Reading: Gemini

Sep. 20th, 2017 09:18 pm
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[personal profile] white_hart
In the final book in Dorothy Dunnett's House of Niccolò series, Nicholas de Fleury returns to Scotland to try to make amends for the damage caused by his earlier actions and to safeguard his family from the enemies who have tried to kill both him and them so many times. For a while, I thought that Gemini was going to be a bit of an anticlimax to the series; several plot threads were resolved at the end of Caprice and Rondo, and Gemini is almost entirely set in Scotland, lacking the exotic locations of the earlier books. Nicholas has also changed and grown, and in Gemini is tackling the task of learning to care for people, and not just for the outcomes of his schemes. However, after a slow start, the novel gathers pace and the psychological drama is more than a match for the drama of any of Dunnett's other novels; there were just as many twists and edge-of-the-seat moments, and I found it just as hard to put down. It's a fitting end to the series, and like the ending of Checkmate leaves me wanting to go back and re-read key moments from earlier in the series in the light of the final revelations.

Fittingly, having started reading The Game of Kings on my 40th-birthday trip to Scotland, because I wanted to read something set in Scotland while I was there, I read Gemini while on holiday in Scotland once again. Three and a bit years, 14 books, at least 7,000 pages and an amazing sweep of European and Middle Eastern history in the early modern and late Middle Ages later, I can safely say that it has been one of the most intense reading experiences I've ever had. I can't actually remember who it was who made Dunnett sound intriguing enough for me to give her a try (I suspect it may have been a gestalt entity of friends and acquaintances), but it's been incredible, and in many ways I'm sorry to have come to the end. (I do still have King Hereafter to read, and will probably give the Johnson Johnson novels a try at least, but neither is going to be the same.)

(no subject)

Sep. 17th, 2017 03:26 pm
tinyjo: (tiny kitn)
[personal profile] tinyjo
Have been full of cold for most of this week but just about managed to get through it, thank goodness! I think my class are starting to get used to me and my expectations, which is good, but they've got a long way to go before SATS, particularly in calculation! I had a lovely, lazy day yesterday, sitting on the sofa with kittens, doing very little work, but it does mean I've left myself quite a few weekend tasks to do today - I need to think about rebalancing my workload a little bit to manage this 5 day week thing a bit more effectively. This weekend, I've been mostly conserving energy in the evenings due to the cold, but I am going to have to try to plan a bit more housework in during the week now that I don't have Friday to catch up with. I suppose in theory, there's the alternative of getting someone in to do some cleaning but I'll wait and see how the new salary settles in before going for anything quite so decadent :)

Reading: The Shortest Way to Hades

Sep. 16th, 2017 10:08 am
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[personal profile] white_hart
The Shortest Way to Hades is the second of Sarah Caudwell's Hilary Tamar novels, and is very similar to the first; Hilary, Professor of Legal History at Oxford, is called in by the junior members of the barristers' chambers at 62 New Square to investigate the death of a young woman who was recently involved in a variation of trusts case in which all of them represented various parties, and which they feel was suspicious. Like the first novel, it's entertaining and contains some lovely comic scenes; I particularly enjoyed the account of how Selena, on finding herself present at an orgy, decides that her preferred pleasure is in fact reading the copy of Pride and Prejudice she happened to have in her bag (a woman after my own heart!), and, having an Oxford background, I also very much liked Hilary's justification for not taking part in examining, which was an absolutely pitch-perfect example of the Oxford don's refusal to carry out a disagreeable task couched as a favour to absolutely everyone else. Meanwhile, the mystery was well enough plotted that I didn't come anywhere close to suspecting the real murderer until the final reveal, which is all you can really ask of a mystery, after all.

I think I enjoyed Thus Was Adonis Murdered more, but I'm not sure whether that's because the second book is so similar that I knew exactly what I was going to be getting and there wasn't the pleasure of discovering something new, or if I simply wasn't quite in the right mood for it; I certainly think it's just as good a book.
nanila: Your plastic pal who's fun to be with (star wars: k-2so)
[personal profile] nanila
[personal profile] emelbe and I set our alarms for 02:30 and 02:35 respectively, just to be sure we got up in time to walk over to Caltech for the end of mission. We dressed and poured coffee into ourselves, made sure we had our badges, and got out the door in plenty of time to arrive before 04:00, the official start of the event and NASA TV coverage.

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Walking up to Beckman Auditorium (aka the wedding cake) from the south.

As it happened. )
nanila: YAY (me: abby)
[personal profile] nanila
Thursday was meant to be a quiet day, since we all knew we had to be up and at Caltech by 4 AM for the thing we’d all been preparing for: the actual end of mission.

In reality, there were some impromptu science meetings at Caltech, one of which I attended in the morning. I slipped out just before noon, because I had someone to meet.

I headed down from Beckman to South Mudd to see my former JPL postdoctoral supervisor, from back in those heady days when I was still a lab scientist, for lunch. I hadn’t seen him since 2006. I eventually remembered where his Caltech office was. I could’ve found the JPL one much more easily, but it would have required me to check in and get a badge, which seemed a lot of faff for lunch. Besides, there are nicer places to eat in Pasadena. Once in the correct corridor, I spotted his technician hovering outside the door, plus another UK person from the physical chemistry community whom I’d never met but knows the bloke pretty well. There were lots of smiles and hugs, and we decided to head down to a restaurant over on Lake Street.

We had a very pleasant hour of conversation, reminiscing and catching up. I had a shock on hearing that their children, whom I remembered as children or young teenagers, were now grown up and had careers of their own. Of course I knew that would have happened in the intervening decade-plus, but it’s not until you actually speak together about these things that they’re driven home to you. They were equally shocked on learning that Humuhumu has started school - and has a younger sibling! The bloke and I had been remiss in our communication, clearly. We talked of science, of course, and of politics and its effects on research direction, and of our worries about the future due to Brexit and the current US administration.

I am still kicking myself for forgetting to take a photo. You must instead picture me with a group of men: one starting to disappear into the frailty of old age, peering out earnestly from large-framed glasses, one solid and grey-haired and mostly silent with twinkling blue eyes, and one cheeky-grinned middle-aged bear of a chap with a shock of brown hair and a beard. All sitting together in a booth of a Japanese restaurant, eagerly shoveling the contents of bento boxes into our faces, occasionally bursting into roars of laughter while cheesy ‘90s music played in the background.

We parted with promises not to let another eleven years pass before we met again. I was left with the warm glow you get from (re)connecting with friendly, kind, intelligent people. It was a lovely way to buffer against the excitement and strain of what was to come on Friday morning.

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Chilling out in my JPL t-shirt before the end of mission.
nanila: fulla starz (lolcat: science)
[personal profile] nanila
On Wednesday morning, [personal profile] emelbe and I saddled up and drove over to the Jet Propulsion Lab for a tour. We put her trusty sat nav on, and I noticed that instead of a car, the little icon was an x-wing. She turned the audio on. “Driven well you have,” said Yoda. “In a quarter of a mile, turn left. It is your destiny.”

It was decided that it was fitting for Yoda to be allowed to direct us to JPL.

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JPL tour badge with Curiosity on the front. We got to keep these.

Tour, with side trips down memory lane )
nanila: fulla starz (lolcat: science)
[personal profile] nanila
I flew into Los Angeles on the Sunday before the last-while-Cassini-is-still-in-orbit-around-Saturn Project Science Group meeting began. I was feeling dodgy when I got up at 6 AM, but I napped in the taxi and took some ibuprofen, and hoped that the feeling would go away.

It did not.

I made sure my usual mobile pharmacy (ibuprofen, paracetamol, Rennie) was stocked in my rucksack before I boarded the plane, and was glad I'd done so about three hours into the flight when my fever started spiking. I alternated ibuprofen and paracetamol every two hours. The flight attendants kindly granted all of my requests for cold water/cans of ginger ale, which were frequent. It was one of the most miserable long-haul flights I've ever had.

I spent nearly all of Monday in bed apart from a brief foray out to get a hot Thai curry into my belly for lunch. This paid off on Tuesday, and I was able to spend half a day at Caltech to dial into the penultimate operations meeting. (There will be one more after the crash, but obviously we’ll no longer have an instrument status to report.) I was excited about this, because I had been saving up something for a very long time.

In fine fettle was the other option )

to be continued

Reading: The Mark of the Horse Lord

Sep. 12th, 2017 07:07 pm
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[personal profile] white_hart
Reading Gwyneth Jones put me in mind of Rosemary Sutcliff, and as I'm off to Argyll on holiday soon I thought I would re-read The Mark of the Horse Lord, which is set in Argyll. Unlike most of Sutcliff's novels set in Roman Britain, Phaedrus, the protagonist of The Mark of the Horse Lord, isn't a Roman soldier; instead, he's a half-British ex-gladiator, son of a Greek wine merchant and a slave woman, who lived his whole life as a slave until being freed after winning a fight in the arena. By coincidence, he discovers that he is the exact double of Midir, the exiled prince of the Dalriad tribe, and is persuaded to impersonate Midir and travel beyond the northern boundary of the Empire to lead a rebellion and win back the kingdom of the Dalriads from Queen Liadhan, who has seized the throne and imposed the old matrilineal rule of the Earth-Mother in place of the patrilineal worship of the Sun-God. The plot is not dissimilar to The Prisoner of Zenda, really, as Phaedrus tries to take over another man's life and relationships and learn how to be a king.

This isn't my favorite Sutcliff; Phaedrus is a less sympathetic protagonist than the various members of the family in the Dolphin Ring saga, hardened by the years in the arena as he is, although he does become more sympathetic as the story goes on. I also don't find the society of the Dalriads, beyond the frontiers of the Empire, as interesting as the Roman society depicted in the books set inside the Empire, and, revisiting it now, I also feel that the conflict between the matrilineal and patrilineal societies is probably more nuanced than the book really suggests, and I wish we had got to see Liadhan's point of view as well as Phaedrus's.

Fish fish fish and more

Sep. 10th, 2017 08:40 pm
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[personal profile] jinty
We got an aquarium at the August Bank Holiday - Saturday was the trip where we chose the tank and listened to a knowledgeable, patient, enthusiastic and child-friendly member of staff at the Goldfish Bowl as he helped us through all the choices to be made and told us how to set it all up. On Bank Holiday Monday we were back to buy the fish themselves (you have to leave the initial water to settle for 48 hours or so) and since then we've been back once more to buy extras like a couple of water plants (additional to the plastic coral and plant-substitutes we bought on the first visit) and a hatchery plus baby food. Yes, we were told that the fish we chose (black and white spotted Mollys) are live-bearers, and it was only 10 days or so after we bought them that we spotted the first little tiny small fry darting around!

New pets: spotted lyretail mollys

The internet had told me that fry are liable to get eaten by the grownup fish and I did warn the kids not to get too attached to the first one, just in case - and then we didn't see it except for sporadically over the next few days. I think maybe that first one perhaps did survive after all, but at any rate we now have 4 grown Mollys (3 females, 1 male), 5 babies in the hatchery where the adults can't snaffle them, and two hardy-seeming small fish darting around in the main tank doing good hiding and dodging. It's all rather cool (if a bit pricey every time you need to pop back to the shop for a bit more equipment or specialist food).

Fishes! Black and white spotted Mollys and small fry to boot

The grown ups are already named - Marina (Kid A's name choice - the silvery one), Judy (my choice, one out of the many girls comics names I could have used), Goldie (R's choice, in a nod to Peppa Pig's goldfish and Data's choice of an inappropriately-named pet), and Tunip Mikey (Kid B's choice in a mash up between one of the characters from Octonauts and Michelangelo from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). We will have to see how many of the babies we keep and therefore name, and how many we take back to the fish shop as is apparently something people do.

Fishes! Black and white spotted Mollys and small fry to boot

Reading: Rainbow Bridge

Sep. 10th, 2017 05:16 pm
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[personal profile] white_hart
Rainbow Bridge is the fifth and more or less final novel in the sequence Gwyneth Jones began with Bold As Love (there is a sixth book set in the same universe, published several years later, but that appears to be a YA novel with a different main character, rather than part of the main continuity). It begins more or less where the fourth left off, in a near-future, post-oil England which has just been invaded and is under military occupation, and sees Ax, Fiorinda and Sage (Jones's near-future rockstar Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot) playing a complicated game, having to work with the invaders to try to prevent further loss of life and manipulate the global political civilisation to give the world the best possible chance of surviving the coming Dark Age.

It's taken me over a decade to finish this series, despite loving the first two; it took me a while to get round to obtaining a copy of the third, and then I wasn't reading much, because citalopram killed my ability to become absorbed in a narrative, and in any case I was scared to try to face the darkness of Jones's post-catastrophe near-future. I only returned to it after re-reading The Once and Future King left me thinking that the tragedy of the Arthur story could have been avoided if only someone had told them about poly, and I remembered that that's exactly what Jones does here.

Despite reading it so slowly, I have liked the series a lot; the narrative is odd, disjointed in places, and the structure of the novels is somewhat unconventional, veering between affairs of state and the trio's polywobbles, with parts of the political action taking place offstage and merely reported in a way that would drive the advocates of show-don't-tell as an unbreakable rule of writing round the bend, but somehow it works for me. I like the characters, too, even if I have found myself wanting to smack all of the central trio with codfish at multiple points throughout the series. And actually, like Rosemary Sutcliff's novels of post-Roman Britain, which are an obvious influence on Jones (there is a chapter in Rainbow Bridge entitled 'The Lantern Bearers', and a section called 'The Shield Ring'), while the future of these novels is dark and scary and beset with difficulties, it's not a hopeless future; what matters, mostly, is love and loyalty and being able to be flexible in some things while absolutely inflexible in others, and ultimately, it's quite a hopeful book, and ends with Jones's three heroes finally able to settle down in peaceful obscurity, away from the public eye.

(no subject)

Sep. 10th, 2017 04:08 pm
tinyjo: (Queen of Cups)
[personal profile] tinyjo
Well, the first week is done and I'm really pleased with how it went. The kids seems lovely - a little boisterous but very engaged with their learning. I'd forgotten how much they learn in a year though - they seem very young to me right now! All the staff were really welcoming, which was lovely and I feel like it's going to be a really positive working environment. I've got two TAs to work with (one 4 days a week and a different one on Fridays) and *they* both seem nice, so all in all, I feel like it's been a pretty good start. I was very knackered by Friday - I'd forgotten what working full weeks was like - but hopefully that won't last. I also picked up a mini-cold but that seems to have mostly gone already, fortunately. Slightly annoyingly, I realised that I needed to re-plan English for the week coming up because half the class had already studied the book I chose, but it didn't take much work, so not the end of the world. Next week is baseline assessment tests, which should be interesting!
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[personal profile] lathany
It's been a while since I posted and the weather seems to be much more autumny. I'm now back at work and I've got an interview next week for which I need to prepare a ten minute presentation.

Over the last few weeks I've read a couple of books.
  • Storm House by Mark Hibbett - This started strongly, but I was less impressed by the end. It was interesting and imaginative, but he was a little too inclined to pack everyone he'd ever mentioned together with a series of coincidences and then was running several different concepts at once. It was fast paced and I greatly preferred it to books where little happens, but it could have done with a bit of editing and polish.
  • Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship and Dangerous Hobbies by J K Rowling - This was as expected; nice, comfortable, short backgroundy pieces from the Potter world.

We've seen three films, and the last is our last Lovefilms one as the service is shutting down (the like of Netflix means the demand isn't there any more).
  • X-Men Apocalypse. - This was one of those films where you know roughly what you're getting. Overal it was fine, but sadly, more interested in back-stories than adding any depth the villain of the piece.
  • Deadpool - Sarcastic, fun and a bit grim in places. Ryan Reynolds is good in the title role and the fourth wall breaking is good.
  • Jason Bourne - I'm not sure that the plot hung together, but it's a solid and undemanding action piece.
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them - Awesome CGI and decent casting, particularly Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston and Ezra Miller. Gently watchable.

I've also been playing Steamworld Heist and Secret World Legends, but neither is finished yet.

Reading: Desolation Island

Sep. 9th, 2017 11:10 am
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[personal profile] white_hart
After finding The Mauritius Command rather sombre and focused more on the mechanics of the campaign than on the characters, I was pleased to find that I enjoyed Desolation Island much more. After some time working for the Navy ashore, Jack Aubrey is given command of the Leopard with orders to take her to Botany Bay and a cargo of convicts, including a spy who Stephen Maturin has been given the task of covertly obtaining information from. As neither Jack nor Stephen has been entirely thriving on land (Jack's fair and trusting nature makes him an easy mark for dodgy tradesmen and card-sharps, while Stephen has been taking more and more laundanam in an attempt to ease his broken heart) this voyage is a good thing for both of them, but after a promising start they are beset with difficulties; an outbreak of gaol-fever (typhus) kills a third of the crew, while several others are left too weak to travel and have to be put ashore in Recife to convalesce. Undermanned and unable to fight his ship effectively, Jack makes for Cape Town where he hopes to be able to recruit more sailors, but encountering a larger Dutch ship in the South Atlantic he is forced to change course and flee far south of the Cape to try to outrun her. The chase through the stormy Southern Ocean is a wonderfully atmospheric piece of writing, as is the Leopard's subsequent desperate limping journey to make landfall at Kerguelen Island (the 'Desolation Island' of the title), while after The Mauritius Command's focus on plot the emphasis is firmly back on character. If I had one gripe, it would be that the mention of Australia as a destination had made me hope to see Stephen encountering a wombatt, but even wombatt-free it's a terrific read.
nanila: Pokemon Go 2km Egg Hatch (pokemon go)
[personal profile] nanila
First, I received my Cassini Grand Finale stickers from the delightful [instagram.com profile] marka_design. I put one of them on my 15th and final Cassini lab notebook, and I plan to put the other on my laptop and take a photo of it when I'm at the end-of-mission events next week.

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My red lab notebook with one of the Cassini stickers.

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A photo of a page of ops checks (deliberately blurred) in my lab notebook, with the focus on the two Cassini stickers as received.

There was a JUICE meeting at my institute this week. It was not for our instrument team, but for another that we work closely with. They convinced the project scientist to attend. He gave us an informative and exciting presentation, but most importantly, he brought a small stack of the very first official ESA mission stickers. I actually didn't snaffle one because I went off with my counterpart on the other team for an hour and a half splinter meeting. However, the PI from their team kindly saved us each a sticker.

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The first official JUICE mission sticker, showing Jupiter, the Galilean moons and the JUICE spacecraft. This will go straight onto my new laptop when I receive it. It seems oddly fitting to be retiring one laptop and beginning to use another right at the end of the Cassini mission.
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