20 GOTO 10

Oh, I need to explore this! The BBC have published a whole load of content from the Computer Literacy Project of the 1980s and just looking through the listings is like a time capsule to my childhood. It was this project that created the BBC Micro and put them in all the schools where kids like me found we knew how to use them better than the teachers and took control of them. And now we run websites and internet companies and digital all-sorts, and this is where it all began. Thank you Computer Literacy Project!

So far I’ve got halfway through the first episode of Making the Most of the Micro which I remember being glued to when it was broadcast in 1983. I distinctly remember the first feature on a man with cerebral palsy who used a head pointer to write on his word processor. What I didn’t remember was that he actually spent a year writing his own word processor software, in BBC Basic, that would be simpler for him to use than an off-the-shelf program (he wanted to use shortcodes for common words) or that he’d used it to write his PhD thesis. What a star! His name was Richard Gomm and watching this again made me wonder what he had done since then, but searching for him only sent me on a loop back to the 1980s.  [Edited to add: I found his brother Mike Gomm is still involved with special needs technology, and mentions Richard in the past tense.]

You can also run lots of the code used in the programme on a BBC emulator, but for the full 1983 experience of getting your new computer to work (or playing with the ones in WHSmith (was it really? Or Dixons maybe?) on a Saturday afternoon) I recommend just this 😀

(You’ll have to imagine the flickeriness of the aerial connection to a portable TV, I never had a monitor that fancy.)

[found via feeling listless]

The Hidden Room by Stella Duffy

Cover of The Hidden Room

I read Stella Duffy’s Saz Martin mysteries a few years back and my memory says they were pretty good (later I’ll go and check what I actually said at the time, there are often discontinuities between my memory and reality) but I don’t think I’ve read any of her other books since. This jumped off the library shelf into my hands and engaged me so much I read it in about 24 hours which is something I used to do all the time but rarely get to do any more (mostly I blame me and my life for that rather than the books). The story’s about a woman, now grown up with children in the UK, who was adopted into a cult in America as a baby, and about how the past comes back to haunt her. In places it was a little predictable maybe but in the kind of “oh no, this is all going to go horribly wrong, can I read it with my eyes closed?” probably intentional sort of way. A good read for sure.


More information about this book can be found on goodreads.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Cover of Little Fires Everywhere

It starts at the end – with the house burning down, and a quick look at what’s going on in the town which seems to involve some kerfuffle with an American family adopting a Chinese baby. And then the story goes back a year or so to show us the lives of the families involved: one seems to be the stereotypical successful all-American family with a child each year of high school, the other is a nomadic unit with a single mother and her daughter. But it’s obvious from the beginning that neither of them is really a stereotype, I thought Ng’s characterisation and eye for details was great. I only had a couple of minor complaints. The setting is the mid-90s, which makes sense when it dives further back into the past, but, to me at least, the mid-90s world is enough like the present day that the occasional period details sometimes seemed jarring. And I felt some of the male characters got short shrift and were a bit more hackneyed than the females, but since that’s the opposite of the usual complaint I can live with it, besides it wasn’t all of them.

The book has a slow start once we go back to the beginning of the story, deliberately I’d assume so that we see the slow build up of tensions in the community, then it really gets going half way through. But all in all it was a very enjoyable and well plotted read, I liked the way the threads of the story intertwined and reflected each other. Hmm, reflecting threads? Well even though I can’t keep an analogy straight for a single sentence I can tell that Celeste Ng can craft a fine tale and I’d like to read more.


More information about this book can be found on goodreads.

Old Kent Road to Mayfair

Even though I visited London plenty as a child, and later lived there, the London of the Monopoly board still somehow forms part of my map of the city. And it makes no bloody sense. This map has a few things wrong with it (also pointed out on the reddit thread where I found it. The orange properties (which make the least sense of any of the groupings) are definitely in the wrong places. I always thought that 'Marlborough Street' had to be 'Great Marlborough Street'. I went looking for a better map and found this Google Maps plot that looks a bit better.
This article in the Londonist also points out that there's technically not a Bond Street, only New or Old ones, and the coaching inn called The Angel at Islington that the game used isn't there anymore though there's apparently a branch of Wetherspoons under that name now (which somehow surprises me not a jot).

And now I've discovered someone has written a whole book on this kind of tangent: Do Not Pass Go by Tim Moore..

Testosterone Rex by Cordelia Fine

Cover of Testosterone Rex

So, we’re definitely in confirmation bias territory here. Cordelia Fine quotes tons of research that shows that arguments like “men have to be the breadwinners because their ancestors evolved to be hunters and women are just inferior/better-at-other-stuff and wouldn’t it better if they just stayed home and had babies” (that’s my lousy paraphrasing, not an actual quote) are just nonsense, and since I completely agreed with her premise to start with I wasn’t reading this looking for holes in the reasoning. Instead I found myself wanting to memorise the arguments on every other page to use as fuel in future debates. There’s so much good stuff here, and so many refutations of the tired old cliches about men being good at one kind of thing and women being good at another. Here the cliches are stripped down and shown to, on the whole, only be wearing clothes composed of the social and cultural constructs we’ve built around them. Which is the kind of thing I’ve been trying to say for years without having the research based knowledge to back it up.

Some of the major points I want to remember are: The way men are supposedly more risk-taking than women depends on a very narrow definition of risk (e.g. pregnancy has a higher death rate than sky-diving) and a narrow definition of men (wealthy & educated white western men tend to perceive the world as a safer place than most everyone else does); and that’s before you get onto the fact that there’s no single scale to measure how ‘risk taking’ any single person is; that testosterone isn’t the deciding factor in how aggressive people are; and there’s a great statistical analysis of how the “women are limited to one baby a year-ish, but men can have hundreds” theory just doesn’t wash in the real world.

This book concentrates on the role than hormones play in what makes us act in ‘male’ or ‘female’ ways (spoiler: not much, and what are these ‘male’ and ‘female’ ways anyway?) and Fine’s previous book Delusions of Gender apparently approaches the same argument from the brain’s point of view and I’m looking forward to reading that as well.


More information about this book can be found on goodreads.

Tynemouth Lido

The Guardian have a nice feature on lidos today – I like that they concentrated on the lesser known ones rather than the famous ones – but it wasn’t the ones mentioned in the article that caught my eye. Hidden away in the comments I found out that there are moves underway to get the open air pool at Tynemouth restored.

Tynemouth Metro

 

When I moved to Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1994 I was delighted to find that the metro would take me to the seaside and Tynemouth quickly became my go-to place for any day out. Rain or shine, it’s always good to be beside the sea. I slowly gravitated towards the sea and Tynemouth ended up being the last place I lived in the area before I moved south from Tyneside again.

 

The derelict looking outdoor pool was always an eyesore, even though it couldn’t have been long filled in when I first knew it. Any visitors would always comment on what a pity it was that it was abandoned and I’d have to point out the signboards that claimed it was being redeveloped as a haven for marine wildlife. I’m no expert on the subject but it never seemed to show much sign of wildlife. It just looked like some hooligans came along and threw rocks at random. And though we could see why, in the absence of upkeep, it had been necessary to fill the pool in, it always seemed a pity we couldn’t stop for a picnic where the bathers used to lie.

 

In my imagination it always looked like the old LNER railway advertisements. Perhaps my imagination is an odd place, but I hope one day I can wander along from the metro station with my parasol and take a dip beside the sea.

Island of the Mad by Laurie R. King

Cover of Island of the Mad

Ah, Mary Russell. Yay! This is a series that you just can’t explain to anyone who hasn’t read it because it just sounds like twaddle as soon as you get to the “and then she marries Sherlock Holmes” bit (and possibly before). But I love Russell, she’s one of only a few authors on my “buy hardback on release” list and actually I think that Waterstone’s managed to deliver this book to me before it was released which is weird but good. And yes, the way these books are packaged up as Mary Russell’s memoirs does make me think of them as her books rather than Laurie King’s.

This one sees Russell chasing off to 1925 Bedlam lunatic asylum as well as partying with Cole Porter in Venice. I do think that the character of Holmes has morphed a bit but I haven’t read Conan Doyle in a long time, and, hey, relationships will do that to people.

A good fun read, I did think the plot got a bit ropey in spots but certainly nothing to put me off buying up future instalments on release.


More information about this book can be found on goodreads.

A New Dawn

Back at the tail end of the twentieth century I started this website as a place to keep track of all the little things I found on the internet every day, and the site gradually became a weblog (which then contracted to ‘blog’) and the archive of those little things gradually came to be something that was more than the sum of its parts to me. A trail of small pieces that told me about myself as much as it told anyone else anything.

Then things got busy for a while – business got bigger, my daughter came along – and while I was distracted the world moved away from blogs and seemed to move mostly onto Facebook. Which has never really been my thing. I like hearing what people I know are up to but even when you know no one is really paying attention saying anything on that site still feels like standing up in front of the room and showing off, so I end up keeping quiet there, sitting in the corner of the room and watching but never dancing. But I like dancing. My internet activity spread out to little bits of things across a range of different sites and I reconfigured this site to mostly be a consolidation of all those bits.

And gradually all the bits fell over as I never looked here any more either. But I miss what I used to do here and I’m forever finding myself looking at some interesting morsel of the internet and wanting to share it, to save it for my future self to stumble over. So I plan to do so again. I miss the internet I used to have, but I can still make this little corner like the internet I want it to be. I’m messing with wordpress and I’ll get the goodreads reviews working here again soon, and the photos synced, and I’ll add those other snippets I enjoy in between.

A Rising Man (Sam Wyndham #1) by Abir Mukherjee

Cover of A Rising Man (Sam Wyndham #1)

Reading the first in the series after the second; it doesn’t sound ideal but I often find that authors get better as series go on so I don’t think it’s that bad an approach. Here I had an inkling that something was up with one of the characters based on the fact that they hadn’t featured in the second book but that didn’t spoil my enjoyment. The author didn’t make me care very much about the victim here, it was more figuring out the logic of the puzzle of who killed him and why, which is interesting and there’s no reason every fictional murder victim should be a nice guy but it just felt a bit uninvolving at times here. Darren’s reading this at the moment and pointed out that Sam seems to be far too liberal a character for the time and place (1920ish colonial India) but I think that if he wasn’t then he’d be insufferable to a twenty-first century readership so I’m glad he’s a bit anachronistic.


More information about this book can be found on goodreads.

Utopia for Realists: And How We Can Get There by Rutger Bregman

Cover of Utopia for Realists: And How We Can Get There

Really enjoyed this; I was in need of a non-fiction fix and this delivered it. Very well written essay on how the world could be a better place (and especially well written considering it’s a translation from Dutch). I went into it expecting to agree with the author on some points and disagree on others but mostly I felt talked a lot of sense. Certainly on the things I already knew a fair amount about he seemed to have his head screwed on. It left me with lots of things to explore (and lots of citations to follow up, though as always it’s super annoying not being able to access academic journal articles easily) and lots to think about.


More information about this book can be found on goodreads.