Friday, February 18, 2011

Wolfsangel book review

Wolfsangel is the first fantasy novel by Mark Barrowcliffe under the nom-de-plume MD Lachlan. M.D. Lachlan obviously loves Norse mythology and is an ex-roleplayer (he also wrote the Elfish Gene). Both of these things endeared the book to me before I’d even opened it, since I too love Norse mythology, and play role-playing games. In fact I learned a lot of my Norse myths from role-playing, and I’m guessing that M.D. Lachlan did too. However, I didn’t actually read the book for quite a while, since the publicity emphasised that it was about werewolves, rather than Vikings. This conjured up (to me at any rate), visions of Lon Chaney-esque wolfmen baying at the full moon before getting their come-uppance from a suitable bit of silver.

This isn’t that sort of book. Instead it evokes the bleak landscapes of the Norse sagas, with violent death and evil seidr magic constantly threatening, and indeed, killing most of the books characters. The wolf in question is the Fenrisulfr, the spawn of Loki, enemy of Odin, the hanged god, battle-bold and one-eyed. And the seidr – the dark and dangerous runemagic of women - is suitably filthy and murderous. Something no Aesir-respecting warrior should dabble in.

In fact the story begins when King Authun the pitiless, a Viking Jarl, leads his berserks on a raid to kidnap a magical child on the basis of a witch’s prophecy. Even the men who survive must sacrifice themselves for the king’s prophecy to be fulfilled. In fact he finds two children. Things go downhill for Authun after that.

The main characters, Authun, his kidnapped sons Vali and Fealig, and their shared love-interest Adisla are well drawn and easy to sympathise with, and the story is suitably complex and involving. It has a strong sense of time and place, and I particularly like the fact that the author has translated a lot of the Norse words, as this is the way that the Norse would have actually heard the legends. I love the way that, for example, Fenris is tied with a cord called Thin to a rock called Scream. It’s all very redolent of the sagas.

So if you like Vikings, magic, death and accomplished storytelling, this is the sort of thing you’ll like.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Open Letter to Ed Vaizey

Dear Mr Vaizey,

I understand that you are meeting with internet service providers to discuss how the industry can better support parents and help them ensure that their children cannot access pornography.

I am the parent of a young child, and I would like to emphazize that I do not in any way support this initiative. The suggestion by Claire Perry MP, to switch the default setting for internet pornography in to our homes to off, and implement an opt-in system, is idiotic, and betrays a deep ignorance of both the technical workings of the internet, the dangers of censorship, and the psychology of sexual behaviour.

in detail:

1. It will not be possible to achieve. The use of proxy servers, ftp, file-sharing, texting and good old email will mean that any child except the terminally stupid who wants to access pornography will be able. This will be an embarrasing and public failure for your government. Do you really want to be less popular than you are at present?

The ban on child pornography is only effective because all parties, internationally, agree that child pornography is undesireable, and actively police it. There is no such agreement over adult pornography, inded the top 10 search terms on google each day have the word 'porn' in them. People like porn.

2. Who will decide which sites are pornographic? Automated technology works poorly, and the experience of those that have had the internet censored in their countries is that it is not long before dissenting political views and human rights violations are being hushed up too. Do you really want to put us on a par with China, the middle east and North Korea?

3. Contrary to the misinformation being offered up by people such as SaferMedia, wider availability of pornography actually reduces the number of sex crimes. Please actually take the time to look at real evidence, such as the studies from the Czech Republic, Japan and Denmark, rather than simplistic moralisation and political point scoring of SaferMedia. Tightening up on pornography on the internet will lead to more women being raped and sexually abused, not less.

I had hoped that this government would be less stupid and authoritarian than the last one. I voted for you on that basis. My hopes so far have not been realised.

Yours Sincerely,

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Imagining the 4th dimension

Ever since I was little, well fairly little, inspired by the writings of A.A. Attanasio, I have tried to imagine higher-dimensional shapes. Shapes like the lovely hypercube:

Dimensions is a lovely project which takes you through the maths of higher dimensional shapes, without overwhelming you with detail. It's all done through animation, and you can watch it online. Don't be a flatlander. JFDI!

Agnostic buses

The two things that you need to know about the atheist bus campaign (to which I've dutifully added my tenner) :
  1. They were hoping to make £5,500, but have in fact made over £75,000 in the first couple of days.
  2. The CiF comment thread now has 1739 comments on it. More than I've ever seen on a CiF thread.
Yay atheists!

The buses are actually agnostic, apparently because Transport for London advertising rules don't allow people to be definite in their unbelief for fear of causing offence to religious people. Considering the enthusiastic response to the campaign, there are obviously a lot of atheists out there who might be offended by those adverts which definitely proclaim their belief.

I'm not overly bothered about this, being a bit of a 6 myself on the Dawkins Scale, although it would have been nice to have slogans that were a bit more 'in your face'. Maybe next time.

Bryan Appleyard doesn't like it though.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

recording the creation of the worlds first fascist democracy.

Via England Expects, a blog now sadly defunct owing to the actions of some petty eurocrat, I found this google map of England which records:
"A geographical view of both the public and the personal effect of State sponsored fear and distrust as seen through the twisted technological lens of petty officials and would be bureaucrats nationwide."
according to its creator, Hieronymous, who is busy recording the creation of the worlds first fascist democracy.

Worth a look.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Don't talk to the police

The Times today reports that the Home Office is putting forward a new set of proposals aimed at locking more of us up. Presumably in "titan" jails. The meat of the proposal, according to the Times, is as follows:
  • Ban on post-charge questioning to end
  • Children to be interviewed without parents being present
  • Courts to be able to draw an inference of guilt if a suspect refuses to take part in an identity parade or answer post-charge questions
  • Shopping centre “jails” to hold suspects accused of low-level crime for up to 4 hours while they are processed by police
  • Non-police workers such as park wardens to be allowed to detain registered sex offenders
  • Police to be allowed to question suspects for longer before bringing charges
All this opens up the unsavoury prospect of the police being able to question people repeatedly for months on end whilst they are awaiting trial, children being bullied by adults in uniform, and park wardens beating up suspected nonces ("it was reasonable force, guv").

What is of most concern is that courts will be able to draw an inference of guilt if a suspect refuses to answer post-charge questions. This completely reverses the burden of proof, implying that you are guilty if you refuse to answer questions designed to entrap you.

The video below, despite being American, explains exactly why you should never speak to the police, even if you are as innocent as the day is long:

Monday, January 28, 2008

Fat camp, here I come

From the Daily Telegraph we have the following UK government proposal. They want companies to be able to provide tax-free incentives to their employees to encourage them to lose weight.

I spot a business opportunity here. Suppose I run my own company (which I do) does this mean I can pay myself to get thin and claim the tax back? Tax free skiing holidays on health grounds beckon as well.

Would I have to pay the tax back when I almost inevitably put all the weight back on (as 19 out of 20 dieters do)? Or can I just make a pledge to improve things and keep paying myself tax free. Sounds like a winner to me.

Mind you it's a mystery to me why doctors invariably prescribe diet and exercise to lose weight when, long term, the vast majority of their patients will fail to lose weight that way. It's as though I went in with a headache and they gave me a pill with the advice that there's only a 1 in 20 chance that it would fix me up. I wouldn't be very satisfied with that, and I don't suppose many others would either. Yet people simply look shamefaced as their disgustingly obese BMI is read out and promise to try harder.

I think this is because being fat is regarded as a moral weakness (especially by some young people) , rather than simply being the result of us being anatomically cavemen with a metabolism tuned to make the most of scarce food resources. The only problem is that we're living in a culture in which tasty nutritious food is all around us. It's not about willpower, it's about biochemistry.

H/T to Mr Eugenides for this one.

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