Sunday, January 30, 2011

blogging heads

This morning I listened to discussion about physics by two science writers.

One of the writers was John Horgan. He wrote a famous book called "The end of Science", the main thesis of which was that the study of new particle physics had ended because we have reached a scale in energy where it is too difficult to do experiments. (This pissed a lot of HEP people off).

What I liked about the video blog was that they had the same problems in remembering the names of ideas and people that I have. I worry about explaining science ideas to the public, particularly if I forget some basic piece of physics, or the name of some theory.

I assume they would be more polished if they had prepared more

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Habsburg

While I was on holiday in Vienna I purchased the Habsburg Monarchy 1809-1918 by AJP Taylor.

Being English I don't know much about European history. The Habsburg's were a royal family who ruled many European countries. They prefered to cut deals by marriage rather than war. This worked for a long time, but the inbreeding caused problems in the end.

The book was about the relationship between Hungary and Austria and surrounding countries. It was interesting to read about the various compromises required to rule.

Stark

A long time ago my cousin gave me the book "Stark" by Ben Elton. For some reason I didn't get started on it. Elton was in some quarters viewed as a left wing comedian. I remember one of his routines based on him thinking about asking for advice on wine in a wine shop. Not so radical for us beer drinker.

When I finally started the book I really enjoyed it. It was a mix between "the monkey wrench gang" and a listing of Elton's stand up. The text would stop for a while where he would have a little rant against students say, or posh food in fast food restaurants. He often broke the rule: "show not tell", but still good fun.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

On learning German

I was sitting in my regular German class on Thursday. One of the other students was answering many of the questions about the new words we had been told to learn. I almost leaned over to him and said "you fucking swot.". Luckily I didn't -- not very professional for someone working at a University. I would like to point out that I did try to study for the test.

I am just not good a learning languages. I would like to say it is because I am old, but I had exactly the same problems when I was at school. Also when I was rationalizing being at the bottom of my German class in Glasgow, my explanation for why the retired people knew more German than me was that they had more time, because they were working. p> What kind of world is it when I am taight how to buy a beer in Geramn, but I am not taught what Urknall means?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

On history

When I was a student I read Constructing Quarks: Sociological History of Particle Physics by Pickering. What I remember of the last part of the book was that he noticed that in the early 1970s people studied hadron spectroscopy, but in the late 1970s research switched to studying deep inelastic scattering of quarks. None of the problems with hadron spectroiscopy had been resolved -- in fact people are still worrying about them now.

Pickering suggests that the study of physics is relative, because people just study what the community thinks is important, rather than objective reality. I don't want to downplay the importance of "fashion" in choosing research projects, but the reasons people started working on deep inelestic scattering was because they found quarks, And quarks are fundemental particles, the study of which is the whole point of particle physics. So I thought that Pickering's conclusions were a bit stupid.

The reason I mention all this is that I have just read "in defence of history" by Richard Evans. The book was discussion of the debate between historians and those nasty post modern "scholars". When I was at school, I remember being taught in history about primary and secondary sources. However, many of the postmodern people don't even distinguish between fiction and history, so they don't worry about primary or secondary sources, or any concept of reality.

On the whole I though that Evans tried to be balanced and see some positive things in the all the crap of postmodern theory. He did point that they have extended the study of history beyond what Kings and States do.

Evans spent over 50 pages complaining about some of the reviews about his book in the afterword. After reading that I will try to be more careful in making sure that I quote with the "no" and "not" included.

The irony of this for Pickering's work is that if all is relative, then so his work.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Radio plays about Narnia

The BBC iplayer recently had a number of adaptations of the Narnia tales of CS Lewis. When I was a child, I really enjoyed "The Lion Witch and the Wardrobe". I wasn't a total freak, because I didn't \read more than the first book. As I got older I realized (or read somewhere in a fashionable left wing newspaper) that the novels were based on Christianity, set in some weird pagan world where some of the animals can talk. I also read some CS Lewis novel that was not a children's book. I remember some guy was very happy to join some inner sanctum at a college or University. This was also some nasty Christianity propaganda in the mix.

I really enjoyed the radio plays about Narnia, although I felt very guilty about liking them, because of my high minded political beliefs. I thought the play for "the last battle" was a thinly veiled attack on the Church of England - not a bad thing. Anyway, what do I like about the Narnia novels? The swords of course! I am a sucker for a sharp blade.

I stupidly missed the radio play for one of the books: "The Magician's Nephew (1955)" It is not important, but I will not be happy until I have completed the series.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

On marriage

have decided to get married. I was reading in some "self help book" that married men live on average an additional 7 years beyond those who remain single. When you get past 40, an additional 7 years is a lot.

Of course if my new wife finds out she will say "I did wander why you kept saying 7 more years at our Wedding." But what can should she do. If she really loved me, she would be happy that I would live a bit longer

The slight problem is that I am not sure who to get married to. But I am assume the internet will provide, as it does for everything else.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

goodbye snow -- for a while

On Friday the snow started to finally melt.
There has been snow on the ground for a month.
I was told that normally the snow stays a couple
of days in Wuppertal. However, last year there was snow
from December till March. Also everyone changed to
snow tires on their cars.

No doubt the snow will be back, but it was nice to walk
on solid ground on Friday.

Journal of Solitude

Last week I read "Journal of Solitude" by
May Sarton. The book was esentially a diary of her life
for one year, as she tried to write poems. She lived
alone, but had a lot of friends. It was beautifully written,
but not a lot happened. Her house was in the American countryside,
so the weather and behaviour of the wild animals was important.

She liked to pick flowers to put in the house. At one point she
has a major temper tantrum because someone said some
of the flowers were faded. Given that I have four vases in my
flat, but I only use one to hold a device to clean the windowns,
I think I would have annoyed Sarton, if she had known me.

Anyway, she managed to conjure something sweet from the drabness
of a year in the country. I still prefer, and indeed need
the pounding energy of the city.

self harm

I once innocently asked someone I was training
with why his arms were covered in cuts. He muttered
something about "self harm". I was embarrassed, but
it still seems a reasonable question -- given that
it was a martial arts class.

I now have a big gash on my right arm. I would
like to say I obtained this injury from some exciting
activity, but I just scratched it while putting by
backpack on. (It doesn't hurt).

Sunday, January 02, 2011

The Strange Death of Liberal England

While I was on holiday I read "The strange day of
Liberal England" by George Dangerfield. This was the
history of the Liberal government just before the
first world war. Now that we have this crappy coalition
goverment, with the liberals living their dream of being the
conservative's whipping boys, before they are voted into
obscurity. So the history of the liberals is of more interest.

There were a number of challenges that
the 1906 Liberal government had to face. There was the issue of
home rule of Ireland, the suffragettes, and growing
industrial action. I didn't realize that the suffragettes
were so violent -- they burnt down buildings.
Dangerfield claims that elements in the
Conservative party were fermenting civil war in
Northern Ireland. I was shocked that there was almost
a rebellion in the British army, because of the NI issue.
It was interesting to see the history of industrial
action at the time.
I am not sure there are any lessons for the current liberals from this book.

There is also a band called "The Strange Death of

Saturday, January 01, 2011

More rants against banks managers

What do I spend my time in the evening? Worrying about learning German. I am just not very good at learning new words. I have written down the word for Bank manager so many times, but it just doesn't stick. My guess for bank manager is alliyo bla bla. In reality it is: der Filialleiter for the bank manager. So I got the "all" coorect at least.

So as Kenneth Clark says in the book civilisation

It is arguable that the non-existence of a clear concrete German prose has been one of the chief disasters in European civilization.

Passages

For the last couple of weeks I have been reading "Passages -- the predictable crisis of adult life" by Gail Sheehy. The book documents the various crises that a person goes through during their lives. The book is based on interviews with couples and single people.

Many of the case studies dealt with men getting close to 40 and them worrying about their careers. There were crisis aroud 30 as well. She claimed that people start to want to change after 7 years. The book is slightly out of date, because some of the problems were caused by women not working. There are also problems at the ages around 20 and 30 of course. Some of the stories appalled me. One guy gets his wife preganant so that she can't go to law school. He wanted lots of kids, but he was only willing to sepnd 30 minutes with them in the morning and evening. What a shit!

One problem with me is that I am too old and many of the problems have passed. I should have faced them and grown as an individual, rather than remain the same. I do now see more patterns in people's behavior. How

Many of the case studies dealt with men getting close to 40 and them worrying about their careers. There were crisis aroud 30 as well. She claimed that people start to want to change after 7 years. The book is slightly out of date, because some of the problems were caused by women not working. There are also problems at the ages around 20 and 30 of course. Some of the stories appalled me. One guy gets his wife preganant so that she can't go to law school. He wanted lots of kids, but he was only willing to sepnd 30 minutes with them in the morning and evening. What a shit!

One problem with me is that I am too old and many of the problems have passed. I should have faced them and grown as an individual, rather than remain the same. I do now see more patterns in people's behavior. How this helps me I don't know.

Actually, of course I am ready for my mid-life crisis. Since I am not married, I can't get divorced and trade in my wife for a younger model. I may have to make do with changing careers.

final post on Bosnian trip

On my third day in Bosnia I couldn't be bothered to do any more tourist stuff. So I just stayed around the old city area of Sarajevo and read "Bosnia a short history" by Noel Malcolm. Bosnia is stuck between Crotia and Serbia, both of which in the past have been keen to absorb Crotia into themselves. Some of the states in this area of Europe almost seem to exist as an accident. The book did convince me that Bosnia was a seperate state and the arms embargo against them in the 90s was wrong.

I was thinking why didn't I know about the siege of Sarajevo during the 90s. I used to get the news from the radio, but I didn't read the newspapers then. Even worse I can remember someone in the US, telling me about getting boots from dead soldiers. Also two years ago, I heard a postdoc ask if he coukd stay another year in Glasgow if war broke out in the Balkons again. So if I was paying more attention, I should have noticed. These days I spent way too long reading online Newspapers, so hopefully I will follow future events like the siege of Sarajevo in more detila, rather than reading about 15 years later.

When I was waiting at the airport for my flight, I saw my first women in a Burka. Given that Bosnia has a large proportion of Muslims this was surprising, since I used to see many womwn in Burkas when I lived in Liverpool. This is a small example of how the Muslims and Christians integrate well. (OK this is based on a very small time and spatial location).

When I look over the post, I can't help thinking it is not detailed enough. It doesn't help that I am writing the post 3 months after the end of my holiday. I hope that my brevity has not insulted anyone who lives in Bosnia, or countries close by.

New year 2011

y celebrations at 24:00 last nigt were not very satisfactory. Last year when the new year started, there were suddenly many explosions outside my window. Given that I was also confused my beer, I thought that a war had started, so I dived for cover. The fireworks looked spectacular. The fireworks were just a lot of personal displays joining together (the power of crowds), rather than a big organised display.

Last night I was more prepared. I had a glass of black sparkling wine that turned out to be more red than black, ready to toast in the new year. As you can see from the video, the fireworks were not particularly impressive this year. It sounds as though someone on a balcony around here was firing an automatic weapon. I could also use the video as a model of the big bang in the multiverse.

video