Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Justus for All broken?

I've been getting a weird-looking error message at Dave Justus's blog. I can't tell whether it's something he's done or a Blogger problem. Come to think of it ... Hello? Hello?

(Sorry for the silence, BTW; we were away for Thanksgiving, and I've just finished a Hebrew assignment.)

Update: Turns out Dave's now got his own domain. Congratulations!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Couldn't happen to a nicer guy

Enough said.

Get Fuzzy is BACK!

OK, technically Get Fuzzy never went away, but in recent weeks it's been uninspired. The cartoonist, Darby Conley, seemingly had trouble focusing on a coherent story arc and settled for predictable one-off gags that sometimes raised the disturbing spectre of Garfield squashing a spider.

Happily, the drought seems to have ended. This week's series of strips has been a corker (especially
Monday, Tuesday and above all Wednesday - there's one I'd cut out and put on the fridge if I actually read it in a newspaper). Even the style of drawing has improved: Whereas recent strips had sometimes dwindled to talking heads, the latest instalments have returned to Conley's hallmarks of unusual perspective and quirky detail. Let's hope it stays that way.

As of yesterday, Conley has fewer worries to interfere with creativity: He's managed to
settle out of court with sportscaster Bob Lobel, who had filed a potentially nasty lawsuit against him for a strip that implied Lobel was drunk on the air. (Lobel's behaviour is apparently common knowledge in Boston, where he works, but he still tends to sue people who are rude enough to mention it.) Conley got away with an apology and a donation to charity.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Life in the Undergrowth

If you're quick, you can hear a short interview with David Attenborough that was broadcast last night on Radio 4's Front Row (this link will take you directly to the programme for the next seven days). He had some interesting things to say about using computer effects in documentaries and about the 'intelligent design' debate.

Sir David was promoting his new series about terrestrial invertebrates, Life in the Undergrowth. This would ordinarily be one of the few times when I regret not having a television. But in this case, the
DVD is coming out in a couple of weeks, so we'll be able to watch it on our computer while the series is still being broadcast on telly.

I've already read the
book, in which Attenborough describes the bizarre, beautiful and horrifying lives of his tiny subjects with the ever-fresh enthusiasm of your favourite teacher at school. It's not everyone who can write affectionately about water bears (although Martin Mach also manages it in a delightful article for Micscape magazine).

My only complaint is that the book is full of typos and punctuation errors. I've been noticing this more and more in new nonfiction books (with Simon Sebag-Montefiore's Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar being the worst offender so far). Can't publishers afford proofreaders any more?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

'Darwin's pet' turns 175

Today is the birthday of one of the world's oldest living animals. Harriet, a Galapagos tortoise living in Steve Irwin's zoo, celebrated her 175th with a hibiscus-flower cake. She was born in the same year as Emily Dickinson.

Legend has it that Harriet once belonged to Charles Darwin, who collected her and two other tortoises from the islands in 1835. But the
Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports that there's some controversy over the story:


While DNA evidence shows Harriet hatched on one of the Galapagos islands 175 years ago, her DNA also shows she came from an island that Darwin never visited.

Ms Stewart says there could be an explanation for how Harriet came from Santa Cruz Island but was found on James Island.

"Giant tortoises were a commodity to be traded. The other thing is of course that her parents might have been moved from Santa Cruz to James Island and then bred, producing Harriet," she said.


Sadly, Pat Robertson's birthday card for Harriet seems to have got lost in the post.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Lawrence of Arabia

Last weekend we went to see the Imperial War Museum's exhibit about T.E. Lawrence. If you're passing through London between now and next April, I highly recommend it. Not only are there artifacts from throughout Lawrence's life -- from his first lock of baby hair to the motorcycle that killed him -- but the museum takes a thoughtful look at how his legend grew beyond his control.

I was passionately interested in Lawrence as a teenager but hadn't studied much about him for a few years. Back when I was reading about him, the fashionable view was that he had exaggerated his role in the Arab revolt. I was pleased to learn that more recent scholarship has vindicated him -- indeed, it seems that, if anything, he understated his role. It's nice to know that sometimes you can trust your heroes.

Another bit of good news is that from next year, most of Lawrence's writings go out of copyright, and the
T.E. Lawrence Society plans to make as many as possible available on the web.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Mnemonic

The other day in the canteen at work, one of the cooks noticed the Patrick O'Brian novel at the side of my tray.

'That's a very good author,' he said, 'though I never thought of him as a ladies' author before. Mind you, I suppose Jack Aubrey is quite a ladies' man, isn't he? And the doctor too, to an extent.'

(Actually, one of the things I like about the Aubrey-Maturin novels is their wealth of strong female characters, like Diana Villiers, Louisa Wogan and Queenie Keith. But I couldn't start a detailed discussion while my colleagues were queueing up behind me for their lasagna.)

'If you like those books,' he said as I was paying, 'there's another very good writer called
Tristan Jones. If you have trouble remembering his name, just think of Tristan da Cunha, the islands, and then think of Wales.'

And what do you know? It works.