CHRIS COOPER'S BLOG - infrequent forays into fun, freedom, fysics and filosophy...

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Blogosophical Investigations
Monday, March 28, 2005  

This morning Andrew Marr's Start The Week talked about Wells's The First Men In The Moon. One of the guests was China Miéville, who's written the introduction to a new Penguin edition. I learned that Wells had been challenged by Verne over the poor quality of his science. I should think Wells would be well placed to offer the defence that artistic value is more important than scientific plausibility, since he was a supreme artist. Even so, he sailed close to the wind with the liberties he took.

I don't have much problem with Cavorite, the anitgravity material. That's well justified by the scene where the first sample is produced in a chemical reaction while Cavor is walking to the house of Bedford, the narrator. Cavor's house and quantities of the East Anglian surroundings take off into space - in an "absentmindedness that had just escaped depopulating the terrestrial globe":

The chimneys jerked heavenward, smashing into a string of bricks as they rose, and the roof and a miscellany of furniture followed. Then overtaking them came a huge white flame. The trees about the building swayed and whirled and tore themselves to pieces, that sprang towards the flare. My ears
were smitten with a clap of thunder that left me deaf on one side for life, and all about me windows smashed, unheeded. I took three steps from the verandah towards Cavor's house, and even as I did so came the wind. Instantly my coat tails were over my head, and I was progressing in great leaps and bounds, and quite against my will, towards him.
But sending his travellers to the Moon without breathing apparatus, only to find a breathable atmosphere available when they arrive - that's outrageous.

And when Bedford and Cavor emerge onto the surface of the Moon they find that the lunar day is ending, presumably becasue Wells wants them to feel the pressure of time - they can't survive in the lunar night. But they arrived at dawn, and they've only spent two days below the surface in the company of the selenites. The lunar day is 14 terrestrial days long. No problem - just invoke some mysterious physiological effect that has slowed their subjective experience of time. Doubly outrageous. But again justified by what the old wordsmith does with it all.

Credit to the Gutenberg project, whose text I checked, and found to be wildly, disconcertingly, different in many ways from what I had remembered.

3:30 PM

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Saturday, March 19, 2005  

How best to spend a quarter of a million or more

I drove my daughter down to Royal Holloway (the London University college) yesterday so that she could attend their music department's open day. While she was elsewhere, I spent the time enjoying the glorious springlike weather and the glorious Victorian Gothic folly that is the Founder's Building, while drinking beer and coffee and reading The Renegade Writer (see previous entry). My current work is paperless, and my Psion 5mx - my only mobile computer - has been down with screen problems for many months. So when I'm away from base, reading marginally work-related books is the nearest I can come to real work.

BREAK THIS RULE: You need to generate lots of ideas.

New ideas are good, but old ideas can be better. Instead of racking your brain to come up with the Next Big Idea, why not recycle the ideas you've already written about?
Now that's what I call practical. Seriously. I don't think enough about extracting extra mileage from stuff I've written. Thanks, Linda and Diana.

If all artists borrow, and great artists steal, it must be the supreme artists who steal from themselves.

But I shall try to avoid repetition in this blog. Tell me if I do it.

There was a little concert for applicants and their carers at lunchtime. Tuba and piano duetting; then clarinet and piano, and then the clarinet solo. Superb. The tuba hit low notes that must have had whales poking their heads out of the water off Cornwall.

This took place in the Picture Gallery. Before the music I had a chance to look at some of the paintings. There was the Holy Land in Pilgrims Approaching Jerusalem, seen through the murk of a style better suited to represent stags at bay on rainy Scottish moors; it's hard to believe that David Roberts painted this from his own experience of Palestine, but he did:

Between 1832 and 1833 he travelled extensively in Spain and Algeria. During the years 1838 and 1839 he visited Egypt and the Holy Land, and in 1851 and 1853 he toured Italy. These visits provided the raw material for many magnificent books illustrated in the newly developed chromo-lithography
Perhaps the process was to blame. I could appreciate the story-telling paintings better. They all seemed to be tear-jerkers: Edwin Long's Babylonian Marriage Market; Sir Luke Fildes' Applicants for Admission to a Casual Ward; Millais' The Princes in the Tower; Spanish beggars getting their begging licences from an arrogant official …. The Victorians are generally regarded as being economical with their compassion, but paintings like these disprove that.

The man to whom we owe the collection, according to the college Website:

In the last years of his life, between 1881 and 1883, Thomas Holloway, a self-made multi-millionaire whose fortune had been made in patent medicines, paid well over 80,000 pounds (equivalent to more than 6 million pounds in today's terms) for the seventy-seven paintings which make up the Royal Holloway Collection.

This was the final touch to Holloway's generous endowment of a College for women, founded in 1879 and opened by Queen Victoria in June 1886. …

In 1871, Holloway had initiated a public debate through the pages of The Builder, inviting suggestions as to `How best to spend a quarter of a million or more', a sum of money that he very soon doubled. In fact, it was his wife who was to suggest a college for women as the means by which Holloway's money might effect what, in his own words, he wanted to achieve: `the greatest public good'.
Well, if they offer Blythe a place, I'll drink a toast to the old snake-oil peddler.

11:08 PM

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Tuesday, March 15, 2005  

Some of my current reading:

  • Paradoxes From A to Z by Michael Clark. Can't recommend it. The discussions are often rushed and muddled.

  • Logic: A Very Short Introduction by Graham Priest. A cracker. It gallops through a lot of sophisticated stuff - modal logic, fuzzy logic, decision theory - in a small space.

I don't know why I was in such a logic-loving mood when I got these. Perhaps I was exhilarated by getting an honourable mention on Fallacy Files Weblog for the solutions I offered to a pair of problems called 'Untie the nots' Part 1 (Jan 22) and Part 2 (Feb 1). Solutions appear right under Part 2.

  • The Renegade Writer by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell. Haven't got into this yet, but it looks stimulating.

But one thing glares out from the pages: the twists writers get into when a cast-iron formula has been decided for a book. The back-cover blurb gives the prospectus:

Remember all those "rules" you were told about freelance writing? Forget 'em!

So inside you get this frenetic would-be bonfire of vanities:

BREAK THIS RULE: You need to research only the magazine and your assignment topic.

BREAK THIS RULE: Participate in freelance job boards and auctions.

BREAK THIS RULE: Never call an editor.

Only writers under orders to appear iconoclastic have ever pronounced such rules, and only to provide the spectacle of shooting them down.

Don't get me wrong, Diana and Linda, when you google for reviews and find this page: I feel for any writers who've got themselves trapped in a formula for the duration of a book - I've done it myself often enough. I'll be reading your book right through and making notes.

9:20 PM

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Friday, March 04, 2005  

Bilious? Moi?

While viewing this page, I pressed the 'Similar pages' button on my Google toolbar. Among some otherwise perceptive choices, it displayed Now what makes it think I'm bilious, a fogey, or young?

The site is good to look at if you like pictures of Chinese and Japanese painting and calligraphy and the torsos of hunks. It's good to read if you like right-wing stuff. He describes himself as a 'neocon' and a 'homocon'.

4:31 PM

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Quatermass 2005

Perhaps there is a God. Quatermass returns this year.

BBC4 is doing some kind of production of The Quatermass Experiment soon. Not a simple rebroadcast – I believe only two episodes of the 1953 original survive. Alarmingly, someone said the new version is to be 'modernized'. Never mind – fingers crossed that it'll keep the spirit of the original, even if it doesn't have a rubber-glove monster.

This from the BBC:

BBC Four controller Janice Hadlow said she was "thrilled to be bringing Quatermass back to life … It's wonderful to have one of the first 'must-watch' TV experiences that inspired the water-cooler chat of its day."

Water-cooler chat? Water-cooler? The average Briton of 1957 would have wondered what a water-cooler was, and why it would be so chatty. The water we drank then – I can remember those days, my friends, though my memories are distorted by the mighty shadow of Quatermass – came straight from the tap and was tepid. What would have been the point of cooling it, when the only purpose of extracting it from the tap was to boil it up and make tea with it?

Sometimes we glimpsed water-coolers in offices in American TV programmes. We wondered why there were no fish in those tanks.

Not that I would have had anything to do with water. As a schoolboy – yes, I may be old, but my age isn't into triple digits yet – I only drank brightly coloured fizzy stuff from glass bottles.

Apparently the surviving bits of the original Experiment and the whole of Quatermass II and Quatermass and the Pit are coming out on DVD quite soon. But it's such a long time to my birthday or Christmas.

11:41 AM

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