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Bela Lugosi's Dead, Jim Below are the 10 most recent journal entries recorded in the "ewx" journal:

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June 13th, 2016
10:47 pm
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Impending doom

With a real likelihood of UK exit from the EU, it makes sense to move the bulk of any savings you may have outside the British economy, since there's a serious risk that they will soon become worth substantially less and stay that way. Where are you moving yours?

Poll #2047249 Sitting it out

What currency have you converted your liquid assets into?

Venezuelan bolívar
1(10.0%)
Zimbabwean dollar
1(10.0%)
Bitcoin
0(0.0%)
Dogecoin
1(10.0%)
Ether
2(20.0%)
Triganic Pu
4(40.0%)
Slow dollar
0(0.0%)
Byzantine Stavraton
1(10.0%)

What other non-UK assets have you fled into?

North Korean government debt
0(0.0%)
Martian real estate
2(14.3%)
Random number futures
6(42.9%)
Blackmail default swaps
6(42.9%)

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May 20th, 2016
08:17 pm
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Photo catchup

160425-9863.jpg

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More here.

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May 8th, 2016
11:53 am
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Issue #1 of Various

Some sampler issues that came via Humble Bundle a while back and I’ve only just got around to.

Black Magic #1. A witch who is also a policewoman. First episode works in isolation but is clearly intended as the start of a longer story. I liked this and could be tempted by more.

Citizen Jack #1. Brutish snowplow salesman makes a deal with a demon to run for president. Didn’t grab me at all.

Huck #1. Small-town superman-alike just wants to do a good deed every day. What happens when the media find out? Find out next issue! Difficult to assess as it’s basically all setup in this issue.

I Hate Fairyland #1. Small girl magically transported to fairyland wants to get home and (eventually) responds to persistent setbacks with anarchic cartoon violence. Amusing idea but I didn’t get a sense there was any more to it than that.

Injection #1. See here.

Limbo #1. Noirish amnesiac detective (reminds me of Dead Letters, which I enjoyed) with magic. The issue concludes at the point he thinks he's got a job all wrapped up, and there's a genre convention about that... Has potential.

Monstress #1. A physically and emotionally damaged witch tricks her way into the stronghold of her enemy in search of answers, but has to leave satisfied with nothing better than revenge. I liked this.

Paper Girls #1. Four ?1980s paper delivery girls in (I think) encounter some kind of alien intrusion, although not a hugely competent one so far. Curious to find out what’s going on.

Plutona #1. Spends the entire issue character-building the group of kids who encounter the eponymous superheroine towards the end of the issue. Difficult to asses for the same reason as Huck, but the setup is more character-building and less situation, which I think is promising.

Pretty Deadly #6. Nice artwork and creative panel layout. But the story seems to be mostly setup and I wonder how much I’m missing from being dropped in at a 6th issue. An odd choice of sampler?

Ringside #1. Lots of good character stuff around an ex-wrestler and others ... followed by what looks suspiciously like the setup for a revenge fantasy. Undecided.

Saints #1. Saints run around a dingy bit of the USA and find each other. Angels plot. Reminds me a bit of Lyda Morehouse. The authors clearly share my amusement at medieval depictions of Saint Sebastian.

The Goddamned #1. A blond naked white dude called Cain (yes, that one) kills a bunch of savages in order to recover his stolen clothes and stuff, then spends a few pages moaning about how horrible everything is. I didn’t really like it.

Tokyo Ghost #1. A pair of police-ish types track down a villain who might be at home in a crossover between Ghost in the Shell and Batman: The Killing Joke. Sanguinary but fun.

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May 7th, 2016
04:33 pm
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Two religiously themed books

A History Of Christianity, Diarmid MacCulloch, 978-0-141-02189-8

Set aside some time to read this; at comfortably over a thousand pages, you’re unlikely polish it off in a weekend.

MacCulloch nominally starts his history in 1000BCE, though devotes just a few dozen pages to the Greek/Roman and Jewish background. The following 2000 years get considerably more detailed attention, across a broad geographic range. Western Europe, Russian, the Greeks, the Miaphysites and Dyophysites of the Middle East, China, Africa (especially but not only Ethiopia) and the Americas are all covered (and I’ve probably missed more than a few from this list).

It is of course thoroughly entwined with other elements of history: Constantine, Charlemagne and colonialism all make an appearance. Some appreciation of (particularly, western-oriented) history over the last couple of thousand years will surely help the reader but the wider context is not neglected. Equally, you will find a lot of philosophy and science in here, covering both religious background to new thinking and subsequent engagement with it.

The writing is excellent, informal without being lightweight, and making occasional but good use of sarcasm; the result is a pleasure to read. Particularly well done is the 16th chapter, which despite the dry-sounding title ‘Perspectives on the True Church’ in fact engrossingly lays the intellectual and political groundwork for the Reformation.

I’ve previously reviewed The Popes by John Julius Norwich. Where that was the narrowest of vertical slices through history, this book may be as broad a slice as is possible while still representing a single coherent theme. Recommended both for readers interested in Christianity in particular, but also world history in general.

(A curious detail that I’d not previously been much aware of is the growing strength of Dyophysite Christians among the Persian elite in the first half of the 7th century. Given the previous Roman experience, it’s interesting to wonder how that would have played out had the Sassanian empire survived any longer.)

God’s Crucible, David Levering Lewis, 978-0-393-06472-8

A history of Islamic Spain and its context and impact. The first quarter of the book quickly covers Roman and Persian background material leading (in the west) to Visigothic Spain and (in the east) to the rise of Islam, before putting the two together with the Islamic conquest of Spain in the early 8th century. The rest covers the history of ‘Al-Andalus’ and its interactions with its geographical and ideological neighbours. (Sadly for my particular interests the author simply states one of the theories for the etymology of the name without alluding to the difficulties in this areas.)

At the political level those interactions generally produced much heat and little light, although the Byzantine gift of De Materia Medica to ’Abd al-Rahman III is a notable exception - essentially a bribe to maintain opposition to the Abbassids, but in practice a substantial injection of knowledge into the western Caliphate and (eventually) Catholic Europe. And it underlines the case the author really wants to make: for an extended period Islamic Spain was the major intellectual and cultural centre of western Europe, for instance putting Alcuin’s efforts in the Carolingian empire into the shade, and moreover that it had an outsized impact on the rest of western Europe.

The case is not badly, though I thought that the balance between the political and intellectual history could be shifted further towards the latter with little real loss. Maimonides, for instance, has to share a chapter with the comparably significant Ibn Rushd (Averroes), and the two of them don’t even get the whole of it. Still, this is a minor flaw. An enjoyable book about an interesting episode in history.

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April 22nd, 2016
10:06 am
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West Highland Way (2)

Two more from naath:

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April 18th, 2016
09:34 pm
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West Highland Way

naath is taking a long walk in Scotland. She's sent some photos:

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February 23rd, 2016
02:35 pm
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Colorful Security Question

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red/black_concept describes a notation sometimes used when discussing confidentiality:

  • red denotes signals carrying secret plaintext;
  • black denotes signals carrying ciphertext.

Is there any generally agreed coloring for the analogous integrity question? i.e.:

  • a color which denotes signals where integrity matters (or maybe this is "all of them" and we don't need a specific choice of color); and
  • a color which indicates a signal with cryptographic integrity protection of some kind.

Non-color visual notations also welcome for several reasons:

  1. things still get printed in monochrome;
  2. color vision is not uniform among humans;
  3. using too many color notations at once leads to angry fruit salad rather than clear diagrams.

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February 14th, 2016
11:04 pm
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Happy Saints Cyril and Methodius' Day

Since it’s the feast of day Saints Cyril and Methodius, it occurred to me to wonder who else has a script named after them. pseudomonas chipped in and we came up with the following:

  • Tironian notes, a shorthand system attributed to a Roman scribe called Marcus Tullius Tiro from the 1st century BCE. This seems to be an alphabetic system with an aggressively compositional character leading a large number of distinct signs. It was used in medieval Europe.
  • The Manichaean alphabet (technically an abjad), a descendant of the Aramaic script used in the Persian empire (the original one that caused classical Greece so much trouble) and supposedly the creation of the prophet Mani. Mani was the founder of Manichaeism, an early competitor to Christianity that failed to attach itself to any imperial power and seems to have subsequently been persecuted out of existence.
  • Cyrillic, a C9th descendant of the Greek alphabet attributed to the brothers Cyril and Methodius, a traditional attribution apparently supported by explicit reference in a papal bull that unfortunately I can’t find a copy of (much less translation into something I understand). It remains widely used for Slavic languages.
  • Braille was invented by Louise Braille in the C19th as an improvement on the unusably difficult Night writing, originally invented for the purposes of silent communication among soldiers. I often see this in public places and of course the use case has not gone away.
  • Pitman shorthand, invented by Isaac Pitman in the C19th as a phonetically system for writing quickly. Gregg shorthand and Duployan shorthand also date from the same era and there seem to be a number of other shorthands with people’s names attached, and I lost interest chasing down variations on this particular theme. I’m not sure how widely used these systems are any more.

Things that didn’t quite make it:

  • Ogham, an early medieval Irish script attested from the C4th but probably somewhat older. Mythologically attributed to the god Ogma. I rejected this because I wanted people with scripts named after them, not scripts with a probably fictitious attribution to someone who didn’t actually exist.
  • The Gupta script, used for writing in Sanskrit in the Gupta Empire in India (roughly contemporary with the Roman Empire). The script is only indirectly named for an individual - in fact is is named for the empire, which is in turn named after the Gupta dynasty. I rejected Georgian scripts for the same reason.

pseudomonas is mentioning more on IRC but it’s getting late…

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January 25th, 2016
10:40 pm
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Latest Humble Books Bundle
Humble Comics Bundle 'Creators Own Worlds'. About a day left so I’ll post pint-sized reviews now rather than waiting any longer.

Bitch Planet Vol. 1. The setting is a world where patriarchy is more overtly the basis of society; the president is called “Father” and women are imprisoned for the most trivial breaches of strict gender roles. The plot is largely set in a prison, where it can focus on systematic oppression and attempts to live within a corrupt, brutal and tightly circumscribed environment. But the planet of the title refers to the fact that apparently space travel is easy enough to ship these convicts to a prison located on some other planet - yet puzzingly this doesn’t seem to have made any other difference to society (at least as far as we see it). Some good characters.

Descender Vol. 1. Haven’t read this yet.

Free Issues Courtesy of Image Comics. Haven’t read this yet.

Image Comics Humble Bundle Preview Book 2016. Haven’t read this yet.

Injection Vol. 1. Magico-technological thriller. (Magicological?) The computer stuff mostly didn’t make me roll my eyes, which sounds like a low bar but in practice isn’t. I found the presentation a bit flat but the story was interesting enough to make up for it.

Invincible Compendium (Issues #1-47). Haven’t read this yet.

Jupiter's Circle Vol. 1. 1950s-ish superheroes with 1950s-ish flaws (gay, has affairs, alcoholic, etc). Watchmen did it better.

Just The Tips. Satirical sex and dating advice from the people responsible for Sex Criminals. Funny.

Kaptara Vol. 1. A small group of humans get stranded on an alien world. Very reminiscent of the Flash Gordon film. Humour with occasional darkness. Not bad but not great.

Low Vol. 1. End-of-time submariners attempt to navigate sea monsters and human monsters to save the world, which seems to have less clothes and less immortals than you might otherwise expect. The artwork sometimes emphasizes prettiness over clarity but I coped.

No Mercy. A group of students are in a bus crash somewhere remote. Relentlessly depressing.

Nowhere Men Vol. 1. A small group of superstar scientists degrade over the years from successful and positive collaboration to struggle and the creation of monsters. Lots of flashback. I found it hard to follow.

ODY-C Vol. 1. The Odyssey in space with female characters. More artwork emphasizing prettiness over clarity. Lots of narration, which would normally be a bad sign in a comic, but it gets away with it.

Outcast Vol. 1. Haven’t read this yet.

Phonogram Vol. 1. Magic and 1990s indie bands. Would particularly suit a reader who didn’t need most of the four-page glossary at the end (none of it about magic) but I enjoyed it nevertheless

Phonogram Vol. 2. Haven’t read this yet.

Rat Queens Special: Braga #1. An orc wants something more than orcish conflict. *shrug*

Saga Vol. 4. By volume 4 you should probably know whether you like this or not. I do.

Saga Vol. 5. Haven’t read this yet.

Self-Obsessed. Bounced off this almost immediately.

Stray Bullets #1-41. Unsympathetic people doing horrible things ... I nearly put it down, but I persevered and got to some more engaging characters. There’s nearly 1,200 pages here so don’t expect to get through it in a single sitting.

Sunstone Vol 1. Two women enter into a BDSM-based romance. Nicely drawn.

Trees Vol. 1. Mysterious alien trees plant themselves on earth, causing chaos and destruction. Most of the story is about the various characters development rather than the trees; some of them are sympathetic and interesting but others unexcitingly horrible. If anything I was more interested in the idea of volume 2 about three quarters of the way through than by the end.

Virgil. Revenge fantasy involving a gay Jamaican police officer.

Wayward Vol. 1. Tokyo urban fantasy. A teenage girl moves to Japan and finds she has magic powers and meets similarly equipped peers. Together they struggle against creatures from Japanese folklore. Nice artwork, good characters. Huge appendices containing background on all the things they run into.

Wolf Vol. 1. Los Angeles urban fantasy. European folkloric monsters this time. Not bad but not as good as Wayward.

Wytches Vol. 1. Black magic in rural America. I found the artwork a bit chaotic but the story was enjoyable.

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January 17th, 2016
10:47 pm
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Purple!
naath has purple hair now!

151216-184636.jpg

(In fact since before Christmas, I'm just behind on posting photos.)

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