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Passport to Pimlico, 1949 - ★★★★

I think I probably saw this classic Ealing comedy, or part of it, when I was a kid, but it was good to watch it properly on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

Set a few years after the Second World War, it tells the story of the discovery of a hoard of treasure and a royal proclamation that makes Pimlico in London party of the ancient Duchy of Burgundy. The locals promptly claim the treasure and proclaim their independence from the UK.

Problems ensue for the Home Office — or does the Foreign Office have jurisdiction?

The ending is a little weak, but it’s a lot of fun getting there.

See in Letterboxd

Multiple Points

Just last month I wrote Single Points, about the Fastly CDN outage. This morning many, many sites were down or inaccessible because of an outage at Akamai. A content delivery network again, though they’re saying the outage is caused by ‘edge DNS.’ I’m familiar with DNS, but not the ‘edge’ variant. In fact, I realise it’s capitalised and is the name of an Akamai product or service.

More evidence that the increasing centralisation of internet services is a problem. On the plus side, it was resolved quickly. When a service provider has the kind of major clients we’re talking about here, then that company is going to have to be able to respond quickly and get things back up. If a random small or midlevel company ran all its own server hardware and software, an outage would only inconvenience that company’s customers. But the company would need to have the staff available to sort the problems out. That would be a large and arguably unnecessary overhead.

So I understand the desire to offload responsibilities to a service provider, and the economies of scale that a company specialising in running network services can bring. But I fear it’s only a matter of time before one of these events results in serious damage or even loss of life.

Not that I’m claiming to know what the answer is.

Diary of a Film by Niven Govinden (Books 2021, 12)

A famous film director arrives in ‘the Italian city of B’ to attend a festival and premiere his new film. He meets a woman who shows him a graffiti mural that was painted by her dead boyfriend.

The whole thing takes place over two or three days, and each chapter is a single paragraph. The latter is kind of annoying, because it makes it hard to find a good place to stop reading. Also all the dialogue is integrated into the paragraphs without speech marks. This kind of different way of representing dialogue is becoming increasingly common, it seems to me.

The story’s good, though I found the ending a little weak. And slightly reminiscent of the ending of The Magus, strangely. That same sense of slightly-incomplete explanation.

Black Widow, 2021 - ★★★★

I was last in a cinema in February 2020, to see Parasite. Today I went to the same cinema to see Black Widow. It was great and strange and moving to be back in a cinema at all, and when the Marvel ident started playing at the start… well, it was pretty special.

And the film itself is great. I’m not going to say too much about it, obviously, but it’s a fitting debut for Black Widow in a solo film, and farewell for Scarlett Johansson playing the character.

At the screening I went to, at two o’clock on a Friday afternoon, there were my daughter and I in row H; one guy sitting two or three rows in front and far off to one side; and somebody sitting right up the back and also far off. So it wasn’t like we were crowded in with people like in the old days. That was quite comforting, but I can’t imagine the film is grossing the way Marvel ones have tended to. Still, everyone knows why that is.

See in Letterboxd

Summerwater by Sarah Moss (Books 2021, 11)

My other dissertation supervisor, Julia Bell, suggested that I read this. It’s a multiple-viewpoint work, which is something I’m doing. This one takes it to extremes, though. Each chapter is from the point of view of a different character, and we never go back to any of them.

They’re all members of families who are staying at holiday park of log cabins deep in the Highlands of Scotland, one week when the rain never stops.

It does an excellent job of showing us the inner lives of the different people, as well as the minutiae of what goes on at the park in such difficult circumstances (no internet, miles from anywhere, and constant rain).

And the ending is — well, it’s something else, I’ll say that.

Hinton by Mark Blacklock (Books 2021, 10)

The author is one of my MA supervisors, so take that under advisement, I guess.

This is a historical novel, based on the real life of Charles Howard Hinton, a Victorian mathematician who studied the idea of a fourth spatial dimension. In fact, at least from this I’d go further: he believed in the existence of such a dimension. He, I learned, was the originator of the term tesseract, which — as I’m sure you know — is the four-dimensional equivalent of a cube.

So much for that. What of the story? It’s interesting, a little odd, and slightly experimental, in terms of its telling. It makes use of letters, diagrams, and other documents from Hinton’s life. But a lot of the really interesting bits of Hinton’s life — his bigamous marriage and being convicted for the same, and subsequent departure for, and time in, Japan, for example — are told largely offscreen. Or second-hand and partially, via some of those letters.

Which is all fair enough, but I feel that we didn’t really get to know Hinton as a person. I could have done with more of that. In fact we get to know some other members of his family slightly better, as the story’s focus changes in the second half.

The book is split into sections called ‘Point,’ ‘Line,’ ‘Square,’ ‘Cube,’ ‘Tesseract,’ ‘Cube,’ ‘Square,’ ‘Line,’ ‘Point.’ Numbered chapters or subsections, 1 to 14, are included across the first ‘Line’ and ‘Square.’ But chapter 9 is missing, or skipped. I kept trying to find some mathematical reason for this — 9 is a square number, of course, but it’s not the only square number in the list, and there’s nothing special about 9 in the text, that I noticed. Nor is it one of the numbers we associate with a cube. Six faces, eight vertices, but not nine of anything. So I suspect it’s actually a mistake. I might email Mark and ask him.

I first came to know of Hinton through Rudy Rucker’s books. The fourth dimension is one of Rucker’s great interests, along with infinities, so Hinton was bound to come up. Apparently I’ve never mentioned Rucker on my site before. That’s a little surprising, but I suppose it’s a good few years since I read anything by him. I’m slightly surprised to find he’s still alive: I thought I remembered hearing of his death (and was surprised I hadn’t noted that here). Oh well, the Mandela effect, I suppose.

Lastly, I noticed it was on the list of eligible titles for this year’s Clarke Award (and my apologies for linking to Medium). Which is odd, as it’s not really a novel of the fantastic in any way (except maybe, the slightest hint of something towards the end). But it wouldn’t be the first novel the the Clarke Award has noticed for which that is true. And Hinton wrote some SF himself, and inspired various SF writers as well as Rucker, so it kind of sits near the genre.

Hit Me Up in the Comments

It’s been a long time coming. When I moved my website to Nikola last year, I said:

All the comments on the blog will disappear. They’re not lost, and I plan to get them back, but I need to find the best way to do that. For now, comment via Twitter or

Getting them back, and setting up another system for comments, has taken me till now. I’ve had other things on my mind.

That post was in April 2020. In May I wrote about various commenting systems I had experimented with:

But Disqus is known to track its users and show ads, and I don’t want that for anyone who might comment here. … So far I’ve tried:

  • Isso: you have to run a service on your site. I couldn’t get the service to respond.

  • Staticman: I couldn’t get its service to start. A problem with configuring the private key setting.

  • Remarkbox: at the time of writing this is still active, but I’m not sure I’ll keep it. It works like Disqus, in that the comments are hosted on a third-party site, which is not really in keeping with the whole static site/indieweb ethos. It’s not advertising driven like Disqus, but it behaves a bit strangely, at least on here. We’ll see, though.

Remarkbox was active for a while. It worked, but it was just too weird in the way it handled users. I also tried Intense Debate, which is made by Automattic, the WordPress people, and is hosted on their servers. It worked, but I could only post comments using Chrome, for some reason. I’m a Safari user, and even if I weren’t, that’s a no-no.

So for a while I didn’t have comments at all. I wonder if anyone noticed.

But recently I tried Isso again, and something clicked this time. It worked more or less without me having to do anything — at least, that is, when I ran it from the command line on my server. When I ran it as a service — that is, automatically, in the background, the way something like that needs to run — it just didn’t work. A bit of Ducking led me to this post, which, despite being partly about Apache, when I use Nginx, gave me the pointers I needed to get it all working.

Isso keeps the comments on my server, rather than being an external service, so it’s much more in keeping with the principle of owning my own content. And I’ve imported the old comments from the WordPress site. I got some error messages when I ran the import, so I don’t know if they all made it over, but at least some of them are here.

I need to work on the styling a bit, I think, but other than that it’s all good to go.

Not So Quiet

Some thoughts on the end of garden silence.

Just over a year ago I was posting, in passing, about ‘the quiet of early lockdown.’ Actually that particular phrase was a quote, but I was definitely aware of how quiet things were outside.

Including — particularly, in fact — in our back gardern. We live in a terrace, which means there are other people’s back gardens in all directions around us, and quite close. A year ago it was quiet, not just from the lack of cars in the distance, of planes overhead, but also because no one much was in their gardens.

Today, it’s a cacophony: music playing, dishes clattering, children shouting… I guess it’s part of our return to ‘normal’ — or toward ‘normal,’ at least. But it’s strange. It suggests that, last year in spring and early summer, people were scared to go out, not just into the streets, into shops, but into their own gardens.

No one caught Covid over a garden fence. Or so I imagine. At the same time, it didn’t hurt to be cautious.