shamrock

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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shamrock

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.
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shamrock

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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shamrock

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.
shamrock

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.

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This post is part of my December days series.
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shamrock

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.

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This post is part of my December days series.
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shamrock

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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shamrock

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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shamrock

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.

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