may not have written much code in the last several years, I have written a lot of code in many more years before that - all in ASCII, of course. I also cannot claim to be any sort of expert, guru (or even "guru"), let alone visionary, but I do believe that I have a good enough overview of the dark art of programming to be allowed an informed opinion in this matter. Even one that is opposite, and not very flattering to the PHK's proposal. And, as you must have guessed already, I will now tell you all about it...

The first, and probably the most obvious objection to PHK's article is that it is not very rich in either good reasons for adopting a more complex way of coding, or in examples that may be seen as teasers to draw in support for his viewpoint. The former is generally expressed as the dichotomy between "poor" ASCII, with its miserly set of 95 characters, and the alleged richness on offer if we adopt Unicode or similarly complex and "rich" way of expressing computer code. The latter is expressed by quoting a couple of Unicode characters or strings, and even that is done in hexadecimal notation. There's also mention of colour, and a few other styles. This is very, very far from a strong case for a "richer" source code.

And now, a few much more substantiated objections from yours truly...

First, a non-programmer one: the natural language, in this case English. English language, as we should all know, needs but 26 letters, and a handful of signs of punctuation marks. With this meagre set outstanding literature was made possible, as well as science - including software engineering. It is unlikely that Chinese, with its thousands of glyphs, is any better (or worse, for that matter) for expressing human thought (and feeling, for that matter). It is equally unlikely that computer languages will be made any better by simply allowing them to be expressed with more than 95 characters (195, 11950, ... where does it stop?). If anything, it will make them harder to learn. Don't forget, a Chinese speaker (or rather - writer) may not need ever master every single one of the thousands of glyphs that form Chinese alphabet. On the other hand, a programmer, if he is to master the language he's using probably does need to learn every single little detail of its syntax - and that includes every single character available.

Next, while I will happily agree with PHK that character-only, black-and-white displays are a thing of the (ancient) past - and that it's good that they are - and that we may not all still use the (in)famous ASR-33 terminals, even PHK should be able to see that the keyboard in front of him (and me, and you) is, for all intents and purposes, the same one as on ASR-33! We may have a couple more modifier keys, a numeric keypad (which just duplicates some keys), and a row of "function" keys, but we all in fact still do use the ASR-33. What this means is that we (still) have to jump through hoops to enter any of the "special" characters outside simple ASCII. Your options are, roughly: assign (and remember) extra key combinations to existing keys - some of them may require two modifier keys, too (e.g., Ctrl-Shift-P for ¶); hunt for the desired "special" character in the Character Map-style applications (as I did just now for that ¶). There may be other (and slightly better) ways, but they would all have to somehow bypass the simplicity of the standard QWERTY keyboard. Or, we'll all (or at least all programmers will) have to buy new, as yet unreleased, special keyboards with much more than 100-odd keys. Goodbye, coding on a laptop!

PHK also calls for the line length conventions to be broken. With the large screens of today, why not let code stretch far more than a few dozen characters? Well, one good reason not to is that very long lines are very hard for a human to parse. For one, reading a very long line may (will?) require a person to turn their head from side to side - for each and every long line, row after row after row. So, reading code becomes not only a difficult mental task, but also physically demanding. Add neck injuries to the carpal tunnel syndrome! Alternatively - probably because he realised the previous problem, even if he didn't say so - PHK calls for extra width to be used to display subroutines alongside the code that invokes them - as if that was not already both possible and done. Every programmer's editor worth its salt allows you to open multiple windows and arrange them on screen in any way you wish (including the possibility for two or more windows to scroll synchronously). So nothing new there, then. A pointless point, if you will.

What's left then of PHK's arguments and suggestions?

Well, not having much of an argument for his case in the first place, what's left to comment on is the suggestion for use of colour (as in colour coding of syntax), and presumably other text attributes (bold, underline, italics, strikethrough, or maybe a combination thereof?). These are all (or at least most of them) already in use in any decent programmer's editor. I guess PHK would want them standardised, or at least standardised per every new "rich" programming language. Aside from the fact that applying such attributes requires extra keystrokes (and good programmers are lazy and dumb, as you probably know already), there would be an uproar from all the people who chose, and got used to, all the different styles of colour coding today. Oh, and PHK never says what sort of thing different colours or styles would denote: maybe a "stop" would make the code stop quicker, and in a less safe way than just "stop", or even "stop" (the last one maybe meaning "please stop? pretty please?")? And, what about all those colour blind people? How about dyslexics who already struggle with English alphabet?

Here is a good (cheeky) example of what new PHK-style code might one day look like. Maybe it will soon take place alongside all the other possible (and fun) renditions of the famous "Hello, world." program. That's all as may be, but I know a few things for sure. Or at least I have hopes that some things will never be coded in a colourful, Unicode-rich, a mile-long-line-of-code way. Would you trust your life to an auto-pilot, cruise-controlled car, or a robot surgeon if it was programmed in a language where "stop" is different from "stop". Or, a bit less (or more?) scarily, would you subject your child to a course of such a programming language? Even if it wasn't dyslexic or colour blind. I know I wouldn't...

Friday, 29 October 2010

Whose Body Is It, Anyway?

This is not a review of the Stiff. Apart from a hearty recommendation, that is. Do read it. It is very good indeed. In fact it was such a good read that it set me thinking - which is an unmistakable sign of a good book, by the way. I also learned something. Well, actually, I learned a lot. I can't say I was too well versed into stuff that happens to people once they're already dead. Best of all, it made me change my mind (to an extent, at least). And if you know me, you must realise how difficult that is. Let me then tell you what's it all about...

First, have you ever thought about what would you like to happen to you once you're dead? In answering this question, did you spot the first fallacy? Did you ever give any thought to the fact that once you're dead, there is no more "you" to speak of. There is now just a body - a lump of meat and bone, really - and, if you're deluded religious, maybe a "soul" or whatever is headed for heaven, hell, or whatever fate your particular flavour of delusion religion "teaches" you. For my purposes, I will disregard the latter option, and that will lead me back to the title of this post. let me present it to you in it's expanded, full form:
There being no "you" any more, who does the body that is left behind belong to now?
I am not going to go into (or anywhere near) any legal implications of the above, but I will confidently state that it most certainly does not belong to you. There being no "you" any more, that should be perfectly clear and indisputable. And now we can go back to another question I already asked. I will again rephrase is slightly for your convenience:
Have you ever thought of mandating what happens to your body after you die?
Where I'm really aiming at with this is, if you have thought of dictating the fate of your dead body, maybe you should think again. One reason is that, as we've seen above, that body is not really - or rather not at all - yours any more. Not being yours, what right you have to make any demands on it? Remember, by the time the question of what happens to the body comes up there is no "you" to have any stake in it.

This is where I have come to agree with Mary Roach: in all reality, your dead body belongs to your surviving nearest and dearest. It is they who have to continue living with both your death, and memories of your life. It would only be sensible, not to mention sensitive to their needs, to let them deal with your death - and your dead body - in any way that will make their lives easier. It is, for all intents and purposes, their body - the one that you left behind.

Does this mean that you should not make any wishes be known for the fate of your remains? Not at all! Do let your nearest and dearest know of all your ideas and plans, but with one big caveat attached: make it clear that they need not follow your wishes if, when the time comes, they do not feel comfortable doing so. And you need to make that caveat amply clear, too, not just let it be assumed. Otherwise, especially if your nearest and dearest have religious delusions ideas of an afterlife, they may be bullied by your all-seeing "soul" into something they wouldn't otherwise do.

So, by all means become and organ donor, or bequeath your body to science, but let the living make the final call. Who knows, they may even love you (or rather the memory of you) so much that they will honour your wishes even if they themselves do not necessarily agree with them. It won't matter to you either way.

Oh! I guess you also wanted to know what my position on the matter was before reading Stiff. I've no problem telling you that I had ideas of detailing everything that should (and should not, for that matter) happen to "my" dead body, no ifs and no buts. I also have no problem telling you that I still plan to do it, but now with the added caveat I have just explained above.

But will I tell you what that plan may entail? Sorry, but no. Or maybe, yes, but not here.

PS
I know it is well nigh impossible to imagine the not-being, but that is not the proof of there being an afterlife. It is probably more a proof of the efficiency of evolution: there is no evolutionary benefit in being able to think of oneself - or rather, non-existence of oneself - after one has died. Being able to do so will not enhance your chances of leaving viable offspring one iota. In fact, being a brainy nerd who can, and does, probably means you have much less chance of getting any sex at all, let alone the sort that has a chance to lead to offspring. If you don't believe me, just go to a singles' bar and try to strike a conversation along these lines...

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Hear, Hear: The Adventure Of English

I have a confession to make: The Adventure of English shouldn't really be figuring in My Reading List. The reason? I haven't actually read it as such. You may now ask, and rightly so, how could I have then rated it (and so highly) - not to mention this attempt at a review? The fact is, I have actually listened to it. And what a wonderful experience it was, too!

As you may, or may not, remember this is not the first audio book I "read", and also not the first I am reviewing. And while I enjoyed the experience of The Grand Design (even if I found faults with it), I would dare say that The Adventure of English is best enjoyed as an audio book, with just reading it off the paper coming only a distant second.

Dealing with the history and development of English language, it is - quite naturally - full of quotations from various versions of English, but also other tributary languages. Now, you may be an expert in all the tongues, ancient and modern, but I am not. And it has nothing to do with being a native speaker of English (or not, as the case may be). So, pretty much anyone reading the book off the paper will be denied the sound of a lot of the quotes. The language being, first and foremost, a spoken affair this is indeed a great loss, and at times will certainly hinder full enjoyment, maybe even understanding, of the book.

Not to be misunderstood, the book will certainly be a joy to just read. It really does justice to the title, portraying the history and development of the English language as a true and proper adventure. At times it reads more like a dramatised history novel than a treatise on language. It certainly makes the history and development of English language sound exciting, interesting, and important.

All this is not to say that other languages' histories are any less interesting or important. Of course they are, each in its own way. And that surely applies also to the languages where attempts have, and are still being made, to prescribe and restrain them (notable examples being French and German). All of them certainly deserve their own history books. If such books do exist, and are only half as good as The Adventure of English they will have been very well served indeed.. If not, prospective authors could certainly do worse than look to The Adventure of English for guidance and inspiration.

By now you must have noticed a conspicuous lack of detail about what exactly can be found inside this book, and may be wondering at the sort of review this is. Well, for one, I never said this was a review (or if I did I didn't really mean it). Consider this just a pointer towards a book very well written, hugely interesting (if languages are your thing, and probably even if they aren't), and well worth a read. Or rather, much better enjoyed being read out by a good voice actor. This may be one of those rare cases where spending a lot more - both money and time (it is a good 12 hours worth of listening) - on an audio book does make sense.

Oh, and one thing that wouldn't make sense at all: reading a translation...

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Introducing: My Reading List

By popular demand (yeah, right!), I have decided to tell the world+dog about my reading habits.

Sort of.

While I may still treat you, my faithful readers (all two or three of you), to an odd book review (or three), this is not an announcement of that particular type of post becoming in any way regular. Instead, I am taking a shortcut and at the same time inviting you to find out more about what I read - yourselves!

As of today, this page will be regularly updated with information about books (and booklets) I have read. To help you along a little bit, I am including links to a good bookseller, sometimes a link to an author's web presence, my rating of the title in question (out of 10), and last but not least, a (potential) link to a post of mine that reviews - or at least talks at reasonable length - about the book in question.

As the page itself mentions, the list is presented in reverse chronological order, the top titles being the ones I read most recently (and some I am in the process of reading). I've cast my mind's eye as far back in the past as I could while being able to vouch for any accuracy. Sadly, this means that the list stretches back barely more than six months. It may also be missing a few titles between three and six months "old". One thing I can guarantee, however, is that as of October 2010 the list will be kept up to date.

So, there you have it then. Food for (my) thought(s) laid bare for all to see - and share...

Please come in, and help yourselves...

Monday, 18 October 2010

X Factor (And Becks) Beat God Any Day

As promised, here's a re-post from an unusually long, and not so unusually not news related post on my other blog, NEWT'd. Also as promised, I've changed the title to something more appropriate and apt. And I've added the mandatory pic at the top (yes, it is a shameless plug)...

I am half way through a rather charming The Fry Chronicles, a sort of a sequel to an even more charming Moab Is My Washpot, both by that superbly charming Stephen Fry (and no, I am not gay).

So, you may (rightly) ask, what does that have to do with religion? After all, Stephen is not known for his religiosity - to put it ever so mildly. How could a very gay, very much Jewish of origin English public school and Cambridge educated man, steeped very deeply indeed into the Christian tradition be in any way connected to religion? Unless it is to renounce it, of course. And, make no mistake, renounce it he does. What I wanted to share here is a view of a particular religious nonsense that something I read in The Fry Chronicles made me realise we share. Indeed, after the first sentence (the one with Aaron in it) I already started composing a little post to elaborate on it in my own words. But as you do, I kept reading. And having kept reading I found Stephen expanding on it, and so much better than I ever could. Therefore, I decided not to bother, and hoping it falls within fair use rights, treat you to the whole thing, straight from the book. Verbatim, as it were. So, with greatest of thanks to Stephen, and apologies if I'm trampling on his intellectual property rights, here goes:
In the story of the Ten Commandments I was always on the side of Aaron. I liked his golden calf. Biblical colour plates for children showed it garlanded with flowers, revelling idolaters dancing happily around it, clashing cymbals and embracing each other with wild, abandoned joy. The music and the hugs were clinching proof (especially the cymbals) in the minds of Victorian illustrators that Aaron's followers were debauched, degenerate, decadent and doomed to eternal damnation. With the party in full swing, Moses returns with those fatuous tablets tucked under his arm, dashes them petulantly to the ground, melts the golden calf and grinds it to powder, which he mixes into a drink that he forces all the Israelites to swallow. Next, being such a holy man of God, he slays 3,000 men before hauling his vengeful arse back up Mount Sinai to get a second batch of commandments. I think we can celebrate the fact that we now live in a culture, flawed or not, that instantly sees that, while Aaron may be a weak voluptuary, his brother is dangerous fanatic. The gilt bull beats the guilty bullshit any way you choose to look at it. We humans are naturally disposed to worship gods and heroes, to build our pantheons and valhallas. I would rather see that impulse directed into the adoration of daft singers, thicko footballers and air-headed screen actors than into the veneration of dogmatic zealots, fanatical preachers, militant politicians and rabid cultural commentators.
You'll find this at position 3959 in the Kindle edition of the book.
So, there you have it. Oh, and I almost titled this post: X Factor Beats God Hands Down...

PS
Apologies for a long post. I will consider moving/copying it to Grey Noughts. With the proper title, too. Heck, I'll do it NOW. I'll just make sure you see it here first.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

A Right Ti(m)e To Die

Is there a right time (or a way) to die?

We always read about "devastating sudden deaths", but also of equally devastating deaths after a "long illness". Then there are those horrible people who die too young - where "too young", on a case by case basis, tends to take any value you care to think of between 1 and 71 years old. And, of course, nobody's jumping for joy even when a centenarian keels over. Well, in any case not always...

Is there a way to die then, and avoid, if not grief of family and friends, then any of the above (and worse) exultations? After all, to die is as natural a thing as to live or be born. That's what life's all about: living, but dying, too. If it wasn't, can you just imagine having every single one of your ancestors come to your 10,000th birthday party - up (or down) to and including the very first "replicator" that gave rise to a gene, that gave rise to... I can, and while I admit it'd be quite fun for the fist, oh, let's say 119 birthdays, I'm sure it's very quickly grow old and boring. I certainly wouldn't know what to do with all those socks and sweaters!

So, we shall agree (or at least I will) that there's nothing really wrong with dying. In the wise words (well, a shout, a scream even, if you will) of a Nate from Six Feet Under: "Everybody dies! Everybody!" (if I haven't read too much Pratchett for my own good, I'd have adorned the quote with much more exclamation marks). And they do. Trust me. Whatever some sillytraditional (and otherwise) religions may tell you.

Do I mean to say that there are deaths that need not be mourned? Of course not! To mourn someone's death is only natural. There is nothing wrong with mourning. My beef here is with those - usually outsiders to the death in question - that feel the need to grade it, as it were. I am sure that families and friends concerned couldn't care less about such "grading". They're certainly too busy feeling their loss, and in a very private way that really does not concern outsiders.

So, in the final analysis, is there a right time (or a way) to die? Of course not! But in the same breath, any time is as good as any other. It is slightly different with a way, though. For the one actually dying, surely any way will not be the same as any other. Also for those who genuinely (by which I mean closely) cared for them - friends, family, and suchlike. In this particular area this may even spill over into all well-meaning (or even ill-meaning, in their own evil way) bystanders.

But again, I have to come back to what transpires to be the crux of my argument: however and whenever one dies, it is to be hoped that outsiders, bystanders, and others who come to feed on the news, should really refrain from trying to pass judgement on whether it was too early, too difficult, or whatever "grade" they want to award it. This judgement is not theirs to pass. It may not even be the surviving family's and friend's. Really, the only person who know, or could know if they weren't dead already, is the deceased. But as already mentioned, they're dead. They are no more (to paraphrase the iconic, no historic Dead Parrot Sketch). So they can't actually pass any judgement. Even if they wanted to.
A side note to believers into "life after death"

I will indulge your delusion here for a moment to demonstrate that even if true (which would be extremely ridiculous, but anyway...) my conclusion above stands - at least as far as the inability, or in your case inapplicability, of the deceased passing judgement on the quality and timing of their own death.

Let's assume the typical Heaven & Hell scenario...

Option 1: The deceased was deserving of Heaven. They die and are transported to a place of eternal bliss, happiness, virgins, or whatever rocks the particular religion's boat. Once they realise where they are, someone comes up to them and wants to inquire about  the manner and timing of their death, or rather, the quality of each. What is the most likely reply to this query going to be? If you ask me, any person deserving of Heaven hopefully has enough wits about them to reply: "Does it really matter? I'm in Heaven, for Heaven's sake!".

Option 2: The deceased was a right bastard - or at least offending their unknowable deity of choice (or their parent's choice more likely - it's worrying how little say people have in these matters). So, after dying in whichever manner and at whichever hour they find themselves a) cooking in a cauldron of oil, b) freezing to death, c) surrounded by virgins (there's no accounting for tastes), d) whatever. For one, do you really think there'd be someone down (or up) there who cared in any way about how the new arrival got there? And even if there were, do you think that said new arrival would care to compare the potential agony of death to a certain eternal agony of, well, death? In any Hell worthy of its name it is to be assumed that anything that went on before you got there was infinitely better, almost by definition. Otherwise, some would find it a Heaven - and most deities would not allow that. How else would they be able to maintain their street cred?

Option 3: For those who believe there is also a purgatory I'm afraid there's no hope, so I won't even try to entertain them with more than this sentence - at least it's longish...
So, yes. Even the Bible thumpers seem to deserve to be left alone in death. At least for them it just might be an actual place, with actual things to do (however unpleasant). For us others, who fully expect to just cease to be, well, let our families and friends retain their dignity in mourning by not imposing on them the "degrees" to which it should go.

QED

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Repost: You're Too Old For That!

I thought this was worth re-posting...

Regardless of how old you are you must have heard it, too. Almost as soon as we can walk and talk we start hearing this horrible admonition:

"You are too old for that!"

And, in a few select cases, this may even be true. For example, you may really be too old to hope to be able to run 100 metres in less than 10 seconds, or a mile under 4 minutes (for some, under 30 minutes). You may even be too old to father (or bear) a child. Even if all the systems are still go, it may be unfair to orphan your own child too soon. After all, nobody lives forever...

Some other things we are being told not to do, because it "does not become your age", are, if I may put it very mildly, silly. Who is it decides you're too old for that t-shirt? That hat? You can look silly in either, or both, true, but that has nothing to do with age, does it? In most cases you'd have looked silly in them at any age anyway. Then, there's "acceptable" art forms to enjoy, and pastimes to indulge in. The list of examples is, well, endless. I'm sure I'm too old for this blog, too!

So, is there anything that should be done about this? There's no doubt something must!

My suggestion, and personal approach, is to just shrug it off without looking back. Do you enjoy shooting monsters while on the train even if you're well past forty? Go and buy that Sony PSP and knock yourself out (or better yet, some Nazis). Just make sure you use headphones or a SWAT team may board at the next stop! Did that t-shirt with a silly slogan, and even sillier colours catch your eye? Buy it, and wear it proudly, even if you're sixty (or even sixty-four)!

Finally, what to say to all those who keep telling you're too old?

Well, you can either just shrug them off, too, or tell them they're way too young to be so serious about things! And for their next birthday buy them something to make them cringe!

Monday, 11 October 2010

Lisbon: European Trinidad

I suspect that Portuguese (and other Lisbon-lovers) might just want to have my guts for garters after reading this post, but then I never said I was here to please anyone (apart from myself, of course)...

But wait, you may say, Trinidad (the one in Cuba) is quite high;y regarded as a tourist destination. And I will concur - happily. I've been there. Have you? Yes, it is a nice specimen of colonial architecture, and still harbours almost tangible ghosts of times past. Yet, it is a sad town to behold all the same.

The reason for this is - and if you've been you'd have to be blind not to have noticed - is that it is so horribly dilapidated that it almost made me physically sick. And Lisbon, well, it most certainly is not in anywhere near as ruinous state as Trinidad, but for a western European country it is most decidedly in a sad state of repair. Or rather, in quite a bad need of a lot of repairs. To be honest, a large part looks as if people fled with no plan of ever returning - whole buildings empty, crumbling, and boarded up. And I'm talking very close to city centre here (see photo on top, for one example, not five minutes walk from the high street).

There's a fair bit to be seen, for sure. There's history, architecture, art - the usual lot of an ex-colonial power capital. Unfortunately, most of what is there to see (and worth seeing) is marred by bad organisation - something that seems to be a very Portuguese thing. It's either unclear how to go about seeing something - and what actually is important to see once you do get inside, or there are massive queues for no good (or at least no apparent) reason whatsoever.

Oh, if you expected me to now list attractions and tell you what to see (or not) in Lisbon you've come to the wrong place. There are much better guides, both in content and style than I can ever attempt to create. Plus, I run a risk of putting you off too much, by being left cool by things that you may actually like.

Instead, I will give just a few dos and don'ts from my (admittedly short) Lisbon experience. I think they'll stand you in good stead, being quite practical. And because I expect you to be good, I may even throw in a place or two that you actually should go and see.

Now, without further ado, my dos and don'ts of Lisbon:

DO: Go to and see Lisbon. It is well worth a weekend. But not much more.
DON'T: Do it at the height of the tourist season. Queues for everything are only just bearable outside it.

DO: Take a taxi from the airport. The queue is horrendous, but it actually moves quickly. And it's cheap.
DON'T: Laugh at the way armed policeman direct who goes into which taxi.

DO: Get all your tourist information beforehand. Tourist information points either aren't or are hidden behind a massive queue.
DON'T: Buy a Lisbon Pass. The public transport is cheap as it is, and there are better museums elsewhere.

DO: Go see Castelo de Sao Jorge, Torre de Belem, and Jeronimos Monastery.
DON'T: Go see the latter two other than on a Sunday between 10am and 2pm when they're free.

DO: Go see Torre de Belem first thing, before the queue snakes for a mile.
DON'T: Try jumping the queue to the top. This is where the Portuguese get very, very mad.

DO: Go into the long tiled room in Jeronimos Monastery - and try the acoustics by raising your voice. Fabulous.
DON'T: Go into Jeronimos before the end of the mass when the queue beggars belief. But make sure you get in before 2pm when they start charging - it's not quite worth paying for.

DO: Have a look at the old lift in the centre of the city.
DON'T: Bother queueing to get up only to have a look and get down. Views are better from the Castelo de Sao Jorge, and the Se.

DO: Try proper home made Portuguese cuisine (even if it looks repulsive).
DON'T: Bother with the famous patisserie in Belem. The "famous" pastries are substandard.

So, it seems you have been a good audience, and I have rewarded you with a few sightseeing cues and clues. Well done. To finish off this little travelogue (hey! look! I didn't split the infinitive!) here's a final thing not to do:

DON'T: Visit Lisbon if there's any chance of rain stronger than a brief shower. Any strong rain (and we had more than our fair share) will make streets, shops, and even four star hotels flood. And the foru star hotel when flooded, everybody knows this, suffers from a power cut. For which it does not have either a emergency diesel generator, or a supply of safe lights for the guests. We had to settle for a handful of mood candles from the bar, kindly donated by the barlady. reception didn't have any, and in any case were too busy phoning the fire department (for whatever reason, one would thing that coast guard would have been more appropriate), and trying to shove all the water from the reception back into the street - with limited success (after failing miserably to stop it coming in in the first place by throwing a few snow white hotel towels in the floor). The inept hotel name? Jeronimos 8. It is an excellent hotel otherwise, but in an emergency - well, a bit of torrential downpour which can't be so much out of character for a city on the Atlantic ocean - totally useless. Polite, pleasant and attempting to be helpful, but still useless.

Do you still want to go see Lisbon?

No?

But you'd be wrong! It is worth seeing.

Have a look at some of the photos here.

It's just that you should manage your expectations.

Very carefully.

Monday, 4 October 2010

(No) More Tea For Me, Please

Or: How blogging does not (always) lend itself to dead tree trilogies.

After slogging through Down Among The Dead Men, Amazon recommendations page threw up a real pearl (and trust me, it doesn't do so very often - even after being their customer for almost a decade). Understandable, really, as the pearl also deals with medical profession, only this time it is one tiny step removed from the mortuary. Maybe not so obvious from the title, Blood, Sweat, And Tea deals with day to day experiences of the London Ambulance Service paramedic.

The book came about after the success of the Random Acts Of Reality blog. It is an excellent, and gripping read, too. Unfortunately, it received much less publicity than Belle De Jour - but then, sex is always easier to shift than pain, sickness, and death. I also doubt that Blood, Sweat, And Tea will ever make it into a TV series (not that it was any good, mind you). Fortunately, it was (much) more than a fizzle in the pan Sex At Oxbridge decidedly was (and still is - I just had a look).

So far so good.

Not a lot of reading time later (did I mention it was a gripping read?) I was looking at the Amazon recommendations page again. And, lo and behold, there was a sequel sitting there. I actually didn't mind the unimaginative title of More Blood, More Sweat and Another Cup of Tea. Quite a mouthful, and as I said not very creative, but it was definitely in character. And it is the character of the first instalment that I liked (alongside all the other good stuff there, of course).

Excellent!

A minute later, the book was on my Kindle. Half an hour later, and I started to hear a faint fizzle. Quickly checking the kitchen (Kindle in tow, of course) I realised nothing was cooking (I was home alone at the time, after all). Going back to a more comfortable reading spot I continued looking for more of the three fluids from the title. Unsurprisingly, all three were there alright. Sadly - and unfortunately, and on reflection, not unsurprisingly either - all three have gone off, ever so slightly. The blood clotted a long time ago (at a guess, a few months after the first book was published), the seat had a bit of a staleness to it (from overexertion and rinse-repeat of both the job, and the book), and tea was really cold and weak (the latter very likely due to the tea bag having been reused one time too many).

Now, don't get me wrong. The second instalment is almost as good a read as the first one - even if one can detect ever so slight a strain showing at the seams. This is most likely due to two factors. First, I believe the author also felt that the sequel does not necessarily bring anything radically new to the table, and has tried his best to spice it up. He did a rather good job of it, but the effort shows, and that makes it ever so slightly annoying. Second, there is a visible effort to make the text more book-like, rather than having a raw pace and feel of the original - which was very obviously just ever so slightly edited copy of the blog itself. Which was a good thing. The thing that made the read so lively, gripping, and ultimately powerful.

So, while I do believe that the author deserves the increased income from a book deal (even if the Kindle edition of both books are free), I also think it serves to show how various written forms - and possibly blogging in particular - do not necessarily, or easily, translate into each other. You can no more turn a book into a (successful) blog by posting a chapter every now and then - as you run out of book sooner or later, and a blog wants to be a perpetual publishing outlet, than you can (most of the time) turn a successful blog into a book - especially not a series of books. It is one thing popping round a blog every now and then to check what's new (or not, as the case may be), and quite another to pick up a book with the same content and feel compelled (as you do with books) to read it all in one sitting. And when the blog deals with a subject that is - by its very nature - rather repetitive, publishing book after book of essentially the same stuff surely isn't a very clever (or successful) thing to do.

Not to mention that it is quite difficult to keep even a blog on a single subject interesting for a very long time. You just need to pop over to the three I mention here (and elsewhere on this blog) and see for yourself. Oh, and I am also painfully aware that it is quite literally impossible to keep a hodge-podge blog like the one you're reading interesting in the first place. Which is not to say that: a) I will not continue writing it (I do it for me, after all), and b)I will not continue having (strong), and expressing, opinions - and advice - about others. Since they more likely than not do not read this I might as well. If they do, so much the better - for them.

In the meantime, I'll somehow manage to wade through the remainder of the More Tea, but next time I think I may think twice before picking up a sequel to a blog-cum-book. There's too much to read, and so little time to read it in already that I need to start economising. Or learn speed reading... Or maybe not, as I think this quote from Woody Allen is quite telling:
I took a speed reading course and read 'War and Peace' in twenty minutes. It involves Russia.
'Nuff said...