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October 28th, 2016

01:45 pm: Bookburners: Season One
Looking for something a bit different, I've spent the last week reading the first season Bookburners, a Serialbox story about a group of Vatican investigators who deal with outbreaks of magic. The story is fashioned from a set of episodes, intended to mirror the form of a television series, which mix an overarching plot with a weekly one, with the writing team taking it turns to helm an episode.

The series begins when Sally Brooks' brother Perry pitches up, unexpectedly, on her doorstep late one evening. Sal, a detective with NYPD, doesn't exactly approve of her brother's semi-legal interests and his obsession with obscure manuscripts, but when a group of people arrive hot on her brother's heels and start issuing threats, Sal is determined to protect her brother. The group — Perry calls them Bookburners — blow through Sal's apartment like a hurricane but don't manage to prevent Perry from escaping.

Determine to find out what is going on, Sal recognises the Bookburners' van and forcibly introduces herself. The leader of the group, Father Arturo Menchu, tries to explain that Sal's brother has become involved with a demon trapped in a book and that he and his team — including Grace Chen, an deeply intense, one woman wrecking crew; and Liam a troubled, tattooed, reformed hacker — are trying to save him. Sal is sceptical, right up until she finds Perry's friends acting as though they were hypnotised and sees her brother transform into something else entirely. Only partially able to resolve the case, the first episode concludes with Sal reluctantly agreeing to move to Rome to join the Bookburners team.

As the season unfolds, we come to know a little more about the main characters and the things in their pasts that drew them into their current roles. We also meet Asanti, the team's archivist and notional head, whose interest in the more practical aspects of magic put her at odds with Father Menchu and, most especially, with Liam, whose past experiences have left him extremely wary of anything supernatural.

We also discover that Sal's team isn't unique and the Vatican actually fields three groups against the occult. The first is composed of group of elite soldiers who, beefed up with various supernatural artefacts, are occasionally brought in to sterilise outbreaks which can't otherwise be contained. The second are more diplomatic and, under the notional leadership of Hilary Sansone, apply the necessary PR to smooth over the consequences of the other teams' behaviours, although some of the members appear to be scarily zealous and seem to believe the ends justify the means. Sal's group compose the third team, tasked with investigating outbreaks of magic and/or demonic activity and bring them back under control. The was, once, a fourth team who specialised in the research of and practical applications of magic, but they were disbanded ago and their members excommunicated, although the precise circumstances for this remain obscure.

The overarching story of the series involves the recovery of demonic books and a mysterious billionaire called Mr Norse who seems willing to go to huge lengths to recover occult artefacts. Unfolding in parallel to this, Sal becomes increasingly concerned with the fate of her brother, whom she discovers has been infected by a demon called The Hand, and begins to wonder about the involvement of a man who calls himself Aaron and who seems to know far more than he should about everything.

Bookburners is an extremely effective series whose pacing is never feels less than perfect. The premise, which takes something from Warehouse 13 and something from every story ever to feature the Vatican as gatekeepers of ancient knowledge, works extremely well, largely because it takes its initial ideas seriously and doesn't use the archive as a trivial source of dei ex machina. The world building is excellent and the setting feels deep and detailed, with episodes like The Market Arcanum revealing an extra dimension of the magical world that has nothing to do with the Bookburners or their mission but which exists in an uneasy truce with it. None of this is terribly surprising given the calibre of the writers involved — Max Gladstone, Brian Francis Slattery, Mur Lafferty, Margaret Dunlap — but it needs to be said.

Highly recommended, especially if you're after something where each individual element comes in a small package but which builds up into an impressive whole.

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12:13 pm: Fire in the cathedral close...
Walking into town to go to the supermarket, I noticed a definite smell of smoke in the air. Trying to cut through the cathedral close, I discovered the cause: a huge fire that was in the process of spreading through the Royal Clarence. Avoiding all the closed roads, I went round Musgrave Row to the Guildhall. In the perhaps ten minutes it took me to do my shopping, the view from Queen Street had changed with the smoke suddenly much darker and flames pouring up from the buildings to the south.

The news reports say that everyone was evacuated in good time, but it looks like the buildings are going to be badly damaged. It's all very sad...


October 27th, 2016

09:21 pm: Upgrading to Sierra
Another OS upgrade, this time to macOS Sierra, made far more difficult than it should have been by on-going disk problems on my iMac. After downloading Sierra, the initial upgrade failed because the existing root volume failed to verify — something which also prevented me from booting back into El Capitan.

Having backed up the contents of my home directory — which I'd deliberately kept fairly small, given the untrustworthness of the internal disk — I reformatted the root volume, forgetting, until after I'd started the process, that I'd failed to copy the Sierra image to external storage before starting the process. I resolved the problem by booting into recovery mode, reinstalling El Capitan, rebooting, downloading Sierra again, and installing over the image of El Cap.

Eventually, with the system back up and running, I restored my home directory, applied the latest updates for Sierra and rebooted the machine. Fortunately, everything started up again without any errors and everything now seems to be back to normal.

I've been meaning to replace my iMac for a while — I've had it for over six years, so it's certainly put in its time and the internal disk seems to be increasingly past its prime — but Apple haven't released any compelling updates since last year, when the upper end of the iMac was refreshed to Skylake. My cunning plan — somewhat hampered by the spectacular devaluation of stirling! — is to keep my current system bumping along until the iMac release, when presumably the systems will move to Kaby Lake, before upgrading.


October 26th, 2016

03:14 pm: Routes with D and P
Fun morning of climbing with D&P at the Quay. P had to repeat his sign-off tests because they'd lost his paperwork &mdsah; probably because, when he renewed last week, they had to set up a new account because whoever had entered his initial credentials had misspelt his name! But once we were over that glitch, we stormed the auto-belays as a warm-up and climbed some top-rope routes to finish.

I climbed a pair of fun new routes, graded 6a+ and 6b+ respective. The 6b+ was probably graded a bit soft, with a few fingery crimps and technical bits but nothing that prevent me from on-sighting it. The 6a+, on the other hand, was extremely difficult indeed with a complete absence of feet in several places. The second move involved a massive reach — P couldn't span it and he's a good deal taller than me — which I was only able to static by working a hand up a bad arete feature and cranking up enough with one foot to get a couple of fingers on the next hold before throwing for a hand match. Then, once past that, I got to the penultimate move, also very short of feet, which I eventually managed to complete with a cunning heel/toe hook, a reach back for the next hand, and a campus for the finish.

Makes me wonder if the grades might not be the wrong way round: I could totally see the easier route as being a hard 6a+ an the harder route being a challenging 6b+, but I'm sure their current ratings aren't correct. Sadly, they hadn't been added to the setter's whiteboard, so we couldn't re-rate them.

Afterwards, I accepted the offer of light lunch after discovering that they'd got a loaf of sourdough bread from the Magdalene Road Bakery. It was utterly fantastic: firm, chewy, and a completely different species to the terrible supermarket stuff. A real treat.


October 24th, 2016

01:10 pm: Wet Monday run
With a wet, windy, cold, miserable morning in prospect, I loafed around at home waiting for a break in the weather. Eventually deciding that things were as good as they were going to get, I cut my losses and went for a run. It wasn't quite as awful as I'd feared but it certainly wasn't the most enjoyable run I'd ever had. And I wasn't the only one to have doubts about the weather: the paths by the river were almost completely deserted despite it being half-term, with only one very bedraggled father with a pushchair and a dog to be seen.


October 23rd, 2016

09:39 pm: A serious Sunday climb
Despite feeling tired after my Sunday morning training run, I dragged myself down to the climbing centre for what was supposed to be a short session. I did a series of warm-up routes with the idea of tackling the one new auto route I haven't finished — it features a hard crux up on to the headwall &mdsah; and going home. But just as I was finishing my easy sequence, Iz arrived and suggested some lead climbing.

I did an easy route and took a few practice falls to try and get my head into the right place. I started gently, just dropping back on the bolt, before building up to some proper falls taken from above the clip. As ever with practice falls, the hardest part is convincing yourself up to let go; because the actual fall, once you bite the bullet and take it, is completely safe and actually rather fun.

With my confidence improved, I climbed one of the longer and more overhung routes up the prow. Stupidly, towards the top where it went into a roof section, I psyched myself by convincing myself that I was getting a cramp, that I was running out of shoulder strength, and that I wouldn't be able to make the last clip under the roof. Fortunately, Izzy wasn't willing to let me give up and pointed out that I was three moves away from the anchor and the last few holds were all giant jugs. And with that encouragement, I pulled back on and made the last moves with ease. Back down on the ground, I realised how absurd I'd been: my shoulder was fine, my forearms were barely warmed up, and I'd made the clips as smoothly as could be — proving that the problem was entirely in my head.

Izzy powered up a 6c next to the route I'd climbed and had a similar moment just before the top where she convinced herself that the last clip before the anchor was going to be hard. After dropping back and regrouping for a minute, she realised that the penultimate hold was extremely positive and just went for it. So good was the hold that she didn't bother going for the final jug but clipped straight from the big ridge.

At this point, we handed the borrowed rope back and went to work some of the slabs, including something graded 6c+/7a. The route, which featured some very hard, very carefully balanced moves up to slopers took a while to get right but when we found a beta that worked, we both stormed it. I'm not quite sure how to count the route, but I'm going to bag it as a 7a — goodness knows, I don't have many of them under my belt, so I need every last one! — although I'm pretty sure it wasn't that hard given that I managed to send it.

We finished the session with a spot of bouldering to cool down. Izzy, who is officially unstoppable, mopped up the easy problems, made a serious attempt at a 6C+ sloper problem on the roof, and finished by campusing a whole series of moves above the overhang. I did some of the easy boulders and finished with three circuits of the ten degree board. The last sequence was a real struggle, but I made it to the last hold without coming off which is all that matters...


October 22nd, 2016

11:42 am: Fortieth parkrun
A couple of milestones today: my 40th parkrun — only my 37th at Riverside because I did three in Coventry last Christmas — and the anniversary of the first parkrun M & I did last year. I haven't clocked up a full year thanks to a combination of holidays, illnesses, and the ITB problems I had back in March and April of this year.

My time was a tolerable but not brilliant 20:37 and I think I was held back by yesterday's extended climbing session which obviously took a much larger chunk out of my reserves than I'd realised. M, on the other hand, pulled something of a blinder, smashing 30 seconds off her PB — her recent training for the Great West Run paying serious dividends.

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October 21st, 2016

04:20 pm: More climbing training
Early to the Quay to avoid the rush, where I discovered a new innovation: some giant beanbags in the middle of the floor. Definitely better than setting on the floor!

After a few circuits of easy boulder problems to warm-up, I hopped on the auto-belays and went for milage. After doing the routes in sequence, I switched to focus on my leading technique. Having watched one of Neil Gresham's masterclass films for a bit of inspiration, I think I've discovered the cause of my less-than-stellar forehand clipping technique.

Instead of allowing the rope to run over the tips of my fingers, I've been positioning it too far back in my hand, making it harder to snag the rope with the carabina. I've also noticed that I don't follow through correctly — more of a problem with a rope off-cut, where you don't have the weight of the rest of the rope working for you — because I've got a poor grip on the rope and can't complete the move to ensure it pops through the gate without risking putting my finger through as well.

With a bit of refinement, I found something that worked for me and spent the afternoon doing as many routes as possible, as many times as possible, clipping all the quickdraws on the way up. Not only has it improved my technique, but it's boosted my confident by reassuring me that, even when I'm really tired, I've almost always got enough left in the tank to clip the rope, even when I have to hang off a nasty sloper to do so...


October 20th, 2016

08:56 pm: Housework and running
Day mostly spent cooking, doing the laundry, and sorting out around the house — all tasks that were significantly overdue. It was also good to have a bit of downtime after doing a huge amount of climbing over the last couple of weeks and to give the skin on my fingers a day to recover — I've worn through the fingerprints on a couple of them!

But it wasn't all laziness: R and I went for an evening run through town, down by the river, and back home. It wasn't very long but it was a nice way to round out the day. While we were going round, I mentioned that P&D had recently done a triathlon and that, when I'd last spoken to my parents on the phone, I'd spent part of the call rejecting their suggestion that I give it a go. R seemed worryingly enthusiastic about the idea, so something tells me I'm going to end up doing one anyway...


October 19th, 2016

04:25 pm: Hobbits, beer, and metabolic processes
How much do hobbits need to drink to get drunk? Over on Tor, Emily Asher-Perrin has run the numbers and come up with a answer: around half a pint an hour with anything more putting them in lost weekend territory.

In related news, Tuesday's Guardian published a letter form reader who had written in about a piece claiming that calories from alcohol was a greater problem for adult populations than calories from soft drinks.

The notion that alcohol is fattening is raised in your pages. By what metabolic pathway is this achieved in the body? The only organisms I know that utilise alcohol are certain bacteria that downgrade it further to vinegar - acetic acid. It may be that some alcoholic drinks contain sugar too. But it is the sugar that fattens, not the alcohol.

Fortunately, today's paper features a follow-up letter from a biochemist gently correcting the original writer's scientific ignorance, ending with the pithy comment:

Of course, a sugary alcoholic drink will still have more calories than the equivalent-strength non-sugary one, but sadly, dry champagne is not calorie-free.



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