Joanna Trollope: The Men And The Girls

My mum always used to read Joanna Trollope. They were always lying about the house. I remember reading The Rector's Wife. Also, during my mum's illness I read another one whose title I've forgotten (was it Other People's Children?).

So, for holiday reading in France I thought JT should be amongst my books. I never used to understand what was meant by 'comfort food' but now I think that JT is the reading equivalent of comfort food.

The Men And The Girls was an easy and enjoyable read. An Aga saga, it's a tale of everyday life, and the inner lives of the characters, skillfully told by JT. Once thing I wondered was: why did they all put up with Leonard's bad behaviour?

I cheered was when Leonard and Beatrice agreed that there was very little to be said for old age.


Freedom Evolves

Of my own free will, I've been reading Daniel Dennet's Freedom Evolves.

The later chapters of Dennet's book were more convincing than the first chapters, but the book was interesting all the way through. Dennet tried to convince me that even in a deterministic universe, things can be avoided, and the important features of free-will are preserved. I just couldn't go along with this argument. Surely, in a deterministic world, all events are pre-determined, and one doesn't really have freedom of choice.

The later chapters give a multiverse approach to crime and punishment. I really liked this idea. It says that if most of the nearby universes lead to a particular event, you shouldn't be held responsible for it. However, if there are thick clumps of universes nearby that don't lead to that event, then you can be said to be responsible. In other words, if you had done things a bit differently the thing wouldn't have happened.

Dennet doesn't call it a 'multiverse approach', and he doesn't describe it as I have, this is just my take on it.

With all this free will stuff going on in my mind, my interest was piqued by an article on determinism and subatomic particles. DDC has convinced me that indeterminism does not necessarily imply free will. This article seems to conflate the two.

Tesco: jars re-used as glasses

I've emailed Tesco about re-using jars as glasses:

In France, jars of chocolate spread, mustard etc, are often designed so that you can re-use them as drinking-glasses when the contents are used up.

This seems like a good idea, so I was wondering why we don't take this approach in the UK? Perhaps jars are more expensive to manufacture if they are designed to be re-used.

I plan to publish this enquiry, and your response, on my blog. Let me know if that isn't okay with you.

Thanks for your help with this query,

I sent this on 16th August, no reply yet...


Upon The Dark Knight

I don't really know about acting, and I don't know the names of actors, but Heath Ledger as The Joker was brilliant.

This was a morally complex batman film. I saw it as an allegory of the 'war on terror' / war in Iraq, with The Joker as Osama Bin Laden and Batman as the US military.

The issue of torture arose, in the classic situation of a person refusing to say where the ticking bomb is. Batman resorted to torture, like water-boarding carried out by the US. I listened to The Moral Maze on torture, and was horrified to find myself agreeing that it was right to use it in certain circumstances. I can't remember the reasoning and if someone asked me now, I'd say torture is never justified.

Another part of the war on terror is surveillance. In The Dark Knight, batman hacks into everyone's mobile phone and builds up a sonar picture of the city.

Even the cold war comes into this film! In an analogy of the cold war, each ship can destroy the other at the touch of a button. To have the best chance of surviving, it's rational to press the button straight away.

Fate has ordained that the problem of free will occupy my mind. Batman has to choose between saving the life of the woman he loves, or the life of the man he believes can save the city from crime. Is his choice determined from the beginning of the universe, and even if not, does he have any real control over his choice?

It's a great film, but for me the moral choices are clear. Batman shouldn't go around breaking the law, he should respect it like any other citizen, no exceptions. Equally, the UK / US shouldn't have undertaken an illegal war against Iraq.


Radio 1, Bebo and Grim Dog

Listening to Switch, I heard Nick 'Grimmy' Grimshaw, mention Bebo loads of times, without mentioning any other social networking site. It seems like Radio 1 have done a deal with Bebo; Grim Dog is promoting links to Bebo on the R1 site.


The Boggle Elite

In France, I played Boggle with some really brainy people. They used an extra-large 5x5 version of Boggle, and only words of 6 letters or longer counted! Also, they don't allow adding an 's' to make a plural. (As a concession to me they allowed 5-letter words, phew.)

I think they may meet their match with Hannah and Charlotte, with whom I play 4x4 Boggle on Facebook. On average they get about 3x my score.

I want to play Body Boggle, which is a combination of Twister and Boggle. I might make a Body Boggle mat. Does anybody want to play it?


Jars to glasses

One of the things about there being different countries / cultures is that it helps to reveal those things that are necessarily so, and those that are down to tradition or culture.

In France, jars can be used as glasses once the contents have been used up. This saves money, and is also less harmful to the environment than recycling the jars.

I might see if Matt Prescott would be interested in starting a campaign...


What to do with a waterlogged phone

Claire read the previous post on getting my phone drenched and told me this top tip:
...stick your mobile in a bag with rice (uncooked) apparently the rice will absorb the water!!!
I didn't have to try it, as the phone suddenly started working all by itself. There were loads of messages and stuff, and I felt super-popular!


Le Citoyen Blogueur: 5

It's been raining heavily all day, and probably much of the previous night. This afternoon I walked in the rain to Saint Barthelemy for my customary presion, and then back towards Chamblard. Now, the problem is that to get home from Chamblard I had to cross the stream, and the stream was in full flood because of the rain.

I hopped from the bank to a rock, lost my footing and landed up standing in a shallow part of the stream. I got onto another rock, then tried to wade across. I again lost my footing, but it was a deep part of the stream so I had to start swimming in the fast flowing water. I made it to the other side, but it was foolhardy to take the risk of crossing.

My mobile got waterlogged, and it's stopped working. I'm sure it'll get going again once it's dried out.


Le Citoyen Blogueur: 4

In the Lamastre area, everyone is exceptionally friendly and polite. Cycling up to Col de St Genest, everybody I encountered said bonjour. Just before I reached the Col, I heard a disembodied voice hailing me. I looked up and there was a friendly bloke standing on the top ofhis flat roof, holding his young son. He said bonjour, and the son said 'hello', practising his English.

The view from Col de St Genest:


One of those there

Successfully asked for 'one of those there' while pointing at a cake in a boulangerie just off the square in Lamastre:

un de ceux-ci-la
une de celles-ci-la


Le Citoyen Blogueur: 3

Heard a spotter plane overhead. I sense the net closing in. Will keep sending reports to my superiors for as long as I am able.

Set out from la maison through the forest. Stopped at Saint-Barthelemy-Grozon for a Kronenbourg, and watched Pekin 2008. Here's the house as one sees it when emerging from the forest:


Le Citoyen Blogueur: 2

Today your agent in the field has been playing golf with Charles and Blimp. Charles has constructed a nine-hole course in the grounds of the house. This is hole 5 I think.

If you get the ball in the hoop, it counts as getting it in the hole. This is the approach to the same hole.

The flag is just to the right of the tree in the centre. A divagation: the pylon in the top right hand corner supplies the house with electricity. A couple of days ago it was struck by lightening in a thunder storm (I was cooking a barbecue outside at the time) and the circuit breaker tripped and left the house without electricity.

Oh, and I won the game of golf.

Le Citoyen Blogueur: 1

I'm writing from somewhere in France. For obvious reasons my precise location cannot be disclosed. I'll file reports back to you at HQ for as long as I remain undiscovered. After that, the game is up.

Yesterday at the house, the pressure of the water supply lessened. I followed the pipe to its source in a stream. The problem was that the level of the stream had dropped below the level of the pipe, so no water was getting in. Charles and I dug a depression in the stream bed so the end of the pipe would be under water. This is how it looked after we had finished:

There's a storage tank half way down the hill, so there's always water when you need it:



Luminous by Greg Egan is a truly superb collection of sci-fi short stories. Egan confines himself to hard science, and doesn't shy away from giving technical details to his readers. Within that constraint of physics, he is a wellspring of ideas. As Janos said, other writers with such good ideas would make a whole book of them, with Egan they become a short story.

I've also been reading The Biographer's Tale. I remember enjoying Possession and so thought that another A.S. Byatt would be good. The Tale is a rather literary book, about literary people. I kept thinking the protagonist was a woman, even though he was actually a man.

I'm writing to you from France. Stay tuned for a picture story of sludge being excavated!



I've made a start with a Wiktionary entry for metaphrast.

Btw, just to let you know, I'm on holiday near Valence, France for about a week, leaving on Wednesday. Have you got any ideas for holiday reading?

I've really got to go and pack now...


Home James, and don't spare the CPUs

One of my nephews is about 1 and a half years old. I commented to my brother that by the time the nephew is of driving age, most cars will be driven by robots. He strongly disagreed.

I now put this to everyone I meet:

By 2023, more cars will be driven by computers than by humans.

Everyone's disagreed so far. Including Toby, Jess and Janos at work. And Bill and Doug.

Please add a comment saying if you agree or disagree.



An old boss of mine described me as donnish in an appraisal at work. I looked it up recently in Wiktionary to check the spelling. It wasn't there, so I've added it. The entry probably needs improving, so please do if you're so inclined.