liv: Bookshelf labelled: Caution. Hungry bookworm (bookies)
([personal profile] liv Jun. 21st, 2017 06:06 pm)
Recently read: Not reading much or posting much at the moment because [personal profile] cjwatson is visiting and I'm mainly paying attention to him. I'll update here later in the week, probably.

Currently reading: Nearly finished: Too like the lightning by Ada Palmer. I'm really enjoying the resolution of the political intrigue plot, but I'm a bit annoyed by the sophomoric speculation on the philosophical implications of sadism.

Up next: All the Birds in the Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders.

Music meme day 8 of 30

A song about drugs or alcohol

Two from opposite ends of the spectrum: my ex-gf used to sing me this ridiculously soppy song, Kisses sweeter than wine by Jimmie Rogers. Which is really only tangentially about alcohol but it's connected to happy memories for me. And I couldn't leave out the most explicitly druggy song in my collection, Heroin, she said by WOLFSHEIM.

two videos )
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([personal profile] jack Jun. 19th, 2017 05:23 pm)
I've bashed my head on this before but not got a specific answer. Now I read through it in some more detail.


In West Wing episode 1, Josh insults some evangelical christian leaders. In a meeting trying to resolve this, the following happens.

* One of them proposes a radio address (presumably by the president) on a topic important to them, including public morals, school prayer or pornography. Apparently meaning "people in school should not have access to condoms", "people in school should be forced to perform christian prayer" and "we don't quite know what we want you to do but we're very upset about pornography".

* There is a muddle of people speaking at once, and he cuts in again, saying, "I'd like to discuss why we hear so much talk about the First Amendment coming out of this building, but no talk at all about the First Commandment."

* He says, "The First Commandment says 'Honor thy Father'."

* Toby breaks in, and says that's wrong, that's the third commandment. He is very long-suffering.

* He says, what is the first then?

* The president enters the room and quotes: "I am the Lord your God. Thou shalt worship no other God before me."


I'm fairly sure the intended impression is, talk show guy spoke without thinking and screwed up something basic, Toby and the president correct him.

But firstly, the first commandment seems SO basic, it's hard to see how he could get it wrong. Whether or not he's a good Christian overall, quoting the commandments, especially the first one, seems like the sort of thing he'd do all the time.

Secondly, when I first heard it, I assumed this was "honor your father and mother", but now I wonder if it's supposed to be honoring *God* thy father. Although that doesn't quite fit any of the specific sentences either.

I'm not sure if the commandment he was quoting was supposed to be directly related to the previous discussion or not. Either of the possibilities doesn't seem directly relevant to the school stuff, but it's possible it is in a way that's only familiar if you know the usual arguments people make.

Several people point out that all the people involved have *different* traditional commandment numbering. Toby is Jewish. The christian leaders are protestant. And the president is catholic. I assume in America the protestant version is widely known and often considered canonical? I spent some time on wikipedia checking the different traditions for how to break up the commandments into ten.

But that doesn't seem to fit much better. The president could be quoting the protestant version (or possibly a slightly abbreviated catholic version?)

There's no way to make "honor thy father and mother" into 1 or 3, it's 5 for both protestants and jews (and 4 for catholics).

It could instead be "have no other god" or "don't take God's name in vain" but that doesn't quite fit, either the numbers or the quote.

My best guess is that someone wrote an exchange that worked, probably based on the traditional protestant numbering[1]. And then it got edited for various reasons, and ended up in a version which sounded good but didn't actually make sense.

The best alternate explanation is (a) Christian leader guy genuinely didn't know what the first commandment was (or forgot in the heat of the moment) (b) Toby was trolling by deliberately making something up, knowing no-one could call him on it as he had a different numbering anyway (c) the president (an intellectual catholic) knew the confusion of the numbering, but quoted a first commandment that would be expected to protestants and wasn't exactly wrong by his own tradition.

But to me that seems too complicated, if all that was supposed to be there, there'd be more indication. The mistake would have been one where it's more clear how he came to make a mistake. Toby would have sounded different if he was blowing smoke than if he was correcting people. There'd be some acknowledgement that SOMEONE would have known the first commandment, that this isn't exactly an obscure piece of theological trivia the president researched.

[1] West Wing does much better at research than most shows, but they seem to research a particular topic, it still seems like minor things not the main theme of an episode get overlooked sometimes.

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([personal profile] jack Jun. 19th, 2017 12:00 pm)
Community. Rewatched first two series. Got bored in series three. I think there was still a lot of good things after that, but I wasn't as excited by each episode.

Rewatching s1 of west wing. Still very good. See twitter for running commentary. It's strange that WW made so many things famous you can't look up if they're true or not, you just find they were in the WW.

When I was being excited by Natural History of Dragons #3, I forgot to say, they investigate translating an ancient syllabary language. made me think of rochvelleth :)

Watched Doctor Who "Veritas". Some things are tedious: that's not how computers work, and that's not how random numbers work. It's almost the opposite. But overall I enjoyed it quite a lot.

Read the latest wild cards. Weird that it just happens to be set in Taraz (Talas) in Kazakhstan when ghoti et al are visiting that country. Although it unfortunately doesn't include much actually specific to Kazakhstan.

There's so many things that are really interesting about the wild card books. Partly that lots of famous authors show up writing a really different style of thing to what they usually write, often more straightforwardly engaging. Partly that main characters in one story thread show up as minor characters in other story thread, and you get a good triangulation on them, how they think of themselves vs how different people see them -- often with no Word-of-God on which is more accurate.
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([personal profile] jack Jun. 18th, 2017 05:07 pm)

OK, I'm going to assume everyone who wanted to think about the original problem unspoiled has probably done so, and assume comments have rot26 spoilers from here on.

Read more... )
liv: alternating calligraphed and modern letters (letters)
([personal profile] liv Jun. 15th, 2017 12:46 pm)
A song to drive to. I don't drive, and most of the drivers I'm frequently a passenger with don't listen to music while they're driving, or just listen to the radio rather than deliberately chosen stuff. What I most associate with driving is that when we were children we used to go on long drives to go on holiday, usually to Wales, sometimes to the north of France by ferry, and that was the only time we were allowed music in the car. We only had a few tapes, so what I most associate with driving is several Flanders and Swann albums. Probably my favourite is Misalliance: video embed, actually audio only )
Particularly because it manages to find some really brilliant rhymes for honeysuckle: We'd better start saving - many a mickle mak's a muckle / and run away for a honeymoon, and hope that our luck'll / take a turn for the better, said the bindweed to the honeysuckle.

Also because it works as a straight love story about anthromorphized plants, and also as a joke about political polarization which feels surprisingly current for a song written in the 1950s: Deprived of that freedom for which we must fight / to veer to the left or to veer to the right. A lot of F&S stuff has been thoroughly suck-fairied, because a key part of their humour is about men hilariously tricking women into surprise!sex, but I always liked the stuff that was dated because it referred to celebrities from well before I was born, because my Dad would carefully explain the obscure references to us.
liv: Bookshelf labelled: Caution. Hungry bookworm (bookies)
([personal profile] liv Jun. 14th, 2017 08:20 pm)
Recently read: Some interesting bits and bobs about gender and sexuality:
  • Me and my penis by Laura Dodsworth and Simon Hattenstone. It's mostly an interview and excerpts from a book where Dodsworth photographed 100 men. In each photo, you see penis and testicles, belly, hands and thighs [...] then [I] spent 30 to 60 minutes interviewing them. The article is illustrated with photos from the book so it's not very SFW. Honestly the penis thing is a bit of a gimmick, I'm mostly interested in people talking about some everyday aspect of their lives, and of course the Guardian article has picked some of the most dramatic subjects, an elderly man, a disabled man, a trans man etc.

  • [community profile] queerparenting linked me to Inside the struggle queer, Indigenous couples must overcome to start a family by Steph Wechsler. It's specifically about First Nations Canadians and the issues they face accessing assisted fertility services, and includes the quote Fertility is where eggs and sperm come together, and it’s embedded with heterosexist and heterocentric assumptions. Which reminded me of something a new colleague pointed out regarding teaching medical students about human reproduction (for various reasons I ended up in charge of that bit of the course):

  • The Egg and the Sperm: How Science Has Constructed a Romance Based on Stereotypical Male-Female Roles, by Emily Martin. This is apparently a classic of medical anthropology, and it's really old but a lot of what it says is still true, even in our cutting edge modern course which tries pretty hard to be non-sexist. Basically Martin points out how supposedly scientific discussion of the biology of reproduction is absolutely chock full of sexist assumptions, which apply even to gametes, let alone the humans who make the gametes and gestate the babies. Also really charmingly written and much more accessible than I'd expect from academic anthropology papers.

    The link I've given is a PDF hosted at Stanford, which I'm not entirely sure is compliant with how JSTOR wish their material to be used; if you are picky about things like that, you can read the article via JSTOR's online only system if you register with them.

Currently reading: Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer. About halfway through, still enjoying it in many ways. It's definitely original and thought-provoking, but also continues to be somewhat annoying with the narrator rabbiting on about his opinions about gender and race, most of which are pretty uncool. I think it would be possible to have a main character with regressive views without constantly shoving his opinions in the reader's face. The other thing I'm struggling with a bit is that it's clearly a far-future book, with lots of tech that doesn't have any real science explanation, but there are also some elements of the book which are considered to be "magical" from the characters' point of view, and the distinction between two categories of impossible stuff seems arbitrary.

In spite of those quibbles I'm quite caught up in the plot and also really interested in the cultural world-building and generally enjoying the novel. Presently I rate it below Ninefox gambit but that is far from calling it bad.

Up next: Still thinking of All the Birds in the Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders, if nothing else jumps out and grabs me before I get to the end of TLTL.
OK, so before the bizarre misunderstandings in my previous post, I had been going to repost question which I thought was an interesting logic puzzle in its own right.

You have five bags of holding. One contains a fabulous treasure. Two contain liches who can't escape until you open the bag. Two contain nothing.

You have a spell which tells you something about the result of a course of action you propose. (This description is slightly altered from the functionality of the original spell to make the puzzle work, feel free to ask for clarification as needed.)

"Weal" for good result (eg. treasure, no liches)
"Woe" for bad result (eg. 1+ lich, no treasure)
"Weal and Woe" for a good and bad result (eg. treasure and also lich)
"Nothing" for a result of no particular good or bad (eg. open no bags or only open empty bags)


What's the minimum number of castings of the spell needed? (I think 3 is easy and 1 is impossible, so basically, can you do 2?)


The course of action has to be 30 minutes or less.

We don't have specifics on how you define the course of action, ask if it needs to be more explicit.

Assume you can include other results in the plan if they help, eg. "if this bad contains nothing, I stab myself in the leg", without necessarily needing to follow through. (This is slightly more generous than the original spell.)

Assume you don't include the castings of further divination spells within the scope of the course of action considered by casting the first spell.

Follow-ups (may be unnecessary depending on the best solution to the original)

If you only have one casting, what's the greatest chance you can give yourself of finding the treasure whilst finding no liches.

The original restrictions of the spell say that if you cast it four times in a day (ignored for the basic puzzle), the second, third and fourth times have a 25%, 50% and 75% chance of giving a random answer. What's the highest chance you can give yourself of finding the treasure and no liches in up to four castings with those failure chances.

Previously we assumed you couldn't create a paradox. If you *can*, and causing a paradox causes the spell to fail to give an answer in a way distinct from "nothing", can you reduce the number of castings?

If you *can* ask about a course of action including further divination spells, does that help?

Does the answer generalise to a larger number of bags (assuming 1 treasure, N liches and N nothing)

ETA: Fix formatting.
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([personal profile] jack Jun. 12th, 2017 11:39 pm)
In several ways I enjoyed the second (African swamp dragons) and third (Sea Serpents, Chinese dragons of many sorts, and Polynesian firewyrms) more than the first. The main character is more proactive. We start to see more of the outline of her life. I found it a bit easier to cope with the alternate-history geography too, either because I was more used to it, or because it was further away from places I'm familiar with.

I like the bits of her son Jake we get. There's so few fantasy novels with children and adults together.

And I'm more familiar with the alternate world. Several things are different: the series is set later than I'd realised (1890s?) but steam power is severely curtailed by the lack of iron, taking the place of various resource-scrambles Europe imposed on the world in our history.

And I still can't believe I missed everyone is Jewish, temple judiasm or "magisterium" judaism, but with the varied devotion victorian scholars had for Christianity.

As I'm re-reading, I see more things alluded to in the early volumes, about her eventual discoveries, and the misadventures she gets into, and her later remarriage, that make me excited to know which of the things I've read tie into those and which are still to come.

Every book seems to wend its way until the plot starts about 3/4 of the way through, but the third one I was really wrapped up in all the things that happened until that point, the difficulties of navigating a ship, negotiating chinese bureaucracy to get to see dragons, befriending islanders, surviving storms, performing experiments.

I'm still a bit put off by the alternate-history names for countries. Couldn't we just use the same names even if the shapes are different? It seems like more places are islands? And it feels weird I can't just look it all up online and see what corresponds to what, but here no-one seems to have done the work. I should compile a list of what I managed to work out for my own reference.

Minor Spoilers )
liv: Table laid with teapot, scones and accoutrements (yum)
([personal profile] liv Jun. 12th, 2017 03:35 pm)
A song that makes you want to dance. I'm not much of a dancer, really. What gets me on the dancefloor is old skool goth stuff that I'm nostalgic about, stuff that's mostly beat rather than rhythm that makes me feel not self conscious if I just jump about and headbang in a not really coordinated way. Or I'll sometimes do folk dancing; most of the Scottish dance music I know is tunes rather than songs, though I have been known to dance Israeli folk stuff that more commonly has songs to go with it, eg Od lo ahavti dai ['I haven't loved enough yet'].

So I've picked a song that is quite bouncy and has lyrics which are about wanting to dance: Because it's not love (but it's still a feeling) by The Pipettes. I think it's [personal profile] blue_mai who got me into this band.

video embed )

I had a weekend full of extrovert delights, a day with [personal profile] jack and an evening with [personal profile] doseybat and [personal profile] pplfichi and an extra bonus [personal profile] ewt, when we talked and talked and were surprised to find it was after midnight. And had a long phonecall with my mother who's more of a morning person than most of my friends, and then [personal profile] cjwatson joined us for dim sum at my perennial favourite Joy King Lau, and lots lots lots more talking until it was time to go back to Keele.
I'm not going to get all of this right, but there's quite a lot of things which have been annoying me. Please suggest corrections or additions.

Sinn Fein will not take their seats. They have not been taking their seats for a very very long time. There might be some circumstances where they might, but almost certainly only if (a) it's an issue overwhelmingly important to NI and (b) they would actually make a difference. Some constitutional hack, or swinging the UK govt one way or the other, is not likely to change that now.

Hence, report the true number for a majority, not the theoretical number if SF were going to vote against.

The PM usually resigns as PM when someone else is ready to take over. This almost never matters, but there there IS a PM in the intervening time.

This is the closest british equivalent to the concept of a "lame duck" in American politics, I think, because you don't usually have elections that take a long time to take effect.

Everything is usually organised very quickly. Whether or not it might be healthier to take longer, if there are any negotiations, they're usually a matter of hours or days, not weeks.

Two processes happen. The unofficial process is, "parties have talks and establish if they could possibly form a majority". This is much less complicated than many countries as there's usually not many different combinations who would *ever* work together. There's often only one real possibility.

The official process (well, more official -- almost everything is by convention) happens in parallel. If that the govt have a majority (either directly, by coalition, or by enough other MPs being willing to vote for them anyway), then they stay govt, there's no resign and reform. If not, the largest party have first crack at forming govt. Else, the second largest party. But usually, it's obvious in advance if this is possible or not, and only the possible options actually happen. (eg. govt resigns if opposition have a majority)

The fixed term parliament act did basically only one thing: prevent the larger party in a coalition calling an election against the wishes of the smaller party in a coalition. It may have very slightly increased the pressure on a govt not in coalition to not call snap elections, but apparently, not really. It did the thing that the people who designed obviously wanted.

It might or might not have been nice if the fixed term parliament act had actually made parliaments fixed term. It sort of looked like it might. But (a) it didn't and (b) I don't think the people who designed it just stupidly forgot it didn't, I think they just accepted they couldn't really fix that and didn't really try. Because (a) if there's a hung parliament, there's another election anyway (that makes sense, what else will you do?) and (b) if the govt want an election, even if they don't have 2/3 -- are the opposition going to come out and say "yes, we can rule better than them but we don't want to prove it"?

I'm not great at reading between the lines, but somehow even people who are presumably more socially aware than me often ignore things I find obvious and I don't know why. There are many, maybe most, cases of potential coalitions like this, but see Lib Dems in this election. Tim Farron says he won't form a coalition with the conservatives. Duh! Saying that would be electoral suicide. I don't know if he would like to, but I think he's pretty much *got* to deny it anyway[1]. Would he? Well, hopefully not. But if the conservatives offered an attractive enough deal (say, electoral reform and cancel brexit) one the public might actually like, would he say, "oh no, I'm sorry, I agree that would be best for the country, my party, and my own career, but too late"? But that doesn't happen, because they're not making that offer. If really really wanted to say never ever make it stick, he could probably say something bridge-burning.

It's not guaranteed, but you usually know which way the non-top-two parties will go. Ie. UUP and DUP are likely to prop up Con and not Lab. Lib-Dem are kind of split. Everyone else might prop up Lab but won't help Con. That doesn't mean they WILL prop up a government, but when you're considering potential governments, there's not usually a lot of different possibilities. Usually you'll get a majority. If not you can see a majority of "Lab or Con + parties generally disposed to them". If so, they'll usually work out SOMETHING. If the margin is thin it will be very flaky (eg a rainbow coalition needing many small parties to get a majority is likely to fall apart). Technically any "not majority" is a hung parliament, but that's only really the case if there's a significant chance of a deal not being struck. If no-one has a majority even with reluctant support, then probably whoever's closest (closest in numbers or closest to support from a large non-govt party) can eke out a minority government. If that doesn't happen, *then* there's a reasonable chance of a surprise, some party working a party you don't expect. And if not, then it's well and truly hung and will soon devolve into another election whether people want it or not (but that's really rare).

[1] See also, "PM says they won't resign". They always say that. If they have to, they have to, whatever they said, and if they're not in politics any more, what do they lose by having said the opposite?

ETA: And re: "English votes for English laws", even if the conservatives have *some* votes outside England, they still have a larger majority in England than in the UK as a whole. Somehow people (who usually know what they're talking about) keep seeming to think that Scottish tories and DUP don't count for England-only matters, but opposition MPs in Wales/Scotland would. But I don't understand why people think that?
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([personal profile] jack Jun. 11th, 2017 10:10 pm)
Villains, Inc

Second in the series of Wearing the Cape superhero novels. Does a better job than most of building a world where superheroes make sense. I like the second one more in some ways, where the protagonist has grown a bit and is a lot more proactive. Although I don't remember much else.

I was interested to realise, "Villains Inc" was not just a catchy name but a reference to Murder Inc, the name given by the press to the organisation that span out of various crime families in the american mafia handling a majority of their contract killing[1].

[1] Also see:

Hanging Tree (Rivers of London #5)

I liked this more than almost any of the previous ones. The humour is firing on all cylinders. We stop discovering whole new tracts of supernatural beings surely SOMEONE would have mentioned by now, and return to the strongest topics, Peter's family, the rivers, Nightingale and the other magicians. There's almost none of Peter being an arse about women. We're still waiting to find out more about what happened to you-know-who, but we find out *something* about it.

Magnificent Seven remake

This was... ok. It had a few good moments.

The first 30 minutes of the Magnificent Seven were one of the best films ever made. An underwear salesman is trying to pay for the funeral of a guy who died in the street, but the funeral director won't take his money because no-one wants a black guy buried in the cemetery, even though it's full of disreputable people, murders, criminals, etc. The protagonists volunteer because why not, everyone watching chips in to pay for the wagon if necessary, for the spectacle more than out of the goodness of their hearts. There's an extended scene while they drive to the graveyard, shooting a variety of people who take potshots at them. Everything about it is just great. It's entertaining and tense. Even the minor characters are very memorable. It cements two of the major characters for you.

And the rest was ok, but not especially memorable. Writing is HARD, because you want EVERY PART of your story to blow people away, and it's really hard to say what makes that happen. And the same for the sequel. Nothing especially is wrong, it just all happens how you'd expect, and I never felt "Wow".

Stealing Light

The galaxy is de-facto ruled by the Shoal, the only species to have FTL. Humanity lives in the region of stars allocated to them. Now a human faction may have discovered an ancient pre-Shoal FTL ship.

I didn't really get into the book itself, but I really wanted to find out about the history and which races had FTL and how they interacted. I probably won't re-read it, but I may read the sequel.
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([personal profile] jack Jun. 11th, 2017 10:08 pm)
In order for life to continue you need a variety of things. You need to severely curtail the number of fusion explosions around. You need oxygen. Need to not be underwater. Not to be constantly struck by lightning.

But funnily enough, for life to come about, you basically need the opposite of all those things.
Some sites don't load in chrome on this one computer. IE, ok. Chrome on another computer on the same network, ok. This one, doesn't load or loads reeeaaalllllyyy slowly. Any suggestions?
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([personal profile] jack Jun. 10th, 2017 06:22 pm)
Sigh, my phone seems to have worn out. I thought this one had been treated fairly well, with a case, and not suffering any disastrous drops. But now when I turn it on, it reboots again either immediately before finishing the boot sequence or as soon as I open an app.

I tried removing the case and waggling the buttons, and doing a factory reset and that didn't make a difference. Is there anything else I should try?

Assuming I need a replacement, what should I get? Probably a recent android phone. I used to always get nexus but pixel seem to have got expensive.