Friday, 24 September 2010

Books quiz

I stole this meme from my favorite book blog, Stuck in a Book.   I haven't had much time to read for fun in the past few months, and I've really been missing it (my Amazon wish list is getting out of hand).  As I was reading his post, I was having fun coming up with my own answers, so I figured I might as well just answer it for myself!

1. Favourite childhood book? 
I Want to Go Home by Gordon Korman.  This book still makes me laugh out loud.

2. What are you reading right now?
The Kraken by China Miéville
Rough Guide to Italy
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austin

3. What books do you have on request at the library?

4. Bad book habit? 
Hmmm.  I used to have a bad Star Wars novel habit, but I got over that.  I can't think of any just now!

5. What do you currently have checked out at the library?
Per the Bodleian's catalogue:
The eruptions of Hekla in historical times : a tephrochronological study by Sigurður Þórarinsson
Groundwater in geologic processes by Ingebritsen, S. E.
Multivariate data analysis with readings by Hair, Joseph F.

6. Do you have an e-reader?
 I don't, but my phone has a Kindle app that I've been using to read Northanger Abbey

7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?
 I am usually reading several books at a time, but once I'm about 100 pages into one I'll usually stick with it until the end.

8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?
I definitely read fewer books than I used to before I started spending a lot of time on the internet, though that's not related to having a blog.  I also find out about more books, read more book reviews, and have my all-powerful Amazon wish list. 

9. Least favourite book you read this year (so far?)
I haven't read any bad books this year!

10. Favourite book you’ve read this year?
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell.  I adored this book, even its melancholy ending.  Like all David Mitchell books, it had the nesting of stories within stories -- but this one nested cultures within cultures and histories within histories and was also incredibly textured historical fiction. 

11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone?
I'm not really sure what my comfort zone is, but I think that the answer is not often.  For example, I don't ever read swords and sorcery type fantasy, or romance novels, which are probably the two genres that I avoid hardest. 

12. What is your reading comfort zone? 
This question should probably have been before #11 :).  I would say that it is more defined by what it's not, as mentioned above. 

13. Can you read on the bus?
Yes, though reading on my phone Kindle on the bus is less pleasant.

14. Favourite place to read?
Perhaps on a train or the London underground; or else curled up on a couch in front of a fireplace with someone I love.
15. What is your policy on book lending?I love loaning out my books.  I don't mind losing a few so long as I convert my friends to good new reading material!

16. Do you ever dog-ear books?Yes, I have been known to be rather hard on books including folding pages, breaking spines, and annotating. 

17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books?Occasionally, but I am much more likely to underline my favourite passages instead.  I always get a bit worried that I'll loan the book out and get judged for what I wrote or liked (for example, underlining a lengthy oral sex scene in Gravity's Rainbow).  As a result my very favourite books only get loaned out to my very favourite people.

18. Not even with text books?Oh, I underline and annotate the hell out of textbooks.  It's one of the ways I retain information.

19. What is your favourite language to read in? 
Uhm, English.  The only language I can read quickly in.

20. What makes you love a book? 
Lots of things.  A good plot.  Humour.  Amazing imagery.  Lyrical writing.  Compelling characters.  Compelling worldbuilding.  Love of landscape. 

21. What will inspire you to recommend a book?
 Usually the books that I recommend are ones that are "gateways" into a particular author's work -- for example, I would recommend To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis if I was hoping to get someone into her other books.  Another thing that will inspire me will be if I am talking to someone and I realize that they are interested in a certain genre or type of plot and I know the perfect example.

22. Favourite genre?
Historical science fiction or cyberpunk.

23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did?)

24. Favourite biography?
Well isn't that odd.  Samuel Pepys: The Unqualified Self by Claire Tomalin is a fascinating look at a very interesting man and an even more interesting time.
25. Have you ever read a self-help book?
I've read some of the "X for Dummies" books, does that count?  Also a neighbour gave me the book Emails from God for Grads when I graduated from high school, though I have to say that I never got around to reading it.

26. Favourite cookbook?
Anything by Jamie Oliver!

27. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction)?
Probably, again, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.  It's not traditionally inspirational, but I liked its message that every individual, no matter how small their role in the main story, has his or her own story to tell.
28. Favourite reading snack?
An iced chai tea, a smoothie, or a milkshake.

29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.
Hmm, I can't really think of any...
30. How often do you agree with critics about a book?
I am usually much more forgiving than your average reviewer.
31. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews?
Like I said, I'm usually quite forgiving, but if a book is bad, I'm not afraid to say it.  Robert Jordan, I am talking to you (RIP).
32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you choose?
Icelandic :).
33. Most intimidating book you’ve ever read?
I'm not sure!  Probably The Sound and the Fury.
34. Most intimidating book you’re too nervous to begin?
I'd like to read Ulysses but have definitely been put off...
35. Favourite Poet?
T. S. Eliot, hands down.  I adore his imagery.  And yes, literature PhDs, I've heard your theories about how he ruined literature for the common person.  From "The Hollow Men" to "The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock", I don't care.
36. How many books do you usually have checked out of the library at any given time?
If we are talking academic books, about 10.  None from the public library just now, though when I do that, it's usually about four or five. 
37. How often have you returned book to the library unread?
I hate doing this, so, as rarely as possible.
38. Favourite fictional character? 
She's a total Mary Sue, but I love Y.T. from Snowcrash.  I also love Daniel Waterhouse from the Baroque Cycle.  The narrator from Black Swan Green is right up there.  But the real answer is... Remus Lupin. 
39. Favourite fictional villain?
Mrs. Coulter from the His Dark Materials trilogy.

40. Books I’m most likely to bring on holiday?
If the holiday is somewhere remote where I'll have lots of free time, I'll try to bring something long and immersive.  I took Gravity's Rainbow and Dune to the Orkneys and Shogun to Iceland in 2009.  And Bleak House on a family vacation.
41. The longest I’ve gone without reading.
I... don't know.  Maybe a few days?
42. Name a book that you could/would not finish.
I couldn't finish Madame Bovary and never intend to do so either.
43. What distracts you easily when you’re reading?
The internet -- wanting to talk to people. 
44. Favourite film adaptation of a novel?
Haha, I'll have to say Jurassic Park.

45. Most disappointing film adaptation?
The one that disappointed me most in theatres was The Lost World, but I was also terribly disappointed by the end of the third Harry Potter movie.  Basically if you cut out my favourite scene, I will cut you.
46. The most money I’ve ever spent in the bookstore at one time?
Well, if we're counting the AU bookstore, I had to drop something like $200 on textbooks my first term there, before I discovered for ordering them.

47. How often do you skim a book before reading it?
This literally never occurred to me.  People do that?
48. What would cause you to stop reading a book half-way through?
If it was boring, I suppose.  This rarely happens though.
49. Do you like to keep your books organized?
I do, alphabetically.
50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them?
If I like the book enough to want to read it again, or it's a reference book, I'll hold onto it.  Otherwise I'd like to get rid of it as quickly as possible because I don't like owning very much stuff.
51. Are there any books you’ve been avoiding?
The second, third, and fourth Twilight books? 
52. Name a book that made you angry.
My favorite history book of all time, A World Lit Only By Fire by William Manchester.  I completely disagree with his thesis but I love the way he wrote it.
53. A book you didn’t expect to like but did?
The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman.  After reading A Distant Mirror, I did not expect anything by this woman to be good, but my dad convinced me to try it.  I'm not sure why WWI was so much more inspirational than the 14th century but... apparently for her it was.
54. A book that you expected to like but didn’t?
The Time Traveller's Wife.  It came highly recommended from someone I usually really trust on books but I just did not like it.

55. Favourite guilt-free, pleasure reading?

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

This damned tephra problem

I hate to bore my usual readers with research problems but... I'm having a research problem.

I've been mulling over the slides from the Drangajökull outlet glacier core microtephras for some time now, but this week I've finally been able to focus on the problem (as I was microprobing other samples last week). Basically the microtephra from the peat core taken near the outlet glacier comes in three varieties: generally silicic, generally mafic, and then crazy microlite-studded bright orange. My samples from the archaeological peat core, and from the lake, which were cored about 5km away as the crow flies, have the first two -- and absolutely nothing like the third.

My first guess is that the orange colour is the result of some chemical leaching in the soil. I found a paper a few minutes ago that might tell me more about it but it's 11pm and my brain is fried so I'll check it in the morning.

The microlites are a more serious issue. They indicate that the microtephra has come from a source close by -- but the archaeological site is closer to any source volcanoes than this core. And if the tephra was transported by air, then it should have fallen in both places anyway. The presence of the glacier might create a rain shadow? Or something like that? Or meltwater pulses? I'm trying to come up with any reason why this might be the case. I need to come up with something convincing and interesting, however, because I'm giving a paper at the GSA on Halloween and part of it has to do with this research.


Sunday, 12 September 2010

Epping Forest bike ride!

This past Saturday, Rachel and I went for our long-awaited bike ride to Epping Forest (and beyond). You can see our route here:

Now I didn't take very many pictures during the ride, because we were mostly riding, but I did take a few! The first came from the slightly disappointing Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge, an English Heritage-owned property at the southern end of Epping Forest. I mean the FIRST Queen Elizabeth, by the way. The Victorians painted over the Tudor-style beams and as a result the wood started to rot, so the building has now been entirely whitewashed to prevent further decay. It was built around 1540 for Henry VIII and would have been open-walled, the better to party and hang out of whilst shooting at deer.

Further inside of the Forest, we saw several cows. We liked their horns!

The Forest itself was very impressive to see, but did not photograph well. It is covered with mountain bike trails and then wider trails for walking and horseback riding. Rachel's bike is a road bike so we stuck to the wider trails. In the forest, the trees were so thick that I could easily imagine Robin Hood hiding in there...

There was also a hidden church and cemetery in the northern part of the Forest. It was decorated beautifully for a wedding that would take place later that afternoon.

After leaving that church, we rode our bikes towards what we thought would be a deer park. However, we wound up going down a very long, very steep hill, and emerging out of the trees and into open farmland. Afterwards, we decided that we really did not want to go back up that hill, so we stayed on the road and followed it to the town of Waltham, Essex. This involved going outside the M25, London's ring road -- we were really in the country now! Almost to "London" Stansted Airport! Waltham had a large church, where another wedding was taking place.

It started to rain quite hard as we were in Waltham, so we sheltered under some trees by a mill stream with several ducks, swans and cygnets, and hens. We were in the grounds of the ruined Waltham Abbey, next to the largest remaining portion of it -- a 14th century gatehouse.

Here's a view to the church from the Mill Stream (having just walked through the gatehouse).

On our ride back into London, the sky started to clear. We rode most of the distance alongside the Lee River, which is lined with canal boats. It's a very beautiful, peaceful place.

We rode back through Hackney Marshes and over to see the Olympic building site. I have to say, I was very impressed by everything I saw there, and I'm looking forward to what London will do in 2012...

Following that we made it back to Dalston, against Razorlight's best advice, and staggered into the Morrisons to buy some food. Rachel made me a delicious dinner of bbq burgers and sweet potato fries, we watched some terrible British TV, and then I made my way back from Finsbury Park to Paddington across central London on a Saturday night (probably the most exciting cycling I did all weekend!). All in all, it was a fantastic adventure!

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

One month left in the UK

As of today I officially only have one month left living in the United Kingdom. Although I've gone home fairly often it will be an interesting experience to return to my own country and no longer be a "stranger in a strange land" as I have been for the last four years (almost exactly -- I arrived in the UK on 26 September, 2006). My relationship with the UK has been love/hate at best, and during my time here I've become a completely different person than the naive 22 year old I was when I first stepped off the plane at LHR with my dreams and a cardigan.

It's been an incredible, almost indescribable four years, in which I've seen some amazing places, been let in on some amazing secrets, and, most importantly, developed some amazing relationships with fascinating people -- both here and at home. And, for all that, I know that it's time to move back to Colorado.

I always knew I'd go home again -- I'm too in love with where I'm from to not do that -- but only very recently has that become something solid and real, an endpoint that I can envision down to its finest detail. I bought a plane ticket last Thursday. Now I know the duration of the flight, the airline, even the seat assignment -- I can picture where I'll wait in Heathrow and what it will smell like when I get off the plane and walk up the gangway in Denver. I can also envision packing up all my possessions once again, as I have done so often for the past eight years , and stuffing them into the requisite two suitcases and two carry-ons. If only baggage limits had stayed the same over that time period...

Anyway, this isn't meant to be a retrospective or some big "This Is What I Learned" or even an ode to my Gap Yahs. I have one month left in this country and this is what I want to do:

1. Bike to Epping Forest (plans are afoot!)
2. Bike to Uffington Castle/Uffington White Horse
3. Visit Kew Gardens
4. Do something bad in the shadow of the Rad Cam and then sing "BNC 'til I die"*

Ok... go!