Saturday, 22 October 2011

The Eurozone

So, I confess to being something of a 'Euro-sceptic', even (or perhaps especially) after having studied how it came about last year while I was looking at modern Europe.  But what I would like to point out before I throw my own two penneth into the ring of the debate, is that really, I'm not an economist or an economic historian.  I'm just offering some musings.

The Eurozone is a bit of a weird thing, really.  It's basically a band of countries saying 'we'll become one in currency, but not one in policy'.  Now, that's bound to cause problems.  Let's face it, we're having enough trouble in Britain dealing with the economic crisis (don't get me started on the Conservatives...), but while we're sort of four countries the countries have been largely united.  In Europe, it's different.  Whilst all the members of the Eurozone have to take the same knocks to the same currency, they don't have to respond to the crisis in the same way.  I dare say doing something utterly wrong but at least all the same would be better than everyone pulling in different directions.  The trouble is, through monetary union, the countries of the Eurozone have become one in practice, if not in fact.  It's a little like England and Scotland when James I came to the throne.  He couldn't get people to agree to a union, but he could drop trade barriers and deal with cross-border raiding.  So that's what he did.  And just over a hundred years  later, you end up with the Act of Union, incorporating Scotland and England together.

Whenever you look into how the EU has progressed (ie, from all the bazillion acronyms with E and usually one or two Cs, and perhaps one or two other letters, to a slightly different set of a bazillion acronyms), perhaps the most striking thing is how the EU has grown and developed.  From something which the Brits initially saw as a good way of making France and Germany never fight each other again, it's progressed to a sprawling empire of 'Eurocrats' and little real democracy.  But the roots remain.  Common Agricultural Policy, and the skewed balance of contributions from Germany (which was understandably keen to get involved in the first instance so that it was no longer a 'leper' country) still underlie the EU, together with disproportionate influence for France and Germany.  And what of poor Italy?  A founding member, arguably throwing a last desparate grasp at world power status, and now relegated somewhat to the sidelines, save for occaisional worried glances at the Italian economy and fearful noises being made.

The EU needs shaking up and refounding on a firmer, more democratic footing if it's going to make real progress into the future, and if people aren't going to remain sceptical.  Sure, there were elections to the EU Parliament, but when does that ever make the news?  The only thing that headlined for so far as I could see was that a couple of BNP members made it in.  And let's face it, that's gotta be a measure of how unseriously people take the thing.  If people had confidence in the institutions of the EU, we would be more willing to contribute to it, to allow for the fact that all member states are in this together.

That said, it will be pretty hard to dismember now that countries have switched to single currency.  What they going to do, dig up their old currencies?  Or have the same ones, but just differentiate based on area of issue?  That'd cause chaos and no mistake...

Thursday, 13 October 2011

The Priest

Like I said, yesterday was hard work.  So I decided to take the afternoon off doing uni work and just enjoy myself reading fiction instead.  Sometimes, you just need some fun books :)  Not that Bede isn't really interesting, but some of the books about Bede...

So, The Priest is a fairly standard crime thriller, with a freaky serial killer, excitable Spanish diplomats, and a cop with family trouble/girlfriend trouble (she's a journalist).  It's also well-written and gripping, so maybe not too standard.  Not entirely sure what else to say.  Sorry.  Feeling a bit tired, think I might go read some more fiction...  Well, it's that or continue making notes on Eddius Stephanus' 'Life of Bishop Wilfrid', which is interesting, but I think I'd rather read fantasy or something a bit less demanding of brain power.

I could put this to post tomorrow.  But then it won't make sense of the yesterday comment...  Maybe though, I will start doing the 'Schedule' thing.  That would be cool, right?  And maybe demonstrate that I am technically competent and can do exciting things, rather than just write four book reviews at once (okay, not quite four today, but sometimes...) and then abandon the blog for a week.  I could even start using pictures.  But I don't see how a blog that's primarily about reviewing books actually needs pictures.  The book cover, maybe?  Then I could use one of the new blogger view options, and people could scroll by book cover.  That might be interesting, but it'd take forever for me to add the pictures to all previous posts...

At the end of that ramble, let me sum up.  The Priest is a pretty good book, with a rather sinister serial killer and a rather interesting detective tracking him down.  Since I've come to the conclusion crime in particular stands or falls based on the characters, this one ones a pretty good job of 'standing'.  You do feel a little terrified when...  But you can read it and find out about that bit :)

Raising the Past

For a great book to read to just relax, forget about a supervision that was definitely not the best I've ever had, and generally avoid thinking about the fact that I was feeling somewhat ill, Raising the Past is one to pick.

There's a buried woolly mammoth, there's an interesting main character who saw a previous expedition he led get destroyed by drug runners, and now he's up in the Arctic again.  There're also aliens.  Great fun.  I mean, the Arctic plus aliens plus interesting characters, what more can you want?  And it does have a plot (of the, 'oh heck, we need to save the world, forget the woolly mammoth that we were going to clone' variety, admittedly, but that's still a perfectly valid plot).  It has plenty of action too, and it keeps you on your toes, keeps you interested.  So while it might not make the BBC 100 Greatest Books due to some sort of intellectual snobbery, it's actually highly enjoyable.

Speaking of those 100 Greatest Books lists, you'd think, given how much I read, that I'd come out as pretty well read on them.  But they're a bit skewed towards boring classics.  Or you get each Harry Potter book listed separately.  Haven't read Harry Potter, actually.  Feel like I'm probably too old to enjoy it now--especially having analysed a couple of scenes in English Language.  The general point of this paragraph is, I think, that I'm not 'officially' all that well read.  Unless I'm allowed to tick books which I started, found incredibly dull/annoying and wondered why anyone ever put them on a 'books to read or you will die' list, and gave up on.

Anyway, Raising the Past is good fun, a great escapist novel.  Really enjoyed it.

Saturday, 8 October 2011


I've not been very good at keeping this up to date lately.  In fact, I believe since I last wrote about my own writing, I've finished two novels.  I say this because I don't quite remember when I last said anything on the topic.  At any rate, I've now written twenty novels (some of them rather bad, some of them perhaps quite reasonable, none published).  Which I reckon's a reasonable achievement given I'm only nineteen :)

The Game Layer was the second most recent that I finished.  It was inspired by an article on the BBC about an app called Scvngr, and a few words in a long-distance conversation with another writer over facebook.  He said something about me being able to mark books on goodreads with whether I owned them or had just read them, so that I don't end up buying multiple copies.  To which I replied that I didn't have a smart phone (I believe my phone is probably the antithesis of a smart phone, as it doesn't even have a colour screen, and as it works without any problems...).  Scvngr, I should perhaps add, is an app which lets you get offers by doing real world challenges.  Using the new (or maybe just one I've never before used) button above, I shall now add a link to the very article which inspired this novel, isn't that exciting!  Probably not, but I'll do it anyway... .  There, see.  A link.  So, that got me thinking about a future in which those with smart phones are able to get progressively richer and those without become progressively excluded as they cannot access the offers and challenges that people with them have.  Then, just to make life more interesting, I altered the smart phone aspect to be in people's heads.  After all, some people are so dependent on smart phones and the internet that they might as well have them surgically attached.  From there, I just chucked in a crime/plot to dominate the world, and a bit of history leading up to the point at which the novel took place, and added a few characters.  Basically, the games were being used to make people murder.  And my main character had to figure out who was behind it.

Thorn at Kettree (not quite sure whether I'll stick with that title or not) is another sci-fi crime.  Or at least, it was meant to be, but Thorn decided that overthrowing a dictatorship would be much more fun than solving the crime I'd decided I was going to use for this story.  I plan on writing a sequel with the crime he was meant to solve put back in.  Anyway, it's in a totally different 'world'.  Humanity has spread to the universe, so there're lots of human settlements on a variety of roids and planets.  Thorn gets sent to Kettree to act as a representative of a new UN-type body for the universe that focusses more on crime than anything else, along with Lady Veronica.  He's somewhat appalled by the fact that despite the war which was meant to make the universe safe for democracy, Kettree's governor is effectively a dictator.  And that's the basics of that story :)

Maybe one day I'll get them published.  That'd be quite cool :)  Then people can come look at this post and go 'hey, this is where the idea for that novel came from' and nobody will have to make random guesses like we sometimes do in English Lit.  And I bet we always ascribe far more intricate and noble motives to writers than they actually had.  I reckon Shakespeare's Tempest is full of magic purely because he wanted to write a big spectacular, I don't know that looking for meaning is always that useful.  The meaning's probably there accidentally anyway.

Some musings on the new blogger

I'm guessing that people who read this (does anyone read this?!) don't necessarily have blogger.  But it's recently changed it's interface and it's very...  White.  Uncluttered.  Minimalist.  And I'm not quite convinced I like it in terms of the whiteness and lack of anything to click on.  All the post settings are now at the side (which probably makes no sense, but basically the options where I choose things like labels aren't beneath the post any more).  And there's a huge bit underneath where I'm typing this that's completely unused.  Maybe it's so it can be used on a phone?  But what about us users who happen to have a rather large screen?

It looks a lot more like a text editor now than it did before.  Which I guess is nice in that it makes it a lot more obvious to use for new people.  And I never really used the HTML stuff anyway, so that's not a problem.  I believe there are now more fonts and colours and things, but as I've never had reason to use different fonts and colours and things and don't know that I necessarily ever will, that's not that exciting.  There are buttons to add videos.  Maybe one day I will add a video.

It's gone a lot more icon based, especially on the dashboard.  I wonder if one day historians will look at screen shots of old computer programmes and try to extrapolate symbolic meanings.  And will they compare the different symbols which do the same things?  I wonder what you could learn from, for example, comparing the things that office, google, mac and open office use for functions within their documents.  Probably nothing, to be honest.  Which won't stop somebody trying, I'm sure.

I'm also most impressed with the 'send feedback' thing.  I thought I'd mention the large empty space that could quite easily be used for something (what?  I don't know, I'm not a software designer.  Maybe just have the compose box take up the whole space to start with, instead of it jumping to the bigger size only when you reach the bottom.)  So there was this button to highlight things using click and drag, and then you type the problem into the text box that pops up in the bottom corner of the screen.  I wonder if there's some way of making this a bit more colourful.  I miss the colourfulness.

So there you go, a nice random post as I procrastinate doing anything particularly productive on the conversion of the English.  Maybe I'll tell you a bit about that topic in a future post, once I've got my head round (or got my head as far round as possible) what actually happened.  Or what probably happened.  It was a long time ago, and it seems nobody's entirely sure of the details.  But that ramble doesn't belong in this post...

The Good Thief's Guide to Paris

Okay, so I picked this up at the library the other day because it looked interesting.  I nearly gave up part way through (it didn't have quite as much action as I was hoping for) but didn't because the library was closed and I hadn't really anything else to read.

It's quite a fun idea.  Also somewhat complicated.  The main character is talking in first person and is a thief who writes books 'pretending' to be a thief.  There might be another layer of pretending to be a thief in there, somewhere, but I'm pretty sure I got them all.  Just to make life a little more unusual, said thief (as in, the main character of the actual book, rather than the main character occaisionally mentioned in the book within the book) has early-onset arthritis.

The main character is pretty fun, as are the various characters in the somewhat eccentric bookshop.  The plot is pretty good too.  I think it was more of a personal taste issue--I suspect I would've rather read the book within the book with implausible action scenes and so on--but I did find it a little slow-going in parts.

In conclusion: an interesting idea, a fairly good book.  I'll probably read the others, if I spot them (especially as I seem to be having one of my periodic running out of interesting things to read issues), but it's not competing to go on my list of favourites.