Saturday, 28 November 2009

Kepler - lecture and talk

A slightly mixed day today.

On the one hand, an early start to meet Emma at 8:00am prior to her interview at, of all places, Goldman Sachs. This wasn't one of her main priority job interviews, which is perhaps just as well as it dodn't go well. When I met her afterwards, she was quite flustered from it all. She felt the person interviewing her had been setting loads of traps and, unfortunately she fell into them all. In her general state afterwards she left her scarf and folder inside and then only retrieved the scarf. I travelled with her back to Kings Cross and she was quite down about it all - afterall, it had cost her half a day and she is very busy with work. So not a good start.

At LSE library I took out another two volumes of Thorndike's History of Magic and Experimental Science. These have only been taken out of the library a couple of times each despite being around 75 years old. I reckon the complete set of volumes is around 3,000 pages long and is a fine reminder of the vast amount of material on the subject.

John Milton's class today is on the reception of Copernicanism - one of my specialist subjects. At the end of the class, he notes the next two week's topics, suggesting, tongue in cheek, that I might like to do the Kepler talk in two weeks time. On the way home tonight, I thought alot about this before thinking that, yes, I would like to do the talk. So I emailed John and suggested I did do it, using the possibility of doing some teaching at Oxford as an additonal reason, and, much to my surprise, John has agreed. So in two week's time, I will be giving a 90 minute talk on Kepler.

Then later on, at my Writing Biography course, it turns out we need to do a 15 minute talk on our chosen subject. So I am planning to do Kepler for that as well. So a busy couple of weeks on Kepler is planned

Nicki returned the copy of Bluestockings which I lent her a few weeks back. He mother was at Oxford when some of the incidents refered to in the book took place, and she thought that Jane Robinson had taken some liberties with the story. She suggested that this showed the neen for firm academic principles to be in play when writing material of this sort. I agree entirely

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Reviews of Glass's Kepler - Kenny's Life in Oxford

One or two reviews of Philip Glass's opera Kepler have begun to appear on the internet. Some Glass fans on a Glass forum were very enthusiatic (as one might expect). Most newspaper reviews have been broadly favourable without raving about it. The US staging was a concert performance rather than the full-blown opera that is in Linz, but it did have the same cast and orchestra so I suppose that musically it was very similar. But I'm sure the full version will be better. It is a long time since I last saw a Glass opera. The last one was Akhnaten at ENO in the mid-1980s, though I have listened to a live performance on the radio of another one since then - The Making of the Representative of Planet 8, from the early 1990s. And I also saw Satyagraha in the very early 1980s. There are rumours that this last one might be on again next year at the ENO, but I haven't had a detailed look into this yet.

I have no regrets about not seeing the US staging in the end, even though at that time I wasn't aware that the Linz production was still available. But the actual outcome (hopefully) of seeing it in Linz is definitely the best I could have. I'm very excited about this plan.

Current reading has been focused on Anthony Kenny's A Life in Oxford, part of my tentative plan to immerse myself in something of the history of Oxford University prior to, hopefully, studying there. Kenny does seem to have had a very good life there following his departure from the Catholic Church in the early 1960s. I may try and find his book about that period of his life, A Path from Rome

Thursday, 19 November 2009

A new Kepler opera plan - Linz in January

While looking for reviews of the performances last week of Glass's Kepler in New York, I was somewhat surprised to see mention of the full opera performances still being on in Linz. One site even had a short video clip of it. And sure enough, a bit more searching finds the website for the Linz production and the apparent availability of tickets for the remaining performance. Less than two minutes after I discover this, Linda arrives home and is able to eventually guide me through the German language website and acquire a ticket for Saturday January 9th, the last performance.

This is hugely exciting news - or at least I think so. A couple of hours later and I have a rough itinerary. Travel on Wednesday January 6th on the overnight ferry to Hook of Holland. Thursday, drive to Tubingen for overnight visit. Friday to Linz and a day and a half there before the Saturday evening performance. Then back to Hook of Holland on the Sunday for the late evening crossing back. This looks a very good plan at the moment and should enable me to take in a bit of Kepler related atmosphere before the performance
The statue of Kepler in the Linzer Schloss

A scene from the Linz Kepler

The BAM poster for Glass's Kepler in New York

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Sheila Rabin emails; more Kepler articles

I have had a really nice email reply from Sheila Rabin, Professor of History at a Jesuit College in the USA and author of several really interesting articles on Kepler. As I thought, the journal Studia Copernicana, which recently featured the papers from a Kepler conference in 2008, is really hard to get hold of. But she has been in touch with the Polish editor and has given me his email address so I can try and get a copy from him.

Slightly less good, she also mentioned that Bruce Stephenson might be working on De stella nova. She wasn't sure how far he had got, but that would be a real shame if he is doing something substantial on it. I shall ignore that possibility.

Into Oxford for various things. Disappointingly, The Radcliffe Science Library still doesn't have the Nov 09 issue of Journal of the History of Astronomy. This feature four articles on Kepler which I would like to read. Also the issue from Vol 39 with the article by Michael Granada on Kepler and Bruno remains missing. But I did find some stuff, mainly articles on aspects of Kepler's optical theories.

Monday, 16 November 2009

The history of astrology and Redshift 6

As part of my "deep" background reading, I have started to read more about the history of western astrology. I have been skimming through a couple of volumes of Thorndike's History of Magic and Experimental Science - can you do anything else but skim with a work this size? One or two chapters seem very relevant - ones on comets, conjunctions, astrology in general, Kepler & Galieo, for instance. I own one small part of this work - a print to order copy of Volume 6, which is part two of the Sixteenth Century. A quick look on abebooks reveals that a complete set of the original printing could be mine for the princle sum of £300.

My second main source has been a very short book of four lectures on astrology and the renaissance by Eugenio Garin from 1976. This has quite a lot about Albumaser, "Great Conjunctions", Pico's criticism of astrology, and so on. Not perfectly referenced but not bad.
Finally I have been looking through Jim Tester's A History of Western Astrology from 1987. This is actually a pretty good survey, covering Ptolemy in some detail and having another good discussion of Pico. As I dip into Kepler's De stella nova, I keep finding references to all of this type of thing. I hope this means I am on the right track.

I have also loaded my astronomical software, Redshift 6, onto my PC and have been playing around with the diary, which includes conjunctions going bach thousands of years. Moreover, it includes an animation of the supernova of 1604. With a bit of tweaking, this can be amended to show the Great Conjunction of Dec 1603, followed by the 1604 interaction with Mars. I am very impressed with the programme and rather regret not having looked at it in detail before.
The Kepler nova remnant - a Chandra x-ray image taken August 2006

Sunday, 15 November 2009

First day of hard work for a while

The last few weeks have not been great working weeks. Two weeks lost through illness, one week when we were in France, one week doing my PhD application. So I have high hopes that the next couple of weeks will be largely work. I have a rough idea of what I want to try and achieve - as usual, the list is rather daunting.

First project concerns making a few steps into a project for the History of Science course. John just wants a single long essay to be handed in the start of next term. I am considering doing something on Kepler and astrology. So today's first work has been some detailed note taking on Sheila Rabin's article "Kepler's attitude towards Pico and the Anti-Astrology polemic" from the journal Renaissance Quarterly, 1997. This is a very interesting article and contains a whole wealth of suggestive stuff.

After three or four hours on this, I was looking up something about Sheila Rabin to see what other articles she might have written. In doing so, I stumbled across a note on her departmental website that in August she had published a piece in Studia Copernicana 42, which is based on a 2008 conference on Kepler. Of course I really want this but can't seem to find out much about it. I had thought it might be an online journal, but it doesn't seem to be on the Bodleian site. Also a reference to Rabin's PhD thesis; "Two Renaissance views of Astrology: Pico and Kepler", which I would also very much like to read. So I may email her at her college to find out about both of these.

By mid-afternoon I am slowing down but rally later and manage a couple of hours reading of J.V. Field's article "A Lutheran Astrologer: Johannes Kepler" from 1984. More good stuff. Not clear how a paper for John might be developed out of all of this yet though.

A good day's work - fingers crossed that the next couple of weeks continue as productively

Saturday, 14 November 2009

New Music

It's been a while since I've done a blog entry on my current listening. Indeed until quite recently I have been listening to the same stuff over and over. But a couple of weeks back I sorted out loads of new stuff to listen to - and a bit of a break from the last couple of months

First up, the return to Boris to my regular listening. Back in the spring they were all I was listening to. I still have half a dozen recordings of them that I hadn't listened to yet and was saving up. But initial re-listening has been based on the "Pink" cd, especially the track "Sweet No 1" They remain my current epitome of all that is cool in music.

Next there has been something of a psychedelic revival led, in the first place, by some recent recordings I came across of Ozric Tentacles who are back playing live shows again after a break of some while.

Ozric Tentacles at the Wakawusa Festival, 2009
Next up, PJ Harvey, whose "White Chalk" cd was one of last year's favourites and who's recent collaboration with John Parish has been a recent favourite

My favourite PJ Harvey photo - Reading years ago (1994?)
Then early Cat Power. I was not entirely convinced by The Greatest cd by any means and haven't enjoyed what I've heard of her recordings with the Memphis Rhythm band. But this is tempered by the fact that she does seem to have got her act together somewhat over the last few years. When I saw her a few years back, she was at the peak of her flaky live sets and it was all rather strange. For me, What would the Community Think? remains her high point. I have recently heard some early live stuff by her. A show with Steve Shelly from 1996 and a video of her with Loren Mazzacane Connors from 1997. Now that is really excellent stuff

Then more psychedelia care of the Acid Mothers Temple who I return to once a year or so. I can't believe I have 30 cds of theirs!

Finally, Lydia Lunch has been playing some live shows with a band again - billed as "Big Sexy Noise". Back in the 1980s I considered her to be the coolest performer ever. I've kind of lost track of what she has been doing lately (for about the last 10 years in fact). But I really enjoyed the live recording I heard of her recently. Good to see she is still producing great stuff

Thursday, 12 November 2009

One day in London - all referees have finished

Much to my surprise I felt much better this morning. Headache gone, nose unblocked, just a bit of a cough left. So a trip to London seemed an ok prospect.

On the way up on the coach I was behind a businessman on his way to London for a meeting. He was involved in finance in some way and kept getting phone calls pretty much througout the journey. He was mainly talking about various budget matters. It all sounded very sad - what a waste of time! At least when I commuted to London on the coach, we didn't have mobile phones - that would have been awful.

Quick trip to the library to drop off some books, no time for any food, then off to King's for John's weekly lecture. This weeks topic was the renaissance and humanism and, as usual, John makes a pretty good presentation. This topic is the one I most wanted to see this term, so I was pleased I was able to go. It built on the reading I had done last year, especially Schmitt and Copenhaver's rather excellent Renaissance Philosophy

Afterwards I mentioned to John that I might not be able to go next week as I might be in New York for the Kepler opera. We then had a chat for 20 mins or so about my Oxford application and what the current state of H of S at Oxford was. He had been to Balliol and St Johns, a true Oxford man.

But about the opera - actually I feel that I am pretty unlikely to go. I haven't managed much work over the last few weeks and feel I really ought to focus on this. Also we are planning to go in March for Emma's 21st birthday, so most of the other things I could have done this weekend, I could do then. I must decide by, say, Sunday

More good news at home - my final referee has completed his reference and so my application is complete for the November 20th deadline. Fingers crossed for the next couple of months.

No biography class tonight as Nigel is ill with flu - probably what I have had. By 8:00 or so I was rather flagging but things are a lot better than the last few days have been.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Unbelievably, I have another cold

Yes, after just three clear weeks after the last cold struck, I have acquired another (or perhaps had the older one return). And so has Emma. This suggest that we were both exposed when up in London together last week. Both of us were hit the same day - Monday morning - and both have been getting progressively worse since.

This has blown a big hole in my studying plans. Indeed, given that one week when I was feeling better coincided with the holiday in France and another with the Oxford PhD application, I really haven't managed much work in four of the last five weeks.

Today I have managed about two hours of Latin and might be just about up to where I should have been last week. Then off to Oxford to arrange for our pictures from France to be framed, have a very quick visit to the RSL and Blackwells, and buy Linda her various food requirements. Unfortunately, I then feel so unwell that I have to sleep for close to three hours.

But on the brighter side, two of my three referees have now submitted references - so just one to go, then the first application will be done. I feel somewhat tense still about hitting the deadline, but it should be ok now. I have even begun to think about the next ones - which may well be the Warburg Institute and UCL.

With no "hard" work possible, I am reduced to reading Mehta's Fly and the Fly Bottle, a book from the early 1960s about arguments between academic philosophers and historians, mainly at Oxford - an attempt to soak up some of the atmosphere

Monday, 9 November 2009

A day catching up with Latin

Strangely, I didn't feel very well again first thing this morning - a really bad sore throat and headache. This clears slowly as I worked, but by the afternoon the headache is quite fierce and I am reduced to some light reading.

Main work today was three or four hours of Latin, seeking to catch up on what I've missed over the last few weeks. I take quite a few pages of notes on grammar, translate 60 lines from Plautus' Aulularia, and note how I have so much that needs rote learning - vocab, verb conjugations, noun declensions, etc.

On the plus side, this work gives me some indication of what it would be like to self-study this Latin course. My original pan had been to do Latin 1 this year (finishing next March) and then start Latin 2 next September and so on. But now I am pondering on whether I could self-teach myself Latin 2 following straight on from finishing this course and then start Latin 3 this time next year. I have also discovered that Oxford University, as one might expect, does various Latin courses for graduate students. So, in theory at least, I could be quite knowledgeable about Latin by, say Easter 2011, in 18 months or so time.

And certainly dipping into some of the Latin texts I have, e.g. Kepler's, I am already not so fearful of them as perhaps I once was.

Another plus today - the bookseller in Germany from whom I bought some of the Kepler Collected Works also have Vol 1-5 of Tycho Brahe's Opera Omnia for sale, which Linda has bought me for Christmas. I suspect these might be a "print to order" reprint, but nothing bad about that. With Google's activities, this might become quite usual in the near future.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

PhD application is finished and submitted

At 1:15pm today I finally pushed the submit button and despatched my PhD application to Oxford. Attached is my three-page proposal which has gone through about six drafts but now looks pretty good to me (not that I have anything to compare it with), together with a CV, and two examples of written work - in my case, an essay on the Duhem-Quine problem and an extract from my piece on comets that I see as now being my dissertation thesis.

Next priority is to make sure that my references get in on time. The deadline is Nov 20th, so there should be enough time, and all three have been primed. But you never know - pressure of work might get to them. So I will need to do some very tactful pressurizing to make sure it is all done in time.

Then it is just a question of waiting. I really have little idea whether my proposal will find favour, though I do have one or two things in my favour. Firstly, I am self-financing, so the big concern that Universities now have that research students won't be able to afford to finish doesn't apply in my case. And secondly, I don't need accommodation. But I can't help thinking that my age will count against me - a similar proposal from a 23 year old might well meet with more favour - yet, having said that, few 23 year olds would have put together my exact proposal. One other concern is the focus of the Oxford Uni study of history of science. Perhaps under the Woolgar influence, it is very "externalist". So my wish to study one of the main participants in any "internalist" history might also be a problem.

So now I just wait - not expecting to hear until sometime in January

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Strange Tantric Sex Dream

One of the most influential books on me when I was a teenager was Lisa Alther's Kinflicks. Towards the end of this, the heroine, Ginny, is newly married but, for complex reasons, is allowing a hippy, newly back from India, to live in her garage, unbeknown to her husband. The hippy is teaching Ginny about tantric sex and over several weeks they master a series of preliminary exercises. But then, on the big day, disaster strikes; they both fall asleep at the vital moment and the great cosmic event fails to occur - one of the funniest scenes in the book.

For the first time in three or four weeks, I have had a vivid dream. I usually have three or four a week but perhaps not being well has affected their occurance.

I am sitting in a temple room, lush drapes on the walls, loads of candles, incense etc. I am there with a beautiful Greek girl (why Greek?), with long dark hair and beautiful dark brown eyes. She believes me to be a tantric sex master but I am unable to remember anything about what we are supposed to do. My mind is a complete blank. It was like one of those dreams where people are taking an exam and turn over the paper to discover they have been studying the wrong thing all year, or are at the wrong exam. But with more sex involved obviously.

The girl remindered me of someone but I can't think who. I'm not sure I have ever met any Greek girls.
A Tibetan Buddhist Tantric image

A rather stunning statue showing "Yabyum"

Friday, 6 November 2009

Two days at LSE - first time for a while

A trip to LSE for two day for the first time in ages. I have done none of the work for Philosophy of Economics and today's seminar is therefore rather silly as I have no idea about any of the points being discussed. Apparently we are supposed to write an essay due in the next couple of weeks but I suspect I won't manage this.

I stayed the night at the same hotel in Queensway as I did last time, but had a far worst room that before - presumably why it was only £30. Worked most of the afternoon on Latin - I am well behind on that too! Tired and headachy by about 7:30, I actually fell asleep then and woke up about 2:00 in the morning. Perhaps an overhang from all the driving last week?

History of Science with John is about Humanism and the Renaissance - another of my main interests. He covers stuff I pretty much know already. Afterwards we have a brief chat about the PhD process. He seems happy that he will have time to do it at the end of this week. I will feel a lot better when the references are done.

Stayed at the LSE library for some of the afternoon and then went straight to Oxford for my biography course. There is a fireworks display in Oxford tonight and parking is really difficult. I only just make it there by 7:30 and have no time for any food on the way. I haven't done any work for this course for a couple of weeks either. Most people hand in something every week, but not me. But despite this, the course continues to throw up interesting stuff. Tonight we are studying various biographies of Silvia Plath - one episode in particular. It is interesting how the different approaches compare. Long ago, I read Plath's The Bell Jar. From what I remember, I quite enjoyed it, but after tonight, I think it doubtful I will read anything about her again. All that whining!

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

More PhD prep & some great new books

Work continues on my PhD proposal. I have now done a couple of drafts and am reasonably happy with it at the moment. I am now planning to leave it a day or so and then come back to it on Friday and see what I think then. If I carry on working on it now, I suspect I may get to a stage when I can't see the wood for the trees.

Some new books have arrived. Mainly four volumes on Galileo by Stillman Drake - the excellent Galileo at Work intellectual biography together with the three volumes of his Essays on Galileo and the History and Philosophy of Science. Also arrived is Tester's A History of Western Astrology and a book on the practicalities of working as a translator. I need all the help I can get on this theme I suspect.

Finally, I have spotted that the bookseller in Worms, Germany, from whom I got the Kepler volumes also has some volume (perhaps all) from Tycho Brahe's Collected Works. I am pondering on seeing if Linda will get me volumes 1-5 for Christmas. I had a look at these last time I was in the Bodleian and they look very nice.

Monday, 2 November 2009

PhD proposal work, online application

Back from France and now, with some urgency, I need to get going on my PhD appplication. There is just over two weeks till the deadline but that deadline includes things like the third party references. So today I have created an application account, and put in most of the standing data that I can do at the moment - page after page of stuff required.

But the main problem is that there are several documents that I need to attach and which are not in any sort of shape to be included. I need two examples of my written work. My plan is to include an excerpt from the large comet paper that I've been working on over the last few months. The second paper may well have to be a philosophy of science essay from last year - perhaps the Duhem-Quine one. Then apparently I need to include a CV.

However the main issue is my actual proposal. I have no examples of exactly what this should be like but at least I have jotted down several pages of possible points to include. But today all I did on this was produce some sort of ordering of the points.

I feel very like I did with the MSc proposal and application. I think I should be an excellent candidate, but so much is out of my control and that leave me feeling that my chances are not so high. I expect to spend much of the next few days on this proposal and the completion of the other stuff, but maybe it will all be done by the end of the week?

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Trip to France - part 2


Our first target today is the Abbey de Senanque, around 15km away from our hotel. This features in pretty much every guide book to Provence,usually with rows of lavender in front. It is still a functioning monastery and is located some way off the beaten track. However, at the moment, the lavender that usually appears in front of the abbey is missing. The land is having a fallow period before being replanted.

We arrived at 10:25, just in time for the 10:30 tour (quite by accident I should say). The tour lasts just over the hour and is in French, but was worth doing as it is the only way to see the inside of the buildings. I was very impressed by the architectural drawings that many of the rooms had, showing the manner of construction, especially the stone roofs. I am always very keen to visit monasteries - perhaps I still have a faint yearning for the solitary religious life?

Lots of fantastic books in the abbey shop but sadly all in French

The Abbey de Senanque - nestled in its quiet valley

An example of the many architechural drawings, all from the mid-1980s

How the roofs are supported

And a real roof

From there we had decided to drive the 30 odd km to Mont Ventoux via Gourdes. As with all such drives, this takes about twice as long as one might expect, but is well worth it

Long telephoto lens views across to the far side on the Luberon

Artist shop in Gourdes - they always get very cross if they think you are taking pictures of their art - and rightly so!

Linda sitting outside the creperie where I had pancakes with chocolate sauce

More (very expensive) product regionaux

Baby lavender plants

Autumn in the foothills to Mont Ventoux

The first sign of thinning vegetation as we climb higher

Back towards the Luberon valley

Linda with the summit in the distance

More abstract views of the hills in the far distance

Looking back down the road to the summit - no vegetation any more. This is a famous part of the climb from the Tour de France

The actual summit - a surprisingly large number of cyclist were out

The summit on the way back down

Linda reading her John Sandford thriller
We circle back round from Mont Ventoux towards Apt, the small town near where we were going to stay for one of our weeks in France last year, La Moliere. I couldn't find the actual house, but did get very close to it on a couple of occasions.
We call in at the large Supermarket in Apt and buy snacky food for dinner in our room, which is ideal for the purpose with a small table in the room. We watch 3 episodes of CSI related to the miniature killer. Tonight's reading is mainly the Wittgenstein biographical sketch I brought with me. I am thinking of trying to prepare something like this for Kepler
Our plan today had been to visit Arles in the morning, then down through the Camarge area. But due to a miss turn we ended up in the Carmarge first and indeed, never made it to Arles.
At St Gilles we stopped at another regional products shop and bought loads of local rice and some more wine including some with really beautiful bottles featuring the flamingos that we understood to be very much part of this area - them and the famous white horses.
Our next stop was a "Parc Ornithologique" which we had read about in a guidebook. This turned out to be a real treat and we spent most of the rest of the day there. I took an extraordinary number of photos of flamingos (and other birds)
The first flock we came across

Lots of herons too

Nearly a truly great shot - not quite in perfect focus and one wing tip missing

Flock number two

I spent ages trying to get a good shot of open wings - they only open them for a second or so

My pictures gradually become more abstract - this is one of my favourites

And this perhaps my second favourite

This one was nearly a great picture - just a little too far away

Several Camarge white horses

We think this is an egret - there were a few around, but they were quite shy

So we didn't make it to Arles after all. Late afternoon was spent at the coast and a leisurely drive back early evening.

Emma called when we were back at the hotel. She has an interview next week and needs to discuss it with us in some detail. She sounds very excited.

We have another dinner in our room tonight - and I have reached page 250 in Galileo's Daughter


An 8:00 a.m. start for today's long drive - brief stops for fuel, and a last visit to the local supermarket. Our next stop is several hours later near Carcassonne, a service station which I stopped at last year and where we could buy local wine (another 12 bottles). We have brunch in the picnic area where we come across a kitten which seems very happy to take any spare food we have going.

Linda sleeps for an hour or so and we push on past Toulouse, getting slightly lost on the way. I figure there is just enough time for a quick visit to Montagu de Quercy and to see the Chateau de Rodie where we stayed two weeks last year. Then onto Cahors and another stop at a supermarket where we buy 20 more bottles of wine - Cahor red is my absolute favourite

Back on the route to next place. It is further than we had thought, and we don't arrive until 6:00. This may be the best hotel we have stayed at so far. It also has a full "gastonomique" meal, and we are very pleased to accept an all-in price for this. It was a great relief to not be driving again

Our meal is a real treat - starter of poached eggs and salmon, while Linda has mussells, followed by quail stuffed with foie gras for me and sea bass for Linda, then rocamadour goat's cheese with honey and walnuts, and chocolate cake. We definitely plan to come here again!


Another early departure, 7:45 - we did not really see this hotel well, but will definitely return.

To Limoge on the motorway, then slow on the A-road to Poitiers, more motorway to Tours, and Le Man (where we have lunch at a service station), then Caen and Cherbourg by 4:45p.m. More than 400 miles, during which I have spent a lot of time thinking about my PhD proposal - writing bits in my head

Read Galileo's Daughter on the boat and slept. Home by 9:00. Cat problems to do with one of the neighbour's cats attacking our's. Only a partial unpacking of wine tonight - that will wait till tomorrow