Tuesday, 15 August 2017

I swear by Apollo the Physician

For a 'week' that was not only double the length of a regular week and that only theoretically involved plenty of spare time away from the internet with which to read, it sure feels like Tuesday has come unreasonably quickly, and I found myself desperately trying to squeeze my last pieces of reading into the last couple of busy days. I honestly have to wonder sometimes why I thought that reading 90,000 words a week would be a reasonable addition to my week.

This 'Week':

Confessions of Augustine of Hippo
#gbww #autobiography #latin
Book XI - XII

What a dramatic change in content we have here, away from the autobiographical and straight into theological arguments about Genesis, which feel like they're tacked on rather than any kind of meaningful addition to the document, though I suspect that Augustine felt just the opposite. I admit that I found myself skimming here rather than really diving in, partly due to time constraints and partly due to Augustine's annoying refusal to get to the point of anything, a habit that somewhat undermines the strength of his reasoning and the attractiveness of his emotive style.

Augustine has used the phrase 'through a glass darkly' more times than I'm comfortable with in the last few chapters. I am normally fine with him borrowing phrases from scripture left, right and centre, but somehow each time I read that one it rips me straight out of my line of thought. I suspect that if I were to devise a Great Conversation drinking game, that phrase would be in it.

Elements by Euclid
#gbww #mathematics #greek
Book IX

I was utterly, utterly not in the mood for mathematical proofs this week, and my lack of logical rigour when it comes to these seemingly endless propositions was really coming back to bit me. Thankfully, the usage of modern algebra helped me make good sense of a lot of this stuff, particularly in the first half, but I am utterly out of my depth. I guess Maths just isn't for me.

The Oath of Hippocrates
#gbww #philosophy #greek #oneshot

I find it interesting to compare and contrast those sections of the oath that have changed, and those that have remained the same over the years, even though I'm aware that modernised versions such as the one linked are rarely actually used these days. I also find it fascinating that 2500 years ago, it was necessary to suggest that doctors not perform abortions or euthanise, which just goes to show that when it comes to some things, humans really haven't changed a whole lot in the intervening time.

Turns out 'first, do no harm' is not really a thing in the oath, although the acknowledgement that all treatment should be for the good of the patient gives the gist, I suppose.

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
#not_gbww #fiction #french

I was expecting some slow introspective chapters and boiling inner turmoil in these chapters, but Hugo continues to surprise. The introduction of Javert here is utterly, stunningly poetic (and a wonderful passage to have chosen to read out loud to Mrs. Owl during a walk home on a balmy evening).

Let me share a phrase or two with you: 'Javert was a complete character, who never had a wrinkle in his duty or in his uniform; methodical with malefactors, rigid with the buttons of his coat.' and 'Javert’s content shone forth in his sovereign attitude. The deformity of triumph overspread that narrow brow. All the demonstrations of horror which a satisfied face can afford were there.' and 'Javert in his formidable happiness was to be pitied, as is every ignorant man who triumphs. Nothing could be so poignant and so terrible as this face, wherein was displayed all that may be designated as the evil of the good.'


On this reading I felt very sorry for Fantine. She really ought to have gotten a proper send-off instead of just fantine away at the sight of Javert in order to spur Valjean to action. She deserves better from me that being the butt of a weak pun, too, but I, like Hugo, am not above heaping further indignities upon the poor girl. #punacheived

The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens
#not_gbww #fiction #english #new
Chapters I - II

I don't know why I was worried that Pickwick might be a bit ho-hum, because so far is that has been the case, then I mean it only in the strictly Pickwickian sense. It has all the hallmarks of the best bits of Dickens: silly accents, outrageous characters, unlikely coincidences, flagrant misunderstandings and absurd situations, and as long as he can hold the whole thing together long enough to make an actual story happen, I think we're in for a fun ride, as long as we're not hoping to get anything deep and meaningful out of it in the long-term.

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
#ggb #fiction #english #new
Chapters I - IV

Well, I didn't exactly find Crusoe difficult reading at any point so far, but I admit to failing to see a whole lot here to recommend it at first. Then I realised that this book is 300 years old, which means that I was looking at it through entirely different lenses than I needed to, as I'd naively assumed it belonged to a similar vintage to Bronte and Austen etc. Now that I've realised this important fact, I'm honestly impressed by how well the story is rolling along, and considerably less upset by the depiction of other races and the way that it deals with slavery than I had been. Understanding the context of these books makes a big difference!

The Stats:

A big week for milestones as we crash through the 1000 pages marks both in the novels and the non-ggww books categories, but it's not all that surprising since those two groups overlap almost entirely. More exciting is passing 2000 pages in the project so far. That's a lot of words!

Pages last week: 115
Pages so far: 2090


It looked at first like a big ole week of prescribed reading from Dr. J this time around, so we're going to leave off Dickens and Hugo and return to them later on. Instead, after the build-up from Lucian a while back, it's time for Herodotus and the main event, and a little more Lamb.

Confessions of Augustine of Hippo
#gbww #autobiography #latin
Book XIII (20 pages)

And so we come at last to our final week with Augustine, and I have to say that though he's been hard work at times, I'll miss his companionship on the bus on the way to work each week, as he's consistently put me in a good mindset for the day's work, even if reading on the bus has the tendency to make me just a little bit motion-sick, which probably doesn't contribute to my productivity.

Dream Children by Charles Lamb
#ggb #fiction #english #oneshot
(3 pages)

So far, our experience with Lamb has been a little up and down, but everything has been a little too brief to really make a call on that. Hopefully this slightly longer text will give us a better idea of what he's all about.

Elements by Euclid
#gbww #mathematics #greek
Book X(i) (38 pages)

In order to somehow manage to make it through the monstrosity that is Book X of the elements, we're going to split it into three hopefully more approachable sections. This week we're reading Propositions 1-47, just to get us started. This is the last chance for the Elements; if I can't make it work for me this week, I'm giving up.

The History of Herodotus
#ggb #fiction #english #new
Book I (55 pages)

48 pages seems like a big mouthful to chew, but I'm hopeful that Herodotus will prove to be a fun read. If he doesn't, this could turn out to be quite the difficult week of reading.

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
#ggb #fiction #english #new
Chapters V - VII (15 pages)

A shorter excerpt from Robinson Crusoe has been set for this week. I hope for some good old-fashioned Tom Hanks alone on a tropical island crazy, but I suppose that I'll be hoping in vain.

I hope you've gotten a chance to engage with one of our little texts in the last week, but even if you haven't, why not take this chance to let me know what you've been reading?

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Day 5. Blake Mere - Queen's Head

I could wake up on a narrow boat moored next to Blakesmere every day for the rest of my life and we a very happy boy indeed, but I guess it's only fair to move on and give someone else a chance to enjoy the best spot on the canal for a while. The morning's travel was in stark contrast to yesterday, and we seemed to manage to collide with nearly every obstacle that we came into contact with in the first part of the day, but thankfully we'd more or less got that out of out system by the time we made it back to the thriving waterside metropolis that is Ellesmere and needed to really be on our toes in order to navigate the busy canal.

Today was the only day during the trip in which we had to keep to any kind of schedule, as we'd booked ahead to arrange our place at the Frankston Locks on the entrance to the Montgomery branch, as the locks are limited to twelve boats a day in a bid to keep canal traffic from degrading the banks of this section of the route, only recently (work started in the '80s, recent in the scale of the life of the canal, anyways) being reclaimed for narrowboat usage after having become a sanctuary for many aquatic plants since it was decommissioned in 1936. As usual with anything on the canal, we underestimated the time that it would take to get there, but (even despite some difficulties with the water point in Ellesmere slowing to a trickle) we comfortably managed our 12-2pm slot and began the fun of descending through the five locks into the quiet stillness that is the Montgomery.

Having negotiated the difficulties of the locks, I managed to sprain my ankle somewhat dramatically on returning to the boat after the last one, leaving me feeling sorry for myself for the rest of the day, but extremely thankful that it was a relatively minor injury, especially considering the difficulty of attempting to somehow return to medical services if they'd been required. I put myself to bed and missed most of the rest of the days travel once I'd got my foot out of the waterbath, which was a pity, as the placid Montgomery is a very different place to the main canal and I was sad to miss it. Thankfully we'll be returning along the same route tomorrow, so I'll get another chance to take a look around then.

My father-in-law successfully managed to turn the boat at Queen's Head (again overshooting, but getting away with it), so in celebration we adjourned to the eponymous pub for an early pizza dinner before making a little progress back down the canal again to a suitable mooring point away from the road, with just us, the cows, some empty chairs in the back of someone's yard and another litre or so of freshly picked blackberries to spend the night in. I honestly think that we could have got away with not mooring overnight at all, as the canal was still as glass and there was no other traffic at all. Life of a narrowboat is a very different beast out here; for a day or two I imagine it would be a nice change, but I think I'd miss the people if I were to spend any extended period of time out in lesser-travelled waters.

Safe voyages. (Watch your footing!)

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Day 4. Fenn's Wood - Blake Mere

A day of turning back on our tracks gave us second tries at a number of bridges and twisty stretches that had proved difficult to us on a first attempt, and I don't think that we hit anything that we didn't mean to hit during the whole day's travel, which on a busy stretch of narrow canal is quite the achievement. Evidence left behind from other travellers seemed to indicate that not everyone has quite mastered controlling the narrowboat by this point, but I have to admit that we were feeling pretty good about our efforts, even if the waters that we were traversing are definitely not the most challenging section by any measure, except possibly the likelyhood of being distracted by the scenery.

We only travelled about eight miles on the canal all day, as after passing back through the Quob and past Cole Mere we found a lovely mooring point overlooking Blake Mere, and decided to stop at the conveniently placed picnic table for lunch, and then decided to just stay there overnight, since the view was pretty much unparalleled along the way (even if my panorama shots were a little underwhelming!) and this section of the canal was surprisingly quiet.

We used the afternoon to wander back into Ellesmere and visit the Mere itself, as well as the town gardens (and of course the inevitable stop for a little bit more for the larder). The skies threatened to open up over us the whole time but never did, so once again we carted our rainjackets around to no avail. We also left ourselves plenty of time for a hand or nine of Mahjong before having to think about dinner and the day ahead.

Safe voyages.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Day 3. Tetchill - Fenn's Wood

This holiday has been very different from our last weekend jaunt up to the Lake District in the Spring. Then, we took any and every opportunity to eat in pubs and teahouses along the way, but this trip has been very self-sufficient. We began the day with eggs and bacon cooked in shifts in the boat's galley kitchen, even though there was a perfectly serviceable Full English breakfast waiting for us just two miles up the canal!

After a leisurely breakfast and a pot of tea or two we did eventually make it into nearby Ellesmere, where my boatmates restocked the kitchen while I lazed in the sun, after wandering into the town to sample the pork pies, which definitely didn't disappoint. Pork Pies are one of the few British recipes that I intend to add to my repertoire. I was so excited munching away that I forgot to take a photo.

Setting off from Ellesmere again after a hearty chicken soup, we negotiated the traffic and the tunnel and drifted down the canal amongst the meres (so called because they are fed only by rainwater and have no overt in or out-flowing water. Despite having less than a hour we decided to moor ourselves by bridge 42 and go for a wander around Cole Mere, which is large enough to have its own sailing club. This path was extremely popular with the dogwalkers, we must have run into at least 20 dogs of various breeds on the short walk. Dogs are pretty common on the canal, many a boat has one, but I think most of these were just locals out enjoying the sunshine before the projected days of heavy rain to come.

Life on a boat has a particular rhythm to it. Left to our own devices we'd happily have stopped there for the day, but the boat has to be run for five hours each day in order to provide enough power to run the electrics all night, and we had to reach a water point in order to make our daily resupply, so we continued East, passing back into Wales again for a little bit before returning to Shropshire in the point on the canal known as 'the Quob' after the noise the mud makes as you sink into it! Along the way, we managed to spray right along the side of a parked canalboat with the greywater being pumped out the side of the boat from the shower as we went along, which is really the worst some of canal faux-pas that one can commit.

As this point we reached the intended furthest extent of our canal journey, but before we found a private enough place to turn around (we expected to make a fool of ourselves trying such a tricky manoeuvre and were hoping for a secluded winding hole) we had to negotiate a swing bridge that needed to be lifted out of the path. When we eventually did find a turning point by another lift bridge (number 42), I managed to fulfil expectations by dramatically overshooting on the first attempt before successfully completing the turn on the second attempt (yes, believe it or not, you really are supposed to just poke your nose into the bank and then spin on that!).

That little spurt of excitement over with, we stopped just out of sight of the bridge, ready for starting our return journey tomorrow, and we've all gone to bed hoping that the locals that we've met along the way have been wrong about their weather predictions for tomorrow, as there's not a lot of shelter at the tiller.

Safe voyages.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Day 2. Chirk - Tetchill

What follows will be mostly a lot of photos of bridges. There's not much to look like on the river and I guess I just like bridges or something. For now it's just text, as I have extremely limited internet access here on the boat.

Any hopes that we had of having been magically transformed into early-rising nautical types were swiftly dashed as it turned out that the curtains kept out the light (and the noise from other more enthusiastic boaters) pretty well. I didn't even think about getting out of bed before 9AM, and it wasn't until 10:15 that we set off.

With Captain Dad at the tiller, we passed through the tunnel and over the aquaduct that marks the border, and there was much excitement to be passing into Wales, only stilled when we got to the other side and remembered that we'd already been in Wales, and that meant that we had just made the journey back into Shropshire.

We stopped for morning tea an hour or so later in order to take on water and to prepare ourselves mentally for our first locks. We needn't have been concerned, not only was the process exactly as simple as advertised, the friendly folks from nearby boats lurking about the lock were very encouraging. We should have been more concerned about accidentally dropping one of our mooring pins into the canal, something that would have been vexing if the water was more than about two feet deep, but instead was an amusing opportunity to send Mrs. Owl for a swim while I ineffectually poked about with a boathook.

We pulled in by an old broken railway bridge (it would have been bridge 10W) for a late lunch and then immediately set off after the rumours of afternoon tea at nearby Whittington Castle. The rumours turned out to be true, so we availed ourselves of fresh cherry scones and a decent pot of tea before a quick peek about the ruins and a ramble back to the boat.

Up until this point I'd managed to cleverly avoid steering duties by virtue of hiding at the front of the boat, but after having foolishly wandered to the rear I found myself dragooned and ended up neglecting my photographical duties in favour of manning the tiller. Some folks were trying to sleep, but I quickly fixed that by endeavouring to hit any and every obstacle that the canal-side presented me, so I doubt that I'll be asked to drive again and time soon.

We pulled in for the night after bridge 64 (the numbers reverted back at the Frankton Junction, an arm of the river that we hope to take on the return journey if things go to plan) just before it started to bucket down rain, yet another of the close escapes from the English weather that we've becoming used to on the journey. After a hearty dinner and a short worship service led by Phil on guitar, we've decided not to play a game (there is a first time for everything!). Though internet and phone access is extremely limited, the TV reception is apparently uninterrupted, so my cabin-mates are spending the evening watching Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince while I type away to you.

Safe voyages.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Day 1. Oxford - Chirk

While my parents-in-law are visiting us here from Adelaide, they've decided to give us a little relief from sharing our little student flat with them by us all taking a week-long journey together in the confines of narrowboat on the canals along the Anglo-Welsh border.

I was planning on leaving the blogging thing until I returned to Oxford, but it turns out that we have (limited) internet access on the boat, so here follows a short little update on the day's activities that I hope to supplement with photos when I get the chance. I'm not generally a writer of holiday stories, but this is a week for trying new things, so I guess I'll give it a go.

We took the journey by car, with the parental units driving as Laura and I no longer have valid licenses here (one of the hazards of being in for the long-haul in a student town). They got to experience the joy of the British motorways along the road to Northern Wales. We stopped off in Shrewsbury along the way to have a look at the Abbey made famous by Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael novels. Some of the abbey was fortunate enough to survive the dissolution of the monasteries, and it's since been rebuilt as a rather grand local church.

By the time that arrived at the marina and went through the neccessary introductions to Debbie, which were extensive given that none of us had been on a narrowboat before, it was about 4pm. She's an 18-tonne, 45 foot narrowboat, one of many that have been recently built to accommodate the booming canal tourism craze. We're travelling here in the height of the season, but honestly it's hard to tell, as you'll often go for extended periods without seeing another human, even though the signs on life are all around.

We eventually set off Southward along the Llangollen Canal towards the town of Chirk, allegedly just twenty minutes down the way, though as we were gingerly feeling our way it took us a little bit longer. By the time we reached the township, where we'd planned to collect supplies, we just decided to moor up just outside the Chirk Tunnel where we could watch the other boats pass back and forth put off attempting it ourselves in the morning.

After night fall, we retired to dinner and a couple of games of Paperback, a game that Mrs. Owl had been looking forward to introducing to her father since we first played it. Unsurprisingly, he took to it like a duck to water and swiftly destroyed us at it in the first lighting-fast game, but I managed to get my own back in the second game by a single point (51-50), an excellent time to call it a night, in my personal opinion.

Safe voyages.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

H-Index: 13

When I last posted about the progress in my H-index, a nifty little tool to try and measure how many games one's really played, I mentioned that I thought it would be a long time until I reached an H-Index of 13. In fact, at the time I said 'I think the most likely options are a little game like Micropul suddenly becoming popular around college or my finding some people around to play regular games of Chess or Mahjong with.' 

In fact, that's exactly what's happened, and Micropul, a cute little print-and-play game that I'm very fond of, finally made it to the magical number of 13 plays on the 23 of June 2017, four months and nineteen days after the jump to 12. This was more than twice as long as any other interval in the index, but that's not really surprising, as this was a very quiet period of gaming for me, and it's the nature of the H-index to take longer and longer to step up the ladder. Unfortunately, Micropul will have to wait to make it into my H-Index hall of fame, as it was pipped at the post by a game that I managed to clock 13 plays of just minutes before I pulled out my copy of Micropul. That game was the glorious little tile-placer, Tsuro.

H=13. 23/Jun/2017 - Tsuro (13),  Codenames (72), Hanabi (71), Red7 (33), 7 Wonders (24), Paperback (19), Between Two Cities (18), Istanbul (17), Resistance (17), San Juan (16), Hey! That's My Fish! (15), Ticket to Ride: Märklin (15), Codenames: Pictures (13)

Tsuro and I go back quite a way, and I've big a big fan since I first fell in love with it after my father-in-law received it for Christmas one year and we spent the whole holiday together playing endless games of it. I never felt the need to have a copy myself with that copy so close at hand, but it was so popular among the Nerd Club that my good friend Alecat made a giant version of it back in the day (she posted about it in passing back in Blaugust 2015).

Part of Ale's giant Tsuro set

Tsuro is a simple game. Between two and eight players each start with a stone on the edge of a 6x6 board and take turns playing one of a hand of three tiles in front of their stone and progress it down the path that the tile sets for it until it reaches an open space. Once you hit another player or leave the board again, you're out. Each tile is unique, and the whole thing is just generally sexy and over in about ten minutes, which makes it perfect for the sorts of gaming groups that I often play with here in the UK.

It's undoubtedly one of the games that would have already been on my H-index had I started it back in the Before Times, but since my gaming records only go back to 2016 and I'd not been able to come across a copy here in the UK until recently, it had languished unloved for far too long. I'd previously tried to get a copy for the College, who've got quite a well-stocked collection these days, if I say so myself, but had struggled to get my hands on it, so I was pleasantly surprised when a gaming alumnus and all round good fellow wandered into the Common Room with a copy and suggested that we play.

Long story short, Tsuro was a hit. That night we played three times. As the wine flowed and the resident mathematicians started to get....enthusiastic, Tsuro turned into Tsuroido and a number of variations for different rules for leaving and returning to the board, backstabbing others and getting stuck in infinite loops were explored and either discarded or further built upon. By the end of the month someone had managed to rustle up a copy for the College, more and more people were picking up the game, and just three weeks after that I found myself with 13 plays. 

The elegant simplicity of Tsuro never fails to grab people. Whenever we're playing it we manage to get in those folks that would normally stay well clear of the weirdos who populate the Common Room on Monday nights, and every time it finishes there's always someone keen for another play. It's aged well, it's definitely a keeper if you don't mind games in which perfect play won't always save you, and if somehow you've not given it a try yet, I recommend that you keep your eyes open for a chance to play.