Thursday, October 23, 2008

New search engine for Wikipedia

The English Wikipedia has a new built-in search engine, which is purely awesome. The changes are subtle but very useful. There are some behind the scenes improvements in the quality of the results but the big change is that searches now return results from the sister projects as well.

For example, if one searches for "good offices " on Wikipedia, one discovers that there is no such article, yet immediately sees a link to Wiktionary (a dictionary) that gives the definition for this term:
The beneficial services and acts of a third party; especially when used to mediate between people in a dispute
With over 2.5 million articles it is quite difficult to find something missing from Wikipedia, but if you do find such a thing now there's a chance you won't be left unsatisfied.

An other example is if you search for something that already has an article, e.g. "Bill Clinton" and you immediately receive links to some of his speeches, best quotes, and most recent news appearances.

I can hardly wait for the Hungarian Wikipedia to be migrated to this new system as this might be the very best thing that will have happened to the sister projects in a long time: they will receive greater exposure, possibly encouraging more people to contribute and the readers will have easier access to more information.

[Update]: The new system has been enabled for all Wikimedia wikis, apparently not having enough RAM was the low threshold preventing this happening earlier. The system could have a little more polishing, e.g. instead of displaying the meaningless "" as the location of the alternative search results, it could simply say "Wikiforrás" ('Wikisource' in Hungarian).

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The language of bees

It has been almost a month I study English at ELTE, so far I enjoy it, although my past few weeks were a quite tiring, as I attended almost every class there was.

I mostly have seminars and a few lectures, which I cannot really attend as they are either early in the morning or conflict with my other major.

I have a lecture on Linguistics by Nádasdy Ádám, who is quite famous here in Hungary, but unfortunately it's in conflict with an other lecture. There is a corresponding seminar which I believe is quite good, the teacher tries to explain all the complicated terms as well as she can. The associated books, both the English one and the Hungarian one is quite readably, with good examples: I consider myself an expert on the topic of how bees communicate the location of food to their hive.

An other lecture and seminar pair is Academic writing, nothing really exciting there.

I would have a lecture on Introduction to literature, but the teacher's secretary always cancels it on the day of the lecture,  just about 3 hours before it should start, to make sure that nobody gets the message. It will be interesting if she demands that we know everything she was supposed to teach, but did not, just because she did not feel like it (and did not bother to send in a substitute).
On the corresponding seminar, which should "follow the lectures" almost everybody is analysing poems and other texts, we are tasked to decipher long studies on the theory and history of literary criticism.

I don't usually attend the lecture on English-American political culture, as the lecture hall has a capacity of about 50-100 people less than the number of students taking the course. There are not enough seats, its impossible to hear or see the professor, who is hard to understand even if one is close enough to hear him. The recommended reading consists of books that either cost a hundred bucks or has not been printed in the last four decades. Anyways I am hoping to learn it from somebody's borrowed notes, as I am a bit familiar with the topic from my previous studies and interests.

I have a class on British Civilisation at the other university, but mentally I count it towards my English studies. This lecture just makes me angry, as although there is always some interesting tidbit that can be learned, the professor is spreading misinformation, which is most annoying.

And last but not least I have general language practice twice a week which I enjoy so far the most.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Busy, busy, busy

This Bokononist phrase best describes my last week. I arrived home from Germany at about midnight on Sunday (my Germanwings flight was delayed about 20 minutes and as a nice courtesy upon landing everybody got a bottle of ice tea as a present).
Almost all week school started at 8 o'clock in the morning, and its getting to be too much: I decided to skip any class that starts too early. Even using such arbitrary measures to decide which lectures to attend I still am in school at least till five in the afternoon.
The point behind all this self-pitying is that after so many tiring days I don't have neither time nor opportunity to jot down my ideas that I consider more worthy of this blog, such as my anger at ELTE (my new university) for not informing me of a deadline for a scholarship I would have received or some parallel I drew between the topic of media freedom and my weekend in Germany while on the metro. These pieces would not have been Kubla Khans in literary quality but still, they are lost for ever.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

US Election: Is it just a big stand-up comedy marathon?

In the last couple of days I've been watching CNN quite a bit, and the impression I get is that all these rallies held by the candidates are just stand-up comedy performances held to mock the opponents, whomever they might be at any given moment:
  • Obama mocking H. Clinton (but not any more, as they are now United for Change)
  • Joe Biden mocking Obama (later switching to McCain as the punchbag)
  • McCain mocking Obama using clips of Biden mocking Obama... and so on.
Based on this one could think the race is about finding the new host for The Daily Show, and not a president who would have to fill some big shoes.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Wikipedia manifesto

The National Library of Australia has digitised and made publicly available the newspapers published in Australia that are in the public domain. In of the first issue of The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, could serve as a slogan or manifesto of what Wikipedia is all about. I reproduce it here (please change any reference to the colonial newspaper to a free encyclopaedia or similar, as appropriate):
Innumerable as the Obstacles were which
threatened to oppose our Undertaking, yet
we are happy to affirm that they were not
insurmountable, however difficult the task
before us.
The utility of a PAPER in the COLONY,
as it must open a source of solid information,
will, we hope, be universally felt and ac-
knowledged. We have courted the assistance
We open no channel to Political Discussion, or
Personal Animadversion :--Information is
our only Purpose ; that accomplished, we
shall consider that we have done our duty, in
an exertion to merit the Approbation of the
PUBLIC, and to secure a liberal Patronage to

Monday, August 11, 2008

Stupid frustrations over The Economist

A couple of weeks back I subscribed to a 12-week trial of the Economist. So far it has been nothing but trouble. Originally I planned to subscribe for the option that I get twelve issues for 24 euros and an other 12 for 36 and a USB stick for free. Then a popup came up advertising the 12-week trial, so I ended up with the trial subscription.

I contacted them to check if I still get the free USB stick (I am kind of an impulse buyer, but I also hate when I am cheated out of a better offer). Apart from the fact that they first dressed me down for not providing a "customer reference number" that one gets after the first issue is delivered (~21 days after he has subscribed) and wanting to check my location to confirm my identity. At this point I'd like to add that the Economist sends you an automated reply for every e-mail you send them that they will answer in two business days, which is getting annoying, and moreover frustrating, as they literally wait two days to reply every time. So after waiting another two days, they issued me a reference number and said that they are sorry but can't answer me.

This turned out to be the least of my problems, as my copies are not arriving. On their website they count down my remaining issues, but I'm not receiving any. So far I have managed to extend my subscription with one week, for not having received my copy, but I'm still waiting for the two days to pass so they do something about me not receiving this weeks' issue neither (and as I have just hinted at this, in total I will have to wait an extra two days on them). I'm not confident that I would receive the next issue as well.

An other issue I raised with them is that the student rates they offer are far better than this trial offer, and me already knowing that I like the articles in the Economist, so I wanted to just switch to a student subscription by cancelling my not-yet-started trial in September and paying the student rate (with three weeks for a subscription to register in their system, this would have been an easy change; but after waiting a couple of two-days it turns out their staff is not so helpful in cases of these kind of manoeuvres).

Judging by the length of this post, I'm sure you can guess that I'm totally fed up with them. If I don't receive my copy this week, I'll just cancel the whole thing and apply for a refund of as much as is salvageable from my initial subscription fees (given their full refund policy, and their 48-hour reply cycle I am not sure its worth my money to ask for a full refund arguing that I haven't received any benefits from this subscription...).

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Kosovo to be Serbia's Trianon?

I am listening to Gde je danas Srbija (Where is Serbia today) a discussion on the Serbian Television (as the image quality is not so good to actually see much), today's topic is Karadzic and Serbia's future.

Kosovo TrianonOne interesting idea brought up by one of the guests was that there are "wounds" that hunt countries for decades, and among the examples he mentioned Trianon (in the way that it involved losing territory and people still talk about it, it has not yet been processed by the people*). He went on to warn that it is possible that Kosovo will for a long time be seen in a similar way as the Hungarians look on Trianon, especially by the radicals. I didn't really understand his conclusion, but I have found his comparison as a possible foreshadowing of the things to come.

*I might be one of the silent majority, or maybe a minority that doesn't stick Greater-Hungary maps on everywhere. I also hold the heretic view that the Hungarian minorities living in the neighbouring countries should do almost everything to integrate into the respective societies of the countries they live in: obviously with their minority rights protected.

On a totally unrelated note CNN has published a video about the protests in Belgrade, the twist is that they spiced it up with pictures from a previous riot from Hungary. They are now ridiculed all over the Hungarian and Serbian press...

[Image created using this picture under GFDL licence and this one found on the internet]

Saturday, July 26, 2008

I'm not letting the World pass me by

I decided that I should keep a closer look on the events of the world, as there is so much I do not know, and moreover so many things happen that skips ones attention. To remedy the situation I have decided to subscribe to the print edition of the Economist. I currently have no income, but I'm also thinking about subscribing to Foreign Affairs.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Foreign Affairs

While I was in Holland I grabbed a copy of Foreign Affairs in the hope that it would be an interesting reading even if there is no Clash of Civilizations class article in it this time.
The articles I read, so far, haven't changed my life but nevertheless they were interesting. There was an article discussing American support for a Jewish state (which was never limited to the American Jews, but included for different reasons groups from the whole spectrum of public life).
One other was discussing the misuse of American oil reserves by the previous presidents since its creation in the 1970s and proposing an independent board to oversee it. The article, though this wasn't its primary intention, has given an interesting insight into how different countries store their oil, for example Japan has to use earthquake-proof steel tanks on valuable land, the US uses - I presume, among other locations - sand domes, while South Korea counts towards its capacity a storage facility in Norway.
With the elections coming closer many articles were discussing the foreign policy of the US as it should be. I haven't read all the articles on this topic, yet, but the main ideas expressed were stronger North American integration - with supporting the deepening of NAFTA cooperation, as it seems this is against the views expressed by the leading candidates, stronger economic cooperation with China, and measures to regain the lost respect of the world. An interesting tidbit from these articles was the fact, that to transport anything from Mexico to the States, it usually needs 3 different trucks, because Mexican trucks can't enter the States: one to bring it to the border  and unload in a warehouse, one to transfer it to an other warehouse on the American side, and one to deliver it to its final destination.
I have found this journal quite interesting, and I don't regret buying it: even though its whole content is available on their website for free, it is much more comfortable to read the printed version.

Back from the Netherlands

I just arrived home from a two weeks Travelling Summer University programme in the Netherlands, where I had an amazing time. I did things that otherwise probably I would never have done, including mudflat hiking, which apparently - against all my expectations -  has a proper Hungarian name, sailing,eating burning Mozartkugelns.
Apart from these adventures we spent quite a lot of time in Eindhoven, Ternaard (Friesland), and Utrecht and visited The Hague, Amsterdam and Leeuwarden, and by far the most time in the local pubs, clubs, and discos...

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Gender issues

I am almost finished reading A Series of Unfortunate Events, and for a children's book I'm quite glad to find that it doesn't reinforce some "old-fashioned" perceptions of gender: in the story both the father and the mother is portrayed as cooking (the mother usually having a good recipe for every occasion, and the father always doing something special for his wife) and the mother is shown as handling the finances of the family while the father is watching over the kids.
Speaking about the kids, they accomplish some quite unbelievably feats, with the oldest sister being an inventor, and the middle sibling being the researcher that remembers everything he reads (as opposed to Hermione in the Harry Potter series).
In general I think this is an important aspect of the series, if not in the context of contemporary American society, but in the Hungarian one (where, I am being told, perceptions are changing, but there is still a lot of headway to be made in the field of the hidden curriculum).

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament?

I have spent the last couple of hours trying to track down the law that states that it is illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament. I have heard about it from a friend, and doing a search on Wikipedia didn't yield any verifiable results.

There are three mentions of this in Wikipedia, two of them linking to two newspaper articles, one stating that this law has been voted the most ridiculous while the other that the practice is to mark St. Thomas' hospital as a place of death in cases anybody breaks the law and dies there. Neither of these articles provide the source, or the actual name of the law that would state this, and I have not found it in neither of the online law databases of the UK I have checked. I couldn't find that law either that would say that those dying in a royal palace have to receive a state funeral, the closest thing was the Coroners Act 1988, that states that inquests into the deaths of persons lying inside one of the Queen's palaces are done by the Queen's coroner; alas no mention of a state funeral.

While the third about Spencer Perceval, the only British prime minister to have been assassinated, while seems to misquote his last words (either, according to the article "I am murdered" or according to the 10 Downing Street website "Oh, I have been murdered") states without providing a source that it is only illegal to die in the House of Lords.

Thus I have to think that this is probably an urban legend, though quite interesting nevertheless. Through my quest I have found the law that states that whales belong to the King.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Next semester subjects

The time has come again to chose the subjects for the next semester. As usual the servers of my school went down minutes before the system should have been opened. Its 3.5 hours later and finally I could apply for my classes, and though barely, but I could even squeeze in to some optional courses.

This is a frustrating period, as chance decides who can actually log in to the system and chose the subjects/exams he wants and who has to live on what's left. Even if one gets in to add to the frustration one has to face that the system is quite badly written.

Anyways, it seems next year I will be having a lot of lectures on the subjects of

  • security policy
  • international economy
  • British civilisation
  • international law
  • history (again...)

and others. I hope I can manage the workload as I have applied to study in a second university as well.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Sonic screwdriver: boring

The sonic screwdriver is a device in the Doctor Who series that can open any door, scan for alien life or radio signals, deafen any enemy, lock any door, and rarely to drive screws.

As you can clearly see from this description, in the hand of the Doctor - the protagonist - it is quite a useful device in any situation. Unfortunately it is used constantly and too conveniently in almost all the episodes which makes it a very easy way out for the writers of the show. It makes them lazy as they don't have to invent any MacGyverisms as they can just rely on the good old screwdriver to get the Doctor out of any trouble the writers have put him in. I think it would boost the creativity of the whole show and thus its quality if it was written out of the show for a little while, as it was in 1982 when the then producer, John Nathan-Turner had the same opinion about it as I do now.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Tom Sawyer Abroad

The sequel to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is Tom Sawyer Abroad that tells the tale of Huck, Tom and Jim travelling in a hot air balloon to discover the wonders of Africa.

The story was not as interesting as that of the prequel. The circumstances are obviously different, in the previous novel Huck and Jim were travelling on a raft in constant danger, while this time they are almost isolated from any danger in their balloon with which they can observe and evade any adversaries on land. The whole story is unbelievable in the sense that I can imagine a trip downriver the Mississippi in a raft, but hardly a pleasure flight over the Atlantic at speeds in excess of 300 mph.

I found it quite annoying that Jim, the freed black slave, is portrayed as uneducated and superstitious, who is usually given all the work (like mending the clothes, shovelling tons of sand, being sent on a threethousand-mile errand to fetch a pipe, etc.) and left out of most of the fun. These two aspects (no danger and the way the only black character in the book is portrayed) made this book a one-time read for me.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Huckleberry Finn

I finally read what I should have read ages ago, Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn. Its an exciting adventure novel that for me showed what can one achieve with just cleverness and self-reliance, but the last chapters turned out to be a Kafkian absurd nightmare situation without escape.

Up until the point Huck and Tom reunite to rescue Jim from the Phelps' slavery is a backdrop that  was part of the time, even if its hard to imagine that people would keep other people as property. It gets harder to accept that Huck doesn't think for one moment that liberating Jim is not a crime. Huck treats Jim as a bit stupid; in the novel he and most other blacks are portrayed as superstitious and are looked down upon.

I cannot judge how much of this is true for the era, but I can decide that the last adventure of the book — where they make up an elaborate plan to help Jim escape — is just plain cruel. Tom Sawyer plays with Jim's life like it was nothing and has him suffer through the fantasies of his with horrible effect on the poor Jim. The worst of all is that Jim trusts them the whole time and goes trough the plan just because Tom is white so he must know better.

In conclusion I am happy that those times are over even if the positive aspects of the era — where one could find hospitable people in any home, if he was not shot first — are lost as well.

FeedBurner Support 2

FeedBurner hasn't lost all of its friendliness, as one would be lead to believe looking at the change in the way their technical support operates. There are no more letters signed "Your Friendly Neighborhood FeedBurner Support Team" but not all is lost.

I had an issue with one of their features not working with Blogger, and I have submitted the error outlining where, how it occurs and the exact error codes Blogger returns.

What response I got from Blogger? Zilch, nada, nothing.

Whereas in the FB forum at least a so-called "Community Expert" responded to check my IQ (not in so many words), and after finding me sufficiently intelligent forwarded my error report to the FB staff, and a member of their staff responded quite quickly.

It would have spared everyone's time if the vetting process was skipped, and I would have felt better if not a "Community Expert" were the one cross-examining my error report, but a staff member from the outset (even if this member of staff is the same person as the "C. expert").

In conclusion, I believe FeedBurner has not chosen the most consumer friendly way to deal with the increasing strain on their support department, but they are still the most human branch of Google I have come into contact with through the Feedback or Contact us buttons.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

FeedBurner adopting the "Google way" to deal with customers (Updated)

I use FeedBurner to analyse the traffic to my blogs. From time to time I have to contact their support department. In the past there was a contact form to fill out and a staff member would contact me personally in no more than 48 hours' time.

All this has gone since they have been acquired by Google. Now direct contact with their support team is reserved for issues involving the misuse or transfer of feeds, all other support questions are directed at their forum. To make things more complicated you have to register separately for the forum and then check back regularly whether anyone has bothered to reply to your post - usually they don't.

With further integration into Google they had transferred their forum to Google Groups (you have to manually click on a link on the forum's homepage to get there - so far you have travelled the Contact Us -> Forum -> Google Groups route without the chance to provide feedback or to ask questions). The welcoming message in their help group informs you that (emphasis added)

While this forum is intended as a place for FeedBurner users to assist one another, from time to time Google representatives, nicknamed FeedBurner Guide will post tips and clarifications.

So that is the de-evolution of friendly customer support into an impersonal corporate nightmare, the same as that of some bigger Google services. This has happened to a team that posted a photo like this on their flickr account:

[Update]: After having successfully resolved an issue in both the old and new ways of FeedBurner Support I have written a follow-up in which I shall point out that FB support is still better than Blogger support.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Horatio Hornblower

Soon after buying the first three books of the Horatio Hornblower series as a Christmas gift I have found myself entangled in the world of the Napoleonic era brought to life by C. S. Forester. The series follows the navy career of Horatio Hornblower, starting as a midshipman, who always finds himself in a middle of adventure and situations that seem impossible to solve.
The books all portray different encounters with the enemy or special missions, and also the struggling of Hornblower to care for his family whom he doesn't see most of the time and to not fail in the social scene. One would assume that the story gets repetitive after the first couple of books, but it doesn't. Every battle, every ship, every situation is different, the same escape strategy can't be used twice. The author has a big playground to move his protagonist, with all the high seas open to British ships and the rapidly changing political situation at the turn of the 18th century.
The series has proven to be a great source for expanding my vocabulary and knowledge of the era. Seafaring has its own vocabulary, a vocabulary that is not fully covered by my regular dictionary (which has nonetheless proven very useful for me over the years, yet I have outgrown it, it seems) thus making me resort to my Webster. The dictionary was a good place to start grasping the most necessary concepts, to fully understand them though I had to go to a naval museum. For me the Vasa Museum in Stockholm was a very good experience in this regard, having explanatory illustrations and text, actual equipment of the 17th-century ship with explanatory text of what-goes-where and does-what on the ship, and models to demonstrate sea manoeuvres like tacking.

Note about the availability of the series, and buying options:
  • In Hungary the first three volumes may be bought as a "Trio pack" containing the new edition in some shops of Libri. To my knowledge no volume has been translated and volumes 4 through 11 are not sold in Hungary, thus I had to order them from Germany (in general ordering the series from Germany might be the cheapest solution overall).
  • From you can order the whole series as part of three omnibus editions, and as separate volumes with quality covers and an introduction by Bernard Cornwell. You shouldn't read the introduction until you have finished reading the book, as it contains spoilers.
  • To my knowledge in the US the new and omnibus editions are mostly unavailable so the best choice is to buy the separate volumes with the old cover.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Confessions of an English Opium-Eater

I am currently reading the Confessions of an English Opium-Eater by Thomas De Quincey. It was written at the beginning of the 19th century and later revised a few decades later. I bought this book about a year ago, for about 3 euros, in the hope that it would be something like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

I have put of on reading it so far because the preface was about his disagreement with Coleridge about him having weak morals for becoming an opium addict while Coleridge claimed he was just a victim of his reuma. This second time I have skipped the preface and started with the novel itself, which also starts with Coleridge, but I read past it. It turns out this is a biographical novel telling the life of the author from the moment he has lost his father and has been entrusted in the care of different guardians. At the quarter mark there is still no mention of the opium-induced dreams as promised on the black cover.

The language is a bit difficult for me, as could be expected of a 19th-century text, but it is made less comprehensible by long passages about Greek and Roman writers and contemporary theologians and philosophers. In conclusion its not really an enjoyable read so far but I will continue to test my endurance, maybe it gets better as the author finishes confessing his childhood and gets to his actual experiences under the influence of opium.

[Update]:It turns out, there is a version of this novel (I presume the first edition, as the one I'm reading is the "improved one") that is only about 88 pages long, so if you're interested in the "good parts" you might just go ahead and by the Oxford edition.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Oxford humour

I've been leafing through my Oxford Dictionary of Politics, and there are a few entries where the editors or writers have used irony. Here are the two examples I've found so far:


Pair [...]. The term is most often used in international relations research, especially peace studies, where all dyads are examined to investigate the causes of war [...] It turns out there are few wars between Switzerland and Nepal.

Social choice:

Most work has been so mathematically uncompromising that neither politicians nor political scientists have understood it, nor have social choice theorists bothered to explain themselves.

The dictionary itself is very well written and I have found many interesting topics in it when I was studying for my exams and just had to take a break. I would usually start by looking up the topics I was studying and then just wander around until I realized again that I should be studying. Anyhow, my exams, and the fact that I ordered some other volumes of the Oxford Paperback Reference series should go in a different post.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Stardust: the movie

Just finished watching the movie version of Stardust. In the reviews I have read about the film people usually said that they have enjoyed it more than the book, and I am of that crowd, too. This book just makes the fairy tale and moreover its characters really come alive and shine. It has a great cast (including Ricky Gervais of the Office-fame and Robert De Niro) and a far better ending than the book. Without wasting too many words, I have to say, the book is good but the film is absolutely superb. I recommend it to anyone who likes adventure and imagined worlds, there should be more films like this for people to immerse themselves for two hours in a world where there are no worries and the hero and his true love live happily ever after.

Soul Music

I just finished reading Terry Pratchett's Soul Music, part of the Discworld series. It is about Death taking a vacation to forget after he gets fed up with remembering everything, even things that have not happened yet. With Death away this time - as opposed to the events of Reaper Man where people just don't die and life overflows everything - the granddaughter of Death is old enough to take over the family business. Meanwhile back in Ankh Morpork a new kind of music is changing the lives of those it touches, a Music With Rocks In. (Here the title Soul Music does not refer to the sound the souls make in hell, as in Good Omens.)

Unfortunately I have already read those books of Pratchett that are the best for me, so I wasn't surprised, that this wasn't as hilarious as the best ones of the series, that have the Watch feature in them. It has good characters, the presence of Death and young Susan make the book enjoyable. There are a lot of jokes and puns made at musicians but still I wouldn't recommend this as an introduction into the series.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Model European Union 2008

I am back from Strasbourg where I have been participating in the Model European Union 2008 event, which was basically a simulation of the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, with the added fun of having lobbyists and journalists and spending 5 days in the actual building of the EP.

I was playing the role of a Conservative MEP from Latvia, and our two topics of discussion were the banning of the advertisement of alcohol products and the compulsory licensing of patents of pharmaceutical products so that they can be exported to least developed countries that couldn't manufacture or afford them otherwise. Though the proposals weren't 100% to my liking I thoroughly enjoyed discussing them, making amendments to them, voting and then hoping the Council would accept our changes. The other participants were mostly studying European studies or international relations, so there were only misunderstandings due to the complexity of the language of the proposals.

We spent the days in the building of the Parliament where we had breakfast (some croissants with coffee), debated in a smaller debating chamber interrupted with faction meetings in smaller conference rooms and coffee breaks.

We had lunch in the cafeteria: usually some sandwiches, but also very nice meals sponsored by the European Socialist and EPP-DE parties. Dinner was served in a student restaurant in the middle of the city, after which we usually had a party, either in Strasbourg or in the neighbouring German city of Kehl where the beer and taxi were cheaper.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Towel Day: May 25th

Just a short reminder:

Towel Day :: A tribute to Douglas Adams (1952-2001)

Friday, May 23, 2008

A Series of Unfortunate Events

I am currently reading the children's book series A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket.

The first three books make up the story of the film Lemony Snicket: A Series of Unfortunate Events which has hooked me on these books.

The story revolves around Violet, Klaus and Sunny, three children whose parents die and are taken in by their relatives. This in itself would lead to a series of unfortunate events, but this is toppled by a villain, Count Olaf who has made it his mission to get the fortune of the orphans. To achieve his plan he is not afraid to resort to murder and other heinous crimes, but the children of course defeat his evil ploy at the end of each book, just to be escorted to their next foster home where Count Olaf always strikes again.

I have so far read the first two books of the series and just started reading the 3rd of the six I have as a box set. I have to say, the quality of the books in itself is remarkable, and I haven't seen attention like this before: these hardcover books have pages cut individually, on the first page of the book there is an ex libris page with blank space for the kid's name.

Being quite older than the intended audience I find these books as light and entertaining reads. The book is apparently written in a style to convey some basic etiquette to the readers, and has many explanation of the harder words used (like "brummagem"), but not being a native I find these quite useful.

Deaths feature as main plot elements in the books, and the overall tone of the books is quite gloomy, so one might think they are not appropriate for children, but in fact its to the contrary. I believe that after reading some of the later Harry Potter books, there's nothing new in these elements, and on the other hand this series offer advice and ways for children to deal with the issues raised, so I would certainly read them to my kids.

Neil Gaiman

I just finished reading Stardust by Neil Gaiman. I found it to be a very enjoyable fairy tale, with loveable characters and a very nice world. It was especially interesting to me, because it was set in the 19th century England (the Fearie World being embedded into the real one, the link between them being a gap in a wall in the village of Wall).
I got interested in the writings of Neil Gaiman after I have read Good Omens, which was co-written with Terry Pratchett, which is a good recipe for a hilarious book which it is. I think it is the funniest yet that I have read of either Pratchett, or Gaiman. It is thus a very good starting point for these two authors.
After I finish reading my current batch of books, and make or get some money, provided that the dollar remains weak I will be sure to order some of his other books as well. So far I can say that I like his humour and his way of creating an imaginary universe, I have no idea whether I would like his thrillers or serious writing.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Color of Magic

This book of Terry Pratchett has received mixed reviews, some praise it as the best of the Discworld series, some say it's the worst. Personally I am one of those who didn't like it, but that's okay. It had its funny moments, but if your not a fan of the main character of an individual Discworld book, you won't enjoy the book so much. In other words, if you like Rincewind, you will love this book too and will want to reread the whole series of his books so that everything stays in context. if you don't like the false Wizard's stories so much, I'd put of reading this book until there are no more Pratchett books left to read.

For readers new to the world of Discworld I have to say this an ideal starting point in the series, just bear in mind that if you don't like it do not give up on the series until you've read at least one other book of the author with a different protagonist. Reading order is not that important so in choosing the first book to read pay attention to the back covers and buy the one which grabs your imagination the most.

One note on the American edition by HarperTorch: I bought this edition as it was half the price as the Corgi edition, but the Americanization has taken away from the genuineness of the book. I don't have anything against American spelling, but it is my opinion that a publisher should respect the spelling of the author unless it creates difficulties in understanding, and even than the fact that changes have been made should be noted.

Invitation to a Beheading

I have published the following short review of Nabokov's Invitation to a Beheading on Librarything:
It is quite an absurd situation the protagonist Cincinattus finds himself in this book; it does remind me of Kafka, even though Nabokov states in the foreword that at the time of writing, he didn't have read him at the time.
The communication barrier between Cincinnattus, the protagonist and his captors gives much of the suspense of the book, but it also makes it a harder read as we are left with the same questions as C. and we don't really get any concrete answers.
For me this book wasn't as entertaining or interesting as the other books of Nabokov, I only read till the end because it was short and I have already paid for the whole book. I would reccommend this to the fans of Kafkian literature, but otherwise leave it at the end of your to-be-read list.