Is that a code?

31 12 2016

Enigma by Robert Harris

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A gripping World War II mystery novel with a cryptographic twist, Enigma‘s hero is Tom Jericho, a brilliant British mathematician working as a member of the team struggling to crack the Nazi Enigma code. Jericho’s own struggles include nerve-wracking mental labour, the mysterious disappearance of a former girlfriend, the suspicions of his coworkers within the paranoid high-security project, and the certainty that someone close to him, perhaps the missing girl, is a Nazi spy. The plot is pure fiction but the historical background, Alan Turing’s famous wartime computing project that cracked the German U-boat communications code, is real and accurately portrayed. Enigma is convincingly plotted, forcefully written, and filled with well-drawn characters; in short, it’s everything a good techno-mystery should be.

Not quite sure about the “techno-mystery” categorisation but it is a classic Robert Harris tale with plenty of historical detail around what is now a well-known operation. Perhaps not Harris’s best but still a gripping yarn.

stars-3-5

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Cows, College & Castration

23 12 2016

Cow Country by Adrian Jones Pearson

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“The mission of Cow Eye Community College is to provide a nurturing and time-tested education grounded in American values and the proliferation of the American Way”

When a down-on-his-luck educational administrator arrives into the makeshift bus shelter of Cow Eye Junction, he finds a drought-stricken town and its community college on the precipice of institutional ruin. Struggling to navigate this strange world of bloated calf scrota, orgiastic math instruction, and onrushing regional accreditors, Charlie must devise a plan to lead Cow Eye Community College through the perils of continuous improvement to the triumphant culmination of world history.
Idiosyncratic, wry, and ambitiously constructed, Cow Country is Adrian Jones Pearson’s most American work yet, deftly blending the lunacies of contemporary academia with the tragic consequences of New World nation-building. A must-read for anyone who has ever worked at an institution of higher education, or attempted to straddle partisan lines, this insightful novel offers a poetic requiem for the loss of our humanity – and our humanities.
One of my favourite books of the year this. An outstanding educational satire Cow Country follows an increasingly sleep-deprived educational administrator as he tries to help Cow Eye Community College through its critical accreditation process. Charlie is the new Special Projects Co-ordinator and beyond accreditation he is tasked with re-uniting a starkly divided campus community and organising the staff Christmas Party. Featuring a series of absurd and comedic scenarios this is a very entertaining and thoroughly strange campus novel.
4.5 stars




Both sides now

11 12 2016

How to be both by Ali Smith

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How to be both is a novel all about art’s versatility. Borrowing from painting’s fresco technique to make an original literary double-take, it’s a fast-moving genre-bending conversation between forms, times, truths and fictions. There’s a renaissance artist of the 1460s. There’s the child of a child of the 1960s. Two tales of love and injustice twist into a singular yarn where time gets timeless, structural gets playful, knowing gets mysterious, fictional gets real – and all life’s givens get given a second chance.

It’s very intelligent and well-written but arguably just too clever for its own good. The two books in one and read in either order idea is really unnecessary. But then it won loads of prizes so what do I know.

3 star





Quiz: What’s in a University name?

2 12 2016

An exciting university quiz

Musing, as you do, about the names of universities, I was struck by how many North American universities are named after people, often major benefactors such as:

  • McGill University
  • Harvard
  • McMaster University
  • Oral Roberts University
  • Wright State University (always makes me laugh that one)
  • Dartmouth
  • Babson College
  • Hofstra
  • Vassar
  • Brigham Young University
  • Cornell University
  • Stanford
  • Carnegie Mellon University
  • Brown University
  • Johns Hopkins
Orville & Wilbur Wright - so clever they had a university named after them

Orville & Wilbur Wright – so clever they had a university named after them

 

But what about the UK universities?

I can think of three which include the names of benefactors and 13 which are named wholly or in part after someone (plus a 14th in this group which no longer exists).

Can you name them?

Answers below

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I could originally only think of three UK universities which include the name of a principal benefactor in their title but actually now I’ve come up with six:
  • Liverpool John Moores University
  • Heriot Watt University
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Birkbeck, University of London
  • Harper Adams University
  • Courtauld Institute, University of London
Any advances on these six?
I originally had 13 more with individuals’ names in their titles. List on further consideration is now 20:
  • Leeds Beckett University
  • Queen Mary University of London
  • Anglia Ruskin University
  • Oxford Brookes University
  • King’s College London
  • Robert Gordon University
  • University of St Andrews
  • York St John University
  • Brunel University
  • De Montfort University
  • Napier University
  • Newman University
  • Queen Margaret University
  • Queen’s University Belfast
  • Bishop Grosseteste University
  • Regent’s (debatable as named after Regent’s Park which was originally named after the Prince Regent, later King George IV)
  • Canterbury Christ Church University
  • University of St Mark and St John (2 for the price of 1)
  • St Mary’s University
  • University of Wales Trinity St David
(Plus there was the Victoria University of Manchester until 2004.)
Any others? Note have excluded constituent colleges of collegiate universities.

 








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