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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 Micro.blog.

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.

Not Killing It

We got to the end of The Killing tonight.

Don’t read on if you care about spoilers.

OK?

What a disaster of an ending that was! There are ways to bring a series to a close without having the lead character act completely out of character!

Jesus. What an utter letdown for what was mainly a really good series, if frustrating in places (call for backup! And turn the lights on!) and repetitive in others (too many politicians who might be corrupt or maybe it’s their advisors doing things without being asked).

Anyway. The Bridge and Borgen are both better. If that’s not too alliterative.

Two Weeks

They say the vaccines give maximum resistance ‘two to three weeks’ after the second dose. I hit the two-week mark yesterday, and now consider myself ‘maxinated,’ more or less.

So I’m going swimming later today. It has been approximately fifteen and a half months since I last swam. Back in February 2020 and the preceding months, I was going two or three times a week, most weeks. So I’ve missed it.

I had hoped to go to London Fields Lido: start outdoors, to keep things maximally safe. But it’s all booked up till Monday, so I’m going to the much closer, but less busy, King’s Hall, my local pool.

Both, predictably, require bookings, so there’s little chance of them being crowded.

In other covidian matters, remember back in March last year, when I shared a video of someone showing how to clean your shopping? And then I quickly walked it back, on better advice? Well, at that point we were already wiping down all items arriving in the house, much as the guy in the video was doing. And we continued to do it. I’ve used more antiseptic wipes this last year than I’ve owned in any previous year.

Yes, we soon learned that Covid was almost entirely transferred by air, and hardly by surfaces at all (though we also learned the word ‘fomite‘). But the idea that anything crossing the threshold was a potential infection vector burned deep, and remained.

Now, post vaccination, post maxination, will we keep on doing that? Probably not. It’d be nice to get the time back when bringing the shopping home or receiving a delivery. But I don’t know, it could take a while to stop feeling suspicious of things that have come in from out there.

Covid has made germophobes of us all.

Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch (Books 2021, 9)

The second of Aaronovitch’s series about the division of the Metropolitan Police that deals with magical goings-on. It’s a fun romp — I laughed more often than you might expect.

I don’t know how long ago I read the first one, Rivers of London, but I didn’t write about it here, and it must be a while, because I don’t remember much of it. Still, the backstory is handled nicely here, so I could get by fine.

A lot of it is about jazz and jazz musicians. It’s likely to make you check out the odd track.

Single Points

I noticed that GitHub was down this morning — or not down, exactly, but its web pages were profoundly broken. I tried different browsers, then jumped on Twitter to see if it was widely reported.

It was. People were saying the problem was Fastly, a content delivery network (CDN). Also that it was affecting other sites. I don’t know when CDNs started being a thing. I think they might have been recommended by some when I was still using WordPress. The idea being that a CDN can host your site’s static assets — images, mainly — while WordPress carries on with the dynamic bits, generating HTML pages on the fly, as it does. The CDN’s scale will mean it can serve those files faster than your little server.

I didn’t bother with them, not having that much traffic. But in the back of my mind there was always the thought, ‘What if the CDN goes down?’ The idea, of course, was that the CDN would be big, multiply-redundant, reliable: it’s not going to go down!

Here’s a CNN report about the outage. It affected a lot more than GitHub, it seems.

So, are CDNs single points of failure? Obviously there’s more than one CDN, but if the failure of any one can disable large chunks of the web, do they put us in a better position?