Friday, 27 February 2009

Two "random blasts from the past"

February 27th 1990

During the 1980s, I have often puzzled about the sort of life that people try to lead in the modern world. Before I met Linda I had, I felt, already produced a break from the consumer society that has become such a feature of the last decade (of course Henry Thoreau wrote about it all in similar terms in the 1850s!) I was passionately interested in travel and saw myself pottering around the world while temping as an accountant to earn money. Meeting Linda put a stop to that plan though I have always said that I hope to visit Tibet (more likely Nepal) one day [ . . . . . ]

(Addendum. I had sought over the next 15 years to produce a situation in which I might revert to something like my original plan once Emma was settled at college. There were hints of this life when I was travelling in the Land Rover across Europe last summer, but recent events have, perhaps, moved the possibility further away. This remains a great problem for me in respect of my philosophy of life. Of course, my views on consumerism are unchanged)

February 27th 1995

Baring Bank dominates the news. We are all amazed that it appears to have collapsed following exchange traded contracts. Everyone concerned with derivatives has given all sorts of likely scenarios that could cause a collapse, but no one suspected it would be an exchange that would have such a thing happen through it. We all assumed it would be OTC. We await further news with interest

Back home, Linda remains unwell but at least Emma is back at school tomorrow. Emma and I read a bit of her junior astronomy book tonight. I would really like her to move on to older reading - longer stories that take several nights for instance

(Addendum - I was working at Hanson when the Baring's story broke and did most of the work related to keeping up to date with derivative market developments. Even then, there was a trend towards ludicrously complex derivatives - things with rates squared in them for instance. I remember Banker's Trust used to send me a ludicrous idea every week!

Years later, Emma would accompany me to half a dozen "Astronomy Weekends" at Oxford University. Sadly we will miss this year's as it is the weekend she returns to Cambridge. Emma was a slow starter with reading, but certainly made up for it later!)

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Richard Feynman

I decided not to go up the LSE today. John Milton was due to speak about Francis Bacon - about whom I know little, but also about whom I don't really wish to know anything more. Instead, I spent the morning finishing reading Shapin's History of Science and Its Sociological Reconstructions - a wholly unconvincing piece of SSK.

As I have wound down my obsessive MSc work, so it has freed up time for some other things. Exercise for instance. I have now completed the first 5 workouts from the 49-DVD box set that Linda has recently acquired from the USA. These are weight workout and leave me really aching badly. I am not keeping up with the schedule but at least I have started. I have added around 15 lbs of weight over the last 6 or 7 months which is not good. So at least I have started to do something about it. Maybe 3 or 4 months time I will have some progress.

Over lunch today - a very sensible poached eggs on toast - I watched an old edition of Horizon that I acquired on the internet not long ago - This was the second Richard Feynman programme, The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, from 1981. Feynman died at just 69 years old. He is one of those people whose loss I have felt most. The world is a worse place for his absence. What would SSK make of his approach? Oddly enough, I find that I have 14 books either by or on Feynman.

These seem to both be pictures in some way related to - not sure why

Later in the afternoon I re-read the chapter from What do you care what other people think? about Arlene. Of all the films I've seen, or music I've heard, or books I've read, the story of Feynman's marriage to Arlene is still one of the saddest things I have ever experienced.

University Challenge

A strange feature of the last few days has been a series of artices in the Times and Independent about the tv show University Challenge. Apparently there was a girl on the Oxford college team who virtually won the competition on her own. This had produced a backlash in some of the press about "swotty, know-it-alls". With two more articles in yesterday's press I felt it was time we had a look at what the fuss was about.

I was able to find the quarter-final and final on a tv show website and downloaded them for viewing last night. The quarter final is a complete slaughter of Exeter - something like 350 pts to 15. The final was far more interesting, as it took the star of the Oxford team more than half the show to get going. Down 70-0 after five minutes and with 4 minutes to go, down 190 to 165, Oxford rally to win 265 to 190.

The press have focused on the captain, Gail Trimble, who is studying for a PhD in Latin literature. She attributes her skill to a lifetime's reading. The odd aspect of the story is that she has been so picked on by some parts of the press. Some commentators are comparing it to the treatment Jade Goody gets - formed from the same critical views.

As always with this show, the main enjoyment is to see how many questions you can answer. Linda and I did ok, but were clearly nowhere near the standard of Ms Trimble.

"A random blast from the past"

February 26th 1995

Not sleep very well overnight. Up at 6:30 and sat watching bits of "Passion for Angling". Next weekend is my 3 day trip. The weather remains awful and I'm considering going walking in the Lakes instead as the caravan is now open. I went for a long walk down to the river this morning. It was massively flooded again. All rather depressing really. Linda is not very well and is not looking forward to tomorrow when Emma has her last holiday day. She won't have much rest this week either with the preparations for her parent's visit on Saturday. Emma played "Animal Quest" a lot and is doing very well on the PC. Linda cooked spaghetti and Emma was really good about going to bed again - is this the start of a trend?

(Addendum - We have been living in Oxfordshire 6 months or so and I had been keen to do some fishing. My planned weekend trip was to Ringwood and turned out to be a nightmare due to the weather. Emma is coming up to her sixth birthday)

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Dissertation seminar & First "Random Blast from the Past"

The "express" coach to London gets me to LSE by library opening time of 8:00. This morning's reading was a paper by Steve Fuller called Is History and Philosophy of Science Withering on the Vine?, from 1991. The answer is presumably either yes, if his prescription wasn't followed, or no if it was. I suspect it is no, but not for his reasons!

Our dissertation seminar is back as a group and I was first on for a presentation on a past dissertation. Mine was on a paper called "Gruesome simplicity" from 2004 which was a very high scoring paper which I was not impressed by. No idea really why it was marked so high! As has happened before, my presentation turned out to be by far the best of the six today - a good handout (no one else gave out anything) and well structured. Every one else was pretty poor. So once again, it probably wasn't worth going down to see.

From reading Robert Fripp's blog ( I have hit on the idea of including some bits from my diaries from the distant past for roughly the same day. I had a very quick sort out of them all and will try, for the next few blogs to select something interesting from them. Here is the first and one that I do rather like.

"A random blast from the past"

Sunday February 26th 1984

I called in at Chris's place and stayed for an hour or so before heading off for Victoria and the crowds of people waiting outside the Palace Theatre for the best gig in town.

Of course I breezed through the entrance, cassette recorder and all. But the problems of illegally taping concerts don't end here as I discovered. For one thing it is a good idea to discover where the microphone is on it before it got dark. After Dead Can Dance had finished - who were very good - I discovered that the machine hadn't worked at all which was a shame. I sorted that out and was all set to go when the Cocteau Twins came on. Loads of people went down the front and I followed to get a better sound in case it did work this time. And what a shock. Second song is my favourite from the second Peel Session and unrecorded till now. Shivers went down my back at this and I could feel goose bumps on my neck. Song number 6 was "Blind dumb deaf" from the first album. I changed the tape over at 8, just in time for "Musette and drums". They went off after and everyone cheered for ages and eventually they came back on to repeat a song they had already done. Liz Fraser looked overcome. My tape scored a 6.5 out of 10

(Addendum - This night was the first time I saw Dead Can Dance, and the first concert I tried to bootleg tape. Two months later they played a few shows in London as headliner that I saw - Brixton Loughborough Hotel and Fulham Town Hall. By then I had improved my taping technique and made two beautiful recordings of these shows - still the best copies available on the worldwide bootleg community! I have seen DCD over 40 times now. By contrast, I was coming to the end of my liking of the Cocteaus - they were losing their early edgy sound and becoming soft and fluffy. The "Chris" mentioned above is presumably Chris Lever)

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

More PC problems, work slowing down

Not only is the PC taking more than 10 minutes to boot up but various programmes seem to be failing. In the last two days I have lost i-tunes and Word, but some long and tortuous fiddling around restores them both this morning.

I have not been doing much MSc work lately as I've been focusing on work related to get a new job. But I discovered yesterday that I am first speaker at Wednesday's Dissertation seminar in which I have to appraise a previous thesis. I have chosen the high scoring "Gruesome simplicity" thesis from a few year's ago. I was not that impressed given its high score. But I only spent an hour or so reading it and jotting down some notes.

Sold a CD that perhaps I would have liked to have kept if only for its extreme unusualness - Phil Niblock's G2 - two 30 minute drones. Someone in Italy has good taste it seems. Listened to it this afternoon and very nice it was to.

Evening listening was Boris "The Thing which Solomon Overlooked" - a 3-cd set. More extreme noise.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Work on the allotment

A brief visit to the allotment to assess the huge amount of work that is necessary to get much done this year. I was fortunate to see quite a few people there that I had hoped to pick up with. Most importantly was Julie and Tim. This allowed me to sort out the arrangements for sharing the polytunnel this year in return for use of their rotovator. I do need to brush cut the allotment first (and am planning to buy a brush cutter in the next week or so) but then Tim assures me that rotovating should be a breeze and I should have it all done in a few hours - that remains to be seen.

Also saw Tony, the allotment organiser, to make sure he knew that I would definitely be using my bit this year after last year's absence. He is planning to get someone else onto the right hand side of my allotment - that has turned out to be far too much of a challenge for me to do. Apparently there is now a waiting list and I might have lost my plot if I hadn't made clear my plans.

Finally I saw Chris, one of my immediate neighbours, for a quick chat. Her plot is looking very good. My other neighbours are still very active it seems as well, so should catch up with them soon.

So a quick trip to Millets and the purchase of some compost for the front-garden raised beds, along with the first few things to plant - onions, garlic, some lettuce. I am quite looking forward to the year. Sadly Linda seems to have changed her mind about helping me with it - a shame as she had been so keen last year.

Dinner at Trinity

Very much a treat day today as Emma has finally invited us across to Cambridge for a dinner in the main hall. We arrive late afternoon, in time for some shopping for Emma-essentials at Boots and Sainsbury's. I bought a book called Handbook for Academic Authors at the C.U.P shop. Then back to Emma's room to get ready

Wife and Daughter looking very smart - Linda in her £14 Primark bargain dress!

What a proud dad I am with my glamorous daughter

Emma in her gown - the first time we have seen her wearing it

Me and Linda on our bench against the wall in the Great Hall

Looking down the Hall

We sat at the very end of one of the side benches with two of Emma's friends - Ellie and Abbie. The food was pretty good as you'd expect. A small selection of fellows and their spouses on view. I was disappointed to see they weren't eating swan (as in Porterhouse Blue). There was some sort of Oxford-Cambridge event on tonight so the Hall was packed.

We decided to not stay overnight but slogged it home afterwards. Quite an experience

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Barry Lopez - writing, art and music

An article in the current issue of Resurgence has reminded me of the writings of Barry Lopez. I have three of his books - Arctic Dreams, Crossing Open Ground and About this Life. They are all works of the most sublime quality. Of all the great nature writers, his style, more than any other seems to me to embody the landscape he is describing.

The austerity of Lopez's writing links closely into two of the most recent themes that I have been thinking about lots - the drone music of Boris and the paintings of Marc Rothko. I see these three as almost identical in meaning, but I suspect that would be a minority view!

I remember years ago when I first discovered that my experience of music was quite different to other peoples - what I later discovered was called "music-colour synesthesia". I was about 14 and made some strange comment about music, realising quickly that the people I was talking to disn't know what I was talking about at all. I quickly realised it would not be a wise move to talk about this again. So at times I have enthused about music to people, but afterwards I remind myself that their experience is so different to mine.

The synestheist experience of music is, in my view, perhaps as profound an experience as it is possible to have, and forms the most obvious explanations of why I like the music that I do. The Boris drone pieces are rich, deep colours like the Rothko colour fields. The sort of music celebrated at the Brit awards this week appears grey and lifeless to me. That other people don't experience music in this way is very sad for them.

I have only ever met one other person who I discovered has synesthesia - unlike me, he didn't hate the sound of the saxophone!

Friday, 20 February 2009

Allotment ideas

I didn't manage to do the next day's full exercise plan, though all my aches have just about gone from the last lot on Wednesday. Instead the morning is spent dealing with yet another PC virus (this one called "MS antispyware PC") and working on my critique of Shapin's The Scientific Revolution. If I do decide to radically cut back my thesis to one, tightly-defined topic, it will be this critique.

My "exercise" for the day consists of an hour in the garden clearing five of the raised beds. My thought have turned towards the allotment and what we might try and do this year with it. In the light of this, I have started reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, recounting her family's attempt at eating just local food for a year. And I have been looking at some new recipes to try out over the next few weeks - get me back to thinking about food in a serious way again.

Key music for the last few days - the Boris & Merzbow version of The Evilone which sobs - the most extraordinary track from the extraordinary CD Rock Dreams

And tonight we cook some delicious (and local) pork and leak sausages and watch "Marley and Me". This inspires us to look into the cost of husky puppies - about £450 to £600 apparently.

Thursday at LSE

A quick trip down to London today and I get to LSE just after the library opens at 8:00. Spent two hours working on a critique of Shapin's The Scientific Revolution. Once again I have found that I am more creative when working in the LSE library than at home - I seem to have many more ideas about what I am reading. So I leave the library just after 10:00 loaded down with ideas

John Milton was lecturing on Galileo today - I have stopped thinking of this as a seminar as there is little interaction. Another very thoughtful talk, but not really adding much to what I already know from having read The Cambridge Companion to Galileo while in Italy last year.

Lunch with Caroline and Victor for the third week running.

There is a really odd fellow sitting next to me on the coach home tonight. He asks me a couple of questions about when the coach will arrive in Oxford and then asks me if I am a professor at the University (as I am reading a pretty serious book). We get talking and it turns out he is one of those fringe physics people who is convinced of the healing properties of the Higgs Boson and of consuming huge amounts of vitamin D. A total crackpot who I am stuck talking to for 25 minutes, when I could have been reading or listening to Boris on the ipod!

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Computer virus, idea dump for dissertation

My main PC has acquired a virus again - the third time this has happened in the last couple of years. Today's is a fake anti-virus programme whose main visible symptom is a repeated pattern of messages saying my PC is infected - literally one a minute or so. The aim is to make you log onto a website and buy an anti-virus program. But the messages are poorly punctuated and, though very realistic looking, they can be recognised as fake.

Three hours work with "Spyhunter" and another anti-virus programme and it seems to have cleared. No doubt this is the inevitable consequence of downloading various things off the internet. But one good effect was that I have backed up everything off this PC. Linda has a friend who works as a PC virus de-bugger so we do have someone I can get to have a look at it at some point.

My main work today is to write pages of ideas for my dissertation - a sort of stream of consciousness plan in which I write down everything that comes into my head for several hours. I end up with 3000 words covering 12 pages. The earliest ideas are about postmodernism being the latest in the enlightenment-romanticism battle since the Scientific Revolution and linked to the internalist / externalist debate in history of science. I suspect that few people at LSE take this area very seriously so I should be able to write a dissertation that looks quite different from most others.

Slowly working though my huge collection of Boris music, I have come across their CD Dronevil from 2003 and a quite amazing track called The Evilone which sobs - a quite blistering 15 minutes of noise with a guitar solo over the top. That the guitarist is a woman adds to the unusualness of this it seems to me. Strangely compelling. Wonder what the title means?

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Friends Reunited

As a result of the troubles currently affecting ITV, there have been some newspaper stories about their ownership of the "Friends Reunited" website. Apparently ITV paid £175m to buy this but it has been eclipsed by sites such as myspace and facebook. I had been onto the site a few years ago but wasn't interested enough to actual pay to register.

But the newspaper today said that the site was now free, so I have registered, joined the group of people linked to Kenilworth School who graduated in 1981 and am amazed to discover just how many people that I did know at school are on the site. And perhaps more oddly, I am amazed by just how many names I had forgotted over the years.

So among people on the site were Tim Baumfield, Andy Belgrove, Louise Burgess, Sarah Clutton, Nick Cox, Elisabeth Cunliffe, Amanda David, Huw Davies, Judith Fardon, Mark Finney, Suzanne Foster, Sue Gould, Alison Griffith, Robert Griffiths, Sian Hamer, Richard Harrison, Debbie Hinks, Simon Inchley, Ann Jackson, Gill Jowers, David Law, Cathy Leach, Paul Lewis, Sally Love, Helen Manger, Anthony Marsh, Clare Moseley, Alison Muckersie, Neil Orridge, Pete Farr, Laura Robertson, Mark Robinson, Rachel Sharman, Louise Sheard, Iain Shearer, Mark Shuttleworth, Laurence Sibley, Ian Tebby, Helen Tredwell, Helena White, Yvette Woods, Mark Woodland and Elinor Woolley.

What is the immediate thing that springs to mind when I think of each name? So some free association . . .

Tim Baumfield was, for many periods, quite a close friend. He worked at the Bear when I was there and, famously, went out with the barmaid Cressida, who was several inches taller than him. Last saw him in a pub in Kenilworth about 10 or 12 years ago with Jonathan Oliver and Mark Tatman. Andrew Belgrove ("Belly") was something of a wild bloke when we were growing up. He once avoided paying for a curry by climbing out of the upstairs window of the restaurant. Linda and I once met him in the Bear and Ragged Staff pub in Kenilworth. He was, for many years, employed as a van driver! Louise Burgess is a very familiar name but I can't quite put a face to it at the moment.

Sarah Clutton lived near me. She once came down to London with me and a few others for a day out. Nick Cox once tried to hit on Sally Barrass, a girl I was taking to a Genesis show at the Birmingham NEC at Christmas 1981. Elisabeth Cunliffe was very smart and had curly hair. Amanda David was best friends with Alison Griffith, who were the first two girls I ever saw in their underwear! Huw Davies is the only person I have tried to contact via this site. He was my best friend for years and an usher at our wedding. Haven't seen him for perhaps 18 years. I will no doubt write more about Huw at some stage.

Judith Fardon is a name I had forgotten till now - can't quite picture her at the moment, but she was in my class for 5 or 7 years! Mark Finney was a part of the Baumfield-Davies-Inchley-Mike Bolton group to which I also belonged. He came on a walking trip to the Lake District with me once. We stayed at mum and dad's caravan and did my first ascent of Scafell Pike together. Suzanne Foster was lovely. I once sent her a valentine's card, but it was unrequited. Sue Gould was also lovely. She was part of my small outward bound group when we all went to the Lake District in 1978. I think she is married to Lawrence Sibley and lives in Windy Arbour.

Alison Griffith was the girl I fancied most at school. She had the most beautiful eyes. She was also the first girl to wear a really short skirt to school and she had great legs. We were actually quite good friends and occasionally went a tiny bit further. She memorably got really drink at my house once while my parents were away. We spent much of the evening drinking red wine and listening to Fripp and Eno's Evening Star with the lights turned out - it was a far out night! That was the occasion when she and Amanda David stripped to their underwear. I have loads of memories of Alison. On one of the last times I saw her, she asked me why I had never asked her out. I said I was too shy and didn't want to spoil our friendship. She said that was a shame and she would have definitely gone out with me. I regretted that for years. I had heard she had quickly got married after school and had quite a number of kids. Her online profile doesn't say anything though.

Robert Griffiths used to occasionally come round my house. We weren't close firends though. Sian Hamer and I were at primary school together and once sang a duet in a Gang Show - "If you were the only girl in the world and I was the only boy". Once, many years later, when drunk in the White Lion pub, we sang it in front of everyone and could remember all the words and our choreography. Richard Harrison ("Harry") was very sporty - don't remember much about him though.

Debbie Hinks helped me with the production credits for the movie we made at Easter 1980. She married Simon Inchley I believe - childhood sweethearts. Simon and I went fishing together loads of times (maybe 30+ times) and he was part of the Irish holiday group in the summer of 1980 - had the most amazing bowling action at cricket and was great at tennis. Me and Kathy Yorke beat him and Sue Gould in the school mixed doubles competition two years in a row. Ann Jackson had beautiful red hair and was a friend of Joanne Styring - the third girl I ever kissed. Gill Jowers sat next to me in maths and physics "A" level class for two years and we worked as a team. I have many fond memories of her. She had liked older boyfriends though. David Law was my main rival for the affections of Rachel Sharman, my first girlfriend. Cathy Leach was one of the main organisers of things at school - if there is ever a school reunion, she would be the person to organise it.

Paul Lewis was a maths genius (or so it seemed to us) and a deeply committed Christian. Sally Love is a very familiar name but I can't quite picture her. Same with Helen Manger. Anthony Marsh was the main "jock" in our class - a very fast sprinter, great rugby player, etc. There is a picture of him on the site - I would not have recognised him. Clare Moseley was a tall, slim blonde girl who also liked older men - rumour had it that she was going out with a garage owner. Alison Muckersie was at Park Hill (primary school) with me, where her dad was a teacher (?). She had very dark hair and lived just up the road from me. Neil Orridge was in the year below me and a friend of my brother, but I could be wrong about that. Pete Farr was best friends with David Honeybone, who lived two doors from me and with whom I grew up - we were born just 10 days apart and our mum's were best friends. David was an usher at our wedding and I haven't seen him since - he now lives in Australia. Pete was the main founder of the school band - the Duffle Boys.

Laura Robertson was also gorgeous from what I remember. She was in my class up until the 6th form and then in my economics "A" level group. Long dark hair and a beautiful face. Mark Robinson went out with Alison Griffiths for ages and then went to work at CERN.

Rachel Sharman was my first girlfriend and I will always think rather fondly of that whole experience. We hooked up around the time of the Lake District outward board trip, but weren't together long. I was totally out of my depth with her. But she was the first girl I ever kissed or held hands with . . . so she was my "first love". Her online profile ways she is married, lives in Yorkshire, has three kids and works part-time in a school. Good for her!

Louise Sheard was something of a "babe", though I don't think I ever spoke to her. Most of the boys at school really fancied her. Iain Shearer is a name I recognise but can't at present put any events to. Mark Shuttleworth and me were good friends on and off. Last saw him in Forest Gate in 1985. His profile suggests he has done very well. Laurence Sibley and I were good friends for a short period of time when he was going out with Caroline Kemp, who lived just up the road from me. Ian Tebby went out for ages with Val Taylor, my second girlfriend. Helen Tredwell was best friends with Val Taylor and Rachel Sharman.

Helena White was one of our year's racier girls, from what I remember. Yvette Woods is another name I know really well but which I can't think of a specific incident for. Mark Woodland was a great swimmer and a front row forward for the rugby team. Elinor Woolley was very tall and slim with dark hair - I think.

So many names I haven't thought about for years. But only Huw that I have tried to get in touch with.

A very strange experience looking through the site I must say. I wonder if anyone will contact me as a result of me being on there - somehow I doubt it. I was, it has be said, rather an odd child!

Monday, 16 February 2009

Dissertation - ideas forming

I am now in a position to start to list detailed points for my dissertation. With the exception of a little bit of history of science work, my MSc work is basically only on the dissertation at the moment. So I actually haven't done anything for Philosophy of Science this year yet.

Today's notes were on the Enlightenment / romanticism distinction and its corresponding appearance in Modernism / Postmodernism. Note sure I want to do too much on this theme - but it might be worth a paragraph of two. My main current idea is to keep widening into more areas that I have read, while at the same time making it punchier and more focused. In many cases, just one sentence arises from pages of reading

I am also pondering on starting the dissertation with Jardine's Kepler thesis - on the birth of philosophy and history of Science - also Kepler's view on causation as being the source of the romantic counter- attack (an idea from Holton)

Thinking about blogging

The Sunday Times has a feature on its "100 best blogs". I am particularly taken by the very odd "garfield minus garfield", a blog called "running from a camera" and a philosophy site called "Maverick Philosopher". I have only ever had one or two readers of my blog - not sure that I would want many!

Today's paper also has a review of Gabriel Weston's A Surgeon's Story. I have been thinking about reading another book on tales of a surgeon for some while - When the Air hits your Brain remains one of my all-time favourite books

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Valentine's Day

Into Oxford first thing food buying, plus some prezzies for each of us. I bought Linda some La Linda wine, and lots of Body Shop goodies. Usually I would get a couple of books but I have bought a lot over the last six months and only have one or two left that I'd want at the moment. So instead I got some new clothes - a rare exception for me I did the cooking in the evening - an M&S £20 special!

Today was the first day without any work at all for ages - though I did read 5 pages of Ferguson's Tycho & Kepler while having a bath. Does that count?

Robert Darnton article

There was a long article in today's Guardian called Google and the Future of Books - a New York Review of Books article written by Robert Darnton, the author of The Great Cat Massacre. It was on the theme of the digitization of books, not a topic I had thought about much (I am a committed book buyer, and I don't like reading articles on screen either - I still print out the ones I want)

Some interesting points that did gel with some thoughts I had had while on my course. For instance, the idea of Universities as networks connecting to teaching resources online, rather that direct places of teaching. This is an old idea of Morris Zapp, fictional professor from David Lodge's Small World. The LSE library is a good example of this. Books are not the mian thing - it is the access to online resources that really matters

Current reading


Van Heldon's Telescopes and Authority from Galileo to Cassini,

Finocchiaro on the Galileo affair (a preliminary work for his book Retrying Galileo 1633 to 1992)

A 1965 review by Buchdahl of Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions and Agassi's Towards a Historiography of Science

Daston's article on Burtt's Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science

A terrible article by Tucker called A Theory of Historiography as a Pre-science

Stump's article on Koyre's approach to History of Science


An introductory book on The Enlightenment. A new book has just arrived on this topic

Lehman's Sign of the Times - the response of deconstructivists to the de Man affair

A new book on Dirac called The Strangest Man

Ferguson's Tycho and Kepler

Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love

A reasonably varied collection I reckon.

John Milton on Kepler

A relatively poor journey down to London this morning - a very heavy frost delayed my departure from home and the coaches were also affected also. So we had not even left the Park and Ride by 7:00.

But still time for an hour or so reading in the library - mainly a Shea article on Galileo. My ipod listening remains mainly Boris - today it was Smile live again

I was surprised to discover this morning that Caroline has heart trouble of some sort - she was struggling with the top of a water bottle and volunteered this as an explanation. Yet she is only 29 I think.

John Milton's talk today was on Kepler - no sign that these are moving towards seminars as such. Though I know alot about K, there was still some good stuff in this talk - esp Gingerich idea of K's zero'th law (i.e. pre- first), that the plane of all planetary orbits passes through the sun (not the earth, as in Copernicus) - i.e. it is the sun that drive the solar system. Years ago, I tried to establish this from my own observations but wasn't able to conceptualise the geometry adequately. Still, I was only 14 or so at the time

John also covered the "vicarious hypothesis" in more detail than I would have expected and noted Kepler's first use of the terms "satellite" and "orbit".

I was particularly impressed with the discussion of why mars is the "only" candidate by which Kepler could have discovered first two laws. We also covered how the observations of Mars at opposition were used so that observers on the Earth sees Mars as an observer on the Sun would - what I think is called "heliocentric longitude"

Also lots of material on how Kepler is not a "curve fitter" and discussions of the various alternatives to circles - various ovals, egg shapes etc - so it is not obvious that ellipse is a good choice. Overall, a very good talkk (but not a seminar). And my admiration for Kepler contnues to grow

Lunch with Caroline and Victor downstairs at the Garrick. Once again I have skipped the "Philosophy of Economics" seminar - not done the necessary reading

Back home, the recent book on Dirac has arrived.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Work on work . . .

Lots of work related reading i.e. relevant to getting a new job - stuff on ideas of going concern, preparing for the worst, etc. What strange responses in the media to the current situation. So three new job applications sent off today - none of them really exactly my thing

Music listening is currently Bhattacharya live at the University of Calilfornia - Berkeley 2004 - just over two hours, plus Merzbox cd 2

Linda has had a huge DVD set come from the USA - a 46 cds, 3 month programme of mainly weight workouts. I started today! Doubt I will be able to keep to three DVDs a week

Very small amount of MSc work as a result of the above. Very demotivational to have to be working on material that is so boring compared to my MSc course.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

More thoughts on how things are going . . .

A long walk across the local fields this morning. I am somewhat depressed again, set off by a comment on how few phone contacts I have! I am feeling very mentally tired at the moment, and perhaps my walk was aimed at clearing my head a little.

Probably every English blogger has been putting snowy scenes on their blogs - no reason though why I shouldn't also.

Looking south towards the Ridgeway
Looking north across the Thames Valley towards Brize Norton
The frozen duck pond and village church
The village herd of alpacas
When covered in snow, our allotment looks no worse than all the others!

In respect of my MSc, I am getting to a stage where I am expecting to not do much more reading (a few weeks time?), and instead will be starting on exam prep and the actual writing of my dissertation. There have been several things that have had a big impact on me as I've been doing the MSc. One major effect has been to be able to access a large number of journals online and, as a result, to realise something of the huge amount of scholarship that is already out there - this raises problems such as how to choose what to work on? Is there always plenty left? Or is this the main reason why scholarship gets down to finer and finer points?
I am also pondering of perhaps deferring year two of my MSc - then if I can get a PhD place, I might not do this second year.

One recent development in my thoughts on doing a PhD has been my discovery that it is possible to study History of Science to PhD level at Oxford. It turns out that this is offered through the History department (rather than the more usual Philosophy or Science departments). It would be the obvious choice to study there. And living in Longworth is close enough to fullfill the residency requirement that Oxbridge has.
But one downside of the MSc has been my increased awareness of the negatives associated with academia. Reading books like Adams' The Academic Tribes and Frost & Taylor's Rhythms of Academic Life, together with my own observations at LSE, have produced a much more negative view of academic life than perhaps I had before. So maybe my goal would be to become a "gentleman scholar", publishing a few articles a year in various journals. But if I do a PhD, I would like to be a class teacher for undergrads.

On the work front, I am psyched up to a return to work, but am not really thrilled about it. I have some opportunities progressing, and am very hopeful that one of them would be very suitable (though I am not sure I have done enough to get this one). I should hear in the next week if this is going ahead to the next stage. But the upside of going back to work is that I would definitely be able to do a PhD either starting autumn 2010 or 2011.

There was an article in Saturday's Guardian on vagabonding travel. This was written by Rolf Potts who published a book on the same subject a couple of years ago and which linked in very well with Buryn's Vagabonding in the USA, which I read years ago. I remain very taken with this pattern of travel - it is very similar to aspects of my travels last summer. And of course The Dharma Bums remains among my all time favourite books. So very tempting . . .

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Starting on the Merzbox - reading histories of the enlightenment

After "warming up" for the past couple of days by listening to the Merzbow / Boris collaborations, I feel ready to start on the imfamous Merzbox - the 50cd Merzbow box set that I acquired a little while back. I only know two things about it - the someone wrote a really great review of it a few years back in Wire magazine and that John Peel opened an exhibition at Ipswich Arts Centre which played the entire 50 cds over the course of a weekend. So I have started with CD1 - "OM Electrique" - and the 31'17" of part 1 is currently playing.

I was surprised to find several videos of Merzbow on Youtube - including two great clips from the 2008 ULU shows (were these with Boris?). And also an odd clip called "Merzbow scares me" - a student's video diary discussing how she has been able to play loud music all night as her roommates are away on Spring Break and how Merzbow is just one of the things she has been playing.

The postman has made it through the snow for the first time in a few days and I have some new books purchases, reflecting the very high cd sales I have had over the last week. Someone bought my really rare PJ Harvey cd of her first album "Dry" combined with the demo versions. They paid £75 for it - I wonder if it will turn out that I have sold it far too cheaply? So the new arrivals are Lyon's The House of Wisdom (a book on Islamic science), Israel's Enlightenment Contested (which I currently have out of LSE library and which looks superb) and Phillip Ball's Universe of Stone: Chartres Cathedral and the Triumph of the Medieval Mind, the sort of odd book that I occasionally buy.

Reading today has been mainly an outline history of the Enlightenment and a couple of articles - Stump's History of Science Through Koyre's Lenses and Daston's History of Science in an Elegiac Mode: E.A. Burtt's Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Physical Science Revisited. More stuff to reflect on for my dissertation.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Snow - again

As per the weather forecasts last night, we have had 3 or 4 inches overnight - we seem to have come off lightly compared to a lot of the south of England. This has resulted in Linda's Pilates clients continuing to cancel - having to stay home to look after kids whose schools are closed is the most common reason. Two do make it today, but Linda does have most of the day free.
Our house at 8:15am
Our road - just two vehicle tracks so far
The road to Hinton Waldrist

Today's work is mainly two articles - Thackray's The Pre-History of an Academic Discipline and Dear's Jesuit Mathematical Science and the Reconstitution of Experience in the Early Seventeenth Century. The former was considerably less interesting than I had hoped, the latter more so (though it did seem hugely repetitious to me)

Interspersed with work, I am trying to find the motivation to work out how my new phone works. I have never really bothered to do this before, but perhaps should try to master a few basic commands (e.g. texting). It seems to hugely amuse the rest of the family that I have never worked how to do this important modern skill

Current music is one of the collaboration cds by Boris and Merzbow - radical reinterpretations of many tracks that I have come to love over the past month or so. e.g. Rainbow, Flower Sun Rain, Just Abandoned Myself, Feedbacker, and so on. Basically these consist of slightly reworked versions of the songs with sheets of noise overlaying the original tracks. Am I ready yet to start on the Merzbox, the Merbow 50 cd boxset?

Two wasted days at LSE


A last minute, Tuesday-evening decision to go down to LSE for two days. It seems that the worst of snow has past and that the school would be opening again

The snow of the last few days has just about gone. Not too much bother sorting out the car this morning for my early start to get the "express" coach to Marble Arch - at LSE by 8:30. The library not yet back to normal - all fines will apparently be rescinded. Spent an hour or so working on a Kepler paper by Aiton from 30 years ago setting out the then-current research on Kepler (as such work peaked for the 500th anniversary of his birth in 1971)

I have a 30 minute meeting with Miklos at 10:00 to go through where I am with my dissertation - this is a general chat but seems to me to provide very little encouragement (just like Caroline said when she went to see Miklos about her dissertation a couple of months ago). But I am pleased with my progress and not that fussed about what Miklos has to say at this stage. Next person in at 10:30 was Mark, who I think is in real trouble with his dissertation given his hopeless presentation last week (and the fact that his is due this year, unlike mine)

Bought a remaindered book on Michelangelo and then settled in library for another couple of hours - more reading on Kepler. Then decided on making the long walk to my hotel in Lancaster Gate rather than going by tube - I am trying to improve my breathing a little so every opportunity for some light exercise should be taken. I am so out of shape at the moment. A nice room this time (esp as it has a bath rather than a shower). Dozed for an hour then spent a couple of hours reading Kennedy's Pursuit - the story of the sinking of the Bismark in WWII - then a couple more hours work before the football at 8:00.


Awake at 5:30 after a very good night's sleep - finished Pursuit late last night. This morning was focused on the Westman paper on Kepler and the "realist's dilemma" - another really good Kepler paper (and one that makes me wonder whether there is really much left to cover on Kepler. A decent "Life and Thought" book would be good though)

Linda called as I walked to the tube to say that there had been heavy snow in Oxfordshire overnight and I should think about getting back asap. I was planning to miss Philosophy of Economics again, so should have been setting off home around 1:30. But got to King's to find that the seminar was cancelled because John Milton can't get into London. So have a drink with Caroline and Victor back at LSE and set off home about 12:00

A phone call this afternoon re possible work. This sounded quite upbeat while I have been less so this week. So maybe things are still promising on this front. I have been psyching myself up for work again - not very successfully it must be said. But it is true that it is hard to avoid finding the current economic situation some sort of concern and maybe this is an excellent reason to get back into work?

Monday, 2 February 2009

Snow falls - the LSE is closed!

Much of the country has been hit with heavy snow overnight. So much so that the LSE is closed today. We have been relatively lightly hit here - but London has apparently had loads and has come to a halt.

I spent quite a lot of the day researching Corporate Bond funds. We are planning to make some investments in these over the next few weeks. I am looking for ones with about 5 years average duration, an average rating of A- or BBB+, a yield of about 8% and a greater than -10% fall in 2008. So far I have a few candidates. I am intending to start buying some blocks next week when I have had a further think about it all. I would be hoping, on a two or three year view, to perhaps produce an average 10% per annum return. It is very likely that base rates will fall to 1% this week, and our investment returns are dwindling along with this. I feel deeply agrieved that savers such as Linda and myself are being hit to help borrowers.

But the corporate bond fund plan is definitely better than my other plan of buying another house in Oxford - This has too much remaining downside and upfront cost compared to the bond plan. Will hopefully have a selection of, say, six funds very soon.

Two more days down at LSE


Down early for the dissertation seminar. These are the last two presentations by individual students outlining their ideas as they stand today. And, perhaps oddly enough, both were terrible presentations today. You would think that having had more than half the teaching of the course, they would have had some idea of what they wanted to do - but apparently not. And they were even worse if you compare with actual dissertations from the past few years - they are in real trouble in my view. Next week we have a change of format with one-on-one meetings with Miklos in his office. I am on first next week, then have two Wednesdays off.

Across to Charing Cross Road at lunchtime to review and purchase Kelley's The Descent of Ideas. This does look a very interesting take on the history of ideas

Then to my hotel and a bit of time to prepare for my work-related meeting this afternoon. This seemed to go ok, but I did miss the best chances to ensure that I was seen as a really good candidate. Instead, I think he may have thought that I would have been unsuitable due to the amount of admin involved in this position - I should have downplayed my "exciting" past and emphasised the similarities of the proposed role with what I was doing a year or two ago.

Then across to Liverpool Street Station to meet Robert St John for a quick drink. We chatted about the current RBS situation, the general banking market and corporate bonds. I was interested in quizzing Robert about current bond markets as this might be an area where it would make sense for us to invest some savings. Remarkably, 10 year sterling for Imperial Tobacco would cost about 400b.p over gilts. Robert also had some interesting points about bank facilities generally. I am a little concerned that we might lose our bank facility and am planning to draw it down over the next month or two.


Across to LSE for 8:00 and some reading of various books on the David Irving Holocaust-denial libel trial from a few years ago. I have become interested in the possible problems created by the holocaust for postmodernist history - is this a case study that shows the poverty of postmodernism?

Also reading some of Lindberg & Numbers' God and Nature - especially the Westman piece on Copernicanism and the Church, in preparation for this morning's seminar. This week's seminar with John Milton is even worse than last week - there is no chance of really asking any questions, it is just one long monologue. Not a seminar at all.

I had lunch and a long chat with Caroline at the Garrick at LSE. We are joined by Anne Marie later (who has definitely decided to go part-time). Lots of interesting points of view about the course, people's study, their dissertations, etc. As a rsult, I missed the Philosophy of Economics seminar - though I much preferred what I did do instead