Vodafone proxy breaks some Javascript

I've been generally very happy with my vodafone USB modem, particularly after the unpleasant problems with Tiscali.  The Vodafone modem even works on Ubuntu, despite not being officially supported.  However, I have had problems with Javascript on a couple of sites.  They would work fine through non-Vodafone connections but break when used through Vodafone.

Thanks to David Pashley, I've now learned the problem.  Vodafone transform some of the content they deliver over the web.  One effect is degraded image quality (discussion of the problem and its solution in Germany is here and here).  The other problem is their use of minify, which is breaking some sites.  This was breaking the JQuery library included in a site of David's I use.

We resorted to loading the libraries over HTTPS, which is not a good general solution but works in this case.  Meanwhile I thought I'd make this entry in case it provides a pointer for anyone facing similar problems.

(Aplogies for the technical post.  If you've read this far and are disappointed, here a link to a kitten video —>  kittens )

Some short stories from the web

I've recently found some excellent short stories on the web.  The list was somehow lost in draft status but it's all fixed now.  I've also added approximate wordcounts for each piece – none are long, and all are worth reading:

Some odds and ends

  • The poet Rosy Carrick, a good friend of mine, now has a weblog at http://rosycarrick.blogspot.com/.  Her latest post includes a poem and gossip about our poet laureate.
  • I'm going to be reading at the next Sparks night, which is now on December 7th.  Some of the previous readings are available on video via this page.  I'll give more details nearer the time.
  • I've still not manage to memorise any of my pieces, but I have been running more lately.  The wind was bitterly cold this morning.

Playing darts in Antarctica

"In the winter [the base] held radio darts contests with other bases.  After a couple of years of competition someone went to Bird Island and discovered that the small scientific station there, its occupants always keen participants, had never had a dartboard there."

from Terra Incognita by Sara Wheeler

(Terra Incognito was one of the books I used last year in my dissertation.  It's one of my favourite books on Antarctia, along with Apsley Cherry-Garrard's The Worst Journey in the world.)

Anathem by Neal Stephenson

Last week I finished reading Neal Stephenson's new 900 word page novel, Anathem.  I generally prefer short novels but I made an exception here because of the book's ambitious scope – the novel includes an invented vocabulary, echoing Ridley Walker, and is inspired by the Clock of the Long Now.

I found the book literally heavy and slow to start, but ultimately rewarding although I'm convinced it could have shed 300 pages.  Interestingly, some things that appear to be bad writing in the early part of the book are later revealed as subtle foreshadowing (it's hard to go into much detail without ruining the effect of the second half of the book).

I think Anathem was interesting, describing a complex world and playing some interesting games with science and philosophy.   But I'm not convinced it worked as a novel.  The world building and philosophical dialogues killed the story's flow, despite being fascinating.  The characterisation was scant, and the adventure-story style sections seemed out of place.

Nearing the end of the book I found myself thinking it would have worked better as a computer game or website.  The different type of content would have fitted together more naturally.  You could explore the areas that interest you, and even have more detail than the book allowed (I suspect Stephenson has piles of notes that wouldn't fit into Anathem as a novel, in addition to the audio material that is available separately).  It's interesting to see how Anathem failed as a novel – it simply didn't fit the medium. 

(Michael Dirda's review of Anathem is well worth reading.  I don't think I'll be keeping my copy of Anathem so if anyone from Brighton wants my copy leave me a comment).

On (not) being able to run

One of the things I looked forward to in the new house was going running.  We're only a short distance from the seafront, which is a lovely flat route.  But it's not working out quite as well as I planned.

The problem is the wind.  One direction you can run happily, but than coming back is hard work.  Rain I don't mind, cold I don't mind, but I hate running into the wind – which means I've been slacking off rather a lot in the last month.  I've occasionally gone a few days without putting on my running shoes.

Thing is, most of the time the wind is not as bad as I expect (and certainly less testing than the Morecambe run in August).  I'm not sure how best to get my motivation going again.  I think what I'll do next week is go out every day, even if it's only for 5K, and simply get over it.  I can work on my distance again when my motivation is fixed.

Short Fuse and Material Launch

I had hoped to memorise my story for last night's Short Fuse, but that didn't happen in the end.  Learning things by heart is much more difficult than I remembered.  I am, however, going to try again with something shorter as I want to see how not having pages in front of me affects the reading. 

I've been a little ill this week so I wasn't as enthusiastic about reading as I normally am, but the story seemed to go across well.  I didn't know how well spooky stories would work in a live environment but I found myself quite spooked during Tara's story.  At one point I turned round from where we were sitting to see the whole audience listening with total rapt attention.  I also loved Tanya Murray's story 'Lamia, dressed in all of Mary' (available in pdf here) which had a brilliant sense of impending doom.

The only downside of Short Fuse last night was that it clashed with the launch of Ros Barber's new collection, Material.  I dropped by to buy a copy but left before the readings, rather than disturb everything by sneaking out early.  Having read some of the poems, I'm very excited about this collection, but it probably deserves a post of its own.

On ‘edgy fucking litzine bollocks’

There's an interesting debate on the asalted blog about 'edgy fucking litzine bollocks'. Since some of the details have been obscured it's hard to tell exactly what happened, but essentially, an editor made an unfriendly rejection of a story; in retaliation, a friend of the rejectee "went to a greeking generator and mixed up some chunks of random text with expletives, and sent it to the editor along with a preposterous bio" (I'm assuming a greeking generator is something like this). This story has now been accepted and published.

Which is a brilliant story, but makes me nervous with its echoes of the Sokal hoax.  This was when a physicist had a paper published in a (non peer reviewed) 'postmodern cultural studies journal'. This was then used as a stick with which to beat the whole of critical theory. In fact the only thing the experiment showed was that a single journal had published an article based on the writer's authority rather than their understanding of the article's content. The problem was that the simple story (physicist pulls one over on kooky postmodernists) is easier to discuss than the more complicated issues behind it, which make Sokal a less clever and heroic figure than he often appears.

I'm prepared to give the literary journal in question the benefit of the doubt. Without naming names and allowing me to read the submission in context, the story of the journal accepting a random story is simply a morality fable.

For example, a piece constructed of seemingly-random text may well have made a powerful point in context with the other pieces in the journal. One could even imagine this piece being published in an ironic attack on avant-garde writing. A good editor should not be selecting the best pieces received, rather the pieces that advance their aims and work best as a group.

There are also questions of authorship here. Just because the author claims a piece is worthless doesn't make it so – Francis Bacon was known to destroy his own priceless works because he disliked them. It is possible that this piece is in fact a radically good avant-garde piece of writing. (One of the mistakes made by the victims in the Sokal affair was changing their opinions of Sokal's work after the hoax was revealed – would the editor here stand by the work selected?) The text in question is also not entirely a stream of random words – it has been processed and had (expletive) words added. Does that not count as a work of authorship? (And what about the authorship of the person who wrote the generator?).

There's another problem here in that, as Vanessa Gebbie has pointed out in the past, different markets are often incompatible. I read a lot of avant-garde poetry during my MA and, while I didn't appreciate all of it, that didn't mean other people couldn't be excited and moved by it. A couple of the comments I've seen on 'litzine bollocks' have become general attacks on a certain style of literature.

The original post in this debate is interesting because the people involved have read the pieces and know the full story. But, without that background, just because something is easy to mock doesn't mean it deserves it.

Sara – can we name the magazine and the (fake) author?

Howling lampost

I was looking through my old digital photographs recently.  I found lots of images I'd forgotten all about, including the one below.  Rediscovering this image, taken 5 years ago, I was delighted.  In the years since the photograph was taken the poem Howl (text here) has become even more important to me.  Finding this shot was a wonderful surprise.


who wandered around and around at midnight in the
railroad yard wondering where to go, and went,
leaving no broken hearts,
who lit cigarettes in boxcars boxcars boxcars racketing
through snow toward lonesome farms in grand-
father night,
who studied Plotinus Poe St. John of the Cross telep-
athy and bop kabbalah because the cosmos in-
stinctively vibrated at their feet in Kansas,