Jun. 7th, 2010

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Solar Solar by Ian McEwan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Professor Michael Beard is a thoroughly unpleasant fellow.

Short, fat, balding and a serial philanderer, he is approaching the end of his fifth marriage with mixed feelings. His one achievement in life was a startlingly brilliant insight into quantum theory (the Beard-Einstein Conflation) that earned him a Nobel prize, but his subsequent career has ended up being little more than a series of plodding administrative jobs and dull sinecures where he is only employed so that his name and qualification can be quoted on the letter heads. By accident rather than design he finds himself in nominal charge of an institute investigating climate change and alternative sources of energy. Can he actually make a difference, and does he even want to when the young scientists doing the actual work all seem to have pony-tails and an air of evangelical fervour about them?

This book charts Beard's career as he stumbles across a theory that builds on his own discovery and promises a cheap, clean and potentially limitless source of energy, and contrasts it with his own venality and personal shortcomings in his various relationships. It is very funny in places, particularly on a 'fact finding' mission to the Arctic that descends into farce when the various idealists and dreamers can't even manage to organise their cold weather gear in the boot room of their accommodation, never mind save the planet. In other places, the book takes some very dark turns, not least in Beard's self-justification of some of his reprehensible behaviour.

It is an entertaining read, particularly in the light of the recent 'Climategate' non-scandal, where researchers pondered how best to present their findings to a woefully ignorant public. If scientists are not moral paragons, that doesn't necessarily detract from the value of their work. To paraphrase Isaac Newton, everybody is standing on the shoulders of the giants who came before, and thus we make progress in our understanding of the universe.

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Is there anything quite so depressing as a Monday morning after a week off? The sky was grey, the air muggy and my inbox was creaking somewhat, but a reviving cup of coffee soon got me moving again. It was pretty quiet in the office too, with the consultancy team on a training day and my boss off on his holiday.

Last night's Lovefilm offering was 'Nowhere Boy' - a biopic of the life of the teenaged John Lennon as he struggled with his relationship with his absent mother and the aunt who had looked after him since he was a baby. It's a compelling little slice of history, particularly in the period details of Lennon's efforts to get a skiffle band going with his school mates and his first meeting with a very young Paul McCartney. As you might expect, the soundtrack was pretty good too with music from the time and an instrumental score by Goldfrapp. I'm not a huge Beatles fan, but I enjoyed this, even if Lennon himself came across as something of an egotistical twat at times.

In games news, I'm thoroughly enjoying Carcassonne and finding new tactics to play with. There is a certain amount of luck in the order that the tiles are uncovered, but as with all good games you can maximise your chances of getting something favourable by creating opportunities to place different combinations. Playing spoiler tiles to block off your opponents cities and cloisters is useful too, although I'm still not sure of the best approach to take with controlling fields. If there are lots of small cities that haven't been surrounded by roads then fields are a good bet, but you need to take an early gamble by sacrificing a meeple to claim territory without necessarily knowing how the map will develop. Also, I've only played two player games so far and I suspect that tactics with three or more will be very different.

Still, if anyone has the game and fancies a match then just send an invite to the usual email.

In being a twat news, I've had a nagging pain just under ribs all day. I'd just about convinced myself it was some sort of fatal death syndrome, probably involving the word 'thoracic', when Jan asked me if I could have done anything to bruise myself. After a moments reflection I remembered tripping over the corner of the bed in the dark last night and coming a cropper. Doh. How did I forget that?


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September 2010


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