December 28th, 2013


Links I found interesting for 28-12-2013


December Books 16) Le Chat du Rabbin tome 1, by Joann Sfar

This is the first of two volumes compiling Sfar's graphic fiction stories about the Rabbi's Cat, set in pre-independence Algeria, in the local cultural tradition that gave us Jacques Derrida and Bernard-Henri Lévy. The cat (who is the narrator) learns to talk in the very first pages by eating the rabbi's parrot, and becomes a commentator on his human family and their friends, partly naïf, partly satirical, and the plot weaves between actual experience and fantasy rather pleasingly. The precarious social position of the Algerian Jewish community is very sympathetically portrayed; I felt Sfarr went a bit off the boil in the last story, when the Rabbi and his cat go to visit the son-in-law in Paris, where the Rabbi's very understandable alienation became a bit Orientalist, but I have the second volume (in English this time) on my shelves and look forward to reading it.

December Books 17) The Father Christmas Letters, by J.R.R. Tolkien

This will never be more than minor Tolkieniana for the completist, but it is awfully pleasing to see how what started as just a couple of short notes to the oldest Tolkien children in 1920 had turned into heavily illustrated stories about the adventures of the North Polar Bear and battles against the evil goblins by the time the youngest of the family had grown out of them in 1942. John Rateliff has pointed out the considerable amount of imaginative cross-fertilization between some of the later and the Hobbit, which was being written at the same time. Tolkien can hardly have imagined that future scholars would pore over his Christmas fun in such detail.

December Books 18) Tardis Eruditorum vol 4: Tom Baker and the Hinchcliffe Years, by Philip Sandifer

Latest output from the prolific Sandifer's blog, with a few extra essays and updates included. This is of course my favourite era of Old Who, the run from Robot to Talons of Weng-Chiang, and so I read the book with more than the usual degree of interest (also looking to see if my brother is quoted again - he is, in the essay on Brain of Morbius but talking about Terror of the Zygons).

As usual I found myself nodding in satisfied agreement 90% of the time and blinking in surprise 10% of the time. Sandifer's deconstruction of The Android Invasion, for example, is brutal; his defence of Planet of Evil a little surprising. Almost fifty pages out of 320 total are devoted to a single story - but The Deadly Assassin was my favourite Old Who story anyweay, and Sandfer convinces that there is far more going on within those 100 minutes than I had realised (and also makes it seem pretty obvious in retrospect). I also very much liked the "Time Can Be Rewritten" entries on spinoff books (Managra, System Shock, Asylum, Corpse Marker and Eye of Heaven), all of which I had read and most of which I enjoyed. And the penultimate piece on The Valley of Death, a Big Finish "lost adventure" by Hinchcliffe, points out some general problems with the era as a whole. Basically this series - in the definitive ebook / print version - joins About Time as key material for the inquiring Whovian.

(Sandifer is currently offering discounts on all his e-books, including the first four Tardis Eruditorum volumes, valid until 1 January.)

December Books 19) Information is Beautiful, by David McCandless

First of my Christmas books, a nice present from manjushra, compiling David McCandless's personal favourites from the infographics he has posted at which I have glanced at from time to time in the past, and will now start reading more regularly.

Oddly enough I found myself less interested in the political graphs than in his desperate attempts to make sense of psychobabble and cooking - here's one for instance mapping what flavours go with what main dishes. I also felt that he gave a bit too much weight (ie any at all) to the climate deniers in a couple of compare and contrast graphs. But the futurology ones are all very interesting. The other problem - which is hardly McCandless's fault, but is imposed by the format - is that the graphs are all static. If you want nifty moving graphics of the future (and immediate past) of our world, you need to talk to Hans Rosling over at Gapminder.

My most commented posts of 2013 (aka the slow death of Livejournal)

Well, the slow death of lj appears to have accelerated this year. I admit I am conscious myself of posting less - work has had its intense moments, Facebook and Twitter are becoming preferred channels for my stray political and literary thoughts, but more importantly, a lot of my spare time which I would previously have spent blogging has been taken up by Loncon 3, the 2014 Worldcon next August. (Have you signed up? Hotel bookings open on 2 January!)

Setting the bar far lower than I have ever done before, 23 posts got 10 or more comments, more than a third of them in April, and only six from the second half of the year. (Compare 37 with 12 or more last year, 26 with 12 or more the year before, and far higher counts in 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, and 2005.) They were, in chronological order:

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My 2013 on Facebook

Facebook is loathsomely opaque when it comes to retrieving information about any discussions you've been involved with. But they are featuring a "Year in Review" app which delivers supposedly your 20 top posts from 2013, mine being as follows:

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The algorithm doesn't seem to include the last 24 hours' worth of posts; I've had an extraordinary viral success overnight with a snapshot of a New Statesman article about the Daily Mail which I found on Twitter and uploaded to Facebook - it has now been shared 111 times, apparently, but only 11 of those are by people I know (one of whom, admittedly, is an MEP). Also 53 likes (which is more than all but three of the above) and 10 comments. I would of course prefer if Facebook would give me access to my own data so I could crunch it to my own satisfaction. This is what will doom them in the end. I hope.