[This was the review of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone” I posted on June 8th 1999, shortly before the release of “Azkaban”.]
It's been quite a while since I enjoyed a previously unread children's book as much as I enjoyed HP&TPS. At first, the book did seem to skip through genres quite jerkily: I think the introduction, an ugly-duckling story as with the start of, say, James and the Giant Peach, was a bit too long for a section so separate from the rest of the story. But the mystery part was excellent and I never guessed the secret. (It's an interesting point that there's no way you can be really evil if you have a stammer.) Considered as a school story... I'm not sure I can tell: the conventions for stories about boys' schools and girls' schools are so different, and good stories (such as this one) about co-ed schools are correspondingly so rare. Perhaps this is just my limited experience.
Incidentally, I wonder how much she was influenced by DWJ. The idea of the Ministry of Magic is very similar to Chrestomanci's department (though with different motives); you could perhaps draw (a few) parallels with Witch Week.
The description of the first few days at the school did get slightly irritating, because your attention kept being summarily drawn to a rapid succession of things which were (or seemed to be) just for show, without any obvious use in the story (e.g. the Choosing Hat): it was rather as though the author had invited you over to show you her holiday snaps. This is one of the places where I'd draw unfavourable comparisons with the subtle way DWJ has of doing the same thing; nevertheless, there are lots of good little ideas used well, with Diagon Alley and the Every Flavour sweets being especially memorable.
A few oddnesses: I'm sure Hermione's logic puzzle has more than one solution. The bizarre HM turned without warning into a bizarre moralist beside the Mirror of Erised (though you could draw comparisons with his behaviour by Harry's sick bed). Quidditch was rather run to death. Were there really no half-decent people in the whole of Slytherin? And by the way, I'm fairly sure I remember reading in Brewer that the Philosopher's Stone was pink and crumbly, not scarlet... hmm!
But it's also been a while since I've slowed down towards the end of a book because I know I'm going to miss the characters (cf. the Neverending Story). So I think I'll look out for the sequel... besides, I want to know whether Harry & Hermione get together :) . I'll certainly be recommending this to people I know who are sensible enough to want to read it.
[And a small claim to fame: AFAIK I was the first person to try to create a Harry Potter newsgroup.]
This is the first of our rose plants to flower.
The plant's name is Sheila.
I've been growing roses all my life.
I wear a necklace of rosewood.
In many ways, I am a rose.
Roses aren't naturally climbing plants, like bindweed or grapevines. They must be cared for, and bound to a structure. And I've learned that I need to give myself a structure, or I can't naturally climb.
I am a rose.
Roses need work. They must be pruned. The pruning is painful, but without it they won't flower.
I am a rose.
Nobody cares about dog-roses, nobody notices them, but they grow wild wherever they please. The popular roses that everyone admires are sterile and can't spread: they survive because they're grafted onto a dog-rose root. The roses nobody cares about are the roses that keep the others alive.
I am a rose.
I grew up near one of the biggest rose nurseries in the country, so everywhere there was me, there were roses too. I fell into many a rosebush while I was learning to ride a bike. I carefully grew one up the side of the house, a yellow rose with a mind of its own: soon I had to leave it to its own devices because it had grown taller than my arms could reach.
I am a rose.
When I was about six I had a dream of a concentration camp. I had been imprisoned, along with many other humans, by gaseous aliens who lived on methane. The armed guards would float around our cabins and the parade ground, terrifying us as much as they intimidated us.
Of course when you're sent to the camps, they take everything away from you: all your property as well as your dreams and your name. But I'd smuggled in one memento: a small twig of rosewood. I kept it in the pocket of my grey uniform and squeezed it tight whenever I was homesick.
One day I realised that roses have thorns. And that was the day I used the rosewood to burst and kill the guards at the gate, and run free into the outside world. One small piece of reality had torn a hole in the nightmare.
I am a rose.
Quitting my PhD was the second best decision of my life (the best was marrying such_heights) and has brought me so much joy, happiness, and personal fulfilment.
I think a lot, on and off, about whether there’s anything that could have helped me quit it sooner. I suspect probably not, to be honest — all anyone could do was what they did do, which was love me, support me, and welcome me back with open arms when I did finally come home.
But for my past self, the one who got on that plane weighed down with ambivalence, here are a few things I’m glad you’ll learn:
( Thoughts for a quitter )
We all struggled with the heat this week. This house does a good cross-breeze when such a thing is worth doing - this week that was usually from approx 9pm to 7am, so a lot of opening and closing windows and doors according to temperature and people being awake. We acquired a standing fan to help. I did a lot of waking up about 5am to open things and then droop back on my bed waiting for the breeze to help. I think I'd be a lot less resentful of the lost sleep if I'd been able to be productive with the time, but no.
I went out to a PARTY yesterday and enjoyed catching up with people, and being introduced to Subjective Guess Who? This is played using the standard board game set, but you can only ask questions which have no objective answer - some memorable ones from last night included "Have they ever played World of Warcraft?" and "Are they a morning person?". The kibbitzing from the audience is the best part.
Going to the party was utterly self-indulgent given the state of my studying since the election. Today will probably not include much studying either, as plans already include: taking C to see Transformers: The Last Knight, attempting to get some sandals beforehand, getting in my weekly call to my mother before she gets on a bus to San Francisco, and making the cheating version of Tudor costume for C's class trip to Kentwell this week.
In West Wing episode 1, Josh insults some evangelical christian leaders. In a meeting trying to resolve this, the following happens.
* One of them proposes a radio address (presumably by the president) on a topic important to them, including public morals, school prayer or pornography. Apparently meaning "people in school should not have access to condoms", "people in school should be forced to perform christian prayer" and "we don't quite know what we want you to do but we're very upset about pornography".
* There is a muddle of people speaking at once, and he cuts in again, saying, "I'd like to discuss why we hear so much talk about the First Amendment coming out of this building, but no talk at all about the First Commandment."
* He says, "The First Commandment says 'Honor thy Father'."
* Toby breaks in, and says that's wrong, that's the third commandment. He is very long-suffering.
* He says, what is the first then?
* The president enters the room and quotes: "I am the Lord your God. Thou shalt worship no other God before me."
I'm fairly sure the intended impression is, talk show guy spoke without thinking and screwed up something basic, Toby and the president correct him.
But firstly, the first commandment seems SO basic, it's hard to see how he could get it wrong. Whether or not he's a good Christian overall, quoting the commandments, especially the first one, seems like the sort of thing he'd do all the time.
Secondly, when I first heard it, I assumed this was "honor your father and mother", but now I wonder if it's supposed to be honoring *God* thy father. Although that doesn't quite fit any of the specific sentences either.
I'm not sure if the commandment he was quoting was supposed to be directly related to the previous discussion or not. Either of the possibilities doesn't seem directly relevant to the school stuff, but it's possible it is in a way that's only familiar if you know the usual arguments people make.
Several people point out that all the people involved have *different* traditional commandment numbering. Toby is Jewish. The christian leaders are protestant. And the president is catholic. I assume in America the protestant version is widely known and often considered canonical? I spent some time on wikipedia checking the different traditions for how to break up the commandments into ten.
But that doesn't seem to fit much better. The president could be quoting the protestant version (or possibly a slightly abbreviated catholic version?)
There's no way to make "honor thy father and mother" into 1 or 3, it's 5 for both protestants and jews (and 4 for catholics).
It could instead be "have no other god" or "don't take God's name in vain" but that doesn't quite fit, either the numbers or the quote.
My best guess is that someone wrote an exchange that worked, probably based on the traditional protestant numbering. And then it got edited for various reasons, and ended up in a version which sounded good but didn't actually make sense.
The best alternate explanation is (a) Christian leader guy genuinely didn't know what the first commandment was (or forgot in the heat of the moment) (b) Toby was trolling by deliberately making something up, knowing no-one could call him on it as he had a different numbering anyway (c) the president (an intellectual catholic) knew the confusion of the numbering, but quoted a first commandment that would be expected to protestants and wasn't exactly wrong by his own tradition.
But to me that seems too complicated, if all that was supposed to be there, there'd be more indication. The mistake would have been one where it's more clear how he came to make a mistake. Toby would have sounded different if he was blowing smoke than if he was correcting people. There'd be some acknowledgement that SOMEONE would have known the first commandment, that this isn't exactly an obscure piece of theological trivia the president researched.
 West Wing does much better at research than most shows, but they seem to research a particular topic, it still seems like minor things not the main theme of an episode get overlooked sometimes.
( The Rules of Tesseri )
Rewatching s1 of west wing. Still very good. See twitter for running commentary. It's strange that WW made so many things famous you can't look up if they're true or not, you just find they were in the WW.
When I was being excited by Natural History of Dragons #3, I forgot to say, they investigate translating an ancient syllabary language. made me think of rochvelleth :)
Watched Doctor Who "Veritas". Some things are tedious: that's not how computers work, and that's not how random numbers work. It's almost the opposite. But overall I enjoyed it quite a lot.
Read the latest wild cards. Weird that it just happens to be set in Taraz (Talas) in Kazakhstan when ghoti et al are visiting that country. Although it unfortunately doesn't include much actually specific to Kazakhstan.
There's so many things that are really interesting about the wild card books. Partly that lots of famous authors show up writing a really different style of thing to what they usually write, often more straightforwardly engaging. Partly that main characters in one story thread show up as minor characters in other story thread, and you get a good triangulation on them, how they think of themselves vs how different people see them -- often with no Word-of-God on which is more accurate.
OK, I'm going to assume everyone who wanted to think about the original problem unspoiled has probably done so, and assume comments have rot26 spoilers from here on.
( Read more... )
And the worst part? Earwormed by bloody Big Fun :(
[*] A "pull request" is some quantity of new computer code, which someone has submitted for potential inclusion in our Grand Bucket o' Code.
You have five bags of holding. One contains a fabulous treasure. Two contain liches who can't escape until you open the bag. Two contain nothing.
You have a spell which tells you something about the result of a course of action you propose. (This description is slightly altered from the functionality of the original spell to make the puzzle work, feel free to ask for clarification as needed.)
"Weal" for good result (eg. treasure, no liches)
"Woe" for bad result (eg. 1+ lich, no treasure)
"Weal and Woe" for a good and bad result (eg. treasure and also lich)
"Nothing" for a result of no particular good or bad (eg. open no bags or only open empty bags)
What's the minimum number of castings of the spell needed? (I think 3 is easy and 1 is impossible, so basically, can you do 2?)
The course of action has to be 30 minutes or less.
We don't have specifics on how you define the course of action, ask if it needs to be more explicit.
Assume you can include other results in the plan if they help, eg. "if this bad contains nothing, I stab myself in the leg", without necessarily needing to follow through. (This is slightly more generous than the original spell.)
Assume you don't include the castings of further divination spells within the scope of the course of action considered by casting the first spell.
Follow-ups (may be unnecessary depending on the best solution to the original)
If you only have one casting, what's the greatest chance you can give yourself of finding the treasure whilst finding no liches.
The original restrictions of the spell say that if you cast it four times in a day (ignored for the basic puzzle), the second, third and fourth times have a 25%, 50% and 75% chance of giving a random answer. What's the highest chance you can give yourself of finding the treasure and no liches in up to four castings with those failure chances.
Previously we assumed you couldn't create a paradox. If you *can*, and causing a paradox causes the spell to fail to give an answer in a way distinct from "nothing", can you reduce the number of castings?
If you *can* ask about a course of action including further divination spells, does that help?
Does the answer generalise to a larger number of bags (assuming 1 treasure, N liches and N nothing)
ETA: Fix formatting.
* Ensure a woman’s right to choose a safe, legal abortion – and work to extend that right to women in Northern Ireland.
Today I learn that the supreme court has ruled that women from Northern Ireland, who cannot legally access an abortion at home, have no right to an abortion on the NHS if they travel to England. I'm enormously saddened. Having already sent some money to the Red Cross (which I hope they'll use to help the poor people who've just lost their homes and friends and loved ones in the tower fire last night) I've now also sent a small donation to the Abortion Support Network, who help women who need to travel and pay to access something which I would receive for free. I sincerely hope this situation is one which is changed in my lifetime, but with the DUP having a disproportionate amount of power in the UK at the moment I'm not sure I feel like it will be soon.
This isn't something that people should have to rely on charity for.
I like the bits of her son Jake we get. There's so few fantasy novels with children and adults together.
And I'm more familiar with the alternate world. Several things are different: the series is set later than I'd realised (1890s?) but steam power is severely curtailed by the lack of iron, taking the place of various resource-scrambles Europe imposed on the world in our history.
And I still can't believe I missed everyone is Jewish, temple judiasm or "magisterium" judaism, but with the varied devotion victorian scholars had for Christianity.
As I'm re-reading, I see more things alluded to in the early volumes, about her eventual discoveries, and the misadventures she gets into, and her later remarriage, that make me excited to know which of the things I've read tie into those and which are still to come.
Every book seems to wend its way until the plot starts about 3/4 of the way through, but the third one I was really wrapped up in all the things that happened until that point, the difficulties of navigating a ship, negotiating chinese bureaucracy to get to see dragons, befriending islanders, surviving storms, performing experiments.
I'm still a bit put off by the alternate-history names for countries. Couldn't we just use the same names even if the shapes are different? It seems like more places are islands? And it feels weird I can't just look it all up online and see what corresponds to what, but here no-one seems to have done the work. I should compile a list of what I managed to work out for my own reference.
( Minor Spoilers )
[cw: food, death, suicide]
What is the message of Sonnet 30 by Edna St. Vincent Millay?
This is a Shakespearean sonnet. Partly that means it has a particular rhyme scheme, but more importantly it means its meaning has a particular pattern:
- Something. Traditionally this part is eight lines long, as it is in this sonnet.
- Break, called a "volta".
- On the other hand, something else.
- Resolution: tie the two somethings together.
Let's go through it together:
Love is not all
There are lots of things in life other than love. She is presumably referring to romantic love here.
it is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain;
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
And rise and sink and rise and sink again;
Here are some important things in life, other than love: food, drink, sleep, shelter, and a lifebelt if you're drowning.
Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath,
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
Also, love can't provide healthcare. Love can't save your life. But...
Yet many a man is making friends with death
Even as I speak, for lack of love alone.
...but the odd thing is, people often kill themselves because someone doesn't love them. So love can't save your life, but it seems that lack of love can kill you.
Here's the volta, so now we’re talking about something else. The previous part was talking about love in a theoretical, abstract way. The next bit is addressed to a particular lover.
It well may be that in a difficult hour,
Pinned down by pain and moaning for release,
Or nagged by want past resolution's power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
Lots of things might go wrong in the future. When they do, you might want to give away something you have, if it would make things better again. Maybe if things got bad enough, Millay might be tempted to throw away her lover's love if it would fix the situation, or even to lose the memory of one night spent with her lover. "Trade the memory of this night" might also mean telling someone the (previously secret) story of what happened that night, in order to get food when she was hungry.
Note that she says "this night", so she's saying this to her lover as part of that night which was so secret and special.
It well may be. I do not think I would.
"It may well be" introduced the previous section. So, maybe she would give all that up in order to save her life. As she said at the beginning, there's more to life than just love. But she thinks it's unlikely, because her lover and their secrets are so very important to her.