Snow pictures

I was wandering round the house this morning with my camera, looking for shots that might capture the feel of this snowstorm without actually requiring me to expose myself to the elements! BlizzardDoor.jpg I took a shot out of the front door – notice how the snow is drifting in the porch, and around the tree by the road. Then looking out of a side window, I saw this downy woodpacker, covered in snow, pecking desperately into a branch. I hope he found some food…. BlizzardWoodpecker.jpg (As usual, click thumbnails for the full-size images.)

UPDATE: Just as I was finishing this blog entry, my wife spotted what looked like newspapers at the end of the front path, and prevailed upon me to go out to retrieve them. For some reason the lyrics from Al Stewart‘s song “Antarctica” drifted into my mind: “The hopeless quest of Shackleton, The dreamlike death of Scott”. Nevertheless I donned boots and coat and plunged into a snowdrift almost up to my waist, while my wife attempted to take pictures of me.BlizzardGeoff.jpg

Will this storm beat the blizzard of '78

Since they’re forecasting snowfalls of 20 to 30 28 to 38 20 to 30 inches in Boston before this storm winds down, I thought I’d see what it would take to break the records, especially the famous “blizzard of ’78”. Here’s the data from the NWS:

Most Snow in 1 Day     Most Snow in 2 Days       Most Snow in 3 Days
21.0  Jan 20 1978      27.1  Feb   6-7 1978      27.1  Feb   5-7 1978
20.0  Jan 24 1945      21.4  Jan 20-21 1978      25.8  Feb 24-26 1969
19.3  Feb 16 1958      20.7  Feb 24-25 1969      22.8  Jan 22-24 1945
19.0  Feb  7 1978      20.0  Jan 24-25 1945      21.7  Jan 18-20 1978
15.0  Feb 20 1934      19.7  Mar   3-4 1960
14.3  Feb  4 1961
13.8  Jan  7 1977

A blunt warning from the weatherman

When severe weather threatens, I usually visit our local National Weather Service website and open up the discussion page. This is where the forecasters exchange information: where they talk about how the computer models are converging (or not), the range of possibilities, and how – and why – they come up with an overall forecast. Lots of little details that don’t make it into the forecast you hear on TV, using lots of jargon. But this afternoon, the discussion begins very simply: “Probable top ten snowstorm/blizzard for portions of sne is at hand and whereever you are this evening around 7 PM we recommend you be prepared to stay there through at least noon tomorrow”. “sne” is Southern New England, and we’re talking about a storm that will be among the 10 biggest on record for this area. 20 to 30 inches of snow and blizzard conditions, from late this afternoon through into Sunday. Cape Cod may get in excess of 30 inches.

How should one cope with such a situation? It seems very simple. I’m about to cook up a big pot of stew – beef, root vegetables, mushrooms, celery, red wine, onions, garlic, and herbs. Comfort food for a wild and wintry night. Now, where did I put the potato peeler…?

Thought-provoking piece on reframing the gay rights question

How many of you, in supporting gay rights, have used the argument that discrimination is unfair because being gay, like being black, isn’t a question of choice? And yet, an it harm none, why shouldn’t we be defending the right to a freely-chosen life? Excellent piece over at Shakespeare’s Sister: Reframing Gay Rights: “A wise start to reframing this argument is to leave behind the repeated invocations of the standard and tiresome fare, ‘It’s not a choice.’ If Liberals are to be true to their words that my rights end where yours begin, then we must acknowledge that whether homosexuality is a choice or not has no bearing on whether we defend the rights of gays and lesbians. The whole point of a free country is allowing people the freedom to make decisions for themselves as they best see fit, including whether to choose a partner of the same sex. A same-sex relationship does not infringe upon anyone else’s rights, so whether it’s by design or choice shouldn’t make a dime’s worth of difference to any Liberal intent on protecting the freedom and rights of all Americans.”

(Via Terry – get well soon.)

Must-see 3D iMax: Aliens of the Deep

deep-sea creature from Aliens of the Deep

Over at Boing-Boing, Xeni Jardin is waxing lyrical about James Cameron’s 3D iMax film: Aliens of the Deep. Quote: “I still can’t get one of these deep, deep, deep-sea creatures out of my head — shown here. Looked like a giant diaphanous curtain of glass, rippling through the water. Amazing. And amazing because it is real, and alive, and not a product of CGI.” I can’t wait to see it, even if I will have to wear dorky cardboard 3D glasses.

So many T-shirts, so little time

J!NXJust stumbled across J!NX, a delightfully bizarre collection of l33t T-shirts. I can imagine wearing at least half of them to work…. Favourites: Computers are fun and useful, Your skill in Reading has increased by 1 point (one for the Fellowship, I fancy), It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a grue. (how I spent the early 1980s), and neurochemistry hacker. Very cool. (Even the gross and edgy stuff.)

On Apple, BMW, and Minis

Like many Mac users, I’ve dismissed talk of Apple’s miniscule share of the personal computer market by (a) pointing out that many of those PCs are just glorified 3270s/VT100s/Wang word processors/cash registers, and (b) invoking the “BMW argument”: what market share does BMW have – and does that stop them from being a really important, cool, desirable brand? So now Apple goes and releases a couple of down-market products, and various people are asking, understandably, “is Apple blowing its BMW model?”. Frank Steele has a nice response: “Perhaps BMW could create (or purchase) a second brand that sold cars that were not quite so expensive. Maybe comparable in price to other cars, but maybe a little smaller, and fun. […] But what could BMW possibly call such a company?”

(Via Oren.)

Review: Iain M. Banks: "The Algebraist"

Back on December 10, I reported that I’d acquired a new Iain M. Banks novel, The Algebraist. As I noted on my books page, Iain M. Banks is at the top of the list of authors I will buy sight unseen.
So how come I’m only reporting on it now?
This is an odd book. It’s fairly long (544 pages), and I found myself reading the first 300 pages relatively slowly. Huge amounts of detail, a back story stretching over billions of years, a wide variety of alien species for whom conventionally anthropomorphic thinking was unhelpful…. Over a couple of weeks I read on, fascinated, but only able to absorb one or two chapters at a sitting. And then on December 25th we flew out to Seattle, and after we returned I got sick, and the great grey tome sat there, unread.
As I surfaced from the flu, I hesitatingly picked up the book, and started back in. Fairly quickly, I found things changing. The tempo picks up, then becomes almost giddying as armadas of starships battle and needle-ships corkscrew through one wormhole after another, ricocheting around the universe like badly aimed fireworks. An underlying pattern on a galactic scale emerges, and is purposefully erased. Characters and plotlines are abruptly trashed. And as the deus ex machina recedes, the book ends on a wholly unexpected note. If the first 300 pages took me 10 days, the last 250 zipped by in 5 or 6 hours over two days.
I really don’t know how to judge this book. (I note that other reviewers have felt the same way.) Fundamentally it falls between two stools. There’s a taut, 300 page space opera in here just begging to get out: simplify the back story, eliminate half the characters and three quarters of the species, and let it rip. But there’s also a 1,200 page epic here, balancing the thoughtful and detailed preamble with a more complex and challenging quest for the central character and better resolution of some of the secondary themes. In either case I’d also want more autonomy for our human hero, rather than feeling that he’s simply dragged around the galaxy by forces larger than himself. It’s hard to identify and empathize with supercargo.
Overall, I’m really glad that I read the book: there are more ideas here than most sci-fi writers can achieve over a lifetime. But it’s frustrating. And US fans of Banks’ work will have to buy from the UK; there’s still no US publication date set as far as I can see.