May 5th 2008
Today: Bad actor has food served up in German city (7)
Second uncovered wound (6)
I'd rather this diary didn't become a series of apologies for the paucity of updates, but it does look like being that way at the moment. It seems I only put together two entries for the entire month of April - but, for last week at least, I have something of an excuse, since I was visiting Ant in Germany. For those who haven't scanned the archive, he's working for OM on the Logos Hope, currently residing in Kiel. I spent just over a week in one of the cabins on board (not, as I'd humorously suggested, in a Kiel hall), which was pleasantly en suite. But let me take you back to the beginning of my journey, rising at 4.20am to walk to the coach station in Bristol, to take the coach to Heathrow, to board the plane for Hamburg, to take the bus to Kiel. While waiting at Heathrow - Terminal 5, no less, though my baggage managed to avoid Italy all week - I recorded my all-time record for the Times crossword, of ten minutes (sorry, didn't check the seconds). A good start to the trip, though it gave me less to do on the flight over... it was on boarding the bus to Kiel that I realised my German isn't as good as I thought it was, a fact that was reinforced off and on throughout the holiday. And holiday it was - while Ant et al laboured in 'wire-brushing' and other such maintenance activity, I refrained from manual labour. Or, indeed - in keeping with my new-found Conservative leanings - any labour whatsoever. Fortunately Ant had a few free days in the week I was there (one of which he took as a day off, then felt bad enough that he could have had a sick day anyhow. Tough break), so I got to spend a fair amount of time with him then, as well as during the evenings. I also got to know a variety of folk from around the world; the Aussies were probably easiest to get along with, but there is always a slight issue of nationality in these encounters, I find - the English sense of humour, for example, doesn't always translate. Nor does our spelling of 'worshipped'. But anyhow, although a little Americanism can go a long way (sorry to my American readership once more, many of whom spell Lusitania rather better than I can), they are a great bunch of people, and it's good to see Ant's fallen on his feet. Though he can no longer claim that some of his odder traits are 'what the English do'. Anyways, Kiel seems a nice city, though CD prices are through the roof, and the red light district is far too prominent (leading me to ponder whether, to the Germans, the phrase 'Sex City' brings with it some kind of foreign chic). There are also a lot of bookshops (as opposed to bookships), one of which was wise enough to play Cliff over the airways. As far as the ship goes, I chose a very exciting week to stay - having been sat in the same place for many months, the Logos Hope sailed within days of my arrival, even though it was only 300 yards down the harbour to another berth. A couple of days after that, the posh new dining room was opened, with special commemorative (do I mean that?) meal... it was also the week that Adam got his hair cut. Though that may not make the newsletters. On the Tuesday I swing-danced (swung-dance?), with little evidence of skill but total success in not breaking the bones of myself or anyone else - I can't say I'll be taking it up as a hobby, but it was a good experience. Anyways, it was a good week off, but it's gonna be time to settle back into work as of tomorrow morning - and I've had a very fragmented month, what with study leave etc. My commitments to various things (including a very Dilbert-esque procedure that I can't be bothered to go into) mean that work isn't the unmitigated pleasure it has been, but it'll be nice to be back. Once I've done a few things, and done them well, all should be back to normal. In other news, I've now got an idea in my head of what I want my online diary to look like after its relaunch, so it remains to be seen if I can make the vision reality. Oh, and I need a name for it - 'Colin's Online Diary' is a little unwieldy, and I figure no one uses it anyhow. Suggestions on a postcard.
May 6th 2008
Edit: this entry originally appeared in the style of Simon's blog
This wasn't just to confuse Mum and Dad, I promise. Nor is it, in the style of xkcd.com, parody week. The fact is, I'm going to write about a couple of books I'm reading, and so it seems to make sense to do it in the style of my brother, whose blog is (almost) strictly literary. The two books I'm currently reading are ones that I've been meaning to read for a goodly while, and should have got round to earlier - the first was bought for me by my father, and is called Stalking the Riemann Hypothesis. For the uninitiated, the Riemann Hypothesis is concerned with the distribution of the prime numbers (rational primes, for those of you who remember my discourse on this topic some weeks ago), and was formulated by Riemann - surprisingly enough - about 150 years ago. The hypothesis itself is actually too complicated to be written in the book, which tends to concern itself more with the history of mathematics than it does with mathematics, but Dan Rockmore - the author - gives enough hints and ideas along the way for it to be an interesting and informative mathematical read. I mean, if you haven't got a maths degree under your belt, anyhow. I guess that's the problem: Rockmore doesn't really know who his audience is, so he aims the book at those curious beings who have a good mathematical brain, a keen desire to learn about number theory, but no mathematical education above A-Level: more than once I've been a little frustrated by the absence of proofs (for example, that the sum of the reciprocals of the primes diverges to infinity) or rigorous statements, which are instead replaced with unwieldy comparisons between primes and music, art or mountains. But then, that is the nature of the book, and I would probably find a deeply mathematical text unsatisfying: indeed, the history he provides is fascinating, and it fills me with awe for men like Gauss, Euler and Newton. Forgive me for saying so, but I would place myself in the upper reaches of the first percentile for mathematical ability, and yet I would as soon compare my ability with that of these men as I would compare my artistic ability with that of Monet. Genuinely. Reading a book like this, I find myself thinking that there is nothing greater or nobler than the study of pure mathematics... which brings me on to the second book here. Because, while I would still rank pure mathematical research above (and comparatively with) painting pictures or writing books, one look at William Wilberforce shows me that it is still a hobby. No lives are saved. Hague's biography of Wilberforce is a book I've been meaning to read for a while - this time it was a gift from me to my Dad, and I cheekily borrowed it, prolongedly, once he'd finished - having seen the excellent film Amazing Grace. I've only read the first 50 or so pages, but it is inspiring above all things to read of a man who did so much, and did so in service of the Lord God. What is the Riemann Hypothesis, compared with the abolition of the slave trade? The book itself, thus far, is written with a great deal of detail, and it is certainly interesting, but Hague seems a curiously invisible author, with no distinctive comment or style to bring to the work. This, of course, may change as I read on...
May 10th 2008
Bad actor has food served up in German city (7)
As you've probably noticed, I no longer have the domain StephHoyland.co.uk, so I probably ought to get on with relaunching this page... so far, I've not started the redevelopment (Ant, if you're reading, can you email me the name of that website-building thing you downloaded?), a lack of action reflected in the fact that it's half past three in the afternoon and I'm still in my dressing gown. I'm not ashamed! As soon as I've written this I'll have a shower and get up properly - after all, there's a possibility I'll be going to a pirate-themed party tonight, so I'll need to grab an eye-patch or summat. Not sure, though, since I barely know the guy whose party it is, and haven't actually been invited by him... only by two other guys I know who'll be there. In other news, I don't supplement my income much through selling CDs, partly because every one I've sold has been at a loss, but mainly because I've only ever sold eight or so. Without researching the matter, I'd say I've sold CDs by Paul McCartney, Jeff Beck, Coldplay, Pink Floyd, Gordon Haskell... the Truman Show soundtrack... that might be it. Anyhow, in the last few weeks I seem to have entered into the curious trend of buying up CDs that I'd previously sold - so Coldplay's 'Rush of Blood to the Head' and Gordon Haskell's 'Harry's Bar' are now back in the collection. This, I feel, reflects that changing nature of my CD collection over time: I've branched out from just the CDs which I regard as being great or really good, and have gone for some that I may listen to sometimes, but not all that often. This does mean that there are some I find a little embarrassing, but due to their cheapness and possibility they might be good, I've bought anyhow. For example, A-Ha, Savage Garden, The Corrs, Kenny Rogers. Actually, that's a pretty definitive list of the most embarrassing slice of my CD collection - and no, I don't regard Cliff Richard or Meat Loaf to be embarrassing, since they are both excellent artists. Anyhow, I reckon that I have a very good taste in music - Bob Dylan and the Beatles are the twin peaks of 20th centry music, are they not? - so it's with some shame that I see some CDs tarnishing the collection. The thing is, rubbish artists occasionally come up with a good song - let me finish (my musical credibility, as well as this entry) by saying that Steps' 'One for Sorrow' actually sounds good. Good enough that it might well be a cover.
Hmm... since writing the above, I actually listened to One for Sorrow for the first time in years, and I see now that it is formulaic, sub-Abba rubbish. The natural order is restored.
May 24th 2008
Today: Prime Minister's garden (4)
Once again I have to apologise for the paucity of updates on this site (is it really a fortnight? My goodness), and additionally for the lack of a crossword clue last time. I forgot. I suppose I should also apologise for the fact that I haven't yet redesigned this site, or bought a new domain name - a week or two back, I did spend a few hours putting something together, but couldn't get it quite right. Then Dave (at work) solved my conundrum in a few minutes, so I should be ready to relaunch... when I get round to it. Not looking good, folks. Anyhow, onto the business of today's entry, and a quick musing about astro-physicists, nuclear physicists etc: I know we're supposed to be tremendously awed by people with such job titles, but I'm sorry - whenever I hear 'physicist', I think 'failed mathematician'. Yes, that's how conceited I am. Anyways, I'm not going to focus on the superiority of maths today; instead, I'm going to chew on the rather more serious topic of abortion. It's been in the news of late, with a spate of government bills concerning matters pre-natal, including 'saviour siblings', animal-human hybrids and a lower maximum age for the abortion of foeti. I'm not going to dwell on the first two, since I'm not entirely sure what saviour siblings are, and I can't really understand why Christians are opposed to animal-human hybrids (please, Christian readership, let me know). In fact, I'm not really going to muse too heavily on whether abortions should take place before 20 weeks or 24 weeks, or whatever else - it is common knowledge that a large chunk of Christians are against abortion at any point, and while I'm not among its most vociferous opponents, I would tend to agree. What initially surprises me (or surprised me - read on) is that Christians stand out in supporting the sanctity of life. Abortion is, fundamentally, the destruction of a human being, and while that over-simplifies the matter, it doesn't over-simplify it sufficiently to be completely inaccurate. I would have thought that many (if not most) people would be wary about abortion, regardless of their understanding of God. Indeed, since atheists believe there is nothing after this life, I would have thought that they would, by and large, be more disturbed by the destruction of a foetus than a Christian, who believes in heaven, would be. But, instead, I have to read a rather foolish columnist in the Times who equates pro-life campaigners with 'bigots who shout obscenities outside abortion clinics', and Kat Stark (currently NUS women's officer, previously president of Warwick's Students' Union) saying that, as far as she's concerned, no concerns other than the woman's desire should be taken into account when debating abortion. I don't want to make this personal - there are idiots on both sides of the argument - but I think she is fairly typical of many in characterising the debate as a feminist issue, which it clearly isn't. Wherever else the answer lies, it certainly isn't in "it's the woman's body, it's her decision" - the whole point is that the foetus is not an extension of the woman's body, it is a separate entity. In fact, the question I want to address isn't whether abortion is right or wrong (I've already dealt with my views on that one briefly); rather, I want to ask why it is that more people don't regard it as wrong. And I think the answer lies in the wider view of sexual relationships and marriage that prevails in this country (and elsewhere in the West). Christians are definitely in a minority when we say that sex should be limited to (heterosexual) marriage - society at large seems to reckon that casual sexual relationships are OK, marriage is optional, and the number of sexual partners you have before you settle down should number a couple of dozen at least. I don't know what percentage of women having abortions are in a settled marriage, but I would guess that it's pretty small - basically, I would say that the problem, at root, is not abortion. The problem is people's perception of sex. If we had a society where sex was limited to marriage - which pretty much means to say, where sex was limited to couples who either wanted to have, or who would be happy to have, children together - the abortion problem would scarcely exist. There would still be the dual issues of pregnancy caused by rape and pregnancies where the mother's life is at serious risk, but we would no longer have women casually sleeping with someone, then having an abortion to make the problem go away. And, to be clear, this is not a misogynistic idea - men should not casually sleep with women any more than women should casually sleep with men. Realistically, the sexual activity of the nation is unlikely to return to healthy (and Christian) ideals of monogamy and marriage, which is why anti-abortionists still have a campaign. But going from 24 weeks to 20 weeks is not the answer. Did you know that, in this country, abortion can only take place if two doctors agree that a woman's physical or mental health (or that of existing children) is at risk? What we don't need is an amendment to this law (and, in fact, I believe this one got thrown out). What we need - for a start - is the current law to be upheld.