Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Through History with the Monday Quiz in Exile: the 1440s

Longtime Leaflocker readers may well recall that our own Wednesday Quiz, the first and most consistent regular feature of this little corner of the internet, began as a response to demise of the original Wednesday Quiz over at the home of our spiritual blogmother Michael5000. It this day it remains undoubtedly the finest hour of this blog to have contributed to the revival of that much-loved feature.

Having recently attained a lifetime of 10 years of almost-daily posting, the Infinite Art Tournament has finally discontinued all non-double-elimination-bracket content in favour of a well-deserved retirement and dotage, and thus Michael's current quiz feature, a decade-by-decade exploration of history that is just too good to die, needs to find a new home.

Thus, I am shamelessly stealing the idea, and am proud to present part one, Through History with the Monday Quiz in Exile: the 1440's, a closed-book quiz of general knowledge with a historical theme, undoubtedly a little bit inferior and a little bit less arty and a little bit more europhile than Michael's incarnation. It's in Exile not just from Michael's blog, but also from Mondays, because Wednesday is the new Monday, dontcherknow?

1. This painting of St. Jerome was completed by the workshop of one of the most prominent painters of the 1430's and leading light of the Northern Renaissance after the artist's death in 1441. Which artist? 

2. In the early 1440's, Lorenza Valla, an expert in Latin stylistics, analyzed the text of the Donation of Constantine, proving that it was a forgery probably written hundreds of years after Constantine's death. What did(n't) Constantine I donate, and to whom?

3. After a successful but reluctant miltary career, in 1444 Sultan Murad II abdicated his throne in favour of his twelve-year old son Mehmed II, and retired to a quiet life in the country. It didn't stick, and by 1446 his son had been deposed, and Murad was again sultan over which swiftly-growing Empire?

4. The history of the Kingdom of Naples is all over the place in this period. Having been part of the Kingdom of Sicily for a time, it was then transferred to the French, but in 1442 it was conquered by Alfonso V, the King of...where, exactly?

5. 1446 saw the promulgation of Hangul, a new script using significantly simplified characters of which it's originator claimed "A wise man can acquaint himself with them before the morning is over; a stupid man can learn them in the space of ten days.". Though Hangul gained some popularity with previously illiterate parts of society, it was opposed by the ruling and scholarly classes, and would be suppressed in 1504. Despite this, today Hangul is used by 75 million people. Where?

6. The Blarney Stone, a block of limestone set into the walls of Blarney Castle in 1446, is supposed by legend to convey 'the gift of the gab' to those who kiss it. Tens of thousands of tourists travel to Blarney every year to be lowered from the parapet of the castle in order to give the kiss. Where's Blarney?

7. The 1440's also saw the beginning of what would come to be known as the Age of Discovery, the period in which Europeans began seaborne exploration and colonisation of the wider world, with decidedly mixed results, starting with the west coast of Africa. The first permanent European trading post outside Europe, used mainly for the soon to explode African slave trade, was on the island of Arguin, off the coast of which modern nation?

8. 1448 saw the first reign of Vlad III the Impaler, most commonly known in modern times as Dracula, thanks to Bram Stoker's novel of the same name. Mostly due to the folk tales about his cruelty which would go on to be published all over Europe, Vlad would become the most famous ruler of Wallachia. In which country is Wallachia today?

9. Discovered buried in a farmers field outside modern day Gubbio, Italy in 1444, the Iguvine tablets are a set of 7 bronze tablets inscribed with detailed description of the rites of a group of priests of the early Roman religion from the 3rd to 1st centuries BC. Containing 4000-5000 words, they are by far the largest and most useful extant document written in which ancient language?

10. The 1440's saw the establishment of two still-extant colleges at Cambridge University, Kings' and Queens' Colleges. Can you name the reigning British king or queen they were named for?

Please submit your answers in the comments. I'll mark them in two weeks time.

Monday, 27 February 2017

Feeling Blue (the Shearer)

One of the great sadnesses of being away from the homeland for a long time is missing out on all the little bits and pieces of Australian news that don't make it into the media here in Britain. I gather the big stuff and a lot of political nonsense from my social media feeds and from my too-rare forays into internet radio, but all too often I miss things that I really would have liked to have known about, particularly things that touch on some of my more fringe interests that I don't share with that many of my Facebook friends. The longer I'm here, the more I feel myself losing touch with the little things that made up my identity as an Australian.

Yesterday, while hunting for the words for the next verse of a half-remembered poem (What joy! What retribution! All that blood and gore. Armless, legless, headless corpses, strewn around the floor...), I realised that the author of that timeless little number and countless others, and a familiar voice from many years of listening to my ABC radio, Col Wilson, died earlier this month at the grand old age of 89. And I didn't even know! Boom, right in the feels.

'Blue' was one of that dying breed, in the CJ Dennis mould, that we know fondly as 'bush poets', a doggerilist of the highest order who pumped out verse after rhyming verse for years and never seemed to run out of ideas. There was no air of superiority, no pretensions, rarely a change of meter, just a sharp wit, a keen eye for irony, and an authentic, down-to-earth voice that I've always appreciated and today feel bereft without. Blue would write poems about silly little every day conversations, his kids, politics, whatever came into his head. I first met his verses in the poetry collections that I used to devour whenever I got the chance (I grew up on rhyming verse, a pasttime that goes a long way towards explaining my fondness for folk music today), and then later I heard him weekly on the radio, and his thoughts were always a bit of fun and good for a laugh.

I don't know what else to say. I'll miss the old coot and his songs and I wish I had half his unashamed confidence in my own art. It seems only appropriate to leave the last word to Col and since I'm here in the UK there's really only one verse I could go with:

God save our gracious thong.
Keep our feet safe and strong,
And free from pong.
Wear them instead of shoes,
To pubs and barbecues.
Health, happiness to all of youse,
God save our thong.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

H-Index Fixes Everything

The last few months have seen a serious dearth of creativity here at Leaflocker HQ, which not only explains the general lack of anything going on around this little corner of the internet but probably also explains why people have been spending a lot of time asking if I'm okay and generally checking up on me the last little while. With a lack of creativity comes an inability to write, an unwillingness to apply myself to any task that I don't have to, a general malaise that causes me to lie in bed too long and make the short British days even shorter, and a tendency to not say all that much as a product of not having very much that I find interesting to say.

Not devoting time to my usual beloved creative pursuits does leave more time for other things that don't require thinking too hard, and thus the last few months have seen a serious increase in the sheer amount of board games that I've been playing. Given that I just passed a little milestone in that respect, I thought this might be a good time to do a little writing on the topic and see if I can't get a little creative spark back into my life.

Back in September 2015 when I arrived in Oxford I joined the board games society and made regular acquaintance with people that obsessively logged their gaming experiences over on Board Game Geek. Back on January 1st 2016 I joined that strange group of people, and ever since I've carefully noted down details of each and every one of the 543 games that I've played, as well as dipped a toe in the perplexing world that is 'the hobby' in a way that makes my previous casual forays in that direction pale into insignificance.

This weekend, I hit an H-index of 12 since I started logging games. The H-index is a metric stolen from academia that in mundane use measures the number of different papers you've had cited, if you've had five papers published 5 times each, then your H-index is 5. It's designed to balance out folks who have lots of small papers that are rarely cited and or a few big, commonly-used papers in order to make some kind of measure of scholarly impact. The fact that we've such a measure to for use to track gaming activity is probably an indication of the type of person your average BGG user is.

Since I am apparently one of those people, I thought that it might be fun to run through the games that have brought me to this milestone just to get back into the habit of putting words onto a digital page again. Let's see how it goes.

H=1. 9/1/2016 - Ticket to Ride: Marklin (1)

Appropriately enough, the first game that I played after resolving to log my games has a good claim to be called my favourite. There are others games that have more strategic depth that I can get utterly lost in, but there's no game in the 45-90 minute range (the sweet spot) that I would ever prefer to play. I don't think I've ever turned down a game of TTR, and I find it perpetually entertaining after what I suspect is approaching about 100 plays, though at the time of writing I only have 13 in the last so many months. I recently acquired the app to allow me to try out some of the other maps, and while some of them are interesting puzzles, I find myself returning to my old faithful Marklin copy whenever I possibly can.

H=2. 31/1/2016 - The Grizzled (3), Ticket to Ride: Marklin (2)

The Grizzled, a gorgeous little co-operative game about a platoon of down-on-their-luck French infantrymen attempting (and mostly failing) to live through to the end of WWI, whose theme I just love and whose gameplay was interesting enough to keep me coming back, at least for a little while. Though I played three games of this one back-to-back while I was back in Australia on the 11th, it took another three weeks for me to play a second game of anything else, as it was a time of a lot of travel and activity and not a lot of time for gaming. When I did game in this time, there was always something new and exiciting to try, and most of those were relatively long Euro-style game that didn't lend themselves to immediately being played again.

H=3. 12/2/2016 - Istanbul (3), Forbidden Desert (3), The Grizzled (3)

While Marklin lay gathering dust in early February, I'd been getting heavy use out of my new acquisition, one that had been hurriedly thrust into my hands as I departed for the plane out of Australia back in January but that I'd wasted no time trying out. Thanks both to its great flexibility of working seamlessly with any player count from 2-5 and to my custom box for it looking more than a little bit intriguing, Istanbul is a nice little number that still boils along well with the games club, especially now that I've acquired the expansion to give it just a touch more variety and unpredictability than the base game had.

Forbidden Desert is one of the games on this list that I kind of wish wasn't on the list, as I'm not a big fan of this interesting but slightly clumsy cooperative number. It's not that I actively don't like it, it's just that I've got more interesting things to do with my time, especially since we played this exclusively in a Games Cafe surrounded by interesting games... However, my fellows wouldn't let it rest until we'd finally cracked the damn thing, so this saw quite a few games early in the year before dropping off the radar. I'm afraid my experiences with it have so put me off the concept that I'm still yet to play the college copy of the predecessor, Forbidden Island, but I suspect that I'll get to it eventually.

H=4. 30/3/2016 - Codenames (8), 7 Wonders (4), Finca (4), Istanbul (5)

We say goodbye to Forbidden Desert and The Grizzled, but instead welcome a couple of mainstays to the list. Codenames had been easily my most played game of the last part of 2015, so it was honestly surprising that it look this long to make it onto this list, but it would go on to lead the play count for the rest of the year. The ability to play it with wildly divergent player counts and have teams so that pretty much anyone can play, the fact that you can almost never just play it once, combined with the fact that I have access to three different copies so that there's almost always one to hand means that whenever we play games we almost inevitably play a few games of Codenames.

7 Wonders is one of those games that takes a long time to teach, and once you've explained all the rules still leaves people staring at you with betrayal in their eyes and suddenly regretting having agreed to play, but one that is ultimately pretty simple once you're able to get over that initial barrier to entry. It's rare for a fortnight to go past in which I don't play this at least once, as the expansions fill it out nicely and different players mean you're always having to adapt your strategies, and it doesn't take any longer with 7 players than it does with 3, which makes it an excellent candidate for game night when every one if sitting around and wondering what to play.

Finca is a surprise addition to this list, as while I'm a big fan of this fruit-trading, donkey-breeding extravaganza, I've really struggled to convince people around here that it's worth the investment of time. Thankfully though, persistence pays off, as I'm slowly building up a little fanbase as I find people willing to look past the frustration that this game can cause to see the joy of the possibilities. Probably not a big enough one to ever get this little favourite of mine back into the H-index list, but enough that I'm not going to suffer another drought of it again like I did after these plays in March.

H=5. 18/5/2016 - Paperback (5), Codenames (12), Istanbul (6), 7 Wonders (5), Ticket to Ride: Marklin (5)

TTR managed to force its way back into the list for this one, but the real new standout was Paperback, the letter drafting game that is almost exactly a combination of Scrabble and Dominion, and which I went straight out and purchased the night that I first played. By this point in the year, I was starting to think seriously about investing in games to bridge the gap between the old tired famil games that many of my college family were familiar with and the games that I was playing with the club, and this one just seemed like far too good an opportunity to pass up.

H=6. 29/6/2016 - Hey! That's My Fish (7), Codenames (18), Istanbul (9), 7 Wonders (8), Ticket to Ride: Marklin (7), Paperback (6)

With June came the UK Board Games Expo and a chance to considerably expand my collection by spending far more money than could really be considered sensible. I picked up a number of expansions and a few little games as well as a couple of big ones, but the immediate winner out of my new acquisitions has to be be the beautiful little Hey! That's My Fish, which despite its silly name and kiddy theme is actually an interesting little area-control abstract strategy game that is great to be able to pull out as a filler whenever you need something to get your teeth into a little bit, and which handily fits in your pocket once you've gotten rid of the absurdly large box (a practice that I've continued in the name of ease of transportation despite now actually having space to store game boxes if I wanted to).

H=7. 8/8/2016 - Hanabi (7), Codenames (31), Istanbul (9), 7 Wonders (8), Ticket to Ride: Marklin (8), Hey! That's My Fish (8), Paperback (7)

The second behemoth game of the year, and the start of a real acceleration of my gaming habits, came with the purchase of Hanabi while I was armed with cash and instructed to head down to my friendly local games store and purchase some titles to fill out the Brasenose College stash. From this point I added a second weekly games night to my repertoire, and Mondays at college became social gaming night, at a less intense level than Wednesdays, but with snacks. Hanabi went down a treat with this crowd, and though their interpretation of the 'no tabletalk' rule leaves something to be desired, I think we've become pretty competent players over the last few months. We should have, too, as we've played it an awful lot. We also bought Codenames at the same time, which partially explains the sudden jump in plays of that.

H=8. 19/9/2016 - Red7 (9), Codenames (36), Istanbul (9) , 7 Wonders (9), Hey! That's My Fish (9), Ticket to Ride: Marklin (8), Hanabi (8), Paperback (8)

Red7 is a fun little filler card game that I'd had all year and had been bubbling along just outside of the top echelon, but that really came into its own as an opener for college games night. When teaching this one I tend to play without the odd-number abilities and just play with the basics, but most people seem willing to make the step up after playing it just a couple of times. I always use the tagline 'If you're not winning, you lose', which never fails to get a confused grin from a new player.

H=9. 6/11/2016 - The Resistance (13), Codenames (61), Hanabi (32), Hey! That's My Fish (14), Red7 (12), Istanbul (11), 7 Wonders (9), Paperback (9), Ticket to Ride: Marklin (9)

Unfortunately, when your main weekly games night becomes more of a social gathering, then there's an increased chance of being forced to play social deduction games. I'm not a big fan of The Resistance or an other Werewolf-like game, but it is quite popular amongst the college crowd so these days I find myself being drawn into the occasional game, which I still prefer to sitting by myself in a dark room. This month in particular it seemed like the Resistance was always on the table, but thankfully the phase has passed and now it's more of a rare event.

H=10. 8/12/2016 -  Between Two Cities (11), San Juan (10), Codenames (65), Hanabi (49), Red7 (17), Hey! That's My Fish (14), Paperback (14), The Resistance (13), Istanbul (12), 7 Wonders (11)

As term winds up and the students suddenly vacate Oxford, those of use that are left behind find ourselves with a lot of time to get the important gaming stuff done, so we got down to a couple of days of pretty intense gaming action. For the most part, games that took lots of players were often the order of the day, so we ended up playing the Stonemaier Games number Between Two Cities, a game which I continue to believe is better than Sushi Go, despite the wider success of the latter. As you can see from this list, games that are toeing the boundaries of party games are definitely more popular around the college scene, but since college is basically one big party anyway, I guess that's no surprise.

For a brief period of two glorious weeks, San Juan, the card-game version of Puerto Rico and a long-time favourite of mine, was all the rage, being played at least 5 times in a single day (and only one of those even included me amongst the players). It was so popular that two further copies of the game had to be acquired as Christmas presents. Not bad for a game that's been out of print for a while now.

H=11. 9/12/2016 - Codenames: Pictures (11), Codenames (65), Hanabi (49), Red7 (17), Hey! That's My Fish (14), Paperback (14), The Resistance (13), 7 Wonders (13), Istanbul (12), Between Two Cities (11), San Juan (11)

It only took a single day to get from H=10 to H=11. I wasn't kidding about this being a hectic time for board games. We also played quite a few games of Codenames: Pictures, bumping it up into the list in extremely short order after it was acquired. Most people around about these parts seem to prefer to the original, though I myself think the wordy version is ever so slightly superior.

H=12. 4/2/2017 - Ticket to Ride: Marklin (12), Codenames (66), Hanabi (59), Red7 (22), The Resistance (17), 7 Wonders (17),  Paperback (16), Hey! That's My Fish (15),  Between Two Cities (14), Istanbul (13), Codenames: Pictures (13),San Juan (12)

To hit twelve this last weekend, I taught a couple more of my friends to play Ticket to Ride, restoring it back to its rightful place on this list. H-13 seems likely to be a long way away though, as I've got no likely looking party games lurking on the horizon, and the nearest games are languishing all the way back at 8. I think the most likely options are a little game like Micropul suddenly becoming popular around college or my finding some people around to play regular games of Chess or Mahjong with. I wouldn't be surprised to find that the gap between H=12 and H=13 is the longest gap yet, but the thought isn't going to stop me playing games.

With that in mind, I'm off to games club.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

The Last Eminemperor

For the final Wednesday in Blaugust I present you the quiz that I've been working on almost all month, as it's been an annoying mind-worm that just wouldn't quit. Originally I thought it would be fun to do a mashup of the names of Bands and famous films and make you guess the constituent parts by decoding crude mashups of film plots and band descriptions like that video game quiz I did last year, but when I was half-way through I realised that the whole thing would just be better if it were just using the band's tunes and describing the film, which meant that I had to start from scratch again and that it pretty much had to become this big multimedia thing, and since I'm not a big multimedia person it came out like this...

Anyways, if your ears can stand my terrible late-night tone-deaf singing and your brain can survive my terrible lyrics, watch each clip and then provide a portmanteau of the name of the band that famously sings the song and a Best Picture Oscar winning film (eg. Amadonnaeus, or The Sting and the Police). As always, no using references of any kind. If you're not willing to put your ears or brain through that kind of punishment, please enjoy the following series of still images and don't press the play button on any of them. Good luck!









Thanks for joining in on all the wackiness of Blaugust 2016 with me. I've had a blast and I hope that you have too whether you've been following along or completing your own blogging challenges. I hope to keep writing here on a semi-regular basis this year, so keep dropping by for more of the same.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

A Tempest in a Skull

What a week! I feel like I've been through the wringer with the readings, but I can't help feeling more informed and erudite week upon week as this project continues, and since those are rare feelings for me it's no real surprise that I'm keen to hold on to them for as long as I can. Let's hope we can keep this Conversation going for a little while come the end of Blaugust tomorrow.

This Week:

Elements by Euclid
Book VI

I have to admit to having given up on Euclid in disgust this week, and not having managed to get back to him in time for this weeks reading. As penance, I guess we'll do double the Euclid reading next week (as well as trying to catch up on the poster), so it's going to be a pretty mathsy one. I feel like me from next week is going to really resent me, but the other option is missing out on my Blaugust post for today and given that I've made the 30th of August that's not really an option at all.

Of Anger by Francis Bacon

This is pretty much exactly what I expected from Bacon on the topic. He sounds every bit the 16th century Christian philosopher. You're going to get angry, but take the time to look at the reasons afterwards. It's okay to get angry, but try not to let it cause problems. Attempt to resolve issues, but wait until the appropriate time not in the heat of the moment. All perfectly solid advice, if a little boring. 

What I really appreciate about Bacon is that he doesn't do philosophy in the abstract, he's all about actual application. It makes him feel genuine and relatable in contrast, as he points out himself some philosophers with absurd expectations (like the Stoics) just seem soulless.

I also like the way he uses some of the language from the Antitheses of the sermon on the mount that gives a real contextual underpinning to his words for those familiar with the gospels. Bacon speaks my language (if a little antiquated), and I'm sad that I lack the underpinning for so many of these other authors, but I guess that's what this Great Conversation project is all about.

We finish up our Bacon round, as has become our habit, with an exercise in futility with my attempts to translate his quotations from the Latin despite having no Latin. The phrase this week is '...animasque in vulnere ponunt' which apparently has to do with bees. From the context, I'm thinking animasque relates to 'anima' (soul) rather than just 'animal', so this is something like 'their soul is in their vulnerabilities'? Stop reading now and have a guess, the answer is in the next paragraph.

That could have been worse, it actually means 'they put their soul into the wound', referring to the way that bees die when they sting, which is a fantastically poetical way of thinking about how anger wounds the angry more than those at whom anger is directed. Nice one, Francis.

Theseus by Plutarch

It seems a little strange to start the Parallel Lives with this one, which is obviously not one of the first written, as Plutarch seems quite apologetic for having to rely on myth and hearsay instead of more reliably documented history. Having no idea what Plutarch writes like it's hard to know if this is par for the course or if this is an atypical entry in the Lives, but I suspect that it's the latter and that he's struggling to find fact in myths and probably isn't at his best in this one. It seems that the Greek historians did like to weave little mixtures of fact and fanciful together, so if Plutarch seeks to disassemble them then he's got a big job ahead of him.

It's strange for me meeting Theseus as if he might have been a real person after years of thinking of him as a mythical figure. Plutarch insists that the Minotaur was a real person who was simply called 'Taurus' who Theseus defeated in combat, an interesting idea that isn't mentioned on the Wikipedia page for Minotaur, and since he references a number of others whose work we no longer have it's hard to prove or disprove this theory. He proceeds to tear down a bunch of other myths about Theseus, but since these have continued to the present day either Plutarch wasn't very popular or people just prefer to believe in three-headed dogs and Minotaurs, which is a point of view that I can understand.

As an interesting aside that rather tickled my fancy, we also come across the character of Akademos, after whom the Athenian academy was indirectly named, who seems quite the conniving little bugger, and sets in motion the events leading to the revolt of Athens against their king. I wonder how many modern dictators who attempt to suppress the works of thinkers and academics realise the analogy that they're attempting to avoid the fate of Theseus.

Confessions of Augustine of Hippo
Books IV-VI

"Wow, the great literature of the Western World as defined by 1950's America sure has an oppressively Christian worldview, doesn't it?" Is probably the sort of thing that I'd be thinking after this weeks reading if I didn't hold with the whole Christian worldview thing, but as I do I can't find a whole lot to object to here as we move out of the Augusteens and into the Augustwenties. #punachieved

In fact, I can't help but draw some parallels between young Augustine's life choices and those of many many of my friends and contemporaries around me. Put off by some of the trappings of Catholicism, he flails around for another worldview, but ends up disatisfied with both the teachings of the Greek philosphers and of the major sect in Roman Africa at the time, the Manicheans as he realises that their teachings are irreconcilable with his knowledge of the nature of the world and doesn't know what to turn to next, and having been hurt before refuses to turn back to Christianity even when its core beliefs most closely match his own. I find it ironic that the very same friends that I would say this exemplifies would probably point at my and say the exact same thing, but that's just part of the fun, I guess.

There's so many great quotes in here that it's hard to pick a good one, including some real corkers on the nature of true friendship, but let me leave you with this one that better fits the overall religious themes of the document. 'Wretched I was; and wretched is every soul bound by the friendship of perishable things; he is torn asunder when he loses them, and then he feels the wretchedness which he had ere yet he lost them. So it was with me; I wept most bitterly, and found my repose in bitterness. Thus was I wretched, and that wretched life I held dearer than my friend'.

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
Book Seven Chapters I-IV

'To make the poem of the human conscience, were it only with reference to a single man, were it only in connection with the basest of men, would be to blend all epics into one superior and definitive epic.'  and 'One can no more prevent thought from recurring to an idea than one can the sea from returning to the shore: the sailor calls it the tide; the guilty man calls it remorse; God upheaves the soul as he does the ocean.' Do yourself a favour and go read chapter three right now, my friends. It really is full of Hugonic magic.

What can I say, except that reading chapters like this forgive all Hugo's fault in my eyes. What a poet the man was. This just confirms what I've always known. That Victor Hugo is my jam. The Christ analogues are like being hit on the head with a hammer, but somehow this is something that I'll willingly forgive in Hugo that I can't tolerate in Huxley.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Chapters 10-12

I'm really enjoying the juxtaposition of the cultures posed by the return of Bernard and his companions from the wilderness as represented by the flowing poetry of Shakespeare set against the humourless, merciless life in London. 

Altogether I found everything to too suddenly up and down to truly satisfy, but there's some nice ideas here that deserve greater exploration than I fear we're going to get. Lenina's struggles to understand how John works. Everyone's refusal to acknowledge that Linda is a product of their society. Bernard's inability to internalise any of the lessons that he'd learn in the face of sudden celebrity. Good stuff.

The Stats:

This week we smashed past 1200 pages of fictional works, thanks to big contributions from Hugo and Huxley. That's a big number given that Philosophy and Theology texts (the next biggest category) are sitting at 260, but not really surprising given that all the non-gbww texts we've added are works of fiction.

Pages last week: 120

Pages so far: 1726

Week XXVI:

As I'm sure you'll remember, we get the bulk of our reading each week from the seven-year plan produced by Dr. J to read the Great Books of the Western World. This week's suggestions include some of Tolstoy's Christian apologetics and more Usonian politics, but I'm feeling like we've got enough religion in our readings at the moment and I'm pretty sick of politics too, so we'll let them slide and continue with just our ongoing readings.

Elements by Euclid
#gbww #mathematics #greek
Book VII (23 pages)

We've already got a double dose of the Elements this week, so if this 'week' takes...well, longer than that, you'll all know why.

Romulus and  Romulus and Theseus Compared by Plutarch
#new #ggb #philosophy #english #reallyshort
(18 pages)

So after a mythical Greek we get a mythical Roman to stack him up against. I wonder if the possibility of a real man behind the myths will be as tantalising as those of Theseus were? After Plutarch's treatment of Romulus we'll compare Romulus and Thesus and maybe learn something, which is apparently the whole point of the Parallel Lives.

Confessions of Augustine of Hippo
#gbww #autobiography #latin
Books VII-IX (36 pages)

You have to wonder how much longer Augustine can go along thinking that the Catholics are probably right about things without becoming a Catholic himself, so hopefully that moment is coming in these chapters. I hope that when it does come we don't see some sudden magical transformation but we see Augistine the man continue and continue to struggle with his vices, because his awareness of and honesty about his shortcomings are my favourite parts of this work so far.

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
#not_gbww #fiction #french
Book Seven Chapters V-VII (17 pages) 

Enough thinking! Enough vacillation! Time for action, Jean Valjean! Just a short little reading from Hugo this week to leave room for a big wodge of the Hux so that we can cut a little bit of fat off the top of our weekly reading, as the proscribed doses from the GBWW are coming in thick and fast at the moment.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
#new #not_gbww #fiction #english
Chapters 13-16 (33 pages)

Two weeks of Huxley to go until we can put this sucker to bed. Will Bernard ever learn anything? Will John get the girl? Will London society ever be the same? Find out in the thrilling penultimate episode of...Brave New World!

Blaugust writing prompts:
1) Blaugust. Was it good for you, too?
2) What's next after Blaugust?
If that's not enough for you, how about a quiz?

Monday, 29 August 2016

If You Go Down to the River

Since it was a lovely day today, I wandered down the Isis to look at the boats. The river is one of my very favourite Oxford places, and it's great to watch the riverboats come and go and the slow changes of the riverside population over the year. Come for a ramble with me and look at all the pretty boats. If you're the kind of person that gets offended by me using female pronouns for boats then maybe this isn't the post for you.

Today was the August bank holiday, which is always on the last Monday of August on the assumption that no-one wants to be cooped up inside on what is likely to be one of the nicest days of the year, so I was by no means alone down on the river. The Isis Farmhouse (known to students universally as the Iffley Pub, despite not being in Iffley and there already being a bunch of pubs actually in Iffley) was doing a roaring trade. Most days of the year you think they're having a laugh with this many picnic tables out in the rain, but on their boom days it's easy to see that they easily fill the place.

This black riverboat has been berthed here most of the year. You can normally tell the actually lived-in boats from the tourist ones because the lived-in ones tend to accumulate plants. These guys are growing a bunch of succulents, but some of the others have full-blown veggie patches. Apparently vegetable theft on the river is quite the problem, though, so these boats are becoming rarer or more carefully protected.

There are a few of these fibreglass numbers moored up each day. They always look bright and clean, but if you have the choice between one of these and a narrowboat why would you pick one of these? The extra space and light can't possibly make up for the character (and the wonderful earthy smell!) of a genuine narrowboat. If you look closely you can just see the fingers of the little girl about to pop from the hatch and make me jump by shouting 'Bananas!' at me. Apparently my new system of measurement is getting around.

These littler boats are inevitably populated by two blonde middle-aged ladies and a large box of white wine. I'm honestly surprised that this one has its top on, as it was a lovely day outside and there's nothing like an afternoon nap in the sun after a long morning on the river.

Hey, it's the Dee Gee! She's always here. I've never seen her move, but she turns up at different moorings up and down this stretch, so someone loves her enough to take her out now and then. I'm pretty sure that her main use is as a fishing boat, but it's hard to tell, as her windows are extremely aged, making it hard to get a good look inside to be sure.

If you ask me, you can have a lovely colour scheme and a great boat, but you're not a proper boat person unless your boat has a name lovingly displayed on her somewhere declaring something of her character to the world. This blue one looks charming with her red curtains and her pinewood fittings, but how can I know for sure unless I know what she's called?

Rhoda May has it going on. Big, bold name. "Look at me! I'm here!". Nice details with the black and red, obviously well looked after. She's a local too, and is often sitting idling with her engine running when I come past. Sometimes when I have time I like to stand around and let the charcoal smell soak into my clothes.

Tom Tug has been here a few months now, and is a really nicely kept boat. He's one of the few boats that I don't think of as a woman, partly because he obviously has one of the most masculine names possible, but mostly because there's just something stereotypically man-cavish about this armchair sitting snugly in the bow.

Errol is so cute! I'm pretty sure that I saw this one once the first couple of weeks that we were here last year, but he must come from elsewhere on the river. The plants at the stern suggest that he's a living boat, but if he is then whoever lives here live quite snugly. Errol feels like a good name for a batchelor, maybe a retired vicar or something?

Another boat with classic character but no name. They're really missing out. Maybe it has a name but it's just not displayed to the public, or is only or the river-side or something to keep her secrets from the pedestrian riff-raff. I love this rich red colour, it feels very much like the boudoir of an aging countess or something.

Anglo-Welsh are one of the big companies that rent out narrowboats, and their boats are all this pretty Welsh bottle green colour scheme. Their boats always look great, but you'd want them to for the price, I looked this 8-berther up online, and know that it would have cost these guys £1770 for a weekly booking this time of year.

There was a little black Scotch terrier running back and forth on this one yapping his little head off, but he kept disappearing whenever I tried to get a photo. This one is almost as little as Errol, but those dark-wood furnishing are just smashing.

There's quite a few of these slightly wider, more modern boats that are so wide that the name 'narrowboat' seems like a misnomer, so I guess 'riverboat' is more appropriate. I like the big bench at the back of the Celtic Lady here , it just screams cups of tea and crosswords on sunny afternoons.

The council is working on some much-needed riverbank repair, and there's quite a few places that are marked for work, so this crane and barge is going to be a regular for the next couple of months. It's not technically a boat, I know, but the whole arrangement is quite impressive. I'm kind of surprised that the council had to load a regular crane onto a barge instead of having some kind of barge-crane on speed-dial.

As I wandered down the river I heard a sudden shout and explosion of giggles up ahead, and as I rounded the bend I came across this classic Oxford scene. To the right of the frame are a punt full of embarrassed tourists slowly drifting down the river, and to the left is their punt, trapped in the river mud. The only way that this could be a more stereotypical Oxford scene would be if they'd left behind their punter clinging to the pole! Student punters tend to keep to the Cherwell, which is a shallower river with less mud and fewer people walking past to take photos are laugh if you make a fool of yourself.

 I knocked. It doesn't seem like Ramy was home, but you never know. Maybe he just doesn't like visitors. This is another boat that I've never seen before. But she really stands out with that Royal blue, doesn't she?

Boats up this end of the river tend to be in more long-term moorings, and some of them don't move at all. I'm pretty sure that this us one of the ones that serves as accommodation for some more enterprising international students. It has a pleasingly classic tug-boat look to it, and somebody obviously looks after it, though, and that doesn't seem like student behaviour, so maybe I've got this boat mixed up with one of the others.

This green boat often has a number of washing lines rigged up, so I think they must live there with their kids. This isn't the boat with the lady that home-schools her kids, which seems to have moved on, but it's always kit up at night time. They seem to have all the mod-cons, a television and everything, which all seems very unromantic to me, but I guess even people on riverboats want to be able to tune in to University Challenge.

The Jay Bee obviously either houses or has connections with some seriously artsy types, as there's a nice rendition of a Jay and a Bee on the side. It's all very nice.

This one has a very suspicious boxing glove on the end of a long pole, which I can only assume is used for the legendary sport of narrowboat jousting, which is a good way to get yourself very wet. I haven't tried punt jousting yet, as it's the sort of thing that the establishment frowns upon and I'm a very responsible and respectable young man, but riverboat jousting just seems a little bit next-level.

I definitely wasn't the only person out enjoying the river on this bank holiday, and this is the most packed I think I've ever seen one of the local tourist ferries. I've heard the patter of the tour guides so often that I think I could probably do a pretty good job of it myself (...if we keep going from here for another four days or so we'll be in London...). At least it's a more factual and relevant speech than some of the ones you get from the tour guides out around town, but that's a story for another day.

Blaugust Writing Prompts
1) Have you got anything that you've always wanted to do that is technically against the rules?
2) If you had a pretty riverboat, what would you call it? What colours would you pick?
3) It's a public holiday! What are you doing?

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Let Us Build Us a City

In our ongoing translation project we've finally reached out of those big long chapters of pretty much names and not much else. In fact, we've reached two of them. As tempting as it is to skip them entirely, that's the sort of thing liable to get one excommunicated, and besides, poor old Dan put a lot of effort into finding transliterations for some of these names.

Since the random number generator can't be relied upon to give me anything but names to make graphics of, I've just gone and picked the ones that I thought were more viable and ran the randomiser on them. Believe me, this is a better option for everyone involved.

Beginnings 10
 1 Now these are the families of the sons of the man who built the water car, the first son, the second son, and the third son: and to them were sons made after the lots of water.
 2 The sons of the third son; "Go More", and "More God", and "Mad Eye", and "Yeah Fun", and "Two Ball", and "Miss Each", and "Tire As".
 3 And the sons of "Go More"; "Ask An As", and "Rest Have", and "To Go Mark".
 4 And the sons of "Yeah Fun"; "Else Sigh Share", and "Tea hard ships", "Kid Team", and "Do day him".
 5 By these were the lands all around with water of the people who were not from God's chosen people; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their lands.
 6 And the sons of the second son; "Kiss", and "Miss Rain", and "Foot", and "Can In".
 7 And the sons of "Kiss"; "See Bar", and "Have All Are", and "Sad Tire", and "Run Are", and "Sad Take Are": and the sons of "Run Are"; "She Bar", and "Dead An".
 8 And "Kiss" had "Name Road": he began to be a great one in the world.
Picture modified from photo by user Vera Kratochvil
 9 He was great at killing animals before the god: where for it is said, Even as "Name Road" the great at killing animals guy before the god.
 10 And the beginning of his land was "Buy Ball", and "Ear Rock", and "are Card", and "Call Near", in the land of "She Near".
 11 Out of that land went forward "As Her", and built "New Never", and the city "Red How Box", and "Call Are",
 12 And "Resting" between "New Never" and "Call Are": the same is a great city.
 13 And "Miss Rain" had "Loud in", and "An Am In", and "Lean Have In", and "Nod Foot Are Him",
 14 And "Pass Rush Him", and "Cat Shoe Him", (out of who came "Fill Is Them",) and "Cat Or Him".
 15 And "Can An" had "Seat On" his first son, and "He Is",
 16 And the "Job Us Sight", and the "Am All Right", and the "Guy Guy Sight",
 17 And the "He Fight", and the "Are Cry It", and the "Seen Night",
 18 And the "Are Fact Eyed", and the "Seem All Right", and the "Him At Hide": and later were the families of the sons of "Can An" found across the world.
 19 And the edge of the land of the sons of "Can an" was from "Side On", as you come to "Chair Are", to "Guys Are"; as you go, to "Sold Home", and "Go More Are", and "Add More", and "See Bore Him", even to "Last ha".
 20 These are the sons of the second son, after their families, after their tongues, in their lands, and in their lands.
 21 To "Slam" also, the father of all the children of "He Bar", the brother of "Wrap Lets" the older, even to him were children given.
 22 The children of the first son; "He Land", and "As Her", and "Are Facts Sad", and "Led", and "Are Am".
 23 And the children of "Are Am"; "Us", and "Hall", and "Get Her", and "Mays".
 24 And "Are Facts Sad" had "Sir Laugh"; and "Sir Laugh" had "He Bar".
 25 And to "He Bar" were given two sons: the name of one was "Pair Leg"; for in his days was the world shared; and his brother's name was "Joked An".
 26 And "Joked An" had "All Mad Add", and "She Left", and "Has Arm Have Is", and "Goer Are",
 27 And "Had Or Am", and "Ours All", and "Drink Laugh",
 28 And "Oh Ball", and "A Be May All", and "She Bar",
 29 And "Off Here", and "Have A Laugh", and "Job Add": all these were the sons of "Joked An".
 30 And their land was from "Me Share", as you go to "See Far" a large rock place of the place on the right of a picture of places.
 31 These are the sons of the first son, after their families, after their tongues, in their lands, after their lands.
 32 These are the families of the sons of the man who made, after their families, in their lands: and by these were the lands set out in the world after the lots of water.

Beginnings 11
 1 And the whole world was of one way of using words, and of one tongue.
 2 And it came to pass, as they went from the place on the right of a picture of places, that they found a even land in the land of "She Near"; and they lived there.

Picture modified from photo by Flickr user dynamosquito used under CC BY_SA 2.0 license

3 And they said one to another, Go to, let us make rock boxes, and burn them well. And they had rock boxes for rock, and not clean water had they for sticking the rock boxes together.
 4 And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tall house, which has a top may reach to the sky; and let us make us a name, in case we are sent away across the face of the whole world.
 5 And the god came down to see the city and the tall house, which the children of men built.
 6 And the god said, Check it out, the people is one, and they have all one tongue; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be held back from them, which they have imagined to do.
 7 Go to, let us go down, and there confuse their way of using words, that they may not understand one each other one's tongue.
 8 So the god sent them away from there upon the face of all the world: and they left off to build the city.
 9 For this reason is the name of it called "By Ball"; because the god did there confuse the way of using words of all the world: and from there did the god send them away upon the face of all the world.
 10 These are the children of "Slam": "Slam" was an hundred years old, and had "Are Facts Sad" two years after the lot of water:
 11 And "Slam" lived after he had "Are Facts Sad" five hundred years, and had sons and daughters.
 12 And "Are Facts Sad" lived five and three tens of years, and had "Sir Laugh":
 13 And "Are Facts Sad" lived after he had "Sir Laugh" four hundred and three years, and had sons and daughters.
 14 And "Sir Laugh" lived three tens of years, and had "He Bar":
 15 And "Sir Laugh" lived after he had "He Bar" four hundred and three years, and had sons and daughters.
 16 And "He Bar" lived four and three tens of years, and had "Pair Leg":
 17 And "He Bar" lived after he had "Pair Leg" four hundred and three tens of years, and had sons and daughters.
 18 And "Pair Leg" lived three tens of years, and had "Real":
 19 And "Pair Leg" lived after he had "Real" two hundred and ten less one years, and had sons and daughters.
 20 And "Real" lived two and three tens of years, and had "Shrug":
 21 And "Real" lived after he had "Shrug" two hundred and seven years, and had sons and daughters.
 22 And "Shrug" lived three tens of years, and had "Near Or":
 23 And "Shrug" lived after he had "Near Or" two hundred years, and had sons and daughters.
 24 And "Near Or" lived one less than three tens of years, and had "Tear Are":
 25 And "Near Or" lived after he had "Tear Are" an hundred and twenty less one years, and had sons and daughters.
 26 And "Tear Are" lived seven tens of years, and had "A Bar Am", "Near Or", and "He Ran".
 27 Now these are the children of "Tear Are": "Tear Are" had "A Bar Am", "Near Or", and "He Ran"; and "He Ran" had "Lot".
 28 And "He Ran" died before his father "Tear Are" in the land where he started, in "Are" of the "Child He's".
 29 And "A Bar Am" and "Near Or" took themselves wives: the name of "A Bar Am's" wife was "Sir Eye"; and the name of the wife of "Near Or", "Mark Are", the daughter of "He Ran", the father of "Mark Are", and the father of "Is Car".
 30 But "Sir Eye" could not make children; she had no child.
 31 And "Tear Are" took "A Bar Am" his son, and Lot the son of "He Ran" his son's son, and "Sir Eye" his son's wife, his son "A Bar Am's" wife; and they went out with them from "Are" of the "Child He's", to go into the land of "Can  An"; and they came to "He Ran", and lived there.
 32 And the days of "Tear Are" were two hundred and five years: and "Tear Are" died in "He Ran".

Phew, on with the plot next week.