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2016-01-20 (Wed) 12:46 - Once Upon a Time
ghoti and I have been watching our way through Once Upon a Time. It's basically televised urban fantasy, subgenre "mining folk mythology for fun and profit". The central conceit is that fairy tales are real and their characters live in other realms, until an event where an ensemble-cast-ful of them are cursed into our world and lose their memories of the Enchanted Forest. Each episode interleaves the main present-day plot with flashback sequences from the fairy-tale past, which are used to great effect to develop individual characters. We're up to season four at the moment and still thoroughly enjoying it; the setting means that the show's creators can mix in new underlying tales from time to time, which does a good job of keeping things fresh.

Today ewx linked to a news article about a paper on phylogenetic/linguistic analysis of the roots of folktales. With this recent TV consumption, the main thing that jumped out at me was spoilers for season oneCollapse ). If you're willing to accept the poetic reading of "time" as something like "recorded history" or "civilisation", "Beauty and the Beast" being around 4000 years old also puts a nice gloss on the Disney song "Tale as old as time / Song as old as rhyme" (which I only just found out was sung by Angela Lansbury in the film!).
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2015-10-29 (Thu) 14:44 - Spare tickets

Due to a miscommunication, ghoti and I have ended up with two more £7.50 tickets to this exciting poetry slam at the Junction on 6 Nov than we in fact need. Would anyone like to take them off our hands?

This entry was originally posted at http://cjwatson.dreamwidth.org/19516.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
2015-08-15 (Sat) 10:45 - Vegetarian

I've decided to switch to being vegetarian.

This is definitely at least somewhat prompted by hanging around with [personal profile] liv and [personal profile] jack a lot more lately, although neither of them has been evangelising to us about it! (Something about this seems to invite possibly inappropriate religious metaphors; I almost wrote "convert" rather than "switch" above.) And of course ghoti went vegetarian herself a few months ago, and since she does most of the cooking in our household that tended to cut down my meat intake anyway. The children still eat meat, so I could have asked to keep having meat as well, or could have made myself corned beef sandwiches or whatever for lunch, but somehow neither of those seemed to happen. Maybe this is the seductive allure of halloumi at work?

I think, really, I'm generally looking for ways to tread a bit more lightly upon the earth. We gave up our car a couple of years back, which definitely started with a practical prompt (an MOT test that came back with uneconomical-to-repair problems), but was also a way to improve fitness and reduce our energy footprint. I do take plane trips a couple of times a year, mostly for work, which I suppose wipes out practically every other thing I could possibly do, and I'm not totally convinced that individual action is the way to deal with climate change anyway; but these seem like weak excuses for not doing what I can in other respects. Livestock agriculture is ecologically expensive.

At this point I'm not being careful about things like gelatine or rennet, nor about cooking equipment that's also used for meat; I'm just refraining from the actual eating of chunks of dead animal.

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2015-07-05 (Sun) 23:37 - Weekend and reading
Our three-year-old has chickenpox, so he's in quarantine until he ceases to be contagious. He's dealing with it pretty well really - some scratching, not too serious - but of course cabin fever is beginning to set in a bit, and it threw our weekend plans completely out of kilter: I'd planned to take them up to Dad's for a day or so and then take them to a child's birthday party, neither of which got to happen. So instead I did a bit of crafting with them that didn't require too much creativity from me ("Duct Tape Dragsters"; quite cute, though the interest seemed to pall almost as soon as we'd built them, but hopefully they'll pick them up again a bit later), and have otherwise mostly been decompressing and trying to at least establish some kind of base camp on the housework mountain. This evening ghoti and I played Monastery, which I think worked much better the second time although the rules are still not the clearest piece of writing in the world and I had to resort to BoardGameGeek to disambiguate, which was OK until I failed to correctly explain what I'd learned to ghoti and ended up inadvertently gaining an advantage as a result. Hopefully next time we'll know what we're doing.

So, recent reading. My reading rate is way slower than a lot of other people I know these days, but I've managed to finish a few things recently.
  • The Martian, Andy Weir. Picked up from XKCD, who clearly knows exactly what I like and summarises it better than I can. "Hard science fiction" doesn't seem to quite cover it, since for me that suggests something more physicsy along the lines of Greg Egan; maybe hard engineering fiction? Any book whose plot uses rocket fuel for some purpose other than going bang and accelerating things is just fine by me.
  • Tigana, Guy Gavriel Kay. Not finished, but doesn't matter because it's comfort re-reading. Fantasy in a land where an invading sorcerer has made it impossible for anyone not from the eponymous province to hear or remember its name as retribution for the death of his son. It's one of the most luminously poetic works of speculative fiction I know and I love it.
  • The Annihilation Score, Charles Stross, sixth novel in the Laundry Files sequence. I'd probably happily read Charlie's shopping list and I've had this on pre-order for a while, then devoured it in a couple of days (very quick for me at the moment). The series premise is that sufficiently complex computation breaks down barriers between universes, allowing practitioners to perform magic but also summoning eldritch and very unfriendly entities in the process: basically, Lovecraft was right, but Turing put it on a scientific footing and then the British government spun off a secret department to try to keep people safe from it. The earlier novels let Stross pastiche classic British spy fiction as well as riffing on the horror genre, but the basic premise is pretty flexible and later books have been heading in the direction of urban fantasy. This one's an occult superhero novel. The protagonist is married to the protag of the previous books, and Charlie has been dropping hints that this will expose ways in which the previous protag is an unreliable narrator, but I didn't notice very much of that; perhaps it will become clearer on re-reading.
  • The Bloggess. This is probably one of those cases where everyone else ran across the giant metal chicken story years ago and I just missed it, but anyway, A+++ would collapse in fits of giggles again.
  • The Book of Taltos, Steven Brust, books 4 and 5 of a series. Borrowed from [personal profile] liv, as with the previous anthology The Book of Jhereg which included books 1-3. The first three were more or less otherworldly detective yarns and thoroughly enjoyable; but I'm not far enough through these two to say much about them yet. Maybe later.
This entry was originally posted at http://cjwatson.dreamwidth.org/19174.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
2015-05-06 (Wed) 11:25 - Kittens!
Our adopted cat Ninja has been pregnant for a couple of months, after we failed to keep her inside while she was on heat, and we've been expecting her to give birth any minute now for several days.  Last night we were quite worried because we couldn't find her anywhere, and I went so far as to go out and search the neighbourhood at half-past-four in the morning.  When I got back, we were getting ready to go back to bed and then we heard some higher-pitched-than-usual meowing coming from my study ...

It seems that Ninja had nominated the wardrobe in my study as a warm and safe place.  Which was mostly right, except that she was on top of a pile of Stuff and some of the kittens had got a bit stuck, so later this morning I rescued some of them from the depths of the wardrobe.  All four kittens seem to be well, though, little black-and-grey scraps of fur with CLAWS, and they and mother are snug in their box out of the way under the stairs.  Pictures will no doubt be forthcoming although I have to rely on ghoti for those as my phone's camera isn't working.  Assuming that all goes well, we plan to keep one and have homes lined up for the other three.

I'm amazed at how quiet and non-messy the procedure seems to have been!  The vet gave us to understand that the mother could be understandably quite noisy, but we heard pretty much nothing at all to the extent that we had no idea where she was until after the kittens were born.
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2015-01-15 (Thu) 11:59 - Books to recycle
We have a ridiculous excess of books, not so much compared to how many books I want to have in an ideal world, but certainly compared to how much space we have for storing them, so I'm going to start trying to cull them. Does anyone who I'm likely to see in the next month or two want any of these, for free? Otherwise I'll take them to a charity shop or similar.

Scott Adams: The Dilbert Future
Robert Asprin: Another Fine Myth
Tim Berners-Lee: Weaving the Web
Alex Boese: Elephants on Acid, and Other Bizarre Experiments
The Harvard Lampoon: Bored of the Rings
Seanan McGuire: October Daye, books 1-4 (Rosemary and Rue; A Local Habitation; An Artificial Night; Late Eclipses) - these were water-damaged thanks to the good care taken by a courier so we got replacement copies, but I believe they're still readable
Mil Millington: Things my girlfriend and I have argued about
New Scientist: Do Polar Bears Get Lonely?
Lemony Snicket: A Series of Unfortunate Events, books 1-3 (omnibus)
Keir Thomas: Beginning Ubuntu Linux

ETA: added the Lemony Snicket This entry was originally posted at http://cjwatson.dreamwidth.org/17081.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
2014-12-31 (Wed) 12:08 - December days: 2015
End of the month, and of this "December days" series; end of 2014. I'm not trying to make any new year's resolutions this year: in 2014 I half-seriously resolved to tweet as Gaeilge at least once a week during 2014, partly as a way to encourage myself to learn more of the language and partly because the verb "tvuít" is just so cute. With the most generous possible interpretation (counting even just a few words in the middle of a mostly-English tweet), I managed ... 23. Oops. So I'm not in a rush to set myself up for anything particular this arbitrary-time-division, but a little bit of reflection seems popular around this time of year.

looking back, looking forwardCollapse )

This post is part of my December days series.
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2014-12-30 (Tue) 14:51 - December days: Whisk(e)y
I've run out of prompts for the month, but I think tomorrow I'll do a general looking-forward-to-2015 post, and today since I'm a bit low on sleep and effort I thought I'd just borrow a not-too-challenging prompt from cartesiandaemon via ghoti's journal, namely whisky (and here's ghoti's version). Though of course being Irish I'll insert the extra "e" as an option.

uisce beathaCollapse )

This post is part of my December days series.
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2014-12-29 (Mon) 16:05 - December days: Being a working parent
ghoti asked me to talk about being a working parent, having initially misread a "being an incoming parent" prompt from a previous day. Due to my particular circumstances, some of this overlaps with a previous prompt, "working from home", but there's probably a bit more I can write about independently.

I tend not to use the phrase "working parent" to describe myself, since any time I try to do ghoti's full-time-parenting job for more than an hour or two I'm reminded of just how much work it is to do it well! (Although today I got both little children to sleep earlier than usual and without an epic tantrum, so am feeling flush with success, at least until it next goes wrong.) I do sometimes feel that the business of earning money is the easy job in relative terms, and it's all too easy to hide in my study when the children are being particularly difficult. I've been trying to do better at avoiding that.

In practical terms, of course, it means I'm not routinely able to do very much with the children during the week, and if we go away for the weekend I normally have to be back in time to work on Monday. More insidiously, if I've been having a stressful time at work then it's very hard to find much energy to play with the children; unfortunately I don't find that one activity helps me recharge for the other, rather the opposite. So I'm very much hoping that my new job in the new year will leave me with more energy for the evenings and weekends.

On the other hand, my job does pay well enough that the children don't lack much (except space, but we're working on that more gradually), and hopefully that will continue. As the primary earner I do feel a pretty strong responsibility to turn my skillset into a comfortable lifestyle for them.

I may have missed some part of this question, so please do say in comments if this is too narrow an answer and I'll try to expand on it.

This post is part of my December days series. Please prompt me!
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2014-12-28 (Sun) 13:26 - December days: Astronomy lectures
ghoti asked me to write about the public open evenings at Cambridge's Institute of Astronomy, which Judith and I have been going to since last year; they run during the winter in order that it's possible to observe the night sky without having to run ridiculously late.

Judith has been getting a lot out of these and particularly enjoys getting a chance to look through the big telescopes (one of which almost discovered Neptune - the then director of the Cambridge Observatory had observed Neptune prior to its actual discovery from the Berlin Observatory, but lacked an up-to-date star map and so didn't recognise it as a planet). The talks beforehand are generally well worth the time: recent ones have included an update on the Rosetta mission, an outline of dark matter and dark energy, and a talk on the large-scale effects of black holes. More often than not, cloud cover is such that we don't in fact get a chance to observe, so they put on extra talks instead from the Cambridge Astronomical Association (an amateur group); these are a bit more variable, some quite silly but for instance we've had CAA talks on volcanic activity on other bodies in the solar system (e.g. Enceladus) and on heavy water's origin in big bang nucleogenesis and the attempts to determine whether Earth's water originates from comets or asteroids.

A good part of the talks still go over Judith's head to some extent, since they aren't explicitly aimed at children. So, for instance, I found the recent talk on black holes to be fascinating: UCLA are doing amazing things using adaptive optics to observe our galactic centre, and apparently there's a correlation between some properties of galactic bulges and the masses of the black holes at their centres which suggests that the mass of the central black hole may limit the size of the galaxy; but I don't think Judith followed very much of it despite listening patiently. On the other hand, she came away from the "What is a (modern) astronomer?" talk and, unprompted, told ghoti about the astronomer who was sitting under an apple tree when he realised that the moon was always falling but always fell past the earth (a much more useful version of the story of the discovery of gravity than you usually hear, I think!). So I definitely think it's worth taking her and I'll continue to do so as long as it's practical.

ghoti got me a lovely lovely telescope for Christmas, so with any luck we'll be able to get some decent observation done at home too. I've been getting a little better at recognising features of at least the winter night sky, and it's a lot more interesting with a telescope.

This post is part of my December days series. Please prompt me!
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2014-12-27 (Sat) 13:24 - December days: P vs. NP
On our date a couple of weeks ago, I found myself explaining to ghoti the basics of why P vs. NP is an interesting question. (Clearly, we have the best romantic conversations.) I'd like to explain this at a bit more length and to more people. You'll have to care at least a little bit about maths to find this interesting, but I hope I've managed to explain it clearly enough that it doesn't require any specialist knowledge. Note that I'm not actually a complexity researcher, just an interested person with some relevant background.

the essence of hard problemsCollapse )

This post is part of my December days series. Please prompt me!
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As a follow-up to my post about my personal history of programming languages, cartesiandaemon asked me to expand on "which language(s) do you use most now (C and Python?) and what improvements would you like to see in them?"

from __future__ import deloreanCollapse )

This post is part of my December days series. Please prompt me! This entry was originally posted at http://cjwatson.dreamwidth.org/15047.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
2014-12-25 (Thu) 12:15 - December days: Merry Christmas!
I didn't actually expect to manage a proper December-days post today, so didn't schedule any prompts there. Last night we went to Midnight Mass; J was a bit overwhelmed by the volume during the carol service but otherwise it went well, and my "Creator alme siderum" solo after communion was well-received. (Best compliment: a choirmistress telling you that your diction was excellent and they could hear all the words.)

So far today we have risen late, opened stockings, and are now waiting for Jon to arrive before we start on opening big presents.

I hope you all have a lovely and relaxing day.

Nollaig shona daoibh / Frohe Weihnachten / Joyeux Noël!

This post is part of my December days series. Please prompt me!
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2014-12-24 (Wed) 11:25 - December days: Favourite carol
For Christmas Eve, ghoti asked me to talk about my favourite carol.

Noël, NoëlCollapse )

This post is part of my December days series. Please prompt me!
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I'm catching up on these postings a bit today after a lovely but busy couple of days, including going with ghoti to help to celebrate Chanukah over at [personal profile] liv's yesterday, lighting candles, acting out the story with [personal profile] jack and the children wearing home-made crowns and wielding plastic swords, eating doughnuts and latkes, and playing board games (which I don't think is quite required by the celebration but is clearly always a good idea anyway). Today so far I've mostly been clearing up at least a corner of our messy living room in an attempt to clear enough space to put up the tree; this is late for us, as my family tradition was always Second Sunday of Advent and we've normally roughly gone with that, but I don't actually think it truly matters overly much as long as it's up by the time Christmas itself starts.

It is indeed not always quite the most important thing to keep up with these memes, as a friend wisely observed to me yesterday; all the same, I'm quite prone to forgetting about this kind of thing if I'm not reasonably disciplined about it, so I'm spending a bit of time today getting back into sync. The Christmas season is coming up, but I do have a couple of those posts wholly or partially banked, so hopefully I'll still manage to keep up.

At any rate, badriya asked me about the experience of being an "incoming parent", coming into a child's life through a relationship with a parent. Thanks for this - it's a really good prompt!

stepdadCollapse )

This post is part of my December days series. Please prompt me!
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2014-12-22 (Mon) 13:41 - December days: Changing assumptions
[personal profile] jack borrowed a prompt from elsewhere and asked me: "If you could change one assumption that people you encounter frequently make, what would you change?"

I find this a pretty difficult prompt, because for the most part either people tend to peg me pretty much correctly, or it's not something I mind. (Sometimes people assume that I'm broadly atheist/agnostic, but it doesn't come up that often, and to be honest I tend to feel that there are so many baseline culturally-Christian assumptions in our society that I find it hard to get too worked up about this.) By being straight, white, male, middle-class, cis, and so on I hit a lot of the defaults. Occasionally people mishear my accent as Scottish, but this hardly seems like something worth spending a valuable wish on correcting.

The best thing I can think of would be for people to understand introversion/extroversion better. A while back I ran across the "recharging" model, and have been finding it very helpful not only for understanding my own behaviour but for improving my model of other people's. Roughly, the idea here is that introverts sometimes need to spend time alone to recharge from social interaction, while extroverts sometimes need social interaction to recharge from time spent alone. In this sense I'm primarily an introvert: I sometimes need to go off and (metaphorically or literally) curl up with a book by myself in order to recharge my batteries. This doesn't mean I don't like or indeed love the people I'm not spending time with at that point, just that I need other things too. But a friend of mine described me (and himself to a lesser extent) as a "well-trained introvert": unlike the stereotype, I don't necessarily need to hide off in the corner in social situations, even though I might never be the life and soul of the party as such. I just need to have time to go and recharge afterwards.

It's not all a one-way street, though, because I wouldn't in fact really be happy if you put me in a log cabin with my family, a decent library, and an internet connection for the rest of my life; it would be just fine for a while but I do sometimes find that I get lonely (a thing that is mostly new since I started working from home, since now I don't generally have casual contact with other humans throughout the day other than my family) and need to chat to friends. Of course this isn't at all that I don't like and love my family, just that there are other people I also like and want to spend time with sometimes!

This has turned into more of a care-and-feeding-of-the-lesser-spotted-[personal profile] cjwatson than quite an answer to [personal profile] jack's original prompt as such, but hopefully it's helpful anyway. And I'm not at all sure I have this all figured out for myself either; it's something I've been thinking about recently.

This post is part of my December days series. Please prompt me!
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As a follow-up to my post about programming languages, [personal profile] liv asked me: "can you talk about whether you're planning to teach your children programming, and if so how?"

I'd very much like to teach my children programming, yes, for a variety of reasons. One is that it's a thing I'm personally enthusiastic about that I want to share with them. Another is that it's an increasingly useful secondary skill in all kinds of other academic disciplines, whether that's for data analysis or driving complex machinery or whatever, and I'd like them to have that be accessible to them if at all possible. And of course I think it's a worthwhile skill in its own right, as computers become more and more a part of everyday life.

On the other hand, I don't want to teach them just single bespoke skills, such as just one programming language: what I really want to impart is the mental discipline of ordering your thoughts in order to instruct a computer accurately in how to do them, which I think is an aptitude that transfers itself well to all kinds of other things, even though doing that clearly involves learning the nuts and bolts of programming (preferably in more than one languages) and especially for children it needs to involve having fun along the way. There's no point trying to teach programming to children if they find it boring, or if it's too early in their development. (I tried to teach B how to program some years ago, but honestly I hadn't prepared well enough, it fell rather flat, and by the time we revisited it he wasn't really interested, so I definitely want to prepare better this time round.)

ghoti has been planning to start with a plan she'd previously started on while TAing at primary level, namely to start with Scratch (hmm, appropriately the top featured project there is currently a dreidel game) and move on to Rhodri James's Python course. I've generally been of the opinion that it will work better if we wait until J's reading is a fair bit more fluent, and so to be honest I hadn't yet thought much about the details yet; Scratch is more visual than a lot of languages but it still has a very significant textual component.

I think this is still an area where I very much don't think I have the answers and am listening for suggestions. My criteria are that I want them to be able to progress quickly to doing things that will interest them, I don't want them to get bogged down in syntactic vinegar, but I also want them to be using (if not necessarily as the very first step) a language that isn't a toy and that they can write real non-trivial programs in, and preferably one that won't get them stuck in particularly bad habits. Python seems like a pretty good thing to aim for with the support of some decent code libraries and teaching materials, so ghoti's plan generally seems sound here, but I sort of feel the need to work through it ourselves first to make sure we aren't caught by surprise along the way.

Does anyone else reading this have experience with teaching children (other than themselves!) to program? I'd be interested in hearing about what you did.

This post is part of my December days series. Please prompt me!
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2014-12-20 (Sat) 13:22 - December days: Holidays
ghoti asked me: "if you had total free choice, money/time no object for a holiday, where would you go and what would you do?"

we"re all going on a summer holidayCollapse )

This post is part of my December days series. Please prompt me!
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2014-12-19 (Fri) 19:50 - December days: Languages
[personal profile] angelofthenorth asked me to write about languages. I've already written about programming languages this month, so while I do believe that natural languages and programming languages have important common properties and that it's worthwhile for PL designers to think about concepts from natural linguistics, I'll stick to natural languages here.

tá m"árthach foluaineach lán d"eascannCollapse )

This post is part of my December days series. Please prompt me!
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2014-12-18 (Thu) 13:55 - December days: Trouts
I've had several days of prompts that involved really quite complex and thoughtful answers, so it's helpful that today I have a completely frivolous one: [personal profile] emperor said "I think you should write about trouts". Given the unusual plural, and the fact that I don't really know much about the fish beyond that they're tasty with butter and samphire, I'm going to assume that he in fact meant the silly IRC kind.

chatbotsCollapse )

This post is part of my December days series. Please prompt me!
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